A novella by Guy Blythman
Guy Blythman

© Guy Blythman 2003, 2009

London sweltered under a blazing June sun; a hot, bustling, overcrowded city. The concourse of Waterloo station was a seething swarm of humanity; it was cooler and airier there than outside or one might have described it as a furnace, a cauldron, a melting pot fed by the trains which every few minutes drew up to the buffers and disgorged their passengers onto the platforms.
Today, one of those passengers was a young woman called Caroline Kent. She wore a light overcoat and a silk scarf and carried a leather briefcase which held her lunchbox and the papers she needed for the conference she was in London to attend. During the journey she had been poring over a document bound in a laminated folder and entitled "Oil: The Next Hundred Years. Future Problems and Perspectives."
She stepped down from her train and headed for the entrance to the concourse, high heels clicking on the platform as a pair of scissor-like legs crossed over one another with perfect symmetry. With a little time to go before she needed to start making her way to the conference centre, she popped into W H Smiths and bought a magazine. Coming out of the shop and glancing around for somewhere to sit, she saw that all the benches were occupied, so she found a spot where she wouldn't be in anyone's way and stood there flicking through the magazine, taking a bite every now and then from an apple.
Engrossed in what she was reading, she was unaware of the two women observing her from a distance and conferring every few seconds in low voices. "Just take a look at that," said one. "The best example I've seen for a long time."
"You think she's what we're after?"
"Maybe," murmured her companion, suddenly less certain. "How old would you say she was?"
"Ohhh...mid-, late twenties."
"So she must be natural, then."
The other laughed. "Nowadays, that doesn't necessarily follow," she said ruefully.
"The complexion matches."
"We won't know until we get a really close look." They saw Caroline glance at her watch, put away her magazine and start off towards the exits. Her route would take her close to where they were standing, and they seized their chance.
One of them moved in on her as she walked past. "Excuse me," she said politely. Caroline turned to her quizzically. "I don't know if you're in a hurry..."
Caroline decided she had the time. "Well, not especially."
"I hope you don't mind me stopping you like this, but I work for Devenetts, the modelling agency." Caroline was handed a glossy publicity leaflet. "We're looking for ladies with your sort of looks and colouring for a photo session. We're mounting an exhib-ition called "Golden Glamour"; it's a joint thing with one of the leading fashion magazines. They want to put the photographs in a special edition."
She indicated Caroline's hair. "I hope you don't mind me asking, is it natural?"
"The colour? Of course it is," Caroline replied with a smile, brushing her hand through it.
The woman regarded her wryly. "Honest?" she said, in just the right tone of good-natured scepticism.
"You want conclusive proof? Well, I could take my clothes off I suppose, but that might cause a bit of a scene."
The woman laughed. "Don't worry, there's no need for that! So, are you interested?"
Caroline thought for a moment. "I might be, if you tell me a bit more."
"We'll be spending a day or two down in Cornwall next month, on the weekend of 24th-25th June. Basically you'll be modelling swimwear. We'll pay you for it, of course."
"Don't worry about payment," Caroline said. "I'm on a fairly high income, I expect I could manage without it." Immediately she said it she knew she shouldn't have. It would have been nice to donate the money to charity.
"Are you sure?" Caroline nodded.
"OK. Now it does involve a bit of glamour photography. Is that all right?"
Caroline knew very well what "glamour" was a euphemism for. She bit her lip.
"So we'd soon find out if you'd been fibbing about your hair!" the woman laughed, trying to relieve the tension.
Caroline smiled with her, while turning over the matter in her head. If she allowed nude photographs of herself to appear in a magazine that was on general sale to the public, her superiors would say she was bringing the company into disrepute. While lusting over them in the privacy of their offices, no doubt. "But you don't have to do the nude shots if you don't want to," the woman assured her.
"Um..." Caroline found herself embarrassed. "Well, the thing is...I've got no problem with it, I just wouldn't want them published, that's all. But I expect that's what you're looking to do. I mean, obviously you're out to make a profit like everyone else..."
"Of course. But if everything else works out well, I don't see why we shouldn't take a few complimentary snaps and make you a present of them, free of charge. You'd have deserved it. We'd make sure you got the negatives." Her spiel apart, the woman seemed perfectly genuine and trustworthy.
"Oh," gasped Caroline, brightening. "That's wonderful. I mean..."
"It's mainly swimsuits, though. Two-piece. Are you OK with that?"
"I don't think there'll be any problem."
"So you're happy to do it?"
"Yep," she said. "I'm game."
"Excellent. You can bring your own costume if you like, though there'll be plenty of spares."
"I've got lots at home," she said.
"Great. And you can make the date OK?"
"I've got nothing on then," she said automatically. They both giggled nervously at the remark.
The woman handed Caroline an A4 envelope. "All the details are in here. We'll pick you up from home, or pay your fares if you'd rather come by train. I'll meet you at the station."
"That'd be fine."
"We'll be staying at a hotel in Newquay. And here's my det-ails..."
Caroline studied the card. It gave the woman's name, Romany Winterson, and her telephone number at Devenett's.
"Look forward to seeing you there," smiled Romany, and left her.
"Oh well," said Caroline to herself. It still seemed a bit strange to her, but she felt she'd committed herself now and couldn't decently back out of it.
She consulted her watch again. The conference would start in approximately ten minutes; she hurried on her way.
"So, how did it go?" asked Chris Barrett, Caroline's number tTwo in the Personnel and Public Relations department at International Petroleum Ltd, as they sat drinking their mugs of tea in the staff common room during lunch break the next day.
"All right. They do seem to be thinking more in terms of branching out into alternative energy. In fact, they've offered me the job of handling the publicity for the project, if it does go ahead."
"You'll never guess what else happened yesterday," she grinned, and told him about her encounter with Romany Winterson.
"It seems a bit weird to me," he said, concerned. "Are you sure you ought to go along with it?" He was mindful of a time, not so long ago, when she had fallen into the hands of evil people who wanted her body for their own sick purposes and forced her to engage in activities which few women would countenance lightly, certainly not without consent.
"Fouasi was a long time ago," she replied, gazing dreamily out of the window. "At least, that's how it seems now."
"But you wouldn't want to be in that situation again, would you?"
"Of course not. But I don't see how there can be any danger. Both Devenetts and the people who publish the magazine have been around for a long time and they're perfectly respectable. Besides, as I've got a few days' leave due to me I thought I might as well stay on there for a while after the shoot, have a sort of mini-holiday." She had booked a room at the hotel for three more nights, with the possibility of an extension. "Can you manage here without me?"
"I guess so. Not that it wouldn't be even better with you, I'm sure."
"Should think so too," she said amiably.
Chris had finished his tea. "Well," he said, getting to his feet, "just take care that's all. See you later."
Marcus Hennig, Caroline's boss, raised his eyebrows quizzically when she told him of her plans on the morning of her departure. He'd known she'd be off for a week or so, but not what she intended to do during that time. "Not moonlighting, are we?" he enquired. It was hard to tell whether his disapproval was genuine or he was merely winding her up.
"Not in the least. I won't be taking any money for it. It's just going to be a bit of fun, that's all."
She noticed the dirty look on his face. Their eyes met, and he winked at her knowingly.
"There's nothing dodgy about it," she protested. "Nothing too raunchy." It was obvious he didn't believe her.
He smiled, in by no means an unsavoury fashion. "Oh well," he said briskly. "Enjoy yourself."
"I will." Shouldering her bag, she said goodbye and went on her way.
A couple of hours later she was on the train to Plymouth poring over some outstanding paperwork, sipping from time to time at her coffee from the standard issue plastic cup and gazing out the window at the rolling landscape of trees, fields and little vill-ages. Rail travel, she thought, always felt much more civilised than road; you didn't have to put up with other people's careless driving and increasingly aggressive behaviour. Because of that, and because it had been around for a while longer than the car, you felt a bit like you'd been transported back to a vanished age, one arguably more sedate and decent.
She changed at Plymouth, and four hours after she had left Paddington the train drew into the little country station where Romany had arranged to meet her. She stepped down onto the platform, to stand looking around for a moment. There wasn't much to the place except the building itself and the slate-roofed, granite stationmaster's house. It nestled in a little valley between two hills, with rolling fields on all sides. The scene was a very rural one and she guessed it hadn't changed much in a hundred years. She could easily picture a steam train chugging through puffing little clouds of smoke into the atmosphere; one of those sweet little tank engines with the things on either side of the boiler. In the distance the sea gleamed and sparkled in the June sunshine.
Suitcase in hand, she crossed to the station car park where Romany was waiting in her Porsche. Some of the other girls were in the car with her. Caroline saw one or two lean forward, smiling blandly, and having had a brief look at her lean back. Having established that she had had a pleasant journey, Romany introduced her to them and then they drove off towards Newquay.
Romany had chosen the hotel well; the staff were friendly and the service good. They each found their rooms and unpacked. After supper they went out on the town, raiding the souvenir shops and dancing until the early hours at a top nightclub, all at the com-pany's expense.
Caroline found her companions interesting enough to talk to, but detected no warmth, no genuine friendliness, in them; they were in it just for the money. The exception was Romany herself who seemed naturally pleasant, although sometimes there was an air about her almost of embarrassment at the job she was doing. She was a well-preserved, indeed strikingly attractive, brunette in her forties, with the sort of looks Caroline supposed were essential in a modelling agency. She'd been in that line of work for ten years now.
The following morning was spent visiting a couple of the local attractions; a working tin mine, now really more of an industrial museum than anything else, and a pottery. They returned to the hotel for lunch in a luxuriously furnished suite which still boasted its original Victorian fittings. Once their meal had had time to go down they piled into Romany's car and set off down the coast towards Land's End.
For the last part of the journey they had to negotiate narrow, winding country lanes, slowing down frequently to avoid oncoming tractors. The view on either side was one of gently undulating fields, dissected by ramshackle hedgerows and tumbledown stone walls, where black-and-white cows chewed contentedly on grass of a lush, almost primary green. As they neared their destination this scenery gave way to sandy moorland with patches of gorse and heather. Here and there slabs of granite like massive teeth pro-truded from the ground at different angles.
Suddenly the road seemed to dip, the landscape around them falling away on all sides to leave them facing a sheet of shimmering blue water. Glancing to her right, Caroline saw a little village of stone cottages clustered around a grey church tower. Above it, perched high on a promontory jutting out into the sea, was a solitary house, a huge and rambling Victorian affair. It looked bleak and forbidding, as indeed did much of the scenery surrounding it; but while the latter was redeemed by an austere kind of beauty, the house merely looked grim and ugly. Solid, though, as it would have to be to endure the battering of the winds blowing in off the sea in winter.
"God, what an out of the way sort of place," remarked Caroline. "Who lives there?"
"That's the Curnos' house," Romany told her. "Treneer, it's called. The family owns the beach where we're going to have the shoot. They were very kind to lend it to us."
Caroline wondered what kind of person would insist on living so far away from the nearest habitation, in such an exposed and lonely spot. Or have built the house there in the first place.
"Do we get to meet them?" she asked.
"Maybe, maybe not. They keep themselves very much to themselves. Funny lot. Right, here we are."
They turned off down a little lane which wound downhill towards the sea, passing between high banks of earth dotted with clusters of flowers. A couple of hundred yards on it became a bumpy, uneven dirt track, which gave way suddenly to the sand of the beach.
They spent some time walking up and down the beach, studying its layout and agreeing on the kind of shots they wanted, until the car containing Romany's photographer turned up and they were ready to start. All of them had their costumes on underneath their clothes, to avoid problems with changing.
The shoot lasted the whole afternoon, up until five o'clock. Caroline was photographed in a variety of poses - emerging from the sea like Venus, crouching on all fours or stretched out flat on the sand, lying on her side propped up by one elbow and surrounded by various beach accessories, draped seductively across a rock, standing facing the camera in her skimpy string bikini after a dip with sand plastered to the bare flesh between top and bottom - and in various different kinds of costume; thongs, hipsters, a halter neck, and an alluring one-piece which exposed to the camera the graceful, tantalising curve of her back. Afterwards they presented the photos to her in a folio.
Later, she and a few of the other girls retired behind a rock with the photographer so that pictures of an even more revealing nature could be taken. She had been told the Curnos didn't mind that kind of thing being done on their property; funny or not, they seemed a pretty obliging sort of bunch, she thought.
It was exhausting, though they were very solicitous of her welfare and didn't push her too much, but she enjoyed every minute of it. "Right, girls," shouted Romany when they were finally finished. "That's it." She smiled proprietorially. "Thankyou very much, all of you." Two men began moving among them carrying trays bearing their complimentary free drinks.
Everyone sipped at their apple juice or whatever chatted to their neighbours, tired but happy. After a while a woman joined the group, and began making friendly conversation with some of the girls. She was in her early or mid-forties. Though only of average height and build there was something indefinably impressive about her, a sense of tremendous energy and authority. She wore her dark hair long, and it was still rich and glossy, contrasting with her pale complexion. She had a lizard-like face with its own distinctive kind of beauty. The cheekbones were wide and typically Celtic, the eyes large and brown and very expressive. Rather than the local burr she spoke with a refined Home Counties accent.
"Who's that?" Caroline asked.
Romany overheard her. "That's Elizabeth Curno, the lady of the house. Nice of her to come and say hello."
Caroline regarded Elizabeth Curno with friendly interest as the woman came up to them. Their eyes met, and Elizabeth introduced herself with a smile, extending her hand. Caroline reciprocated.
"How did you manage to get roped in to all this?" Elizabeth asked. Caroline explained.
"And now you're back off to your PR-ing, I suppose?"
"Actually I thought I might stay on in the area for a day or two, use up some of my annual leave."
Elizabeth seemed to prick up her ears at this. "Are you? In that case, may I ask you a favour?"
"Go ahead."
"I wondered if you'd like to pose for my brother? He's an artist, specialises in painting from life, and I help him sell his work. He's got a studio over at his house."
Caroline gave Elizabeth an amiably dubious look, to show she knew what she was talking about. She wondered if things weren't perhaps going a little too far.
"No?" inquired Elizabeth pleasantly, noticing her hesitation. "It's entirely up to you, of course. It's just that you have the most incredible kind of face. You really are just the sort of thing we're looking for..."
Immediately Caroline forgot all her doubts. "Thankyou," she smiled. "Yes all right, I'll do it."
"Wonderful," Elizabeth beamed. "That's wonderful. Arthur will be delighted."
"I seem to be much in demand at the moment," Caroline observed.
"I'm not surprised, with your looks. Do you take after your mother or your father?"
"Basically I look like my Mum. But my Dad was blond." She fin-gered a lock of her hair. "I'm told I shouldn't still be as fair as I am, what with one dark-haired parent. So what - I like it this way."
"So you should," Elizabeth said. "It's very nice." She drew herself up. "I'll have a meal ready for you," she said bright-ly. "And perhaps you'd prefer to stay the night with us? In fact you can stay as long as you like, we've got plenty of room."
It occurred to Caroline that this might be more interesting than simply returning to the hotel, particularly since it gave her the opportunity to see what this rather intriguing, from all accounts, family were like. "That'd be lovely. Better have a word with the boss lady first, though." Elizabeth nodded.
So Caroline went up to Romany. "Look, thanks for everything."
"Elizabeth's offered to put me up for the night. I can pay the rest of the hotel bill if you like." She felt she wanted to keep on good terms with Devenetts.
"Oh no, that's OK."
Caroline said goodbye to her, indicating that she wouldn't mind undertaking further assignments for her in the future, depending on availability. Elizabeth drove her back to the hotel for her to collect her belongings, then on to Treneer.
"So what do you do for a living, then?" Caroline asked on the way.
"I'm an art dealer. I work mostly from home but I also have a little craft shop down in the village, where some of the paintings are put on display. We've got quite a collection at the house, though a lot of it is tucked away at the moment because there isn't room for it." The business made just enough money from the local trade, orders from customers in other parts of the country or abroad, and tourism to be viable. "A lot of the stuff I sell was painted by Arthur." She added that they were staging an exhibition at the house in a couple of weeks' time, of works by her brother and others.
"How long has your house been there for?" Caroline asked as they approached the building. "It looks Victorian to me."
"There's been a house on the spot for hundreds of years. Since before the Norman Conquest, in fact. The present building dates from 1870 when the one before it was burnt down."
"Don't you ever get lonely stuck out here?" Caroline asked.
"Yes, at times," Elizabeth sighed. "But it's worth it. One can be so much closer to nature." Caroline felt this banal phrase didn't quite explain the Curnos' evident preference for solitude. Proudly Elizabeth disclosed that her family had been there for as long as the house and its forebears. “That's real old Cornish," Caroline remarked with some admiration. "Celtic."
"Indeed." With genuine interest Elizabeth quizzed her about her own background.
"I'm English, basically. But my grandfather was German. I've heard some people say there's not much difference."
“I suppose it’s because we’re related to them through the Saxons, who came from Germany. Our temperament’s like theirs too, in many ways. We tend to do what we’re told – how many silly government policies have we put up with in the past? The only difference is that the English might complain a bit more. And…” She smiled. “Someone once said that a German was basically an Englishman without a sense of humour. I don’t know what my German friends would say about that.”
They carried on chatting while the car climbed the steep, winding road towards the great granite house. At intervals menhirs, large stones which tapered to a point, stuck up from the ground beside the road like milestones. They turned off along a gravelled drive which broadened out into an extensive forecourt, fringed on three sides by gardens and on the fourth by the house.
They cruised up to the front door, enclosed within its columned porch. "Come and meet the family," Elizabeth said. "Then we'll have something to eat."
As they got out of the car the door opened and Caroline saw a group of people gathered together; an oldish man, a younger man and woman who she guessed were brother and sister, and a middle-aged couple. One by one Elizabeth introduced her to them all.
Her husband Patrick was some twenty years her senior, a scholar-ly-looking bespectacled figure with lined face and bushy grey beard. A few thin strands of hair were stretched across his otherwise bald dome of a skull. His manner seemed nervous but was friendly enough.
Megan Curno, Elizabeth's daughter, was the spitting image of her mother, only some twenty years younger. She had the same height and build, the same wide-boned face. She didn't smile when Caroline shook her hand, instead giving the very faintest of nods.
Next came the couple's son, Brendan. Dark like all his family, with jet black hair curling close to his head, he was a stockily built youth who couldn't be more than nineteen or twenty. He had the same bone structure as the others, too. Though his complexion was pale, his features were not unlike what you saw on some Mediterranean types, or Arabs. On seeing Caroline he gave a sort of start, his eyes lighting up with interest, and smiled delightedly. She was familiar with this kind of reaction from men, but on this occasion felt no sense of danger, no need to be on her guard. She smiled back pleasantly and offered her hand. His grasp was limp, but she attributed this to nerves rather than rudeness.
She guessed he was too young to have learned to keep his desires under wraps. Not that men ever really did.
Arthur and Morwenna Curno were Elizabeth's brother and sister-in-law. Arthur was big, white-haired and moustached, Morwenna short and dumpy with a similar kind of face, Caroline noted, to Elizabeth and Megan although as far as she was to establish there was no familial relationship. Arthur was a local farmer and Morwenna helped Elizabeth run the craft shop.
"And this is Andrea." Elizabeth gestured to the woman who had just joined the group. "She's my sort of personal assistant."
In total contrast with the others Andrea Wyatt was fair, although Caroline guessed the gold of her hair had faded somewhat from what it had been. She was somewhere in her fifties, but still handsome. Her face suggested the Saxon rather than the Celt with narrow, finely-sculpted cheekbones.
"Now," said Elizabeth in her clipped businesslike voice. "I expect there'll be plenty to occupy you while you're down here. But let's get you settled in first. You can have the spare bedroom."
Stepping inside, Caroline found herself in an oak-panelled hall whose walls were hung with portraits of the family. A couple of suits of armour stood around. There were more paintings upstairs, depicting men and women in the costumes of all eras from the Tudors through to the present day. It was a picture gallery of the entire Curno family; and all of them, she noted, seemed to have the same face.
Altogether the atmosphere of the place was that of a building much older than the mid-Victorian period, whether because the fire hadn't been that thorough in its attentions or a good deal of the old fittings had chanced to survive it.
Once she'd unpacked they all had tea in the living room, after which Elizabeth took her on a guided tour of the house. It was certainly well-equipped; as well as the sort of rooms you'd expect to find it had a conservatory, a library, an art gallery and a music room with a rather impressive grand piano.
There were two rooms, both on the ground floor, that her hostess didn't show her, their doors remaining firmly shut. She chose not to draw attention to them, ushering Caroline on before she had a chance to ask what was inside.
Then it was time to eat. During the meal Elizabeth did most of the talking. Andrea chatted volubly, Elizabeth seeming happy to let her natter on, listening with a patient expression on her face. Megan said very little, although Caroline did manage to elicit the information that she worked as a research chemist for a pharmaceutical company. The girl's distant, offhand manner soon began to annoy her though of course she was too polite to show it. Brendan seemed shy of her, not attempting to engage her in conversation, although every few minutes she caught him looking at her with obvious interest, to quickly turn away as their eyes met.
After the meal, Caroline was asked what she wanted to do, and replied that she would like to go for a walk. "That's fine by us," Elizabeth said cheerfully. "You do just what you like while you're here. As a matter of fact I'd come with you, only we're all a bit busy at the moment. This wretched exhibition needs a lot of planning."
"Oh, that's all right," Caroline answered politely.
"I suppose I ought to really," frowned her host. "I mean, you don't know the area..."
"Don't worry, I won't get lost. I'll be careful not to go too far."
"All right. But if you're going up on the moor, watch out for the old mine shafts. And don't go too close to the cliff edge, there are bits where it isn't safe. There are danger signs, of course, but I just thought I ought to warn you."
Caroline went upstairs to fetch her overcoat, there being some possibility of rain in the next hour or so. As she came downstairs she heard voices from the living room, talking in a language that didn't sound like English.
She popped her head round the door. "I'll be off, then."
"OK, see you later," said Elizabeth.
"What's that language you're speaking?" Caroline asked politely. "It's not - "
"Cornish? Yes it is, actually. The ancient Celtic tongue of Cornwall. We're one of the few people left who know it." This last was said with obvious pride.
"Well, 'bye for now," Caroline smiled. Letting herself out, she crossed the forecourt and opened the little gate in the boundary wall of the Curno estate, from which a path led across the moor to connect with the one that ran along the clifftop.
Standing at the living room window Elizabeth, Patrick and Andrea watched her disappear from view.
"I'm looking forward to painting her," Arthur said. "She has a certain..."
"She didn't take the money," Elizabeth was saying wonderingly. "Romany told me. She was quite happy to do the shoot, but she didn't take the money. I don't understand it. There's not many people like that nowadays."
"Quite a remarkable young lady, all in all," Patrick commented.
"Yes," replied Elizabeth vaguely. "Yes, I suppose she is."
"Well, I must be off," Andrea Wyatt said, pecking Elizabeth on the cheek. "Got the budgie to feed and lots of other things. Give me a call when you want to discuss the exhibition."
As soon as she was gone Elizabeth turned to her husband, her manner completely changing. "Is it ready yet?" she asked.
"I should have finished it by tomorrow night."
"Should have?"
He corrected himself. "Will have. If I work at it until then."
"Then do," Elizabeth ordered.
With a brief nod Patrick hurried away, leaving his wife staring thoughtfully into the ether.

Hands in the pockets of her overcoat, Caroline was making her way down the little winding path that ran along the cliff top. On her right was a bleak expanse of moorland, patches of thin scrubby grass alternating with clumps of fern and piles of stones; to the left the ground fell steeply away towards the beach.
She paused for a moment, her hand resting on a rock, and stared down at the tossing sea, at the waves crashing against the boulders at the foot of the cliff with a thunderous roar. A little spray sprinkled her face and she smiled at the feel of it.
The wind seemed to be getting stronger. She remembered what Elizabeth had said about the danger, and moved away from the cliff edge. If she kept a reasonable distance from it she should be safe.
After a while she found herself wandering from the path onto the moor. On a whim she decided to explore some of the old engine houses with which it was dotted. Each was now a gutted, roofless ruin, but sound and solidly constructed, its chimney pointing skyward like a huge, solitary finger. The tin and copper deposits had of course long been worked out, but the mine buildings remained as a monument to Cornwall's former prosperity. There was still china clay, and of course fishing; to the disappointment of staunch Cornish patriots neither industry, on its own or in conjunction with the other, generated enough revenue to make the region viable as an independent nation.
She came upon a dolmen, a structure made up of four upright stones supporting one horizontal one. It had been built by the Neolithic tribes who had inhabited Cornwall the best part of two thousand years ago, before even the Celts had fled from the population pressures of mainland Europe to settle here.
Returning to the path, she continued on towards the village. After a while she heard someone coming along the path towards her, humming a cheerful little tune. A thickset man in his forties appeared from behind an outcrop of rock that overhung the path at a point where it turned sharply to the right. He wore a shabby old coat and a floppy-brimmed hat that seemed to float on top of a mop of unruly dark curls streaked with grey. Blue eyes twinkled with good humour in a heavy, rugged face.
Seeing her, he stopped and stared at her with an unnerving inten-sity before suddenly breaking into a broad charming smile and raising his hat. "Hello there!"
"Hello," said Caroline, a little doubtfully. She suspected she'd been unlucky enough to encounter the local nutter.
"I've detected some very interesting energy emissions," he informed her.
"Oh yes?" said Caroline politely. She felt her suspicions were confirmed.
The man grinned wryly, and winked. "But I can see you think I'm talking a load of rubbish."
"Oh no, I'm sure it's all quite fascinating."
"Wouldn't study it if it wasn't. Are you from round here?"
"'Fraid not," she said apologetically.
"I didn't think so. You can always tell."
"But you are?"
"Lived here all my life, except for when I was at college in Exeter."
"What did you study?"
"History and archaeology. So what are you doing down here then? Are you on holiday?"
"Yes. I'm staying with the Curnos."
The man's eyebrows lifted.
"They seem quite nice." Caroline felt she ought to make some effort to defend her hosts.
"I'm sure they are, in their own way. And highly intelligent. I don't know if he's told you, but the husband used to work for the government in some capacity or other. Elizabeth's got her art dealers'; runs the company entirely from Treneer, you know. Never sets foot in any of the regional branches apart from the one in Truro, and yet she seems to make a good job of it.
"They're also eccentric," he opined, not appearing to see the irony of such a remark coming from him. "They speak Cornish; you must have heard them." He reproached himself for his lack of patriotism. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
His face became sad. "They're among the few people who know the tongue, nowadays. It's been dying out gradually since the eigh-teenth century."
"That's a shame."
A dreamy look came into the historian's eyes. "Cornwall, you know, was one of the last strongholds of the Celts in England. I like to think it still is."
"Was there ever a Saxon settlement here?"
"Oh yes. The original site is over there somewhere, on that little hill." He gestured to their right. Later they abandoned it and took over Porthcurzon instead." Porthcurzon was presumably the name of the village. "The Celts weren't too happy about that at first, but they ended up getting on quite happily with their new neighbours. As they did elsewhere in England, I think.
"There's evidence that Celtic communities continued to exist throughout Britain, alongside the dominant English, for hundreds of years. And their blood must still run there, even though they've become absorbed into the general population. Nevertheless, I like to think that here in Cornwall is the true meeting place between Saxon and Celt."
"I see," said Caroline interestedly.
"Somewhere there's supposed to be a shrine to Mawdrydd, one of the lesser-known Celtic gods, although no-one's ever found it. The atmosphere's certainly weird in places...that's where the energy's strongest, you see."
"What is all this stuff about energy emissions?" she asked, feel-ing a burning curiosity to know.
"Are you a sceptic?" he asked, again eyeing her with that disturbing intensity.
"I think it's best to keep an open mind about things," she replied sincerely.
"All right, then. The energy's partly psychic, and partly...well, I think you could say it's a kind of electricity. But then everything is, really. Whatever it is, it seems to be concentrated in certain areas, as is usually the case in these matters."
He became suddenly solemn. "There are places around here I wouldn't recommend you go. They'll give you a bad feeling. I've already mentioned it." What struck her as he said these words was the complete seriousness of his manner. Eccentric he might be, but mad he certainly was not. Though then again, mad people often were sincere.
He suddenly realised he hadn't introduced himself, and extended his hand. "I'm Bob Pengarrick, by the way."
Caroline returned the compliment. "Hi, Bob!"
He went back to his theme. "I think the ancient pagan gods were an expression of...elemental forces."
"Like earth, air, fire and water?"
"More than that. Something beyond human understanding." For an instant there was a look in his eyes she couldn't quite describe; it suggested knowledge that was unfathomable and alien, incapable of being gleaned by the normal methods of enquiry.
"Well, I'd better be getting on," she said. She wanted to look round the village and then return home before it got dark. She didn't want to stray from the path in the gloom and end up with a broken neck.
He raised his hat. "Well, nice to have met you. Take care now."
"And you." Trying to make sense of the encounter she'd just had, and eventually deciding the simplest thing to do was to clock it up to experience, she continued along the path to Porthcurzon.
A cluster of low, slate-roofed buildings, the former fishing village was built around a natural harbour between two soaring cliffs. She wandered about for an hour, stopping to watch the seagulls which gathered on the shore by the now disused quay and reverently finger the time-weathered Celtic cross in the churchyard. Then, deciding she'd done enough exploring for the time being, she made her way back to the house.
"We were just beginning to get worried about you," Elizabeth said. "Well, I'm back in one piece," she replied cheerfully.
"So what did you get up to on your walk?"
She described all that had transpired, and especially her meeting with Bob Pengarrick. "Ah, yes, a very odd sort," Elizabeth sniffed. "Now, do you play bridge? I thought we might all have a game..."
They spent the long summer evening watching television, playing cards or just chatting. At eleven o'clock Caroline excused herself and went up to her room. Briefly she stood looking round it and feeling a warm surge of nostalgia. The faded wallpaper, slightly musty smell, and the bare beams in the plastered ceiling, seamed and pitted with age, brought back childhood memories of her great-aunt's old cottage in Suffolk where she always used to spend part of their summer holidays.
Undressing, she climbed into bed and lay reflecting on the day's experiences. There was something strange about the Curnos, undoub-tedly, though she couldn't put her finger on it. But there was no reason at the moment, that she could see, to think she was in any danger.
Briefly she fingered the good luck charm around her neck, which her mother had given her as an eighteenth birthday present; then turned over, buried her face in the pillow, and drifted gradually off to sleep.
With a final flourish of his brush Arthur Curno put the finishing
touch to his latest masterpiece, and sat back with a smile. "Thankyou."
Caroline sat before him, totally relaxed and unabashed, in all her natural glory. "You're welcome." She got to her feet and padded over to where her clothes were draped over the back of a chair.
“Another session later on?" Arthur suggested.
"I don't mind."
"It may not be necessary. I can work from the same basic sketch."
"Well, just let me know if you need me."
They talked while she dressed. "How long have you had this place for?" she asked. The farmhouse was a solid, if time-weathered building going back to at least the reign of James the First.
"The Curnos have farmed here since time immemorial," said Arthur proudly. "Not that it's quite so profitable these days. Fortun-ately we managed to survive the foot and mouth business."
Caroline remembered something she had been meaning to ask. "By the way, are there any branches of the family elsewhere in the country?"
"Not that we know of. We've some cousins in America - my great-great-grandfather emigrated there in the 1850s. But we've never bothered getting in touch with them, I must confess."
"Are you happy living down here?"
Arthur nodded vigorously. "Very much so. We're rooted too deep in the soil of Cornwall to want to move. Fortunately there's enough money from the farm and from Elizabeth's business to keep us going. We certainly need it. To maintain a place like Treneer..."
Caroline put her shoes back on, and Arthur saw her out. Cheer-fully, she made her way across the fields to Treneer. She'd no objection to sitting for Arthur again, and in fact quite looked forward to it. She had felt in no danger from him during the session. If anything funny was going on here, it was not of that nature. She didn't sense any sexual interest in her at all on the part of the Curnos, except for Brendan and she somehow didn't think there was anything to be afraid of there.
In the living room at Treneer Andrea Wyatt was enjoying a glass of sherry with Elizabeth. "Well, all seems to be going fine," she remarked.
Andrea had despatched invitations to the exhibition to a compre-hensive list of people and organisations connected with the world of painting, and placed adverts in all the leading art journals. What feedback she had had suggested there was considerable interest in the event.
"Sure does," Elizabeth replied. "I reckon we should net about a hundred thousand pounds."
"Do we want to make any changes to what's on display?"
"No, I think it's a good enough selection. There should be enough to cater for all tastes."
"What about our guest?" Andrea asked.
"She said she might go home the day after tomorrow. Personally I'm hoping she'll stay a bit longer. She really is a most rewarding subject. There's a lot of fun we could have with her."
Andrea raised her eyebrows, looking quizzically at her friend. "You're not planning anything too kinky, I trust?"
"You mean...movies?" Elizabeth frowned. "Well, maybe, if she's interested. I think she might be; you can tell she's not embarr-assed about showing off her body. But I was really speaking meta-
"Does she mind us putting the paintings on show?"
"I haven't actually spoken to her about it. I'll see if I can broach the subject before she leaves."
"It'll be nice for someone to have them," Andrea said. "Anyway, let's just see how it goes."

Caroline was writing home to her parents.

Dear Mum and Dad
Enjoyed the photo shoot; everyone seemed really nice. Weather lovely; bit blustery this evening though but I had a nice walk. I decided to stay on a few more days, and this really nice family have offered to put me up - tell you all about it when I get back. Not sure what I'll do this morning, but off to beach in afternoon. Hope you're both well. Love to Aunt Ellie and Uncle Jim.
See you soon,

As she finished writing out her message on the postcard she could hear someone singing downstairs. The voice was a woman's, clear and sweet and melodious; she guessed it belonged to Megan. It was such a lovely noise that she felt she had to go and investigate.
Caroline found the girl in her room, sitting at a table painting an elaborate flowery design on a wooden bowl she appeared to have carved herself. The door was ajar and Caroline poked her head through the gap.
"What's that you're singing?" she enquired pleasantly.
"It's a folk song," replied Megan.
"You've got a lovely voice."
"What's it about?"
"A maiden who sacrificed herself to a sea serpent because her betrothed didn't love her any more." The words seemed forced, reluctant, in keeping with Megan's dislike of employing more than a few curt syllables.
"Yes, I've heard about the famous Cornish sea serpent. Didn't see one on my walk, though." She nodded at the wooden bowl. "That's nice."
"And that." Her eye had fallen on a statuette of a Celtic warrior in tunic, trousers and chequered cloak. On his head he wore a horned helmet from underneath which long blond hair flowed. His sword was raised as if to strike and his moustached face was twis-ted in an expression of warlike savagery.
She realised she was keeping Megan from her work. Megan certainly thought so, from the looks she was giving Caroline and her body language. "Oh well, I'll let you get on with it." The girl muttered something she didn’t catch.
Elizabeth was discussing the exhibition with Andrea, and neither Patrick nor Brendan Curno was anywhere to be seen. Brendan was being his usual shy self while Patrick seemed to be occupied with some important business, the nature of which remained undisclosed,
judging by his manner on the few occasions she had glimpsed him. Feeling both bored and a little annoyed, Caroline took her leave of the Curnos for the time being and went down the village to post her card and wander about a bit.
For some reason she felt drawn to the church. It was a Sunday, and there was still some time to go before the service. The ancient, nail-studded oak door stood wide open, and after standing around indecisively for a bit she decided on an impulse to join the worshippers filing in through it.
She sang the hymns spiritedly enough, listened with interest to a sermon in which the vicar gave an eye-opening account of his experiences while on missionary work in Africa, and savoured the pleasantly musty feel of the whole place, something which nowadays was more or less unique to churches.
Many years ago as a child she had been baptised and confirmed, and was therefore still entitled to receive the Sacrament. Nonetheless she felt a little self-conscious and out of place as she went up to partake of the bread and wine. Altogether, though, she came out of the building feeling spiritually refreshed; perhaps I should do that more often, she found herself thinking.
Of course other kinds of refreshment mattered too. By now the pubs were open, and she decided to have lunch at the seventeenth-century Turk's Head inn. The name, and its sign swinging gently in the summer breeze, commemmorated a raid on the village by Barbary corsairs, something one fortunately didn't have to worry about these days.
She bought a beer, some crisps and a packet of sandwiches. Look-ing round for somewhere to sit, her eyes met those of Bob Pengarr-ick, the local historian, sitting on his own a few tables away. He raised his hand to her in greeting. She smiled in reply and began working her way among the tables towards him. It felt rude to sit somewhere else and by now she was convinced there was nothing dangerous or unsavoury about the chap.
"So, how are you enjoying yourself down here?" he asked.
"It's lovely, all of it," she responded. "I see what you mean about the Curnos, though. You can't quite put it in words."
He nodded. "A highly intelligent family, you'd think they'd be less parochial. But as they see it Exeter's as far as they need to go to be in touch with the macro-world. Thing is, they don't mix much with the local people either. I don't understand them, and yet they're Celts, like me. I ought to be able to but I can't."
"What's there for Elizabeth in Exeter?"
"She went to the University. Chose it because she didn't want to go too far from Cornwall. She's Cornish born and bred, despite her accent. Utterly devoted to the county. She used to be involved with Mebyon Kernow - that's the Cornish Nationalist Party." Caroline nodded interestedly. Casually she glanced round the interior of the pub. It was still in the process of filling up. Two girls occupied the table on their left; one had honey-blonde skin and medium fair hair, dark around the parting but lightening as it spread out to form a corn-coloured fan about her shoulders, while her friend was paler, Norse-looking, with flaxen locks that were so pure in their flaxenness they were almost white.
"And another thing that's peculiar," said Bob suddenly. "The way they treat Brendan; or rather the way Elizabeth treats him, since she determines what goes on in that family. Poor boy's always under his mother's thumb."
There was a rumble of assent from the table on their right. "Aye. It's not natural to keep a lad like that so penned up all the time."
Pengarrick nodded. "I'm not quite sure what's going to happen to him eventually. She won't let him go to college, in case he gets too exposed to cosmopolitan influences. He works at her brother's farm, for which Elizabeth pays him enough for a trip to Plymouth every now and then. He knows the trade well enough, but he's not so good with people. Not a bad lad, but doesn't go out much, spends most of his spare time in his room watching Star Trek videos from what I gather."
"Does he have any friends of his own age?"
"There were one or two, but they've moved away now. He doesn't really get on with the local lads, doesn’t go down the pub with them, because he’s so shy. It's a shame, because he's like any other feller of his age, deep down; must be. In truth I expect he wouldn’t mind the odd boozing session now and then.”
"What about the opposite sex?"
"His mother chooses his girlfriends for him. Trouble is he doesn't like the ones she picks, so he's rather stuck. Those he does like, he's not allowed to have anything to do with. You see that girl over there?" He nodded towards the young lady in question. "That's one of them. Dead keen on her, he was. Broke his heart when his mother said he couldn't go out with her.
"There's another one. And another." Caroline supposed that in a small village like this it was easier to know who had or hadn't done what, and with whom. "Brendan's been soft on all those girls at some time or other."
Caroline noted that each one of them was fair. She commented on this to Bob.
He nodded, and jerked his head towards the girl who stood behind the bar serving drinks. Her hair was long and dark, framing a face with a similar kind of bone structure as was found on the Curno family. "That's Sarah Chynoweth. Elizabeth manipulated him into going on a date with her. When that didn't produce the desired result she tried to fix him up with her sister."
Her sister, thought Caroline. Who would have been dark too?
"And these relationships didn't work out?"
"Well, you shouldn't force it should you? You have to give it time, let young people find the partner who's right for them. And they will, sooner or later.
"But it wasn't just that. The look of a girl's always been important to men. And Brendan prefers the fair-haired sort; he's one for whom opposites attract. You've seen how dark they all are, the family I mean. But his mother wouldn't hear of him going with a blonde girl, and if she saw him even talking to one she'd hit the roof. Keeps going on about what shameless bitches they are."
"She seems to get on all right with Andrea Wyatt."
"She puts up with her because she comes in useful in various ways, and because they've known each other for so long Andrea's part of the furniture. But if you could see how she treats the poor woman sometimes, when she thinks there's no-one else around...Andrea messed up an exhibition once, it wasn’t really her fault because the promotional blurbs didn’t arrive from the printers in time but all the same Elizabeth hit the roof…called her all sorts of names. If she had more sense in her Andrea would have slung her hook long ago. There’ve been other incidents I could mention.
"Seems to be anyone with fair hair, male or female. She just won't have them in the house. No-one's ever been able to work out why. I told you they were a funny lot."
Caroline sat back thoughtfully.
So Elizabeth had a notorious dislike of blondes. Which meant there was some very special reason why she was being so nice to her.

As Caroline trudged back along the coastal path towards Treneer she rotated what Bob had told her in the pub over and over in her mind. He too had expressed surprise that Elizabeth had invited her to stay with the family, bearing in mind the loathing she seemed to have for fair-haired people.
But then, they were a funny lot.
Caroline shrugged. It was weird, all right. But as long as Elizabeth kept her feelings to herself, it wouldn't be a problem. She strayed a little from the path to investigate a patch of scraggy moorland with little hillocks, crowned by tufts of grass, dotted about it. There was no trace of it now, but according to Bob this had been where the original Saxon settlement was. She paused to soak up the atmosphere of the place, trying to picture the scene as it would have been 1500 or so years ago; a cluster of little wooden houses with thatched roofs, and men and women in rough woollen tunics, leggings, and folkweave cloaks going about their business while children played in the dirt at their feet. A craftsman working at a lathe, a farmer tending to his herd of sheep.
Had these people, or a race very like them, been her ancestors? she wondered.
A sudden breeze sent a ripple through the long grass nearby, whistling among it with an eerie, mournful sound.
Suddenly she was hit by an overwhelming sense of brooding depression, of hatred and conflict. It swept over and through her in an onrushing black tide. She actually recoiled physically.
Was she imagining it? It did seem there was something here. There was no sense that it was hostile to her personally, but the vibrations she was receiving were not pleasant. She spun on her heels and walked quickly away.
She got back to the house just in time for lunch. She let herself in, to find Elizabeth standing in the hallway talking to Megan in Cornish. Megan went off, then as Caroline came up to her Elizabeth sensed her approach, turned and saw her. At once she started speaking in the same language.
She suddenly remembered Caroline didn't understand it and broke off with an embarrassed smile. "Sorry. Er, what do you fancy doing this afternoon, Caroline? We were going to take a ride into Truro."
"I was thinking of having a swim, actually."
"Why of course, darling! The beach is all yours."
She moved away, and Caroline was left reflecting on the encounter. Elizabeth had gone on talking in Cornish for several seconds after registering it was her, forgetting that she didn't know the language. Did they use it all the time here, so that they weren't accustomed to addressing each other any other way?
Weird. Still, why shouldn't they?
After her lunch had gone down, she trotted down to the beach in T-shirt, shorts and sandals. The sky was bright blue, the sun a blazing yellow orb, and the water looked inviting.
She had her costume on underneath. Stripping off, she placed her clothes in a bundle on the sand. Standing there in the brief string bikini she breathed in the sea air, savouring its invigorating coolness and salty tang, and felt good to be alive.
She padded down the slight slope towards the water, the grains of sand crunching between her toes. She savoured the feel of the sand at the water's edge where it was wet, squishing beneath her bare feet.
Arms outstretched, she waded out, feeling the deliciously cool water rise up to her knees, navel, chest. For a few minutes she splashed about happily, bobbing up and down on the Atlantic swell. Then she heard feet crunch on the sand before suddenly halting, as if their owner was startled or disconcerted at finding her here. She turned and saw Brendan Curno standing facing her in his flip-flops, a rolled-up towel under his arm. He went as red as a beetroot's bum and turned away with a murmured apology.
"It's all right," she said cheerfully. "No reason why I should hog the whole beach to myself."
Brendan hesitated. "Oh, er - OK," he replied with a nervous smile. Caroline resumed her swimming.
Stealing a glance at him, she saw he had stripped down to a pair of trunks and was laying out his towel on the sand. He didn't have a bad body, she decided. It was a shame his social development hadn't kept pace with his physical. But then it hadn't really been allowed to.
Reluctant to be in the water with her, he lay sunbathing for about ten minutes, then picked himself up and padded gingerly towards it. He paddled desultorily for a bit, then launched himself forward onto his stomach.
Observing him, Caroline thought he seemed a fairly competent swimmer. Down here there wasn't much to do a lot of the time except swim, she supposed.
He was trying to keep as far away from her as possible. But the beach was a small one and there was really no way of avoiding each other's company. "Race you to there!" she cried, pointing to the group of seaweed-draped rocks about fifty yards out. He held back, smiling shyly. "Come on!" she yelled, and threw herself forward.
She was good in the water, though not quite of Olympic standard;
she'd been told her bust was just a little too big for that. She ploughed through it with smooth, powerful strokes. Reaching the first of the rocks, she placed a hand on it, heaved herself up and twisted round. Brendan came up beside her, the water streaming down his broad shoulders.
"Eight lengths!" she shouted. He nodded.
Ten minutes later, gasping from her exertions but happy and smiling, she staggered onto the sand, rivulets of water pouring down her body, her hair hanging down in a wild tangled mass. She glanced at Brendan, and he caught the glance and smiled back briefly.
There was no need to apply suncream just yet, the water would act as a lubricant until she dried out. She lay down on her towel, stretching out luxuriously. Beside her Brendan was doing the same. The warm sun flowed gently over them. "Oooohhh!" she sighed, closing her eyes blissfully. "Lovely."
She lay there while the sun bleached her hair back to its normal colour, if not blonder, and her skin turned a deep, rich, golden brown. She and Brendan were just close enough to be within talking distance of each other, though at the moment the lad was saying nothing. There was something annoying about the situation and she decided to try and draw him out. She certainly didn't feel inclined to move from a beautiful spot like this if she could avoid it.
"Do you swim often?" she asked him.
"Yeah. Here, and on holiday."
"You're not bad at it."
"You must get a lot of practice." He grunted an affirmative.
"It must be nice living down here. I wish I did."
"Yeah, it's all right."
They were having to raise their voices a little. "Let me get a bit closer," she said, and moved her towel nearer to him. It was a perfectly natural thing to do.
"Where do you go on holiday?" she asked.
"Brittany, usually." That figured, thought Caroline. Brittany was very like Cornwall in terms of scenery, and must remind the Curnos of home. It also occurred to her that the traditional culture and ethnic stock of the Bretons was much the same as Cornwall's - Celtic. In days of yore, when the Cornish were smarting from the suppression of their native language and other indignities, they had felt themselves to have more in common with their neighbours across the Channel than their English oppressors.
"Brittany, that's nice. Do you go on your own or with a friend?"
"With Mum and Dad. Sometimes Megan comes too, sometimes she just stays at home." Caroline would have asked him whether Megan had a young man, had it not seemed a little too nosy. No doubt Elizabeth would vet any choice she made carefully. If anything, though, she gave the impression of not being interested in a relationship at the moment, as if there were more important things occupying her mind.
"You don't have a lady friend right now?" she asked Brendan. She knew the answer to the question; it was meant as an innocent talking point more than anything else.
"No," he answered. He would respond to questions, but wouldn't offer any kind of remark himself. It was a most unsatisfying kind of conversation.
She heard him shift position. It seemed he was getting up to go.
She hesitated, then asked quizzically if he was frightened of her. The question itself seemed to alarm him, and he drew back a little. "There's really no need to be," she told him. "I don’t bite. I'm saying this because you're about to get up and go and I don't want to be the cause of that. If you want to lie here in the sun that's all right by me. I don't like to think I'm spoiling your fun.
"You've got to learn not to be scared of people all the time. You won't get on in life otherwise." She was genuinely concerned to help him. "You won't do well at job interviews and if you do get something you probably won't hold it down." She had enough experience of office politics to know that employers tended to dislike someone who was awkward and self-conscious, probably because it reminded them too much of their own personal inadequacies.
She twisted her head to look directly at him. "Why are you so nervous? It's a problem, isn't it? I just thought...I just thought I could help. I can go if you want to, but I'd rather not. I don't like to see you building a brick wall around yourself, because one day you'll want to break it down and find you can't."
It wasn't really any of her business, she knew. But she'd gone too far now.
Again he made to leave. She put out a hand to stop him. "No. Please."
Slowly he sat down, and an awkward silence followed. She was about to apologise for unsettling him when suddenly he blurted it all out in a burst of frustration. "Mum won't let me do anything," he said heatedly. "Anything that I want to. She's always trying to keep me here at the house or at the farm, she won't give me money to go to Truro or places like that." Going to Truro, or Plymouth, or Newquay must be to him an exotic adventure, the equivalent of a trip to America or the Far East. Or a journey to the Moon. "We always have to do the same things, go to the same places all the time. It's such bloody hell. And she never likes the sort of girls I want to go out with, always making out they're nasty when I know they're not."
"Yes, I've heard about that," she muttered. "Have you any idea why she's like that?"
Brendan sighed. "No. She's just...she's just Mum."
"Well, if you think she's standing in the way of what you want for yourself, then you've got to tell her it's not on. Be assertive. I mean, she can't keep you chained to the wall every hour of the day, can she? Look for another job, and if she threatens to throw you out or something go to the social services. Tell her how you feel, and once you've made clear you're determined to go your own way, stick to that position. If you did that, you might find her giving way more easily than you think."
He looked unhappy and alarmed by the thought of the challenge she
had presented him with. She could sense him crawling back into himself again.
She decided to change the subject, asking him various things about the history of the house and of the village. If, at the moment, Cornwall was his world then that was what they must talk about.
When they had finished with that topic they moved on to her own affairs; her job, her leisure interests, her family. A certain barrier had already been broken down, and now the change of subject seemed to soothe Brendan's nerves, putting him at ease. They talked on, Caroline sitting with her arms wrapped around her calves. Brendan hung on her every word, fascinated by this beautiful, sophisticated woman-about-town. She was a few years older than him, but that was no problem; what he found appealing was her experience, her maturity, her self-confidence. She seemed the embodiment of all that he wanted to be.
From the clifftop path high above, Andrea Wyatt stood looking down at them with interest. After a moment or two she turned and went on her way.
Brendan was listening, captivated, to Caroline's account of some of the places she'd been to, whether on holiday or company busin-ess, and the lurid situations she had sometimes been enmeshed in. At one point he gave her a doubtful look, clearly suspecting she was just trying to make things more interesting. "You're having me on," he grinned.
"No, I'm not," she answered a little crossly, unable to avoid feeling hurt.
"Sorry," he said hastily.
"You're welcome." She gave a wistful sigh. "And some of it I'm afraid I can't tell you, whether or not you'd believe me if I did."
"Why, are you some sort of spy then?"
"Well, not exactly. But as I say, I can't tell you about it."
He was obviously thinking that she lived a far more interesting life than he ever did. "I hope you never get into that kind of trouble yourself. But there's a whole world out there; dangerous, yes, but exciting too. So many things to do, so many people to meet. Whether we want to or not, we need to be a part of it. And at the moment you aren't."
She studied him thoughtfully. It was pretty obvious he hadn't been with a girl, in the intimate sense, in his life. If he'd been allowed a wider choice of partner, things might have been different.
She continued to think, while Brendan contemplated the sand abstractedly. And came to a decision.
Judging the moment was right, she turned to him with a smile. "I don't think I'm likely to catch anything from you, and I've had something put in so I won't get pregnant. So it should be all right."
Brendan looked blank. "Er - what should?" he asked.
"Oh come on!" she exclaimed. "Don't tell me you don't know what I mean. You can't be that naive."
He continued to stare at her.
Caroline sighed. She reached behind her back, undid the thong of her top and took it off.
Two very full breasts jutted out at Brendan. He started, drawing back a little, and gaped helplessly at her as she sat topless be-fore him, smiling in a way meant to be reassuring.
"Then there's this." Standing up, she pulled at the string of her bikini bottom and they fell away to expose the triangle of golden hairs at her crotch. She stepped out of them, and twisted round to present to him the twin half-moons of her buttocks.
Brendan remained transfixed to the spot, torn between fear and fascination. She crouched down beside him. "Brendan, you'd better start getting it out of your system as soon as possible. There are some men who take years to do that, and you might be one of them. If you don't it'll cause problems in later life when you're married with a family. You have to plan your life properly."
Brendan saw the sense in what she was saying. He bowed his head.
"But it's got to be your choice. I want you to understand one thing; I'm doing this as much for your own good as for any other reason. I'm certainly not trying to seduce you.
"You do want it, don't you?" She looked him straight in the eye.
His head drooped a fraction further. "Yes," he answered, in a barely audible murmur.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of. But there's one more thing we have to get straight. You know that having unprotected sex with someone you've only just met is risky. I've always taken the right precautions, although I did have an AIDS test once; the result was negative. Now, do you think you can trust me?"
"Yes," he replied, a little too quickly for her liking.
"Are you sure? You like me, I hope, just as I like you. But don't say it just because of that. If someone lied to you over a serious business like this you could end up in big trouble."
Brendan thought. He'd heard of people who had casual sex with someone and then gleefully informed them they had AIDS. But something about her, something he couldn't quite define, told him she was telling the truth.
"Are you sure?" she repeated.
He took the plunge. "Yes," he gasped in nervous excitement. "Yes, I'm sure." He looked at her anxiously. "Will...will you show me? Teach me?"
"Of course," Caroline smiled.
She led him to where the fold of the cliff obscured them from the view of anyone on the path, then lay down before him and spread her legs. "Come on, then."
Looking as if he couldn't quite believe what he was doing, he pulled down his trunks.
The worst of the damage Caroline had suffered as a result of her experience with Neghid Fouasi had been repaired. The idea of sex, in itself, no longer seemed repellent. For a time anything other than marital intercourse, for which she wasn't yet ready, had seemed dirty and evil, because she had been taken violently and against her will. But the idea that there was anything frightening about sex with this nervous, inexperienced, hesitant young man was ridiculous. Without in any way gloating over the situation she liked the thought that she was in control, and also that there was some kind of excuse for what she was doing.
"Don't worry, it'll be alright," she whispered, gently resting her hand on his shoulder.
He knew what to do, it was just that he hadn't had the chance to put his knowledge into practice. He lay down on top of her and she felt his growing hardness press against the inside of her thigh. Shifting position, she guided him in.
"Start slowly, then build up..." That was the way these things should be done. "That's it...don't thrust, not yet. That's it, you're doing fine...now."
She told him to vary the speed and angle of his thrusts. All throughout she ran her hands over his body while he, taking the hint, responded likewise, copying all that she did. She kneaded his back, buttocks and shoulders, feeling the bands of tightly knotted muscle; ran her fingers down the channel in his back; felt his gluteus muscle contract and expand beneath her touch as he pumped and thrust. She continued to shout out words of encourage-ment between her gasps of pleasure.
Her legs swung up and locked tight around his waist. A few minutes later she felt him convulse, his grip on her tightening, and the warm liquid spurted from him to flood her womb in a hot rushing tide.
He lay on top of her for a minute or two after he had spent himself. Gently she eased herself out from underneath him. He rolled over onto one side.
She patted him on the shoulder. "Well done," she said. "You were good." She knew she must not on any account hurt his feelings.
In truth the experience hadn't been particularly satisfying for either of them, it being his first time. Give it a while, she thought.
"Did you like that?" she asked. He nodded dumbly.
He seemed almost in tears. She guessed he had found the exper-ience strange rather than pleasurable. But he was overcome with wonder at what he had done, by the thought that after years of frustration it had finally happened.
"It's bound to seem strange at first," she told him reassuringly. Again she moved the conversation on to general matters. "So what do you want to do in life then, Brendan? What sort of job?"
"I don't know, really," he said dreamily.
"You could still go to university. I mean, I don't think you're stupid. Go to the careers advice centre and see what they say about it."
At one point he asked her if she had a boyfriend. "Not right now. I expect I'll get married eventually, though. But at the moment I just don't feel like it."
"By the way," he asked, "is it natural? Your hair, I mean."
"Everyone asks me that," she replied wearily. "Yes, it is."
"I suppose you like dark-haired men." Like her earlier question about his private life, it was intended mainly as a point of conversation.
"Actually, I've no preference," she told him, having given the matter a little thought. "As long as they're kind and considerate..." She laughed. "I've known plenty of dark handsome strangers who weren't quite so hot once you saw through them."
"Oh, thanks," Brendan said.
"You're all right," she grinned, patting him on the shoulder again.
"I've always fancied blondes myself," he admitted, somewhat apologetically.
"Only the best for you, Brendan."
As the conversation went on he grew more and more relaxed. "Ag-ain?" she suggested after a while, smiling.
This time it was much better, as she had predicted. He was much less awkward and clumsy, more confident and controlled, moving in and out of her with smooth fluid strokes. Now her cries of pleasure were genuine. She loved the feeling of being filled by his rock-hard masculinity, the touch of his skin against hers as their bodies rubbed together. She closed her eyes, revelling in the delicious tingling that spread gradually through her whole body from the tips of her toes to the roots of her hair. Every fibre, every cell of her being was exploding in sheer ecstasy. Their mutual excitement and pleasure mounted, growing steadily more intense and exquisite until he came shatteringly like an erupting volcano, melting her insides to white-hot lava.
Afterwards they lay together, pleasantly drained, talking quietly
about anything that came to mind.
"We're getting a nice tan here," she said, rolling over onto her front. She suddenly remembered that although the beach was out of bounds to the public, they might be spotted from a boat. "Would anyone mind if they saw us?" she asked.
"Doubt it. You can get away with that sort of thing quite a lot in these parts. People always have."
"We're all kinky down here," he said with a grin.
Caroline grinned back. It looked like she'd done the trick.
"But you've been missing out on it all," she told him. "Until now."
He nodded. "Until now."
"By the way," she asked lazily, "what's in those two rooms on the ground floor of your house? The locked ones. I thought maybe your Mum kept some of her paintings in there."
"I don't think so. I don't know what's there, actually. She says they're just storerooms."
"Oh." She banished the matter from her mind.
She felt her skin start to burn and left him for a moment to fetch the tube of sun cream from her beach bag. Brendan saw her squeeze some of it onto her fingers. "Shall I do that for you?" he offered.
"If you like." Clasping her fingers, he rubbed off the cream onto his own, and gently proceeded to massage it into her flesh. When he had finished she returned the compliment. They lay down again to bask in the sublime warmth, the oil on their bare bodies glistening in the sunshine.
"Fancy another swim?" she asked a little later, wanting to cool
"Yeah, OK," said Brendan, reaching for his trunks.
"I don't think you need to bother about those," said Caroline wickedly.
They frolicked nude for half-an-hour or so, laughing and splashing about in carefree abandon. Then, tired from their exertions, they emerged from the sea to stand gasping and panting at its edge, savouring the warm, electric sensation which filled their bodies as their energy slowly returned. Deliciously, Caroline felt a rivulet of water run down her spine and the cleft of her buttocks.
Next they went exploring, picking their way carefully over the rocks in their bare feet. To Caroline's delight they came upon a cave, an opening in the rock wall which gave onto a chamber about as high and as wide as a fair-sized dining room. There was a kind of fissure in the far wall, and you could see through it into what looked like another cave. It seemed just big enough to wriggle through. She wondered whether to attempt it.
"Don't go in there," said Brendan, coming up beside her.
"Why not?" she asked, frowning.
He paused momentarily as if trying to think of a reason. "You might get stuck." It was undoubtedly easier to squeeze into such narrow spaces than it was to squeeze out of them.
It was now nearly five o'clock. "Well," Caroline sighed, deciding to call it a day, "let's get back to the house."

Andrea and Elizabeth were discussing the exhibition again. "It just occurred to me that we'll need permission to display the van Ruysdael," Andrea said worriedly, "and it's a bit short notice."
"That shouldn't be a problem. I know the owner, and I'm certain a quick phone call will be enough. He's usually easy enough to get hold of."
"Then that leaves just one loose end - Caroline. Has Arthur quite finished with her yet?"
"He can rattle off a dozen or so portraits at any time from just one preliminary sketch; you know how good he is. But he prefers to do it from life, and she seems happy to oblige."
"Is she going to be around, though?"
"I think she'll stay a while longer. There's plenty to do in Truro or Penzance."
Andrea grinned. "That was a good move, getting Brendan to chat her up. I saw them both down on the beach. I don't know what happened exactly, but they seemed to be enjoying each other's company."
Elizabeth started, frowning. She hadn't sent Brendan to talk to Caroline. Which meant...
She pursed her lips. This could wreck everything.
Andrea noted her discomposure, and her eyebrows lifted in sur-prise. "What's the matter?" she enquired, puzzled.
Elizabeth recovered her wits quickly enough. "Oh, nothing. I just felt a bit odd for a moment. I'm OK now."
Andrea smiled blandly. Elizabeth had known she would readily accept that kind of explanation, feeble and banal though it was. It was one reason why she came in so useful.

“Two things you've got to remember," Caroline was saying to Brendan as they walked back to the house up the steep path from the beach. "Firstly, always take precautions. You know what I mean by that. Secondly, don't expect every girl to leap into bed with you at the drop of a hat. Physical sex isn't the be all and end all of everything." Brendan nodded.
"I expect what you're looking for in the end, what you need, is a permanent relationship. Don't go into one without having thought about it carefully. But if you're really making the right decis-ion, you'll know it."
As they approached the house neither of them saw the curtain of one of the downstairs windows pulled back slightly and Elizabeth peer out, observing them as they talked, laughing and joking with one another. She let the curtain fall back into place, and turned away from the window with a dark and troubled expression.
That evening after supper Arthur presented Caroline with two more paintings. The first depicted her in Celtic dress with torques, braided hair and a cloak fastened at the shoulder with a brooch. In the second she stood against a rocky clifftop scene, a beach in the background, clutching a shawl about her. There was a suggestion that the wind was blowing her hair. She looked like the heroine of Rebecca on the front cover of a paperback edition of the book she had once seen.
"Oh, that's lovely," she said delightedly. "Thankyou very much."
Then they all settled down to watch TV in the living room. From time to time, Elizabeth stole a glance at Brendan. He had his eyes fixed on Caroline. That was to be expected; but a definite change seemed to have come over him since the two of them had been on the beach together. At supper he'd been more talkative than was usually the case. And generally he seemed unusually cheerful and self-confident.
Caroline's attention was taken up with Eastenders, and Brendan's with her. Neither of them saw Elizabeth beckon to Megan, indicat-ing that the two of them should leave the room.
A little later Megan reappeared. "Caroline, could you come into the kitchen a moment, please? I want to talk to you about some-thing."
Feeling vaguely puzzled, Caroline got to her feet and went to join her. Brendan sat alone for a few minutes until his mother came in and squatted on her haunches beside him.
"Brendan, we're going to be discussing the exhibition until quite late, your aunt and uncle included. Your aunt's getting nervous about leaving the farm unattended. I wondered if you could go over and keep an eye on the place. You may as well stay overnight, and Arthur and Morwenna can sleep here. You'll be alright there on your own, won't you?"
"Of course I will," he answered, an edge to his voice.
"It'll only be until tomorrow afternoon. We'll be a bit busy with the exhibition before then, so don't come over.
"Well, you may as well make your move now. Go and get your things together. The spare key's under the mat, as you know. It's still light, so you can walk over. Alright?"
"Yeah, fine." He remained where he was, shifting uneasily. "Er, Caroline's not leaving tomorrow, is she?" He knew her plans had been uncertain. "I wondered if I could see her before she went." "She's gone already," Elizabeth said. "She's just had a message to say her mother's not too well. Of course she rushed off home straight away."
"Oh," said Brendan, his face falling. He looked the picture of misery.
"Don't worry about it, Brendan," smiled his mother. "Just you go and see to the farm. You can write to her later."
"Have you got her address?" he asked eagerly.
"I don't think she left it. She was in a bit of a hurry, as you can imagine. I'll try and find it out. Now come on, the sooner there's someone over at the farm the better."
A little sulkily Brendan trudged upstairs, collected his things, trudged back down again and exited the house. As he crossed the hall to the door he heard faint voices coming from the kitchen, whose door was shut, but thought nothing of it. Certainly he felt no particular need to know whose they were.

Caroline sat down on the bed and thought. She'd said she was going to her room to do some paperwork relating to her job. "I might be down later," she'd told the Curnos. Hopefully that would leave them sufficiently in the dark as to her intentions.
That Elizabeth had invited her here for some very special reason, a reason she could but guess at, was by now quite obvious. It was more than just the paintings, she was sure, or Elizabeth with her hatred for blondes wouldn't have invited her to stay with such alacrity. And although Arthur was making a good job of it - as an artist of renown, with an impressive list of academic qualific-ations after his name, he would - it altogether seemed strange that they should want to paint her so badly.
It wouldn't have bothered her that much had it not been for one or two other things. First there were the mysteriously locked rooms; if they were "just storerooms" then why was Elizabeth so concerned to protect their secrets? On its own the matter would not have perplexed her unduly, but when considered along with everything else...
There were at least three places that were permanently out of bounds. The two locked rooms and the cave - she had felt sure Brendan had had some hidden reason for dissuading her from exploring it. Although she was certain he wasn't mixed up in whatever business was being carried on here, she was equally sure that he knew its secrets, had been told not to divulge them, and thought it best to play safe.
The whole atmosphere of the place was peculiar, and it was getting more and more intense, as if something was about to happen and everyone was waiting for it to do so. Or preparing to bring it about.
What clinched it was the realisation that she had been got out of the way while something important was done. In the kitchen, Eliz-abeth and Megan had spoken to her about the paintings and whether it was OK to display them in the exhibition or even put them on sale. After giving the matter some thought, she said she didn't really mind; a painting wasn't quite the same thing as a photo-graph, and she could always deny it was her.
Then they asked her how she felt about further sittings - when she had already made clear through Arthur that she was happy to do them - and also whether she was interested in working for them in the business. Altogether, they had talked about the subject at such length, sometimes appearing to strain to find something new to say about it, that it was clear the conversation was being deliberately prolonged. When she had shown signs of impatience they had pretended not to notice. They just wanted an excuse to detain her. Otherwise she might have concluded that the paintings were the reason behind their hospitality after all.
And then later, after the matter was finally concluded, she had found that Brendan had gone. Did Elizabeth know what had happened on the beach and was anxious to keep them apart because she didn't want them to get too closely involved? That couldn't be the explanation, she decided. Brendan couldn't be kept from the house for too long without her guessing the reason behind it; and indeed, he was only to be absent for one night. It perhaps wouldn't have mattered if Caroline had been leaving tomorrow, but as far as Elizabeth knew her plans were still undecided.
So why had it been necessary to get her out of the way while Brendan was sent off, assuming Elizabeth's motive behind the subterfuge to be the avoidance of possible friction? There'd have been no point in it.
Even given the Curnos' undoubted eccentricity, it all felt wrong. Unsettling.
She thought about it all for some time. And finally made up her mind.
She glanced at her watch. Too late to catch the last train back. She'd stood around deliberating for too long. She could get a bus to Newquay, and there see if one of the hotels or guest houses would put her up for the night. But bus services in these rural backwaters were infrequent and often unreliable. She couldn't guarantee being able to get there before everything closed, and banging on doors at some ungodly hour of the morning would arouse suspicion as well as make her somewhat unpopular. In any case she'd probably get lost in the dark. She certainly didn't fancy a long walk through the night, cold and hungry and not quite sure of her way.
It was possible there was nothing wrong at all. A part of her felt extremely silly at what she was contemplating.
But if her suspicions were justified...she didn't want to take the risk. Somehow she had to get out of here. Maybe she'd seek sanctuary in the church, the idea of which appealed to her, though
she had no idea what she was going to tell the vicar.
For a long time Caroline stayed where she was, feeling safer that way. When she next consulted her watch it was almost eleven o'clock; far too late for the bus. She had no idea so much time had passed. Rather than postpone her escape until the morning, she still refused to go to sleep, because going to sleep would make her vulnerable. She kept her light on so they would think she was still up if not about.
She listened carefully for any sounds of movement from the other occupants of the house. She thought she heard a few faint noises, but couldn't be sure. It was an old building and the floorbeams creaked a lot; she reasoned that if they were moving about she'd hear them. They must all still be down in the living room.
She'd have to make a move at some point, try and slip past them. Perhaps she ought to wait until they went to bed. But they might be waiting for her to do so, in which case everyone would be trapped in their respective positions. She chuckled nervously at the thought.
For a while longer she lingered indecisively, the ticking of the old-fashioned alarm clock on the bedside table reverberating mono-tonously through her brain. Then she kicked off her shoes, anxious to make as little sound as possible, and moved to the door.
There was nothing that could be done about her belongings. She'd just have to leave them here, and return for them later with some-one else; if they caught her carrying a bag they'd get suspicious. As for explaining the whole business, she'd worry about that later.
Pity about the paintings, she thought wistfully.
She placed her hand on the doorknob and slowly turned it. Gently she eased the door open, and stepped outside. The lights were still on in the corridor. She tiptoed down it towards the stairs, her heartbeat ringing in her ears.
With any luck she could slip past the living room and out the front door, then once she was far enough from the house make a run for it.
Moonlight threw spooky, wavering shadows on the walls. A breeze blew in through a partly open window, fluttering the curtains. She almost jumped out of her skin as a door suddenly creaked open a couple of inches. Only the wind.
She descended the stairs slowly and carefully. From the living room she could hear the sounds of lively chatter, some of it from the inhabitants of the house and some from the TV.
Realising they might hear the front door opening, she crept along the hall and opened the door into the corridor that led to the former servants' quarters. The back door had in days gone by been that by which the servants had entered and left the house.
She was about halfway down the corridor when she heard footsteps from somewhere close by, and stiffened. Someone was coming along the corridor that intersected with this one just a few yards ahead. Whether she turned and went back the other way or pressed straight on they'd be sure to see or hear her, or both.
She waited until Megan Curno appeared. Catching sight of her, Megan halted, regarding her with her usual sour expression. "What are you doing?"
"Ghost hunting," Caroline smiled.
Megan frowned. It seemed strange, and yet she had detected a crazy streak in the girl.
"I heard these weird noises and decided to investigate," Caroline said. "I'm sensitive to things like that. Thought I'd see if I could catch the ghost in the act."
Megan glanced down at her bare feet.
"I wasn't sure if you'd all gone to bed, and I didn't want to disturb you," she explained.
"Oh, right," Megan said. "So you're psychic?"
"Oh yes. Once when I was..." Caroline broke off suddenly and her eyes widened, appearing to stare at something behind Megan. She gave a piercing scream and pointed. "Look! Look at that!" she yelled in a terrified voice. Automatically Megan whirled round. Caroline took to her heels, dashing off down the passage towards the back door.
It took Megan a few seconds to register that there was nothing there; not that she could see, anyway. She turned back to Caroline and saw that the girl had vanished. She remained where she was for a few moments, completely fazed by the incident.
Then she gathered her wits and ran in search of their guest. She raced down one corridor after another, finally staggering to a halt before the wide open back door, the night wind blowing into her face.
She heard running feet and turned to see the rest of her family come into view. "What happened?" Elizabeth gasped.
"She thought she saw a ghost and ran off," Megan explained.
Meanwhile Caroline was hurtling down the drive towards the main road. Late as it was, ahead of her among the trees she could see one or two lights, presumably belonging to houses in the village. She decided to make for them, use them as a guide. Otherwise she ran the risk of getting lost in the pitch darkness. She could hear them running after her and shouting. "Come back! It's all right! It's all right! Come back!"
She veered to the left, onto the grass, and found herself crashing through the thick foliage that fringed the property, branches and nettles clawing at her face and tearing her clothes. Several times she tripped over a projecting root, to pick herself up and stagger on blindly. Once she ran head first into a tree and nearly knocked herself out.
She ran on, gasping and panting, until finally she burst through a hedge onto open moorland. Slipping and stumbling in her unshod feet, she hurried on towards the friendly glowing lights of Porthcurzon.
Suddenly the ground disappeared beneath her and she felt herself shooting down into empty space. She screamed in fear and shock. The mine shafts, she thought frenziedly.
She managed to twist round, her fingers scrabbling frantically for a hold. They found something hard and smooth and grasped it tightly. Her legs swung in empty air.
She hung on for dear life to the projecting rock. Risking a glance beneath her, she could see only an empty pitch black void. She felt the rock shift. It must already have been loose and now her weight was pulling it free, slowly but surely.
Desperately she shouted for help. There was no option.
The rock moved a fraction further.
Then she heard shouts and muttered voices, and torch-beams stabbed through the darkness, crossing over one another. She winced as one was shone down into her face, shutting her eyes against the glare.
Strong hands grasped her by the wrists and pulled her up, breaking her grip on the rock. Her feet touched solid ground. Blinking about, she had an impression of vague, shadowy figures clustered round her. Then one of them stepped forward into the torchlight and she recognised Megan Curno. Megan started to take something from her pocket.
Caroline guessed what it was and started struggling, but the iron grip of one of the men held her fast, and she was powerless to help herself as Megan clamped the chloroform-soaked pad over her face.
On the benches and trolleys which stood flush against one wall of the room were stacked an assortment of scientific equipment; petri dishes, pipettes, calibrators, racks of test tubes, flasks containing a variety of chemical substances. There was an autoclave for sterilising instruments, and several large storage cabinets. The air in the room had the antiseptic, slightly cloying smell common to all such places, and it was well-lit.
Still unconscious, Caroline Kent lay on a trolley in the centre of the room, the Curnos gathered around her, Patrick filling a hypodermic needle with a yellowish fluid taken from one of the test tubes. All of them wore white lab coats.
Elizabeth Curno looked down at Caroline disdainfully. "Psychic! An obvious ruse. Only we Celts can see that sort of thing.”
Patrick was in a state of some excitement. His hands trembled so violently that he almost dropped the syringe. "Careful," snapped Elizabeth. "We don't want any mistakes at this stage."
Patrick rolled up Caroline's sleeve and touched her wrist gently with the point of the needle. He pressed home the plunger. "There," he said, straightening up. "We need to give it a good half hour or so before we can tell if it's worked."
"It should do, shouldn't it?" asked Elizabeth anxiously.
Patrick shrugged. "I hope so. There's always uncertainty when something hasn't been fully tested." He gave his wife a look of mild reproach. "We've been through all this before."
And indeed they had. Elizabeth had discussed Caroline's suitability as a subject for the experiment at some considerable length. It was only anxiety that made her give voice over and over again to the same old worries. Patrick withstood it all patiently.
"Why wouldn't it?" she asked, eyeing him unnervingly. "Could there be something wrong with the stuff itself?"
"You forget, I'm an ex-government scientist. And I tested it thoroughly. Of course, it may be we haven't got the right subject."
"I don't see how that can be. I mean, she must be one, mustn't she?"
"They were never all blond, you know," he said.
"But if you are blond you're more likely to be one of them. The characteristic isn't often found outside their kind; it's their trademark. That's why it had to be a blonde. A natural blonde. Otherwise, it's less easy to be sure."
"Isn't that the whole problem with this business?"
"Are you saying it's not going to work?"
"Of course not," said Patrick hurriedly. "I just think we should be aware of the difficulties involved. The DNA sample indicated 89% Teuto-Scandinavian, but..."
"But what?"
"You said she told you her grandfather was German. If that's the case..."
"Any descendant of Saxons will have German blood," Elizabeth said. "That's where they came from, originally."
"Hers is of more recent vintage. It means she's genetically a bit closer to the people from whom they originated. But they aren't the ones we're after. We're interested in their descendants - people whose blood may have been diluted to some extent by intermarriage with Celts, Normans, Romans etcetera. And however pure a Teuton she is, there are bound to have been changes - mutations - from time to time. Still, if it was only her grandad..."
"Not all Germans are blond," Megan interjected. "Some are like us."
"Well she obviously isn't," Elizabeth snapped. She gestured disgustedly at Caroline. "Look at her. She could have stepped right out of a Nazi Party recruiting poster."
Caroline's blonde hair, blue eyes and the basic profile of her face were certainly Germanic, but at the same time she had that particular English look which was always difficult to describe. Elizabeth continued to study her intently. "Of course she could be as much Viking." They'd been just as bad. There just hadn't been so many of them down this way, that was all.
Morwenna spoke. "And aren't we forgetting the Angles and the Jutes?" The name "Saxon" was an umbrella term inaccurately used to refer to not one but several Germanic peoples.
"The Rothstein Project found that their DNA wasn't very different from the Saxons’. Nor was the Vikings'. There are differences, of course, but none that should present any problem."
Patrick gazed down at Caroline appreciatively. "Whatever she is, she's very beautiful."
"We can't afford to be sentimental," Elizabeth told him, not without a touch of regret herself.
Patrick checked the time. "We should get a result soon."
A few minutes passed. "I can't see anything happening," Elizabeth complained.
"There won't be any visible signs, not at first. I can take a tissue sample if you like." Elizabeth nodded. "We should know from that whether it's got down to work yet."
He fetched a scalpel from the bench beside him, and carefully scraped a piece of skin from Caroline's forearm. Then he laid the sample on a slide and placed it under a microscope. He squinted through the eyepiece while Elizabeth watched him impatiently.
A minute later he looked up. "There's nothing," he said worriedly. "It's not having any effect."
Elizabeth crossed to the microscope. She found she could make nothing of the squirming black shapes with their fish-hook tails. "It's not working?"
He shook his head helplessly. "No. There should by now be a change in the cell structure, but I don't see any.”
Elizabeth stiffened, her eyes glittering with rage. "Why?" she demanded in an ice-cold voice.
"Maybe for the reasons I mentioned. Or there could be some other explanation, something unique to her genetic make-up and nothing to do with race."
"Can you find out what it is?"
"It would have shown up on the initial test. Unless perhaps it exists below the cellular, or even the atomic level. In any case, it's obviously something science hasn't come across before."
"But you think she's atypical?"
"We need another specimen to be sure."
They waited tensely, Patrick from time to time glancing at his watch and at Caroline, taking further tissue samples and studying them closely through the microscope. Elizabeth's eyes remained fixed on Caroline's unconscious body, never straying from her for a second.
Eventually Patrick turned to his wife and shrugged. "Nothing. It ought to have happened by now, and it hasn't. We must presume she's immune."
"Or that you made a mistake," Elizabeth snapped.
"I didn't make a mistake."
Elizabeth dismissed the matter with an impatient scowl. "Anyway, let's go and find this other specimen."
"Don't you think it could wait till a more sociable time of the morning?" Patrick objected.
"I suppose so," Elizabeth sighed. Again she glanced down at Caroline. "There are other uses for her. Give me a hand, Patrick, will you?" She bent and slipped her arms through Caroline's. Pat-rick took hold of the girl's ankles and together the two of them lifted her from the trolley and carried her to the door. Megan opened it for them.
"Once she's safely incarcerated we can all go to bed and have a well-earned rest," grunted Elizabeth.
And then in the morning there was a visit she had to make to someone.

In the kitchen of the farmhouse, Brendan sat at the table in his dressing gown with his chin, covered with dark stubble, resting in his hands. In front of him were the remains of a bowl of corn-flakes, a half-eaten boiled egg, and a cup of cold tea.
He'd had little sleep last night, because he was upset at Carol-ine's abrupt departure. And not only upset.
Maybe her mother was ill. But he couldn't help thinking it was odd that at the same time she should suddenly have had to leave, his mother was sending him away like this. It somehow felt like too much of a coincidence. Something very strange was being planned.
That was par for the course as far as the Curno household was concerned, but this time it was worse because he couldn't shake off the idea that Caroline was in danger. There had been such a barrier between him and his mother, and for so long, that he didn't really know her. Who was to say what she was or wasn't capable of?
Caroline had told him that to lose your virginity did not necess-arily mean you became a man. There was more to manhood than that. Nonetheless, he had felt decidedly different since his experience on the beach yesterday. Now that a millstone of long standing had been removed from around his neck, a frustrating hurdle finally overcome, he found himself thinking there was nothing that ought to be done that couldn't, provided he could summon up a little more courage.
He sprang to his feet and hurried upstairs to wash and dress. Shaving could wait until later. Once fully clothed he went quickly from the house, and up the hill towards Treneer.

Elizabeth knocked on the door of the little thatched cottage, situated down a kind of sunken lane off the main street of the village, where Andrea Wyatt lived. Its walls were covered by a profuse growth of wisteria. After some minutes she heard Andrea come to the door, and as it creaked open put on her most winning smile.
"Andrea, darling, I really need to discuss that van Ruysdael with you, and now."
"I thought all that was already settled," Andrea frowned.
"Oh, one or two things have come up," said Elizabeth vaguely.
Andrea stepped aside to let her enter. "What was all that commotion about last night?" Andrea asked as she ushered Elizabeth into the living room.
"What commotion?"
"I heard lots of people shouting and running about, up by your place. Woke me up, actually."
"Oh, that," said Elizabeth. "We're not quite sure. Probably some drunken yobbos making a nuisance of themselves."
They sighed in sympathy with one another at the incorrigibility of the world.
"What's the state of play regarding the Kent girl?" Andrea enquired.
"She's gone, I'm afraid," said Elizabeth sadly. "Got a call from home. Mother was ill, I gather."
"Oh, what a shame," Andrea sighed. "I rather liked her."
"There'll be others. Now, let's have a cup of tea and sort out this wretched painting over it."
"Just a minute then," said Andrea, making towards the kitchen.
"Oh no, don't trouble yourself. I'll get it."
Elizabeth went off. While she waited for her to return Andrea selected a magazine from the pile on the coffee table and sat down to browse through it.
In the kitchen, Elizabeth took a little white plastic capsule from her pocket, unscrewed the lid and shook out a small, round white pill into Andrea's cup of tea.
She carried the cups into the living room, making sure she remembered which was Andrea's and which hers. "Here you are."
"Thanks. You're an angel." Andrea took her cup, sipped at its contents and pulled a face. "Lizzy darling, this tea really does taste decidedly peculiar. What did you put in it?"
Elizabeth said nothing. Andrea stared at her in puzzlement, then suddenly her eyes glazed over and she slumped back into her chair, the cup tilting in her hand and despositing its contents onto the carpet. Her head lolled on one side.
Elizabeth got out her mobile and rang Treneer. Patrick answered. "It's me," she said. "Come and help get her into the car. We'll need to be very careful if no-one's to see us."
There was a pause. "Elizabeth, are you sure it's right, what we're doing? I mean..."
Elizabeth knew his opposition would only go so far. "Of course it's right, Patrick. Now, how's our little guest?"
"Sleeping soundly the last time I looked. Megan's just about to check on her."
"Good. See you in a minute."
Elizabeth gazed down at Andrea's unconscious body. She bent to whisper into her ear, although she knew the woman couldn't hear her. "I'm sorry, Andrea," she said. "Truly sorry. Believe me."
Caroline recovered consciousness with a splitting headache. She was lying on her side on a bed in one of the upstairs rooms, bound hand and foot. A length of adhesive tape had been slapped over her mouth, preventing her from calling out.
She was still weak from the effects of the chloroform. Hearing the door open, she managed to twist round. Megan Curno was standing there, her eyes regarding Caroline without emotion. The door closed again.
A while later Elizabeth came in. She studied Caroline for a moment, then crossed over to her. Kneeling beside the bed, she grasped the length of tape and peeled it away.
Immediately Caroline opened her mouth to shout for help. But before any sound could escape her she felt the prick of something
cold, sharp and metallic against her throat. "Keep quiet," Eliz-abeth hissed.
She cut the cords around Caroline's ankles. "Stand up."
A little shakily Caroline sat up, levered herself off the bed and got to her feet. Elizabeth moved so that she was behind her, holding one arm tightly while her free hand pressed the knife to Caroline's neck. "We're going for a little walk now. Don't struggle and don't call for help. If you do I'll slit your throat
clean across." She marched Caroline towards the door.
"Permission to speak," Caroline said as Elizabeth flung it open and pushed her forward into the corridor. Elizabeth grunted.
"Can I ask what all this is in aid of?"
"Don't worry, my dear. You'll find out soon enough."
"That means it's not something I'm going to like, and you're not telling me what because I'd try and make a break for it."
Elizabeth didn't answer this. "Hah," said Caroline.
By now they were at the stairs. They came down them slowly, one step at a time, Elizabeth's grip on her arm never relaxing for an instant. It was vice-like, almost painful, and there probably wouldn't be much point in struggling anyway; before she could succeed in breaking free, Elizabeth's other hand would have struck with the knife.
Elizabeth could feel Caroline's body trembling with suppressed fear. Briefly a pang of guilt disturbed her. Then she remembered what perseverance with her cause would buy her, and felt a surge of exhilaration which swept away all her doubts.
At the bottom of the stairs they turned right along the passage leading to the servants' quarters. They stopped at the door of one of the locked rooms. Elizabeth fumbled in her pocket and produced a key.
The room was bare except for a few boxes piled full of junk and coated with dust and cobwebs. Dragging Caroline after her, Eliz-abeth crossed to the wall and ran her fingers over one of the bumps in the ornamental moulding of the plaster.
Soundlessly, a section of the wall swung open like a door, revealing an inner room with walls of bare stone blocks. Elizabeth bundled Caroline inside and towards an opening in the floor, within which a flight of time-worn steps led down into darkness. A musty, dusty smell filled her nostrils.
Carefully they descended the steps until Caroline found herself in a narrow stone-walled tunnel. Someone had installed electric lights, positioned at intervals along the ceiling and connected to each other by a strip of wiring. It was cool and damp, and she could hear water trickling down the walls. She couldn't make out what was at the end of the tunnel as it was too far away.
After a while the passage branched off to the left. Then the right.
Left, right, right again. As they progressed, the floor beneath their feet gradually sloped downwards. They were descending deeper and deeper into the very heart of the cliff.
"Who built these tunnels?" Caroline asked, talking to try and hide her fear. "Smugglers?"
"Actually, no," said Elizabeth. "In the Civil War we were Royalist. The tunnels were built to provide a quick escape route for the family from the Roundheads, in case one was needed. In those days there was a pier down on the beach, and a boat was kept moored waiting to take them to France to join the royal court in exile. Later the smugglers found out about it and used it. That's the story, anyway."
"Oh," said Caroline. “Well, that's...that's very interesting."
Eventually the tunnel came to an end and they stepped through into a cave. It seemed partly natural and partly man-made, with smooth, shiny walls of bare rock. Caroline seemed to hear the sound of waves, and wondered whether it was really that or some acoustic effect caused by the shape of the rock chamber. Then she realised; it was the place she and Brendan had discovered the previous day, inside which he'd tried to dissuade her from looking.
There was natural light coming from somewhere, but it was supple-mented by flaring torches mounted on the walls in ornate holders. In the centre of the floor stood a rough-hewn block of stone around which were grouped the remainder of the Curno family, except for Brendan, plus a man she recognised as Charlie Treharne, the local grocer. Treharne had come up to her and Bob Pengarrick in the pub the day before, and chatted to them for a bit.
All of them wore plain white robes with hoods thrown back. Behind them, dominating the entire room, was a giant stone face. A cruel, birdlike face with narrow hooded eyes and a great curved beak. Elizabeth gestured towards it, smiling sinisterly. "We used to be Catholics. See who we worship now."
Caroline stared into the cruel eyes of the statue and a shudder of pure dread convulsed her. It was only a sculpted image, but the sensation it gave off was one of pure evil. She glanced round the cave fearfully, taking in the baleful atmosphere of the place.
She felt Elizabeth untie her hands. The others moved to surround her, blocking off any chance of escape.
"Place her on the altar," Elizabeth ordered.
If Caroline hadn't already guessed her fate, she did now. Kicking and screaming, she was lifted up and carried over to the block of stone. Her cries reverberated from the walls, echoing throughout the cave and along the tunnel system.
At each corner of the stone slab, attached to it by a short length of chain, was a set of iron manacles, old and rusty but still serviceable. They spread her out on the slab and fastened the manacles around her wrists and ankles.
She screamed until her throat was sore, then let her head fall back in despair. "Why are you doing this?" he sobbed.
A protuberance of the rock wall formed a kind of chair, and one of the white robes was draped over it. Elizabeth put it on and turned to face Caroline. Its elaborate embroidery suggested she was meant to be some kind of high priestess.
"Your fear, and then your death, will nourish Mawdrydd," she told Caroline. "She demands the sacrifice of an outsider, a Saxon."
By now Caroline had got a little of her breath back. "You're all mad!” she shrieked.
At the head of the altar rested a knife, beautifully worked in silver, its hilt fashioned in the shape of a bird's head and encrusted with jewels. The blade too was finely and elaborately engraved. Elizabeth took it and examined it lovingly, making sure Caroline could see her as she stroked it in anticipation, feeling its razor-sharp point with her thumb.
The robed figures began performing an elaborate series of rituals, bowing to another and to the statue, and muttering endless incantations in a strange guttural tongue. At one stage Elizabeth turned to the image of Mawdrydd and raised her hands in supplication, praying fervently and for several minutes.
Elizabeth had said Mawdrydd fed on the fear of the sacrifice. For that reason they were deliberately prolonging the ceremony, keeping the victim in a terrible thrill of suspense. Caroline was trying to keep a stiff upper lip, to spoil their fun, but it wasn't easy. And as her terror grew she could sense something else growing too, here in the cave with her; something ancient, dark and evil. It oozed from the walls and floor, filling the air around her, coiling its black tentacles about her body. The cultists' eyes were shining as they swayed gently from side to side, chanting in soft, low voices.
Caroline's heart leaped sickeningly as Elizabeth picked up the knife and raised it high above her helpless body. She stared up as if mesmerised at the dancing flames of the torches, reflected in the gleaming blade of the knife as the light from them glinted off its smooth, flawless surface.
With Elizabeth's frightening strength - a strength borne of mad-ness, Caroline was sure - behind it the blade would plunge deep into her breast, cleaving her heart in two and ending her life in a shower of blood.
The knife stayed where it was for the moment, hovering in mid-air above Caroline's chest. But gradually the chanting grew louder, taking on a new note; one of gleeful anticipation. It rose to maximum pitch, then went on.
With every passing second Caroline's ordeal grew worse. She knew they couldn't keep it up forever, and the change in the tone of the chanting voices had to be significant.
Would this be the moment when the knife was plunged into her heart? Or this?
Her face was screwed up tightly, eyes clamped shut, lips drawn back from savagely clenched teeth. She whimpered in fear.
Any second now. It must be.
Then in a sudden blur of movement someone ran into the cave and staggered to a halt. Brendan.
Instantly the spell was broken. Everyone's gaze was torn from the altar and they spun round to stare at him in horror.
Brendan took in the scene before him in shock and disbelief, mixed with a growing anger. Eventually he managed to speak. "What's going on?" he gasped. "Were....were you really going to..."
"Brendan!" shouted Caroline. "Get me out of this! They're all stark raving barmy!"
Elizabeth started to collect herself. She replaced the knife on the altar and took a couple of steps towards her son. "Brendan, what are you doing here?" She managed to keep her voice steady, putting all her usual authority into it.
"You sent me away deliberately, didn't you?" Brendan snapped. "So you could do this. I knew something was wrong."
"It's just a game, that's all," Elizabeth smiled.
"A game?" howled Caroline from the altar. She'd known from the
looks on the cultists' faces that it wasn't that. "You scared the hell out of me!"
"Leave her alone," Brendan shouted with passion. "She's my friend." He hesitated, then fixed his mother with a hard stare. "I've called the police," he lied.
Elizabeth went pale, swaying on her feet. The other cultists started in alarm.
"What?" Elizabeth stammered, moving a little closer to him. "You idiot! You could have wrecked everything! We could all end up in prison..."
She turned sharply to Patrick, and said one word. "Andrea." If something wasn't done about that before the police arrived, then they really would be in trouble. She only hoped there was still time.
Patrick hurried from the cave, brushing past Brendan who glanced briefly at him before returning his attention to his mother. He saw her nod to Arthur Curno, then at Caroline. Arthur produced an ancient key from beneath his white robe and unlocked her manacles. She got up and went to stand by Brendan.
"What about Andrea?" Brendan demanded. "What have you done to her?"
"Oh nothing, nothing," Elizabeth said impatiently. "Brendan, what did you tell the police?"
"I just said Caroline had disappeared and I was afraid something had happened to her. They said they'd send someone over."
He was still young. Elizabeth could imagine him gabbling frantically, incoherently, into the phone. "Going to kill...she's gone missing...I think they're going to kill her...please help!"
"When did you call them?" she asked.
"Just before I came down here." If he had said it was some time ago his ruse would soon be exposed when the police didn't turn up.
The cultists glanced at one another.
"What's it all about?" Brendan asked. "Why are you doing this?"
Once they realised he hadn't called the police at all, he and Caroline might be in serious trouble. He didn't know whether they'd go so far as to kill him, and didn't want to find out either. He had to keep them talking in the hope that he might persuade them to give it up, or effect his and Caroline's escape from danger. Because eventually he would have to contact the authorities, if he survived to do so and if he couldn't otherwise sort the matter out. But he didn't want to get his family into trouble if there was another way.
He needed to establish exactly what was motivating them. "Why are you doing it?" he repeated.
"Mawdrydd is restless," Elizabeth declared, her voice echoing eerily in the cave. "Angry. She demands that the Saxons who despoil these isles be destroyed. The girl was taken as a sacrifice to her. It is fitting that one of their descendants should be the first victim."
Caroline reeled physically, knocking into Brendan. She could hardly believe what she was hearing.
Brendan was similarly unimpressed. "That's all rubbish."
Elizabeth's eyes flashed with rage. "Don't blaspheme, Brendan."
"It is. More than that, it's evil."
"I've told you how much better life was before the Saxons came. How it could be again. Now Mawdrydd stirs from her centuries-long sleep. With her help we shall drive them out, reclaim what is rightfully ours. This land shall be an earthly paradise, every one of us in harmony with nature. Mawdrydd will protect her people, provided we show we are loyal."
"I knew you didn't like them, but I didn't think you'd go this far. You never told me what you were planning, did you?" He gave a hollow laugh. "Because you've never trusted me with anything. You thought I'd give it all away."
"You're not one of us," Megan said with sudden viciousness. "You must have some Saxon blood in you."
How can we be sure we don’t? she thought privately. It might not be much but…
"Once we held the whole of Europe," Elizabeth went on. "Then the barbarians from the north overwhelmed us, dispossessed us of our inheritance, destroyed our achievement. There must be atonement for all we have lost. Vengeance."
Caroline had managed to compose herself by now, and absorb some-thing of what was going on. She found her voice. "This...this is all crazy anyway. I still can't take it in. But there are one or two things I ought to point out." She spoke calmly and reasonably, drawing on all she'd learnt from the history books. "The Saxons and the Vikings came here because of population pressures. The effects of a rising birthrate, probably along with natural disasters. Nobody invades anyone else's territory just to be nasty, it's going to too much trouble. And the Celts could be just as bloodthirsty. They were always at war with one another, which was why the Saxons were able to beat them in the end. What we've done to other races, they've just as often done to themselves." She frowned as something Elizabeth had said penetrated her consciousness. "You said "with Mawdrydd's help". So she's only helping; she's not doing it all herself. What's your contribution to the cause of victory?"
Elizabeth was silent. As things stood they might, perhaps, be able to get out of trouble, if it could not be proved that they had actually been intending to kill Caroline, and she and Brendan were the only witnesses to all that had been happening. It would be a lot more serious if they told her about the virus. The stuff had had no effect on her, but it was nonetheless there in her blood-stream, to be found by anyone carrying out a medical examination. They'd surely go down for that.
Caroline suddenly noticed the puncture mark just above her wrist. Presuming they had given her something to help keep her under, she dismissed it from her mind.
"Well?" she demanded. "Are you going to tell us what else you've been up to?"

Patrick Curno was out of breath and aching all over when he finally reached the topmost step of the hidden staircase. Had he been somewhat younger it would not have taken him half as long to get there. He could only run for short distances, and the upward slope of the tunnel floors had meant that the going got heavier by the minute. And then to climb the stairs into the house had been agony.
His heart pounding alarmingly, he paused to get his breath back, one arm resting on the wall to steady himself. It took longer than he would have preferred.
He was sure he was too late. He would probably not have got there in time anyway. Allowing for the period elapsing between Brendan's calling the police and the interruption of the sacrifice, and then the half-hour or so he had taken to get back to the house through the network of tunnels within the cliff...
If there was any time left, he must use it to give Andrea the antidote and secrete her somewhere while she recovered, the explanations waiting until later. How long would that take?
If there was the slightest chance he could get it done in time...
On his way to the laboratory, he paused briefly to peer out of the window. Still no police car parked by the front door, or speeding up the drive to the house with siren blaring.
Patrick was puzzled. By his reckoning they should have got here by now, but they hadn't. He hesitated thoughtfully, then hurried on his way. He came up the door of the laboratory and unlocked it. Somewhere along the way he had divested himself of his ceremonial robe.
He glanced down at Andrea. She was beginning to stir, moaning softly. Her face had taken on a greyish pallor and sores were breaking out all over it, several of them weeping streams of pus down her cheeks.
He had had a phone installed in the lab so that he could answer calls without having to leave his work. He picked up the receiver and dialled the number of the local police station.
If Brendan had been telling the truth when he said he had called the police, they had nothing to lose.
In a moment the girl on the switchboard had answered him. "Hello, Kingsford police."
"Hello, this is Patrick Curno ringing from Treneer. Did you by any chance receive a call from here within the last two hours or so?"
There was a pause while the girl considered. "No, Sir, I don't think so," she said. "I could check for you, but I've been on switchboard since I came in at half past eight, and there hasn't been anything. Is there something wrong?"
"Well, not really. It's my son, Brendan; he tends to be a bit emotional, a bit immature, and we had rather a row at breakfast. He went off claiming that we'd threatened him and saying he was going to call you. Looks like he calmed down and thought better of it. He usually does in the end. I was just concerned that you didn't waste your time."
"Oh, that's all right, Sir. Thanks for letting us know, anyway." "No trouble at all. Goodbye." He replaced the receiver.
At the police station, the switchboard operator dismissed the matter from her thoughts with a shrug. That Brendan Curno was an odd one, she supposed. But then he came from an odd family.
Patrick snatched up his mobile and dialled another number. In the cave the phone in the pocket of Elizabeth's robe bleeped. She snatched it out. "Yes?"
As she listened to Patrick's news her eyes lit up and a broad, unnerving grin spread over her face. Pocketing the phone, she turned slowly to Brendan and Caroline.
"So you called the police, did you?" Her gaze settled on Carol-ine. "It looks like your appointment with Mawdrydd won't have to be cancelled after all, my dear."
The cultists began moving in on them.
Brendan dashed to the altar and snatched up the knife, brandishing it before him with a savage expression. They hesitated, stepping back a pace or two.
Caroline ran to the wall and snapped off one of the torch holders. She swung the blazing torch round in a fiery arc, forcing them to retreat a little further, then hurled it at Arthur Curno. He gave a cry and jumped back, but wasn't quite fast enough; a plume of flame shot up from the shoulder of his robe as it caught fire, and he staggered about screaming and frantically trying to tear it off before he was too badly burnt. Instinctively the other cultists ran to help him.
"Get out of here!" Caroline yelled to Brendan.
The cultists were blocking the exit from the cave as they milled about trying to help Arthur. Caroline remembered the hole in the wall which divided it from the one she and Brendan had discovered the day before. She ran to it and started to squeeze through. Encountering resistance, she thought for one terrified moment that she'd got stuck, but then with a final push slipped through into the other cave. In a moment Brendan was with her, adrenalin giving him the strength to force himself through the narrow gap.
In the cave Elizabeth snatched out her mobile again, her face a mask of diabolical fury. "Patrick, they've got away! Stop them!"
"What if he doesn't?" gabbled Charlie Treharne. “They'll have the police down on us and then..." He swung round to Elizabeth. "Look, let's just call the whole thing off. Tell Patrick to let them go. Get rid of all this..." In a sweeping gesture he indicated the rows of lighted candles. "Burn the robes. Burn everything that's flammable and gives a clue to what's been going on here. As for the rest, we'll just have to try and bluff things out."
Elizabeth shook her head savagely. "We can't give up now. We must go on with this, Charlie; we must. Mawdrydd demands it." Her head snapped up and her shining eyes stared at the ceiling, the ecstatic smile on her face broadening to an almost inhuman extent. "She's already stronger. Can't you feel it?"
She turned to Megan. "We must complete the ceremony. An animal will be sufficient. Fetch a couple of chickens from the farm. But hurry."
Apart from Morwenna everyone was ignoring Arthur Curno, who writhed and screamed in agony on the floor of the cave, every few seconds clutching his injured arm and then whipping his hand away as it touched the raw burnt flesh. Morwenna was making desperate and futile attempts to calm him. "He needs a doctor!" she shouted, though she knew there was little chance of Elizabeth allowing them to seek proper medical attention. It might lead to too much being found out.
"I'm not having any part in this," snapped Charlie Treharne. "You're absolutely crazy. Brendan was right, it's gone too far." He turned to leave. The others made to bar his way, then hesitated.
"The more witnesses there are the more likely we'll all end up behind bars," Elizabeth told them. "You don't want that, do you?"
Making up their minds, they formed themselves into a line before Treharne. The grocer tried to barge his way through them, but they hurled themselves on him and after a brief struggle wrestled him to the floor.
Elizabeth looked down at him with contempt. "You are no longer one of us," she snarled. "Your blood shall nourish Mawdrydd."
Treharne was hauled to his feet and dragged over to the altar, shouting and swearing. He struggled fiercely, but they gripped him with the strength of madness. They lifted him and placed him on the stone, holding him down while Elizabeth fitted the manacles into place. He twisted and thrashed violently, the echoes from his screams almost deafening them.
This time they didn't bother with the full ceremony. With a brief muttered incantation Elizabeth raised the knife and held it poised above him. She delayed long enough to be able to savour his fear. Then she slashed downward viciously, and the point of the blade tore through flesh, muscle, sinew, veins and arteries into his heart.
A gout of blood spurted high in the air, to collapse and spatter over his white robe. Treharne jerked convulsively, his wrists straining at the manacles, then went limp.
Putting down the knife, Elizabeth reached inside the bloody cavity in his chest and lifted out his still pumping heart, holding it up triumphantly.
She turned expectantly towards the statue of Mawdrydd, raising her arms. Automatically, the others followed suit.
An unearthly pulsing light started to beat from the statue, growing brighter by the second. Elizabeth and her companions drew back sharply, shielding their eyes. Gradually the radiance spread to fill the whole cave. Blinded by the intense light, none of them saw something begin to form within it.
A few minutes later, a stream of shimmering vapour poured from the entrance to the caves, twisting and turning like a snake. It became a gleaming column that rose high into the air above the clifftop, before beginning to take on definite shape.

"We'd better move fast or it'll be the wicker man for us," panted Caroline.
"That was the Vikings," said Brendan. "So Mum says, anyway. The Romans just put the blame on us."
They were hurrying as fast as was safe along the cliff path towards the house.
“Were there Vikings when there were Romans?” asked Caroline curiously.
“Just about, I think.”
“Oh, right – “ Caroline gave a startled cry and stopped in her tracks as Patrick Curno rose from the clump of gorse behind which he had concealed himself and came towards them. He'd seen them from the house and gone to cut them off. Brendan recognised the gun in his hand as his great-grandfather's ancient hunting rifle.
He found himself clutching Caroline's arm reassuringly.
Patrick aimed the rifle squarely at a point between the two of them. "Start walking back along the path," he ordered.
"Dad, stop this," Brendan pleaded.
"I don't want to have to kill you, Brendan." His father's voice wavered slightly, as did the gun in his hand.
"You might have to," said Brendan, his face tightening. He jerked his head towards Caroline. "Do what you like to me but you're not touching her."
He felt Caroline's hand touch his gently. "Brendan, it's all right," she whispered.
"You haven't a chance, either of you. Now do as I say and start walking. Back to the cave."
Caroline shook her head. "So that I can let myself be meekly sacrificed?"
"If you don't start walking I'll shoot you here and now." The anguish in Patrick's voice made plain his internal conflict. And in his tormented and confused state he was liable to shoot on impulse.
There was no choice. They turned and started back along the path. And then, quite involuntarily, the three of them stopped dead.
The air around them seemed suddenly to have chilled.
"Can you feel it?" whispered Caroline. Brendan glanced at Patrick and saw that his face had frozen with fear.
Then Caroline screamed.
Coming along the path towards them was a Thing.
It must have been twenty or thirty feet tall. Its body was a woman's but covered in pointed, overlapping reptilian scales. The hands and feet were long, curved talons like an eagle's and the head, too, was that of an enormous bird, with a cruel thrusting beak and hooded yellow eyes. It recalled the face of the statue in the cave. Its back was hunched and misshapen-looking.
At the sight of his god Patrick Curno stumbled backwards, his face deathly pale, his fingers loosening their grip on the gun. Gazing up at the apparition's malevolent features, he knew he was looking at the image of absolute evil. He let out a ghastly piercing scream of pure terror.
Then, more or less by instinct, he raised the gun and fired, letting off both barrels straight into the chest of the advancing horror.
The blast did no visible damage. But the creature halted, letting out a shrill screech of rage, and its cruel head swung down towards Patrick Curno. The burning yellow eyes fixed him with their baleful stare.
This was no follower of Mawdrydd. Its fear of her made it her enemy. And it had dared to try to harm her.
Mawdrydd hissed, drew itself up, and took to the air, the lumpy bulge on its back folding out into a pair of huge scaly wings. Then it flew after Patrick as he dropped the gun and ran off along the path yelling in terror, its beating wings lashing the air with a nasty whistling sound.
Caroline snatched up the gun. "Come on!" she yelled to Brendan. The youth was watching, seemingly paralysed, as the flapping horror swooped down upon his father.
Feeling its wings brush his face, Patrick cried out and flinched, staggering away from the creature. Suddenly the ground under his feet crumbled and he felt himself plunging through empty air. In his wild terror he had stumbled too close to the edge of the cliff. With a ghastly scream he vanished from Caroline and Brendan's sight.
"Dad!" yelled Brendan, immediately paling.
They heard a dull thud, and Patrick's scream was cut off. For a moment Mawdrydd hovered a few feet above the ground, then it swooped down out of sight beneath the level of the clifftop. It wanted to make sure Patrick was dead.
"Dad!" Brendan cried again. "Dad!" Tears streaming from his eyes he ran to the edge, oblivious to his own safety.
Caroline grabbed his arm and tugged him away. They had to be ruthless. "There's nothing you can do. You saw what little difference bullets made to it. And as soon as it's finished with him it'll start on us."
With an effort Brendan tore himself away. Caroline hesitated briefly, then snatched up the shotgun. The two of them ran on, with no clear idea where to make for.
In a second the monster would be after them. There was nowhere within sight that might serve as a hiding place.
Caroline's mind raced frantically as she tried to think of a solution.
There was just one, slim chance.
They were heading towards the first of the engine houses. It was near here that she had felt the feeling of brooding evil, the crushing black depression that had almost overwhelmed her.
But that had been a Saxon settlement...
She had an idea. It might work or it might not.
She staggered to a halt, Brendan stopping with her.
They dared not glance behind them. But it seemed they could al-ready hear the beating of Mawdrydd's wings, like some evil angel of death about to descend on them.
Caroline stretched out her hands and raised her voice. "As a descendant of the Saxons..." It was more or less what she was.
She struggled to remember all she had learned about their mythol-ogy. "I call upon Tiw, and Woden, and Thor, and Frigga, and all the other gods of our people to help us in our hour of need." Her face was screwed up in fierce concentration.
Her hands fell to her sides. They waited, terrified in case at any moment Mawdrydd should fall upon them and tear them to pieces.
Caroline heard a deep, guttural, terrifying voice, filling the air around the two of them. She wasn't sure if she heard it with her ears or in her mind.
Wotan answers you.
A patch of shimmering light appeared in the air before them. It grew and solidified at the same time, resolving itself into a gigantic human figure. A huge man in the costume of a Saxon warrior, sword in hand, his head covered by a high-domed helmet and a face mask with holes for the eyes and mouth. They reckoned he must be at least as tall as a house.
The apparition stood gazing down at Caroline and Brendan for a second or two. Then it stiffened, its head jerking up sharply. It began marching towards them, its sword raised high above its head, and they jumped quickly out of its path. They turned and saw Mawdrydd hovering a few feet above the moor, her wings flapping furiously.
With a screech of anger she flew towards Wotan. The two figures collided. Wotan slashed at Mawdrydd with his sword while the bird-goddess sank her talons into his body, ripping the fabric of his leather tunic. She pecked at him savagely, jabbing and thrusting with her beak, the yellow eyes twin furnaces of hatred and anger. Blood oozed out through the gashes. Wotan roared with pain, but did not falter. He continued to hack with the sword, striking fountains of blood from Mawdrydd's body while his adversary tried to dig her beak and claws deeper and deeper into him. Caroline and Brendan looked on in awe.
As they fought the giant figures seemed to give off a wave of energy, like a blast of intense heat, that seared the flesh of the two watching humans. The grass was charred and smoking where they had trod. An acrid smell stung Caroline's nostrils and she realised the shoulder of her blouse was smouldering.
The giants reeled and staggered everywhere in their savage struggle. "Look out!" yelled Caroline as they lurched suddenly towards her and Brendan.
They ran out of the way, narrowly escaping being smashed to the ground. "I think we'd better find somewhere safe, and fast," Caroline shouted. "Let's go to the house." It was the nearest place of refuge.
They hurried along the path towards Treneer, and a few minutes later came up to the rear of the building. Caroline smashed one of the panes of glass in the door with the butt of the shotgun, reached in and undid the latch.
Exploring cautiously, they saw no sign of any of the cultists. The house certainly felt empty; all the same Caroline kept a firm grip on the gun.
"While we're here we might as well try and find out one or two things," she said.
Brendan nodded. "I think Andrea may be here somewhere. You heard what Mum said to Dad back in the cave. She may be meant for sacrifice. I mean, she's fair isn't she? It wouldn't be one of us."
"We might also be able to find out what they're ultimately planning. That other locked room, do you know what's in there?"
“No idea. I was never allowed inside it."
"Well, let's go and see."
She realised he wasn't following her, stopped and turned back to see him standing looking down at the floor, tears in his eyes.
He glanced up at her approach, looking at her almost accusingly.
"We should have helped Dad."
One of his earliest memories was of the big bearded man coming into his room to say goodnight; he was so huge that Brendan felt a little frightened of him. But the soft, gentle voice reading him nursery rhymes and teaching him the old folk songs and legends was totally in contrast to what one would have expected.
His lip started to tremble. She rushed to him, hugging him tight while he buried his face in her shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably. "Oh Brendan...Brendan, believe me, if there was anything we could have done..."
She continued to hold him for a moment after he had stopped crying. While that moment lasted all Brendan could think of was the beautiful warmth of her body and the feel of her soft hair as it brushed his cheek.
"All right now?" she whispered. He nodded silently.
Squeezing his hand, she released him. "Come on, then."
They came up to the locked door and Caroline blasted it open with the shotgun. She gave it a shove, and it swung open to reveal racks of test tubes and benches on which an assortment of scientific equipment was neatly laid out.
"A laboratory," she said thoughtfully. "Wonder what he was doing here?"
"Dad used to work at Porton Down, the place where they do research into diseases and that sort of thing. I think he still did a bit of work for the government, under licence. But he never talked about it, not to me anyway. And he told the rest of us not to, either."
They started looking around, Caroline all the time listening for any sound from outside the room. Her eye came to rest on a row of labelled plastic bottles, taking up most of a shelf which ran the length of the room, and she tried without success to make sense of them; they all had incredibly long names which meant nothing to someone without any particular scientific knowledge.
She heard Brendan give a sharp intake of breath. "Oh, God," he shouted. She whirled round, saw what he had seen and screamed, both hands going to her mouth.
Horrified, they stared down at the body on the trolley. It was only just recognisable as Andrea Wyatt. Her skin was gnarled and rough-looking, like the bark of a tree, and her hands were crooked claws, raised as if to defend herself against some attacking horror. Her eyes protruded half out of their sockets, the lids and lashes eaten away, and her mouth gaped permanently open in a soundless scream. "What...what's happened to her?" Caroline gasped.
"I don't know," said Brendan. "God, it's horrible."
Conquering her revulsion, Caroline studied the corpse thoughtfully. "Like you said, she was fair...so probably Saxon by descent. And Elizabeth hates the Saxons."
It suddenly hit her in a cold rush of nausea. "She's trying to wipe us all out," she whispered. "Your father was developing some kind of virus here. A virus that'll target a particular genetic type and leave others unharmed. She wants to exterminate the des-cendants of the Saxons so that the Celts can reclaim their own. Ethnic cleansing. My God..."
Fiercely she collected her wits. "We've got to find the stuff." Once they had it must be sent straight away to Porton Down or somewhere similar. "Your Dad must have left a record of all his experiments somewhere. That'd help, if we could find it."
Brendan spotted a ring binder lying on one of the benches. "Could that be it?"
Caroline took it and cast her eye down the page at which it was open. The page was headed "X90 VIRUS - TEST NOTES". Beneath it was written: "First subject 89% Teuto-Scandinavian, result negative. Second subject 85% Teuto-Scandinavian, result positive."
She slammed the folder down. ""First subject." That must be me. They experimented on me!"
"And it didn't work," she went on softly. "I was immune."
She looked at the notes again. ""89% Teuto-Scandinavian"..." She had no idea what the other 11% might be; it certainly wasn't something that showed on the outside. But there was enough of it to form a critical mass that made her what she was, made her something different from - from what she might have been. It couldn't explain her immunity to the virus, though. Andrea Wyatt must have had some Celtic blood in her, and yet she hadn't been safe.
Caroline read on, feeling all the time a growing sense of horror and disbelief. She jumped. "He says here he's been working on an airborne form of the plague." Once Patrick had established that he had a virus, he had sought to develop an effective means of spreading it, concurrently with trying to find out whether it actually worked. Elizabeth wanted to make sure that if the cult's plans were suddenly and unexpectedly discovered, they could immediately put them into operation. The situation would justify any risk of failure.
"And he reckons he's just about done it. "I have experimented with various strains of the virus. So far none of them have multiplied at the required speed when exposed to air, but each time the rate of reproduction has been much faster than before. I believe I am close to obtaining the desired result.""
"We've got to find it," she repeated, tossing the folder back onto the bench. "I'll stand at the door while you look." She guessed Brendan would feel less confident with the shotgun. She herself was quite happy to let 'em have it if they gave her no other option.
She positioned herself in the doorway, the gun levelled before her, listening carefully for the slightest sound. "Any luck?" she asked Brendan after a certain amount of time had passed.
He was scanning the rows of test tubes and ampoules carefully. But he couldn't see one labelled X90. "No," he replied.
"Keep looking. Maybe he put it in some special place."
Suddenly Caroline froze. She could hear footsteps approaching the laboratory. She stepped out of the room and looked in the direction they had been coming from.
At once she went cold, shivering with fear.
Into view came Elizabeth, Megan, Arthur and Morwenna.
And all of them were carrying guns.
The thought flashed into her mind that Elizabeth had been prepar-ing for a private little war against the Saxons, mopping up the survivors of the plague. She guessed they had not used the guns to overpower her the previous night because chloroforming her while she slept seemed simpler.
At the sight of her they each came to a sudden halt, regarding her indecisively.
"I'd get back if I were you," she warned. "We don't want a shoot-out. There's a lot of stuff in here that we don't want to break."
The virus wouldn't affect Elizabeth and her family. But there must be plenty of things in the lab that would. Trouble was, they might harm Caroline and Brendan too.
Caroline saw that Arthur's left sleeve was rolled up to the shoulder, exposing a mass of raw red flesh. "I'm sorry I had to do that," she said sincerely. Arthur stared back at her without emotion.
Brendan came up behind her, glaring over her shoulder at Eliza-
beth. "You killed Dad!" he shouted, his voice quivering with rage
and distress. "It was your fault! You conjured up that thing and it killed him!"
There was a pause. They saw Megan start, looking at Elizabeth in horror.
Elizabeth soon regained her control. "His courage wavered at the sight of Mawdrydd," she told Megan. "It is a warning to be stead-fast in our loyalty to her."
Megan looked doubtful for a moment, then collected herself.
"Have you seen what's going on outside?" Caroline said. "At this rate those monsters will wreck everything. God knows what you've started."
"I did it all for a reason," Elizabeth snapped. A faraway, mys-tical look entered her eyes. "The spirits of the dead...you can feel them here, all around you. All our kind have the gift, but in me it was strongest. I felt their sorrow, their anger, their agony as they were driven from their land, their homes...I saw whole villages slaughtered. The Saxon filth wiped out our culture, our language, our religion, our entire civilisation, bringing only grief and destruction."
"So you decided to destroy their children. I know what you've been up to in there. I can't see how it can possibly work, though. We're all pretty mixed now, aren't we?"
"We're purer than we realise," Elizabeth told her. "The English have always called themselves "Anglo-Saxons", and indeed there's a good deal of justification in that. You're more Germanic than anything else; it's the dominant part of your make-up. The Celts were mostly driven onto the fringes, to Scotland, Ireland, Wales...and here. Not many Romans stayed behind after the legions departed. The Normans were never much more than a small ruling elite. All that's left is the distinction between Saxons and Vikings, and I don't think anyone's much bothered about that.
"The virus will kill anyone with a large enough percentage of Germanic or Scandinavian DNA. It’ll more than decimate the population. Only the Celts will be spared, to take back what is rightfully theirs."
Caroline tried to think of some alternative argument that would sway Elizabeth. "No more blondes...what an awful thought. The world needs a bit of colour in it."
"You could always dye it. That's what we did."
"That isn't the same thing," said Caroline disparagingly.
"It's just a colour, that's all. Whether it's real or not doesn't matter in the end."
With that they abandoned this fascinating sideline. “It may not have been like you say,” Caroline said. “There’s some evidence the scale of the Saxon settlement wasn’t as great as people think.” But big enough, probably, for Elizabeth’s virus to kill millions of people all the same, and throw the country into chaos. It varied from place to place, of course. But the native population seem to have taken on Germanic customs willingly, a lot of the time. It was a way of resolving the identity crisis they went through after the Romans pulled out.”
But Elizabeth was well away. "We treasured the earth, cared for its living things," she went on. "Existed in harmony with ourselves and with nature, and expressed that union, that sacred bonding, in our art. All that was lost to a brood of heathen barbarians who despoiled our land with their dehumanising industry. Whose descendants are now ruining the country through pollution, violence, crime. Who like all Germans are aggressive, bigoted, racist."
And aren't we? Arthur Curno found himself thinking.
"Your belief in your own racial superiority led you to colonise other countries, while treating their people like second-class citizens. It explains the British Empire. In Germany itself it led to the death camps. The WASPS in America still run the country, more or less, and now they're trying to act as the world's policemen, mucking up the whole show in the process."
For one reason or another Caroline found herself becoming angry. "You're saying we never had a civilisation - that's rubbish. What about the Venerable Bede? The people who wrote the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, or Boewulf? And you can't be sure it would have made any difference to all the pollution if we'd never come here. How do you know the Celts wouldn't have industrialised in the long run?"
"It was your cherished Protestant work ethic the Industrial Revolution was built on," Elizabeth said.
Caroline ignored her. "I've said it before, they fought among themselves as much as others fought them. And to say their society was never licentious or decadent is a load of bollocks. You know why it was so matriarchal? Because there was so much promiscuity nobody knew who their father was."
Elizabeth scowled. "All this talk is pointless. We will destroy you, whatever happens."
"Keep on looking for that virus," Caroline shouted to Brendan, without taking her eyes off Elizabeth. She addressed the woman pleadingly. "I'll have no option but to tell the police every-thing. You know that, don't you? If you give yourselves up vol-untarily it'll look much better for you."
She broke off as the bellows and screams of rage from outside grew suddenly louder, the shaking of the earth more violent. In their blind struggle Mawdrydd and Wotan had stumbled close to the house.
"We've got to get out of here!" Elizabeth yelled. "They'll smash everything to bits!"
All the same she stayed where she was, her finger tight on the trigger of her rifle.
Caroline did the same. The two women continued to confront each other, eyes locked. Brendan appeared in the doorway, looking anxious, his search for the virus abandoned for the moment.
Suddenly the whole house shook as two massive bodies crashed into it. A portrait fell from the wall and shattered on the floor. In the lab test tubes rattled in their holders and lumps of plaster fell from the ceiling amid a shower of dust.
One wall of the corridor and a large part of the ceiling fell in.
The cultists were sent sprawling on the floor, losing their grip on their guns. Caroline staggered, but managed to keep her balance. Then more debris crashed down on top of her, and this time she was thrown to the ground along with Elizabeth and her family.
Momentarily, she lay still. Then she picked herself up, bruised and shaken, and glanced around. She'd lost her grip on the shotgun and now she couldn't see it anywhere. Particles of dust and powdered plaster filled her mouth and nostrils, making her cough and choke violently, and her eyes were streaming.
Elizabeth and the other cultists were either unconscious or staggering about dazedly, gunless. She saw Elizabeth clamber shakily to her feet and look round for her missing weapon.
Caroline seized Brendan by the arm. "We've got to get out of here!"
They ran down the corridor, stumbling all the time on chunks of plaster and splinters of wood. Turning a corner, they skidded to a halt. Their way was blocked by a huge pile of debris; stones, plaster, broken timbers and the shattered remains of furniture and ornaments. But a huge jagged hole, some thirty feet across, had been knocked in the wall of the house. Most of it was blocked by the debris, but a gap remained large enough for the two of them to squeeze through, one at a time. They scrambled over the wreckage, cutting and bruising themselves in the process, and through the hole into open air. Once outside they paused for a moment to take stock of things. The struggling monsters had lurched away from the house.
Caroline and Brendan ran across the fields towards the village. Brendan spotted the familiar red shape of a phone box and pointed to it, shouting. They changed direction.
In their haste they hadn't thought about what to tell the authorities. What they did know was that it wasn't just a matter for the police. With those things crashing about the place wreaking untold devastation, you needed the bloody Army. And perhaps even they couldn't sort this one out.

Back on their feet now, the Curno family glanced at one another uneasily. God knew what damage had been done to the place.
The sounds of titanic struggle had receded into the distance. Picking his way over the pile of wreckage, Arthur Curno went to the hole in the wall and peered out. "They seem to have gone towards the village," he reported. In the distance he could see the giant figures still fighting viciously, locked in their savage, crushing embrace. They knocked into the radio mast on Clyston Down and brought it crashing to the ground, sparks spitting from severed cables.
"Keep a look-out, and warn us if they come back," Elizabeth ordered. She, Megan and Morwenna ventured cautiously inside the laboratory. Miraculously, the room and its contents had escaped serious damage. The walls remained structurally sound although the ceiling had a bad crack running jaggedly across it.
Elizabeth's eye fell on Andrea Wyatt's contorted body. She gave a start of joy, breaking into a broad delighted grin. So, the virus worked.
At the far end of the laboratory a door opened into a small storeroom. Snatching up a key from one of the benches, Elizabeth went and unlocked it.
The room was bare except for a metal safe with a combination lock. She turned the dial until the tumblers disengaged and the door sprang open. Reaching inside, she took out a thick-walled canister of toughened glass, filled with a swirling yellowish liquid. Cradling it lovingly, she lifted it up to the light.
"Do we go after them?" Megan asked.
"We don't need to," said Elizabeth. "All we need to do is sprinkle this stuff everywhere. Then no-one will be able to get at
us. At least, I hope not." She handed the canister to Arthur. "In the ground floor corridors, around the door, and a little on the ground outside," she instructed.
She returned to the safe and took out a second canister. "Get this mess cleared away and all the equipment set up," she told Megan. "We'll remain on guard out here, just in case."

Already about a quarter of the houses in the village had been reduced to rubble. The villagers had gathered on the hill beyond the village, fleeing from the damage the battling monsters were causing it. They heard the wailing sirens and turned to see a fleet of police cars coming along the road from Penzance, followed by the van containing the armed Response Team.
The policeman who had first caught sight of the monstrous figures, the driver of the lead car, had almost crashed the vehicle in shock and astonishment. For the sake of his sanity, he had decided that what he was witnessing was some kind of hallucination. "Sierra Oscar, do you see it?" he gasped into his radio.
"Yes, I see it. But I don't believe it. Must be some sort of illusion. I hope so, anyway." His colleague's voice was trembling as he spoke.
As the vehicles turned off the road and slowed to a halt the crowd immediately surged towards them, and a chorus of agitated voices broke out. Inspector Ron Challis got out of his car and went to meet them, raising his hands placatingly. "One moment, ladies and gentlemen, if you please," he shouted. Slowly the commotion died down.
"We are assessing the situation," he told them. "In the meantime, please stay calm. If the problem spreads, evacuation measures will I am sure be put in hand."
What the bloody hell was going on here, he wondered. Was it a hallucination? Some kind of mass hysteria? He scanned the cluster of houses in the valley below him, taking in the streets filled with piles of rubble, the partly destroyed houses, the cars crushed as flat as if they'd been in a scrapyard compressor, the lorry with one side smashed in, looking like a toy stepped on by a giant.
He felt his mouth go dry. That couldn't have been caused by an illusion.
He turned to his subordinate, Sergeant Terry Gowan. "Call the MOD in London. I don't know what they'll make of it but we've got to do something before someone gets killed." Gowan nodded and hurried off. Again Challis addressed the anxiously waiting crowds, informing them what he had done.
In the last few minutes they had been getting a host of bizarre calls, telling of strange, gigantic creatures roaming the area. But what had brought his team out in the first place was a call from someone alleging that terrorists had taken over a chemical laboratory and were preparing to release some kind of virus. He dreaded to think what the consequences would be if the villagers found that out. Mass panic, most likely, with dozens of people being trampled to death.
"Get the Response team over there," he ordered another officer. The armed police in the van had been trained in dealing with incidents involving chemical weapons, as part of recent measures to defend the country against the wrath of al-Qaeda. Each of them was wearing protective clothing; gloves, boots, silver coveralls and masks like the heads of giant insects. One by one they climbed down from the van. "Needless to say, steer well clear of those...things," Challis ordered them.
He felt someone come up beside him. "Excuse me," they said. He glanced round to see a pretty young woman and a young man standing before him. "We're the ones who made the call," Caroline explain-ed.
"You didn't mention those." Challis nodded towards the rampaging monsters crashing about the village.
Caroline smiled. "I didn't think you'd believe me until you'd seen it for yourselves." She leaned towards him confidentially. "Another thing I didn't tell you. The people who've taken over the chemical lab. They're not terrorists, not exactly. Let me explain..."
When she had finished Challis simply shrugged. "Well, Miss," he sighed, "if those things can be real..." He nodded towards Wotan and Mawdrydd. "I guess I could believe just about anything."
Caroline's attention wandered briefly from him, and she caught sight of Bob, the local historian, among the crowds. He looked tense and alert; as if he were not so much worried as waiting for something.

Megan Curno peered through the eyepiece of the microscope at the specimen slide, and her lips twitched briefly in satisfaction. As she had predicted the virus was changing, mutating, almost before her very eyes.
This was the latest strain to be developed. Using her father's notes as a guide, she had made a couple of modifications to it. Within an hour or so, if his conclusions had been correct, it would attain a form susceptible to rapid spread throughout the atmosphere over the British Isles.
Gently Megan placed the slide inside a metal flask. She snapped the lid of the flask into place and carried it over to the incu-bation chamber. At what she calculated would be the right moment an explosive charge detonated from within the main laboratory would blow the lid off the flask and the virus would be exposed to the atmosphere within the chamber, which was composed of the same mixture of gases as the air outside. If it multiplied at the required rate, she would know that she had succeeded. It would take a few minutes to be sure.
Outside, Elizabeth Curno waited silently, trying not to think about the possibility of their cause being defeated. Ever since, as a little girl, she had first realised she had the gift she had spent all her life working for the triumph of a spiritual tradition that gave a purpose, a sense of destiny, to her life; a tradition that was passionate, intimate, valuing friendship, and rejected the social atomisation that nowadays made everyone afraid of each other. How would she handle it if they failed?
Arthur Curno turned from the hole in the wall. "They're coming," he informed the others. "About six of them."
Elizabeth tensed, tightening her grip on the rifle. She was quite ready to make a fight of it.
Arthur returned to the hole and peered out gingerly. The policemen were moving steadily towards the house, looking bizarre and sinister in their protective suits and masks. Each one carried a rifle. Arthur saw them stiffen as they caught sight of him, and ducked back inside.
They were within a few yards of the building when suddenly the man in the lead cried out sharply in pain. His colleagues saw him sway and stagger about, hands clawing at the fabric of his protective suit. They could hear his screams over the radio built into his respirator. Horrified, they ran towards him in an instinctive attempt to help. Then one of them, in sudden realisation, shouted at them to keep back.
The policeman crumpled to his knees, then toppled forward onto his face. He twitched once, twice, then lay still.

Inspector Challis heard his radio crackle and answered it. He listened for a moment, then pocketed it and turned slowly to his companions, ashen-faced. "One of the team's dead. It looks like the virus can get through the suits. God, if we can't stop it..." It occurred to him that the danger zone might not extend all the way round the house. But there was no way to make sure without risking further tragedies.
“Will the virus spread?" he asked Caroline worriedly.
"It can't reproduce in the air yet - if it could we'd all be dead by now, except me and Brendan. But that's what they're working on. And we don't know how close they are to cracking it."
"My Dad was the expert," Brendan interjected. "But Megan's a chemist too. She spent a lot of time in the lab with him."
Caroline sank deep into thought. They had to stop this, she thought desperately. She became aware that Challis was speaking to her. "So anyone I send in there will die, simple as that?"
"Everyone's blood's been too diluted with the Saxons'." Caroline eyed Sergeant Gowan thoughtfully, noting his dark hair and complexion, the profile of his face. "Some of you might be OK."
"I don't want to take chances with my officers' lives," Challis told her bluntly.
Caroline could feel her panic mounting. Then suddenly she brightened. "There's an answer," she announced excitedly. "It all depends on how long we have left."
At that moment excited shouts rang up from the crowd. People were pointing down the road to where a convoy of dark green, military-style vehicles had come into view. A Land Rover was in the lead, with another following close behind, then a fleet of Bedford lorries, and finally a huge multi-wheeled truck with a forest of TV aerials sprouting from its roof. As the truck drew nearer they saw the insignia on its side, a winged globe with the initials U.N.I.T beneath it.
The vehicles drew to a halt and about twenty soldiers jumped out of the lorries and surrounded the convoy protectively, their rifles levelled, obviously ready to shoot if anyone came too close to them. Their berets and shoulder pads bore the same insignia as the truck. Caroline felt a strange, indescribable, uneasy thrill. She had heard of the UNIT organisation, vaguely. They were reputed to have been in existence since the sixties, each successive government co-operating with its predecessor to maintain the conspiracy of silence which enshrouded them. Almost nothing was known about them; various investigative journalists had attempted to unravel the mystery and met with a total lack of success. They were even more mysterious and shadowy than MI5 and 6 in the days before user-friendliness and open government had made those organisations publicly accessible to some extent. It was not even clear exactly what UNIT stood for, although according to one source it was Unified Intelligence Taskforce. They seemed to be an international organisation, though one with more power than such bodies normally enjoyed, suggesting they operated with the support, tacit or otherwise, of national governments. Nobody knew what they did exactly. One unnamed informant had allegedly told a national newspaper that their business was dealing with "threats to international security which are not of a kind susceptible to solution by the usual methods, whether those methods involve espionage, diplomacy or military action." What this might mean was a question that frequently occupied the minds of conspiracy theorists.
But now, Caroline thought she knew.
Hearing the chatter of rotors, she looked up to see a Chinook helicopter hovering far above them. It too bore the UNIT emblem.
Challis was speaking urgently into his radio. "Where are the nearest ones...Plymouth? All right, send them over here. But hurry." He clicked the radio off and looked up to catch sight of the cluster of UNIT vehicles. "I didn't think they'd get here so soon," he muttered, puzzled.
"That's not the Army," said Sergeant Gowan, frowning.
Bob Pengarrick was shouldering his way through the crowd towards the UNIT troops. Inspector Challis stretched out an arm. "Keep back, Sir!"
Bob ducked underneath the arm. "I think I know how we can stop those creatures," he said.
As he approached the nearest of the soldiers the man's rifle swung up to cover him. Bob said something to him and after a moment the soldier lowered his weapon, signalling that he should come forward. He was escorted to where a spruce-looking UNIT officer was discussing battle plans with a couple of subordinates. He showed no surprise as Bob appeared, and in a moment the two of them were talking in an animated and friendly fashion, as if they knew each other well.
They went over to speak to Inspector Challis. The UNIT colonel glanced significantly at Caroline and Brendan, indicating they weren't to be included in the conversation, but Challis spoke up for them. "These two seem to know something about what's been going on. They may be able to help."
Brendan and Caroline told the colonel all they knew. "Have you any idea how to stop those things?" Caroline asked anxiously.
It was Bob Pengarrick who answered. "They aren't accustomed to dealing with people advanced enough to understand science. They should be fairly easy for us to dispose of, if only we can get them to go where we want." He turned to Caroline with a smile. "And that's where you might be able to help us."
"Have you got explosive charges?" he asked the colonel. "Anti-tank missiles? That kind of thing?"
The colonel nodded towards one of the trucks. "It's all in there. What have you got in mind?"
Bob explained his plan. "It may work, it may not. I hope it does, because believe me ordinary weapons won't have much effect on them. They're not entirely solid, you see. The physical body is there mainly so that its destruction or disabling can count as a victory in the struggle."
"So they're fighting for the sake of it?"
"As much as for anything else. Old times' sake, I suppose. That's why Mawdrydd doesn't just fly away."
"What happens if one of them wins?" Brendan asked. "Are you going to try and kill the other?"
"Depends what it does," Bob said. "But I can tell you, they're both equally nasty." Watching the struggle, they saw that part of
Wotan's face-mask had been torn off, revealing features which to them seemed heavy and brutal.
"How long will the fight last?" Caroline asked. Neither Mawdrydd nor Wotan had yet shown any signs of tiring. Each had inflicted severe injuries on the other, but these seemed to cause pain rather than serious damage; the blood flow had stopped and the wounds were already beginning to close up. She guessed the aim was to move quickly enough to cause damage sufficently severe that your opponent was killed or incapacitated. So far neither of the creatures had managed to do that. They moved too fast, dodging each other with unearthly agility.
Bob answered her question. "It could go on almost indefinitely. We've got to act fast or there's no telling what devastation there might be." A lot of the villagers were already without homes. Thankfully, the battle had moved away from Porthcurzon for the time being. But untold damage was being caused to the surrounding countryside; trees and hedges were burning, the charred, crushed corpses of sheep and cattle lay everywhere, and acres of farmland had been turned into a scorched wasteground by the heat the monsters were radiating, wisps of smoke curling upwards into the sky from the blackened earth.

Peering through his hole in the wall Arthur Curno saw the UNIT troops halt a couple of hundred yards from the house. The squad consisted of an NCO and five soldiers armed with what he guessed were anti-tank missiles.
They hoisted the missile launch tubes onto their shoulders. The NCO spoke through a loudhailer, his booming voice clearly audible to those in the house. "You have twenty minutes in which to surr-ender. If you do not, we will attack the house. If necessary we can call up an air strike from RAF St Mawgans. We know what you are trying to do and cannot allow you to succeed."
Arthur ran back to Elizabeth. "What are we going to do?" he pan-ted.
"They won't do it, surely," said Morwenna desperately. "They'd risk releasing the virus."
"They've got nothing to lose," Elizabeth told her. She glanced towards the door of the laboratory. She had no idea how close Megan was to finishing her work and didn't want to disturb her.
She threw back her head, closed her eyes and began chanting softly, while swaying gently from side to side.
The crowds gathered on the crest of the hill saw Mawdrydd suddenly let go of Wotan and fly off in the direction of the house. Wotan made to follow her, then paused as if sensing a ruse, a feint. His face clouded for a moment in confusion.
On the hill Bob Pengarrick turned to Caroline and nodded.
Wotan, still hesitating, heard a voice speak inside his head. The voice of the girl who had originally summoned him, calling once again for his help. "Wotan, our people are in danger. Mawdrydd's followers are preparing to release a pestilence that will kill us all. She has gone to make sure they succeed. You must destroy her and stop them."
Wotan started towards the house, his heavy footsteps shaking the earth. He broke into a clumsy, lumbering run.
In the cabin of the Chinook helicopter, circling a couple of hundred feet above the sea half a mile out from the shore, the colonel heard his subordinate's voice through his headphones. "Windmill to Greyhound Leader. Charges in position."
"Excellent. Now get the hell out of there. Detonate as soon as I give the word."
I only hope this works, he muttered beneath his breath.
He had a clear view of Treneer, the surrounding moorland, and of Mawdrydd as she flew, pursued by Wotan, towards the house perched high on its promontory above the sea.
The sea.
Mawdrydd swooped down at the line of soldiers positioned near the house. The colonel's heart missed a beat. The loss of any of his troops always filled him with pain, although he wasn't the kind of man who liked to show it.
The soldiers turned and ran. Mawdrydd harried them for a moment or two, then decided to ignore them, instead concentrating on defending the house. She hovered above the building, wings flapping, as Wotan strode towards her with his sword raised to strike.
She flew towards him with a savage screech. Dropping his sword, he grabbed her around the neck with both hands and squeezed tight,
exerting all his strength in an attempt to snap it. She struggled violently to break free, beating him furiously about the body with
her wings. He let out a cry of pain and loosened his grip, as if a blow from one of them had shattered his arm.
Mawdrydd's beak and claws slashed at his flesh, and again Wotan screamed. Savagely he redoubled his efforts, steeling himself against the pain in his arm. He wrapped his arms around Mawdrydd
in a crushing bear-hug. She did the same to him.
They lurched away from the house, from the clifftop, and back on to the moor. No, not that way! The colonel almost shouted it out loud.
He could do nothing but watch the awesome struggle, his whole body rock solid with tension. Again and again the creatures broke free from each other's grip, clawed and pummelled and slashed at each other with sword or fist or talon. He saw that Wotan had partly torn off one of Mawdrydd's wings. It hung limply by her side, ripped and bloody, flapping uselessly with the movement of her body. Once or twice she attempted to lift herself into the air, but without success.
The ground around the creatures was now strewn with bloody feath-ers.
They stumbled close to the cliff edge.
But not close enough.
We might not get another chance, the Colonel thought.
They stumbled a little closer.
Still not quite there.
Just a bit more...that's it...
He dreaded that at any moment he would see the grappling figures
lurch away from the cliff.
They shifted a fraction nearer the edge.
Was it enough? He tried to estimate the distance, judge whether the moment was right.
Then Wotan gave Mawdrydd a sudden shove, thrusting her away from him. She staggered to the edge of the cliff, teetering on the brink, the rock and earth below her already starting to give way beneath her weight.
If he could at least get one of them...
He shouted the order into his radio. "Detonate!"
With a shattering roar the cliff face beneath where Mawdrydd stood exploded outwards, erupting in a shower of rubble, a billowing cloud of dust and earth. With a shrill scream the creature plunged downwards, tilting back a little as she fell, to hit the sea below with a thunderous splash. The impact of her body and of the chunks of debris sent a huge spout of water shooting upwards, drenching the giant figure of Wotan as he stood gazing down from his position on the intact portion of the cliff.
They saw him open his mouth in a soundless scream, crackling blue sparks lancing from his body like streaks of lightning. Then he exploded in a massive discharge of energy, a brilliant flash that illuminated the whole sky and for a moment blinded the pilot of the hovering Chinook. A thunderous roar like an explosion briefly deafened them.
The flash had forced them to close their eyes. When they opened them again a moment later, all trace of Wotan had vanished, apart from a faint and rapidly fading patch of light in the sky over Treneer. There was no sign of Mawdrydd either, although the sea where she had fallen was still tossing violently, thick columns of steam rising high into the air. Even Wotan's sword and the pile of bloodstained feathers had vanished, as if they had been an integral part of the creatures even though separated from them physically.
The colonel could hear cheering through his headphones. "Lucky strike, Sir!" shouted his second-in-command triumphantly. "We got both of 'em."
"We sure did," the colonel grinned. "Well done, lads."
As Caroline and Brendan watched the churning waters gradually settle down Bob Pengarrick came up beside them. "I told you the energy was electrical. And that was the simplest way to induce a short-circuit. Lucky the tide was in."
"Are they dead now, then?" Caroline asked.
"The equivalent of it," was all he would say.
"So what were they?"
"Creatures from another dimension. Evil...or at any rate amoral. They attached themselves to the various human ethnic groups, posing as their protective gods, and stirred them up against each other. There's always bound to be conflict when two peoples are fighting over the same piece of land, but they made it worse. They prefer to work through psychic influence normally, though. For some reason it's strongest at certain times, like now."
"How do you know all this?" she asked.
"Let's say I have my sources," he grinned. “And I always protect
them. Not just for their sake, but for everyone else's too."
He seemed eager to change the subject. "Now let's concentrate on dealing with our other problem, shall we?"

Arthur Curno ran back inside the house and up to Elizabeth. "They've destroyed Mawdrydd," he panted, agitated.
Briefly Elizabeth was crushed by the news. Closing her eyes, she swayed and staggered, almost letting go of her gun. Then she rallied. "We've come too far to give up now," she snapped.
She moved to the door of the laboratory. "Megan, are you finished yet?" she called.
"Another minute or so," Megan replied.
Elizabeth grinned triumphantly. There wasn't a lot anyone could do now.
Guns in hand they waited, excitement mounting, for Megan to complete her work. They should be ready just before the UNIT deadline expired.
The seconds ticked by.
"Hold it right there, all of you."
They spun round. Elizabeth gave a start, and stood staring dumbly at the sight that greeted her, totally floored.
Caroline Kent was standing a few yards away at the end of the corridor, a police issue revolver pointed straight at Elizabeth's heart. With her were four other people, likewise equipped with revolvers and aiming them at the cultists. Elizabeth didn't know them personally. But they were PC Marwant Singh Saran, his turban sporting the chequered band that signified his membership of the Force; Sergeant Dharmesh Pattani, a handsome, dusky-featured young Hindu; PC Winston Hastings, the grandson of West Indian immigrants and as black, dare one say it, as the proverbial ace of spades; and PC Mark Kwan, a stockily-built young man with the epicanthic eye-folds of the typical Asiatic.
Elizabeth continued to gape at them, utterly at a loss to speak. Caroline smiled. "You forgot about them, didn't you? Needless to say we're extremely grateful for their help."
"Tell your daughter to come out of there," she said, raising her voice so that Megan could hear her. "Or we kill you."
Then Megan Curno came in from the laboratory, still wearing her white smock. She had heard the voices from outside, followed by Caroline's threat. She brandished a glass container high in the air. In it must be the modified strain of the virus, able to reproduce a billionfold on contact with the air.
"Back off," she snapped.
"If you break that flask," Caroline said softly, "we'll shoot dead all your family. You don't want that, do you?"
"If you don't back off I will drop it," Megan hissed.
"You're aiming to drop it anyway. So that's not a very clever move."
"You wouldn't kill them."
"Oh yes we would." It was obvious Caroline meant it.
Megan remained still, her eyes darting wildly from side to side.
"If you are going to smash the flask," Caroline said, "there's something you should know first."
Megan stared at her.
"Before he released the virus, your father must have had some sure way of knowing that it wouldn't affect people with a predominance of Celtic genes in them, as well as the "Saxons". And to find one he needn't have looked further than his own family - a family whose bloodline was reasonably pure, even if that was more from chance than any other reason. You couldn't find a better specimen elsewhere. With anyone else, there was a possibility it wouldn't work. There must have been other suitable specimens. But how could you be sure you'd got them? Not by looking at what's on the outside. And taking a total stranger and subjecting them to a risky experiment against their will would be dangerous if anyone found out you'd done it."
Her gaze swept over the four cultists. "I don't think he had the courage to risk his own life. He must have experimented on one of you. But I can't see him having the ruthlessness to do it too readily. I think he agonised over the business for a long time. And as usual he turned to you, Elizabeth, for help in making up his mind. He told you what the problem was, about his qualms. And you told him to go right ahead and do it.
"Now who was the subject? It could have been yourself, of course. But I somehow don't think you were that dedicated, that you were prepared to risk personal death for the sake of your cause.
“My guess is it was probably Brendan. But it didn't have to be."
They saw Elizabeth bow her head. "He did specially ask that it shouldn't be Brendan," she said. She looked her daughter straight in the eye. "I...I'm sorry, Megan." She spoke softly, quietly, almost inaudibly. "Really I am. Believe me, I'm sorry."
Megan stared at her, mouth gaping in horror. Then in a sudden terrifying flash her expression turned to one of anger. Dropping the flask, she rushed at Dharmesh Pattani, the force of her assault sending him flying back against the wall, and in a burst of speed and strength snatched his revolver from his hand, spinning round with it towards Elizabeth.
PC Mark Kwan hurled himself forward at a low angle, his fingers stretched out to grasp the flask. They touched it, closed around it, and held it tight. He tensed his muscular body, bracing himself just before he hit the floor so that the impact would not jar the flask from his grasp.
While Pattani struggled to right himself, Elizabeth stared blankly at the muzzle of the rifle as Megan levelled it at her chest, making no attempt to defend herself. Winston Hastings and Marwant Singh Saran reacted instinctively; they had no choice. Megan Curno was blasted back against the oak panelling of the wall, her stomach erupting in a shower of blood. A stream of red poured from her mouth as she slid slowly to the floor.
For a moment there was an appalled silence. Then Elizabeth gave a long shuddering wail, slowly collapsing to her knees. Caroline knelt down beside her and wrapped both arms around her quivering body.
Mark Kwan was getting to his feet, keeping a firm grip on the flask. He slipped it carefully into his pocket. Winston Hastings got out his radio. "I think it's over, Guv," he told Challis.
They handcuffed Arthur and Morwenna but decided to leave Eliz-abeth alone for the time being. Everyone waited while she recov-ered from her initial shock of grief. Eventually, the head of the Curno household rose slowly to her feet, sighing deeply. Her eyes met Caroline's.
The girl gave a sardonic smile. "As the man says, it's all over."
She glanced down at Megan's body, her manner changing. "I'm very sorry."
Elizabeth nodded her thanks. "I suppose I owe you an apology," she said quietly.
"Yes, you do rather," Caroline smiled. "Tell me, how far was Romany Winterson involved in this?"
"She wasn't involved at all," Elizabeth said firmly. "I merely used her. The virus was nearly ready, but we needed a...Saxon to test it on. It was the best chance there might be for some time. I didn't want it to be a local because that'd cause too much trouble.
"When I heard Romany was organising the shoot I realised it was the perfect opportunity. None of the other girls was willing, so I asked you. When the virus didn't work we decided to sacrifice you to Mawdrydd instead."
"I still can't believe you did it," Caroline said. “We’re not allowed to pick on black people any more, so you thought you’d pick on blondes instead. Was that the idea?”
"I admit it was crazy. But..." A sardonic smile appeared on Elizabeth’s face. “You know, talking of black people, brown people and yellow people, there’s some who aren’t happy about them being here.” The four police officers received this without expression. They looked at one another and shrugged.
“We have to make the effort to live together,” Caroline said. “Whatever happens. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Elizabeth shot out an arm to point at her. "Tell you something else. People like blondes. Unfortunately the characteristic is recessive. You’re lucky to have stayed as you are, or maybe you just happen to be of the type that keeps it longer than others. But they say it’s going to die out eventually. How do you feel about that? Come to think about it, what are a lot of people going to do?” She wrinkled her nose disparagingly. “Don't tell me men don't prefer it natural.”
“We can never be quite sure what’s going to happen in the future,” Caroline said. “But I suppose there’ll always be some who prefer their own kind in these matters.”
She turned as the floorboards creaked under approaching feet. Inspector Challis and Sergeant Gowan came towards them, accompanied by several of the UNIT soldiers.
Challis nodded towards the soldiers. "These gentlemen would like to talk to you all." He looked at Caroline. "You too, Miss."
The UNIT men began to lead them away. "Hang on," said Caroline. "There's something I've got to do first." Before anyone could stop her she had dashed off. The soldiers waited patiently until she reappeared clutching a number of paintings under each arm, and staggering under their weight.
"Oh." She suddenly remembered her suitcase, which was still in her room. "Hold those, will you." She thrust the paintings towards one of the soldiers, who had to let go of his rifle to take them. Leaving him clutching them frantically to his body to avoid dropping them, she hurried upstairs again.
A couple of minutes later, the party finally set off. As they neared the police cordon Caroline could see Brendan standing between two soldiers who appeared to be guarding him. He broke away as they drew level with him. "What happened?" he asked.
It was Elizabeth who explained. When she had finished Brendan looked at her almost disbelievingly. "So Megan's dead?" he said hollowly.
Elizabeth crumpled. "Yes," she sobbed, and ran to embrace him. Mother and son sank slowly to their knees, their arms around each other, weeping unashamedly. Caroline stood by with her head slightly bowed, eyes closed. The soldiers waited until they had composed themselves and then helped them to their feet, ushering them gently but firmly towards the mobile command post. There was much to be done.
Each of them was seen separately, in the gleaming interior of the van with its masses of ultra-modern equipment so advanced in design and appearance as to seem almost alien. They were grilled intensively as to everything that had happened at the house, and made to sign a statement that they would not repeat what they had seen to anyone. Caroline, who wasn't entirely convinced this promise would save them from future harm - she had heard rumours about what happened to those who stumbled on things the government would rather stayed secret - thought it best to inform them of her links with MI6. This seemed to impress the UNIT people - after all, she supposed, they were in a similar line of business. She warned that if anything were to happen to Brendan she, or her contacts in the Service, would personally divulge a lot of very embarrassing secrets.
She presumed they would also be interviewing the police who had taken part in the operation. But what about all the locals? Altogether there were nearly a thousand people whose silence had to be ensured, and she didn't see the operation as feasible.
The Curnos were released without charge, after the UNIT colonel had had a few brief words with Inspector Challis. Caroline was indignant. "But they're guilty! Of murder, attempted murder, abduction, unlawful imprisonment..."
"Only way of keeping it all secret," the colonel told her.
"But surely people ought to know?"
"Perhaps. But I'm afraid it's not my decision."
"In any case, how are you going to explain it all?"
The colonel gave a wry smile. "A virus outbreak which started in Professor Curno's laboratory. And which among other things caused mass hallucinations."
"But all the damage to the village? That's going to be a lot more difficult to account for."
"We'll think of something. In any case, if someone was determined to reveal the truth they'd have a hard time getting people to believe them."
He changed the subject. "I think the best thing to do is leave her alone with her conscience," he said, nodding towards Elizabeth Curno where she stood talking quietly with Brendan. "Sometimes that's a more effective punishment than anything else would be."
As he spoke, Brendan moved away from his mother and came towards Caroline. "Could I, er, have a word with you?" he asked quietly. The Colonel took the hint and left them.
Caroline looked at Brendan expectantly. He shuffled his feet and contemplated the ground. "Are you going home now?" he asked.
"I guess so," she replied.
"Um - when will I see you again, then?" he asked hesitantly.
At first she was thrown, then the realisation of what had happened sank in, and she smiled. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't realise you'd want more than just a physical relationship."
There I go again, she thought; mucking up other people's lives.
"I don't think it would work out, Brendan. I told you there was a difference between the...the physical side of it and making a commitment. I'm not yet ready to commit. At the moment I feel a husband and kids would restrict my freedom, and that's not a good basis for a relationship. I don't think you're ready for it, not quite."
She felt a pang of sympathy at the expression on his face. "I realise you're disappointed. But you have to take disappointments as they come. Now you're out from underneath your mother's thumb you'll soon develop the maturity to do that.
"Remember me as the one who started you off on the right track. I think I'd like that. And keep in touch by all means; there's no reason why we can't be friends. Let me know how you get on."
He looked sadly resigned. She gave him a hug and a kiss, which he reciprocated. She regarded Elizabeth uncertainly for a moment, then with a brief nod to her moved on.
She paused, and turned back to Brendan with a charming, rather childlike smile.
"Oh, and thankyou for saving my life." He smiled back.
Brendan gazed after her wistfully as she walked away, a cocktail of thoughts blending headily in his mind. Suddenly they crystall-ised into a fierce resolution. To find someone as lovely as her would be a challenge, but one he was determined to meet.
Inspector Challis had promised to drive Caroline to the station, where she could pick up the train to London. On her way to where the police car stood waiting, she stopped to glance back one last time at the old house up on the hill. One side of it had been completely devastated, the wall torn down to expose the rooms and their contents to view, inviting the comparison with a giant doll's house. More men in protective suits were erecting a cocoon of some transparent material around the building, within which no doubt the virus would be confined and analysed until a safe means could be found of decontaminating the place. The police had told Brendan and his mother they would need to be rehoused, at least while the work was in progress.
The other flask of X90 was already on its way to Porton Down. There, presumably, it would be safe. Caroline certainly hoped so, reflecting that it was something the likes of al-Qaeda would be particularly interested in getting hold of.
She caught sight of Bob, made eye contact with him; he smiled enigmatically and then turned away, disappearing into the crowds now heading back towards the village to take stock of their damaged homes and decide what was salvageable.
And so that was it. About half the village had to be rebuilt, but eventually life there returned to normal, in so far as it ever could after such an incident. Inevitable or otherwise, there were changes. Brendan and his mother never reoccupied their ancestral home; one night a couple of a weeks after the affair residents of the village who happened to be looking out of their windows caught sight of a red glow in the sky above where they knew the house to be, and a column of black smoke rising high up into it. Over the next couple of days the surviving rubble was pounded almost to dust by heavy machinery and carted away, after which the foundations were filled in and concreted over.
Caroline had the impression that afterwards Brendan had moved out of the area. Where he had gone to live and what he was doing she didn't know because they didn't, in the end, maintain contact with one another, but she bumped into him once in London and they had a brief but friendly chat. He had a very attractive blonde girl leaning on his arm.
The mysterious disappearance of Andrea Wyatt remained unaccounted for. Regarding Patrick Curno the coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death, concluding that he had gone too close to the cliff edge while out walking and fallen into the sea, which had then pounded his body against the rocks until it was barely recognisable.
Caroline understood the establishment's fears about causing mass panic, in the case of the virus at least. But would confirmation of the existence of aliens, if that was how you classified beings like Mawdrydd and Wotan, have the same dangerous effect? It might lead humans to modify their behaviour somewhat, because of how that behaviour might be regarded, and exploited, by the forces operating beyond the current limits of human understanding. There was no chance of that happening, however, while the authorities insisted upon covering up the truth. She wondered what they were so afraid of. At any rate, Man needed to look elsewhere for deliverance from the misery of his condition.
Her last impression of Porthcurzon as the police car drove out of the village had been the church tower, which had escaped serious damage, standing proud and intact amid all the devastation. Per-haps it was symbolic, she thought. Perhaps.

"What do you think?" Caroline said proudly, unveiling one of the paintings with a flourish. There she was, sitting stark naked on a chair, and from the look on her face clearly enjoying herself. Chris made masturbatory noises; she shot him a look of disgust.
In addition to this one and the Celtic and seaside portraits there were three more studies, all nude. One full-frontal, standing; one with her sitting the wrong way round on the chair, back to the artist; and another rear view, standing with a white sheet clasped to her front and trailing on the floor.
"Not bad, are they?" she smiled, when Chris had finished inspect-ing the collection.
He nodded appreciatively. "Maybe you missed your vocation. You should be a porn star: you'd earn even more than you do now."
"I'll let you into a secret," she grinned. "They asked me once. I was tempted, but after a while I decided I didn't much fancy the idea. It's my body."
"So," he said, "what did you get up to down there in Cornwall? I heard on the news there was some trouble near where you were staying. A village got wrecked in some storm or explosion or other. You didn't have anything to do with that, I trust?"
She looked blank for a moment, then gradually her lips formed a mischievous half-smile.
"You did. I might have known.”
"I did," she agreed. "Funny how I always seem to find trouble, isn't it?" She looked sad for a moment.
“You know,” she said, brushing away the thought for now, “the person who painted those pictures was planning to kill me.”
“Then it’s pretty sick,” Chris opined after thinking about it for a moment or two.
“What, of me?” she inquired, eyebrows raised.
“Well no, I meant of them. But all the same….”
“I’m not bothered about it at all. It was a way of appeasing his conscience. I don’t think he really wanted to do it. He felt he had to preserve some reminder of what he was going to destroy.”
"So what happened exactly?" Chris asked. “I’m dying to know.”
"I'm not supposed to tell you," she told him. "And I have work to do."
"Was it anything like that business in Iraq?" he persisted.
"There were points of similarity. Someone didn't like the way things were and tried to change them by kidnapping and murdering people." She remembered what Elizabeth had said to her shortly before they parted. “Chris, do you think it really matters what people look like? Is it an issue worth killing over?”
“Of course it’s not,” said Chris disdainfully. “I mean, I don’t have a lot of time for political correctness. But I’m not a racist. I guess that describes most people.” Caroline nodded. She had little patience with those who thought that not being one meant you had to be the other.
“Why do you ask, anyway?” He looked at her in some surprise.
“I was just thinking…just trying to decide how important identity really is. Whether it excuses doing terrible things whenever it’s threatened.”
“Identity’s about more than appearance.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” she agreed. “It’s a complicated question.”
“Anyway, in thirty years’ time we’ll probably be able to choose our hair colour or the shape of our nose. And a hundred other things about us.”
“Quite likely,” she laughed. “As for what started me off on this whole train of thought, I promise to tell you one day.”
“I’m looking forward to it. See you.”
Caroline was left alone with her reflections. She remembered her own words in reply to Elizabeth. We have to find a peaceful solution; there's no other option. Finally, with a philosophical smile, she went back once again to her work, clocking her weekend at Treneer, along with all her other adventures, up to experience.