Roquana


by
Robin Gordon


Auksford crest: a great auk displaying a book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford 2013

© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013

Auksford index  --  Index to Robin Gordon's works  --  Index to Roquana


Book II: Roquana's flight
***
Chapter 5: To Beddleham


    Roquana stopped at the edge of the wood, breathing heavily.  Across the meadow she could hear shouting, bustle and general commotion in and around the house.  People with lights were moving around the garden, searching, but there was no sign of anyone coming out onto the meadow.  She crouched unseen among the bushes, and I read in her mind a question: who or what was the voice that suddenly inspired her to knee Lord Savark?  Was it a guardian angel or some devilish inspiration?  It had saved her from rape, but was the trouble she was in now worse than anything that would have happened to her at Savark Court?  She had attacked His Lordship, and now they would hunt her down.
    She heard calls from the garden, carried on gusts of wind: “Roquana!  Roh-quaaa-naa!”  Then came the sound of barking dogs.  They were setting hounds to track her!
    She sprang up and forced her way through the undergrowth, desperate to get deeper into the woods before the dogs crossed the meadow.  It was hard.  Low branches obstructed her and thorny brambles scratched at her legs, then, unexpectedly, she found herself in an open track made by animals beneath the bushes.  She hurried along it, while the hounds bayed somewhere on the far side of the meadow.
    Roquana gasped, for suddenly she was grabbed and hoisted into the air.  Her attacker carried her along the track grunting as it went.
    “Got her!  Got her!” it seemed to say, as the sound of the dogs came closer, then, coming to a stream, it dropped her and fled upriver.
    Roquana struggled towards the bank.
    “No!” I shouted in her mind.  “Stay in the brook.  They can’t follow your scent in water.”
    She hesitated.
    “Towards the road,” I said.
    She followed the stream towards the road, ducking low under the branches, till she came to an impassable tangle of undergrowth and low boughs blocking the way.  On the far bank she spotted a tunnel through the brambles and took it.  Behind us on the far bank the dogs were casting around.  The scent was lost.  She had escaped from the pursuers, but to what?  The creature that had tried to carry her off, what was it?  She had only caught a glimpse, but that was enough.  Man-sized, but covered in coarse hair: it could only have been a Toho.  Lost in the woods she was at the mercy of the savage flesh-eating apes.
    What had I done?  I had broken a cardinal law of the Holy Inquisition by influencing my assigned subject.  I had acted instinctively from the best of motives to save her from rape, but now I had brought her to the wild wooded jungles of Sunday, where primeval creatures lurked and already she had had a close encounter with a Toho.  Well, I would have to stay with her now.  I would have to see what would happen to her, and to offer her what help I could.
    In the meantime the only thing for Roquana to do was to get to the road and try to get back to her mother’s house in Beddleham, though what good that would do her I could not imagine, for when Lord Savark’s servants were sure that she was no longer in the grounds of Savark Court, her mother’s house would be the first place they would look.  Nevertheless, I could think of no better course of action, and, after all, that was where she had told Tommuz she would be, and, if anyone could help her now it would be Tommuz.  Accordingly I raised no objection when she followed the tunnel-like track through the woods in the direction of the road to Beddleham.
    Somewhat to our surprise she found that the track continued alongside the road just a little way inside the overgrown forest.  We both wondered if it had been made by Tohu – and if Tohu used it regularly, but there was little or no advantage to leaving it and following the road.  That would have made detection by passing carriages or by the helicopters that Lord Savark was sure to send out, virtually certain, while at the same time a lone traveller on the road would have been as obvious to the Tohu as one making her way through the woodland undergrowth.  There was no way of avoiding the Tohu if they were about, but at least the track was hidden from Lord Savark’s eyes.
    Roquana was tired and hungry, but she kept going, one foot in front of the other, yard by yard, fighting off her exhaustion and trying to keep alert for the sounds of pursuit, dreading at every moment that she might hear the ferocious roar of a band of carnivorous Tohu.
    She made it.  By dawn she was at Beddleham.  She lurked in the woods till the labourers came out into the fields, then sauntered casually through the outer areas before hurrying towards the gate.  Once inside she flew along the narrow streets, until, at last, she came to her mother’s house.  She approached cautiously, looking about her for strangers who might have been spies for Lord Savark or Monsignor Gulls, then listened at the door to make sure her mother was alone.  All was quiet.  She went in.
    Her mother was shocked to see her.  Roquana poured out her tale, sobbing and incoherent, but at last her mother understood.
    “You can’t stay here,” she said.  “This is the first place they’ll look.  You’ll have to go to New Jackrusselham and lose yourself in the crowds there – and you can’t go the direct route because that’s what they’ll expect.  I’ll get Fronk to help us.  He owes me a favour or two.  He’ll take you by a roundabout route that they won’t expect, and if Tommuz shows up here I’ll send him after you – but, before you go, you’d better know the truth about yourself and your father.
    “I wasn’t the daughter of a clergyman, and I wasn’t seduced by a dentist.  I was married to a civil servant.  I won’t tell you his name.  If you don’t know it the Inquisition can’t ferret it out from your mind.
    “Your father found out quite a lot that the establishment wants to keep secret.  I don’t know the details, but he was archiving documents about the early stages of exploration and development of Sunday and he began to suspect that our world had been inhabited by intelligent life forms that had developed a civilisation sometime in the past.  He thought the Tohu might be their descendents, and ought to have been given a share in the new world, and that the Development Corporation were trying to exterminate them to keep all the planet’s wealth for themselves.  He told his superior and was instructed to keep his nose out of matters that didn’t concern him, then taken off the archive project and moved to another department.  He told me a bit about what he’d discovered and said that he was going to try and inform the Senate, but if things went wrong I was to take you and get out of New Jackrusselham to one of the smaller settlements.  We worked out the story about the dentist, then he went off to the Senate, and that was the last I ever saw of him.
    “We need to get you away from here before they come looking.  Go to Fronk’s house.  His truck will be going in one of the convoys to Jarwick Hoe in the next day or two.  They won’t be looking in that direction.  Then, when you get to Jarwick Hoe you can find someone to take you to New Jackrusselham.  Go on!  Go quickly.”

    Roquana left and hurried through the streets down towards the East Gate where the carriers had their yard.  She managed to get into Fronk’s office without speaking to anyone and hoped that no-one would have noticed her particularly, just in case Gulls sent anyone to ask around.
    “Well, this is a surprise, my dear,” said Fronk.  “I heard you had been taken off to work for Lord Savark.  I didn’t think you’d want to be seen with a common old bloke like me.”
    “I don’t want to be seen at all,” she said.  “I’ve escaped.  I won’t tell you why, but they’re not good people out at Savark Court.  Mum said you might take me with you to Jarwick Hoe.”
    “I’ll ask no more,” said Fronk.  “I’ll find some boys’ clothes for you and pass you off as one of my loaders.  Don’t you worry, my dear: old Fronk’ll get you safely away.”
    “My friend Tommuz may come looking for me,” said Roquana.  He was with me at Savark Court and I told him I’d come back to Beddleham if anything happened.”
    “Old Fronk’ll keep an eye out for him,” said Fronk.  “Now, m’dear.  You curl up in that corner there out o’the way and try and get some sleep.  You look all in, poor child.  Get some sleep now, an’ old Fronk’ll get you some shabby old boys’ clothes and something to eat, and we’ll join a convoy tomorrow morning.”

    Some time later, when Fronk had bought her a couple of sandwiches, there was a tap at his office door.  He waved Roquana into hiding and went to open it.
    “Are you Fronk?” said a young man’s voice.
    “I am.”
    “I’m Tommuz.  Mrs Smuff sent me.”
    “Ar.  You have a message from Mrs Smuff?”
    “She told me you’d help.  I’m Roquana’s friend.”
    “Who?”  said Fronk in a puzzled tone.
    “It’s all right,”called Roquana.  “It is Tommuz.”
    “Come in then,” said Fronk.

    Tommuz and Roquana embraced, kissed and sobbed in each other’s arms like the hero and heroine of some sentimental romantic novel, then they poured out to each other the tale of their experiences since they had last met, both talking at once, interrupting each other, and generally confusing poor Fronk.  There would be little or no point in including a full description of their effusions in this narrative, so I merely summarise Tommuz’s account.
    He had, as Wullum told Roquana, been sent with an under-butler to Beddleham to purchase more supplies of wine, beer, sherry, port, gin and other alcoholic beverages, and on his return he had been sent straight to the cellars to shelve the new supplies in the correct places under the supervision of one of the cellarers.
    After a couple of hours he was summoned to the main entrance hall where he was informed by Monsignor Gulls that Lord Savark had earlier that evening been taken suddenly ill and suffered a collapse which had so alarmed Roquana, who had been with him at the time, that she had run away, sobbing in terror, fearful that her benefactor was about to die.
    Here, of course Roquana interrupted with a confused and tearful account of what had really taken place, and Tommuz recounted various happening out of order, went back, corrected himself, was interrupted, and so on.  However, taking his account in the correct order, as I reconstructed it in my mind: Gulls told him that His Lordship had recovered, gone to bed, and would be none the worse by the next morning.  His concern, and that of the whole household, was for Roquana.  The girl was obviously hysterical with grief and might easily blame herself for Lord Savark’s collapse, for no other reason than that she had been with him at the time.
    Gulls said that while he and the Chatelaine had been attending to his Lordship and taking him back to his own house, the other servants had instituted a search for Roquana.  Finding no trace of her in her room they had searched the house and garden.  Old Wullum had been summoned, since he was known to be friendly with Roquana, and had very helpfully taken the searchers to all her favourite places in the garden, to all the hidden nooks where she was likely to have taken refuge, but the old fool was so confused that he led them first to a copse on the west side, then to an arbour on the east, then to a summerhouse by the lake, then to niche on the south terrace, criss-crossing the garden in a totally random way, and thereby wasting a great deal of very valuable time during which Roquana had probably left the safety of the gardens and put herself in danger of being carried off by the Tohu.
    It was not until Gulls himself returned that the search was put on a proper footing.  Teams of searchers were sent to comb the house and garden systematically, and the security staff were called and instructed to bring out the hounds.
    The hounds quickly picked up Roquana’s scent and followed her trail out of the garden, across the meadow and into the edge of the forest.  There they had suddenly lost the scent and so the security guards had returned to the house to report.
    Gulls assumed that, if Roquana survived her night in the wildwood, she would make for Beddleham, and that she might expect to arrive the next morning.  He proposed that, immediately after breakfast, he and the Chatelaine should visit Roquana’s mother, and that search-parties of footmen and security guards should comb through the streets of Beddleham searching for any trace of the missing girl and questioning the inhabitants.  He hoped that Tommuz would be willing to take part in that search – and Tommuz assured him that he would.  In the meantime the young man was free to roam the gardens to search for her himself in case she had thought better of her foolishness and doubled back to the safety of Savark Court, but, no matter how concerned he was, he was not to leave the grounds.
    It would be most unfortunate, Gulls told him, if the search for poor Roquana had to be weakened by diverting people to search for Tommuz if he went missing, and besides, the boundaries would be patrolled all night by security guards with guns and instructions to shoot anything that moved.  His Lordship was very concerned lest the night’s events might embolden the Tohu to raid the gardens, so Tommuz would have to take great care not to venture out onto the meadows.  Tommuz could recognise a threat when he heard it and promised to stay within the grounds.
    He then began to question maids, footmen, gardeners, gardeners’ boys and anyone else he met, asking when and where they had last seen Roquana.  At last Old Wullum approached him.
    “Aar,” said the old gardener.  “I’ve been keeping out o’ the way till the watcher had had enough.”
    “Watcher?” Tommuz asked.
    “Aye,” said the old man.  “There’s been a security man watching you and listening to everything you’ve said.  He’s decided at last that you don’t know where Roquana is and gone off inside.  Come over here out o’ the way … now, Roquana’s gone over the wall and into the woods, probably on her way back to Beddleham.  She was only half way across the meadow when they came out looking for her, so I led them a merry dance, ha-ha, here, there and everywhere.  Stupid old Wullum is what that there secretary called me, but Old Wullum’s not so stupid that he can’t bamboozle a gang o’ footmen to help a friend.
    “Now, listen, young Tommuz, don’t you be getting any ideas o’ going after her.  Those guards’ll probably shoot you if you leave the gardens, then claim they thought you were a Toho.  As for the Tohu, I don’t believe they’re anywhere near as savage as the high-ups tell us, in fact, if you want my opinion, they’re probably all just people like us that have escaped from servitude.  I reckon Roquana will get safely to Beddleham by tomorrow morning, and that’s what they reckon too.  So you just stay around, get a bit o’ shut-eye if you can, have some breakfast and join the search party.  Take my tip and put on a shirt and jeans under your footman’s uniform.  Slip off when you can and abandon your uniform, then try to find your girl when the coast’s clear.”

    “So that’s what I did,” said Tommuz.  “I yelled There she is! and pelted off down a side street, got a bit of a start on the others, hopped over a wall and hid till they’d gone by, abandoned those awful plush breeches and that fancy coat in a dustbin, hurried back the way I’d come, and asked for directions to your house.
    “Monsignor Gulls and Madame LaTower were there, and your mother was telling them you’d been home with some cock-and-bull story about nasty goings-on at Savark Court, so she’d called you an ungrateful hussy to slander your betters, said she’d have nothing more to do with you, and sent you off to the city gate to wait for people from Savark Court to come looking for you, to beg their forgiveness and go back with them.  She was so fierce I thought she really meant it, and so did they, for off they went back towards the gate.
    “I just saw a quick change of your mother’s expression as they went, a sort of fleeting glare as if she hated them, but I still hesitated.
    “Anyway, she saw me and yelled: You, boy!  Come here!  I need someone to run down to the shop for me since I’ve got to stay here in case that good-for-nothing daughter of mine comes back.
    “So I followed her inside, and she suddenly smiled and said, Are you Tommuz? and told me she’d been keeping up an act because they probably had someone watching the house.  Then she told me where you’d gone – and here I am.”


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Roquana:  Index.  --  Chapter 4.  --  Chapter 6.

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