Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday Supplement: Hear Me Roar

Sir Richard Arcos here again: Last Sunday my wife invited a few friends of hers to visit. I paid a visit to my niece in Monmouthshire. She happened to mention that a church around the cormer from her had recently been bought by a charismatic group, who had out-bid the Cat-Baptists. So, naturally, I paid them a visit.

The Chapel is a gothic building, looking charming and old, if formulaic, and the spire has no use at all. Well, my niece, Mrs. Capel-Rule and I attended, carrying our Bibles. The shaven-headed youth outside looked at them as if we were carrying bombs into the building. He told us there was a projector inside, so we wouldn't need them. I threatned to project my Bible at him, and he let us pass.

We took a seat in the midst of the building, much to the discomfort of my niece. The congregation was mostly middle-aged and wore sweaters, although there were some young people, who looked painfully hip. The band was playing 'mood music' that would have embarrassed a lift. One young man was stood up, holding his hands out in front of him while leaning back. It looked most uncomfortable.

When the 'leader' stepped out on the platform, a set of words flashed up on the screen. The words were huge, but the contrast between them and the background was not enough and no-one could see it. Everyone made up their own words, and the music was so loud no-one noticed.

We were informed that there would be a time of informal sharing. I shared the fact that the words couldn't be read and was treated like a heretic. Some people had prayers and one chap had a word of prophecy. He said that there was someone there with a bad back and that God would heal them. As we knelt to pray, someone fell on the floor and rolled about roaring. The congregation got vey excited, until it turned out he'd only banged his knee.

The sermon (if it desered to be called one) lasted eleven minutes and twenty-six seconds exactly. It was illustrated with a flow chart that was so complex no-one understood it.

The 'worship band' struck up again, and a number of young woman and young men danced onto the stage, waving their hands and arms. Someone struck up a hard-rock version of 'And Can It Be.'
The dancers danced with all their might. Then the stage collapsed and the minister and praise band were buried under the rubble.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Made to Pay: Eighteen

The Green Man drove the car to a little bridge, just the other side of Aberystwyth, pulling in by a half-derelict set of farmbuildings. He opened the door and got out, leaving Sian on her own. She watched him go through the mirror, before at last deciding to follow him. Removing the jacket in an effort to further disguise her appearance, she ran after him down the long private road.

The road ended by the sea, where a big house, sheltered by a wall, looked out over a long, sloping beach. It seemed that no a sould was there. Except for the lonely figure in Green who stood on that beach, looking out to sea, the wind blowing back his long overcoat.

"What's the matter?" Sian spoke breathlessly, as soon as she reached him.

"I took her here after ... after it happened." The Green Man spoke in a whisper. "I often found her out here, looking at the sea. Now that I've collected payment for her, it felt right to come here."

"You were expecting something to happen, weren't you?" Sian held his arm. "Expecting she'd snap out of it, be girl she was - the girl you loved?"

The Green Man said nothing for a very long time. When he spoke, he seemed far more distant than before.

"Once," he told her soberly. "Once did hope that. But that hope faded a long time ago. Do you know what true love is, Sian Rule? True love travels on to its goal, even when hope is gone. Maybe she will never know just how much I loved her, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is that justie has been done."

Sian nodded, a lump in her throat. She looked out on the waves, a tear rolling down her cheek.
"It's done." The Green Man nodded. "They have been made to pay the debt they owe to justice and to vengeance. Thank you for your part."
"Any time."
Sian Rule returned to the car, leaving the Green Man alone with the wind and waves.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Made to Pay: Seventeen

Sian Rule was silent as the Green Man led her through the halls of the nursing home, shoes echoing on the marble floors. Her heart was in her mouth. She hardly dared to think, let alone speak. And the grandeur of the house only impressed that thought on her further.

The nurse stopped by a great oak door.

"She's in here," the nurse spoke to the Green Man. "If you want to be alone...?"

"The girl needs to see her too." The Green Man sounded most emphatic. With that, he opened the door.
Sian had not known what to expect, but whatever it was, she had not expected anything pleasant. A drip, a life-support machine, a whey-faced creature who cringed from them, perhaps.

What she found was a tall, airy room, filled with flowers. And the blonde woman wore a pretty print dress. She was barefoot and had been looking at the window. She turned at their approach, a smile breaking out on her still lovely face.

"You've come to see me again!" There was something missing from the voice, but Sian could not deny that it was a nice voice. "And dressed up!"

That was interesting, Sian reflected.

"And I've brought a friend." The Green Man indicated Sian, who could not help but blush.
"She looks like me," the girl smiled.
"More than you know," the Green Man told her gently. "I'm here with news for you. Good news."
"You're taking me to the beach?" the girl asked breathlessly.
"Not quite." The Green Man spoke softly. "The men who hurt you. The men who put you here. They're dead. I made them pay for what they did."
The girl who had been Sparrowhawk smiled. For a moment, Sian saw steel in those limpid blue eyes, a spark of recognition passed between the two women. And she turned back to the Green Man.
"Thank you." She spoke the words with a calm sincerity, before moving towards the Green Man. He embraced her, and she hugged him, her head on his shoulder.
Then the steel was gone, as if it had never existed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Made to Pay: Sixteen

The early morning mist hung about the Cardiganshire hills. As the Green Man's car moved along the winding roads, the girl in the Sparrowhawk costume, now without her mask, leaned forward, trying to see through the mist.

"Where are we going?" she asked eagerly. "Is there a master mind that we don't know about - someone who needs to have dark vengeance visited on them in spades?"

"No." The Green Man's voice was grave. Not that that was a change in his normal mood. "But there is one more thing that I must do before this case is closed. We are on our way to pay in full that debt I owe to a very brave young lady."

"But where..." she began haltingly.

"There." The Green Man pointed through the mist. Sian Rule could just make out the haunting shape of a mansion, great and grey, towering above the Trees.

The Green Man's car passed slowly up the drive. Suddenly, the student knew just where they were.

"She's here, isn't she?" She turned to the Green Man, eyes wide.

"That's right." The Green Man stepped out of the car. A uniformed nurse came out to meet him.
"We weren't expecting you..." she told the masked man. "It isn't...."
"I know," the Green Man told her. "But I've got news for her. How is she?"
"The same as ever," the nurse told him, as Sian Rule joined them. "She hasn't spoken for three days and just stands by the window, looking out at the woods."
The Green Man nodded, and let the nurse lead him inside. Sian followed, her heart beating faster with anticipation of meeting the woman whose clothes she wore.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Made to Pay: Fifteen

The Green Man stepped into the light, his gun held ready. The men cowered, releasing the figure of Sparrowhawk. Her breathing quickened, eyes wide, she looked less impressive than when she had attacked. Still, she adopted a fighting stance, watching the men.

"That night, in the shadow of the chapel," the Green Man spoke slowly, "you damaged Sparrowhawk beyond recovery. And I swore revenge."

"You were with her?" Gwynn gasped. "I didn't know you..."

"I loved her," the Green Man told her, "and she wanted to protect me. Wanted so much that she put herself in the way of danger, thinking I wasn't ready to face you. Now I am, I assure you." He lowered his gun, until Gwynn was looking down its barrel. There was not a trace of hesitation in his eyes.

"And the girl?" Gwynn looked across at the trim figure of Sparrowhawk.

"One of your own students," the Green Man replied. "She agreed to help after she heard what had happened to Sparrowhawk."

"Listen," Gwynn spoke swiftly, "you have no love for this country any more than another. These carriers are weapons, weapons that..."

"William Gwynn." The Green Man cut him off brutally. "It is not for spying that I kill you, nor out of love for any country that I pull the trigger. My opinions of those are my own. It is for destroying a brave girl that I kill you now. And it is out of love for her that I pull the trigger."

The big gun roared, and the impact of the bullet sent Gwynn flying. A second shot, fired while he was in the air, made a large hole in his head.

The others made to escape. Sparrowhawk leapt on them, flying fists sending men to the ground all around her. The Green Man joined her, holstering his gun. Soon, the elegant room was full of unconscious people.

"Call the Police." The Green Man walked out, past a shocked-looking maid. "Tell them the Green Man has collected payment."
Sparrowhawk shrugged, as she ran out to join the Green Man under the stars.
"Paid in full?" she asked curiously.
"not yet." The Green Man looked up at the stars. "But almost. Are you ready to follow me one more time?"
"Forever, Green Man," the blonde bombshell replied with cheerful confidence. "Where to now?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Made to Pay: Fourteen

A swift blow from the gauntleted fist of Sparrowhawk was more than enough to knock the man into the middle of next week. He fell against the wall, and Sparrowhawk was only just able to keep him from making a serious noise as he fell. She grabbed the gun from his nerveless fingers and emptied it. The clip went into the fireplace. Moving stealthily, she crossed to the door, a heavy oak item that must have done something to shut out the sound of walloping. She slowly depressed the door handle, listening carefully. What she heard was a lot of talk in a foreign language. She waited for an opportune moment at which to make her presence known. However, a trace of movement, seen out of the corner of her eye, spoiled that plan. Turning, she dealt a man a kick to the jaw. sending him sprawling across a sofa. Another movement, this time from the doorway caused the intrepid lady to turn.

The sub-machine gun she found pointed at her persuaded her to raise her hands in surrender. Still, her eyes flashed, as she was led into the room where the spies and traitors were gathered. There, the leader, William Gwynn, waited for her, smiling.
"We meet again." He stepped forward. "You know, I never expected to see you again. I was sure you were dead."

"Well, you were wrong, weren't you?" she glared at him defiantly.

"I wonder..." the lecturer shook his head. "The body is the same, but the manner is different, more immature. Can it be that another is using the name and reputation of Sparrowhawk, knowing that I would be drawn to her, that I would have to meet her, to know that she was dead?"

"You are not wrong, William Gwynn." A deep, chilling voice spoke from the shadows. "But it will do you no good. You have already signed your death warrant. All that remains for you is justice."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sunday Supplement: Falling Angels

Sir Richard Arcos again; Having completed anotherholiday, this time in Dubai, where an old school chum is getting rich off his oil wells, I decided to visit another church. This one called itself the 'United Church of Miracles,' and was advertising 'mirace evenings' every Sunday night at eight. Well, being a curious sort of cove I went along there, in this case with the honourable Sara Vaughan, one of my grandaughters, who is a qualified paramedic. We arrived in plenty of time, so I amused myself by throwing pins onto the seats two rows in fromt of us. Unfortunately my grandaughter noticed and I had to stop. I pointed out that this church promises helaing on demand, so it shouldn't really matter. She accused me of trying to grown old disgracefully. I pleaded guilty.

The Pastor entered to the sound of bongo drums, and I noticed Sara try very hard to keep a straight face. He was middle aged and respectable looking, although the donkey-jacket did not suit him. He held up his hands and asked everyone whether they were ready for a miracle, which brought forth the loudest cheer I've heard since I stopped attending bear-baiting. He closed his eyes and announced that there was someone in the audiemce with a bad foot. A man hobbled forward, and the pastor knelt to lay hands on it, telling the man that he would hear the foot heating up. The man screamed that he could and proceeded to run about the stage in ever-decreasing circles until he passed out cold.

This was the signal for pandemonium to break out. People started to charge the stage and the pastor blew on themj, making them fall down. Another person hurried on to the stage and the Pastor socked them on the jaw, telling them to receive their healing. This happened a few more times, while someone with a bad back declared the pain had gone and encouraged people to walk on his back. A man with a wooden leg declared that his leg had been healed before falling over after he removed his peg-leg and the stump refused to grow.
After a few more people began to fall over and convulse, Sara rushed the stage to try and help, assuming people were having fits. The 'pastor' knocked her out with a haymaker while telling her to 'receive the Holy Ghost.'
You should have seen the shiner she had the next morning.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Made to Pay: Thirteen

As darkness fell across the park and gardens that surround Nanteos, lights flicking on in the elegant mansion, a few large cars pulled up outside, bearing all the hallmarks of hire cars. Large and luxurios, these were no ordinary cars, and the people they brought were no ordinary visitors (not that a luxury hotel ever has ordinary visitors). These men kept their heads bowed, as they hurried inside, being met by other guests, men who wore bulges under their armpits.

The Green Man put down his binoculars, smiling with grim satisfaction.
"They're here," he turned to the lurking figure of Sparrowhawk, who looked a little cold, in comparison to the hatted and coated figure of the Green Man.
"So?" Sparrowhawk's eyes widened, showing very white in the gathering gloom.

The Green Man moved forward, putting away the folding binoculars. Sparrowhawk moved to his side. Together, they moved towards the mansion, the Green Man drawing his gun from his coat. For her part, Sparrowhawk clenched her fists. Slim and lovely under the moonlight, she moved forward, the Green Man slowing in his advance. She paused, looking back.
"You have to go first," he hissed. "I shall be behind you."
Sparrowhawk crouched, moving to the garden doors. Removing a pick-lock from her belt, she opened the door and slipped inside.
"Hey!" she started. There, mere inches from her, was a man with a gun. And his fingers were tightening on the trigger.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Made to Pay: Twelve

The mansion of Nanetos stands in beautiful grounds, a little way outside Aberystwyth. For generations it was home to the Powell family, who supplied MPs and High Sheriffs of the County. But their hopes died with the heir to the estate in the mud of the Western Front. Today, the house is a luxury hotel, much used for weddings and the like, as incontestably the most magnificent building in the Aberystwyth region. It was also the place designated as the rendezvous for the spies and their masters.

And that explains why Sparrowhawk was standing in the woods across from the lawns, leaning on the railings as she watched the elegant mansion. Across from her, looking the other way, was the impassive figure of the Green Man. He checked his gun, keeping a watch on the road as he did so.

"You're sure they won't change the drop point?" Sparrowhawk sounded nervous, blue eyes wide.
"They can't." The Green Man laughed grimly. "The sub has been maintaining radio silence since long before we came on the scene. And they won't risk their airwaves trying to get in contact today. And if they do, my people 'll pick it up."
"You mean..." Sparrowhawk began.

"There are pothers," the Green Man nodded. "But not others who frighten the wicked. And no-one could frighten these people more than someone they thought was dead."

"And what do we do now?" Sparrowhawk asked innocently.
"Now?" the Green Man looked towards the mansion. "Now, we wait."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Made to Pay: Eleven

The gathered traitors looked about them, fear in their eyes. Eyes went to the door, as if the wicked people expected to see the trim form of Sparrowhawk step through it at any moment.

"Why now?" one of the men declared, worried. "When we're so close!"

"Because we are," the leader replied flatly. "We have the information we need. We cannot turn back now."

"And what do we do now?" another asked. "What..."

"We can do nothing," the leader shook his head. "The timetable is in motion. We cannot speed up or delay it. If we run away, they will find us."

Again, there was long silence. People looked everywhere but to the hollow eyes of their leader.

"The operation will go ahead." He spoke softly. "We have no choice. The timetable is in operation." As he spoke, then leader seemed very far away. In his mind, he was in the same place, albeit at the bottom of the hill. But some time ago. Looking down at a fallen figure outside the mighty walls of a great grey chapel.

And he wondered just why she had returned now, after so many years, when he was at the cusp of a triumph.

Outside, on a ledge, the figure of Sparrowhawk waited, listening through a device attached to the wall. She looked out to the sea, shining in the sun. Then up to the cliffs above the town, where she could just make out a figure in green.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Made to Pay: Ten

The next morning, at a room in the tower of the Llandinam building of the University, traitors met together. The mood was grim, as the man in the chair glared at the men sat before her. The pallor in his face indicated that he was a man who had felt a great blow.

"What did you say?" he demanded of the two battered men who had brought the news of the night before.

"We were guarding the room," one spoke softly. "This girl in brown and black leather attacked us."

"She was fast," the other man added. "And someone was with her. "He knocked me out."
"What did she look like?" the leader spoke in a whisper.
"Blonde," came the reply. "Pretty, too. The suit had a sort of bird thing going on."
"No..." the leader breathed, trembling. "It's impossible..."
"What is?" one of the men asked.
"The woman you described," came the terrified answer, "is Sparrowhawk. Just under ten years ago, she broke this organisation wide open. She discovered every secret. Before she could do anything, however, we tracked her down. Here, in Aberystwyth. I was told she was dead."
"And if she's not?" the question was laden with dread.
"Then all of us are."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Made to Pay: Part Nine

The men reached for guns, as the blonde figure moved into the room. A few, however, remained frozen.

"No..." one of the agents breathed. "It cannot be. I saw you killed! You're supposed to be dead!"

"Legends never die," the other door to the place opened to admit the figure of the Green Man, gun in hand. "Or perhaps your supposedly infallible chief never told you that he'd only left Sparrowhawk for dead - did you never check for a pulse?"

"" the man rose. Sudenly he hade for the door. But the Green Man was too quick for him. The gunshot echoed about the room, as a fine mist of blood rose from the head of the agent. He fell to the ground dead.

The girl in leather joined in the fight, knocking out one of the goons with a pile-driving left to the jaw. Another fell to a high-kick. Together, the Green Man and Sparrowhawk cleared the room in a matter of minutes. Senseless and dead men littered the little room that had until recently been filled with plotters. Removing a Mobile 'phone from one of them, the Green Man dialled a number from memory.

"Hello," he spoke into it. "I know this is British counter-espionage. Do not ask me how I know. Go to a tavern by the bridge at Aberystwyth. You will find there dangerous agents of an enemy power. Why do I do this?" He laughed grimly. "I do this because I seek justice."

And, with that, he turned off the 'phone again, before striding out of the buildings into a town that was slowly waking up, unconscious of the world-shattering events that were taking place in it.

Just as it had been that day long ago, when Sparrowhawk had faced the forces of evil by the Tabernacle. Alone.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sunday Supplement on Wednesday: Free Thought?

Sir Richard Arcos writes: This week, in breach of my normal policy of visiting different churches, I shocked the deacons at my own church by actually turning up to both Sunday services. Someone commented that I didn't normally do this, while my wife hid after the service, afraid that I was planning to do something. I at last had to explain to my wife that it was not some diabolical scheme, but that I was going to be attending the so-called free-thinkers' meeting at a nearby country house which is, sad to say, now a hotel. My wife then told me I was a snob, and I told her that was no bad thing in this day and age. After sending a card to my youngest grandchild congratulating her on failing her first essay due to a too-active social life (my other university age grandaughter, Sian is at Aberystwyth and I have heard she's a litle busy right now), I headed off to this gathering.

We met in one of the smaller dining rooms in what was actually a rather tasteful adaptation of the old place. Still, I can remember when Sir James was there, and I have to say, there would have been none of this silly stuff in his day...

But where was I? Oh yes, the atheist bun-fight. The chairman, a chap with a wispy beard who looked like he used to discuss Communism when that was still fashionable in some circles, welcomed everyone and said that theywould open with the reading of a poem. Some hastly woman got up and read a screed against religion that didn't even rhyme. My daughter tells me this is called free verse. Can't say I'm surprised, as no-one would even swap a couple of marbles for that sort of thing. Someone then got up and recited an atheist version of the creed, which went thus:

I believe in man, the sustainer of earth, and in his inherent goodness/ I believe in Woman, the nutrurer and beaer of life/ Who for our sake ond our propagation did submit to...

Well, that was it. I got up and declared bluntly that if they expected anyone to take such drivel seriously, would they allow me to state that I reserved my right not to believe in man. After which the following exchange took place:

Atheist: What do you mean, you don't believe in man?

Sir Richard: If you chaps can say you can't believe in a loving God who would allow war, then I certainly reserve the right to say that I don't believe in your utopian drivel about the inherent goodness of a mankind who have spent large chunks of their history working out new and interesting ways of killing and enslaving their fellow man.

Atheist: But that was in the name of religion, most wars...

Sir Richard: Most wars have been caused by the very human desire to lay one's grubby mitts on something that belongs to somebody else.

Atheist: In an ideal society there'd be no private property.

Sir Richard: Which is just a fancy way of saying that if you were in charge you'd want to lay your grubby mitts on just about everything. I don't suppose you've heard of the tenth commandment, have you? You see, God's very clear that there are a great many things that one is not allowed to do. Your belief is that God should intervene in the here and now to prevent all these ghastly things. But have you ever asked yourself whether God's standard is your standard? I for one am rather glad God allows us to go wrong without wiping us out the first time we transgress. Perhaps because I know a little more of the evil that lies in the hearts of men than you.

Atheist: How dare you bring your theistic beliefs to our free-thinkers' group! Get out of the room!

So I departed, making sure to book the room for a baboon-fanciers' convention on the date of their next meeting.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Made To Pay: Part Eight

The met in the upper room of a pub, close by the bridge. The room was full of cigarette smoke, indicating that this was not part of the public space of the hostelry, given the recent smoking ban. The air was heavy with the smell of intrigue, as well as stale smoke. The seven men around the table had every appearance of being deep and wicked plotters, some of them with the long hair of idealists (well, layabouts), others with the thin faces and suits of professional agents.

"There will be two days before the submarine arrives," one of the agents told the gathering. "Until that time, the papers are being hidden. And the money remains with our clients."

"Now listen..." one of the long-haired men objected. "We took the risks. You want to wait around, that's fine by us, but after what happened to Stone..."

"Stone was a fool and a sensualist," the agent replied. "You saw what the Green Man said, he killed Stone because of that girl, not because of his activities. Besides, we are safe here."

"Just because it's a small town in the middle of no-where?" another man piped up. "The Green Man can find us anywhere. You know these types..."

"More than you know," came the calm reply. "The chief has this town sewn up. Last time someone got close he was able to have them killed without any come back. Power like that you can't buy."

The man nodded, cowed. His fellows nodded with him, now persuaded by the grim expression on the face of the agent.

"When do we meet the boss?" one asked after a pause.
"You don't," the agent shook his head. "No-one does. Not since Stone showed what sort of a person you runners are. We cannot take the risk that another one of you will draw attention to himself. And next time the Green Man may find out more."
"But you said..." one man rose.
"The boss can't deal with every vigilate comes after us," the agent rasped.
"You know what? you're quite right."
The door swung open, and the men rose, their eyes widening. There, a breeze blowingthrough her golden curls, one hand reaching for a black whip that hung by her side, was the leather-sheathed form of Sparrowhawk.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Made to Pay: Part Seven

The wind picked up, as the Green Man turned back towards the wide-eyed Sian Rule. She thought she saw the glint of a tear in the eye of the legendary figure.

"It has been many years since those events," the Green Man told her. "Without the information lost with Sparrowhawk's mind, I could not know who the wicked men were. But a few weeks ago I made a shocking discovery. I vistied a young man who was responsible for the death of his pregnant girlsfriend. I meant to beat him up, but in the course of taking him to the spot where his abandoned girlfriend had slain herself, he told me that he had friends, powerful friends. Men who had slain Sparrowhawk.

"I beat the truth out of him. He told me that he had worked as a runner for the spy-ring that Sparrowhawk had been chasing. He had been one of the men who had attacked Sparrowhawk. I told him he would pay for that.

"He begged for his life, told me the name of the leader of the ring. A man called William Gwynn, a lecturer at the University. Then I hanged him, for a traitor and as one of the men responsible for the fact that the bravest girl I ever knew is now a pale-faced childish thing who can barely talk and needs help to do anything." There was steel in the voice of the Green Man.

Sian Rule shuddered. This was likely to be very brutal and not a little bit scary.

"But what do I do?" she asked.
The Green Man managed a grim smile.
"You are to play a most important part, Miss Rule," he told her. "You are going to trap this man into a confession. My sources tell me that the plans of the new Roval Navy aircraft carriers have been secretly copied and will be smuggled out of the country through the same route that Sparrowhawk and I were tracking. This time they suspect nothing. And so vengeance will be accomplished."