Your Room, Your Majesty
For no reason at all Lily wailed loudly and squirmed against the harness of her car seat.
“What are you doing to her Sam? Can’t you just sit there and be quiet? Your father’s been driving for hours. He doesn’t need any silly distractions from you.” Sam saw her mum dart a nervous glance at the driver.
“But I’m not doing anything. She’s asleep.”
“She wouldn’t have cried like that unless you were doing something.”
Sam sighed and tried to wriggle further away from her sister’s angular car seat. Her grandmother, who had also been squeezed into the back of the car, muttered drowsily.
“And make sure you’re not squashing Nana.”
“There’d be more room if we hadn’t had to bring all of Lily’s toys.” She extracted a star-tipped wand from behind her back.
“Don’t try and be clever Sam. She’s three years old and needs things to keep her occupied. You’re fifteen. Just stop messing about and grow up.”
The driver shifted his weight and Sam felt her stomach twist.
“Listen to your mother.” Little more than a growl.
Sam held her breath. She hated herself for being so frightened of the hulking lump her mum had married. She squeezed her eyes shut and wished she had the courage to say something which might dilute the anger smouldering in the silence.
“You know,” Nana piped up unexpectedly, “I think I’ve forgotten my passport. Is it too late to go back for it?”
The frail, bewildered question deflated the tension. Sam’s mum even managed a little chuckle. “It’s all right Nana. You don’t need your passport.”
“But I thought you said we were going on a ship.”
“Yes, we are. But just to the Isles of Scilly. We’ll still be in England.”
Nana frowned. “Oh yes. I knew that, didn’t I?”
“It was your idea to go.” The driver grumbled, but his ugly annoyance had been replaced with the disdain he directed at everything.
“That’s right. You told me you almost grew up there. You remember don’t you?”
Nana didn’t answer. She’d already drifted off to sleep again.
The last hour of the journey passed peacefully. Lily occasionally snuffled in her sleep and Nana made some peculiar noises as she dozed, but Sam was not subjected to any more unfair tellings off. The darkness of the country roads gave way to the glowing streets of a town and finally they pulled into the car park of the Garholt Moor guesthouse.
Extracting the luggage and people from the car was complicated by the fact that Lily had woken up in a difficult mood. She was too cold and it was too dark and she wanted it to be morning straight away. And Nana didn’t help either. She unfolded herself out of the car and started to wander away down the street.
“Nana!” It was too late to shout, so Sam’s call was barely more than a stage whisper. Nana carried on tottering away from them.
“Go and get her please Sam.” Her mum asked in her panicky voice, darting more humiliating glances at her husband.
Sam could feel her muscles protesting after being cramped up in the car but she caught up quickly, and steered Nana back. Lily had now decided that she wanted to walk, but she didn’t want to put her shoes on. Sam’s mum was trying to cajole the little girl into being carried, explaining as calmly as she could that the ground was wet.
“Just carry her.” Sam’s stepfather wrenched at a suitcase handle protruding from the boot of the car. “We’re late enough already.” The suitcase didn’t move.
“We don’t need the big suitcase tonight darling. The overnight bag’ll do for us.” Sam winced at the cringing in her mum’s voice. “I packed that on the top.”
He grunted and pulled a smaller bag out. “This one?”
“Yes. That’s right. Sam? Can you carry Lily please?”
Sam scooped up her sister and blurted into her neck, making the little girl giggle. “Come on, chuck. I’ll carry you…upside down!”
“No…no!” Lily squealed.
“Sam.” Her stepfather growled without looking at her. “Don’t get her excited. We want to get some sleep tonight.”
“Sorry.” And Lily settled down immediately. Sam hated the way her innocent little sister was already wise enough not to provoke her father’s rage.
They bustled into the tiny reception area of the guesthouse. The room had an unnerving amount of china animals herded together on every conceivable surface and the antique furniture had been ruthlessly polished to an unnatural sheen, but there was no overt suggestion that the old lady standing primly behind the desk was on the run from a lunatic asylum. Not at first, anyway.
“Brrr!” Sam’s mum said. “It’s freezing out there.”
“Yes.” The landlady said more frostily than the February weather. “It is.”
“Er, yes. Quite. Are you Mrs McCaffrey? We’re the Crisps. I rang…”
“You’re late. You were expected before seven o’clock.”
“I’m really sorry. The traffic was awful…” Sam’s mum rambled on, mentioning road works and road hogs until her forced good humour was quashed by the landlady’s icy stare.
After a long uncomfortable silence Mrs McCaffrey sniffed. “Well,” she said, “fortunately for you we still have your rooms available.”
Then Lily decided that she didn’t want to be carried anymore. She squirmed and twisted in Sam’s arms and stretched determinedly for a shiny duck that was curling its neck over the edge of a bookcase. Sam was taken by surprise. Lily’s contortions made it impossible to keep her balance and they both collapsed in a squealing heap.
“Sam!” Sam’s stepfather stared at her. “Get up.”
“I didn’t mean to. She…” Sam stifled her pointless protest and staggered to her feet. Sam’s mum gathered Lily up and balanced her expertly on her hip.
The landlady sniffed again and closed the large book on the desk. She smiled stiffly. “There’s been a mistake. Actually there are no more rooms available. We take a dim view of such behaviour here.”
“What?” Sam’s stepfather stared incredulously at the landlady and then rounded on Sam. “Now see what you’ve done. Why do you have to act like such a child all the time?” He was livid, and Sam felt the unfairness of it all tugging the corners of her mouth down. She clamped her lips together to stop herself from venting her own sudden anger. Her stepfather took a menacing step closer to her, his hands twitching.
Beyond his looming figure Sam saw Mrs McCaffrey glaring at them with utter disgust. Then her pinched mouth slackened into a rapturous smile, her eyes widened, and her expression changed to sudden wonderment.
“Your majesty?” She said and curtsied so low that her forehead almost touched the floor.
Sam looked around to see who she was looking at. There was no one there except Nana, doddering around in the entrance, looking at the doorframe as if she was inspecting it for woodworm.
“What are you doing?” Sam’s stepfather blustered.
Mrs McCaffrey straightened up and tried to muster an ingratiating smile. “I’m so sorry, Mr Crisp. I didn’t realise you were travelling in such august company.”
“I have your rooms, of course. A family room for you, your lovely wife and your adorable little daughter.” Mrs McCaffrey checked the book on her desk, “And a twin room for Mrs Perry and your eldest daughter.”
“Are you winding me up?”
“Gracious pipers, no. Please accept my humblest apologies for not recognising you before. I don’t know what could have come over me.”
“Oh, it’s alright.” Sam said quickly, forestalling any sneering remarks from her stepfather. “We’re just glad it’s all sorted out. Aren’t we mum?”
“Yes. We’re all exhausted. We can’t wait to snuggle into bed.” There was a tremble of relief in her mum’s voice. “Can we dear?”
“Well, you won’t have to wait long.” Mrs McCaffrey rapped a gold bell on the desk and an old, dusty fellow appeared, gamely gathered up their luggage and struggled away up a flight of narrow stairs. “Jed will show you to your room. Would you like anything to drink? Perhaps something for supper?”
“No, no. We’re fine thanks.”
Mrs McCaffrey followed them up and guided Sam and Nana to their room. The two beds had been made with military precision and everything was furiously clean and perfectly tidy, but the old landlady still managed to apologise for the poor state of her establishment and she flitted around the room straightening the straight curtains and flicking away specks of imaginary dust.
Nana wandered into the room and sat down daintily on the edge of one of the beds. “This is nice.”
Mrs McCaffrey could not hide her delight and she beamed. “Thank you…Mrs Perry.” She bowed and scurried out of the room. As she passed into the hallway, Sam heard the landlady whisper what sounded like, “And sleep well, your majesty.”
Sam closed the door shaking her head. She was bemused by the strange mood swings of the landlady and was about to mention them to Nana, but a loud snore erupted from the other side of the room.
Wrapped up in her coat Nana was breathing with the heavy rhythm of sleep. Sam tiptoed over and gently tapped her shoulder. “Nana, wake up. You can’t go to sleep like this. You need to get ready for bed.”
“Get off me, Jaydon. I need my sleep.”
“Come on, Nana.” Sam shook a little harder. “Who’s Jaydon?”
“You know who you are you little jester. Now let me get to sleep.”
Sam giggled at her grandmother’s earnest gibberish and decided to leave her. She got ready for bed as quietly as possible and prised herself between the tight sheets. It wasn’t long before she slipped into a dream.
She drifted through shining steel walled corridors, past huge churning cogs of rusted iron and into a velvet seated auditorium. A magician was on the stage fanning out playing cards and shuffling them from hand to hand.
“Pick a card.” With the seamless trickery that only makes sense in dreams, he was now standing beside her. “Any card.”
Sam looked from the cards to the magician’s face. He appeared normal except for his eyes which were orbs of cloud-filled glass, and Sam could see pulleys and pinions whizzing behind them. She leaned forward to look closer and found herself falling through his expanding eyes and into the whirling machinery beyond. She floated down past grinding gears and clanking chains, head over heels through billowing steam which belched out from banks of assorted brass funnels. Fat tubes snaked away into the distant darkness.
She fell quite close to some of the more protuberant pipes and cogs and began to notice a black liquid coating much of the machinery. Instead of dripping or flowing like oil, it writhed and wriggled like eager worms, curling around the metal, coveting it, devouring it. As she fell the dark sludge began to reach out for her and Sam could feel the malice directed towards her from the claws of ooze.
And then from deep within this dark labyrinth of machinery came a flutter of butterflies. They surrounded her; flying so close that their delicate wings brushed her face and hands. More butterflies came and more and before long Sam could see nothing but fragile, quivering wings cocooning her. She felt safe.
It got darker and Sam felt something persistently tickling her left hand. She closed it gently, caging a single trembling butterfly in her fingers and brought it to within a couple of inches of her face. Although it was now too dark to see clearly, Sam thought the butterfly in her grasp was too shiny to be real.
“I know it’s not for a while. But this is for your birthday.”
Sam started and tried to sit up. She was in bed in the darkness of the guesthouse bedroom, and Nana was creeping back to her own bed, looking ghostly in a long white nightgown.
“Get to sleep, dear. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Sam let her head fall back into the softness of her pillow and realised that she was still holding the butterfly from her dream. It was only tiny, barely an inch from wingtip to wingtip and it was rigid now, feeling more like a piece of jewellery than a living creature. Examining it as closely as the dim light allowed Sam saw its body and legs were made of filigreed gold and it had eyes of facetted jewels, but the most striking features were its wings. Blue and green patterned silk splayed out from its golden body ready to catch the slightest eddy in the air like the sails of a racing corsair.
“Thanks, Nana. It’s beautiful.” She placed the delicate trinket on the table next to her bed. It didn’t take long for sleep to recapture her and this time she slept soundly through till morning.