and the Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 1 - Surban Speaks
It was the week before Christmas.
And it was the final day of school at Hopewell Hall.
Almost a whole year had gone by since both Priscilla Black and Monique Bateleur had passed within the gates as first-year students although, in that short space of time, they had had several adventures that most people would never encounter throughout their entire life.
After all, not every one had the perplexing experience of encountering extra-terrestrial creatures from somewhere far off in deep space beyond Canis Minor, The Dog Star.
However, as Priscilla's room-mate Surban began to disrobe inside their little dorm room, Harry and his Alien chums were the furthest thing from her mind.
'Like, you're not a boy? Are you Surban? Whoo! No, You're not a boy! You're not a boy but... Ohhh! You poor thing!'
Priscilla found herself staring at a slim, naked, olive-skinned body criss-crossed by several pale scars over abdomen and stomach.
'Oh my God!' Priscilla exclaimed, without thinking about their differing religions. 'What in the world's happened to you Surban?'
The girl before her did not answer, instead she turned about to present her back. It too was mottled with ivory lines running from her shoulders down to her buttocks.
'What can you do,' Surban demanded, 'for these!'
'Oh crikey, I feel sort of sick,' was all Priscilla could manage for a few seconds.
That was enough time for Surban to add, 'What else you say? Look here, fool!' She pointed to a small, jagged line running down the upper part of her right arm. 'You know of this mark?'
Priscilla, regaining her composure and her stomach, managed, 'Ullps! Looks a bit like a zee...Like the letter zee or zed... for Zorro?'
'Sorrow? What is this thing sorrow? Wait, yes, it has a meaning for me: Fear! And also useless tears and des...pair... '
'Aw well, not actually right I think: Zorro, he's a guy in the movies, black cape and sword, you know, phit, phit, phit!' Priscilla drew a Z in the air with her finger.
'I do not know fit, fit, fit. It has no meaning!'
'No, of course it wouldn't, but he makes the sign of the Zee, see, for Zorro, like on people's clothes... ohh... like this scar...'
'You talk... I do not know... This is sign of Belief. This is sign of my people cut into me by those who would mark me. These,' she indicated a series of tiny numerals circling her wrists, 'have always been with me.'
'Who are your people?'
'My people belong to Zoroaster.'
Priscilla scratched at her neck, 'Zorro with a rooster? Sounds like a chicken pressure-cooker to me. How did you get into Australia?'
'I come by aeroplane from Jakarta.'
'Who with? Your family?'
'No. I come here alone. I have told you. I have nothing.'
Priscilla flapped her arms. 'What the heck! I don't get it, you don't get it. Come on Surban. Cover up and let's get moving. You aren't staying in. Your coming with us.'
Surban turned about, allowing her gown to fall around her body and removing the garment covering her head.
For the first time, Priscilla looked upon the girl's face. 'Ohh!' was all she could get out.
The eyes, which had been dark and secretive behind the mask of cloth, were framed in a most striking face: the cheekbones were prominent and the mouth fully formed and rounded, the nose and chin straight and chiselled. Even at the age of thirteen or so, the girl before her had a face that spoke of high birth.
Momentarily Priscilla had the subconscious urge to bow.
'What is wrong? Surban make you sick? Body is marked. Should never show face! Go away! Leave Surban! You can do no thing! Leave Surban! Go!'
Slowly, Priscilla smiled. 'Don't give me that stuff. You're definitely something else. I said I could help you, and I can. Why should you trust me? Because you already have. You let me see your body, and your lovely face. Do you think I could leave you all alone through Christmas? Yeah sure, I know there are the live-in caretakers to look after kids who can't go home for whatever reason, but no way with you. Wanna stay here? I'll get my brother and his pals. Moni and me'll make you come! Aww, come on Surban, what's the difference to you if you stay here moping all through the holidays or spend time with us? Give it a try! Never know if ya don't have a go!'
Surban stared at Priscilla for some time. 'You will not leave?'
'I will not leave. Do we eat in or take away?'
Surban sighed. 'What I do care? Stay or go with you. It make no difference. I will come if that is what you want. We go now.'
'Great!' said Priscilla, relieved, 'Get your things together, Monique is waiting for us.'
'What things? Surban has little to bring, school give me most everything,' said the girl, moving to the door.
'Yeah, right,' Priscilla muttered, 'but it might be more convincing to the staff here if you look like you're organised and set for a holiday with us. After all they can't stop you from leaving the school if you have a valid reason and a place to go. Leave it to Moni and me to sort that out. Let's take what you do have and I'll pack some of my stuff in a bag and you can carry it.'
'You tell your people first?'
'Of course. The school will want their permission. Don't worry, Dad and Mum will understand. You'll be welcome. I have a wacky family but they're kinda alright and of course there's Harry. You might like Harry,' said Priscilla, stuffing her own towels and some of Surban's meagre toiletries into the carry-all.
'Harry is other brother?'
'What? No, Henry is other brother. Harry's a dog.'
'You don't like dogs?
'Like or not like. Dog is needful to keep. In my religion, dog is guardian of dead.'
'Yeah, wild,' was all Priscilla, with bulging eyes, could manage as she opened the door.
After a lot of three-way talking with Headmistress Poe, Granny Black and Priscilla, Surban was finally given permission to leave Hopewell Hall and stay with the Blacks at their home in Camberwell for the Christmas holidays, on the understanding that she would be supervised there and return to school with the girls in the New Year.
When the trio arrived at the front door of 222A. Silverglade road, Mathew Black stepped out, bent down and kissed Priscilla, embraced Monique, and offered his hand to Surban.
She kept her arms beneath her covering garment, bent her head slightly, and remained silent.
'Right!' said Mathew briskly, staring for a second at the masked eyes watching him. 'Big welcome to Priscilla and Monique's friend Surban. Come on in Surban. Let's get you settled upstairs.'
As Priscilla passed, her father caught her eye with a 'I hope you know what you're doing here,' look.
'Feel like talking?' Priscilla gently asked, coming to kneel at the side of the hooded girl, who now seemed so very small and isolated. 'Like I know you need your space and stuff, but you can talk to me, or to Moni or anyone here in our house; Granny Black's a really good listener and she seems to know a fair bit, so does my Dad and even Mollie our cleaning lady and my two brothers and, oh there I go blabbing away and you probably wish I'd just P.O.Q. ... '
'What is this pee-o-que?' said Surban, raising her head from its bowed position on the floor of Priscilla's bedroom, but not bothering to turn and face her.
'Oh yeah, right, it's just initials in our alphabet for um... Piss Off Quick... '
'Piss... Is like I have know of someone taking this... But means really body function, true?'
'Umm, yeah, right, sorry to confuse you. Problem is with language and meanings and where I live and where you come from. Want to tell me a little bit about that?'
'Why not? I can be a top listener as well as a blabber-mouth. And while Moni's out tonight with her folks, it's just you and me kiddo. Monique doesn't mind bunking in with Granny for a while. You're safe in my bedroom and you can have dinner up here if you want. I'll bring it to you.'
'Why should you wish to know about Surban? What is for? Is waste of time for you. For me, time does not matter. Nothing matter. Life is dead fire.'
'Can't we get a scratch?'
'What is scratch?'
'You know, a match-stick, fire-lighter. The thing we use to get the stove going or for a barbie, um sorry, you know, the outside place where things get cooked.'
'You people use fire with no care. It mean little to you. In West fire is slave only. In place I come from Fire is of greatness for my people. It is sign of Mazda's being... '
'Go on, who's Mazda? And don't start trying to sell me a car.'
Surban inclined her head toward Priscilla. 'You are being arse-smart. I too learn words at school.'
Priscilla, working hard to stifle a giggle, said, 'So you know that some brands of wheels are called Mazda's?'
'I know it is western name use badly. Mazda not is to be taken as machine. Mazda is Lord-God of my people!'
'Is that where the 'roast' bit comes in with that Zorro guy?' said Priscilla, feigning ignorance, having already done some swift basic Internet homework on Persian mythology.
Surban's eyes narrowed behind the slits of her head covering. 'You cannot so be stupid! I think you worthy of speech and all you give back is ignor... ignoran... '
'Ignorance,' said Priscilla, not about to let her advantage slip, 'I suppose I am ignorant about lots of things. But this time maybe not as much as you might think. We're talking about fire, and not just any fire, but about the Holy Fires of Mazda, and about Zoroaster, the name the Greeks gave him. The man who is also called Zara... Zarathrust...
'Zarathushtra! You know! You know of Holy Prophet!'
Priscilla smiled, staring directly into Surban's hooded eyes. 'I don't know much about anything. You'll have to help me.'
Surban shook her head. 'I cannot help myself, why should I... '
There came a faint clip-clip of claws, and padding very quietly Harry slipped around the corner.
'Oh! This is dog of yours!' said Surban, turning her gaze toward him as he hovered in the doorway.
'Well no, Harry isn't my dog. He sort of belongs to all of us and none of us. He's a stray who was part of a family that once lived in this house. Henry thinks the world of him, but Harry's kind of his own dog. Does he bother you?'
Surban's eyes softened, 'No. As I told you at school, dog is guardian of Dead. Keep away Evil Forces through Sagdid.'
'What does that mean?'
'It will take long to tell.' Surban's fingers lingered on the floor and Harry, very gently picked his way toward them and once close, silently melted into a sprawled position.
'We have some time together,' said Priscilla, reassuringly. 'Harry won't mind, will you Harry?'
Harry coughed unexpectedly, and threw a paw across his eyes, flicking it back and forth like a wind-screen wiper. Then, rolling over onto his side, he settled, licking at a fore-leg.
'He is good animal,' said Surban.
'He is my friend,' Priscilla answered softly, 'and he doesn't mind how long we take to tickle his tummy while we talk.'
'Aw heck! This girl needs the United Nations!' Priscilla growled in frustration later that same night after Monique had returned from dinner with her parents. 'But you should see her body! It's like a jig-saw puzzle under that blanket she wears.'
'I cannot understand what you are talking about until you tell it all to me,' said Monique expectantly, sprawled on her temporary bunk in Granny Black's room.
'Well, while Surban's praying or having quiet time meditating before going to sleep, or whatever it is she does, I'll tell you the little I know.'
'So what is this all about?'
'O.K. She told me some of it and made me swear to keep most of that secret. Mainly all I can say is that she believes there's no hope for her. She thinks that nothing she can do can change what's happened. Everything, for her, is now lost.'
'I am astounded, that is the right word oui, that she has chosen to speak with you at all, considering she has been so silent to everybody at school since she came.'
'Me too. I suppose it was just the right time and maybe I kind of wore her down. Probably she just needed someone to listen. Anyway, what I can tell you is that she arrived in Sydney by plane from Jakarta on her own. Once she got here Customs passed her on to the Federal police who kept her in a security place for five weeks before releasing her to Hopewell. Like, I don't get it Moni?'
'Well Cilla, I did come here with your Father, and that was very unconventional.'
Priscilla, still finding herself inclined to smile at Monique's pronunciation of 'very' with the rolled French accent, said, 'Yeah, sure, but your Folks had already got things sorted out for you and them. Like you had entry passports and all that stuff. No problem.'
Monique considered this information for a moment, 'You say she came from Jakarta. Why would she be allowed to enter Australia? As a refugee? Perhaps temporarily. Yet not for long. And certainly not to be at... what would you say... yes, liberty in a school that is for special and also paying students. No. People like her do not get flown into Australia without a reason. Anyway, let us get on with sorting my things here while I think.'
After several minutes of laying out clothing on Monique's makeshift bed and sliding shoes beneath it, Priscilla said, 'Well Einstein, had any brain-waves?'
'Alright, here is my solution,' Monique answered while forcing her jumpers and cardigans into a corner of a tall, black-wood wardrobe already bulging with Granny's clothes.
'Sock it to me,' said Priscilla, a smirk on her face.
'It is quite simple really. She belongs here. She is already an Australian citizen.'
'Bloody hell! Why do you think that?'
'As Monsieur Sherlock 'olmes always says, "Eliminate all the possibilities until you are left with the last, no matter how fantastic," or did he say incredible?'
'Alright, fine, so how could Surban be an Australian? I know, I know, born here, but how, why? And why wouldn't she know she was... '
'Perhaps because she was not here long enough. Being born in a country and removed very quickly to somewhere else may not leave any early memories. Her upbringing could be all from another land and... '
'And she just isn't giving out with all she does know,' interrupted Priscilla. 'Guess I'm gonna have to dig deeper. Maybe I can get her to give more tomorrow. Harry'll take notes, even if I can't tell secrets.'
It was almost midnight of the following day and the house was in darkness. Everyone, including Surban and Granny Black, booming out the deep snores she was famous for and never admitted to, was asleep. Everyone, that is, except Priscilla, Monique and Harry, who were having a whispered, torch-lit, conference in the parlour beyond the upstairs bedrooms, that had once formed part of the original Ball Room.
'It seems you might be right Miss Monique,' said Harry. 'Miss Surban told Priscilla that she was identified by the numbers tattooed on her wrists. I got to see them. They're very small and stretched, probably by the natural growth of her skin. Whatever they mean, she thinks they were enough to get her into Australia. She says they were always there for as long as she can remember, but a lot of the other marks and scars happened when her family was held captive by various groups who moved them from place to place and later, as they tried to get out of Persia.'
'Persia? That is no longer a country I think,' said Monique. 'Is it now called Iran or Iraq?
Priscilla couldn't help herself from interrupting, 'Surban says that she and her family started out from somewhere around the Caspian Sea near umm... Ohh... Ashkhabad I think... yeah I wrote it in here...' she flipped open a tiny notebook, 'in um, Turkmen-something-or-other, can't read my own scribble, on the border of Iran, travelling with her parents on pack animals across the mountains that come down through Iran to the Gulf of Oman. When they got to a port there they found passage on a tanker and set out through the Arabian Sea bound for Mumbai in the south of India. Arriving there they managed to board another ship, the Han Maru, which was to sail for Colombo and then on to Singapore.'
'Where were they trying to get to?' asked Monique.
'Australia,' cut in Harry. 'But Miss Surban says that the ship was attacked as it passed through the Strait of Malacca... '
'That is a very dangerous place,' said Monique. 'I watched a programme on television a few weeks ago about those waters. And it is true, pirates still operate there even now in the twenty-first century, just as groups of bandits still roam free in many countries of the world, but do go on Harry.'
Priscilla, almost bursting, ventured a grin in the torchlight, 'If this wasn't so serious Henry would be rapt; imagine, pirates, his favourites!'
'Yes very exciting Cilla, but quickly now, what happened Harry?'
'Umm, well she told us that there were a lot of people crammed on board, and from what she says the Han Maru was a ship that could take many people, although it was also carrying a cargo of olive oil and other stuff. Anyway, sometime in the middle of one night, pirates swarmed all over it. The watch was taken by surprise. There was fighting and shooting on the bridge and the decks above. But before Surban and her parents were forced up from below, she managed to hide something that they were carrying...'
'Something of great importance?' ventured Monique.
'All she says is that what-ever it is, it's worth more than her life.'
'And this treasure is now where?'
'Still on the Han Maru, unless someone else has found it,' panted Harry, licking at his paw.
'But what happened to Surban's Mother and Father?' asked Monique.
Priscilla couldn't help interjecting. 'In the confusion, they got separated. Some of the passengers and crew were herded to the back of the ship. There was a lot of gunfire and screaming in the darkness, then nothing. Surban, along with a small number of other young people, was held until daylight and then set adrift. She never saw her Mum and Dad again.'
'It seems that they were probably killed by their captors,' said Harry, 'and even if they survived, I don't know that we could find them now. '
'Is is possible that we could locate this pirate ship and at least retrieve her hidden treasure?' wondered Monique. 'Of course this could only be done in the Black Eagle, and once on board the ship we would need Surban's guidance to locate it.'
'But that'd mean we'd have to tell Surban about us,' said Priscilla. 'I don't think that's such a good idea. I mean she's sort of unpredictable, and who knows how she might react.'
'I am able to blanket her memory if we go that way,' said Harry. 'We can make it seem like a dream.'
'Yeah right!' said Priscilla, 'and what happens if we find her goodies and get her back here? What then? Bingo Surban! Look what just arrived by special owl delivery.'
'Umm, you do have a point there Miss Priscilla,' murmured Harry, 'but I think Miss Surban will find her own answers.'
'So O.K. What are we actually going to do? We can't get Fon Jien and Tsu to help us this time,' said Priscilla, despondently.
'No, and not Terri either. Now it is just up to our little group,' Monique whispered. 'But of course we have Harry here. You will help us, won't you Harry?'
'I'm really trying not to,' said Harry, 'well at least in some directions, and considering that I was supposed to do all the talking and have hardly got a word in edge-ways; talk about you, Priscilla, keeping a secret! However... ' his black muzzle yowled into a broad yawn, 'I suppose this is where we have to help the young lady. Anyway, finding this pirate ship is not going to be so easy. Problem is, there are too many vessels that fly multiple flags of other nations all through those waters. I only have one pal out there and she's not always available.'
'Not another friend like Mister and Missus Skewer?'
'Woolll!' Harry let out a low howl. 'Buster is certainly not like the Skewer's, but she knows the ocean and just maybe she might have some information. I'll try to get in contact although that could take a while. She's pretty good with bottoms.'
'Oh Harry, that is rather vulgar, is that the correct word?' said Monique, glancing at Priscilla, who wrinkled her nose.
'Vulgar to the max, Harry, we know that you're a dog and all that, but could you get your mind above your sniffer? That's like too much info. Do whatever you have to do without the details.'
Harry cocked his head from one side to the other as if confused, then nodded. 'Oh yeah, I get it. You both think... Umm, right, fine. Night!' With a flip about, he skipped out of the parlour and went clipping, rather haughtily, down the hall.
Monique looked at Priscilla with the hint of a smile. 'Well he is a dog.'
'He's an Alien in dog fur!' Priscilla exclaimed, masking the torch as the pair tip-toed back to their individual beds.
Christmas was a somewhat subdued affair for Priscilla and Monique. The reason was not only the presence of Surban, who tried, perhaps without even being aware, to remain as invisible as possible, but also because of the absence of Priscilla's mother Rachael, who was touring with the stage production of 'The Ant's Pants,' now in Fremantle on the far West Australian coast.
'Surban is thankful for kindness of you and your people,' said Surban, unwrapping a brush and comb set from Priscilla early on Christmas morning, while the two sat side by side on her bed. 'And Surban has gift for you in return.' She gravely produced a small parcel and pushed it into Priscilla's hands. It was obvious that it was a cake of soap, wrapped in pre-used Christmas paper, but how she could have managed to purchase it and find the paper, Priscilla was somewhat mystified. Although later it occurred to her that Henry might have had something to do with it.
'Surban knows of Christian belief and is not offended by such. Surban's religion is before yours in time and is true way, yet your way is from ours. We have one God and you also. Our God is good, your God is also good.' She fell silent, folding her hands together.
Priscilla, touched by this simple act of communication, could not stem tears welling in her eyes.
'Oh! You cry! Has Surban saddened you? Is gift insult?'
'No, no,' replied Priscilla, trying desperately to stifle a sob. 'It's fine, really cool... I just... I'm just so glad that we can talk together... you know. I hoped that we could... Your God and my.... ' Priscilla had a sudden Brain-Burst! Do I really have a God? Do I really believe in a God, a Christian God, any God!
Smearing the tears from her face, she managed, 'My family have friends, but today, on this special day, we keep it to just the closest. My Dad and Granny and my Brothers and now Moni and her folks. Come down and have lunch with us. Wear your gown and head covering. Just be there with us. Let's take Harry for a walk this afternoon. Let's have fun together. Let's just forget, just for this day, that you are who you are. Come with Moni and me and Harry. Time doesn't matter. It's only one day, Christmas Day, make it your day for Zara... Zarathrus... Zarathus... oh, you know... '
Surban bowed her head solemnly. 'Must not show face. Yet for you, Surban will do this thing, on your Christian Day and for Ahura Mazda.'
Eating was no simple matter when her face was masked by cloth, but Surban managed using a spoon in her right hand while holding her veil aside with the other. Even so it was an awkward task and everyone at the luncheon table was aware of it and their conversation was sober and formal, almost as if they didn't want to trespass or disturb.
Everyone except Henry, who, with his usual tactless brilliance, managed to turn the situation on its head. Breaking a long silence he said, 'Downloaded some cool music off the Internet this morning. Wannna hear it?'
Henry, master of gadgets, clicked a button and the jazz version of 'Thus Spake Zarathustra' filled the dining room.
When it ended his older brother Louis, wiping his mouth with a linen napkin, said, 'What the heck was that?'
'It was in honour of our special guest Surban. Remember 2001 A Space Odyssey? That old film made way back in the sixties or seventies. Here's the real deal, listen!'
And before anyone could protest, Henry played the short, strident sound-track version of the Richard Strauss block-buster that had once, many years before rattled the halls of Hitler's Nazi Germany.
'That was most impressive Henry, but could we now have something a little more Christmasy?' said Granny Black, emerging from the kitchen with Monica Bateleur in tow; both bearing trays of traditional puddings smothered in hot custard.
'Aw yeah, I suppose. How about Bing Crosby and the White Christmas stuff? We always have that even if it is in the middle of summer,' he muttered as an aside to Monique's dad Jean-Michael.
Surban said nothing, her head bowed, but as Priscilla noted, she did eat the rich, dark pudding with evident relish.
'It's pretty humid. Got your water bottles Monique? Surban?'
'Rain is coming soon. Look at the black clouds over there,' Monique answered, her hand stalling Harry who was stretching on the leash as they set out after lunch.
The summer heat was oppressive but the steamy day began to cool after half an hour's walking. There was a faint flash of light, and moments later a distant, ominous rumble of thunder in the west.
'Let's head for home around this way,' said Priscilla.
'That will have given Harry more than an hour's walk,' nodded Monique, 'He should be content with that.'
Lightning stabbed the sky and the thunder boomed nearer as the trio hurried down through the little park some blocks away from Silverglade Road, with Harry doing his best to break into a gallop.
'Dog is wanting to be free!' cried Surban, wrapping her head-covering closer to her neck against the blustery gusts. 'Wind is in feathers.'
Both Priscilla and Monique exchanged a swift, amused glance while the breeze altered, sweeping around into their faces.
'What about you Surban? What is it that you want?' ventured Monique.
'Surban wants... Surban wants nothing... There is nothing that... No! Surban wants nothing! Nothing can be done that is useful... Yes! Water! Water for dog. Your Harry! Give him water. He is wanting, look!'
Harry indeed seemed to be parched, and when the girls set down a little plastic bowl he tucked in with a will, lapping solidly for a minute or so.
'Well he has to tank up for the return journey. Lots of trees to sign-post,' said Priscilla. 'Right now I bet our folks are all watching Miracle on whatever Street or old football replays... '
'Or washing dishes,' Monique grinned, flashing her brilliant smile. 'Seriously though Surban, what do you wish for? After all you cannot stay at Hopewell Hall forever. What about your family? Your life?'
'Surban has no life. Priscilla know this. Surban is alone, she has nowhere to go.'
'But in your dreams,' persisted Priscilla, 'where would you go in your dreams?'
'Dreams? Those are terrible times in sleep. Surban does not want to think, to remember. Dreams are make her cold. There is only one dream, one wish. Surban want Mother, Father. But they are dead. Find instead thing lost that is for Ahura Mazda. Ahh..' she sighed and it was almost a cry of pain. 'That, foolish! All lost. All gone. Surban is... is... ' She began to sob, her tears whisked away on the growing breeze.
'Dreams can be terrible sometimes,' said Priscilla, guiding Harry's leash into Monique's hand as she placed an arm around Surban's shoulders, 'although there are other times when dreams aren't so bad. Maybe you'll have some of them soon. Monique and me will make them happen, wont we Moni?'
'Eyoww!' Harry let out a sudden howl of derision as the cat from down the street ambushed him, leaping out from its hiding place and boxing his muzzle with a right and left combo before darting off into the shrubbery again.
'Wow wow wow!' wailed Harry, the innocent victim, while the three girls bent to comfort him.
'It is unfair. Cat free. Harry not free. But let off lead, where to go? Chase cat? What after? Find home? What home? What to do? For Surban, what to do?
On lead, cannot chase freedom. But set free, where to go, what to do? Surban has no answer to question. Free, locked up, Surban is still prisoner.'
'Not in your dreams. We'll find a way to free you, we promise. Just give us some time, maybe a few days, and some of the things you want most of all might be answered in your dreams.'
'Cilla is right Surban,' Monique agreed, 'Be patient. Enjoy your time with us and with Monsieur Harry. You might be very surprised.'
Surban, still running her hand over Harry's sleek coat, nodded. 'If that is what you want.'
The first raking drops of summer rain pattered the footpath at their backs as the three girls and the dog hurried on, only minutes away from the warmth of home on a stormy Christmas late afternoon.
Into the new year the temperature rose. Gone was the brief but fierce summer storm of Christmas Day. Now long, lazy days stretched from five in the morning all the way to nine at night, thanks to Daylight Saving Time on the east coast. By eleven the sun was at its zenith, blazing down from almost cloudless skies; Ice-cream and salads and outdoor barbecues were happening at lunch and dinner times and backyard cricket and ball games were winners all over Melbourne from the sea-side to the hills. It was just another New Year, filled with stay-ups, sleep-ins and sleep-overs before the eventual fall back to earth when the holidays ended and work and school began once more.
'Wow!' Priscilla remarked, standing at the familiar gate and gazing down the path that led to Tsu Tsuang and Fon Jien's house. But instead of them, waiting on the porch were Monique's Mother and Father, unrolling a banner that read, "Welcome To Your New Home Monique."
'I'm going to cry!' called Monique, her hand held across her mouth as she flew down the path.
'Oh Mother, Father, is this real? Are we really going to live here?'
Monica Bateleur took the full force of her daughter's oncoming weight and wrapped her up in a strong embrace. 'Yes girl. Yes daughter. We will be here, living here so that you can still go to school with your friends. For the time being your Father and I want to stay based in Melbourne, because Priscilla's Dad has some more work for us, so O.K. here we are, surprise!'
'Surprise!' shouted a number of voices from behind the security door which was suddenly flung wide to reveal those within who began to spill out behind Monica and Jean-Michael. There was Priscilla's father Matthew, Narenda Upaday and Belinda Moss, Louis, Henry, Fon Jien, in his immaculate white suit, Tsu Tsuang and of course Harry, who zapped out between everyone's legs, yapping and growling his friendliest growls of welcome as he danced about the feet of the girls.
'You know, Granny Black is one sneaky cookie,' remarked Priscilla after dinner, eyeing a plate of soft-centred chocolates and selecting one.
'So are all our friends,' said Monique, her face positively beaming. 'We two are sent out on a shopping errand and meanwhile there is a secret gathering. All we are told is to come here to invite Tsu and Fon Jien for a farewell barbecue before they leave. It was a conspiracy. Is that the correct word? Yes I think so. And I am so very happy that I am going to be living here. It is a lovely home. But all you girls have been very naughty.'
'It was being a plan for a little while now,' said Narenda. 'We were all asked to come. Surban kept the secret too. And she did not spill those beans.'
'Surban keep secret and likes sneaky cookie too,' replied Surban, helping herself to another of Amelia Black's special home-baked cup-cakes.
'Well, this is really our final time together,' said Tsu. 'Terri and her family have already departed, but she sends a big hug to you all. We fly up to Sydney late tomorrow and then out of Australia, but of course we can all remain in contact by email. I will have much to tell when we get settled. So tonight we will say goodbye, but not forever.'
'Oh Tsu, we will all miss you and Fon Jien,' said Monique, her voice breaking.
'Come on Moni, don't crack up. You can't wait to move in!' Henry called from the far end of the table in an endeavour to lighten the moment.
'That maybe so,' said Granny Black entering, 'And here is a farewell ice-cream cake to share. After that it will be time to get all you people off to your homes and to bed.'
The evening finally ended and the adult guests were saying their goodbyes in the street. Louis and Henry were already in Mathew's car along with Surban. Amelia Black, understanding the importance of parting friends, waited patiently at the curb in her own little vehicle.
In the meantime, the BlackEagle Girls had gathered together in the driveway for a last goodbye.
Tsu, hugging Narenda, Belinda, Priscilla and Monique, whispered, 'Do not forget Fon Jien and I. We will meet again one day. Now you really are The BlackEagle Girls here in Melbourne. You are the founding group in Australia. Do the best that you can for those who are in need. I give you the blessing of Tibet. And of course we all owe our very being to Harry. He is the one that has made us what we are and what we will become.'
Harry, standing on his hind legs, licked at her fingers. 'Darned right, too true, absolutely. I'm the guy, and... I shouldn't be getting sooky-la-la right now.'
The girls looked down at him and saw how wet his eyes were, glistening in the light from the porch.
'Oh Harry,' said Tsu, kneeling to embrace him, 'you are actually crying.'
'No, nope, not at all. Not me. Maybe it's a cold coming on. Say goodnight and goodbye guys, your people are waiting for you. And... And thanks...I'm sort of proud of you...'
Chapter 2 next