and The Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 3 - The Treasure of Zoroaster
The first grey streaks of dawn were staining the east as the Black Eagle settled outside a ground-floor bedroom window of Monique's new home and the five girls drifted from the old tree house and slipped silently within. Gently Belinda and Narenda guided a nodding Surban to her bed and, after getting her into her night attire, settled her under the covers. In a matter of moments she was breathing deeply, her eyes shut fast, the bag that contained her secret treasure, still clutched firmly to her chest.
The Blanks occupying each bed, appearing as faceless dummies to the girls, but perfect replicas of each of them to any one else, simply melted away.
As her head hit the pillow, Priscilla drowsily thought to herself, Harry's Blanks are like Holograms that have real lumps and bumps that can fill up sheets and make dents in pillows, weird...
A small battery alarm clock began to buzz like an annoying insect and Priscilla blindly dashed a hand about to shut it off. After a few seconds of groping she managed to swat the thing and silence it. She lay there with the light-weight coverlet pulled over her head, trying desperately to drift off to sleep and back into her dream where Danny/Harry Potter was about to pash her, when another sound brought her again to reality. As she surfaced, the throbbing of her knee reminded her of the night's activities and she made a mental note to come up with some story if Monique's parents asked her about it.
In the meantime the steady drone of a muted conversation caused her to drag one corner of the bedding aside and peer out. The room where she, Belinda and Surban were bunked was now bathed in daylight and Monique, Narenda and Belinda were gathered together on the rug between Priscilla's bed and that of Surban.
'Oh good, she is finally making an appearance,' whispered Belinda.
'And about time too, yes please,' said Narenda, reaching up to pat Priscilla's hand. 'After all you have been having an hour and more of sleeping and Surban here is still in Nodding Land.'
'Umm. Beauty sleep,' Priscilla replied, ruffling a hand through her unruly hair. 'Somehow, later today we gotta have a sies... siesata... another snooze.'
'Yes, jolly good thought. We can tell Moni's mum and dad that we had a busy night on a pirate ship and just need a kip to perk us up again,' said Belinda with a little giggle.
'Don't be silly Belinda Moss, I'm being serious. Two hours sleep isn't enough to... oh and what about the state of our clothes?' Priscilla suddenly wondered.
'All fine Cilla,' said Monique gently. 'Remember? Everything; clothing, your knee, Surban's bag of secrets, is sanitised before we leave the Black Eagle, no matter where we go.'
'Yeah, right, just a bit mussy still,' Priscilla answered, reaching for a glass of water on the bedside table. 'Mind you,' she managed between sips, 'my knee isn't that easy to disguise. Feels pretty sore... '
'I have Indian remedy ointment here. Apply with care, it will help take out the pain and mend the skin, yes very quickly,' said Narenda, offering a small tube to Priscilla.
At that moment, Surban rolled from her curled-up position onto her back, snuffled and rubbed at the side of her face. Priscilla, from her vantage point, could see her eyes flicker open. Seconds trickled by as the little bed-clock ticked them off, and Surban lay blinking up into the light now slanting through the window. Then, suddenly she seemed to stiffen, as if memory was searching through dream and reality, searching but not understanding. Then her eyes widened and turned toward the girls.
This was the first time, with the exception of Priscilla, that any of them had seen Surban's face, and each was impressed by her singular beauty.
'Must not show face,' she said sharply, drawing the coverlet up.
'Why ever not?' said Belinda.
'Is vow... Is... ' Surban faltered, her hand coming into contact with the object nestled at her side. 'Is... Is dream... Is cannot be... Is still dream, but this is belong to me, how can this so be? Have dream with you all in, go to find, and now here... ' Her trembling fingers withdrew the cloth bag and she held it to her face, the coverlet falling away. For a moment, Surban's eye-balls slid upward as if she might faint, then slowly returned to focus on the girls. 'You must all go... Leave!'
'Yeah sure. But take a peek Surban. You don't have to tell us anything. We just want you to be happy,' said Priscilla, motioning to the others to make tracks.
'Yes, look inside... and yes! Here is sudre and kusti!' She lifted forth a bundle of white cotton cloth bound about by a woven cord, and began slowly to unwind it. 'Here... Inside sacred shirt... here... is... No wait! Wait... Do not leave.' She waved a hand toward the girls. 'Stay with Surban.'
Her voice had taken on a far-off tone, as if she was somewhere else in her mind.
'Now, beneath garment of my initiation and its enclosing thrice-turned cord, is most precious treasure of Zoroaster. Here is that which has journeyed from First Fires of Lord Mazda to many places of the world. Here is that bound to kindle to new life in new land.'
Her shaking hands revealed a small, sealed clay pot.
'What is it?' Monique asked, leaning forward.
'Yes, what is being inside?' said Narenda, her dark eyes flashing with excitement.
'Within this container lie sacred coals of Mazda's first three fires: Gushnasp, Farnbag and Burzen Mihr. Now they have arrived in this country and it is my duty to see that they find their home in the sacred fire of Zoroaster.'
'You mean all that's inside that little thing is charcoal!' Priscilla exclaimed, taking a large swig of water and wondering whether to throw the remainder over Surban.
'Cilla cool it! Give Surban a chance. Haven't you noticed something?' said Monique, holding up a hand and pointing behind it with her other hand.
'Yes, by golly yes!' said Belinda. 'Look at her eyes and how she has changed her speech pattern. She is in some kind of trance.'
'Like off the planet, you mean?' said Priscilla, staring more closely at Surban. 'But why should... '
'Oh do be putting a lid upon it Cilla,' hissed Narenda, her finger to her lips.
Surban trembled as she held up the clay pot. 'I, Surban Sura Anahita, servant of Ahura Mazda, make my vow anew to see this relic of Ohrmazd to its home in this far land, in memory of the sacrifice of the lives of my parents. No longer will I hide my face. No longer will I hide from those who are my own people. Now, with this great treasure, I can walk from the shadow and offer it to those who dwell here. I am grateful to the mighty power of Ahura Mazda who opposes Ahriman the Destructive Spirit for delivering this miracle.'
'Do you really believe that what you hold is the true thing? The thing that you lost? And if that is so, can you explain how you have it back?' Belinda softly questioned.
'Yes,' replied Surban readily. 'It is the treasure. See here, the seal is stamped and unbroken. My prayer and desire and hope and tears are seen and heard by Ahura Mazda, and through the Divine Spirit of Zoroaster who now dwells within the bosom of Almighty Mazda this gift has been transported back to me in the form of a sacred dream wherein your spirits came to aid mine in my quest. Together, we sought and found it, and that is why now, together we rejoice in the wonder of Ahura Mazda.'
'I dunno, I still think she's a nut-case,' said Priscilla, peering down at the goldfish swimming lazily beneath a small foot-bridge that spanned a pond in the rear garden.
'Oh you do not,' Narenda rebuked. 'She has her beliefs as do I, and it is unfair to say such a thing.'
'You into all that God stuff,' asked Priscilla, mischievously.
'I refrain from telling what I think is being my thoughts on the subject of Gods; one or many,' Narenda replied petulantly. 'Although I am a BlackEagle Girl, that is still for my personal thoughts only.'
'Even when we're being whisked around the world by a dog who is actually an alien from outer space?'
'A great and almighty God can create whatever he wishes: dogs and aliens included. I do not think Surban is a nut-basket. And look, by whatever means, she has what she prayed for, thank you very much.' Narenda concluded, pushing herself up from her kneeling position and standing.
'Oh it's alright Narenda, don't get on your high-horse. I was just kidding around,' said Priscilla, leaning up and taking her friend's hand in hers.
The sunlight, dappled by the trees, played across their twined fingers. 'You know, Narenda, I'm just so happy here today in this warm garden with you and Moni and Surban and Belinda over there.' She indicated the others, two on a swing hung from an old claret ash being pushed with gusto by Monique. 'Take a look at Surban, she's changed overnight.'
'I wish that I could be changed also Priscilla,' replied Narenda, stifling a yawn. 'This has been a very long night before today and since we all go to our homes tomorrow, I will be having this early night tonight.'
'Yeah, right-on Narenda, whatever you just said. Pull me up and let's go and have a swing before Moni's mum calls us in for lunch, and do try to stay awake. Maybe we can grab a snooze this arvo.'
'Hi guys! Got all my books and uniform stuff this morning! Louis an' me had a great time with Granny, saw the latest Harry Potter, grabbed a burger at Hungry's and did some music and book shops in the city! We sorta missed you a bit Cilla, you know, four days at Monique's with all your girl friends, hi Belinda. Narenda gone home already? Hi Surba... ' Henry pulled up, his mouth hanging open as Surban stepped through the front doorway, her head bared.
'Jeepers! You're... '
'Shut it Squirt!' said Louis, hipping Henry aside. 'Just let the girls get in and cut all the chat, and hello again Miss... um Surban... Welcome back to our home... '
'Ho boy! What a... Did you see those two dopes falling over each other down there?' Priscilla asked of Belinda while Surban was busy washing her hair in the upstairs bathroom.
'Well, you can't blame them. She has been here, like me, since school finished last year and they've never seen anything more than her eyes. Now she marches in without her head covering, and she has such a striking face.'
'Be... lin... da! We'll have to get a bucket and mop, there was so much drooling!'
'Come on Priscilla, boys have loads of testosterone flowing between their ears, it's all part of their chemistry. They simply can't help it.'
'Between their where?' said Priscilla, shaking her head and wondering somewhere deep down if jealousy might be a factor in her feelings. 'Anyway,' she went on, dismissing the thought, 'both Dad and Granny seemed to take it in their stride, although I copped a strange look from Dad when he first saw her, but they're both pretty cool for oldies.'
'And so far no questions asked,' said Belinda, running a large brush down her long locks.
'Knowing how things work around here, that will come when I'm least expecting it, and probably from Granny or Molly our house cleaner, put up to it by Granny. That's sorta how she operates and she's pretty good at screwing info out of people.'
'Speaking of gathering information from people,' said Belinda, 'what about Surban? We went to all the trouble, and some danger, of recovering her treasure and what now? I will be going home to my Father's property tomorrow and I should like to know.'
'And I should be going with you, except for Surban. I really would have liked to see your home and the dogs and all. Moni too, but with everything that's happened... Maybe next holidays.'
Priscilla took up the brush and continued combing Belinda's hair. 'Well, we have only vague hints so far from Surban, so I suppose we could talk to her again and hope she doesn't go all strange. Like, I don't know what she means about contacting people and taking her bowl full of coal to some new fire or whatever.'
Belinda, looking at her reflection in a hand mirror, caught Priscilla's eye. 'Perhaps tonight we could try. But remember, she still thinks this has all been a dream driven by her God Mazda.'
Not long before lights out, the three girls and Harry were all sprawled on the bedroom floor taking the cooling breeze that drifted in through the open window. Even Surban, to Priscilla and Belinda's surprise, had borrowed a light cotton Teddy-top and pants-set from Priscilla, so that most of her scars were still hidden beneath.
Outside, the dark form of the tree that was taller than the two-story house loomed. A soft breeze ruffled its canopy and for a fleeting moment Priscilla glimpsed the tiny twinkle of light emanating from the tree-house that was the Black Eagle.
'You ask Surban these questions, and first I am afraid to answer, then think, no. Surban is here with friends and now that I have my treasure again through Almighty Mazda's intervention I must get it to its destination.'
'Your treasure being the little pot with the charcoal inside,' said Priscilla. 'So okay, where does it have to go?'
'North to Canberra, to people there who are waiting. They are people of my religion who are expecting my parents. Now they will never come, and it is my duty alone to bring the gift instead.'
'But what will it do? What value is a pot of dead coals?' asked Priscilla.
Surban slowly shook her head. 'I am sorry that you do not understand. Your country, this land, is older in some ways than any, and in other ways very young. I know only my country and its lore and traditions and what I have been taught to believe as truth. Pot of dead coals. Fires of Mazda are never dead. Water may stop them burning but what remains cannot be extinguished unless scattered to the four winds. Yes! Better if blessed fire is moved from place to place still burning, and yet the fire of the fire is not put out if it dies, because it does not really die. It lies in the cold coals and awaits a flame to make it as it was before. These dead coals are not dead. They simply await. It is not the embers, it is the fire that will come when they are united with a new flame that is waiting here in Australia. That minor fire has burned for years in honour of Ahura Mazda, and when the coals of the most especial fires are combined, so will it burn the purer and be blessed by those original three. In that way will this fire of Australia become elevated and recognised by all Zoroastrians, and here will become a greater home for our religion.'
Belinda rolled onto her side so that she faced Surban. 'But what do you and your people hope to achieve from all this?'
'Survival,' Surban replied. 'We wish our religion to survive and be brought before all so that they may judge. Crushed, dispersed, hunted down, suppressed in many lands, we of Zoroaster are not a secret religion. But first we must establish in new lands, and in this is the establishment of our most important sign, fire, which plays a most vital part. It is the symbol of our being, our God. And now I must take this symbol to those who will purify and renew.'
'When will you do this duty, Surban?' Belinda asked, running her hand along Harry's sleek, black coat.
'As soon as it is possible,' Surban replied. 'And I know that I could try to run away from here or from Hopewell Hall when we go back to school, but I see that I could make a mistake in so doing. I am prepared to wait and try to somehow earn a little money. Then, when term holidays come, if I have enough, I shall seek permission from the school and buy a coach ticket to take me there.'
'Why don't you just email or ring the people in Canberra and get them to come down here?' Priscilla asked, trying hard to stifle a yawn.
'Surban make vow, when set adrift by pirates of Han Maru, those murderers of my parents, that if I should survive I must go through all my life with hidden face as penance for my foolishness in losing the thing my Mother and Father were bringing here to this country. In my most secret thoughts, I vow also then that if Ahura Mazda might somehow, in His Almighty Benevolence, deliver the Treasure of Zoroaster again to me, that I would take it to the priests, our Holy Men, with my own hands and if permitted, see with my own eyes its renewal. I know that within me lies the spark of the Divine Fire and I must seek to unite the fire to the flame of Divine Righteousness. That precious duty lay with my parents, and now falls to me alone. Surban cannot pass this treasure to another as if it were a trifling thing. I must take it to the High Holy Men, and seek their blessing. And through them, may Ahura Mazda accept my foolishness and redeem me in the service of Zoroaster.'
'So that's all you have to do,' said Priscilla, 'just take the goodies up to Canberra, get a pat on the head... and then what? O.K. You can show your face all over town, to who? For what? The Holy people in Canberra, are they going to be your new family, get you out of Hopewell Hall, take you in with them? Don't you have aunts, uncles, cousins, real family, somewhere?'
'Family and friends are not here. Many are scattered far and wide in Iran and Afghanistan, some are refugees, most lost, or dead.'
'But you were born here in Australia, Surban. That is how you came to be taken into the Country again. You do know that don't you?' said Belinda.
'I have no memory of this land, although my parents tell me this on our journey here. All my life I remember is lived in many places, Syria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq. My father and mother move from country to country on diplomatic missions for Afghanistan, that is homeland for Father.'
'And homeland for your Mother?' asked Priscilla.
'Is Iran. When they meet and marry it is not by family arrangement. Father is working as one of the diplomatic secretaries to Foreign Attache for Afghanistan. Russian army is in Afghanistan and being thrown out. Taliban is coming in with terrible repressive rule, torturing and killing.
Mother and Father are both of Ahura Mazda. That is what they have in common and how they find each other at secret meetings. Zoroastrian religion is suppressed by State religion of both these countries. After their marriage, later my Father sought a posting to Australia with the Afghan diplomatic branch and was successful. This was chance to find the small group of followers of Zoroaster here, and in Canberra contact was made. And so, it seems at that time, was I made. But my first memories are not of this country. Born here, yes, the marks on my wrist, placed by my Father as a human passport with all the diplomatic coding and additional Identification Implant beneath...'
'You're kidding?' said Priscilla, suddenly taking notice. 'You don't mean that they stuck some kind of gizmo into you that has your I.D. on it?'
Surban shook her head. 'I do not know this for certain. It is what Father and Mother hinted at on our return journey here. Perhaps they thought me old enough to understand. All I know and can remember are the times in many secret places where I learnt of Zoroaster and Lord Mazda, and of my parent's pledge.'
'Which was?' said Belinda, as Harry fussed about, licking at his paw.
'To bring to Australia the coals of the Three Fires from overseas and to regenerate them in the new fire of Mazda in this country, and from there in Canberra to see it grow everywhere in this land. That was the first part of the plan, so my parents tell me then. That is what I can now make happen.'
'The first part? What's the second part?' Priscilla asked, getting the vague hint that this was an ongoing quest.
'I cannot say,' Surban answered.
'Why ever not,' said Belinda.
'I am not told of this second part. I do not know.'
'Or you don't want to tell us,' Priscilla suggested.
'Is not true... Although, if Surban knew, she might be forbidden to tell anyone, if Holy Men make it so. Surban must obey until told otherwise.'
'You still haven't told us what you will do after fulfilling your quest to take the fire coals to Canberra,' Belinda reminded.
'Surban does not know what is to become of her then. Perhaps the Holy Men will seek a place for her with them and their people, perhaps I will be sent back here to this school of Hopewell Hall until I am able to begin my life as an adult.'
'Umm, well it's getting late and we'll have Dad or Granny or my brothers up here any minute now. Pirates of the Caribbean must be almost over,' said Priscilla, getting to her knees and wincing with pain.
'Oh, you have hurt yourself,' said Surban, and then, as if memory bubbled to the surface, she went on, 'That is strange. In my vision it was also true.'
'Yes, well visions can be like that,' offered Belinda. 'And of course we all get the odd bruise here and there.'
'That is so,' said Surban, looking puzzled. 'Look at my el... what is it called? Yes, elbow.' She lifted up her sleeve to reveal a darkened colouration on her arm.
Belinda said, 'Oh my goodness! You must have bumped into something... '
'Or maybe you did it when you were dreaming?' Priscilla suggested.
Before Surban could reply, Harry, who had been quietly stretched out, suddenly bounded to his feet. 'Raff, raf! Rrr..aff!' he barked and charged out of the bedroom toward the sound of the boys coming up the stairs.
'Hi chum! Time to check outside for the toilet before bed,' came Henry's voice as Harry barrelled along to him and they both headed off down the stairs for the back garden.
'Yes, it's goodnight time for everybody,' came Amelia's voice from halfway up. 'Belinda's on her way first thing, so let's get into bed and settle down you girls.'
'You missed a great movie,' said Louis, popping his head around the bedroom door, 'but I taped it for another look later.'
Belinda smiled demurely at him, ' We would probably prefer 'Bridget Jones,' or 'Miss Potter,' to your brawling pirates anyway.'
Louis grinned. 'Flash pyjamas girls,' he said, eyeing their modest, light cotton sleep-ware.
Priscilla almost managed to hit his head with a flying pillow before he ducked out of sight.
School. Hopewell Hall. Second year there. Belinda goes to her Dad's home tomorrow for a week. Then we'll all be back, Moni, Belinda, Narenda and me. Henry will be at school too. His first year.
Surban. What about Surban? What can we do? How can we help her further?
Harry. I need to talk to Harry. There is something we can do... Something... we can...
Priscilla slowly drifted off into sleep, her mind ticking away even as the paths of dreams washed over her.
Chapter 4 next