The world needed to be a simpler place.
But then… I guess that’s why, over a thousand years ago, all the oil ran out and technological advances disappeared into the pages of history. As if a sign from God, that humanity had been ungrateful and He’d bereft them of their toys.
Time seemed to turn back, and history customarily repeated itself. The world at war, pronged by kings and fought by knights.
I don’t know why I’m writing this.
Asa, the lovely man, had insisted that keeping a journal would be good for my health – now that he’d gone over to the East, to fight a war of his own. It only seems right that you, the reader, should understand my circumstance.
Not that war or depletion in advancement bothers me the most at this particular point.
Earlier today, I had visited my sister-in-law. It was the first time after nine years of happy marriage to Asa that I was to finally (and perhaps begrudgingly) meet his older sister. I knew what she was, and I wasn’t too keen on taking my three eight-year-old daughters to go and welcome her to her new home, not far from ours – should they adopt her as some idol and pick up bad habits (though, my daughter from my previous marriage, Annabeth, was not to come on orders from her father, Olsen). But Asa had insisted, writing to me after months of procrastination and excuse-making:
“She invited you. You should go. My sister won’t bite.”
I had doubted that last remark very much. Midnight Shadownight was a mercenary – like Asa – but she was based in Europe, fighting some of the less-populated but more frequent skirmishes. And brutal ones too, by the description of it. She could have easily been in trauma, and kill us all in a single sitting. I knew of her quality and, though I had some sort of respect for Midnight – I couldn’t help but resent her work also.
The new house, that Asa had fondly detailed, was a large one, with shining white walls and gleaming polished windows. There was a well-kept garden out front, holding a vineyard and a few pear trees, and a stable was aligned to the right-hand side, several horses champing at dried hay and snorting as we arrived.
The oldest of my triplet daughters, Zoe, said, “Is this where Aunt Midnight lives, mum?”
“Yes… at least I think so,” I replied.
“It’s so big,” said my second daughter, Brynna.
“Horses!” squealed Queenie, my third daughter.
“Shh!” I said, “Behave yourselves!”
We trotted to the big white door, and I pulled the hanging door bell. At first there was no response. At the time I had thought maybe Midnight was upset with my lateness, but then there was the unmistakeable, excited rush of footsteps to the door, before it was pulled open.
The woman inside was surprisingly short and lean, but there was a remarkable toughness to the smile she wore on her face. Perhaps it was because of the white scar that divided her bottom lip.
“At last! I thought you’d ne’er come!” she said happily, as she ushered us in, taking our coats and hanging them on the coat-stand, “Welcome, welcome! I’m so happy to see you at long last!”
The door to side room was marginally open and I peaked inside by accident, my eyes widening at what I saw.
I opened the door fully and asked cautiously, “Is… is that an Iron Maiden?”
Midnight held her mouth agape for a moment.
In that moment, I became furious, “Come on, girls, we’re leaving!”
“No, wait, please!” said Midnight, “I bought this house only recently and things are still being renovated. That Iron Maiden belonged to the previous owner – a mighty hoarder, I must say,” she shut the door to the room, “Please, come inside. Have some tea. The girls are more than welcome to play with the horses or the dogs.”
“There’re dogs?” asked Zoe, excitedly.
“Yes,” said Midnight, smiling, “My bitch just gave birth to a new litter of puppies.”
I looked at her incredulously, “What did you just say?”
Midnight paused, before realising the term she had used, “Erm… I meant she-dog,” she was at a loss of words, “female dog… not-male dog.”
“Good Heavens, I never should have come!”
“Georgia, please! Come now, it’s been a while since I’ve been around children. It was a slip of the tongue. Won’t happen again, I promise.”
I paused, giving her a hard look. She was older than me, I knew, but she didn’t look it. Not at all.
“Come on, mum,” said Zoe, “I want to see the puppies!”
“Yeah, and the horses!” Quennie added.
Brynna nodded enthusiastically with them.
“And the tea is already brewing,” Midnight said, in a sing-songy voice.
“Fine,” I replied tightly, “but only for a few minutes.”
“Yay!” the girls cheered together.
I sighed as Midnight gave them directions to the stables and the kennels, “And don’t go in any other rooms,” she called.
“Why not?” I heard Queenie say.
“Because,” said Midnight, dramatically, coming up to her with a stern face, “there might be things you don’t want to see in there. Some hellish things, coined from a fevered dream – that’ll bring you to your knees, pleadin’ for your Lord before aught else!”
Queenie stared wide-eyed at her, before gulping, nodding and running off to join the others.
“Did you have to do that?” I asked, upset with Midnight’s acting.
“I don’t know – did you want them to try the Iron Maiden out?” she returned, before laughing and leading me to the kitchen, “Dramatics is the one non-violent thing that keeps people at bay. At least, for a while.”
“I just don’t think it’s right to do that to a child.”
“Well, if it’ll keep ‘em from harm, why not?”
She gestured for me to sit down, and so I did. There was a teapot screaming on the stove – the smoke trickling out of the fire and rising into the chimney. Midnight poured two cups of tea and laid out a plate of biscuits, laying them down on a tray on the table, and sat down opposite to me.
“It’s a fine house, eh?” she asked.
I took a tentative sip of the tea. Even though it burnt my lips, it was rich and sweet. I smiled for the first time at her, “I guess… Are you giving up your military ways, then?”
“No,” she said, dipping a biscuit into her tea, “I’m… takin’ a break from it.”
“Like a holiday?”
There was a short, awkward silence between us, “Did… something happen?”
“Aye,” she said, “my brother – your husband – went to war. In Vietnam, I think he said.”
“He told you?”
“My brother tells me everything. Sometimes he doesn’t know when to stop,” she paused a moment, “And seriously, woman? Red lingerie and no lace? Come on!”
I gave her an incredulous look, “He goes that far?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“But… what has this…? What has Asa going to Vietnam got to do with you taking a holiday and buying a giant house?”
Midnight sucked in her cheeks slightly, “Are you familiar with our family crest, Georgie?”
“I think so…?”
“Have you read what the banner says?”
“The… the Latin? Yes, I suppose… but, I don’t know what it means.”
“For generations, the Shadownight family has held to a… an oath of sorts: ‘No enemies, no allies. A single loyalty’. That loyalty, is to family,” she waited to see if I knew where she was taking this, “I took time out and bought this house for you. For us.”
“But… I didn’t ask…”
“You didn’t have to. You’re a father short, and I’d be more than willin’ to fill in as a carer. There’s plenty of room and, I mean…” she gestured around, “isn’t this a wonderful place to grow up?”
I puffed my cheeks, “I’m perfectly capable of raising my children on my own!”
“Aye, you will be now… but they’re all the same age, Georgie,” Midnight stood up, taking the empty cups and plates, “Wait ‘til they hit fifteen. And at the same time.”
I paused and looked at her. I hadn’t considered that angle.
“You’d help me go through that?”
“I’d more than happy to. Besides…” Midnight looked away, “I’d get mighty lonely on my own, in this house.”
“I’ll… I’ll need time to consider, Midnight. It’s a huge offer you’re making.”
“I’ve money to spend, Georgie,” she said, laughing heartily, “Why not spend it on you and your lovely daughters?”
“One more question… Who exactly did you buy this house from?”
Midnight paused, as if this was an uncomfortable topic, “The man’s a… sailor, a very rich one at that. He used this house as little more than a storage space – hence the Iron Maiden. He became an associate of mine, when I was going around fightin’ wars. He sold this house to me.”
“What’s his name?”
“Captain Thomas Rogue.”
“Ah!” I had said, suggestively, “An ‘associate’, right…”
The comment seemed to have prodded Midnight, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Your brother has told me of the pirate, Thomas Rogue, and his speculations about your… dealings with him.”
Midnight furrowed her brows, “We serve each other… that’s it.”
“Serve? Is that what we’re calling it now?” I giggled.
“Serve each other in military terms, Georgie,” said Midnight, unmoved, “I couldn’t be romantically involved with that man. He’s blonde, for God’s sake! And he drinks a lot and, good grief, he’s a sailor. I couldn’t… serve that!”
“Whatever you say.”
“What tales has Asa been feedin’ you, Georgie?”
“Just that you have a thing for the captain. And he, a thing for you.”
Midnight straightened, looking a little irritated, “No-one in history has been murdered by a letter before, Georgie. God so help me, Asa might just be the first.”
My smiled waned, “I was just teasing.”
Midnight regarded me for a while, before saying, “I know,” she turned and put the dishes in the sink, “I just… I don’t want to think about him like that, you know?”
“So… you have been thinking about him like that?”
Midnight didn’t reply.
Instead, she said, “Will you be stayin’ for dinner?”