Chapter 30 – A maze of twisty little passages, all alike

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The following Wednesday Giselle showed up at Lucille’s house for a nice cup of tea and a lengthy demonstration of her new embroidery pattern. The table in Lucille’s drawing room got covered quickly with bits of yarn, several types of canvas, scissors and pads of paper covered with sewing motifs, wristband pincushions, thimbles, cups and saucers, a teapot, a sugar bowl, a plate of cookies, still warm, and two tablets, one of which was Giselle’s, finally restored to proper functioning.

After a few hours the crewel technique was mastered and Giselle left, tablet in basket. She picked up the pace when she was out of sight and headed straight to the Council Hall where she interrupted a meeting in progress in order to whisper a few words in Rosemary’s ear, a feat unheard of in general and quite incredible coming from Giselle.

The former got up, with a momentous expression on her face, and followed Giselle into the hallway for an ad-hoc conference. She stormed back into the room, fifteen minutes later, to call for an emergency get together at the cave, and because she donned the same expression of triumph mixed with doom, an expression that demanded the utmost seriousness, the Council conceded her request.

One of the girls in the workshop was dispatched to Lucille’s house to summon her, a task that also served to bring to the forefront the fact that a member in good standing of the Ladies’ Circle had missed the weekly meeting, which hopefully would draw the disapproval of the Council members who were more discipline oriented. The young girl looked terrified, and despite the urgency of the request, Lucille had to spend a little time reassuring her.

The two arrived at the cave at high noon to join the Council, just in time to watch Rosemary and Giselle lead the way into the second cave, the one that had stayed carefully hidden up to that point.

The girl who was sent for Lucille clung tightly to her hand, looking terrified.

Rosemary led the way into the second room, the place that bore the ominous promise of horrid discoveries, things so unspeakable that they would shake even the most level headed of ladies, as well as offend their precious beliefs. As she advanced into the hidden cave she spoke of demonic contraptions that stole the soul, and evil incantations that made cursed objects appear from thin air, and words that damned the one who said them and all those who heard them, as well. But most of all she made the promise to finally reveal the lair of the Fire Maiden, the fair curse who had destroyed all the village’s happiness, decency and way of life.

The ladies emerged one by one into the room of the promise, a bit perplexed by the sight and waiting for an explanation. The cave was empty and looked untouched by human hand, just the way it was the first time Lucille saw it.

“What happened to all the school stuff?” the girl whispered in Lucille’s ear, relaxing the iron grip on Lucille’s hand.

“Shh!” Lucille said, nudging her to pay attention to the scene.

Mrs. Eberhart finally spoke.

“Would you care to enlighten us, Rosemary?” she said, poised. “Why are we here?”

“But it was all there, I swear! Giselle, tell them what you told me!” she ordered. Giselle looked as confused as always and took a step back, evidently uncomfortable with Rosemary’s outburst.

“Well, dear. I only wanted to share with you a bit of information I happened to be privy to,” she said, tentatively.

“Information heard from whom?” Rosemary loomed, livid with anger.

“You know, I’m not exactly sure,” Giselle took another step back, and a good number of the ladies of the Circle gathered around her to offer protection. How dared Rosemary treat Giselle like that, a woman who, by anyone’s standards, was nothing short of a martyr to have put up with the dragon lady’s whims and impossible demands for decades. Lucille counted them, pleased, and then her attention reverted to the scene in progress.

“I just overheard the girls talking in shop,” Giselle babbled.

“Which girls?!” Rosemary ranted. “You will tell me right now, if you know what’s good for you! Do you think I forgot that time when I saw you seek your own reflection?”

“So that’s the answer to the Rosemary-Giselle puzzle,” Lucille thought. She’d always wondered why even a kind and forgiving soul like Giselle’s would put up with that kind of abuse. “I should have guessed it involved blackmail, it’s Rosemary’s specialty. Poor Giselle!”

“I think we’ve heard quite enough!” Mrs. Eberhart intervened, in disbelief at the violence of the outburst, the disrespect towards the Council and being dragged to the middle of the desert to stare at blank walls.

“I’m sure the fair curse was here! I’m sure of it! They must have cleaned it all out! I’m telling you the truth!”

“Who’s they, dear?” Mrs. Eberhart frowned, displeased.

“Mary’s evil kin, of course!” Rosemary insisted. “They appear to her in mirrors, she’s going to damn us all! You have to believe me! Or else I’ll…” she started searching through Mrs. Eberhart’s past for a bargaining chip that would serve her purpose and in her zeal to drive the point across she grabbed onto the Council leader’s sleeve. The latter recoiled, outraged.

“How dare you!”

“I apologize, Council leader, I meant no disrespect. I assure you this will never happen again,” Rosemary tried to mollify her.

“I assure you it won’t!” Mrs. Eberhart pinned her to the wall with an icy stare, then turned towards the rest of the Circle.

“This matter is closed, effective immediately. We will no longer hear any inquiries related to the myth of the Fire Maiden or the Book of Prophecy. You’ve wasted too much of our time, Rosemary, and our time is too precious to be wasted, considering the list of Village tasks that remain undone as a result of your ridiculous goose chase! And I don’t think it needs mentioning that you will never, under any circumstances, lay your hands on me again.”

“But,” Rosemary tried to protest, sure she was in the right, “I swear it was all here, all of it!”

“Have you actually seen it?” Giselle asked innocently, turning Rosemary’s agitation up a notch.

“You deceitful…” Rosemary lunged at her. “I should have turned you in for that mirror incident! A treacherous heathen like you doesn’t deserve the gift of my friendship!”

“So,” one of the ladies in Council replied, “you witnessed her transgression and didn’t speak of it? Doesn’t that make you culpable as well?”

“I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Giselle spoke softly. “I’ve known dear Rosemary for a long time, and all the while watched her involvement in the life of the Village, in both good times and bad,” she paused, then continued in an even softer tone. “I just never thought she would ever say such horrible things about me.”

“But,” Rosemary interrupted again, and the limits of Mrs. Eberhart’s patience were finally reached.

“Mrs. Gentry,” the latter interrupted, “please take her into custody, we’ll discuss disciplinary action in Council tomorrow.”

“Take me into custody!?” Rosemary’s anger reached climax. “For what!!?”

“Contempt,” Mrs. Eberhart replied, as the ladies exited the cave to make their long and unpleasant way home under the unforgiving desert sun.

Lucille adjusted her stride, so that Giselle could catch up with her.

“So, I see the team had plenty of time to clear up the place,” Lucille said. Giselle nodded smiling.

“Where is Mary?”

“In the next room, seventh boulder to the left. Remember the cave is an endless maze of rooms, all more or less the same.”

“Don’t you worry that somebody is going to figure out the sequence pattern eventually?” Lucille asked.

“Not in our lifetimes,” Giselle smiled. “Besides, it doesn’t matter all that much now.”

“You should tell the girls to pay more attention to detail next time. The generator was gone, but I could see floor junction boxes peeking through the sand,” Lucille said.

“Oh, no, dear! Those were little black pebbles with random holes drilled into them,” Giselle smiled. “We thought we’d set up some props to make things more interesting in case somebody was looking for ports. For effect, you know? Sadly our dear Rosemary can’t tell an outlet from a hole in the ground. It’s ok, though. Things turned out well after all.”

“What happened to all the wall carvings?” Lucille remembered.

“A thin slathering of mud, it’ll wash right off,” Giselle replied.

“I’m glad the two of you have such energy as to walk and converse at the same time,” Mrs. Eberhart passed them by, signaling an end to their discussion. Lucille waited for her to advance towards the front of the row and then whispered to Giselle.

“I guess by the time we’re done with this all of the rooms of the cave will be adorned with identical texts from the Que’d. That’s going to be quite the brain teaser for future archaeologists! They’ll beat themselves up for years trying to figure out why.”

They walked in silence for a while, taking frequent sips from the water flasks to parch their thirst.

“So,” Lucille asked, “do we invite Mrs. Eberhart for a tour of the school?”

“Well, it so happens that the girls already brought her along a couple of nights ago. She made the acquaintance of Caleb Coulter, who she thought was a very nice young man.”

“Good thing she didn’t happen to meet his work partner,” Lucille thought.

“She had tea with Mary, I can’t tell you how relieved she was to know that no harm had come to the girl,” Giselle continued.

“How come you didn’t tell me any of this?” Lucille asked, unphased by Giselle’s conversational tone.

“Oh, you know me, dear, I forget sometimes,” the latter answered innocently.

“Giselle!” Rosemary blurted, in disbelief that her friend was trying to pull the wool over her eyes.

“It had to look real,” Giselle conceded. “Don’t worry, everything will turn out just fine.”