Madeleine of Hyperborea
What the hell have you done now?
Come to the college and sort it out this minute!
Bella: Donna of the college of witchcraft
Madeleine, unaware that she’s in for a bad day, stands in a domed room carved into rock – the canteen of Muffy College, Cambridge. Dim light shines from candles in wall-sconces and illuminates tables and waiters. She reads the Donna’s message, rolls the scroll up and tucks it into a sleeve of her somewhat battle-scarred wedding dress. She looks at the face of her lover shaded by the huge floppy brim of his hat. He’s waxing his long moustache and twirling it into horizontal spikes. Madeleine groans. “The Donna wants me in the college. Stupid woman. As if I’d ever go back to that world – or that place. The bell of the gods would ring, all magic would fail for a while and everyone would blame it on me.”
“You have another Madeleine?”
“I prithee you allow me to finish, sweetest lady.” He winks, rests a hand on the hilt of his rapier and adds, “The Donna indeed must be at her wits’ end and in the direst extremity to summon you. I suggest we offer our assistance forthwith. We can summon the College of Witchcraft merely by naming it three times in one minute?”
“Yes, the chessboard of transportation would come and suck us in. But do not name the college again or I’ll tie your moustache round your testicles and throw pepper up your nose. Besides you are a man and cannot enter.”
“Fear not, I would never do anything you would not have me do. You know this. However, I am certain to be welcome there even though I am a man now. After all, I am a graduate of the College of Witchcraft.”
Madeleine stamps her foot, boot crunching on flagstones. She screeches, “Don’t you dare name it again!”
Cadwallader winks and replies, “Merely winding you up, my love.”
A short plump man, Professor Mike Robe of Muffy college, rises from a table nearby, weaves between tables and asks, “Excuse me, did I hear someone say ‘college of witchcraft’?”
“Shit! Mike, you total git. I’m going to kill you!” Madeleine leaps from her chair, draws two sabres while Cadwallader wraps both arms around her waist in restraint. The professor staggers back, alarmed, as Madeleine hacks chunks of wood from nearby furniture.
“Oh gods are you in for it!” Screeches Madeleine.
Visible only to herself and Cadwallader, a black and white vortex appears, distorting the room into a spinning maelstrom.
Madeleine’s still struggling against Cadwallader’s grip as they are sucked into the whirling pattern and land on a giant chessboard surrounded by verdant countryside and bathed in midday sun.
The board’s only queen, wielding a raised and glittering mace, races towards Cadwallader, apparently intent on crushing him into a sticky mess.
Madeleine finally breaks free and launches herself at her. “Die!”
The queen pauses looking confused. “Stop there! No man may enter the college!” She raises an imperious hand.
“Back off. He’s not that much of a man … and anyway he’s a graduate.”
Cadwallader sweeps his hat in a low bow. “Your Highness, may I humbly suggest you summon the gatekeeper who will verify?”
She narrows her eyes and shouts, “Gatekeeper, you useless ball of feathers, come here.”
A robin chirps into the chessboard, lands on the queen’s head and says, “Not impossible, Queenie, oh yes, very possible. That’s Cadwallader, nee Carla Waddle.”
“That…” The queen almost spits with contempt. “Is a man and will not enter the College of Witchcraft.”
“Actually, he does.”
“You can see into the future?”
“No but I can shit in your hair.”
“What?” The queen’s hand flies to her head as the robin screeches with laughter and flaps in circles around her. The queen’s hand comes away covered in slippery goo.
The robin cheeps with laughter. “A massive squelchy one…”
The queen howls with fury but her manic two-handed swings of the mace never quite connect with the darting robin.
Madeleine and Cadwallader sprint from the board and hurtle down a lane, through a gate and enter the college grounds.
Safe from the murderous queen they settle to a gentle walk. At the bottom of the hill lies a stable, some cottages, the college sporting flags and pennants on gleaming white towers, and a small village in the distance.
Cadwallader says, “Let us go forthwith to the Donna.”
Madeleine shakes her head. “Quite a lot of the things I don’t want to do is that.”
“We are here to give the Donna succour in her time of need.”
“The two problems with that are it’s not true and it’s wrong. I’m going to the tavern in the village. Let’s go.”
Cadwallader raises an eyebrow. “Last time you took me there you made first-aid potions just in case.”
“Potions? That means going back to the college. Stop this infatuation with returning there.” Madeleine stops walking through rustling grass. “But I suppose Potion of Inhuman Strength is something that would be helpful in the tavern. You make it and can smash through walls when you need to get out of a place fast – but you feel exhausted for ages afterwards. The potion borrows your strength from the future.” She slaps her forehead. “But you can do it the other way, rest and draw on the strength you could have used otherwise. We could totally chill for a couple of weeks and then make it.”
“Or we could rescue the Donna now.”
“I don’t believe you are still on about that. You men need to think of more than one thing at a time. You’re obsessed. Multi-tasking is good.”
“Is this the multi-tasking that is singularly focussed on going to the tavern?”
“No, it’s multi. It involves going there and drinking … arg!” Madeleine beats Cadwalladar’s back as he scoops her up, throws her over a shoulder and jogs towards the huge arch of the college entrance. “Rape! Abduction! Idiot loose in the college!” She falls silent and reflects that she’s never met anyone in the college who wasn’t an idiot. “Danger! Intelligent person coming!” She reckons that will shake everyone up.
They are welcomed by the usual scene of a quadrangle abandoned in panic. Food grows cool. Partially developed potions drip from dropped bottles. Half-made spells hang in the air. Madeleine says, “They saw us coming…”
Cadwallader replies, “However, my adorable lady, you have entered the quadrangle and the bell of the gods has not rung. That is rather mysterious.”
“Put me down!”
“In just a moment when I reach the mistresses’ table where there will be wine, beer and food to stop you running away.” He stops and eases her onto a bench.
“Dearest.” He scoops up a jug full of wine. “May I fill a glass for you?”
“I’ll just take the jug. Fine … then we’ll find the Donna.”
Madeleine is into her third leg of roast duck when a young pupil appears out of nowhere by the bench assigned to hex spells. The girl sees Madeleine and runs over. “Who are you? Why are you wearing a wedding dress?” The girl disappears into thin air before Madeleine can answer. She looks at Cadwallader. “Disappearing pupils?”
“The best kind, my dear. So, we have another mystery.” He frowns and scans the deserted area, empty dark windows and lofty towers. “Look…” he points. “Some students have appeared…” He tails off as the students race across the quadrangle and head for a door but fade into nothingness before they reach it. “They appeared to be in a panic about something…”
Madeleine takes a last drink from the jug, holding it almost vertically upside-down. Wiping a sleeve across her lips she drops the jug on the grass and opens her mouth to speak. Instead, the tiniest burp emerges. She bangs the table with a fist and says, “Let’s go find the Donna.”
“You are ready now?”
“Wait … no…” She frowns. “Oh yes…” Leaping up she draws her sabres. “Now I am.” Turning to the zigzag staircase winding up the front of the Donna’s tower, Madeleine dashes across grass and cobbles. She takes the stairs three at a time.
Cadwallader follows, his cloak flapping out behind. They reach the balcony of the Donna’s suite and, crossing it, enter the office. All is as they last saw it, the desks, long-case clock and shelves of books. What’s missing is the Donna. What’s new is a message splattered over a wall and apparently written in blood:
Madeleine, get your arse down the corridor of confession – now!
Madeleine reads it and says, “I’m not going anywhere near there. She’s mad.”
“I doubt she’s mad, though she can be a little odd at times…”
“And who are you to judge sanity?”
The robin darts across the balcony and lands on the back of a sofa. When it finishes screeching with laughter and wiping its eyes with a wing it says, “I haven’t had such fun … or diarrhoea … in ages. Pity I ran out really…” Catching its breath the robin looks from Madeleine to Cadwallader. “Do something! The Donna’s gone into hiding and I’m in around fifty places at once.”
Cadwallader twirls his moustache. “Would it be possible to clarify that a little?”
The robin tips its head to one side. “Be my guest.”
“I was hoping you would do the clarifying.”
“I would have to know what Madeleine’s done to this place.”
Madeleine snarls and says, “What makes you think it was me? I wasn’t even here!”
The robin rolls its eyes. “I know what you are. Some god made you a force of creation but you are as chaotic as a … a … I can’t make a comparison. Nothing in the world is remotely like you. Where have you been and what have you been doing? The college is fragmented into a random number of pieces that drift through each other. Time, space and people… Look, this has every indication that you’ve been using your weird magic and making more mess than an exploding frog spell in an overpopulated pond.”
Cadwallader says, “He may have a point, Madeleine dearest. In leaving this world to attend to the other you may have in some way…” He pauses, tapping the hilt of his sword. “Maybe going into the corridor of confession is the best way to resolve this. You will be forced to write your deepest secret on the wall and in doing so reveal…”
“Or you could tell us the secret now…”
Madeleine screeches, “Like I even know what it is!” Hands on hips she adds, “Fine then … follow me…”
She stops dead as, dressed in ceremonial black robes, the Donna appears out of the air, bottle of gin upturned, her Adam’s apple working hard. Lowering the bottle and lurching, she snatches weapons from a wall rack, cries, “I want to kill myself!” and vanishes.
The robin flaps so hard he sheds feathers. “Disaster! No … not the Donna. We need her to run the college!”
“It’s alright, Robin,” says Cadwallader, “I don’t think she can kill herself with a bow and arrow.” He ponders, tapping a lip. “If only we could get the fragments of the college together and get to talk to her for a moment.”
Madeleine marches across the balcony, down the stone stairs, her scabbards clattering on stone, and heads across the quadrangle. She pauses only to snatch up a baked swan pie. Cadwallader joins her. “Problem?”
“Yes, this pie’s too big. Much too big.”
“Then leave some.”
“Don’t be stupid. What I need is more gravy to go with it.”
Cadwallader takes her elbow. “Let us proceed.”
They enter a corridor, pass racks of glass vials, caged newts, things that squirm in tanks of mud, and take the first turning on the left. Cadwallader draws quills from a leather tube on his belt and says, “I’m nervous. I don’t want to write anything that would damage our relationship.”
Madeleine takes a quill and narrows her eyes. “What are you trying to tell me?”
He brushes his lips against hers and murmurs, “That I love you.”
“Good boy. I’d hate to actually stick a sword through your throat rather than just wanting to every five minutes.”
He takes her elbow. “Come…”
The walls are covered in graffiti – often smudged by the tears of people forced by the corridor’s curse to write their innermost secrets:
I turned Miss Anthropy’s pubic hair into tentacles: Dora Jarre
I think the Donna’s a stuck-up bitch: Vera Cross
I fed the gatekeeper a laxative hex: Nicola Cash
Cadwallader turns to the right wall and writes. He says, “Interesting…”
Madeleine turns to the left. “Yikes!”
“Do you want to know what I’ve written?”
“I wrote ‘I want to get married. Madeleine brings so much excitement into my life’.”
Madeleine whirls round. “Really? She drops the quill, rips open his shirt and kisses his chest, nuzzling the hair there. “I wrote ‘I want to get married. Cadwallader keeps me sane’.”
He looks over her shoulder. “Uh … ‘Even though he’s poncy effeminate toff’… That is your writing.”
She hugs him hard. “Yes.”
“There’s our answer!”
Releasing him she looks back at the wall. “Where?”
“Remember God gave creation, change and balance to three teams … in the last world?”
Madeleine turns back and leans her forehead on his chin, goatee tickling her nose. “Creation was … is our team. You and me. We’re different bits of creation. I reckon I’m chaos.”
“Not a bad guess. I must be order. We must marry and become one thing. This could bring stability here.”
She runs fingers through his chest hair. “I’d marry you this minute if I knew how. No-one’s ever married in the college. Everywhere has its own rules. Maybe we could ask the gods… No way. That bunch of nutters make a mess of everything.”
Cadwallader muses. “In Elysia you’re married as soon as the first cock crows after the ceremony. Then you have to eat it. They have some very quiet poultry there.”
“In Ionica it’s when the…” She pulls away.
Simultaneously they say, “The bell of the gods!” Hand in hand they race for the tower containing the legendary bell that only responds to Madeleine.
The rope has hung for centuries and utterly failed to move despite many a first-year student being bullied into climbing it until they were covered in noxious and encrusted bat droppings.
Madeleine peers up into the darkness. “We’re going to get covered, aren’t we? You pull it. I’ll stand over there.”
“We both pull it.”
“I knew you’d say something stupid. Right, grab it with me, husband.”
“As you wish, wife.” They heave until their bottoms touch the stone floor. The resulting clamour from the bell shakes the tower, bruises eardrums and is only slightly muffled by the pile of droppings that cover the happy couple.
A bat, still vibrating, is the last thing to land. It says, “Will you shut the fuck up?” and passes out.
Madeleine and Cadwallader have applied washing spells to each other. They’re sitting at the mistresses’ table in the quadrangle. With a napkin Cadwallader dabs a dot of cream from his lips. Madeleine wipes her mouth on her fingers and licks the resulting smudge of gravy.
The college is back to normal, although most of the staff, pupils and students fled at the sound of the bell – but given Madeleine’s input into the college in the past that’s unsurprising.
The Donna totters down the stairs. Her usually immaculate clothes are ragged, stained and torn.
Reaching Madeleine she says, “I’ve had enough.”
Madeleine nods. “ I think you have. Give me that bottle and I’ll finish it for…” She frowns. “Enough of what?”
The Donna looks down. “It’s been hell, chaotic, confusing and … did I say ‘hell’ already? Like I said, I’ve had enough.”
Madeleine looks down and asks, “What happened to your feet?”
“I was cutting my toenails.”
“It’s easier if you take your boots off. I think you need some time to chill out…”
The Donna lifts a heavy, elaborate pendant and chain from her neck and drops it on Madeleine’s lap. Sunlight sparkles on blue and green gems. “I’m retiring. Best of luck … Donna.”
Madeleine looks down at it. “I’m the new Donna? Oh shit.”
©Gary Bonn 2015
Madeleine and Cadwallader first meet as uneasy comrades in: