Overture – Let the Games Begin – Part Ten
Three Betrothals, One Death, Three Internments, One Wedding and One Last Christmas at Broomwaters
by Nick Lucas and Dee
Imogen listened to her husband from inside her sleeping gown night after night, as he tried to justify his behaviour fuelled by too much alcohol and his crippling guilt. It was mostly incoherent, and as she could not contribute to the conversation it stayed that way most of the time. He could not say it to her face. Her withering looks seemed to paralyse him outside of their bedroom but in private, with her helpless before him, he somehow found the courage to explain himself. She still listened almost despite herself, because she wanted to know the truth, the whole truth, and slowly she thought it emerged, between all the self-pity and the self-loathing. He apologised for hurting her, for raping her, over and over again, crying himself to sleep. He assured her that he had no choice. It was all Kieran Radcliffe. Kieran owned them, and Charlotte and her would suffer even more if Robin stood up to him, he was sure of that, and she believed him in some ways. Except she did not know if it was possible to suffer more. She thought of Dee, and of all the people Robin had tried to help, and she found her reactions selfish, because it only made her hate Robin more. He had risked everything they had without telling her, and had then completely exposed himself by standing for higher office. If he had told her about it, she would have told him not to take the chance. They could have left the rat race and hidden away somewhere, even if they could not leave the country.
She knew he would eventually remove her muzzle. Sooner or later, it was the logical move. He wanted to talk to her and in the end he would need a response. She tried to encourage it. She wiggled in her sleeping gown when he asked her if she could understand him and she even managed to rest her head in his lap at one stage. He took it as a positive sign, but it was really as far as she could move without assistance. Finally, one night, after an hour of snivelling remorse and another wiggle, he fumbled with the buttons and clumsily reached inside to unlock her muzzle. He had not exactly freed her. Her face was just about visible and it was all he seemed to be able to manage, but she could speak at long last.
“So you see…it wasn’t my fault…he tricked me.”
“I can see that, but you have to do something about it.” Imogen murmured from within her body bag. “Be a man, Robin and do something about it…get our lives back or at least stop him controlling you like a puppet master…anything would be better than this living hell.”
“Hands,” Miss Freeman demanded, catching Mena by surprise. She was wearing a blinding mantle and she had assumed that Miss Robinson had moved her from the drawing room and taken her upstairs. But she obeyed the command, of course. She trembled at the sound of that familiar voice, but her training really was exquisite. “Good girl, Mena…although that was just a test of course, I see no particular need to remove your mittens yet…but you can curtsey instead.”
Mena fell into her best obeisance. She was always good for Miss Robinson, but her obedience to Miss Freeman really was on another level, probably because of the intensity of that period in her life. Most maidens got longer to adapt and adjust their behaviour to the demands of the doctrine. She got just a few months. She held the pose.
“Up,” Miss Freeman barked, after counting slowly to twelve. “Guardianship in an honour, Mena…and it is always a delight to see one’s pupils thriving when one meets up with them again…and I always had a special bond with you, of course. I always had our initial friendship in the back of my mind, and although I had to be very firm with you, to eradicate the damage your unusual upbringing did to you, I always felt some affection for you. It is a guardian’s folly of course. I was not paid to be your friend or to have feelings for you…your father just wanted you trained as soon as possible.”
Mena composed herself as she felt Miss Freeman removing her blinding mantle. She was listening to her but she was paying far more attention to her movements, deportment and behaviour. Miss Freeman never missed a trick, and Mena did not want to give her former guardian any excuse to punish her. She had a flashback of kneeling on that chair, a position she was forced to adopt so many times. It was a recurring nightmare.
“So pretty still…I think you will have beautiful children…and soon too, now that you are home. I am so glad I had the chance to save you for God’s love…and as I am staying on with Fatima after the wedding we shall see quite a lot of each other, as I am sure you will be expected to be a dutiful stepdaughter. I shall enjoy that I think, little Rabbit.”
“She is so young sir…is there any hurry?” Brogan asked, but she knew it was no use. She knew exactly what Sebastian would say and she knew in her heart that it was India’s time. She was still headstrong upon occasions, but she was as ready for marriage as she would ever be.
“She is old enough, my dear…and he is a fine young man, destined for great things.” Bishop Osborne replied with a small smile as if he had anticipated her response. “If all goes well, he might replace me if I succeed the Archbishop, and I would hate to miss such an opportunity to link our families together.”
“As you wish, sir.”
“She won’t move on until I make her.” Christopher Slade decided, frowning at Miss Lewis. “She has always been like that, she will not commit until she has no other choice, and until I make this decision for her, something in the back of her mind will always tell her that I will give in and let her ruin her life.”
“I think that is wise Mr Slade, and he is a fine young man, I believe.”
“And he is local…I am not sending her away from me…I can’t bear the thought of that.”
“His family business is here, sir…I see no reason why he should ever leave Meadvale.”
“Then it is decided, I shall accept the offer and tell Hermione tonight…it will be good for Lucy’s father too.”
“She is my daughter, Mr President…I will not let you decide her future.” Robin Sullivan snapped, forcing Kieran Radcliffe to look up from his notes.
“Good grief man, it is a good match…better than you have the gumption to make.”
“She needs more time…”
“She will get five years in national service if you thwart my ambitions, Sullivan…and that is a promise. Linking ourselves with the next generation of American leaders is crucial to our plans, and I am asking several ministers to make the same sacrifice. I did not expect you, of all people, to make any problems.”
Laura Lumsfield curtseyed carefully to her father, remembering her lessons and well aware of Miss Scott watching her every move as always. She did not understand what was going on, but the one thing she knew for certain was that she did not want to be paddled anymore. Her life had turned into a nightmare. She came home from school one afternoon and found Miss Scott waiting for her. No warnings. No explanations. She knew her mother and sister had suffered a similar fate, because they had studied together, but as their muzzles were never removed it was impossible to communicate. So she stared at her father in some amazement, shocked to see him just smiling and sitting there, as if nothing had happened at all. Her mother and Jamie were there too, all of them dressed as traditional Reformists, and her father kept on smiling at them, like a total idiot.
“Girls, I know this has come as a shock, but…I have my reasons. I aim to serve my country and to do so we all need to sacrifice a little bit of ourselves for the cause. I explained to you all that becoming president would change all our lives…and I was right as you can see. I believe we have been called by God to do his bidding and I expect you all to adjust in time. I will have you all there for my inauguration, but until then Miss Scott and her team will work with you, to help you settle. I just want you all to know that I love you, and only want the best for you, but right now we have to think of what we can do for our country.”
Sarah Lumsfield closed her eyes. She could not believe what her husband was doing to her, to their girls, but somehow she knew that she could not stop him doing it. She had missed that chance. She would try if he ever gave her another one, but she was intelligent enough to realise that other women, thousands of them in Britain, must have thought the same things once. Not one of them had managed to stop anything as far as she could see.
Madison Nixon was engaged to Daniel Harrington, of all people. She had met him, or at least curtseyed to him, when she spent the previous Christmas at Broomwaters. He was a spotty geek with awful glasses and worse hair, but she was betrothed to him, whether she liked it or not, according to her father. He said it was best for her. Harrington was a bright man, with an even brighter future. She would link Shap with one of the oldest names in the movement, and he would not have to worry about her causing him trouble anymore.
Blood on the Carpet
“Lumsfield and Nixon will both be at Broomwaters…not for long of course, but we’ll have time to discuss…” Kieran Radcliffe broke off in mid sentence to Alistair Forbes when the intercom buzzed on his desk. “Steve, I am busy…”
“It is Mr Sullivan, Mr President…he is very eager to see you…he says it is very important.” The voice of his secretary told him and he frowned at Alistair.
“Great…honestly that man is driving me mad…but give us two minutes Alistair. Step into the side office and listen, if you like…it might amuse you.” Forbes grinned, picking up his coffee as he sloped off through the other door. “Send him in Steve…but tell him I only have two minutes.”
Robin Sullivan looked dreadful as he stepped into the main office. Not drunk, but certainly suffering the after effects of the night before, Radcliffe decided with a grimace. He had been useful, but he was not sure how much use he was going to be anymore. Not if he could not be fully relied upon to behave. He did not say anything. He just looked up as Sullivan walked purposefully towards his desk.
“I am not letting Charlotte marry that man…” Sullivan began, but Radcliffe just laughed him into silence.
“Robin, who the fuck do you think you are?” Radcliffe demanded, rocking back in his chair. “I own you, one call and you will be in a cell for the rest of your life, and where would your daughter be then?”
“I’ve done enough for you…my acquiescence gave you all this…enough is enough.”
“Well, to be fair, you helped make it all happen a bit sooner, but you are still a bit part player, and I have been very generous in return, don’t you think? Man up Robin, she has to marry someone. The whole problem here is that you are still not master in your own house, are you? I mean, everyone else gets it…even the women…why are you and Imogen so different? I am not changing my mind…”
“Yes you are.” Sullivan said with renewed determination, pulling what looked like a bread knife out of his suit pocket, getting it caught on the lining for a moment, before flourishing it like a sword. “Write the letter now and sign it…or so help me I will kill you, Radcliffe.”
“I think not, actually.” Alistair Forbes said calmly, stepping back into the main office. He was holding a pistol, and Kieran had to ask himself what sorts of security checks were being done. It almost made him laugh out loud, but he decided it was probably not the best time. Then Sullivan lunged at him and the world seemed to explode.
“Damn it, Alistair,” Kieran said just before the guards rushed in, “I rather liked that rug.”
Later on, Forbes would boast to Mena that it was a perfect shot, but in fact the bullet entered through the left eye, not the centre of the forehead as he claimed, but that was an irrelevance. Death was still instantaneous, and an immediate decision was taken to hush it up, for the sake of Sullivan’s family. Forbes did the hushing of course. He paid off the guards and the secretary as a carrot and threatened them with just about anything to serve as the stick, but it was unnecessary as they were all on side. The next moves were a little harder, and required a little paperwork, but it was all done and dusted before Sullivan’s body was actually cold. His sons were sent off to school in America, and would be adopted by a friend of Jacob Bush’s. His wife and two daughters chose, as the press release would later announce, to honour his memory by living forever in God’s love. His friends were a little surprised at Imogen’s decision, as well as by the heart attack that claimed Robin so suddenly, but it was all so neatly wrapped up that no one really batted an eyelid.
No one told Imogen, Charlotte or Georgia what was happening to them, or why. Miss Carpenter read the letter and simply handed them over to the officers as they were. By the time Alistair Forbes was telling Mena the story over dinner, all three of them had been shaved, disinfected and beaten into the showers.
Imogen Sullivan was wrong of course. There were much worse things than the life of a dutiful Reformist wife.
Fatima Al Hussein walked down the aisle a few months earlier than intended, as Miss Freeman had worked wonders with her and Sir James Miller was missing the delights of his apartment in Washington. Many members of her family came to honour the match, and the relationship between the two countries, and the television cameras were there, just as they had been for Mena’s wedding to Alistair Forbes. Michael Winstanley did not officiate. He was not particularly well and Sir James had his eye on Bishop Osborne as the new man in town, so Sebastian conducted the service. Kieran Radcliffe was best man, as he liked to keep Forbes on his toes. Miller was not a threat to either of them, but he was a ruthless bastard, as was Forbes, and Radcliffe liked to keep his options open. Shapleigh Nixon III came as a guest, bringing his daughter with him, who inherited a new guardian as she would not be returning home. She was introduced to Miss Carpenter before the ceremony.
Mena Forbes watched her father marry with mixed emotions. She hated him at times, but she still loved him, and he could still twist her around his little finger. Her husband stood at her side. She had the same feelings about Alistair. She knew she was beaten but she did not feel beaten and she could never act beaten, which meant she was beaten all the more.
“Such an incredible sight,” The breathless television commentator said as the camera scanned the full house. “Gowns of all colours in this astonishing building with the organ music swirling around everyone. This is spectacle. This is Reformism at its most beautiful and perfect, amid such pomp and circumstance. And of course, this town is where it all began. Only twenty five years ago the entire Reformist movement could have fitted inside this Cathedral I believe, and now, thanks to the people standing in these pews, Great Britain is a Reformist republic with America looking to follow suit. There are now over two hundred million practising Reformists around the world, and the proud bridegroom, turning to watch his wife walking down the aisle towards him, is one of the major links between them. Princess Fatima Al Hussein, soon to be Lady Miller, represents the close relationship between Reformism and the Arab world. Finally, in the row just behind Sir James, there is Shap Nixon, the vice president of America…”
Christmas at Broomwaters (and Elsewhere)
“Goodness me, this gets bigger every year, Mrs Harrington…how do you manage?” Lady Osborne said to Mrs Harrington, so well aware that the old bird had nothing to do with the arrangements, but it was the done thing to complement the hostess of course. They were sitting on one of the many sofas that filled the ballroom at Broomwaters. The drawing room was no longer big enough for the traditional annual house party and the guardians were having to improvise.
“Something that can surely be said of the movement as a whole,” Madeleine Buckingham suggested, from her seat nearby as more ladies were guided into the room and settled on various chairs. Brogan could see that it was all planned, as there was definitely a hierarchy of positions. She was in what she thought of as the centre circle, with the hostess, Lady Buckingham, Mrs Radcliffe, Mrs Munroe, Mrs Miller and Mrs Forbes. There was room for several more ladies near them, and Brogan made a little bet with herself. She wagered that Mrs Nixon and her daughter would join them, and perhaps Mrs Lumsfield, as the Americans were to be honoured guests.
“Everything is so much bigger these days…I remember my first time here, and we called Meadvale the village.” Elizabeth Munroe smiled, sipping at her coffee. It was true. Brogan remembered the old Meadvale, her experiences lagging just a bit behind Mrs Munroe’s, and it was a much smaller place. Now it sometimes seemed like the centre of the world, at least at Christmas time.
“Charles believes that there will be one hundred million Reformists in the United States of America within five years…it does all seem quite remarkable.” Madeleine commented with a self-satisfied smile. Brogan made another bet with herself, predicting that Lady Buckingham would mention her own family being one of the original members of the Church in Meadvale before they all went upstairs to change for dinner.
“And it all started here, within living memory ladies.” Mrs Harrington reminded everyone. “Although the reins may be being handed over, my husband and his friends started our renaissance.”
“I am sure it will be in good hands, Ma’am.” Chloe Radcliffe said with due respect for her elders. She was technically the most senior lady in the room, the First Lady as the newspapers called her, but Brogan thought highly of the former Miss Ford for her modesty and humility.
“Of course it is, and Peter is so much more relaxed these days.” Elizabeth Munroe patted Chloe’s hand with affection, and everyone smiled, at ease in each other’s company. Brogan always used to feel like an outsider, as she had invaded them, but that feeling grew less and less every year. She had her regrets, but Reformism was like a juggernaut, and she was not sure that anyone could stop it, not if the Americans were falling for it too. Her husband had lectured in several European cities in recent months as he stood in for the ailing archbishop, and he had told her about thriving Reformist communities in Germany, Spain, Holland and France. In twenty years, Reformism had destroyed the Conservative and Labour parties, as well as the Church of England as the movement grew. She had sat there, silenced and deprived of her freedom, and watched the world change.
Sister Daphne greeted another batch of new arrivals in traditional style. She had only twenty minutes to get them through the showers and the driers and into their sleeping gowns for the night, and she would be beaten if they were late. So she did not show any mercy or compassion, lashing out with her switch to keep them moving along to save herself from a similar fate. She saw the first face out of the corner of her eye. She had been a keeper for several months, a role given to her because of her experience as a guardian, and she had seen hundreds of bald, naked sisters running past her to the point where they all looked the same. So she ignored the half thought and concentrated on hurrying more sisters into the showers. It was cold, no money was wasted on heating or hot water, but they had to go in and her switch made red marks on two more white-skinned behinds before she spotted someone else. But it was all so quick and the thought was gone before she could place the face.
Hermione sat with the other maidens at the far end of the room, still under strict discipline. Miss Lewis was helping as were most guardians, and it was easier to leave the maidens in their mittens and muzzles. Miss Lewis said that it was good for her to watch the ladies socialise. She was sitting next to Selena Brown, her regular playmate, near India Trevor-Osborne, and could not really hear much of the conversation going on around her. She was very much on the fringe of things. She gathered that her father was well thought of, but not irreplaceable. Mrs Greening was in a similar position, although as an adult, a wife, her muzzle and mittens were long gone. Hermione had seen her son at the Cathedral before, but she could not imagine being married to him, being his wife. Oliver Greening was a retail manager, although the store he worked in was owned by his father, and there was some sort of deal going on with her stepmother’s family involved in the marriage. It felt like being sold, like a bag of sugar or a side of beef.
“I have always wondered what goes on in there.” Charles Buckingham admitted, staring down on Meadvale Convent in the valley below Broomwaters.
“One long life of prayer, according to Michael, the most pious sisters alive,” Peter Munroe replied, turning back from kicking an errant football over to the boys.
“Sounds almost appealing when you put it like that…a peaceful place,” David Harrington sighed, thinking about it and then dismissing the thought with a shake of his head.
“I put several of them there, as I remember.” Buckingham made a face and stuffed his hands in his coat pockets.
“God will no doubt appreciate your efforts, Charles.” Paul Craig laughed, as if it was a joke.
“Do the ends really justify the means?” Buckingham asked, safe to speak his mind amongst his oldest friends. “I must admit that I struggle to balance my books sometimes.”
“Charles, you said it often enough…you had to rebalance the books…there was always going to be some collateral damage, the odd bit of wounding by friendly fire. You can’t make an omelette without…”
“Breaking some eggs, yes Peter…my speeches were full of the same clichés.”
“Mainly because Peter wrote them, Charles?” Harrington laughed, clapping his friend on his back. “Honestly Charles, do you lose any sleep over this sort of retrospection? Your achievements should not to make you sad, they should make you proud…and you did your best, you just cannot achieve what we have achieved without hurting anyone.”
“Madeleine says that I toss and turn, but rather less than I did whilst in office. Oh ignore me, writing this book just brings too much of it back…maybe I should leave the memories where they were.”
“Charles, look at Elizabeth…she is happy because of you, so are thousands of people. Millions of people are in jobs because of you, or have enough money to stay home with their children because of you…the doctrine is working and the next generation will not feel any of this pain…it is a passing phase.”
Sister Daphne and the other keepers had their own routine. They worked together to get the sisters into their sleeping gowns as quickly as possible, finishing one and hurrying on to the next somewhere down the line, always worrying about the time. In a few minutes it would be her being switched into the showers and bagged up for the night, because in that convent only the Mother Superior slept in a bed and would put the last keeper to bed and get the first one up for matins. Daphne did her first girl on a cot closest to the corridor leading from the driers. She worked fast, bucking on the mittens, with the sister already in a clean diaper, before stuffing her roughly into the sleeping gown, wasting no time on being gentle. Then she ran as fast as she could in her habit, past four cots and onto the sixth girl, who was only just putting on her diaper. Daphne was immediately furious with her, losing precious seconds off her schedule. She pushed her down on the cot, wasting more time giving her the switch three times, before pulling her over to fit her mittens. It was then that she recognised Imogen Sullivan.
“Did you enjoy your dinner, Mena?” Jen Freeman asked as she flossed Mena’s teeth with her usual vigour. It was her usual bedtime routine, although she was more used to being handled by Miss Robinson, who had not travelled to Broomwaters for the holidays.
“Yes thank you, Miss Freeman.” Mena responded, minding her manners. She was not expecting to enjoy herself. Her father and her husband had sent them down early with Miss Freeman, whilst they carried on with their work, intending to join them on Christmas Eve. She had already been bathed with Fatima, or Mama as she had to call her, and she was sure that there were many more humiliations to come. She was as naked as the day she was born, and sitting on the toilet, just like a baby in the hands of her mother. She remembered her old arrogance, whilst she was still at school, and when she first came to London with her father, and she could not recognise her old self anymore. She had believed she could do anything back then, but Miss Freeman would not let her wipe her own bottom or clean her own teeth, like a helpless toddler. She was the Prime Minister’s wife, but she was still treated like the most inexperienced maiden, because it amused her cruel guardian, and perhaps most importantly her husband. She had talked to some of the other wives, and they had very different lives. Not quite freedom of course, because these were the wives of the most important Reformists in the world, but they were treated with more respect than her.
“Who did you sit with?”
“Mama was opposite me, and I sat between Lady Osborne and Mrs Munroe. Mama sat between Mrs Radcliffe and Mrs Buckingham…I think they were very kind to her, Miss Freeman.”
“I am sure your conversation was very appropriate.”
“It was Miss Freeman, I promise.” Mena assured her, feeling pathetic, like a child promising she had done her homework or her chores.
“Good girl, now open.” Miss Freeman commanded, reaching for her muzzle. Mena obeyed, as she always did, as she always had done. She had never resisted Miss Freeman, or her father, or Alistair. She had agreed to her original training for her own ends and then to marry Alistair. She had been fooled then, and now she no longer had the courage.
“Shap seems confident but the numbers are just frightening…much larger than anything we ever had to face.” Sir Charles Buckingham told his friends, passing the port to his left, to Peter Munroe.
“I think his test area is a sensible approach…concentrating on hospitals and schools in one state.” David Harrington said as he took another piece of cheese. “I believe he plans to ship criminals and volunteers in from elsewhere.”
“He certainly does, and I have made him aware that organisation is crucial, we tended to run before we could walk, but the sheer size of America would just multiply the problems we had to solve.”
“State by state…that will take years.” Peter Munroe said, reaching for the coffee.
“My advice was to ensure success in the test state.” Charles replied, explaining the strategy. “Even with Lumsfield on side, as it were, the four year electoral cycle must be considered…Shap needs results, fast, and if he tries to spread the resources too thin he won’t get them. He will also be working under intense scrutiny from the press and the opposition…they will be very aware of what he is doing and they will try to discredit everything.”
“So what are we doing to help?” Paul Craig asked.
“Well we have to be reasonably subtle, but depending on the test state, we will be arranging a considerable amount of inward investment as soon as possible. I am leaving that side of things to Kieran and Alistair, but over four years we can produce enough new jobs to ensure full male employment, and we already have a very healthy volunteer nun position…the poverty in some areas is truly third world, and the chance to get one daughter off the food bill is apparently irresistible. Everything else will be kept relatively low key…decency will deal with extremes, not the basics…male jobs will be prioritised not legalised…small steps just like we started with, but slightly different ones, because Shap will not have the benefit of surprise.”
“Is this line secure?” Sharon Rosen asked as soon as James Miller said hello. He was in the official car on the way down to Devon, and his driver could hear every word he said.
“Not entirely…are you unemployed yet?”
“Sidelined but still officially in charge.”
“Still, you had a good run…you can work on your lectures.”
“Yes I have a good one called the scourge of Reformism already ready to go.”
“Could be electoral suicide these days.”
“Yeah well, not something I have to worry about anymore. What did your boy do to Lumsfield?”
“Our latest convert? God moves in mysterious ways, madam president.”
“Well I could believe that of him, but not his wife. And she and her daughters have just walked out of their house in the full velvet suit…so what have you done to him?” Rosen sounded serious. Miller smiled in the darkness.
“Nothing that I know of, I promise.”
Everyone arrived on Christmas Eve. Helicopters delivered the two presidents, and the procession to Church for the special carol service which was televised live. Meadvale was the epicentre of Reformism, and with two hundred million disciples around the world Michael Winstanley felt like the Pope. He had suffered a stroke. Only a minor one, which the doctors told him he would fully recover from, but he needed the help of two young Pastor’s to reach the altar. He intended to retire. Right after Christmas he would hand over to Sebastian Osborne. But he wanted to deliver just one last sermon, as history was being made. He listened to the music and a thousand male voices singing the words, and composed himself, searching for the right words.
“God has blessed us with the strength to change. In His wisdom, He has given us the courage to face our opponents and prove the word…to win back the ground we lost to the misplaced progress of the twentieth century. Our critics still accuse us of turning back some celestial clock, but that is not true. I would argue that we merely stood up for our faith, and by sticking to the Christian principles we have restored this great country to its proper place. Now we see our closest allies following our lead and we should all rejoice. I have never been a fire and brimstone preacher…I never saw the devil in our sins. I grew up in a world that had lost its way and did not understand where it was going wrong anymore. It was never a question of fighting evil; it was simply a matter of turning our lives back towards God and His words. It is not, as someone once said, rocket science. The basic principles of Christianity are not complicated or radical, as some would have us believe. It was just that we forgot how to apply the rules and in an orgy of progression we lost our way for a few decades. I am proud to have been a part of the renaissance…a word that can be defined as a rebirth…a fresh start if you like. My good friend Sir Charles Buckingham called it a rebalance, whilst my little grandson would call it a reboot…something he tells me will cure ninety nine percent of problems on almost any electrical device these days. I still prefer the word renaissance. Because although some things might seem harsh, we have done so much good to our civilisation…because we should not be measured on economic statistics, jobs or hospital league tables…we will be measured by the things that matter to God…modesty, decency, piety and moral fortitude. Some meaningful statistics for you, from the pulpit rather than parliament, because these are numbers that mean something to ordinary lives…no prosecution for prostitution last year, no reported rapes, no underage sex, no divorce, a ninety percent decrease in drug use over the last five years, an eighty percent decrease in alcohol abuse. These are social ills, real sins, that we have eradicated from our lives…but the accusation is always there…these things come at a cost to our ‘human rights’ and our individual freedoms. Well, I have only this to say to our detractors…drunkenness on the streets is not a human right, adultery is not a human right, drug abuse is not a human right…I will not apologise for removing sin from the lives of our people. In God’s world, we are all free to do as we please within the clearly defined boundaries of his teaching…in any Christian society that should be our primary objective. Some of God’s requirements for us are harsh…he asks us to do the right things regardless of personal sacrifice…and in rebalancing our society to Christian values and ideals, some sections of society have been asked to sacrifice more than others…but the next generations will not feel this loss at all, and that is what is most important…that future generations grow up in God’s love.”
Sarah Lumsfield sat beside her husband, with their daughters on either side of them, listening to her future. She knew what was about to happen to her country of course. She was surrounded by the evidence. Her mistake had been in leaving her escape too late. Her husband had made her position quite clear. He would not let her file for a divorce. He was going to force her to live as a silent, obedient Reformist wife to keep him in power, although she already suspected that he was much more of a Philip Henderson than a Charles Buckingham, but that would not make any difference to her or her daughters. She turned her head and stared as best she could through her mantle and veils at the rest of the congregation, men and boys in smart suits all surrounded by their covered women, all enveloped in God’s loving embrace. But then she felt the familiar burning from her posterior and turned her head back to face the front, submitting to the power of her punishment chip. Her husband patted her knee and put his phone back in his jacket pocket. She could not fight it, him or them, and she wondered how many more of the Reformists in Meadvale’s spectacular Cathedral were in a similar position to her. Because as much as Archbishop tried to make it sound like a moral crusade, it was not; women were being removed from daily life.
And the trouble was it was so simple. From the moment she walked back into the house she had not had a chance. Escape was impossible. Not when she had the children to think of too, and she had no idea where she would run too. In Britain, there was certainly nowhere safe to go, and back home, who could she trust when her husband was president? Her protection detail had not rushed to her defence. She did not know where the conspiracy started and where it stopped, and now that they had the chip inside her, and her daughters too, it was impossible.
Sebastian took Brogan for a walk after the service. He liked to clear his head after the highlight of his week, and he knew that she appreciated getting away from the crowds. Marriage had rather surprised him, after a while. He had only entered into it as a social and political necessity, but Brogan had grown on him in unexpected ways. She had an air about her, a freshness that he had never anticipated, and although she was always the perfect wife in public she often set him back on his heels with a look or a comment when they were talking in private. Nothing inappropriate, of course. He would never stand for that, and he realised that he could be overly stiff and formal with his family at times, but he was more content at home than he had ever really expected to be. His children, no their children, played a part in that, and he loved them all, including his step children, but at the centre of it all was Brogan, the rock at the centre of his life.
He took her down by the river, as it was a mild afternoon, and although she was obviously muzzled, he talked to her about the little things in life, occasionally eliciting a nod or a shake of her head by way of a response. He told her that he expected the archbishop to retire early in the New Year, maybe even before. He talked about what it would mean for him, and the family and her, suggesting that they redecorate the archbishop’s palace before moving into the official residence. He made some mildly amusing references to the Winstanley’s tastes and Brogan nodded vigorously. He said he would have to travel more, and spend more time in London, and asked if she would like to travel with him on a regular basis. He was going to say that he would understand if she preferred to stay home with the children, but she was already nodding again and squeezing his arm as best she could with her mittened hands.
Elizabeth Munroe joined her father beside a roaring fire in one of the small reception rooms at Broomwaters. He liked to have a private chat with her whenever they could, and she kissed his cheek before taking a seat at his side. He was looking older but less on edge, she thought, as he took her hands in his and smiled at her.
“Are you happy my darling?” He asked, totally out of the blue.
“Of course I am Papa…I see so much more of Peter, and I love living here…what’s wrong?” She asked, looking in to his deep green eyes.
“Oh I don’t know…I suppose I am trying to add up my contribution, as it were.” He sighed, making a face. “It’s this book…I sort of wanted to get it all out of my system, but some of the shadows of the past are weighing heavily on my conscience. This is not the life you had planned for yourself, is it?”
“Oh Papa…don’t be ridiculous…all I had planned when you brought me here was less adult interference in my life. I would have got myself into all sorts of trouble I am sure.”
“I was very hard on you, Elizabeth.”
“Only for my own good…honestly Papa, I would not change anything now…the world is a different place.”
“Mostly because of me…”
“Oh that’s crazy talk…if it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else, and you are a good man, you acted for the good of everyone, Papa.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Yes Papa, and if my happiness is weighing on your conscience, you have to stop it…I love Peter and my life…and I thank God you had the courage to save me every single day of my life, in God’s love.”
The End of Reformism Interrupted.
The universe and the characters of Reformism Interrupted are continued soon in its sequel Reformist Generations.