Authors: Helen Harper
Corrigan: Book Three
By Helen Harper
Copyright © 2015 Helen Harper
All rights reserved.
rested both my hands on the table top and looked round at everyone. It hadn’t been an easy task to select them – after all, it had been necessary to ensure both the rural Packs as well as the Brethren were well represented, not to mention shapeshifters of all different forms, genders and ages. I’d also desperately wanted to cap the numbers at ten to avoid long drawn arguments and petty one-upmanship. That had been a futile effort. Frankly, it was a miracle we’d ended up with less than thirty members. Either way, I’d been starting to think it would take them a year to get anywhere.
‘So,’ I said, ‘I hear you’ve come to a final decision.’
Sevilla, a grizzly werecheetah from Newcastle who’d been appointed as chairperson, got to her feet. ‘We have, my Lord.’
‘And?’ I held my breath.
I blinked. ‘In total?’
She nodded, biting her lip. ‘I’m aware you were hoping for around fifteen...’
‘Twenty-five is a good number.’ Considering how things had gone up to this point, it was a hell of a lot lower than it could have been.
She passed over a piece of paper in my direction. I read over it, aware that every eye in the room was on me.
‘I told you he wouldn’t be happy with number twenty-three,’ a voice towards the end of the table muttered. ‘It’s too ambiguous.’
I ignored him and continued to the bottom, making my own mind up. Then I looked up and smiled. ‘This is fantastic work. You are all to be commended. You’ve streamlined every single one of those Way Directives into a comprehensible, sensible list. You will go down in history.’
There was a round of spontaneous applause. I tried not to notice the palpable relief emanating from virtually everyone. When I’d said they’d done a good job, I meant it. Even if the new improved Way Directives hadn’t been as helpful as I’d wanted, I still wouldn’t have reamed them out though. I was very conscious of just how difficult their task had been. I rather had the impression that they thought I’d order them all thrown in chains if I didn’t approve of their combined efforts. It didn’t matter how hard I tried: the old dictatorial hierarchy still loomed large in every shifter’s mind.
Sevillah cleared her throat. I glanced in her direction and nodded, encouraging her to speak. ‘We think we’ve covered all angles. We’ve applied all sorts of scenarios both past and potentially future and we think the list stands up to scrutiny.’
‘But?’ I prodded.
‘But we know it will still be difficult for many shifters to accept these new laws.’
I pursed my lips. ‘Change is always difficult. Progress doesn’t occur without it.’
‘Believe me, my Lord,’ she replied, ‘I’m on your side. I think these new Directives will make everything much more transparent. However, I’m also concerned about the old guard. They won’t react well to this. They already think that our assembly is usurping tradition by taking a more democratic approach. Getting them to follow the new Way Directives will be incredibly hard.’
‘The old woman is sniping at shadows,’ drawled Charles, the new alpha from Gloucester. ‘There’s a simple solution for dealing with the naysayers.’
Everyone, including myself, turned towards him. ‘What?’
He shrugged nonchalantly, picking up a sugared doughnut from his plate and biting into it. He took his time chewing it, even going so far as to make a show of licking his lips. Clearly, Charles enjoyed being the centre of attention. ‘We compel them,’ he finally stated.
I had to bite my tongue to avoid snapping. ‘Forcing everyone to do what we say actually goes against the fundamental basics of these new Directives. Compulsion is not intended to be used in these kinds of matters.’
‘Then what sort of matters is it intended for, my Lord?’ His tone was mild but I could sense the veiled antagonism underlying it. He was young, even for an alpha, I told myself. He just needed some gentle re-direction.
‘For encouraging good Pack behavior when other animal instincts might take over,’ I told him. ‘Not for making people bend to every whim.’
‘Is that what these new Directives are?’ he asked. ‘A whim?’ Before I could respond, he laughed. ‘Of course, I’m merely jesting.’
I smiled tightly. ‘Again,’ I said, re-addressing everyone in a bid to dismiss Charles out of hand, ‘I would like to reiterate my gratitude for all of your work and dedication. I will consider your concerns very carefully before proceeding further.’
Everyone stood up while I walked out and left them to their pastries. It was the wisest course of action. I wasn’t about to engage myself in a potentially dangerous bout of passive aggression. Charles enjoyed having an audience far too much for to me to rise to the bait.
Staines caught up with me in the library. ‘I hear the Way Assembly have come up trumps.’
‘Indeed they have.’
‘You don’t sound particularly happy. I’d have thought you’d be bouncing from the ceiling. One hundred and forty seven Directives to twenty-five? It’s a definite result. I’ve seen the final list as well. It’s good.’
I sighed. ‘There were concerns about how some of the older shifters might take it.’
Staines shrugged. ‘That’s no surprise.’
I rubbed my forehead. ‘I know. But I’ve been dealing with one thing at a time. I didn’t want to plan too far ahead in case we never even reached this point.’
‘I’ll admit,’ he agreed, ‘I had my doubts that this assembly would work.’
‘And now it has, we need to concern ourselves with the next step.’ I held up my hand. ‘And don’t, for goodness’ sake, suggest every shifter in the land should be compelled.’
‘Mass compulsion?’ The corners of Staines’ mouth downturned in faint disgust.
I felt guilty for bringing it up. ‘Sorry. It’s just one of the Assembly members seemed to think it was a good idea.’
‘Let me guess,’ he said grimly, ‘Charles.’
‘That’s the one. Did we do the right thing in making him alpha?’
He shrugged. ‘He received the Voice.’
‘We didn’t really look him into very much though, did we?’
He gave me a paternalistic look. ‘We were recovering from the red fever. It was important to give off the appearance of being in control.’
‘More important,’ I asked, ‘than actually being in control?’
‘You’re worrying about it too much, my Lord. All the reports we’ve received from Gloucester have been positive.’
I took a deep breath and nodded. ‘You’re right. I’m worrying over nothing when I should be concentrating on the real problems.’
Staines glanced down at my open book. ‘Is that...?’
‘Yes. The original Way Directive canon. You can see the very first Assembly’s signatures here.’ I leaned over to him and whispered. ‘Don’t touch it though. You’re not wearing the requisite white gloves.’ I bared my palms in his direction to emphasise my point. ‘It is as old as the Magna Carta after all.’
‘And don’t forget it!’ came the sharp voice of the librarian from the other side of the room.
Staines started. ‘Has he been here all this time?’
I grinned. ‘Don’t worry. Unless it’s do with books, he doesn’t care what we talk about.’
A tiny furrow appeared in Staines’s forehead but he was thankfully too taken with the living history displayed in front of us to make too much of the grouchy librarian’s eavesdropping. ‘It really is amazing.’ A reverent glow flashed across his eyes. I fully understood the sentiment because holding this book, even through the gloves’ protective material, sent a shiver down my spine.
‘It is,’ I agreed. ‘Maybe one day, hundreds of years from now, a Lord Alpha will sit here with his right hand man and do the same with our new Way Directives.’
We both looked at each other and laughed. ‘That’s a strange thought,’ Staines admitted.
I pointed to a flaking red seal in the bottom right hand corner of the page. ‘Do you see that?’
He squinted. ‘What is it?’
I gently pulled over another ancient text. It was less impressive than the Way Directives canon, being as it was a descriptive piece that seemed to relate to the best method for skinning and eating humans, but there was another seal there also, identical to the first. ‘This one is clearer.’
‘I’m not surprised. Who would want to eat humans? Although given some of the shifters our history is littered with, we should be thankful that this recipe is not very well thumbed.’ Staines peered down. ‘Wait, that’s our coat of arms.’
I smiled, leaning back and folding my arms. ‘It is. This seal was put to every official document the Brethren created for generations. With printing obviously not widespread back then, even articles as stomach churning as this were given its stamp. It’s the official seal of approval.’
I could see the gleam in Staines’s eyes as he grasped what I was getting at. ‘I like your thinking, my Lord. Attach this seal to your new Way Directives and it’ll make them more legitimate.’
‘Not only that,’ I added, ‘but I’ve come across some old rumours suggesting that anything stamped with the original seal was immediately bound into shifter instincts, influencing behaviour of every Pack individual. It supposedly had magical properties. Obviously, we have this human dinner piece that proves otherwise but...’
‘...no-one else needs to know that.’ Staines nodded.
‘We won’t lie,’ I assured him. ‘We will, however, gain the aid of our helpful in-house librarian in directing a few
of our more inquisitive shifters towards the relevant documents which suggest the seal has mystical powers.’
‘Perfect.’ He grinned broadly. ‘The traditionalists will love it and the modernists won’t care.’
I glanced at him. ‘You don’t think it’s overly manipulative?’
‘The new Directives are a good thing. In fact,’ he corrected himself, ‘they’re a great thing. You’re not forcing anyone to agree with you. It’ll just be sensible politics.’
‘I hope so.’ I’d already spent a long time pondering over whether this was right approach or not. At least I’d brought Staines round to my way of thinking. He had initially been unimpressed at my bid to streamline the Way Directives.
‘Where is it then?’ he asked. ‘This seal?’
I winced slightly. ‘Well, that’s the problem.’
Staines looked at me from under his brow. ‘Why do I have a very bad feeling about this?’
I clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Because we’re finally going to have some fun. It won’t be dull paperwork or mind-numbing diplomacy. It’ll be one of the most exciting retrieval operations you’ll ever participate in.’ I held up a finger. ‘Strike that. It’ll be the MOST exciting operation of all time. It’ll go down in history.’ I nudged his elbow. ‘You and I will be heroes.’
‘My Lord, you are not making me feel any more confident. Where are we going to retrieve the seal from?’
I smiled. ‘The Tower of London, of course.’
Staines closed his eyes in horror. ‘You have got to be joking.’
‘Staines, I take these new Directives far too seriously to joke about them.’
‘This is because of that damn werehamster, isn’t it? You want her to admire you for attempting the most foolhardy, ill-conceived heist that any shifter anywhere in the world has ever thought of.’
‘You know she’s not a werehamster.’
‘I don’t think she’s one of those either.’
‘Whatever she is,’ Staines grumbled, ‘I’m blaming her for this.’
ave you ever even been to the Tower?’ Leah asked me as we joined the orderly queue filled with tourists of every colour and creed.
I snorted. ‘Hardly. I always meant to but...’
She nodded. ‘When it’s on your doorstep, there’s less pressure or need to go and visit. I’ve seen more sites of historical interest in Moscow than I think I have in London.’
‘You seem to be spending a lot of time there these days. If you’d like me to pass over your responsibilities there to someone else...’
‘No,’ she said hastily, ‘it’s fine. Besides, I’ve been working too bloody hard at learning the language to let somebody new take over from me.’
‘Teach me something,’ I said.
She pursed her lips. ‘Kahk dehla.’
I rolled the words around my mouth. ‘Kahk dehla. What does it mean?’
‘How are you?’
‘Kahk dehla,’ I tried again. ‘I suppose it could come in handy if I ever want to engage in small talk with a Russian. The trouble is I won’t have any chance of understanding the answer.’