Call of the Delphinidae
Chapter 1 - Mary's Dream
“Jason, who was Aaron’s best friend, would now like to say a few words,” the priest said at the conclusion of the hymn, and a small dark-skinned man walked slowly to the front of the chapel and stood alongside the coffin.
“Thank you all so much for coming,” he said softly. “Most people who didn’t know him well probably saw Aaron as a good-natured clown, and if they caught him in one of his Jedi moments they would have thought he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic too. But he could always bring a smile to anyone’s face, even in the darkest of times, and beneath all of his kidding around there beat a heart of gold.
“I first met Aaron in kindergarten where we latched onto each other right from the very first day. We played together, we studied together, we went off exploring in the forest together. In our early teens, we both joined the cricket club and he quickly developed a prowess with the bat. I remember a newspaper reporter describing him as the next Allan Border, but the driver who ran into his bicycle and badly messed up his arm put an end to any sporting career he may have had. Aaron, though, took it all in his stride and never let it get him down.”
He sniffled and wiped a tear from his eye before continuing.
“But he had a weakness, and only his closest friends were truly aware of it. It began innocently enough during our first year at university. If we had a free afternoon we would occasionally go to one of the nearby hotels for lunch and to down a few ales. The more he drank the funnier he became, and I really believe that it was nothing more than his desire to make people laugh that ultimately led him into alcoholism. I blame myself for not realising that something was wrong sooner, but perhaps even then it might have been too late. I don’t know what happened down in Sydney that led him to the roof of that hotel, I don’t know what made him think that he could leap off and fly away, and I really don’t think I want to know. I would rather remember him as the faithful friend who was always there when I needed help, to cheer me up when I was feeling low, and to pull me back onto the straight and narrow when I strayed. Aaron, if ever there was a time that I needed you, it is now.”
He put his hands over his face and slowly made his way back to his seat.
My son is dead.
Mary woke, the dream still echoing inside her head. ‘My son is dead,’ she thought again. ‘But how can I have a son?’
She opened her eyes, taking in the morning sunlight streaming into her room. “I’m going to be late for school again,” she muttered as she pulled herself out of bed and dashed towards the bathroom.
“Don’t be too long,” her mother called out from the kitchen. “You’ll be late for school again.”
“I know,” Mary said, grimacing as she closed the bathroom door behind her.
After the quickest shower in the history of the Empire, she emerged to find her friends Ron and Brian sitting at the kitchen table.
“You’re late again so we ate your breakfast for you,” Brian said.
“Yeah, we’ll describe it to you on the way to school if you like,” Ron added.
“Come on then, let’s go,” Mary said as she ushered her friends ahead of her and out the door. Outside it was already quite warm and would no doubt be very hot inside the classroom. Mary didn’t like the heat.
“I had a strange dream last night,” she said as they hurried down the road. “I was at a funeral, and the person in the coffin was my son.”
“Your son?” Brian asked. “I didn’t know you had a son. Who’s the father?”
Mary froze in her step as she saw in her mind’s eye a tall heavily-built man grabbing hold of her and shaking her violently. She shivered in spite of the heat.
“Are you okay?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said as she took hold of herself. “I, I don’t know who the father was, but he wasn’t very nice.”
“Was it Brett?” Ron asked.
“No, definitely not Brett,” Mary laughed, dispelling the last remnants of the fear that had engulfed her.
“Speaking of the brat,” Brian said, “I’ve heard rumours that his father was caught trying to infiltrate the Resistance up in Etford.”
“That’s a bit daft,” Mary said. “Surely everyone knows that Hal Farley works for the palace.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“Maybe he was creating a diversion or something,” Ron said. “While everyone was jumping up and down about Farley perhaps someone else was sneaking in.”
“Could be,” Brian said.
“You know I’m thinking of joining the Resistance,” Ron said.
“What for?” Mary asked. “I mean, they’ve been trying to topple Morgoth for the last million years and so far haven’t got within a bull’s roar of him.”
“Well maybe I’m the one to make the difference. My dad said that the Dolphins think the emperor may fall very soon now.”
“Dolphins Schmolphins,” Brian said. “What would a fish know?”
“Dolphins aren’t fish, they’re…”
“Yeah, we know, they’re mammals. Surely, Ron, you don’t take all of this Dolphin-worshipping stuff seriously?”
“I don’t know. In church, it all sounds pretty convincing. You know the prophecy says it will be a young boy who finally destroys the emperor.”
“And I suppose you think you’re going to be that boy,” Brian said. Ron nodded, and he sighed.
“Why does the hero always have to be a boy?” Mary complained. “Why can’t it be a girl for once?”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to join the Resistance too?” Brian asked.
“No, I’m not that stupid. It’s just that sometimes, well, sometimes I wish I could be the one to get rid of him.”
“Maybe it was going to be your dead son,” Ron said.
“Well if it was, then he won’t be of much use if he’s already dead,” Brian said.
“Maybe it was,” Mary pondered, “and maybe the dream was a warning and I’m supposed to somehow prevent his death.” Brian sighed again.
* * *
“I was beginning to wonder if you three were going to grace us with your presence today,” Mr Tonkin said as Mary, Brian and Ron entered the classroom and made their way to their seats.
“I’m sorry sir, I overslept,” Mary said.
“Well perhaps you can make amends by answering the first question. We were discussing the history of the imperial palace, and I was about to ask if anyone knew what the building was originally used for.”
“I think it was the old Delphinidae temple,” Mary said.
“You think or you know?”
“Um, I think I know.”
“Very well, yes it was originally built by the Delphinidae in the early days of the settlement on Bluehaven,” Mr Tonkin explained. “Now can anyone tell me where Morgoth’s palace was before he came here?”
“On Meridian, sir,” Brett Farley said as he shot his hand into the air.
“That’s right of course, Brett. So why did he move?”
“Well it was because his son Martyn got kicked out of home and came here where he hitched up with Loria, the daughter of the Delphinidae High Priestess or something, and then when they had a kid Morgoth came and executed them. Then to teach the Delphinidae a lesson he booted them out of their temple and made it his palace.”
“Your father has taught you well, Mr Farley,” the teacher said. “The Delphinidae fled in fear of their lives to the eastern side of the island and hid there in caves for many years. But, rather surprisingly, Morgoth left them alone and turned his attention elsewhere, and eventually they built their heavily-fortified new temple alongside the beach. There they have remained to this day under the leadership of the High Priestess who is a direct descendent, mother to daughter, of Martyn and Loria’s child.”
Ron put up his hand. “Sir, why didn’t Morgoth finish the Delphinidae off when he had the chance?”
“That’s a good question, and no-one’s really sure of the answer, but before he came to power Morgoth was a Delphinidae student and was considered a Dolphin-friend, so perhaps he couldn’t quite bring himself to killing them. Given his nature, though, that seems rather unlikely, and the more plausible explanation is that having his opposition out in the open where he could keep an eye on them was better in the long term than crushing them completely and having underground pockets of resistance grow up all over the place. If that was his reasoning then it has certainly paid off for, since the end of the War of the Barefooters, he has survived unscathed and virtually unchallenged for the last million years. Of course his organisational structure has no doubt played a large role in his ongoing survival.” Mr Tonkin pressed a button on his desk, causing a plan of the palace grounds to be projected onto the screen at the front of the classroom.
“Now the palace building itself is divided into two wings separated by the large open courtyard in the centre of the complex. The western half is his military headquarters and little, if anything, is known of what goes on in there. They say the security systems are so complex and interwoven that only Morgoth himself can pass unhindered through the labyrinth of passageways in his bunker. The western wall of the palace is right on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea, and according to legend it was on the rocks directly below where Martyn and Loria were bound and ultimately drowned by the incoming tide. Outside the northern wall is his infamous execution stadium, and I’m sure Brett will be delighted to give you all the gory details of its machinations outside of class. I’ll just say that I hope none of you ever find yourselves in there.
“Now the eastern half of the palace is the administrative side, and that’s where the Governor of Bluehaven and the Director of Justice have their bureaucracies. In chapter six of your textbooks you’ll find a full description of the structure of these departments. The list of names of the chief bureaucrats is a little out of date, though, so as homework I want you to go to the palace website and find out who all the current office-bearers are.” There was a collective groan from the class.
“Steady down,” he said and the room quietened. “The reason I want you to do this is that you’ll probably be meeting some of these people when we go on a tour of the palace next Monday.”
There was stunned silence for a moment, but then the room began to buzz with excitement.
“We’ll be leaving first thing on Monday morning and it’s quite a long journey, so you might want to bring something to read, as well as some food and drink. The palace staff will be cooking a barbecue dinner for us and we’ll be staying overnight in a nearby hostel. We should be back here about sunset on Tuesday. Now as you know, Morgoth is the last of the race of Barefooters, and it has been a long tradition that as a mark of respect no-one else walks barefoot within the palace grounds. So please bring some shoes with you.” The class groaned again.
“This is the first time our school has been invited to tour the palace, so I want all of you to at least pretend to be civilised. That means no slingshots, Brett. And Mary, try to get here before the bus leaves.”
* * *
The bus climbed slowly into the wooded highlands, having left the last of the valley’s farmland behind. Boredom and hunger were starting to make the passengers restless, but a refreshment stop at the timber town of Highcastle was coming up soon.
Mary had arrived at the school well before sunrise, a full hour earlier than any of her classmates, and she’d sat waiting on the low stone fence, absent-mindedly doodling in the dust with her toes. This was the first time she’d travelled beyond the borders of Bringal Vale and her last two nights had been mostly sleepless with excitement. Her family grew vegetables on their small patch of land, bringing in enough income for them to be able to eat fish most nights, and Mary’s talent with the brush had developed sufficiently for her to have sold several paintings in recent months. But travel further than the range of a bicycle was mostly beyond their means and a trip to the palace was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
She woke suddenly as the bus came to a halt outside a café in the main street of Highcastle, having unexpectedly dozed off soon after they had entered the forest. Still feeling slightly disoriented, she got to her feet and joined Brian and Ron at one of the many tables outside the shop. A waitress appeared out of nowhere and they each ordered coffee and cake.
The sun was shining brightly although the air was a good deal cooler than it had been back at the school. The street was mostly deserted, but occasionally someone would cycle by and take a good long look at the bus and its load of school children.
“How much further do we have to go?” Ron asked.
“It’s a long way yet,” Mary said. “If my memory serves me correctly, Highcastle is only about a third of the way along the northern road, so we’ve probably got another five or six hours of travelling ahead of us.”
“I don’t know if I can stand it.”
“Just go to sleep like Mary did,” Brian said.
Before Ron could think of a suitable retort the waitress reappeared with their coffee and cake, and they ate and sipped in silence.
At the northern edge of town, the road headed steeply uphill. When the bus reached the top, it pulled off to the side and stopped in front of a stone tower some fifty metres in height.
“This is the tower that Highcastle was named after, and is the highest point on Dolphin Island,” Mr Tonkin said. “Any of you who would like to climb it may do so.” Within moments the bus was empty.
The view from the top was like nothing Mary had seen before. Surrounding her in all directions was endless forest, but away in the distance to the west was a bluish haze that she thought must be the sea.
“They say that on a clear day those with good eyesight can see the ocean on the eastern side too,” Brian said.
“You mean over there where that ship is?” Ron asked. Mary looked hard in the direction he was pointing, then realised she’d been had and poked him in the ribs.
She turned her gaze to the north, trying to pick out where the road was and perhaps catch a glimpse of their destination, but beyond a few hundred metres, all she could see was forest.
* * *
Soon after their lunch break at the town of Fornost the forest began to thin and before long, they were travelling along a rocky barren ridgeline. The sea was now clearly visible on both sides, drawing closer the further north they went. They came at last to a spur to the left which the road followed down towards the coast.
It was mid afternoon when they caught their first glimpse of the palace towers. They were now travelling through rich farmland on the coastal flats, and ahead of them and slightly to the left loomed a dark menacing structure that appeared to be incongruously large. The excitement the students had been experiencing up until now gave way to a feeling of apprehension and unease.
The palace guards stepped forward to meet them as they alighted from the bus. Mr Tonkin spoke to one of them for a moment before turning back to the students.
“Okay everyone, time to put those shoes on.”
Mary pulled her backpack off, unzipped it and stared open-mouthed at the empty space inside.
“Sir, excuse me,” she said. “I, um, I seem to have forgotten my shoes.”
“Well, I suppose I should have expected as much from you,” Mr Tonkin said, and then turned back to the other students. “Did anyone bring a spare pair of shoes that Mary can borrow?”
There being no response, he stepped over to the guard and consulted with him.
“It looks like it’s not going to be too much of a problem, Mary,” he said when he returned. “The shoe thing is just a custom, not a law, and provided you don’t draw attention to your bare feet you should be okay.”
The guard waved them through the gate and into a dark stone passageway. Once everyone was inside they halted and the doors closed behind them. The floor was icy cold on Mary’s soles and she shivered a little.
“We’ve been told to wait here,” Mr Tonkin said, “and someone from the Education Directorate will be down to meet us shortly.” A few minutes later a tall balding man in a dark suit came through a side door.
“Welcome, all of you,” he said. “I’m Paul Tenderman, Under-Secretary to the Director of Education. This afternoon I will give you a tour of the administrative side of the palace before handing you over to the Director of Justice who will show you some of the finer points of our legal system. Follow me.”
He led them through a doorway and up a broad spiral staircase, and then when everyone had reached the top, he pulled open a set of doors in front of him. “This is the Administrative Council Chamber, and it’s where the Directors of each department meet to resolve any issues that might arise between them.”
They had entered at the top of the gallery, and on each side were row upon row of leather-upholstered seats. At the bottom of the chamber was a long table with seating on each side, and at the head of the table was an ornate chair, almost a throne.
“Come down to the front,” Mr Tenderman said. Everyone followed him onto the floor of the chamber. “The high seat belongs to the Governor of Bluehaven who is in charge of the entire administrative wing of the palace. On this side sit the Directors of Transport, Agriculture, Communications and Town Planning, while on the other side sit the Directors of Fisheries, Commerce, Delphinidae Relations and of course Education.”
Ron raised his hand. “Do you really have a Director of Delphinidae Relations?”
“Of course. We liaise closely with our friends on the eastern shore, and make sure their needs are well catered for.”
“But I thought the Delphinidae were your enemies?”
“That’s a popular misconception, young man. While it’s true that over the millennia there have been differences of opinion between His Highness and the Delphinidae, the relations now are quite cordial and open.”
“I see, thank you,” Ron said, shaking his head in confusion.
“Politics,” Brian whispered in his ear.
“Are there any other questions?” Mr Tenderman asked. “If not I’ll take you somewhere that I’m sure you’ll find very interesting.”
They entered a darkened room. Along the far wall was a huge electronic display showing in diagrammatic form the star systems of the Empire’s twelve principal worlds. In between were hundreds of coloured dots.
“This screen shows the location of every registered ship in the galaxy,” Mr Tenderman said. “From here we can keep track of all transport movements and make sure that if anything out of the ordinary happens it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.”
He drew a laser pointer from his pocket and flashed it at one of the dots on the screen. A window opened beside it showing the full details of the ship, its cargo, its point of origin and destination.
“There are identical control stations on each of the principal worlds,” he said proudly. “The whole system works to ensure that goods and people are moved about quickly, efficiently and above all safely.”
One of the dots suddenly began flashing and a beeper sounded somewhere in the room. A controller stepped forward and flashed his pointer at the dot, then spoke quickly into his headset. A few moments later, he returned to his desk and picked up a telephone, and then once he’d finished his call he turned to the students.
“You arrived at just the right time. A freighter on its way to Sontar has had a malfunction in its subspace propulsion system and is requesting assistance. I’ve advised Sontar control and they’ll be dispatching a maintenance crew shortly.”
“Well boys and girls, there you have it, real life drama unfolding before your very eyes,” Mr Tenderman said. “I bet you didn’t expect to see anything like this, did you?”
Brian turned to Mary and rolled his eyes. She tried not to giggle.
“Come now,” Mr Tenderman said, “and I’ll show you my own department, the one you are all no doubt most eager to see. I refer of course to the Directorate of Education.” This time Mary did giggle.
They’d reached the end of the corridor when another man came running towards them and spoke briefly to Mr Tenderman.
“There’s been a slight change of plan,” he said. “You’re all to go out into the courtyard now where there’s a special treat awaiting you.”
The courtyard was square and about a hundred metres across, with a stone pathway running down the centre and well-manicured lawns on either side. At the southern end, a huge ornate doorway stood atop a broad flight of steps, and the class gathered at its base.
A single trumpet sounded a fanfare as the doors opened and a man dressed in tight red trousers, a black jacket and a white ruffled shirt stepped forward. Beside him was a shrivelled old man wearing only a pair of billowing white trousers. Mary caught a glimpse of his eyes and her heart froze.
“Who’s the old geezer?” Ron whispered.
“Shut up if you want to live to see another day,” Brian whispered back, the fear in his voice clearly evident.
“Citizens of the Empire, pray be upstanding for His Highness Morgoth the Enlightened, Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” the man in the red trousers cried out.
“Praise the Enlightened One,” the class responded in unison as they’d been indoctrinated to do since birth.
“Thank you, children of Bluehaven, and welcome to my home,” the old man said in a voice that was strong and loud. “I trust you are finding your visit enjoyable and interesting, and if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to ask. If anyone gives you any trouble, just tell them they’ll have me to deal with.”
The students were unsure whether they were supposed to laugh, but a few chuckles escaped.
“Children have always had a special place in my heart, for it is with our children that the future of the Empire lies. I know you have probably heard some very bad things about me, and some of them might even be true, but trust me when I say that I have always had the galaxy’s best interests at heart. The education and well-being of our children is absolutely vital, far more important than the latest star destroyer or planet imploder.” He smiled, implying another jest, and a few more chuckles came forth.
“Seriously, though, I want to implore you all to take full advantage of everything our education system has to offer, so that when you go forth into the wider world as adults you will be able to contribute as much as your skills allow to the enrichment of all our lives. As I have said, our future is in your hands.”
His eyes scanned back and forth across the students as he spoke, until they came to rest upon Mary. His expression darkened.
“Young lady,” he said, “do you mock me with your bare feet?”
“No, I’m so sorry, I forgot to bring my shoes,” she said, bowing her head.
“Come to me,” Morgoth commanded, and she stepped forward and climbed the steps. Her heart was pounding and she was afraid she was going to faint, but she finally reached the top and Morgoth placed his hand on her shoulder. It was frigid.
“You are an elf wench, but an honest one,” he said as he removed his hand. “Tell me, what is your name?”
“Mary, your Highness.”
“Thank you Mary, you may step down.” She bowed and turned, but in dashing back down the steps, she tripped over her own feet and fell. Ron came forward to help her up.
“Very noble indeed, young man,” Morgoth said. “What is your name?”
“Ron, sir, um, your Highness, I’m sorry.”
“That’s perfectly all right, young Ron. Take good care of Mary for me, won’t you?”
“I will sir, your Highness, thank you.”
“Go now,” Morgoth said, “and enjoy the remainder of your visit. I believe refreshments are about to be served at the far end of the courtyard.” With that he turned and walked back through the doors which closed behind him.
“Are you okay?” Brian asked Mary as they made their way down to the trestle tables that had been set up at the far end of the courtyard.
“Yes, just a bit shaken, that’s all.”
“What did he do to you?”
“I think he probed my mind or something. It was creepy.”
“Come on, get this into you,” he said as he handed her a cup of tea. She accepted it, took a few sips and smiled.
* * *
Mary couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned for ages, but every time she closed her eyes, she could see Morgoth’s face looking down on her. Eventually she drifted off, though, finding herself again in the chapel attending her son’s funeral, only this time it was Morgoth instead of the priest standing behind the pulpit. Alongside him stood a dark-haired boy who looked to be about seven years of age.
“Your son is dead, Mary,” Morgoth said as he placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “and now my grandson here is mine!”
Morgoth woke. He was sure he’d heard a woman screaming, or perhaps it was just part of the dream. He’d been dreaming about that girl, the one with the bare feet, but he couldn’t remember now what it had been about, only that it had unsettled him badly. He reached over and pressed a button alongside his bed.
“Farley, there was a girl named Mary who attended the palace today with the group from your son’s school. I want you to find her and bring her back here for interrogation,” he said.
“Your will, my lord,” a sleepy-sounding Hal Farley said in reply.
Morgoth rolled over and returned to sleep, dreaming happily of star destroyers and planet imploders.
Mary woke, the scream choked in her throat. Outside the sky was just beginning to lighten to a pre-dawn grey. She crept out of bed and made her way to the bathroom at the end of the corridor, trying carefully not to wake any of the others.
* * *
It was late afternoon when the bus pulled up outside the school. Mary had dozed fitfully for most of the way back, but now she was wide awake. When she stepped onto the footpath she noticed Hal Farley with two other men standing in front of her, but she assumed he was there to meet Brett and didn’t think any more of it until he spoke to her.
“Mary Anderson, on order from Morgoth the Enlightened, you are under arrest and will be taken to the watch-house where you will be kept overnight and then transported to the Imperial Palace at first light tomorrow. Come with me please.”
The two men moved to each side of her, taking hold of her arms, and then escorted her to a waiting van and loaded her roughly into the back.
Brian and Ron saw what was happening and called out after them, but to no avail.
“Quick, we have to go and tell her parents what’s happened,” Brian said, and they sprinted off down the road.
When they turned the corner into Mary’s street they stopped dead in their tracks, for where her house had been was now just a burnt-out shell.
“Oh no!” cried Ron. “It can’t be, it just can’t be happening.”
“Mr Anderson, Mrs Anderson!” Brian called as they ran down to the remains of the house, but it was futile, the block was deserted. They walked down the back to where the vegetable garden had been, but it had all been dug up and destroyed. It was as if no-one had ever lived there.
In despair they parted and began walking off to their respective homes, but then Brian turned and said, “Come around to my place tonight after dinner.”
Ron looked up at him and smiled grimly.