Catheline’s mother and Mr Rathbone continued to skirmish over the ham and turkey, all-out war only being avoided because he refused to be drawn into an attack for which he could be found to be at fault. His opponent tried to rile him by disputing his sources but Mr Rathbone merely smiled and asked her to pass the cranberry jelly. Over dessert she took a different tack and asked Catheline to bring out an album of copied old photographs she’d given her.
“There are pictures of my father and grandfather in here together with their friends from the Sons of Earth,” the older woman told Mr Rathbone as she opened the book to a double page of black and white photographs. “See, not a robe in sight!”
“Magic wielders aren’t bound to wear robes,” commented Mr Rathbone, although he was wearing a dark green robe himself. “I recognise some of these faces: Angelus Farmer; Sebastian Dorrigo; Montgomery Seldon; and Erasmus Phelan. Your father and grandfather moved in powerful circles. Which ones are they?”
“Here’s my grandfather,” she pointed at a man in a solid-coloured vest with a large, black dog sitting beside him. “He always had a dog like that. I have no idea what breed it is or where he got them from.”
“I believe it’s the same dog,” remarked Mr Rathbone calmly, “a cù dubh of some sort. That would definitely make your grandfather some stamp of mage. Why do you believe it was a series of dogs?”
“Because no dog could live that long,” was the sharp retort.
“No normal dog,” came the quiet correction. Then, “Who told you it was different dogs?”
“What did he tell you about the Sons of Earth?”
“They’re just a human loyalty club he, Grandad and their drinking buddies joined during the weirdness before I was born.” She looked at him, “Why do you ask?”
“Weirdness? What do you know about the Shadow War?” Mr Rathbone was leaning forward in his seat now. “I’m thinking that it hadn’t been added to the history curriculum when you were in school?”
“Young man, when I was in school, History ended at the beginning of that century.” She sighed. “I read the daily newspapers through events that Cybil’s done exams on. The Shadow War was when the things that go bump in the night tried to take over the human world. It was weird.”
“So, who told you that?”
“Daddy.” She was staring straight ahead, her expression blank and her voice that of a child.
“And you believe him?
“Always. Uncle Gussie said I should always believe Daddy. Everyone would be safe if I believed Daddy.”
“Why would that be-“. Mr Rathbone fumbled for her given name.
“Millie,” hissed Catheline’s eldest daughter, Cybil.
“Millie?” The Designated Tutor smoothly finished his question without breaking the trance the older woman seemed to have stepped into.
“Because then the men in the long black coats won’t be able to find us again.”
“Millie, you have a book of pictures open in front of you. Show me pictures of your Daddy and Uncle Gussie.”
The blank-faced, no, child-faced woman turned the page and said in her child’s voice, “Here they are!” She pointed to two young men, dressed in clothes that dated their photograph to the cusp of the 1930s and 40s. “That’s Daddy.” She laid her finger on the figure on the left and then moved it to the right hand one, saying, “And that’s Uncle Gussie.”
“Thank you, Millie. I’m sorry if my questions were difficult.” Mr Rathbone touched her hand. “It’s time to come back to now.”
The older woman’s expression returned to normal. She blinked and looked confused. “How did we get to this page? Though this is a good picture of my father and my mother’s brother, Uncle Gussie, together. It was taken just after my parents’ engagement party.”
“Augustus Brown was your maternal uncle.” Mr Rathbone was looking at her with great sympathy. “My condolences, dear lady, but I think you need to talk to someone far more skilled than me. On a professional basis.”