Chapter Twenty-Five: Sorrento

The plane touched down two hours after leaving Gatwick Airport. It was something of an ordeal getting through customs with false passports and several weapons, but after Miguel caused a distraction, Miranda and Rosemary managed to slip through inspection with a minimum of fuss, most of the security staff seemed rather tired and unobservant. The rest of them were preoccupied with chasing Miguel through the corridors. He gave them the slip shortly afterwards, and joined his friends for a coffee, before they picked up an arranged rental car and headed for the coast.
‘You seem to be thoroughly enjoying yourself.’ Rosemary remarked to her husband as they sped along the coastal road.
‘Of course I am. It’s great fun being me.’

The group soon arrived in the city of Sorrento, which was bathed in golden sunlight. The taxi stopped outside a large villa on the outskirts of town.
‘Why have stopped here Miguel?
‘We’re here to visit an old friend of mine, who may be able to help us. One who always has his ear to the street.’
‘You mean a…’
Miguel winked.
‘I try not to get on his bad side.’

They left the car and knocked three times on the villa door. A small Italian woman opened the door with a frown, before spotting Rosemary and beaming enormously.
‘Hey, bella, where have you been? We haven’t seen you for three years.’ She embraced her before turning on Miguel and berating him in Italian. Miranda stifled a giggle.
‘And who is this?’ the woman asked in heavily accented English.
‘This is Miranda; she’s a very good friend of ours.’ The woman smiled warmly and kissed Miranda on both cheeks. As she lead the guests through the house towards the back garden, Miguel whispered something to her in Italian.
‘Miranda èla moglie de Fortuno.’
The woman looked at the haggard guest and crossed herself.
‘Madonn’, il bambino compassionevole.’
On the patio, a man in a blue shirt and Panama hat was sitting on his deck chair, playing with two small children. There was a record player next to him, playing Antonio Prieto’s ‘La Novia’.
‘Hey Mario, Rosemary e il pagliaccio sono qui!’
The man turned in his chair. He was in his early sixties, but had a youthful exuberance and welcoming smile that helped shed several decades.
‘Well, this is a coincidence. Only the other day that ruffian son of yours decided to pay us a visit.’
‘Luke? You didn’t give him money did you?’
‘No, but Simona did have to save him from some very angry German tourists. Some little misunderstanding with their daughter.’
‘Like father like son.’ said Rosemary, and everyone laughed.
‘And how are your other children? The little ones giving you any trouble?’
‘It’s not them, we’re worried about, it’s Mia. Who ever invented the term ‘sweet sixteen’ has a very dark sense of humour.’
Cecchini laughed again and rose from his seat before gently shooing the children away.
‘Forgive me. My son Guido’s children.’ He kissed Miguel on both cheeks. ‘Miguel my friend, it’s been too long. Three years at least.’
‘Three years exactly.’ Miguel smiled. ‘I only hope you will accept…my apologies.’ He drew two bottles of dark red wine from his coat before placing them on the table beside the patio.
‘Bordeaux. ’47. Very good year. Thank you my friend. I shall save these for a special occasion.’
He turned to Rosemary, pinching her cheek and whispering something in her ear that made her giggle with delight.
‘And who is this beauty?’
He took Miranda’s hand and kissed it with perfect courtesy.
‘Mario Cecchini, this is Miranda Warwick.’
‘This is…’ Cecchini gesticulated to Miguel and said something hushed under his breath. Miguel nodded, before turning to the two women.
‘Now, ladies, Mr. Cecchini and I need to talk a little business, so why don’t you stay out here, make yourselves comfortable?’
Miranda and Rosemary happily agreed, and Mr. Cecchini fetched a second chair.
‘If you want anything, just call my wife.’

Cecchini and Miguel disappeared indoors into a lavish study on the upper floor of the villa, sitting down on two leather chairs placed either side of an oak desk. There was a set of glass doors on one side of the room that led to a balcony, looking out onto the tree tops below. Behind Cecchini’s head was a detailed portrait of a bearded sailor dressed in red, a gold handled cutlass in a scabbard at his side.
‘A new painting?’
‘We found it on our travels to Corsica last year. My great-great grandfather, apparently something of a pirate, provided supplies for Garibaldi during the wars. You wouldn’t suspect that pirate blood ran in these veins would you Miguel?’
‘I might have suspected.’ Miguel remarked wryly, casting another glance at the almost perfect likeness of Captain Sherman Fraser that hung on the wall. His host took a bottle of Grappa out from a small cabinet beneath the painting, and poured it out into two glasses.
‘Now… my intuition tells me you’ve not just come here for the weather and the wine. What can I help you with Miguel?’
‘What, a man can’t simply come to visit an old friend every once in a while?’
Cecchini smiled.
‘Seriously though.’
‘Mario… you’re a well-connected man.’ Miguel said, looking into his friend’s eyes and giving a wicked grin. Cecchini acknowledged the compliment by raising his glass. ‘I have reason to believe that there is a facility nearby… off the radar as it were… where several people are being held against their will. Maybe a school or academy of some sort?’
‘Hmm… there is only one facility I know of that fits your description, about five miles away… my cousin Giacomo makes deliveries there occasionally…but it is a private school, a respectable institution.’
‘Have you ever been inside?’
‘No. But I have met the owner; his name is Dr. Orphal. An Englishman, very genial, if a little withdrawn, he seems to be trustworthy.’
Miguel did not respond for a moment, choosing his words carefully.
‘I know you are an excellent judge of character… but I would still very much like to find out for myself.’
Cecchini frowned and poured another glass before offering it to Miguel. The sorcerer held up a hand politely.
‘Abbastanza, grazie.’
‘Well, it would be difficult. Their regulations are very tight… the children of the very rich and powerful apparently go there… but I suppose that would not stop a man like you?’
‘You know me far too well Mario.’
He rose to go.
‘Are you sure you won’t stay, help me finish off the bottle? I was planning on sitting down with a glass on the porch; watching “Ricomincio da Tre”… Simona has just made some of her delightful ciabatta…’
Miguel gave a smile of regret and downed the rest of his glass.
‘Another time, my friend.’

Miguel found Rosemary playing with Cecchini’s grandchildren on the terrace, whilst Miranda was trying to hold a conversation with Mrs. Cecchini in somewhat broken Italian.
‘Are we leaving already?’ asked Rosemary, prompting complaints from the infants.
‘I’m afraid so.’
After saying their goodbyes, they returned to the car, which Miguel started before the two young women had time to get comfortable in their seats.
‘Er… Miguel?’
‘Yes Miranda?’
‘You couldn’t possibly go a little slower could you?’


Chapter Twenty-Four: Angel of Death

The Arbiter flashed an identity card at the reception and briskly made his way through the corridors to a lift. The three were silent as the lift ascended to the fifth floor. Eventually, they reached a door which, unlike the others, had no viewing window. The Arbiter thumbed in a code and opened the door carefully.

The trio entered the room cautiously, with The Arbiter leading the way. It was dimly lit and sparsely furnished, with only a bed, a small bed-side table and two small plastic chairs to the right of the bed. In it, sitting bolt upright against the bed head was a woman who Rosemary only just recognised as her old friend. She did not look up; the former servant was virtually catatonic.
‘Miranda… Miranda, it’s me, Rosie.’
She went over to her friend and gently touched her cheek, but Miranda did not respond.
‘We found her abandoned in the middle of nowhere in Italy. She was crying uncontrollably… didn’t seem to comprehend we were there. Ever since then she’s just been…’ The Arbiter shrugged. ‘Completely unresponsive.’ He sighed. ‘I had been on my way to tell them that their exile was over.’
Rosemary sat down slowly on the bed, facing Miranda.
‘Miranda… if you can hear me… we found him… your son. We found Jason.’
There was still no response. Miguel laid his hand on Rosemary’s shoulder and gave a long, heavy sigh.
‘I’m sorry Rosemary. I don’t think we can help her.’
Rosemary nodded slowly. The Arbiter, tactfully realising they needed to be left alone, soundlessly moved out of the room, while Miguel moved over to the door.
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you Miranda. You were always there for me when I needed you; stopping me getting out of hand, defending me… you were like family to me. Please… wake up…’
‘Rosie… come on.’
Rosemary choked back a sob, squeezed Miranda’s hand, and went to follow her husband.

She did not expect to feel her hand squeezed back.

The sorcerer turned back into the room and almost yelped with surprise. Miranda was had her hands pressed onto the bed, as if to support her. She looked uncertainly at Rosemary, then, as if a veil had been drawn away from her face, her eyes brightened as she recognised her old friend.
‘Rosie?’ she asked; her voice hoarse, filled with the fearful curiosity of a child.
‘Yes Miranda it’s me.’ Rosemary shed tear after joyful tear as she embraced the woman who had been like a sister to her. When they finally parted, Miranda embraced Miguel in turn, before turning to the Arbiter and intoning dryly:
‘I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I don’t hug you.’
‘I’m used to it.’
The Arbiter reached inside his jacket and handed a rapier, the blade divided from the hilt, to Miguel. Upon touching the former sorcerer’s hand, the metal seemed to strain and twist until it was whole again. It was the sorcerer’s ancient weapon, and also the conduit for his powers.
‘It’s not often that they grant second chances. I shall be ever-present to ensure you don’t abuse this privilege.’
‘You’re coming too?’
‘Of course. As soon as you have determined the boy’s location, I shall be around to assist you.’
Miguel gave a pained look over his shoulder to Rosemary, but whether the Arbiter noticed or not, he was unsure.
‘Miranda, Jason is somewhere in the south of Italy and we’re on our way to find him. As soon as you feel up to it…’
‘I’m ready now.’ Miranda slowly moved the bed covers aside and slid her legs over the edge of the bed. She was only wearing a plain white hospital gown that came up to her knees, which were quite visibly trembling.
‘Mrs. Fortuno, you’ve been in a coma for nearly twenty years…’
Miranda held up her hand, and the Arbiter was silenced.
‘I’m ready now.’ she repeated, rising unsteadily to her feet.
‘Well, perhaps we should find you an outfit that might be a bit more practical… and that comes with some underwear.’ Rosemary smiled, but got a minimal response from Miranda.
‘As soon as you can.’

Rosemary and Miguel sat in silence outside the room as Miranda changed. Miguel held his head in his hands, lost in thought. Rosemary caressed her husband’s cheek and he smiled. He knew exactly what she was thinking of. When he learnt of Alexander’s death, Miguel became a changed man, he was distant from Rosemary, and was sharp with their children. They had endured it for several years in silence, before Rosemary had decided to speak with her husband. He wouldn’t want you to live like this. She had told him. Do you remember the way we used to be, so carefree and reckless? The world was our oyster. He had replied coldly. That was then. This had been too much for Rosemary, and she had given him an almighty slap across the face and called him and very crude name in Spanish, shocking him out of his stupor. I had almost forgotten how passionate you could be. Miguel laughed, rubbing his cheek. That day had been a step out of the darkness, although the shadows still lingered.

Simon Liberthine cleared his throat, nervously interrupting the moment of remembrance between the couple.
‘Mr. Carrera, whilst we are waiting for Miss Warwick to prepare, I was wondering if you might want to find another old friend of yours?’
‘Of course. Rosemary do you…?’
‘I’m fine. I’ll stay with Miranda.’
Miguel walked over to the Arbiter, who had taken his umbrella out.
‘Can I not teleport myself?’
The Arbiter gave him a withering look.
‘The Conclave did not allow the return of your powers merely so that you could break the rules Mr. Carrera. Now hold on.’

Though this journey took slightly longer than the last, it was still not long before Miguel Carrera and Simon Liberthine arrived in Geneva.
‘Beautiful city don’t you think Mr. Liberthine?’
‘I have no strong opinion.’ came the bland reply.
They arrived at a small unassuming building in the city, and the Arbiter knocked politely on the door, where he was let in by a vulture-like man in a dark suit.
‘Hello Sam.’
The man nodded in greeting, and stepped out of the way as a younger man arrived, with the appearance of one who had dressed in haste, the upper buttons of his shirt undone and only one shoe on his feet. He was handsome in a messy sort of way, and youthful, but his eyes belied many years of experience.
‘Ah Simon, one of my favourite people. Official business is it?’ It was then that he noticed Miguel for the first time. ‘Well well, Miguel Carrera. I never expected to see you again!’
They shook hands warmly. Matthew Dent was a sorcerer, though he had not been attached to the practical side for many years. An orphan, he had been the apprentice to Jeffrey Holmes, an Irish sorcerer who trained many during the war, but who had accepted Matthew largely out of sympathy. A kindly soul, he had taken a job caring for familiars in place of their owners when they had been left in cases of exile, or worse.
‘I’ll just take you to him shall I?’
They passed down a corridor and up a set of stairs, as Dent attempted adjust his clothes.
‘Doorman of yours is a bit quiet isn’t he?’ The Arbiter commented, swinging his umbrella in time with his strides.
‘Yes. Not quite right in the head, I’m told. Took him in as a favour to my friend Gabriel. He does what I tell him and doesn’t need much.’
Miguel leant in and whispered mischievously:
‘Matthew, I can’t help but notice your current state of undress…’
‘Ah yes. Well until your arrival, I was enjoying a rather delightful young lady’s company.’
‘I hope for your sake that Brittany doesn’t find out.’
‘I’d be very surprised if she didn’t. It was her company I was referring to. Not everyone has your overactive libido Miguel.’
The Arbiter smirked, but disguised it with a cough as the three reached their destination.
‘Hello Eduardo.’
‘Miguel?’ The cub looked up at his master and his eyes widened. He spoke coolly, trying to swallow a spontaneous purr of delight that he felt in seeing his old friend again. ‘About time you visited.’
‘This isn’t a visit Eduardo. I’ve come to take you with me.’
For once, the familiar was at a loss for words.

Miranda Fortuno looked at herself for the first time in many years in the full length mirror. She had slowly replaced her simple hospital gown for a black tunic, knee-length coat, gloves and trousers. At her waist she wore a belt with two long daggers sheathed at each hip, generously donated by Miguel. Her body felt heavy, she was still drowsy after recovering from her near-comatose state, but her mind was sharp, and directed at a single objective; no matter what, she would find her son.