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Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you for the enlivening comments all the way through. I do hope you really enjoyed this small drabble....

Slowly the darkness lifted. Sunlight laid its soft hand on Hilda and Nell like a blessing. They stared at each other. Hilda was still lying propped up on the couch. Nell was still sitting on the floor beside her.

Nothing had changed. So why the rushing wind? The darkness? Hilda peered more closely at Nell.

Everything had changed!

“Your face!” she whispered. “The bruising and swelling…. They’ve gone…..”

Nell felt the side of her face, then looked down at herself. The next moment she was smiling from ear to ear, her face as radiant as the sunlight peering in.

“We’re home!” she whispered.

Hilda frowned, her brain unable to take in what the words meant. She looked to the other end of the couch. There was no Fidelma seated there! She looked down at herself and saw she was wearing her black dress with the white collar and cuffs. Where was the long red gown? The soft boots? She stared round the room…. No! The library!

“We’re home!” She echoed Nell’s words with a soft sigh, absorbing the familiar and well-loved sights and sounds. “Do you suppose Fidelma is also home?”

“We’ll never know, will we? But we’re home, so she must be.”

“Hopefully with her books.”

For long moments, they stared at each again, as though each was trying to find answers to impenetrable questions in the other’s face. Hilda tapped Nell lightly on the nose and looked slowly round the library again, delighting in the way the sunbeams burnished the faded carpet and dark furniture and highlighted the gold titles on the spines of some of her books.

“Did it really happen?”

Nell’s grey eyes were puzzled. “Or did we fall asleep here and dream the same dream?”

“Is that possible? And if is, then was Fidelma also a figment of our imaginations?”

Nell was staring across the room. “ I don’t think so – unless you gave those Latin books to someone else. Look!”

Hilda looked. It was true! She could see the gaps. Fidelma had stood in this room with them. She searched for her clock. It wasn’t in its usual place on the mantelpiece. Instead, she could see it on the desk, where she remembered leaving it. She scrutinised the fire surround and saw where Nell’s bullets had chipped the wood.

“It happened! Somehow! And we survived.” Why did she feel the need to go on whispering, as though in a church? She turned her eyes back to Nell, who was examining her closely.

“The wound on your neck has disappeared, just like my bruising. What about your head and back?”

She lay there for several long moments, surveying the clear-cut face of her Senior Mistress. Nell was pragmatic and in no way fey, yet she believed without question that they had been taken back many centuries and had fought giants. What made her so certain?

Giving it up, she held out a hand to Nell, who understood and rose to her feet. She took hold of the hand and pulled Hilda into a sitting position with great care, worried that she might still hurt. Hilda touched the side of her head tentatively.

“The lump seems to have gone, my head’s stopped aching, thank goodness…. and my back is fine.”

Nell sank down beside Hilda, not appearing to notice her friend’s hesitation. “I wonder why we’re back to normal, no scratches, no bumps and bruises.”

“More of Merlin’s magic? If you believe in such a thing….”

Nell frowned. “There was certainly magic in that song of his.”

Hilda gazed into the crackling flames and gnawed her lip. “Was it my imagination…. or were they all bowing to us as we left?” She sounded bewildered, even to herself.

“Not your imagination! It was rather sweet of them. I suppose we did save their bacon….”

“I don’t recall any pork being offered - but wasn’t Fidelma marvellous with that sword?”

“Mmm, but I’d rather learn how to throw folk over my hip the way she did. That was something else.”

“Maybe not a good habit for a Senior Mistress to cultivate, though,” Hilda replied, laughter lurking in her eyes. She laid a hand on Nell’s arm. “How was it really, mending Werbit?”

Hell shuddered. “Horrible! How anyone could do that for a living…”

Hilda drew her close. “But you cajole all your better Science students into studying medicine….”

“Medicine and surgery are two very things, my girl. Feeling around under the skin was…. ugh!” Nell took a deep breath. “Anyway, they do it all with instruments now. Easy-peasy!”

Hilda snorted and put a finger under Nell’s chin so the grey eyes met her own. “Thank you for being you, Nell, dear, and for finding a way to do such a thing in those primitive conditions. You were very brave and I’m proud of you.”

Tears welled in Nell’s eyes at the accolade. “What about your taming of Cerdic and prising his awful tale out of him? I was in awe, like the rest of them.”

She saw Hilda’s eyes grow sad and knew she would be haunted by that poor man for a long while. Trying to change the mood, Nell sprang to her feet and marched to the desk. She picked up the little clock.

“It has to be done. Agreed?” Hilda nodded. “Right! I’ll take it to the lab. I’ve got some hammers there that should do the trick. Won’t be long! Order some tea while I’m gone.” Nell unlocked the door and disappeared.

“A little early for tea, Nell,” Hilda murmured, looking over at the grandfather clock. Not one minute had gone by since they had left with the three men. It was still ten to two in the afternoon, and yet they had spent nearly a whole day in Arthur’s court.

She shrugged. It was beyond her. She decided to get on with some work, but wondered whether her aching back would even allow her to leave the couch. She pushed herself slowly to her feet, only to gasp out loud as sharp pain sliced once more down her spine. So much for Merlin’s ministrations! Why had everything else been cured, but not this? She wondered how to keep it from Nell, who would want to rush her to Gwynneth, who would want her to have it checked out. But how would she explain? “Oh, I was hurled from a great height by a Saxon warrior!” Hardly! No, she’d wait awhile and see how it went.

She limped over to the desk, and saw her bag lying there! Her Mary Poppins bag! But looking considerably thinner than when she had taken it to Arthur’s court. Feeling a great reluctance even to touch it, she reached out a hand, opened it and peered inside. Not much left, really: torches, batteries, lighters, one box of matches, the box of bullets, sellotape…. and the paperweight. She took them all out and held up the paperweight, staring at it with something approaching repugnance. It was very pretty, a gift from Madge many years before, but there was no way she could go on displaying it as an ornament, after what she had done with it. She walked over and placed it on the smaller desk. Nell could smash that to smithereens, as well.

She returned to the bag. It must be empty now, since they had put most of the objects to good use back in Camelot, although she did wonder about her needlework kit. Nell had borrowed it to operate on Werbit. Had it been left behind? She picked up the bag to re-fill it with its usual contents and realised it felt heavier than it should. She tipped it up. A heavy black object clattered onto the desk.

Hilda gulped. Would Nell be upset to see it again? Should she hide it? No, they might hide the gun but they couldn’t hide the memories. Hilda recalled her words to Nell about the shooting of the Saxon and hoped they had eased her guilt.

She left it where it was and set about replacing torches, lighters, bullets, and so on back where they belonged. Funny how innocuous things like a bottle of ink and some sparklers could have disturbed the Saxons so! She smiled at the thought of Merlin employing the handcuffs and hoped he would get some fun out of them. As to the penknives, Arthur was welcome to them. She looked again at the spaces on her bookshelves.

Be safe, Fidelma! Be happy, now you’re back home with Eadulf and your little son. Enjoy the books and think of us now and then, as we will think of you. I won’t say I want to see you again, but I will miss you. Bless you for your bravery, your strong nerve, your ingenuity.

Nell bustled back into the room. “All done, dear girl! I’ll buy you another one to replace it some day.”

“That’s not necessary, Nell – though I would like to know what happened to my sewing kit.”

Nell gurgled. “Guinevere was so taken by its contents, the safety pins, the spools of cotton and so on, how could I not leave it with her? Was that alright?”

“Of course! She’s welcome to it, but, er, maybe you should close the door.”

Nell frowned, then she saw what Hilda was looking at. She turned immediately and not only closed the door but locked it, as well. She gazed down at her gun, misery written all over her face.

“It really did happen, didn’t it? I killed someone…”

“I’m afraid so, dear, but try to remember what I said to you in Guinevere’s room.”

Nell’s hand moved to pick up the gun, but hesitated. Hilda saw her swallow. Quickly, she scooped it up in her own hand and guided Nell over to the couch, where they sat close together. Hilda turned the gun in her hands, her eyes locked on to it.

“Hilda, what are you thinking?”

Balancing the gun on one hand, Hilda took Nell’s hand in the other. “You left the penknives behind, which is just as well….” Her voice tightened. “So I know a little of how you feel about this pistol. Why didn’t you leave it behind, along with the sewing kit?”

Nell’s grey eyes were dark as they fastened on Hilda. “It wouldn’t have been much use to them, would it?”

“Do you want to take a hammer to it, as well as to my paperweight?”

“No, in your infinite wisdom back there, you made me see it could still have a use here, with the war on.”

“But if it hurts you so much, then I was wrong, Nell.”

Nell’s eyes clung to Hilda’s, saw the tenderness there. With a sob, she grasped the gun, rose to her feet and hurried over to her little desk, where she threw it in the bottom drawer and turned the key. She stood there for several moment breathing heavily, head down, then with a shrug sat down again close to Hilda, as though for protection.

“Nell?” Hilda cupped Nell’s cheek with a tender hand. “You killed that man to save my life. There’s no doubt that I would be dead if you hadn’t acted. Everyone was agreed on that.”

Nell closed her eyes. “I still took a life. It might be fine with the law of the Britons, or with our own laws, that I did it to save a life – but what about God’s law?”

“Nell, look at me.” Nell’s eyes opened again. “How can it be a sin if you only did it to save a life? You didn’t shoot the man for evil purposes or with malice aforethought. It was simple and instinctive and I would have done exactly the same. God would never convict you.”

“How can you be so sure?” There was a catch in Nell’s voice.

“What does Psalm 103 tell us? ‘As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.’”

The haunted eyes searched Hilda’s face. “So even if I shouldn’t have done it, God has already removed the sin from me.”

“Even then, because you’re sorry, and have asked forgiveness.” Hilda’s eyes were calm and steady on her friend. Nell sighed and laid her head on Hilda’s shoulder. “Nell, I don’t negate your pain at killing someone, but I have to tell you I’m very glad to be alive and sitting here beside you. I owe you my life, and I can never repay you for that, or make up for what it has done to you. Try not to despair….. unless you really do want to get rid of me, after all.”

Nell’s head shot up, but she relaxed when she saw Hilda’s teasing smile. “Oh, you…. but you’re right, as usual. I’ll work on coming to terms with it, if you’ll help me.”

“You need to ask, dear?” Hilda whispered, and stroked the white hair.

She saw the relief in Nell’s eyes, and with great gladness drew her into her arms. They leaned back and made themselves comfortable. As they did so, Hilda became aware that the sharp pain in her back was easing very, very gradually, and going the way of all their other aches and pains.

Thank you, Merlin. Now just heal Nell’s spirit for me…

In silence, they stared into the flames, absorbing with relish the feeling of being safe and at home. It could all have been so very different.

“I can’t believe we did what we did!” Nell remarked with awe in her voice. “You and your pebbles! How on earth did I allow you to sweet-talk me into it, knowing the dangers? I must have been out of my tiny mind! As for you….”

“Look back and smile at perils past, (Walter Scott)” Hilda advised her.

“Always some wise words, but I certainly wasn’t laughing while it was happening!” Nell replied softly. “I’m glad it was you beside me - for all sorts of reasons.”

“Likewise, dear. I could never have done it without you, although we do owe a great debt to Fidelma.” Hilda looked across at the paperweight, thought of the face of her little clock. “A very great debt, actually. She was the one who found the portal, after all. You’ve now smashed it, but I will never look at round objects in the same way ever again.”

A guffaw startled her. Nell was grinning, her eyes shining like silver stars. Hilda smiled back, and they found themselves holding each other tight, caught between laughter and tears.

“Where’s that tea I ordered?”

The End

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