Tower of Strength (IP) Part 3 of 4
The Tower of Strength lay shattered on the ground, fragments gleaming dully in the glowering light. In its place was a brilliant column with a multitude of thin, luminescent cilia flaring from it, each ending in a small bud which exuded shorter, thicker, finger like protrusions. The column was far taller and more dazzling than the Tower, as it strove to reach the pillowing bank of cloud.
In front of the column was a figure.
It was about twice the height of a very tall human being, but the brilliance of the column so bewildered the eye, it was hard to make out its structure and form. It did appear to have a head, and the head appeared to have a face, its features wreathed in a light that dropped sparkling teardrops to the ground. The face was framed by filigree strands of radiance that waved and curled as though caught on the gentle current of an invisible sea.
‘Oh my God,’ said Mrs Brenton again.
‘Wha…’ began Councillor Todd. His voice died. He cleared his throat and tried once more. ‘Wha…’
‘Who are you?’ whispered Mrs Brenton.
The answer washed over them like the tide. ‘I am Strength.’
‘Who?’ said Councillor Todd.
‘I am Strength and I have been summoned. Who has summoned me?’
‘Summoned?’ said Councillor Todd. He looked at his sister. ‘Do you think Giselle planned this?’ he murmured, appalled.
Mrs Brenton was still staring at the figure. ‘How…how were you summoned?’
The figure indicated the shattered remnants of the Tower at its feet. ‘I was given a passageway. Water on one side, faith on another, and a gate and keys on the two remaining. Positioned here, at the old place.’
‘The old place?’ Councillor Todd looked perplexed.
The cilia from the column flared outwards, and the glowing strands around the figure’s face flowed to meet them. ‘This has always been an old place. This place was old when your kind first walked. This place was old when the giant beasts were destroyed by fire from the sky. This place was old when all was darkness and the land burned and consumed the void.’
‘Really?’ said Councillor Todd. ‘Here?’ He looked in wonder at the Victorian Gothic turrets of Barclay’s Bank, and the Marks and Spencer clock.
The figure convulsed. The tide that carried its words gathered strength, and Mrs Brenton and Councillor Todd were nearly borne off their feet. ‘I can feel your weakness!’ the figure cried. ‘I can feel the aching and the longing and the bitter rending of your soul!’
‘Mine?’ asked Councillor Todd, defensively.
‘I think it means the collective soul,’ whispered Mrs Brenton.
‘The sadness!’ The figure convulsed again. ‘The terrible sadness!’
In the distance, a voice shouted.
Mrs Brenton looked to her right, in the direction of the voice. Several police officers were advancing, very slowly, up Parliament Street. She looked to her left. Other officers were gingerly picking their way along Davygate. They paused, strung out between Caffe Nero and Accessorize.
‘What do you want us to do?’ Mrs Brenton asked the figure urgently.
The blazing cilia stopped waving. The filigree strands round the figure drooped, and the psychic tide seemed to ebb a little. ‘It is for you tell me what you want. You have summoned me. You built a gateway for Strength.’
‘Not intentionally.’ Councillor Todd looked embarrassed. ‘Well, not on the Committee’s part.’ He peered around, as if Giselle Murray might emerge from a doorway.
The cilia gave an impatient jerk. ‘Strength cannot be denied! You must give me a task!’
‘Oh,’ said Councillor Todd. ‘We could get in touch with the Prime Minister, or the King. Probably better the King, actually. It was all his idea.’
Mrs Brenton looked at the cascades of light glittering in the air and tumbling to the dull asphalt of the street. ‘That noise you made,’ she said to the figure. ‘That sound before. The crying, the longing. Why would Strength be so unhappy?’
The light hung in the air, with a stillness that no breeze or hurricane would break. When the answer came, it lapped over Mrs Brenton and Councillor Todd with the forbearance of infinite experience and deepest patience. ‘Strength is not the same as Power. Strength recognises its limitations, acknowledges its own weaknesses, but Strength achieves, when no-one thinks it is possible. The ancient stones here speak of endurance and aspiration and triumph over despair. The stones of your time – ‘ the radiant strands flickered gently in the direction of WeFixPhones and ExotiqueNailBar, ‘- have a different voice. A voice that bears no resemblance to the voices of old, and that tears at the true heart of Strength.’
Mrs Brenton looked mildly exasperated. ‘They have a different voice because they’re not talking about the Black Death and flogging and women in scolds’ bridles. It wasn’t all cathedrals and Viking necklaces back in the day. And I expect there’s a fair bit of triumph over despair when you do peoples’ nails for a living.’
‘For God’s sake don’t annoy it,’ hissed Councillor Todd.
Mrs Brenton glared at the figure. ‘Honestly. Things were always better way back when, weren’t they? Never as good as when your granny was nowt but a sprout. Makes you wonder why we ever invented the wheel, when everyone was perfectly happy flogging themselves to death carrying everything on their backs.’
Councillor Todd looked nervously at the figure. His sister looked right and left again, watching the police officers coming nearer.
‘Do you really mean it?’ she asked the figure. ‘You want us to give you a task?’
‘You summoned me.’
‘And what happens then?’
‘I am summoned for one task.’
‘And then you go back, to wherever it is, and no-one gets hurt?’
The tide ebbed again, as if it were puzzled by the question. ‘Hurt? I bring no hurt. I am Strength, not Power.’
Mrs Brenton planted her feet squarely on the ground in front of the figure. ‘I have a task for you.’
Councillor Todd looked horrified. ‘Deirdre? You can’t do that! You’ve got no authority to be setting tasks. The Prime Minister…the King…’
‘Are not here, either of them.’
Councillor Todd squared his shoulders again. ‘Well then, as an officer of the Council…’
‘All right, what task are you going to give it?’ Mrs Brenton asked.
‘In a minute,’ said Mrs Brenton, ‘those police officers are going to be here and they’re going to take over, hold it for questioning and probably detain it as an illegal alien. It’ll be a lot bloody easier if we just ask it to do something and it goes away.’
Councillor Todd looked. The police to the right were just coming up on the HSBC bank, while those on Davygate had reached the first door of Brown’s department store.
‘All right,’ he said. ‘But as an officer of the Council…’
‘As an officer of the bloody Council,’ said his sister, ‘ask it for the strength to look forward. Ask it to give the whole world the strength to look forward rather than back.’
‘Forget our history?’ said Councillor Todd. ‘Here? In York?’
‘Not forget it, move on from it. Learn from it. History as a means to an end, not an end in itself. No more damn Britannia rules the waves and where did I put that Empire. And whatever the equivalent is everywhere else.’
Councillor Todd looked doubtful. ‘I don’t know if that’s what the King would want.’
‘The King’s got children, and grandchildren. He’s a bloody idiot if that’s not what he wants.’
Councillor Todd sighed. He looked from his sister to the figure and back again, as if uncertain which frightened him most.
‘Can you do that?’ he asked the figure.
The cilia flared, and the radiant strands resumed their flowing dance. ‘If that is the task you set me, that is what shall be done.’
‘Then…that,’ said Councillor Todd.
For a moment the world froze. Then the air itself shuddered, and Councillor Todd and Mrs Brenton rocked on their feet, before a rushing effervescence surged through them as though, Councillor Todd said later, both ears and brain had been simultaneously and vigorously syringed. Above them the goose-down sky churned, the arcing lights grew brighter, and a sound of metal grinding on metal clawed at their bodies. The blazing figure in front of them grew in height until it seemed to reach the sky itself and dimly, in the distance, they heard the cries of the police officers at either end of the street.
‘Oh no,’ moaned Councillor Todd, holding his hands on either side of his head, as though to stop it bursting apart. ‘Oh no…’