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Out of the Cauldron, Into the Kettle

In the last episode of Karen Zipslicer’s adventures, Karen witnessed the riot in Farrago Square, and ran away. But where did she go…?

Karen pushed her way out of the square. Not stopping to look back again, she found a side street and headed down it as quickly as she could without running. She limped. Her left ankle was really sore, and she had almost twisted it as she forced her way through. She did not look back. This was a quiet lane, very narrow, high-sided and crooked; she could not see one end from the other. The sound of angry voices echoed down the street, following her from Farrago Square. The street kinked in its middle. Karen did not look over her shoulder, but she sensed many were following her, evacuating the square, fleeing the riot. Karen wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else. She wanted to be home. Her heart skipped. She nearly stumbled over a cobble that stuck out above the others. She turned the kink in the lane.

There was line of policemen and policewomen ahead. They stood at the far end of this lane. Karen stopped, then started walking again. She just wanted to get out. She wanted to get to Winton’s place. Forget about the river. She wanted to be somewhere safe now. She wanted the safest place in the shortest possible time. She could hear people and animals following behind. From the sound of it, they were running, closing in on her. Karen approached the police. They formed a line across the end of the street. They were unmoved. One put a whistle to his lips, and blew it hard whilst raising his other hand, signalling the crowd to stop. The rest of the police had their shields up. There was no gap in their line.

“I just want to get through.”

The police held their line. They did not answer Karen; they gave no indication that they heard her. They just stood there, blankly facing forward, unmoving.

“I want to go home.”

The police held their line. Those escaping the square were bottled up here, desperate to get out, like frogs in a boiling kettle. They bounced off the police shields. The police would not yield. The policeman with the whistle raised it back to his lips.

“Please let me through.”

The policeman blew his whistle again. “Step back,” he shouted at everybody, and at nobody in particular. More police gathered from somewhere, everywhere, deepening their line. Karen was being pushed towards the police by some of the Lunderners behind her. The road behind the police looked perfectly normal, by Lundern’s standards. There was a pub, and a chemist’s shop, and a boy tended a cart from which he sold hot baked potatoes. The police held their line. They would not give way for Karen, or anyone else.
Karen closed her eyes. She just wanted to go home. “Please, I’m hurt and I want to go home,” she said, her eyes still closed. But the policewoman in front of her did not answer. They were about the same height. Karen opened her eyes again. Behind the bars of her facemask, the policewoman’s gaze connected with Karen’s. The policewoman was there to hold the line, to contain anyone leaving Farrago Square. Karen was really stuck now. The street was jammed by those leaving the square, leaving no way back. Karen was at the front; many pressed behind her. There was no way through. The road behind the policewoman looked so peaceful, but the police would not let her pass.

The sun began to set. The golden light shone in the eyes of the police, making them squint, but otherwise they impersonated statues. Karen stood on one foot, taking the weight off her sore ankle. Somebody complained about needing the toilet. The police would not let them pass. Karen put her hand to her brow, then thrust it back into her pocket. Whiteley nipped it, so she pulled it straight out again. Her ankle really hurt. She wished she had changed into her Heelys, but there was no chance to do that now. Whiteley looked out from his pocket. “Stop nipping me Whiteley,” said Karen, sharply. Whiteley looked up. “Sorry,” he said, “habit.” A goat butted Karen’s bum from behind. Off-balance, Karen almost stumbled into the policewoman opposite her. The policewoman raised her truncheon above her head. Karen lifted her arm to protect her face, but the anticipated blow never landed. Whatever violence had occurred in Farrago Square, nobody here wanted to fight. But the police would not let them pass. “What about curfew?” shouted somebody behind Karen. “Yeah, it’s getting late – how am I going to get home in time!” shouted somebody else. There was no attempt to hide the agitation in those voices. “Please, can you tell us when we’ll be let go?” asked Karen, speaking to the policewoman in front of her. Under her helmet and behind her facemask, the policewoman blinked. And then Karen knew. Behind her mask, the policewoman was full of fear. Imagine that. The policewoman was afraid of Karen, and the mob. Karen was also afraid. And many were scared, or tired, or hungry, or they just wanted to be home, safe, warm, indoors. The policeman standing to the policewoman’s side looked first at his colleague, then at Karen. He put his whistle to his mouth again, blew hard, and ordered everyone to “step back!” Some stepped back. Many did not. “Step back,” he repeated. Karen was tired. Somebody leaned against her. She stumbled. The policewoman raised her shield. The policeman pointed his baton at Karen, and pushed her with it, trying to force her back again. He pushed the baton against the outside of Karen’s hip pocket, where Whiteley squealed and leapt right out. Now there was bound to be trouble, thought Karen.

The policeman was startled, and his whistle slipped from his hand. Karen’s mind sped up; as it raced ahead, she perceived the world in slow motion. The whistle fell. Whiteley burst out of her pocket. Karen could see every detail as it happened, perhaps before it happened. With his front paws, Whiteley took hold of one end of the policeman’s baton. The whistle fell. Whiteley shot along the policeman’s baton, running straight at him. The policeman lifted the baton, trying to shake Whiteley off. Whiteley slipped, then leapt onto the policewoman’s shoulder. The whistle fell. The policewoman squealed and tried to brush Whiteley off. The ferret ran down her back and on to the street. “Oi!” shouted the policeman, turning to grab Whiteley, but missing. The whistle fell. Spotting the gap in the police line, somebody stormed straight ahead, pushing Karen and another woman along with him. The whistle hit the ground. The police line was broken. Others burst through, spilling on to the road behind the broken dam, then sprinting away in different directions. The police tried to regroup, to close the breach. But they could not close the line and chase those who had already broken through. Karen was through. Others pushed through. She could run. Whiteley was halfway across the road, looking back for Karen. Two horses pulled an enclosed carriage, trotting down the road towards them. The carriage was ornate, decorated with white roses. It was painted green and gold, but shimmered with many colours. It rolled towards Karen. Seeing the people cascade across the street, the horses pulled up sharply. Whiteley, startled, ran between the horses’ legs. The horses were considerate creatures, mindful, and they stepped smartly around Whiteley, so he was never in any danger. But as they swerved, their carriage swung to the side of the road, where one wheel smacked against the cart of the hot potato seller. And then something happened that Karen could not explain.

A collision between a carriage and a cart will obviously cause some damage. You might expect scratches, a broken cart, or maybe a busted carriage wheel. This was not what happened. With her slow-motion view of the chaos, Karen saw something truly remarkable and unexpected. As the carriage hit the cart, in less time that it takes to blink an eye, there was an intense flash of light and the potato cart exploded. Boom! The cart disintegrated, leaving behind a ball of smoke. The force of the blast threw Karen over. The ground was singed where the cart had stood. Only a tiny fraction of the cart remained, flying outwards as wooden splinters and hunks of spud. Though she had seen it, Karen could not believe it. At first she lay there, propped up on her elbows, watching the scene as if she was dreaming. It was the second time that Karen had been knocked over in one day. She felt the back of her head again. There were the same lumps as before. It seemed so unreal. But the dreaming had to stop. She shook herself, got up again, and ran to see if anyone was hurt. Two men, the driver and his helper, dismounted from the carriage. Neither they, nor the carriage, had been hurt, or even disturbed, at all. Some onlookers had cuts, or splinters in their skin. The stallholder had been thrown backwards. He was a thin lad, shabbily dressed, at the tail of his adolescent years. His face was bruised. Karen went to him. He was dazed but not badly hurt. The carriage driver and his assistant hovered over her. She turned to face them. They wore uniforms of black trousers with forest green tunics, and each had a black box over one eye. A woman’s voice called from inside the carriage, asking if anyone was hurt; Karen’s view of her was obscured. The police line collapsed, and the herd bolted in all directions. Karen scanned for Whiteley. Whilst most police had given up, one put his hand on Karen’s shoulder. It was the policeman who had blown the whistle.
“You’re coming with me,” he said to Karen.
“I’m looking for my friend,” she replied.
“The ferret? Yeah, he should come too. You’re both agitators.”
The carriage drivers walked either side of Karen. They grabbed the lad who tended the potato cart, one per each arm, and hoisted him to his feet. “Is he alright?” asked the woman in the carriage. The lad insisted he was fine, though he was obviously dizzy. He seemed more in awe of the woman and her carriage, than concerned about his well-being, or his lost potato cart. Karen looked around for Whiteley, shouting his name. A crowd gathered, paying no attention to Karen, or to the lad. They were rapt at seeing the carriage, and the woman inside. Karen looked down, around their feet, trying to find Whiteley. She found her search more difficult every second, as more onlookers huddled the scene. They rubbed shoulders and competed with each other to get a good view of the carriage, whilst keeping a respectful distance from it. None of them cared about the lad or his cart.
“Come on agitator. You’d better hurry up and find that ferret,” sneered the policeman.
“I don’t know what an agitator is. Shouldn’t you be asking about this accident?” challenged Karen.
“You see? An agitator is what you are for sure. It’s easy to tell you’re an agitator, because an ordinary girl would have cried and asked for her mummy by now. So no more backchat from you,” said the policeman, pointing at Karen with his baton. Karen hobbled around, her pain getting worse with every step. She bit her top lip. She could not see Whiteley, and the onlookers got in her way. She edged her way towards the front of the carriage.

“Are you looking for the weasel?” said a deep voice, whispering to Karen. Karen did not know who spoke.
“It wasn’t a weasel. It was a ferret,” said a second voice. Then Karen realized the carriage horses, who had carefully avoided Whiteley, were talking to her.
“Ferret, weasel, one or t’other. Either way, don’t draw attention to the blighter now,” said the first horse, speaking to Karen. “I saw where he went, and he’s alright. But you don’t want to find him now, because if you do, he’ll be nabbed by the coppers too.”
“They’ll surely blame this accident on him,” said the second horse.
“Where is he?” whispered Karen, pretending that she was still scanning the ground.
“Crafty beggar climbed up and hid inside the carriage,” said the first horse. “Mistress hasn’t shouted or anything, so she can’t have noticed.”
“We won’t say anything to give him away,” said the second horse.
“But there’s nowt we can do to help you,” said the first horse, to Karen.
The carriage driver and his mate had climbed back into their seats and were about to set off.
“Right, I’m not waiting any longer.” The policeman grabbed Karen’s arm. “Let’s go.”
“Get off me,” said Karen, trying to pull her arm free. The gapers and gogglers, remained oblivious to Karen, still enthralled by the carriage and its celebrity passenger. They waved and cheered as it gently pulled away.
“We’re off now,” said the first horse.
“Good luck,” said the second.
The woman in the carriage waved to the crowd through her rose-lined window. Looking from side-on, Karen could only see her hand, in glove. The glove was green, and satin, stretching from fingers to elbow.
“Ow!” yelled Karen, twisting her injured left foot as the policeman pushed her through the crowd.
“Halt!” cried the woman from the carriage. The onlookers gasped. The carriage had stopped as it passed alongside Karen. “I mean you too,” said the woman in the carriage. She was speaking to the policeman, but he did not realize.
“She’s talkin’ to you, copper,” said an unknown voice.
The policeman looked around, and addressed the woman in the carriage. “Sorry, Your Excellency.”
“That child, is she hurt? She looks injured,” said the woman. Karen turned slowly, and painfully. The policeman hesitated to reply, but the woman did not wait for it. “She obviously needs medical treatment. We’ll take her.” Her voice carried unquestionable authority. “Help her in,” she commanded, as she opened the carriage door. The spectators applauded her generosity. Even the poor potato lad joined in the clapping, not thinking of his own injuries. The policeman was stunned, at first. Then he submitted, manhandling Karen toward the carriage. “Be careful with her!” scolded the woman inside. Seeing her properly for the first time, Karen saw that her outfit was stunning. Her dress was green satin too, edged with gold braid. The gold matched the woman’s hair, whilst the green matched her eyes. Karen’s jaw fell loose. The woman shimmered, just like her carriage. But something else had stopped Karen’s heart. This magnificent lady, dressed so beautifully, so beloved by the crowd and so commanding in her manner, looked familiar to Karen. Karen had seen her face before, in photographs of her mother.

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