'In the high country the rivers whisper to the mountains.'
'And what they say makes sense.'
There is a pause and then the sounds of locks being turned and bolts being drawn. The door, which from the outside looks normal, opens to reveal a depth of several inches and a composition of core metal laminated with ornamental wood. Peg was in.
The man who had let Peg in turned his back and simply ushered Peg through and along a dark corridor. The air was dank and Peg felt the corridor slope down beneath his feet as he made his way further into the secret complex.
A bright light was escaping round the corners of a partially open door at the end of the corridor and Peg felt his legs slow in nervous anticipation. Getting in, finding out the password responses, that had been the easy part. Now things could get tough.
He took a deep breath then pushed open the door, blinking in the sudden brightness of the room, then blinking even more with the surprise of what he found.
Instead of the concrete bunker he had expected Peg had emerged into the bright light of a sunlit garden. Green shrubs laden with tiny rainbows of colourful flowers lined the red brick walls and bark lined paths threaded their way through fountains and well tended beds of exotic vegetation. It all seemed verdant, redolent of growth and affection.
‘Not what you expected?’ A deep voice surprised him and he looked round clumsily for its source. There appeared to be no-one there.
‘We know why you are here. And, who you are.’
Peg swallowed. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ He felt a cold sensation flooding his spine and paralysis affecting his legs but couldn’t decide whether he was experiencing fear or whether he was being scanned somehow. Neither was palatable.
The voice laughed, a brief staccato noise with humour but no warmth. The echoes of the laugh faded into silence, a silence broken only by the buzzing of insects and the soft breeze ruffling leaves.
‘Where are you?’ Peg asked, without much hope of a response. He felt discovered, as if his clothes had peeled off and left him naked and exposed.
‘We are everywhere and we are nowhere.’
‘That means nothing.’
‘And yet everything.’
‘Just riddles.’ Peg’s fear was morphing into contempt, an attempt to regain some dignity in the face of what he expected to be his death.
‘Do you deserve anything more?’ The voice asked, a hard, somehow personal edge to its tone.
An old man stepped out from amongst some of the foliage that completely covered part of the furthest wall. He was smiling the fixed smile of the often defeated who has suddenly found himself in the position of the upper hand.
Peg felt his jaw drop in amazement. ‘Uncle?’
The old man smiled with one side of his mouth and nodded slowly, as if his head would hurt too much if he were fervent in his acknowledgement.
‘I…we thought… everyone said you were dead.’
‘Much of what I was has been taken from me’ he frowned, ‘but I still breathe and I still live.’
Peg felt blood flow back in to his aching legs and he stepped over, his arms open, to greet his long lost, long mourned, relative. But the old man raised one hand to stop him from continuing forward. ‘I still live because I am cautious and,’ he motioned around him vaguely, ‘because I am well protected. We do not yet know the extent of your treachery.’
Movement in the periphery of his vision alerted Peg to the presence of many others and he stood rigid with fear, not knowing what to do next. His training had been thorough but this change in circumstance was outside the flexibility of his ability to improvise. ‘My treachery?’ he repeated helplessly, his stomach turning to jelly.
‘You can’t expect us not to suspect you. Not given your current mission.’
‘Suspect me of what?’
The old man squinted slightly, tilting his head to one side. ‘Someone betrayed me. We do not yet know who it was. But we will find out.’
Peg gasped. ‘But I was only a child when that happened. You can’t suspect me surely?’
‘We suspect everyone that we cannot trust.’
Peg’s mind raced and his mind flashed back to that time, it felt like an eternity away, when the militia had descended on their family home. His aunt and uncle had been hauled away, bags over their heads, arms chained in front of them...