‘They were wishes,’ said a tiny woman with long feathers in her hair. She’d had far too much wine and had meant to manage the word ‘witches’ but it seemed so great an effort under the influence of so much grape.
‘They conjured cacodjinns and elementals, whispered secrets on the wind,’ a younger fellow embellished. He’d taken a position behind the tiny woman but kept having to hold back the arch of her feathers to add his thoughts.
The hostess waved the scepter of her wine glass, snaring the attention of the party-goers around her. ‘A fabulous tale is easy to spill. But if you’ – she gestured directly at the young man leaning past the feathers of the tiny drunk woman – ‘or you’ – she pointed at group of women whispering so close together they seemed to uncouple unctuously in order to turn their attention – ‘or you’ – the hostesses’ glass singled out Zgija who had been leaning against an open window trying to remain as anonymous as she might – ‘were to try to go up to their house now, if you were to venture past their antipathies, you’d be appalled at how timid your fables of those two sisters really are.’
In the moment between breaths there was the sound of glasses being refilled, the shuffling of feet.
‘Conjurings? Their conjurings are sewn into the air around that house!’ she flourished her fingers. ‘Machines perhaps? O, They had machines! Their automata still stalk the great gardens there,’ more flourishing followed.
Looks were exchanged across the room. Some of the guests seemed riveted, some embarrassed. The hostess had clearly begun to channel the spirit of her story. Zgija found herself meeting the eyes of many there, taking quick account. The helpful man with the glasses from before was now examining his shoes, his meager offering of conjecture spent. The group of whispering women still exchanged melodramas. Yet the room was far larger than Zgija had first thought, the candle-play folded shadows and distance. At the back of the room she thought she could see the shape of that fellow who had been raking his gaze across the town and the lagoon through a spyglass as she had that first night she arrived on the island. He stood obscured behind two larger men done up in dark vests and sculpted quaffs of hair. She was at the moment of moving towards him when the hostess resumed her narrative.
‘The real thing that set those two deviant sisters apart was what they knew of the incursion site,’ here the hostess drew out the long ‘u’ of incursion cutting it off only after a serpentine duration. ‘They understood what had come through.’
This seemed gauche almost. Guests averted their eyes or took the opportunity to drain their glasses.
‘They knew the Starhenge. . .’ she dragged out the moment, her fingers fluttering in anticipation, ‘ and they could speak it’s language.’