Mia Lahti came downstairs holding a tray covered in spilt food and close to tears. “She wouldn’t eat a thing, just screamed at me and upset everything.” She picked at a blob of something on her blouse and started to sob. “My poor lapsi what are we to do?”
Selene took the tray from Mia and putting it down held her tightly. “It’s my fault, I insisted Sirki could be rehabbed at home, the boys were all for sending her to a clinic and hang the media.”
“Nej, Selene, you did the right thing, the press would ruin her career if they found out.”
The red haired woman smiled and picked up the tray. “I’ll sort this out, do you want me to try with her?” A yell of anguish came from upstairs followed by angry banging. “She hasn’t eaten properly for days.”
“Better wait till she’s calmed down” said Mia. “How long did it take you, Selene?”
“Thirty days plus but I had all the facilities to fall back on.” came the reply from the kitchen. “It can take months.”
“What did the clinic do that was different?”
“Not much, there were more people to share the load, but you never stop wanting it you know?” The banging had stopped. “She’s quietened down, hopefully she’s worn herself out and gone to sleep” Selene re-entered the main room. “Mia, if she doesn’t eat soon I’m going to have to send her to the haelinghus in Jyvaskyla no matter what Dag said.”
“Can’t Doctor Armstrong do something?” he was an ex-colleague of Selene’s and his discretion was unconditionally guaranteed.
“He could set up a feeding tube but she’d need to be sedated or she’d pull it out and the last thing Sirki needs is more pharma.”
“Do you hear that sound?” asked Mia curiously, a descending brassy note could be heard outside.
“Gravity drivers, you get used to them in New Winchester.” replied Selene.
“We don’t know anyone with a flyer?” remarked Sirki’s mother. Anti-gravity transport was new, expensive and hence uncommon.
A loud knock came at the front door and Mia nervously opened it to see a stern man wearing a flight suit and holding an automatic rifle. “Who are you?” she asked in a worried voice.
“Oh for the sake of the gods get out of my bloody way will you?” from behind him came a cultured voice Mia had not heard for a long time. “I’ve known this woman for years and she’s no danger to me.” With that a tall blonde woman of her daughter’s age pushed past the Guardsman into the room, she carried a black helmet under her arm and her flying overall was immaculately tailored.
“Hei Mia, long time no see dahling!” said Queen Ethelflaeda III.
“Your majesty but…” started the surprised woman.
“You two go out and play.” she barked to her escort and when the Guards had left the Queen turned to the shocked pair. “Well how is she?”
“Not good ma’am, she’s up one moment down the next and I’m becoming seriously concerned for her health.” answered Selene, uncertain at the correct protocol. “She’s only been off demetol for two weeks and it’s far too early to be optimistic.”
“She won’t eat or wash Effie… sorry your majesty” said Mia.
“It’s alright Mia, I’m still Sirki’s friend and you will still call me Effie.” She looked at Selene. “You, you’re some kind of doctor, right?”
“Yes ma’am I was a doctor of psychology but I er got stripped of my license for taking my own pharma, ma’am” replied Selene clearly on edge.
“Caught with your hand in the sweetie jar eh, you shouldn’t really be treating Sirki should you? May I presume your experience with addiction has given you extra insight into her problem?”
“Yes ma’am” Selene had a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Very well Selene, because woe betide you if this goes wrong.” said Effie then. “Your husband Dag was very reluctant to tell me where Sirki was, I had to get some of my boys to beat it out of him!”
Selene’s face fell.
“Sorry bad joke, I didn’t really do that of course but I am bloody furious that no-one thought to tell me, I simply told your husband that as Sirki’s friend I should have been informed and promised him it would go no further, anyway it’s hard to disobey a royal command.” She showed her teeth in a humourless smile. “Do you need anything? I can send a Palace rihtleech or an offestre perhaps?”
Effie had had the sudden feeling that her friend was in distress, she had not seen or heard from Sirki for some time then after hearing an official statement from her producer that she was tired and taking a break, Effie had become suspicious, along with the press.
“Nej thank you Effie.” started Mia.
“An offestre would be helpful ma’am,” interrupted Selene, a trained nurse would take the strain off them.
“Check, I’ll organise it, now where is the silly tart?”
Effie entered the room and was instantly hit by the smell of disinfectant hiding other unsanitary odours. The furniture consisted of a single bed and there was a view-screen screwed to the wall, it was well out of reach but something sticky had been splashed in the middle of it nevertheless. Books and periodicals were scattered around the floor and the carpet had many soiled patches that had mostly been cleaned, the door to the bathroom was wide open and she could hear a tap running.
Effie couldn’t see Sirki at first then spotted the tousled chestnut curls peeping over the bed. “Hei dahling, you’ve got me here all the way from Aengland to see you.”
“I didn’t ask you to come!” she snapped.
“Well you’ve lost none of your charm have you sweetie?”
“Leave me alone Effie.”
“Your mum tells me you’re not eating.”
“Don’t want to eat just want to be left alone.”
“You must eat, if you don’t you’re going to be really ill.”
“So what, I’m sick already?”
“Would you eat a little something if I asked you?”
“I don’t want any food, I want a fix!”
Effie decided to try a different tack “Have you been locked in here all this time?”
“Nej they lock me in here when I get difficult… I’ve been difficult for a few days now.”
Effie walked around to face her friend while trying not to show her feelings. Sirki was filthy, her usually lustrous chestnut hair hung in lank strands and her lilac eyes were dull and unfocused with dark rings under them. She was wearing a pair of stained cotton shorts and a T-shirt that might have once been white.
Sirki looked blearily at the Queen. “That bicce Selene has got some in her bag I know she has, Effie go and fetch it for me please?” she asked in a wheedling tone. “If you’re my friend you’ll do it, they daren’t refuse you.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea sweetie.” How could her beautiful friend have come to this?
“I need it!” she growled.
“I want it want it want it want it IWANTAFIX!” wild-eyed she tried to stand.
“No!” said Effie firmly.
“Then fuck off and leave me alone!” Sirki slumped back down.
Effie found a clean spot on the floor and squatted next her. “Sirk let me help you.”
Sirki became more focused. “Sorry Effie, my addiction seems to have found its own voice and keeps telling me what to say.”
“It’s just your own inner voice, try taking control.”
“It’s not easy.” Sirki moved closer to her friend. “I don’t think I can get through this.”
“You stink, when did you last have a wash?”
“Right sweetie you’re having a bath, by royal command.”
“Nej you can’t make me.”
“I’m not arguing.” Sirki stubbornly refused to move so Effie reluctantly grabbed her arm and half dragged her to the bathroom.
“You can’t force me to do anything! I could always beat you at school.” Sirki waved a fist weakly as Effie turned on the taps.
“The state you’re in my dog could beat you.” Effie’s pampered pup was a tiny creature that was scared of mice. She grabbed the grubby shirt. “Now arms up, skin-a–bunny!”
“You’re going to watch me? Very kinky!” she stood shaking with her arms about her torso.
“Sirki, unless you’ve grown a cock in the past five years you’ve nothing I haven’t seen already, we used to lick chocolate spread off each other, remember?” the bath was filling nicely with warm water.
“I do remember!” Sirki managed a weak smile. “Mmm nutritious and sexy, mami still keeps a jar in the kitchen, if only she knew why I liked it.” She smiled again and peeled off the grimy shorts.
Effie looked at her skinny frame and pointed to the tub. “Bath!” When Sirki was clean Effie held up a towel as the filthy water drained away. Sirki stumbled into it and clumsily attempted to kiss her, she stepped back. “Oh no dahling I’m a married woman now.”
“I’d forgotten about that… bit absent minded at the moment… you were betrothed to that nice handsome huscarl what happened to him… why did you marry the red-haired groper instead?” asked Sirki.
“Because as the Atheling I had to make a choice more suitable for my position so I was forced to marry Fredi because he was a Goodwine.” Effie said with a hint of bitterness. “And Bren is a nova some people would take great offence at that.”
“You didn’t ask me, you could have married me?”
“Sorry dahling but royal marriages are about issue, even if you had the finest bloodline in the land it’s children that count and you are ill equipped to give me them. Besides you like men as much as I do, it wouldn’t have lasted.”
“Are you happy Effie?” even in her befuddled state Sirki had picked up the hint of regret in her friend’s voice.
“Are you?” she countered quickly.
“Obviously not or I wouldn’t be here puking and shitting myself!” she snapped in a further moment of clarity.
“Have you got any clean clothes?”
“Cupboard” Sirki waved towards a door.
“Are you going to eat something?” the Queen passed her some fresh clothes.
“Dunno?” She managed to struggle into them unaided. “It’s nice to see you again Effie, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Well now I know what’s happened I’ll come whenever I’m able. Now shall we go downstairs.”
“Am I allowed out of my room now?”
“I’m the Queen who’s going to tell me otherwise?”
Sirki sat at the dining table listlessly looking at the plate, all had been going well but her mood had suddenly deteriorated.
“Sirki lapsi, aren’t you going to eat something?” asked Mia with concern and she looked vacantly at her mother.
“Oh no she’s becoming apathetic again.” whispered Selene to the Queen. “She’ll flare up when she comes back if we’re not careful.”
Effie leaned forward. “Sweetie, if you eat something I’ll stay over just like the old times, that’s if Mia will allow me?”
“Jaa we can put your Guards in the old logger’s cabins, Sirki’s uncle rents them out as holiday lets and Effie you must stay here we have plenty of room.” suggested Mia.
“Well you heard your mum.” Effie picked up a spoon and held it to Sirki’s mouth. “Eat?”
She obediently ate half a plateful while the Queen fed her like one of her own children. After dinner Mia took a calmer Sirki up to bed while Effie sat next to Selene on the couch.
“So this demetol, it’s commonly used in haeling isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am, demetol or anodyninium to give it its proper name, was developed primarily for use by the Novae. With their heroic constitution a powerful painkiller cum sedative was needed but then it filtered down to us norms, used correctly and in the correct doses it’s very effective but if you overdo it you’re hooked forever, and of course the more you take the more you need to get the same high. It’s like climbing a ladder with the rungs getting progressively further apart and when you fall off it’s a long way down, Sirki was taking a dangerously large amount before she fell.” Selene produced a small vial from her black haeler’s bag. “This is the dreadful stuff, Sirki’s very own backup fix.” holding it aloft to display a clear liquid inside she confessed “I’ve been clean for years but I’d love nothing more than to shoot it up, you never get over it.”
“Your willpower must be amazing?” Effie felt a spark of sympathy for the red haired woman.
“I was lucky, I met Dag in the rehab clinic and we helped each other get better. Who’s going to help Sirki?”
“She has all of you and now I’m on-board, and I’m bloody minded so she should beware!” Effie looked her in the eye. “Selene, tell me how my friend got hooked on this shit?”
“When you’re touring ma’am it’s a mad adrenaline rush then boredom then it repeats over and over again, sometimes a little something helps to make things go smoother. Dag and I probably drink too much, we won’t touch pharma anymore, and most of the boys like a little toke. Sirki discovered demetol through one of the roadies but we didn’t realise there was a problem until she started forgetting her lyrics, then she started slurring and becoming inattentive, it’s our fault we should have seen it sooner. The roadie was sacked but he continued supplying her secretly. The final straw came when a new roadie Egie, an ex-huscarl cempestre, found her unconscious in the toilet syringe in hand. Colm Murphy our rhythm guitarist once had a thing with Sirki, was livid and went to sort out our old roadie and his cronies, he took Harry the drummer and Egie with him. Colm and Harry won’t talk about what happened but apparently Egie did some pretty unpleasant things.”
Effie nodded understandingly, the novae were very, very, much against drug abuse.
“Dag and I brought her here and the rest you know.” she continued sadly. “Sirki recently bought some land outside New Winchester and was planning to have a house built on it.”
“She will do when she’s better I’m sure and I’ll be able to keep a close eye on her if she’s that near to the palace.” Effie asserted.
Mia came down looking relieved. “Effie, you’re some kind of magician, I remade her bed and she settled without a complaint.” She held out some nightwear for the Queen. “Sorry they’re the biggest I could find, you’ve always been a tall girl.”
Effie took the clothing and smiled. “A bit small on the small side perhaps, any chance of a shower?”
“You know where the bathroom is Effie, feel free” replied Sirki’s mother.
“I think she’s reached a turning point and that’s down to you ma’am” said Selene.
“Sirk’s just happy to see an old friend that’s all.” replied Effie as she made her way towards the stairs.
After she had freshened up and the others had gone to bed Effie watched the news and smiled when an article concerning Freya’s sudden holiday came on with old footage of Sirki singing Harvest Flowers. Taking her cup into the kitchen she washed it then poked curiously around the cupboards.
Sirki woke up in freshly changed sheets feeling better than she had for weeks to see Effie stood at the foot of the bed. She was wearing a dressing robe that was clearly too short, exposing her long legs. “Is that mami’s? It’s a bit disturbing seeing you in that.”
“I just came to check on you Sirk.”
“Thanks rakas I think I might get through this after all.”
“Of course you will but there’s a long way to go yet sweetie and you need to build your strength up.” Effie reached into the pocket of the gown and holding out a jar of chocolate spread asked. “Fancy a midnight snack?”