There was a murmuring in the room, which was packed with Oisienne of all shapes and sizes. Marie looked from her vantage point behind the stage on the left and scanned the crowd for her husband, her friends, or her enemies. She saw Sir John craning to look at the stage from behind a tall man with a long neck and she thought about waving but it seemed childish. She needed to be in control here, to neutralise Pook before he got the next piece of the key.
Behind her a fat man with a impressive beard pushed passed her with a grunt. The beard seemed to emerge from his neck and was a shock of white. As he passed by, he turned his head round to look at her, rotating it to an unnatural degree. Then he clambered on stage.
“Good evening my fine friends,” he said to the audience which started to settle at his words. “Welcome to the Parliament of the Oisienne. I will be the adjudicator for our soiree. We have a most interesting debate this evening between two newcomers to our roost. First let me introduce to you a Monsieur Ernest Pook.”
There was a cawing from the audience and the sound of footsteps on the stage. Marie heard Pook speak.
“May I honestly and most fervently say what a tremendous honour it is to stand in such a remarkable and distinguished company as this. I am both excited and in awe, and I hope that the debate that follows will prove as entertaining as it does enlightening. I can honestly say that I hope I can persuade you to my view.”
The audience cooed at this flattery and Marie then heard a gavel banging on a desk.
“Silence in the parliament,” said the Adjudicator. “Pleasant words Mr Pook, but fine feathers do not fine birds make. I will now introduce our next speaker.”
The hook nosed Oisienne next to Marie gave a little nod and pointed to the steps to the stage. Marie walked up to see the Adjudicator sitting high on a dias and on the far side Pook. She glared across at him and instantly a panicked look spread across his face.
“May I present…” started the Adjudicator.
“No, no,” said Pook with a look of terror on his face. “Not her, not her!”
“May I present,” repeated the Adjudicator, throwing a look at Pook. “Madame Marie Jennings.”
“Please not her,” said Pook staring at Marie, his eyes staring wide.
Maybe this will be easy thought Marie and then looked again at her adversary. The frightened look passed from his face and was replaced with a smirk. A girlish laugh emitted from his mouth.
“She’s far too easy to beat,” he said cruelly.
Marie felt herself flush and had to remember what she was there for. She looked into the audience to find her husband and thought she saw a glance of Clackprattle. She then became aware that everyone was silent and looking at her. She glanced at the Adjudicator who had raised an eyebrow.
“Would you like to introduce yourself?” said the Adjudicator.
Marie swallowed and found her mouth was dry.
“My name is Marie Jennings,” she said, “and Mr Pook is fully aware of what it is like to be beaten by me.”
A sour look passed over Pook’s face and Marie felt pleased she had scored a point. Now she should go for the kill she though and whispered, “Obéir.” She saw Pook rock back at the command and then she felt…
…something like a ricochet or the feeling of punching a wall. She fell over and there were crows of laughter from the crowd. Pook was smirking back at her again.
“Not that easy, is it?” he said to her. “Not like this.”
He clicked his fingers and the crowd went silent. All the heads slowly turned to look at him and fixed their gaze on him without blinking once. Marie saw her husband in the same state.
“Now that I have your undivided attention,” Pook said to the spellbound audience. “We will have our little debate.”