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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | The Crystal Prison

 

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names of all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

The deceased of The Crystal Prison are as follows:

HODGE  (The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6 – The Crystal Prison | Chapter 9) The first victim of the Fennywolde murders, he was tragically killed while abroad in the Wolde. Beloved son to his parents, cherished friend of Young Whortle and the other Fennywolde mice. Mould to mould, body to Green.

WHORTLE NEP [CALLED ‘YOUNG WHORTLE’]  (The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6 – The Crystal Prison | Chapter 11. See also: Whortle’s Hope)  Second victim of the Fennywolde murders. Privy to ancient secrets during his short life, this intrepid legend-treader will be sorely missed by all who knew him. A place of high honour is afforded him in the Green Hereafter. May those he left behind find their hope again.

JENKIN NETTLE [CALLED ‘JOLLY JENKIN’]  (The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6 – The Crystal Prison | Chapter 12) The last victim of Mahooot the owl, he has joined his mother in the Green.

MAHOOOT  (The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6 – The Crystal Prison | Chapter 12) Scourge of the Wolde, this fearsome predator was at last brought low by Madame Akkikuyu. May those fieldmice who had a part in his inglorious demise seek the pardon of the Green for their rash and violent actions.

MADAME AKKIKUYU  (The Dark Portal | Chapter 3 – The Crystal Prison | Chapter 14) Born in the Sign of the Vagabond, this far-travelled ratwitch spent her whole life seeking the peace which was finally granted her in death. Released from both the House of Bauchan and the tyranny of Jupiter, she sleeps in the Green. May her brave and compassionate deeds be better remembered than her misguided ones.

ABRAHAM WOODRUFFE  [‘KING OF THE FIELD’]  (The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6 – The Crystal Prison | Chapter 14) Worthy elder of the Land of Fenny, Mr Woodruffe perished in the great fire which consumed the field as a result of Jupiter’s workings of evil power. He gave his life to save Audrey and Mr Nettle, and his sacrifice will be forever honoured.

 

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 14 & Epilogue

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I did love ‘ee, Aud,’ he whispered.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The theme from Akkikuyu’s persuasive duet with Nettle is picked up again for the stealthy cornering of Alison. The low, malevolent motif of Nicodemus rises to a fearsome bellow as he announces himself to his helpless and horror-struck sacrifice.

Now Nicodemus has his villainous solo, his ‘soothing and repellent’ voice echoing and rumbling, becoming increasingly familiar. Fire flares, shadows loom large, a ghostly chorus moans from the gloom. Lightning cracks in lurid colour on the horizon, drums boom with approaching thunder. The sky churns and broils, the corn bends in the howling wind.

At last, the truth of Akkikuyu’s ‘secret voice’ is revealed. His insidious pretence cast aside, Jupiter, Lord of All, calls upon Rameth and Ozulmunn, Arash and Iriel to unbind his wrathful spirit from the void. In a scene of desperate horror, Alison is ushered toward her doom, and Akkikuyu begins to transform. Finally, among the tumult, Akkikuyu’s defiance rings out. Her last song is a hoarse and despairing reprise of ‘Summer Light’, abruptly cut off when she gives herself to the flames, freed at last from Jupiter’s tyranny.

In the Hall of Corn, anxious murmurs grow to screams as the fire spreads. The chorus wavers and whines with the flames as Audrey pulls Nettle to safety. The Fennywolde theme, which first sounded when the Hall was being built, returns with a vengeance, mingling with Nettle’s ravings. In a crescendo of falling sparks and swirling smoke, Mr Woodruffe reaches his throne, only to be consumed.

The final scene is drab in palette, disquieting in tone. Far off, the faint voices of mousemaids can be heard trilling ‘The Witch’s Water’ over the clatter of bare, wintry branches. Blue-violet shadows blanket Alison as she murmurs to Akkikuyu’s discarded crystal. As it smashes in the ditch, a silvery note like a clear bell sounds in the gathering darkness. Jupiter’s sibilant laughter fills the air. He is as mighty as his mythological namesake, and the nightmare of his reign is not over yet.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: One fascinating historical fact that I discovered while reading this book was how rubbish the exchange rate used to be back in 2001. (Or else how much bookshops would gouge you!). The recommended retail on the back of my silver-spine edition of Crystal Prison was £5.99 and yet I found the docket dated November 2001 in which I paid AUD$16.95 – nearly three times as much! (The exchange rate currently is just short of twice – so £1 is roughly AUD$2.)

Anyway, enough of that financial outrage.

Because, of course, the real outrage is that The World’s Most Evil Cat is back. (Back from where is an interesting question as well. From the hints we get, it sounds like he’s done a deal with some back-door guard demons in Hell to slip him out, as long as the overall population count doesn’t change. And the phrase ‘father of lies’ has that epic Biblical ring to it, quite possibly because – whether consciously or otherwise – it is an echo of the description of Satan from John 8:44: ‘He is a liar and the father of lies.’ Actually, Jupiter was also described as his Most High Satanic Majesty in The Dark Portal from memory, so the whole thing is very much on theme.)

But ultimately I think what makes this finale and this book such a step up from Portal is the sheer level of adult emotions that it forces you to deal with. In Portal, yes, there were violent rats, and black magic and the Black Plague, but these things caused more physical damage. But now in The Crystal Prison, alongside the physical violence wreaked by that creepy corn dolly, we’ve got psychic damage being done.

When Jupiter was dispatched in Book 1, there was a collective sigh of relief and everyone went home happy. But there is no happiness this time. Twit and Audrey are married, but neither of them will be happy. Mr Woodruffe saved everyone but lost his life doing so. Audrey and Arthur are returning home, thus severing their ties with Fennywolde. And Madame Akkikuyu shows her affection for Audrey, but loses her life in doing so.

In short, the cost is pretty high for the peace that has been won. And so it ends with that ultra-moving sentence: ‘But although they both vowed to return one day, neither ever saw the land of Fenny again.’ Which is also a nice echo of a passage in The Lord of the Rings, right at the tail end of Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 6, where Aragorn is looking around with Frodo. The line runs:

‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.

And then, of course, the peace lasts all of two pages of the epilogue until the meaning of the phrase ‘crystal prison’ becomes apparent. And so that sets us up nicely for the mother of all finales: The Final Reckoning. See you in March!  

P.S. Actually, there is one more thing. I mentioned a while back that I thought the name ‘Nicodemus’ was darkly brilliant. I didn’t want to spoil things at the time, but now that you all know the final twist, I do wonder whether Jupiter picked his tattoo name as a reference to the Pharisee named Nicodemus who snuck out to see Jesus in the middle of the night in John chapter 3. Jesus tells him that to see the kingdom of God, he must be ‘born again’.

Given the regular Satanic overtones that are ascribed to Jupiter, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he secretly enjoyed taking the name Nicodemus, knowing that he was going to put his own  dark spin on being ‘born again’ with the help of Akkikuyu.

Messed up, right?

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Audrey tearfully thought of Piccadilly. Sobbing she uttered, ‘I do.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I absolutely love the two-part ending that is this chapter and the next. They’re like the dramatic finale of a stage musical or an opera, and I see them in those terms.

In this chapter, we begin with a sinister duet between Isaac Nettle and Madame Akkikuyu. At the behest of Nicodemus, she persuades Nettle to create a sign of loathing and vengeance in his cramped and airless forge. Cellos hum in time with Nicodemus’s sly instructions in Akkikuyu’s ear. Drums pound with the fall of Nettle’s hammer, his earlier hymns to the Green reprised in verses of grief and fury.

Alison Sedge’s high, terrified alarm is echoed by the fraught whine of the strings as the corn dolly appears and threatens the mice. When it falls lifeless before Audrey, the music ceases completely in an instant of charged hush.

The Fennywolders sing in threatening chorus; Isaac Nettle’s menacing baritone delivers their ultimatum. Frantic strings delineate the horror of what is about to take place.  Over them all soars Audrey’s heartbreaking plea for mercy. Finally, Twit comes in with a small but strong voice to save her from the noose, reprising the theme of his solo song ‘In Olde Fennywolde’, green sparks flashing where he treads.

Twit and Audrey join in lamenting but courageous chorus as Nettle marries them before the hanging tree. The lights dim, and Akkikuyu is revealed in garish spotlight. Nicodemus’ cello returns, darker and deeper. Nearby, Alison’s discarded mousebrass sparkles invitingly.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is such utter genius. If you look at some other love triangles –  I’m thinking the cinematic versions of Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games, for instance – inevitably the person at the centre of the triangle has to hit some point where they have to choose one or the other. (Or even LOST, for that matter, but not sure if there’s an overlap between Jarvis fans and LOST watchers.) Which then gets problematic very fast, because without fail, half the readership/viewership liked Person A, the other half liked Person B and no matter which way it pans out, somebody will be annoyed with the author.

But this setup is brilliant because of the inevitability of how it all works. Whatever Audrey might have felt for Piccadilly (and vice versa), she must marry Twit or perish. And so Audrey is broken-hearted because she loved Dilly-O. Twit is broken-hearted because he really does love Audrey. But we’re not really angry with any of it, because how else could it go under the circumstances?

So, in one chapter, everyone has been doomed to a relatively loveless future … Ah, you British! You’re such a melancholy group. I’m sure no American would write a chapter like this! Anyway, I’ll try to keep stiff upper lip about all this but it’s a struggle, people!

The only highlight to this otherwise devastating chapter is the awesome display of defiance that Madame Akkikuyu makes against Nicodemus. But will it last? (I actually can’t remember exactly what happens in chapter 14, so that is a real question I have. See you after the grand finale!)

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Fennywolde had become an evil place to live.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What drama! What tragedy and anguish! This chapter pulls no punches, weaving the ‘Fennywolde feeling’ into something real and tangible and terrifying. By the end I felt completely emotionally drained, and yet, there is worse ahead!

First of all, however, we’ve got one of the most wincingly painful scenes to take place between any of our young mice thus far. Poor Jenkin – no mother, an abusive despot for a father, and now the mousemaid with whom he dreamt of starting a wholesome life loves another. My heart bleeds, and even more so when Jenkin does not even have the time to set things right before his short life is brutally curtailed.

The little aside where Alison, having witnessed Jenkin being carried off by Mahooot, cries silently and throws aside her brass really got me, as well. I said before that I don’t think I quite appreciated the glory that is Alison Sedge until this project, and while that’s true, I don’t think I appreciated the tragedy of her, either. She only discovers in hindsight that it was Jenkin whom she loved all along, and oh, how agonising that hindsight is!

What makes it worse is that Alison has not actually done anything truly evil. Spiteful, perhaps, manipulative, maybe, but nothing on the level of the properly villainous.  On reread I was struck by how disproportionate her punishment is for the minor slights and petty quarrels she has perpetuated. Like a lot about this book, the song of Alison Sedge is more of a tear-jerking lament, but, as Matt has said in previous posts, it’s their emotional ups and downs that make these mice so very human.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So, so grim. I thought I was familiar enough with The Deptford Mice that this re-read would be more about watching how the whole story was put together. But this is full-on. I’m sucked in, the world of Fennywolde has risen off the page, and I’m emotionally invested.

Which is never great when you’ve got a heartbroken Alison throwing her mousebrass away, Jenkin abducted by an owl (after getting such a sweet scene with Audrey) and the vicious owl-mauling scene.

It is cleverly done, in that we almost feel a twinge of sorrow for Mahooot at the end. Certainly, it’s not a great triumphant moment when the mice finally defeat the owl. We don’t get the simple satisfaction of a nasty villain being dispatched. Instead it’s something much more grim. In short, it’s Jarvis.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Thin, long fingers appeared out of the mist and came for him.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The closest I can get to describing the mood and feel of this chapter is by referencing an almost-nonexistent American literary subgenre; Midwestern Gothic. Related to the journal of the same name, Midwestern Gothic focuses on the uncanny, disturbing or bleak qualities of the rolling cornfields and abandoned buildings which are a prominent feature of the Midwestern United States.

As in the rest of the American Gothic genre, there is a preoccupation with the derelict and grotesque.  The natural world is characterised as a harsh and temperamental ruler, and there is often an emphasis on suspense, occult themes, betrayal and regret, unexplained murders, the unquiet dead, and the fervour of small-town religious fanatics.

I know that this subgenre exists in a similar form in the UK (for a recent example, see the terrifying BBC drama, The Living and the Dead) but I have yet to come across a name for it. I’d love for somebody to step in and tell me what this fields-n’-damnation thingumy is called in Britain, but for the purposes of this project I’ve labelled it the ‘Fennywolde feeling’, and this chapter perfectly encapsulates everything that makes it what it is.

The hot, dry wind rasps through the Hall of Corn, bringing ill mutterings and laden glances. The bat’s prophecy, which Arthur was privy to in Chapter 6 of The Dark Portal, unfolds its grisly wings. Pain and horror stalk the summer fields in straw-clad form. When noon is hot and corn is gold, beware the ear that whispers.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: From serial killers to Stephen King territory – something about sinister things lurking in tall fields reminds me of ‘Children of the Corn’. Reading about the dark and creepy thing that takes out Young Whortle, I’m thinking I might hold off a bit before I read this to my more sensitive 7-year-old!

But to me, the most disturbing thing in the chapter is actually the way Nicodemus bullies Madame Akkikuyu into doing the dark deeds necessary to release him from limbo. By feeding her doubts about whether the mice will love her, he cruelly uses manipulation to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. It’s heartbreaking to see, given how you can see in many ways Akkikuyu is starting to find elusive happiness in her life.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Floating above Mr Woodruffe, like a dense cloud of growing things, was the Green Mouse.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter stands out to me as one of the most unearthly and magical in the entire Deptford Mice Trilogy. For a few short pages, we see Fennywolde as it might be without the strife and strain of evil deeds and suspicion. After the horror of Hodge’s fate last chapter, the contrast is immediately, strikingly apparent. Transported with Audrey into an ethereal Midsummer’s Eve revel, we have the privilege of entering the presence of the Green Mouse, himself, and watching the night unfold in all its toe-tingling wonder.

While I was rereading, I remembered and anticipated the appearance of the Green and the Midsummer dancing, but the arrival of the Lady of the Moon surprised me. When I came to the part where she descends in a glimmering cloud, I was overwhelmed with the memory of the awe I had felt when I read this sequence for the first time as a child.

There is a lot of esotericism of various kinds in Mr Jarvis’ work, and the machinations of dark gods are ever present, but the Midsummer’s Eve scene is a rare glimpse into a more uplifting spiritual experience than we have yet witnessed in this trilogy. It even surpasses Audrey’s mousebrass ceremony. However, as then, it marks our heroine out for her tall and dangerous destiny.

My favourite little detail in this chapter is the hawthorn blossom. Back in Chapter 5, I noticed that aside and knew that Oswald’s parting gift to Audrey would turn up later, and of course, it did! Nothing in a Robin Jarvis book is ever superfluous, and no passing mention is ever just a passing mention. Keep your wits about you, dear Readers, because like Oswald’s hawthorn, there are a lot of things in this chapter which will make a second appearance further on.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: There’s a sort of polytheistic element to the Green Mouse, reading this. He’s a singular, but yet he’s described as being ‘like a dense cloud of growing things’ (plural). Plus when he addresses Audrey, he says ‘We are pleased with you little one.’ (Unless this is a Royal ‘We’?)

Either way, it’s a great vision. But the part that affected me the most was Isaac Nettle. He sits with a scowl on his face not seeming to see what is going on, but ‘praying sourly’. It’s tragic and pointed – the mouse who makes the most noise about being loyal to the Green is the one that turns his back on the Green Mouse when He is present.

Anyway, lest this all seem too happy (this is not Tolkien, where we spend very long chapters in Elvish places while the action stops), we get that rather grim foreshadowing of Piccadilly being chased by rats, spears and ice and snow … Winter is coming, as some folks might say.

Oh yeah, and Madame Akkikuyu is on a frog-killing expedition. It’s all happening.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

At his feet was the body of a mouse.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I had a bit of a chortle reading the scene where Arthur is temporarily initiated into the Fennywolde community as a sentry. I’d forgotten about it, and I realised that since I’d read The Crystal Prison last (a few years ago, certainly) I’d had a similarly haphazard-yet-meaningful experience. Oddly enough, it also took place in high summer.

Those of you who read Beyond the Silvering Sea will already know this story, but for any who don’t, let me summarise. Last year, a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Mr Jarvis at a local book festival. Being the die-hard fans that we are, we had both brought him tokens of our esteem to surprise him during the signing.

My friend had made the Anti-Owl Charm in craft clay, because Mr Jarvis had previously mentioned that it was his favourite mousebrass design. Since I was wont to present him with outlandish fanart projects, I had decided to go all-out and draw him his very own coat of arms to mark this extra-special occasion. There’s a bit of story behind that (read it here) but the point that I’m getting to is that I had also, somehow, at some point and possibly as a result of my mum’s earnest insistence the day before, decided that a coat of arms was a bit lacking on its own, and that Mr Jarvis ought to be knighted along with it.

The scene of Arthur being ‘sworn in’ is, funnily enough,  not dissimilar to what transpired that day. I made up a few suitably ceremonial-sounding words on the spot. Mr Jarvis was surprisingly game for the lark and graciously allowed me to ‘dub’ him with a pen my friend had brought. None of us could keep a straight face. The festival staff in the vicinity applauded. Unlike Arthur’s sentry duties, however, Sir Robin’s knighthood is by no means a temporary honour. Truly, it was the Green, and not I, who bestowed it upon him!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Three comments on this chapter:

  • It just finally dawned on me that the Fennywolders have a democratic monarchy. I wouldn’t want to read any political views of Mr Jarvis into this, but the idea that the Royal Family would change every year based on a popular vote is somewhat awesome. That said, I really like Mr Woodruffe as a character. He walks a fine balancing act between recognising that the Green Mouse and the ways of Fenny need to be respected – but he never tips over into being an Isaac Nettle. He is, in short, a balanced leader that is good for everyone. (I’d wear a ‘Mr Woodruffe for King’ t-shirt.)
  • I quite enjoy the catty (pun intended) interaction between Audrey and Alison. The two of them are quite equal sparring partners when it comes to their tongue. But then again, that causes part of the problems when we get to …
  • The murder of Hodge. (I got, what, all of four chapters to enjoy having a character named after me? Thanks, Robin!) But what I enjoy reading this book now is that I can see Robin is again throwing in another normally adult story trope into a kids’ book. In this case, it is the serial killer mystery thriller. Ever since Jack the Ripper took to the streets, we have always been terrified and fascinated by unseen killers, picking off victims at random. And how many open with the finding of a body, killed under mysterious circumstances? (I just can’t think of the last time anybody did it with mice.)

Well, we can’t stop reading now, can we? On to Chapter 10!

Up Next Reminder | The Final Reckoning

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This is a reminder that in March we’ll be turning to the jaw-dropping finale of the Deptford Mice Trilogy – The Final Reckoning. (And trust me, if you’ve stuck with us as far as The Crystal Prison, you’re going to desperately want the third book come next month!) As with the first two, it is available for dirt cheap on the Kindle store. But we’d highly recommend getting hold of a hard copy, to enjoy the illustrations. If you’re after a hard copy, you’ll want the one pictured above, or one of these:

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The 2000 Hodder Silver edition with holographic text (if you acquire all three of these, you’ll be able to line them up to see the completed picture on the spines!)

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The US version with a cover by Leonid Gore (terrifying!)

And now, back to The Crystal Prison!

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 8

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

It was at times like these, when the peace and beauty of Fennywolde were overpowering, that she thought it might not be so bad to spend the rest of her days there.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I may have sided with Audrey over the potions last chapter, but her rebuttal of Akkikuyu here is rather more selfish and cannot really be overlooked. It’s testament to Audrey’s fundamentally good heart that she instantly feels terrible for rejecting Akkikuyu, but her regret doesn’t excuse her refusal to at least practice some patience when Akkikuyu is clearly suffering.

All of this is grist for the mill of Audrey’s character, however. As we saw in The Dark Portal, she is not completely sweet-natured, accommodating, and thoughtful. She can be, but if she were only those things, she would not be Audrey at all, nor indeed a particularly realistic character.

Then we’ve got Akkikuyu and Nicodemus. Holy gosh darn golly gee did this scene horrify me as a child! I hated frightening faces for a start, and there’s something about the reveal that the voice is actually coming from the tattoo on Akkikuyu’s ear that’s just so intimately abhorrent that it makes me shudder. There’s no way out for her, she and the insidious voice are joined together permanently. Visceral horror at its finest!

In that scene we also get another occult incantation, almost a mirror of the one which takes place between Jupiter and Morgan on Blackheath in Chapter 10 of The Dark Portal. Though not quite as cataclysmic as the Blackheath ritual, this one is certainly unnerving in its execution and effects. Why should Nicodemus, a benign spirit of nature, feel the need to invoke ‘slaughterous cold and searing ice’? Why does he alternately berate and beguile Akkikuyu? And why does the corn dolly require blood to be brought to life?

Finally, on reread, I noticed that during the incantation to join the corn dolly back together, Nicodemus has Akkikuyu call upon Brud to ‘make whole again your effigy.’ Being aware that Robin loves to reference history and folklore in his naming conventions, I had a rummage around Google to see whether the mysterious Brud might be a fictionalisation of a folkloric spirit or deity. Sadly I didn’t find anything exact – the closest I could get was Brigid (Braid, Brìde), an Irish/British pagan goddess for whom corn figures were (and are) woven during her festival in early February. If anybody has further knowledge on this subject (or if Mr Jarvis himself would like to wade in) that would be fantastic.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And there it is – that turning point. That moment where Audrey’s compassion falters for a moment. And that moment is all it takes. It’s that familiar Jarvis moment: the ‘Uh oh’. The ‘no, no, no’. The ‘this is going to get a lot worse’.

It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book, in many respects: Person A is unkind to Person B. Person B goes off and triggers off a whole mess of trouble which they otherwise wouldn’t have done. But clichés work because they tap into universal experiences. We’ve all had a moment in the past where we were more unkind to someone than we should have been. We wonder what it might have been like if we could go back and do things differently.

That said, we possibly didn’t have the person we were unkind to stalk off and have devious conversations with a tattoo on their ear …

The naming of this character, by the way – Nicodemus – is also a darkly brilliant choice, but I might come back to that topic at a later stage. For now, I’ll just let the dread start to sink in …

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