Shamus was having trouble with his new arm. Sometimes it itched unbearably and sometimes he could not feel it at all! There was a faint scar around the joint, where the new limb had started to grow, after Queen Mab had cut the old one off, because of the gangrenous development that had very nearly killed him. He had been scratched by a Banshee when carrying Tam O’ Shadow through the Shadow Lands in a travelling sack and the wound had soon turned septic.
His mentor Tam O’ Shadow had used the magic of time dilation and had nearly paid for it with his life, in defeating the Witch of the South. Shamus had carried him through the Shadow Lands, shrunken down, with the aid of Mog the Troll. They had travelled through the terrors of that terrible place, to get to Queen Mag’s aid. She had saved the lives of both of them by opening the dolmen portal and shrinking down the giant-sized Troll to get them through it into the throne room. Shamus had created a Wood-Sprite that had defended them along the perilous journey and it remained on guard, rooted by the stone structure just inside the Shadow Lands. It had been grown from a seed that the enchanted apple tree in Tam O’ Shadow’s garden had given Shamus in the form of a sack of bewitched apples. They had proved very useful in many ways and Shamus had learnt that he could speak to trees and get their co-operation when needed. This was also a useful attribute as the tree kingdom was not allergic to iron.
Only the faery races were hypersensitive to the effects of what they referred to as the poison metal. Only humans and goblins were immune. The mining of this metal and the working of it was forbidden. Only the sky-metal that fell through the heavens occasionally, was allowed to be worked by goblins. They were very careful not to allow the nickel-iron artefacts to come into contact with their magical neighbours. Unfortunately there was another race of beings that had their origins in the goblin history that were also immune to the adverse effects of iron and they were the Orcs.
Long ago a whole tribe of goblins made the mistake of settling in an area in which the plants grew strangely, but provided many edible fruits. Roots and seeds that were planted grew to monstrous proportions. At night when it was at the darkest hour, a glow could be seen around some of the extra hard, granite outcrops. These were broken up to make housing materials that could be turned into walls.
The goblins were totally unaware of the changes that each successive generation did, by the state of alteration of the children. They slowly grew more brutish and lost their green skins, trading them for a dirty grey as they grew larger. Their faces became ugly to other goblins that happened to pass that way. Sometimes the visitor would not be seen again as the new goblin-spawned, malevolent creatures, murdered those that were weak and ate them. Soon hunting parties would leave the city of the Orcs, as they became known, searching for unwary travellers for food or slaves. In the early language of the goblins, their word for anything bad or evil was to refer to them as Orc-eed.
To stop future invasions of any more lands, Queen Mab had placed an extended Geas that would turn any Orc to a figure of stone if they crossed the border into the faery lands. They had spread along the sea coast and pushing as far to the West as they could, tracking the border by the Orcs that turned into stone figures that would suddenly appear if they went too far. Mab had contained the Orc kingdom into a large half-moon portion thousands of miles to the East of her realm and here they had remained simmering with malice over thousands of years.
Now they were becoming a future menace to all who lived in the enchanted Lands. They had discovered a vein of the poison metal that was exposed to the air. A captured human had bargained his life for the knowledge of what the red material could be changed into. Now the Orcs were following the mineral into the ground, digging the iron ore and smelting it into manageable blocks that their smiths were forging into weapons. A raiding party moving through the woods happened to pass one of their kind, that had been turned to stone and realised that they had passed Mab’s boundary without any harm. When they circled the statue, the Orc came back to life, becoming flesh and blood as they watched. Fearing for his life, the Orc broke through the circle and ran further into the woods. Once he broke the circle, he returned to being made of stone.
Carefully the band encircled the enchanted Orc and watched as he came alive again, but this time they kept hold of him and dragged him to the other side of the boundary.
Drurk shouted to the captive Orc, “Stand still you fool. We have freed you from the stone curse. We did not do it to feast upon you! Do you see this?”
He held up a metal helmet taken from one of the others and placed it on his head.
“This is made of iron and it would seem that iron hates magic! The moment that we surrounded you, the stone curse was lifted. Stay here with Dromm and know that you are going home, while we seek out any more of your group and set them free.”
“I give thanks to ‘ee, master and will do as you say,” the Orc replied and watched as Drurk led his men into a circle around another stone figure and grabbed him as he transformed and they dragged him back across the boundary. They did this several times freeing fem-Orcs as well as more of the afflicted. None of the Orcs that had been turned to stone had any inkling of how long they had been statues, but by remembering key events of their time it seemed that they had been there over a hundred years. Drurk explained to them what had happened and what the captive human had given them as his legacy.
“Follow me back to the city and I will break the news to Gretch Fem-Orc that at last we have the means to turn off the cursed Sidhe magic. The time of slaughter has come. If we wear the shiny metal, they cannot control us. What we need is to capture an elf and see what the metal will do to him. So at the double all of you, back to Gunderstall and future glory,” the Orc yelled and led the way as fast as he could.
Thousands of miles away, Queen Mab had become aware of the breaking of the Geas and the returning to life of the group of Orcs. Also the area was getting more and more ‘foggy’ to her penetrating mind. There had to be only one reason, the Orcs were smelting iron ore into steel. Somehow they had gained the knowledge and were using it to make weapons. Orcs gained their food by using slavery to grow it, or by fighting, steal it and Mab knew that if they had iron, then they could easily break through the barrier that she had laid down long ago. It would not take them long before they would start spreading through the realm taking anything that they wanted. All they had to do was to break the skin with a steel weapon, of any of the faery races and they would swell up and die. Also large quantities of the poison metal would negate any magic in the area. Even close proximity of iron would plunge the faery races into a state of confusion and weakness.
After several months Tad and Shamus were beginning to feel bored once they had returned to good health at Queen Mab’s castle. They missed the company of their friends who had elected to stay at the chateau, Crispin Gate and live there. When Mab sent for them, they set off towards the throne room and met up with Mog the Troll who was clumping along in the same direction.
Mog grinned at Tam and asked, “Any ideas about what her majesty requires this time, old friend?”
“No, my stony friend,” Tam answered and added, “Whatever it is I can be sure that it will entail travelling to some forsaken place and risking our lives.”
Shamus laughed and said, “First a dragon, next an Ogre family and then a Witch to depose! What else lives in this world that is worse than them?”
Tan abruptly stopped and his face drained of colour.
“Orcs,” he said. “They are the mutated progeny of Goblins. Many centuries ago a tribe of goblins settled a strange land in which the plants grew abnormally and over the years so did the goblins. They became larger, cruel and changed colour from green to grey. A lot of them are misshapen, cannibalistic freaks that make your blood run cold when you see them. Like goblins they have no problems with iron and they have no magic. Because of this they hate us and have sworn to remove or enslave all of the faery races.”
The three of them stood in front of the throne and looked up at the incredibly beautiful creature that was hovering in front of them. Her eldritch beauty made them dizzy just looking at her. She was dressed in a white and silver toga that allowed her transparent, silvery wings to burst through the fabric at the back. Ebony hair framed her face and hung down to her waist in two plaits. A broad streak of pure silver divided her head into three locks of hair and was tucked back under her crown to cascade down her back between her wings. A large chain-linked golden belt was strung around her middle and pulled tightly above her hips. Inset to the belt were psychic enhancing crystals that augmented her power. These connected her to the earth power that ran through every living thing. Tam and Shamus could not look away and were bathed in a silver light.
The faery queen settled into her chair and said, “My dear friends something has come about that must be addressed, or all of those who live in the enchanted realm will lose everything we have. The Orcs have broken through the barrier I set centuries ago and they have iron weapons.”
Tam shuddered and his face went as white as snow when the reality of Mab’s words hit home. Even Mog was struck dumb as he explored every avenue that he could think of to defeat this ancient enemy.
Shamus was the first to speak and said, “We need to know a lot more about the properties of iron and how we can protect ourselves from its proximity. The goblins have worked the sky metal for centuries so they know more about its uses and its effects against us. All we know; is that it has a negative value against magic and drags the abilities out of any of the faery races that gets too close to a large piece of it.”
Queen Mab looked thoughtful and considered what Shamus had said before answering, “You have a point Shamus O’Brian and I think that I may have an answer. Some time ago a human found a way to enter this realm and stayed here to study magic. He has been here many years and has adapted to the powers that are part and parcel of living here. Like many of the faery race his lifespan has been long and fruitful, as he gained knowledge of our ways and applied them. He still lives and has a keep by a river not far from my castle using the Seven League Boots. His would be a way of looking at this world from a different viewpoint. If anyone could answer those questions it would be him. His name is Alexius Philomathes and he came over to this world from a place called Greece. He was a teacher and what the people called a Philomath (A seeker after knowledge.) with a wide circle of interests. We would call him a wizard. I have spent many an hour discussing avenues of knowledge with him. I will give you a token, so that he will know that you have been sent by me.”
She sent all of her knowledge of the wizard and where he lived into their minds, also telepathic bridges directly to her mind should it be needed.
Shamus stared at the Queen as all the implications raced through his mind and eventually he said, “I think the sooner that we made our way to this wizard’s keep and seek his advice the better.”
Mab vibrated her wings and rose above her devoted servants, becoming a ball of light. She flew through the walls and disappeared from sight, leaving the one instruction flaming in their minds, “Find him and ask him to come to me.”
The three friends made ready to leave the castle after replenishing their travelling sacks, but Shamus had a short errand to run. He activated the portal under the throne and passed into the Shadow Lands. There where he had left it, was the Wood-sprite rooted into the ground around the dolmen. The leprechaun put his hands upon the bark of the apple-being and bridged into the Wood-sprite’s mind.
“I need you to come with me into my world and be my protector there, as you were in this Shadow Land. Two others will need your protection also, but first I shall have to shrink you down to a size that I can carry in my pocket,” he projected into the mesh of woody thoughts.
The wood-sprite began to withdraw all of its root systems from the ground around the dolmen. It began to contract into a solid ball of woody stems, boughs and roots.
As Shamus shrunk the dryad down to the size of a plumb-stone he ‘heard’ his name, “I am Epimeliades the wood-sprite that you created. Call me Ep and I will respond to your call. Born of the Apple-tree and your will, I belong to you.”
When Ep became small enough to fit in Shamus’s pocket, he returned to the throne room. The other two gave him a quizzical look and he fished out the Wood-sprite and showed it to Mog and Tam.
“This creature saved our lives in the Shadow Lands and I thought that he would make a good insurance against anything that we might come up against. Remember that trees are not affected by iron. We might need that attribute in the future,” said Shamus and he put Ep back into his waistcoat pocket.
Once they were outside the castle Tam shrunk Mog the Troll down in size to fit in his waistcoat pocket and the two leprechauns turned to face in the direction that Alexius lived. After giving the command, ‘Stride’ the two of them set off across the countryside in twenty mile hops. This was good farming country and had been settled by goblins many years ago. Winding through the lush fields was a respectively sized river that dropped through a series of dams that turned water-wheels, powering flour mills. They followed the river upstream until they came to the wizard’s keep. It was obvious to both of them that this building had not been constructed as a castle to keep people out! It had a tower that gave a good view over the surrounding farmlands and had a walled courtyard at the top. Something had been built there and was poking up into the sky, when to their surprise it rotated around and lowered to point directly at them. They powered down the reach of the boots and made their way to the grounds at a slower pace. Extensive gardens had been laid out to grow vegetables and fruit. These were being tended by goblins and also gnomes who were digging and collecting produce.
They were given a cheery wave by the workers and one of the goblins walked up to the two leprechauns and said, “How can I help you. Have you come to visit the great teacher?”
Tam reached into his top pocket and put the Troll down on the ground and let him resume his normal size. Mog stretched his stony arms wide apart and stamped up and down on the ground to relieve himself of cramp. Although the goblin’s eyes widened with surprise he stood his ground.
Shamus bowed to the gardener and said, “Yes good sir, we have indeed come to see your resident wizard on a mission from the Queen. Would that be possible?”
“Of course you may. He welcomes visitors and any news from outside these lands,” he replied and led the way into the keep.
Mog elected to stay outside as he would not fit inside through the doors. Before Shamus entered the great hall he took out of his pocket the shrunken dryad and restored him to his natural size so that he could root and take on water by the doorway. He had told Ep to wait where he was planted and that he was in no danger. The Wood-sprite was so overcome by the tranquillity of the surroundings that he broke out in blossom.
This time what had occurred right in front of him, really took the breath out of the goblin’s chest and he staggered through the door to the safety of the inside with relief! When Tam and Shamus extended their bodies to match the size of the wizard’s helper rather than walk around at his waist high, he fell over his own feet and had to be helped up to a standing position.
“I did not mean to startle you, good sir, but it would be rude of us to remain small and not fit in to the furniture here! You react as if you have not met leprechauns before and I apologise for using magic that you are not used to,” Tam O’ Shadow said and shook his hand.
Stood in the sunlight blazing through a large glass window was a tall silver haired human who beckoned them inside.
“Show our visitors to a comfortable seat, Branch-et, and let me hear all the news from these amazing people. They have come a long way for just a visit, so sit down and tell me why you have come. My name is Alexius Philomathes and as you obviously must know, I am not from this world. I came searching for knowledge and your Queen Mab allowed me to stay,” the wizard smiled and waved them over to a set of padded chairs.
“As you say, Alexius, we have come a long way to see you,” replied Tam. “We too seek knowledge and our Queen believes that you may be able to aid us in a problem that will engulf the entire Enchanted Realm in chaos and bloodshed if we cannot stop it. I would like you to meet a great friend of mine who is waiting outside as he will not fit inside this hall unless I adjust him. I will fetch him to you and he will be able to transfer my thoughts to your mind so that you will know what it is that we are trying to stop.”
Tam O’ Shadow left Shamus and Alexius together while he retraced his steps guided by Branch-et to shrink the Troll down to a more manageable size.
Shamus looked at the white haired, bearded man and said, “Oh! You may call me Shamus and my friend is known as Tam O’ Shadows. We are leprechauns. The troll you are to meet is called Mog and I apologise for the lack of manners and introductions. Have you been here long, Alexius?
“Longer than I can believe Shamus. After the first century passed by, I kind-of lost count of the years, I have spent in this place. This land seems to have that effect on those who live here. During my time here I have learnt amazing things about this land and the laws of nature that apply here. I have no wish to return to the war-racked world of humanity. I hope that this is not your intention to return me to that mad place?”
“Those who Queen Mab allows to stay here do so with her blessing. Sometime she asks something in return for that boon,” replied Shamus. “I came from the human world to plunder and paid the price for that. I was given a chance to pay that debt by killing a dragon and Queen Mab re-created me as a leprechaun, but I still have some human characteristics. It’s a long story, Alexius, but so far it has had a happy ending. Ah! I see my friends are returning and you are about to meet your first Troll.”
Alexius stared at what appeared to be an untidy bunch of stones ambling towards him and then caught sight of the Troll’s eyes staring back to him. With this reference point established suddenly the rest of the Troll became visible to the human.
“You look as if you have not seen the likes of me before! I am Mog the Troll friend of these two adventurous idiots and servant of the Queen,” boomed out the heap of stones. “There’s enough room in here for me to be more comfortable, so I would be obliged if you would return me to my proper size!”
Tam did so and Mog expanded to stand twice the size of Alexius and sat back onto the flagstone floor with a grunt of satisfaction.
Tam turned to the wizard and said, “What I am about to do is to channel my thoughts through Mog and into your mind by placing my forehead against my friend’s finger and he will place his other one against your forehead. This will make a circuit that will impart my knowledge into yours. I must tell you that it is a two-way system and I will pick up some of your thoughts as well. It will not take longer than a few seconds, but will take longer for you to assimilate all that you need to know.”
Alexius nodded and waited for Mog to touch his forehead with his stony forefinger. It was as if a light-show of pictures and sound exploded in his mind when the Troll made contact. The Greek polymath sat ridged, as his mind tried to comprehend the wonders that he had seen and make sense of it all. The gaps in the esoteric knowledge were in applied physics and his agile mind began to sew all the pieces together. Iron was a poison to the faery races because the iron in their blood-streams was bound to other trace elements that built tiny mental transformers in the brains of certain types of people. It was this that enabled them to alter the density of flesh and as in the leprechauns become giants or dwarfs amongst other attributes. The proximity to iron disrupted this process and robbed the red blood cells of the ability to take oxygen around the bloodstream. A cut by an iron blade would quickly go septic and death would occur rapidly.
Over an hour went by as Alexius sat and assimilated what he had received from Tam O’ Shadow and his thoughts tumbled around each other as he reached for a solution and rejected it. Then an idea began to form in his mind as he relayed the information that Tam had about the Queen and her abilities. When he added that into the equation things began to fall into place.
Alexius stood up and began to mumble to himself and pace back and forwards around the room. He stopped in front of an ornate door and opened it, showing a staircase that led upwards to the observation tower.
“Come with me,” he said and motioned to Tam and Shamus to follow him, leaving Mog behind, still sat on the floor.
The two leprechauns followed the human up the stairs and were amazed to see glass globes that gave light as the wizard flicked a switch next to them.
He turned towards them and warned, “Be careful as you enter this room that has become my workshop. In my pursuit of knowledge I have worked with what you refer to as the poison metal and you will find that there may be enough up here to unsettle you. The goblins understand my interest in this metal and bring me what they call Sky Stones and I have made all manner of things with them. They are stored at the far end of the room and as long as you stay at this end, I can show you what I have in mind that should work against these Orcs. There is another force that can be harnessed safely in this realm. You see those glass containers with the rods sticking out? They are what I call power cells and can store a charge that I can put to use. I use the water wheel to turn a shaft that rotates inside a magnetic field. This sends power along copper cables to these cells and ----”
He looked at the bemused faces of the two leprechauns and shrugged his shoulders.
“I am sorry, good sirs, I tend to run off at the mouth when talking about my discoveries. I will show a practical example to you about what I have in mind to do. It will take some effort but if I can speak with your Queen and tap into her powers, I think that this will work?”
He placed a long tube tightly wound with copper wire and mounted on wooden feet onto his work bench. Connected to this were two lengths of copper fixed to a block with a switch. This was then connected to the power cells with more wire covered in what looked like bandages. Making sure that he did not get too close to the leprechauns, he placed a small block of the Sky Stone on the bench where Tam and Shamus could see it in front of the tube. He walked around the table and pushed the switch over. The lights dimmed and a wave of heat swept through the room and the piece of poison metal flew through the air and slapped against the end of the tube. When Alexius turned the power off, the metal fell to the floor as it bounced off the table.
There was a stunned silence from Tam and Shamus as they stared at the metal block on the floor as their minds added up the possibilities of what this could do. They began to understand the gulf of knowledge that the faery races needed to come to grips with.
“There is a problem with the use of this possible weapon and it is called the inverse square law! The further away from the device the weaker the pull, so we would need to build something a lot bigger and lots of them. There is something else that has occurred to me that could be done as a trap without using magic,” Alexius explained. “I want you to experience what it would be like to contact the power force. Now I promise that this will be very weak, but you will find it unpleasant! I want you to hold this copper rod in each hand and I will dial up a very low charge and slowly increase it. Which one of you will it be, or are you willing to hold hands and each grip a copper rod to share the experience?”
Tam and Shamus held hands and each gripped a rod in the other hand. At first they could only feel a strange tingling sensation. But as the force was increased the effect was unbearable and the two of them danced around until Alexius turned it off. Both leprechauns reverted to their normal size and found that their magical skills had disappeared. Slowly their abilities returned and they were able to increase their size to the human’s and were filled with respect.
“Can you imagine the effect of walking over a mesh connected to a much stronger power source? The more metal worn the worse the effect would be! I need to speak with our Queen. I have not spoken to Athena for many years and to do what I have in mind will take a lot of man-power and materials. There are many highly skilled goblins on this homestead that have been educated by me and will do much of the technical work. She must trust me to use her powers or all of this will be a waste of time. I came from a warlike world and have seen more bloodshed than I ever wanted too. That’s why I came here to get peace and solitude to study. This is my home now by curtesy of the Queen and I do not want it turned into a battleground,” Alexius sorrowfully said and sat back on a chair to hear their answer.
“We were sent here to meet you Alexius and to ask that you accompany us back to Queen Mab’s presence. What you have shown us gives us hope that we will be able to halt the advance of the Orcs and contain them,” Tam stated and asked, “I imagine that you will need lots of copper and other materials for you to build what you have in mind? Be assured it will be done. Anything that you ask for will be freely given to you for this purpose.”
Without giving it enough thought, Shamus wandered around the table until he reached the block of metal that had rolled off the table onto the floor. He picked it up with his newly grown hand and arm to put it back on the workbench.
Tam shouted out, “Leave it go Shamus. You have a block of the poison metal in your unprotected hand. Touch it and it will do you great harm!”
Shamus stopped and said, “Tam! I can feel nothing with this hand. The metal does not affect me as it should, but my other hand is reacting to the closeness of the block! I believe that my new right hand that Queen Mab regrew is human not leprechaun! I am indeed a hybrid creature part one thing and part another.”
Shamus put the block of iron back upon the table and walked away from the apparatus that Alexius had demonstrated.
Tam pointed to another doorway that led to the top of the tower and asked, “Can I ask what is the apparatus that is mounted on the roof? We saw you pointing it at us as we began to come into sight.”
“By all means, my emissaries from the Queen! I will show you my latest invention that has opened up the mysteries of the night sky and also can give warning of approaching visitors,” Alexius replied and led the way to the top of the tower.
When they got there they were amazed by the pipe-like contraption that could expand lengthwise or contract, mounted upon a swivel so that it could point in any direction. He showed them the eye piece after he had focussed the instrument at the edge of the distant fields at the small-holdings and got them to look through. Both of the leprechauns were struck dumb by being able to view the buildings as if they were close by.
Alexius pointed to the evening sky above them and said, “There are things in the sky that I need to speak to Athena about that could help our cause. I have discovered with my apparatus many wonders high up above us that might also be of use, so however you got here so quickly needs to be repeated in the morning. After we have eaten, Branch-et will take you to a place where you can sleep, but the Troll may have to sleep where he is.”
Tam laughed and replied, “Mog doesn’t actually sleep, Alexius, he just goes dormant until the sun rises again and gets up when he wants to! Shamus and I however will be pleased to take your offer of kindness and will see you in the morning.”
The two leprechauns followed the goblin through another doorway and found two beds ready for sleeping in, prepared for them. They got undressed and settled into the soft beds, but before they went to sleep they relayed all that they had seen to Queen Mab’s telepathic link.
But before he went to sleep Shamus asked, “Why does he refer to you as Athena instead of Mab?”
His mind was filled with tinkling laughter as she answered, “In his old world he saw me as a god named Athena who was their goddess of wisdom, justice and courage! He has I think a rare mind and that is why I have allowed him to live here. I have extended his life just in case there would come a time that we needed him. It would seem that this was an exceedingly sensible thing to do! Now sleep my dear friend and I will see you tomorrow.”
While the leprechauns slept Alexius laboured on in his workshop and built a portable demonstration model that he placed inside a wooden case. Satisfied he went to his own bedroom where his goblin wife, Flower-et waited for him.
The gobliness asked, “Will I be coming too? Is there room for me?”
Alexius kissed her gently on top of her hairless headand replied, “Oh yes, dear Flower you can be sure that my new friends will do just as I ask. Their magic will take us and I will show you the beautiful home of Athena and all the people that live there with her. Besides I will need you to help me set up my equipment. Now go to sleep and we will start our greatest adventure in the morning.”
Flower-et cuddled up to Alexius and pulled his arm over her green shoulders and shut her eyes. Soon all was quiet and just the sound of steady breathing could be heard.
By the time that the morning sun had broken through the cloudy start to the day, all those that were returning and visiting Queen Mab’s castle had eaten a good breakfast and were ready to go. There was one vital piece of Alexius’s equipment that was presenting a problem however. Somehow they needed to transport a small piece of the poison metal to demonstrate what the Greek had in mind. Everything else had been put into a travelling sack and reduced in size except for the small metal disk that would demonstrate the power that Alexius had discovered. He found that wrapping the disc in lead dampened the effect of negating the magic power that drove the Seven League Boots. Shamus picked the metal block up with his human hand and declared that apart from a slight tingle it did not seem to have the effect on him that it had on Tam O’ Shadow! While he sat down, Flower-et bound it to his wrist with an elasticated strap and they all went outside after Tam had shrunk Mog to the size that he needed to be to travel in Tam’s pocket. Once they were outside, Shamus asked the dryad to uproot and be shrunk down to travel with him perched upon his shoulder and tied to his hair. This amazed Alexius and Flower-et as the apple tree altered its form into its travelling mode. When everything and everyone was in place the leprechauns gave the order to grow ten times and ‘Stride.’
The view from the top waistcoat pockets gave Alexius and Flower-et a view of the surrounding countryside that was unique! The miles flew by in gigantic hops and soon the turrets of Mab’s castle came into sight. Alexius began to wonder if the Queen would agree to use his most radical ideas and allow him to use her as a conduit. For without her co-operation what he was going to propose would not work at all!
The two temporary giants unloaded their pockets and resumed a more normal size. Mog picked up the equipment that Alexius had stowed away and carried it gently into the castle. He was followed by the anxious scientist and his partner, Flower-et, as Tam and Shamus showed the way.
Queen Mab was waiting for them inside the great throne room and was hovering over her throne. The constant beat of her wings gave a cool draught across the chamber. She was outlined in a multi-coloured, shifting light that sprang from her body as energy from the enchanted realm, radiated from her aura. The sight was too much for the group and all of them fell to one knee and bowed their heads in supplication.
“Enough of this foolishness,” she said. “Most of you I count as friends and certainly as allies. In this coming conflict we will all need to work together, or we will certainly perish under the Orc’s onslaught. Come with me and we will sit and I will watch this demonstration that Alexius has put together. I sense that you have brought into my home a piece of the poison metal. Although the presence is weak I will keep well away from it. I bid you welcome, Greek scholar and your partner Flower-et to my home. Now, we waste time with these pleasantries! Show me something that will fill my heart with hope?”
The Queen had led them into a well-lit room with a large table running down the centre. Mog opened the sack and Shamus thrust his hand into the mouth and began to remove and reinstate the items to their proper size. When they got too heavy, Mog moved them to where Alexius wanted them to be. The human and the gobliness rapidly put the equipment together and soon had everything connected up.
Shamus went to the far end of the table and with the help of Flower-et they took the lead box apart that was strapped onto his wrist and placed the block of the Sky-stone on the end of the table. Alexius checked over the connections to the power-cell and to everything else. Both Tam and Shamus had seen the effect before, but not Mog, or the Queen. The long copper clad tube pointed towards the end of the table.
Alexius said, “Be prepared for the block of poison metal to move along the table. Do not approach the equipment until I switch it off again.”
Having said that he pulled the switch down to make contact and the block twitched. Then it slid faster and faster along the table until it smacked into the end of the cylinder. There it stayed until Alexius switched it off. This time it just dropped onto the table top. As soon as he switched the apparatus back on, the block rose in the air and once again was securely held tight.
Alexius donned a pair of heavy leather gloves and tried to pull the block away from the end of the copper wound tube. It took a great deal of pulling before the block would come away. He handed it to Shamus who put it back into the lead-lined box and closed the lid.
Queen Mab stared at the silver haired old man and said, “I need to enter your mind to be able to understand better what I have just seen, but I think that you will need something a lot bigger.”
Alexius nodded his head and suddenly found the Queen’s mind in his searching for explanations of what she had witnessed. Everything that he had thought about and also his discoveries were as an open book to her powerful mind.
She came out of his mind and remarked, “I was certainly correct in allowing you to come here to study and pursue knowledge. I would never have thought of the many different ways that might be used to defeat the Orcs!”
“You have seen my instrument that allows me to see things that are very distant,” answered Alexius. “I have trained this upon the night sky and found that there are chunks of something that orbit around this world and I think that they are parts of a comet that may have been captured by this planet. I would ask if it were possible to take my mind up there and use your senses to examine these large chunks and come to a decision about their use? Also is it true that you can control the weather and conjure up thunderstorms?”
Mab laughed and said, “Yes and yes to your questions. You Mog, catch him when he falls to the ground. We are going on a trip together so I too will need support in case I fall from this chair.”
She sat into a large chair, extended her butterfly wings so that she could sit back and closed her eyes. Alexius dropped into Mog’s ready fingers as if all of his muscles had snapped. Tam made sure that she did not fall and held her against the chair-back.
Using the knowledge that Alexius had gathered by sweeping the skies, she guided him out of the planet’s gravity well and the last molecules of air. He looked through her eyes and senses and soon found what he was looking for. In the blackness of space tumbling in a steady orbit were very large chunks of dirty ice. They were like giant snowballs that had rolled down loose scree on the slopes of a mountain. All of them were spinning erratically, spitting water vapour out while in the sun’s rays and solidifying on contact with the dark side of the chunk.
Alexius asked the Queen, “Can you slow them down? Is it possible that you could influence the direction of these great chunks of ice? I understand that in the past you have directed several iron-bearing Sky Stones to land in selected places in your realm to be used by your people.”
“I am sure that what you have in mind will be possible, but I fear that we need some time to accomplish what you will need. What horrifies me is that what you are proposing is nothing short of genocide!”
She cut off her thoughts so that Alexius could say no more in that intimate situation and returned them back to her chambers. As the Greek recovered from the incredible experience he shakily stood and faced the Queen.
Angrily he pointed his finger at her and loudly said, “It’s no good shutting me out of your mind, Madam! If you do not carry out what I have proposed, your reign will end and all who live in this enchanted land will either become slaves to the Orcs, or food! I do not carry this burden lightly and I know that this goes against everything that you stand for, but it must be done and without mercy. We have shared minds for long enough for me to be aware of what you can do and how I can link your powers to my ingenuity! You are Athena to me, goddess of all that is true. This world is in your keeping, so keep it! ”
She sat in deathly quiet and stared at Alexius, as she gave thought about what he had proposed and came to a reluctant decision.
Tam, Shamus and Mog were shocked at the candour of Alexius as he lectured the Queen on what must be done. Nobody to their knowledge had ever spoken to Queen Mab in such a way and gone unscathed. To their surprise she paid the slight no heed, as she considered what Alexius had said. She turned to face them and was aware of their discomfort and laughed at the expressions on their faces.
“My dear friends do you not know me enough to understand that I value truth above all else? What Alexius has proposed, may do more than just defend us from this threat. You do not need to know the how of it, just the method that will give me what I need. The first thing that we need is an abundance of copper and other materials. The goblins can manufacture under instruction of Alexius the equipment that we need. Trolls can build the apparatus when the parts arrive. Leprechauns can shrink it and bring it to my castle via the Shadow Lands. Worry not about what that infernal place used to be, as Shamus’s dryads have altered the makeup of the place. There will be less risk travelling through that place, now that it is swarming with Wood-sprites!
Mog, spread the word amongst your folk to link with the goblin artificers and tell them of our needs. Take from the mind of Alexius what he requires to be made and link him up to the leader of each goblin community so that he can inspect progress and direct it when necessary.
The first thing that Mog did was to connect his mind to every Troll across the Enchanted Land and tell them that the Orcs had enough poison metal to break through Queen Mog’ barriers and would be ravaging through the countryside very soon. As the days went by he organised a link up with the goblin settlements and told them that their services would be required to manufacture whatever Alexius needed. The threat of an Orc invasion would be enough to ensure their co-operation. Meanwhile Alexius commandeered paper and began to sketch the parts of the equipment that he needed to build.
Elves and gnomes would soon enter the edges of the great East/West road and make camps inside the forest and keep a lookout for any marauding Orcs. They would only take them out by bow and arrow if they were sure that the bodies were never found. Goblins would accompany them to strip the dead of any iron and bury it with the Orcs deep enough that it did not interfere with the magical abilities of the Elves and Gnomes. The loss of any Orcs that tried an explorative venture too far along the great East/West road would worry the Orcs back at Gunderstall, as they would just disappear without trace. This would be unnerving enough to keep the Orcs within their lands until they were absolutely ready for the main invasion. By then Alexius would have his answer to the iron clad Orcs in place and waiting.
Shamus and Ep, the Wood-sprite, would awaken the vegetative mind that slumbered in all the foliage. They would then spread the word that the Orcs were coming to chop them down and burn down the trees. This would protect the iron sensitive elves and gnomes from physical contact with the Orcs as they waited with their bows and arrows for any survivors from the first wave of attack.
Meanwhile in the grim Orc city of Gunderstall, the inhabitants had caught a handful of elves and brought them back as live captives. They took them to ‘The Place of Question’ where all prisoners were taken to have information retrieved before being eaten. Now the Orcs were very curious as to what the proximity to iron would do to the faery folk. They selected an adult male and stripped him, thrusting an iron bar close to his face and watched as he broke out into a sweat. Soon he began to struggle and vomit. Drurk laughed and swept the iron bar across the elf’s naked back and watched as it became a pool of festering boils. He left the poison metal in contact with the elf’s skin and listened to him scream. Soon the elf began to bleed from under the bar of metal, becoming weaker and weaker until at last he died.
Drurk stared at the twitching body at his feet and said, “It would seem my Lady that the poison metal causes the skin to become paper thin and they bleed as if cut deeply!”
Gretch Fem-Orc, leader of the Orcs said, “A good result, Drurk, but just how little iron would render these abominations dead?”
Drurk looked up from the fire and grinned.
“I have a small sharp knife that might give us an indication, my leader,” he replied and sank the knife into the upper leg of an elf-maiden held tightly by another Orc.
Within a few heartbeats she stiffened and died. They soon found out that if the elves were just stabbed and the knife withdrawn, the elf always died. They threw the bodies onto the roasting rack and enjoyed the feast. Now they knew that the slightest contact with iron would kill the faery people. A wounded elf was an elf that would die in a very short while.
Manufacture went rapidly from swords to arrowheads, breast plates and helmets. They soon found out that an elfin arrow would not penetrate steel armour so sheets of iron were hammered out to fit the barrel chested Orcs and heavy helmets strapped over their grey bald heads. Gretch sent parties of Orcs along the old boundaries, placing iron rings over the stone warriors, turning them back to angry flesh and blood, swelling her army even more. To feed these extra mouths she sent more whaling ships out to sea and they dragged the bloody carcasses back to Gunderstall. Every day the armies of the Orcs grew and grew, swelled by those who had remained as stone statues for eons.
As they ate and drank Orc beer, all they could dream of was the sweet meat of the elves and gnomes that soon would be theirs. Once again, enslaved goblins would be toiling in the fields breaking their backs to grow the food for them. The Trolls would become the heavy lifters and iron would ensure that they obeyed the Orcs in everything that they required. The only people that might present a problem were the magical Leprechauns and iron would soon shut them down and the Orcs would hunt them for sport as well as the hated fairies!
As the shrieks of pain echoed through the inquisitor’s rooms of question, Queen Mab was aware of every agony filled moment, until each elf’s mind shut off. She could not seal off her great telepathic powers and suffered with them. The pain cut through the iron induced mental fog surrounding Gunderstall like a hot knife through butter and burnt into her brain. Through gritted teeth Mab swore that there would be no mercy shown towards the Orcs on that day of reckoning.
Alexius soon found out how quickly the goblins grasped his requirements once they understood what was important and what could be improved upon. The first thing that they got to grips with was producing miles of copper twisted cable fully coated with insulation so that none of the copper touched itself, as it was wound around the wooden tubes. All across the enchanted lands, goblin artificers vied with each other to produce what was wanted and improved. These components were shrunken down and carried by leprechaun through the Shadow Lands without incident and stored at the castle. Soon there would be enough for Alexius to assemble the first test rig away from the castle and use the powers of Queen Mab to energise it. Only then would the Greek know how to adjust the amount of power to make it work safely.
Meanwhile Queen Mab was perfecting her skills many miles away from the castle and possible prying eyes. She used the Shadow Land portals to take herself and others skilled in the control of the weather, to where they could practice the finer manipulation of the elements.
Tam, Shamus and Ep had made their way along the East/West Road as close as they dared, towards the stronghold of the Orcs without being seen. They broke their journey by resting at Tam O’ Shadow’s house in the whispering wood. While Tam prepared a home-cooked meal for the two of them, Shamus walked around the cottage until he entered the leprechaun’s garden. The enchanted apple tree was already aware of him and the branches swayed with welcome. Ep stayed at the entrance to the garden and waited for the right moment to be introduced with typical Dryad patience.
The woody mind reached out to Shamus and a voice creaked around his mind and asked, “Tell me Sssshamus of your adventures and the use you made of my giftssss?”
The hybrid leprechaun/human sat down against the gnarly bark of the tree and told the Wood-sprite about everything that Tam and Shamus had accomplished and the help that the tree’s apples had been, in so many different ways. He then told the ancient apple tree about the coming threat of the invasion of the Orcs and the destruction that they would wrought wherever they went.
“What we are here to do is to awaken the group mind of the forest and show it what the Orcs will do. They will clear the forest and break the ancient covenant between the forest and the faery folk by burning green wood and dragging trees out of the ground, snapping their roots. This land will burn and bleed in a fashion that would become the worst of all bad dreams. Soon elves and gnomes will be entering these hallowed forests to stop them and they will need protection from the poison metal that the Orcs will be carrying,” explained Shamus to the Wood-sprite.
The tree embraced Shamus and gently held him within his branches and said, “You are more ssspecial than you know, young leprechaun. I will send a root message throughout the forest, informing all about the perilous times ahead. There are many thorny bushes and trees that will be very willing to teach these Orcs to keep out of our woods. By morning young Ssssshamus the group mind will be aware. Tell your people that they will be welcomed into our protection.”
Shamus pulled himself away from the tree, introduced Ep to his father and left the two Wood-sprites together with roots intertwined. Shamus’s protector busily recounted the adventures that he had shared with him and the difference that had made to the once so hostile, Shadow Lands.
In the morning Tam and Shamus awoke and ate a good breakfast before contacting the two dryads with the next item that they required. They re-provisioned themselves from the many travelling sacks that Tam O’ Shadows had stored away from previous adventures. These were stashed away in shrunken form and placed into the many pockets of their waistcoats. Once again Tam covered the cottage with poison ivy and dog-rose briers until it disappeared from sight. They walked around the well defended cottage into the garden at the back. The two Wood-sprites were immediately aware of them and began to stir as Ep began to withdraw his rooting system from his father’s connections with the rest of the forest.
Shamus placed his hands against the bark of the ancient apple tree and said, “Ancient one, there is something that we need that only you can provide.”
“And that issss?”
“A dead Orc in battle armour, delivered to the edge of the forest to be collected by goblins. Alexius needs one to test his weapon,” replied Shamus. “In fact several would be useful!”
A root tore its way out of the ground and wrapped around Shamus’s wrist, while another one did the same with Tam. Immediately they became part of a vast network of trees, shrubs and vines with interlocking minds. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of vegetal units became as one sentient being. It concentrated its powers of sentience to the East and the edge of the Orc dominated lands. It searched for a small group that were closest to where Shamus and Tam were situated and found a small observation post camped upon the old giant-built road, keeping a watch for any activity of the faery folk towards their lands.
Fruit trees located a short distance into the forest began to exude the aromatic scent of sweet juicy produce. Orcs have a great hunger for sweet things and will devour any fruit if given a chance to gather it. They do not willingly share, so only those who would venture into the forest would acquire the bounty. As the Orcs could see along the arrow straight road for miles and that it was empty, they decided to enter the forest and pick the fruit that they could see ripening in abundance. Some of the boughs were at breaking point and were almost lying on the forest floor weighed down by the abundance of the fruit.
Shamus and Tam watched through the forest’s senses as the Orcs began to stuff the ripe fruit into their gaping jaws. Almost as if the roots of the trees were being guided by the two leprechauns, they began to squirm out of the soil and cut off any retreat. Suddenly the greedy Orcs found themselves wrapped up in a wooden embrace unable to move arms and legs. They were lifted into the air and the vegetal mind took information from the minds of the two pixies and shaped a pointed end to one of the flexible roots. The Orcs began to scream in terror as one by one they were forced into opening their mouths wide and the sharp hardened root drove up through the roof of each Orc’s mouth and into their brain. The dead were then transferred to the tree-tops and were transported from ancient tree to sapling, directly towards the edge of the forest where Alexius was waiting for them with his goblin metal-smiths having been primed by the Queen, who had witnessed everything that had taken place.
They both heard her voice inside their minds say, “Well done my loyal warriors. I am well pleased. Now make your way along the road and seek ambushing areas where we can set our traps. I will see you later. I have much to do!”
Shamus and Tam found themselves no longer in physical contact with the ancient apple tree. The vegetal mind had left them and was busy with other matters, pertaining to remove any Orc that strayed away from his fellows. These would disappear without trace having been pulled into the forest and buried to be used as compost.
Shamus reduced Ep in size so that the dryad could ride upon his shoulders and using the Seven League Boots, they made their way towards the Orc City of Gunderstall.
Queen Mab was honing her skills and was beginning to be successful. In the thousands of years she had ruled over the Enchanted Lands the degree of accuracy had never been called for when she had nudged the occasional ‘Sky Metal chunk’ out of orbit and downwards for the goblins to use. Sometimes she took Alexius’s mind with her so that he could choose the pieces of ice to be put aside for later use. On one of these excursions they built several snowballs out of stray smaller chunks by Queen Mab’s powers and Alexius’s instructions, as to how to ensure that the snowball did not come apart too soon. These they dropped on the other side of the world, in the middle of an empty desert, aimed at a dormant volcano. To begin with, the fireballs missed by twenty miles, but as the days wore on, Queen Mab’s accuracy improved. Great lakes of boiling water formed and sank into the desert sands. Eventually she could hit the peak of the volcano every time. Now all she needed was an accurate view of the Orc city from one of the leprechauns to give her a direction and a place to send her answer to their threats.
During the days that he was not mentally joined with the Faery queen he fussed over the building of the giant electro-magnet proto-type. Once the goblins understood the principals of the arrangement they improved the design. One morning the forest spat out the corpses of the steel-armoured Orcs and the goblins collected them. They studied the armour and searched for any weak spots that could be exploited at long range with bow and arrow. Also the elves found out just how close they could get and still operate their magic. To their satisfaction it was well within bow and arrow range.
Alexius put the finishing touches to the apparatus and made sure that the copper pillars were well impaled into the ground. For the test, he had made sure that all the components were well away from the castle, so that when Queen Mab ‘called’ down the lightening it would not damage her home. He had the Trolls line up the bodies of the Orcs, fully dressed in their armour at set distances from the ends of the coiled tube. He had found out by experimenting that if the tube was bent around to a letter U and wound around the tube, over and over again, he could generate a greater attractive force. Since travelling with the Queen into orbit and seeing the world through her senses he had become linked mentally to her. Now he could converse with her mind to mind over quite a distance.
As he walked away from the tube he could feel the static electricity beginning to make his hair stand on end. Already Queen Mab was building a charge in the ground and creating a thundercloud high above them.
“Not yet! Everyone must get a good distance away from the area or suffer the consequences,” he panicked and broke into a run along with all the other helpers. “Try to keep it down in power to begin with. I have no clear idea just what will happen when the lightning strikes the copper pillars.”
Alexius pulled a collapsible tube from his pocket and viewed the equipment through the lenses bringing the dead Orcs into view.
“Now,” he told her and the faery queen reached down from the thunderhead and connected it to the two copper pillars.
The static charge swept through the pillars and through the wiring. There was a blinding flash and the whole apparatus melted like butter in a fire, leaving pools of molten copper dripping through the mounts onto the ground. When Alexius regained his sight, he swept the glasses back to where the corpses had been left. The nearest armoured Orc was welded to what was left of the end of one tube and several of the others had been dragged across the grass towards the equipment by the attractive force reacting with their armour.
The Greek Philomath hurried over to the wreckage and gloomily surveyed the damage. The wiring had burnt through the insulation and the copper pillars had melted during the lightning strike. The other thing that he became aware of was that all of the static charge in the area had vanished. Queen Mab had used up all the energy at once. The overpowering fact was that the attraction between the open ends of the U had picked up the dead Orcs by their armour and had the force lasted longer he was sure that all of them would have ended up stuck to the ends. Somehow he needed the Queen to engineer a slow release of energy so that she would have enough in reserve to fry the Orcs while their armour was stuck together. This would give her something that she could aim for, as it was evident that the more iron that was put together the more likely that the lightning would strike just where they wanted it. As the goblins collected the dead Orcs they noticed that now the armour had to be prised apart as if the metal was stuck together. This was an unexpected side effect and caused Alexius to think even deeper about what he was going to unleash in this world. During his experiments at his keep, he had constructed something that would detect the power that defused through the ground by accident. He had found that two very thin strips of gold soldered to a brass rod would pull apart if exposed to the charge in the ground. He had placed a bell jar around the rod and insulated it from touch. Just to be sure he had sealed the bottom of the jar so that nothing could make contact. On the top of the brass rod he had mounted a thin metal disk. He had noticed during a thunderstorm that the gold leaves that hung in a vee would push apart. When he had inspected the apparatus and the hair had started to stand out on his body the leaves had done the same, but more positively. He had stumbled upon a way of determining where a concentration of ‘Earth Power’ was stored in the ground. This could be very useful!
Alexius was busy investigating all the different ways that this new knowledge could be brought to bear on the impending Orc invasion. After the melting of the field generator, he had spent some time paired up inside Queen Mab’s mind and concentrated his understanding of the new electrical energy to her. Bit by bit they managed to slow down the discharge rate so that the generator no longer fused together and remained intact after use. Time and again they had the Trolls drag the armoured bodies of the Orcs into new positions and discovered the range of the generator. As each piece of armour was carried into contact with the ends of the generator, the effect increased and any other pieces of iron armour in the vicinity ‘glued’ itself to another part like bricks in a wall. The forest gave up more dead Orcs from time to time so there was no shortage of experimental ‘vessels’ to enable the goblin artificers to try improvements. Meanwhile as the generators were finished, the Trolls positioned them along ambush points that Tam and Shamus indicated to the Queen. Other leprechauns had used their powers to shrink down the equipment along with the building crews and transport it to where it would do the most good. Each ambush point was checked to find out if the area of the generator had a good charge of power locked inside the ground.
There was one natural phenomena that worked in the defender’s favour and that was, the East/West road like all the other main thoroughfares had been built by giants with interlocking slabs of stone. They were wide enough that forty men could march in line without touching the sides. In the midday sun these got very warm and made a lot of warm air rise up into the clouds above. A positive charge built up in the ground and was eager to escape through any tall object. Copper pillars sunk into the edge of the road made excellent lightening conductors. They shone out like beacons inside the Queen’s mind and made it very easy her to find and direct the energy build-up. The forest soon buried them underneath swaths of ivy, camouflaging them from sight.
The Trolls rapidly re-assembled the generators under instruction from the goblins in the centre of the giant’s road. The Orcs would have to pass them to get by. Hidden in the trees were elves, far enough not to suffer too much by the proximity of iron, they could direct the Queen when to send a bolt of lightning through the copper pillars. Those that survived the electrical onslaught would find another barrier across the road manned by elves with uncannily accurate arrows. After each skirmish the elves would retreat to the next ambush or just vanish amongst the trees, where the Orcs would soon find out if they followed them, would cost them their lives.
A long way from all this activity Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian stared down at the Orc lands with some dismay. They were well hidden up a large oak tree at the edge of the forest and had a commanding view. Shamus had been given a collapsible tube with lenses mounted inside by Alexius which enabled the person looking through, a close up view of what was being observed. He stared through the lenses at all the activity and wondered just what the outcome would be? The sheer multitude of the mutated goblins camped around the outskirts of the city of Gunderstall had to number in the tens of thousands. Even at this distance away from the city the painful effects of the sheer mass of iron made it difficult for them to concentrate and send a coherent picture to the Queen. The stench from the city made their eyes run with tears as the pollution from smelting the iron ore and the open sewage system that flowed into the sea mixed together.
He passed the ‘scope’ to Tam and said, “There are more of them than I can count. Look through the tube and see how spread out they are. We need to strike first or they will over-run us with the number of warriors that have clustered around their city. We need to capture one of them and prise the truth out of him before we alert the Queen.”
Tam put down the tube and asked, “What about the iron that they all carry? How can we get around that problem?”
“We pick off a lone Orc using Ep, as iron does not affect him. He can strip the iron from his body and hold him fast while we question him away from his armour,” replied Shamus and returned the Wood-sprite to his normal size.
The apple dryad expanded his branches and sunk his roots into the ground to replenish his energy levels. He also connected to the vegetal forest mind to seek what they needed. Within a short while there was a crashing sound as something came travelling through a network of branches towards the leprechauns screaming with terror! An Orc, fully dressed in battle-armour came hurtling down through the ancient oak-tree and was caught by the Wood-sprite before he would have hit the ground. Ep held him fast and rapidly stripped the Orc of every metallic thing and tossed them away from Tam and Shamus. He then wrapped some of his root system around the Orc’s arms and bound them to his chest so that he could not move. He then hung him up-side down with his head a few inches from the ground.
Tam walked into view and gave the Orc’s head a light kick to make sure of his attention. The Orc tried to spit at him and was rewarded by another kick on his ear.
“Tell me what you know about this impending war,” said Tam O’ Shadow. “When are you going to be on the move and start your expansion into our lands? I also want to know, where is the Iron ore mine located? Tell me all of this and I might just let you go.”
“Rot in your magical socks you misshapen dwarf! You will all soon feel the yoke of the Orc Empire as we spread through your lands killing and looting, with iron to protect us from your magic!” replied the Orc and wriggled, trying to get away.
“Magic, you say? You think that we just have magic to protect ourselves? We have much more than that, abomination! You see, every other living creature in these enchanted lands dislike your kind intensely, but would have left you alone if only you would do the same. Can you see the column of fire ants making their way from out of the forest? They regard you as food. And once they reach underneath your face, they will begin to make a living ladder until they can latch their front jaws into your flesh. Once they do that I cannot stop them from swarming up and spreading all over your body. It will be too late then to want to tell me what I want to know. Once you are just bones I can soon ask the forest to capture me another Orc. Sooner or later I will have the information that I have asked for.”
The dryad twisted the bound Orc so that he could see what was advancing across the ground towards him. The grass had turned into a red mass of ants surging towards his unprotected face. The column was wider than his leg and was being supplied by a living stream of tributaries oozing out of the forest and would soon reach directly underneath him.
Shamus walked carefully round the hanging Orc until he reached the pile of stripped off armour and using the arm that Queen Mab had regrown he picked up the sword in his human hand and carried it back to where the Orc could see him. He was careful not to get too close to Tam with it and poked the Orc in the stomach making him bleed a little. As the drops of blood dripped onto the grass the ants surged forwards and cleared up every drop in front of the terrified Orc.
Shamus knelt down, so that he could speak into the captive’s ear, “This is a good sword, made from good steel. I shall enjoy using it to cut my way through an army of your kind. Do not be so sure that what you have been told is true!”
“Lift me up. Please lift me up. The mine is in the city,” he gasped and Ep pulled him up several inches.
Now he could see the boiling mass of fire ants beginning to build a living tower of interlocking ants to reach him.
Tam moved away from the heaving mass of ants and said, “I believe you have some more to tell me? You see, I am a leprechaun and I will keep my word. Tell me what I want to know and you shall be set free.”
As the interlocked bodies began to surge upwards the Orc screamed in terror, “The attack will take place very soon. As soon as the last of the iron ore has been smelted and beaten into weapons we will be marching along the giant’s road towards you. There will be tens of thousands of us all armed with the poison metal and I promise you that all will fall before our forces.”
Shamus prodded the Orc with the sword again and showed him that it had not affected him at all. Droplets of blood fell into the grass and the fire ants boiled over it until it was all gone. They redoubled their efforts to reach the hanging Orc by building higher and the up-side down goblin began to scream as the tower of scuttling creatures were only a finger’s width from the Orc’s eyes.
“Throw him beyond the trees, Ep. Try not to break him,” said Shamus and watched dispassionately as the naked Orc was tossed out of the outskirts of the forest and down the grassy bank.
He threw the sword into the undergrowth and mopped his brow that was dripping with sweat. Both leprechauns moved well away from the seething mass of fire ants and also the discarded armour.
“I was beginning to lose it back there,” said Shamus to Tad. “I do have some immunity against iron, but not enough to hold onto that sword any longer. He will go back amongst his kind and tell them that iron is not poison to all of the faery people. It might help us if he spreads that false knowledge.”
“We do have some useful information about the Orc city from our reluctant informant and that is that the city is built around the mine and the smelting plants. I will contact Queen Mab and tell her that now would be a good time to drop something onto Gunderstall and put a stop to proceedings. Being this close to all that iron will take some extra effort to contact her. Hold my hands and give me your mental strength while I reach out to her.”
Tam sent his mind towards where he knew that his Queen would be and drew a blank. Shamus joined with him and still they could not break through the mental fog that shielded the Orc city. Another kind of strength reached out to the two leprechauns, as Ep folded his roots around them and plugged them into the forest vegetal consciousness. Now there were thousands of square miles of living plants lending their life energy and breaking through the mental fog.
The energy at Tam’s disposal broke through into Queen Mab’s mind and delivered the message to her. He was able to give her the co-ordinates of the city and the fact that inside, was the Orcs’ weapon-shops and smelting plants. The other piece of information of the imminent attack, once the weapons being forged now were sharpened and finished, made the destruction of Gunderstall imperative.
Queen Mab sat desolate as the implications of what she had to do sank in. In the many thousands of years that she had ruled the Enchanted Lands, she had not needed to kill anyone herself. If she did this awful thing she would be committing a sentence of death on thousands of sentient beings. The Sluagh Sidhe danced the dance of atonement around her head. The fleeting touch of butterfly wings against her face was not a touch of assurance. They were her people, these dancing points of light, these balls of glowing beauty. To protect them and all the faery folk, she would have to become the instrument of death, admittedly to a race of people that held her and all of her kind as an anathema. They would enslave everyone who had lived in harmony with each other under her rule and look upon the elves and gnomes as a food source. Iron would be their tool of submission and without the powers of magic all would be lost. She sat on her throne and wept.
Alexius and Flower-et were with the Queen when Tam contacted her. Because of all the close association together, Alexius felt the misery of her predicament inside his mind as clear as if she were weeping on his shoulder. He felt the anger of the Sluagh Side that he had intruded upon the Queen’s misery and speedily held her hand, bonding his mind to hers. All that Tam had ‘told’ her registered in his mind and he considered the information.
Alexius broke apart the barrier she had tried to place before her mind and said, “What you must do, we will do together. I will share this burden with you because of the love I have for this land and the love I have for you. It must be done or we stand no chance of survival at all!”
Alexius and Queen Mab worked as a team, with the human providing the knowledge and the elemental spirit providing the power. Reluctantly she bonded his mind to hers and ascended upwards until their twin minds were at the orbital distance where they had ‘parked’ the giant snowballs that were a mixture of frozen water and rocks held together by ice. Now that the city of Gunderstall had been seen and located by Tam and Shamus the pin-point accuracy that Mab had developed on the other side of the world could come into play. Gradually she began to slow the residue of the comet down so that instead of endlessly orbiting her world beneath, the balls began to fall. Thousands of tons of ice and stones began to catch the outer limits of atmosphere and parts began to melt as heat began to build up and it began to vent gas. Mab gave them a nudge to the East to compensate for the deflection. Several miles up from the planet below, it still held together and was still in a direct line for the Orc city. In the sky above Gunderstall several glowing balls could now be seen plummeting towards it.
At that moment, many miles from the city, a naked Orc was recounting his capture and what he had seen, whilst bound and hung upside down. Asoka, battle commander for the Orca hoard, listened to what he had to tell them with scorn and a disbelieving expression on his face. Gretch Fem-Orc stood by his side to listen to what he had to say.
Standing to attention, he begged, “I’m telling you, Master Commander that I was captured by a tree that could move around. It was with two leprechauns and did their bidding. It stripped me of my iron armour and I saw one of the little folk pick up my sword without being harmed by it. Can you not see the scars on my belly where the little shit cut me with my own blade? I swear to you that I have seen the forest trees move without any wind blowing the branches around. I had gone into the forest to have a crap when suddenly I was picked up by ‘something’ and taken through the tops of the trees. I was dropped through the branches until I was caught by this other tree-like thing and bound by its roots. They hung me over a fire-ants’ nest and wanted to know where the iron ore mine was. I told them it was in the city. I could not see what harm that would be, as they will never be able to get in there. They would have let the ants eat me alive, had I not told them what they wanted to know. My face was only a hands breadth away from the little buggers and every time a drop of my blood dropped on the ground they swarmed over it. They continually crawled over each other to make a living bridge to my face.”
“Why did they not kill you, soldier, when they had the chance? I would!”
“One of the leprechauns gave me his word that if I answered his questions he would let me go. He did. They have a strange sense of honour and their word is their bond,” replied the naked Orc and shuffled his feet in discomfort.
The Battle Commander sat back in his chair and asked, “What else did you tell them?”
“I stated the obvious, sir, that we were coming soon and I would be right at the front to see how they liked iron in their guts.”
“Go and get dressed, soldier and let me think about what you have told me. I will think about the information and may the devil chew your bones if you have been lying to me,” the commander replied.
Asoka gave some thought to how parts of the soldier’s story might fit in to information trickling in that Orcs kept going missing if they ventured into the forest. This strange problem he had discussed with Gretch Fem-Orc before he had interrogated the unhappy Orc soldier.
Suddenly the flap of the tent opened and a young Orc ran in and called out, “Sir, the sky in in flames! You must come and see.”
The Commander leapt from his chair and went outside where indeed the sky seemed to be on fire. Gretch pointed at the sky. In the centre of the flames they could see there was a huge glowing ball that was coming apart as they watched. They could feel the heat coming off the object in waves. A roaring noise filled their eardrums and in seconds it was directly over where they both knew the city was situated. A sonic boom shattered the day and a mushroom cloud rose into the heavens as many hundreds of tons, all that remained of the giant snowball hammered into the city of Gunderstall. Scalding water filled the fire pits of the smelting plant and an explosion of super-heated steam tore the industrial heart out of the city. There would be no more weapons manufactured here if ever. Hot rocks began to fall all over the tented encampment along with scalding rain.
From far above the twin minds looked down at what they had caused to happen, as they had followed the ball of ice and rocks all the way down to within a mile above impact. Even here the influence of iron was too unsettling to bear for long and they retreated with what they had seen. Gunderstall had disappeared in a glowing ball of steam and flames. Thousands of gallons of scalding water now filled the crater that was all that was left of the Orc city and major port. The armed camp pitched outside the city walls had also mostly vanished in the explosion. Now the army of Orcs had been cut to the bone. Soon food would start to run out, as the fallout from the crater had buried the arable land under piles of bricks and rubble. It would not be long before the Orcs would be fighting over every crust of bread they could grab. They would have to try their luck along the giant’s East/West road and invade the faery lands.
“My city has gone! Your soldier told them exactly what they needed to know,” Gretch screamed and slapped the Commander across his face. “Get your men together to gather what provisions they can find and march down that road towards Queen Mab’s lands. Do it, or we will starve in this death smashed place! We will slaughter every one of her people that we find. Dead elves will fill my troops’ bellies.”
Queen Mab applied mental pressure against Alexius’s desire to stay and watch. The two joined minds began the descent back to the throne room far below. In moments they were returned to their bodies and both sat quiet as they thought about what they had unleashed.
Alexius turned and faced the group that were waiting for news and said, “Gunderstall has ceased to exist! Where the Orc city was once, is now a water filled crater joined to the sea. All trace of their port has gone along with all of their ships. A great deal of the army perished along with the city, but a considerable number remain. What food they have will be minimal, so their only recourse will be to come at us down the East/West road.”
Suddenly the sound of sobbing rose to a crescendo as the Queen clenched her fists in misery. She rocked back and forth and tugged at her hair staring at Alexius in despair as the enormity of what she had done filled her mind.
“I stand for life! I have become the avenging spirit of death. I cannot do this again,” she sobbed.
Alexius took her hand and replied, “There are still thousands of them and only hundreds of us. You can and you will be our instrument of defence. Remember that they have brought this action against themselves. This is why you brought me here! I have given you the solution, but you have to me the means of delivering it.”
Mog gently held her other hand between thumb and forefinger, kissed it with his stony mouth, saying, “I came here prepared to die to defend all that has meaning and to keep you safe. Every Troll will go into battle knowing that iron-clad Orcs will do their worst to kill us should we be overcome by the poison metal and we are all that separates the forest from castle lands. They will come down that road with only one thing in mind and that will be domination. They will not stop until they fill the Enchanted Land with slavery and death. There will be time to rest and mourn afterwards about what we all must do.”
“I feel humbled by your reminder of my duty, Mog the Troll. I must live with what I have done and accept that the battle is not yet over. Alexius I am sorry for my outburst and, yes as you say they had a choice.”
The portal underneath the throne opened and a leprechaun stood before them.
“We have everything in place my Queen,” he said. “All we have to do is to wait for the first of them to start down the road and enter the first of the traps. The Shadow Lands have changed much since I was last upon that one time perilous maze of roads.”
Tam and Shamus had seen the horror that had been unleased upon the Orcs’ city and decided to make their way back to the great road. They climbed inside the safety cage that Ep constructed for them and the dryad forged through the undergrowth dragging them along with its roots. After a few moments the forest mind opened a through-way for the Wood-sprite to travel along. Inside the apple-tree both of the leprechauns felt safe and protected enough to go to sleep. Mile after mile the Wood-sprite cut through the densest of thickets as if they were made of long grass. Every tree and bush swayed to the side allowing Ep to forge a pathway through that filled in behind him. All through the dark night the dryad kept up its travelling speed, using its sense of spatial awareness to direct the forest to allow him to pass.
A few hours after dawn, the dryad stopped pushing through the undergrowth and halted in a clearing. It gently shook the two leprechauns awake and opened its roots and branches to allow them to alight. Tam and Shamus stepped out of the Wood-sprite and found themselves in the centre of a band of elves, gnomes and trolls. A small dead-wood fire had a pot hung over it and the pungent smell of a gnome’s wake up potion filled the air.
“You must be Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian,” the leader of the group said. “We heard the bang and the sky seemed on fire! Do I take it that is the end of the Orcs?”
“Not by a long chalk, group leader,” answered Shamus. “Their city ceases to exist and a great number of them perished, but be assured those that survived will be coming soon down the great East/West road with vengeance in their black hearts! So be ready to apply yourselves and show no mercy as they will show none to you!”
Tam spoke up and said, “First I would appreciate a mug of whatever is in that pot and then I would appreciate seeing the thing that Alexius designed that is supposed to take out any Orc that gets near to it.”
“Oh, they do not have to get near to it. Once Queen Mab calls down the lightning and energises the ‘Generator’ they will have little choice! The iron that they wear will be their undoing,” the leader said and grinned. “I have seen this apparatus in action and you have to see it to believe it and they are dotted down the road all the way to the castle. We also have in place markers and stops so that we know what distance we have to be from them, before the poison metal renders us useless.”
Shamus and Tam were handed a mug of brew and walked down the pathway to the road and were treated by a view that made little sense to them. The Trolls had built the ‘Generator’ in the middle of the road so that the Orcs would have to pass it to come any further and it was pointing towards the oncoming hoard. The two leprechauns had never seen so much copper in their life. Stood on the top of the apparatus were several gold statues in plain view.
Tam stood back and pointed at the ornaments, “What’s the purpose of the golden statues?”
“Oh that was an afterthought by Alexius. Orcs place great wealth in gold so it may make them storm the ‘Generator’ to grab what would seem to be easy pickings. It would seem that the more iron you can get within the range of this thing, the stronger the effect. I have seen this thing applied and Orc armour sticks to it like honey and flies! The more that gets captured the greater the attraction and the more get caught. Can you also see the area in front of the ‘Generator’ where the metal net is placed? Anyone stood on that will suffer the same fate as the ones stuck on the weapon,” the leader said. “Those that try to get by will be targeted by elfin bow-masters who will melt away into a very hostile forest as soon as the Orcs reach the limiting place markers. We now know how close we can get to an Orc without being affected by the iron. We will not engage them in open battle, but fight a continual guerrilla warfare right to the very gates of the castle if needs be!”
“Let us hope that it will not come down to that,” Shamus replied and finished his brew. “I would say that the Orcs are no more than two days from you so be ready!”
Tam and Shamus gave back the mugs and walked to the middle of the Great Road.
They gave the command, “Grow ten times,” and grew tall enough to see over the trees. After Shamus picked up the Wood-sprite and settled him on his shoulder, they gave the order, “Stride.”
The first group watched the two of them disappear west along the giant’s road and made their way back into the safety of the forest to wait for the first wave. It did not take Tam and Shamus long to traverse the hundreds of miles back to the castle using the magic of the ‘Boots.’
Along the route back to the castle they passed ambush after ambush laid out along the East/West Road. Some of the generators were situated on the edge of the road covered in leafy branches, donated by the trees. The goblins had pulled the iron shields back into the forest that had been stripped off the dead Orcs that the forest mind still continued to donate to the castle defenders. As the trees had no bother with the poison metal they used their great strength and deposited them next to the generators. The goblins then dragged them across the road making sure that they were touching each other and pegged them down. When the generator was activated the accumulation of iron would drag the armour the Orcs were wearing onto the line of magnetic flux. It was then that Mab would deliver the next example of her power.
Tam and Shamus at last caught sight of Mab’s castle and slowed the boots down until they came to the great door into the main hall. Shamus left Ep to root into the soil some way from the castle where he could recuperate. The usual buoyant activity seemed very muted and the assorted faery folk more than a bit downcast as they gained entrance to the inside.
“You there!” shouted Tam. “Whatever is the trouble? We have seen that the Orc city, Gunderstall has been flattened and their port destroyed. Many of them are dead, but still they will come with what is left. So tell me, master-at-arms what is the problem?”
“The problem is that the Queen is not made for death, delivered on the scale that we must experience. She languishes in her chambers and is struggling with her conscience over what she has to do in the near future,” the elf replied and pointed along the corridor to the throne room. “She will need your support Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian to persuade her to carry out the next part of the defence of our realm. Go! Do not waste time here with me. She needs your attention.”
The crowd around the throne soon parted at the approach of the two leprechauns. Alexius, Flower-et and Mog the Troll were at her side giving comfort and gave way as Shamus pushed through. He laid his hand upon hers and was inside her mind in an instant.
“What ails you Queen Mab? I have seen what you have done and it was for the best. They had built their city around the iron ore mine and were turning out weapons made of the poison metal with a speed and efficiency you had to see to believe! Also the land stinks of pollution. The Orc we captured had enough iron on him for several soldiers and he was just an ordinary warrior. All ambush points are fully manned and as soon as they step within range of the generators, you must apply the power at your command or everything that you have brought to bear in The Enchanted Land will be for nothing,” he implored and kissed her hand.
It was as if he had touched the copper terminals on the cell that Alexius had shown him to demonstrate the power at his disposal. There was another mind inside his queen!
During the time that he had been in this realm he had altered a great deal. His telepathic skills had increased since he had communicated with the vegetal mind of the forest and also the times he had ‘spoken’ to his queen. Being mostly a clone of Tam O’ Shadow, had given him the many ‘gifts’ of the leprechaun and also his human side set him apart and had unseated several other ‘talents’ that had lain dormant. The other mind was tiny and mostly unformed, but Shamus knew what it was.
“You are carrying our child! I can feel his mind beginning to develop and grow. I do not need to know how you have managed to keep him in this state for so long, but I am telling you now that the time has come to let time resume in your womb and let him develop normally. Or what passes for normal in this place.”
“It shall be done, Shamus. All that I have learnt in controlling the weather I have now passed on to you. I cannot use my powers to kill again. I know that it would destroy the person that I am. It will take me a very long time to recover from the awful deed that Alexius and I carried out. I always thought that you were brought into this world for a purpose and the acts of bravery that you have done in my name make you the favourite to maintain this realm. I will continue my rule but you will figure in that imperative and will serve our people well.”
Shamus felt the blending of her mind with his and ALL the understanding of controlling the lightning entered his consciousness. Now not only did he have the will to kill, he had the means.
She vacated the throne and sat Shamus down on it, saying to the others, “This blend of faery, human and something else will do what is necessary to bring the Orcs to measure. It may be that he will sit my throne for several days. See that he is fed and does not go thirsty and attend to him as if he were me.”
Shamus sat and connected with the earth power that flooded into him via the throne that Mab had sat for thousands of years. He became aware of every living thing around the castle and felt the barriers go down until he became the Forest mind, the potential power in the ground, the negative power in the clouds, the living strength that flowed from all of faery into his reach. He sensed the approach of the thousands of orcs marching down the great giant-built road and the proximity to the first trap. It had been a hot and humid day and already the warm, wet air had risen from the ground carrying the ‘to be unleashed’ charge. It had begun to form a cloud and the tops of the cloud began to form ice crystals. They began to bump into each other as the thundercloud started to form and thousands of collisions begin to build an electrical charge. Shamus controlled the clouds and brought them closer to the tops of the forest. Rain began to fall upon the Orcs as they marched towards the generator and the waiting elves. Once the soldiers saw the gold statues on the top of the generator they broke into a undisciplined greedy run.
Shamus could ‘see’ this as if he were there. He allowed a trickle of the earthbound force to enter the two copper pillars and increased the amount. The nearest Orcs found that they could not stop running towards the strange thing dominating the road and some of them flew through the air towards the tubes facing them. The first wave found themselves stuck fast by their armour to the ends of the tubes. Soon many more of the Orcs became stuck onto each neighbour until hundreds were trapped in a writhing ball of super magnetised armour. The massive amount of iron collected together made the targeting so easy for Shamus and he began to build the charge.
Shamus could ‘see’ that the later ranks had drawn back, although some were still stood on the metal net spread over the road. Now would be the time to let the entire charge go. A massive lightning strike drove upwards to the sky through the driving rain and connected each soldier to his nearest iron breast- plate. The bright forks of the incandescent bolts shot from metal to metal either cooking or electrocuting every Orc that was in contact with another. Of the generator there was now no trace, except for puddles of molten copper running off the road edges. Now the elves came into play before any organisation could take hold. The range was perfect and as the Orc force behind began to surge forwards, the elves slowed down time. From the Orc’s point of view the elves moved around so quickly they could not see them clearly. Having studied the Orc armour they knew where all the entry holes would be. Now each elf with a bow and gnome with a crossbow could pick their target and make sure that each arrow counted, as they aimed for the eye slit. Their other attribute that the elves enjoyed was that each arrow loosed could be thought to its target. As the remainder stamped upon the dying front wave and passed the markers, the faery people melted into the forest and out of range of the poison metal. Those few Orcs that entered the forest found that the trees could move and their dying screams testified to that fact. Now an eerie silence hung in the air and the road ahead was empty.
Asoka and Gretch stared at the body count in horror. Some of the armour had melted into the flesh and the smell of roasted meat hung in the air. They turned round and walked back to the waggons that were being dragged behind them loaded with supplies. The rain had stopped as quick as it had started and steam was rising from the flagstones. Whatever had been dominating the road had disappeared completely. Only the stains on the giant flagstones remained.
Asoka asked, “What do we do now Gretch Fem-Orc? Whatever that thing was it made havoc with the armour. Maybe what that soldier said was true, that not all of the faery folk are allergic to the poison metal. He was certainly right about the trees.”
She stared at him and grabbed him by the front of his armour and replied, “We carry on. There is nothing left back in that tiny area that we were ‘allowed’ to live in for us to go back to. Delegate a scavenging party and collect the legs of the fallen, knee to groin. Have the cooks roast them and share out with the other troops. For one thing it will feed them without taking from the stores and remind them what will happen to them if they fall in battle.”
Shamus came to, whilst sat on the Queen’s throne. He was still connected through the magic of the throne to all the earth power at his disposal.
“Alexius, you are to be commended. The generator worked and worked well. I took out a huge amount of Orcs, but I must warn you that this is far from over yet. I will need to sit upon this throne and keep watch from this moment on and be ready for the next ambush.”
Tam O’ Shadow stared at his one-time protégée with astonishment trying to accept what the once human boy had achieved. He knelt down on one knee and bowed his head in subservience and was followed by all the others in the throne room.
Shamus gazed at the reaction of all who had heard the Queen’s statement and called out, “This is all very well, but I need your help and assistance while I put my mind elsewhere. Keep my body clean and each time I return give me food and water. While my mind leaves this earthly frame, strip it, wash it and care for it until my task is done.”
Having said what needed to be done, Shamus’s eyes closed and his mind went elsewhere.
Tam rapidly stripped his new King and dressed him in a loose-fitting toga that would allow him to defecate and be washed without disturbing him and organised what needed to be done to have fresh food and drink at hand.
Shamus however was elsewhere.
Once again he was at ‘one’ with the realm and began building more thunder-clouds, seeking out the location of the other ‘generators’ and priming them.
Gretch and Asoka broke camp at dawn and moved their troops further along the road towards Queen Mab’s castle carefully avoiding getting too close to the hostile trees. They quickly marched over the copper-stained, partially covered flagstones and soon left the carnage behind them, still confident that the overwhelming odds of their army would bring victory and the spoils of war.
Overhead thunderclouds began to accumulate and the front wave of Orcs began to get nervous, but as yet the road looked empty as far as they could see along the dead-straight road. Suddenly, boots hit metal as the soldiers marched over the jointed shields and breast-plates. The pressure from behind propelled the three front ranks across the metal obstacles. Until they all came to an untidy stop. Some were stood on the metal and some were not, but all were in range.
Asoka felt that something was very wrong and shouted out, “Those at the front, run! Those, this side of the barrier, pull back as fast as you can.”
Too late was the order given and Shamus fed a surge of lightning into the copper pillars that powered two generators, each side of the road covered in leafy growth. The magnetic field reached out, funnelled by the metal plates linked across the road and the Orcs were once again pulled into two balls of struggling limbs as the Orcs tried in vain to pull themselves off. Some were fixed along the chain of metal that joined each generator. Hail stones began to fall as Shamus ranked up the power and released a powerful thunderbolt from the super-charged ground. This time there was a blinding flash that seared the eyes of those who were facing the electrified soldiers. The air was full of the stink of roasting flesh and an increased humming that set the teeth on edge. The thunderclap that split the heavens above made the ears ring and a bitter cold heavy rain began to fall laced with hailstones as big as a fist.
Also some distance behind them a metal net connected to the device had fallen from the trees and dropped over more than a hundred terrified Orcs electrocuting them in their highly conductive armour. A rain of arrows and cross-bow bolts took out many, many more from vantage points, high up in the trees. This time none of the Orcs dared to enter and chance the hostile forest.
This time Gretch and Asoka got a brief sighting of the device that had fried their troops before it melted away into puddles of molten copper.
The few Orcs at the front that had made it beyond the killing chain found that elves suddenly appeared from no-where and let loose a deadly cascade of arrows that all found their mark. They were past masters at slowing down time and could only be seen if they allowed it. Once any of the surviving Orcs passed the pre-set markers the elves vanished into the forest before the iron took away their power. Now from the edge of the road came another foe that the Orcs had yet to meet except the one that had been captured and interrogated by Tam O’ Shadow. Dryads had ripped themselves from the ground where they had been content to grow for hundreds of years. They began to tear the dazed Orcs apart with their iron-hard root systems, ignoring the sword thrusts and chops that they attempted to injure the Wood-sprites. When something the size of an oak tree is bent on murder, there is little that an Orc could do, but die. Now, where there had been thousands of Orcs, now there were hundreds.
Shamus called a halt to the slaughter and sent a goblin to speak with Gretch and Asoka.
“I am the perpetrator of your defeat, speaking through this goblin. Do you wish to live? That is the only question that you may answer.”
The two Orcs faced the little green man and clenched their fists in controlled rage. They nodded.
“Should you harm this messenger I will send the lightning through your bodies. Be assured of that. As for your ‘nod,’ that will not suffice. I would hear you say it and mean what you say.”
“I wish to live,” Gretch Fem-Orc ground out and was echoed by Asoka, her commander.
“Right, now you will do as I say, or even I will not be able to quieten the free spirits of the forest. You will give up every iron weapon and pieces of armour until you have removed every last bit of the poison metal from all of you. Should you keep any of it back, the Wood-sprites will know and they will turn anyone with it into root-feed. Do it now and march down the road and keep going until you see Queen Mag’s castle. I will warn you now that there are more of these traps set along the road. You will meet me there and I will decide what I am going to do with you, but I guaranty that I will keep my word. You will be granted life. Now I will leave you,” said the goblin and walked away as Shamus left him.
Shamus opened his eyes and said, “It is done. I am sick of killing and I hope that I have made the right decision. What Orcs are left will be re-settled somewhere, where over time perhaps, the race of Orc will revert to that of goblin. We shall see as time goes on. I thank you all for your support and looking after this poor abused frame. It would seem that I shall be here for some time. I have a son to watch over and a secretive Queen to solve!”
This is the fifth Novella in the series about the Enchanted Land.
This is the fifth Novella in the series about the Enchanted Land.
Shamus O’Brian, once human, but now a mixture of mostly leprechaun, human and ‘forest sprite’ found himself the titular King of the Enchanted Land. He had been ‘gifted’ with all of Queen Mab’s eldritch powers and had found that he could wield them without the guilty after-effects that the Queen had suffered. She had destroyed the Orc city and port of Gunderstall, but at almost the cost of her sanity, by dropping a mountain of ice and rocks onto it from orbit, turning the place into a fireball. Now the iron mines lay fathoms deep under seawater making it impossible for anyone to dig the ore out and smelt it into steel.
Shamus had finished the problem of the Orcs by activating the lightning into Alexius’s engineered ‘generators’ that stuck the armour plated Orcs together, making them an easy target to ‘fry.’ He had also awoken the forest over-mind and called for its protection against a species that would use and burn ‘green wood’ without any thoughts of the damage that could be done. Now the ‘Wood-sprites’ would stay vigilant and seek out any use of the prohibited metal.
Where there had been many thousands of Orcs there now numbered hundreds. Shamus had given the remainder a choice of life if they removed all iron from their bodies or instant death. They chose to live and to trust that the new King would keep his word.
When Gretch Fem-Orc and Asoka were summoned to the great hall at Queen Mab’s castle they found to their amazement that they were given an audience with a little man no bigger than waist high! He was sat on an ornate throne and did not look at all as the Orcs had imagined him to be. A pair of piercing blue eyes stared out from a face surrounded by a well-trimmed deep red beard. Perched on his head was a circlet of gold with a large jewel of ‘life’ in the centre.
Shamus pointed to them and said, “I will give you new lands to till and build upon, a long way from any iron and a long way from here. There is plentiful game for you to feed yourselves and to build herds. Always bear in mind that I will always be able to see what you are doing and there are a plentiful number of mountains in orbit high above this world. Do nothing that I could deem a threat and they will stay where they are. You brought this terrible death to your people, not I, so remember that. I am tired of the killing and the Queen has petitioned me to save you if I can. Do you agree to my proposition?”
“Yes, great King. We agree and thank you for the opportunity to start again. It may well be that in a different place that our appearance will change back to the goblin forefathers that settled Gunderstall and we will once more be accepted by what was once our kind,” replied Gretch Fem-Orc as she looked up at Mog the Troll who was stood at the side of the throne.
“See that you do,” answered Mog and warned that there were an awful number of Trolls with a grudge that also lived in the same area.
Shamus kept his word and shrank them and all their possessions, piling them into traveling sacks until he had the entire tribe of Orcs tucked safely away. He ‘called’ down the giant birds and had the sacks bound to their legs quite secure. The Roc accepted him as the new ‘manager’ of the Enchanted Land and bent to his will. He allocated Tam O’ Shadow as the leader of the resettlement project and sent them to the empty lands where they had fought the dragon. Here there was plenty of large game and none of the strange glowing rocks that had changed the goblins into the brutal Orcs.
Alexius and Flower-et returned to the Keep and took with them all of the experimental constructions that had made the defeat of the Orcs possible. Shamus made the order that the only metal with iron content that fell from the skies could be used by the goblins. He insisted that all of the Orcs’ iron weapons and tools to be buried in the now well aware and sentient forest where it would revert to rust. These places were to be guarded by Wood-sprites who would soon make short work of any intruder intent on breaking the law.
Epimeliades the wood-sprite created by Shamus, decided to make his home in the castle grounds inside the first perimeter. Here he took nourishment from his roots and dispensed normal apples to any who would care to eat one! Hundreds of thousands of his offspring had colonised the Shadow Lands, driving out and destroying the fearsome creatures that used to live there and prey on travellers across the wilderness. Now the Ley Lines allowed the leprechauns to use the faster travelling routes without continually risking their lives.
Shamus was now an experienced adept at travelling along the pathways of the shadow lands. Now the skies had lost the perpetual greyness and the sun broke through and warmed the land. The soul-eaters had been driven out and all of the deadly creatures that had preyed upon unwary travellers had been pushed out of the Shadow Lands. Everywhere the sentient apple trees had taken root, after hunting down the purveyors of death, had become safe. Now these new highways were travelled by any leprechaun that had the ‘talent’ of opening a portal. Those that could not, were taught by those who could and bit by bit more and more leprechauns built up a trade route between the far flung communities. Soon fresh fish from the sea from Crispin Gate chateau came to the castle on a regular basis. Gunner had proved to be a good master of the lands of the Southern Witch and the many different faery folk were happy pursuing their many crafts under his loose rule as his family grew. The occasional pirate that sailed into port intent to rob, were soon shown the error of their ways and their crafts altered into fishing boats. The crews were assimilated into the community and soon a small town sprang up supplying the needs of the busy port.
Every so often Shamus would alter the orbit of a nickel-iron meteorite and cause it to land in an empty area close by, for Matt-cinder to get it dug out and he would turn it into ploughshares or other needed tools. Pssst-pail and her husband prospered well at the forge and never went without food or clothing. Their children were all apprenticed to the art of metal-working and already the eldest son was building his own forge next to his father’s.
Time went by slowly in the Enchanted Land, but relentlessly as it will. A thousand years had passed by in the human world and the reality of faery was no longer believed in, except in closely guarded libraries by those who would have met their end by the stake and fire. Armies were on the march and laying waste to the land and the communities that lived there, as king fought king for power.
Among the Saxons were a number of Celts who could trace their history back through many generations. Some were the progeny of ancient kings and carried a secret known to only a select number of druids that had survived the Roman purge.
Over five hundred years before this war-stricken time and during the time of Vortigern, a boy was born called Myrddin Emrys in Carmarthen, who was very different from those he grew up with. His father was a Leprechaun who had entered this realm using a dolmen to seek adventure and never returned to the ‘Enchanted Land’. Emrys inherited all of his father’s eldritch powers and for a time tried his best to bring about a time of peace and prosperity in England. For a time he was successful, but as time moved on all was lost, so he became known as Merlin and lived a mainly solitary life, as he found that he did not age and die. Looking into the future by using his ‘talents’ he could see that there would come a time that the Land would be invaded and his people enslaved. He built Stonehenge to become a super portal that would open up when the right person came along. That person would not be born for over another five hundred years.
The years slipped by quickly against the slower rate of the Enchanted Land and the Normans came, laying waste to the Celt and Saxon holdings, taking whatever they wanted from the subjugated people. King Harold died on the battlefield during the first confrontation with the invading force leaving the Saxons leaderless.
A few years later Hereward the Wake began a Saxon revolt. He set up secret fortresses in the Fens of eastern England, where the miserable weather and terrain prevented the heavily-armoured Norman knights from rooting out the rebels. Merlin escaped and disappeared. He travelled west towards the portal that would mean escape if he could find a descendant of an ancient Irish Celtic King known as Conall O’Brian. He would be the key that unlocked the henge and activated the super portal. The name of O’Brian had passed down the ages until another boy was born with flame-red hair and was called Aelfric O’Brian.
The Saxon town of Cricklade at the head of the river Thames would soon be taken over by a Norman knight and his followers, once Hereward had been brought to heel. The inhabitants of the town lived in constant fear of that day, for they knew that resistance against the Conqueror’s men would only mean more death and punishment as the fiefdom was created. It was on the outskirts of this small township, that Merlin found Aelfric O’Brian and his family, working a homestead that the river ran closely by.
Merlin watched as the young man easily directed the horse that was pulling the plough and appreciated his skill. He took into account that there was a waggon in the farmyard capable of carrying the possessions of this family. There were a number of children and some younger versions of Aelfric engaged in other useful tasks. It would not be easy to persuade this small community to move away. It would take some argument and persuading to get these people to leave this farmstead and follow him. It might take a little mental manipulation to alter their minds.
He called out to the ploughman, “Aelfric, will you give hospitality to a stranger? I have come a long way to see you and unfortunately bring unwelcome news for which I am sorrowful.”
Aelfric pulled back on the reigns and gave a hostile stare at the cloaked man in a pointed hat and asked, “What do you want with me? I have much to do and can spare little time on prattle-prattle.”
Merlin smiled at the young man and replied, “I would be thankful if you could provide me shelter and some food. There are things that I need to know and things that I need to tell you, that will be in the long run to your benefit. I mean you no harm so keep that in mind.”
Aelfric looked up at the setting sun, then at the half-cultivated field and disengaged the ploughshare. He turned the horse back towards the stable and began to walk back. While he was busy doing that, Merlin slipped inside his mind and found what he was hoping that he would find. This young man was indeed the descendant of an ancient Irish King, Conall O’Brian, the father of Shamus O’Brian, now King of the Enchanted Lands. What was more; he had the dormant power that had enabled a human to become part Leprechaun and faery in soul.
Aelfric shouted out to the open farmhouse door, “Woman of the house, we have company that bears news. Lay another place at table.” He turned and asked, “What is your name, stranger?”
“Emrys, my friend,” he replied, folding his pointed hat and secreting it in a pocket of his cloak.
During the evening meal, Merlin told the family about the collapse of King Harold’s exhausted army and the consequent sacking of the towns and villages by the French knights. The new king was intent on building his own impregnable castle using the Saxons as slave labour. This would keep him busy for a while and Hereward the Wake had entrenched himself in the fens of Eastern England where the miserable weather and terrain prevent heavily-armoured Norman knights from rooting out the rebels. Merlin had escaped from there and disappeared from all pursuit.
Merlin made a steeple from his fingers and asked, “How much of your family history do you know, Aelfric? Do you know from where you came before settling in this country?”
“There is a tale told and handed down that far back my family came from Ireland and once they held a kingdom! We were driven out of our homelands and forced to seek refuge by sailing here. Now it would seem that we must do this again.”
“Is that all you know about your past?”
Aelfric coloured up and said, “There is another story handed down that pushes belief, which I think is a tale for children. When my ancient family held a kingdom a king’s youngest son, seeking his fortune, disappeared from this world and entered another realm. He left one night on a full moon and walked through a dolmen into what we always called ‘The Enchanted Land’;- a place ruled by Leprechauns, goblins and faery folk of all description. They searched for him and never found a body or so the story goes! As I said, a story for children.”
“The name of the King was Conall O’Brian and he did in fact lose his youngest son called Shamus O’Brian,” said Merlin to the seated family. “All of what you have told me is true and with your help I intend to take this entire township into the ‘Enchanted Land.’ I can see that by the looks on your faces that you find this hard to believe. I cannot blame you as the simple life you lead would not allow you to understand. There is quite a lot of iron in this house and this makes magic difficult to practise, but not impossible! I have with me, unseen, a small host of the Sluagh Sidhe that I will bid to show themselves. They are what you would call the faery folk of the Olden times and do not usually allow mortals to see them.”
With that, a ring of sparkling lights flew around Merlin’s head and shoulders. Gradually the lights took form and resolved into tiny humanoid figures held aloft by butterfly wings. They were about the size of Aelfric’s fist and were beautiful to look upon. One of them flew towards his outstretched hand and settled on it.
A tinkling voice echoed inside his head, “Hello, Aelfric O’Brian son of kings. There is within you a great power, just as your ancestor had when he entered our home. Use it well and listen to what Emrys tells you and you might be lucky and survive.”
With that, the fairy took wing, shrank into a point of light and vanished from view.
There was a stunned silence as the whole family turned to stare at Merlin with superstitious fear.
“I have come here to save you not harm you,” the druid insisted. “I called the Sidhe to show themselves to you so that it would help you believe my news. Believe me that once the Normans have routed out Hereward from his marshy base they will begin to annex the lands in earnest. All you have achieved here will belong to them. I saw what they did at Hastings and afterwards. They have armoured heavy horse and knights in full armour that can ride through a standing defence, as if you were all blades of grass. Forty miles from this township due South is a ‘Henge’ that has been gathering energy for a thousand years. That is where we must go before the Normans come plundering and knocking on your gates. You Aelfric are the living key that will open that portal and let you and all your people here at this town, colonise an almost empty land where you will be safe. There was a time when humans could travel through the portals and explore the Enchanted Lands. When you began using iron the great Queen Mab closed them all to prevent any more passage. It will need a great deal of stored energy to open that gate I built so long ago. I foresaw this terrible time for my people and planned accordingly.”
Aelfric stared at the middle aged man dressed in drab clothes and scoffed, “Are you seriously expecting me to believe that you have walked this Earth for a thousand years? You look no older than my father.”
Merlin sighed and answered, “There is no way that I can prove that. It has to be a matter of belief! I have lived in both lands and time goes slower in the Enchanted Lands compared to here. If you stay here you will probably die at the point of a sword and your children will become serfs and work in the fields till they drop. Your women will be used as whores and all that you own will belong to one of them. They will build castles all over this land and hold the whole of England, Scotland and even part of Ireland in an iron grip for the next thousand years. The Saxons will lose all of their culture, lands and freedom to this invading force. Sit very still in that chair and I will show you what I have seen and what will be!”
Aelfric stiffened and sat paralysed as Merlin fed into his mind the carnage that the druid had witnessed. He watched as the Norman men-at-arms routinely cut the throats of any of the wounded Saxons run through by the knights after the main battle. Atrocities after atrocity, by the merciless invaders were shown to the helpless Celt. The rounding up of the women and children was the next vision shown to Aelfric and the subsequent multiple rapes as the women were passed around.”
“Now do you believe?” shouted Merlin. “This is what I am trying to save you from. I was there. These are MY memories you are seeing. There was nothing that I could do! This is why I am here. I saw all of this, a thousand years ago and planned accordingly. Were all my efforts so long ago for nothing?”
Aelfric turned to the druid and gasped, “Show me no more, Emrys. I do believe you, I do! I will go before the council of Elders and speak to them about the imminent invasion of the Normans. I will introduce you as someone that has brought this news and I will do my best to persuade them to leave and follow me. I will give them two days to pack what they need and then I will be on my way South.”
The following morning Aelfric was true to his world and went before the council of the town. He told them of the surrender of the city of London and the rapid assimilation of the Saxon towns. Merlin stood and told them more about the treatment of the Saxons under Norman rule and his remedy to escape this yoke being thrust around their necks. Looking round he could see that not all were in accord with what was told so he took a risk and asked the Sluagh Sidhe to reveal themselves to prove that he was not just an ordinary man, but a purveyor of the ‘Old Magic.’
A ring of lights danced around his head and grew to their normal size showing that they were indeed the faery folk of legend. Each eldritch figure fluttered around the inside of the hall and came close enough for the people to see that these creatures were indeed beautiful to look upon. There were dozens of them and they filled the minds of the amazed people with silvery laughter as if tiny bells rang in every ear. Whilst they were in this form, a boost of energy filled Merlin’s mind and allowed him to show a vision of the forthcoming invasion of their lands and town. He was also able to show them the carnage that had been wrecked along the East coast and inland from their landings. These visions convinced the population of the town that a terrible time was coming and coming fast. Now they looked at Merlin with a greater respect and began to take him and his awful news as true.
“What must we do?” asked the tribal leader.
“I will give you two days to pack everything that you will need and to load the wagons yoke the oxen, horses and collect what herds of animals you possess and follow Aelfric due South. The going will be hard at times as we must climb an escarpment until we have reached a long plane. There will be hill forts along the way that are still settled who will be suspicious of us as we travel. Make them welcome and convince them to travel with us. You will need variable bloodstock for all your herds and flocks as where you will be going such things are rare. I will warn you that where you will ultimately settle will be up to the King of that realm, but he is nothing like the Normans and will take you in. Expect to be greeted by creatures of legend and ancient folklore when we get to the portal. Do not be suspicious or afraid of what you find there. There are other humans living in that Land and they made the transition. So can you! There is one last thing that you must abide by and that is the removal of anything that has iron in it once we are there. I can promise you this, that you and your children will never see warfare again.”
Two days later at dawn the caravan set off leaving the fields and crops behind after they had been stripped. They left the town on fire so that when the Normans had finished with Hereward and began to spread westwards they would find nothing of value to steal. Once they had travelled several miles, Merlin saw a large brier in the process of regrowth along the bottom of a valley. Using the power within and his links to the earth he ‘encouraged’ the brier to grow along the valley, filling it with a thorny impassable hedge. There was no way that a band of horsemen could ride through the barrier. The people at the back of the caravan saw this and it strengthened their belief in the druid. Word spread quickly that the newcomer was protecting their rear.
Every time that the convoy passed a suitable brier, Merlin increased its capacity to grow. If they passed a stream he would alter the foundation of the earth and turn the pathway into quicksand that spread along the path of the stream. Every so often Merlin would send one of the Sidhe back through its own portal and give a progress report to King Shamus.
Conner O’Brian stood in front of his father and, looked down. He smiled as he was given a synopsis of the situation that was brewing in the human world. At last he had something that would yield some excitement in this haven of peace. He was now fully grown and master of his magical abilities. Although, as the son of a part leprechaun, he had inherited all of his father’s powers, he was happier at being the size of a human. It somehow felt right to him. His mother, Queen Mab had also bestowed all of her powers of magic to him. The one thing that set him apart from the two of them was his lack of allergic reaction to iron. This had to be the part of being human through his father’s line, combined with the faery side of magic. He was the first person able to wield magic close to steel or cast iron. The ability to do this had yet to be tested fully. There was something within his genetic makeup that made him able to do this that was unusual for a human. Without that ability within his bloodline, Shamus would have never been able to cope with the magic that he lived with. He was also the first that could communicate with trees and the vegetal mind of the forest.
When Shamus had regrown his right arm after Mab had removed the infected one that had reacted from an encounter in the Shadow Lands, strangely it had grown back as human and he could tolerate iron with it except for the rest of his body. He had been cloned from Tam O’ Shadow by the Queen at the end of his first adventure in the Enchanted Land, saving his life. The bloodline of leprechaun, Sidhe and the life-force of the forest were combined in the changeling persona of Conner O’Brian and neither Queen Mab, or King Shamus could even guess what hidden powers would emerge from this mix.
Once Conner had reached adulthood he had chaffed at the lack of any adventurous missions for him to prove himself useful. Like his father he craved adventure and needed a purpose. This exodus into the Enchanted Land by the escaping Saxons and Celts suited him fine. He was eager to pit his wits and prowess against the invading Normans should they impede the progress of his father’s people through the portal.
Shamus and Mab had concentrated their minds on the construction of Stonehenge and zeroed the portal near to the settlement that had grown up at Crispin Gate under the loose rule of Gunner and his people. Now an echo of the portal that Merlin had built long ago in the human world had rooted itself some miles from the area of cultivated lands near to the river that flowed past the Chateau.
Conner O’Brian walked away from the conference that he had with his father still floating in his mind at the incredible opportunity that his parents had given him. Total free will in how this matter could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion! Ideas began to circle in his mind and the one thing uppermost was the need to be where the action would take place. He would need to translate via the Shadow Lands to Crispin Gate and make contact with Gunner and his people. What he also needed was something that would strike fear into the hearts of any pursuers and make Stonehenge a place to avoid for all time. Conner knew where just such a creature could be found, but it was far to the North and Crispin Gate was far to the South. His father’s friend had used stored time to freeze the groups of people and the Soul-eater that were under Annabella’s thrall, but what he needed to do was quite different. He had Tam O’ Shadow as his mentor since he had been a child. As the years went by, they progressed from pupil and teacher to becoming good friends. The one thing that set them apart was Tam’s allergy to iron and steel as did anyone who could use magic, so Conner made sure that he did not carry anything that would provoke an adverse reaction.
He sought out the leprechaun and put his ideas to him and was rewarded by a look of horror on the pixie’s face.
“Have you any idea what you are proposing? It took an immense effort to lay Knorrd to his rest. Dragons are magical creatures and are cunning manipulators as well. Your father risked his life to end that evil creature and so did I!”
“I am quite confident that I could control a female by offering something that she would prize above all else and that would be a safe place for her eggs. I am confident that she would be prepared to accept that deal. After all, her kind has been buried under those glaciers for eons. Besides the Enchanted Land has need of adversaries from time to time to keep it vibrant and alive,” replied Conner and reached out for Tam’s hand. “Think about it great teacher. Do you not think that the Land has been peaceful for too long? Anyway I intend to take her through the ‘Echo of Stonehenge’ portal and loose her on the invading Normans. To do that, I need to travel backward through time to put my proposition to her and fly her all the way South to Crispin Gate. I want you to be there ready to greet me and to reassure Gunner’s people that she will do them no harm. If you can give me a month in the past, to give me time to awaken her from under the ice and have her ready to do her part, then I am sure that we will be able to drive the Normans well away from the portal! I have another thing to ask you, dear teacher. When you travel through the Shadow Lands, I want you to capture or persuade as many Banshees as you meet on your way to Gunner and place them into a travelling sack. We can give them a new hunting ground on the other side of the portal that will deter any of the despoilers from ever coming near to that place for centuries. We can make sure that they are ‘tied’ to that place and can only pounce onto any invader.”
“I will do all that you ask, young Conner just as I followed your father, I will follow you. You have a different magic running through your soul and it makes you unpredictable and I cannot read your future. In that lies your strength. As for taking you back through time? I know of an elf that has mastered this art and can aid you, but she will exact a price for doing that service.”
Conner stared at Tam and asked warily, “What do you think that will be?”
Tam laughed and replied, “I do believe she will want to go too. Her name is Wooleen and she is a very good friend of Mog the Troll and if she goes, Mog will go too. It would not be a foolish thing to do, taking him as well. Remember he has a gift that can become very useful to you. He can transfer thoughts between different creatures as he in fact did many times for your father to instruct plans.”
“So is Mog to be my father’s spy upon my progress?”
“Believe me, Conner; your father does not need Mog as a spy! He could find you anywhere on the Enchanted Land and see what you are doing. His powers have increased in ability during the time he has been on the throne and governed this land. He has surpassed my talents far beyond my abilities long ago and they have sprung up inside you, as yet to be realised in their entirety. Accepting help when offered will do more good than turning it down,” the leprechaun remarked and smiled at his prince. “I just want to remind you that a lot of people’s lives are at stake and I would be very displeased if the wrong ones found themselves in jeopardy.”
“I promise that I will do my best not to bring them to harm and I will always look upon them as my people,” replied Conner.
Once Wooleen had been approached and listened to Conner’s plan she was adamant that she would go too and Mog immediately agreed to go with them. So whilst Tam O’ Shadow flitted through the Shadow Lands towards Crispin Gate, Conner was negotiating a path in the opposite direction. He had shrunk down Wooleen and Mog, along with his balls and chain, tucking them in his chest pockets of the standard leprechaun waistcoat. He had stuffed his pockets with all manner of useful implements, rope and food in travelling sacks below the two top pockets where his guests were ensconced. He used the portal under the throne after saying goodbye to his mother and father.
“I have every confidence in your abilities my son, but I ask you to take one more thing with you on your travels. Take Epimeliades the wood-sprite with you. He is a most useful creature when you least think of a situation. He likes to travel, shrunk down and rooted on your left shoulder!”
A ball of light increased in size and became his mother, hovering in front of him, who kissed him and said, “Do what you can and try to be safe at all times. This is your first adventure and it will be a grand one. Save those people with whatever means that you have. You have a great task ahead of you and a test of your talents. Your father proved to be just what the land needed as a protector. This will be your responsibility sometime in the future. Come back to me my dear son is all I ask.”
The image of his mother wavered and shrunk into a ball of light and joined thousands of others and floated away through the throne-room and out into the sunlight leaving Conner and Shamus alone with each other.
“Now, it’s time for you to go,” said Shamus and watched as his son disappeared through the portal under the throne.
Tam O’ Shadow walked into sight from behind the curtains and approached the throne and stood by his friend.
“He is well taught, Shamus old friend and will accomplish the task that you have set him. The young prince needs this to prove himself to the rest of the faery people that he is fit to keep that title. He needs to explore this world just as you did with me,” the leprechaun remarked. “It would not be seemly for you to leave here and go chasing around the realm. With great power comes great responsibility and you have to maintain that order just as Mab has done for thousands of years. You must trust your son and your friends to carry out their allotted tasks without undue interference.”
Shamus gritted his teeth and nodded, replying, “He is my son and he has yet to find out all that he can do. There is locked up inside his mind a great deal of magic that he has yet to find. I have no idea whether he will withstand the use of it, but I must trust your teachings to him as you mentored me. What you taught me kept us safe when I was on my own and carried you through the Shadow Lands in a traveling sack!”
“That reminds me that I to have to play my part in what Conner has planned and I need to travel the Ley-lines through the Shadow Lands to do it, to Crispin Gate. He wants me to persuade a number of Banshees to incarcerate themselves into a travelling sack and be released into the human world. As the realm of darkness has been cleansed by the Wood-sprites I would think that the Banshees have been slowly starving and would be very amenable to be let loose in another hunting ground,” Tam answered and disappeared through the portal under the throne.
“Leave them be, husband, just as I let you make your own decisions when I sent you off to do my will,” a ball of silver light whispered into his ear.
“He can be impetuous sweet Mab,” Shamus answered.
“Then let him learn not to be,” she replied and regained her worldly form and pressed herself upon his arm. She kissed him and said, “He will overcome what he needs to subjugate and learn by his mistakes. Just as did you when you found yourself without your ‘faery father’ and had to call upon your own abilities. This land is a testing ground for heroes, but it favours the brave. It gave you your second chance!”
When Tam O’ Shadow emerged from the portal he became instantly aware of a Wood-sprite rooted in the soil next to it. It was of course one of Epimeliades offspring, a dryad.
“I ‘see’ you Tam O Shadow, master of the Ley-lines,” she whispered in his mind. “I am known as Trilliaris and have been waiting for you. Climb into the centre of my ‘nest’ and be comfortable. Which direction are we to go?”
“We travel south, to Crispin Gate and it is a fair way to travel. Follow the Ley-line that I picture in my mind, but be sure to stop when we travel through the mists that the Banshees hide in. I have a proposition to make to those who I meet along the way.”
With that, the dryad pulled up her roots and tucked them underneath the ‘nest’ and Tam settled down and watched the countryside flip by as Trilliaris followed the pathway that his mind had mapped out. The Wood-sprite emerged from her twiggy containment and sat beside the leprechaun and ran her fingers through his hair. She was naked as all dryads were of clothes, but covered in tiny green leaves and her hair was a riot of blossoms that popped out of thin pliable branches. The scent of apple-blossom filled the ‘nest’ and Tam O’ Shadow quickly removed his clothes. There was, he could see, another smaller place that was full of blossoms and he concentrated his attentions to this.
As the sun began to set and it grew colder, Tam redressed himself and Trilliaris vanished into the apple tree and cast her senses out into the encroaching darkness for the beings that the leprechaun wanted to collect. As a precaution he had stuffed elfin bread into both of his ears so that the siren song of the Banshees would not scatter his wits. A wild and swirling mist began to form and ‘something’ began to form, blocking the pathway.
The apparition would strike terror into the hearts of an unprepared traveller and render them defenceless when it began to shriek. It looked like a month old corpse with long hooked fingers like claws. A lambent light shone from the empty eye sockets of the naked skull and the jaw gaped open showing a row of pointed teeth. The ‘song’ of the Banshee filled the air and Tam knew that this was only an image that the banshee projected and underneath the disguise they probably looked quite different and just as unwholesome. The leprechaun took out of his pocket the whistle that Shamus had been given and blew hard. The piercing sound stopped the Banshee in its tracks and it stood rigid.
“I know that you can understand me, so listen to what I have to say. This gnarly stick has the ability to freeze you in time and leave you like that. I have a proposition to offer you. Since the Wood-sprites have cleansed this land the prey that you feed upon is not so easily come by. To be blunt, your kind are starving. If you can trust me and I would remind you that I come from the King of our realm, I can offer you almost infinite feeding in another realm, but you have to be selective. You will feed only upon those living creatures that I direct you to attack. They will be bearing iron. Believe me there will be hundreds of souls to feed upon, but only if you are willing to make this alliance. Think about it and seek out others of your kind and put it to them. This sack will accommodate as many of your species that are willing to come. Inside it, time will slow down and stop, so you will not feel that you have been imprisoned!”
The mists thinned and a vision from hell solidified in front of Tam and Trilliaris. It took on the substance of a bat-like creature that waxed and waned in front of them. A thin whispery voice hissed into the encroaching darkness.
“I will seek others of my kind and put the proposition to them. I believe you, traveller of the secret pathways. I have ‘seen’ you before, moving along these ancient paths. Continue on your way and I and others of my kind will join you further along the trail. Your life-force is a beacon of light in the darkness and will be easy to find.”
With that, a deeper curtain of mist enveloped where the Banshee had stood and it vanished from their sight.
“Let us be on our way, Trilliaris, as time is slipping by and I would sleep as we travel along this Lay-line,” the leprechaun insisted and curled up in the ‘nest’ unpacking his duvet from one of his many pockets. The dryad snuggled up to him and left the tree to follow the shining path towards Crispin Gate.
Conner had learnt to travel through any dark shadow into the Shadow Lands with Tam’s tutelage and had explored the strange world that was only just opening up to travellers. The infestation of soul-eaters had been rooted out by the Wood-sprites. The Ley-lines were no longer the perilous journey that they used to be. Not all of the nasty side of this realm had been extinguished however, so it was still necessary to keep a wary eye on possible ambush places.
Epimeliades the wood-sprite was in his element and had his senses on high alert just to make sure that something was not lying in wait for the Prince. This was the land that he had sprouted in and he was in ‘tune’ to all things that slithered or crawled in the hollows and fens of this world. Wooleen watched the world go by entranced as Mog picked out certain landmarks and told her about them. The Seven League Boots that Conner had fashioned under his father’s critical eye were incredibly soaked in magic, placed there by Queen Mab and his father. They were made from the last pieces of Knorrd the dragon’s wing and had retractable teeth taken from the dragon’s front jaw. These were sharp and pointed so that Conner could almost literally walk up a vertical surface.
Using the power of the ‘Boots,’ he grew his size to five times his normal stature and gave the command, “Stride,” making sure that his heels were locked together.
The Ley-lines opened up before him in the direction of north and he soon ate up the miles, travelling along it.
The scent of apple-blossom filled the air and the dryad whispered in his mind, “Do you smell my children? I scattered my seed all along this path far to the south. They have spread everywhere, all over the Shadow Lands and have made this world practically safe to use as a shortcut for all sorts of trade in the Enchanted Land. Your father did this, using an enchanted apple from the ancient tree in Tam O’ Shadows garden. I was fortunate to meet him once and spent some time rooted into the soil with him. Shamus gave us life and we are grateful for it!”
Epimeliades settled himself on Conner’s shoulder and cast his senses far in front to make sure that it was safe. Now that he had got into a hopping rhythm the miles flew by and while they travelled, Wooleen rolled back time until a month had slipped forwards, as they neared the portal that Tam had used before dispatching Knorrd the dragon. He had brought through the portal the granite balls and chains that the Trolls preferred to fight the dragon with. It had nearly cost him his life. There would not be any similar risk as Ep’s children had multiplied and cleared the Shadow Lands of most of the creatures of darkness.
He recognised the portal that was looming up fast and slowed down his ‘Boots’ to a slow walk. The picture of the exit from this world was clear in his mind as his mentor had passed the knowledge to him by a mind-meld. Also the area that he wanted to explore was in there too and of course he had Mog the Troll who had been here before. They exited the portal and found themselves standing in a bitter cold wind.
Scattered over the plain were the bones of Knorrd where the Trolls had left them after enjoying the feast on his carcass. Somewhere down amongst them was the lance head that had helped to kill him. Unfortunately the presence of so much iron would affect his two companions, so reluctantly Conner decided not to search for it. Wooleen and Mog had worked their way across the cliff-face from the portal where they could get a better view of the surroundings. The valley where the entombed female dragon lay was fairly close by, so Conner increased his size so that he could get a clear scrutiny of the territory over the ice and snow.
Unlike all the leprechauns that he knew, he increased his strength when he became a giant and could if necessary rip a tree from the soil that it had grown in. He had never done this, as the forest mind would have never forgiven him for that act of destruction. Conner kept it a secret, but felt that where the dragoness was concerned this might be the time to try his fledgling powers.
Mog shouted against the wind and pointed to the east of where he stood, as he remembered where Knorrd was digging down through a crevasse to release one of his mates. Conner bent down and picked up the elf and Troll and strode over the snow to where Mog had been pointing. A great deal of the ice had been clawed away, but plenty more would need to be excavated to reach the shadowy shape that was buried there.
They had come through the portal in the early morning and the sun was shining from a cloudless sky. Conner reached into his travelling sack and pulled out two fattened Hereford bulls and laid them in the snow.
“When I dig her out of that icy tomb I will need to enter her mind and reassure her that I mean her no harm and I have food for her. I need you, Mog, to be that bridge until our minds connect independently.
Wooleen, you must find a place to hide just in case she decides to eat you!
Ep, I want you to root down into this rocky soil and grow over her so that she cannot use her wings to get away. Remember that she can spit acid, so hold her head still from behind her neck. If you can bind her mouth shut until she calms down, all the better,” Conner instructed the Wood-sprite.
Epimeliades began to drive his root system deep into the rocky soil and made an anchorage deep beneath them. At the same time he increased his growth towards the hole that Conner was driving into the glacier. Great handfuls of ancient ice broke free and were hurled down the slope. The giant form suddenly stood in a massive trench that was widening around a shape in the ice. Gradually the hind-quarters emerged from Mab’s tomb and Ep grew over the back, tying the wings down across the creature’s back, as it became available. Conner now began to release the ice from around the head and dug around the dangerous mouth until the head became free. An eye opened and the head moved round to try and see what it was that was setting her free. She suddenly realised that her front feet were still securely stuck in the ice and could not move. Then she realised that her wings were bound tightly to her body. A bundle of branches bound her mouth shut and she began to try to struggle.
Mog sent a powerful thought to her mind that said, “Peace! We are here to set you free. We have brought you food to show our intentions are good. Allow the giant to speak into your mind. Use my mind as a bridge and let him tell you the offer that he has brought you.”
Magdrill became still and noticed the offerings that Conner had put before her. The branched withdrew from around her mouth and she dipped her head, so that she could pick up the bull and tilted upwards so that it slid down into her empty stomach. It was a comfortable feeling after so long in suspended animation so she dipped her head and swallowed the other one. Mollified she opened her mind to the ‘giant’ using the Troll’s mind as means of joining the three together. Looking through her captor’s eyes she was able to see that he had the advantage and could pour the ice and snow back over her, should he want to? She was well aware that her hindquarters were well and truly bound to the ground beneath her. Magdrill waited to see what would happen next. The effects of the long entombment were wearing off, as she soaked up the warmth of the midday sun. She next felt the invasion of the giant’s mind that was remarkably gentle and not threatening to her.
“Peace! I have no wish to harm you. You must realize that a very long time has passed since Queen Mab entombed you under this glacier. Knorrd is dead. He was killed by a goblin and my father many years ago. Now he rules this land as King Shamus O’ Brian with my mother, Queen Mab. I have all of their magical powers and some of my very own at my disposal. They know what I have in mind and they will allow me to speak to you. I have a proposal to make to you that I think that you will find attractive. I can see that you are gravid and tucked away inside you is a clutch of eggs. They will need some time before they are ready to inhabit a nest. If you will do as I ask, then I can guaranty that I will provide a place of safety for them, where they will come to no harm. I feel that it is time that dragons came back to the Enchanted Land and once more lived amongst us. All it needs are assurances that you will feed upon the wild herds and leave the domesticated herds of the faery folk untouched.”
Magdrill considered the offer and soon realised that she had little choice about the matter, unless she was willing to be re-entombed under the glacier. Besides, with Knorrd gone and no longer bullying the females, she would be able to pursue her own interests without his interference.
“Son of Knorrd’s killer, tell me what you want from me and if I agree, you have the word of a dragoness that I will carry it through,” she answered.
Shamus told her of the happenings in the human world and how the beings of the Enchanted Land were willing to bring a band of persecuted humans into this world. Also he showed her that the fleeing Celts and Saxons were distantly related family to the King and his son. He warned her that the invading forces would be wearing iron and would have to be dealt with some care, because of the reaction to the poison metal. He explained how Knorrd was killed by the metal lance thrust under his arm-pit as the only weak spot on his body. To be sure that this was not able to happen to her, goblins would make her an armoured harness to shield her vital spots.
Magdrill did not take very long before she said, “You have my word, young Conner. This sounds like fun! Give me some time to get back into trim and I will gladly do as you say. Free my front feet and get the Wood-sprite to unravel its grip upon my wings and hindquarters.”
“This I will do Magdrill, but there is one more boon I ask of you and that is that the three of us sit upon your back while you fly us south.”
Conner shovelled the imprisoning ice from around the dragon’s front feet and stood back as she broke free. She spread her wings and with a mighty thrust leapt into the air and was aloft in seconds. The dragoness flew a spiral course above them until she was just a spot in the sky. There she hovered for a while staring down upon the three people far below and then dropped like a stone. Magdrill spread her wings wide and pulled up just above them and dropped slowly to the ground.
She looked at Mog, Wooleen and the giant form of Conner and said, “I can easily take the two little ones, but even I could not fly with a giant around my shoulders!”
“That’s no problem, Magdrill, replied Conner, “I am usually much smaller than this!”
Conner concentrated his mind to the storehouse of magic laced upon his feet and to the dragoness’s amazement became the same height as Wooleen.
“Now if you have no objections,” asked Conner, “we will climb aboard and once in place, my Wood-sprite friend will make us secure. Feel free to hunt as we go as we will take an estimated several weeks to get to Crispin Gate and we will have much to do when we get there!”
Merlin used his scrying ball to keep an ‘eye’ on William the Conqueror’s progress against Hereward the Wake. His defeat was so imminent that already some of the French Nobles were leaving the hunt to claim lands of their own from the Celtic and Saxon mills, towns and farmland. Hubert de Vernon and Raoul Botin had joined forces with Gui de Craon and Richard de Courei being able to field hundreds of men-at-arms, archers and knights at their pleasure. There was no resistance to this army as it spread westwards and south.
Seeing this, Merlin drew the elders together and told them, “In a few days we will sight Avebury, an ancient stone built Henge. There is something that I must do there and we can rest for a short while. We will be within a few days journey of our objective, but bear in mind that the Normans will be hot on our heels once they discover that Cricklade has been burnt to the ground and the surrounding farms ruined. They will come, sword in hand, seeking revenge and slaves, to work your lands for themselves.”
Over the days that they had travelled, their number grew as the news spiralled out into the countryside telling of the determined escape from servitude. Stories spread about the aid that they would be given by the faery folk of legend and many of the newcomers had seen the wisps of light that flew through the air around the heads of Merlin and Aelfric.
When the dawning sun had risen it was to show that the group of escapees had swollen and now the refugees numbered in their hundreds as more and more people joined the throng. Blind belief now took over, as old tales of Goblins, Fairies, Trolls and Leprechauns circulated amongst the frightened people. Merlin would add to these stories giving avid descriptions of the people that they were going to meet and how different the living would be once they reached Stonehenge. The one thing that he repeated over and over again was to rid themselves of all iron implements and weapons once they got to the monument or they would not be admitted to the Enchanted Land.
The way led through a cleft in the surrounding down-lands and Merlin recognised it as ‘The Valley of the Sarsens,’ that led up to the great Henge. The huge stones were scattered along the valley as if discarded by giants. It was thought that the people that built the Avebury circle had done so thousands of years in the past. In truth, it was sustained by ‘old magic’ when traffic between the two worlds had been much more frequent and the giants still lived in the Enchanted Land. They had built the Henge as a portal to somewhere else and had left it behind them when they departed and closed it to their destination. Merlin had coerced a number of giants to build Stonehenge to his design, before they left, explaining that far in the future it would be needed to save many lives. He had then performed a merging of the two worlds that would stay closed until the right blood-line reactivated it. There was a single path that led to the Enchanted Land through one of the Trilithons, a structure consisting of two large vertical stones (posts) supporting a third stone set horizontally across the top (lintel). Merlin was always very careful to close the portal each time he used it. The Avebury circle of standing stones could be opened once he had activated it, but it was a door in one direction and that was into this realm. Merlin had been ‘told’ by a faery messenger of Shamus’s son Conner’s entrapment of the dragoness and had already made his decision that the portal at Avebury would open up after the Norman invaders had passed by it, on their way to Stonehenge to capture the fleeing Saxons and Celts.
As the refugees topped the rise and saw the Avebury Henge for the first time they became apprehensive, as they climbed the ridges of the bank and ditch that surrounded the stones.
Merlin stopped the caravan before they entered the stone circle and said, “This is where we rest for a while and I now ask of you to remove all traces of iron from your belongings. Even the iron-shoes on the hooves of your horses must be removed and discarded. Every scrap of iron must be left outside of the ditch surrounding the standing stones. I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of doing this. Something from the Enchanted Realm will enter through this portal and lay waste to the army that pursues you even now as I speak. We are within more than a good day’s journey of Stonehenge where the portal remains sealed until we get there. The penalty for trying to take iron with you will be a lifetime’s servitude for all of you under Norman rule. Be the eyes of your neighbour’s and all of you seek diligently for iron in other groups. We will stay here until I am satisfied that there is not a scrap of iron left in your belongings. Aelfric will make sure that you all obey this ruling and will leave behind any that disobey. I warn you again; that what will come through this portal will hunt down any iron bearing man or beast and destroy them!”
Word spread amongst the fugitives and a feverish hunt began through each and every wagon and backpack. Soon there was a pile of discarded iron implements, tools, knives, studded shields, weapons of every description left in a deep hole in front of the first ditch. The Sluagh Sidhe appeared by the thousands and tiny balls of light swarmed around the encampment searching for any iron that might have been forgotten. They managed to find some pieces that had not been recognised as iron and one small knife that was carried by a child. Once the Sidhe were satisfied that even the nails that kept the iron shoes on the hooves of the heavy horses had been removed they gave the order to move off. To the surprise of them all, Aelfric led them around the circle of standing stones and passed a dome-shaped hill and onwards due south. Merlin stayed behind and did what was necessary to open the portal from the Enchanted Land. He awoke the power that fed the stones and linked into the other realm by feeding the cap-stone a few drops of his blood. A chain reaction took place throughout the great grey stones, as stone after stone linked to the next. When the last two ‘joined’ there was a soundless flash and the whole portal began to throb with restrained power. The stone mind reached out and found Merlin waiting for it to key in the commands that would activate the megalith when needed.
One by one the stones went silent and placed themselves ready for activation. Merlin was quite satisfied that when the young prince was ready he would be able to pull the two realms together and come through. Now that Avebury was activated he needed to tell Conner that his plan that mirrored Merlin’s was in place.
He ‘called’ down one of the glowing lights and said, “Snow-petal, seek out the son of Shamus and let him know that I have fulfilled part of my task. Tell him that his plan is also my plan and we will work together. There will be no iron at the great portal to disrupt the exodus and we will be there in a matter of two days, maybe three. Ask him to have the reinforcements ready to assist those who are walking through the gate. Tell him to be ready to enter this world from the Avebury portal when the fugitives start coming through Stonehenge and have the Trolls ready with their balls and chain to mop up any of the Normans who make it through. Get Tam O’ Shadow to double the height of the trolls to increase their menacing look. Have the goblins ready with their cross-bows and the elves set at a safe distance from the iron that the Normans might bring, with bow and arrows. I leave him to organise the resistance.”
Many miles from Crispin Gate Magdrill flew steadily onwards towards the south, easily carrying her passengers, securely bound to the dragoness by the Wood-sprite. Several times they stopped for Magdrill to hunt and provide them with fresh meat although Conner had stocked plenty of food in the travelling sacks. As the days went by an easier atmosphere generated between Magdrill and her rescuers and they were able to telepathically ‘talk’ to each other without Mog’s assistance. Conner filled in the missing years from whence Magdrill and her kind had been entombed by Queen Mab. He told her of his father’s entrance into the Enchanted Land and the subsequent adventures he had carried out for the Queen. The extreme choices that he had taken to save the realm from the massing Orcs had been the last thing that had tipped the balance in his favour. Allowing his son to retrieve a dragon as an ally was just another way that the part human thought so very different from the faery folk. Queen Mab had met Myrddin Emrys known to some as Merlin many times in the past. He had shown her the future that could be and the results if certain paths were not followed. In all of these scenarios the arrival of the youngest son of King Conall O’Brian into the Enchanted Land was something that had to be. He would become a pivotal force that would by his decisions and his alone would bring the realm into a situation of survival. This escape from the Norman invasion was just such an event that had to be played through. Since Mab had closed all the portals into the Enchanted Land long ago, the actual quantities of humans had fallen to a dangerous level. Far too many interrelated families were forced into intermarriage and this was having a direct effect on the meagre numbers of healthy people. Therefore the influx of the fleeing Saxons and Celts into the realm would be advantageous to those who had settled there. The empty lands bordering Gunner’s estate at Crispin Gate would benefit from the cultivation that it would be subjected to. This was one of the reasons that Queen Mab had decided to allow Shamus O’Brian’s descendants the right of settlement. It could be very dangerous for all who lived here if it went wrong. Too much interference and the timelines could be twisted into an unwholesome pattern that would see that all living in this land would suffer. The giants that had lived here long ago, moved on because of what they could see lay in store for them and all who came to live here.
Finally the towers of Crispin Gate came into view and Magdrill slowed the beat of her wings to land just outside the main doors. Soon after she settled down onto the stone surface of the approach Ep withdrew all of his restraining branches and Conner, Wooleen and Mog dismounted to be met by Tam O’ Shadow.
Conner picked him up and swung him around with joy.
“Did you persuade any of the Banshees to hunt in the human world? I have Magdrill on my side. Wait till the Normans see her! They will shit in their pants,” babbled Conner in excitement.
“Put me down, you gibbering idiot,” gasped Tam, “and get control of yourself. We have much to do and no time to waste. You were quite right; the Banshees of the Shadow lands are starving and jumped at the chance to feed. I have explained the situation to them and they will ignore anyone not bearing iron. There are dozens of them in my travelling sack, seething with the need to suck life from the invaders. Emrys has managed to get them past the Avebury Gate and they are on their way to Stonehenge. He has opened the portal wide enough for you and the dragoness to pass through. Once you are through it will seal shut! Your only way back will be through the portal that your descendant ‘cousin’ will be taking his people through. First however he has to get them there and persuade Aelfric to give his blood to the alter stone to open the gate.
Hubert de Vernon reigned in his war-horse and pointed at the curl of smoke that was rising from every building and said, “Raoul do you see what the serfs have done?”
The duke answered, “I can my liege! The scum have put their town to the torch to deny us our plunder. Just as they have left the flour mills ruined by the side of the river. My sword arm aches to find them. It will take a great deal of time to repair the damage and by then a summer’s corn will have gone to waste. We need to catch up with them and put them to work.
Gui de Craon had left his troops to rest by the river and in the company of Richard de Courie had circled around the town and had found the tracks left by the waggons through the crops. They made a muddy road due south and would be easy to follow.
Richard rode up to Duke Hubert and pointed in the direction the fugitives had gone and called out, “They travel south my lord. Judging by the depth of the waggon tracks, they are heavily loaded and going at the pace of cattle. We could soon overtake them I should imagine, as some of the timber is still warm and smouldering.”
“Right,” answered Lord Hubert and pointed at the ruined town. “We will encamp there and let the men scavenge what they can that has been left behind. There should be plenty of wood to make fires. Get them cooking whatever they have gathered along the way from that last village and tell them that I intend to be away at first light!”
A ball of light slipped in and out of vision as one of the Sluagh Sidhe observed what was going on. She stayed a safe distance from all the iron and steel that the soldiers carried. The faery was mistaken for a firefly and ignored. Thistle-berry slipped through her own portal and reappeared by the side of Merlin’s ear and told him all she had seen. She had counted the men and horses and that gave Merlin a great deal to worry about. This was a large heavily armed plunder driven war party that had already proved their worth on the shingle and the meadows around Hastings. These were seasoned killers that would show no mercy if they caught up with Aelfric and the refugees. Now that Hereward the Wake was on the point of giving up, many of the battalions were making their way across England and turning Saxon lands into Norman Fiefdoms.
The druid quickened his pace and soon caught up with Aelfric and drew him to one side to tell him, “You and I must go ahead to open the portal into the Enchanted Land leaving these people to follow. At the speed that they are going I feel that the Normans may well catch up with the stragglers at the stones. There is something that you must do and only you can do it!”
Aelfric stared at Emrys with misgivings and asked, “What must I do?”
The Henge is locked and can only be opened by someone of your bloodline. There is an alter stone in the centre of the Henge and you must willingly give blood to that stone. I have an obsidian blade that will do the trick. Do not worry I shall not need very much. I did the very thing at the Avebury Henge to open that portal to allow your ancestral cousin to come through behind the soldiers with something that will devastate the Normans while your people go through the portal. They will have more to worry about than trying to capture your people. Borrow a horse and we must go and go now!”
Aelfric left the leadership of the exodus in Magwin’s capable hands. His wife was looked upon by the members of the town and surrounding farms as a ‘wise woman’ of renown so they would follow her.
Before he left, Merlin made sure that all the refugees were well past the standing stones and he rode his horse behind them and seized hold of a thorn tree laden with berries. He sent his mind into the ‘woody’ consciousness and altered its purpose in life.
“Grow east and west,” he instructed and rode the horse away as the roots broke the surface of the ground and began to spread across the downs, sending thorny scrub all along the extended root system.
Soon an impenetrable, spiky hedge formed across the landscape as they watched.
“That should hold them back a while,” remarked Merlin to Aelfric as they galloped away towards the Henge.
“How do you do that? I have never seen the like in all my life,” said the Celt.
“It takes a lot of time and you have to have the power in your soul. You have it, but it is suppressed deep inside. When this Henge was built I sealed it so that no-one could accidently open it, unless they had the bloodline of the O’Brian’s and I foresaw the day that an O’Brian would open the portal with his blood. That was a long time ago, my friend. Since then I have watched the ebb and flow of events in the human world. Where all of you are going will take some understanding by your people, but I can assure you that whatever the differences that you will find in the Enchanted Land, you will find welcome. On the other side of Stonehenge lies an incredible place that humans have settled in the past and made a success of living there, but it will take some adjustment. Also what you have to take into consideration is that the ‘Gate’ is a one-way trip. Any who go through, will not be able to travel back. Protecting that portal on the other side will be Goblins who are not affected by Iron, Elves that are, and Trolls who have some resistance. They will kill with arrows and ‘clubs’ whatever comes through the portal bearing iron should any of the attacking forces make it that far!”
“I do not understand all you say, but I trust you Emrys and the carnage that you have shown me in my mind. There will be time to understand later should we outwit the Norman conquerors and arrive safely in this other land,” said Aelfric as they urged the horses onwards.
At late afternoon they found the landscape flattened and the view across the downs clear in every direction. On the horizon was a grey smudge that grew as they galloped towards it. Unlike the Avebury standing stones and the ditch dug round it, these stones were Trilithons with a lintel mounted on every upright. Just like the Avebury erection a deep ditch had been dug around the circle of stones with an entry point that could easily take a waggon. Some of the distances between the uprights were so tight that it would be impossible to wriggle through them. Others were wide enough to walk through, but none of the spaces would allow a wagon to roll through. In the middle of the circle were several stones laid into certain fey positions. Five other Triathlons had been set into the ground facing to a common point making another circle with gaps between the upright stones. In the centre of the circle was the stone alter laid north to south.
They walked the horses towards the stones and Merlin said, “Hobble the horses, as I am not sure how this will ‘go’ when the Henge is activated and they may bolt if not restrained.”
Aelfric not only hobbled the two horses, but he wound pieces of cloth over both horses’ eyes and tied them on securely. He then hammered two wooden stakes into the ground and tied the horses to these.
“I’m ready,” he said and walked through the entry arch and followed Merlin to the alter stone.
Merlin helped him onto the stone and made him lay with his head to the north. He took out of his neck sheath an obsidian blade bound onto a bone handle that he usually wore under his chin on a leather loop. Next he placed his hands upon the flat surface of the stone and woke up the force that was bound to the Henge. As the power was rising he made two shallow cuts in the palm of Aelfric’s hands and placed them down onto the cold stone and held them there. Merlin entered Aelfric O’Brian’s mind and directed the rising force to open the portal. There was a soundless flash as lightning struck the stones and jumped from stone to stone along the Trilithons until it began to jump to the five upright lintels. The stone alter sank to the level of the surrounding ground and the centre Trilithon became a bank of mist. Now Aelfric could see that when the fugitives got here they would walk through the entrance of the Henge and continue through the centre where the lintel used to be.
Joined to Merlin, he was able to sense another mind on the other side of the portal and realised that it was his ancestral cousin, Conner O’Brian. To his astonishment he could see through his eyes the Dragoness, Gnomes, elves and Trolls that were waiting on the other side.
Conner became aware of him and said, “Welcome, cousin. We are ready.”
He turned his head from side to side to give Aelfric a clear view of the defences that the Trolls had laid down. A row of large stones had been placed some distance from the wall of mist so that the waggons could enter the Enchanted Land and turn to the left and right. This would leave a clear view for the archers. Thirty feet from the stones a line of sharpened stakes pointed at the portal at forty-five degrees, placed in a half-circle and behind these stood the elves and goblins, waiting. Someway behind them was something that the Celt took his breath away. Magdrill the dragoness lay waiting for Conner’s return and around her neck a mass of roots, branches and sharp twigs moved from time to time in impatience. It had to be some sort of a tree, but not like any that Aelfric had ever seen. Then another one came rolling around the dragoness’s flank and sunk its roots into the ground. Both Wood-sprites intended to be part of the resistance to the invading Norman army.
Once he was certain that Aelfric had seen and understood the layout beyond the portal he took his hands away from him and broke the connection. Merlin helped him off the alter stone and could not, but laugh at the expression on the Celt’s face.
He took his hands in his and sent a healing energy into Aelfric’s wounds to heal them and said, “You have now seen what awaits you in the Enchanted Land. Explain to the others what they will see when they walk through the mists. Arrange the waggons so that they go left and right alternatively and remind the people that they are amongst friends no matter what they look like! Do you understand?”
Aelfric groaned and said, “Emrys believe me, when I say that I do understand, but getting the others to accept what their new friends look like might be difficult. Can you not take one of each through that misty gate to show them what to expect?”
“No! I can open a small portal through one of the other Trilithons at the back that will allow travel into this world, but otherwise the central ‘Gate’ is a one directional trip. Stay here and regain the horses while I will see what I can do.”
Merlin walked around the circle until he came to the two uprights that were directly in line behind the boiling mists and placed his hands upon each stone and opened the temporary portal. The first through was Tam O’ Shadow carrying a shrunken Mog the Troll in one pocket with a goblin and an elf in the other. They rapidly regained their size and followed Merlin around the circle of stones until they got to where Aelfric was waiting with the horses. His eyes widened as he looked up at Mog who was mostly made of stone, stood there wrapped round with a length of chain and a heavy granite block on each end.
A bald, bright green man who only came up to his shoulders and a human looking creature with pointed ears stepped forwards. Also just in front of them was a tiny red bearded man, that only came up to his waist.
“My name is Tam O’ Shadow,” said the tiny man, “and the goblin is Matt-cinder. My elfin friend is called Wooleen and she has wanted to meet you. She has a talent that might come in useful, but enough of that. Allow us to sit astride your steed and get us back to the waggon train on its way here. They can then dispense with any shock about our likeness! Mog will stay here and wait for our return and give us time to tell your people about him.”
As the sun dropped below the horizon, the two humans dismounted and led the horses by hand, as the last thing that they needed was a horse with a broken leg because of putting it into a rabbit hole. After some hours, in the far distance the glow and flickering lights of a number of camp-fires could be seen. Aelfric handed the reigns of his horse to Merlin and set off at a quicker pace to prepare the people to meet their saviours. He was followed by a host of the Sidhe flying around his head giving him the benefit of their light and making sure he did not stumble. He gave out a call to alert the ones on guard and was seen and met by men carrying flaming torches.
“We have returned and I bring with me allies from the Enchanted Land who have agreed to come and let you see what they are like. They are quite strange, but remember all of you that they have set up your rescue. I have seen what preparation they have done to protect you once you are on the other side of the gate. All is ready and once through the portal at Stonehenge we will be safe. You will see a dense mist that leads to another world. You have to go through it and take the waggons to the left and right as you enter. Spread my words pack your things and put out the fires. Do you want to advertise where you are! We will walk the horses and livestock along the downs to this place of wonders. Even now the Normans are preparing to kill or enslave us and they will soon overtake our escape galloping on heavy horses. Behind them will be the men-at-arms with murder in their hearts!”
By this time Aelfric had walked into the camp and as he talked, Merlin came into view with the two horses carrying their passengers. If nothing else the visitors were indeed strange to the Saxons and Celts. Once Matt-cinder the goblin came close to the fire and the people could see that he was indeed bright green they realised that all that they had been told was true. Wooleen’s pointed ears and other subtle differences showed that she was not human, but an elf. When Tam O’ Shadow had decided that being about three foot tall made him at a disadvantage he amazed the humans as he grew to the same size of Aelfric along with his clothes and boots.
While they were staring at him he said, “There is waiting for us at the stones a Troll who is more than twice the size of any of you and mostly made of stone. His name is Mog and he will guard the portal until you are all through. That needs to be soon. Be prepared to see things that are beyond anything that you have seen before. BUT we must get there, so pack the waggons get your livestock moving and I will provide enough light to help you on your way.”
Aelfric’s people had seen enough to accept the truth of the situation and did as they were told by the leprechaun. The fires were soon put out and everything packed away so that they could get on their way. Thousands of the Sluagh Sidhe had crossed over to the human realm and generated enough silver light for them to pick their way over the downs. After some time had passed, the sun began to rise and the faery host disappeared from view as their light was no longer needed.
As the sun rose, so did the Normans who quickly saddled their horses and dressed themselves in polished armour. A quick breakfast was eaten and the foot soldiers made their way into blocks of twenty men and started on their way. The mounted knights soon overtook them and directed the horses at a steady canter that soon ate up the miles. It did not take them long to meet the first of Merlin’s obstacles. A great thorny hedge had somehow grown across their path so dense that it was impossible to force the horses through it, so the knights had to wait for the Men-at-arms to march to the barrier and hack a way through. Time and again the soldiers had to hack their way through hedge after hedge and drag branches over the many areas of quicksand that also blocked the way. Tempers began to rise as these obstacles continually brought them to a stop. Eventually they arrived at the Avebury Henge and looking around the great stones began to become uneasy about the coming conflict. It was obvious that the strange growth of thorny hedges was not a natural part of nature. A tiny ball of silver light watched the Normans trot their horses through the stone circle and could feel the interference generated by so much iron. Thistle-berry decided to translate back to Merlin and pass on the news that the invaders would soon catch up with the refugees.
Aelfric was gratified to pick out the shadowy grey stones on the horizon and heaved a sigh of relief. At their pace they would be able to get the livestock through the open portal in several hours’ time. They were getting fractious from being made to walk through the night and kept trying to break away. The children using whippy sticks, kept urging the beasts along and the dogs kept the flocks of sheep in tight formation. The horses had tired long ago, but necessity made their owners urge them on. Although it would cost them time Aelfric halted the waggons and the stock to offer water to the beasts. He quite realised that the number of people that had added themselves to the exodus would take some time to go through the portal once they got there. This was a bottle neck that he could do nothing about.
“Up, up with you,” he shouted. “You must get a move on. We have to keep going. The alternative is a Norman sword at your children’s throats and a life of slavery! Make for the stones that you can see on the horizon. That is where you must go. No matter what you may see and no matter what seems strange to you, do not stop.”
Tam O’ Shadow took hold of Wooleen’s arm and said, “Use your gift and put a slow-time barrier in their way.”
The elfin girl nodded and walked back the way that she had come and found what she was looking for. Imbedded into the grassy approach was the top of a large, buried stone, millennia old. It had been formed billions of years ago and was a massive reservoir of trapped time. She knelt down and sliced into her little finger and allowed a drop of her living blood to splash down onto the boulder.
The moment that she did this, she became aware of the vast flow of time locked inside the stone. She fastened her mind on this and shuffled the time lines to bring about an intersection. As she moved away she could feel that the atmosphere around the stone had changed and a large area around the ancient grey stone had altered. Anyone who walked into that time-frozen area would feel the time had stretched out and everything was travelling very slowly for them. As Wooleen walked back she spotted another boulder that was half in and half out of the grass covered ground some way to her right and did the same with that one. She knew from experience that this would delay the oncoming force for several hours except those who were outside of the effect.
Thistle-berry had given the information to Merlin and had been instructed to pass on the knowledge to Conner who was waiting the other side of the Henge. Time on this side of the portal flowed slower that in the human realm so it only seemed like a few minutes had passed since they had received the last instructions. Now was the time to move against the plunder driven Normans, so Conner picked up the sack of Banshees and stuffed wadded pieces of cloth in his ears to mute the wailing sounds of the ethereal creatures. He climbed aboard the dragoness along with the two Wood-sprites. Ep made sure that Conner could not fall off by binding him to Magdrill’s neck and shoulders. Trilliaris linked herself around the dragoness’s neck also, but ready to drop amongst the soldiers and wreck mayhem.
Magdrill leapt into the air and pushed down with her powerful wings whilst Conner guided her towards the Avebury gate. After a short time he sensed the approach to the portal that Merlin had left partially activated. It was in a dormant stage, waiting for him to open the gate into the human world. He opened his mind to the pathway through and urged the dragoness into the centre of the maelstrom that was now rotating over the stones. A boiling curtain of fog hung in the air over the mirror of the standing stones, visible only from this side.
“Aim for the centre of the mist, Magdrill and keep your wings close to your body as we go through,” the prince advised.
They shot through the other side and found themselves in a different world. In the Enchanted Land the time of the year was spring, but here it was late summer. From this side of the portal the whirlpool of billowing mist was no longer able to be seen as the gate was only open in one direction. Magdrill spread her wings and gained height. She went up until she was just a dot in the sky and was able to see the Norman invaders down below. There were hundreds of heavily armed men being followed by supply waggons. They were as yet at least five miles behind the stragglers who were pushing their beasts as hard as they dared. Conner could see the construction of Stonehenge from where he sat and that most of the people had made it that far.
The livestock and waggons had been quickly turned from left and right through the portal, leaving the centre open and defendable. Many of the faery folk acted as guides making sure that the many refugees that were at the end of their strength were able to rest after their forced march.
Conner leant forwards and shouted in Magdrill’s ear, “It is time for us to interfere with the back lines. Go for the waggons first and spray them with your venom, making them burn. In the confusion, as we drop, I will release the Banshees from the traveling sacks. Remember that they are kitted out with iron and even you are vulnerable to a well-placed spear, but we have good bronze armour wrapped underneath your armpits. Our advantage will be the fear that the Banshees will generate and also your massive scaled body dropping from the skies doing as much damage as you can. When you are down, give me a few moments to get off and attain giant size.”
Magdrill folded her wings and dropped like a stone until she was a hundred feet from the ground. She opened her wings and stopped over the waggons and swung round, spraying the wooden frameworks and the cloth coverings. A few seconds after this, everywhere the venom had sprayed, burst into flames and the horses panicked and bolted through the back ranks of armed men. As she hovered for a moment Conner released the necks of the travelling sacks and let the starving Banshees loose. A dense fog crept over the massed ranks of steel- clad men and the Banshees began to materialise. They fed mostly on fear and the sight of something clinging onto their bodies caused many of the men to die of shock. Sometimes the Banshees would appear as young girls, beautiful to look on and then dramatically change into a rotting corpse. When they fed, a shrieking sound would deafen the ears of the men.
By now the mounted knights at the front began to be aware that all was not as they expected in the pursuit of the Saxon serfs. They turned their horses to face the threat coming at them from the back ranks. What they could see defied belief as a dragon appeared from out of the strange fog that had appeared from nowhere, and it began to flatten the men-at-arms by swinging round with its tail. By the huge creature’s sides came moving towards them two great trees brandishing sword-like branches, too many to count! Then, rising out of the fog, came a giant of a man dressed in fine clothes and wilding an uprooted tree as a club. This was too much for some of the knights and they broke away and found themselves in a strange muted world where everything slowed down and the outside world moved at a maniacal pace.
Mog had watched the approaching soldiers with a grim joy and moved to intercept them. The troll went into battle mode and swung the blocks of granite by the bronze chain and cut a swathe through the ranks. To the men of Hubert de Vernon it was as if one of the stones had come alive. Needless to say, panic spread throughout the ranks. Some of them ran into the fog inside Stonehenge and found themselves in another world. A hail of arrows stopped them dead from the elves and goblins. Enclosures had been made and erected so that the livestock could be rested and given water. The Saxons and Celts looked about them in wonder as they were administered to by such strange looking people.
Conner used the tree as a giant broom, sweeping the steel clad soldiers into a heap of wriggling men. He conjured up a set of storm clouds and brought down a mean fork of lightning to finish them off. Magdrill attacked from the edge of the army by thrashing her tail from side to side using it as a battering implement. That way her aversion to iron was kept to a minimum. In vain some of the archers let fly at her, only to see the arrows just dap off her thick scales. Annoyed by this barrage of sharp pointed missiles, she trod on those archers that had tried this. Soon the last thing on anyone’s mind was the fleeing farmers and townsfolk as the dragoness, giant and murderous trees took their toll of the invaders. Gui de Craon and Richard de Courei had both met a messy end under the feet of Magdrill and of the other two commanders Hubert de Vernon and Raoul Botin who had rode fiercely towards the fleeing English, they had met Mog the Troll and his granite balls on the length of bronze chain. Gui was taken out and lifted from his saddle by a flailing ball of granite the size of his chest. He smashed into one of the upstanding stones and lay lifeless in the grass. Hubert dodged the other ball and rode into the mist determined to see what was on the other side.
Now that the refugees had all entered the Enchanted Land the defences were activated by the goblins. A stout rope was fixed across the entrance to the portal so that it crossed the gap about five feet from the ground. The war horse came thundering through with Hubert astride it with his lance pointing towards the defences. The rope caught him in the chest and took him out of the saddle and he went flying off, to land on his back. The weight of his armour made it impossible for him to get up. He lay there helpless as a sea of green faces appeared and small strong hands undressed him. His helmet was stripped from his head and his woven metal shirt dragged from his body, until he was only dressed in his under garments. The goblins bound his arms together, in front of his chest and hobbled his legs, so that he could not run away. Beings that were twice to three times his height and seemingly made of stone were stationed next to the entrance to this world. His armour soon vanished, carried off by the small green men and placed on a shining pile of weapons and breastplates. These trophies were being systematically ferried by a chain of the green men, away to what he thought had to be a river. To his amazement they were throwing the captured equipment into the water along with the weapons, including swords and shields. This was something that his people would never do, as the capture of weapons and armour were standard practice of redistributing them amongst the knights.
A tall man with bright red hair approached him and asked, “Do you speak Saxon?”
Hubert de Vernon stared back at the peasant farmer and replied, “Oui, I can speak your language. Where in God’s name am I? What is this place and what are these strange creatures?”
“You are in the Enchanted Land, Frenchman and the place that was thought to exist only in children’s tales. This is our home now and your kind will never find us again. We can live here as free men, on a land that will never bear the brunt of your swords. You came to take our land and make us slaves to your profit. This will never happen again!
Now you have travelled through a one-way gate, perhaps to be here for the rest of your life. What will happen to you, will be for our King and Queen to decide? You have met their son, Conner. He was the giant that destroyed your army with the help of a dragon and his Wood-sprites. You are responsible for all of that carnage in the human world. Had you left us alone and allowed us to escape through the great gateway none of this would have happened and you would still be a Grand Duke,” Aelfric replied and walked away leaving the Frenchman still flat on his back.
On the other side of the portal Tam O’ Shadow had gathered in and shrunk down Mog the Troll to a size where he could retreat through the Trilithon without getting stuck.
Wooleen had slipped through the mist and returned to the Enchanted Land where she had now taken charge of the French knight, who she now allowed to stand. She had entered the Frenchman’s mind and had seen the brutality of his society. She recoiled in disgust and he felt the intrusion. He tried to kick out at her, forgetting the hobbled ankles and fell awkwardly towards her. She stepped out of his way and slapped his mind, rendering him unconscious with the force of the mental blow.
She stared down at the fallen Knight and said, “It is time that you were taught manners!”
The battlefield was empty of conflict as any men-at-arms that could escape, had deserted the cause. They were trying to put as much distance between the approach to Stonehenge and themselves as possible before the sun set. The grassy expanse was an open graveyard with dead Norman soldiers scattered everywhere and their burning supply waggons littering the field. Conner got the wood-sprites to round up all the loose horses and shepherd them through the mists that concealed the entrance inside the Trilithon. They would be useful in the Enchanted Land as this was an animal that did not exist in that realm.
Conner asked, “You have a choice, Magdrill. You can stay here as the only dragon and build your nest to rear your young, or come back with me and fly to the far south. We cannot return to the portal at Avebury, as that was only a way into this realm. To go back with me, I will have to shrink you so that you can travel through the stone gate,” he told her and waited for an answer.
“I will return to my realm. I am sure that one day you will release another pregnant dragoness and my children will have others to mate with. Shrink me and let me through and keep your promise,” she replied.
Conner placed his hands on Magdrill’s side and concentrated his mind. First he made a place for the excess mass of the dragoness into a pocket in a parallel dimension. He then enveloped the whole of her mighty body in a cover of his concentrated will and squeezed her down to the size of a horse.
“I have not been this small since the time I cracked open my egg,” remarked Magdrill as she stretched her wings and curled her toes. “I cannot say that I like this effect, Prince Conner. So let us go through the portal and you can release me from this power!”
Conner made sure that nothing was left behind and walked through the triathlon, closing the portal behind him. He was met by Merlin and Aelfric at the stone lintel that the trolls had positioned in front of the portal to slow down anyone rushing in with weapons. Conner picked his way through the bodies of Hubert’s men and stared at the two men in surprise. They were very similar in build and looks. Both of them had a head of red hair, but Merlin’s beard hung down to his chest and was shot with grey. The amazing thing that Conner could not get over was that Aelfric could have been his older brother or even how his twin would look ten years older!
The two men looked at each other and both smiled.
Conner turned and spoke to Magdrill, “Go! You have served me well and I consider you a friend. Launch yourself into the skies and as you fly so the spell will wear off and you will regain your normal size.”
She leapt into the air and with several beats of her wings the dragon soared into the sky, swiftly growing back to her normal size. This was the first time that Aelfric had seen Magdrill and he gasped in amazement.
“You let that loose amongst the Normans? If those who survived would tell that tale, they would never be believed.”
“Oh, I had help as well. Meet Epimeliades the wood-sprite & Trilliaris his daughter,” said Conner and watched as Aelfric’s eyes opened even wider.
The two trees moved closer to him on a tangle of roots and touched the Celt on his hand. As soon as the rough wooden branch made contact he could ‘hear’ their voices in his mind!
“Welcome to the Enchanted Land, descendant of Shamus O’Brian’s father,” they both told him. “There are very few rules that we would expect you to follow. Cut no green wood without permission. Burn only dead wood and always consider others in what you do. That’s all!”
Aelfric stared at the two trees that were now moving off and said, “Merlin you said that this place would be strange. Talking trees! A Dragon! Men made out of stone! Small green men, fairies, elves and who knows what we may meet here. I think that we will do all in our power to fit in. We just want to farm, not fight and be free. I see that our adversary is awake now and under Wooleen’s control. I have had enough of killing and would be quite content to see him banished back into his original realm. He will find it very difficult to tell of what he had seen and endured. No-one will believe him and they will think him mad. Eventually it will be forgotten and by looked upon as a myth or child’s story.”
Conner called the Sluagh Sidhe to him and gave them his instruction. They formed a ball of spinning light about Hubert’s body and caused him to float in the air. They took him to the triathlon and launched him through the arch, opening a small portal to allow this. He went through the ‘gate’ screaming with fear and landed on the grass on the other side. When he picked himself up and undid the ropes, he found that there were no traces of the battle he had fought and lost. After all, time moves very swiftly this side of the portal and several hundred years soon covers up a skirmish.
Gunner, master of Crispin Gate welcomed the newcomers and directed them to the shelters that had been built to house them. Later he would allocate good land to the farmers and places in the growing town for the craftsmen.
A ball of light materialised close to Conner and Queen Mab and Shamus stepped out of it.
Mab hugged her son with joy and Shamus put his arm about his shoulders and said, “You did well my son. I can see the resemblance to my father in Aelfric. After all these years have gone by, his face still floats down the expanse of time. I cannot but wonder if we will meet more of his descendants in the fullness of time?”