Book 1 Seven League Boots, Book 2 Ogre!, Book 3 The Southern Witch.
The Seven League Boots.
Tam O’ Shadow was a Leprechaun and an accomplished shoemaker, as were many of his kind. All the mysteries of leather were at his skilled hands. In those ancient days there existed a rift between the lands of faery and the human world. In those days it was easy to make a portal from one world to the other and humans seeking adventure and faery gold would enter the enchanted land to try their luck.
Shamus O’Brian was the youngest son of the new king of the Celts who had sailed across the Irish Sea and landed on the fabled shores some centuries ago. He had listened to the stories told in the great hall of the strange lands that co-existed with the lands of his people. Riches were to be found there if you only had the courage to enter and seek in the enchanted world of Faery. At all times it had been impressed on those who might chance their luck to be respectful to all of the inhabitants or lay themselves in mortal peril.
At last the time had come that the full moon had risen and was shining through the dolman that had been placed at the entrance of the wild wood. Two great stones had been driven into the earth by a giant, who had then placed a obelisk across the tops to make the portal. Shamus stood and gazed in wonder at the strange land he could see beyond the entrance. The view he could see through the portal was in daylight and Shamus quickly walked through the great arch and into the enchanted land.
He had packed food and water to make sure that while he was inside the Faery world he would not eat or drink any of the produce that existed there. There was one thing that he had brought to trade and that was a large earthenware sealed pot of Poteen, as he had heard that the ‘Wee Folk’ were very fond of it.
Shamus had heard that it was said that every Leprechaun has a pot of gold, hidden deep in the Faery side of the Irish countryside. To protect the leprechaun’s pot of gold the Irish fairies gave them magical powers to use if ever captured by a human or an animal. Such magic an Irish leprechaun would perform to escape capture would be to grant three wishes or to vanish into thin air!
Leprechauns are also very keen musicians who play tin whistles, the fiddle and even the Irish Harp and various other Irish traditional instruments. They are known to have wild music sessions at night which in Ireland are known as Ceili’s with hundreds of Irish leprechauns gathering to dance, sing and drink.
The leprechaun is fond of drinking Poteen, moonshine and will gleefully trade for it at the right price as the powerful drink will not distil in the enchanted lands into the fiery spirit that can only be brewed in the mortal world. With these few scraps of knowledge, Shamus O’Brian made his way through the active portal and for a few moments his ginger hair stood on end.
All around him the vision of the magic Kingdom was somehow sharper that the world that the human had just left. Shamus could instantly understand why those some of who had ventured here never came back! He shouldered his rucksack and strode along the path that led from the dolman into the enchanted wood. There was only one path in and one path out so the young boy had no fear of becoming lost.
Meanwhile Tam O’ Shadow was putting the finishing details into the pair of boots that he had made from the dragon’s wing that Queen Mab had given him. He sat on a small three legged stool, soaking up the sunshine on the steps of his tiny thatched cottage. His cutting tools were made from obsidian, bound onto sturdy bones with sinew. His hammers were a combination of immensely hard wood for the mallet on springy willow handles. The sewing threads were spun from dragon sinews and spider webs specially bred to produce a stronger platted fibre. What nails were needed were collected from special thorn trees that grew in abundance as a fence around his garden.
He surveyed his handiwork and gave a grunt of approval, holding each boot up to the light to make sure that all knots were sound, before he wove the spell into the very fabric of the boots. Mab had not told him who the boots were to be worn by, so Tam made them to stretch to fit any foot, faery, human or troll. He inserted the leather laces and in doing so enforced the spell that would give the wearer the ability to cover seven leagues at one stride, making sure that they would not come off when the spell became active.
Satisfied, Tam O’ Shadow reached for his fiddle and took it out of its case. He stroked a block of resin over the horse-hair bow and tightened the string. Next he tuned the fiddle, re-tightening all five strings, unlike a human violin that only had four. Soon the sounds of un-Earthly melodies filled the enchanted woods as Tam began to play.
Shamus could not but listen, entranced, as his ears filtered the merry sounds of jigs and fairy dances into his brain. The sound of the fiddle drew him onwards until he walked up the path leading to Tam O’ Shadow’s cottage. There he saw a tiny, well-dressed man no bigger than a baby sat upon a three-legged stool playing a fiddle surrounded by his tools and scraps of leather. In front of the leprechaun there danced in time to his music the finest pair of boots that Shamus had ever seen. Sometimes they were the size of the tiny man’s feet and sometimes they were larger than he would have found them to be comfortable on his own. The young man coughed to make the little man aware of his presence.
Tam stopped his merry tunes and immediately the boots were still.
He smiled at the human and said, “Hello young man. You look as if this is your first time in our wondrous lands. You came through the portal at the edge of the whispering wood?”
“I did that, sir. All along the pathway I could hear the sound of the trees as they watched me use the path. I was careful not to walk off the flagstones that lead to your home. And yes, this is my first time here. My name is----” answered Shamus.
The leprechaun leapt off his stool in horror and said, “Do not tell me your name young man. Names can be used as symbols of power whilst you are here. I have no need of a slave and that would be your fate should you tell me your name. What is your intent in this magic land?”
“I am the youngest son of the present king and have no position to speak of so I have taken a chance with my future by coming here, hoping to return with something of value,” replied Shamus. “Thank you for the warning kind sir. I have much to learn about this place. Would you give me some instruction in exchange for a tot of poteen?”
Tam O’ Shadow spat upon his hand and offered it to the human and said, “Shake my hand and the deal is done. I have not tasted the nectar of your people in many a long year. It would be most welcome.”
Shamus bent down and offered two fingers of his hand to seal the bargain and then reached into his rucksack to produce a large earthenware jar firmly sealed with a wax covered lid. He also produced a pair of small ceramic pots and set them upon the three-legged stool. Once he had broached the lid of the container, he poured a generous amount into both cups.
“Your good health my human friend,” Tam toasted and sipped the fiery poteen, making it last while Shamus only pretended to drink his all down.
He poured another and asked, “This can all be yours if you have something of value to exchange for the contents as well as information about your homeland?”
Tam O’ Shadow eyed the cup of poteen sat upon his stool and reached for it and nodded. As the evening drew near the leprechaun steadily emptied the jar and filled the human’s mind with wonders and the does and don’ts of the faery realm.
Eventually Shamus asked the tiny man, “What is it that you do in this isolated cottage?”
Now well inebriated Tam O’ Shadow replied, “Why, young man I am shoe and bootmaker to the great Queen Mab. What you saw here that was dancing to my fiddle, was a pair of Seven League Boots. They give the wearer the ability to travel seven times the distance that a man could walk in an hour with each stride. That would be three miles times seven. I have made them to fit any size foot. Give the command ‘Stride’ and each step will carry you across the lands at a speed that cannot be matched! I am the finest boot-maker in all the four lands,” he boasted and fell onto the scraps of leather that were all that was left of the dragon’s wing. A steady snoring sound filled the air as the sun began to drop down behind the trees.
Shamus O’Brian quickly made his way to the entrance of the tiny thatched cottage and peered inside. He managed to insert his arm into the kitchen where the stove had long burnt out and dug underneath the range with his finger until he scraped up a pot easily the size of the one he had brought the poteen into the faery world. He dragged the pot into the fading daylight and cracked it open whereupon a cascade of small gold coins fell into his hands. Soon there were thousands of the coins still emptying out of the pot. He emptied his rucksack of all of his food and drank up the water that he had brought. He would not need them now as a few strides with the magic boots would soon get him back to the dolman and once through the portal he would be home. The inhabitants of the enchanted lands would not follow him there as magic was unpredictable in the human world.
He took off his old leather boots and picked up one of the leprechaun’s newly made ones and marvelled as the boot expanded to fit his much larger foot. He pulled it on and carefully tied up the laces so that the boot would not come off as he strode over the land. Next he did the same with the other one and stood up. Shamus strained to pick up the rucksack full of gold and turned to face the way he had come and gave the command ‘Stride’ to the boots.
When Tam O’ Shadow awoke in the morning he saw the blood and guessed what had happened. The rucksack was on the ground with what was left of the human by its side. One leg was missing as it was seven leagues away with the other boot firmly laced to the torn off leg.
Tam wryly smiled and spoke to the empty air, “The command is ‘Stride,’ but you have to jump with your feet firmly together or one leg gets left behind.”
With that Tam O’ Shadow picked up his tools, gathered up the fairy gold and went inside to await the queen’s arrival for the boots.
Tam O’ Shadow picked up his gnarly stick, selected a red tartan cap and placed it upon his ginger haired head. He had cleaned the blood-stains off the leather surfaces of the seven league boots after given the command to return. The two parts of the unlucky human he had buried under the roots of the apple-tree at the back of his cottage. There they would fertilise the ground and feed the root system that sustained the tree. In time the boy would awaken inside the tree and learn to accept his new existence.
The Queen had changed her mind about visiting Tam’s cottage in the woods and had summoned him into her presence. She had not told him why and did not need to! It was enough that he was needed there with the results of his labours. The leprechaun laced the boots securely to his feet and let them adjust to his smaller size. With a wave of his hands he sealed the cottage windows and doors with poison ivy and thorny rambling roses. He took the human’s rucksack, filled it with the food that the boy had taken out and then shrank it to suit himself.
Tam buttoned up his coat and turned to face the direction of the queen’s palace, carefully placed his feet together and said, “Stride.”
The boots took him through the air seven leagues in the general direction of the palace. The boots gently put Tam O’ Shadow down into a clearing in the forest and he repeated the command. Once again the leprechaun found himself sailing through the air and did this over and over again until he could see the walls of the palace.
He landed on the road leading to the gates of the palace in full view of the guards and gave the command, “Be still.”
The magic inside the boots froze and he walked up to the guards and bowed to them.
“I am Tam O’ Shadow, bootmaker to the Queen. I am expected,” he said to the elf that was wearing her royal majesty’s star of office.
The guard looked down onto the leprechaun who only came up to his knees and replied, “Are you now? And why would I be believing a little chap like yourself? There are many who walk up to the doors of this palace full of their self-importance. Not that many pass through!”
Tam O’ Shadow sighed with annoyance and spoke to his boots, “Grow me and Kick him seven leagues into the woods to the East.”
With that Tam got taller and taller until he was a head and shoulders above the disrespectful guard. He drew back an enchanted boot and launched a full sized kick that lifted the elf rapidly out of sight. The other guards watched as he rapidly became a dot as he sped through the air and disappeared from sight towards the woods.
Tam turned to the wide-eyed men-at-arms and said, “As I said to your captain, I have business with the Queen! Will you let me pass?”
This time no-one attempted to stop the leprechaun and they opened the great double doors for Tam to enter. He knew the way, as he had been here many times before over the centuries, to meet with Queen Mab. She had asked for his help before in times of trouble and appreciated the skills that he possessed. The pixie shrank himself down to the same size as the elves and fairies, as to be too much taller than the Queen would be an insult and a breach of manners.
Those who knew him nodded and bowed as he passed by on rout to the throne room where Queen Mab had her audiences with those who came asking for help. He smiled and waved back to many of his old friends who had accompanied him on some of his extraordinary adventures carrying out the Queen’s wishes. ‘Mog the Troll’ lumbered forwards and extended a horny hand for Tam to shake it.
“It is good to see you again after all this time, old friend,” he boomed as he bent down to Tam’s height.
Tam shook him by a finger the thickness of his wrist and replied, “Gather your weapons old friend. I think we will be travelling again into danger. See me after I have seen the Queen, to find out all of what troubles her.”
With that greeting over, Tam O’ Shadow made his way into the Queen’s audience chamber where she was awaiting his appearance. Tam bowed to his sovereign and removed his hat, dropping to one knee. The rays of sunshine streaming through the stained glass windows bathed her in radiant multi-coloured lights. Her eldritch beauty made his heart pound in his chest. She was dressed in a white 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. A 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 pulled tightly above her hips.
“Enter Tam O’ the Shadows and be easy in my presence,” Queen Mab said in a voice that floated through the air, rich in melodies that made the leprechaun a little dizzy.
“My Lady! You called and I came,” he replied. “I have constructed the boots as you requested and have brought them to you to be steeped in the magic that only you can possess. I have placed all the enchantment that I can wield into the very fabric of the boots, but I have a feeling that what you intend me to do will require much more.”
“They will indeed, dear friend. Come you to me and I will do what will be necessary to enhance what you have begun,” and the Queen made a gesture to the pixie beckoning him to her side.
Tam found himself floating through the air until he stopped with the boots just inches from her face. She laid her hands upon the polished leather of the seven league boots and spat on each boot. Next she rubbed her spit into the leather until it disappeared and the leprechaun felt the queen’s power flow into him through the boots. As it filled his body and mind, just as quickly the magic flowed down again into the very fabric of the boots until it was needed.
“When you need it most, the magic will be there stored inside the boots at your command. Now I will tell you why I summoned you here and asked you to use your talents to make a pair of seven league boots. Humans have always wanted to explore this enchanted world and return to their world with fairy gold. They return and tell stories of the riches that are here and can be won by great acts of bravery,” she said as she gently placed him back onto the ground.
Tam frowned and replied, “I recently had a visitor from the human lands before I came here. He gave me a jar of the poteen and I could not stop drinking the fiery nectar until it was all gone. Whilst I slept he robbed me of my gold and used the boots to escape. Fortunately for me he had only the scant knowledge of how to make the boots work and they killed him.”
The Queen stared at Tam and laughed, “He did not keep his feet together?”
“I’m afraid not and he left an awful mess behind most of him. I buried him beneath an enchanted apple tree where he will one day wake to his new existence.”
Queen Mab scowled, glaring at Tam and with a hiss of anger she cried, “Humans! Soon I will be forced to close the gates into this world and keep them out to prevent the damage that they do. A band of treasure hunters have made their way into my realm and travelled north into the lands of ice. They have awoken something that I buried under the ice eons ago. It is ‘Knorrd’ the last of the dragons that we laid to rest under a great glacier. Thinking that there would be gold near a dragon’s lair they dug down to where he lay frozen stiff. They caused an avalanche that sheered through the glacier right down to the very roots. After the removal of the snow and ice had exposed him to the sun, he struggled out of his tomb and into the empty wastes. He made short work of the humans that had opened what should have been his final resting place. Fortified with that meal he took to the air and is seeking the females that I also buried deep beneath the ice. I want him dealt with before he finds those females and we have a mass hatching on our hands. I have given you enough magic to be able to bring him down. Do not waste it! Gather yourself a band of brave individuals and make your way north to the snowy wastes at the fringes of my domain. There you will find him searching for his mates.”
Tam O’ Shadow did not protest. He bowed to the Queen and kissed her hand to seal the quest and his devotion to her cause.
“My Lady! My Queen! I can think of nothing worse than a plague of dragons. Your wish is my very purpose in life. I will do as you have asked. I have a few stanch companions in mind, along with others that would heed your call,” the leprechaun replied and turning round he walked away from her audience chamber, deep in thought, already beginning to map out the beginnings of a plan of action.
Tam shut the chamber doors behind him and looked around the banqueting hall. There was always food on the table, most of it baked by gnomes in the castle ovens. These people were masters of the art of cooking and knew all of the culinary uses of the herbs and wild plants of the enchanted forest. They also knew about the preparation of all living things as what to eat and what to avoid. The leprechaun looked at the mound of meat and vegetable pies and helped himself to several of them. They were just as good as they looked and as he ate he watched Mog the Troll empty a platter of spice laden pasties as he made his way towards the pixie. The peppery breath reached him long before the Troll ambled to where Tam sat. Already his eyes were watering as Mog sat on the floor close by.
“We have a quest of some difficulty, old friend,” he said and explained what the Queen had singled him out to do, first getting his giant friend to breathe to the side.
Mog grabbed a large handful of pies and proceeded to engulf them as well, as he listened to Tam O’ Shadow’s tentative plans.
“We will need a knowledgeable cook to see to our provisions and to be able to live off the land. I’m sure that there may be a more adventurist soul working in the kitchen that might be prepared to risk his life for his Queen? What thinkest you, Mog”
The Troll laughed and pointed to a bearded gnome who was still dark haired and more middle aged than the usual cooks working in the castle kitchens, who was loading up a platter with fresh pies.
In a booming voice he said, “I spoke with him while you were with her majesty and said that there could be an adventure that we might be travelling on when you re-appeared. He was keen to go. Arifan,” he bellowed across the hall and beckoned the gnome towards Tam O’ Shadow.
The gnome wiped his hands in his apron and hurried over and asked, “This troll said that you might be going on a quest for the Queen? Tell me what you are about and I might just be daft enough to join you!”
Tam told him and saw a look of pure fear cross the gnome’s face when he mentioned the escaped dragon. What impressed the leprechaun was that the gnome soon controlled his fear and stretched out his hand to shake his to seal the commitment.
“I will take a travelling sack and fill it well, Tam O’ the Shadows,” the gnome declared and disappeared into the kitchens.
The two old friends ate and drank while they waited for their new companion to return. Tam searched the crowd for another likely member to recruit into their company and caught sight of another old travelling companion that he had not seen in over a century. Jessop was a winged elf. He had the use of his arms like any normal elf, except that he could extend his little fingers from their folded position to support a leathery set of wings. He was dressed in such a way that the folds of skin would disengage themselves from his sides to make a large canopy once he extended his fingers.
The leprechaun stood up and shouted across the hub-bub, “Jessop old friend! Good flying to you and a fair wind to catch your wings. You look bored! Come and join me here at this table and hear what I propose as a worthy quest.”
A smile suffused the elves brown face and he made his way through the busily eating crowd with his arms wide open.
He wrapped his arms around Tam’s upper body and lifted him off the ground with ease and said, “Tam O’ the Shadows, what have you got yourself into now. Tell me all about it. Whatever you are going to do, count me in! I am bored and crave some excitement.”
Tam rapidly told him of the Queen’s expressed need and the dangers of the quest that lay before them. As he was doing so the gnome, Arifan re-appeared dressed for the outside and carrying a travelling sack belted around his waist. With him was a female gnome similarly dressed and also carrying a travelling sack.
“This is my partner, Aisled. She insisted on coming with me on this quest, dragon or not! I can assure you she is tougher than she looks and can use a blade when needed,” Arifan stated and stood with her by his side.
‘Mog the Troll’ laughed and extended his little finger for her to shake and said, “If she cooks as well on the trail as she does in the kitchens, then she is welcome to come with us. Better by far that we collect those who want to go than those who would become reluctant to finish the job!”
Tam O’ Shadow smiled and took her hand in his and said, “Welcome Aisled. Join our band if you so desire, but be warned that we will not be coming back until this quest is fulfilled. Knorrd will die, or we will fail and we will die.”
The leprechaun turned away and led the way out of the castle.
Once outside, Tam said to the boots, “Grow ten times!”
He began to increase in size until he towered over the members of the company and bent down to put them all into his pockets making sure that the troll was in a pocket on his own lest he crush any of the others of the band.
“Stride,” he ordered and keeping his ankles together he bounded in seven league hops across the hills and dales towards the goblin town of Little Creek where he hoped to find a blacksmith that would join his band and make a dragon lance of pure iron.
The closer he got to Little Creek, the more roads he could see connecting small holdings to a main road leading to the goblin township. A river snaked its way through the settlements and busy boat traffic was in evidence, moving goods up and down the river. Centuries ago the river may have been a creek, but now the goblins had damned the out-fall so that it was now a broad canal that eventually spilled over the horseshoe dam in a cascade, on its way towards the Sea of Dreams. Tam had not been this way for many years since the Troll Wars had come to a finish. It was said that a band of Trolls had destroyed a Faery Dell, not realising that such places were set up by the elves and pixies as reservoirs of magic. They had burnt some of the trees and torn out the stones of power to build a shelter while they explored the bounty of the nearby enchanted forest.
The faerie folk had reacted badly to this act, as to their eyes, it was a sheer act of vandalism of something that the elves held sacred and had to be avenged. Old grudges came to the front and an army of elves descended on the grove and a bloody battle was fought until one of the Trolls ripped the head off the elfin leader and used his corpse as a club. From hand to hand fighting the fight moved to the elves using arrows and although they could not kill the Trolls they inflected great pain. Both side retreated from what was left of the sacred Grove and went home to tell their version of the incident. This resulted in a lasting set of skirmishes between the two peoples. In the end it was Queen Mab who took a hand and froze the combatants in time and questioned them one by one, persuading them to understand the real reason of the war was a lack of understanding. Those whose minds were still set in patterns of vengeance and hatred she changed. Once the faerie Queen had entered the minds of these unfortunates all thoughts of violence dissipated like mist in the wind.
He stopped and surveyed the way into the goblin township, took his companions out of his pockets and set them onto the stony road. He ordered the boots to remake him to his normal size. He then scrambled up the troll’s large stony frame and sat upon his shoulders.
Tam O ‘Shadow looked down on the members of his band and said, “We should enter the township of Little Creek bearing gifts. From past experience I know that all goblins enjoy spicy food laced with extra pepper and chillies. Can you find something of the sort my gnomish friends in those travelling sacks?”
Aisled rummaged around in the depths of the sack and produced a basket full of pasties that were still hot and filled the area with the smell of fresh baking. Travelling sacks worked on the same principle as the leprechaun’s pot of gold. There was more room inside that out! Also time stopped inside so any food put in the sack came out as fresh as when newly baked.
She closed the lid firmly upon the tightly packed pasties and said, “A good batch of well spiced goodies that would tempt any goblin’s fancy. I think that this would entice any goblin to be helpful.”
Arifan lifted the basket onto his shoulders and the gnome made his way towards the township followed by the rest of the band. It did not take them long before they came upon the moat that surrounded the township. Here it was that the gnomes had their hatcheries and bred the carp that they grew on to prodigious sizes. A large drawbridge rattled down and a crowd of green faces soon appeared.
One of the goblins stood in the centre of the bridge and waved them forwards saying, “Welcome travellers, welcome. To what do we owe the honour of your company? I am the mayor of Little Creek all are welcome here particularly if you have something to trade?”
Aisled opened the basket that was strapped to her husband’s shoulders and let the aroma of the spicy pastries waft towards the leader of the town. His large green nose began to twitch as he caught the scent and he mopped his mouth with his handkerchief as it began to dribble.
“Excuse me, but what have you brought in that basket? I have never smelt something so appealing! Whatever you want in exchange, it’s yours,” he exclaimed.
“We have foods and spices that are from Queen Mab’s castle,” Arifan said and waved the diminutive form of Tam O’ Shadow forwards to stand in front of him. Our leader would have words with you and offer a trade.
The goblin looked down at Tam with curiosity and said, “You are one of the little people! A leprechaun! I have heard of your kind, but I have never seen any of you before. What can we do for you?”
“I need a private audience with you as what we need might be a sacrifice that you may not be willing to make.”
The mayor folded his long spindly fingers together and replied, “As you wish.”
“Boots! Give me a circle of silence to include the mayor and I”
A multi-coloured bell spun itself around the two and silence reigned.
In that bell Tam rapidly told the goblin of the threat to the realm of the awakened dragon and their part in its hopeful downfall. He also told him what they had hopefully come for at the goblin township.
“We need a dragon lance with an iron head. This is not only poison to all of the faerie except the goblins, but it is the only material that will kill a dragon. Queen Mab knows that you have a stone that fell from the sky. We need you to have it worked by a goblin smith and also with the courage to also use it. If you can do this the contents of the basket are yours.”
“We do not need the basket as trade for this request! If we can do this for Queen Mab then that is all the incentive we need. My son works the forge at this township and has passed on his knowledge to his apprentices. I will ask for a volunteer and my son will dig up the sky-stone and work it here and now.”
Tam sighed as he could see what would be the likely outcome and replied, “Those who go on this quest may never return. You may never see your son again as I know by the power of these boots that he will want to go. If he does will you let him?”
“If that is to be his destiny, then it will be as the fates decree! Take off the bell of silence and I will go and talk to my son,” the mayor stated and walked away through the main gates and into the street behind the walls.
‘Mog the Troll’ picked up Tam and sat him on his shoulders and followed the mayor along with Jessop, and the two gnomes. After a short walk they saw the mayor enter a building that had a good fire going inside it and sparks flew out of a stone chimney into the air. The sound of hammering suddenly stopped and it all went silent. Mog put the leprechaun down and they waited for the mayor and his son to appear.
The doors into the forge were pulled back and the biggest goblin they had ever seen walked into the light. He was a s green as his father, but from there all was different. The goblin, slim build of the mayor was not reflected in the physique of his son. He had strong stubby fingers, totally unlike his father’s spindly hands. He was as bald as his father and his ears were just as pointed, but he must have been twice the mass of the mayor.
“I’m coming with you,” he stated. “I could do with a dragon-skin apron. It will take me some days to work the iron sky-stone into a lance head and put an edge on it. I will need a strong piece of timber to make the shaft so that will be your task to find one. By the way, I’m called Matt-cinder. Who will I be travelling with?”
After names were exchanged the gnomes undid the lid to the basket and shared out the fiery pasties for the goblins while they found less spicy pies for the others. Mog liked the same food as the goblins, but did not eat quite so many as he usually would, leaving the majority to the mayor, his son and the apprentices.
That morning while Matt-cinder stoked the forge and kept the fire white hot, working the bellows in shifts by his apprentices, Tam was taken on a tour of the town by his father, the Mayor. Soon the sound of the hammer rang out as the goblin smith worked the nickel-iron meteorite in the flames. Every scrap of metal that was discarded from the main body of the lance-head was carefully put aside to be re-worked later. The goblins had developed a new weapon using the principle of the bow and combining it with a stock and barrel that would shoot a fletched bolt, carrying a pointed head. The called it a cross-bow and even in the hands of a novice they were deadly accurate. Matt-cinder intended the bolts to be tipped with iron arrow heads. He had fashioned the first of these weapons many years ago and had refined the original one that was his, many times as ideas came to his mind.
These were what the mayor was eager to show Tam O’ Shadow on his tour of the township. Unfortunately because of the iron content that gave the bow its power and spring, they could not be used by the other members of the quest. Nevertheless the accuracy and power of the mechanised bow was soon demonstrated to the leprechaun.
“Every time a sky-stone falls, we send out a search party to collect them. We have been collecting them for centuries,” the mayor explained. “We are the only ones in this realm that can work the metal and it is much harder than anything else we have found. It keeps an edge on it far sharper then bronze and we prize it above all other metals. I warn you though do not allow yourself to be cut by the edge. When I was a boy an elf came to visit us and was fascinated by the knife that my father used. He handled the knife with great care, but tested the cutting edge on his thumb. He died that night with his body blown up to twice its normal size. So be warned. Treat the weapons my son will take, with great caution and do not handle them unless you really have to!”
“I hear you, Mayor. We will not take any risks,” Tam promised and asked, “Do you have any maps that will show us what to expect as we travel North?”
The goblin cupped his long chin in his hand and replied, “We have a few that have been given to the settlement by travellers that have passed through Little Creek. Some of them are centuries old and quite possibly out of date, but mountains do not move and rivers tend to stay put. Only towns get bigger over the years. Come along to my office and I will see what we can do. We have made many copies of all the maps that come our way. We even have maps drawn by humans that are very accurate, but are difficult to read because we cannot understand the runic symbols that have been etched into the skins. Nevertheless they are pictorially correct and most of the places listed on the maps are self-evident except that most of them are not to any scale. There is however marks that seem to correspond to distance. All you need is a human that can read them!”
“I may have the answer to that conundrum,” the leprechaun answered and added, “Please find me as many maps as you can, including the human ones while I am gone. I will be gone at least two days.”
While the mayor retreated to his office to see what he might find Tam O’ Shadow returned to his friends to ask them if they would be willing to allow him to do what he had in mind and add to the company.
He found them wandering through the market section of the township, as the gnomes were on a collecting spree, storing herbs and spices along with the raw ingredients for cooking into their travelling sacks. ‘Mog the Troll’ and Jessop were just following the gnomes around the stalls. There were bewildering amounts of different weapons on show and Mog had traded one of his carvings for a length of chain with a heavy stone ball on each end. This he wrapped over his shoulder and under his other armpit with a leather strap holding the stone balls against his hip.
“My friends I have a great favour to ask of you all. The mayor has maps that show the terrain much further north and he is letting us have the copies of them, but the best ones are written by humans who have passed this way. The young man who tried to rob me, told me that he could read and write, having been taught by one of the elders in his tribe. I have a mind to offer him the chance to redeem himself, but to do this I will have to return to my home and resurrect him. I need some of the life-force that you all share to bring him back, as I cannot do this alone. If you agree, then I will offer him the opportunity to join our quest and be part of this company. Remember also that he can wield iron without being harmed by the touch of it. I think that he will be a valuable asset reading the maps and lending his strength to the quest,” Tam O’ Shadow stated and looked up from person to person.
Every one of members agreed and held their hand out. Tam fished around in his waistcoat pocket and produced a life-vessel. I was no bigger than a sparrow’s egg, but made of crystal and had been given to Tam by the Queen. Its properties were many, but the main power that resided in the heart of the crystal was pure life-force. This could mend the most serious injury or if enough life-force was introduced it could return someone from the realm of the dead. There was a fire deep inside that connected to the Queen, but to do what Tam wanted, he needed much more than just his power to generate a human’s resurrection, as they were definitely not of the faery folk and had such short lives. He placed the crystal in each of their outstretched hands and applied his will, drawing life energy into the stone. By the time all of the company had donated a small portion of their life-force the crystal pulsed with power.
“I will soon return,” the leprechaun promised. “I’m quite sure that the human will rather risk his life with ours, than become a tree.”
Tam gave the order to the boots and grew a half mile in height. Now he could indeed hop in seven league strides across the countryside and see where he was going and follow the road back to his cottage. It took no longer than the morning before his home came into sight. He shrank down to his normal size and made a gesture that drew the foliage away from the door. Tam entered and took his mended money pot from underneath the fire grid and shook out a goodly handful of gold coins of different sizes onto the oak table. These he carefully placed into an inside pocket and sealed the edges with a closing spell.
He now resealed the cottage with the poisoned ivy and the rambling rose with wicked thorns. Tam then walked around the back of the house to the garden where he had buried Shamus O’Brian under the roots of the enchanted apple tree.
“Are you there, Shamus? Have you learnt a better set of manners? I have a proposition to make to ‘thee,” the pixie said and the branches of the tree rustled.
Tam O’ Shadow sat down on a convenient stump and began to tell the entrapped human the offer that he was willing to make in return for his services. After he had finished, the apple-tree began to shiver and shake and a rasping voice made by squeaking the small branches together answered the leprechaun, “Yesss. I am sssorry for trying to sssteal from you, master O’ Shadow. Please give me the chance to make amendsssss.”
Tam nodded and pressed his hands upon the bark of the tree and gave the order, “Come forth, Shamus O’Brian from your wooden grave under this tree.”
A cloud of darkness enveloped the tree and the soil from round the roots began to swirl as something began to wriggle out of its tomb. It was the rotting corpse of the human, dragging his severed leg into the sunlight of the afternoon. There were hundreds of rootlets hanging from the boy’s body that was transferring energy into the enchanted tree. He looked like a hairy creature from the depths of Hell as earth began to fall from his mottled skin. The eyes had long gone and the mouth was full of beetles and burying creatures. The creature crashed upon the ground convulsing, unable to scream as his lungs were solid and rotten.
Tam O’ Shadow took the life energy crystal and placed it inside the boy’s mouth and stood back to watch the transformation take place. The boy’s body began to come back to life and with the ability to draw breath he was able to scream through the pain. Tam had pity and laid his hand upon the boy’s forehead taking some of the pain into himself.
“Press your severed leg against the stump and it will heal along with the rest of you,” the leprechaun insisted.
Now that Shamus could see, as his eyes had regrown, he gathered up the torn off leg and pressed the raw stump to the tear above his knee. Skin grew along the severed leg and as it did so, the leg filled out with muscle with the blood once more coursing through the veins and arteries. The pain was intense, but began eventually to sub-side into pins and needles. Shamus got to his feet and stood up, shaking with the reaction. He then realised that his clothes were of little use, as they had been his shroud for a week and were filthy and encrusted with dried blood.
Tad looked up at the human and said, “Well young one, we can’t have you wandering the enchanted realm in the nude. I have clothes inside the cottage that will suit you. Oh, and I am sorry for the pain that you endured. There was nothing that I could do about that. The life you have has been borrowed from others that you will soon meet, but what they are, is now part of you. It will not last for ever. I cannot grant you that, but do well in this enterprise and who knows, Mab herself may grant you more years.”
“How can I wear your clothes? I am five times larger than you!”
“We will soon see about that, young Shamus. Touch my boots,” the leprechaun replied.
As soon as Shamus touched them, Tam made him the same size as himself and opened up the cottage again, ushering the human inside.
Tam pointed to a double-doored piece of furniture and said, “You will find clothes in that wardrobe, young man that will fit you now and will continue to do so when you resume your normal size. There are also plenty of boots for you to choose from, but I advise you not to try on the ones that I am wearing. It did not go well for you the last time you tried them on!”
“Master O’ Shadow I am grateful for what you have done and I promise that I will never try to steal from you again. I was desperate to be able to go home with something of value from this enchanted realm. I was the last born ‘prince’ of a large family and so had very little to thank my father for except my life,” the boy replied.
Tam looked deeply into the young man’s soul and found it honest, as he laid out some of the pies that Aisled had baked at Mab’s castle, on the oaken table.
“I expect that you are hungry young Shamus. Eat all that you need, for tomorrow we have a long way to travel for you to meet the others who have pledged themselves to this quest. You literally owe them your life, as each of them and I have donated some of our life energy enabling me to resurrect you. Be assured that all of us may die in this attempt to send Knorrd into oblivion. Either way, if you survive there will be no going back to your homeland. For the moment that you step through the portal, the magic that keeps you alive will dissipate and you will return to the state that I resurrected you from.”
While they ate Tam gave Shamus a quick history of Mab’s struggle with dragon-kind thousands of years ago. Knorrd was the last male dragon and was big enough to swallow a cow. Frozen under the ice where Mab had imprisoned him, his one thought was to find the females that the Queen had buried somewhere else. His goal was to fertilise as many females as he could and unleash a plague of dragons upon the enchanted realm.
“Humans let him out so it must be poetic justice that a human will be instrumental in destroying him,” Shamus stated as he sat himself into a large armchair and prepared to sleep.
Tam awoke in his bed and heard the sounds of dish washing taking place in the kitchen. A fire had been lit under the grid and a kettle was belching steam into the room. Shamus was at the sink cleaning the plates that they had used the night before.
The boy turned round and grinned at the leprechaun.
“Good morning Master O’ Shadow,” he said, “I would have got the two of us breakfast, but I did not think that I should go looking in that sack without your permission. So I have laid a fire and boiled a kettle just in case that would please you? I mean to earn my keep.”
“You will do much more than that when we meet Knorrd! Anyway you were wise not to open the travelling sack. Had you fallen in, then things could have been very strange for you. Inside a travelling sack all time is slowed down and anything placed inside will remain as fresh as the day it went in,” Tam explained. While I think about it, no harm will come to you for sharing your name with me now, as some of my life-force is keeping you alive. As for my name? Shall we just say that there is more of it than you know! Now eat and drink for we have many miles to go to reach the others of my company,” and the leprechaun scattered some aromatic herbs into the mugs of hot water, that he filled from the kettle.
After they had eaten their breakfast and left the cottage, Tam instructed the boy to touch the seven league boots while he instructed the boots to return him to his normal size. Shamus rapidly grew back once more along with his clothes, making the leprechaun tiny.
“Now young man I shall increase in size and put you in a pocket and then activate the boots to take us to the goblin township of Little Creek. You will see things that are far beyond your imagination. Be respectful! Do not wriggle around in the pocket as you may fall through the material. I may be many times bigger, but I will be the same weight as I normally am. Being taller than the trees will mean that I can see across the Whispering Wood and be able to use the Seven League Boots as they are meant to be,” Tam explained and started to grow and grow until he was indeed much taller than the trees.
He bent down and let Shamus scramble onto his hand, whereupon he transferred him to a pocket in his waistcoat, where he could look out as they travelled.
After five strides the boots had taken them a hundred miles in the direction of the goblin country and soon the buildings of Little Creek came into sight. The human was amazed at the amount of cultivation that the green people had managed to alter the landscape. Irrigation ditches carried the water from the dammed ‘Creek’ all across the fields and also drove water wheels that powered the mills, grinding the seeds they harvested into various flours. This was a level of mechanisation and land management far beyond the abilities of Shamus’s people.
Tad O’ Shadow caught sight of the other members of the expedition and stopped. He transferred the human to the ground and shrank to his normal size.
“Come and meet the other members of the group,” he said and led the way to where the others were waiting.
Shamus stared at the new ‘friends’ that he was soon to depend on. His life had been granted by them and he was duly thankful, but he could only stare at the Mog the Troll in amazement, as he stood nearly ten feet tall and his ‘skin’ seemed to be made of overlapping stones. He was totally naked except for various belts that carried a variety of weapons. He also had a long chain would around his neck and under his left shoulder that ended in two large stone blocks. The club he carried was a log that was the size of the human that had been thinned down at the base to be a handle. This was wrapped in leather making a loop that could be wound around the troll’s hand and wrist.
The Troll bent down to Shamus’s face level and boomed out, “I am Mog the Troll. Do not look so worried! Trolls do not eat people that they know and we shall be friends!”
The next strange sight was when he caught sight of the two gnomes who were standing by the Troll’s side each carrying what Shamus had come to recognise as a travelling sack. They were male and female, but unlike humans they both wore a beard and had pointed ears.
They smiled at the boy’s bewilderment and the male said, “I am Arifan and this is my wife, Aisled. We are gnomes! Welcome young man.”
There was a rush of wind and down from the skies dropped Jessop, who folded his wings and walked up to the boy and said, “I saw you coming with Tam O’ the Shadows using the very boots that killed you. My name is Jessop and I am a winged elf. You have much to learn and obviously Tam has told you of the peril that we will put ourselves through. Better this than being a tree?”
Tam pointed to the township and asked Jessop, “Has the goblin finished forging the lance head? Is he ready to depart?”
“Not quite, Tam. He has to do something that he calls tempering to make the head keep its toughness and also remain exceedingly sharp. He says that he should be ready to set out tomorrow and join our quest. His father, the mayor, has located a hardwood shaft to bind the head upon when we get to where the dragon is searching for its females. Until then Matt-cinder says that the lance head must be kept in an oiled sack to prevent it from corroding and to protect it from getting wet. This is something that I know very little about. The mayor however had found copies of the maps that they have written by humans so we could enter the township and let Shamus show us how to read them.”
“Time for you to earn your return from a wooden existence,” the leprechaun remarked and pointed again the goblin town of Little Creek and said, “Time for you to meet another member of this company, young Shamus, but first we will meet with his father and you will unravel the mysteries of the maps that show the lands further to the North.”
Shamus nodded and replied, “I am sure that I can read them, as they would have been written by my people that landed here over the centuries.”
Shamus could not take his eyes from the wonders that he saw in the goblin township. The buildings were made of uniform stones all the same size and were several stories high. Some even towering over ten times his height! Later he was to find out that the buildings were made from bricks made in turn by the goblins. They used wood for the doors, window frames and upper floors and tiles on the roof instead of straw thatched together to keep the rain from dripping through. They also used glass to let light into the buildings and this was something that Shamus had never seen! These people were clever artisans and builders and were centuries in front of the human world.
All this filled the human with awe as he walked deeper into the town until they reached the mayor’s office and the map room. Here spread over the table top were all the maps that the goblins had saved over the many centuries including the human drawn maps.
Shamus O’Brian ran his finger over the runes and translated what he understood labelled against various objects that had been hi-lighted. What had amazed the young man was that he understood every word that the goblin spoke as well as the elvish tongue that the others of the company spoke. Tam had explained that as he was the recipient of the life-force of them all, certain abilities had ‘crossed over’ in his resurrection. It was not until he was called upon to interpret the runic symbols on the maps that he fully realised that fact.
He quickly told the goblin what each hieroglyph represented and the mayor added a note in his own language against each mark. This took several hours and by the end of which, Shamus was mentally exhausted. Rather than stop, the mayor ordered food and drink brought to his office so that the human had no excuse to stop.
“You have done well, young human,” the goblin said and handed the young man an earthen mug filled with cool cider. “Drink this. You have done more to advance our knowledge of the Northern lands than we have managed to do for many, many years. These maps will be copied again, with goblin symbols against the landmarks as well as the runic symbols on the originals. What you have decided to undertake may well mean that we do not meet again Shamus and I am quite aware also that I may lose my son along with all of you. So I wish you good fortune and I will give you this artefact that has been handed down from father to son. Legend has it, that it is a Dragon Whistle that Queen Mab used to subdue the dragons before she buried them in ice. Whether that is true or not, I cannot tell, but who knows until you try it.”
Shamus stared down at the flute in his hand and could plainly see that this was once part of an elf’s leg-bone that had been shaped and holes bored along its length. He shuddered as he put it away in an inside pocket and muttered a sealing spell as Tam O’ Shadow nodded in approval.
“Right young man, is this not better than being a tree? You wanted adventure when you came here and that what you are going to get,” he laughed looking up at the boys thunderstruck face. “Now we must meet the next member of our company. He is a goblin smith and has been working on a sky-stone, forging it into a lance head. This is what we hope will kill the dragon as like the majority of those who live in this enchanted realm iron is a poison. It will not affect you as you are human, but such as I and the others of this band of heroes would die if we cut ourselves on its sharp edge.”
Tam led the way deeper into the township where Matt-cinder worked at his forge. They got there just as the goblin plunged the red-hot blade into a bucket of oil and then into water with a pair of long handled pliers. Shamus pushed his way through the onlookers and made his way to the forge. He stared at the lance head that the smith had produced and could feel it’s killing power from where he stood. The head had been hammered to a long point with two hooks pointing backwards at the shaft end. One inside the dragon, this lance would disengage from the shaft and make its way into Knorrd’s body and if it did not kill him immediately it would produce a festering wound that would ultimately kill him.
“You must be Matt-cinder,” Shamus said to the sweating goblin that stood before him. “I am called Shamus and I believe that only you and I can touch this metal that you have forged into a dragon killing lance head. So we do have something in common even though we look so different!”
“Is that so young Shamus? You must be the map reader that my father spoke about. You are also the one that made the mistake of stealing from a leprechaun! I hope that you have learnt a good lesson by now that there are many repercussions to be had, should you break unwritten laws,” the smith replied and handed the lance-head to the human.
Shamus turned the blade over and over in his hands and noticed the rippled edge running down the flattened part of the blade. This had been forged as part of the blade and not worn into the knife-edge with a grinding stone. Knowing something of smithy practise he took up a round stone and ran it up and down the rippled edge. Immediately a razor sharp edge began to fix along the blade.
“At the smithies that I have watched form steel swords, I have noticed that the blacksmiths always only partially put a sharp edge on the steel, as it was too easy to damage the edge when travelling. Only at the scene of battle would a warrior put the final edge on the blade. Until then they would prefer to carry the blade in sheathed. The sharpening stone would be carried with the blade in a separate pocket,” Shamus replied and gave a wry smile before he added, “I have learnt my lesson Matt-cinder and gave the lance-head back.
The goblin looked past the crowd at Tam O’ Shadow with some concern as he could see that all was not well with the leprechaun and walked towards him still carrying the iron blade.
Tam shouted, “Stop. Come no closer to me or the other members of the quest. That infernal blade is affecting me and the others that I brought here. It stills the magic in my bones. How in the nine halls of Hell can we get that blade to where we need it? The boots will not work if they are too close to that much iron. I must go outside the township walls and think about this problem. Follow us at a safe distance.”
Tam O’ Shadow watched the approach of the goblin smith and the human as they followed the other members of the quest out into the countryside with anxious concern. The closer that they got to him the worse the effect manifested itself and he could feel the magic drain away from his soul. This was something that the leprechaun had not allowed for, as his experience with the poison metal was very slight. It would seem that as the mass of the iron increased its proximity to anything that relied on magic would be sucked away. The sky-stone was a very large piece of nickel-iron and after the goblin had beaten the impurities out of the rough lump he had managed to hammer the material even denser, thus increasing its properties. The off-cuts had been formed into arrow heads and fitted to the cross-bow bolts and these were small enough not to interfere with Tam’s magical abilities. Close proximity to them caused the leprechaun to feel an itch inside his mind that was irritating, but bearable.
He waved the lance-head carriers to a stop and gestured to them to place the weapon on the grass and then come and join the rest of the quest. The gnomes had fished around inside the travelling sack and found plenty of food that was still as fresh as when it had been taken out of the castle ovens. They had built a fire and brewed a herbal tea while they waited for the goblin and the human to catch them up. Once they had sat down and helped themselves to what food had been displayed, they waited for Tam to tell them what he thought they ought to do to get over the problem.
The leprechaun scratched his chin through his red beard and said, “Gentlemen all is not lost. While I cannot transport us to where we need to go by aid of the magic of the boots there are others that might be coerced into transporting us northwards. It will mean that I shall have to leave you for a while, so while I am gone continue to make your way north. I will take Shamus with me as he is a stranger to the enchanted realm and still has much to learn about survival here. Matt-cinder you are the only one, other than Shamus here that can be the carrier of the lance-head. The effect of that blade upon me makes it impossible for me to travel with it in close proximity so I am about to call in an ancient debt to Queen Mab.
Mog, I am relying on you to protect Arifan, Aisled and Jessop as you travel. Matt-cinder will have to follow some distance behind the main party, or in front, but far enough that the iron does not adversely affect the others. Always keep each other in sight and avoid any confrontation while I am gone. We are needed far to the north, not here! So keep to the great North road and do not stray into the forest on each side. Keep well my friends and I will see you in a few days or so. Light a fire in the evenings so that I may find you,” the leprechaun insisted.
The troll looked down on his friend and said, “As you wish it, so will it be, old friend. Once we are on the road we will soon find out how close we can tolerate the closeness of the iron blade. At nightfall Matt-cinder can hide the blade and stay with us during the night. We will have the benefit of his cross-bow should we be troubled by wolves or bears seeking an easy meal. Once the sun rises we can be on our way after breakfast and our smith can follow us at a safe distance behind.”
Jessop turned to Shamus and told him, “I know what Tam has in mind to do and it will require great courage from you. Over a thousand years ago towards the end of the Troll wars the Queen prevented the troll hoard from pillaging and eating the eggs of the Roc when they were driven into the mountains. She cast a misdirection spell that altered the course of the retreating and hungry Trolls, so that they did not find the nests of the Roc, whist they were hunting on the Great Plains. Had they found the unguarded nests, a whole generation of hatchlings would not have survived. As the giant birds only nest every hundred years they would have almost been wiped out as a species. Until you have seen a Roc up close you have no idea what fear can be. They are a bird of prey large enough to carry off a cow in each taloned set of claws. The curved beak is larger than you and could swallow you whole!”
Shamus stared at Tam in disbelief and asked, “Is what Jessop has told me true? Are we really going to ask for help from a giant bird?”
“As we have no other way of reaching where the dragon lives, we have no choice, young Shamus. So you and I are going to where these giant birds hunt and nest and as it is fast approaching nesting time it will be a good time to remind the Roc of their obligation. You wanted adventure. That’s why you came here or would you rather be a tree in my back garden? There’s a very good chance that we will be unharmed as the Roc are generally honourable creatures. Now make ready for we must be on our way.”
Shamus watched with some trepidation, as the leprechaun increased in height and climbed onto Tam’s outstretched hand. Once again he was transferred into the same pocket of the pixie’s waistcoat so that he could see out and remain safe.
“Look to the skies in a week or so,” the giant called out, “and if you see two colossal birds begin to circle above you, you will know that we have been successful! One will carry those of us sensitive to iron and the other one will carry Matt-cinder and the lance-head along with Shamus all the way to the lands of the dragon.”
With that Tam O’ Shadow put his feet together and began to make the first of many seven league hops. For some time they followed the path of the northern road that made its way through mile after mile of forest avoiding any towns that had settled where a river crossed the road. Shamus got out the maps that the mayor had given Tam and studied them for recognisable landmarks and found that there was a great deal of useful information scattered over them. One of the maps showed the glyphs for ‘bird’ and the one for ‘large’ repeated several times. This had to be the symbol for the giant Roc that humans had seen before. The hieroglyph for ‘death’ had been burnt into the map repeatedly and could only mean one thing. The next time the leprechaun stopped and shrank down to his normal size Shamus spread the map he was looking at and pointed out the glyphs burnt into the leather.
“Whoever made this original map took great care to point out that this area of the realm would be best avoided,” the human said and pointed to the mountain and a symbol that denoted high mountains along with the runic mark for extreme danger coupled with several indication of ice-fall. “What this means, I think is that this area is prone to avalanches. Looking at the glyph for the Roc, it would seem that they do not nest right at the top of the snow chain, but seek inaccessible and warmer places well beneath the ice sheets. From where we are now I believe that the magic boots will have to take us away from the North road and more to the East where we can just see the mountain tops.”
“I am impressed young Shamus and I am pleased to have your company as you have proved to be invaluable to this quest. I warn you though; the next step of our journey will become perilous in the extreme! Yes the Roc owe a debt to Queen Mab, but those that live now may not have been told about what happened centuries ago. All that has passed down into our folklore were that they were grateful and an honourable species. Mab of course, remembers everything, but is so busy administrating to her realm that she has little time to spend in idle talk,” the leprechaun replied and finished his pie from the travelling sack. “It’s time to pack our things away young man and to be on our way. Those mountains are several hundred miles away and these boots will take us to the bottom of those mountains in a few hours. I would like to be there before sunset and settled into a safe place before dark.”
Many miles to the North the only active dragon in the enchanted realm prowled the snowy wastelands seeking his harem of females imprisoned somewhere under a glacier in a mountain valley. He systematically hunted each new location breathing his fiery breath deep into the hundreds of feet of packed ice and snow until he reached the bottom of a valley. Each fruitless effort sent him into an even greater rage. Once he had his females back he intended to unleash a plague of dragons that the enchanted realm had never seen before. He was forced to break off his search when his hunger grew too intense and feed to build the fire that his form contained. Every cattle ranch within a few hundred miles had felt the effect of his visits and he had ripped apart the dwellings that he found and ate the people that he found there before he ate their livestock by the dozen. Once he had emptied the stock pens and stables he would return and continue the search working his way around the ice sheet.
The elves and goblins living in the area gathered together an army to bring him down. Knorrd had destroyed them all and ate every single one. After this he had sought out all the townships that had mounted the attack and torn them apart and feasted on every living thing that he could find. Now the landscape was dotted with broken walls and scattered stones. He had ate enough to last him for months so now he once more concentrated on finding and releasing his ‘wives’ from their hidden icy tombs. He spread his wings and surged into the air and gaining height from a thermal uplift went above the clouds and made his way north to continue the search.
Meanwhile many miles to the south, Mog the Troll called a halt to the travelling companions as he saw a very large tree that had become partially hollow. It would make a good place to camp as there was plenty of room for the two gnomes, Jessop and Matt-cinder to bed down, while Mog sat in the entrance like an immoveable boulder. They had soon found that twenty paces away from those sensitive to the iron in the lance-head, the effects of the poison metal did not interfere too much with them. They preferred that Matt-cinder stayed further than this when possible as the travelling sacks would soon lose their powers if he got too close and everything inside would rapidly decay. So the goblin smith made sure that the oil-soaked package inside his rucksack was safely hung in the branches of a tree where wolves could not get to it. He also lit a fire on the road to illuminate the position through the night and banked it up with plenty of dead wood, some of which was a little damp to produce smoke that might mask the animal fat odour from the blade’s covering.
After they had all eaten they bedded down inside the hollow tree while the Troll settled himself in the entrance. It was the grunt of a bear that woke them. The fire had died near the lance-head and a black bear had come out of the forest scenting the fat soaked package and was stood upright trying to reach the branch that Matt-cinder had tied the rucksack on. The goblin squirmed past the bulk of the Troll and took aim with his cross-bow. He released the trigger and the bolt buried itself into the bear’s chest. It missed the heart, but anchored itself into a lung. The bear charged towards the Troll and goblin coughing blood and maddened with rage. Mog unshipped the balls and chain, swinging the balls round and round. He let fly and the bolus wrapped around the bear and thumped it in the chest as one of the stone balls collided with the creatures heart, bursting it while the other ball crashed into its back. The bear fell to the ground stone dead.
As Mog walked forward to retrieve his balls and chain the two gnomes pushed by and set to with their sharp obsidian knives to dismember the bear. They soon had plenty of meat and fat wrapped in broad leaves and had revived the fire at the hollow tree and was busy roasting steaks over the fire. Matt-cinder checked that the lance-head was untouched and he soon came back to enjoy his breakfast. Mog finished off what was left of the bear and crunched up the bones with relish. He also scraped most of the fat off the hide and slung it over his shoulders, fur inside.
“It gets cold in the North,” he remarked and made his way unconcerned onto the road and waved the others to make a start.
Tad and Shamus woke in their ‘safe place’ at a position high above the ground in the fork of an ancient tree. Tad had put the human on the wide branch while he had shrunk himself to his normal size keeping hold of the tree so that he remained by Shamus’s side. They were about fifty foot off the ground and the leprechaun cast a retaining spell to make sure that neither of them could fall off the branch and go crashing to the ground.
That evening he had opened the travelling sack and dug out a large meat and vegetable pie that was still as fresh as when it came out of the castle ovens. Whilst Shamus tucked in, Tad selected a much smaller one for himself. He then offered the boy a drink from an earthen water jar.
“This jar has the same properties as the sack, young man. There is a lot more water inside the jar than you would realise. So when you have drunk your fill, reseal the top and hand it back to me,” the pixie advised.
“This world is full of marvels,” the boy replied. “I have seen such incredible sights since I have been here. I am truly sorry that I tried to steal from you, Tad O’ Shadow, but I am glad to be here. My life in the other world was empty of adventure unless I joined a band of thieves plundering the farms and small towns. As the youngest son all I could hope for was to be a warrior in my father’s army. I was not born with the bloodlust that my elder brothers were.”
“I looked into your mind young Shamus and did not find the soul of a killer when we were at my cottage. You have shown a great deal of courage and have accepted the many different creatures and people that live in the enchanted realm. I know that there is only one species in your world that can talk. Here there are many different beings with the ability to speak. You can understand them all because you have a small piece of each member of the company’s soul giving you life. Remember that I told you this in the map-room?”
“It is still a matter of wonder to me. There was only the one language spoken wherever you went, across the lands,” the boy replied.
That morning just as the sun came up, Tad released the spell that had kept them safely anchored to the tree and handed out breakfast. He checked the water level in the jar and came to the conclusion that drinking supplies were running low.
“We will have to replenish our water sometime on our travel, young man, as we are getting a little low,” the leprechaun remarked.
“I may be able to do something about that Master O’ Shadow,” Shamus replied. “Because you placed my soul in that apple tree I find that I can ‘speak’ with the trees if I can get their attention. The trees in this forest are aware of me and this ancient oak will gladly suck up some water for us from the roots and into the small branch that I have hold of. He will not mind if I snap the end off and direct it into the open jar. When it’s full he will just stop the flow! He is also old enough to remember when dragons roamed the lands burning down the trees and laying waste. It is something that he does not want to experience again. He also pledged that if I call upon the spirits of the woods they would help in any way that they can!”
Tam O’ Shadow stared at the boy in amazement and said, “My dear Shamus you have indeed become a very useful member of this band. It must have been ordained that our paths would cross,” and he held out the jar, as the tree began to fill it with fresh filtered water from the broken branch.
Once the jar was filled, the leprechaun invoked the power of the boots and grew into a giant and once more placed Shamus into a waistcoat pocket. He faced towards the mountains and gave the command, ‘stride’ to the boots and being careful to keep his ankles together began to double-hop over the tops of the forest making his way towards the plains. By midmorning they had reached the foothills of the mountain range. They were hundreds of miles from where they had camped that night and the two of them constantly scanned the skies for any sight of a Roc. As a precaution Tam kept his giant size in case one of the huge raptors mistook them for food.
The leprechaun began to climb the mountainside, heading towards the probable nesting grounds when a large shadow took the midday sun away and a shower of stones peppered his back.
Tam looked up to see a piercing yellow eye regarding his approach and a beak that he could have easily climbed into opened wide in a hiss of warning. As the pixie had increased his size the Roc was the same size as he was, but as the bird was its normal shape and far stronger than the ‘giant’ size fairy, Tam was still in great danger. The sight that presented itself to Shamus was terrifying as he was his normal size and to him the Roc was a colossal size quite large enough to have carried all the members of the quest in its beak. Its plumage was a mottled brown with a bright red crest on the top of its head.
Tad shouted up at the bird, “I come from Queen Mab. I claim the debt that you owe her from the Troll wars. We need your help.”
The bird reared up and stared intently at the leprechaun and answered, “I have not seen your like since those long lost days,” rasped the bird. “Lucky you are that I am old enough to have been there and remember those days well. Help you say that you need? Ask and if possible the Roc will assist if they can.” The bird called a loud ‘Squawk’ into the mountain valley and repeated the call several times, nearly deafening the human who was peeping out of the waistcoat pocket of the ‘giant’ leprechaun. Within a short time twenty of the giant birds had gathered to hear what Tam O’ Shadow had to say about the debt of honour that they owed the Queen of the enchanted lands.
When the Roc had roosted within earshot of Tam, he told them, “Knorrd is loose and hell bent on revenge. He seeks the females of his order, to loose a plague of dragons upon us all. You have managed the Great Plains of this area for many centuries and everything is in balance. Once a thousand dragons have taken every fat beast from under your beaks, you will be left with nothing! You cannot kill them once they are fully grown and they will roast you with their fiery breath. Only iron will kill them and there lies the problem. The metal is as poisonous to most of the elvish kind, except the goblins and the humans. I cannot carry the weapon that the goblins have forged from a sky-stone, as once I get too near to it the magic drains away from my soul. So I need two of your race to carry myself, two gnomes, an elf and a Troll to the north and the other one to carry this human and a goblin along with the weapon of iron. This is a human.”
Tam put the boy carefully on the only piece of flat ground near them for the Roc to inspect. Twenty heads jostled for position to catch a glimpse of this odd creature. Shamus stood very still as he was examined by the giant birds, knowing that if his nerve broke and he ran off, this would trigger off a hunt.
At this moment Tam O’ Shadow reduced his body to its normal size to show the Roc that it was possible to carry him. Again the birds examined the smaller creature and squawked to each other and came to a decision.
“We will do this thing for your Queen and for all of the realm,” said the Roc that they had first met.
“I will take the human,” said a light brown, speckled raptor and squatted to the ground to allow Shamus to climb up to her neck and sit holding to the ruff of feathers just above her shoulders. “I am called Windflutter. Come and make yourself safe. We have far to go and you must hang on
“I will transport this tiny man and his elfish companions,” an almost black Roc decided. “Come aboard man of magic. We shall call upon this dragon and destroy him. First we must find the other members of the Quest and then go to the ice sheets far to the North. My name is Gornn.”
Tam and Shamus climbed onto the necks and shoulders of the giant birds and tied themselves wrist to feather while nestling into the ruff.
Gornn hissed, “Are you both ready? Then hang on.”
With that instruction the Roc opened their wings and took off, retracing the way that the elf and human had come. Once they were aloft and catching the thermals the passengers felt quite secure as the birds did not need to flap their wings very much and the miles flew by underneath them until the great North Road came into sight.
Meanwhile the other members of the quest were making their way steadily northwards. Wolves had found what Mog had left over from the carcass of the bear and had rapidly devoured the remains. They were now hunting a new prey and were fast catching up with them.
Matt-cinder was the first to hear the high pitched howl and immediately understood what was following them.
He called out to the party in front of them him, “Wolves! They are on our scent and coming at a fast rate. Into the trees as fast as you can and climb.”
He then caught hold of a branch and climbed upwards to a safer position where he could keep the rucksack carrying the lance head safely out of reach of sharp teeth.
Mog grabbed the two gnomes and thrust them into the lower branches where they soon moved out of reach. Jessop extended his wings and lofted into the air above the road and caught sight of the pack advancing towards them.
“There’s at least ten of them coming at you, Mog so stand ready,” the elf called out, flapped his wings to gain extra height and swerving onto a sturdy branch.
He unshipped the goblin-made crossbow and loaded it with a flint tipped bolt and waited for the wolves to come into range, while the Troll undid the bronze chain and balls. Each stone ball was easily the size of the Troll’s head and made of granite. Mog began to swing the balls around and around picking up speed as he did so. The first of the wolf pack came tearing along the North Road directly at him and Mog swung the balls into the chest of the leading wolf and let the chain go as the bolus wrapped itself around the one by its side. The sound of cracking bones filled the air as the stone balls mowed the other wolves down with screams of agony rendering the air. The remaining members of the pack launched themselves at the troll and tried to sink their fangs into his stony skin and found that broken teeth were all they gained. Jessop aimed and shot bolt after bolt into the wolves at the back, while Mog broke the backs of each wolf as they sprang at him. He then dispatched the ones that were wounded by snapping their necks. After this was finished, Arifan and Aisled climbed down from the tree with the assistance of the Troll and set about skinning the wolves and curing them by rubbing salt into the scraped hides. They then built a fire and dragged many dry and broken branches into a bonfire in the centre of the road. They made sure that no living green wood was used so that the forest was not offended. Mog tossed the carcasses of the wolves onto the fire until he was satisfied by their rough cookery! He then ate as much of the partly roasted wolf meat as he could. The gnomes had found a bunch of wild garlic and had rubbed the bulbs and foliage into the wolf pelts to disguise the blood smell after they had left the pelts in the smoke long enough to cure them.
Matt-cinder retrieved the iron lance head from the branch that he had tossed the rucksack over and once more strapped the heavy parcel onto his shoulders. He walked past the bonfire as far as possible from the elfish members of the company and made his way along the road. He cracked a few skulls with the lance shaft of any wolf within reach that was still alive. Once he was a safe distance from the others he rested the pack on a pillar by the side of the road and doubled back to see if he could be of help.
Mog was indulging in his favourite pastime; eating, by the time that the goblin re-joined his new friends. The Troll was at least four times the size of the goblin and had by now eaten most of what was left of the bear and two or more of the wolf pack had vanished down his throat. The rest he had fed to the fire to reduce the smell of death that would attract more predators.
The Troll gave a contented belch and said to Matt-cinder, “Wolves are a bit stringy, but they have a good flavour! Do you want some?”
“Bears I will eat, but I draw the line at dogs or wolves,” the goblin replied.
“As you wish, my green friend. As you wish! It was worth coming on this Quest of Queen Mab’s just for the food,” he laughed and crunched up a scorched back leg.
The gnomes had finished the treatment of the skins and had fashioned them into cloaks and tunics using the front and back legs as sleeves and trousers. Mog was quite content with his bearskin as he had sliced off the paws and had inserted his powerful arms and legs through the bear’s extremities after turning the hide inside out. He began to drag piles of dead branches out from the side of the road and continued to pile onto the bonfire as Tam O’ Shadow had instructed so that he could find them on the Great North Road.
High above the seemingly endless forest, Tam watched as the great North Road unwound beneath him. Gornn banked and dropped a few hundred feet as he spotted a smudge of smoke far below.
“I think we have them in sight, ‘magic man’ the bird rasped and called across to Windflutter to follow him on down.
Tam strained his eyes to try and see what the mighty Roc could distinguish under the canopy of dense tree foliage. Suddenly a faint smudge of smoke rising from the direction of the ancient road caught his attention. The Roc’s eyesight was immensely superior to his so he was not surprised the giant bird saw the rest of the company first.
Shamus held onto the feathers of Windflutter’s ruff for dear life, and dug his feet under the neck-feathers as they dropped like a stone towards the smoke rising above the treetops. At what seemed the very last moment she opened her wings to their fullest extent and levelled off and landed on the road in front of the dragon hunters. Gornn pitched down on the other side of the bonfire and allowed Tam O’ Shadow to slide off and greet his friends.
Mog dragged the half cooked wolves from the bonfire and said, “Make use of these vermin mighty one as I have eaten my fill and it would be a shame to waste them!”
The Roc bent forwards and seized two singed carcasses and tossed them over the bonfire for Windflutter to tear apart and swallow while he did the same. Tam introduced the two giant birds and told the rest of the party about their adventures and the offer of help that the birds were willing to take part in.
Matt-cinder walked up to the female bird and asked, “Do you not think that you should get close to the weapon that I forged, just to make sure that the metal is not a poison to your kind?”
Windflutter fixed the goblin with a clear yellow eye and replied, “A sensible idea little one. Take me to this strange metal and we shall see if it affects me.”
The goblin took her along the road until they came to the pillar where he had placed the lance-head. The Roc bent her neck downwards until her beak was touching the rucksack and took a deep sniff. There was no reaction from being this close to the iron weapon.
“As I thought small creature, I have no magic in my soul! So I suggest that you strap the thing to my leg and I keep it safe until you need to use it,” Windflutter suggested. “Also I think that you and the human would be safest if you tied yourself securely onto the back of my neck. What do you think Gornn?”
“I agree, young one,” the male replied and continued, “The four elvish passengers ride upon my neck whilst the Troll should tie himself onto my back, between my wings. We will give this a try, for we should be setting off before the afternoon turns into evening. So climb aboard and let us get going towards the North.”
The first thing that Tam did was to be sure that the bonfire was out and only ash remained along with some charred sticks. Only then did he gave the order to mount up onto the giant birds. Gornn leapt into the air spread his wings and his passengers hung on for dear life as he gained height catching the thermal that flowed upwards from the road. As he was quite capable of carrying an elephant in each taloned claw the weight of his travellers was negligible. Windflutter was soon flying parallel with her mate and the miles sped by as the great North Road unrolled beneath them.
The goblin and human lay spread-eagled over the neck and shoulders of the Roc and were grateful for the heat of her body that was added to the wolf-skin that they both wore. They had tied a length of rope around the neck of the bird and had wriggled underneath it to trap them safely in the ruff of feathers. They had also tied loops around the roots of some of the sturdier feathers and slipped their hands and wrists through it. Hour after hour the birds flew onwards until at last the end of the forest came into sight. Now they were flying over the Great North Plains
Scenes of destruction now began to appear as farm after farm had been raided for livestock. Whole towns and villages had been burnt to the ground. The roofs had been torn off to get at the people hiding inside. Mile after mile the scene was the same but one farmstead stood out as relatively undamaged. Tam urged the two giant birds to drop down some way away from the farm to give them chance to be seen alighting from the Rocs, hopefully to show that they were not a threat. As Tam slid down the feathered leg of the bird he could immediately smell a strong spicy aroma that made him sneeze. The stench of garlic and chillies filled the air and Tam began to wonder?
Gesturing to the others to hold back, Tam wove a shielding spell in front of him and walked up towards the door. An arrow shot through the half opened door and deflected off the invisible shield.
The leprechaun held his hands up in the sign of universal peace and shouted, “Hold your fire. We come in peace and have been sent by Queen Mab to destroy the dragon terrorising this part of her realm. You seem to have been unscathed and survived an encounter with Knorrd. My question has to be why? Is it the spices that you grow here?”
The door opened and an old gnome walked out empty handed. Behind him was the rest of his family that had been hiding inside the house. They too were unarmed and were quick to show that their hands were empty of any weapons.
“My name is Delph of the family Gratis. My apologies for the arrow, but we have been hiding in this house from the attentions of the dragon. The sight of the two Roc frightened us,” the gnome declared. “We were not sure that you might have been looters, as we seem to be the only smallholding for miles that has not been burnt down by the dragon.”
“Tell me ancient one why you think that you were spared,” Tam replied as he closed the distance between them.
“A week or so past, we saw him approach from the sky and he landed close to the house in the steeping pit. This is where we keep the garlic bulbs and chillies to mature for a while before cleaning them and packaging them up. His colossal size meant that he squashed the ripening crop under his belly into a pulp. It made him sneeze great gouts of flame, as he rolled about the smashed pen. For some while he staggered around until he was able to roll into the river and wash the stench off of his scaly hide. It seemed to us that he could not see properly until he had managed to wash himself clean. By then he had lost all interest in our farmhouse and took to the skies and flew off.”
Tam beckoned Shamus to his side and got him to spread out the maps that he had kept safe. He quickly informed the garlic and herb farmer of the events that had led them to his door. Delph listened intently as the leprechaun explained what they were there to do.
“This is the Great North Road,” Tam said pointing to the straight line that cut through the forest on the map. “Where are we in relation to the edge of the trees and the river that flows through your land? Can you also give us some idea of where the towns and villages are that have been visited by the dragon?”
The elderly gnome showed the two of them where the farm was on the map and pointed out the swathe of destruction that Knorrd had inflicted. He pointed to the great ice sheet that covered the North and the mountains that thrust upwards out of the snow. Delph showed them where the dragon had been imprisoned, until a deluded band of human treasure seekers had dug down to him thinking that he was asleep on a pile of gold.
“Our people had kept away from that ice filled valley lest we wake the beast. The fools had no idea what awaited them at the bottom of that glacier,” the gnome bitterly said, tugging at his long silver beard. “Once the sunlight hit his scales Knorrd awoke from his enchanted sleep. He had been hungry for a very long time and each of the humans disappeared down his throat. Now he seeks revenge. It’s a pity that Queen Mab cannot translate him into the human world and leave them to deal with him.”
“There are limits to magic, Delph, as you well know and that is why we are here,” Tam answered and rolled up the maps and gave them back to Shamus. “Not all humans are bad. This young man sought to rob me and paid a terrible price for his impudence. He has travelled with the group and has shown his mettle many times in adjusting to our world. He came here looking for adventure and something to take back to the human realm. Well, he will not be going back, whether we are successful or not and is doomed to stay here for the rest of his life, but I am quite sure that he would rather stay here with us than go back!”
“Master O’ Shadow, I have no desire to go back to my old home. Come what may in the not too distant future, my mind is made up. You have all become my friends on this quest and have given some of your very life-force to resurrect me. I will not let you down,” Shamus replied, tucking the maps back into the leather tube, strapped to his waist.
Tam smiled at the boy and said, “I believe you young man. Now, Delph we need shelter for the night, or maybe several days. We need a base of operations and it seems that our adversary will keep well away from this plantation. I have the beginnings of a plan, but I need time to work it out.”
“You are a welcome guest, as are all of your company. We have plenty of food and places that you can bed down in the great barn or I can turf my children out of their beds for your pleasure,” said the elderly gnome.
Mog, the Troll laughed and said, “The barn will do for me. Houses made for gnomes rarely fit Trolls!”
Matt-cinder asked, “Do you have a forge and workshop that I can use? I need to shrink the lance-head onto the shaft I carry with me. Be warned that the metal that I need to work is highly toxic to your species. It is a sky-stone made of iron. Keep the younger members of your family away from me at all times when I am forging the weapon. Only the human and I can touch this material without harming ourselves. I will now walk back to where Windflutter is waiting and unstrap the blade from her leg.”
Tam watched the son of the Mayor of Little Creek walk off towards the female Roc to get the weapon and turned towards the gnome.
“Thank for your hospitality and we are glad of it, but in the morning I will have things that I shall ask you to do. They may not make a lot of sense to you at first. I am still thinking about the situation so just accept that I shall have a good reason for what I do!”
After the goblin had left the wrapped up blade by the forge they all moved into the gnomes’ farmhouse for the duration of this part of the quest.
That morning Tam went and sought out the Roc and his mate to ask them to undertake a vital stage of the operation.
“I need you to find him without him seeing you. After you have fed on what wanders over the vast plains I want you to bring back a beast each. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is as large as you can carry back here.”
Gornn bent his neck forwards to look the leprechaun in the face with an eye the size of Tam’s head and asked, “There’s a lot more to this plan than you are letting on, little man. Tell me the rest of it.”
“When you have brought us back a large beast, we will gut it, stuff it full of garlic and the hottest chillies that this farmer can provide. The crushed contents of the steeping pit plus whatever else we can find can be hidden inside the belly of the bait. Delph and his family have seen what landing in the pit of garlic and peppers did to him. Think what it will do if Knorrd swallows the beasts whole and they come apart in his stomach as the thread that I will use dissolves! What you two will have to do is to act terrified of him and drop them at his feet. After which you will fly away in a panic. He will grab the bait and wolf it down as he is always hungry. I somehow believe that the chillies and garlic will do him no good and this will be the moment that we will attack him. Matt-cinder will get underneath him and thrust the iron lance-head through his armpit assisted by the human. Others will add to his distraction. What we have to do is to entice him onto a suitable killing ground. I will need to see the terrine that he is working at the moment, as he seeks his frozen mates. This I can do with the Seven League Boots, but first I need to know where he is!”
Gornn sat back and considered Tam’s plan and gave a hoot of agreement, turned to Windflutter and said, “I like your plan, little man. It has great merit. We must be off and see what we can do without alerting us to the dragon’s presence.”
The Roc spread their wings and with a clap of thunder leapt into the sky and headed north. Tam looked towards the farmhouse and saw that Shamus and Matt-cinder were making their way towards the farm’s forge. Knowing what the object of their errand was to be, Tam would make sure that he would not go anywhere near the forge whilst they were working the iron blade. He smiled as he watched the two odd beings walk away. Considering that the human had never seen any of the faery folk until he had crossed through the portal he had kept his nerve. This was only a few weeks ago, human time and several months enchanted realm time, Tam was pleased how well he had adapted. It had been a hard lesson for him to learn about stealing things that he did not understand, but in the end he had benefited. The only thing that worried the leprechaun, was just how long would the boy live? Sooner or later his ‘borrowed’ life energy would wind down and he would come apart. Tam put that unpleasant thought from his mind and looked round towards Jessop and beckoned him over.
“There will be refugees wandering the devastated highways who have nowhere to sleep safely. I want you to go and find them and bring them here. Exercise those wings of yours and go to the most stricken areas. Tell them that in return for refuge they will have to build their own shelters and bring materials with them. There will be plenty of work to be done here if we are successful in the disposing of Knorrd,” Tad instructed.
Jessop nodded and shook his outer garments open so that he could extend his wings and hopped into the air and soon soared above the leprechaun.
“I’ll see what I can find and report back to you,” he said and flapped his wings, disappearing towards the nearest township.
Tad then looked round for the two gnomes and found them inside the farm’s kitchen stoking up on herbs and spices, aided by Delph and his family. He explained his plan to the spice farmer and had no argument from the ancient gnome.
“Arifan and Aisled I need you to take the travelling sacks you brought and hive off a duplicate from each one,” the leprechaun insisted. “Then I want you to fill it to bursting point with as many cloves of garlic and the hottest peppers that Delph and his family has grown on this farm. When that is done I need a gaseous concoction made that can be buried inside its own sacks, hidden in the larger sack of spices. This will ferment and will explode, once the dragon has swallowed the bait. This we will put in last, as it will become very volatile and I am gambling that Knorrd’s stomach will compress the travelling sacks and my dissolving stitches will come undone anyway. This explosion of gas will add to the mixture fermenting in his insides. I am gambling on the creature becoming so distressed by what is going on inside his body that we will be able to attack him on the outside. It’s our only chance to bring him down without all of us getting flamed and cooked to death.”
At the forge, goblin and human worked the fire with the bellows until it became white hot. Matt-cinder thrust the rear end of the lance head into the flames and once it was hot enough they both hammered the flange at the end until they had extended it to a flat plate. The next task was to fold the plate over until it became a socket for the hard wood pole. They inserted the wood into the red hot socket and as the shaft smoked and caught fire they dowsed it in water, causing the socket to tighten onto the pole. Now it was time to put an edge on the Vee shaped blade including the inside edge of the backwards facing points. Once inside the dragon it would only travel inwards towards his black heart.
Matt-cinder looked inside his bag of tools and pulled out a hard rough stone the size of his fist.
He handed it over to Shamus and said, “Start with this one and put a reasonable edge on the blade while I hold it still on the trestle.”
Shamus began to apply the stone along the two outside edges of the blade while the goblin held the shaft steady, turning the blade from time to time to expose the other edge. From time to time they changed over until the goblin was satisfied that the edge was as keen as they could get it. Next they sharpened the inside of the Vee and then changed over to a finer stone with oil. Now the blade could shave the bristles off a wild pig!
By now the day was done and both ‘smiths’ had worked non-stop until the evening had begun. Jessop had returned with a band of mixed elves, goblins and gnomes. With them were a number of Trolls carrying materials to build shelters. All of them had terrifying tales to tell about the dragon’s wrath and destructive swathe across the countryside. None of the ones who had seen Knorrd in action thought that they were going to their deaths. He had dug into houses like an anteater into a termites nest, ferreting out anything that had meat on their bones. So far he had destroyed sixteen townships and an entire army that tried to stop him. He was systematically working his way around the polar icecap breathing fire into each and every hidden valley melting the snow, looking in vain for his females. Every so often he would abandon the search and come south and feed on whatever he could find, be it faery folk or wild beasts.
Mog the Troll gathered up his kinsmen and took them to the barn where he had a long talk with them. He showed them the chain and heavy stone balls attached to the ends.
“We need more of these,” he said. “All of you that are fit to fight can be transported by the leprechaun to wherever Knorrd is rampaging. Dragon fire will not harm your stony skins and chains wound around the beast might help the goblin and human to get in close with the iron weapon. Scour the countryside for chains and heavy weights to fix on the ends. This will be your task at sun-up while Tam O’ Shadow goes forth with the Roc to find the beast.”
Tam O’ Shadow stared up at the skies waiting anxiously for the arrival of the giant Roc and as the sun was beginning to set he saw two large birds began their descent. Each bird had a buffalo impaled within each taloned foot. With wings outspread, the Roc gently dropped in front of the farm and deposited the four buffalo onto the grassy bank.
“The hunting was good,” squawked Windflutter, “so we brought you extra supplies. We found him, little man. He did not see us. So in the morning we will show you the way to where he sleeps and hunts. He is very large Tam O’ Shadow and I fear will take a lot of killing. He is big enough to swallow all four of those fat beasts at once! Nevertheless I still think your plan will work with a few modifications.”
The leprechaun looked up and asked, “What do you have in mind, Windflutter?”
“He is too clever to be taken in by us pretending to be frightened of him. No! Gornn and I will stage a fight with me over the fat beasts to get his attention and the prize will be the dead buffalos stuffed with the peppers and garlic. These will be dropped gently so they do not burst and we will be driven away by him, thus leaving him with the ‘prize’ to consume, as he will. We have seen him feed and he does not chew but tips his head back and swallows whole whatever he picks up.”
“My thanks and Queen Mab’s to you, my feathered friends. I will see you in the morning,” with that Tad walked back to the farmhouse deep in thought.
Tad O’ Shadow awoke to the smell of breakfast, supplied by Arifan and Aisled by dipping into their travelling sacks. They had also gutted the two buffalo and removed the liver and kidneys for consumption by those who enjoyed them. The guts and hearts they turned over to the trolls who looked upon them as a delicacy. This was shared out in the barn where the Trolls that had been directed to the farmstead had collected. Mog went over the plans that they may well have to improvise on and demonstrated the balls and chain as a deadly weapon. Once the messy breakfast had been consumed they spread out over the countryside searching the ruined towns for anything that could be adapted to Mog’s instructions.
During Tad’s absence Jessop would range over areas that he had missed and direct any survivors of the dragon’s onslaught to the farmstead. He had instructed the winged elf to seek out as many Trolls as he could find and explain what was wanted from them. Matt-cinder would operate the smithy and make any tools or repairs that were needed by the newcomers. The leprechaun had decided to take the human with him as he had proved to be useful in the past and had a different viewpoint.
Shamus was waiting for him where the two Roc had perched during the night and was already climbing up Windflutter’s scaly leg to sit upon her neck and shoulders. He had brought enough rope to securely harness the giant bird and prevent him from falling off. Gornn was already aloft and circling round. As soon as he saw the leprechaun he began to make his way to the North-east. Windflutter quickly followed and took to the air in the same direction.
Tam uttered the command, “Stride.”
He also multiplied his height by a factor of twenty so that he could keep the birds in sight, but soon found that he needed to stop every so often to allow the Roc to catch up. The further north he travelled the countryside became less settled and wild. Soon the trees thinned right out and only scrub and tundra stretched as far as the eye could see. Herds of bison and woolly mastodon held sway and large patches of snow began to appear. Large boulders were scattered around the landscape looking very like sleeping Trolls. Tam added that piece of knowledge to the rest of his ideas.
As he stopped to allow the birds to catch up, he saw Gornn come swooping down and came to an abrupt stop in front of him.
“When we last caught sight of him it was just over this tall ridge. He was blasting the snow and ice away from the bottom of a deep valley,” the Roc said. “You stay here and I will go high above the area and see what I can find out.”
Tam watched the giant bird soar into the air and was soon contacted by Windflutter, who disgorged Shamus at the feet of the artificial giant shape that Tad had assumed.
“What’s happening, Master Shadow? Is he close?”
“Gornn has gone up high to see if he can spot him,” the leprechaun replied. “He said that he was close to this area when they saw him last.”
Shamus wrapped the wolf-skin tightly round him and said, “This is cold even by my standards. I’m glad of this poor beast’s furry coat. Do you not feel the cold, Master Shadow?”
“Oh I feel the cold young man, but it does not bother me. Many of the people of the enchanted land are not worried by such extremes of hot and cold as are humans. On the other hand we cannot tolerate the touch or the nearness of iron except for the goblin race, but again they cannot do magic. Instead they are wonderful engineers and craftsmen. Trolls are mostly made of stone and are impervious to dragon fire, yet they can be shattered. We all have our weaknesses young Shamus O’Brian and our strengths.”
A dot in the sky became very much larger as Gornn dropped down onto the rocky plateau and spread his wings at the last moment.
The leprechaun asked, “Well? Have you found him?”
“He is still busy digging himself down into that valley that we last saw him. Look out for a column of steam some miles over the top of the ridge. At the moment he is head down so the chances of being seen are slim, but be careful, little man, as he can be lightning fast,” the Roc replied.
Tam O’ Shadow stared down at his human companion and asked, “Do you want to risk your life? If so crawl into my waistcoat pocket and hang on. Just remember it will be my first dragon as well!”
The boy jumped onto the cloth and climbed into the pocket and the leprechaun increased his size. The giant stepped over the crest of the ridge in the direction that the Roc had indicated and there on the horizon was a plume of steam erupting into the sky. Tad quickly made his way there and was appalled on what they could see. He had been told that the dragon was a huge creature, but nothing had prepared him for what he saw digging its way to the bottom of the glacier. He had got used to the size of the Roc, but this beast was three times the size of any one of the giant birds. Each time that Knorrd blasted the ice with fire, his tail stood out stiff from the back of him. Only the hindquarters could be seen rising above the snow and ice as the dragon buried deeper. Great gouts of steam rose from the cavern the beast had dug and clusters of earth and boulders were sprayed backwards by his feet. Tad had taken Shamus out of his pocket and had reduced his size back to normal. The two of them had crawled over the ice and managed to look over the rim of the hole that the dragon had dug. Every so often the dragon would wriggle downwards and once more he spat the corrosive venom down into the ice where it turned it into steam.
They heard his scream of fury as he uncovered the bottom of the valley without finding any of his females and he began to back out of the hole.
Tam grabbed Shamus by his wolf-skin coat and said the command, “Stride.”
The two of them moved the full seven leagues in one hop and the leprechaun dropped the boy onto a patch of gravel.
“I need to do some hard thinking, young Shamus. There will be things that I must get into operation before we start back to the forsaken place. Did you see the thickness of those scales? There is no way that we could do him any harm from the top. Somehow you and Matt-cinder have to get underneath him and as I said push it through his armpit. Once inside him, the lance-head will travel deeper into the beast as he moves around, cutting and slicing its way into his heart or lungs, poisoning the beast as it cuts. Our problem will be keeping away from the iron ourselves. That is where you and the goblin have to be ready to do your part in this enterprise if you are sure that you want to risk your life in this wilderness?
“Master Shadow I came into this world looking for adventure and gold. I have been given another chance in this enchanted land and while here have seen such marvels that no-one would believe if I ever got home. I have friends that have donated part of their life energy to enable me to live. I owe you and the other members of the quest. Live or die, I will stand by Matt-cinder’s side under that dragon and do what has to be done,” Shamus declared.
Tam laid his small hand on the boy’s arm and replied, “Shamus, I will not forget that. Now let us get back amongst our friends and see what can be done to rid this land of an ancient curse.”
With that the leprechaun increased his size and once more tucked the boy into his waistcoat pocket and began to wave to the Roc that could now see them clearly due to the enlarged size.
The two of them landed close by and Tam called out to them, “I want one of you to stay here until we come back, making sure that there is very little for the dragon to feed on whilst we are gone. I want him hungry, but not so badly that he leaves this area. He has been systematic in his search for his females and I am sure that he will continue that pattern.
Windflutter, I think it best that you return to carry Shamus, Matt-cinder and the lance back to here, clutching the two beasts stuffed with peppers and garlic. When Gornn can see you coming, then would be the time to make his fake attack to steal the food from your claws. I will have made my arrival the night before. That area that is studded with large boulders, I intend to seed the area with Trolls who will look just like all the other rocks. In that area there several large bounders close enough together that the lance-bearers can hide inside the cavity between them and wait their chance. I will mark them with a bright red dye so that you can find them more easily.
When Windflutter drops the bait close to the hole that Shamus and Matt-cinder will scramble into, that is where we want him to swallow the tainted bait. Within a few minutes the beasts will come undone in his stomach giving Knorrd a very bad case of indigestion! I’m banking that he will be in so much pain and discomfort that he will rear up exposing his soft underbelly. That’s when we kill him. I can increase the size of the Trolls and the balls and chains with magic. That’s my plan so far. The rest we may have to improvise!”
Gornn lofted into the sky and circled high overhead seeking the herds that Knorrd preyed upon with the intent to disperse them. Wind flutter began the long journey to the homestead with the intention of meeting Tam O’ Shadow when she got there.
To the amazement of Shamus, Tam did not immediately set off but walked towards a dark cliff that had the sun behind it casting a dark shadow. He re-tied the boots securely, reduced his size to suit the barn destination, along with the boy and sealed him inside his waistcoat pocket.
“We are now going to travel through a dangerous land, young Shamus,” he said. “As my name might imply I can become a creature of the shadows. When I am in that translation I can travel vast distances very quickly, but it takes a lot of energy to do this. Do not open your eyes until I tell you to or you will become blind and deaf to the world we live in. I draw down the power of darkness and harness it to my desire to travel the ‘Shadow Lands.’ Do you understand?”
“I believe you master Shadow and will burrow down into your pocket until you tell me that it is safe,” Shamus replied and did so very quickly!
Tam concentrated his will and opened a door in the deepest shadow and reached out to the lay lines and picked one that would take them inside the barn used by the Trolls. He conjured up a fast wind that took his outstretched coat and filled it full as a sail. Tad lifted his feet from the shingle he was stood on and took wing. He concentrated on the lay lines that opened out for him and forcibly refused the others, some of which was home to a soul eater or some other nightmarish entity that lay in wait for the unwary traveller. The sounds and shrieks of those who chose to live here were thankfully deadened by the fabric of the leprechaun’s waistcoat. Down in the darkness of the pocket Shamus wrapped the wolf-skin around his head to help reduce the noises that filtered through. There was no way that the boy would open his eyes or ears to this ethereal realm.
Suddenly the illusion of movement finished and Tam spoke quietly, “We are here young one. Climb out. It’s time to tell everyone what it is that they will have to do.”
Shamus was shocked to see that there were many silver hairs nestled amongst the leprechaun’s usually ginger hair that had not been there before their journey through the Shadow Lands.
Tam O’ Shadow shrank himself down to his natural size and staggered across the barn floor before collapsing onto a pile of straw. Shamus ran to his side and put his arms around the leprechaun and lifted him to his chest.
“Master Shadow, what is wrong with you?”
“Travelling the Shadow Lands comes with a price young Shamus,” he replied. “As I told you, it takes a lot of energy. I will recover, never you mind. Take me to the homestead where the others of the Quest are at this moment eating their evening meal. I too, need something to eat and some rest, before I explain what everyone will have to do to make this venture successful.”
At that moment the doors of the barn exploded outwards and Mog the Troll stood outlined by the evening sun. He rushed in and picked up the two travellers in his arms and turned and walked back to the gnomes’ homestead.
“You used the Shadow Path to return here. So whatever you have seen must have been a terrible thing, for you to use that way of getting here. I felt your presence as you entered the barn. Open your mind and let me see what you have seen far to the North while I carry you to the others. I will give you some of my life-force to give you back your strength. I have eaten well along this mad escapade, so do not refuse my gift.”
Before the leprechaun could protest, he felt the Troll’s energy radiate all through his body and a gentle warmth suffused through his aching limbs. The Troll gently put the two of them down in front of the open farmhouse door where the other members of the group were waiting for them.
Mog stared down on the little people and said, “What you need to see is inside Tam O’ Shadows mind. So open your minds to mine and I will transfer his thoughts into your heads so that you can see what it is that we are up against. Also I will show you Shamuses observations as well, as he and Matt-cinder will have the most dangerous action to take. The plan is good, but everything must be perfect or a lot of us will not be coming back.”
By the time that Tam and Shamus were seated at the table, everyone had a clear picture in their minds of what the two of them had seen. While they were tucking into the fresh food that Arifan and Aisled pulled out of the travelling sacks, the other members of the group discussed Tam’s plan of action. All agreed that they could find little in the way of a flaw, and just as Mog had insisted, everything had to be just right to bring the dragon down.
By morning most of the Trolls had returned from their foraging across the ravaged countryside. They had brought back all sorts of lengths and sizes of chain made of bronze. Matt-cinder examined them all and got the forge heated up to make repairs to those links that had sprung apart. They had also brought back chunks of granite that they were shaping with their bare hands into balls twice the size of Shamus’s head. They poked their fingers into the granite as if it were soft putty to make a secure link for the chains to attach! They then stacked them next to the forge ready for Matt-cinder to secure the chain to two equal sized balls with the help of the Trolls. The goblin could not even lift them as he bent the ends of the bronze chain-link about them. He had no idea how Tad would be able to carry one of the boluses, let alone all of them and the Trolls?
While this was going on the leprechaun inspected the carcasses of the buffalos that the gnomes had finished stuffing into the cloned travelling sacks. Each sack contained far more peppers and smashed garlic bulbs than could possibly be put into an ordinary sack and when burst would flood the dragon’s gut, when the unravelling spell took hold. This was pressure activated so that once Knorrd swallowed the dead buffalos and they found their way into the stomach the knots would unravel and the cargo would flood out and fill him from neck to arse. To assist this, a second sack of fermenting fruit was inserted into the garlic and peppers. This would also unravel under pressure and be at bursting point, joined by the same spellbound knots that would release the poisoned cargo. The dragon’s digestive juices would do the rest as the buffalos began to be broken down.
This filling of the sacks had taken place down by the river so that once the sacks were full they could be washed clean of any scent or odour. All it needed now was for Tam to sew the cavities shut with dissolving thread and this he did. Next he called the trolls together and separated the stronger and larger of the refugees from the too young or old.
“You are the second line of defence. I will place you around the area where we hope to restrain the dragon. You will remain inert and mimic large boulders scattered about the plain. At all costs you must do your best to protect the human and the goblin after they have thrust the lance into the dragon. We can only guess the effect of the poisoned bait on his ability to fight back. I will shrink you down so that all of you can be transported in my pockets. You will find this to be unpleasant, as I must also diminish your mass so that I can carry all of you. This I will do with the boluses that Matt-cinder had forged to the granite stones. To do this I must place them inside the Shadow Lands where all things can be changed according to my will. Once you are there on the killing ground I will restore your size back to normal and from that situation, treble your size for the time that we are there. You have seen the size of Knorrd so you can understand the reasoning behind this. If I make you too large, you will not have the strength to wield the balls and chains. Just remember that he is not vulnerable along his sides and back due to the thickness of his scales. You must attack the few places where his armour is soft. The most important thing is to remain hidden in plain sight until you are needed,” the leprechaun insisted. “You know the plan, so follow it as best you can.”
At that moment a giant shadow darkened the ground as Windflutter dropped out of the sky. She made her way to the river and drank thirstily where she then ripped apart a moose she had carried and hungrily swallowed the pieces.
Tam approached the giant bird and asked, “Are you well? Will you be able to fly back carrying the two buffalo with Shamus and Matt-cinder?”
“Give me a moment’s rest little man and let my meal go down and I will be ready to do as you bid,” Windflutter replied and preened a few errant feathers into place.
“I will do as you wish, but I must remind you that when you pick up the carcases do not puncture the fat looking bellies with your exceedingly sharp claws,” Tam joked. “If the contents of its belly can immobilise a dragon, think what it could do to you.”
“I think of it every time I sharpen my claws,” replied the Roc and ruffled her feathers.
“I will leave you to find Shamus and Matt-cinder and stow the weapon. I will take the Trolls to the killing ground and then I must return and take the boluses through the Shadow Lands so that the Trolls are suitably armed.”
At that very moment Matt-cinder was showing Shamus O’Brian something that he had hammered together from the remnants of the lance-head. Each piece that had been trimmed from the main body of the sky-stone’s flange around the shaft the goblin had saved. He had reheated the scrap and pounded the bits together to make an axe head with a steel edge, forged onto a bronze head to give it a killing stroke with extra weight. He had forged the head around a hardwood handle and counterweighted the handle.
“I’ve made this for you, young human. We have no real idea of what awaits us when we confront Knorrd, so I thought that it would be a shame to waste what sky-stone metal was left over. I have put an edge on the steel that would part a soul from its owner! I made a sheath to keep over the blade to protect you from damage and the keenest of its edge,” the goblin said and placed his green arm over Shamuses shoulders.
The boy turned the goblin’s gift over and over in disbelief and placed it gently down. He flung his arms about the bright green goblin and burst into tears.
Shamus said, “You are my friend, Matt-cinder. If we are to die, we will die together, but not before we have dispatched that beast. This axe will be my companion and I swear that it will taste dragon flesh.”
An irritated squawk tore through the air and Windflutter spoke, “Get aboard you two and secure that deadly piece of iron. We have a long way to go and Master Shadow has much to do that will take its toll on him.”
The two lance bearers covered the head of the weapon and strapped it to the Roc’s right leg and climbed aboard the giant bird. Each of them had a small travelling sack stuffed full of food and drink as there would be nothing for them to eat so far north. Each of them was wrapped in the wolf-skins that had been cured by the gnomes. While they were adjusting the safety straps to keep them both in place for the journey they heard several voices from below.
“It is Jessop that asks; can you bear the weight of a few more, great Windflutter? I would join you and so would Arifan and Aisled if you could bear the extra heaviness of our meagre bodies.”
“Climb on if you are sure that you are willing to risk your lives. After all,” she squawked, “If I can lift two buffalo with my feet, a few more fleas will not be impossible to carry as well!”
Shamus leant down and offered a hand to the two gnomes while Jessop beat down with his wings and soared above the Roc keeping well away from the side of the bird that had the iron weapons securely tied to her right leg. Both gnomes and the winged elf tucked themselves onto the left hand side so as to have the concentrated mass of Windflutter between them and the iron. Even so there were unpleasant ramifications to be travelling so close to the poison metal. All the travelling sacks were kept close to the gnomes so that the iron would not undo the spells that kept all the food fresh and untainted by time. They could only hope that the sacks were far enough from the deadly cargo not to revert back to what they once were.
The Roc swept her wings together and achieved lift off and swooped down onto the two tainted buffalo laid out in front of the farm. She scooped them up as gently as she could with blunted talons and reached for the sky with an almighty clap of wing-filled thunder. Progressively she sought any thermal that could aid in her climb and found one that took her up to the cloud level. She headed north towards the dragon’s domain with a steady beat.
Meanwhile Tam O’ Shadow concentrated on the magic that Queen Mab had infused into his boots. He needed to bring to bear the very essence of every life force in the Enchanted Land. This would require a great deal of power; more than he had ever needed before. The Trolls were mostly made of stone and were normally three or four times the size of an elf. Logic said that it was not possible for someone a fifth of their size to carry one of them, let alone the ten he had selected. First he shrank them down to elf size and increased his height by a factor of ten. Next he placed the power that Mab had infused into his boots and reached down into the very atoms of their existence and moved the majority of their mass out of this universe and stored it so that he could receive it when necessary. He then was able to pick them all up, one by one and set them inside his waistcoat pockets. It was then that he realised that the other members of the Quest were nowhere to be seen on or around the farmstead. It must be that they too were determined to be there at the demise of the dragon. Tad smiled to himself and recognised the bravery of Jessop, and the gnomes in making the journey to where Knorrd was searching for the female dragons that Queen Mab had imprisoned below the ice so long ago. The fact that they were enduring the constant scraping at their nerves by being so close to the iron weapon would take some endurance. The leprechaun had no doubt that they would have taken all of this in account before climbing aboard and keeping as far away as they could from the means of the dragon’s death.
Unfortunately there was no way that Tam O’ Shadow could transport the Trolls and the boluses together through the Shadow Lands as the amount of life energy generated by the Trolls would draw every kind of Soul-eater and other predators to him as he slid along the ley lines. He would have to take the Trolls back to where the killing ground would be marked out using the magic of the Seven League Boots. There they would have to become very large boulders and stay very still so as not to alert the dragon. Fifty or sixty hops would take him the thousand miles or more, but this would take him to the rest of the day before he returned using the Shadow Lands to pick up the Trolls’ weapons.
Tam gave the command, “Stride” and the boots did their function taking him across the devastated land towards the area that Tam had selected to bring the dragon down. At about the half-way point the leprechaun saw the profile of the giant bird, Windflutter and waved to her as he passed underneath. She knew better than to go anywhere near him carrying the deadly cargo, as that could suck the magic from out of the souls of the boots. There was about an hour left of sunset before darkness flooded the land when Tam finally reached the area he had selected. He took out the Trolls from his pocket and reduced his size to rest for a moment. Tam reinforced the plan into the Trolls minds using Mog as a transmitter so that they could recognise the area that he had picked out. He reached out to the stored mass of the Trolls and increased their substance to their natural bulk, before increasing their size by a factor of three.
“Get used to your temporary new size, my friends. You will find that your strength will remain the same, as when you were normal size, but as Mog puts it, you have plenty to go round. Over there are the two boulders that have a gap between them where I intend Shamus and Matt-cinder to hide with the weapon. In front of that is where the Roc will drop the tainted bait. He must be encouraged to that place to eat our offerings. Now I need you to be boulders so that if he comes this way, you will not be seen. Scatter yourselves around the area and wait for my return.”
At that moment Gornn swooped down from the clouds and planted his feet into the gravel.
He squawked, “I have frightened the game away from this area so he has not eaten well for some time. I leave small parts of my prey so he has not left the area to seek a better living. He still seeks the females that Queen Mab entombed under the ice. Where is my mate, Windflutter? Have you seen her on your travels back and forth?”
“She is on her way. She is carrying more than we planned as Jessop, Arifan and Aisled have hitched a ride to be here as well. Hold back on the mock attack until I give the word,” the leprechaun insisted. “Now I must return through the Shadow Lands to fetch the many balls and chains that the Trolls will need to keep Knorrd busy when the action starts. Goodbye for the moment. I should be back before dawn with the Trolls weapons of choice.”
Tam O’ Shadow made his way to the up thrusting boulders and once again viewed the possibilities that the hideout would present. Into the deepest shadow he translated into the Shadow Lands and immediately found the lay line that would take him to the barn at the homestead. Here next to the cold forge he would find the ten lengths of chain and their granite balls. Once again he opened his coat to make a sail and whistled up a fair wind to take him quickly across the vast distance. He could feel certain entities that were hungrily aware of him begin to move in his direction. Tam concentrated his will and became very small to make it more difficult for them to be aware of him. He reached into an inside pocket and found his spellbinding flute and began to play. Faery music began to beat away the darker shadows and replaced the hunger with a compulsion to dance. The faster the tune, the quicker the soul eaters whirled and bobbed in a state of euphoric abandon. Lightning split the sky as something much larger reached down to a bunch of dancing sprites and breathed them in. Tad abruptly stopped blowing through the flute and exited the Shadow Lands into the barn. He fell exhausted, onto a pile of hay. His heart was racing and sweat beaded his brow as he straightened up out of the soft bedding. He walked unsteadily over to the water trough and washed the sweat from his face and quenched his thirst.
Now he needed all the magic that Queen Mab had infused into his boots. He stared at the pile of chains and giant granite blocks and suffered a terrible doubt in his abilities to pull this change of state. He had done it with the Trolls and shrunk them and reduced their mass, but they were alive and he could feel every soul inside his mind. These chain weapons were inert; very heavy and beyond the leprechaun’s ability to lift in this universe. Tad concentrated his mind and began to offload the boluses into another universe where the rules of logic and physics were slightly askew to the realm of enchantment. Steadily the weapons became lighter as more and more of mass of the chains and blocks was locked away somewhere else. Tad shrunk nine of the boluses and put them in his waistcoat pocket. The last one he adapted the size and mass to suit himself and stepped back into the Shadow Lands. He also drew from his belt the gnarly stick that he had brought with him and with the chains in one hand and the stick’s tip in the other, made ready to repel any creature of darkness that wanted to try for him. The end of the gnarly stick had a large lump carved to suite Tam’s hand, but it would double up as a useful club.
As he stepped back onto the lay line he sensed that a web of darkness was reaching out for him. Tam altered the molecular substance of the balls of ‘granite’ and produced a strong white light that lit up the thing that was inching forwards. The leprechaun swung one of the balls so that it passed through the darkest portion of the ‘thing’ and was rewarded by a sobbing moan as it bubbled across the lay line behind him. He whistled up a wind that would propel him all the way to the inside of the split boulder. Time and again something of the dark would try to pull him off the safety of the lay line and time and again Tad would bring the knob at the end of his gnarly stick into play. During one of these encounters something stung him on the wrist and made him nearly drop his gnarly stick. The pain made him scream out and lay on the stick with even greater vigour. The commotion that he was stirring up was attracting the predators that hunted in the Shadow Lands and in the edge of his vision a darker stalker would slip in and out of the light. Fortunately the light pouring out of the balls and chain seemed to keep them at bay, but one moment of inattention would be enough. Breathing became more and more difficult as the leprechaun began to tire. His lungs itched and his throat became dry as tiny particles of darkness lodged in his mouth. Tam wrapped a piece of cloth over his mouth and nose to act as a filter.
At last he reached the portal in the shadow of the boulders and exited into the cold night air. While he still had the strength he returned the Trolls’ weapons back to their original state and then fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning he woke weak and shivery, feeling the effects of travelling through the Shadow Lands. His wrist throbbed and looked raw where he had been stung. A great deal of his hair had turned grey and felt every day of the centuries that he had lived. He crawled out of the semi-cave provided by the boulders suffering with the dry heaves and into the morning sun, where he did his best to get some warmth into his bones. At this far north, not much!
A large shape blocked out the sun as he lay exhausted on the stony ground.
“Will you look at yourself, Tam O’ Shadow,” cried out Mog the Troll as he reached down to his friend. “Take what you need of my elemental force. You will be no use to us in this state. I have nine other Trolls lined up behind me all ready to part with some of their life force to make you strong again. I have painted the top of the boulders bright red and cleared away the snow so that Windflutter will easily pick out an adjacent landing spot. Come what may, with our encounter with Knorrd, entering the Shadow Lands afterwards must be put out of your mind. It will be a long time before the denizens of that awful place forget the signature of your soul and are no longer attracted to you.”
Once again the leprechaun felt the energy flow into him from his long-time friend and soon felt much better after each and every one of the trolls donated some of their abundant life-force. They all funnelled the strength of the Land through their stony feet and into his bones. He felt the connection slip back with the faery Queen and felt the magic replenished into his boots, ready for when he needed to call upon them.
Gornn had hunted for the Trolls and had left two elk for them to tear apart and eat for breakfast. He had witnessed Tam’s return from the effects of the Shadow Lands and was very concerned at the state of the leprechaun’s health. To his amazement the pixie had regained his ginger hair colour and the silver was almost gone from his head and beard.
The Roc stared down at Tad and asked, “Have you recovered? What did the Trolls do to you for you to look so different?”
“We faery folk can donate some of our life force to each other and combat the effects of being drained of our energy in times of need. Trolls are veritable power-houses of life, particularly after they have stuffed themselves with food and as they can eat almost anything they can soon put back what was given,” replied the leprechaun and pointed at Mog. “My friend over there has an enhanced ability to store and transfer life energy and is also a telepath of some power.”
Mog stood up and scanned the clouds, pointing southwards to say, “I feel Windflutter’s presence and those of her passengers. She will be here soon. I think that it is time that you increased our size if you have recovered and we can scatter across the plain. We can then lie upon the balls and chains to hide them when the dragon comes. Also we need to be as far away as we can from the iron in the weapon that Matt-cinder carries with Shamus.”
Tam agreed and once again focussed his will upon the living stonework of the Trolls, drawing upon the very life-force that flowed through the land. He tripled the distance between the atoms inside their bodies and the Trolls steadily grew until they towered above leprechaun becoming almost the size of the Roc. Now they picked up the chains, slung the granite balls over their shoulders and walked out onto the plain so that they were in front of the twin boulders that would hide the iron bearers. They became a parallel row of large rocks, more than the width of the dragon, leading to the hiding place, but far enough away not to be influenced by the iron in the lance head. Now at this size they could lift and position flat boulders over the split, closing off a roof to protect the two beings that would wait underneath.
High above, Windflutter spread her wings into a slow gliding mode and soon picked out the scarlet patches on top of the bounders. She also saw Gornn lift off the ground and flap his way upwards until he was level with her when they both heeled over onto their sides and she transferred the tainted buffalos to her mate. Then both of them dropped slowly down towards the killing ground. Windflutter was extremely tired and grateful to hand over the load and could concentrate on offloading the two gnomes and the elf without them getting too close to the lance strapped to her right leg.
They had already wriggled out from the strap and each gnome held onto one of Jessop’s legs as he spread his wings.
“We will leave you now Windflutter,” yelled the elf as the wind took his wings. “I can bear their weight as we coast downwards and away from that accursed iron blade.”
The two gnomes hung on for dear life as Jessop plummeted to the ground far below. He could see the red top of the boulders and made sure that he was heading for a landing some way away. The giant birds made their way downwards and landed in front of the split boulders where Matt-cinder and Shamus quickly undid the ties that securely held the lance and axe to her right leg. Matt-cinder dragged the lance into the shelter of the split in the rocks while Shamus lifted the razor sharp spear-head by the leather case. The axe was attached to Shamus’s right wrist by a thong and was also protected from losing its edge. The two of them placed the weapons down and explored the area inside the two large boulders. The split in the rocks opened out behind them, but left a narrow opening at the front. There was plenty of room to hide and apply the lance when Knorrd lifted his head to swallow the two buffalo. He would tilt his head back to swallow the poisoned bait and this would render him vulnerable for a short while. At least this was the plan.
It was sometime in the afternoon that Tam O’ Shadow called the hunters together. The nine trolls that he had selected were all stationed into their positions in front of the ‘killing ground’ and were all linked to Mog’s mind.
“Tomorrow will be the day that I have picked to do this thing! It seems that the weather will be settled for some while and that will suit us best. Rain and mud will slow us down so the quicker we go about the plan, the better it will be. I have given this problem a great deal of thought and Knorrd may not be as invincible as we have led to believe. Yes, the plunging of the lance under his armpit is most important so that it will make its way inside his body destroying all it touches. It will either lodge in the heart and kill him that way, but it may also bury itself into his lung. Each destination will kill him, but not immediately! He will have some reaction to the peppers and garlic that will explode inside his gut, but we have no idea just how bad that will be for him. Whatever effect it has we will have only a limited time of surprise. At the moment that the poison takes hold I want the trolls to use the balls and chains to pound him on his toes and joints to fracture them if you can. Also his wing joints are another place that a heavy ball swung on a chain will possibly break them. The two Trolls closest to his head will each carry Arifan and Aisled who will be armed with the iron-tipped bolts and the cross-bows made by our goblin friend. They will lift them up to the level of the beast’s head and take out his eyes. The bolts may be small, against his massive size, but he will become blind if the gnomes can get a direct hit through the pupil of each eye. He is a creature of magic and is as intelligent as are you. Just remember that if he gets away and recovers we will never have a chance of killing him again, as he will extract a vengeance the like of which you cannot imagine. You have seen what he did to the towns and cities that tried to stand up to him. Also if he should find just one of his females and mates with her there will indeed be a plague of dragons and life in this realm will be impossible. When Queen Mab exiled dragon-kind under the ice it cost her nearly all of her life-force to do this and recover. She has entrusted us to destroy this abomination while we can. She has transferred a great deal of her magic into my boots where I can draw upon her power, but it is not unlimited. You have seen the state that I was in when I returned from using the Shadow Lands. This fate awaits your Queen should we fail. Now get some sleep this night and be ready for the morning. Just remember that when I blow this horn, he will be on his way and the plan begins.”
Shamus and Matt-cinder burrowed down into the wolf-skins that they made into a soft bed. Although the goblin was not too bothered by the cold, Shamus certainly was. Outside of the furs the temperature dropped below zero and to a human, enough to die of exposure. The Trolls were quite happy to let a coating of frost glaze all exposed parts without any discomfort at all. Arifan, Aisled, Jessop and Tam made a pile of the wolf-skins and burrowed under these making sure that the cross-bows and the poisoned tipped bolts were right underneath and well covered. Mog laid his bear-skin over the sleeping faery folk. The goblin had warned them that the simple mechanism could in extreme situations become stiff if allowed to be covered in ice. Tam O’ Shadow lay in the security of the skins and went over the plan looking for flaws. His mind was alive with worries, but at some point he dropped into a fretful sleep.
As the sun began to rise over the peaks of the mountain range that the dragon was searching, Tam and the others awoke. Weapons were checked and all of them began to make ready. The two gnomes dug around the bottom of the travelling sacks and found plenty to feed everyone except the trolls. As they had fed well before setting out it was doubtful that they would require anything before engaging the dragon. Instead the trolls took up their positions and took the two gnomes and their cross-bows to their positions in front of the split in the boulders. Arifan and Aisled took up their positions underneath the Trolls and peeped out of their stony cage with their weapons cocked and ready to use.
Everything was set and all they had to do was to wait. Jessop unfurled his wings and took to the air, catching a morning thermal and rising high enough to see when the two Roc would stage their mock battle.
Gornn had flown out early to locate the whereabouts of Knorrd and found him digging into the next valley with some excitement. He had found the scent of one of his females, but hunger was making him weak and he desperately needed to eat if he was to be able to succeed in digging her out. A shadow fell over his excavation and he looked up and saw a giant bird. It was chasing a smaller one that had in its claws not one, but two fat beasts, challenging for the kills. Knorrd leapt into the air and flapped his wings to gain height.
Jessop saw them being chased by the dragon and dropped down to where Tam O’ Shadow had hidden himself away.
“He comes! He comes,” gasped the winged elf. “He is huge! How will we be able to kill something as big as that?”
“If the plan works, we shall. If not we will unleash a maddened creature on the rest of the realm,” the leprechaun replied and blew a note on his hunting horn alerting all the participants to be ready.
The birds saw Knorrd and swooped away, still fighting to possess the carcasses that the smaller one had hold of. He got above them and the two of them dropped out of the sky and landed on the ground near a pair of boulders that jutted out of the ground. The fight continued between the birds with a great deal of noise and pecking at each other. As he followed the two birds down, the smaller one let go of its prey and rolled away across the gravel. It took to the skies leaving the victor behind to take what it wanted from the two kills. Knorrd let out a scream of fury that alerted the conquering victor of his coming. Gornn waited until the last moment before turning away leaving the two fat beasts just in front of the large split boulders. He rapidly beat his wings to escape, but was sprayed with the venom that Knorrd carried in the twin glands each side of his nostrils. As the liquid hit the air it turned to flames. The fire and acid ate into his plumage and he lost many of his flight feathers. Gornn rolled over and over to put out the fire and tried his best to put some distance between the dragon and his singed plumage. He lay still, pretending to be dead so that the dragon would not feel it needed to chase after him until he had eaten the two beasts.
Knorrd decided that he would eat the wounded bird after consuming the dropped offerings. He landed between a line of large boulders and dipped his head, lifted the first carcass to let it slide down his throat. He bent his neck again and tossed the other one to the back of his gullet enjoying the sensation of filling the almost empty stomach that had irritated him for some time. He decided to take his time dispatching the wounded giant bird. It would take some effort to tear apart, so he would wait until he felt ready to spend some energy and wait for the stolen kills to be digested.
Matt-cinder and Shamus stared at the sheer size of their quarry in disbelief. Seeing the creature this close just made the killing of it seem impossible! Its mouth was big enough for the two of them to stand in it. Nevertheless they made ready the lance and selected the left side armpit as the target zone as the dragon turned to the side exposing the target area.
Their movement was seen by Knorrd and he breathed his fiery breath into the cave containing the two small creatures. Shamus and Matt-cinder had dived out of the cave and moved to the side however, hidden by an outcrop of the buried boulder. Shamus brought out the ‘dragon whistle’ that the goblin mayor had given him and blew a single shrill note that froze the dragon in his tracks. As long as the note was played it stopped the dragon from moving, but every time he paused for breath Knorrd’s head swung further round towards them. He opened his great jaws and licked his lips when Shamus ran out of breath.
Inside the dragon, the dissolving stitches came undone and the contents of the travelling sack filled the stomach under extreme pressure, as the volume inside the sack was three times what had been put in there. The next thing that happened was the fermenting travelling sacks exploded inside all of the mess of chilli and garlic pushing the mixture down through his intestinal tract and up into his throat, flooding his sinuses. The pain was intense and his eyes were blinded by the fire in his mouth. Knorrd reared upwards shaking his head from side to side now completely oblivious of the two small bipeds. As he did so, Matt-cinder and Shamus rushed out of their hiding place and thrust the lance into his armpit and upwards, jamming the other end into the stony ground. The razor sharp point slid easily into the dragon’s flesh through this soft area and the barbed head sunk out of sight. This done they rapidly retreated back into concealment inside the split between the two boulders. The dragon then collapsed forwards in shock, driving the lance deeper into his body as his front legs gave way, trying to paw at his mouth to ease the burning sensation that filled his mouth and body. Knorrd’s head thumped into the stony ground just outside of the hideaway and he belched, filling the cave with his foul breath. Shamus and Matt-cinder’s eyes began to water as the chilli laden breath expanded into the chamber. They retreated out through the back of the split in the boulders and Shamus made his way back towards where the dragon’s front feet were dug into the stony soil in agony.
The pressure inside the dragon’s gut was now so expansive that it began to push the mashed chilli peppers through his anal system burning its way into the open air making his back end uncontrollable. Knorrd’s tail lashed from side to side as muscle spasms racked his lower regions. His wings extended and beat up and down but were unable to give him lift, as he was unable to leap into the air
This was when the trolls began to rise from their stationary position and whirled the granite blocks around aiming at the knee and wing joints. As Tam O’ Shadow had applied his magic to their size, they were as tall as the dragon’s back. They still had their strength translated from their normal size and this was plenty enough for them to whirl the sledgehammer blows with the balls of granite attached to the chains. Mog and his apposing troll held the gnomes, Arifan and Aisled high enough, that both of them were able to shoot a number of the iron tipped cross-bow bolts directly into the dragon’s pupils blinding him from both sides. They then placed them out of immediate danger and laid into the dragon with the granite balls, onto his damaged eyes and nostrils. Futile attempts by the dragon to spray the Trolls with fiery venom had no effect on them as they were mostly made of stone. In his blindness Knorrd had no place to go, as blow after blow rained down upon his body seeking out every joint, crushing them. Every time he tried to use the spray of venom, it would make him belch, filling his mouth with the mixture that Delph the master gnome at the homestead had brewed.
Shamus moved out of his hiding place and although scarcely able to see through the tears, he brought the axe that Matt-cinder had forged. He aimed at the joints of the toes bring the axe down as hard as he could. The razor sharp blade took a toe clean off, causing it to pump blood onto the ground. Again and again he swung the axe until he had pruned one foot of every toe and talon. Blood spurted over him drenching his clothes making the handle of the axe slippery. As Knorrd rolled over in his agonies, Shamus could see that only the end of the shaft was visible and for every contortion of the dragon made the lance twist deeper into the dragon’s body. The sharp edges and the barbed effect made sure that the poisoned iron would not come out. Shamus ducked underneath the bleeding foot and buried the axe into the dragon’s throat and rolled out of the range of his claws. As Knorrd writhed, the lance head cut a main artery into the lung and the dragon began to drown in his own blood. Slowly he dropped to the ground, vomited a tide of blood over the stony ground gave a shuddering gasp and lay still.
Tam watched the members of the quest come to the conclusion that Knorrd was finished and was proud of his friends. The killing ground absolutely stunk of garlic and chilli peppers and was making everyone’s eyes water filling them with tears. He increased his size and strode into the battlefield and retrieved Shamus and Matt-cinder from harm, leaving the Trolls to finish the dragon off. To the regret of the boy he had to leave his battle axe behind, stuck fast in Knorrd’s throat as the iron in its makeup would damage Tam’s ability to do magic. He also picked up the two gnomes and put them into a side pocket. Once the leprechaun had made certain Gornn was not too badly damaged he would make his way home again. The trolls would make their own way back after feasting on the remains of the dragon. They would of course avoid the area that was contaminated by the iron lance, but the idea of passing up a good meal was against all their principals. There was another task that Tam left them to carry out, under the leadership of Mog. Before they left they were to make sure that plenty of snow and ice covered up the sleeping female dragon that Knorrd had at last found.
Tam O’ Shadow walked over to where the injured bird was being ministered by Windflutter. It was quite plain to the leprechaun that it would take a moult to replenish the flight feathers that the dragon had seared with flame and acid. Nevertheless the Roc was uninjured apart from the singeing he had endured and was triumphant in what they had achieved. Tad took out of his pockets the members of the Quest and reduced his size to normal.
“I suggest that you all treat yourself to a wash now that we have achieved the task set to us by Queen Mab. There is a small pond nearby that will do. You all stink of dragon’s blood and other things. Wash your clothes and I will light a fire while you do this. Shamus, my waistcoat has seen better days particularly the pockets that you have been travelling inside! I would appreciate it if you could swill the blood out of the weave of the cloth? Perhaps Windflutter could gather some dead wood in that giant beak of yours and bring it here? Meanwhile I will gather what I can find and start that fire,” said the leprechaun and threw the bloodstained waistcoat to the boy.
He soon found enough dead wood scattered around the low bushes struggling to live in the cold to start a small fire. A large shadow fell over the campsite and Windflutter dropped a good beak-full of dry wood by his side and went aloft to gather more. Soon Tam had a good blaze going and the returning company were soon drying out their clothes. The things that had not been taken near the site of the killing ground were all of the furs and Shamus was glad of their insulating warmth. He was the only one amongst the elves and the goblin that was bothered by the cold. The pond had been just above freezing and the shock of the cold had taken his breath away. He had stuck it out as his hair was matted with dragon’s blood as was the rest of his body. Everything that he owned was filthy and needed washing out, so he did his best until he could bear no more of the bitter cold. He wrapped the furs around his shivering frame and presented hit wet clothes to the fire. Aisled found a hot soup tucked away inside her travelling sack and Shamus was glad of the warmth that spread through his body. He had grown to accept that the gnomes had salted away a vast amount of hot food inside the timeless hold of the magic satchel. As the youngest son of King Brian he had ranked as having no status within the tribe, but just the insignificant birth-right of being a King’s son by a minor wife. Yet he had seen wonders and taken part in an adventure that his elder brothers would never believe. He was quite content in that he would never go back to his old home. Here he was amongst friends that had risked their lives in this endeavour who treated him as an equal even though he had no magic or ever would have any of the strange abilities that the leprechaun displayed. He had come to look upon the pixie with the greatest respect and valued his approval beyond pride. Tam had resurrected him from the roots of the enchanted apple tree and had borne him no ill will for his attempted thieving of his gold and magic boots. Instead he had offered him an adventure of a lifetime and the chance to show others what he could achieve if given the chance. As for what he would do now? He had long decided that he would do whatever the leprechaun advised him. With that thought in his mind he fell asleep.
Tam O’ the Shadows woke from an uneasy sleep feeling that something was very wrong. The sun had climbed from a cloudy dawn and had warmed the ground a little, enough to melt the frost. He cast his eyes over the company of heroes that had become his great friends and saw that they were all stirring except the young human that he had taken under his wing. He was still cuddled up underneath the wolf-skins grabbing all the warmth that the pile could provide. Tad walked over to him to get him moving and noticed that Matt-cinder had left the communal bed along with Jessop, Arifan and Aisled and were tending the fire and eating breakfast.
Feeling some concern about this, he moved one of the skins away to see what was keeping the boy. Tam stared down at the silver haired arm that was poking out of the furs and shuddered as the knowledge of what was happening swept over him. Gently he pulled more of the furs from around the human until he could see his face. The ginger haired thatch of unruliness on the top of his head was now quite silver, what there was of it. Where the boy had slept, an old man was blearily trying to wake up and get dressed. As he stood up, the cold air made him shiver and he stumbled over onto his face.
“What’s the matter with me, Master Shadow? I feel weak and my hands, my hands! My skin has gone scaly and I am covered with silver hair,” the boy cried out.
Shamus ran his fingers through his hair and came away with clumps of it and screamed in terror. The others came running to him to see what the commotion was all about. When they got there they could see what had happened and their faces filled with grief.
Aisled spoke out and implored Tam, “Let us give him some of our life-force as we did before. We must keep him alive. He cannot die like this!”
Tam bent down, picked up the spent life-vessel that lay on the furs and stared moodily at the dull cracked crystal that had kept the boy alive during the Quest.
“There is nothing that we can do for him here, my friends. But I do have an idea that may work. I asked you to clone a travelling sack to use against the dragon. Can you do this with the ones that you carry, Aisled?”
“I can, Tam O’ the Shadows, but it will not last too long. Also to my knowledge this has never been done before and how it will affect Shamus while he is in there we cannot know,” replied the gnome as she untied the sack that she wore at her waist.
“Shamus, listen to me! You will have to trust us in what we are about to do. If we do not try this last ditch method you will die within the next few hours. Eat something before we attempt to save you. How you will fare once inside the travelling sack is something that we cannot imagine, but if we do nothing we will lose you. Once you are inside, time will stop for you, so you should remain frozen, giving me the time to use the Seven League Boots at full stretch. I will plead your cause to Queen Mag and ask that she extends your life, because of the bravery you have shown in the destruction of the dragon. I must get you to her before you perish,” insisted the leprechaun to the now elderly man.
By the time Tam had finished talking Shamus had managed to eat some breakfast and had shed most of his hair. He was beginning to show signs of rapidly aging and he was becoming very frail.
“Are you ready, Shamus? You are getting weaker by the moment and if you wait much longer it will be the end of you,” Tam urged and took the cloned sack from Aisled to be ready,
Shamus turned to the leprechaun and pleaded, “Do it, master Shadow. Do it now for I do not feel well!”
Tam increased his size and cast the sack over the frail old man and sealed it shut. He then continued to grow until he was twenty times his original size and picked up Jessop, Arifan, Aisled and Matt-cinder and put them into his waistcoat pockets.
“Stride!” he commanded and began to hop the first of many hundreds of miles until at last the great forest began.
Now he needed to grow even taller so that he could find the entrance to the Great North Road. The effect of growing larger began to take its toll on the leprechaun and he became quite dizzy. In vain he searched for the road as it snaked across the plains. Without a clear view of where they had to be, it was all too easy to go in a tangential direction and end up completely lost. He stood a while uncertain about what he should do when he remembered something that he had been told many years ago. Goblins always know where their home lies. They have an inbuilt sense of direction.
Tam flexed his neck downwards and called Matt-cinder from out of the pocket he was sat in and asked, “Is it true young Matt-cinder, that goblins have a sense of direction? Can you point the way toward Little Creek?”
The goblin climbed to the top of the pocket and said, “We do indeed have that ability. What is the problem?”
“I cannot see the Great North Road that will take us to your hometown. Can you point the way? Time is running out and I am all too aware of it. I cannot afford to make any mistake that would land us in some remote area of the enchanted land,” Tam replied.
“Turn slowly around and let me feel the location of my home,” the goblin answered and closed his eyes.
The leprechaun slowly pivoted round until his direction finder called out, “There! That is the direction of my home. We must travel in that direction and somewhere along this line we will encounter the Great North Road. How is young Shamus? Have you any idea?”
“Aisled says that the magic that operates the travelling sack is very weak and will not last for very long, as it is the third time she has cloned the original sack. Now I must get going or all our efforts will have been in vain,” Tam replied and set forth with the command of “Stride.”
As he crossed the forest reaches in seven league hops, Tad’s mind worried at the fact of the unexpected relapse of his human companion. He searched for an answer to the reason that the boy had suddenly begun to age so rapidly. Suddenly the solution came to him. Shamus had been activated by magic, using the life-forces donated by the company to bring him back into the land of the living. He had spent a large amount of time close to iron and iron sucks the magic from anything that uses it. The gnomes had used the iron tipped bolts with the cross-bows that Matt-cinder had made. Had they brought them with them, unknowingly helping Shamus into his grave?
“Come to think of it,” he wondered, “if they have kept some back is it affecting me?”
Once again Tam O’ Shadow stopped and then opened the pocket that the gnomes were occupying.
“Do you still have any of those iron tipped bolts with the cross-bows? I think that they are affecting me and they may have turned the magic that reanimated Shamus to become all used up,” he said to his passengers.
Arifan buried himself into the recesses of the pocket and came up with six of the unused bolts. He threw them away into the topmost branches of a forest tree.
Tam watched them fall and moved a league away and immediately felt a bonus in his energy.
“My dear friends you were not to know,” he said. “I do not blame you as we packed up in a hurry. This might just tip the balance and keep the sack working in time for me to get to Mab. Now forgive my rudeness, but I must be on my way,” with that Tam gave the command “Stride,” and set off across the endless forest as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. By the time that he sighted the Great North Road Tam was feeling the strain of continuing to hop across the forest and the occasional collision with an ancient tree. Several times he had little time to gauge a safe landing as he came down and went sprawling to his knees. The boots were beginning to show a great deal of wear and the magic that drove them was taking a battering. Once the lacing broke on the left boot and fortunately he had spares tucked away inside one of his many pockets, but the time that it took to re-lace the boot securely, caused him great anxiety. The sun was by now past the point of being overhead. He could not afford to spend another night beyond his destination, as once the rest of the magic drained out of the cloned travelling sack, Shamus would rapidly continue to age and would this time be well out of the beneficial aid of magic. Now Tam O’ Shadow was beginning also to feel the effect of the continual spending of his magical powers. He was beginning to stumble and the sweat that dripped into his eyes made his judgement faulty. On the latest landing he went full length onto his hands and knees only just managing to prevent crushing his passengers as one of his knees gave in. Once again a lace had broken and the leprechaun sat down to tie it up and found that he could not put any weight on the injured leg. So he tied his legs together so that the good one would do the work of the two. It was then that he realised that he was sat in the middle of the Great North Road.
He struggled to his feet and gave the command through gritted teeth, “Stride and stride again.”
At least by travelling south along the Great North Road, Tam could see where he would land each time he hopped seven leagues, although each landing tortured his twisted knee to make him sweat even more. He was relieved to pass over the scorch marks where the others had built a fire on their way north, so he had an inkling of how far away he was from the goblin township of Little Creek. Here he would drop off Matt-cinder to spread the news that the dragon had been destroyed and none had lost their life, although the human boy’s was set in the balance. As the sun began to slide into dusk the goblin lands came into view.
Tam O’ Shadow stopped along the road next to the side track that went towards the township and took Matt-cinder from out of his pocket and set him on the pathway.
“I cannot stop, my goblin friend. I must reach the castle before nightfall and get young Shamus to the Queen,” said the leprechaun. “His life depends upon it. We will visit you if this is successful, sometime in the future. Give my regards to your father, but I must be on my way.
“I fully understand, Tam O’ Shadow,” the goblin replied. “May the power of Queen Mab save him? He was brave beyond belief when we attacked the dragon. If anyone of us deserves to live it is him! All speed my friend. Now go!”
Tam leaned on the gnarly stick to prevent falling over and gathered his strength.
He faced towards where Mab’s castle was situated and gave the command, “Stride.”
At each hop through the air, he could feel the magic draining from the boots as they began to come apart. The sun was beginning to set as the castle came into sight, casting long shadows across the meadows. On this landing Tam could feel the soles wearing through and his fine stitching coming apart. He felt the laces snap and his weak knee folded and he went sprawling forwards. Once again he avoided damaging the gnomes and the winged elf by taking the fall onto his hands. He turned over so that Aisled, Arifan and Jessop could crawl out of his pockets. Once they were free he reduced his size to normal and examined the boots to see if anything could be done. The castle was still some distance away and impossible to walk to in the time left before sunset. Once the sun had gone down, it would not be possible to find their way through the woods and hills.
“Are you able to continue?” asked Jessop as the four of them stared at the wrecked boots.
“Not in these, my friend,” he answered as he examined the boots. “Every bit of magic has drained away. What is left are just boots.”
Aisled examined the travelling sack that the human was incarcerated inside and said, “This containment will not last for very much longer. The spell was weak to start with and soon it will release the contents and he will die.”
Tam undid the laces and re-bound them around his feet so that he would not lose the soles, so that at least he could walk in them a short distance. He shakily stood up favouring the twisted knee and lent once more upon his gnarly stick.
“What are you going to do? You will never be able to walk to Her! It is too far,” Jessop exclaimed. We have to accept the fact that we have failed the young human. There is nothing that we can do!”
“Not exactly dear friend,” replied and gathered the top of the sack in his right hand. “I am not called Tam O’ the Shadows for nothing. I can travel the Shadow Lands and appear in the darkness at the back of her throne. It should not take me very long to do this. I also have the dragon whistle that was given to Shamus. Hopefully it should make approaching me more difficult from the things that prey upon the unwary.”
“The last time you walked that route the soul-suckers nearly had you. You cannot do this” argued Jessop.
“I do not have the time to argue, my friend as once the sun goes down so does the magic that allows me to enter the Shadow Lands. I am responsible for this boy being here in the enchanted land. I told him the risks and still he agreed to come and be a part of this escapade. He deserves to live. How long Mab decides he should, is up to her, but I know in my very bones that she would not desert someone as brave as he. Wish me luck, for I must go. If all goes well, I will see you tomorrow with young Shamus O’Brian. If not, then this will be goodbye!”
Tam turned his back on his friends and walked into a deep shadow behind a tree and was gone through the portal. Frantically he searched for a ley-line that would take him to the palace and found one that ended in the throne room. In the dimensionless reaches of the Shadow Lands soul-suckers and other predators became aware of fresh energies on the edge of their scope. They began to swarm towards the lay-line leading to Mab’s home. Tam once again conjured up a wind that filled his waistcoat and blew towards the end of the ley-line leading to Mab’s throne room. He made himself almost weightless so that he could be blown along the ley-line. A soul-eater reared up from out of the darkness and Tam blew the dragon whistle as hard as he could and the fiend shrieked and faded away. Something with a long tentacle tried to wrap itself around the leprechaun’s sack and pull it away. Tam brought the lump on the end of his gnarly stick down hard on whatever owned the long feeler and it let go. There was a bubbling sound of anger and more tentacles rose out of the murky fog as a soul-sucker spread itself over the ley-line. Once again Tam used the whistle and the thing retreated, squealing with rage. The trouble was that he had been here too often of late and the creatures that hunt life down amongst the shadows were sensitised to him. Now he could hear slithering sounds as if bundles of snakes were trying to escape from a marsh. More and more of the creatures of the darkness were making their way towards him eager to feed upon his very soul. They could feel his terror and this exited them more. The shrieks of the weaker things being sucked into oblivion filled his ears as they crawled over each other trying to reach him. Now he was blowing the dragon whistle almost continually, but as time went by with less and less effect. His knee throbbed with pain and his grip on the sack was beginning to slip. The sack itself was beginning to unravel and every so often Tam could feel Shamus move inside. As the power began to weaken, time carried on inside the travelling sack, instead of being stopped. When it did this, Shamus became aware of the horrors outside the sack trying to get in. Again and again Tam brought down the gnarly stick onto questing feelers and watched as they burst. Then he became aware of a pearly radiance that was strengthening and casting hated light into the corners of the shadow lands. Now he could clearly see the things that hunted here and his blood ran cold.
A silvery voice filled the void and called out, “This way, Tam O’ the Shadows. I heard the sound of the whistle. Come to me and we will get out of this awful place. You have been using this gift for too long my brave boy. Far too long!”
Tam gave a sigh of relief and made his way towards the light and saw the winged figure of his queen silhouetted by a portal of shining luminosity. She was sending beams of incandescent light into the gloomy fog clearing it away and the creatures of darkness struggled to get away from being seen by other larger things that would feed upon them. She exerted her will and seized hold of him, pulling him to the portal. He dragged the travelling sack through the opening and fell upon the floor behind the throne.
A vision of pure loveliness knelt down beside him and placed her cool hands upon his forehead. Her hair cascaded around the two of them making a small private tent of black and silver hair over their faces. She entered his mind and listened and saw all that he had done until she had the complete story. Mab kissed Tam on his forehead and strength flooded his nervous system. Without another thought she healed the twisted knee and ran her fingers through the silvery locks of Tam’s hair turning it back to a fiery ginger. Understanding the cost of Tam’s excursions through the Shadow Lands and the terrible toll that this would exact upon his body, she healed him by her touch. She flooded him with her life and the years slipped back.
Just as the last of the magic oozed out of the sack Shamus O’Brian returned to a rapidly aging body and sat shakily upright, as the sides of the sack gave way and dropped to the floor.
“Where am I, Tam?” He asked.
“Safe my boy, quite safe now,” the leprechaun replied. “Meet Queen Mab.”
Through filmy eyes Shamus stared at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and said, “Everything was worth it, just to see you, but not for long as I suspect that I am dying.”
“Not yet young dragon-slayer. Not yet. I cannot return you to full life as a human, but Tam O’ the Shadows has vouched for you. So I can offer you a life as an elf or a leprechaun if you so wish. The body that was conjured up for you is a mixture of elf, leprechaun, gnome, troll and even a tree! There is very little human to work with.”
“If it pleases master Shadow I would be perfectly happy to become a leprechaun,” Shamus replied and dropped onto his back with exhaustion, feeling the weight of his vanishing years.
Mab put her left-hand on his chest, sliding it between his ragged shirt and his skin. She placed her right hand on Tam O’ Shadow’s head and concentrated her mind. The Queen could feel the heartbeat begin to slow into stillness and pushed her mind throughout his body copying the cell structure of the leprechaun’s and giving the new body a surge of her own life energy. Shamus’s hair began to change back into the dark ginger locks that he usually tied back. The hairs on his arms and the rest of his body lost the pale silvery look of extreme age. His muscles filled out and his bones shrank to his new size whilst the adolescent smoothness of his chin now sported a beard. Apart from the slightly darker hair, he made a remarkable likeness of Tam. The only problem was that all of his clothes fell off as Tam’s original spell to make them fit had perished.
Queen Mab reached into the air and took a sheet from one of the many beds in the castle and translated it into her hands. She wrapped it around the boy’s shoulders and looked him up and down.
“Well Tam O’ the Shadows it would seem that you have an adopted son to teach the ways of those who live in the enchanted lands. There will be no more excursions from the humans into my realm, as I have closed all the portals. So, young dragon-slayer, this is now your permanent home. You could never go back anyway, once you had eaten and drunk here,” Mab told him.
Shamus stood up and found that he now came up to the Queen’s waist, but he knew by his association with Tam, once he had learnt how, he could be any size that he wanted.
He bowed his head and said, “Thank you Queen Mab for my new life. If there is anything that I can do for you in return, just ask and it will be done.”
Queen Mab called over one of her people and said, “Take this young leprechaun and see that he is properly dressed, also take Tad O’ the Shadows with you, before all his clothes fall off!”
She watched them walk out of sight talking to each other and thought to herself, “The boy can read the runes on the ancient maps left here by earlier humans. I have a problem with Ogres at the far west of my realm. Maybe he could be part of the solution to my problem? He could take at least a century or so before he is ready, as he has much to learn, but there is plenty of time.”
Barry E Woodham. 14.06.2016.
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