The 'Follow on from The Seven League Boots.
Years had passed in the enchanted lands and Shamus O’Brian was still learning how to become a leprechaun. He was busily absorbing the hallowed trade of Boot and Shoe maker under Tam O’ Shadow’s tutelage. He was a willing pupil and was quite happy with his lot. He had come to the leprechaun’s house in the whispering woods to steal his gold and a pair of ‘Seven League Boots’ through a now closed portal between the two worlds. The boots had killed him when he had tried to use them to make his way back to the early settlements of his people. He had got Tam drunk on Poteen and had taken the pixie’s gold and the magic boots that would carry the person twenty odd miles in any direction. He had given the password, ‘Stride’ and had not kept his legs together so most of him stayed where he was and the other boot plus his leg, had vanished towards the portal. When Tam had woken up he had found the dead boy and immediately understood what had happened. So he ‘called’ the other boot back and buried the boy under the enchanted apple tree at the back of his cottage. He had made the magic boots on orders from the Queen and had received a royal summons to come immediately to her castle.
There he learned the reason for the manufacture of the boots. Some humans looking for gold had mistakenly awoken a dragon that Queen Mab had buried under a glacier far to the north centuries ago. He ate them and proceeded to pillage the towns and villages in-between searching for the females that Mab had buried also. As the Queen could not kill such a creature of pure magic, she called Tam O’ the Shadows to her side to destroy him before he found his females and unleashed a plague of dragons on her people. She added a great deal of her personal powers to the boots to aid her chosen champion.
Tam had returned to his cottage and resurrected Shamus by lending him some of his and his companions’ life-force, as the human could read the runes on ancient maps drawn by his ancestors. They had succeeded, but the life began to run out for the boy on the way back. Tam had just got him back to Queen Mab’s castle in time for her to use her powers to make him into something else. Given a choice, Shamus had decided to become a leprechaun and was left in Tam’s care.
Shamus was sewing the last threads into the enchanted leather that had once been part of a dragon’s wing when he ‘heard’ a voice in his mind.
“I need the two of you. Come now,” the summons rattled through his brain.
Shamus stood up immediately and turned to his mentor and asked, “Was that her?”
“It was indeed our Queen,” Tam replied. “When she calls we come. She will have a task that she will wish preformed. Do not think for one moment that you could refuse.”
“I have always thought of her to be kind and generous. What right has she to order us about and risk our lives?”
“You are alive because of her generosity young Shamus. Think on that! You have no idea what our Queen endures to keep this kingdom safe. Sometimes she needs our help and we gladly give it. Whatever she wants, be it my life itself, she has the right to ask. Just remember that we defeated a dragon and you have made your boots with the skin from his wings. Mog gave you enough, to craft into boots for you and I to be able to use. The rest of it went to Matt-cinder, goblin blacksmith to the folk of Little Creek. You came here to steal from such as I and died here for it. I brought you back to life to offer you the chance to redeem yourself, which you did and Queen Mab gave you another body brimming with life and vitality. You owe her! Not the other way around!”
“I am sorry,” Shamus replied and gathered up his tools. “I was wrong to say the things that I did, but I was not prepared. Things are so different here and sometimes I am out of tune with the way you accept a ‘no questions bondage,’ to her needs.”
Tam looked at the boy and smiled as he also put away his tools.
“I did not mean to be so harsh, young man,” he answered as he swung the bag of tools over his shoulder. “It is a way of life that has endured for thousands and thousands of years. This world is far older than the one that you were born into and has a history that goes back eons. Many wars were fought between the different races until Queen Mab applied her unifying hand. Since then we have learnt to live together and just enjoy our long lives. She does not lightly ask that we risk our lives unless the need is great. She is a force of good, but sometimes she needs us to do the ‘dirty work’ that keeps the realm safe, just as we did with Knorrd the dragon.”
The two leprechauns walked back into the cottage and proceeded to alter their clothing to something more appropriate. Both of them put on a waistcoat of many pockets with an over-jacket and a stout pair of trousers. The next thing to be worn, were the new boots that they had both finished stitching. Tam had instructed Shamus how to draw the magic of the realm into the new Seven League Boots so that they could use the swift movement. The many pocketed waistcoats were then filled to a bursting point with thread, needles, candles, travelling sacks, stocked with food and drink. Once they were both sure that every useful thing had been shrunken and hidden away inside the pockets they were ready to leave.
Shamus stopped before going out the front door and said, “There is one more thing that I must do before we leave and that is to explain to the tree that we will be gone for a while. Through her I can also speak to the whispering wood and ask that if we need help it will be there!”
He exited the door and walked around the back where the apple tree was flourishing. There were thousands of blossoms and also many apples that were turning red. Shamus put his hands on what once was his grave-tree and centred his thoughts into the sap of the tree where the spirit of wood lay dormant.
“Listen to me,” he thought and felt the bark come alive under his hands. “I am going away for some time and I do not know when I shall return. I may become in danger and need your help. I ask that if I need you, you will help?”
“Sssssaaamus. I hear you. I am a small part of you. I am always there inside your heart. Stretch out your hand and take only the ripest apples that you can see. When you need them, you will know! Be at peace with the spirit of wood.”
Shamus withdrew his hands and reached up for the apples presented by the branches of the tree that bent towards him. He filled his travelling sack with as many as the tree would release and shrunk them down. Tam O’ Shadow watched in wonder as his protégée ‘talked’ with the tree and gathered the apples into his sack. This was a gift unique to the human that Mab had turned into a leprechaun, caused by the fact that when Tam had buried the corpse of the young man he had been partially absorbed by the tree. When Tam resurrected him, some of the tree came with him. Since then Shamus had demonstrated to him that he could ask for water from any tree and the tree would send it to him from the root system, pure and cool.
Tam O’ Shadow stood outside of his house and gestured to the poison ivy and thorny rambling roses. He watched as the growth of the plants spread all over the cottage making it safe, covering every door and window.
Satisfied he turned towards the direction of Mab’s castle and asked, “Are you ready?”
“That I am master Shadow,” the young man replied.
Together they gave the command, “Grow twenty times.”
The two leprechauns shot up in size until they could see over the tops of the trees.
Tam shouted out, “Remember Shamus to keep your legs together! Stride!”
It did not take long for the ‘Whispering Wood’ to thin out and turn into the managed meadows of the castle that Queen Mab had made her home. Flocks of sheep and herds of cows filled the rolling hills surrounding the castle. Thousands of fowls of all description pecked and scratched at the fertile earth. A river wound through the landscape that was dotted with farms that supplied the needs of the castle.
Shamus O’Brian felt more than a little nervous as they approached the grey stone walls. The last time he had been here was when Tam O’ Shadow had taken him through the Shadow Lands, as he began to die. He had very little life-force left in his composite body when the travelling sack had fallen to pieces around his aged frame. Queen Mab had given him a choice to become one of the faery folk or die in the next few minutes!
Since then he had left his humanity behind him and had set out to learn about being a leprechaun. He had become a creature of magic, bound by an entirely different set of rules. Mastering changing his size had taken quite a while, but with the perseverance that Tam applied, eventually Shamus achieved the trick. Once this barrier had gone down, then he found that there were many other magical abilities that the pixie body that housed him could do. The one thing that he could do that mystified Tam was his ability to speak with trees! This ability came about when Tam had buried the remains of the human under the bewitched apple tree in the garden of his cottage. When he resurrected Shamus, part of his psyche was carried over into the new body from the tree. Now this was part of his life. He still had an awful amount to learn and studied hard, slowly beginning to understand how the magic worked in the Enchanted Land. Every living thing on this world was connected by a living force that was linked together. The faery folk could tap into this source of power and could use it in many different ways. Some of them like the goblin race could not, but they could work with iron and that was a virulent poison to most of the other creatures. Again there were exceptions such as the giant birds that could carry iron weapons without side effects. Shamus had once had that ability, but no longer, as he was a copy of Tam and was sensitive to all forms of magic and allergic to iron.
In view of the castle, both leprechauns reverted to their normal size and cut down the amount of ground that they could cover. Now the boots became a blur as the two of them took normal steps, but very quickly, drawing on the power that leaked out of the ground. Tam and Shamus stopped in front of the great studded doors and waited for them to open.
The large counter-weight dropped slowly out of sight and the double doors swung open. Behind them were the same company of elves that Tam had met on his journey with the first Seven League Boots.
The captain of the guard nervously nodded to Tam and said, “Welcome Dragon slayer. I apologise for my bad manners when we first met. The Queen awaits you in her throne room.”
Tam smiled and patted him on the arm replying, “Bygones dear fellow, bygones! I bear no ill will. I trust that it took some time to return to your post? I trust that you had a soft landing from the kick of my boot?”
He turned to Shamus and said, “Time we made our way to the royal presence, young Shawn and find out what she wants of us.”
Shamus stared around at the incredible carvings stood against the walls, as they walked through the interconnected halls. They looked as if they were modeled from life, as if they were frozen in the act of just being there!
“Who are these people that have been carved from stone?” asked Shamus as he swiveled around to marvel at the perfect statues.
“Not are, but were my young friend. They were a nasty bunch of humans who found a way into the enchanted realm centuries ago and tried to stay here. Queen Mab turned them to stone and left them here to watch over us! That’s when she decided to take up residence here and make it her home. Since that day artisans of all kinds have made their way here and worked on the basic building to make it beautiful. The stone ones, being human, they were very susceptible to her powers and thus easy to control. It takes a lot of magic to keep them as they are and Mab is determined that they should stay there until needed.”
Shamus stared at the fearsome army that lined the walls and asked, “If she could do this, then why did she not turn Knorrd to stone instead of risking all of our lives?”
“Dragons are magical creatures and cannot easily be managed by the power that Mab possesses, so another way was sought. It took her centuries to recover from when she sealed the dragons under the ice. Besides, those such as the faery folk need an adventure from time to time. Did you not see wonders that would have never been seen had you stayed in your world? Did you not find in your heart a bravery that otherwise you would have never found? Also you now walk this realm with a new body that will last an indefinite time. The magic that you are learning will take you on journeys that you could not imagine! Now, I do not want to hear any disrespect when Queen Mab speaks to you. Be humble or you will feel the weight of my boot on your backside!”
Tam increased his height until he was the same size as the Queen and Shamus followed suit until they both could look her in the eye. Mab looked at the young leprechaun that she had created and gave a grunt of satisfaction.
Mab caught hold of his small ginger beard, gave it a tug and said “Young man, I see that you have mastered the rudiments of your pixie existence. Does he show that he can use the gift, Tam old friend?”
“He shows promise great Queen,” replied the leprechaun. “He has an ability that I have never seen before! He can talk to trees! We were becoming low on water when we were travelling to where the Roc live, he asked for water and the tree gave him enough to fill the containers in his travelling sack! I enjoy his company, my Queen and am very happy that you placed him in my care. Now you have not summoned the two of us here just to talk. Surely we do not have to pit our wits against a second dragon?”
“No dear friend it is not a dragon that is giving me trouble this time, but a family of Ogres have built an independent portal and have begun to raid the human world for fresh meat. Their favourite food is human children and if there is one thing that humans will respond to, it’s the loss of their young ones. They will swarm through that portal when the ides are favourable and they will come through with iron weapons and armour. Not understanding what the creatures are that have taken their children, I expect a killing wave that will spread out over the countryside as they seek their offspring. That portal must be destroyed and the Ogres put down like the foul creatures that they are, before this can happen. Once again I will need you to put a team together and sally forth on my behalf to do my bidding,” the Queen instructed.
“Will you do this for me young Shamus? Would you risk your life in my service and help to keep this realm safe?”
She turned and ran her fingers through his hair as she asked,
“Madam, I would do anything that you asked. You took a stranger to your lands and allowed Tam O’ the Shadows to give me a second chance. When I was dying, you gave me life and left me in the care of a very wise man. I have learnt so much and realise that there is still much to learn. Ask and I will do my best to fulfil your desires,” the changeling replied.
Mab smiled at Shamus, reached forwards gripping his pointed ears and drew him into her embrace. When she kissed him, a massive flow of sheer magic power entered his body and lit up his soul. For a few precious moments he shared her mind and felt the incredible age of this eldritch woman. She was thousands of years old, but still had a young mind and body with the same appetites!
“I will see you in the morning dear Tam and allow you the opportunity to find those who travelled with you the last time,” she said. “They are here in my castle somewhere, as I summoned them all some time ago. This young lad will warm my bed tonight and learn how to please me in love’s pleasures. It’s been far too long since I last took a partner to my chambers and a virgin as well!”
Tam bowed and turned away smiling. He was not surprised that Shamus had been picked by the Queen to quench her desires, as Tam and Mab had a long history together. He made his way towards the great hall where he expected to find his great friend, Mog the Troll and Jessop the winged elf. Arifan and Aisled would be working in the kitchens and would soon know that he had arrived. The one that had also been summoned from Little Creek was the goblin-smith, Matt-cinder. Tam was not sure whether he would have made the distance here yet, as it was a fair journey without magic boots!
He strode through the corridors until he came to the great banqueting hall and stood in the doorway looking for his friends, when he saw a figure that he could not miss!
Mog the Troll stepped over the tables until he stood towering over his leprechaun friend and reached down to pick him up. Held tight in those stony arms there was very little that Tam could do but gasp.
“Dear friend,” he boomed, covering Tam with the aroma of many pies and a roast pig. “We are off again I believe, to pastures new. Not another dragon I hope?”
The necklace of dragon’s teeth pressed against the leprechaun’s chest and pricked him through his waistcoat as he cried, “Put me down you great oaf! Have you seen the others?”
Mog laughed and set Tam down onto the tiled floor and replied, “I have that. Jessop is tucked away with an old lady friend and the gnomes are working in the kitchen. Matt-cinder arrived here yesterday and is also in the kitchens studying the ovens and other cooking equipment. Where is the boy? Have you left him in your home? Is he settling down as a leprechaun?”
“Oh, he is here alright. Queen Mab has him in her chambers teaching him the mechanics of love! If he can still walk in the morning I will eat my boots!”
Mog grinned and stuffed yet another pie into his massive mouth and said, “Well she made him, so it’s her choice what she does with him. Lucky lad! How has his teaching been? Will he master the magic arts as you have? Does he have the power and the strength of will?”
Tam laughed and patted the Troll on his knee and answered, “He never ceases to amaze me, as he has a different set of gifts as well as the ones that I have taught him. He fills my days with questions and observations. There is still very much that he must learn, but I have high hopes of him and I bless the day that Queen Mab put him in my charge.”
The Troll reached over the table where a fresh platter of pies had been placed and shovelled half a dozen pies into his mouth and asked in a cloud of crumbs, “Well old friend where are we off to now? What adversary has the Queen found to need our help again?”
“No dragon this time. Something quite worse and liable to cause a terrible upheaval if we cannot stop what is happening. A family of Ogres have managed to build an independent portal into the human world where they hunt children for their appetites to fasten on. If there is one thing that will stir up the humans more than anything it is the abduction of their children. Armed with weapons of iron they will come swarming through the portal bent on killing everything they see as different from them. Elf, goblin, gnome, troll or leprechaun, it will not matter to them, whether they kill Ogres or us, as long as they stop the stealing of their children. They are far to the west and we need the boy to read the maps in the castle library to get some idea of the geography of that area. We need to know what we will face in that region.”
Mog shrugged his massive shoulders and replied, “Does it really matter? Surely all we have to do is to travel west along the Great West Road until we come to where these creatures live and then thump them into the ground!”
“Spoken like a typical Troll. Brawn and little brain,” Tam replied sarcastically! “Did you not hear me say that they have built an independent portal into the human world? Ogres are clever and very devious. There could be all sorts of traps set up, to take the unwary traveller. We need to understand the area around where they live. Humans are avid map makers and write down anything of interest that they may find. We found the maps of the far north very useful when we planned the strategy to outwit the dragon. A day spent looking at the maps held here will be time well spent in planning our campaign. So for now I want you to find Jessop and the others in the kitchens and tell them I am here and a brief outline of Queen Mab’s latest task. I need some food and a place to sleep while you are gone. In the morning you will find me here under the table and out of the way. When I wake, the boy and I will peruse the maps and decide what our first steps will be. Goodnight old friend.”
With that the leprechaun helped himself to a plate of home-baked pies and a bowl of cooked vegetables covered in a red-wine sauce. He followed that with a glass of cider and pulled a duvet from out of his waistcoat pocket. This he laid upon the floor underneath the table and was soon asleep, totally oblivious to the hub-bub surrounding him.
During the night, time and time again Shamus had satisfied the Queen’s needs until he became exhausted and fell into a deep sleep. She looked down on him with a smile on her lips and ran her fingers through the downy chest hair that covered his body from tip to toe. She had made him well and strong so it would not tax him too much to give a little back. As she bent over him, her long black hair with the silver streak spilled over his face and made a tent over his head and neck. Mab bared her sharp teeth and sank them gently into his neck and began to draw his life blood out. She was careful not to take too much, as he would need all of his strength in the morning. Then she gave him some back, mixed with hers, by slitting her thumb with a sharp finger nail and allowing the blood to drip into his mouth, where under her influence, she made him swallow. Now should he need it, there would be a reservoir of power as a back-up to draw upon and she would always know where he was. She licked the last of his blood from his neck and healed the skin together so that he would never know that she had feasted upon him after their sexual lusts had been satisfied. There was much about the faery realm that the young leprechaun had yet to learn and it would be best if he found out in small doses.
Queen Mab gave a flutter of her silver wings and rose above the bed that had seen so much action. She paused for a few moments above him and then darted out of the window to enjoy the warmth of the rising sun, as she rose to the top of the tower. Once there, she perched on the battlements and sent her mind on a scrying trip around her realm. All the female dragons were still safely buried under many tons of ice and the area where Knorrd had laid waste was once again being ploughed and worked to feed the people. The towns however would need a lot of re-building to come back to their former glory.
She sent her mind to the township of Little Creek, a thriving goblin enclave and looked over it. The goblins were mindful of the ecological damage that could be done if the population grew too swiftly. Everything was being kept in order according to her rules and she was satisfied.
She was satisfied that all was as it should be, but when she cast her mind to the West, there was a cloudiness to the visions that she tried to see. Whatever the Ogres were doing in that wild and inhospitable place was upsetting her scrying abilities. It was similar to the use of iron by the collection of the sky stones that the goblins could work in their forges. She could never get an accurate vision of the goblin territory, because of their immunity to the effects of the poison metal and their use of it. Nevertheless the goblins had never been a problem for her so she left them to get on with their lives, as they interfered with none of the many races of faery folk living under her protection. Their knowledge of better agricultural methods and tool making made them a valuable asset. The son of their Mayor, Matt-cinder, had been the one person that could forge the lance-head that he and the human boy had driven into the armpit of the dragon into his organs. Now she had ‘called’ him to travel with Tam O’ the Shadows and whoever extra he chose knowing that he would be useful in some way. She sent her mind down into the banqueting hall and found that her brave leprechaun was still fast asleep under the table. Mab picked up a mug of water and guided it under the wooden spars and emptied it over the sleeping form.
Tam awoke very suddenly and looked around for the one responsible for the drenching and saw no-one near him.
“Get up, lazybones! Its time you were gathering up your party. Yes, the boy is still alive and its time he was on his way towards you. Then it’s to the library and a study of the maps,” the Queen buzzed around his brain.
“My Lady! Give me a chance to wake up! I do not think well on an empty stomach so I will have some breakfast before I do anything,” the leprechaun grumpily replied, drying himself with the edge of the duvet.
Mog lumbered into sight at that moment and laughed at the wet pixie sat underneath the table saying, “Oh dear me! Did Queen Mab wake you?”
Tam threw the empty jug at Mog where it shattered on his stony chest and replied, “Very observant of you stone head! I would have thought that after a night of endless passion she might have slept past the dawn!”
“I take it that you have not seen the boy then? I have found all of the others and they will be along shortly,” he said and began stuffing freshly cooked food into his huge mouth.
Tam O’ Shadow wriggled out from underneath the table and shrank the duvet to fit into a pocket of his waistcoat, after making sure it was dry. There was every sort of food laid out on the table tops all over the hall. The magic ovens of the castle only had to be taught once how to cook something and they could repeat it endlessly. All the raw ingredients came from the cloning chambers and were duplicated every time they were used. Fruit was picked fresh and replicated by the basketful.
Once Tam had finished his breakfast he made his way to the Queen’s bedroom to find Shamus still fast asleep. Feeling a tad mischievous Tam reached for the jug of water by the side of the bed and emptied the contents over his crotch. Shamus leapt out of bed and staggered around the room as the muscles of his legs cramped up. He eventually ended up kneeling at the foot of the bed clutching his erect member and groaning.
“Put the fire out have I? Never mind young Shamus, the ache will go away once you have emptied your bladder! You are not the first to come from the Queen’s bed in that state,” he chuckled and helped the young leprechaun to his feet. Through that archway is the urinal, so go and pee down the hole and you will soon feel better!”
Shamus tottered to the room and then had to try to bend himself to pee downwards not up! Eventually he came out with relief stamped over his face and decanted the dehydrating invocation to make his clothes dry. As he dressed Tam noticed a few spots of blood on his collar and knew at once what had transpired. He remembered many years ago when the Queen had consecrated her love for him at the time, in that same fashion. It had given him powers over and above other leprechauns and remained with him to this very day. This was why he could travel the Shadow Lands, follow the lay-lines and take short-cuts across the realm far faster than the Seven League Boots. It was fiendishly dangerous however as it was patrolled by predators that ate the very souls from those they caught. It was the only way that Tam could get the dying Shamus to the castle and Queen Mab’s healing powers. He was not jealous of Shamus being taught the arts of love by his Queen. Such a thought would never cross his mind. His love for her was endless and without a lust for her body. If she asked he would gladly lay down his life for her if required, besides Shamus was almost a complete copy of himself so he felt honoured.
“Where is the Queen?” asked Shamus when he was fully dressed.
“Going about her business, young man as you must now go about yours. Do not expect to see her again until we have finished the task that she requires of us,” Tam replied and began walking to the door.
“Will she not want me here, now that she has taken me to her bed?”
Tam gently laughed and laid his hand upon Shamus’s shoulder, “Oh foolish, love struck boy, you have fulfilled your requirements and will not be needed again. Do you think that you were the first? In the thousands of years she has reigned she has had thousands of lovers whenever she has felt the need. Each one has been given a parting gift, as was I! You and I, we share her blood. She has taken a small amount of your blood for herself and mixed it with her own. Some of it has been returned to you. You will find as time goes by that you will have a ‘connection’ with our Queen that will enable you to use her magic mixed with your own. One of those powers will be the ability to travel the Shadow Lands by making a portal from a shadow on this world into the next. Be warned that it is a perilous way to travel and full of the most hideous deaths that you could not imagine. Let time roll by and bit by bit you will become aware of what you can do. Now you and I must pay a visit to the library and see what the maps can tell us.”
The leprechaun strode off, up a great stone staircase followed by the stiff and aching youth. They eventually came to a set of double doors leading into a well-lit room that was full of books on shelves and cabinets of drawers. Tam walked around an ancient table and gave a grunt of satisfaction as his eye caught the lettering labelled on a set of drawers above his head. He grew until he became the same size as the elves that had built and crafted the cabinet. Shamus grew alongside him until they were the same size. Both of them exerted their strength to pull out the stiff drawer that had not been moved in centuries. It would not budge!
“I will fetch Mog,” declared Tam and paused before he disappeared though the double doors. “You stay here. The last thing I need is to waste time trying to find you in this maze of rooms and corridors!”
While Tam O’ Shadow went off to get the Troll, Shamus wandered around the ancient tombs of knowledge deep in thought. The words that Tam had spoken to him about the Queen reverberated through his mind. This enchanted land he now lived in was full of the bizarre and left him in awe of what the people here could do and the variety of different forms that they took. He was far happier here than when he had been just a human boy looking for adventure.
Deep inside him he could feel the magical beat of some celestial instrument and he sent his mind inwards to try to understand it. He found himself embracing a power that pulsed through every living thing that could be used, if sparingly, to great advantage. The trick in using it, was to apply just the right amount to do the job! Shamus surfaced and stared at the reluctant drawer and reached out with his mind to fold it around the stubborn receptacle until he encased it. Then in that pocket of his mind he applied the same magic that Tad had taught him to increase and decrease his size. He shrank the drawer until it rattled inside the cabinet and pulled it smoothly out. He pulled out a bundle of maps and laid them on the table top. Many of them were drawn by his ancestors who had come here exploring. Most of the maps were of the surrounding countryside linking the castle to the great North/South and East/West roads that used the castle as the cross-roads to the enchanted realm. He found that the runic symbols had not changed much over the years that the maps had lain untouched and he could read them quite well. he began to search for maps that showed the lands to the West and was pulling an interesting one from a bundle when Tam and Mog burst into the library.
Tam stared at the maps laid on the table and asked Shamus, “How did you manage to free that drawer?”
“Simple really, master Shadow. The wood had swollen over the years, so I took the moisture out of the wood and shrunk the drawer to slide out,” Shamus replied. “I will have to teach you how to do that,” he grinned.
The map lay over the table and had a glass paper-weight holding each corner, while they all stared down at the panorama laid out before them. The castle occupied the left hand edge of the map. To the right, extended the Great West Road, that wandered over hills and through settlements on its way to the sea. Whoever had drawn the map had an eye for distance and scale, but all relevant notes were written in runic symbols. Rivers criss-crossed the road and wherever there was a bridge, then a settlement was built. There were symbols by the sides of these townships portraying who the inhabitants were. There were several places that were pictured some distance away from the Great West Road that just had the symbol for township, but nothing else.
It was Shamus who recognised the note that had been scribed into the edge of the sea at the far end of the road. He read it several times before he was sure what it said.
Shamus looked up and said to Tam and Mog, “The map was drawn by Jorvick the Red, and judging by this note, he was the only survivor from the exploring group that got to the sea. He got back to the castle on his own and left the map behind him. These runic symbols tell of a terrible fate that had befallen the rest of his men. They were all trapped and eaten by what we call Ogres. He described them as three or four times the height of a man and very hairy. Their heads were twice the size of what should have been in proportion. They had teeth like spades and great tufts of hair hanging out of their nostrils and ears. This was one slight advantage to the mapmaker in that they were slightly deaf. He was able to crawl away far enough to be able to run for his life.
They tore his men to pieces and ate them in front of him as he lay hidden. He also writes of a nearby settlement of green skinned people smaller than himself and held captive, so they must be goblins. This map was drawn centuries ago so much could be different now. The one thing that will be true is that the rivers will still be there and anything else will not have moved!”
Tam pulled a sheet of well-tanned leather from a dispenser on the wall and spread it over the map. It was as thin as silk and very supple. The leprechaun concentrated his will and transported the information on the original map onto the copy-sheet.
He passed the copy to Shamus and said, “You are the keeper of the map as you are the only one who can read it. It is time that we gathered up the other members of the group and were on our way. By now Arifan and Aisled will have baked enough food with plenty to spare. They will have packed it away in their travelling sacks by now, so we will pick them up at the banqueting hall along with Jessop and make our first move along the Great West Road.”
Shamus folded the map the maximum number of folds and after the seventh crease he shrunk it to fit inside the right hand breast pocket of his waistcoat. He followed Tam down the stairs and along the corridors until they came to the banqueting hall where the others were waiting for them. Again Shamus stopped and stared up at the warriors turned to stone and wondered about them.
“Tam! Are they still alive? Are they actually stone or are they just frozen in time? Because I have an idea,” he said and touched one of the figures on the leg.
The statue did not move or felt like anything else but solid stone. Shamus examined the weapons that the man carried and could see that they were not made of iron. Double headed hand axes wrought from bronze and hammers that he knew that he could not lift, let alone swing. Some were archers that were still carrying the long bows that each had crafted along with full quivers of arrows. All of them wore breastplates made from thick and well-seasoned leather. Shamus suddenly realised that he was ‘seeing’ beyond the stasis field to whom and what, these men and women truly were.
Tam’s voice broke off this new gift and brought Shamus back to his senses, “What do you have in mind young leprechaun?”
“Why, offer these people the chance to be alive again, if they will join us in our campaign against the Ogres. Explain the situation to them and see if several more centuries frozen like stone appeals to them. Tell them that come what may, there is no way back to the world of their origin, but if they serve us well, they will have earnt the right to stay here and live out their span. I did!”
“I will seek Mab’s permission before I do anything more,” replied Tam and concentrated his mind.
Within a few minutes the hall was full of the sound of beating butterfly wings as the Sluagh Sidhe swooped into the hall through the open windows. They were the most beautiful creatures that Shamus had ever seen and he felt small in their presence. Amongst them floated Queen Mab resplendent in her shifting colours. She smiled at Shamus and his heart catapulted into his chest and he was struck dumb. As she lowered herself to the flagstones of the hall she increased in size until she was the size of the elves.
Both Tam and Shamus were still enlarged to the size they were when perusing the maps, so were on the same statute as the Queen. Once again she concentrated with her mind and floated Tam into the air so that she could spit on his new boots reinforcing the magic that the leprechaun had in his soul. She rubbed the magic into the leather and to Shamus’s surprise she did the same to him, setting them both gently to the floor.
“I have considered your idea, young Shamus and will take these humans out of stasis and bring them back to life. I will release them one at a time and explain the situation to them and make the offer that you suggested, but I will give you the power to send them back frozen in time, should they try to disobey you or Tam. They will know this,” she informed him.
She touched the human that was wearing a necklace around his neck and the man fell choking at her feet as he drew his first breath in centuries. He knelt there staring around the hall at all the diverse faery folk and his eyes widened in wonder.
“Where am I? What is this place? Who are you and what are you?” he begged, still on his knees.
Mab bent forwards, took his hand and raised him to his feet. She placed her hand upon his forehead and took control of his mind. All he needed to know was passed over to him and he stared around with understanding.
“Gunner do you accept the conditions of my offer?” asked the Queen.
“I would be a fool not to,” he replied and looked into the eyes of a goddess. “This place was once mine. Much has been done since I ruled here. Will you wake the rest of my people from this enchanted sleep?”
“No! This is something that you must do. All you need to do is to touch them and they will awaken. You will explain to them that they have followed you into the realms of enchantment and there will be no return to your world of origin. What I offer will be no easy task to conclude and some of you will die, but you will live in this land and see wonders beyond imagination. I wish you well and commend your bravery. Now I must leave you and attend to my duties. My servant, Tam O’ Shadow will be obeyed in all things and you will listen carefully to what he says and you may return with him. He will keep you alive more than anyone. The other leprechaun Shamus O’Brian is the reason that you are no longer a statue in the hall. He is your benefactor and was once human. Keep him safe at all times for I have other tasks for him should he return!”
Gunner did as he was commanded and touched each of the men and women that he had brought through a portal long, long ago and laid down the conditions of the Queen’s offer. No-one refused.
Tam sat them around one of the many tables and bid them to eat their fill of anything that they fancied. As they ate, he filled in the basics of their task by telling them what he intended to do. When he told them about how they would travel he was met with disbelief. So Tam and Shamus demonstrated their control of becoming larger or smaller to suit overcoming problems. When they both grew to be able to touch the beams on the high ceiling they began to realise just what kind of place they were now living in. Assuming a more normal size, Tam introduced them to the rest of the company and had to smile as they stared up at the stony faced Troll with wonder, particularly when they watched as he shovelled huge handful of bread and a roast pig into his large mouth.
Mog laughed at the expressions on the human’s faces and said, “I eat now what I can put away. It could be a month before I eat again! I do have a travelling sack of my own however, but food that can be reached is food for a Troll!”
He unwound the chain that circled his waist and shoulders with a large granite ball fixed on each end.
“Good weapon for pounding dragons or Ogres,” he said and handed one of the balls to Gunner who promptly dropped it onto the flagstones with an audible clunk. “Sorry, human. I forgot how weak you are!”
As the Troll re-wound the chain around himself Gunner said, “You are an amazing creature, Mog the Troll. I admit that I could not lift such a heavy weight as that, but I would know where to place you to do the maximum damage! I would be proud to call you friend if you would have me?”
Mog laughed again and offered a finger as thick as Gunner’s wrist and they shook on it. Tam then introduced the humans to the other members of the company and Jessop flexed his wings to show them that he was different to many of the other elves and gnomes. The women that had been frozen in time were fascinated by the be-ribboned beard of Aisled that hung down her chin in plaits. They were also interested in acquiring some spare clothes and the gnomes called forth elvish tailors who packed a travelling sack with fresh cloths for both the men and the women that they could take on their way. Everything was compressed and shifted into a different dimension so that the sacks could be easily carried.
Tam called the assembly to order and directed them to all walk outside. The sun was high overhead and very few clouds hung in the sky. The leprechaun warned them that Shamus and he would grow much taller than they had demonstrated in the hall. He also warned them that they would be placed in the many pockets of their waistcoats. What he did not attempt to explain was that the two of them would also reduce the weight of the passengers so that the two ‘giants’ would be able to carry the weight. They would feel peculiar during the time that Tam and Shamus invoked the magic of the Seven League Boots, but as long as they did not fall out during the travelling they would not come to harm. Once they had stopped, a quick transference to the ground and they would revert to their previous states. All of the many pockets were designed so that anyone could stand and see out whilst the leprechauns hopped across the landscape. Some of them were sealed up travelling sacks and contained a great many items that had been shrunk down to fit.
Once everyone had been picked up and placed in the pockets, Tam and Shamus began the journey along the Great West Road. They gave the command ‘Stride’ and they began to move in giant hops along the perfectly straight road.
Gunner had decided that he would travel in Shamus’s top right pocket where he could talk to the leprechaun as they hopped further and further West.
“When I was set free by the Queen she said to me that you were once as human as I. Can you tell me how that came about?”
Shamus told him of how he had made his way into this world to steal anything of value and had found Tam O’ Shadow at his home and what had happened afterwards. He told him of his part in the destruction of the dragon and the friends that he had made here. When he described the horrors of the Shadow Lands and how Tam had taken him through them when he was dying, to get him to the Queen in the chance that she would save his life. She had turned him into Tam’s ‘younger twin brother, leaving his human frame behind and turning him into a leprechaun.
“So,” he said as they bounded along the road, “you will find that the Queen is just and she will reward those who place themselves in danger to do her will. She has granted you a return to life and in return she will expect unwavering loyalty. Her powers are great, but there are limitations to what she can do. When presented with something that she cannot solve, she sends those who in her opinion can perhaps do what is needed. I have never seen an Ogre, but I will do my best to bring them down before the damage that they will cause brings iron into this world. You have met Mog the Troll. Ogres will be perhaps bigger than even him, but much hairier and much uglier!”
“I came here with much the same idea young Shamus and look where it got me and the remains of my clan. Maybe this escapade will put my people in her ‘Good Books’? I promise that we will do whatever is asked of us just for that chance. I do not want to be frozen against a wall for hundreds of years again.”
As the sun was going down the two leprechauns could see up ahead, a wide river that had been shown on the map as also having a township spread across the bridge. It was marked on the map as Bridge-town and was occupied by goblins, according to the information that Shamus could read. It would make sense to use the boots to take them well across the river. This time Tam and Shamus slowed the boots down to just the word ‘Jump’ and they rose into the air high above the town to land on the road at the end of the bridge. Hundreds of bright green faces stared up as they soared over the town. There was a scramble for weapons and soon a determined crowd of fearful goblins began to edge across the bridge towards the two giants. Strangely they were seen to disgorge a small army of all sorts of faery folk and soon the two giants had shrunk down to their normal leprechaun size. They were surrounded by a band of very menacing humans armed and looking very dangerous. From inside this enclave came Matt-cinder who approached green and visibly empty handed.
“We mean you no harm,” he called out as he walked towards them. “We are on a quest from the great Queen Mab. Our business lies many, many miles from here. All we ask is that perhaps you could offer us some lodging from the fast approaching night?”
One of the goblins also spread his hands in the gesture denoting that he carried no weapons and said, “The Queen’s business you say? And what might that be I wonder? I am mayor of Bridge-town and am known as Leos-catcher and make you welcome. Who leads this fierce band of adventurers? I saw two giants that have since disappeared from sight. Would there be a leprechaun amongst you known as Tam O’ the Shadows who led a band of folk to destroy a dragon?”
Tam sidled out from Gunner’s circle of guards and answered, “Word gets around it would seem! I am he. It’s getting cold and my loyal humans feel the cold much more than we do, so I ask you, have you somewhere that we could all sleep?”
“As it happens we do and it is on this side of the bridge. We have a storehouse that has recently been emptied of fish that would complete your accommodation. Follow me and the rest of you Bridge-towners can all go to your homes. We are in no danger from these people. As for our guests I must warn you that there are things that live in the river below us that hunt and scavenge during the hours of pitch darkness, so make sure that the doors into the storehouse are securely locked and barred before you retire and have your weapons at hand should they be needed.”
Obedient to their leader, the rest of the goblins went off to their homes, taking the usual acceptance of doing as they were told by their elected mayor. Curiosity satisfied, they were soon inside their homes, as the mayor led the Ogre hunters to a place of retirement for the night. The humans looked around the big hall and found bales of straw that they soon unpicked to provide somewhere soft to sleep. They chanced upon a pile of empty sacks and stuffed them with the straw they had found to make impromptu beds. Gunner and his people soon settled down after Arifan and Aisled pulled dozens of hot pies and fresh fruit from the travelling sacks along with elvish beer. To Tam’s surprise several of the humans paired up and disappeared to the far edge of the hall and proceeded to enjoy themselves before going to sleep.
Gunner made his way towards where the small form of Tam O’ Shadow was settling down to sleep.
“May I speak with you before we both sleep?”
“You may indeed human warrior, for there is much that you should know! What we both shall have to face will not be easy,” the leprechaun said. “You and your people came here when there was the end of an era and the beginning of a more beneficent rule. Because the previous ruler was a curious creature he opened many portals into your world and allowed many of your kind into the enchanted realm. He had not understood that humans are greedy by nature and as tales got back, more and more of your kind transferred through the portals, seeking riches that did not exist. His days ended, by being shot with an iron tipped arrow. Queen Mab took over the guidance of the realm soon after his demise. He left her with a great deal of problems that even now she has to solve on her own or with the help of her loyal subjects.
Some of the humans that stayed here became changed by the forces that are hidden in these lands. The creatures that we are up against were once as human as you. Ogres are the embodiment of evil. They prey upon their own kind and most of all use children as delicacies. Somehow they have constructed a portal much bigger than any that have been made before. Word has reached Queen Mab’s ears that they are using their portal to enter your world of origin and are seeking out children for their ovens. Once the humans can find where the portal is on their world they will swarm through it, armed to the teeth, killing every person that does not look like them in revenge for their lost children. They will bring iron into our realm and the poisonous metal will destabilise our world. Magic will be destroyed and the land of enchantment will die. This is our task, to save the world that we love and cherish, that you will be allowed to live in and reap all the benefits that you will find out about should you survive!”
Gunner sat for a while and then said, “Shamus says that he believes that the Ogres are even bigger than Mog the Troll? Is this so?”
“They are indeed and nasty as well. Expect no mercy, for the very idea would not occur in any of them,” Tam replied and lay down in the straw to sleep.
“Thanks for the history lesson Tam O’ Shadow and the information. Be assured all my people will do whatever you decide,” Gunner answered and settled down besides the leprechaun, his brain racing through a multitude of attack plans.
In the darkness of the night something slithered out of the river and hauled itself onto the bridge. It could sense warm bodies the other side of the thick wooden doors. A savage hunger flooded its senses and it dragged the corpulent mass of tentacles up to the building. The eyes of the creature did not work so well out of water so it was nearly blind, but made up for this deficiency by being hypersensitive to any vibration. The land-squid seized hold of one of the doors with one powerful tentacle that ended in a spade-like nest of suckers and applied the other to the side of the building. It began to apply pressure to the door, forcing it inwards. One of the spars in the locking device snapped with a resounding crack and the door began to twist on its hinges, as the creature started to pull the top of the door outwards. As the gap increased other tentacles surged through the opening, forcing the door to pull off the hinges.
By now there were none that slept and everyone had armed themselves and made a semi-circle around the door. The beak of the land-squid became visible as it chewed through the door, opening wide so that it could stuff anything within reach into its maw. The women in the human enclave were all excellent archers and sent three stout arrows down into its throat, holding the beak open. Two of the humans crept to the sides of the beast with axes and drove them deeply into the joints of the two long tentacles. They immediately became flaccid and would not work. Mog the Troll had uncurled his rocks and chain and whirled it around his head and brought the two granite boulders down onto the flesh behind the beak. The land-squid blew apart showering the participants in a gooey fluid as the creature died.
Mog tore off a piece of flesh and popped it in his mouth.
He promptly spat it out and said, “Not worth the effort. Very little flavour and stringy! Nowhere near the taste of dragon!”
The Troll opened the two doors wide and dragged the land-squid to the edge of the bridge parapet and dropped the creature into the river far below. The full moon was out and gave enough light for the victors of the fight to see that when the body of their adversary hit the water, it boiled with creatures feeding off the remains. Once everyone was safely back inside Mog then lifted the door back into place and secured it with a piece of the broken spar. Several of the humans had been plucked from where they stood and flung against the wall. They were not mortally damaged, but one of them had sustained a set of broken ribs.
Tam moved to the man’s side and said, “I will heal and mend your broken bones. Lie very still and I will place my hands on the area of your injury. The pain will go and you will be totally mended. Trust me!”
To the rest of Gunner’s people what happened next was a miracle as they saw the whole side of his broken ribs move back into their normal position and true to Tam’s word, the pain disappeared.
Gunner saw a glowing light in Tam’s other hand and saw some kind of crystal and asked, “What is that glowing thing in your hand? Does it have something to do with the healing of my friend?”
Tam smiled and replied, “It is a Life-vessel that carries some of the Queen’s power and leaks a small part of her energy to my direction. I can store a little of the energy that we all carry, but take too much and the giver can die! It will be a few hours until daybreak so I suggest that we all get a little more sleep as we seem to have fed the local predators!”
As soon as the sun began to shine through the windows the assembly awoke and in the dawning light they began to see the mess that the creature had left behind. Buckets on ropes were lowered to the river and soon everyone that had been coated in the mucus and blood of the land-squid were clean. As they were enjoying breakfast, the mayor of Bridge-town paid them a visit and stared at the mess that the two doors had become.
“What happened here?” demanded the mayor as he looked at the shattered locking spar and the chunks missing from the doors.
Tam increased his size so that he was the equal of the goblin and replied, “As you said indeed last night. There are things out there in the dark of night that prey upon this town. We were visited by something from your worst nightmares with long tentacles and a beak for a mouth. My companions killed it and dropped it into the river far below.”
“We learnt ages ago not to go outside after darkness falls. We cast nets and baited hooks from the parapets of the bridge, but would not dare to set foot off the bridge after dark. You have done us a great service by killing that land-squid as it was becoming so large, as to be a threat to any of our dwelling places. It just got bigger and bigger and always hungry. We had hoped that it had moved downriver and away from the town.”
Tam leaned towards the goblin and warningly said, “I hope that you did not put us in that storehouse expecting that it would attack us, forcing us to fight for our lives!”
“Master Shadow! I would never do anything like that! Please believe me when I promise that this was just a happening that I did not foresee. In gratitude may I offer to replenish your stores with smoked fish and freshly cooked crocodile?”
Tam gave him the benefit of the doubt, accepted his offer and sent the two gnomes to fill up the travelling sacks, before they got on their way.
Tam and Shamus walked to the end of the bridge and faced towards the west. They increased their size until they were able to pick up the others and place them inside their waistcoat pockets after reducing their weights, until it became time to stop.
The double command of ‘Stride’ rang out and being very careful to keep their ankles together, the two leprechauns set off towards the sea and the Ogre’s stronghold. Gunner had a good view of the surrounding countryside from his viewpoint in Shamus’s top waistcoat pocket. He could see for miles and what he saw was a vast empty landscape of trees as far as the eye could see. The great West road cut through the undergrowth as if, like a vast shovel, something had scoured the land and laid flagstones behind in place of dirt. Wherever a river crossed its path a settlement sprung up and sometimes all manner of faery folk lived together and had cleared the forest away from the river. In these fields the inhabitants kept their livestock and planted their crops. It was soon apparent that there were creatures living in the water that were dangerous, as a long stockade had been driven into the earth to keep the river dwellers from getting into the fields. The fence enclosed every bit of the cleared land. Running along the inside of the stockade was a veranda that could be manned to keep a watch upon the riverside. Those that walked this thruway were visibly well-armed and watched the waters constantly. Once again the travellers could see that the settlement was built upon the bridge and the sides sloped outwards, so that anything trying to crawl up the sides of the bridge would find it very difficult to get over the parapets.
Tam called a halt to their travels and decanted his small army, decreasing in size until both he and Shamus were once more leprechauns and not looking like giants. Gunner positioned his men and women around the folk as a protective shield just in case there was any trouble. They stood quite still with their hands upon their weapons while Mog the Troll un-wrapped his granite balls and chain.
“This looks like another Bridgetown, young Shamus,” Tam grinned and waved to the group of elves and gnomes fearfully approaching them. “Is this place shown on the map?”
Shamus removed the map from his pocket and followed the road past the first Bridgetown with his finger and replied, “It’s here, master Shadow. They call it Bull-hoen Bridge, meaning that they breed the very best cattle hereabouts. Judging by how isolated this place, is why am I not surprised? We are about half way towards the Ogres’ stronghold according to this map, but the going will get worse as we approach the mountains that are in the way!”
Tam O’ Shadow gently pushed Gunner out of the way and walked up to the leading elf and said, “Greetings! We are on a mission of great importance for our Queen Mab. In fact what we are going to attempt to do will affect you all. Do you know anything about what the Ogres are doing at the end of the road at the edge of the great sea? We are here to try and stop them. I warn you that if we cannot stop what they are doing, we could all be in grave danger and our world also.”
“I hear you Tam O’ Shadow, dragon slayer. You are known to us, as is your protégée Shamus O’Brian and the other members of your band. Winged elves have reached Bull-hoen with the news of your exploits. You are made welcome as are the humans that travel with you.
We have a goblin amongst us who has managed to escape from the Ogres’ stronghold. What she has to tell you would be best coming from her. I believe that the mighty Mog has a rare ability amongst his kind. If it is true and he can transfer thoughts from one species to another, then it would be wise to bring the two of you together as you will learn more by looking into the goblin’s mind than just being told!”
“I am inclined to agree with you, so lead the way and we will follow,” the leprechaun replied.
Mog leaned forwards and picked up Tam and Shamus, putting them on each of his shoulders and followed the elf across the bridge.
The mayor made sure that every one of Tam’s people were attended to before he led the way to where the goblin was recovering from the ordeal of escaping from the Ogres’ stronghold.
As they entered the room that the goblin was resting inside, the elf said, “My name is Elweard. We are not sure of the goblin’s name as we have not seen one before and do not know how to pronounce it. The creature is very thin as it is a long way from here to the sea from where it came from. She came here on the back of a unicorn.”
Matt-cinder pushed forwards and said, “This person is a girl! What is your name, little one?”
“Pssst-pail is my name. I am so pleased to see one of my own people after so long,” she wept and caught hold his hand and kissed it.
Matt-cinder put his arms around her and held her tightly and told her what they wanted her to do. The gobliness nearly fainted when she was introduced to the hulking Troll, waiting outside, but believed Tam when he assured her that Mog was not an Ogre, but a Troll. Mog then produced a carving from a dragon’s tooth, hung on a loop of leather and gave it to her to put round her neck.
“This is a symbol of my friendship,” he said and explained what he was about to do.
The tiny frame of Tam O’ Shadow certainly did not frighten her, so she sat very still as Mog gently placed his forefinger on her forehead and his other one on Tam’s. Shamus placed his hand on the back of Tam’s head to enter the link as well. Pssst-pail felt a comforting warmth inside her mind and recognised the Troll and then she became aware of Tam and Shamus. In a few heartbeats both leprechauns had a clear idea of what the girl had gone through to get here and also what the Ogres had achieved with their portal. The scale of the foraging into the human world was frightening as hundreds of human children had been abducted and eaten, maybe more.
Somehow they were able to move the focus of the portal around, so they never hit the same place twice. Shamus knew what his prior people would do if they could get into the enchanted land. The slaughter would be never-ending, as revenge would be the motivation that would make them risk their lives. Also, now the humans had the use of iron and steel, they could kill any of the faery folk except goblins, just by cutting them. The disruption caused by so much iron brought through a portal, could start off a chain reaction of leaking magic. This would be the beginning of the end of the Enchanted Land. It had to be stopped!
The two leprechauns examined the route by which the girl had come to Bull-hoen. They were astonished by the speed and endurance of the unicorn that had brought her all this way. One obstacle remained and that was the ancient tunnel that led through the mountains. It was not so much the tunnel, but the scorpions that lived in the preferred darkness that would be the problem they would have to face. Going over the snow-capped mountains would be too much of a challenge for the leprechauns even in giant mode. Unfortunately the only way through was by crossing underneath.
Mog called the rest of the company to his side and transferred the knowledge from Pssst-pail’s mind to theirs. This was something completely new to the human compliment and left them dazed for some while afterwards.
The late afternoon sun was beginning to set when Tam asked, “Have you room to allow us to sleep soundly? We were offered an empty warehouse to bed down for the night at Bridge-town and we were visited by a thing from your worst nightmares. They called it a land-squid and we ended up fighting for our very lives sometime before dawn. Do you have things that hunt at night? Judging by your defences all along the riverbank, it would seem so?”
“Unfortunately we do, my new friend! There had been a breach in the fence that we are struggling to make sound. Every night something climbs out of the water and tears away what we have built during the day. Sometimes it takes one of our cattle and sometimes the herd bull drives it back into the river, but he is getting old and we fear that he will soon become food for whatever it is that attacks the weak-spot at dead of night.”
Shamus asked Elweard, “Where is this breach? Point me in the right direction for I have an idea that just might work and keep you all safe.”
The elfin mayor pointed upstream and answered, “It’s along the fence towards the end. You cannot miss it as the hole it makes is plain enough to see. Whatever you have in mind, make sure that you are back here before darkness falls.”
Tam stared at his young protégée with a mind full of questions and asked, “What are you going to do, young Shamus?”
“Come with me and see. This is something that the apple tree told me before we left. She bade me collect her reddest apples and told me that when you need them, you will know! I am the first one to say that I am not too sure of what I am about to do, but it’s worth a try,” replied the young man.
They instructed the boots to rapid travel and soon came to the end of the stockade and could see that a constant attempt to mend the enclosure had been applied. Shamus dug into his travelling sack and pulled out three apples, knelt down to push them into the earth, one at each end and one at the centre of the damaged fence. He could feel the tiny spurts of life energy from the seeds in the apples and directed them to what he wanted them to do. The seeds thrust roots into the soil and began to grow at an accelerated rate, interweaving thorny branches around the palings. The mutated apple trees spread along the stockade and made an impenetrable barrier where the hole had been. As the two leprechauns watched, the growth began to slide along the fence in two directions. Pointed branches sprouted towards the river making it impossible for anything to crawl ashore. The old fence was soon completely covered with the spiky growth and already the trees in their thousands began to flower on the inside of the stockade and soon bore fruit.
Shamus grinned at Tam and said, “Not bad, eh, for a first attempt? What say you, master Shadow?”
“Young man I must admit that I have never seen the like before! Now let us go back, where I am sure that we will get a good reception at Bull-hoen Bridge now that you have mended their fence for a great many years to come.”
With that said the two of them cranked up the speed of the boots and were soon at the road onto the bridge where they were met by a very grateful mayor. As night fell the inhabitants of the town walked the cobbled stones of the streets without fear although they still kept well away from the edge of the parapets running on both sides of the bridge.
Gunner tapped Shamus on the shoulder and said, “I don’t for one moment think that you would want to be human again, would you?”
“I came here for adventure and riches and am quite satisfied with what I have,” Shamus replied. “I would do anything to protect this enchanted land, even if I had to give up my life for it.”
Many hundreds of miles away Queen Mab smiled and did not regret her decision. She would soon regain the energy that she had lent the young leprechaun.
After an uneventful sleep Tam and Shamus were feeling quite rested. They unfurled the copy of the map that was held in the Queen’s library. The township of Bull-hoen Bridge was marked on the map with the runic symbol denoting elves-dominant. At the time that the map was drawn, the township was much smaller and settled only by elves. Obviously over the years, a few more of the faery races had moved in with the elves to exploit the river and the cleared lands gained from the surrounding forest. Just as Elweard had told them, they were not used to goblins as the nearest enclave was hundreds of miles away beyond the mountain and its tunnel. This was why they had difficulty understanding Pssst-pail’s accented speech. Matt-cinder however had no trouble and spent as much time with her as he could. To give the mayor a full understanding of what lay ahead, Tam had insisted that Mog do his thought transferral gift and pass on the knowledge before they left, to the leader of the elves.
The mind of the gobliness had shown that the Ogres had enslaved her people centuries ago and made them fear their cruelty. They ate the weak and those that could not work. Also they selected certain of the goblin children and fattened them up for later feasts. Sometime in the past a goblin engineer built a portal as a means of escape, using as part of the mechanism, the metal from a star-stone that had landed nearby. Before he could escape, he had been captured by an Ogre before he could use the portal. He wrung the secrets from his broken green body before the goblin died. What he discovered was that the goblin’s son had done most of the design work, so he paid him a visit. Hot irons soon loosened his tongue and the ogre, Broken Jaw, induced him to build a much bigger portal to accommodate their large size, so that the Ogres could hunt in the human world, where they had originally come from. Once the portal was working, their hunger was soon satiated by a steady supply of human children taken from isolated farms and villages. They soon found out that none of the faery folk could pass through the portal without aging rapidly, but if they thrust one through, it altered the focus of the portal and moved it away. Sometimes the entrance into the human world would move by hundreds of miles, but sometimes only ten and then they had to be extra careful in case the humans found the entrance and got through into their world bent on revenge.
It was this portal that Tam and his band had to destroy and if possible the stain on their realm that the Ogres represented. The first thing however was to get there through the mountain passageway, without being pulled down by thousands of hungry scorpions.
At the breakfast table Tam, Shamus and Gunner were pouring over the map when they were approached by Matt-cinder and Pssst-pail.
“Master Shadow, Pssst has put forward an idea,” said Matt-cinder. “I have told her that you can grow very tall and also shrink yourselves and us down to being very small. She wondered if you could do this and ride on the back of the unicorn that brought her here, carrying everyone in your pockets?”
Tam looked up in astonishment and said, “Yes! Shamus I and could carry all of you inside our pockets and ride him through. We would not be very heavy compared to a human or a goblin. The only problem might be that he would not want to gallop through that dark hole again.”
“His herd are on the other side of the mountain,” replied the gobliness. He would go whether or not he carried anyone. He took me through, as he hates the Ogres, because they catch and eat his mares. I would have died and been eaten had he not allowed me to ride on his back to escape. I am willing to come back with you in case you need my knowledge of the people and the conditions in the Ogres’ stronghold. All you have to do is to ask the unicorn. He is called Cortisia which means ‘The Bold One’ and I am sure that he would agree.”
Tam thought the idea through and decided to take Matt-cinder to the stables where the elves kept their steeds, as he had knowledge of horses and amongst his many smithing talents he was an excellent farrier. When they got there, they could see that the elves had treated the unicorn well. A bag of grain and fresh hay had been provided along with plenty of water. The stable door was not locked so that the unicorn could leave if he wished to.
Matt-cinder drew in his breath at the sight of the horned being. He was much taller than the goblin and broader at the shoulders by far. Up against his size the elves horses looked like foals. His hooves were the size of huge dinner-plates and had long flowing hair around them, but stained a dirty brown with scorpion juice. Also the beast was favouring a hind leg and did not want to put much weight on it.
They were startled when a deep voice said, “My name is Cortisia, master of the herd. It was I that brought the gobliness through the dark tunnel under the mountain. I have listened to the elves that have come here and they tell me that you wish to travel through that terrible place to destroy the Ogres on the other side. I too wish to return, but I cannot carry all of you!”
“Yes you can,” replied the leprechaun and told the beast his plan and the magical side of the undertaking.
Cortisia listened to Tam’s plan of the unicorn’s return through bowels of the mountain with the shrunken army and agreed.
“There is one problem that I think that you may be able to help with. The tunnel is swarming with scorpions nearly as half as large as wolves. I stamp on them, but their shelled bodies sometimes leave a lot of sharp edges and I have something stuck in my hind hoof. Can you get it out?”
“I can do better than that my friend,” said Matt-cinder. “If you feel that you can trust me, then I am sure that I can fabricate a set of bronze shoes that will protect your hooves. They will eventually fall off as they wear, but not too soon! So if you would follow me to the forge at the entrance to the stables I will see what I can do.”
They walked together to the forge where the goblin smith soon extracted the piece of tough shell from Cortisia’s hoof and began the process of making heavy bronze shoes for the unicorn. Matt was in his element as he shaped the shoes to fit. He started with flat plates and folded the edges over to give a grip downwards and then hammered out a recess in the plate to suit the hoof. Next he hammered the upstand over the upper part of the hoof to keep them in place, so that no nails would be used. He also made sure that the fronts of the hooves were reinforced, so that the unicorn could deliver a fatal kick without damaging himself. The unicorn now had a full set of bronze shoes that covered the bottom of each hoof and extended partially up towards the fetlock. The unicorn trotted out of the stables and entered the grassy field at the end of the bridge. He took off across the meadow and gave up his fastest speed.
Tam and Matt-cinder watched as the incredible beast pulled to a stop and trotted back to his new friends.
“Right! When do we depart? I am more than ready. Shrink me down and place me in one of your pockets and I will be ready to return the favour when we get to the tunnel,” the unicorn declared and tapped a little impatient dance on the hard cobbled stones of the road.
Tam, Matt-cinder and Cortisia walked to the end of the bridge where the rest of the group were waiting for them. The humans were astounded by the size of the unicorn and his golden horn. The bronze shoes were admired, as the time that Gunner and his people had entered the enchanted realm such things had not been thought of. Although the humans had travelled this way before, it still made them uneasy as the two leprechauns grew in size to the point that they could fit inside their waistcoat pockets. The one thing that made them all feel nauseous was when their density was altered so that they weighed very much less and so could be transported by the ‘false’ giants. As this was the first time that the unicorn had been altered, he was not at all happy about it, but had learnt to trust the members of the group, particularly the goblin, Matt-cinder, who was tucked up with Pssst-pail in a side pocket. The rest of the band was dotted about with Gunner in his usual position in the top right hand pocket of Shamus’s waistcoat.
Facing west, the two leprechauns gave the command of ‘Stride’ and hopped towards the mountains and the horrific passage underneath. After about ten or more ‘hops’ the two leprechauns noticed that the forest was beginning to thin out and the ground became very stony as they approached the mountain range separating this inland area from the sea. The road had now developed into a wide trench with the great flagstones laid down still looking as if they were put there yesterday. Whoever had built this road had made sure that the road was straight and flat so it plunged through any hills rather than up and down them. They could see across the plains from their height, well above the tree-tops and could see that the area was farmed and settled by a variety of different faery folk. They could also see some townships that were many miles from the road. It was puzzling to them that there were no roads leading off the great West Road from either side. It was obvious that the local people avoided this once major highway and kept away from it.
As the sun would be setting in an hour or so Tam decided to call a halt and let the ‘passengers’ stretch their legs and gather as much dead wood as they could find. No-one would sleep well this night if the fire went out, so Gunner decided that he and his people would keep a rotating watch on the fire. Cortisia was very glad to get his hooves on solid ground again and wandered up the side of the road to eat some fresh grass. The unicorn suddenly froze and sniffed the air. He gave a snort and quickly trotted back to the main party.
He walked over to where the two leprechauns were sitting and said, “Tam O’ Shadow, I can smell the scent of scorpions carried on the evening air. When I brought Pssst-pail along this sunken road we were watched by scuttling things that kept out of sight. I will never forget the smell of those creatures deep in the tunnel. If they forage as far as this for food, your people need to be alert. They sting! Too many of their stings and even I would end up paralysed on the ground becoming an easy meal it’s no wonder that the local people keep away!”
The response to this news was a hurried exodus from wood gathering with as much as they could carry. Arifan and Aisled opened the travelling sacks and shared the hot food around the group while Gunner and his people built up the fire. Mog the Troll decided that he would take up a position with his back to the fire and his stony body between the oppressive darkness of the road towards the mountains. He was one of the group of fighters that would not sleep that night, come what may. Mog sat down, wrapped the manacle around his wrist and leant against the two granite balls fixed to the chain.
“What comes this way gets crushed,” the troll declared and stared down the darkening road.
During the night, although the sounds of many jointed creatures slithering and clashing filled the darkest hours the dancing light of the large bonfire kept most of the scorpions away. Mog was the most active, leaping up and pounding the granite balls down onto the chitinous bodies. Several times something likea vast shadow flew between the Moon and the surrounding countryside, hiding it from view. Once the dawn began to show in the cloudy sky the arthropods began to vanish into the many holes drilled into the banks of the road.
“What do you think that the creatures feed on?” asked Shamus to Tad as the light of the sun began to illuminate the ancient road.
“I would think anything that they can overwhelm would do. I would not be surprised if they did not feed on each other,” replied Tam as he stood up. “What worries me is that in a battle for supremacy, the larger ones would take over the best feeding grounds. I expect that we will meet much bigger ones in the tunnels. There may even be things living in that darkness that feed on those. I would not want to bump into them, if they exist!”
“Once this must have been a busy roadway with goods from the sea being transported along the road,” Shamus said as he began to stow away his sleeping arrangements back into a travelling sack.
Gunner had been listening to the conversation and asked, “Who built this road and I would also like to know what happened to make a highway like this derelict?”
“Many thousands of years ago so the records show, there were giants in this world,” replied Tam O’ Shadow, “They were real giants, not like leprechauns, who have to trick the laws of nature to grow and shrink. No! These people were strong in giant form and easily able to form the flagstones and clear the roadways. They built great cities, travelled the world from pole to pole and were masters of magic. There is a network of roads that span this world that they left behind them after they left. We have no records of where they went or why, but their handy-work lasts right into this present day. All of the intelligent peoples that inhabit this world came from somewhere else, through portals much like the humans who have strayed into our realm. It is written that our world was dying and the magic that is part of our very existence was ebbing away. What little that was left was used to bridge over the void to colonise this world. This is a special world with very low amounts of iron. You have been told by the Queen what the poison metal will do to us and that is why we are on this quest. If enough iron is brought here there will develop pockets of ‘un-magic that will begin to destabilise this world such that we will all die. We cannot allow that to happen, Gunner. So now you know a fuller story of who we are and why we are here.”
“Listen to me Tam O’ Shadow. I have grown fond of this realm and I swear that I will do my very best to see it through, even if it costs me my life and the lives of my people. What awaits us in the tunnel I can only guess while tucked away inside your pockets, will render me and all my people helpless, as we gallop through. I have given this matter great thought and I have a suggestion to make. Let me ride the unicorn, sat behind you and Shamus. At least being able to wield a war-hammer, I may be of some use should we need it?”
“Shamus was very wise to ask the Queen to release you from your bonds, Gunner. It may be that your destiny is tied up with this quest and what will be, will be,” answered the leprechaun and beckoned over the unicorn.
Cortisia looked at the human and scornfully said, “One human and two leprechauns would make a very light load. That will not be a difficulty. However I can see that there might be another problem. When I galloped through the tunnel, Pssst-pail hung onto my neck and mane. What will all of you hang onto?”
Matt-cinder walked up to the stallion and said, “If you would permit it, I could make a rope harness that would loop around your neck and chest, giving everyone something to hold on to. I have made harnesses for horses and you are much larger than a horse, but built the same.”
Cortisia nodded his head up and down in agreement and the goblin set to work. He soon had braided a harness that provided a secure hand hold and also loops to fit their feet so that it would be possible for Gunner to swing his hammer without falling off. The two leprechauns would have to almost lie along the stallion’s shoulders and hang on for dear life.
By now all had eaten and drank from the travelling sacks, so Tam and Shamus grew in size and loaded the group into their many pockets. They faced west and gave the order ‘Stride’ and within two steps they were in sight of the tunnel. Now after unpacking Gunner and Cortisia, the two leprechauns shrank themselves and all their passengers to suit and allowed Gunner to lift them onto the broad shoulders of the leprechaun where they wriggled under the ropes and held tightly to the harness. As the unicorn was taller than the human’s shoulder he got Cortisia to edge close to the edge of the trench that led into the tunnel. From here he was able to mount and placed his feet firmly into the loops and held onto the harness with one hand and twisted the thong at the handle of his Warhammer around his wrist.
“I think that we are as ready as we will ever be, great Cortisia. It’s time we entered the tunnel,” exclaimed Gunner as he wrapped a set of furs around his upper chest and the unicorn began the initial trot to loosen up his muscles.
The size of the passageway under the mountains was daunting to look at. A statue of one of the giants stood each side of the entrance. It remained the width of the road and soared above their heads. They must have stood at least five times the height of any human and they were very similar in build, except for the horns that sprouted from each forehead. They also sported a long prehensile tail that ended in a large tuft. Apart from the horns, the faces were quite elf-like with the same pointed ears. Their eyes were slit like a cat and were larger than would be normal.
As they entered the passageway, they could feel the temperature drop as the sunlight ceased to illuminate inside and a dampness filled the air. Tam and Shamus activated the sun-stones that they had charged up during the journey here by leaving them in sunshine. They fixed them onto their hats so that they gave a glow that showed the road ahead, but still did not illuminate the roof of the tunnel as it was so high. Things began to scuttle out of the shadows and were stamped into oblivion by the unicorn’s bronze shoes. As Tam had surmised, the larger scorpions had dominated the inside of the passageway and these were just as Pssst-pail had described them. A scorpion scuttled out of the darkness, reaching forwards with its pincers. Gunner leaned over the side of Cortisia and slammed the hammer down onto the carapace between the eyes, just as the sting was twisting up for the killing stroke. The damaged creature was immediately swarming with smaller ones of its own kind, busily feeding on it. The unicorn picked up speed and really went full tilt, smashing his way through any creepy-crawly creatures that the sun-stones picked out. Time and again Cortisia lashed out with his metal shod hooves and smashed through carapaces as if they were paper. The sound of his shod hooves echoed through the passageway. Suddenly the unicorn pricked up his ears and shouted, “Look above you Gunner. I can hear the sound of wings. Something is following us. If it feeds on the scorpions I think we might have some trouble!”
He then speared a large scorpion through its mouth parts and tossed it aside before it could grasp him with its pinchers, giving another scuttling jointed creature a good trampling as he galloped on.
Tam searched amongst his weapons pocket and withdrew a modified sun-stone. This one was in a deliberately overloaded state. Tam wrapped his mind around it and lifted it high into the air until it was halfway to the roof of the tunnel. He gave it a mental nudge. And a miniature sun lit up the cavernous void behind them scattering something that loved darkness. In an instant Gunner could see what had obscured the Moon during the night. Bats! Not just bats, but creatures out of nightmares. It was no wonder that the area close to the passageway was not farmed. These things were meat eaters that hunted at night. As one of them, half blinded by the sun-stone flare, dropped onto the back of the unicorn, Gunner swung his hammer to connect. He got a quick glimpse of a mouthful of needle sharp teeth before the hammer crushed them. The flock dropped onto the dying creature and devoured it in moments. Others that had been too slow to the feast continued to flap their wings and dive onto Gunner as he swung the hammer, crushing any that came too close. They were the size of the gnomes that were being carried in Tam’s pockets at normal size. The wings ended in vicious hooks and spanned wider than Gunner’s height. He could smell the odour of rotting flesh from their breath as they flew close. The space behind them was thick with the sounds of their shrieks as they navigated by echo location as the sun-stone went dark.
Cortisia continued to gallop into the darkness ahead and entered a large chamber. Tam lofted another overloaded sun-stone into the air and held it there as the light penetrated areas that had not seen light of any kind for thousands of years. When the unicorn had galloped through the passageway with the gobliness, they had managed to see dimly by the light given off by bioluminescence funguses growing on the walls. What they had now was mightily superior to that, but it seemed that it had also attracted a greater notice by the denizens of the darkness that came swarming back every time that the light from Tam’s sun-stone went out.
Now it seemed as if the whole of the predatory life that lived inside the passageway was on the move towards them. Something long and with many legs struck out of a hole in the wall and grabbed a scorpion in a set of pinchers that could easily take off Gunner’s leg. They were galloping through a colony of these creatures and they slowed the pursuit down picking off the arthropods if they came within reach.
Someway ahead Tam could see a patch of light that illuminated another hall leading from this one and pointed it out to Shamus and said, “That looks like sunlight, but it’s not the end of the tunnel!”
“In that case I think that an apple might help us by blocking off the pursuit,” he replied and fished one out with his free hand.
Shamus waited until Cortisia entered the sunlit area before he dropped the programmed apple onto the ground. Immediately it began to sprout, driving its roots down into the ground and unfurling a network of branches that spread out, choking off the exit from the eastern side of the passageway. The tree continued to grow towards the light until it burst through into the open air, far above. Any creature that it touched became imbedded in a cocoon of thorny wood, or if on the ground became immobilised by the expanding root system. The deepening roots had by now broken through into subterranean water chambers and the passageway began to fill up behind them. A load rumble echoed through the underground system as the expanding trees began to loosen the ancient stones around the air-vent. An avalanche of debris fell over the route through the hall as Cortisia galloped onwards through the darkness and the passageway closed behind them, trapping the pursuing bats and whatever else lived in the darkness.
On and on the unicorn galloped, never slowing down or faltering in his stride while his passengers held on grimly to the harness. The unicorn took them through chamber after chamber all with air vents to the mountains above, letting in some light. Inside the many pockets of the leprechaun’s waistcoats those that were being carried were suffering a buffeting in total darkness. Every time that the unicorn stamped down on a scorpion the vibration went up his legs and into his torso, shaking the leprechauns up and down. They anchored themselves as best they could hoping that they would not get spilled out and irretrievably lost.
It seemed that this side of the air vents there were no more of the bats to descend from the darkness and only a few of the scorpions were present. After what seemed like an endless journey, a faint spot of light appeared at the exit and the setting sun shone through the passageway illuminating the way out. As the light filled the exit, Tam instructed Cortisia to slow down and stop some way before the end of the tunnel. The ‘riders’ dismounted and the leprechauns carefully removed all of their passengers. They then restored them to their proper size. After cutting the harness from the unicorn’s chest and shoulders, Gunner sat on the cold ground cradling his dripping war-hammer. He gratefully drank from the cold bottle of elfin beer that Aisled pulled out of her travelling sack.
“I do not want to do that again,” he protested and tried to wipe clean the handle and bronze hammer head with a the furs that he was wearing.
Tam laughed and said, “I don’t think that we will be coming back this way again as we sealed the passageway quite effectively! Whatever happens here my friends, we will not be going back underneath the mountains the way we came. Now according to what Pssst-pail told us in the mind-meld, the old Great West Road leads directly to the Ogres’ stronghold. What we need to do is to make our way to her village and make contact with the goblins that live there. Then we need to find where the portal is located and see what we can do to destroy it.”
Tam and Shamus increased their size until they were the same size as the humans. Before the sun went down completely, all of the group made a last moment check to see that they had left nothing behind to make the Ogres suspicious or wary that the passageway had been used.
Cortisia tossed his head, flaring out his mane and said, “I have had enough adventuring for today my good friends, but if you need me, get word to me and I will come with the rest of the herd.”
“Thank you for all that you have done. Without you, things would have been impossible. I will not forget your bravery in returning through that tunnel! Now return to your herd and we will get on with what we came for,” replied Tam O’ Shadow and turned to Pssst-pail to ask, “Will you take us to your village without us being seen?”
The gobliness grabbed Matt-cinder by the hand and pointed to a narrow path that hugged the cliff wall and led the way. There was enough of the fading light to ensure that they could all follow the girl without having to use the sun-stones to light the way. Ogres may be slightly deaf, but their eyesight was good and any lights moving on the path to the goblin’s village would attract their attention. Keeping the wall to their right hand, the group moved as quickly as they could. Mog carried the two leprechauns, one on each shoulder along the pathway, making sure that he did not tread on any of the humans that were following the two goblins. Now with the sun down and a full moon high in the sky the light given was more than sufficient for the members of the group to see where they were going. The sound of the surf pounding on rocks grew louder as they neared the village by the sea.
Pssst-pail held her hand up to stop the small army that followed her and said, “Wait here for a while and I will go ahead and tell them that our deliverers have come.”
Tam watched the gobliness run out of sight and said to Shamus, “So that’s why she rode the unicorn through the tunnel! Somehow I feel the influence of Queen Mab in this escapade. There are a lot of things that make sense if you add her to the equation! She uses her magic to the limit of her abilities and she uses it well. I often wonder if she can see the future, or is it the many branches of what could be, that she chooses one to become what would be?”
Shamus sat quietly on Mog’s shoulder and thoughtfully answered, “My being here depended on your decision to resurrect me from my grave. She rescued us from the Shadow Lands just in time and transformed me into your younger twin. Now we once again are put to the test in defence of her realm. I am content with my lot and will do my utmost to prevent the destruction of this world and all that live in it. I do not mind being a changeling, as I have a much more interesting life than before!”
Mog spoke and said, “She comes! With her is an older goblin that wears a chain of office. I will put you down so that you can meet with good manners!”
Both leprechauns decreased their size to that of Matt-cinder’s and waited for Pssst-pail to present the village leader to them. What they were not prepared for was that the old goblin knelt at their feet and hugged their boots making fearful glances at the band of well-armed, larger humans.
“Enough, good sir! Get off your knees and stand. We are here to destroy the Ogres’ portal into the human world, sent by Queen Mab herself. We ask shelter and hiding until we can get an idea of how this place is laid out. I give a solemn promise that the Ogres will be attended to in good time. First the portal, next the Ogres;- in that order,” Tam stated and helped the goblin to his feet.
Over the next few days Tam, Shamus and Gunner watched as the Ogres activated the portal and charged through, always leaving one of them on guard. When they returned they had sacks full of dead children slung over their shoulders. Gunner would have run at them whirling his Warhammer if the two leprechauns had not restrained him. His rage was terrible to contain, but he bit down on the handle of his weapon and choked off any noise.
Tam laid his hand upon the warrior’s arm and said, “Gather your people together and wait for another raiding party to go through the gate and hide them well. As soon as they have vanished from sight take down the guard and kill him as quickly as you can. Shamus will destroy the portal with one of his enchanted apples. The other thing that I want you to do is to close the gate into the stronghold after the portal has been destroyed, so that none of them can get out. It opens outwards so hammering wedges underneath will do the trick. Shamus and I will be going inside and opening a gate of our own. When you go into hiding I want you to take the goblin, Matt-cinder with you. He has developed a weapon of great accuracy called a cross-bow. He will shoot out one of the Ogre’s eyes from the top of that nearby tree. He will be about the same height as the giant’s forehead and will not miss. When he is half-blinded you can then chop him down and retreat as fast as you can to the stronghold. Fortunately for us there is only one gate into the keep. Whatever you do, do not attempt to come inside no matter what you may hear! What Shamus and I are going to do inside the Ogres’ stronghold may mean that we shall not meet with you again. If that becomes apparent, then remember that these freaks of nature were once as human as you. There is something buried here that changes a human into an Ogre over time. When this is finished you must move on and I suggest that the goblins here will be only too pleased to give you one of their fishing boats after releasing them from this terrible bondage. I will ask that you take Mog the Troll with you, along with the gnomes, Arifan and Aisled, as their knowledge of what you can eat and what will kill you will be well worth the trouble of taking them with you! Jessop, as a winged elf is always useful for scouting up ahead. Treat them all well and you will find out the value of friendship in this enchanted realm. I have a strong feeling that Matt-cinder will want to stay here as Pssst-pail has won his heart.”
“I do not understand, my little friend,” the human replied sadly, “But I will do as you say. We have come so far and every step of the way, I have followed your instructions. I take it that after we have destroyed the Ogres’ stronghold and their method of crossing over to my old home world, raiding for children, the Queen will pardon us all and allow us to settle here?”
“I have no doubt of that my brave comrade. Queen Mab does not forget acts of courageousness done in her name. First though Gunner, we have to destroy the Ogres’ portal and prevent it from ever being used again!”
Gunner nodded and stared at the formidable size of the Ogres’ portal and wondered how Shamus could possibly bring the colossal stone and metal edifice come crashing down. The two stone pillars were wider than he could span with his hands and it was as tall as six of his tallest men. The cross-piece was equally massive with an intricate carved pattern filled with hammered metal that was angled to catch the sunlight, giving it energy to store. Lightning conductors spiked out of the metal-filled carvings and drew the power down every time there was a storm. This was the time that the Ogres could alter the focus, randomly pick a new entry into the human world and travel through by sacrificing a goblin.
After a few days the door into the Keep opened and six very big Ogres exited along with a much smaller one carrying a club. Their large heads bobbed up and down on their thick-set necks as they lent over, dragging the knuckle of their free hand along the ground. All of them had a sack slung over their shoulders, except for the portal guard. They were laughing to each other and the mention of another good harvest made Gunner and his people itch to break bones. Suspecting nothing, the giants made their way to the gate and the first one placed his huge hands onto both sides of the dolmen. There was a distinct humming noise and the view through the entrance changed. It was night time on the other side and in the distance could be glimpsed the lights of a town. One by one the Ogres walked through, hardly touching the sides or the top stone. Once they were out of sight, Matt-cinder took careful aim at the Ogre and waited for him to turn his massive head towards him while Gunner and his people remained hidden. The guard remained in the same position staring into the night landscape at the backs of the kidnapping Ogres. It became obvious that he would not move from that position until the raiders returned.
Gunner lost patience and stood up from behind the tree that Matt-cinder was hidden in and threw a rock at the giant’s testicles. The Ogre screamed with rage and clutched his balls as he fell to his knees. The moment that he turned his head, the goblin let fly with the crossbow bolt and pierced his left eyeball, almost disappearing from sight. As the giant clawed at his bleeding face the humans moved in and Mog erupted from his hiding place and whirled the two granite balls round and round and buried them into the giant’s hairy head. One of Gunner’s men moved in, ducked under the Ogre’s flailing arms and cut the Ogre’s throat to make sure that he was dead. The giant fell to the ground and drained his blood into the ground at the entrance to the gate.
Tam walked around the corpse and said, “Well that was easier than I realised, but bear in mind that we had the advantage of surprise! Right, everybody move back from the portal and let Shamus do his trick.”
Shamus reached inside his travelling sack and produced an exceedingly ripe apple and sent his mind into the life glow that was inside every pip and altered the genetic makeup of each seed. He did the almost the same instruction, as he had given the apple that he had used to block the giant’s passageway on their way here. He knelt down and dug a little trench across the entrance of the portal where the blood had soaked through and squashed the apple flesh and seeds into the furrow and covered them up. Next he added some water from a flask to the giant’s blood, along the line of seeds and moved quickly out of the way.
Tam moved the entire group away from the dolmen and waited for the seedlings to begin to grow. A line of shoots began to sprout from the ground and soon reached the level of the cross piece at the top of the pillars. The seedlings soon began to thicken and branches began to jut underneath the top stone. The ground began to shake and a rumbling sound began to fill the air as the mutated apple trees grew larger and stronger, forcing the uprights apart. A snapping sound echoed around the group as goblin designed circuitry came apart and the top stone began to slide off the two uprights. Now the energy stored inside the stonework began to fizz and leak out striking the negatively charged ground and it began to spread outwards towards Tam and the rest of the group. As it did so the stone pillars began to crumble and fall apart.
Above the remains of the dolmen a dark thunder cloud dropped out of the sky and rain began to fall onto the charged device. Forked lightning played around the pillars linking them together and ignited the still expanding apple tree, snuffing out its altered life. The stench of roasting Ogre filled the air and the company retreated as fast as they could, back to the Ogres’ stronghold.
The Keep was built to the scale of the creatures that lived there and towered over the humans as they crept forwards. The grey stone walls looked impenetrable. Even the goblins that served them had little idea of just how many of the misshapen creatures actually lived there. Five of them had been marooned in the human world and would soon be hunted down for the monsters that they were. All the goblins really knew about them were the atrocities that they committed outside of their huge stone fortress. The only windows were high in the stonework and just slits, until the second level was reached. It was designed to keep any invading force outside its thick walls. Now it was going to be turned into containment for the inhabitants. Half of Gunner’s force had crept up to the great wooden door under cover of darkness and had covered themselves with brushwood and sacking. The one thing that the goblins had definite knowledge of, was the Ogre’s eating and raiding patterns. Once the portal had found a ‘rich in human life’ and poorly defended area, they would continue to ransack it every six days before resting the portal or changing its point of focus.
Once the six giants had left the adjoining area and made their way towards the portal, Gunner’s second force moved into view and before the Ogres could open the great door, more long wedges, eagerly shaped by willing goblins were hammered under the door by the humans while the women sent a hail of arrows accurately through the slits keeping those inside away from the battlements.
When Gunner and Mog arrived at the stronghold they could see that the door into the keep was being hammered from the other side and was beginning to buckle. Jessup lofted into the air and climbed upwards until he could see what was going on the other side of the door. He signalled down to Mog that there were four of the Ogres hammering a large wooden bench at the door. Mog picked up a boulder and heaved it over the battlements above the door. It came down on two of them, smashing the battering ram. Within a few moments the boulder came back over the stonework and dropped in front of Mog. His stony face broke into a grin as he hefted the boulder against the door, making it even more difficult to move the door outwards.
The moment that an Ogre put his or her face above the parapet an arrow was loosed by Gunner’s archers. From this short range the large eyes of the giants were an easy target and all attempts to get outside soon stopped. Mog quickly found another boulder and with a grunt picked it up and added it to the other one. Soon the entire village of goblins had lined up to watch their ancient enemy penned up like cattle to slaughter. Centuries of servitude and sacrifice was going to end that very night.
Late afternoon began to ease its way towards nightfall when Gunner noticed that just as Tam had implied earlier, both leprechauns were missing.
He shouted out, “Mog! Where are Tam and Shamus? I haven’t seen them since Shamus destroyed the portal. Have you any idea where they have gone? I can remember him saying that the two of them were going inside. How can they do that? We have blocked the way to get in.”
Mog turned his stony body around to face the human and replied, “The aim was to stop them coming out, my friend. Tam has a strange ‘gift’ that has been passed on to Shamus. They can open a portal into the Shadow Lands and travel very quickly, along what Tam says are Lay Lines! The problem with travelling that path is that in that dimension, lives the very epitome of terror. There are predatory creatures that feed on living souls. Tam calls them Soul-eaters. The two of them are going to entice one or more of those things into our world, inside that Keep! That is why we are to block the exit so that the creatures of death can feed upon the child killers.”
“Before we destroyed the portal, Tam took me to one side and told me that after this exercise we might not meet again. Now I understand just what he meant,” Gunner sadly answered and lowered his Warhammer and added, “Did he know this at the very beginning of this quest?”
“Tam of the Shadows knows a great deal more than he tells, my human friend. Gunner, you must accept that herein this enchanted land;- all things are the Queen’s provenance. What she cannot deal with herself she allots to certain of her most trusted vassals.”
Gunner thought for a while and asked, “What are these ‘Shadow Lands’ that you say the leprechauns can enter and travel in?”
“They are a place that you would not want to know, or find your way into, my friend,” Mog answered and shuddered. “Tam tried to explain to me once what a terrible place it was and how the things that lived there, were the stuff of nightmares. Time works differently there and if you can pick the right Lay Line and travel on that, great distances can be telescoped into short ones. That is, as long as something does not pick you off and smother your mind. Anywhere there is a deep enough shadow, it can be made into an entrance to the twisted world if you have Tam’s gift. Getting in is easy, but getting out? That takes practise and every time you enter could well be your last!”
Tam and Shamus watched as Gunner, Mog and the others made their way towards the Ogre’s stronghold to carry out the next part of the plan. Shamus searched through his pockets for the Dragon Whistle that had been made from an elf’s bone. Tam had used this instrument as a means of defence when he had carried Shamus in a traveling sack through the Shadow Lands to Queen Mab’s throne room. Now in Shamus’s hands it was to become a beckon to entice the predators to come to them. Tam of the Shadows polished the end of his gnarly stick and gripped the other end of it so that it became a club.
Tam stood by a dark shadow by the side of the demolished portal and grinned at Shamus and asked, “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I ever will be, Master Shadow,” he replied and linked his mind to Tam’s.
The darkness opened like a flower and inside there was a multitude of Ley Lines arcing into a murky distance. All places were adjacent to each other, but separated into zones. Linking these zones were the Ley Lines that held everything together. It was actually knowing where these pathways led that made it possible for Tam to travel to the destination he required. This ‘gift’ had materialised in Shamus’s mind some while after his transformation and Tam had spent a great deal of time teaching his ‘younger twin’ the rudiments of travelling the Shadow Lands. Once through the portal the two leprechauns cast their minds along the Ley Lines that spread into the distance. There were several that looked promising and each of them took ‘sight’ of where they led. Shamus found one that kinked inside the stonework of the Ogre’s stronghold. This meant that the pathway momentarily stopped and then linked off to somewhere else.
“Call the wind, master Shadow, as I have the direction and location of a jumping off point inside the Keep. We go in that direction,” Shamus stated and spread the cloth of his waistcoat with outstretched arms.
Tam ‘called’ and the wind obeyed filling the sail that they made with their clothes. Immediately, they altered their weight and were blown along the direction of the Lay Line pointing to the Ogres’ home like an autumn leaf.
As they flew through the air, Shamus took out the Dragon Whistle and began to play a slow paced tune that suddenly would quicken up in tempo. This was not to keep the creatures of darkness away, but rather to say ‘FEED’ and attract them. Soon the dark areas each side of the pathway began to seethe with competing ‘life’ that would raise up a number of tentacles seeking the new life that was traveling. Each time something made a grab for one of the leprechauns Tam clubbed it with his gnarly stick. This was usually met with a shriek that hurt the eardrums of the fleeing couple. As they got closer to the portal inside the Ogres’ dark and oppressive dining hall, they were being followed closely by Soul-eaters, Soul-suckers and a pack of nightmarish creatures all driven crazy by the sounds made by the Dragon Whistle. Just to make sure that the demons would follow through the portal, long enough for the two of them to close it; they cut across the palm of their left hands. That left a blood trail of droplets floating in the air. Live blood drove the predatory creatures wild with bloodlust and an un-escaping desire to rip and bite any living thing. If they got too close Shamus would alter the notes from the whistle and blow a shrill sound that made them draw back.
In between blasts on the whistle Shamus shouted, “The next time Queen Mab decides to send us on a quest please remind me of this moment and try to dissuade me!”
Tam laughed and replied, “You came here looking for adventures. Be sure you know what you wish for! Look ahead my protégée this is where we get off!”
The leprechauns shot through the portal going left and right, leaving an empty hole with dozens of Ogres in front of it, sat at a huge dining table. Following the blood trail out of their dimension the creatures battened onto the flesh and blood of the giants, chewing, sucking and feeding on the minds of the captive killers. Drawn by the scent of blood, other abnormal things came lurching from the doorway out of the Shadow Lands. Shrunk down to their normal size and unseen, the two leprechauns stepped back into the shadows against the wall and eventually closed the portal, marooning the denizens of that awful dimension in the Ogres’ stronghold. They watched dispassionately as one of the giants futilely clawed at the thing that was wrapped around his head, drilling into his forehead with its beak. Horn tipped tentacles had already been driven into his eyes. Others were being eaten alive by hordes of many legged creatures that were removing arms and legs and storing the parts in living bags attached to the sides of the ‘beasts’ for later use. As soon as they could see that the Shadow Land predators were exiting the dining room and hunting elsewhere Tam and Shamus decided that it was time to leave, but first they used the magic in the boots to slow down time for themselves after Shamus used up the last of his apples. What they needed was that the trees would break apart the structure of the building opening it up to the sun. Direct sunlight would kill off the creatures that they had loosed upon the Ogres, leaving just a ruin and bones. They speeded up time and watched as the tree spread upwards pushing the stonework apart and opening the roof to the sun. Every so often Shamus would come back to real time and alter the growth of the tree to make sure that there were no hidden places that a Shadow Land creature could hide. He made sure that sunlight was allowed to fill every nook and cranny of the ruined keep. Finally when both leprechauns were satisfied they debated whether they would use the Shadow Lands portal and the Ley Line that kinked off from the Ogres’ dining hall and decided not to. They could feel that there was a gathering at the portal that they would have to unlock, so they decided to miniaturise themselves and find a way through the ruins and into the open air. Once into the courtyard they both attained giant size and stepped over the battlements and onto grass. They looked back and were amazed at the growth of the apple tree and the spread.
Shamus looked up and said, “How long do you feel that we were inside that ruin? I have a feeling that it was quite some time!”
“We will find out when we reach the goblin village. They will know how long ago we destroyed the Ogres,” replied Tam as they walked along the road back.
Outside of the grey stone walls, the goblins and their deliverers, heard the screams and shrieks from inside the keep and felt no urge to enter. As the night wore on the screams grew fainter and finally stopped altogether. Several of the Ogres jumped from the battlements rather than face whatever Tam and Shamus had released inside the stronghold. Needless to say Gunner’s people soon made sure that they did not live very long.
The weeks came by and turned into months and remembering what Tam had told him about the area changing humans into misshapen Ogres over time, he put the question of leaving to the group. The grateful goblins gave the best of their boats to their deliverers and stocked it well with dried fish, meats, fruits and vegetables before making a sad farewell. Matt-cinder did not stay behind as Tam had thought, but took Pssst-pail with him.
Gunner met with the mayor of the goblin village before they set sail and said, “If my friends come this way, will you tell them that we sailed in that direction,” pointing due South.
Pssst-pail’s father looked up to the human and smiled, “I will indeed, great warrior. We will not forget what you and the leprechauns have done for us. For centuries the Ogres used us like cattle and we could do nothing to stop them. Now that the dolmen has been destroyed, we can rest easy that your kind will not someday come swarming through that gateway and slaughter us all in revenge for what the giants did on their side of the portal.”
Gunner shook the much smaller, green hand of the mayor and said, “It is time we set sail and began our journey home. Goodbye to you and all our best wishes for the future. I do not think that we will meet again good sir.”
With that Gunner stepped aboard the ship and got his ‘crew’ to cast off. As if from nowhere a steady wind began to blow and the sails filled and billowed out. He grabbed a piece of netting to get his balance and looked inquiringly at Mog the Troll.
The stony face cracked into a grin and he said, “You have earned the right to stay here, human and all of your people, but she says that there is something that needs attending to, far to the south of here. Somewhere along this way you will meet with our two friends again and that is all she will say for the moment.”
Gunner grinned at the huge troll and grasped his thumb and said, “As Shamus once said to me, he came here for adventure and so it looks did I.”
Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian walked into the village and saw Pssst-pail’s father stare at them with absolute welcome all over his face.
“Where have you been? It’s been months since the Ogres’ stronghold was destroyed and your friends have sailed due South with a fair wind behind them.”
Tam looked at Shamus and said, “Months? Somehow I can feel the manipulate fingers of our Queen stirring our destiny again.”
A silvery tinkling voice rang in their brains, “Manipulate!!!! You have done well here and there is no more mental fog in this area. Due south from here there is another problem to be cleared. The Enchanted Land still has need of your many talents. I suggest that you catch up with your friends and rejoin them!”
“Yes my Queen,” answered both leprechauns.
Barry E Woodham 23-07-2016