|The Goings on at Nut Hollow
1. Long Before and Shortly After
He knew he shouldn’t do it but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that it broke the rules, every single one of them. Breaking rules was something he was very good at especially after all the commotion at the party. The others would just not expect it and once he had it they could say whatever they liked he would not have to listen. He would have what he needed to shut them all up!
From his front door he watched them, including his mother, walk towards the Tree.
“Close up behind you please,” she said.
“Aye ok,” he shouted back.
His thoughts had more to say,
“Yes on you go, my fairy friends, just another Ceremony…just another day in the Hollow. Well not likely! Not if I have anything to do with it!”
He stretched his fingers and toes and arms and legs and most importantly his wings. He knew he was not allowed to fly but that only made him smile. He had been practicing secretly for weeks.
“When I have it, I’ll get him out and then they’ll feel the full force of the Duveline!”
His own ceremony was only a few weeks away but instead of looking forward to his first official flight his focus was on the Knife.
“Why should I wait? I’ll get it now and that will be that. They’ll never catch me, none of them…not even Greagle!”
His wings fluttered quickly behind him and he was up. In the distance he could see the ceremony reach its climax; the handle of the knife was coming out!
“C’mon Nef, this is it!” he thought.
He pushed on now circling up around the nut tree that grew above his house. He was out of sight of the crowd who were all staring at the young fairy on the stone. Up into the early branches he went and landed. Only a few seconds now…
There it was …beckoning him! Off he went his wings beating for all they were worth behind him. In the morning light he sped along the top of the river. Not far now and still the crowd did not see him. He flew towards it with the sun behind him to help cover his arrival. Faster now until the wind howled in his ears.
“Don’t do it,” it said to him.
But he did not listen. He pushed on again, his vision focussed solely on the handle. He moved his hand in front of him. It would be over in another second. He would have the knife and all the power that went with it!
“Yessss,” he hissed. He reached…
“I have – “
Suddenly his world was spinning out of control. Upside down and round and round…
The rain came straight down from the dark sky. Straight as the edge of a ruler, there was no wind to slant it. The drops bounced off Hollow River only to fall back again and be consumed. It was not night but not quite light and things were beginning to stir around Glenmak Mountain. I had my duties to attend and thought of them as I stood at my front door. I live just under the Learning Tree. The mayor’s residence has always been here and a grand affair it is. With my wife Gráinne and children, son Pog and daughter Fer we live here quite contentedly. This day was a special day indeed. One of the neighbour’s children had reached 33 and the Carving ceremony was due to take place at 12 o’clock that afternoon. I shook my head,
“I hope the rain stops or else there will be a lot of fancy hats for the bin!”
Gráinne agreed. She wasn’t really one for dressing up but the Ceremony was always a good excuse.
“Water and hats do not mix,” she sighed.
Pog and Fer were up and getting washed. We always get washed in the river, baths and all. There is nothing like jumping into the river first thing in the morning. Sometimes the water can be a little cold but it definitely wakes you up. All along Nut Hollow the sounds of morning could be heard. Starlings, robins, blackbirds and thrushes all take turns at alarm calling. Then there were the green frogs, a lazy bunch that don’t do very much at all except give an odd croak now and again. They edged along to the water and complained about the rain. Moles, mice and snails all yawning and stretching and having a small moan about getting out of bed, I’m sure humans are far too polite for that.
Fer and Pog unfolded their wings and walked slowly to the river.
“You ready?” asked Pog
“S’pose so,” replied Fer and in they jumped.
“Goodness gracious,” they both said at once.
Beyond the Learning tree down to Cross Rivers the neighbours greeted the morning. We have a lot of neighbours and thankfully we nearly all get along well. Sometimes there are rows about flying too fast or dropping nuts on peoples’ heads but not today.
“Good morning Graneff, how’s tricks?”
It was Shest. He and his wife Lirna were our immediate neighbours. They were just married and every day was as new as a snowflake. Ah, young love! They lived at number 3 Nut Hollow in around the roots of the first of the nut trees.
“Grand, thanks, just getting things in order for the Ceremony, you’ll be there of course?”
“Wouldn’t miss it, see you later.”
As I turned I heard the splash and the “Ooooh!” that always comes next.
So things proceeded well and light gradually filled the glen. I never get tired of the view as green and brown shapes emerge from the grey blanket of early morning. The dewdrops are sweetest first thing and we all had a healthy sup. I shouldn’t laugh but the young ones nearly always go for a blade of grass with a big droplet and get soaked!
We gathered around our stone table. If you leave a stone in moving water long enough it becomes wonderfully smooth. The stone sat steadily atop four nut tree branch legs, very strong! Our plates were the empty nutshells, carefully shaped by myself. I learned this at the Learning tree from my father. After a breakfast of crushed nuts and mole milk we got our special clothes from the Ceremony wardrobe. A fine wooden construction it was and stood quietly in the hallway behind the front door. The doors of the wardrobe were only opened on such occasions and were a bit stiff but I used snail oil and they soon creaked outwards (works every time). I lifted my robes off their hanger and called the others to do the same.
“Oh not again,” said Fer, “I look like a buttercup in mine!”
As the morning progressed and we got all the right clothes on as the rain that had threatened to spoil the whole event began to ease. This cheered Gráinne no end as she carefully lifted her hat from its box. This hat was given to her by her mother, Verin and was her pride and joy. It had been a present from Gráinne’s dad, Grast to her mum on their engagement. It caused a stir at the time as it was made of crushed duck down feathers which were squeezed into an empty nutshell. Duck down feathers are not easy to come by in the Hollow. The nutshell was polished until you could see all the colours that ever there were through it and was as delicate as a fairy kiss. To finish it off Gráinne’s father added threads of web that were made especially by an elderly spider, Spindler, he was particularly friendly with. When the sun shone they glistened and flowed behind the hat. There wasn’t a hat like it in the Hollow. Gráinne placed it on her head like a crown and she looked every bit a fairy queen. I pulled my coat over my shoulders and checked on Pog and Fer.
“OK, let’s go!”
2. A Gathering
As is the law at these events everyone must be aware of outsiders. Should a human see the Ceremony it could spell disaster for the whole community. I looked down the hollow and saw a great gathering of the fairy folk. They were all heading towards the Learning tree, the young in the care of the old and the old in the energy of the young. The sounds were of the ever present river mingled with fragments of conversations relating to the grand event.
“Turned out OK in the end…” said Blalim, “…nothing worse than the rain at a Ceremony.”
Blalim was one of our eldest and most respected fairies. He had seen nearly one hundred carvings in his days in the Hollow.
“Sure you were only bouncing off trees when the Great Wetting occurred. Do you remember, Graneff?”
I had to be honest with him,
“Bits and pieces, Blalim, I heard there was an awful furore amongst the ladies.”
Blalim’s eyes sparkled as he had quiet giggle to himself,
“Goodness knows Rephenne wasn’t too happy that day…hat ruined, makeup all over her chin, the second shoe was pulled from the mud after a week…the first one was never found! I never saw as many colours in the river before, and all drenched to the skin! Ah may she rest easy, you know I miss her Graneff but she’s always with me, especially on a day like this.”
“I know Blalim, she was wonderful woman.”
Away on he went looking a little sad. His wings were heavy on his back but he kept them in great order. He always said,
“You have to look after the wings, boy, you never know the minute you would need them!”
As Blalim walked on towards the Learning tree, I could see the young one for whom today would change things forever, Druichin. He looked a bit confused. His parents Aldarn and Suerna were as proud as two full bags of corn and were telling him to,
“Pull up those britches. Comb that hair. Straighten your wings immediately,” and asking,
“Did you brush your teeth? Have you practiced your carving? Can you spell your name?”
Poor Druichin...he would learn that parents couldn’t help themselves sometimes! The fairies of Druichin’s family were a little excitable. His father had to be twice asked to stop late night flying without a light. Whenever he and Suerna had a disagreement he would head for the sky and she would start to wash the house. Flying without a light around the Hollow is extremely dangerous what with birds, bees, bugs and branches. Should you do it often enough you could get your wings clipped. Nothing worse than the sting of the clipped wing. As for the washing…? Well on a few occasions poor Druichin has been chased from his bed in the middle of the night.
“Must get these sheets clean, must get these pots clean ‘cos when your father lands he’ll get them round the lug and then he’ll be needing something soft to lie down in!”
I suppose Suerna was caring in her own wonderful way. It all left Druichin a bit tired now and again. He was the sort of fairy whom you thought could just do with a few hours extra in bed. Still this was his big day and he looked quite bright. No rows last night then.
The only person allowed to fly on a Ceremony day was the First Flyer, in this case Druichin. We all treat it as a day off our duties. Of course in an emergency that law could be broken but that hasn’t happened for ages. This meant that some of the wings were not in their optimum condition, except for Blalim’s of course.
On they came… the fairies of the Hollow in all their grandeur. Some of the neighbours had gone to a good deal of bother. There were waistcoats made from bluebell petals, trousers made from dandelion stalks, dresses made from ivy leaves and not a dirty pointed ear amongst all the fairy children. The shoes were all shining and reflecting the sparkles of the stream and to say you never saw such a display of hats would be an understatement. Pointy ones, flat caps, round heads and square berets with midgy feathers.
“You’re looking well,” or “You scrub up rightly,” and “You don’t look a day over two hundred,” and even “A Ceremony and a big gulp of Cuckoo spit, I can’t wait!!” were just some of the lines to be heard.
The excitement was building for sure as each family took their place in the seats on the Seating Stone. Each family had been sitting in their place for hundreds of years and no one dared to break that tradition, not even courting couples. No the Ceremony was very special but no one would forget this one in a hurry!
3. A Major Hiccup
At a guess I would say we numbered around one hundred and twenty eight give or take. It’s important to be precise when counting. I don’t know anyone who likes to miss out on sandwiches and Nut juice after one of these dos. Of course we don’t have to stand and butter bread and boil, cool and shell eggs or cry over onions like humans. No, fairies have magic that can be used to whip up everything from yellow oranges to green bluebells. The Honour of the Sandwiches belonged to Clumser. I had heard that he was keen to make up for his efforts after the last Carving. Oh I suppose that would be thirteen years ago now. Well everything had proceeded perfectly that day as I can remember. The First Flyer, Herchia looked beautiful dressed up in a mixture of petals. Her family were beaming with pride and she had said her Special words very eloquently. Her nerves at take off were replaced with the grace of the wind under her wings and her smile would’ve shamed the sun. Her First landing was excellent and she carved her name perfectly. With the excitement everyone was ready for the food. Up steps Clumser. In a steady voice he began,
“To all from all food for the ball
In dark and light I have the right
To yummy the tummy in the Flyer’s hall
None to hunger at all tonight!”
Well that’s what he should have said. He was speaking beautifully until he got to the last line when just as he was about to say ‘hunger’ and seal the spell he let go as loud a hiccup as had been heard in the hollow.
“Uh oh!” I thought, “this could be bad!”
You see fairy magic is fine…if you get it right but if you get it wrong…! Well of course he had tried to say hunger but all we heard was a mighty ‘Hic!’ The problem was that the magic decided that the hiccup was of special significance and because the magic is stronger on a ceremony day it was no time at all before we were all hiccupping! Oh the state of us all. Now you know that if you have to hiccup you suck in wind and of course if you do that often enough the wind will have to get out. Well it wasn’t long before the rumbling started in tummies and didn’t we sound like a gale coming in. But that was not the worst of it, the escaping of the wind started and not from the way it had come in...oh no, it got out the other end! I think you know where I mean! Some of the loudest parps and poops came from the women fairies! They couldn’t believe it! Women fairies never parp in public, many don’t even parp in private but now from their lower reaches came ‘phipps’, ‘frapps’, ‘poopaloops’, ‘blubbedings’, blarfalups’ and worst of all you know that sound when you put your tongue between your lips and blow! Of course this was all a scream to the younger fairies who joined in with great gusto. The parents were helpless, all their many attempts at instilling good manners took a severe knock that day! Oh I don’t think there was a quiet night in the hollow for a week! I won’t even mention the smell!
Thirteen years was a long time to ponder on that unfortunate moment, but we hoped Clumsill would have more luck today. I couldn’t help but notice a few pre-packed sandwiches bulging in pockets just in case.
Now if I can just describe the Seating Stone itself. Positioned right alongside the Learning Tree it slopes at a very pleasant angle, perfect for fairy backsides! The elder fairies like Blalim get to sit right at the top where there is most moss. I would like to be that comfortable but it would mean I was really old and I don’t like the idea of that too much. Despite the moss for some there just was never enough,
“Not as much as last Ceremony, sure nothing is as good as it used to be. My behind won’t be the better of this for a week,” said Grochin, he was fond of a good moan.
“Ach give over you old goat! Nothing wrong with the moss, it’s your back end. There’s more fat on a knitting needle!!” replied Frenel, who was his long suffering but loving wife.
Indeed they were a bit of a double act when they got going. I was looking forward to their verbal hurling today. I hope Gráinne and I can have as much fun because they always give each other a kiss at the end of the day no matter what. So with another blast of sentences that accompany a Seating we all got ready for the First Flight and Carving.
Silence slowly lowered around us and the talking died down until there was only the river to be heard. The never ending whoosh of the water and the splash as it falls down and down. Then the white foam that bubbles up and the glittering sparks of light that catch your eye as it smoothes the great boulders. There was magic in the air no doubt. A minute or so passed allowing everyone to gather their thoughts. The younger ones wondering how their big day will turn out, the rest of us remembering back and thinking at how it felt like yesterday but knowing it was much longer ago than that. I broke the silence with our traditional words,
“Friends and fairies here we meet
For a Ceremony now to complete
A young one here to begin
A higher journey from within
No longer bound the soil to walk
But take the air like dove and hawk
A privilege of the fairy race
And honour not to misplace
So who now dares to take First Flight?
A voice it takes to claim the right.”
Druichin stood up and walked slowly to the edge of the stone as generations of fairies had done before. Suerna was beside herself with excitement and her face was getting redder by the minute. Aldarn had his work cut out holding her down. She didn’t say a word though, she knew better, only one voice was allowed.
“Here is the voice that claims the right
It is I, Druichin, who earns First Flight
I stand beside the Learning Tree
Having today reached thirty-three
My wings are ready for the air
To ride the wind and take good care
So friends and fairies now is my task
Your blessings on me now to ask
So from the stone and to the heights
I fly into the days and nights.”
“Very well spoken young fairy,” I thought but I had one further thing to say,
“Then Druichin, I command you…take first flight!”
No sooner had I spoken when his wings stretched out and shone clear behind him. They started slowly up and down but quicker…. quicker… quicker. They were now a blur of energy building…building…building. The crowd on the Seating stone began to cheer and clap.
“Go on Druichin, get up there son,” yelled Aldarn.
Poor Suerna was screaming at the top of her lungs, “Yes my boy yahoooo! Go oonnnnnn!!” The fairy voices were as one,
Up he went, as if shot out from a bow. He flew straight up to the height of the Learning Tree and whizzed back down over all our heads as proud as could be.
“Good man Druichin,” I thought, “this is going to be some night!”
Well if he didn’t do cartwheels and somersaults and belly flops for the next ten minutes. Of course being egged on all the while by the fairy folk and the loudest voice was Suerna. She was ecstatic with pride. Here was her boy zipping around in the sunlight, 33 years old today in the middle of his first Flight.
“I never thought I’d see it!” she gasped, “I never thought I’d see it!”
“Did you think you’d see it?” she asked Aldarn, “Cos I certainly never thought I’d see it! Look at him go, that’s my son you know,” she shouted and nudged her next door neighbour.
“Do you know that’s my son, look at the flies of him!”
“I know Suerna, you can be proud of him today,” replied Sherene.
“We’ve been neighbours for many’s a summer; sure it’s like watching my own son scooting around up there.”
Sherene had never been lucky enough to meet the right fairy man. There were several nearlys and a few almosts but something just didn’t fit each time. But as she often said,
“Don’t feel sorry for me for each child in the parish is like my own.”
This meant she had a lot of birthday presents each year but she never forgot a single one. Of all the elderly fairies the children liked Sherene the best because not only was she very generous but also could tell a story like no other. Certainly like no other lady fairy because her stories would make your hair curl and your toes cross and your fingers snap and grab out for the nearest hand. She often giggled at the number of young fairies who first held hands at her story nights and indeed many of them ended up as husband and wife!
When the energy and nerves of the occasion began to fade ever so slightly, Druichin calmed his wings and gracefully headed back to the spot from where he had taken off. The Ceremony wasn’t finished yet. It’s a common enough thing that the First Flyer forgets the Carving what with the excitement of the air and all. Indeed Blalim’s brother, Greagle, had to be escorted down from his first flight! He whizzed around for nearly a half hour. The other fairies were quite restless but restrained nonetheless, all but Grochin,
“In the name of all Fairydom, come down out of that Greagle, my backend thinks it’s been locked in a fridge! I won’t be able to move for a month!!
It was a sign of things to come for Greagle but more of him later.
Back to the stone and the final part of the Ceremony. Druichin was positively beaming with pride and his cheeks were flushed from his aerobatics but he regained his composure and knew he had more to do. The crowd fell silent again after many congratulations,
“Great first flight son!” “Mighty bit of flying there!” “By the life of me I thought you were going to hit the tree head on!” and so on.
“Flyer, give your wings a while to rest
Your carving skills now to test
Take this blade and shape the wood
Your name will here be understood
History follows your letters now
Forever learning the secrets how
For all the Fairy folk to see
Carve your name into this tree!
I stood beside Druichin and took his left hand. Together we knocked on the bark of the Learning tree three times. I then did the same with his right hand and waited. A matter of seconds later the bark began to peel apart to reveal the inner tree. It was the most perfect white that you could see. It would remind you a bit of the snow on top of Knock Layde on a winter’s morning. From this inner white the Carving knife pushed its way through, handle first. This was really old magic and everyone was enthralled at the sight.
“Druichin, are you ready to take the knife?”
“I am ready.”
He raised his hand and took the knife by the handle slowly drawing it out from the inner tree. The handle was made from white wood and fitted his hand perfectly. The blade was made of solid gold and shone in the sunlight. Druichin had often read about this moment and now here he was about to carve his name forever into the Learning Tree. With great care each letter was written into the white wood of the inner tree. He could see the thousands of names before his all moving around in the inner tree like icicles in a bowl of milk. When he had carved the final ‘N’ he replaced the knife and it slowly withdrew back from where it came. The outer bark healed itself as if it was being zipped up by invisible fingers and the Learning Tree was as it always was.
“Fairy friends I declare the Ceremony over, let us celebrate!”
As I said this I noticed a nervous Clumser getting ready for his big moment.
“Now,” says Clumser to himself, “this is it. You’ve waited thirteen years because of one little blunder. Anyone can make a mistake but you had to starve the Hollow for a week! Just breathe deeply and let the words roll off your tongue. There’ll be food for a month and all will be forgiven…hopefully.”
Poor Clumser, if he had said this to himself once he had said one thousand times. He would surely be made to sleep in a cow pat for a year should he make a mess this time. We gathered ourselves in a loose circle. Knowing humans you maybe thought there’d be a big table and chairs to be carried out. No need. One of the benefits of getting the magic right is that the food appears ready cooked, the table already laid and everyone gets a big comfortable chair with lots of holding space along the arms for plates and drinks.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for a second chance. Some of you will remember Clumser’s last effort, an unfortunate click of a hiccup, eh Clumser?” I said, winking at him.
Clumser looked straight up and twiddled with his fingers behind his back. There were a few mutterings in the crowd.
“However, as long as we learn from our mistakes we should be OK. So Clumser will you call for food for the Folk?”
Clumser cleared his throat and took a deep breath,
“This is it,” he thought, “you don’t want the cow pat!”
All was silent again except the river, Grochin was about to warn that he’d better get it right but he didn’t. Instead a thought,
“Goodness my stomach couldn’t take another attack of wind!”
Clumser took a deep breath...
“To all from all food for the ball (“The first line safely away...phew!” thought Sherene)
In dark and light I have the right (“Good man, keep it going,” thought Gráinne)
To yummy the tummy in the Flyer’s hall (“Don’t hiccup now!” thought Shest)
None to hunger at all tonight!” (“Yahoo, yahoo, the bum’s are safe, the bum’s are safe!” thought Grochin)
A large round of applause and the food, table and chairs all duly appeared. I gave Clumser a look of approval and he had a smile on him as wide as a pancake.
What a feast we had! Nut cake, buttercup bread, grass ice cream (a delicacy!), rush soup, sloe gin and whin bush beer for the adults, dewdrop lemonade for the children. There was roast snail, grilled beetle and my favourite, pickled minnow with daisy salad. We must have eaten for hours. Then the songs began and good old Suerna belted out at least three at the top of her voice. She and Aldarn were enjoying the sloe gin rather too quickly!
Soon enough the effects of the day began to show on us all and yawns replaced yarns. The sun had had enough and was bidding its farewell behind Brea Height. The Fairy Folk moved steadily back to the Hollow, with everyone commenting on the proceedings. It was a good chance to hear a good story, especially from the older fairies. The younger ones were excitedly getting on their pyjamas as the doors slowly closed. I walked up behind Blalim and Greagle. They seemed to be reflecting on something more serious and not in the mood of the day at all. They spoke very quietly. Indeed the lines on both their brows were quite wrinkled.
“Ah now, surely you haven’t fallen out on the day of a Ceremony?” I said.
Well I got quite a look. Not a ‘don’t be silly look’ as I was expecting but something darker.
“What did you hear?” asked Blalim.
He sounded quite angry.
“Tell us, Graneff, it’s important. Did you hear what we were talking about?” said Greagle. Well if this didn’t confuse me even more.
“To tell you the truth lads I didn’t hear a word you were saying, I just came over to say hello.”
“Good!” they replied together.
“No point in worrying the folk. Graneff we’ll talk later. Good night and sleep well, you will need it!” said Blalim.
4. A Warning
Blalim’s tone bothered me all evening. I hardly spoke as Gráinne and I got the young ones ready for bed.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
“Oh I’m fine it’s just something Blalim said or more the way he said it.”
We bade our goodnights to Pog and Fer and went into the kitchen. Gráinne put the dishes away and brought me over a steaming cup of mushroom tea.
“Here, this should calm you down. What do you think he meant? Is there something wrong?”
“I don’t know, I’m going over to see him.”
“At this hour?”
“I know but I have to find out, for my own peace of mind.”
I took a hearty sup of the tea then put on my waistcoat and headed for the door.
“I’ll see you later love,” she said, “say hello to the lads for me.”
“Aye, will do, night night.”
I set out into the Hollow and it was as dark as dark could be. Treacherous for humans of course but we fairies love the dark. In fact the darker it is the more we can see. I walked slowly through the clover and grass stems. The clover is the softest in all Ireland and I rubbed my hands gently over it as I walked. As ever the river was good company.
The moon appeared, splintered by the branches of the nut trees and briefly lit up my path but the clouds soon put it back to bed.
“I wonder if Odhran has heard any rumours,” I thought.
No one knew what age Odhran was and most of us had given up guessing. Some say he is the oldest owl that ever there was. No one knows where he lives but he seems to know everything that’s going on and we all sleep happily at night knowing he’s looking out for us. As children we used to stay awake looking out the window to see if we could catch a glimpse of him but we always woke the next day in strange positions with a crick in our necks.
I walked up to Blalim’s door. A grand solid door it was, made from nut wood with a large bronze knocker. Blalim’s father, Craobhus, helped Blalim make it at the Learning tree. What a fairy for sculpting and carving he was. I gave the door a rap and waited. I knew they would be awake. I half hoped they would be playing draughts and surprised to see me. Rigid footprints approached and I knew it would be Blalim.
“You best come in, we’ve been expecting you,” he said.
I followed him in to the living room (no sign of a draught board) to see Greagle looking quite serious. He had moved in with his elder brother a year or so after Rephenne had passed away. I bid him good evening and apologised for the lateness of my visit. Blalim cut straight to it.
“It’s important you know who we are dealing with; Nefairious and I go back a long way.”
“Nefairious!” I thought, amazed.
“That’s true,” sighed Greagle as he drew deeply on his pipe.
The wisps of smoke drifted gently towards the ceiling of no. 8 Nut Hollow.
“I really thought we had heard the last of him,” continued Blalim.
He looked quite agitated and stared into the depths of the fire.
“I mean how could he come back after his skulduggery, not to mention being eaten by Brandon?!”
“You mean Brandon the buzzard, don’t you?” I said.
“Yes that was his judge. We clipped his wings, flew him to the top of the Learning tree and called on the buzzards to decide his fate. Brandon must’ve been extremely angry because the last we saw of him was his ankles sliding down Brandon’s throat,” said Blalim.
“But he knew the magic,” said Greagle, “his father taught him!”
“I know,” replied Blalim, “but to survive that and to return to the Hollow! There’s trouble ahead and no mistake!”
“Forgive my ignorance,” I interrupted, “but Nefairious is long digested, surely!”
“Yes, that was the last we thought we’d ever see of him,” said Greagle, “but the rumours are on the wind and somehow he escaped. He’ll be wanting his revenge on us all. It was your father after all that flew him to the top of the Learning tree along with myself. Did he never mention that event or the time leading up to it?”
“Not very much if at all,” I said.
“I mean I remember hearing about the trial and all but we were young then and had all manner of things to be getting along with. I suppose we felt sorry for him in a way but life goes on you know...homework, chores...girls!”
“Yes quite,” said Greagle disapprovingly.
“One of my best pupils or so I thought.”
As he said this I noticed him run his fingers down is right side (an old injury or wound perhaps). Greagle went on,
“We had our ceremonies on the same date, though a good few years apart of course. I taught him special flying tricks around the Learning Tree itself. He really was a fabulous flyer. He had all the moves and some he invented himself. Sure his First Flight was the talk of the Hollow for weeks. It would make young Druichin’s look like a belly flop!”
“I never liked him,” said Blalim, “too cocky. Always pushing it with everyone and bragging about how fast he could fly.”
“Aye but we sort of got used to him,” I said.
“He was fast though,” said Greagle
“Humph!” answered Blalim, “little did we know he was planning the theft of all time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Greagle, “you recall his habit of flying as fast as he could toward the Learning Tree and you would swear he was going to get his wings through the back of his head but at the very last moment he would just twist away. Amazing really, wasted talent,” he sighed.
“But what’s the sense of that, I mean the only thing worth stealing would be the Carving knife and no self respecting fairy would dare to do that!”
Greagle fired me a look as if to say, ‘Yeah right!”
“Graneff, my boy,” said Blalim, “never underestimate a fairy gone bad!”
The damp logs hissed and spluttered a steady stream of grey smoke up the soot covered stone chimney. The flames danced about and tickled the large black pot that hung over them. Inside the pot, which swung gently from three gold chains, a white and mucky foam had formed on the surface of the boiling water. Around the hearth lay the remains of a few large slugs, half a caterpillar and two skewered frogs eyes.
“Hmmm, kebabs,” thought the cook, “my favourite!”
The sound of the bubbling water calmed Nefairious. It reminded him of his former home down in Nut hollow. It was this memory that drove him and his sense of revenge.
“Sixty years…” he thought, “…sixty years on the top of this mountain with no one for company but slugs, beetles and all other manner of creeping, crawling, cowering things! My time is drawing near and then my friends there will be changes in the Hollow, mark my words!!”
He stirred the pot, spilling some of the water onto the fire. It caused a puff of smoke and both the fire and Nefairious hissed in unison.
“Twenty minutes should do it,” he thought.
He moved away from the fire and left the silver ladle in the foul smelling mixture.
“Ladle. keep an eye on my dinner,” he said.
He knew it would. The ladle was one of the many things he had stolen from the Hollow before his expulsion. Being a magic ladle he didn’t even have to touch it as it knew when to stir but it gave him a sense of satisfaction. He would be stirring a whole pile of trouble for those treacherous tree hoppers. He never called his erstwhile neighbours anything less than the most horrible thing he could think of and that insult would do for now.
The years had transformed this athletic and talented fairy to a wizened shadow of his young self. All his brightness and ambition had been diverted down a path of treachery and trickery. He had been warned not to break the laws of the Hollow but of course would not listen but he did hear memories now and then. He closed his eyes...
“Aw! Come on you cowards, eat some, what are you afraid of?” he said, “no one will ever know.”
Graneff and Gráinne looked at Nefairious,
“You can’t mean it,” said Graneff, “I don’t mind stealing a few gooseberries or even pulling a few bird’s feathers but we were expressly forbidden to eat toadstools. They’re cursed, even you know that.”
“Rubbish! Old wives tales, if you believe that you’ll believe anything, c’mon Gráinne it’s just me and you.”
“No way!” said Gráinne.
“Do the stories not bother you...warts and madness and slug stew?! That’s what happens when you eat toadstools, everyone knows that!”
“Well, well Graneff and here was me thinking you were a bit of a daredevil. Turns out the pair of you are nothing but…fairies! I have heard that eating toadstools makes you fly faster and see into the future. C’mon try it.”
“I haven’t eaten any and I can see your future heading down the drain,” said Gráinne.
“Ha! Rubbish and boloney. Away back to your flying lessons and wing washing, I’ll be whizzing past you with even greater ease than I do already…losers!”
So the young and determined Nefairious crossed the boundary of the Hollow and headed up river into Fernglen, the densest and most dangerous townland that anyone knew about. Nothing but ferns, frogs, dung beetles and toadstools. But he didn’t care; he had a point to prove and wouldn’t be happy until everyone was feasting on toadstool tart! As it happened he collected his fair share of toadstools that day and dung beetles too come to think of it. On his way home again his temper had cooled a little but unknown to himself he was chewing on raw slugs like chewing gum.
Suddenly the water bubbled over the side of the pot again to another grand hiss. This sharp noise invaded Nefairious’s recollections and he was back in his stone cabin waiting for his food to cook.
“What a feast tonight, must build my strength, frog’s eye kebabs and slug stew. Fabulous.”
Although this meal may not have appealed to everyone, the slugs were cooked to perfection and with a slight seasoning of crushed moth and dried fly it was a culinary masterpiece. As with most things, Nefairious excelled when he put his mind to it and his mind was keenly focused on the residents of the Hollow. His efforts to escape the confines of Brandon’s stomach were a very painful memory.
“If I ever have to perform a Softening again…” he shivered as he thought of it.
The spell to weaken ones bones to the point of liquid is the ultimate last resort but he’d had to do it. That was bad enough but there was only one escape route. Yes, he crawled into the bowels of the mighty buzzard and waited. Of course Brandon had a serious appetite for mice and voles and hedgehogs but a rat was his favourite and on the morning of the judgement he’d had two. Into the brown, white and creamy slime he went and the smell was horrendous but what else could he do? As luck would have it the old buzzard had been blocked up in that department for some time and had been having great difficulty in releasing. So for three days and nights in a semi liquid state Nefairious lay in the poo sack. But as is the way of these things his presence had caused a loosening of affairs and he was unceremoniously deposited from a great height and at great speed onto the top of Knock Layde, where he now lived.
“Thank you for the dark magic, father,” he thought.
“Thank you for the lessons at the Learning tree, I understand now. No one could have guessed the secrets you told me about the old ways. Secrets that will help me reclaim my rightful place as ruler of Nut Hollow and the owner of the Carving knife!”
He allowed himself a loud and repugnant laugh and rocked back excitedly in his chair.