House elves Aira and Boroden explore and enchanted woodland
|Aira stretched, her spirit soaring as she focused on the duck egg blue sky. The morning was bright and fresh with spring, a morning on which it was a joy to be awake.
She hoisted herself into a sitting position as Hëkitarka charged by, heading towards Harfan. He batted Harfan’s arm playfully to invite him to play tag.
‘We’ll go to the stream together to collect water for the journey. Race you,’ Hëkitarka said, grabbing an armful of the clan’s waterskins.
Harfan swiped at him, and they tore away.
‘Oy!’ Aira reprimanded laughingly as Hëkitarka sprang over her nest. He cast a look of daring over his shoulder as he skipped across the dewy grass. Weary at being kept confined to her nest due to her leg injury, Aira called, ‘Hëki, Harfan, wait for me.’
The brothers were well ahead by the time Aira spotted Boroden returning from his watch, accompanied by Misty. The brothers darted by on either side of him.
Seeing Aira limping and stumbling over the skirt of her long dress, Boroden snatched her up, seating her on his shoulders. ‘We’ll show them.’
The brownies hurtled down the slope, Misty trying to snatch playfully at their ankles. They reached the stream laughing and breathless.
Hëkitarka grinned proudly. ‘I won. No one can tig this squirrel.’
When Gretchen called them for breakfast, Aira was amazed to find that she could easily walk up the slope. Her leg was recovering remarkably quickly.
Aira was overjoyed to be regaining her strength and making new friends. She wondered what the brownies who remained absent would be like. Vaguely she remembered Torden.
Boroden hurried through his breakfast, his gaze darting to the surrounding countryside. ‘We can’t move from the cairn until Torden and his companions reappear. I told them to meet us here - it’s a prominent landmark. However, I’m keen to plot our next move.’
Her appetite returning as her wound healed, Aira allowed herself to finish every morsel of foyson from her porridge before she hastened after Boroden.
‘Are you scouting our way?’ Aira asked as she caught up with Boroden, Misty and Blackthorn on the lower slope of the mountain.
Boroden held out his hand, inviting her to join him. ‘More like exploring.’
‘That sounds much more adventurous.’ Aira sprang down a bank formed long ago by the ground caving towards a stream. Boroden grinned at her and she followed him along a ragged hedge that marked the edge of a field. Boroden suddenly dipped and squeezed through a gap in the hedge. Aira ducked after him, snagging her hair and pulling off her cap. She stuffed it into her apron pocket.
Before them was a steep slope to the stream. It was too dangerous for humans to risk their livestock straying to, but a haven where the last reaches of ancient woodland remained.
Boroden’s eyes twinkled. ‘We’re still in human territory, but this is a place to which no human lays claim. A place for outlaws, bandits and faerie folk. A place to have a proper adventure.’
‘I love adventures! Really love adventures.’ Aira rubbed her hands gleefully and raced him down to the stream. The ground was so steep that it almost took her feet from under her. Misty was ahead of them, barking in excitement as she chased through the bushes. Aira was pleased that, despite her initial distrust, Misty had grown fond of her.
Something grey frisked in front of them and spiralled up the trunk of an alder. Aira watched the squirrel scale the tree bark.
‘Hëkitarka eats squirrels. The grey kind. And fish too,’ Boroden said. He ruefully eyed the circles rippling the water where the stream pooled.
‘How mean. He’d better not find this place then.’
Boroden started off, suddenly alert and laughing. There was an arched bough fallen over the ravine. Boroden crossed it on tiptoes, rocking to keep his balance. Aira was sure he was about to get a dunking in the pool.
He jumped down on the opposite bank. ‘Now you try.’
Aira was already half way across.
Boroden froze, casting a concerned look back at Aira. ‘No, your leg.’
She scurried the last few feet and dropped down beside him. ‘It’s healed now.’
‘So fast?’ Boroden asked, not meeting her eye.
‘Aye. I’m shocked too. Normally I take ages to heal.’
‘You need more sunshine to make you healthier.’
Aira nodded to the sunbeams darting beneath the trees. ‘I’ve got plenty now.’
‘If we had some rope, I’d make a swing,’ Boroden said. Dragging together twines of ivy, he passed his hand over them, speaking a spell to plait them into a rope.
Aira chuckled as he twisted the rope guiltily. ‘It’s a good job Lord Asuril didn’t see that. He disapproves of magic.’
He excused his magic with a demure look. ‘Well, one should never be without some good rope.’
He left his tunic folded on top of his pack and dived off the branch, twirling wildly on the swing before plunging in.
‘That was fun,’ he yelled, emerging with water pouring from his hair.
‘No,’ Aira protested as he surged out of the stream and caught her, prodding her to have a go.
Filled with a defiant spark, Aira snatched up the rope and launched off. Her heart lurched as she toppled backwards and fell, surfacing from the stream spluttering on a mouthful of water.
‘Och, it’s cold. You dinna tell me it was cold,’ she squealed, hugging her arms about herself.
‘Nonsense. You need a good wash. You can’t go around smelling of humans and unwashed Aira.’
Fetching out a bottle of Dewdrop Shine from his pack, he scrubbed her hair, dunking her under. Aira splashed a sheet of water up to drench him.
Aira pulled a twist of her long hair towards her nose. ‘Mmm, this smells nice.’
‘I’m glad you appreciate it. It contains oils of ylang ylang and sage. It must be used in moderation though. A dollop the size of a broad bean is recommended, although when Hëkitarka used it I’m sure his idea of a broad bean came from Jack’s giant beanstalk.’
Aira’s teeth chattered as she floundered out with her skirts trying to trip her and pouring with water. ‘Cold, cold.’
To add insult to injury, Misty leapt out shaking her green coat and spraying water over Aira.
‘It’s nice and refreshing,’ Boroden said with a wry gleam in his eyes.
Aira cheered up as Boroden gave her his tunic and she buried her cold ears in the thick fur collar. Boroden was a tall brownie, so the tunic was almost a dress for her.
Boroden nodded to the tunic. ‘It was a gift from Hëkitarka, so I had to accept it. If I try not to remember it was a squirrel, it’s a warm garment. The brownies of Lutraudros trade the fur of squirrels, so he thinks nothing of hunting them here.’
They crossed back over the branch, and Aira noticed a glade spangled with what looked like patches of snow. ‘They’re wood anemones.’
‘Let’s explore there. I’ve not seen anywhere looking so beautiful.’
The bank grew wilder, perhaps a place where humans never set foot. Osiers had fallen leaving pockets of sunlight filled with wildflowers - wood anemones, marsh-marigolds, and the leaves of bluebells and meadowsweet yet to bloom. By the stream in a protective army white flowered ramsons grew. Their pungent garlic scent assailed Aira’s nostrils as she stepped amongst them.
Aira imagined she and Boroden might easily get lost and go on forever. She saw that, although this bank was lush with flowers, on the other side of the stream, where there was a human farmstead on a hill, the flowers kept away.
Boroden peered ahead to where the glade stretched on tangled and beautiful. ‘It’s odd to find so many faerie flowers together. It’s like a garden.’
‘Perhaps it is. This looks just the place for dryads and pillywiggins, and perhaps Wood Elves.’ Aira gazed dreamily about the woodland. ‘Father used to tell me tales of the Light Elf Glimfyndor who overcame evil monsters and regained his ancestral home in the Golden Woods of Glorlinderin.’
‘I’ve heard of him too.’
Aira nodded, pleased. She saw parallels with Boroden’s quest and hoped that the reminder would hearten him.
‘That looks a good place to hide,’ Aira said, pointing to where a hollow stump crouched. Only, she realised with a start, there was someone already occupying the spot. Their hair was golden enough for an elf, but when they poked their head out Aira saw that it was Harfan. He nodded a greeting, but this did not stop Boroden noticing that his cheeks bulged with quickly snatched foyson.
‘Human victuals?’ Boroden asked, sniffing.
Hëkitarka dropped from a tree behind them. ‘Easter Simnel cake. They gave it to us at the farm.’
‘Gave you it?’
‘Aye. We shined their copper pans up a treat. Surely there was no harm in asking for cake? It smelled so scrumptious. The best were those chocolate brownies I demanded in return for my cobweb removal services,’ Hëkitarka said, chuckling over his pun.
Boroden frowned. ‘I don’t like you serving humans.’
‘Then I presume you don’t want any, Cousin Boroden?’ Hëkitarka said, cutting a slice of cake for Aira.
Aira halved it and tossed half at Boroden. Misty leapt up and caught it with a neat snap. ‘Oops, that was meant for you,’ Aira said, sharing the remaining piece.
‘Surely you don’t think it’s wrong to do cleaning?’ Hëkitarka asked Aira.
Boroden rolled his eyes. ‘You can’t seriously like relying on humans for food and shelter? Humans are pathetic. Have heard the story of the woodcutter who was granted three wishes? He used the first wish for sausages, but his wife said he was a fool and wished them on his nose, so he used the last wish in wishing them off!’
‘I know what you mean about some humans. I like the idea of having a place to ourselves. But,’ Aira added hesitantly, ‘Boroden, if we’re not to do any cleaning all, then surely our own homes will get as messy as a troll’s lair?’
‘Good point. Harfan said the same. I expect Cousin B will leave Carnelian to tidy up after him like he usually does,’ Hëkitarka said.
Boroden looked daggers at Hëkitarka who was balancing on top of the stump.
‘I don’t see what’s wrong with working for humans if you demand a fair price,’ Hëkitarka said, snatching at the cake. Harfan was quicker and bundled it into his pack.
‘That’s for Carnelian and the others,’ Harfan reminded him.
‘Just one piece?’
‘You’re stuffed enough as it is on that trout.’
‘Fish, yummy, yummy fish,’ Hëkitarka said, smacking his lips. ‘I’m doing well for food today. Surely one more piece of cake wouldn’t hurt? After all, Fennec has had enough. He said he’s fond of hiding human keys, so they think they’ve lost them. He only gives them back if they leave cake out for him.’
Boroden shook his head before turning in the direction of the camp. The others followed. Aira paused to pluck a nosegay of wood anemones with their pink-dusted white heads.
‘Fair maidens of the wood,’ Hëkitarka saluted the flowers gallantly. He bent to sniff the blooms in Aira’s hand, enjoying their gentle scent, like honey and cucumber.
This was a magical place and Aira let herself be guided by some sixth sense telling her which flowers to pluck lest she rile the guardians of the wood. She was self-conscious of displaying her communion with wild things as it was a sídhe trait unusual in a brownie. She straightened up and found Harfan looking at her. He smiled, but there was a look in his eyes like he was piecing something together.