The brownies finally reach the Seelie Court, where a surprise is in store...
|The beauty of the approach to the fabled Golden Woods of Glorlinderin was balm to the travellers. Here the lives of the woodland creatures continued quietly, showing a stability that the brownies craved.
Aira was most excited of all. Often, her father had told her of these woods and she longed to see them. With wondering eyes, she took in the dancing water of the falls of Glorlinderin. It made deep, greenish pools before bustling away into the valley. The water was scattered with berries as lovely as coral and leaves as bright as sunflower petals.
Boroden was at a loss how to proceed, for the path seemed to end at the side of the waterfall. He was quickly surrounded by a counsel of the older brownies and fairies, all of whom offered assistance with grumbles and bickering.
‘We need to go through the waterfall,’ Aira said, remembering her father’s stories of the hidden gateway. It was an effort to raise her voice above the yammering water and arguing faeries.
‘What do you mean? We’ll be drowned,’ Quentillian said, aghast.
However, most of the others hailed Aira’s words as a revelation. ‘Well, I’m game. You’re a clever lass to know of this hidden entrance,’ Hëkitarka said.
The force of the water faded and Aira opened her eyes, not a bit wet, though she was too surprised by her new surroundings to pay this much heed. They arrived in a woodland of maple and oak trees more majestic and beautiful than she had ever imagined. The air was fresh and so clear that it glimmered and sang through the leaves when the breeze blew. Autumn crocuses and daisies peeped out from amongst the tapestry of glossy ivy and golden leaves covering the ground.
‘It’s so lovely here,’ she breathed.
Boroden gazed about amazed and Aira was glad that he too had been revived after his arduous journey.
Aira stooped and plucked a wild rose bloom from the path. ‘How did this get here? It’s ages past summer.’
‘Ah, I see the pillywiggins have arrived already,’ Mifrillan smiled.
‘Pillywiggins? My father told me about the fairies of the flowers. I’ve always longed to see one,’ Aira enthused.
‘I’ll introduce you,’ Mifrillan offered, taking her towards the cloud of tiny fairies with jovial faces that flitted between clumps of flowers. They had antennae, and some wore acorn or flower bell hats.
Aira beamed in delight as the pillywiggins flitted about her head in greeting. Her eyes danced as the fairies flew so fast that it was difficult for her to take in each detail of their exquisite costumes woven from flower petals, much though she wanted to.
The pillywiggins cast shy, curious smiles at Aira. One fluttered towards her nose. Giggling, Aira held out a finger for the pillywiggin to alight upon.
‘Hello. Are you the guardian of a rose bush? I love roses, they’re my favourite.’ In response the pillywiggin spun round and round until she became a twinkling star that rolled away on the breeze. Aira was left showered with fragrant rose petals.
‘Come with us,’ the pillywiggins entreated the travellers. ‘We must make haste, for the Seelie Court shall soon be beginning.’
Following the pillywiggins, they journeyed on in hushed awe as they passed the halls of the Lords of the Golden Wood set high in the trees. They looked so in keeping with the trees that they seemed to sprout from them like mushrooms.
Evening drew in and from the blackthorn thicket on the hillside above them lights sprang up. The lights spread, trickling down the hillside until they reached the path and lit the way for the travellers. Aira became aware of the drifting lilt of a song ahead of them. It was sweet as honey to her ears. The air hummed with magic as they approached the stone circle in which the Seelie Court was held. It was a noble, ancient magic that filled her with wonderment.
Trees grew on either side of the path, arched over it like sentinels. Soon, the trees became a line of fey guards holding lanterns to guide the way of those journeying to the Seelie Court. It was so grand and wonderful that Aira felt small and out of place. She could only guess what Boroden, who must face the most important meeting of his life, thought. She squeezed his hand reassuringly. He retained hers, drawing her with him as he led the others on. Paths branched to either side and Boroden looked down them hesitantly, then at the guard beside them, before moving on. He wished to ask the way but felt too awkward to do so.
At his faltering step, Aira sensed his hesitation, and with a small, knowing smile turned to one of the graceful younger guard maidens. ‘If you please, would you show us the way to the Seelie Court?’
Boroden slipped Aira a grateful glance.
‘Your way is here, friends. I will gladly be your guide. I bid you welcome to the Golden Woods.’
Aira started at the noble, musical voice behind her. There, smiling down at her, was Glimfyndor, High King of the Light Elves.
Instinctively, Aira flattened herself to the ground and then rose, unable to take her eyes from him. His sky-blue eyes twinkled with peace and happiness and his golden curls fell like a mane of sunshine to the hood of his velvet mantle. She recalled Carnelian telling her that faerie folk had once been angels. Upon seeing Glimfyndor she could well believe it. In an instant her previous sense of inadequacy dissolved, and she knew herself to be an equal and a friend.
It did not surprise Aira when her free hand was gently clasped. ‘Welcome, sister,’ Glimfyndor’s wife, Lady Amulas whispered in a gladsome way. Her rich brown hair was so long that it brushed her knees and her eyes were sea blue. In them Aira felt a strange kinship.
‘You have journeyed far and suffered much. Do not worry for I tell you that you are safe here. Stay as long as you like, for this is your home as well as it is mine. I hope above all that tonight’s gathering goes well for you,’ Glimfyndor smiled at Boroden.
Boroden nodded gratefully.
‘Such courtesy,’ Bresil beamed at Glimfyndor.
‘It’s good to see you, old friend,’ Glimfyndor greeted the wizard.
‘And you too. I’m glad indeed to find the Golden Wood growing in splendour again,’ Bresil said.
They came to the edge to the woodland and before them was a gently sloping hill with a pelt of velvety grass. Aira thought that she had never seen a view so pretty, yet majestic too with its lofty oaks. Everything seemed so full of life. Soft grass brushed Aira’s ankles and she wondered at the fairy ring toadstools nestled amongst it. Never had she seen so many so close together.
A dance of moths with glowing wings went by, disappearing over the brink of the hill. Perhaps she was mistaken, and they were in truth fairies? Glimfyndor beckoned Boroden’s company to follow to floating pinpricks of light.
Aira caught her breath as, going on, they saw another hill rise before them. On its crest was a circle of stones of such character and presence that Aira expected any moment for them to come alive. Each was of a different rock; pinnacled slate, proud granite, crumbling sandstone and glowing chalk. Each faerie race had supplied a rock from one of their strongholds to form the walls of these meeting circles of the Seelie Court. Boroden’s gaze went to the weathered limestone that had been the gift of the House Elves taken from the cliffs of Velmoran.
Aira was puzzled. The stone circle looked empty, the wind shrilling desolately amongst the rocks. As they drew near she sensed an electric fizz in the air and there was a greenish tinge to the light about them, as if it fell through a leafy canopy.
Guessing her thoughts, Glimfyndor explained, ‘a layer of glamour, the strongest known to the sídhe, hides the court from the view of those outside. That way humans and those faeries that have chosen evil will not see it. A spell will allow us to enter.’
He stepped forward speaking words in a strange, beautiful language that reminded Aira at once of birdsong and a bubbling brook. A glowing white orb came into view, filling the stone circle. Glimfyndor gestured his hands in the shape of a door and an opening appeared. The orb split into twinkling sparks that dusted the brownies.
Aira gave a cry of wonder, taken aback by the array of every type of magical creature that she had ever longed to meet, and many she did not know, talking and laughing merrily. Between the jostle of figures, she glimpsed a lofty platform of hematite like a dark mirror in the centre of the circle. This she supposed was the throne of The Dagda.
Boroden eyed a stand of giants whilst Quentillian ticked Hëkitarka off for being drawn by a gaggle of mermaids. Aira met some curly headed fauns who bowed quaintly, bleating, ‘delighted to meet you.’
Mifrillan squealed in delight, meeting with some old fairy acquaintances. One of them laid a gentle hand on Aira’s shoulder, asking her name.
‘Aira, Lady Frenudin,’ she replied, for the first time glad of the title which made her sound more at place in the Seelie Court.
At her words the fairy flitted away. In an instant a murmur ran around the room and Aira found surprised gazes and gestures directed at her. Glimfyndor smiled reassuringly at her puzzled face.
A group of dwarves and gnomes grumbled noisily at being broken apart. Pushing his way through was the brownie miller Killmouli. ‘Aira as I live and breathe! Is it true what they’re saying? That the line of Frenudin is not fallen and you are Frenudin’s descendant.’
‘It is.’ Aira beamed at her old neighbour, delighted to see him. ‘I’m so glad you’re safe, Killmouli. And the others from our village?’
‘Midhir took us as slaves but we managed to escape. We heard about Novgorad and the others are on their way there. I wanted to come to the Seelie Court to see for myself the proud day when we brownies win a homeland of our own. You must be King Boroden, eh, laddie?’
‘Indeed. I’m honoured that you’ve made such a brave journey here,’ Boroden replied courteously, surreptitiously inching away as Killmouli drew out an enormous handkerchief, having a cold which was a great setback for one whose nose also served as a mouth.
‘This day shall be for the brownies, eh Boroden? This is hope indeed. She is hope. We’ll rise again to greatness, eh, as Peladach did?’ Killmouli looked at Aira delightedly.
‘I don’t understand,’ Aira said to Killmouli.
‘You’re Frenudin’s heir. She was our queen. Without her we’d have had nothing. Now you’re here we shall have greatness in our grasp again,’ Killmouli said.
‘Aye, may Novgorad be a new Velmoran,’ Quentillian said.
‘And Boroden and his Frenudin bride return in triumph,’ Killmouli piped up.
Boroden tried to stammer a bashful refute but it was drowned by a skirl of pipes and horns. Gloriously jolly music burst forth. Aira could not refrain from tapping along as the company whirled dancing around her.
‘Lady Frenudin, it would be an honour,’ Killmouli smiled, offering Aira his hand. She readily agreed.
He swung her into the twirling throng, dropping his duster as he went. Aira snatched it up to stop it getting trampled by the heavy boots of the dwarves. He tossed it in the air above him, making it flap like a puppet.
The faeries danced with relish, the brownies no less so. Killmouli skipped before Aira with his hands on his hips, stomping his feet. Boroden joined him, then seized Aira’s hand. They danced with the other brownies, linking hands and stepping apart.
Aira found herself swirled into a circle of Light Elves. Glimfyndor and Amulas each held her hands. Their dance was less riotous, more like the fluid beauty of bounding deer. Excitement built amongst the assembly as the dance stopped. Glimfyndor and Amulas raised their arms. From their fingertips shot rays of light, piercing high into the gathering clouds. The point where they joined was as intense as white flame. Then the rays vanished. Aira saw a rift in the cloud revealing a dazzling whiteness.
‘The bridge of the sídhe is opened,’ Killmouli explained to Aira, rubbing his hands.
The faeries cheered and clapped and stamped, dancing in wild frenzy.
‘Why are they so excited?’ Hëkitarka asked.
‘Some have lovers amongst the sídhe. They’re rarely seen but very beautiful,’ Killmouli said, gazing hopefully at the cloud rift.
A gleam came into Hëkitarka’s eyes. ‘You mean brownies can love sídhe?’
Before Quentillian could admonish him, Hëkitarka scampered towards the hematite table before which the faeries parted to make way. There was a searing flash and shreds of storm cloud fled amongst the faeries. Hëkitarka squinted against a fierce gust. Riders galloped forth proud and fair. There came knights clad in green with flashing crimson eyes, ladies with rivers of golden hair and pale, beautiful faces. Their spangled costumes glittered bright as the sun striking dewy grass. Hëkitarka gazed wonderingly. Desperately.
It seemed that the streams of sídhe went on eternally but in a flash the gateway closed. A roar of greeting met the sídhe and the dancing became even more frenzied than before.
Hëkitarka could only look on as faerie folk embraced sídhe lovers. Not one of the ladies had darkly dappled hair. She had not come.
Vaguely, Hëkitarka noticed Glimfyndor pass him and speak in hurried tones to one of the sídhe lords. Glimfyndor glanced back to Boroden anxiously but before he could go to him he was accosted by an imperious lady whom Hëkitarka heard him address as Fúamnach. She asked him to find seats for herself and her retinue and Glimfyndor responded graciously. If Fúamnach was here then Midhir must be too Hëkitarka reasoned, looking for someone who matched his description. He did not have to look far. Seated on the throne set upon the stone table in the centre of the circle was Midhir. Many a faerie mirrored Hëkitarka’s surprise and Midhir gave an arrogant smile.
As host, Glimfyndor stepped up to offer an explanation to the murmuring crowd. ‘Dear friends, I welcome you to this century’s Seelie Court. It is a great pleasure to see so many faces old and new amongst the representatives of the tribes of the Seelie folk. I wish you all luck with the matters that you are to lay before the court and I hope they are satisfactorily resolved.’
‘We do too,’ Killmouli put in.
‘This meeting is a little different from those that have gone before. You may have noticed that The Dagda, High King of the little people and master of the Seelie Court, is not in our company tonight. He is away fighting his rebellious son, Angus Og. In his absence he has appointed his trusted son Midhir to be his regent and judge these proceedings. Each of you may approach him in turn and lay your matters before the court.’
‘No doubt it’ll be the pixies first. Every year pixies petition to be allowed to join the Seelie Court but are always refused. Quite rightly, the tricksy little blighters,’ Quentillian grumbled to Gefi who nodded sympathetically.
Boroden steeled himself, recalling that this was perhaps his only chance to win a home for the brownies. The Seelie Court would be broken by morning and not reassemble for a hundred years. If only he could get Midhir to look favourably on them tonight.
Boroden’s grip tighten on Aira’s arm as he stepped forward.
‘Boroden Ulfharen, King of the House Elves,’ Glimfyndor announced with a bow.