The evil kraken traps Aira the brownie and her friends
|A stabbing pang filled Aira as she gave Boroden the sword. She knew that she had to, but it felt like handing him poison. At the first opportunity when the attack came she decided to grab it from him and make for Krysila. It would leave Boroden hurt but she had faith in her father’s prophecy that she must save the clan. He was not the one meant to wield Silvelenon.
The wait was long, and their legs grew numb as they perched on a wide boulder overlooking Miles Cross.
‘She should be here by now,’ Torden fretted.
Harfan caught his arm. ‘What was that?’ he whispered, nodding to a tree. A dark silhouette watched from the branches. As if aware of their attention it took to the wing, keeping behind the treetops so that they could not see it.
‘She’s not coming,’ Torden said. The instant he turned away he was snatched into the air, flailing helplessly.
Boroden tried to beat the wyvern off but it was too strong and swift. Another battered him, sending his legs slipping under him as he tumbled over the brink of the rock. Before he hit the ground a second wyvern had him in its talons.
Aira screamed. Scimitar claws dug into her back. Writhing, she was torn through the air so swiftly that she could barely breath. In its other foot the wyvern clenched Gefi. They looked down on the spiny heads of the pines.
The wyverns dropped, rushing inside the gaping jaws of a cave. Scarcely had the wyverns deposited their catch in a circle than redcaps ran to haul them up. The brownies could feel the bruises forming beneath their callous grip.
‘We have someone who shall be very pleased to meet you,’ said their leader; a stout, wrinkled redcap who had bat teeth spiked through his cheeks and ears by way of ornament. It was Gribble.
‘I guess very well who that is,’ Boroden retorted, catching Gribble off balance with a sudden, desperate punch. The redcap grabbed Boroden’s arm as he fell, pulling him down with him.
‘Oh no you don’t.’ Gribble staggered up, digging his claws into Boroden’s scruff and using him as a prop to help him to his feet.
Hobyahs ran amongst the brownies, binding their wrists with ivy twines and chortling at their predicament. The redcaps marched them onwards mercilessly, too fast for the clan to think up a plan to fight or to examine their surroundings to see how they might escape.
They were not the only ones heading for Hell’s Gate. All evil beings came on this day when nightmares walked the earth. Troops of Dark Elves; the Döckálfar, overtook them carrying pale torches and chattering excitedly. Ogres and trolls came too, beating drums and stamping so that the earth trembled beneath the feet of the brownies. A skriker sniffed ravenously, drooling over Boroden as it opened its jaws. Gribble saw it off with a kick.
Boroden tossed his head, trying to rub his face clean on his shoulder. ‘Oh, how I wish you’d stayed with Klaufi, Aira.’
‘I far rather this than be left not knowing what happened to you,’ Aira replied adamantly.
They got dragged into the mouth of the cave, digging their feet into the earth fruitlessly. This was the only resistance they could muster. Fighting was futile, the redcaps being far stricter captors than the hobyahs. In any case escape would be impossible with legions of Unseelie beings pressing in on either side. The sound of them chanting and stomping mingled with the frenzied tune being played further on at the place where they gathered.
Above them arches of black rock looked like many mouths yawning, gaping or screaming. The sense of evil was so powerful that Aira froze. A redcap struck her, thinking her obstinate.
‘Don’t you hurt her,’ Boroden cried, scuffling with the redcap holding him so that he might come to Aira’s aid. The goblin punched him and he hit his head against the cave wall. Dazed, he pulled himself forward with a care that told Aira that he was struggling to remain conscious. A redcap hauled him over his shoulder like a sack of grain and carried him.
They came out into a vast pillared cavern where the Unseelie Court was gathered. Instantly the prisoners became the centre of attention. Spriggans changed height so that they might peer at them from above the heads of the other evil faeries. Crows flapped about a goblin-hewn throne upon which Krysila reposed in her kraken form. Her tentacles coiled greedily like snakes waiting to squeeze the life from their prey. The kraken was having salt water poured over her by her attendants, the nuckelavee, who looked almost as hideous as she. Even from here Aira gagged at their reek; a mixture of dead fish, mildew and rotten eggs. The skinless monsters had flippers and pig-like snouts. Their thick black blood coursed through a twisted mass of white gristle, yellow veins and raw red muscle. Even the redcaps kept a safe distance from them.
Before Krysila was a slab of stone towards which a human knight was being dragged, resisting. Leanan Sídhe was stood sternly beside the rock, her beauty burning like cold iron. She had dropped belladonna in her eyes to make the pupils large and her eyes glisten. Her handmaidens danced frenziedly. They made comelier dancers than many of the company, especially the trows who squatted on the ground with their hands clasped round their thighs bouncing up and down and kicking out alternate legs, relishing the hellish din that was the music of the Unseelie Court.
Leanan Sídhe held her knife before her, calculatedly blind to the pleas of the knight who Aira supposed was Aiden.
‘So you aren’t going to sacrifice the brownie prince?’ Merdigar’s son fixed Krysila with a hard look that suggested to Aira that the ice giant was trying to pick a fight.
‘I do not have his heart. I cannot sacrifice anyone who does not come to me willingly,’ Leanan explained truculently.
‘The human doesn’t look very willing,’ the ice giant continued, glaring towards Gribble’s captives.
‘I shall easily make Aiden come to me.’ Leanan Sídhe spoke a spell over the knight who became placid, fixing his gaze upon her with a dreamy look.
‘Good work, Gribble.’ Krysila raised herself with her attention fixed on the brownies. Her small, whining voice sounded even more ludicrous coming from so vast a monster. ‘But I do not see them all here. Where is that shambling little fellow and Prince Hëkitarka?’
Leanan caught her breath for a fraction of a second upon learning that Hëkitarka was not found. Then she turned her attention to Aiden, tapping the stone before her invitingly. He glided towards her as if he was sleepwalking.
‘So, you thought you would take Velmoran from me did you Boroden Ulfharen?’ Krysila asked.
It was the last thing that Boroden wanted to discuss at that moment but his venom at the injustice dealt to him remained strong. ‘It was never yours to have, nor was it my father’s. He knows that, that’s why he wants to wall me up in this pit.’
‘Don’t speak so harshly of him. You owe it to him that you’re still alive,’ Krysila said pointedly.
‘To him? Why?’
‘He says you have your uses. I agreed to keep you alive but trapped. I’ll see to it that you never get out of here. You wanted to kill me, didn’t you? Well, I’ll find that sword you carry and break it in two first. There are worse things than death, I can assure you. Indeed, you’ll be longing for death soon enough.’
The hobyahs screeched delightedly, setting many of the other enemies of the brownies guffawing. From amongst the raucous crowd came a dissonant voice calling, ‘my love, at last I have found you.’
Leanan was already ivory pale at the awfulness of having to make a sacrifice of one of her knights and pretended not to hear. Hëkitarka’s voice did, however, spur her to grab Aiden’s arm and pull him onto the slab.
Krysila coiled a tentacle around Aiden, hauling him into the air. ‘Not so fast. I see a better prize.’
‘Ah, my love, I have come to rescue you from this dark, hideous place. They thought they would drag you away here and escape me but look, I have come for you through many perils. I would face many more for your sweet sake I assure you. Nothing shall part us now.’
‘Hold him down on the stone of sacrifice,’ Krysila ordered the redcaps. The brownies struggled urgently against their captors as Hëkitarka was heaved up by two goblins.
‘Lie still,’ Leanan told Hëkitarka who obeyed her every word. The trusting look he gave her with his bright, wide eyes was too much. She turned to her mother snapping angrily, ‘I can’t do this.’
‘You can, and you will.’
Serena grabbed Leanan, holding a cloth soaked in some potion crafted by dark magic over her face. Leanan tried to hold her breath against it but resistance was futile. She inhaled in a gasp. Serena curled Leanan’s fingers around her dagger the tighter and pushed her forward.
Leanan’s handmaidens urged her on as she hesitated. ‘You said you would take his heart,’ Lilith reminded her.
‘Owh, he just bit me!’ a redcap yelled by way of apology. He had dropped Harfan and was parting the crowd as he searched in the opposite direction from which Harfan had taken, thinking that the brownie would have run towards the door.
‘Brownies bite. Now stop him!’ Gribble barked.
‘You want a sacrifice? Then kill me. I would die a thousand deaths for him,’ Harfan declared, charging at the stone upon which Hëkitarka was laid before any of the Unseelie guards might grab him. He had knocked the guards between him and the stone of sacrifice senseless so quickly that none of them had looked to his coming and Boroden was faced with the sickening reality that soon both of his cousins might lay dead before him whilst he was helpless in Gribble’s clutches.
Harfan shoved Hëkitarka to the ground as Leanan Sídhe’s knife fell. He turned a glare of loathing upon Leanan Sídhe who took a step back, stunned.
Hëkitarka sat up, blinking as after a long sleep. ‘Where am…’ Noticing the monsters clustered around him he stumbled to his feet with a cry, reaching for his sword only to find it confiscated. He backed away and stumbled into the sacrifice stone. Crouched upon it was his brother. ‘Harfan?’
‘Kill him now!’ Krysila ordered.
‘I can’t. Don’t you see, he’s broken the spell. By risking his life to save his brother he has shown a truer love than I might ever fake with my spells. I cannot use Hëkitarka as my sacrifice as I do not have his heart.’
‘He loves you the less now,’ Vortimus scoffed, seeing Hëkitarka rise to his feet with a look of fury.
‘I thought you were my friend. You said you had no wish to harm me. How wrong was I? You use me and my clan very ill,’ Hëkitarka protested to Leanan.
There was a rumble from beneath their feet like a giant scraping a chair back from his table. Chunks of rock crashed down from the cavern roof amongst a cloud of dust. Yells and screeches echoed as the Unseelie beings jostled to get out of the way or cried out in pain. Another boom rolled from the ground, this time accompanied by a gush of fiery air.
The brownies had suffered too much to fear anymore and became alert lest their captors loosen their grip. Leanan Sídhe cowered against the stone slab.
‘What is it?’ Vortimus asked.
‘It is past the witching hour. Our master is angry that we have not given him a sacrifice,’ Serena explained in an alarmed tone.
‘He’ll take us all,’ Delilah sobbed.
Leanan grabbed Aiden from two of her knights, although he was beginning to revive from his enchantment. She was too terrified to let his pleas stay her. Aira scrunched her eyes shut as Leanan raised her knife above the young man’s heart. When she opened them, stillness had descended and Leanan stood heaving for breath.
‘Fool! Why did you kill Aiden? What about the brownies?’ Krysila demanded.
Her fear fuelling her fury, Leanan began a heated argument with her mother. Seeing their leaders distracted, the Unseelie monsters began to set about their own business freeing their trapped comrades from beneath the rock falls or, in the case of the hobyahs, scavenging on the corpses.
Harfan and Hëkitarka seized the chance this lull gave them to run to their friends. They managed to free Gefi, but Gribble was a ruthless opponent. Every sally they made against him he took a step back, squeezing his arms over Boroden’s throat.
‘I’m proud of you Harfan,’ Boroden gasped. Serena wrestled Aira from the redcaps who held her to prevent Gefi overpowering them and rescuing her. Boroden feared that Serena might find Silvelenon. The sword was their only hope. He motioned to Harfan to try and take it.
‘It doesn’t matter about that. I’ve risked my life and my brother’s once too often. Any hope of retaking Velmoran is doomed, can’t you see? If we get out of here alive we’re going back to Lutraudros,’ Harfan decided.
‘No, not you too. Why should this always befall me? Everyone I cared about, everyone I trusted, everyone that was supposed to help me!’ Boroden said in agony.
‘Cousin!’ Harfan gasped.
‘Even you. I thought I had your loyalty but now I see all you care about is him.’
‘No. That’s not true. Harfan cares about you too,’ Hëkitarka protested.
‘You’re a fine one to speak after all that you’ve brought us to.’ Boroden’s voice dropped, full of pain. ‘Oh, Hëki, if you only knew how much I’ve loved you. I always saw you as my brother.’
‘Don’t blame him. He was enchanted,’ Harfan pleaded.
‘Enchanted. Yes, one pretty girl is all it takes and you leave me.’
Hëkitarka was tortured by his cousin’s words. The enchantment now being broken the time he spent under it had faded and he was astonished to discover what had happened.
‘You only want your own kingdom and power. I can’t see why for it has brought me nothing but agony. Perhaps if I were better, stronger, then you’d respect me.’
‘We do respect you,’ Aira interjected, stung to see him so low.
‘Ah, yes,’ Krysila chortled. ‘You wanted a loyal heart. Someone to be steadfast to you through it all. Well, you have it. There is one who is true to you. One who has loved you through happy times and pain. When I see her devotion, I think her such a fool.’
As Krysila spoke, an icy chill fell on Aira, knowing it was her that she meant. Leanan Sídhe looked pointedly at her. To her horror she realised that the others did too. Aira felt very small and alone. She dared not raise her eyes to Boroden, though the urge to do so blazed like ferocious flames at her back. She yelped in terror and surprise as Serena dragged her towards her mistress.
‘Leave her be!’ Boroden growled.
‘So, you would hurt a lass! Shame on you, is this all you’re good for?’ Torden snapped.
‘Don’t worry I won’t hurt her. I just thought she might like to bid her dear one goodbye.’ With that, Leanan darted out her hand, pressing it upon Aira’s head with a searing sensation.
In one horrible, bewildering moment Aira felt her mind raked together, sieved through, drawn out. A blinding void filled her as dreadful as if she had looked upon the sun. Lapping up her thoughts, Leanan and her handmaidens began to sing:
‘Your tears are the jewels decorating my heart.
My dance, my song; your heart.
Make a wish and I’ll blow it out.
I’ll take your smile and turn it down.
Blinded by darkness you stumble.
You are lonely, he’s the only one.
You love him, and you always will,
Though he chose to be away from you.
You see him in the sunrise,
You wait for him in the moonrise.
You will not renounce all hope.
It can’t be easy for him, always the chosen one.
When will you see his smiling face?
Now, know that you’re waiting for nothing at all,
Though you will not see at all,
For a distant memory of a dream still plays
In the darkest corners of your mind.
You just run and run to it though you are still sitting here in tears.
Your tattered heart still beating, you are cursed.’
‘Not so meek and mild, are you now? You like to keep your feelings locked away. Well, no more,’ Serena scoffed as Aira blazed indignantly. Her sneer turned to a gasp of surprise as Aira stamped on her toe.
Seizing her chance, Aira freed herself and ran at Leanan Sídhe. ‘Not so beautiful are you now? Kraken’s child.’ She splashed salt water from a bowl that she snatched from one of the nuckelavee over Leanan. Where it touched Leanan her skin turned bluish black and slimy. ‘Remember this; you may curry favour with the devil but one day the devil will be vanquished and burn in his own hell fire, as will you. Besides, I would not trust a pact with the devil. He will not keep his promises.’
Hëkitarka gasped to see the half-blood kraken beneath Leanan’s lovely exterior. He and Harfan cowered back against the stone of sacrifice. Boroden struggled and called to them. They were the only ones free to help Aira, but they were deaf to his cries.
Aira threw herself towards Krysila. She had Silvelenon and now was the time to wield it. Taken aback, Krysila scrunched her tentacles about herself and bawled for help. The nuckelavee swarmed before their mistress, spreading their cadaverous flippers as a wall to protect her from Aira’s onslaught. ‘We’ll eat her liver,’ one screeched, reaching for her.
‘Aira!’ Boroden called in desperation.
Seeing that attacking the kraken was futile, Aira ran to him. Gribble cuffed her over the ear, but she managed to get hold of the rope binding Boroden’s wrists and fumbled at the knot. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered pleadingly to him.
‘Aira…’ before Boroden could finish Leanan Sídhe was dragging her away. Harfan and Hëkitarka ran to Aira’s aid but the redcap guards seized them too.
Krysila gave a fiendish snort of laughter. ‘So, she has the sword, does she?’
Boroden was too taken aback to refute.
‘You love her, don’t you? Love is frail, easily turned as a dagger at the heart.’ Boroden’s blood ran cold as he saw by Krysila’s gloating smile that she saw Aira’s death as the best way to punish him. ‘So, you see Ulfharen, she is all you have. The only one we can’t shake from you. A mere girl! How does that make you feel?’
‘Don’t mock him,’ Aira glared, raising her head.
‘What, you snared rabbit, do you dare speak after I’ve shamed you so? You are proud!’
‘I am not ashamed. It is a noble thing to follow Boroden. Anyone who knows him as I do would owe him such loyalty. Why should I not be proud of him? One day he’ll be the greatest king our kind has ever known, whatever you or I do now.’
‘Oh dear, you have such strength of conviction don’t you. You glory in your strong mind, sure that it can override any fetters of the body. That is how I shall torture you; through your mind. Bodily torment shall be a pleasure to give to them, but you are so frail. You’d not last the week where they’re going.’ She twisted Aira’s arms behind her, making her gasp in pain. Aira struggled. ‘Not so fast. I’ll keep you here with us.’
Seeing redcap guards closing in to bear away her companions, Aira realised that she was to be separated.
‘No. Let me go with them.’
‘What, and die so fast? What would be the fun in that? No, I want to prolong your agony.’
‘You shan’t break me, I defy you!’ Aira declared fiercely as the redcaps dragged her resisting friends away.
The brownies were no match for the superior size and strength of the redcaps, even Torden who struggled violently. Harfan reached for his brother’s hand but they got torn apart.
Aira was filled with such anguish that she felt nothing, only the need to break free of Leanan Sídhe. Tearing herself free, Aira dashed after the retreating group.
Boroden had been silent, refusing to let anyone glimpse his face since Leanan Sídhe had finished singing. Now he looked back, just as he was about to be dragged out of sight. ‘Aira!’ He called desperately.
She flung herself forward but, as in a nightmare, felt herself thrown at an invisible barrier that hung in the air between them. It rippled thin as a spider’s web at her impact, but it would not give way.
Pressed against it, she watched him disappear into darkness. The last Boroden saw of her she looked so young and helpless, undeserving of the horrors awaiting her.
‘I still defy you, do what you will to me. Go on then, torture me you cowards,’ Aira threatened.
‘It’s not time yet. Now go to your room.’
‘No. This place is not my home and never shall be. Don’t speak as if it were.’
Aira’s words provoked laughter from Leanan’s handmaidens. The sound echoed around the room like the high, eerie notes of wind chimes.