Hëkitarka, prince of the brownies, becomes a servant in the evil Unseelie Court
|Often Hëkitarka recalled the glance he had given at the upturned faces of his loved ones before he fled away. It was perhaps the last time he should see them.
He needed every drop of swiftness and agility in his flight. At last his pursuers dropped back with curses, although Vortimus did not doubt that Hëkitarka would never show himself to Leanan Sídhe again.
Heaving with terror, he began to stumble. He searched the desolate, cobweb bedecked tunnels in which he found himself. A little cave dented the tunnel wall near the ground, no more than a passage once chiselled out of the crumbling limestone by a rodent. Still, if he shrank it offered a refuge that the knights would be unlikely to expect. Humans knew little about the spells and skills of brownies and would not realise that he could alter his height from a little over three foot to the size of a mouse.
Hëkitarka stayed in the hole two weeks barely shifting from his corner, let alone attempting to make a nest to sleep in. Often, he fell into a half drowse, but his heart swung so, and his bruises throbbed so painfully that he could not sleep. Though he drank little and ate nothing except for acorns brought by Rochuck, the jay that Leanan Sídhe had given him and which came at his bidding, it was more a sickness brought by fear that he suffered.
At last a will to live awoke in him. He dragged himself up, regretting that he had lost time in saving his friends. Despite his longing and his reckless nature, he knew better than to attempt a dangerous rescue plan in the heavily guarded tunnels. No, instead he would watchfully bide his time. There was no point in fighting against his situation. He could only wait for a plan to be revealed to him.
Lacking bird speech was an impediment. Hëkitarka went through various impersonations of making a nest and laying an egg, which made him laugh despite his situation, before Rochuck understood and began bringing him moss. Half of this he used to construct a tightly bound nest. The rest he rubbed and pressed into the rough felt with which brownies are accustomed to making their serving garments.
One night he left his clothes, boots and empty quiver stowed in the nest, and slipped into the tunic that he had made. He took with him Harfan’s knife, partly out of fear, but mainly because it was the most beloved thing he now possessed.
The way back to Leanan’s dwelling was long, much longer than he remembered it when he had fled in terror, even though he did not make a detour to the dungeons. He was beginning to worry, despite his acute sense of smell, that he had lost his way, when he came into a room illuminated by the red glow of a fire. It was a veritable dragon’s lair with copper pans winking like the scales of a great beast. One of the redcaps bundled asleep beside the fire gave a growling snore. This was hardly a comforting sight to the young brownie, but he shrank to make himself less conspicuous and crossed the room. He was Leanan’s servant. Work for her he must.
Redcaps are careless housekeepers despite Serena’s chiding and he found much to do. His work did not go unnoticed and the next morning the household was wondering at the neatness with which the chores had been accomplished. This could only be the work of a brownie. This puzzled them as Aira had been locked in her room all night.
Leanan woke in delight to find a fresh tea tray set beside her bed, much to the annoyance of Vortimus, whose breakfast had been neglected. Whilst he seethed to realise that Hëkitarka had not died of his wounds, Leanan was beside herself with relief and longing.
Often, she stayed up all night, which was hardly noticeable in this place where it was always dark, attending parties. Now even the attentions of her knights could not satisfy her, and she shrugged them off fretfully. She retired early to bed, always leaving out a jug of sweet cream and a delicious morsel of cake. Always her offering went untouched which saddened her greatly. Though she dared not consciously admit it, Hëkitarka’s urging her to better things, his unconditional kindness to her and his faith struck a chord in her.
She never saw him though he frequently saw her. Often, he would come in the shadows of evening when she would play her harp in the beautiful saloon. In Leanan’s eyes then was a noble and faraway look and the music was so beautiful and innocent that he forgave her utterly. The music intoxicated him, and he could not shake it from his mind, though he told himself he should. Those notes stayed with him the night long as he brushed and scrubbed and dusted. Bright images and lyrical words seared unstoppably through his mind, conjured by the music. By morning he was longing for paper so that he could record his imaginings in poetry, as one who is thirsting longs for water. Leanan knew this and though he dared not touch the food he did accept the sheets of fine paper that she left out for him. These he secreted in his nest where he spent his days feverishly writing poems upon them using pencils of charred fire sticks.
Thus, his life continued. The years passed, and rumours spread of the faithful servant that came by night, of a brownie prince who had slain the greatest of ogres and was the terror of redcaps. Vortimus did what all he could to quash such stories, but it was hopeless. Every redcap mother would whisper to her wide-eyed children the story of the fearsome brownie and warn them to behave lest he carry them off as his prisoners.
Things might have continued thus had it not been for the continued carelessness of Leanan Sídhe’s cook; a redcap with a rolling, bulging stomach and a constant snivel. At last, infuriated at finding several stringy redcap hairs and a pig’s snout in his ragout, Vortimus seized the unfortunate redcap and threw it into a cauldron. Thus, at an important dinner attended by her mother and various ambassadors between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, Leanan Sídhe found herself without a cook or any hope of procuring a suitable dinner.