Brownie prince Hekitarka marries one of the dragon shape-shifters.
|Keahborah breezed towards the awaiting brownies, smiling shyly. She was dressed in her best frock of mint green and her hair was loose and crowned with flowers. She was accompanied by Clancy, Lacy and Delasan, Imlandil and Keelia. The vouivres giggled proudly as Hëkitarka breathed to Keahborah, ‘you look beautiful.’
‘You’re not ready yet,’ they chided him.
‘Ready for what?’ Boroden demanded, for the first time looking in Keahborah’s direction. His aghast raising of his eyebrows at seeing her preening before Hëkitarka was comical.
Harfan took his brother by the elbow. ‘I’ll go and fight our case to Cousin Boroden. You go to Keahborah.’
‘I think they mean I’m to marry Keahborah soon.’ Hëkitarka could not hold down the ripples of a smile as he said this. ‘I’m not doing it without you there. I’m not afraid of Boroden. I think I should be frank with him.’
‘I know. Hëki, your place is with Keahborah. I won’t be long and there is much to prepare.’
Hëkitarka put a skip in his step as he entered the glade that was Keahborah’s favourite place. In a few brief weeks spring had blossomed. Fresh leaves applauded in the breeze and throngs of strange and beautiful white spiked and mauve belled flowers joined the crocus flowers. The music of that place was a sweet trill of birdsong.
Vouivres flitted lightly amongst the trees, preparing garlands and setting out chairs and tables made of fallen branches.
Hëkitarka took Keahborah’s hand as she ran to him. ‘When you said we would be married today it seemed impossible. But it’s not. It’s as if I’ve stepped into a dream.’
Keahborah laughed and many faces lit with joy to see them so happy together.
Whilst they waited for Harfan to join them, Hëkitarka and Keahborah helped to bring food and mead and ribbons. Aira assisted the little vouivres in gathering flowers. Klaufi joined her, though he was reluctant. His distrust of the vouivres would not be easily dislodged.
‘What will Boroden think when he finds out?’ Klaufi asked Aira anxiously.
‘Finds out what?’ Carnelian inquired, having overheard them as he approached.
Aira half expected him to have Boroden in tow. However, he came alone. Boroden was still in no mood to speak following his meeting with Lord Gormor.
Hëkitarka stepped forward. ‘Carnelian, we were just wishing that you’d come.’
Aira noticed with pride that Hëkitarka’s love for Keahborah had given him a new calmness and confidence. ‘I want you to marry Keahborah to me. Having spent all those years watching the marriage ceremonies in the monasteries you’ll know just what to say. I love Ke heart and soul. I am sure of our love, Carnelian.’
‘As am I having seen you together, and I am happy for you. Yet, does Boroden know? Does Lord Gormor? Surely you must ask their blessing to take Keahborah as your wife. I will not play a part in anything that makes a discord between you and your cousin, nor between vouivres and brownies,’ Carnelian said, casting a concerned glance towards the house where Boroden and Lord Gormor were locked in discussion.
‘I’m glad you think so. I’ve asked Lord Gormor and he’s chuffed, but I’ll go and ask Boroden now,’ Hëkitarka said sunnily, heading off before Carnelian could stop him.
Pleased at the alliance of a brownie and a vouivre, Lord Gormor was even more delighted to hear that the wedding was to take place that day. He was heading for the marriage glade when one of the dragon warriors flew towards him, shrinking into his pixie form even as his feet touched the earth.
‘I took Vortimus’s body to the mountain to burn as you commanded, Lord Gormor, but even as I passed over our icy protectors I saw the kraken. Krysila and her hoards would have attacked the ice dragons at once had I not arrived and pleaded hard that Krysila should at least hold counsel with you. Even then I doubt I should have succeeded had it not been for the protests of the witch, Leanan Sídhe. She has named Hëkitarka as her prize and will give no help to Krysila if he is harmed,’ the warrior said.
At his words the colour drained from Hëkitarka’s face. In his happiness with Keahborah he had begun to live and forget. Now that he was again confronted with his troubles his heart shied from them.
Clancy, Lacy and Delasan were also in distress. The two ice dragons were their parents who had long kept the vouivres safe, creating their valley home by freezing up the waters that would otherwise flood it. The vouivres knew that any harm to them would spell their doom.
Lord Gormor was thoughtful. ‘I will go speak with this witch,’ he said, leaving with Imlandil.
Harfan shook his head at the worry settling on Hëkitarka and dug him in the ribs. ‘Come on, it doesn’t matter now. Forget. Tomorrow we fight, today we party.’
Gefi emerged from the house in Harfan’s wake. ‘Boroden’s looking for you. He’s seen Lord Gormor turn into a dragon and flap off and he says he thinks now might be a good time to leave.’
‘Does he indeed?’ Harfan whispered something to Klaufi as Boroden strode towards them with his pack already upon his shoulders.
Klaufi looked reluctant but he did as Harfan had bid. Getting Boroden to rivet his gaze upon a mountain slope in the excuse that he had spotted redcaps there, Klaufi waved his hazel wand before Boroden’s eyes. At once Boroden froze into a trance.
Spotting his cousin, Hëkitarka bounded up and said, ‘Ke and I are to be married. I’d be so happy if you’ll come to the wedding. There will be cupcakes.’ He frowned at Boroden’s lack of response.
Harfan hurried his brother away. ‘It’s probably just the shock. He’ll come around.’
That day was the most wonderful of Hëkitarka’s life. Brimming with love for Keahborah, he soon forgot Boroden’s absence.
The lack of Boroden’s company lingered in Aira’s mind, though she knew he might have been a presence of discord at that happy time. Keahborah took Aira’s hand and called her sister and they went to stand at the head of the assembled crowd, opposite Harfan and Hëkitarka.
Hëkitarka’s eyes sparkled with a joy that he could not quite believe was real. Aira smiled to see that the vouivres had dyed his forelocks rainbow colours. His nails were painted each a different hue. Although, short and stumpy, they looked quite different from the impressive decorated talons of the vouivres. Harfan looked the happiest of all, glowing with pride and thankfulness that his brother had finally been saved from Leanan Sídhe.
Carnelian read the words of the marriage ceremony. Afterwards they married in traditional brownie fashion, slashing their middle fingers and pressing the wounds together to symbolise the joining of blood. Once that was done their friends gave them words of congratulation.
Hëkitarka sped dancing amongst the trees, recalling the carefree game of tig the squirrel that he had loved as a child. The others ran after him in a trice and he was so giddy with joy that thrice he was almost caught, especially as many of the little vouivres took to the wing to chase him in their dragon forms.
At last Keahborah snagged his arm and led him, breathless, to the feast. He would rather sup his eyes upon Keahborah’s enchanting prettiness than taste the food before him, though it was of the finest. Harfan, however, insisted, reminding him that he must keep up his strength so that he should provide him with a little nephew.
‘Just like you I ordered, remember. Didn’t you say you’d have thirty-three bairns once?’ Harfan ribbed him.
‘Harfan! I think Ke should be asked,’ Hëkitarka blushed.
‘I say thirty-four for good measure,’ she giggled.
Hëkitarka took a large gulp of wild strawberry flummery to hide his flushed face but ended up choking.
By the time that they had finished their games, music and storytelling the evening sun was beaming between the branches. Every tree and blade of grass seemed lit from within.
Hëkitarka and Keahborah drew apart from the rest of the company. At her delighted request he recited poetry that he had written as they wandered amongst the newly sprung flowers. Often, they stooped upon their bellies to admire them and pick posies, tucking stray blossoms into each other’s hair.
At last the chill of evening came and the flowers began to close. The lovers went back to the warmth of the house, calling Harfan after them.
Hëkitarka did not hear Leanan Sídhe that night, though she sang a song more longing and deadlier than any she had sung before. She knew nothing of what had passed between Hëkitarka and Keahborah, but she knew that danger was coming to the household and she wanted Hëkitarka to be away with her before then.
Aira heard her haunting tune as she tossed in her nest in the darkness. It had been a familiar companion for many nights now.
Suddenly Aira was struck wide awake. It sounded as though Leanan Sídhe was stealing in front of the house, making towards the glade. Her song died to murmurs as if she plotted something.
Aira ran to Boroden’s room. She did not even need to glance past the open door to know that he had not come in. Klaufi could not be so careless.
Boroden was outside, statue still and dew drenched. Leanan Sídhe had broken her song and stalked towards him, a fierce look like a hunting cat in her eyes. In her hand she held a long dagger as sharp as a slither of ice.
Aira gave a shriek of anguish and flew into the garden.
At Aira’s appearance Leanan Sídhe vanished, leaving Aira haunted by a vision of her with wild hair and a bleached, desperate face. There was an anger and cruelty in the sídhe queen now that nothing could quench. He rage was directed against anything that stood between her and Hëkitarka. From the first Boroden had opposed her love for Hëkitarka. This time Leanan was yet too hesitant to do wrong and risk Hëkitarka’s wrath, though Aira sensed this would not last long. Leanan Sídhe would only have to consider her power to see that she could use magic to get her brownie prince back to her when she pleased.
Hearing Aira’s yell, Klaufi joined them and apologetically lifted Boroden’s trance. The king was furious, well remembering that Klaufi had enchanted him.
‘Spadefoot, this is treason. Not only do you practice magic forbidden for centuries, but you would use it against your king. You wanted me dead, if not by cold then by my being attacked in the night. You’ve always hated me, I know it.’
Klaufi tried to protest but Boroden’s teeth chattered with cold and rage and he was beyond caring to enter an argument.
Keahborah padded onto the balcony, eagerly pursued by Hëkitarka. She had promised him another ride in her dragon form.
Boroden glared. ‘Hëkitarka, what are you doing? I told you to keep away from that lass.’
Hëkitarka froze, processing his cousin’s words as hazily as if he had woken from a dream. ‘Ah, hum, what? But Cousin B, we’re married.’
‘It’s true, Majesty,’ Klaufi said.
‘Gefi, restrain them both. I need to hear the full particulars of this shocking story.’ Boroden stepped back, eying his cousin as if he had become a dragon himself. Hëkitarka was aghast.
‘First you need to get some warmth into you. The dragon lord is out. Come and sit by the fire in his hall.’ Quentillian pointed Boroden towards Lord Gormor’s throne. Boroden took it, taking a mischievous pleasure in usurping Lord Gormor’s place after the vouivres had, so he believed, insulted his clan with their schemes to make an allegiance. Aira had told him where Lord Gormor had gone. Lord Gormor must be in league with Krysila or else he would not spend so long conversing with her.
‘Arrest him too,’ Quentillian bawled, gesturing at Harfan as he entered contentedly swinging the latest copy of War Hammers Weekly in his hand.
Boroden rose and paced before Hëkitarka who crouched bound. The other brownies stood around in an irresolute gaggle. Quentillian was doing his best to restrain Keahborah who was clawing wildly and mingling her protests with spitting out fireballs, one of which caught Boroden’s cloak. Tearing it off he stamped on it venomously. The whole situation was distasteful to Boroden and he wished himself a thousand miles away. He could not comprehend Hëkitarka’s passion for this dragon. It was as if Hëkitarka too had transformed into a monster and was not the little cousin he knew. Boroden glared hatefully at the wedding scar on Keahborah’s finger as Quentillian grabbed her arms to stop her wrestling to reach Hëkitarka.
‘You’ve bewitched him. He’s under some enchantment to be sure,’ Boroden began.
‘No, I swear it. I never would desire that he love me back even though I love him so. I am a monster it is true and cursed. But my love loved me despite that. He broke my curse.’ At such a happy memory in so awful a situation Keahborah gasped painfully, her fighting spirit turning to despair.
Harfan cast her a reassuring look. ‘I’ll handle this, Ke. I know you’re brave but now’s not the time. You must take care of yourself, for Hëki and me.’
Keahborah nodded understandingly as Harfan spoke. Quentillian was so surprised at her suddenly becoming placid that she easily eluded him and dodged towards Hëkitarka. She stopped at a warning glance from Harfan.
Aira put her arms around Keahborah which appalled Boroden. Aira leaned to her friend saying apologetically, ‘don’t take it to heart. Boroden doesn’t meant it, he’s just tired.’
‘Why is he not bound? He’s in league with the monsters too.’ Quentillian pointed at Harfan, his eyes almost starting from his infuriated face.
Harfan huffed. ‘Honestly! I need no bonds. I mean none of you any harm and neither does Tarka.’
‘You call consorting with pixies, pixies which can shapeshift into dragons what is more, no harm? They are our sworn enemies. You must be punished, banished from our clan. Both of you. You’re of the line of Peladach, you should show more pride. You shame your royal blood,’ Quentillian said.
‘You aided and abetted your brother’s unfortunate alliance to this she-dragon. You cannot deny it. We have evidence against you,’ Quentillian said forcefully.
‘I searched your room and found this idol.’ Quentillian gestured Klaufi to fetch a bundle from under a chair.
‘We cannot be sure that he made it,’ Boroden said.
‘Hëkitarka denied knowing anything about it. Besides, Klaufi said that he had seen Harfan cutting a branch of lime wood.’ Quentillian motioned to Klaufi who drew out a half painted wooden dragon, beautifully made and cleverly jointed. Its wings gave a hesitant flap in Klaufi’s hands as if it wanted to take off.
Harfan looked the toy in the eye, raising an eyebrow in mock disapproval. ‘Puff, you weren’t meant to be seen.’
Hëkitarka grinned fondly at his brother.
Keahborah gasped elatedly. ‘Oh, Harfan you’re so kind. He will love it.’
‘You made this for Hëki?’ Boroden asked.
Nyd appeared unexpectedly behind Klaufi and snatched the toy from his hands. ‘No. This is for the next dragon lord.’
‘He means my little nephew or niece,’ Harfan said.
‘Your what?’ Boroden cast a disgusted glance at Hëkitarka.
The doors were thrown back in such heedless haste that, great though they were, they almost came off their hinges. Lord Gormor thundered in, his coat billowing about him like the sails of a storm-tossed galleon.
‘Out! Everybody must get out of here!’ He paused to catch his breath amidst the gathering, too absorbed to notice what was going on. ‘I’m sorry, Clancy, Lacy, Delasan; your parents are dead.’
Delasan howled with sorrow whilst Clancy froze in anguish and Lacy broke into tears. Harfan went to comfort them.
‘I had no idea that the sisters had parents here. Are they dragons too?’ Carnelian asked.
‘Yes,’ Gormor replied. ‘They keep us safe. They are great ice dragons of the north who chose always to wear the curse to freeze the river water so the land of Drackenfel could be reclaimed from the lake.’
‘What lake?’ Klaufi asked.
‘You wonder why no one suspects we are here? Well, Drackenfel is shown on any map as a lake. Now it is gone, its waters frozen to a great glacier. The appearance of there being a lake here only exists as glamour to fool passers-by that there is no land or dwelling of our kind here. Yet soon it will be a lake again. The Dark Mistress brought the kraken with her and she means to flood the valley and destroy us all. We must evacuate.’
‘We could keep the water frozen,’ Clancy said, though her sisters looked fearful.
‘No. The hills swarm with redcaps now. They will kill you before even the kraken does.’
‘Fly us to Velmoran. We’ll take it before Krysila suspects a thing,’ Hëkitarka encouraged.
‘Shut up,’ Quentillian growled.
Gormor’s eyes narrowed as he noticed that Hëkitarka was bound.
‘He is to be tried for an alliance that is loathsome to speak of. I suppose that you’re behind his union with this she-dragon?’ Quentillian barked at Gormor.
‘Hëkitarka is prince to your people and mine. I demand that you treat him with respect. I offer you hospitality, I offer my life and those of my kind to help you, all that is most precious to us. I would forge an alliance to last to eternity. But you treat me and my kind as worse than worms. Now you treat those I love as vermin and take them prisoner, usurping me. Since when did love and kindness become a crime?’
‘When it’s unnatural,’ Quentillian rankled.
‘Come, let us do what we should have done long ago. Let us leave this place. I curse Bresil for ever bringing us here,’ Boroden said.
Gormor’s nostrils flared dangerously.
Klaufi needed no bidding and was already cramming his pack full of his books of alchemy and enchantment. He urged Aira to pack too and was surprised that she refused.
Boroden motioned the brownies towards him. He was looking at Aira. ‘We must go. The Unseelie legions will be upon us in a moment and Krysila too I shouldn’t wonder. Now, I ask of you once again, will you follow me?’
Aira nodded eagerly. ‘Yes.’
‘We’ll follow you to the end,’ Carnelian told Boroden, clapping his shoulder.
Boroden’s gladness was frozen as Harfan interjected, ‘what? And leave these good vouivres to face our foe when they’ve been so kind to us? If we have brought them trouble, then we must stand by them.’
‘We are leaving,’ Boroden said sternly.
‘No!’ Harfan cried with a vehemence that appalled Boroden.
‘Harfan, they are not of our kind. Don’t you see that they mean to kill us? They’re not to be trusted. Quentillian is right. They’re dragons: serpents, monsters, creatures of the devil.’
The vouivres hissed in protest and Lord Gormor’s golden eyes flashed.
‘No, Cousin. They have hearts and souls just as you and I. We must show them compassion,’ Hëkitarka pleaded.
‘There is a place for that, but you know also that we must shun evil. You should have learned that having suffered for being too soft.’ Hëkitarka looked hurt and Boroden regretted his words for implying that a grudge was still between them over Hëkitarka’s behaviour towards Leanan Sídhe.
Boroden turned to Lord Gormor. ‘We wish to leave in peace,’ he said gently. Then he spoke to his clan, ‘can you not see that our place is not here. It is in Velmoran amongst the lush valleys and heathery clifftops with the sea glittering unending to the horizon. There are the lofty walls that will keep us safe, the harbour that will help us prosper. It is our home; what we dream of. And I mean to get you there even if it costs me every shred of my being.’
Long held flames of courage and longing kindled in Aira as he spoke. Hëkitarka and Harfan were encouraged too, although pain prickled them.
‘I can help you achieve that dream. Willingly. From your words it is as if you do not see that we dragons are not only bad. You have not thought of our strength. Together…’
Boroden cut Lord Gormor short. ‘We don’t want your help. I mean no offence, but it cannot be. We will leave as soon as we can and not trouble you further.’
‘Please, hear me out.’ Lord Gormor restrained Boroden as he made to gather his companions about him.
‘I think you should,’ Carnelian advised.
Boroden looked far from pleased, especially as Lord Gormor led the way to his counsel chamber where they would be locked in and surrounded by guards. Boroden curled his lip scornfully, guessing what he supposed to be Lord Gormor’s evil plan to threaten their lives so that a bargain should be concluded. ‘No. Never.’
Turning to his clan, Boroden ordered, ‘arm yourselves. We’re getting out of here.’
‘You will have to leave Hëki and I behind. Wash your hands of us, disinherit us if you will. This quest shall come to nothing, only misery, if you get your way. Only it won’t. It has brought Hëki the most precious thing of all and I am glad of that,’ Harfan said, inclining his head towards Keahborah.
‘See, this alliance cannot be broken between out kind. Some things are meant to be. One day a vouivre will sit upon the throne of Velmoran and the blood of Peladach will ever be mingled with dragon fire,’ Gormor prophesied.
‘No!’ Boroden cried, beside himself. Desperate to be alone he threw back the door and was pinned to the ground by a hobyah.
Gormor snorted in surprise and fury. Torden dealt the hobyah a death blow and Boroden brought down the next hobyah.
Yet they were only the vanguard of a hoard. Barely had Torden slammed the door and braced himself against it than piercing blows hit it accompanied the shrill screaming of hobyahs, a sound that Aira hoped never to hear again.
Clancy, Lacy and Delasan ran in, urging many of the other females and children before them. ‘We are surrounded.’
‘I’ve been driven away because of my dragon curse too many times. Not this time,’ Nyd declared, quivering with rage.
There was a splintering crack like thunder overhead. Having hacked through the wooden roof hobyahs swarmed in, dropping like spiders from the ceiling. Quentillian yelped as one plunged onto his shoulders, pressing a jagged splinter to his throat. Harfan dragged it off but narrowly escaped being pinched between two hobyahs attacking from either side.
‘This is a great evil that you have led here,’ Gormor growled. He made no effort to save Boroden, who was pinned under a team of three hobyahs, though he had easily saved two fellow vouivres who struggled against the hobyahs by breathing out timely bursts of fire. Whilst Carnelian and Gefi kicked and shoved the hobyahs away from Boroden, Gormor stood by nonchalantly smoothing his finely painted talons. ‘You say you are being hunted by a great kraken witch of the Unseelie Court? These are her vanguard come to capture you and knock the fight from you before she arrives. I am not a friend to Seelie or Unseelie Courts, or to you, but because of you our home will be destroyed.’
‘We can fight against them,’ Carnelian declared, matching his words with beating back a hobyah. Once Carnelian had a cause firing him there was no stopping him.
Gormor bit his lip hesitantly. ‘We can’t stand against the Unseelie sorceress. None of us have magic strong enough. No, I’m not going to risk resisting her.’
‘You mean to turn us in?’ Boroden yelled. His fight had left him breathless, but his anger flared easily against Gormor.
Hobyahs bunched together, bounding on all fours towards the council chamber where Klaufi knew Harfan and Hëkitarka to be. They must be mad, or their senses numbed by the haunting song of the vouivres which drifted from the room, Klaufi thought as he jumped from his hiding place under the stairs. Facing the hobyahs he brandished his wand. A murderous gleam was in the eye of the lead hobyah, but his bloodthirsty cry was cut short as Klaufi propelled him up to the ceiling with a burst of storm wind from his wand. Another hobyah launched a roughly made spear at Klaufi. Too late he stepped back. The spear knocked the wand clattering from his hand. Defenceless, Klaufi ran.
There was nowhere to go, only the council chamber from which came terrifying crashes and a fierce heat. A hot, shimmering veil was in the air as Klaufi threw back the door. Though full of pain, lit by dragon fire, there was something so graceful in the movement of the vouivres that the momentous occasion mesmerised Harfan and Hëkitarka. To Klaufi, however, the sight of the pixies transforming into dragons was hideous.
One of the young vouivres dipped his long neck and with a toss of his head Harfan sprawled upon his shoulders. Harfan gave a surprised cry, struggling to get a grip on the dragon’s richly striped bluish gold scales. ‘Whoa, this is slippery.’
‘Hold on tight!’ Hëkitarka called as the dragon batted his wings to ensure that Harfan was in place, then launched himself into the air, beating with his wings and tail like a rippling flag.
A fearsome horned dragon with a ruffed neck spotted Klaufi. As Nyd made towards him, Klaufi shrieked and fled. He should rather be spitted by hobyahs than snatched away by a dragon. Spotting his lost wand, he seized it and used it to send out a bolt of power to stun the hobyahs barring his way.
Boroden had gathered the clan by the heavy oak door, unable to beat it open. Klaufi shot the door down with a bolt from his wand.
‘Get up into the trees where we can save you,’ Hëkitarka shouted to his clan over the heads of the hobyahs.
Keahborah turned to him, now the last dragon to take flight from the hobyahs as they swarmed into the room. She reduced many of them to ashes with a fierce fireball, setting the room alight as she did so. It did not matter now. The house, so lovingly constructed, was soon to be no more.
She turned to Hëkitarka, the fire glistening in her green eyes. He braced himself to scramble onto her back.
An unearthly clattering squeal made him start towards the door. Terrified, Keelia had been hiding. A group of hobyahs dragged her out by the ribbons threaded in her hair, pinning her to the floor. Keahborah gave an answering cry, swiping her claws towards the hobyahs.
Hëkitarka unsheathed his sword. ‘Keahborah, you go. Wait for my coming to the clifftop where we first flew.’
Reluctant, she flew away. The draught from her wings flattened the hobyahs and Hëkitarka seized his advantage.
The flames went shouting up, twisting around the rafters. Keelia added to them with a burst of her own fire, sending a hobyah screaming. In a last vicious move the monster made to grab Hëkitarka and engulf him in flame. Hëkitarka dodged and leapt over the head of another hobyah, preventing her from fastening sinews of boar hide over Keelia’s jaws. Keelia snapped at another hobyah and found the strength to shake herself up, her fragile neck ruff and one of her wings torn.
The hobyahs fled in terror from the flames. Few had wanted to risk the attack in the first place and Krysila had only managed it by getting untried hobyahs and bribing them that they should have every forest in the kingdom of Velmoran for their own if they wiped out the race of vouivres.
One brave hobyah, however, faced Hëkitarka as he pushed Keelia into flight. Hëkitarka circled him with his sword and they fell into combat. The heat of the inferno was fierce and Hëkitarka was soon panting, fighting for his life.
The hobyah was relentless. The splinter he held was thick, both a cudgel and a sword. Hëkitarka ducked as he swung it at his head. The hobyah gripped the splinter in both hands, catching Hëkitarka’s desperate stab at him. With a flick of his wrist he shot the point down towards Hëkitarka’s heart. The look of surprise as the splinter blade was repelled by the armour of dragon scales turned to pain as Hëkitarka seized his advantage.
The wall of flame parted as Hëkitarka stepped forward. After the smoke and heat the lungful of chill air that Hëkitarka snatched as he emerged onto the clifftop was delicious. He stood an instant stayed by the sight of water pouring over the wall of ice at the head of the valley. The crack of it fissuring made his ears ring even from this distance. It should not be long before it gave way.
He stepped to the edge of the precipice. A light flurry of footsteps made him look back.
‘Tatty! I have come to save you. We have not much time. Mother will not hold back the water and we will be engulfed. Come to me.’
Leanan’s urgency stirred him but he dared not let himself be swayed. He asked to test her, knowing that his clan had headed to safety, ‘what about the others? Will you not save them too?’
‘They have already abandoned you it seems. See, this shows them truly. They have no care for you. They think only of Velmoran and will heed only their misguided king. Your efforts to please are wasted on them. Come home to me.’
She may not have faith in his companions, but he did. With her it was all selfish longing for him. At last he had found a sense of family broader and warmer than anything that Leanan might offer him. The vouivres would not let him down and nor would his fellow brownies.
Below him he heard the sound he sought. It was so faint that it might have been the wind puffing into a hollow in the rock. As Leanan stepped towards him he moved back, plunging over the cliff.