Boroden is captured by some brownies who turn out to be long lost friends
|Boroden tried to hold his nerve and resign himself to bravely facing the group of brownies casting uneasy looks in his direction as they prepared to make their nests in the driftwood shelters that they had constructed on the beach. Inside he quailed like a cornered animal. He had cared so conscientiously for his clan. Now he feared that they would condemn him without a second thought once they learned his secret.
The warrior guarding him suddenly became alert, having caught an unfamiliar scent. ‘Who goes there?’
Before he had taken a step to investigate he froze as if he had suddenly become a statue. Klaufi panted proudly up to Boroden and ripped the gag from his mouth.
‘You idiot, Spadefoot. Why did you have to come? Don’t you see you’ve destroyed every hope we’ve got? They’ll never trust me now I’m seen being set free by a sorcerer.’
‘You said you’d stop sorcery being outlawed once you were King.’
‘I’m not King and I might never be now thanks to you!’ Boroden snarled so fiercely that Klaufi took a step back, fixing the captive with an alarmed look.
‘Majesty, your teeth…’ Before Klaufi could continue one of the onlookers made a grab at him. Klaufi gobbled out a hasty spell. A protective shimmering orb immediately surrounded him.
Confounded by almost stunning himself as he hit his head with his own shield, the surprised brownie turned to Boroden. ‘I’m sorry, my prince, but I must keep King Mazgrim’s commands.’
Boroden shook his head violently, resisting the attempts to gag him again. ‘Let me speak. Am I not allowed even that?’
‘Who is this fellow?’ a brownie asked, nodding to Klaufi.
‘Klaufi Spadefoot of Lutraudros. He’s a well-meaning chap but incredibly stupid, not seeing any distinction between permitted magic and those lesser spells that are banned. I give you my word he means you no harm. Nor do I. I had never thought to receive such a welcome as this from my own clan. All these years of toil and strife against dangers more awful than you can imagine, and the thing that kept me going was knowing that I did it for the sake of you all. I dreamed of our clan being reunited within sight of Velmoran. Yet now the time has come you lash me to the rock like a loathsome criminal.’
‘You are a loathsome criminal and deserve no better.’ Hulgaf Clarick strode to meet them.
‘Why did you not free me when you had time?’ Boroden berated Klaufi.
‘That would do you no good, Ulfharen. I would still catch you and do anything I please with you,’ Hulgaf menaced. ‘Seize the traitor,’ she barked at the brownies following her, pointing to Klaufi.
‘It’s you what’s the traitor,’ Klaufi declared.
A circle of seaweed slippery with brine formed about Klaufi, making anyone who attempted to capture him tumble. Boroden whined and bucked against his bonds, trying to attract Klaufi’s attention. He knew that to be freely caught using magic might cost Klaufi his life. Though the distraction had brought Klaufi time, he was too preoccupied with smugly causing the weed to twine around the flailing brownies to notice Boroden or Hulgaf.
Unfastening the rope used to moor a human coracle in the cove, Hulgaf formed it into a noose and lassoed Klaufi. He was dragged, struggling, towards her. As she fell upon Klaufi a burst of power knocked her back. Immediately she met Klaufi’s aura with one of her own, making it cower. Klaufi was futile against such a force. Brownies gasped in consternation to see that Hulgaf Clarick, their most staunch defender against magic, was a sorceress herself.
Klaufi’s power was almost utterly crushed when Hulgaf let out a cry of pain. Her aura dissolved as she clapped her hand to the iron mooring ring for the boat. Harfan had thrown it about her neck and it glowed like a hot coal, searing her skin.
‘Iron does not burn brownies. Be assured she is not one of us but a sídhe sorceress and Krysila’s daughter. She takes brownie form to trick you all,’ Harfan told the gathered clan.
Carnelian grabbed Hulgaf’s wrists so that she could not remove the ring that was sapping her magic and energy.
‘Cast her adrift in the boat,’ Caillie cried, helping Harfan to bundle her inside. Harfan bound her to one of the rowing seats.
‘Are you sure this is wise?’ Lord Nasumbellus asked as Harfan directed a team of brownies to haul the boat towards the waves.
‘What else can I do? I cannot slay the witch, for if I did I should die myself,’ Harfan retorted.
‘I mean, is it not rather cruel? What proof have you?’
‘That of my own eyes.’
‘King Mazgrim will not be pleased to know of this. He put stead by her. Her mother is his concubine.’
‘I do not fear King Mazgrim. As for Lady Betaine, she too masquerades. She is Krysila the kraken. With her arts of witchery she has taken on brownie form.’
The assembled clan gave startled cries.
Quentillian puffed to Harfan’s side. ‘King Mazgrim cannot know of this. She must have duped him.’
‘Do you have the elixir?’ Carnelian asked Torden.
Torden looked crestfallen. ‘No. Mazgrim slipped by. He has Krysila’s sorcery on his side.’
Gefi gleefully ran to push Hulgaf out to sea.
‘Prince Harfan does not deal such justice lightly. We all saw Hulgaf in her true form as the Dark Mistress and have felt her malice,’ Quentillian said.
‘Doubtless her suffering will only be temporary. Once her mother gets wind of it she’ll free her to plague us again,’ Harfan grumbled.
‘Then won’t setting her adrift at sea make Krysila angrier?’ Caillie’s father, Lord Nasumbellus, asked.
‘I care not. I mean to make her angrier still when we retake Velmoran.’ Rousing cheers greeted Harfan’s words.
Aira tore across the beach, her hair slapping and stinging in her eyes as stray wisps flicked across her face. She saw that Harfan was surrounded by the clan of brownies. Torden’s party too had been absorbed into the gathering. Perhaps they were being questioned? They neglected Boroden, that much was evident. If she did not free him quickly there was every chance that Mazgrim would deal a cruel verdict over him.
‘Boroden,’ she hissed, half choking as she fought to control her heaving breath now she was at his side. Regaining her full height after scurrying across the sand had left her dizzy.
Boroden was cowering like a sick animal, sinking his head into his collar so that she could not see his face.
‘Boroden?’ she repeated. At her touch he let out a low whine and flinched away.
‘I’m going to cut you loose,’ she whispered, moving to slice the bonds.
An approaching shadow fell upon her.
‘Carnelian!’ she gasped in relief.
Carnelian sawed through the ropes binding Boroden.
‘Where’s Hulgaf?’ Aira asked Harfan anxiously.
Harfan laughed. ‘Half way across the ocean for all I care.’ He nodded to the coracle being dragged out to sea with the receding tide.
Carnelian had brought Boroden’s silver lined cloak and draped it carefully over him. Previously unresponsive, Boroden suddenly started into life and sang out in a voice as hoarse and urgent as a dog yelping in pain, ‘gloves.’
Carnelian hastily rolled them from their ball and Boroden thrust his hands into them.
Harfan opened his mouth in alarm as Boroden made this motion but closed it with a puzzled look. Boroden drew away from him fretfully, trying to hide his hands beneath his cloak.
Aira noticed that the ends of each finger of his gloves had been torn through. ‘I’ll mend them for you if you like?’ she offered.
The brownies fell into a startled silence as Boroden walked into their midst. ‘Friends, it is good to see you,’ he began falteringly. He looked drained and dazed.
‘Who is she?’ Lord Nasumbellus asked, his attention having been caught by Aira.
‘My cousin Aira, Lady Frenudin, daughter of Freya,’ Harfan introduced her.
A murmur ran around the assembly like a gust on a summer’s day. Many of the brownies rolled on the sand in loyal welcome. Delighted eyes gazed upon Aira. She smiled kindly at them.
Lord Nasumbellus knelt and touched her hand to his forehead as a gesture of respect. ‘Lady Frenudin! Greatly welcome.’
‘It is lovely to meet you, all of you,’ Aira greeted them enthusiastically. She was delighted to see her old neighbour the brownie miller Killmouli amongst the crowd.
‘It brings me fresh hope to see you again, Aira. Your father would be proud,’ Killmouli said.
‘I gathered all I could from far and wide as soon as I heard the summons to Velmoran. Many of us are dwindled and downtrodden but fresh hope kindled at the thought we should once again be within the walls of out homeland. It is a happy thing that you have found us,’ Lord Nasumbellus said.
‘You have heard of the terms set upon us by the Seelie Court? Well, I have come to lead us back to our homeland if you choose it. Will you follow me?’ Boroden asked.
‘You are Peladach’s true heir. If Lady Frenudin follows you then so shall we.’ Cheers of agreement followed Lord Nasumbellus’s words.
‘What about King Mazgrim?’ one of the brownie elders piped up amongst the pledges of loyalty.
Carnelian cast Boroden a conspiratorial glance and replied, ‘he may come around. However, we cannot confront him whilst he is still in the power of Krysila. It would be to no avail and besides that very perilous.’
Gefi ran up from where he had been greeting his parents. ‘Some ill-omened crows circled overhead as if they were spying on us. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were Leanan Sídhe’s familiars.’
‘We are no safer if we retreated to the cave than we are here on the beach. The kraken could easily find us,’ Killmouli fretted, tugging his scarf tighter about his neck as fear of the kraken gave him a palpable chill.
‘I know a place where she cannot touch us. There we would be a little nearer to it than Velmoran and it would be as well to bide time there and make our plans,’ Carnelian advised, helping Lord Nasumbellus to pull his coracle ashore.
‘Where do you mean?’
‘My friend the Grim will not suffer evil to enter God’s house.’
Boroden looked puzzled. ‘You said the monastery had been abandoned and fallen into the sea in a storm.’
‘That is how the humans see it. The ghost of it still survives in the faerie world. To us it is the most holy of places,’ Carnelian said.
They spent the remainder of the night in the furthest reaches of the cave where the sea could not touch them. Aira slept only a little because of the strangeness of it all. In the morning she was surprised to see how far the sea had gone out, leaving a broad lake of white sand.
Having packed at first light, they set off for the monastery. They aimed to reach it before many of the humans in the village nearby stirred. Already the night had worn thin.
Aira walked with Caillie’s family. His youngest son insisted on riding in his grandfather’s quiver where he sat wedged between a sack of blankets and provisions. It gave Aira strength to think that they fought so that the little ones around her and others not yet born might have a home.
Everything was so still that they could hear every sigh of the sea though it washed some way from the clifftop path up which they threaded. Most of Boroden’s companions on his journey were in front guided by Carnelian, although Quentillian and Gefi brought up the rear.
The pink streaking the eastern sky grew from delicate to lush. The first gannet soared over the waves from the sea stack. Soon they left the exposed sheep fields and climbed downwards. It was a human path upon which lay slabs of broad stone forming steps. Some were so high that the younger brownies had to jump down them. This spot was more sheltered, and the air was richer. Ancient, twisted damson trees grew in abundance, their trunks arrayed in a velvet of grey lichen. Moss and ferns flourished. Birds hopped down to greet the travellers.
By the time that they reached the village they found themselves in so thick a wood that they did not notice the first cottage until the garden wall was nearly upon them. Though the sun was about to rise no human had set foot out of doors, although a few wreaths of smoke had begun to curl from the chimneys. The village was strangely deserted but for some restless cattle and ponies.
The place was a higgledy mixture of low limewashed cottages, each facing a different way. Gardens overflowed with vegetables and flowering herbs, lobster pots and small rowing boats that had been pulled ashore. The leaves of runner beans formed a wide skirt around a wigwam of poles. At the near end of the village was a harbour, although it was small for the sea in this nook of the coast was often fierce. Today its mood was mercifully placid. It seemed impossible that it had torn such great chunks from the cliffs as those boulders littering the beach. Stories began to be told amongst the clan that the rocks had been wrenched down by Krysila as she vented her rage.
Aira’s focus, however, was upon another victim of the storm. Once the monastery had stood bravely between the village and the sea. Now all that remained was one high wall bearing within it the entrance door and at its top a bell tower and bell that would no longer call the monks to their vespers. Beyond it few blocks of masonry remained, the walls having been pillaged by nearby humans to repair their barns and cottages.
The brownies entered through an immaculate studded gate set in a thick wall, which was odd as it no longer led to any place useful to humans. All about them forget-me-nots bloomed between the tomb stones. There had once been many more graves and Aira shuddered at the thought of how the remains of those laid to rest had been gobbled by the sea, known now only to God.
Whilst the others ambled inquisitively in the graveyard, Aira went straight to the door. At the threshold she found Boroden beside her. On the opposite side of the door they could see grass and the sea and expected to see nothing different upon stepping through. Still, they could not resist passing beneath the doorway.
As soon as they did so the air shimmered as if lightening struck, except that instead of bringing illuminating brightness their surroundings became dim and lit by flickering candles. The lofty, beautiful bones of a vaulted roof rose overhead and echoed with a harmony of hymns. It seemed like being in the protective belly of a great beast.
Something huge, black and snarling leapt out at them. It was a bristling dog with blazing eyes. Both brownies shrieked and Boroden reached desperately for his sword as the dog pounced its forepaws against his shoulders, pinning him to the wall.
Carnelian rushed to their rescue. ‘Leave off, Grim. These are friends.’
The dog sniffed suspiciously but upon beholding the crucifix at Aira’s neck he drew back, placid.
‘This is the Grim. He protects the monastery from evil,’ Carnelian explained.
‘Well he hasn’t done a very good job; the kraken destroyed it,’ Boroden commented, shaken.
‘He did what he could. The monastery still stands as a place for those faeries who believe, as you see. To human eyes and to children of Satan like Krysila it appears destroyed,’ Carnelian explained.
‘Carnelian? It is you? I can barely believe it. It is indeed a blessing to see you.’ The brownie who came to meet them had snowy hair and worn teeth, though his countenance was as alert and good-natured as ever Carnelian remembered it. Throwing down his walking stick, which had a carved robin for its handle, he slapped Carnelian on the back warmly and extended the favour to Boroden, Aira and Harfan, though the Grim still regarded them suspiciously.
‘I am Bodachan Sabhaill, welcome to my home.’
Boroden introduced himself. ‘I am Boroden Ulfharen, King of House Elves, and ruler over the brownie kingdom of Velmoran. I have come to reclaim our homeland and by God’s grace return peace and happiness to my suffering people. We come here looking for sanctuary. We ask that we might share the protection of the monastery and your prayers whilst we make our plans and muster our strength.’
‘The King of Velmoran as I live and breath! I have prayed long for this day though I had begun to despair, for the hold of the kraken has only grown. This will teach me to doubt. I will play what part I may in defeating evil. I tried to speak to King Mazgrim and even the kraken herself hoping that they would see the right path. Instead Krysila destroyed this sacred place. See how the souls of the monks stir, restless whilst it is threatened.’ Bodachan Sabhaill indicated a row of hooded figures processing to their vespers.
Carnelian shook his head, remembering many of their faces.
‘I would see them at rest and the monastery rebuilt. But you are not dead?’ Boroden asked Bodachan Sabhaill.
‘No. Like you I have taken refuge here,’ Bodachan Sabhaill said. He had been joined by his wife and several other brownies who had been hiding in the monastery, their faith keeping them safe from Krysila. They rejoiced to be reunited with their clan. Even the Grim began to wag his tail in a very jolly way for a guard dog.
The whole clan somehow managed to fit into the monastery. However, there was little space to spare once they had set up camps on the floor, for the monastery was a small affair in human terms serving the poor and isolated communities of this coastal land.
Aira pondered the strangeness of seeing the ghostly monks pass by oblivious to the brownies. Klaufi gave a startled cry and shivered as a monk walked through him.
The brownies joined in the prayers and hymns and services. The next morning found them ranged in rows, Aira between Carnelian and Harfan who were both armed and dressed in adder slough chain mail. They prepared to form part of a reconnaissance party to scout the countryside for the best route to take for their attack on Krysila. It seemed apt that the abbot spoke of donning the armour of righteousness and standing firm in the attack.
The chant of the monks was, unknown to them, accompanied by Bodachan Sabhaill’s accordion and Gefi’s bagpipes. The brownies sang with heartfelt gusto, their voices joining in solidarity. Though so many sang loudly, Aira heard distinctly one voice behind her. The sound of Boroden singing those words so gladly filled Aira with joy. The fact of Boroden turning to trust in God was to Aira and Carnelian as good as if Velmoran were already won. Aira felt more secure and hopeful than she had in years.