When goblins attack their cottage, Aira and Gretchen escape with some unlikely help
|Redcaps sprang towards them, tossing a grappling hook with a rope onto the thatch by the chimney so that they might climb up. For an instant Aira contemplated seizing the rope and trying to fight a way free from the redcaps.
Wings buffeted her face.
‘Hold on!’ Gretchen cried.
The bird was a jay and unfamiliar to them, but the brownies decided to cling to its claws as it swept away, dodging sparks and stones hurled by the redcaps.
As they flew over the heads of the two ladies Aira saw one look up. She expected her to alert the other sídhe that the brownies were escaping. Instead, a slow smile spread across the woman’s lips as she watched the jay fleet away.
‘It’s going near a tree. Jump!’ Gretchen urged.
The leaves brushed beneath them fast, interspersed with treacherous gaps that led to a fall to the forest floor. Some minutes passed before the brownies summoned the courage to jump away from the jay.
Gretchen hung by one hand on a fragile twig. Aira almost toppled as she tried to rescue her. They half scrambled, half slithered, down the smooth bark of the crab apple tree. Aira kissed its dryad a tearful farewell and the brownies resumed their true heights to run more swiftly. They had no idea which way or where to go, only seeking to get away from their attackers.
They had not gone far when Gretchen gave a cry of terror. A company of redcaps headed towards them, late to join the fracas.
Aira jolted round as a redcap raised his axe over her, its blade flashing in the moonlight. Petrified as she faced death, a strange presence, like a bubble of rainbow hues, filled her mind. A voice, at once familiar and changed, called her name. Before her she saw, as in day, the path that their clan had taken.
‘This way!’ she cried breathlessly to Gretchen, eluding the redcap’s swung axe by an inch. The way they ran was overgrown and rocky. From her pursed lips, Aira could tell Gretchen thought her mad to move so surely in the dark.
By first light they shook off the redcaps. Aira explained that last night a mysterious mental connection had been forged between her and her cousin, Hëkitarka. All night she had heard the brownie prince’s voice in her head guiding her, showing her his pictured memories of the way that the clan had taken.
Gretchen shivered mournfully. ‘It’ll take us ages to reach the clan for they’re so far ahead. We’ve nothing but our clothes and they’re ruined by soot and shan’t keep out the cold or rain. All our food and belongings are left behind.’
Aira put on a brave face. ‘The woods will be kind and provide for us, I’m sure.’ She helped Gretchen to her feet and they set off.