When goblins attack their cottage, Aira and Gretchen escape with some unlikely help
|Redcaps sprang towards Aira and Gretchen, tossing a grappling hook with a rope onto the thatch by the chimney in order to climb up. Aira thought of seizing the rope and trying to fight a way free from the redcaps, but it appeared hopeless.
A shadow flitted over Aira. Wings buffeted her face. The bird was a jay and unfamiliar to Aira. What did it want? Why had it come now as if summoned? Would it help or not?
Before she knew it, the bird seized her and Gretchen in its claws.
‘Hold on!’ Gretchen cried.
Aira nodded to Gretchen, agreeing with her decision to cling to the jay’s claws as it swept away, dodging sparks and stones hurled by the redcaps. After her years spent helping the creatures of the forest, she could not believe the jay was evil. It held her and Gretchen too gently to view them as prey.
As they flew over the heads of the two ladies, Aira saw one look up. Her heart tightened, expecting the lady 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. Aira wondered where she had seen those full, rosy lips before…
Aira scrunched her eyes closed to block out the view of the ground rushing below her. The jay tightened its grip about her middle.
Gretchen whimpered, seizing Aira’s hand. ‘We need to get away. It might have chicks it will feed us to.’
‘Not in autumn. I don’t think it means us harm. It might need our help.’
‘Don’t count on it, lass. As soon as we can we get to the ground and run.’
Aira darted a look at the earth hurtling beneath her dangling feet. ‘Easier said than done.’
‘It’s going near a tree. Jump!’ Gretchen urged.
Aira fixed her attention on the approaching treetops, poised to grab a branch and struggle free from the jay. Leaves brushed beneath her fast, interspersed with treacherous gaps leading to a fall to the forest floor.
‘Now!’ Aira shouted to Gretchen, summoning 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.
The jay winged away, which surprised Aira as she expected it would try and capture them again.
The brownies scrambled and slithered down the smooth bark of the crab apple tree. Aira kissed its dryad a tearful farewell. The brownies resumed their true heights to run more swiftly. Seeking only to get away from danger, Aira had no idea which way or where to go.
She and Gretchen had not gone far when Gretchen cried out in terror. A company of redcaps headed towards them. The goblins must have heard her urging Gretchen to jump. Part of her wished she and Gretchen had let the jay take them further away. The light of the burning cottage stabbed red across the undergrowth a short distance away. Maybe the jay had intended to take them to a safe place well away from the redcaps?
Aira tugged at Gretchen’s arm, her stepmother’s pointed ears twitching as she bent to whisper, ‘Gretchen, follow me. They won’t see us in the ivy.’
Aira led the way to a dark clump of ivy strangling about a fallen tree. She pulled back a slippery handful of ivy tendrils, waiting for Gretchen to get beneath them. ‘You first.’
Aira jolted round as a redcap raised his axe over her, its blade flashing in the moonlight. Petrified as she faced death, her wrist glowed and her mother’s magical bracelet suddenly felt heavier. A strange presence, like a bubble of rainbow hues, filled Aira’s mind. A voice, at once familiar and changed, called her name. A spark of light dropped from the bracelet to the ground, illuminating in a glowing thread the path that Boroden and his companions took on their journey to Velmoran.
‘This way!’ she cried breathlessly to Gretchen, eluding the redcap’s swung axe by an inch.
Each footfall was treacherous on the overgrown, rocky terrain. From her pursed lips, Aira could tell Gretchen thought her mad to move so surely in the dark.
Behind her, Aira caught the dreaded cry of a redcap. ‘There’s something there. Quick lads, spread out and find it.’
Redcaps fanned out like a swarm of angry wasps, thrashing the long stems of plants and lifting their torches high in an attempt to see the brownies.
Inflamed from the contact of the icy night air, Aira’s skin burned as hot a dwarven forge as she pelted away. Gretchen tore after her, her breathing fearfully loud. It terrified Aira to think of the redcaps locating Gretchen from the sound of her panting breath.
Clearly unable to see the lit pathway that Aira saw before her, Gretchen stumbled into a patch of nettles, letting out a surprised sob. Aira pulled her up and they ran on hand in hand.
Throwing a look over her shoulder, Aira found the light of the redcaps’ torches receding.
Rubbing her stung hands, Gretchen paused beside Aira. ‘Thank goodness. They must think they just heard a deer and be heading back to join the other redcaps about our cottage.’
Noticing Gretchen’s pace slacken, Aira urged her on. ‘We can’t stop yet. Not until we’re sure we’re well away from them.’
By first light, Aira felt certain she and Gretchen had shaken off the redcaps. The two brownies stopped for a breather beneath the arch of a bowed tree. Its branches cupped about them like protective hands.
Gretchen looked up at Aira, her chest heaving and her hair plastered over her face. She had lost her cap somehow in the chase. ‘How did you know which way to go? You seemed very sure of yourself.’
Given the morning mist veiling the woodland, Aira guessed that to Gretchen her confidence in picking out a route looked extraordinary. ‘Hëki helped me.’
‘But Prince Hëkitarka is far away with Boroden.’
Aira tucked her numb hands into her apron pocket to warm them. ‘I thought it strange at first too, but you know he has magic. I think the powers in my mother’s bracelet helped connect our thoughts. All night I heard his voice in my head guiding me, showing me his pictured memories of the way the clan took.’
Gretchen brought her fists up to her chin with a gleeful expression. ‘Thank goodness. Shall we reach them soon?’
Aira’s optimism wavered. ‘They’re travelling into the foothills of the mountains. As they’ve had a headstart of a few months, we’ll have to move swiftly to find them.’
Gretchen shivered mournfully. ‘Easier said than done. We’ve nothing but a few oddments in our pockets and 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.
Buy the full novel on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BK3219VX/ref=ewc_pr_img_1?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER...