Boroden joins forces with a flying pony to help his fellow brownies escape an evil king
|Midhir twisted his hazel wand, gloating as he threatened to unleash his magic on the brownies. He would make them rue standing against him. ‘You have little choice. Slavery or death. You’re no fool, Leon. You know Boroden Ulfharen is an imbecile. You should give him up. Join my palace servants - you have Frenudin’s blood in you after all. I’d be glad for one of sídhe ancestry to serve me.’
Leon stood resolute. ‘Boroden is my king and brother in arms. Never will I disobey him. Midhir, I beg you, don’t be hasty. We might come to some arrangement. The Seelie Court would settle this.’
‘There’s only one way to settle errant brownies.’
As Midhir sought for suitably repellent punishments to elaborate on his words, there came a brisk ringing of the bell at the gate. The guards looked at Midhir questioningly.
‘It’s probably my wife returning from her ride. You’d better open it,’ Midhir told them, waving his hand in dismissal. Queen Fúamnach had a way of appearing when he least wanted her.
Opening the gate, the guards exclaimed in surprise. ‘Sire, there’s no one there.’
Midhir suppressed a growl. ‘There must be. Get to searching.’
Spears in attack position, the guards stepped forward. Their yells made Midhir start. Thuds and clangs split the air as their armoured bodies hit the ground, pinned under a pile of flour sacks that fell from where they had been poised above the door. One guard struggled up coughing, white as a phantom from the flour burst over him.
Boroden appeared in the gateway with a triumphant grin. How had he escaped? He was supposed to be captured or killed by the sídhe, not appearing outside the gates. Midhir sucked in his breath as he saw how, with the guards sprawling helpless beneath the flour sacks, the way was now open for the brownies to escape. Some of them lost no time in fleeing, trampling over the sprawling guards.
A flying pony alighted beside Boroden and he introduced her to Leon as he pulled Leon towards the open gates. ‘This is Blackthorn. I heaved the flour sacks onto her back and she flew up to poise the sacks above the gates so they’d fall and crush the guards once the gates opened.’
Midhir seethed. ‘Very clever. But you’ve forgotten I have magic.’
As if reading his mind, Boroden waved the remaining brownies to make haste towards the gates. ‘Run, quick. Take the ponies for those injured in the fight.’
The horse traders backed away, uttering dismayed cries. Following a whinny from Blackthorn, the ponies let the brownies cut their lead ropes. Midhir hoped that Leon at least would see sense, since he seemed the most reasonable of the brownies, but Leon mounted one of the ponies at Boroden’s side. The herd of ponies galloped after Blackthorn as she and Boroden took to the air. Overwhelmed by the surging cavalcade, the guards did nothing. Idiots! Midhir fumed. Hunting hounds would be far more astute than these cowardly sídhe guards.
Lifting his wand, Midhir used the magic within it to channel a barrier of resistance to block off the entrance to the human world towards which the brownies fled.
Before his wizardry could seal the brownies’ escape, the air shimmered as a thousand rainbow-coloured lightning bolts parried back and forth. A powerful aura resisted his own magic.
It must have been somebody within the fortress!
Midhir renewed his spell, but it was too late. He watched the last of the brownies slip through the gates to safety.
‘Who did that?’ Midhir snarled at the speckle of fearful folk remaining in the courtyard. No one answered. Midhir jabbed his finger at his flour dredged guards. ‘Find them.’
Midhir stalked back to his throne room. Who would dare to resist him? They were clearly in sympathy with the brownie clan. The answer was simple. He had suspicions already of the brownies having supporters here.
‘Send to all the villages and have the brownies there questioned, under force if necessary. Spare not one of them,’ he ordered his chief of guards.
As the guards swept into the courtyard, Airen’s stomach churned. He had no idea of the intentions of the troop of sídhe, but he sensed they meant no good. Shading his face with his hood, he slipped away as inconspicuously as possible. He shuddered, weak and panting after his effort to resist Midhir, yet a gleam of triumph shone in his heart.
He caressed Freya’s bracelet, moved that she had given him the grace to use its power. Contained within it, passed down from Frenudin to her daughters, was ancient magic. Airen had used the bracelet to channel a protective aura to shield the fleeing brownies from Midhir. Aira would be proud of him. He knew she regarded Boroden fondly. What a pity she was not here to see him - the boy king already appeared a worthier leader of the clan than Gruagach had been.
Airen had missed Leon, and perhaps his chance of journeying with him to Lutraudros, yet a new clarity softened this blow. Almost as if the bracelet spoke to him, he knew the time had come to give it to Aira. She must know who she truly was.
He headed home, passing Queen Fúamnach on his way. She had reopened the portal between the human lands and the faerie world as she led the mounted hunting party of courtiers back into the fortress. Good, that meant he would be able to return to Tullochgorm Castle and the brownie village. Even better, Fúamnach’s arrival would probably distract Midhir from following the brownies. Fúamnach was generally known to be benevolent to House Elves, and not afraid to disagree with her husband.
Shrike nearly collided with Airen as he slipped out of the gates. The boggart cast him an ugly sneer. Used to his ways, Airen nodded curtly and hastened his step. Airen expected Shrike to call some snide remark, but instead Shrike hurried away. Airen narrowed his eyes, bemused as Shrike clomped up the steps to the palace door.
Midhir glowered at the flour sprinkling from the chief guard’s head onto the polished marble floor as he made a low bow before his throne.
‘King Midhir, this creature wants to speak with you,’ the chief guard said, stepping aside to reveal a long-limbed creature in ragged clothes.
The rank stench of the unkempt boggart sent Midhir recoiling back into the sumptuous velvet cushions of his throne. Already out of sorts with brownies, a boggart was the last thing that he wanted to see.
Shrike tugged his greasy hair in what Midhir could only assume he meant as a gesture of respect. ‘Sire, I have information about the brownies.’
Midhir flicked his wrist dismissively. ‘If I hear one word more about them I’ll rip out the tongue of he who utters it - with my nails.’
‘But you’d want to hear this I reckon. You want to know who invited them brownies to settle here? Well, I know the culprit.’
‘Go on,’ Midhir said with little faith.
‘It’s the swordsmith, Airen. I overheard him talking to one of the brownie chieftains very friendly like. Leon the chieftain was called. It seems Airen married Leon’s sister. Leon was wondering if him and his daughter might come and settle with him.’
This sounded more promising than Midhir imagined. ‘Daughter? You mean Leon has a niece?’
‘Aye. Aira’s what they call her. A stuck-up wench if ever I saw one, marred by her father’s prissy ways.’
Midhir barely listened. His lips curled into a slow smile. ‘Fúamnach, bring me my looking glass.’
Midhir’s wife did as he bid. His skin prickled in irritation as she leaned against the gilded branch arm of the throne, watching jealously over his shoulder. He breathed an incantation, misting the glass. It cleared to show a sunny meadow. Skipping across it, bright and lovely as the flowers about her, was a golden-haired brownie lass.
Midhir narrowed eyes, stroking his chin with a possessive smile.