DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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Horsemen, Pass by!
Do you believe in faeries? Not the other fairies, the ones that flutter around your head like little butterflies. No, these are big, full-size faeries, that can look straight at you and bring a chill of fear to your heart. The kind that might just, if you’re unlucky, thrust you through with their long, sharp swords. Be careful when you read or hear this story, because you’ll be meeting them, and very soon. Let’s start, as always at the beginning.
It was one of those beautiful, warm, bright days, that was perfect for the last day of May. The sun, alone in a great blue cloudless sky, was reflected in the shining tiled roofs of the Victorian and Edwardian houses in the Fiveways district, high above the rest of Brighton. From above, the presence of the sea could be seen as a dark blue line, seeming to rise above the seaward side of the city. Seagulls rose and fell in the great blue bowl of sky, high above the small human figures scattered over the green grass of Preston Park: families with small children in pushchairs, groups of sunbathers, and people, just generally walking and ambling about, enjoying the warmth of a new summer. It was, in fact, a perfect Sunday.
Some said that they first heard a jingling of metal, and the steady thump of horses’ hoofs. Others claimed they saw fragments of gleaming light, reflecting from shiny metal. But whatever they saw or heard, it did not prepare them for what happened next. The mother playing with her small toddler looked up, So did the young men and women laying out a picnic on the grass. So did the elderly man and woman sitting in deckchairs, half-dozing in the sun.
They saw a group of horsemen, rapidly drawing near, and heading directly towards them. The horses, as they came closer, seemed huge, as did their riders. The jingle and clatter of their harness became louder and louder. The riders, brightly clothed in long, scarlet tunics, wore armour, that clattered and groaned as they came closer. Every rider wore a shiny metal helmet that completely encased their heads, with only black slits to provide their vision. They rode on, totally regardless of the panic they were causing.
On they came. The young mother shrieked and snatched her child away from it’s pushchair, just before the horsemen crashed into it, as if it wasn’t there. The pushchair crumpled and broke beneath the horses’ hoofs. Onward they rode, trampling over the carefully prepared tablecloth and picnic that the younger people had prepared, treading it into the ground, smashing bottles and glasses, scattering the young people in all directions. Onward they rode, splintering the deckchairs that the elderly couple had jumped from only seconds before. They galloped on towards the southern end of the park, leaving destruction and fear in their wake.
At the end of the park, the horsemen turned uphill, forcing cars, with screeching brakes and angry horns, to turn aside out of their way. Two cars collided with each other to try to avoid them. At the top of the road, they wheeled left, still riding two by two. They rode along the main road, totally ignoring whatever traffic there was and turned off across the municipal golf course, paying no attention to the indignant cries of golfers and the broken bags of golf-clubs that they left behind. As they mounted the ancient hill-fort in the centre of the golf-course, they simply ‘disappeared’, as frightened witnesses later recalled.
Later, next morning, Annie sat the breakfast-table, reading about the incident in the morning paper. “Mad horsemen create panic!” was the main headline. ‘Simon!’ she called, have you seen this?’ Simon entered, his hair still tousled and looking very sleepy. He grunted, and read the paper, his lips moving silently as he did so. At length, he muttered ‘That’s really strange. Any toast left?’ But Annie was reading it again, with a frown of concentration. ‘You’re right. It’s really odd. They just appear, trample over anything in their way, and then just disappear. It’s like they came from another world’.
Simon looked up from a mouthful of toast. ‘Oh, no’, he groaned. ‘Oh, no. You’ve got that look on your face. Not another mystery. Here we go again’. ‘Simon’. Annie said impatiently. ‘This sounds serious. We need to meet up with the brotherhood to discuss this’. ‘All right’, said Simon wearily. ‘leave them a note on their door. We can meet them tonight’. Annie grinned. It was not so long ago that Simon, her brother, would have simply said ‘you go’, but now she noted, he always said ‘we’. Sure enough, something hit Simon on the back of the head later that afternoon.
It was a rather smelly old trainer shoe. Simon poked inside and found a short note, that said ‘Meet at six. Usual place’. ‘Why do they always throw things at me to pass on messages?’ he complained. ‘They must like you’. retorted Annie. ‘Funny way they have of showing it’ Simon muttered. ‘It’s nearly that time now’. said Annie. ‘We’d better get down there’. As they walked they passed a rather small, strange figure, who glanced at them furtively and then scuttled past. He was a little, rather sad man, who wore a baggy grey suit, and wearing a squashed grey hat which looked like a cross between a bowler and a trilby. Tucked under his right arm was a rolled-up umbrella, and his left hand carried a small, battered brown briefcase.
Annie suddenly stopped and looked after him. he was very short, not much taller than she was, and she noticed that his white shirt collar was somewhat frayed. He looked back once, and Annie caught a glimpse of a small round white face, with big round eyes, that looked anxious and frightened. He turned back and went on quickly, as quickly as his short legs would carry him. ‘Annie!’ shouted Simon. She shook her head sharply, as if to clear it, and followed Simon.
The black gate of the brotherhoods’ headquarters was standing open, as was the massive front door. Annie and Simon stared at each other, feeling rather surprised, went in and up the stairs to the meeting room. Annie tapped on its’ door gently.
‘Lid’s open!’ bellowed a loud, unmistakeably American voice. Annie pushed the door open, to reveal a strange sight. There were the four fingers, behind the table, but, instead of their normally elderly, quiet selves, they were all leaning back in their chairs, their feet propped up on the table-top. All wore grey fedora hats, tipped at a rakish angle to one side of their heads, and were all busily chewing gum. Little Finger glanced up at them, his hands clasped behind his head.
‘Well, well! Look what the cat’s dragged in!’
The others guffawed loudly. ‘So, babe, what can we do for you? If you and your dude there have something to say, then spit it out! We haven’t got all day. Say your piece’.
Annie swallowed. She had not been expecting this. ‘Well…we wanted to talk about the faeries…’
She got no further, before she was interrupted by a loud bellow from Index Finger. ‘Can it, sister! We’re not here to listen to fairy stories! Kiss it goodbye, honey. We’re ‘tecs, not doctors! You sound like you ought to be down on the funny farm! Ain’t that right, Sam?’
‘Sure is’. agreed Middle Finger. ‘What kind’a job you pulling anyway? I don’t like being ribbed. True, Sam?’
‘Dead right’. said Third Finger menacingly. ‘You’re asking to get your pretty face smeared! Right, Sam?’
Little Finger jabbed a finger at Simon and Annie. ‘You heard! Cut the jawing! Cut to the chase, suckers!’
Simon was beside himself with rage. ‘You talking to me, huh? You talking to me?’
‘Simon, Annie whispered urgently, ‘You’ve been infected too!’
Index Finger shifted his feet off the table and sat bolt upright. ‘Clam up, punk! There’s a rod between my vest and my belly. See?’ He brandished something in the air.
‘Index Finger’, said Annie quietly, ‘that’s a water-pistol’.
‘I can sure hose you down with it. Don’t try putting the finger on me! Scram, babe! The door’s that way. Make sure you close it behind ya’’.
That’s right, Sam. These kids today, they got no respect!’
‘Sure is, Sam!’
‘Too true, Sam’.
‘You heard Sam. Now vamoose!’
Annie and Simon walked slowly to the door, then Annie turned round and looked back.
‘Don’t call me “babe”. Don’t ever call me babe again. Otherwise, its’ your ugly mugs that’ll get smeared’. She turned and slammed the door loudly behind her. Fuming, she stamped down the stairs, slamming the front door for good measure as well. Outside, Simon was waiting for her. Strangely enough, he was looking more surprised than angry. ‘Look at this’, he said quickly, holding his hand out. Annie looked down and gasped. Simon was holding the talisman.
Half an hour later, they were sitting with lemonades on the beachfront. ‘I think one of them must have thrown it through the door, just as you were slamming it. I found it on the landing outside, so I picked it up’. This was Simon. The ring, with its emblem of an outstretched hand, lay dull and lifeless between them. Annie picked it up, and placed it on her middle finger. The talisman glowed briefly and then was dull again. ‘Oh, dear, said Annie, softly, ‘it doesn’t like what’s happening, any more than we do’. Simon suddenly pointed. ‘Look, there’s Adrian. And there’s….he hesitated, ‘something with him’.
Adrian waddled along towards them importantly. ‘What ho, you chaps! What a perfectly ripping day. Jolly spiffing, isn’t it?’ This was bad enough, having got used to Adrian’s normally foul language and bad temper, but it was the elegant four-legged person walking sedately behind him that caused their jaws to drop. ‘That can’t be Sniffer’, said Simon, slowly. ‘It looks like a real dog.’
Sniffer came up and stood sedately just behind Adrian. ‘Good evening, madam. Good evening, sir. I took the liberty of suggesting the benefit of a constitutional stroll, before supper, in the light of this most clement weather. I thought that it would be most appropriate for master Adrian to take the opportunity of renewing his acquaintanceships’. ‘Absolutely jolly right’. agreed Adrian cheerfully, ‘but must push on, what? My man, Sniffer, is going to give me the absolute low-down on what kind of tie to wear’. ‘Absolutely sir. A gentleman’s tie should be both sober and modest, with no recourse to loudness, both in colour and pattern’.
‘Well, toodle-pip, both of you. I say, you must potter down to my club one day for a spot of lunch.’ They both bowed to Annie and Simon, and went on their way. Simon and Annie still sat open-mouthed, watching the neatly combed, freshly washed Sniffer, as he disappeared. ‘That..that was Sniffer, wasn’t it?’ muttered Simon, ‘only he looked…..clean’. ‘I think so,’ said Annie, ‘only I’m used to the filthy old matted bundle of fur that he used to be’. Simon put his head into his hands and groaned. ‘I think I’m going mad, you know. Mad! I tell you, mad!’ ‘Oh, do shut up Simon, and pull yourself together!’ snapped Annie. ‘Look, here comes Pei-ying and Indira. That’ll cheer you up’.
‘Hello Annie! hello Simon!’ Their Chinese and Indian friends said. Simon sprang to his feet. ‘Whatever you do, say something normal! Anything, so long as it’s normal!’ Pei-Ying and Indira stared at Simon in amazement. ‘Are you all right, Simon?’ asked Pei-Ying. ‘Have you had too much sun today?’ asked Indira. Simon collapsed on his chair in relief. ‘At last! Now I know I’m not really mad! Thank goodness for the sweet voice of sanity!’ ‘You’ll have to excuse my brother’, said Annie, ‘We’ve both had quite a few shocks today. Sit down and we’ll tell you about it’.
‘ Look’, said Annie. ‘There’s something strange going on. Firstly, we can’t rely on the four fingers any more. They are under a form of spell, or something else. Nor can we rely on Adrian or Sniffer because the same thing has happened to them. So we’re on our own. Secondly, why have these strange horsemen appeared? Why is it that they suddenly came? There has to be a link, somewhere’.
‘I think’, said Indira slowly, ‘that someone is making then appear. But the others just …become someone that they aren’t. They might not be doing it because they want to but because they just do it from someone else’s imagination. Just a thought, she added hastily. ‘But that’s right! shouted Annie. ‘And it has to been someone that’s seen them, and somehow wished it on them! All we have to do is to find whoever did that!’ As she spoke, something caught her eye. Amongst the crowd, she caught a glimpse of something. “Simon!’ she shouted. ‘There he is!’
Simon looked around to where his sister’s finger was pointing. He saw a little grey man hurriedly going up the steps towards the promenade, who looked furtive, and indeed a little frightened, as he might be, given Annie’s loud cry. ‘After him’. ordered Annie, and she jumped up, spilling her drink and started running after him. ‘You’ll have to forgive my sister’, said Simon, ‘she has these strange turns sometimes’, but he got up and followed Annie. They followed the little grey man up and down streets, across busy main roads, along avenues that they didn’t know, until at last they saw him open a door in one of the big houses in Regency Square and disappear inside.
‘Would you mind telling me what this is about?’ asked Simon, somewhat out of breath. ‘If it’s not too much trouble, mind’. Annie stopped, still looking at the house that the little grey man had disappeared into. ‘Look, Simon’, she said quietly. ‘Someone has allowed those faeries to appear. Someone has put a spell on the brotherhood, and someone has done the same thing to Adrian and Sniffer. And I think it has all to do with that little grey man’. Simon thought. Finally, he said, ‘I’ll go with that. It’s as good an explanation as any. What do we do now?’
‘Go and talk to him’. replied Annie.
Finding the little grey man was easier than they expected. A rather fat old lady came past them on the stairs, almost brushing them aside. ‘Oh, Mr Cuttlefish,’ she trilled. ‘he’s on the second floor, first on the left. Such a strange little man. Bye, now.’ ‘Mr Cuttlefish?’ said Simon. ‘What a silly name’.
‘Well, we’d better find him, and do some investigation. That’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?’
‘If you say so’. Simon grumbled. They walked up the stairs until they came to the door on the left. A little handwritten note on the door said “Mr Cuttlefish, Esquire” ‘This looks like the place,’ suggested Simon. ‘Can I kick the door in, and shout “police”, or something like that? That’s what they do in films’. ‘Certainly not’, said Annie firmly, and she rapped on the door with her knuckles. ‘Mr Cuttlefish?’ she shouted loudly.
There was no answer. Annie rapped again on the door, but this time more loudly. There was still no answer, but then they heard a slight sound from inside. A kind of small, slithering sound. They both stood back. Annie glanced down at the talisman, that she was wearing on her finger. It was glowing brightly, and pulsing a sort of light, that shone in their faces. ‘The talisman knows that this is the right place’. Annie whispered. ‘Can I break the door down now?’ asked Simon hopefully. Annie looked at the door, and at Simon, all five feet of him. ‘No’. she said emphatically. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea at all’.
The door opened a few inches. In the gap they could make out a small, white face, looking very frightened. ‘Mr Cuttlefish?’ said Annie very quietly, ’I’m Annie and this is my brother, Simon. Could we come in and talk to you for a little while?’ The round white face hesitated, then nodded. They heard the chain-lock taken off, and then the door swung open. They walked in.
The first thing Annie saw was the little grey man himself. He stood in his shirt-sleeves, with rather bright red braces holding his trousers up. His jacket was hung on a chair. He wore a very shabby old pair of carpet slippers, which accounted for the slithering sound that they had heard. His hands were clasped in front of him, or rather they were clasping and unclasping nervously. He glanced at both of them nervously, his round, white face uncertain of whether to smile or not. But Annie’s gaze had travelled to the walls of the little room.
They were lined with books. Row after row, they covered every surface. They stood in piles and heaps over the floor. Books of every description were everywhere. Piles and piles of them. Annie looked around in amazement. The room was quite small, but every inch of the walls was lined with shelves, and they all contained rows and rows of books. There was a small kitchenette at the back, with a cooker, a refrigerator, and nothing much else, separated from the rest of the room by a small kitchen counter. To the left was a door, that was open, and she saw through that, a little unmade bed and yet more shelves filled with books. She also noticed that the floor was also filled with heaps and piles of, yes, more books. The room smelled musty, and filled with the aroma of, yes , books. The small window on the right didn’t allow much light in, because it, too was lined with books. “I’m a book-lover’. said Mr Cuttlefish, rather unnecessarily.
‘Would you mind if I had a look at your books’, asked Annie politely. But Mr Cuttlefish beamed. ‘Oh, please do! It’s so rare that people ask me. I’d be very delighted. Shall I go and make some tea and biscuits? ‘That would be very nice’, said Simon settling down comfortably in one of the two armchairs in the room, though he did have to clear the books from it first. Annie slowly looked along the shelves. There were so many. Novels. Books about science and philosophy, and particularly, lots and lots of historical novels. Then she stopped. She looked at one shelf, in particular. ‘ Mr Cuttle… she paused. ‘Would you mind if I called you Mr Cuttle, and leave out the fish part?’ The little grey man beamed again, from the little kitchenette, where he was pouring tea into an ancient old teapot. ‘That would be wonderful’, he cried. ‘That sounds so much better. Yes, I would be very happy with that’.
He brought back the teapot, some mugs, and a plateful of ginger biscuits, that Simon, of course, immediately pounced on. But Annie was still looking at the same shelf. ‘Mr Cuttle, she asked quietly, ‘you really like American detective novels, don’t you?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ said Mr Cuttle enthusiastically. ‘I love them. Particularly, those by Raymond Chandler, and Dashiel Hammett, and Ed McBain. Oh, yes I read them all the time’. Then he stopped, and his hand flew to his mouth in horror. ‘You don’t mean…?’ Annie came over and sat down on the arm of Simon’s chair. ‘I think that you somehow put a spell on the four fingers, and on Adrian and Sniffer, too. You may not have meant to, but you did. You went to see the four fingers, didn’t you? Then you saw Adrian and Sniffer, and put them into your little world, as well’.
Mr Cuttle looked down at his hands in dismay, his fingers clasping and unclasping in front of him again. ‘I didn’t mean to!’ he gasped. “I just went to see them, because I’d heard about them, and asked if I could join them. And they said they would have to think about it. But as I went out, I thought wouldn’t be fun for them to be real American detectives, or private eyes, just like the ones I’ve always read about! And then I saw this rather scruffy old dog, and he seemed to be talking to this seagull! I thought again, wouldn’t it be a joke to make them into characters in P. G Wodehouse. I never thought that it would ever happen!. Please! You have to believe me!’
‘We do, Mr Cuttle, honestly we do’. said Annie earnestly, sitting down on the arm of the chair again, ‘but you must tell us. Can you undo those spells, so that our friends are back to normal again? Simon, stop scoffing all those biscuits. Have some manners and leave some for somebody else’. Simon grunted, a mouth full of ginger biscuit. ‘I think so, said Mr Cuttle hesitantly. ‘I’ll try, but I just haven’t done it before, you see’. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. For a whole minute, Simon and Annie waited patiently. Then the little grey man suddenly jerked, as if he had had some sort of electric shock. ‘There’, he said breathlessly, ‘I think I’ve done it, but I’m not sure’.
‘But there’s another thing,’ Simon asked suddenly, having finished his mouthful of ginger biscuit. ‘What can you tell us about the faeries? Did you have something to do with that as well?’’ ‘Do you mean those strange horse-people that the papers wrote about the other day?’ asked Mr Cuttle, now looking a little bewildered and confused. ‘Oh, dear, no. But I do have a book that tells you about them’. He got up and looked along the shelves. ‘Here it is’. he shouted triumphantly. ‘ Stories, Myths and Legends. They’ll be in here’.
He turned the pages of the book. ‘Yes, here. By the way, do you know that that ring of yours is glowing rather strangely?’ Annie looked down. The talisman was glowing brightly. It knows, she thought to herself. ‘What about the faeries, Mr Cuttle?’ she said perhaps a little too loudly. ‘Well, they are of normal physical appearance, that is, they are as big as us. They always appear in the bright light of day, almost always at midday, and, for some reason, usually on Fridays. They ride out on white horses, with bells attached to their harness, that jingle and clatter as they go. They are always well armed. Oh, dear, you might not like this’. Mr Cuttle paused. ‘ Faeries are neither good nor bad, but they are a law unto themselves. They live in another world – the kingdom of the faeries – and they have been known to abduct people, and sometimes…..kill them, for reasons of their own. Those that have seen them, fear them very much. They can be either cruel or kind, depending on what they decide’. He paused again, and shivered slightly. ‘They are not beings that one should ever encounter, if it can be helped, because they are unpredictable, and can be very ruthless. I think that’s it’.
They were all silent for a moment. ‘Simon?’ said Annie, rather a little bit too brightly, for his liking, ‘Do you fancy going to meet some faeries tomorrow?’ Simon looked at her, and groaned. ‘Do you know? I just thought that is exactly the sort of mad thing that you, out of everybody, would suggest. Oh, all right, then. Tomorrow’s a Friday, and it’s going to be a sunny day. Hooray, we’re going to meet the faeries!’ Mr Cuttle gasped. ‘But, but you can’t! Its terribly dangerous!’
Annie looked down again at the talisman. It was still glowing brightly on her finger. ‘I think we have to’. she whispered. ‘The talisman seems to be telling me that we should. I think it will protect us’. ‘I hope you’re right’ said Simon uneasily. ‘I don’t feel too happy about these faeries’. ‘And you’ll come too, won’t you, Mr Cuttle?’ asked Annie. ‘After all, you’re the one that seems to know more about them than anyone else’. Mr Cuttle gulped once or twice, and then nodded speechlessly. ‘And we can ask Indira and Pei-Ying if they want to come,’ added Simon. ‘There isn’t anyone else that we can really trust at this moment, is there?’ And so it was settled.
Annie couldn’t sleep that night. For some reason, she felt really frightened. She didn’t mind about Adrian and Sniffer, or about the four fingers. She felt they should be all right by now. But it was the thought of the faeries. We just don’t know about them at all, she thought. Are they going to be really nasty, or just evil? Will they listen to us? She had that rather sick feeling that one does when you know you have a really difficult exam tomorrow, and you just don’t know what to expect. She looked at the talisman, that lay next to her bed on her little table. It lay there, dark and silent. She hardly slept that night, and was happy to come down next morning for breakfast.
SHOWDOWN AT THE OLD HILL FORT
‘Where are you off to today’, asked her mum. ‘It’s the last day of half-term, you know’. ‘Oh, we’re off to meet the faeries’. said Simon, chuckling. Her mother just laughed, but Annie didn’t feel like laughing. Before they left, Annie picked up the talisman, and put it on her left index finger. They set off in the hot June sun, and met Indira and Pei-Ying on their way. Near to the golf-course, they met Mr Cuttle, still in his baggy grey suit, and carrying a rolled up umbrella, despite the warm heat. He was perspiring and looked quite unhappy. ‘Good morning!’ he exclaimed. ‘Lovely day for it’. No-one answered him, and he joined their little group, walking behind them absently.
‘You know what this reminds me of, Annie? said Simon very suddenly. “It feels like that film that we saw, you know, where the lone sheriff is going out to meet these outlaws, and he’s all on his own, and he has to deal with them. What was it called?’ Oh’, I remember. “High Noon”. And it has this nice music to it. It starts off with ‘Oh, do not forsake me, oh my darling’, and then goes on….
‘For goodness’ sake, shut up Simon!’ cried Annie
violently. The others looked at her in amazement. ‘I think she’s
got the grumps, this morning’, Simon told the others. But he
kept quiet, and together they walked across the golf-course, where
a few keen golfers were already playing, and up towards the old hill
fort in the middle. They climbed up some steps and stood, in a little
group, close to its centre. Annie looked down at the talisman. It was
glowing brightly, more brightly than she had ever seen before. ‘Simon,
what time is it?’ she asked. Simon looked at his watch. ‘About
two minutes to midday’. He said.
Six horsemen had suddenly appeared from the centre of the hill fort. They could hear the jangle and clatter of their harness, a ring of small bells, and the heavy thud of the horses’ hoofs. The riders wore bright red tunics over their armour, that glittered in the bright sunlight. Each wore a heavy sword on their right. The horses whinnied and snorted as they came closer. They were huge and very, very real. All six horsemen fanned out until they formed a semi-circle around the small group. Behind her, Annie heard Mr Cuttle give a little gasp.
They had no faces. Their heads were completely enclosed in steel helmets. Only the two small slits in each helmet indicated that they were looking hard at Annie and the others. They were totally silent. The horses, restless, whinnied and snorted, and stamped their hoofs. But the riders sat on their steeds, immobile, with hardly any movement, apart from a small flick of the reins. The six helmets stared at Annie. She, Simon and the others were also silent, as if frozen by the silence. Somewhere overhead, a bird twittered.
What do I do now, thought Annie despairingly. Their little group of five stared at the horsemen. The horsemen stared back at them. Annie was suddenly weighed down with a terrible fear. The air of menace hung over them like an unseen black cloud. The palms of Annie’s hands were damp with sweat, but she was too frightened to wipe them. But she did look down at the talisman. It was shining so brightly that she could barely look at it. In that instant, as if the talisman had spoken to her, she suddenly knew how to break that awful silence.
‘Tell me, what are your names?’
There was no answer. The horsemen sat silently on their horses, that had become quiet at the sound of Annie’s voice. Annie swallowed hard, and then shouted at the top of her voice,
‘TELL ME, WHAT ARE YOUR NAMES?’
was still no answer. The horsemen sat, immobile, on their steeds.
Then, the rider in the centre raised its hands and began slowly to
take off its helmet. Annie gasped. Behind her, she heard Simon whistle.
There, looking at them with cool grey eyes, was a young woman. Not
only young, but incredibly beautiful. She shook her hair from side
to side to free it, and long golden tresses framed her lovely oval
face. ‘I am Gloriana’, she said.
‘I’m Annie, and this is my brother, Simon. These are our friends, Indira, Pei-Ying, and, and Mr Cuttle. We wanted to ask you something’. Annie wished her voice wasn’t quite so faint, but she did her best. The faeries eyes were cold and grey and hard. She suddenly felt very afraid.
‘What is your question’, asked Gloriana, softly.
Annie swallowed. Her throat was very dry. ‘Please, why have you come here?’ she said.
‘Stupid little mortals! We just ride them down and be on our way!’ It was the one called Radigund, and she looked enraged. Her eyes were flashing, and her horse, its eyes as angry as hers, snorted and shifted sharply to one side. ‘They are just children! I will take pleasure in treading over her!’ Annie closed her eyes. Behind her she could feel Simon boiling over with rage. He was beside her. She heard his voice. ‘Oh, yeah! You and whose army then?’ Annie opened her eyes. The one who called herself Radigund shook with fury and wheeled her horse around in a circle, with a swish of her sword as she began to draw it from its scabbard. ‘You insolent little brat! I’ll skewer you on the point of my blade!’
Gloriana who spoke. ‘We are not here to slay!’ Radigund,
with a final glare at Simon, slid her sword back, her horse still cantering
‘Come forward and give it to me. Now!’
Annie stepped forward, feeling the ground under her feet as if she had never felt it before. She held out her finger to the faeries, and then tried to take it off. She tugged. She tugged again, and again, and then again. ‘It’ won’t come off’. she said in a very small voice. ‘It’ doesn’t seem to want to’.
leant back in her saddle with a sigh. Her eyes, just before, a cold
hard grey, were now suddenly brown again. ‘It is as I
thought’. The other faeries nodded, apart from Rudigund, who
still looked furious, and Duessa, who looked both thoughtful, and sly.
There was a silence of several seconds.
‘You have been in battles before’. She continued. ‘We know it. You did well. Note that, Radigund’. Radigund snorted. ‘But you have a talisman. That will give you some protection. But, beware, what might happen, because much will depend on you. This is why we have ridden into your land, to give you a warning to be observant, to be careful. You must be vigilant, because it can catch you without warning. Use all the friends you have’.
‘Does that mean that you will be able to help us?’ asked Annie, her voice still quavering. ‘ ‘Faeries make no promises!’ snapped Britomart. ‘Faeries come and go as they please, and do as they want to! If there is danger to our land, then we will not hesitate to defend it! Your mortal world is of no interest to us, unless it threatens our territory. If there is just cause, and a direct threat to us as faeries, we might well consider it. Faeries make no promises’.
‘Britomart is right. We make no promises’. said Gloriana, quietly. ‘Farewell’.
She turned her horse around, and cantered off towards the centre of the hill fort, followed by the other, except Radigund, who wheeled her horse around furiously, and shouted at Simon,
‘I’ll have your head on a spear! ‘
‘Oh’ you’re so lovely when you’re angry!’ shouted Simon back.
A moment later, the remaining rider turned. It was Duessa. She leant down to Annie. ‘I will be very interested to see what happens’. She smiled that sly smile again, and then galloped off after the others. As they reached the centre of the hill fort, the air shimmered, and they all vanished.
morning, bright and sunny, Annie and Simon walked down to their usual
meeting-place at the café on the sea-front. Annie still
wore the talisman on her finger. Along the way they were joined by
Indira and Pei-Ying, who immediately fell in line with Simon. ‘Simon,’ Indira
said, excitedly, ‘you were great yesterday. So brave!’ ‘Fancy
you standing up to that nasty faerie like that!’ added Pei-Ying. ‘Oh,
it was nothing’, replied Simon airily.
‘Look!’ cried Simon. ’There they are!’ There were the four fingers sitting at their usual table, looking their usual selves, rather shabby, elderly men, in dark crumpled suits, but with no sunglasses or hats. Index Finger stood up as soon as they arrived. ‘Thank you for coming,’ he cried, in his rather sheepish, high-pitched voice. ‘We have ordered some lunch for you’. He indicated the table, which was covered in plates of pizza, salad, and cold drinks. They sat down at the other side of the table. ‘Good morning, Sam. Good morning, Sam. Good morning, Sam. Good morning, Sam’. said Simon, with his mouth already full of ham and mushroom pizza. ‘I beg your pardon?’ said Index Finger, in a startled voice. ‘Never mind’. said Annie. ‘You’re back to normal, I see’.
Nothing was said until most of the food was consumed. Simon leant back with satisfaction. ‘So, where is everybody else? I mean Adrian, and Sniffer, and our Mr Cuttle?’ ‘They are coming very soon’. replied Small Finger cheerfully. ‘In fact, here is our Mr Cuttle, now’. Coming towards them they saw a small, plump figure in baggy trousers, held up by bright red braces, and wearing a straw broad-brimmed hat. ‘Hello, everyone’. he beamed. Then he looked at the four fingers, and his face dropped. ‘Oh, dear, I am so terribly sorry about what I did’.
The four fingers looked sternly at him. ‘Hold out your right hand. On the table. That’s right’. said Little Finger. Poor Mr Cuttle cringed. Then Index Finger smacked his wrist. The others did the same. ‘Owwh!’ squealed poor Mr Cuttle. ‘That is your punishment done with. Now, where are the others?’ smiled Index Finger. As he spoke, there was a great ‘wumpph’ of wings, and ,Adrian settled down onto the table, together with his moll, Gerry, and his friend, the one-legged, seagull with a patch over it’s eye. They dived in greedily into the left-overs.
‘Adrian, have you no manners?’ asked Simon. ‘’Course
not. growled Adrian’, his beak muffled with left-over pizza. ‘ Geroff,
Gerry, stop nicking my grub’.
‘You know, Simon’, whispered Annie, ‘I’ve never seen a seagull blush before’. ‘Where’s Sniffer? asked Simon. ‘Sniffer? He’s down here’. Index Finger pointed down. There was the familiar filthy bundle, one end of which was busy slurping a bowl of Guiness. ‘Sniffer, you’re the same old dirty, matted furry old hearthrug that you are. ‘Cheers’. replied the same bundle that was drinking thirstily from the bowl. ‘And you, Adrian, added Annie are still the same disgusting, foul-mouthed, sexist, intolerant, greedy gull that you are’. ‘Yeah, that’s me’. Adrian said in a muffled voice, his beak still full of salami.
‘If we can get down to business’, interrupted Little Finger, ‘can you tell us what has happened?’ So Annie explained what had happened, leaving out the rather strange transformation of what had happened to them all, quite tactfully, in fact, she thought to herself.
‘It appears.’ said Little Finger, thoughtfully, ‘that the faeries could or could not be on our side. I suspect, that if they feel threatened, they will be with us, rather than against us. But they have troubles inside their own land. From what you say, the queen, Gloriana, is for us. But there are others plotting against her. This Duessa is one, and Radigund, perhaps, though I doubt it, might follow whichever side she feels is strongest. But it is good that we might have some very powerful allies for us’.
Annie thought hard. ‘Allies against who? Do we, or you know, what we might expect? Tell me now! I have the talisman!’ Everyone looked at her, shocked at the loudness of her voice. Even Sniffer looked up from his bowl.
‘Give me the talisman!’ barked Index Finger sharply. ‘Now!’
Annie tried to pull it from her finger. She tugged and tugged, but it would not come off, as if it was glued on. It was blazing, in flashes, refusing to come away from her finger. ‘I can’t!’ She shouted. Everyone looked startled. ‘That settles it’. said Third Finger, calmly. Everyone looked at him, even Sniffer, who had raised his head again from his bowl. ‘Annie is now the bearer of the talisman. It has chosen her. That might be a blessing or a curse. But please do keep it safe’.
‘Well, that’s settled’. said Little Finger.
No-one seemed to know whether to congratulate Annie or not. Even Annie wasn’t sure. ‘I can’t go to school wearing this huge ring’, she wailed. ‘They’ll ban me! We’re not supposed to wear jewellery!’ ‘It will come off when you need it to’, said Index Finger. ‘We will need it, however, when the time of danger comes, the danger that the Faeries spoke of’. This time everyone was silent. A cloud had seemed to settle over the whole day. ‘I think’, said Middle Finger, ‘we should call this meeting to a close. It’s about to rain’.
On their way home, Simon suddenly said, ‘Don’t you think that that Radigund is really lovely? I really fancy her’. Annie stopped dead, and stared at him, absolutely speechless. Simon went on, regardless, over his shoulder. ‘I think she’s really lovely. That wonderful long dark hair down to her waist, and the way she curled her lips when she snarled at me. Absolutely great’. Annie caught up with him. ‘Simon, you do mean the one that threatened to skewer you on the end of her sword, and stick your head on a pole? ‘That’s the one’, Simon replied cheerfully. ‘After all, faeries live for hundreds and thousands of years, don’t they? I’m sure she’ll wait for a few years longer, when I’ve grown up’. ‘And then what?’ Annie said, out of breath. ‘Oh, I’ll just use my natural boyish charms, as usual. I’ll get around her, you wait and see’. Annie thought to herself, as she looked down at the talisman on her finger: you know, talisman? I think that both you, and brothers in general, can be seriously, both a blessing and a curse! I suppose that is one of the greater mysteries that I’ll never understand. The talisman flashed briefly in sympathy.
Frank Jackson (15/06/09)