DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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The Faeries’ Promise
The Faeries’ Promise
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Their new friend, Mr Cuttle, is also present. The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.
It was eight o’clock in the morning. The sun had risen nearly two hours ago, and bathed the garden in warm golden radiance. The lush foliage of the trees at the end of the garden moved gently in a small breeze and dappled the grass below with warm moving shadows, green and bright in the warmth. Small birds were singing, unseen in the branches above. The, shifting, rustling shapes of trees stood out against the bright blue of the sky. Somewhere, a dog barked happily. Glistening cobwebs still hung in the bushes and shrubs that surrounded the small lawn. Here and there , small whisperings betrayed the growth of plants, and the movement of small creatures underneath them. The green and blue dappled textures of the garden, moved gently and rhythmically to the softness of the wind.
Annie stood at her bedroom window, now open, staring down at this gentle life that played and moved below her, enjoying the peace and the harmony of all these natural elements murmuring in the light and warmth of the morning sun. She leant forward, with her arms folded on the window-sill. But she was troubled. She was thinking of the task that she and her brother had before them, in this bright and cheerful June month. In some way or other, she, and her brother Simon, had to contact the faeries, and ask for their help. It was not going to be easy. They had no idea how to do that, and it worried her.
They had met the faeries before, and found them forbidding, cold and perhaps cruel. These were not little flower faeries, but big, hard and uncompromising. They were dangerous. They had appeared in the full light of day before, riding huge, snorting horses, that were capable of trampling one into the ground. They wore swords and helmets. They were warriors with a disregard for mortals that got in their way. Annie admitted to herself: she was frightened of them. They were so unpredictable. She could easily imagine they would cut down her brother and herself, and leave them, bleeding, on the ground. How were they going to persuade them to help them against the daemons?
Despite the wonderful day, Annie’s mood became even darker. She began to think of how all this had started, when they had so excitedly become involved with the Brotherhood of the Four Fingers. Then it seemed like a lot of fun. Now they knew better. They were engaged in a battle, one which might have a dreadful ending. They had almost lost their lives. And now, it had become bigger and blacker than they had ever imagined. Annie stared out at the peaceful garden. But her thoughts were filled with nightmares.
There was a whistle below her. ‘Oi, daydreamer! You want to come down and try my breakfast?’
She looked down. There was her brother, Simon, grinning up at her. ‘Come on down!’ he yelled.
‘What? To eat your horrible breakfast, with fried eggs that you could make soles of shoes with, blackened wisps of bacon, and baked beans that would glue the Titanic together? No thanks. I’ll stick to muesli and yoghurt!’
‘Please yourself’, said Simon. ‘But it is pretty good, even if I say so myself’.
Annie snorted, but she was curious. She came down into the kitchen, where Simon was setting out plates.
‘Here you go’, cried Simon cheerfully. ‘This will put fire in your belly’.
He laid out a fully cooked breakfast in front of Annie. She looked at him suspiciously, and then very cautiously picked up her knife and fork, and tried a mouthful. She began to chew with pleasure. It was in fact, very good. The bacon was delicious and crispy, as she liked it, the fried egg was succulent and creamy, and the baked beans, dressed with herbs, were just right! She dropped her knife and fork in amazement.
‘Simon, you’ve learnt how to cook! It tastes absolutely delicious! What’s happened to you?’
‘Oh, I just practiced. Mum and Dad liked it too. Mind you, I’ve not done very much with the tomato ketchup yet. And I’m not too sure about mushrooms. But I’ll get the hang of it’.
‘Simon, for once, and only the first time, mind, I’m rather proud of you’.
Thanks’, said Simon, looking rather pleased with himself.
Annie finished off her excellent breakfast. Then she looked at Simon. ‘OK. What’s the catch?’
Simon sat down at the kitchen table. Then he looked up. ‘It’s not just that’. he muttered. ‘Annie’, he went on in a rush. ‘We’ve both been worried sick about trying to contact the faeries. It’s dangerous, and I don’t know how to cope with it, apart from cooking decent breakfasts. It’s got to me as well. I just don’t know what’s going to happen’. He paused expectantly.
Annie put her head into her hands. After a few moments, she looked up at him steadily.
‘What are we really doing?’ she asked, quietly. ‘I thought that this was going to be just a big adventure, just another mystery to solve. But it isn’t. It’s like the ground is slipping under my feet. Not just that. It’s like the future is slipping away as well. It’s not like a cosy, clear path, but something more wild and strange, like travelling through a forest, where you don’t know what’s going to spring out at you. This isn’t fun any more, Simon. It’s very serious, and I am just so worried, thinking about it. I don’t know whether we are going into things that we don’t know, or whether it’s so important that we have to do something about it. But the trouble is, I can’t think how’.
Simon was silent for a few moments. Then he said brightly, ‘ We’ve got to go on with this. After all, the Four Fingers said to us, that if we don’t like it, we can forget about it. But I don’t want to. We got into this and I think we’ve got to finish it. Don’t forget the talisman. That must be a key to a lot of things. We can’t just walk away from this now, my dear sister. We dropped ourselves into this, and we have to get on with it’.
‘Everything is so simple to you, isn’t it, Simon?’ Annie said hotly. ‘But I think…..’
‘That’s it, you’re thinking again. That must be a bit of an effort. I don’t believe in it myself. No good will come of it, you mark my words’.
‘Simon’, retorted Annie, with a great effort, ‘I was just thinking that we must have another meeting with the Four Fingers. Then we can see how to get in touch with the faeries’.
‘Why didn’t you say so? We can throw a smelly old trainer into the hill-fort where they came from , and see if we get a reply’.
For once, though Simon had no other proper suggestion.
The next day, they sat around the long table in the beach café, with the Four Fingers, of the Brotherhood of the Hand, Sniffer the dog and the seagull, Adrian. They were all at a loss about how to proceed. Adrian suggested they get a few spades and dig the faeries up,, but no-one agreed. to that. They finally lapsed into silence, all wondering what to do. Then Simon had a bright idea.
‘Why don’t we consult Mr Cuttle?’
Mr Cuttle was the one that had turned, without realising, the Four Fingers into American detectives, before now, and had also made Adrian and Sniffer into genteel lord and butler. But he was a kind little man, and was part of the Brotherhood now. Anne giggled at the memory. That had been so funny! But the others took the suggestion seriously.
‘Of course, he has a wonderful library!’ exclaimed Index Finger. ‘He might well know secret signs to contact the faeries. He has a lot of knowledge to draw upon!’
Simon and Annie looked at each other. ‘Why not?’ exclaimed Annie. “He could tell us a great deal about the faeries, too! Come on, Simon,, we can go and see him this evening!’ Simon, who had not expected the others to take his suggestion this seriously, looked startled, but said, ‘Mr Cuttle, it is, then’.
And so it was that Annie and Simon went along into Hove, to Mr Cuttle’s little flat to find him. In fact, Mr Cuttle was at home. He peered nervously around the door at both, and then beamed delightedly, when he saw them. ‘Well, I never’, he exclaimed. ‘Our two young heroes! Do come in, please. I’m just about to make some tea! And I have some rather nice buttered scones as well! Sit down in front of the fire, and let me get some teacups and saucers’.
They sat down and ate delicious scones with jam, and drank tea with Mr Cuttle. Annie liked him a lot. He was very kind and gentle, and obviously enjoyed having some visitors. But she felt sad that he was also quite lonely, and she wasn’t sure that he would like what they were going to ask him. But she had to.
‘Mr Cuttle’, she finally said. ‘Do you know how we can send the faeries a message?’
Mr Cuttle nearly dropped his teacup. ‘Do you really want to ….really? What! Those terrible faeries!! Whatever for?’
‘We must contact them’. Said Annie firmly. ‘Mr Cuttle, there is going to be a terrible war. We need the faeries to be on our side. We have to ask them to be our allies. Otherwise…’
Mr Cuttle looked at Simon, who nodded.
‘Is there any way’, Annie pressed, ‘any sign that we can give them, that will bring them to us, so that we can talk to them? You’ve got all these books here. Surely there must be something, that will tell us how to do that. We really do need to know, now. Will you see, and perhaps tell us how to do it?’
MR Cuttle gulped and drank some more tea. ‘Oh, my, those awful faeries! I was so afraid of them!’ He took a deep breath. ‘I’ll try. But’, he looked at them appealingly, ‘it is so dangerous. Faeries do not like to be called. They can be so nasty, just like last time’. He shuddered. ‘Let me have a look at some of my books. I’m sure I can find something’.
He got up and went into his bedroom. They heard him rummaging around some of his bookshelves, muttering to himself. Then he returned, carrying a rather old, dusty-looking book with a red cover. He sat down and began to turn its pages, still muttering. Then he cried out. ‘Here, it is!”
They got up to look. Mr Cuttle was drawing on the edge of the page with a pencil. ‘There! he cried. ‘That’s what you need!’ They both got up to look..
It looked like this.
‘I’m afraid it’s not very good’, said Mr Cuttle gloomily. ‘but it’s the best I could do’.
‘What is it?’ asked Simon curiously.
‘Well, it’s what is called a pentagram, or pentangle, if you prefer. It is. as you see, a five-pointed star, but the beauty of it is, that you can draw it with five straight lines, without having to lift your pencil from the paper. As you can tell, it is interlocking triangles together, but it is made from the number five. The dictionary definition says that the five straight lines you make to form it, are like one continuous line or what they call an “endless knot” But it does have magical qualities. It is a symbol for the faeries. That is what might bring them to meet you’.
‘So, if we draw one on the hill-fort, where they seem to appear’, asked Annie, ‘fhey might come to meet us?’
Annie thought about this. ‘So we wait until they tell us?’ she asked, at length.
‘They will probably leave you a sign. For example, they might leave a white pebble or two, to indicate when you should meet them. But they might not even answer’.
‘So we have to draw this…pentagram, and just wait?’ asked Simon.
‘I’m afraid so. Look, do you want me to come with you and help you draw it? I would be very willing to do so’. said Mr Cuttle, anxiously. ‘We can draw it with stones or pebbles, if you like. It doesn’t matter. So long as the symbol is there, they will recognise it’.
‘Thank you, Mr Cuttle. Will tomorrow evening do, about six? After you’ve finished work? Asked Annie sweetly
‘Of course, of course. I’ll meet you there’.
‘Thank you, Mr Cuttle. You’ve been really helpful’.
On their way home, Simon whispered to Annie, ‘Do you really think it will work? About the pentagram thingy, I mean?’
‘I hope so’. replied Annie. ‘It’s our only hope, isn’t it? What I’m dreading is meeting the faeries again’.
‘Well, if we do, it means I’ll see the fair Ragimund again. Yes, I know, I know’, looking at Annie’s exasperated face. ‘The one that threatened to skewer me with her sword, and stick my head on the end of a pole’.
I sometimes wish she had’. Muttered Annie rather spitefully, as they went home.
The next evening, they met Mr Cuttle, as arranged on the hill-fort. Simon, with much grumbling, had brought along a bucketful of small stones from their garden. ‘Just the job’, cried Mr Cuttle happily.
‘Just as well, since I’ve had to carry them’. Muttered Simon.
But Mr Cuttle was on his hands and knees, busy laying out the little pebbles in straight lines, but with great care. The he straightened up. ‘There’. he said with pride. ‘Look at this’. They looked. There was a pentagram laid out precisely in small stones, on the small flat patch of grass.
‘That’s beautiful’. Breathed Annie.
‘Not bad at all’. said Simon admiringly.
‘Well, thank you’, beamed Mr Cuttle. ‘I hope to see you both again soon’.
He picked up his little briefcase and walked off down through the golf-course.
‘Why did he say that?’ wondered Simon.
‘I don’t know’. Replied Annie. She shivered. ‘I dread to think’.
The next day, they went up to see if there was a sign of anything. And the next day. And the next day, There was nothing. But the following day, there was a phone call for Annie. Her mother had answered it and came in, impatiently.
‘Honestly, Annie , if your friends call, they might at least say who they are, instead of breathing heavily down the phone, and saying “Sniffer” over and over again!’
‘I’m sorry, Mum’, mumbled Annie, but she rushed to the phone in the hall, and picked up the receiver.
‘Sniffer!’ she cried. ‘I didn’t know you could use the phone!’
‘I can’t. Said Sniffer, cheerfully, ‘But one of my mates can. He lent it to me. A mobile, you reckon? Anyway, I went sniffing around, where you drew that thing’.
‘Go on, Sniffer!’ Annie cried excitedly.
‘All right, no need to blow my ears out. Anyway, I sniffed around for a couple of days, and no luck. Then I went up there yesterday, and,’ he paused significantly, ‘I smelt faeries’.
‘What did they smell like?’ asked Annie curiously.
‘Like nothing on earth’. Replied Sniffer simply. ‘It was a beautiful smell, like jasmine, honeysuckle and roses, all together. It was beautiful. I stayed up there for hours, just sniffing around. I couldn’t get more of it. I tell you something’. he suddenly sounded very quiet. ‘It was, as if…. I was smelling the very air of heaven’.
‘That’s wonderful, Sniffer’. Annie said, slightly puzzled.
‘But, one other thing.’. Sniffer went on. ‘There’s a small very white pebble in the middle of that thing. I don’t know what it means……crackle, crackle’. The battery’s running out…..’ Then Sniffer was gone.
‘Simon!’ SIMON!’ Her brother wandered in from the kitchen.
‘Annie’, he said, ‘Sweet sister, oh bane of my youth, remember that I do have a pair of ears which appear to function reasonably well, but they do get quite hurt when somebody shrieks at the top of their voice. In fact, I believe they’re sulking at this very moment’. Annie ignored this.
‘Simon! The faeries have made contact! They’ve left a stone in our pentagram! I’m sure that it’s a sign that we should meet tomorrow!’
‘Wait a minute,’ asked Simon. ‘How do you know this?’
‘Sniffer told me. On the phone. Well a mobile, anyway. Just now’.
‘But’, Simon said slowly. ‘You mean, Sniffer……a phone? It can’t be . Sniffer’s straight out of mediaeval times. He can’t be using twentieth-first century technology, surely’.
‘Oh, shut up, Simon. And stop trying to be so funny, which you aren’t. But we need to get up there tomorrow, and meet them’.
‘All right’. They sat down on the bottom stair together. Simon began. ‘But what are we going to say to them? Isn’t there something called…..’ he tried to think of the right word, ‘protocol, or something when you do these things? Like, you call them royal highnesses, it has been drawn to our attention that….’
‘No’. Groaned Annie. ‘We’ll have to think of something better than that’.
‘Why not just simply tell them we need their help to fight the daemons?’ asked Simon, practically.
‘I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as that,’ replied Annie gloomily. ‘Just think about it. Here we are, two little kids, asking the faeries to help fight a bunch of daemons. How do they react to that? They’ll probably just laugh at us, and then that Ragimund will just stick you on the end of her sword. We’ve only met them once, but they can be cold, cruel and hard. We’re not just dealing with anybody, Simon. If they turn nasty, then….then, I just don’t know’. She shivered slightly.
They were both silent.
‘We do have the talisman’. Simon said suddenly. ‘They seem to respect that’.
‘I know’, said Annie, ‘But will that be enough?’
Simon shrugged his shoulders. With these thoughts in mind, they both went off to bed that night. But Annie lay in turmoil. She couldn’t sleep. She tried to turn and turn over all the things that they might say to the faeries tomorrow. She got up and went to the window. She stared out at the dark garden. The trees rustled gently in a small breeze. Why am I so afraid? She thought to herself. They’re faeries. They won’t hurt me. Or will they? I just know so little about them. Simon’s just as frightened as I am, but he hides it better. I think I’m afraid of the unknown, the mystery. It’s the uncertainty, the groping around in the dark that worries me. I just wish I knew more. She turned around and looked at the talisman on her bedside table. It glowed faintly in the dark. ‘I hope you can help us’ Annie muttered to herself. She got back into bed, and at last fell into a troubled sleep.
The next morning, they were both up early. They had breakfast in silence, though Annie didn’t feel like eating much. Their parents had both gone up to London on an early train. They sat down in the living-room, each thinking about what might happen. Finally, Annie got up.
‘Are you ready, Simon?’
‘As ready as I will ever be’. Simon replied quietly.
‘I’m just going to get the talisman’. Simon nodded. Annie went upstairs and picked up the talisman. It was still dim. She put it on her finger and came back downstairs. ‘Let’s go’. She said.
They walked in silence again towards the golf-course and the old hill-fort. Annie glanced at Simon from time to time. As they went into the belt of woodland that led to the golf-course, past the little pink hut where they had encountered the daemon, Annie looked at him again, and stopped.
‘Simon,’, she said quietly. ‘’You’re as scared as I am, aren’t you?’
Simon’s face was tense and anxious. She had never seen his face like that before. ‘Yes, I am’. He said.
‘Simon, will you hold my hand?’ asked Annie in a small voice. ‘Because I’m really frightened’.
As an answer. Simon reached out his hand and clasped hers in a tight grip. They walked on together until they reached the old hill-fort. Annie gasped. and ran forwards . In the middle of the pentagram that Mr Cuttle had made was a brilliant white stone. It glowed and shone in the bright morning sunlight, as if it was lit from within. They stood outside the pentagram, and stood, gazing at it.. ‘It’s so beautiful’, whispered Annie. She suddenly felt more confident. If the faeries possessed such things of beauty, then surely, they might not be so cruel and cold as they had seemed to be.
They stood in silence, listening to the small sounds around them, in the gorse bushes that covered the top of the hill-fort, a bird singing high above in the sky. There were no trees on the flattened mound of the ancient hill-fort, except for a white brittle trunk, that stood forlornly a few yards away, the wood old and crumbling. They both stared at it. ‘What time is it, Simon?’ asked Annie quietly. Simon looked at his watch. ‘One minute to twelve’. He said.
They remained looking at the dead tree trunk.. Simon finally glanced around, and then froze, his body rigid with tension.
‘Don’t look now, Annie, but you’d better look now. Here they come’.
Annie turned and gasped. They were six large riders in long red tunics, on horses, coming towards them, the bells on their harness jingling as they came. They all wore large swords, Annie noted with sudden dismay. But this time, the riders were bareheaded, their long hair, dark black, deep brown, and bright yellow, streaming behind them in the quiet wind . As they rode nearer, Annie recognised them. They were the six faerie queens they had met before: Queen Gloriana,, Queen Ragimund, Queen Lucifera, Queen Britomart, Queen Mercilla, and Queen Duessa.
The six riders pulled their snorting restless horses to a halt in a semi-circle around Simon, Annie and the pentagram, the stone glowing in its centre. They said nothing, but their eyes were cold and grey. Oh no, said Annie to herself. They don’t look at all pleased to see us. Her throat was dry, and for a few moments she could think of nothing to say. But then Queen Gloriana spoke. Her voice was harsh. ‘You have called us. We have come. What is it that you wish to say to us?’
Annie gulped. All the words that she had been planning last night just wouldn’t come. She swallowed hard.
‘Queen Gloriana’, she began, ‘We need your aid. We found out that the daemons are going to invade us at some time. There are only very few of us, and we just don’t stand a chance. We need you to help us fight the daemons. Can you help us.?’
Well, that was better than nothing, she thought, despairingly. The faeries continued to gaze at her with hard, grey eyes. Annie remembered that their eyes changed colour according to their thoughts and moods. This was not promising.
The faeries stared at them unrelentingly. Then Gloriana spoke again in the same harsh voice. ‘Am I to understand, that you wish us to join you as allies to fight these daemons, in order to protect your little world?’ Her voice was cold.
Annie felt despair again. I am making a terrible mess of this, she thought. All she could think of to say was a lame ‘Yes’.
‘I see’. Said Gloriana.. Annie felt her eyes examining her, measuring her. ‘This is not good’. she heard Simon mutter.
‘Give me the talisman’. Gloriana said, suddenly and sharply.
‘Give me the talisman, brat! Now!’
Four of the queens suddenly spurred their steeds towards where Annie stood. There was a sudden swish of swords drawn from their scabbards. They surrounded Annie, their blades pointed at her throat. They inched their horses closer, until, the gleaming points were an inch from her neck.
‘Surrender the talisman! Now!’
Annie was petrified. Her knees were trembling. She slowly raised the talisman on her right hand so that she could see it, without moving her head. It was glowing brightly. She moved her left hand over, slowly very slowly, to take it off. It wouldn’t come away from her finger. It remained stuck fast. Time stood still. She knew only the small jingle of harness, and those sharp bright blades at her throat. She could barely breathe. Once more she tugged, but the talisman would not budge. Then, for no reason at all, she suddenly felt an enormous surge of anger. Who were these faeries to bully her? Her rage built up and up inside her, so that she was trembling with the sheer hot fury inside her chest.
‘No!’ she shouted. ‘You have no right to it! You’re not just going to take it away! And don’t call me a brat! I’m the bearer of the talisman, and it stays with me! Go on, kill me, if you want! But I’m not going to give it to you! The way you’re behaving, you’re worse than the daemons! Get lost!’
‘Annie!’ she heard Simon shout, but she was past caring. She glared up at the faeries around her, defiantly. The silence around her was almost a blanket, but Annie stood there, and folded her left hand over her right, covering the talisman.
‘Go on then’, she said. ‘Let’s see how big you really are!’
For several seconds nothing happened. Then those sharp blades retreated. They were still surrounding her, but they were now more than three feet away.
Annie gave a sharp sigh of relief. But then she stiffened. She could literally feel Simon’s temper boiling over behind her. ‘No, Simon, please don’t’. She whispered to herself. She knew that on the very rare occasions that Simon lost his temper, he was perfectly capable of taking on anything and everything in the world. She turned swiftly. There was Simon , a few yards behind her, and to her horror, she knew that he was going to explode.
‘Simon! No! No, you mustn’t!’
‘You lot of disgusting faeries!’ Simon yelled. ‘You bully my sister, you try to steal the talisman, you just think you can do what you like! Come on, then! Let’s see what you can do! I think you’re completely useless! Ride around on big horses, with big swords, and you think you can do anything you like! But in reality, you’re just a waste of space! Go back to your faery kingdom, and bully each other there!’
Gloriana glared at him with her cruel, gray eyes. Without turning her head, she spoke to Ragimund, who was mounted next to her.
‘Ragimund, kill the boy’.
Ragimund dismounted. She hesitated.
‘No!’ shouted Annie in terror. ‘You can’t!’
‘Ragimund, kill the boy! Now! He has insulted us! Do it!
Annie started towards Simon, and found herself surrounded again by four sharp blades. She was helpless.
‘SSQQUAAAARRGH!’ Adrian hurtled down straight at Ragimund in fury. Ragimund did not even look up. Her sword rose like lightning above her head. Adrian saw the wicked point as he dived on her. With a frightened squawk, his wings beat backwards frantically. White feathers drifted down. Adrian desperately swerved sideways and missed the blade by a few inches. He soared above out of reach. Annie could hear him cursing. Ragimund lowered her gleaming sword, and pointed it once more towards Simon, who stood a yard away from the old tree trunk, his arms folded tightly. He was trembling.
‘Run, Simon, run!’ shouted Annie in desperation.
But Simon stood still, his feet apart. His face was pale, and she could see that he was biting his lip so hard that it bled. But he continued to stare at Ragimund as she came closer and closer, until she was within a yard of him, the blade dangerously close. Ragimund lifted her sword over her right shoulder, readying herself for a swift cutting blow.
‘Do it now, Ragimund!’ snapped Gloriana..
Annie turned towards Gloriana. She no longer cared about the swords.
‘You….!’ she screamed. ‘You filthy bitch!’
There was a sudden whoosh as Ragimund’s sword whirled in a vicious arc. Annie shut her eyes in horror. She heard a dull thunk!. Then another and another. She opened her eyes. Simon was still standing there transfixed, looking at Ragimund. He was unharmed. But Ragimund continued to slash and hack at the old rotten tree trunk next to him, with a kind of berserk fury, smashing off great pieces of wood that showered around her. There was no movement from the other faeries. Ragimund slashed and tore at the old rotten tree trunk, gasping as she did so. For what was well over a minute, she continued, until it was no more than a stump in the ground. Then Ragimund thrust her sword deep into the earth and fell onto her knees, sobbing. Annie could feel herself shaking. The only sounds now were of Ragimund crying. She raised her head and looked back at Gloriana.
‘I will not kill children! I am a warrior! I WILL NOT KILL CHILDREN!’
She bent forwards her arms clasped around her body, as if to comfort herself. She burst into great convulsive sobs, rocking back and forth in frustration and humiliation. She knelt there for what seemed a long time. still rocking back and forth, crying and sobbing. Annie heard a rustle behind her. Gloriana had dismounted, and was slowly walking towards the kneeling figure of Ragimund. She also noticed that the other faeries had lowered their swords, so that the tips of the blades were on the ground.. She carefully moved away and walked towards Ragimund, but on the other side. None of the faeries tried to stop her.
Gloriana stood behind Ragimund. Her hands were long and her fingers sensitive, as Annie noticed, that pressed softly on Ragimund’s shoulders. Then she knelt down by Ragimund’s side. She put out her hand, and turned Ragimund’s face towards her. Very gently, she stroked away the strands of dark hair that were plastered across Ragimund’s face by tears and sweat. Gloriana leant forwards and kissed Ragimund softly on her cheek. ‘Ragimund’, she said very quietly. ‘my sister’. Ragimund continued to sob, more quietly.
Annie looked across towards Simon. To her amazement, he had walked away to a nearby wild rose bush, and was bending over it. Then he walked back to the two faery queens. In his hand was a wild white rose. He knelt down in front of Ragimund, and laid the rose before her.
‘Queen Ragimund, I am truly sorry that I have offended you. Please accept this token as an apology’.
Annie looked at him, absolutely lost for words. Was this really her mad brother, who’s never happy unless he’s teasing me? She wondered. Ragimund continued to sob, and gave no sign that she recognised the gift. But Gloriana smiled at Simon. Her smile, it seemed to Annie, was like a warm ray of sun from a cloud-ridden sky.
One by one the other faeries walked over, their swords now safely back in their scabbards. They each gently pressed their hands on Ragimund’s shoulders, who had now stopped crying. Ragimund wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her tunic, got up, and sheathed her own sword, from where she had plunged it into the ground. Annie felt a great pang of sorrow and sympathy for her. She didn’t look like a warrior queen any longer, but simply, a young woman, who had been crying bitterly, and who still looked very sad and fragile. She stopped, hesitated, then turned and bent down to pick up the rose that Simon had given her. Then she strode back to her horse and mounted it, her head still downcast. But Gloriana stayed where she was.
‘Annie. Simon. You asked us to be your allies. We will. You were both very brave. And that gift to my sister, Simon, was a truly noble thing. I know she will appreciate it, especially in years to come’. She smiled again, this time mischievously. She laughed, her laughter sounding like the joyous tinkle of clear water running over rounded pebbles. Her eyes, Annie noticed, were no longer grey, but a wonderful, dark brown. She suddenly turned and walked over to the pentagram, and picked up the white stone. Then she came back, and gently taking Annie’s right hand, unclasped her fingers.
‘Take this stone’. She said quietly. ‘This is a token of our alliance against the daemons. When the time comes, we will be there. I give you my promise, our promise. We will fight together against the daemons. We hate them!’
She said this with terrible anger. For a moment Annie saw her eyes turn from brown to grey, and then became brown again.
‘I bid you farewell’, said Gloriana, quietly. ‘Please forgive me for any thing that you may feel has been done to you today, but it was necessary. It was not done out of malice, but through goodwill. Remember, we will come when you need us’.
She smiled again, and then strode back to her steed and mounted it. Annie couldn’t help thinking how tall she was. The six faeries rode back towards the centre of the hill-fort. The air shimmered and they vanished. Simon and Annie sat down together. Anne suddenly felt very tired. She leant against Simon who put his arms around her shoulders. There was an enormous flapping of wings, and Adrian settled down next to them.
‘Cor, them faeries! What a nasty bunch they are! They’re supposed to be our mates, aren’t they?’
‘They are, now’. Sighed Annie.
‘Cripes, that nasty dark-haired one nearly skewered me! I thought I’d shuffled off me mortal coils, so to speak.. You two OK?’
‘Yes’. Said Annie. ‘And, Adrian, thank you’.
‘Yeah, well, that’s all right’. Adrian shuffled his webbed feet uncomfortably. ‘Didn’t want to see them give you any grief, did I?’
‘All the same, Adrian,’ Simon said. ‘Thanks’.
‘Well, I must say, they have a funny way of saying “Yeah, all right”. Blimey, I had to do an emergency stop, full brakes, and then put myself into full reverse! Otherwise, I might have ended up as seagull kebab. And I lost a few feathers as well!’
‘Probably would have tasted really awful anyway’. Muttered Simon.
‘What?’ asked Adrian, suspiciously.
‘Never mind,’ said Annie hurriedly, ‘But, look, Adrian. This is a token of our alliance’. She held out the palm of her hand, with the small white stone in it. She also noticed that the talisman was gently glowing.
‘That’s nice. Looks a bit like a small bird’s egg, don’t it?’
‘Your grammar hasn’t improved very much, has it, Adrian?’ Simon remarked, sourly.
‘ You what? What’s grammar, when it’s there?’
‘Never mind’. Simon said sadly.
He suddenly noticed that Annie was crying, silently. He put his arms around her shoulders again.
Adrian noticed too, and shuffled away, embarrassed. ‘Come on, Annie. Let’s go home’. said Simon. She sniffed, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
‘At least, you aren’t in love with that dreadful Ragimund any more’.
‘ What! Of course I am! She looked so lovely when she was crying, with her hair across her face. And I gave her a rose. And she picked it up and took it with her. In fact, when I’m grown up, I shall….
‘Simon, shut up! You fall in love with every pretty woman you see! She was, in case you hadn’t noticed, about to cut your head off!’
‘Ah, but she didn’t. That shows she’s fallen in love with me already’.
‘I think I’m going to trade you in for a used motor car. That way, I’ll get a better deal!’
‘I think you’re just jealous!’
‘Jealous! Hah! Ooooh, Ragimund, the beautiful faerie queen, with a big sword in her hand! Or are you going to marry into royalty when you’ve….grown up?’
‘Excuse me’, interrupted Adrian, ‘I really hate to interrupt this merry banter, and all that, but can’t we just get home? We’re going to have to have a meeting tomorrow’.
‘All right,’ said Annie. ‘Oooooh, Ragimund. Oooooh, Ragimund, queen of my dreams! Oooooh, Ragimund!’ She suddenly felt better, and rather mischievous. It’s probably just relief, she thought.
‘Will you shut up. Annie!’
They continued in this vein, all the way home.
THE MEETING WITH THE FOUR FINGERS
‘But this is wonderful news!’ cried Little Finger excitedly. ‘This means we have an alliance now with the faeries! Did they give you any proof?’
‘Yes, they did’. Annie said slowly. ‘This’. She opened her hand to show them the small white, almost translucent stone that Gloriana had given her. Index Finger peered at it. putting on his spectacles as he did so. He leant back, astonished. ‘This is a fairy stone! A real one! How wonderful!’ He examined it again carefully.
Index Finger stared at it. ‘This stone has magical properties. Queen Gloriana would never have given it to you, unless she really wanted to. Please don’t touch it against the talisman, but bring it close to it’.
Annie slowly moved the stone, with her left hand, towards her right, where she wore the talisman on her finger. As they moved closer together, she gasped, as did everybody. The talisman began to glow more and more brightly, as the stone did. It began to gleam brightly in her hand. Annie felt no heat in her hand, just a warm glow. As she moved them nearer and nearer, both the talisman and the stone shone even more. Then she drew her hand away.
Middle Finger broke the silence. ‘This is the way that we contact the faeries. By bringing the two together. That will be enough to summon them when the need arises’. But now, we still need to find the dragons. They, and the faeries, in the past have had …’ he paused, ‘some quarrels. But now they seem to have made their peace’. The little group stared at the table in silence.
It was Sniffer, lying by the said table, greedily slurping his bowl of Guiness, that broke into their thoughts.
‘Did you ever wonder why the faeries were so nasty to you at first, and then really friendly? And why they gave you that stone?’ He addressed this to Simon and Annie, or, at least, as far they could tell. It was sometimes hard to say which part of his anatomy Sniffer was speaking from.
‘They were testing you, each of you. It’s the faeries’ way. But my guess is, that they would never have given you that stone, if they hadn’t trusted you in the first place. Adrian there’, he jerked what appeared to be his head in Adrian’s direction, ‘He came down to help. That was a good point in your favour, even if he still might have ended up skewered as seagull kebab. Rotten taste it is too. But, the important thing is. they tested themselves. Though that Glorymolly, whoever, ordering Moribund, or whatever, to kill you, she hoped that she wouldn’t. And she didn’t, not that it would be a great loss to the world’.
‘Thanks Sniffer’. Muttered Simon . ‘I love you too, you disgusting hearthrug’.
Annie poked her elbow into his ribs.
‘You see’, Sniffer said triumphantly, ‘She ordered Moribund to kill you, hoping that she wouldn’t. By doing that, she tested her own people as well. That way, she hoped that her own people would do the right thing, and she knew that the people she was allying herself with, would too. I know this. I smelt them. Believe me, I know’.
‘Wait a minute’, said Simon slowly. ‘You said that she hoped Ragimund would not severe my own dear head from my shoulders, but at that point, she didn’t know?’
‘Precisely’. Said Sniffer.
‘So you mean’, Simon said even more slowly, ‘I might well have….’ He drew his hand across his throat.
‘Absolutely’. Replied Sniffer.
‘Ah’, said Simon faintly, ‘I had not entered that factor into my calculations’.
‘Never mind, Simon, mate’, Adrian cried cheerfully. ‘It just means that you’d have lost a few inches, which in your case, doesn’t really matter’.
Simon threw him a venomous glare, that everybody realised would easily put Adrian as a stuffed seagull, into a glass exhibition in a museum.
‘Simon’, please, let’s keep a cool head on our shoulders’. Annie interrupted, ‘Oh!’ she suddenly realised what she had said. ‘Oh, Simon, I’m really sorry! I didn’t mean to….’
Simon just said rather nastily, ‘That’s all right. But I’m not sure whether Adrian’s got the point’.
‘’ere, watch it!’
‘Watch it yourself, beaky’.
‘Please, let us stop this bickering!’ this was from Middle Finger, who so far had taken no part in the discussion. ‘The important thing now is to identify the place where the dragons meet, and how we can get in touch with them. Any ideas?’
Their shook their heads gloomily. ‘Well, then. We will just have to all put our thinking caps on.’
‘Speak for yourself!’ snapped Simon. ‘I’m off’’. He got up and walked away across the beach..
‘Oh, dear’. Said Little Finger.
‘Right, this meeting is at an end. Contact us when you need to. And don’t throw smelly old shoes at my brother’s head any more. Got it?’
Annie, too, stood up and went after Simon, leaving the others sitting there.
‘Simon!’ she cried, as she caught up with him. ‘Just stop for a moment, and listen’. She caught his arm. But he yanked it away furiously.
‘I am totally fed up with those old men, those “staff officers” telling me what to do!’ The only reason I’m doing all this is to help you, Annie! Come on, we’re the only ones that are doing anything! Well, Adrian and Sniffer, of course. But doesn’t it strike you as being rather one-sided? We do all the nasty stuff and they sit at home, telling us what we should do next! We’re only children, Annie, and already we’ve had to cope with so much! I’m just not going to take it any more’.
He sat down abruptly on the pebbles of the beach. Annie sat down next to him.
‘Simon, I’m sorry. But you know that the Four Fingers are doing everything they can, as they can. They are relying on us. They need us badly, in fact, very much. Without us, they won’t be able to fight the daemons. Adrian and Sniffer need us as well. I know how you feel. I’m even more frightened than you are. I really need your help and support. I want you to give that. I really do. Look, Simon, hold the faeries’ stone. Feel how warm it is’. She put the stone into Simon’s hand. ‘See, it’s glowing. It knows that you are, as the faeries might put it, true. And the talisman as well. Look how that’s glowing. Let’s stay together, Simon, as brother and sister. We’ll get through this, I know. I promise’.
It was then that Annie noticed that her brother was crying. She gently pulled his head down onto her shoulder and put her arms around him. She said nothing, hearing the cheerful cries and conversation of the seaside around them, the laughs and the giggles of people enjoying the bright July sunshine. She felt his tears on her neck.. Then he pulled his head away. ‘Come on Annie. I could really murder an ice-cream. I’ll treat you to one. I’ve still got some pocket-money left over’. He pulled her to her feet. ‘Let’s go’.
And so they did.
Frank Jackson (19/07/09) Word count - 7421