© Charles Vess 2019
Janet screamed over the pounding of the hooves, “All of you here are on a fool’s errand this night.”
Only the slight flicker of hands on reigns and the turning of Her steed made the mortal girl aware that The Queen had heard her. Then once, twice, three times the mounted Host of Fairy circled moonwise round the hill before coming to an abrupt halt. And there they stood in furious and malevolent silence, rank upon rank, thousands deep, their banners still snapping softly in the breeze.
In the heather at Janet’s feet, on either side of her captive, the silver foxes sat and waited and watched with great curiosity. Then crouching low, their delicate snouts close to Thomas’ ears, they began to whisper such stories to him as eased the anger in his heart.
Above them all, thick, racing clouds, broke apart to reveal the full moon and a sky full of swiftly tilting stars.
Her eyes locked with Janet’s, The Queen stilled the great steed that She sat astride and finally spoke, “Mortal, what you and these others do here this night angers me. You trespass on My kingdom without My leave as well as disrupt a sacred rite. ”Then She turned Her gaze on the huge black mare that waited behind its companions, “And you Pooka, what business is this of yours? Your antics have ever displeased me and were why I banished you from my court long ago, were they not?”
Without waiting for an answer, The Lady gestured at Thomas and continued, “My Knight is held by stronger ties than any net you may have. His foolish vow, long since given to honor any pledge spoken by Myself makes him very precious tonight indeed.”
At her side, The Dark Lord’s eyes remained locked on his elusive Queen, as if what took place on the hilltop before him was of no matter. Seeing that look made Janet even more certain that what she saw ever so briefly in the court of the Queen was true.
He does love her, and he just doesn’t know how to share that love…
Beside her, Mairi gripped the slim leather bound book that she held in both wrinkled hands.
Following their rough plan, Janet bowed awkwardly in a briefly practiced, courtly manner, before pleading, “My Lady, do you not see that what you will to happen here tonight, is wrong. What is more, your desires will only lead you and the land that tonight you once more claim as your own into yet more misery?”
The Queen’s shriek of rage filled the immediate shocked silence that enveloped the hill where the three mortals stood. None in that vast host of Faerie would willingly ever speak such words to their Queen.
Mairi managed to quell the surge of panic that threatened to leave her speechless and instead whispered into the resounding silence, “If all that you want to see here in your land is a reflection of your base desires, then your eyes are as blind as if they were carved from wood, for the story that you call yours is a desolate, barren one. And yet you never tire of telling it again and again and again.”
Turning her gaze to The Lord of Darkness and of Death, Mairi continued, “So too does this Dark Lord who rides by your side. You both are so filled with useless pride that I despair that you will ever share the love you hold for each other.”
She began to intone, “Once there was a Lord who understood only his desire to possess a great Lady and through that selfishness made both their kingdoms a home for only darkness and shadow…
Janet’s mother reached for her daughter’s hand, and grasping it, spoke so that all there heard, “Once there was a woman who loved a man, but she was driven away by madness…”
Her young and very human daughter squeezed her mother’s hand and then looked into her father’s worn face before adding her story as well, “Once there was a motherless child who thought she hated her father…
John Ravenscroft looked at his wife and daughter before joining their chorus, “Once there was a father who imprisoned his wife and tried his best to do the same to his only daughter as well…
The family joined hands and faced The Queen, “Once there was a family that was torn asunder by a willful Queen and her selfish desires…”
The two foxes leaped gracefully in the air before circling again and again the three figures. Each began reading, one after the other, what was written in the pages of the book that they held. And, as if by some magic that the book possessed that was more ancient than the magic of the Fae, The Queen and the Dark Lord and all those that gathered there by her side, stood silently listening to the words that were spoken on this night of nights.
“Once upon a time…
“there was a Queen…
“who had no true love for the kingdom…
“that She ruled.”
“All those that lived there…
“suffered for that lack.”
“The land itself…”
“suffered as well.”
“For it was left desolate and abandoned.
“this Queen had…
“no love for herself…
“when a proper suitor came to court her…
“She cast him aside.
“And that tragedy too…
“became part of Her story.”
“The years grew long…
“and the sadness grew…
“in Her land and his,
“becoming something more…
“a dark madness.
“A madness that swallowed them both…
“and then consumed the land itself.
“all who lived there.
“We wish for you…
“and your land …
“and your people…
“a new tale.”
“it can be told thus…
The three mortals continued their words, telling that story for longer surely than any there would ever know, their words spinning and falling through terrible deeds and just rewards, through sacrifice and repentance, and so came at last to the end, as every story should, with satisfaction and love.
“And ever after…
“those two sat their high thrones…
Then all on that hill chorused together, “And that has brought us to the ending of this tale but perhaps, the beginning of another.”
Frightened of what she might see, Janet scanned the tightly packed host of Fae that circled the hill. On every face there was only shared wonder and delight in a story well told. Still, The Queen remained silent. Astride his horse that pranced easily by her side, The Lord of Darkness reached out to tenderly claim The Queen’s slender hand, gloved in shimmering samite, and quiet and gentle were his words then.
“There once was a Lord who loved a Lady, although he did not know how to simply tell her so…”
Listening intently, Janet let out a small gasp when a firm hand grasped hers. Turning aside, she saw Thomas, somehow loosened from the net, standing close beside her. The two silver foxes crouched by the unraveled ropes below and smiled slyly back at her. The Knight of the Rose then took her face tenderly in his hands, and Thomas’ grateful face broke into a curious smile before he said, “There once was a Knight who loved a Queen, but the years fled by and the land of his birth began to speak to him once more from the lips of a young woman who named it her true home…
Tears filled Janet’s eyes when she heard him speak, his voice soft, his anger gone. “I do love you, and would stay with you always. Always.”
She smiled shyly, “Yes… I like that ending…or beginning.”
But the Queen continued to stare silently, inwardly, thinking thoughts that none there would ever know. Then, breaking Her silence She asked Janet’s mother a question. “This book you hold, are there more tales within it?”
Mairi bowed, “Yes, my Lady, many such tales, but there are also pages left to be written on, more pages than could ever be used, even in your lifetime.” Janet, too, bowed low before Her, “Lady, it is our wish that you take the book as our gift.” Then she added, “But only if you promise to read all that is in it.”
“Oh, that I will mortal, that I will.” And then The Queen of Summer’s Twilight smiled, and it was a smile full of new beginnings and new tales that would be long in the telling.
Not long after, all that was left of their company, John and Mairi, Thomas and Janet, moved lightly through the surface of the great standing stone and were back, once more, in the world of humankind.
Moments earlier, on the other side of the stone, when they had said their goodbye to the Pooka who had become their friend that night, their hearts had been filled with sadness.
From the two silver foxes that sometimes were also women, there was no such final parting at all. The sleek creatures had simply leaped away into the deep heather leaving behind only an echo of their excited barking.
Now Janet looked wistfully out over the vast moor that stretched away from them. It was bathed in rich, golden morning light. Far in the distance, cloud shadows raced across high, rocky crags. She turned and joined the others.
Anyone looking at them from afar would not have seen the heroes that walked there with an amazing tale to tell, but only four small figures moving slowly through an immense landscape toward their home. Looking closer, they might have noticed that one of them was tall and fitted in strange leather armor. He pushed a heavy black motorcycle alongside the others.
John Ravenscroft paused and looked at the man that they have gone to such effort to rescue that night and smiled, “Thomas, you shouldn’t concern yourself with my wife and I, take my daughter and ride that beast of yours out of here. Mairi and I will be fine.” And turning to his wife, he continued, “We have so many things to talk about, don’t we?” The older woman leaned closer into the warmth of her husband’s body and returned his broad smile, “Yes, it’s true. As true as any story.”
Janet laughed and mounted the Vincent behind Thomas, and clasping her arms tightly around him, she cried, “Go! Go!” And the roaring, spitting monster that was his Vincent Black Lightening and its two human companions flew over stone and heather towards Inverness and any new adventure that might come their way.
Far behind them, across a border spun from shadow and dreams that now and perhaps forever would separate the Lands of Faerie from that of humans, The Queen walked too, hand-in-hand with The Lord of Darkness and of Death, returning to a court that they would share now for as long as there was a Land of Summer’s Twilight and Faerie.
For every lady must have their lord as every lord his lady. Lady and lord, lord and lady, lady and lady or lord and lord or any combination there of, to see one another safely to the ending of their tale. And so, forever, down through the ages it will go.
“Oh, I forbid you maidens all,
That wear gold in your hair,
To come or go by Carter Hall,
For young Tam-Lin is there.”
“Hey Jamie, give us a hand.”
“Jeez, didna I tell you to quit scarfing down every one of your Gran’s oatmeals?”
“Never gonna happen.”
“Quick, lift us up then!”
Leaving their bicycles leaning against the other side of the crumbling stonewall, all five boys soon comfortably straddled the cap, their faces breaking into wide smiles.
“I knew it. As soon as I heard that cycle of his, I knew he was back.”
“Yeah, that’s tha fellow alright.”
“Even without those daft clothes I’d know him in a crowd.”
Despite the winter chill Geordie wiped a trickle of sweat away from his forehead and paused to suck in a deep breath of air through cheeks so bright and red that they seemed to glow, “Hope it’s worth the huffin’ ‘n puffin’ to pedal out here.”
“Who’s the lady, though?”
Around them the sun sent bright shafts of light down through tumbling clouds on a brisk, early winter afternoon. The wall they’d just clambered up was ancient and built of moss and lichen-covered stone that had withstood more damage than any set of young boys would ever visit upon it. Enclosing the Lynn Estate, it ran astride a gently rolling landscape far enough away from Inverness for that city to be only a dim memory on the horizon.
Janet stood in the small family graveyard, looking slowly about at the gutted manor house, the overgrown garden, and the tumbled grave markers inscribed with names long since lost to time and weather. Despite the evident neglect of the buildings and the land that they were bound to, the comforting presence of her lover’s family sank deep into her bones. She smiled to herself when she realized how pleased they would be to know that she’d brought Thomas home at last.
When Janet noticed the young boys lounging on the wall, she smiled at them, then waved a friendly hello. Discovered, they suddenly grew solemn, expecting instant dismissal. But only a warm, welcoming smile from the dark-skinned lady greeted them. Hesitantly, Geordie shyly waved back.
Careful to not let his voice carry, he whispered to his mates, “Maze me. She’s not running us off.”
“Not yet anyways.”
“Doesn’t look like there’ll be much fun fer us today, though.”
Just in front of Janet, the boy’s ‘discovery’ was on his knees, bending over a small, freshly dug hole in the earth to the side of one of the ancient graves. Finished, Thomas reached into his front pocket and carefully lifted a small brown object from it. Laying the acorn into the newly exposed dirt, he covered it over. Leaning in close, Tom finished a conversation that he’d begun so long ago, “There, old man of the green, is this far enough away from the city for your children to thrive and to breath properly at last?”
There was no answer, save the soughing of the breeze through the ancient yew trees that lined the cemetery wall. Still perched on that same wall, the boys let out a collective sigh of disappointment.
Jordie articulated a feeling shared by them all, “Yep, no laughs for us today. No muddy buddy on his bike slippin’ and slidin’ inna dirt…”
After a moment, Janet leaned into Thomas and whispered something in his ear. He looked surprised then slowly smiled back at her. Arm-in-arm, they casually walked towards the five boys who watched their approach as tentatively as fawns or young rabbits out on the moor.
Stopping just before they reached their dangling feet, Janet cocked her head to one side, looking up at them, “Thomas told me about you and the help you offered him not very long ago.” Then, with a mischievous grin she continued, “Oh, but we’ve not yet been properly introduced, have we? This, gentlemen, is Thomas Lyn, the owner of this estate. And I, his lady, Janet.”
“You mean you own all that big lump of stones Mr. Lynn?”
Thomas let out a rueful laugh, “Yes, I do. And one day it will house my court once more. I will rebuild this estate, stone by tumbled stone and rule from here with pride and honor.
“Would you choose to be my vassals, the first knights of my new realm?”
Confused, the four boys looked quickly at each other, unused to adults playing at any sort of game with them. But, shrugging their collective shoulders, first one, then the other four in turn grinned and nodded their assent, clearly enjoying this new game.
Thomas continued, “With what names then shall I knight my subjects with?”
Each boy managed, between giggles and laughter, to sputter out his proper name to the patient couple waiting below them.
“And I’m Donald.”
Nodding toward the distant silhouette of the Vincent, Janet continued, “So noble knights, my Thomas would never have gotten his gallant steed running without your help that day. For certain, we would not be here now, either of us, without its facility. Indeed, it saved my life…and his as well. So, we want to thank you. Properly.”
Thomas slowly looks them over before rather sternly addressing his assembled champions, “What say you men, to a ride on my stalwart steed?”
Then, to the thorough delight of each boy, for the rest of that short winter’s afternoon, Thomas took one after another for a long ride on his Black Lightening up and down the lanes and once or twice across a field. By the time each had had his turn, all five were whooping with delight.
As the sky began to grow dark and the wind turned bitter, Thomas and Janet stood once again beside the Vincent, looking down at their grinning newfound knights. “We do want to ask of you a further service.” And seeing their faces momentarily cloud with worry, Thomas hurried on. “You saw the acorn that I planted here in the graveyard, did you not? I would consider it a great favor if you would make certain that none disturb it as it grows.”
Standing straighter, Geordie gave his new friend a heart-felt promise to do as he’d been asked, which in turn was followed quickly by the same promise from his four close friends.
“So be it then, with your word as a covenant between us, I will be well content. For I feel that my lady and I have some adventures in us yet awhile before we return here to re-build and begin anew.”
Happily, Thomas turned to Janet and lifting her off her feet, swung the young woman who had rescued him from a life of eternal shadow in a circle, moonwise, round about him. Then placing her on her feet again, he slowly and thoroughly kissed the woman he loved.
Jaimie punched his friend’s shoulder, shouting, “Okay mates, let’s get out of here.”
“Yeah, let’s go. That stuff might be catchin’.”
Sitting astride the Vincent again, the two lovers casually waved to the young boys as they scrambled back over the wall. Janet threaded her arms around the handsome man that sat so comfortably in front of her and began to shift her thoughts toward the future and the time that they would have together now.
Out of the corner of Janet’s eye she could see several small creatures with long curling tails and delicate wings leap and dance among the leaves of the great yew tree that leaned close against the weathered stone wall of the graveyard.
She leaned in close to Thomas’ ear and spoke just loud enough to be heard over the roar of the machine’s engine, “Those faces will always be out there among the leaves, won’t they?”
“Now let’s head downtown to the 320, there’s a friend there that I owe some answers to.”