☙  Notes from the Studio ❧

The Queen of Summer’s Twilight, Chapters Thirty-Nine and Forty.

© Charles Vess 2019

Chapter Thirty-Nine 

      Since the night that so many had been slaughtered at his front gates, everyone that had ever worked for John Ravenscroft had tendered their resignations, leaving him alone to look after the great, empty house. So, it was that the lovely singing voice that carried down the hall and into John’s office where he sat with his head buried in his folded arms, fast asleep, was the first welcoming sound to counter the stillness that had settled for so long over his estate.

      After they had returned the night before, Janet, claiming exhaustion, had immediately retreated to her room. But Mairi had been too excited at being home again to follow her daughter’s example and had walked with her husband, arm-in-arm, through the great house. Arms linked she had begun to tell him a little of what had happened in that otherland. 

      Later, after Mairi succumbed to exhaustion as well and fell asleep intheirbedroom, John had felt awkward joining her after so long a time apart. So, he’d gone down the hall to his office and sat at his desk where he tried to carefully consider everything he’d heard and seen that night.

      For him, there had been six long months alone in a great empty house where he’d spent far too many hours dealing with the aftermath of that single night of mayhem. But it was his intense guilt over the disappearance of his daughter and wife that had kept him up so many sleepless nights. Determined to devote himself solely to finding his family, Ravenscroft had resigned as CEO of his vast business enterprise and walked away from all the myriad boards that had plundered so much of his time. 

      John’s casual observation had made him certain time in the otherworld that had swallowed them had moved much faster than here. The noticeable change in Janet and her attitude towards him made him certain of it. Still, it cost him great effort to push aside his lingering doubts and simply accept the story his wife had told him as true. What other choice was there? As much as he had tried to convince himself otherwise, he had seen his daughter subsumed by some otherworldly force and the ravening beasts on that night of slaughter. Then just yesterday he had witnessed the huge creature out on the bridge.

      Exhaustion had finally claimed him as well and he’d fallen asleep at his desk with the lights still shining brightly down on him.

      Now the rich, fluid notes of what he was certain was his wife’s voice woke John Ravenscroft as well as stirred memories buried deep within him for far too many years. Standing, he walked down the hall following the lovely voice, tinged with an intriguing but unfamiliar accent.

     Moon shine tonight come mek we 

      dance and sing.

      Moon shine tonight come mek we 

      dance and sing.

      Mi deh rock so

      You deh rock so

      Under banyan tree.

      Ladies may curts and gentleman may bow

      Ladies may curts and gentleman may bow

      Mi deh rock so

      You deh rock so

      Under banyan tree

      Mi deh rock so

      You deh rock so

      Under banyan tree

      He found Mairi sitting comfortably in a high backed chair facing a lace-curtained window looking out over the gardens, the morning light washing across her soft features. 

      Without speaking, John stood silently, basking in the pleasure of having his wife a part of his life once more.

     Come we join hands and mek we 

      dance around and sing

      Come we join hands and mek we 

      dance around and sing

      Mi deh rock so

      You deh rock so

      Under banyan tree

      Mi deh rock so

      You deh rock so

      Under banyan tree

      Reaching the final verse Mairi opened her eyes to see her husband looking down at her, tenderness and love written clearly on his face. She responded with a warm smile. “There you are, love. “

      “Mairi, I don’t think I remember you singing that song before?”

      She laughed easily, “That’s because it’s an old Jamaican tune my mother and I used to sing together. The words always bring her and my father back so vividly – which I suppose is why I sang it so seldom in years past… But that will change, soon, I hope.” 

      Her face, momentarily somber, brightened again.

      “But enough of that, let’s get started, shall we?”

**************

      Very soon afterward they were both seated at the immense oak desk in John Ravenscroft’s office, waiting for Janet to join them.

      Eager to discuss their rescue plan for Thomas, Janet nevertheless cautiously entered the room where she has had so many confrontations with her father. Her mother’s welcoming smile helped cheer her as she slid into a proffered chair.

       Almost at once, her father’s old manner did its best to dominate the discussion, as out of long-ingrained habit he tried to assume control of the meeting. But as they carefully walked through their planned abduction of Thomas Lynn, he was interrupted again and again by his wife or Janet offering an important piece of information or advice on a subject that he had absolutely no knowledge of. Finally realizing that this was not the boardroom of one of his firms where he would have ordered everyone to do as he wanted, Ravenscroft took a deep breath and tried to simply listened. 

      After all, their plan wasan all-out assault on what he understood was the High Court of the Faerie, about which he had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever. 

      Like planning a hostile takeover, but with more at stake. Much more.

      At one end of his great oak desk, made conspicuous by no one ever mentioning it, rested his wife’s dusty backpack. Occasionally, he noticed when his daughter’s eyes lingered on it with a certain amount of curiosity as well. But for the moment, Mairi had chosen not to acknowledge it was there, and he decided to respect her unspoken wish.

      When Mairi cleared her throat and spoke, all of her husband attention was on what she had to say. “Last night, I tried to explain something of what happened to Janet and I in the last few weeks, but John, I’m at a loss to tell you who Mother Hainter was and how much she meant to us both. We really wouldn’t be here now without her help.”

      Wiping a tear from her eye, Janet finished her mother’s thought, “Her death was just so completely unexpected.”  Then the young woman murmured softly, “She called herself a witch, and she really did have a potion for any ailment you could ever have.”

      Together they chorused, “And they worked, too!” Both women looked at one another and shared a quick, fragile smile.

      One dark, heavy eyebrow cocked, John asked, “A witch? Really?”

      “Yes, really.”

      A look of real concern etched itself across his blunt features. “Well then, can you tell me who or what she was so that I can at least try to understand what she wanted us to do together?

      “We’ll try…”

      Much later, after the two women finished telling him everything that they remembered about their friend Mother Hainter, they looked at John Ravenscroft hoping that he understood what she meant to them.

      Under their steady inquiring gazes, He shifted uneasily, still finding it difficult to accept a world so radically different from what he had always thought it was meant to be. Then with a determined shrug of his wide shoulders, he squared his body and prepared to face that new world with all its dangers. 

      “Well, I will say that I would certainly have liked to have met this witch of yours. Still, I do have a lot of questions for you both.”

      But at that moment, Janet asked a question of her own that had been on her mind since she first met the ancient bottle witch. “Mum, did she ever tell you where she came from? Or was she just a truly oddball fairy witch?”

      Mairi smiled at her daughter, “Well, to start with dear, Mother Hainter wasn’t one of the Fae. She was the last of a race that had lived on both sides of the border for far longer than any of the Fae and most certainly any mortal kind. I suspect that only her two fox friends are older. Perhaps far, far older?”

      John couldn’t help himself. “Fox… 

      Mairi squeezed her husband’s hand. “Yes, love, I’m sure you’ll meet them soon enough, so I’m not even going to try to explain those two.”

      But when John opened his mouth, obviously prepared to pepper them with more questions, Mairi brushed his lips with her fingertips. “Hush now, there’s much more for us to discuss, so let’s get down to it, shall we?

      “Because tonight is Halloween. Samhain. All Souls Night as The Queen called it, the night named in the ballad of Tam-Lin, the very night when Thomas will be given to that dark creature’s service. The night on which the story we are a part of takes place, a story that we now will try to fundamentally change.

      “And only on this very night can we hope to do that.”

      **************

      Many hours later, after a certain plan was solemnly agreed to between the three conspirators, John leaned toward his daughter and held out his hand. In it was the gun he taken so long ago from the chief of his security force. “After you were gone, I began to do some research onof my own. So, I had the bullets in the clip made with solid lead, because from what I read, that will do serious damage to any of the creatures that we’llhave to deal with tonight.” 

      Before taking the heavy gun, Janet hesitated, and Mairi reached between them. Gently but firmly, the older woman closed her husband’s hand around the weapon with her own. “Your daughter won’t need that kind of weapon tonight. This, however, will prove most useful.”

      She pulled a small, supple leather bag from the satchel that she’d brought with her from The Land of Summer’s Twilight and placed it in front of Janet. Her daughter fingered the curiously engraved leather for a moment before loosening the drawstrings and pulling out its contents. Suddenly, Janet shuddered, because what she held in her hands was The Huntsman’s insidious net. 

      “Mother! No! I can’t use this…”

      “But you must.”

      “Where… where did you get it?”

      Staring enigmatically at her daughter, Mairi let out a sigh, “I may seem old to you, but I still have a few secrets to my name. When she gave me this, our friend Mother Hainter said that it might be useful one day.” 

      Fingering the mesh of the net, Janet guessed why she’d been given this particular gift. “Must I use this horrid thing to hold Thomas?”

      Mairi stroked the girl’s hand. “The Huntsman’s net is gifted with many special properties. One of them is that it will never release what it has caught until the one who cast it gives that command.

      “So, if you want to be certain that we’ll bring your Thomas safely home, then the answer is yes.

      “Because even though his heart wants to follow you, he will refuse. He is the Knight of the Rose and has sworn an oath to do The Queen’s bidding, no matter what it may be. And for him, a man that breaks his word is simply worth nothing.”

      “Dammit!  Sorry. Okay, I…I understand that. But he just needs to be bloody careful who he pledges his word to, doesn’t he?” 

      Her mother drew in her breath before answering, “Yes, of course, we all do.” She considered Janet, then her husband for a moment more before continuing, “So are we all agreed then? Since there is nothing we can do to change Thomas’ will in this matter, then we shall instead change his part in the story.If we do that, then we will change the Queen’s too. And just maybe all their stories will end well enough. At least I do hope so!”

      All three faced each other around that desk and nodded in agreement. On John Ravenscroft’s face, though, there was a shadow of doubt as he tried to accept so much that all his life he had called an outright lie. Mairi saw that doubt, but shrewdly chose not to confront him with it, knowing that what happened this very night would put an end to it once and for all. She only briefly squeezed his hand before speaking again. “I think now would be the right time to show you both what was put in my keeping by my friend. After all, I brought it with me the whole long journey back to our world so I could show it to you both.”

      She smiled and carefully untied the leather wraps that bound the mysterious object inside her satchel, then slid it across the table close to her daughter’s hands. Looking down at the slim folio in front of her, Janet asked in amazement, “Mum, you brought a book all the way from The Queen’s tower?”

      “Yes. Yes, I did.”

      Curious, Janet gestured at the book that, to her, and surely her father as well, looked small and insignificant. 

“What’s in it, a short poem?”

      “You could say that. The history of all our worlds does have a certain poetry to it.” 

      “In that? But there can’t be more than dozen pages there, if that!”

      Mairi’s answer was simple. “This book is a record of every story that’s ever been told and someday every story that ever will be. No matter how small it may look to us, it still carries a record of every one of those tales in its pages.” 

      Unable to take her eyes off the slim volume, Janet whispered, “May I?” And after Mairi nodded her assent, the young woman’s fingers brushed lightly across the inlaid gold letters of the title: The Book of the Summer Lands.

      Opening it, Janet gasped when she saw the story recorded there on the book’s first vellum page, yellowed now with age. At once she beckoned her father closer and whispered, “Oh, come see. Come see.”

She and her father slowly read page after page of the small book, each one looking like it should be in an elaborate illuminated manuscript. Yet inscribed onto the surface of each vellum sheet was not some Book of Days or Biblical Treatise but the story of a great and devastating tragedy that began when the stars and the moon themselves were newly born. A tragedy that divided the world of mortals from that of The Fae, a devastating, utter separation that still blighted both worlds to this day.

     Depicted on page upon page, followed by one more page and another and yet others was a world of beauty, shimmering with liquid crystalline colors that glowed from every minute detail of a place and a manner of life long forgotten, all rendered with heart-breaking simplicity.

      Impossibly long was this tale, yet it was somehow contained within the pages of one slim volume held between the hands of a young girl seated at a desk with her father close by her side. 

      Looking up. John’s hold tightened on Janet’s arm as he exhaled, “How is it done? I was inside the story? It was as if I were playing an essential part of it, even as I read the pages where it was written.”

      Mairi smiled, “Many times I’ve asked myself the same question, but I was told that it was just another aspect of the book.” 

      Janet’s hands began to tremble as they moved lightly across later pages that depicted the inhabitants of each newly created world as they tried again and again to regain that world of heart and mind that some among them still recalled, a sublime world that once was theirs simply for the asking. Yet for all their stupendous effort, all those that lived within the borders of those broken lands continued to diminish and weaken.

      There were other tales as well. Less important perhaps, but still told with great beauty and soaring happiness, leavened oftentimes by death and no little darkness. Many were ancient ballads copied out in all their infinite variations. Flipping through those thin pages, Janet and her father saw that different hands had inscribed different stories. At each story’s expected end, there was a single blank page that somehow suggested to both that it waited patiently to be filled someday.

      Janet looked up at her mother and asked, “How could anyone possibly know how many pages to bind into this… this book?

      “I think that Mother Hainter or someone quite like her subjected it to a sort of sympathetic magic, ensuring that there would always be enough pages, no matter the length of any tale inscribed in it.”

      Finally, minutes or hours later, Janet realized that she was looking at a depiction of the story of The Queen of Summer’s Twilight. Spilling across page after page after page was a multitude of tellings, each with minute variations that always, always ended with terrible tragedy or great loneliness. 

      Excited, Janet tried to explain to her father, “Thisis The Queen, the one you’ll meet tonight…it’s Her story that we have to change.”

      Janet gasped, though, when she discovered her own life story flowing across the pages and that of Thomas, the Knight of the Rose as well. The tragedy of her mother’s madness and her father’s retreat into solitude and greed quickly followed. In those stories the writing was fresh and the illuminations hastily executed, as if done by a crude but very loving hand.

      Mum?

      And then she turned to what was, at least for now, the book’s final page and saw that it was blank. Looking at that simple sheet of as yet unmarked vellum, it seemed to Janet that it iswaited, impatiently perhaps, for the outcome of the very story they sought to be a part of this night and then, perhaps, what would follow after in the days and years to come.

      John’s hoarse voice rumbled in his daughter’s ear, “If what’s in this book is true, and I’m certain that it is, then I have wasted my life. I’ve devoted it to only one thing, accumulating more and more wealth. And I’ve squandered that wealth by uselessly controlling other people’s lives, bending them to my will so that I could accumulate even more. No matter how much that horde of gold and silver is, it could never be enough to buy back the beauty of the world that is shown in the pages of this book. No wealth can buy back that happiness, that joy.”

      Stunned, John placed his hands gently over his wife’s and looked deeply into her eyes before whispering, “I have failed you miserably and… my daughter. And I… I failed myself as well.

      “Can you ever forgive me?”

      His wife smiled warmly at him, ”Of course… but perhaps, when this night is over, we should all heed the lessons here and live our life together in a different… more gentle manner.”    

      Mairi lifted her hand then to brush away a single tear that fell slowly down her husband’s face. “This very book will be our gift to The Queen tonight. Pray that She will accept and read from it or none of us will ever escape the tragedy of the story that She has been a part of for long ages past.”

*****************

      As night fell over the lands of mortals, Janet’s family stood once more on the vast moors that swept across the Scottish highlands. Her mother and father tried to keep their emotions in cheek as they watched their daughter rev the motor of the huge Vincent Black Lightening. But when Janet ran the motorcycle as fast as it would go straight toward the enormous standing stone that reared out of the earth directly in her path, they turned away, waiting for tragedy. Neither noticed that Janet’s eyes were tightly shut, her hands clinched in fear on the handlebars as she hurtled toward that rough slab of granite.

      Keep ‘em shut!If I don’t actually see that damned stone I might actually be able to go through with this… again. 

      Her father couldn’t stop an anguished cry, “No!” Then he was surprised and immensely grateful when Janet abruptly disappeared into the surface of the great stone. His thick eyebrows rose again with amazement, though, when immediately behind his daughter two beautiful silver foxes scampered out of the thick heather and launched their graceful bodies through the air directly into the same stone.

      I suppose I’ll need to grow accustomed to this sort of thing?

    Chapter Forty

      Bouncing onto the hard ground on the other side of the border between the two lands, Janet gave her brakes a tight squeeze, bringing the Vincent to a complete stop, scattering a shower of small pebbles and loose bracken. Looking around, Janet realizes that she was exactly where she and her mother stepped through the stone. 

      Was that only yesterday

      Rolling across the sky above her were heavy, ominous blue-black clouds with occasional grumbles from distant thunder. Around her the heather was thick and fragrant. Janet pulled the collar of her leather jacket up and Thomas’ helmet down, snug over her head and hoped that it wouldn’t rain until after their task was done. 

      The borderlands are so freaky. 

      Rain never happens in Faerie. 

      A light mist every evening, but never heavy rain.

      When the clouds suddenly split apart, illuminating everything around her with the brilliant reds and oranges of the setting sun, she realized that what she was looking at in the distance was her earth and sky.

      Right.

      The border between them is like a sheet of cling wrap tonight. 

      Through another quick break in the racing clouds, Janet caught a glimpse of the full moon that she guessed was part of the land of The Queen. An eager smile broke the grim expression set on her face as Janet revved the engine of the Black Lightening and eased the heavy machine back into gear. As quickly as she could, Janet picked her way through overgrown bracken and high, weathered outcrops of rock.

      Okay. Mum said that all I have to do is hide somewhere along the border and The Queen would just come to me.

***********

      Later, when the moon had finished playing its game of hide and seek with the billowing clouds above and began to softly illuminate the vast landscape around her, Janet heard a noise in the distance. It was a thunder that didn’t come from any lightening in the distant sky of her world but the pounding of a thousand ofhooves on the ground at her feet.

      At first sight, the riders looked like a vast moving shadow, hardly substantial enough to be anything real. But as the thundering host drew nearer and every indistinct shadow became a vividly real creature of the Fae, Janet began to shiver. As they pounded past the enormous boulder where she hid deep in the shadows, they were close enough for her to reach out and touch them. 

      The Queen sat astride a great, black mare, its streaming mane and ornate, jeweled harness hung with 50 silver bells and nine. Beside Her, mounted on a horse of purest brown, rode The Lord of Darkness and of Death, a smile of great satisfaction twisting his thin, cruel lips. 

      Just behind them both, sitting easily on a milk white steed was Thomas, the Knight of the Rose, clad in leather armor of deepest red. And following them were a thousand times a thousand lords and ladies of the Fae court, most clutching tall lances bearing great fluttering banners, hued with every color known to their earth and some from lands beyond, some woven with intricate designs, displaying the sigil of The Court of the Rose and some few with that of The Court of Shadows.  

      Tumbling through the air, beside and around and behind each mounted lord and lady was every manner of fairy creature, both large and small, winged and not, horned and goat-footed, web-toed and one-eyed and long of tail, sometimes covered in fur or scales of green, sometimes with their skin hued the palest of purple.   

      All those there tonight had sworn their allegiance to The Queen and rode with Her to compass the borders of Her kingdom, ensuring Her continued dominion over it. All save The Lord of Darkness and of Death, and in his heart he wished for more than just a simple allegiance or yet another servant to torment.

      With the great host, but not a part of it, unconcerned with hoof or lance or boot or sword, ran two silver foxes barking in utter delight. All, though, were faintly lit by both the fading red glow of a sun that set, not in the Lands of Summer’s Twilight but over the trembling, paper thin border beyond in the mortal realms and their own moon with its attendant stars.

      Close behind the great thundering host, her heart pumping, her mouth set with determination, Janet rode the Vincent, forcing her way in amongst the riders. Just ahead of her the two foxes leaped and twisted and snapped joyfully at the pounding legs and hooves of the Host so close around them. Perhaps they were clearing a path deeper into the midst of that great hosting of the Fae. Help mates or not, seeing them lightened Janet’s heart, and she gave silent thanks for their service. 

      From the riders close around, there were looks of dismay and impatience and hatred, too, when they noticed a mortal was amongst them. At the first, more than one rider attempted to gain honor for him or herself by unseating the intruder with a casually extended lance or a sharp booted foot, and Janet was happy for the thick leather jacket she wore. But soon, when the metal of her bike began to leave red smoldering welts on any that accidentally touched it and then swift awful sickness in its wake, the riders all began to draw away from her. 

      Rider after rider then fell behind the vast host, sickened by that touch, whether accidental or not, and had to struggle to regain their place within it. For if any there sought to give over their place in this Fairy Ride, they would court only anger and endless crushing punishment from The Queen herself. 

      Shifting the engine of the powerful bike into higher gear, Janet picked up speed, threading her way past rider after rider. Every horse behind her tried their best to escape the trailing exhaust of her Vincent and those before pranced nervously away from the unfamiliar mechanical roar of the bike and fear of it deadly touch. 

      Dodging long, sharp lances that were thrust from a safe distance at her shoulder or arm or leg and treacherously placed hooves or the sharp, gnashing teeth of their mounts that nipped at her before and behind, Janet hunched close into the cycle, a strained smile set on her face. Certain that every rider on each straining horse pounding close beside her wished that their mount would trample her under its feet, she cautiously threaded her way into their ranks. 

      Soon Janet’s arms began to shake with fatigue even as her heart leaped when she finally heard the bells of The Queen’s bridle over the thunder of the surrounding horses. For it meant that Thomas must be somewhere close in this thickly packed host of riders and mounts. 

      Then, just over a streaming banner in front of her, she saw The Lady. Gritting her teeth, Janet gave the cycle its full throttle. At the same time, she reached into her saddlebag and carefully freed the Huntsman’s net. Bringing it up in her hand, she began to carefully swing it through the air above her head.

      Suddenly, a heavy booted foot slammed into Janet’s thigh, sending her and the Vincent swerving dangerously through the far edge of the Fae riders. Janet had one split-second to search for its owner and saw The Lord of Darkness and of Death smile back at her just before she burst from the packed throng. 

      Desperately trying to recover the cycle’s balance, she bounced up a face of uneven rock. Hand on the throttle, Janet sent the bike over the top of the rough granite boulder and caught her breath when the bike soared free of the ground. The next moment the Vincent’s wheels hit down hard on almost level ground, studded with sharp rocks. In one smooth movement, she powered the bike through a narrow gap between two boulders, jolted down the hillside beyond and was amongst the riders once again.

      Directly ahead, Janet saw Thomas’ red boiled leather armor, glowing in the deep, moon-cast shadow from the great stabbing finger of granite they thundered past. Once again, she brought the net up, this time casting it through the dim, twilight air.

      It’d burn the Huntsman’s soul to know what I‘m using this for now. 

      That is, if he bloody had one?

      Her throw was near perfect, and the last she saw of Thomas before he was wrapped tightly in its coils was an expression of complete surprise. Firmly entangled in the net, the knight struggled desperately but futilely to get away even as he began to fall from his saddle. 

      Guiding the Vincent in a gentle, swerving arc with both knees and her other arm, Janet hauled in her catch with her free hand. Forcing Thomas’ limp body across her lap, she floored the bike and pulled safely away from the massed riders of the Fairy Host. Before they were even aware that she’d kidnapped their Knight of the Rose, Janet and her captive were deep in shadow and bouncing through the treacherous rocky landscape away from them as fast as the bike would travel. Only to at last, skid to a stop, in another shower of small pebbles in a patch of rough heather atop a small hill, brightly lit by the full moon.

      She smiled, remembering when her mother had pointed it out on their journey from The Queen’s tower. “Remember it well.” she had said. “Mother Hainter described this particular hill to me, saying that it would be a useful landmark for our night’s work, a hill that was once an ancient fairy mound.”

      Little witch I miss you…

      I wish you were here with us tonight.

      Janet swung her leg off the bike and, as gently as she was able, lowered Thomas to the rough ground. Through the tight netting she saw his face, distorted with anger. He hissed up at her, “Let me go! Now!”

      Ignoring his desperate plea, Janet spared a quick look behind her to see if their escape had been noticed yet. When she was sure that it hadn’t, Janet dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around his body, whispering, “No matter what you say, I won’t let you live in that damned court of darkness. I just won’t!”

      Thomas’ reply was grim and final, “Janet, the words that I pledged to my Queen have not changed. I gave my oath to obey her in all things, even it meant my certain doom.”

       Desperately, Janet shook her head trying to explain, “But Thomas, you won’t be breaking your promise to The Queen, any more than She broke Her promise to me. You were there. You heard Her give me Her pledge to protect any that I held dear. When She gave you to The Lord of Darkness and of Death, She claimed that it would not be Herself but the Dark Lord that would cause you harm. I’m not letting Her get away with a stupid lie like that.

      “All I’m doing is just following her lead. It wasn’t your choice to come back with me. I dragged you here, and if you weren’t in this bloody net you’d be kicking and screaming at me about it. 

      “So shut up and get used to it, okay?

      Gazing tenderly at Thomas for a moment Janet whispered, “I bloody hope you’ll forgive me when this is over?” Then she turned her attention to the distant sound of thundering hooves that now raced directly toward the hill where she stood waiting. 

      But it was the striking of sharper and much closer hooves than those that startled her more. Janet was relieved though when she saw her mother clinging tightly to the mane of a huge, black horse that glistened under the moon and starlight, climb the hill behind her. Sitting close behind the older woman was her Da, his huge arms wrapped tightly around the older woman’s waist. 

      Reaching the crest of the hill, Mairi dropped to the rough ground, and looking up at the horse and her husband that towered above her, she smiled, “Pooka, I thank you now for your kind assistance. Mother Hainter told me that you might help, and I’m glad that you agreed to carry our burden this night.” 

      The great coal black horse shook its head and mane, “I call Thomas Lynn my friend and pledge the same to any that name him theirs. But in truth, I have never liked this Queen and helping those that would confound Her pleases me more than a little.” 

      Its large black eyes then stared down at Thomas, bound roughly on the ground, “Though I hope you have not treated the knight too unkindly?” Its sensitive ears twitched and lay back against its neck, “But mortal, look to your captive now, for they come!”

      “Quickly now!” Janet cried and understanding her urgency, John nodded his head and slipped down amongst the rest of his family. Pulling at the young girl’s arm her father hissed, “Hurry, the Host will be here sooner than any of us want!  And we’ve not come this long way to waste our efforts.”

      Mairi and John, hands tightly clasped, stood close beside their daughter. Both tried to smile encouragingly at her when the earth beneath their feet began to throb with the pounding mass of Fae creatures hurtling towards them through the dimness of the twilight lands. 

      Suddenly, the ground beneath them was choked with a multitude of riders and their frenzied mounts that circled the small hill, trailing their flowing banners that snapped in the air like a multitude of birds in flight. Never slowing their pace, they glowered up at the four companions, their captive, and the Pooka standing above them.

      In their midst rode The Lord and Lady, both their faces dark with anger, and close beside them followed a milk white mare, its saddle empty of any rider.

Tomorrow join me for the conclusion of the story.

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