7. Book Two – Idi & The Talisman of Talia

New book cover, by Clare Orchard, is finished! I’m so excited, it’s amazing.  Thanks to the very talented Clare!

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Celestine & Bert, first draft by Clare Orchard http://www.clareorchard.co.uk

BERT_SCULPT (1)

Hi

Welcome to the first drawing of the reluctant leader of the Fart Platoon – Bert!

Being created by Clare Price (with much thanks)

Bert & Celestine are the two Goblins who become main characters in book 2.  Clare is currently working on Celestine and when she has finished we will have the book cover for book 2.

The Fart Platoon are green coloured whilst the rest of the Goblins are yellow coloured.  This is probably due to the fact that they are secretly vegetarians with their favourite veg being brussel sprouts, hense the continual trumpeting they do and their name becoming Fart Platoon.

Besides being vegetarians the Fart Platoon don’t like fighting – with the exception of Celestine who is the only one amongst them who can fight.  Bert is also afraid of blood and tends to faint a lot, much to Celestine’s despair.

They are sent on a mission to protect a cave in the mountains but their heart isn’t in it, Celestine will do her best to gee them along and to try and teach them to fight but to be honest they would rather play leap frog in the fields!

All the main characters from book one will return of course.  Idi will find out what his real name is and Marcus will finally catch up with Cassandra.

I am hoping very much that people who enjoyed book one will also enjoy book two.

I will keep you posted!

Tracy xxx

Here is the beginning of book two, still in very rough format.

Chapter 1 – The Name Giver

“I don’t want you to go.”  Idi looked down at Katrina’s tear streaked face and just for a moment wondered if he was doing the right thing.  “Don’t go” she sobbed throwing her arms around his waist and clinging on like a limpet.  Idi held her head tight against his chest and looked to Marcus with pleading eyes.

A cold wind swept through the valley, a continual force that seemed to want to drive them away, beating against their skin with its icy waves.  Marcus looked up at the turbulent sky, the black and grey clouds whipped into a frenzied swirl yet never moving from their stance above the island.  It was a bad omen, a warning to strangers, and Marcus turned back to Idi searching for the words that would persuade him not to go.

“I can give you a new name.  You want a long name, well how about Christian?  No?  What about Timothy then?  Or Jonathon?”

Idi looked at the small rowing boat moored to the shore, rocking as the choppy surface of the lake slapped, and then withdrew, from the sandy shoreline.  There was nothing else he could say to Marcus and Katrina that hadn’t already been said a hundred times so he gently unclasped Katrina and held her towards Marcus.

Marcus reached out and pulled Katrina to his side and she buried her head on his soft tunic and continued crying.  Idi took a concentrated look at the two of them, mentally imprinting his mind with the image; if he died today then he would take this memory with him.  He took the few steps across the grass filled sand and climbed into the boat.  Looking under the seat he could find no oars, he was just about to get back out again, when the rope that tied the boat to the shore uncurled itself from the rock and eerily retracted falling in a neat coil on the bottom of the boat.  With no other warning the boat lurched forward and wobbling violently Idi sat down quick reaching out to grasp the sides.  The boat was pulled along by an invisible current and Idi felt his heart give an irregular thump in his chest as he realised there was no turning back.

Marcus watched the boat until it strained his eyes to focus anymore then gave himself a shake.

“Katrina love” he said and she looked up at him with swollen red eyes.

“We need to make a fire so that Idi can find his way back to us.”  Katrina wiped her nose on the back of her sleeve, straightened her multi-coloured tunic, gave a huge sniff then pushing up her chin, looked at Marcus and said “Then let’s get cracking.”

Idi watched the tree lined shore grow smaller and smaller then turned with a sigh of resignation to face the island that was fast approaching.  Would the Lady of Treffernon give him his name or would she strike him down?  He tried to stay calm but the beating of his heart had quickened its pace and his hands were shaky.

From the shore the island had looked rather small but as the boat sped ever closer he realised it was quite large.  The broccoli appearance of the island from a distance revealed itself to be a multitude of trees, so closely grown together to almost give the appearance of one humongous tree.  The turbulence of the lake came to an abrupt halt as he neared the island and the boat glided into the cove on a glass smooth surface that reflected the image of the trees so perfectly that it looked like a mirror.

The boat bumped softly against the sand and Idi stepped out on slightly quivering legs.  A quick sweep of the shore showed him this was a tiny cove, rocks and boulders to each end and nothing but trees ahead.  Only one way to go then.

He took a few steps across the silver sand and stopped.  He shivered having the distinct feeling he was being watched.

“Hello” he called through cupped hands.  The sound seemed to fade away instantly and Idi called again in a louder voice “Hello.”  No answer came so he took two steps forward then found his legs didn’t want to do any more.   His brow furrowed as he searched the dense tree lined beach, every rustle of a leaf sent his head spinning to seek out the noise but still he couldn’t see anyone.

“I’ll just wait here then” he called in a questioning tone.

A slight shimmer of colour caught his attention and he peered into the trees concentrating on the area he thought he had seen something.

“Another one! Phish wish.  Why won’t they leave me alone?”

“Hello” Idi tried again.

“What you want?” came back a croaky and decidedly cranky, voice.

“To know my name.”

“Why of course you do, they all want to know their name.”

“Will you give me mine?” Idi asked taking a step further up the shore.

“Stay where you are boy, no one comes into my woods.”  This was a clear demand in a much louder voice and Idi quickly took a step backwards.

“Sorry, I’ll stay here.”

“Pwah!”

“Can you help me?  Please?”

“And why should I help you?”  Idi paused before answering recalling everything Sebastian had told him.

“I want to know who I am so that I can be a better person and help others.”

The response he received was quiet chuckling, not what he had hoped for.

“Words are easy boy.  Anyone can say what they think someone else wants to hear, what if I tell you that I don’t believe you?”  Sensing he was about to be rejected Idi took two steps forward and then fell on his knees.

“Please tell me who I am.  From birth I have been called idiot but that’s not who I am – I know that much.  But I need to know, I know if I have a real name I can believe in myself.  The Oracle, Oleanna, says I am to save The One, but Marcus says to be able to release the magic within me I must first know myself.  How am I ever to know myself if I don’t even know my own name?”

A long silence followed and Idi stood up again and waited.

“Hello?” he called again.  Please don’t be gone.

An old woman stepped out from behind the trees and regarded Idi with a questioning, screwed up, wrinkled filled, face.  She leant on a thick spiralled stick and walked awkwardly towards him.  Idi found it hard not to stare at the way her body seemed disjointed and lent too far to the right so that she appeared as if she was about to topple over.  She came to stop in front of him and turned her tilting head around so that she could peer closely at him.

“When did you see Oleanna?” she asked in a quiet voice.  Idi went red.

“Well I didn’t actually see her, Marcus saw her and Marcus told me what she said.”

“Phaa.”  The woman turned to walk back up the shore.

“Please” Idi begged, “help me.”

The old woman ignored him and carried on up the beach, muttering under her breath about her peace being disturbed.  When she reached the tree line, she stopped and turned back to look at Idi.   She raised her hand and pointed towards him.  Idi heard the sound of wind howling in the trees and felt the cold as it flew towards him.  Dread fell on him as he thought his end had come.  I’m sorry Katie.  The wind stopped.  Cautiously Idi opened one eye and looked at the old woman.  Her hand had dropped and she was staring at something next to Idi.  Slowly he turned his head to see what she was looking at.

A Magpie stood on a stone next him.

“Pica pica” the old woman whispered.  The Magpie, as if to acknowledge her, nodded its head twice; jumped from the stone he stood on and took to the air.  The old woman’s head snapped up and she raised her thin eyebrows at Idi.

“Tea” she said and turned to walk through the trees.  Just as she was about to disappear into the thickness of the trees she looked back over her shoulder at Idi.

“Come on then, don’t dawdle.”

Not sure at all what had just happened, Idi came out of his disappointed shock and ran up the shore to the trees.  After checking he was following her, the old woman continued her lob-sided walk.  They didn’t have far to go when the trees opened up into a clearing and Idi stumbled to a stunned halt.  The sun was shining over the clearing and the temperature changed from a cold autumn day to a lovely warm spring day.  The Daisy filled grass was a lush green and soft underfoot.  Birds tweeted merrily in the branches and the short tempered old hag started humming!  They stopped in front of what Idi had assumed was a pile of fallen logs.  However closer inspection showed the logs were living trees still rooted to the ground, they all grew towards one another until the branches were intertwined forming a perfect space in which someone could live.

“I’ll heat some water then,” the woman said, placing a pan on a tripod that stood over a small fire burning near the living tree house.

“Sit” she said pointing to tree stump near the fire.  Idi sat.  I don’t get it, why am I here, is she going to tell me my name?

When the herbal tea was ready she gave Idi a cup and then took a cup herself and sat down on the log opposite.  The log was huge and had been carved out to make a chair; it also had a ledge to the left of the seat so that when the woman sat down she was able to rest her crooked body on the shelf.  It had obviously been made especially for her to support her misshapen body but Idi also marvelled at the beauty of the carpentry as the whole thing was carved into flowers.  They sat in silence, the woman staring at him until Idi felt uncomfortable.

“Are you going to tell me my name?” he asked timidly.

“Yes.”  Idi straightened his back and a huge shocked smile spread across his face.

“I do have a feeling though, that you won’t be best pleased.”

“I will.  Thank you so much, you don’t know how much this means to me.”

“Unfortunately I think I do.  But before I tell you I ask something of you in return.”

Idi’s heart sank what on earth could a magical woman want from him?

“What is that?”

“A little bit of your time.”  Idi’s smile returned that’s an easy thing to give.

“Yes but it is also a very precious thing to give.”  Idi turned as red as beetroot as he realised she could read his mind, and before he could help it, darted back in his memory to try and recall if he had thought anything unkindly of her.  The woman chuckled.

“I think you should stop referring to me as ‘that old woman’ or worse ‘the hag,’ my name in Yakira.”  Heat was radiating from his cheeks and Idi rushed into conversation to hopefully distract from his embarrassment.

“How do you know what people’s true names are?”

“To be honest I don’t always know” her lined face crinkled even more as she cackled into her shaking shoulders.

“Is that why you kill most of the people who come to you then, because you don’t know their names?”  The laughing stopped.

“I don’t kill anyone” she snapped, then added reflectively, “well not intentionally anyway.”

“But most people don’t return from Island and it is said that is because you killed them because they didn’t have a pure heart.”  She lifted her frail, age-spotted hand and scratched her head.  Some of her long thin grey hair came away from her head in her fingers and she sighed as she pulled the hair from her fingers and let it fall to the ground.

“The birds like my hair, they line their nests with it, but to be honest I would much rather it stayed on my head.”  She sighed then looked back at Idi with a serious face.

“After a couple of people returned to their villages telling everyone that I had given them names with grand meanings I started telling those whose name I couldn’t see, that if they returned and said I had given them a name I would come and strike them and their family dead.  I believe rather than return and let everyone think they didn’t have a pure heart they simply crept away and started a new life for themselves somewhere else.”

“So you didn’t fling them off the Island and kill them in the lake?”

“Well those who weren’t given names couldn’t return in the boat, so yes I would call the wind and fling them into the lake.  Unfortunately I did hit a couple too hard now and again and they didn’t resurface, and I think that maybe a few couldn’t swim, so I suppose that is partly true, but not entirely.  I never meant any of them to die, and let’s be honest, I never invited any of them to the Island so if they had stayed away they would be fine now, wouldn’t they?”  Idi had dreamt of this moment all his life and he couldn’t wait any longer.

“What’s my name?”

“First I will have your time.  Now tell me everything that you know about Oleanna.”  Idi started talking, he wasn’t sure where it all came from but words poured from him.  Yakira would ask a simple question and he would respond as if reciting a whole book.  He amazed himself, he hadn’t known that he had taken in so much detail into his mind, or how suddenly apt he was in describing everything to the perfect last detail.  Eventually he became aware that his throat was dry and sore and that his chin for some strange reason was aching, he moaned a bit as the realisation of the pain took a slow steady hold on his mind.

“Your name is Lon.”

Chapter 2 – The Talisman

Katrina stood looking across the lake towards the Island.  Idi had been gone for two days now and she was convinced he wasn’t coming back.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure Katrina; if he was dead the rowing boat would have returned.  The fact that it hasn’t come back yet means he’s still alive.”

“Couldn’t we go and fetch him?” Katrina asked for the tenth time.

Marcus didn’t answer, he knew that each time he explained why they couldn’t go and get Idi his resolve was weakening.  Maybe we’re meant to go and get him.

“It’s going to be dark soon, let’s get comfortable.”  Katrina gave a huge over exaggerated sigh and walked back to the fire.

“Stoke it high love.”  Katrina squatted down and carefully placed a pile of wood on the fire, then stood up and followed Marcus across the shore to the grass filled sand dunes.  Marcus sat down in a space he had dug out of the dune and opened out his right arm as a signal for Katrina to come down next to him.  Once she had snuggled in Marcus drew his travelling cape around them to keep them dry and warm.  The cape was chameleon in design and instantly faded into the same green speckled sand colour of the dunes making Marcus and Katrina practically impossible to see.  Marcus waved his hand from left to right in front of him and sent a light magical breeze that swept across the shore and cleared away all their footprints.

“If he isn’t back by the morning can we go and look for him?”  Marcus bent his head down and kissed Katrina on her forehead.”

“Yes.”

A few hours later Marcus wasn’t sure what surprised him most, the fact that he had fallen asleep or the fact that he had been woken by the gibbering of Goblins on the shore.

“Come on Celestine we’re going to be late.”

“We’re supposed to report anything suspicious to the commander, how can we report stuff if we don’t check it out?”

Marcus very slowly pulled the cape up and over his head, checked that Katrina was fully covered and then held it up to his face, the only thing visible now were his eyes as he watched the strange, pale green coloured, Goblins debating by the fire.

“Someone lit it, we should find out who that was before we go.”  The Goblin who spoke was obviously female, yet at first glance there wasn’t much in her clothes or her body shape to differentiate her from the others.  On closer inspection Marcus noticed that her hair was actually long and tied in a pony tail at the back of her head and was practically hidden, by the hilt of her sword, carried in a scabbard across her back.

“Why aren’t there any footprints?” Celestine said looking from left to right across the shore.

“The wind has been strong all day, it probably covered them up.”  Celestine turned to look at the Goblin who had spoken.

“And why hasn’t the wind blown out the fire yet then, Hurricane?” she snapped back.

“Hurricane’s probably right Celestine, come on” the Goblin reached out to touch her arm, “let’s get going.  You know the commander hates it when we’re late.”

“I’m not afraid of him, Bert.”  Celestine looked at the fire, which although it burnt low, still burnt brightly.  “I think someone has used magic on the fire” she whispered.   Bert quickly hushed at her and turned to make sure no one else had heard.  He gave a deep cough.

“Right then, back on the path.  We have wasted enough time here.”  The Goblins, including a sour faced Hurricane, turned and started walking up the shore to the path.  Bert watched, making sure that they were safely out of ear shot and turned back to Celestine, annoyance etched over his leathery green face.  His Rhino proportioned hawk nose and his sharply pointed ears twitched from side to side – his giveaway trait that revealed he was miffed.

“What do you want to be mentioning magic for?  They’re riled enough we’re making this journey without you adding superficial suggestions of danger.”

“I’ve got a feeling Bert.”  Bert moved a little closer and the back of their hands moved to touch each other.  Marcus smiled under his cape and raised his eyebrows.  Their sweet on each other, well how interesting.

“Is it a bad feeling?”  Celestine pondered on the question for a moment.

“No.  Actually not bad.  Just weird and well, kinda exciting.”

“Oh” answered Bert surprised by the answer, all of her feelings lately had been forebodings of, well, rather uncomfortable things.  Celestine suddenly lent forward and twitched her large, bell-shaped nose against his.

“Oh” said Bert again, a deep blue rising in his cheeks whilst he shuffled his bare, too large for his body, feet in the sand.  Her deep set brown eyes twinkled at him.

“Come on.  Let’s get to this assembly of Bevan’s.  I’m curious as to why he has called a mandatory gathering of every platoon.”

“Me to” answered Bert as the two of them quick stepped it back to the path.

Marcus watched them stride away, Bert swinging his enormous war hammer by his side.  Now I wonder what on earth that was all about?

~~~~~~~~~

“What?” said Idi almost falling off the log.

“Your name is Lon.”  Idi sat in silence for a moment as he digested what she had said.

“What does it mean?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing!  What do you mean, it means nothing?”

“See I told you that you wouldn’t care for it.”

“But what’s the point of giving me a name if it doesn’t have a meaning?” Idi’s chin quivered and he realised he was on the brink of crying.  He’d really wanted a long name and one with meaning to help show him who he was.

“The Talisman said that you will create the meaning of your name yourself.”

“The Talisman?”

“Pica pica.”  Idi stared at her with no understanding whatsoever.

“The golden tailed Magpie.”  Idi thought for a moment and then the sight of the Magpie next to him on the shore came to him.  Why does that feel like such a long time ago?

“A Magpie told you my name?” Idi asked shaking his head to help clear his thoughts.

“Well no, she didn’t tell me your name.  I already knew that.  But she did tell me that one day you would know what it meant, and that you would discover this yourself.”

“A Magpie spoke to you?”  Idi was struggling with an overwhelming feeling of tiredness and was finding it hard to concentrate.  Why does my throat feel so sore?

“Drink some tea, it will help you.”  Without questioning Idi sipped at his cold tea and immediate felt it sooth his throat and take away the dry itchiness he felt.

“It is time for you to leave now.”  Idi was glad; he just wanted to curl up and go to sleep.  He put his cup down and let out a loud yawn and pushed himself of the log to stand up.  Yakira also stood and as she did so she removed her long cardigan.  As she turned slightly to put the cardigan on her chair Idi caught sight of her back and what appeared to be broken wings.  Wings?  Yakira turned around and tried to smile.

“I was an Oracle” she said.  But in the great battle with the demons, the Shee-Dragon burnt my wings and I fell from the skies and landed here” Yakira gestured to the area around them, “and here I have been ever since.  Unable to either fly home or hear the voice of the Founders any more, my spirit became as broken as my body.”

Yakira cupped her fragile hands around Idi’s face.

“My hope had gone.  And then you turn up on the beach and the Talisman of Talia appears by your side and in a moment,” she let go of his face and clicked her fingers, “just like that.  Hope is restored.  So I invited you for tea to get to know you.”  Idi was glad, that in some strange way, he had helped her, but disappointed about his name wrapped itself around him like a wet blanket.

“Idi.”  Idi looked up and was shocked to find himself sat in the boat on the shore.  Yakira was stood on tiptoes, her broken bits of wings flapping behind her.  Her face had changed and she looked like a young lady.

“Look at my hair” she said laughing, pushing her fingers through thick locks of golden curls.  “Oh I do miss my hair.”

“Wow” said Idi, not sure whether it was the magic or her beauty that evoked the word.  The boat started moving away from the shore.  She wasn’t what I expected.

“And you were not what I expected master magician.  Idi no-name or Lon, whoever you choose to be, remember it is what people think about you, not what they call, you that determines who you really are.”  He didn’t know what else to do so he raised his hand and waved goodbye as the boat was pulled quickly back to the shore.

They had just finished burying the remains of the fire and were about to leave the shore to go in search of a boat when Marcus saw a Magpie flying towards them.

It cawed loudly several times as it whooshed in over them.  Its white tipped black wings gliding it easily on the breeze.  Once upon a time Talia had been over flowing with these black and white birds but for some reason over the years they had started dwindling in numbers, so Marcus was pleasantly surprised to see his favourite bird come to a stop a short distance from them.  The Magpie lifted his head up, and seemingly looking directly at Marcus, cawed again.

“And what might you be trying to tell me little one?” Marcus asked quietly.  The bird cawed again and then took to flight once more.  As it flew past them towards the trees Marcus’s mouth suddenly dropped open.

“What is it?” asked Katrina observing his face.

“The Talisman of Talia.”

“What’s that?” Katrina asked turning round quickly to see the departing bird.

“That” said Marcus “is an omen of good fortune.”  He laughed and grabbed Katrina’s hand pulling her down to the water’s edge.  Katrina looked up at Marcus smiling and staring out across the lake and gently bit her lip as a squirming feeling of hope danced in her tummy.  Then she saw it, the boat smoothly racing towards the shore.

As soon as Idi saw them on the shore he stood up, and although he wobbled, he started waving like mad at them.

“Papa” Katrina cried and took a step into the water.

“Oh no you don’t miss, lakes are dangerous things” said Marcus grabbing her by the shoulder.  It didn’t matter for it was only moments before the boat bumped against the sandy shore and Idi jumped out.  The first thing he did was pick up Katrina and swing her round and round and she laughed in giddy relief.  When Idi put her down he and Marcus gave each other a quick hug with numerous hearty thumps on the back.

“So then lad did you get what you came for?”  Idi pursed his lips and shook his head.

“Not really.”

“Didn’t you get a new name Papa?”  Idi smiled at her and ruffled her hair.

“Yes.”

Katrina slipped her hand into Idi’s “what was she like?”

“I don’t really want to talk about it at the moment; I’ll tell you another time.  I just want to be gone from here now.”  Idi looked over at Marcus.

“So off to Tamerind now then?” Idi asked.  Marcus eyes narrowed a little in concern.

“Yes let’s be gone from these parts.  I have called out in my spirit for the horses to come and I believe they are coming, but I don’t know how long it will take them to find us, so in the meantime let’s be going.”

The three of them set off down the narrow path that ran back into the hills, Idi was glad Marcus had called for the horses because he felt exhausted and wasn’t sure how long he could keep going.  Waste of time, complete waste of time.  I should never have gone to the Island.

“So what am I to call you now then lad?”  Idi didn’t stop to look at Marcus as they walked, simply called over his shoulder.

“Just call me Idi.”

Chapter 3 – Goblins

To the west of Havenshire, beyond the Lake of Treffernon but before the Torrean Mountains, the Great Plains known as The Clouds lay.   Spreading like a dried murky stain on the colourful landscape, it offers the occasional explorer nothing but the rarest promise of water and life.  At Noon the heat rises in such a thick haze you can see no more than your hand stretched in front of you, and at night the icy fog swirls along the ground making it impossible to see where you’re stepping.  Every traveller adds forty nights to their journey and traverses the rocky terrain that encases this inhabitable expanse, rather than risk crossing it.

Every traveller that is, except for the Goblins.  For the fog is a perfect way to hide a moving army.  All night long the platoons have been arriving at the Plains and disappearing into the eerie clouds.  Their eyes, accustomed to the dark of mountain caverns, enabling them to see a good distance into the fog and their homing senses telling them exactly which way to go so that they arrive, one platoon after another, at the centre of the vast plains.

Olecranon, the ancient city ruins, spews across the spasmodic knolls that are the core of the plains.  Normally rowdy and argumentative the Goblins pour into the ruined city in subdued wistfulness.  The ruins reminding them, that once they had lived a different life; a life out in the open opposed to hiding in mountains.

Celestine and Bert lead the Fart platoon quietly across the plains.

Timo (the youngest of their platoon) looking up at his mother whispers,

“Why are we being so quiet?”

“Tis in memory of all who died here, now shss” Thara whispers back.

“Who died here?”

“Shsss.”

Timo does a quick side step and pulls on his Dads jacket.

“Da who died here?”

“Our ancestors son, now do as your ma says and be quiet.”

Celestine who had been listening to the exchange turned and beckoned to Timo who happily ran to catch her up.

“See the pillars?” she said pointing to rows of tall marble pillars that lined the path to the ruin city.  Timo nodded.  “They say that each one was built by a different goblin family and that each family engraved their names on them.”

“There are so many of them.”

“And once upon a time there were so many of us.”  Celestine went quiet for a moment remembering the history lessons passed down from generation to generation, in the evenings around the fire.  Those memory lessons used to inspire her so much.  How she had hated the Oracles for destroying their imperial city and killing their King.  She had dreamed of becoming the best warrior the Goblins had ever seen and killing the Oracles one by one.  But strange things happen with the passing of time.

The memory lessons around the fires had ceased a long time ago and no one really knew why.  Some thought that it might be due to the lack of children being born, others said it was better to forget because those glory days were long gone.  Two hundred and seventy moons had passed since a mandatory assembly at Olecranon had been called and after all her feelings of late Celestine just knew something bad was coming.

She smiled at Timo, “Wait to you see the palace, it might be broken but somehow it holds its magic still.”  Bert gave her a quick stern look and Celestine couldn’t help her mouth twitching in amusement at his discomfort.

Once they had walked over the first knoll and passed the remains of the first gate house the fog disappeared.  A pale blue moon hung low in the sky and its watery reflection lit up the vast remains of Olecranon, the remnants of lost magic not only keeping the fog at bay but reflecting itself, like tiny bits of silver, all over the ruins.  Timo gazed open mouthed as he realised for the first time how many Goblins were with them.

Without any preamble each platoon found an area and set up camp.  Celestine searched the plains for a secluded area and nudged Bert as she pointed towards a particular high pile of stones.  Bert nodded in agreement and they swerved to the right away from the other platoons and headed towards the large shamble of stones.  The rest of the platoon sighed inwardly, even though it was night now the Moon’s light still lit them up enough for the other platoons to notice their pale green skin.  If they were out of ear shot at least they wouldn’t have to listen to the constant jibing about not having yellow skin.

“Why have they got different coloured skin to us?” Timo whispered to Celestine.

“We’re not too sure Timo but maybe it’s because we don’t live inside the mountains like them.”

“Why don’t we live in the mountains with them?”  Before Celestine could answer, Thara took hold of Timo by one of his long pointed ears and marched him over to his Dad.

When his mum let go of his ear and turned to say sorry to Celestine Timo stuck his incredibly long tongue out at her.  Quick as a flash his dads hand shot out and grabbed hold of his tongue.  Timo rolled his now apprehensive eyes towards his dad and swallowed hard.

“Sure I’ve said before, that if I see this tongue again I would chop it off?”  Timo’s eyes widen and he shook his head.

“aarr wood poo at emm mee” Timo moaned.

His dad started laughing and let go of his tongue.  “What was that son?”

“Not funny” Timo muttered and moved to sit down on a stone out of arm’s reach, “Tongue for talking not tugging.”

The last of the platoons had moved into Olecranon and now five hundred and twenty one platoons were camped for the night.  Silence.  No talking or moving around, everything was still.

Hoo hoo hoooooo.

The loud owl hoot made Timo jump so high it gave Thara the giggles.

“It’s only an owl Timo, go to sleep now.”

“My tummy’s grumbling ma.”

“I know but we don’t eat until after tomorrow’s meeting, now try and sleep.”

Timo lay down again but this time he kept his eyes open.  He could just see the silhouette of a Great Horn Owl as it soared over the plains.

“It’s following us” whispered Celestine.

“Don’t be daft” Bert whispered back, “why on earth would an owl follow us?”

“I don’t know Bert but I have seen it every day since I had the feeling of impending doom.”  Bert smiled softly at her, she had a tendency to over dramatise everything, yet he had to admit he was just a little worried as her feelings had often warned them of all sorts of things and had kept them safe.  He knew it would be a silly goblin that completely ignored her.

With the first light of day the leaders from each platoon made their way to the remains of the palace.

Bevan stood on the highest mountable stone and all the leaders from each platoon gathered around him.

“Malevolent warriors welcome to Olecranon the elbow of Gurenhok last King of the Goblins.”  Each Goblin, as one, slammed their weapon on the ground, and a deep boom, resonated through the plains.

“The greatest trick we have played since Gurenhok’s death was that of pretending we are defeated.  The time has come for the Goblins to wreak havoc on man once more.”

Celestine, not a leader and therefore not invited to the meeting, was hiding behind some rocks and only just stopped herself from yelling out in joy at the news.

The platoon leaders lifted their weapons and hit the ground a second time.

“The Sister Witches are planning to return and have sent me instructions to make ready for war.”  This time the Goblins gave up a roar of approval and stamped their weapons three times into the ground.

“We will avenge Gurenhok until the Oracles bleed and are no more.”

A thunderous roar exploded as the Goblins not only slammed their weapons into the earth but howled their approval.  When quiet returned, Bevan continued.

“After we have offered ourselves to the Witches we will break our fast and then each platoon leader is to meet with me to receive their duties, starting with the Hammer and the Canny platoons.  Now, to the Oath Binding tablet.”  Bevan raised a small leather bota high in the air and the Goblin leaders followed suit raising their own botas.  Bevan jumped down from the stone and took only a few strides until he was standing over a large stone tablet.  Once the tablet had stood upright but now it lay flat on the earth, its edges chipped away and the writing almost completely faded.  But that didn’t matter; every Goblin leader knew what was written and never forgot and the remnants of magic glistened eager to bind the oath givers to the Sister Witches forever.

One King

            One Army

            Three Sisters

            Three Pledges

            To serve without question

            To fight without honour

            To die for the Witches

Bevan unscrewed the cap of his bota and slowly poured the red contents out over the tablet.  “I serve, I fight, I die.”  As soon as his bag was emptied he moved aside and first of the leaders poured his red liquid over the tablet.

“I serve, I fight, I die.”

As the other leaders emptied their botas and then moved away Bert found himself getting closer and closer to the tablet.

Mustn’t think about it he thought for the twentieth time.  Pretend its red water, that’s what Celestine said, don’t look at it, don’t think about it, don’t smell it, ooooh.  Bert’s stomach lurched.  Hold it back, hold it back.  Then Bert found himself next to the tablet.  I can do this, not mine but Celestine’s bloooooood.  Bert unscrewed the cap and poured the blood over the tablet.

“I serve, I fight, I die” he said as quickly as he could.  From behind her hiding place in the shambles of stones, Celestine whispered with Bert, I serve, I fight, I die.  As soon as he had finished Bert rushed towards the ruins where he knew Celestine waited for him.

Celestine took one look at Bert’s face turning blue and snapped at him.

“Not now Bert, hold yourself together.”  He nodded fervently at her as he walked briskly past.  Three steps later he turned to the side and with volcanic force spewed up yesterday’s food.  Celestine stood and tapped her right foot with impatience as she waited for him to finish.

“It wasn’t even your own blood Bert” she snapped with a mix of irritation and understanding.

“Ssh if anyone knew.”

“There’s no one near they’ve all gone to break their fast, come on.”  She lifted up her arm and smudged his mouth with her sleeve.  “Dragon’s breath Bert if anyone knew the sight of blood made you faint Bevan would have some platoon come and slit all our throats whilst we slept.”

Chapter 4 – The Tall Ships

Absalom sat on the stone mooring bollard, hands tucked under his thighs and his head leant to the left as he watched the last of the three ships come along side the quay and moor up.

He loved being in the quay and longed for the day when he would stand on board a ship of his own and command it to sail the seas.  He would be the captain of course and would lead his sailors to riches and fortunes beyond the shores of Tamerind.  What adventures he would take them all on.

Suddenly a big rough hand ruffled his hair.

“Alrightie there Abs me laddo?”  Absalom jumped off the bollard and fell into step with Wilbur.

“You know on the last full moon I had my seventh celebration?”

“Arr did ya?  Suppose that means you’re all grown up now like.”

“It does indeed; I was thinking it makes me grown up enough to go out fishing with you today.”  Wilbur chuckled deep and his chest bounced up and down sending his huge grey beard skipping in the air.  When he had finished laughing he ruffled Absalom’s hair again.

“You might be getting taller than me any day now me laddo but certainly not smarter.  If you think I would risk your Mother’s wrath coming down upon me you aint learnt anything yet.”

“It’s not fair you take the other boys out with you.”

“Aye but the other boys all come from the families of Dwarf fishermen and sea is in their blood.”

“It could be in my blood to if you taught me.”

“When your Mother gives me permission I will take you with me and not a day earlier.”  Wilbur looked at Absalom’s downcast face and nudged him.

“You want to help me load the boat today?”  Absalom shook his head and then looked up at Wilbur smiling.

“I’m going back to watch the sailors coming off the tall ships.  Do you know where they come from?”

“Aye they be Bluedane ships them, fine vessels aint they?”

“I’m going back to watch them, I love the way they sit in the water.  Most ships look like the sea is the boss and they bob along at the sea’s will, but not these beauties, they sit in the water as if they own the sea and the sea must do as they command.”  Absalom looked at Wilbur and gave him a grin, he loved the old sailor and could normally spend hours listening to his sea tales, but today he wanted to learn all he could about these Bluedane ships because the ship he would build would be just like them.  “Catch you later” Absalom said and turned to run back up the quayside.

Back in his favourite spot, perched on the stone bollard, two feet away from the quay’s edge, Absalom sighed and drank in all the activity going on around him.

The mellow sound of the sea gently slapping the quay and the occasional call of a seagull filled him with contentment.  The strong stench of fish he could probably go without, but for the rest, he was at home.

His eyes focused on the pure white sails of the Bluedane ships and wondered what material they could be made from.  Now they were down and tied to the masks but as they had glided into port they had been fully rigged and Absalom had been caught in the awe at the sight of the shell styled sails.  The olive skinned sailors darted about their tasks in military fashion, the quicker they finished the quicker they would be able to hit the taverns.

Slowly the activity began to die down.  Most of the men had left the ship in search of a good meal and a draft of ale.  On one of the ships two young lads were on their knees scrubbing down the decks with soft sandstone, on the nearest ship a sailor was winding the long mooring rope, but as far as Absalom could see the ship furthest away seemed to be deserted.  He did a quick head turn around him, no one around.  He slipped off the stone and pushed his hands deep in his trouser pockets then slowly walked along the quay edge.

In front of the gang-way a pile of empty crates were stashed ready to be filled with the fruits that Tamerind grew in abundance.  He darted in-between them and crouched down low waiting to see if anyone would call out at him to come out.  No call came.

The light was slowly slipping away and he knew that he should be running as fast as his legs would carry him to reach home in time for supper but an excitement and a daring had hold of him.

I’ll just take a quick look around and then come straight off; I won’t be too late home.

He ran a few steps to gang-way and then with only the slightest of pauses raced across the shaking piece of wood and took hold of the Jacob’s ladder and in two quick jumps he’d landed on the deck.  He paused for a moment checking again that no one had spotted him and then rushed across the deck towards the stern of the ship; he wanted a closer look at the bridge.

He stopped in front of the binnacle and traced his fingers over the big brass compass.  Both the compass and the binnacle were smothered in carvings of beautiful woman.  He had never seen anything like it before and knew that these Bluedane sailors must be rich indeed to have such finery upon a ship.

“I tell you I thought I heard something.”  Absalom’s heart started racing as he ducked down behind some barrels.

“You never like being landed Solfik you always imagine the worst.”  The men spoke with clipped tongue and Absalom only just managed to understand what they were saying.  “Go back to your galley if you won’t come ashore with me.”  Solfik muttered something Absalom couldn’t hear and the other sailor laughed as he left the ship.

When he was sure it was safe to come out again Absalom popped up from amongst the barrels and went to the covered bridge.

He reached up and traced his fingers over the heavy wooden wheel that steered the ship. Oh you’re a beauty.

“Got you!”  Absalom leapt in fear but Solfik already had him by the shoulder.  “So you sneaky landlubber you think you have a right to board my ship?  Creeping around like a clumsy ox for all to hear, phah.”  Solfik began marching Absalom across the deck.  Absalom starting resisting and tried kicking the tall sailor.  Solfik promptly grabbed hold of Absalom by his neck and the top of his breaches and made ready to swing him overboard.

“Stop.”  Solfik dropped Absalom to his feet but didn’t let him go and turned round to face his captain.  Solfik lowered his chin to his chest in respect and waited for the captain to speak.

“Who are you boy?” the new sailor asked with a puzzled look on his pinched face.  Absalom tried straightening himself, slightly relieved he wasn’t being thrown overboard, whilst still being a bit anxious as he knew many strangers took quite aversely to trespassers – as he had unfortunately already found out.

“My name is Absalom and I live at the top of the valley.”

“You do not come from Tamerind, from where do you come?”

“I do come from Tamerind, I have been here all my life” Absalom answered squaring his shoulders and sticking out his chest.

“That is not the truth boy for you are not a Dwarf.”

“I might not be but Tamerind is still my home.”

“And who are your parents?”  Now Absalom’s shoulders sank, he’s going to tell Mum, damn and blast it I’m in trouble now.

“Do I really have to tell you?  Can’t you just give me a warning and let me go?  I promise not to come aboard again.”  The captain came very close to Absalom and lowered his body so he was almost face to face with Absalom.

“Who are your parents?”  A sudden cold raced through Absalom and an awareness that he was in danger gripped him.  He started pleading.

“Oh here sir, please let me go.  I know I shouldn’t have come aboard uninvited but your ships are so beautiful I couldn’t help myself.”  The captain didn’t blink and Absalom’s shoulders drooped in defeat.

“My mother’s name is Cassey and we live with Turtledoff and Martha.  My father is dead” Absalom admitted in defeat.  Still the captain didn’t move.

“How old are you boy?”

“I was seven last full moon gone sir.”  The captain stood up and spoke quickly and quietly to the cook, something that Absalom couldn’t quite catch.

“Yes cap’in” Solfik answered and as soon as the captain had hold of Absalom’s shoulder Solfik ran across the decking and onto the gang plank and was gone.

“Can I go now?”

The captain didn’t answer but instead quick-marched Absalom down a flight of stairs that led to the lower deck.  Along a narrow corridor and finally the captain pushed Absalom into a small cabin and locked the door.  Absalom heard the steps of the captain as he went away and immediately started banging on the door with his fists.

“Let me out, let me out.  You don’t know what you’re doing.  My mother is a princess and she will bring her army and then you’ll be sorry.  Let me out.”

Nobody came to let him out and eventually tired and fed up and somewhat afraid he sat down on the bunk, put his head in his hands and started to cry.  I’m sooo stupid, why don’t I ever listen to anyone?

He wasn’t too sure how long he cried for but suddenly he was aware that there was a hushed commotion going on.  He could hear the bare footed sailors running around the ship, could just hear their whispers although he couldn’t hear what they were saying.  And then he felt the ship lurch.

We’re moving!  He let go of the pendant he had been rubbing, that he wore around his neck, and jumped up.  He dragged the stool to the side and stood on it to look out of the small port hole.  Sure enough the quay was beginning to move away.  For all his longing for adventure and his desire to be a sailor he suddenly felt sick.

Why didn’t they let me go, where are they taking me?

Chapter 5 – A New Way to Travel

Shona strode through the woods her bad temper radiating from her in the form of a violent wind.  The great Oaks of the forest trembled in her wake, their branches waving manically, their leaves scattering in whirl pools in Shona’s shadow.

Every step she took was a premeditated stomp of frustrated anger.  The wind caused her dress to dance about and her long black hair flew like a kite attached to her head.  She knew she probably looked crazy right now but that was the reason she went so far from the camp to practice.  She wanted to strike at someone right now, anyone would do!  Good job no one was near.

By the time she got back home she was calm, her dress sat sedately and her hair lay straight down her back.  The only give-away sign of her earlier temper was the tap-tap of her wand as she hit it against her thigh as she made her way along the path.

“Meeting” she yelled as she walked through the wooden huts that were the Fire clans hillside camp.  Witches came quickly from every direction and by the time Shona reached her veranda they stood in a crowd and waited for her to speak.

“Who amongst you can fly?”  There was a muffled reaction of shock; this wasn’t what they had expected.  Nobody answered.

“Come along surely one of you can fly?” Shona said giving a very obvious false smile.  Nobody answered.  Shona turned to Kylie knowing it was impossible for Kylie to lie.

“What about you little thing, can you not fly?”  Kylie shook her in short snappy movements.  “No Shona I can’t fly.”

“Have you ever tried?”  Shona asked peering intently at Kylie’s petite face.  Kylie’s cheeks started turning crimson, no one was supposed to practice magic on their own and she didn’t know how to answer.

“So you’ve tried then?” snapped Shona.  Kylie’s lip started to tremble and her eyes filled with water as she slowly nodded.  Shona’s body seemed to relax and she spoke much softer when she said, “And you weren’t able to even lift off the floor?”  Kylie shook her head again.

Margot’s mob of wild red hair gleamed in the evening’s sun as she moved herself through the crowd to be in the front so that she could look up at Shona.

“Something is troubling you?” she asked.

“The Earth clan Witches fly so why can’t I?  I mean, why can’t we?”

“If the Earth clan can fly and you want to fly then I will find a way for us to do that.”  Margot was matter of fact and mightily confident and Shona’s hopes rose.

“Of course I might not be able to lift this heffle-lump of a body off the ground” Margot said gesturing at her rolls of fat seen clearly through her tightly fitted dress, “But I won’t stop until you are whizzing around the skies with our friends the crows.”  Shona waved her hand to indicate she didn’t need an audience anymore and the women returned to their earlier tasks.  Margot climbed the six wooden steps and came to stand by Shona on the veranda.  She waited patiently for Shona to speak.

“We will go to war soon Margot and we are at a disadvantage if the Earth clan fly and we don’t.”  Margot nodded her agreement.

“Yes I guess we would be, so I’d best get straight on it.  I’ll take some of the young girls now and go and see what we can do.”

“Now?” asked Shona.

“The sooner the better.  Now where has that Kylie gone, she is such a light little thing if anyone can fly it must be her.”

Shona watched her go and felt her frustration rising once again.  I’m the leader; if anyone should learn to fly first it should be me.  Then a memory of herself falling in the dirt for the hundredth time that afternoon came back to her.  Not ready to let anyone see her in such a position she whirled around and went inside her hut.

“You girl.”  Kylie jumped as Margot’s voice boomed behind her.

“Yes Margot” Kylie answered turning round with some trepidation; she’d been waiting for someone to come and grill her about trying magic on her own.

“Go and gather up five young gals and bring them along with you to my hut.”  Margot didn’t wait for an answer but flounced off up the hill towards her home.

“You want us now?” Kylie called after her.  Margot didn’t turn around but called out “only stupid gals ask stupid questions, did I say tomorrow? Tut tut Kylie move your arse before I think of some horrid spell to cast over you.”  Kylie dropped her broom that she had been using when Margot arrived and hitching up her dress went pelting down the hill.  Margot smiled as she pushed open her door, she knew before the pot boiled Kylie would be there with five knee-knocking young girls behind her.

Sure enough the water was just beginning to bubble when Kylie tapped on the door.

“Get yourselves in here” Margot called out as she poured some water over her herbal concoction.  Timidly the girls shuffled into the room and Kylie coming in last shut the heavy wooden door to the spell-makers home with a sigh that spoke of acknowledged impending doom.

Margot picked up her enormous multi-coloured cup and sipped at her herbal drink.  “Umm all that’s missing now is cake.”  She put her cup down and pulled open the twin doors of her food cabinet.  “Arr cherry and treacle I think.”  She pulled a tin out of the cupboard and removing the lid took a deep sniff.  “Perfect” she said and was just about to dive her hand into the tin when she noticed the girls all huddled in a group watching her.  She looked down in the tin and then up at the girls.  Studied the girls for a moment and then looked back in the tin.  She chewed her lower lip from side to side in contemplation and then looked back at the girls.  Squinting at them she seemed to make her mind up.

“Mustn’t tell anyone” she said going over to the girls “will be our little secret.”  She pushed the tin at the first girl and when the girl didn’t move snapped at her, “go on take one.”  The girl put a shaky hand into the tin and drew out the smallest piece of cake she could see.  When all the girls had a piece Margot went to her well cushioned wooden chair by the fire and plonked herself down.  She grabbed a piece of cake and shoved the whole thing into her mouth.  Her cheeks swelled up like balloons and she made a most un-lady like noise as she chomped away.  “Umm so good” she said as her hand dived in for another piece.  She was just about to shove the second piece in her mouth when she noticed that the girls hadn’t moved and that none of them were eating the cake.

“Come and sit down by the fire and eat the cake before I change my mind and take it back” she snapped at them.  The girls came and sat crossed legged on the floor but still none of them ate the cake.  Margot sat back in her chair and chuckled.

“And if the cake were poisoned to do you think I would be eating my third piece?”  She said before shoving a third chunk of cake into her mouth.  Kylie felt like the girls leader as she had actually spent time with the Spell-maker before and so she raised the cake to her mouth and took a little nibble.  It was actually very tasty and Kylie umm as she took a large bite of it.  After watching Kylie closely to make sure nothing happened to her the other girls slowly began to eat their pieces.  When they had all finished Margot put the cake tin under her chair and lent forward putting her hands on her knees with her elbows out in the air, and scrutinised the girls until they began to be uncomfortable and squired on the floor.

“Any moment now” Margot said with a distinctly amused smile.  The girls began to look at each other in fear, had the cake been poisoned?

Daphne who had just gulped her last crumb of cake suddenly gave a loud belch.  “Excuse me” she blurted in embarrassment putting her hand over her mouth.

“Now gals magic is in all of us or we wouldn’t be here.  But what distinguishes a weak Witch to a powerful Witch?  Why the ability to control that magic of course.”  Margot had gotten up from her chair and was walking in a circle around the huddle of girls.  “Magic must be mastered and this evening you are going to master it or you will have me to answer for.”

Jade had both her hands over her mouth and suddenly burped really loudly.  She buried her head in her hands and the other girls started to get the giggles.  Margot continued.

“If the Earth clan can fly then so shall we, and you lot” she said waving a crocked, wart covered, bent finger at the girls, “you lot will be the first.”

Kylie felt the air building in her stomach and knew she wouldn’t be able to keep it in.  “Excuse me Margot I think I just need to pop outside” Kylie said getting on her knees to stand up.  Margot spun around and smiled at her with more than a little wicked amusement in her eyes.

“What so you can belch outside?”  Kylie nodded holding her stomach for dear life as in front of her eyes her tummy began to swell.  Margot laughed.

“No need to go outside Kylie we are all friends here.”  Kylie belched, loud and forceful and now the rest of the girls could hold it in no longer and were suddenly laughing uncontrollably.  All at once all six girls were belching and muttering pardons in abundance.

“What’s happening to my tummy?” asked Daphne between a laugh of amusement and a laugh of fear, “have you made me pregnant?”  Now Margot wrapped her hands around her tummy and rocked up and down as she roared with laughter.  When she was able to speak again she wiped the tears away from her eyes and went and put a hand on Daphne’s shoulder.

“No gal, I’ve not made you pregnant” Margot gestured to the room with her other hand, “I don’t have the equipment for that” she blurted out before falling into helpless laughter again.

All six of the girls had swollen tummy’s and were burping for dear life, all had made it to their feet and were bumping into each like blind goldfish in a bowl.  Margot tried to pull herself together and stood on a small wooden stool to be able to peer down at the girls.

“Now call on your magic to control the wind and use it to make yourselves fly.”

Kylie looked up at Margot in sudden understanding that she wasn’t about to die or to pop and screwed her eyes shut to concentrate.  Fly, I will fly.  Kylie burped again and as she did so her body shot backwards and she flew several feet and hit the wall.  “Owe” she yelled as she slumped onto the floor.

“Again Kylie, do it again” yelled Margot in sudden excitement.  Kylie picked herself off the floor and moaned as she arched her back.  She was just about to snap something back at Margot when Jade suddenly burped and her body jumped so high she hit the low cabin ceiling.

“Ooch that hurt” cried out Jade as she plonked heavily back on the floor in a heap.

“Control it girls” yelled Margot, “control the air and use it to make you fly.”

Wenda burped and like Jade found herself hitting the ceiling and crashing to the floor.  Within moments all the girls were popping up and down between the floor and the ceiling and the amount of owe’s and ooches began to deafen Margot.

“Outside” she cried racing across the room and holding the door as wide open as possible.  Slowly, between burps and high jumps, the girls made their way outside but Daphne took hold of the door post and wouldn’t let go.

“Come on girl, come outside you won’t bump your head out here” said Margot trying to prise Daphne’s fingers away from the post.

“No” screamed Daphne, “no.”

“Why ever not?” asked Margot.

“I might burp so hard I’ll go to the Moon and never be able to get back.”

“Now I’m sure that won’t happen” said Margot prising the last of Daphne’s fingers off the post, “you will be just fine.”  As soon as Margot had disengaged her from the hut Daphne clasped both her hands over her mouth determined not to burp again.  Margot watched Daphne’s cheek and eyes begin to bulge.

“Let it out girl before you do yourself some damage.”  Daphne vigorously shook her head holding her hands tight over her mouth.  Margot was trying to pull Daphne’s hands off her face when Wenda’s burp sent her flying backwards into Margot.  Margot lost her balance and fell on her bum with Wenda landed heavily on top of her.  “Toad kisses and Bee farts” Margot yelled pushing Wenda off her.

“What on earth is going on?”  Margot looked up to see an angry Shona staring at her.

“Stupid gals” muttered Margot pushing herself up and brushing the dirt off her dress, “only had one tiny” Margot paused and pinched her finger and thumb together to indicate how small, “tiny piece of burp cake.  That’s it, that’s all they had, a snivelling Weasel would be able to eat more than that and not act like this.”  Margot gave a wide sweeping gesture towards the girls, who to their utmost relief where beginning to burp less and less.  Suddenly a very strained moan seeped out from under Daphne’s hands.  Margot turned to her and in utter frustration simply tapped Daphne’s fingers with her wand giving the girl a sting from which she would have to react.  As Daphne’s hands flew off her mouth in shock the most horrendously loud belch poured from her mouth and suddenly Daphne’s body was shooting upwards.  An uncanny silence fell simultaneously over everyone as they watched the freckled face Daphne disappear into the night sky.

“Jumping horse dung she’s flying” croaked Margot, giving a whoop and slapping her thigh in excitement.

“I’m not so sure she’s flying” Shona responded peering into the spot in the sky where Daphne had disappeared.

“She’s coming back” yelled someone in excitement.  Then as it became apparent that the return was not a controlled flight but a tumble head over heel through space everyone started yelling and moving out of the way.

Shona started calling on her magic, reaching deep inside to bring it to the surface.  As the screaming awwwwww from the falling Daphne announced her return Shona took three steps forward and held out her arms.  Whissh was followed by a gently plop as Shona caught Daphne in her outstretched arms.  An extremely loud round of applause went up in the air from the crowd that had flocked to see what the commotion was all about.

Shona looked down at the now white faced Daphne and asked, “Are you alright girl?”  Daphne gulped then answered.

“It wasn’t me, it was the cake, it just popped up to say hello and now it’s gone back down below.”  Shona couldn’t help but smile.  “You’re alright then” she answered putting Daphne down on her feet.  Suddenly all six girls encouraged by the fact that Shona was smiling swarmed around her all chattering at once.

“Please don’t make us fly.”

“Please don’t make us come back to Margot’s hut.”  The gibbering went on for just a few moments until Shona lifted her right hand and yelled “Silence.”  Instantly the girls were quiet but still looked at her with imploring eyes.

“Tomorrow as soon as your morning chores are done you are to return to the Spell Maker’s hut and continue with your flying lessons.”  There was a united moan.

Chapter Six – A change of Season

With each new morning the Red Moon dwindles slowly into the distance taking its warmth with it, whilst the Blue Moon glides gradually closer, bringing the icy winds to cool the lands.

Caldwin was whistling a melodic tune as he carried Leona on his broad shoulders.  It seems their life in the Homestead is far away now and walking and sleeping have quickly become all they do.

“Can’t you make the Red Moon come back?” Leona asks wrapping her arms tightly around Caldwin’s neck.

“Hey not so tight you, I can hardly breath.”

“Sorry” said Leona instantly relaxing her tight grip, “it’s just I’m getting so cold.”  Caldwin stopped, reached up his hands grabbed Leona by the waist and swung her down to the ground.

“You need to walk a bit little thing, that’ll warm you.”

“When will the Red Moon come back Caldwin?”

“Not until the Night Moon has disappeared and come back seventy four times” Caldwin answered giving a shiver.

“Aye and if ya be thinkin’ this be cold, ya wait until the Grey Moon comes, oh stars above, then we’ll all be cold.” James said offering Leona his hand.

“I don’t remember a Grey Moon” Leona said slipping her tiny hand into James big rough, but most decidedly, warm hand.

“Aye well most folk don’t be out and about during Grey Moon so maybe you were in one spot the whole time and the memory has just faded for lack of wantin’ to remember it like.”  Leona didn’t quite feel that was right but couldn’t put her finger on why.  She decided to change the subject.

“When will we reach Havenshire?” she asked.

“Well if Mathew gets his way we’ll be there soon’ish and if John gets his way it’ll be a lot longer.”  Leona looked up at James with a puzzled face but before she could ask another question Caldwin turned around and brought the group of Brothers to a halt.

“We’re nearly there” said Caldwin “we need to decide what we’re doing.”  Mathew, Anthony, John and Tanner all moved forward to be able to see the way ahead.  They had taken longer than they had hoped to come through the Torrean Mountain pass and Tanner especially was frustrated.

Opening up before them were the Great Plains, as far as the eye could see in every direction the evening fog filled the land and hung in the air so deep it truly looked like a cloud.

“We need to go straight through the middle” said John.  Mathew shook his head.

“It’s too dangerous, we need to skirt around it” said James.

“We’ll use magic, we can part the Clouds and walk straight across it” said Tanner.  Mathew shook his head again.

“We can’t afford to waste the time going around” said John.

“It’s better to be arriving later and safe than to maybe not arrive at all” Mathew answered.

“I’ll not waste another day” snapped Tanner “Marcus needs us and we need to reach him as quickly as possible.”  Mathew took a step closer to Tanner and spoke gently.

“We don’t know what evil lurks in the Clouds Tanner; and we need to conserve our magic for when it’s really needed.  Besides if we use magic it will be like a beacon to the demons and they will be upon us in no time.”

Leona watched the men she had come to love debating and felt a sadness rise in her chest.  She knew that Tanner and a few of the other Brothers could run as fast as the wind but they had been forced to walk so they could remain together, she also knew that she slowed them down, even though they took it turns to carry her.  Help us she called out in her spirit, although to whom she called she wasn’t too sure.

Without any warning a silent shadow whooshed over their heads and came to stop on the branch of the huge tree they stood under.  Instantly the Brothers sprang into battle poses and pulled on their magic till it flowed to their fingers tips and sent sparks into the air.

“No” Leona cried suddenly standing in front of them and waving her arms so they would look at her and not the tree.

“He’s a friend” she told them in a firm voice.  Slowly the Brothers lowered their arms and the sparks disappeared.  Leona looked up at the branch, “Won’t you come down?” she asked.

Hoo hoo too-hoo

“I promise no one is going to hurt you please come down so I can hear what you have to say.”  The Brothers looked at each other in amazement and shook their heads, all amazed that Leona seemed to be in conversation with a Great Horn Owl.  With something in-between a jump and a float the Owl came down from the high branch to a stump of an old fallen tree.

Leona smiled at the Owl, she didn’t recognise this fine fellow but she had chatted with other Owls when she had lived on her own in the forest and all of them had helped her in one way or another.  The Owl seemed to shiver a bit whilst his head rolled smoothly from side to side, his enormous brown eyes blinking continuously.  Too hoo-hoo-hoo.

“Oh I see” Leona said.  Too-whoo hoot-hoo hoo.

“I don’t think the Brothers will agree to that.”  Leona said turning round to look at Caldwin with worried eyes.

“What is it child” asked James, “what’s he saying to you?”

“The Cloud is full of Goblins and we need to split into two groups.”

“Goblins?” barked Tanner “good for nothing, evil little worms.  Let’s go and kill the lot of them.”  A few of the Brothers muttered their approval.

“No” said Leona going to Tanner and looking up at him.  “He says there are thousands of Goblins in the Cloud and they are ready for war.”  The Brothers all turned to look at the Cloud.

“But how could there be thousands of Goblins there, I thought they had been destroyed by the Oracles and only a few remained hiding in the Mountains?” asked John.

“How do we even know the bird is telling the truth?” asked Thomas.  Caldwin came and put his arm around Leona, “Does he say anything else lass?”

Too-hoo hoo hoo hoo.  Leona looked up at Caldwin her eyes moistened in sadness.  “We have different paths before us, one is true and straight and will lead to the Teacher, and the other is crocked and dark and leads to a danger that must be faced.”

Leona threw her arms around Caldwin’s waist and held on tight.  Caldwin stroked her hair, “It’s alright lass we will stay together.”  Leona pushed herself away and looked up at Caldwin.

“You are a runner” she said, “the runners are to take the straight path.”

“No” said Mathew “we all stay together, that’s what we agreed, safety in numbers.  We go straight, or we go around, but whichever it is, we do it together.”

“I’ll be going straight” said Tanner “and I’ll be running.”

“Aye me to” echoed Selwin.  James and Kailin responded at the same time, “Me to.”

“I guess that means I’ll be running to” said Thomas.  Slowly the Brothers all turned to look at Raymond, the only runner not yet to speak.

“If I go with the runners then there will only be four left to go with Leona, if we are to divide, then I will take the crocked path.”

“It seems we have made a decision without a vote” said Mathew, the Brothers all nodded.  Hoo hoo hoo toot hoot hoo.  The Brothers turned to Leona and waited for her to translate the message.

“You must run straight, but you must not run through the centre.  He says a strong magic lingers there.  Do not stop for anything and do not lose sight of each other, your safety comes in speed and silence.”

“And what about you, will you be safe?” asked Caldwin.  Leona slipped her trembling hand into Mathews hand and he gently squeezed her.

“Yes we will be fine; we will just take an awful lot more time to reach Havenshire than you will, that’s all.”  Caldwin smiled at her, his browned lined face crinkling around his green eyes.  “Just be sure you reach there, that’s all” he answered.  Leona wanted to ask the Owl about the crocked path but when she turned around the large bird had gone.

The runners handed over all but two days worth of rations to the others; they needed to go light if they were to run faster than the wind.  Damien and John pushed the added supplies into their bags in silence.  They fell automatically into two lines facing each other.

“Light be with you” said the runners.

“And also with you” replied the other Brothers.  All the Brothers thumped their right fists onto their left chest and then the runners turned off the path and started scaling the rocks down to the Plains below.

Leona and the remaining Brothers watched the runners for a short while and then nodding at each other headed along the narrow pathway.  Mathew went first, he would set a fast a pace as he could, he didn’t plan to allow Tanner all the glory of arriving weeks before them if he could help it.

“We’ll be in Havenshire before the Blue Moon reaches its height” Mathew called to the rest over his shoulder.

Leona looked up at Mathew’s back, her big eyes full of concern.  According to the Owl they weren’t heading for Havenshire, instead the crocked path would lead them deep into the mountains and straight to the Mouth of the enemy.  She didn’t know what the Mouth of the enemy was but she knew she was afraid and she shivered.

“Here little one” said Damien wrapping a blanket around Leona’s shoulders.  She smiled up at the tall dark skinned Brother and smiled into his big brown eyes.  Although a man of few words Damien’s personality radiated from him in waves of purple and blue.  She didn’t realise that she was the only one to see the different colours radiate from people she just assumed everyone saw what she did.  People’s colours changed with their moods but not Damien, his remained constant and bright, his strength comforted her more than the blanket he’d put around her and she slipped her tiny hand into his large warm hand.

She wanted to tell them about what the owl had said but somehow she knew it wouldn’t help.  She sank her thoughts as far into the Earth as she could, will you help us?

The wind picked up.  It’s cold embrace brushing against them and racing on.  The leaves in the trees rustled and took to flight to be carried on the wind as it howled eerily through the rocks.

Mathew stopped and looked back at the Brothers, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to.  It was too early for such a strong cold wind, too early for the leaves to be ripped from their branches; it was not a good sign.  There was nothing for it, they couldn’t go home and they couldn’t run across the Plains so this path was the only way.

Grey clouds gathered and bunched together in the sky blocking the little warmth the Blue Moon offered and covered the mountains in darkness.  Mathew cursed under his breath and searched in his bag for his stick.

“Light” he commanded and a bright yellow glow lit up the end of his stick.  It didn’t chase the sudden dark away but it did light up the area just in front of him so he could see the path.

Holding his arm high so the others could benefit from his light he turned back to the path and walked with purpose, they needed shelter and quick before they were caught out in the open mountain path by nightfall and all its abnormalities.

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