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“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to get sharper.” –W.B. Yeats
A long time ago, the lands were new and green, surrounded by the bluest water imaginable. All sorts of plant and animal life flourished on the lands and in the waters. To the First Ones, who came to this land, it was a paradise.
For many generations, the people enjoyed long life and prosperity. Artisans and craftspeople developed unique and beautiful methods for their work and eventually, the lovely lands were known for the wonderful items its people produced.
As the First Ones continued to live in freedom and harmony, they explored the more spiritual side of their beliefs. They discovered that it was possible to reach a state of sublime oneness with all the plants and creatures in their lands and waters. They slowly specialized in these various abilities as they had their arts and crafts. For some, this ability led them to ascend to a higher plane of existence, while others chose to remain in the beautiful lands they loved.
After many, many generations, those who remained found they lived longer than their predecessors. They were able to do more creative tasks with their new abilities, which some considered magic. The people’s appearance changed slightly as they began reflecting these new abilities.
Far beyond their lands, there was rumor of a great lord, who envied the First Ones and their magic. It was said that he was raising an army to take the land and the people who dwelled there. He also planned to learn the secrets of the plants and animals, believing they somehow held the key to the magical abilities of the inhabitants. He would come and strip the land of everything that made it special, then bring it all back to his own kingdom.
The First Ones could have left and traveled to other places. Some even thought about following the few, who had ascended to the higher plane of existence, but that would do nothing to protect their lands and all that they loved. So, they decided to stay and fight the lord. They had no weapons, no defenses…only their magic.
As the lord arrived, they used their tricks and conjuring to confuse the soldiers and keep them contained to the beaches. After many weeks, the soldiers grew tired of fighting and started to appreciate the beauty of the lands they saw. Many left the lord as he slept, escaping to the lands beyond…and he was forced to start guarding his own men. Those loyal to him encouraged the lord to fight one final battle and defeat the magical beings, while they still had enough troops to be victorious.
The lord had brought a lady with him, who was both beautiful and mysterious. She was rumored to be a powerful sorceress and it was said she possessed a magic much darker than any found in this land. The lord asked his lady for a way to defeat the First Ones and let him possess all that they had.
She told him it would cost him everything he desired, but she would do as he asked. They would rule together and he would do as she commanded. The lord agreed, for he desired the secrets of the lands so much he had to have them. Even if it meant sharing his power with another. The lady disappeared for three days and when she returned, she brought a crown for the lord, who would soon be king of all these lands. The crown, made of gold and covered with jewels, would be the symbol of all his power.
There was one final battle, which apparently destroyed them all. Many of the details were lost to history and lore, but the resulting fallout saw the end of the lord, the lady, the First Ones and the soldiers. All that remained were the men, who had escaped into the beautiful lands. They sent for their loved ones and were soon joined by others looking for a fresh start.
From time to time, there was talk of a magical folk who lived in the forests or by the seas, but it was just talk. If someone occasionally swore they’d seen “the fairies” about, it was usually one too many pints at the pub. Different kingdoms arose, but there was plenty for everyone since the fields, the forests and the waters provided all that the people needed.
And for eight hundred years, there was peace in all the lands.
Once Upon a Time…
there was a forest filled with trees reaching up to the sky and narrow paths that led from one village to another. A figure in a black cloak travelled through the forest, walking along one of these paths.
As the figure approached a curve in the path, three men jumped out from behind the trees, attacking the person in the black cloak and shoving him or her to the ground.
As one of the men pulled a sword, a figure in green dropped out of a tree and shot an arrow from a crossbow, hitting the man in the arm…then quickly swung the crossbow at another man. When the third man turned towards the commotion, the figure in black raised an arm and knocked the sword out of his hand. The other men turned and ran back into the woods.
“Thank you, but I could have taken care of that myself.” Putting the sword back in the scabbard, the figure in black took off the hood, revealing dark hair tied back in the traditional style. “I supposed I should introduce myself. My name is Robin.”
The stranger just laughed. “Had it under control, did you?” Tossing the green cape over one shoulder, the stranger walked up to Robin. “My name is Jamie and I’d say you were a bit optimistic about your chances.” Jamie’s auburn hair was not tied back, but hung in waves to the shoulder. “You’re not from these parts, are you?”
“If you knew I was a stranger, why did you help me?” asked Robin.
“In these woods, three against one is never a fair fight. I think any fight should be a fair one, don’t you?” asked Jamie.
Robin smiled. “I do. Especially if I am the person outnumbered.”
Jamie laughed. “What brings you to this part of the forest?”
Robin looked at Jamie for a moment, debating if this was someone to trust. “I do not know that I should say.”
“Everyone is entitled to their privacy,” replied Jamie. “And I don’t think those three will be back.”
As Jamie turned to leave, Robin said, “Wait. I could use some help.”
Jamie stopped and walked back over. “So, why are you out here all alone?”
“I am traveling through your forest on the last leg of a long journey.” Robin started walking and Jamie followed. “My home lies beyond the White Mountains and I have come here to see that my family’s interests are upheld. My mother owns a vineyard in this land and we received word that it was being confiscated by your king.”
Jamie stopped walking, when Robin said the word vineyard. “Vineyard?” Jamie repeated. “Your mother owns a vineyard?” Jamie took a step back, adding, “What are you, some noble?”
Robin looked confused. “Yes, I am…but what difference does that make?”
Jamie scowled. “Are you daft? You, a noble, traveling alone at this time of troubles and in this part of the forest? What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that I am duty bound to protect my mother’s interests. I am here because my father is ill and my older brother is fighting the Lord of the North.” Robin stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. “We have had no word of my brother for several weeks.”
Jamie saw the concern on Robin’s face and said more softly, “Aye, the Lord of the North. We’ve heard about him. Although, he hasn’t bothered our land yet, many believe it’s just a matter of time.”
“As far as I know, we did nothing to provoke him. He sent a declaration to our king, saying that we would bow to him from now on or die fighting. My brother joined many others in the fight, nobles and commoners.”
“Is he your only brother?” asked Jamie.
“I have a younger brother, but he is too inexperienced to bring on this journey.” Robin looked at Jamie and asked, “Should I have waited a few years until I had more help? Would your king wait to confiscate our family’s land?”
“These last months, our king answers to no one but himself. Not even his counselors.” Jamie sensed something behind the trees on the left. Still looking at Robin, Jamie took a step forward, “And our nobles refuse to get involved.” As Jamie slowly raised the crossbow, Robin took a step back.
“All nobles are not the same…” Robin began, then realized Jamie was looking at the tree.
“Oh, I see.” More loudly, Robin added, “Not all nobles honor their obligations and some think only of themselves.” Robin moved slowly towards the tree and began to pull the sword from its scabbard.
“That’s true,” agreed Jamie. “But then, what can one expect with all those cousins marrying cousins.” Jamie launched around the side of the tree and knocked down a figure, crouching behind it.
Looking down, Jamie let out a breath. “Colleen! How many times have I told you to stay home and leave the fighting to those of us, who know how?”
“Hello,” said Robin as Jamie helped the girl back up. “Why are you out here by yourself?”
“I’m not.” Colleen pointed behind Robin. Turning, Robin saw another girl, who looked like a smaller version of Colleen. Both had red curls hanging down past their shoulders.
“Oh, this is too much!” Jamie stomped over towards the little one. “Bridget, what do you think you are doing?”
As Bridget started to cry, Colleen walked over and shoved Jamie. “We were just trying to help,” she stated. “Why do you think you’re the only one, who can protect Da from the king’s men?”
Robin looked at Jamie and asked, “I take it that these are your sisters?”
Jamie looked angry, then suddenly broke into a big smile. “Aye, and they have the sense of two stubborn goats!” But this time Colleen smiled and Bridget ran up and gave Jamie a quick hug.
Robin took a step back, not wanting to intrude. “Where are you going?” asked Jamie. “I thought we’d decided you could use some help.” Then, realizing this could lead to more trouble, looked closely at Colleen and Bridget. “Help from me, not two little sisters.”
“Da is looking for you,” said Colleen. “He sent us to find you. He says the village elders think the king’s men plan to cause more trouble tonight and he wants you home. He says we’ll need your crossbow.”
“Can you use an extra sword?” asked Robin. “I need a place to stay this evening if it is not too much trouble. And I would be more than happy to pay for a bed and a meal.”
Colleen took a closer look at Robin. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Jamie rolled eyes towards the heavens and exclaimed, “You might as well have NOBLE embroidered on the front of your shirt.”
This made Colleen smile as Bridget ran over and took Robin’s hand. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go see Da!”
Colleen chimed in, “Yes, let’s go see Da,” and looked pointedly at Jamie.
“Wait!” Jamie grabbed Robin’s arm. “Do you look like a blasted noble under that cloak as well? And while we’re at it, we might as well talk about your hair, too.”
“My hair?” repeated Robin.
“Aye, you can’t keep it tied back like that.” Jamie replied. “You look too highborn, which is not going to get you invited into my Da’s home. Or anyone else’s home for that matter.”
“What do you suggest?” asked Robin. “Shall I cut my hair and run around in my underclothes?”
“Of course not,” replied Jamie, smiling. “I’m just saying you need to fit in, that’s all.”
Jamie turned back to Colleen. “Go get some of my old clothes and see if anything will fit this new peasant friend of ours.” Looking at Robin, Jamie continued, “We’ll keep the fighter look, but make you a more common one.”
“This should be interesting,” Robin shook off the cloak and started on the hair tie. The black hair finally came loose and fell just below Robin’s shoulders. For the first time, Jamie noticed how Robin’s hair set off those high cheekbones.
Jamie looked down at the ground for a moment, smiling slightly. “And those boots,” Jamie continued, “they say noble all over. What do you think Bridget?”
Bridget laughed and looked shyly at Robin. “They do look a bit fancy, but very pretty.”
“Boots should never be pretty,” stated Jamie, then smiled at Bridget. “Let’s get them dirty, shall we?”
Bridget giggled and Robin said, “She can step on them and get them dirty, but not you. I want to be able to walk, once I pass this inspection of yours.”
Jamie laughed. “There’s no need to be stepping on your feet. Take off your boots and Bridget will have a good time dragging them through the dirt.”
Robin tossed the boots over, while Jamie looked around. “I wonder what’s taking Colleen so long. We’re not that far from our Da’s house.”
Wearing a big smile, Bridget brought the boots back and Robin pulled them on.
“Should we go look for her?” asked Robin.
As they turned back toward the path, Colleen came through the trees carrying a bundle under one arm. She dropped them down in front of Robin and said, “These were the best I could find. I hope they will do.”
Jamie scoffed, “Yes, only the best for our noble friend.”
Colleen glared back and clarified, “The best fit that I could find.” Taking a closer look at Robin, she added, “I like your hair like that. Not that anyone asked, but it brings out your cheekbones.”
Robin smiled, then stepped behind some trees and quickly changed. “What shall I do with my clothes?”
“Leave them,” replied Jamie. “They’ll be no use to you, where we’re going.”
Robin emerged from the trees. “What do you think?” Smiling at Colleen, Robin added, “Thank you for bringing them.”
Colleen smiled back, then walked over and grabbed Bridget’s hand. The two started down the path and Colleen said over her shoulder, “Give us a ten minute head start. We’ll tell Da that we have a guest coming for dinner. And for goodness sake,” she said looking at Robin, “slouch a bit, will you?”
As the girls left, Robin turned to Jamie and commented, “Sisters seem much more entertaining than brothers. I find it refreshing.”
“Aye, that’s because you don’t have any,” replied Jamie. “Now, we just need one more thing.” Walking up to Robin, Jamie smeared a bit of mud on one cheek. “There now, you’re perfect.”
Robin looked at Jamie and said very seriously, “Thank you. I am sure this will make all the difference.”
Robin turned and started down the path and Jamie followed. Jamie smiled, then began whistling a tune about nobles and land barons stealing from the poor.
“Do you have to whistle?” asked Robin. “Really?”
“Hold on, you don’t know the way,” Jamie said taking the lead, but still whistling.
As they walked down the path, two figures emerged from the brush. They were half hidden by the overhanging branches.
“Do you think they are the ones?” asked the first figure.
“If the prophecy is correct,” replied the second, “they may be our only hope to defeat them.”
Eight hundred years is a long time to wait,” stated the first one. “I am not sure anything or anyone will be able to defeat them this time.”
“We have to try,” said the second. “This is our last chance to break the curse.”
Jamie’s father welcomed Robin into their home with Colleen and Bridget following closely behind. The sisters were careful not to let on that Robin was a noble, but they seemed fascinated with everything about their new friend.
Not long after their arrival, Jamie took their father, Malcolm, aside and told him what had happened in the forest. Although there was no proof the men had been lying in wait for Robin, there was concern that this might be more than a random attempt at theft.
“Why would the king’s men be interested in a commoner like your friend?” Malcolm asked.
“I have no idea,” replied Jamie, mentally crossing two fingers, “but being a stranger in this area, maybe they thought Robin was someone more important.”
“That could be,” agreed Malcolm. “The king’s men aren’t known for their intelligence if you ask me.”
“Aye, Da, truer words were never spoken.” Jamie laughed with him. Then, they went on to discuss their own plans on how to deal with the troubles in their area.
“We’ve got enough people to start something if we need to…but I’d rather settle this peacefully if we can,” said Malcolm.
“I would agree with that,” replied Jamie, “but I think we both know they don’t want a peaceful solution. They want us to fight back. That gives them cause to take our land.”
“Or die, trying,” added Malcolm. But he knew fighting would mean injuries for some of their own people as well…maybe even death.
“Let me see if I can find out what they’re planning,” said Jamie. “I haven’t talked to Pat in some time and that bartender hears everything.”
“This isn’t just an excuse to go down to the pub, sing a few songs and maybe have someone buy you a pint?” asked Malcolm.
“Me?” replied Jamie, “I’m shocked at the thought.”
“Aye, I can see that.” Malcolm shook his head. “Well, take your new friend with you. Might as well introduce a stranger around town, so others don’t make the same mistake as those men. No reason for them to fear or rob another commoner.”
Jamie didn’t like lying to Malcolm, but nodded in agreement. “Too true, Da. We’ll both go down after supper.”
Jamie and Robin headed down to the pub that evening as Jamie filled Robin in on all that had been discussed.
“I do not know if we should be lying to your father,” said Robin. “It is not honorable to keep things from our parents.”
“Aye, there you go talking about honor, just when I have you passing for a real person.” Jamie looked to the heavens. “We all want to be truthful when we can, but not at the expense of our family’s safety. And trust me, Da and my sisters would not be safe if anyone knew a noble was staying in our home.”
“Why is everyone against the nobility?” asked Robin.
“They’re not,” replied Jamie. “At least, not really. But they don’t trust nobles right now. The king’s men would want to talk to you or kill you…or maybe both and I won’t have my family caught in the middle.”
“Agreed,” said Robin. “We will find this friend of yours and hopefully, get some answers.”
Three hours later….
Robin ducked as an arrow shot overhead. Looking for Jamie, all that could be seen were tree trunks and leaves. Every time Robin tried to get up for a better view, another arrow would whiz by.
Jamie had said this would be easy. Just in and out of the village no problem. There was a bartender, who would be able to give them some information. Of course, it was just a coincidence that their source worked in a bar. A happy coincidence for Jamie, no doubt.
After two hours of drinking and singing, Robin felt they were getting nowhere. So, more to stretch their stiff legs than to really accomplish anything, Robin had suggested it was time for a walk around the village. Jamie had grudgingly agreed since the bartender couldn’t talk until after shift.
It was while they were skirting the edge of the village that they heard the talking. Low and insistent like quiet arguing.
Jamie looked at Robin and held up a hand. “Do you hear that?”
Robin nodded and followed Jamie into the trees.
“You told us all we had to do was slow down that stranger in the black cloak. You didn’t say nothing about us getting into a fight or some companion, who might show up shooting arrows.”
Someone answered back, but too low for them to hear.
“What do you mean, calm down?” asked the first voice. “Jack still has a hole in his arm and Mickey ain’t going to forget that person dropping on his head any time soon. He’s still whining about his headaches. As for me, I almost caught a blade from that stranger. We all want more money. Call it hazard pay.”
Again, the response was too low to make out. Jamie motioned for Robin to stay put and started off towards their right.
“Where are you going?” whispered Robin.
“I’m going to find out, who jumped you in the woods,” Jamie whispered back.
“Why you? Why not me?” asked Robin.
“Do you know your way around these woods in the dark?” asked Jamie. “That’s what I thought. Now, stay here.”
Robin nodded, knowing Jamie was right and waited.
Suddenly, there was a yell that sounded like someone in pain. Robin started to run towards the sound, then realized it was the man asking for more money.
“What are you doing?” the voice yelled. “I wouldn’t have told, I swear it.” And then a scream and more people yelling.
“Why did you do that?” a deep voice boomed. “We could have dealt with that mess without bloodshed. Now, his friends will be looking for him.”
“Let them look,” another voice replied. “It will serve as a warning to the others as to what happens if they fail…then ask for more money.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do with the body?” a third voice asked. “Leave it here?”
“Of course not,” said the second man, who seemed to be in charge. “As I said, drop it at the edge of the village for others to find. I cannot abide sloppy work.”
There was a commotion and the booming voice rang out, “I know I saw someone over in the trees. Quick, grab them!”
Robin almost yelled out, but instead ran after Jamie with sword in hand. Coming around a curve in the path, one of the men spotted Robin and yelled, “There! Shoot over there.”
Robin ducked down, then rolled into the underbrush…which explained the arrows that were now whizzing overhead.
Wondering what had happened to Jamie, Robin called out to the men. “Stop. I’m alone. I’ll surrender, if you stop shooting arrows at me. It’s getting dark and I don’t know these woods.”
The man with the deep voice said, “It’s a stranger. Do you think it’s the one you’ve been looking for?”
“Quiet,” instructed the man in charge. “Of course, you can surrender. Lay down that sword and come out…with your hands raised.”
Robin wondered if this had given Jamie enough time. Hoping that they were thinking the same thing, Robin rolled out from the underbrush and yelled, “Now.”
Jamie let loose with the crossbow and hit the man with the big voice. “My arm! There’s more than one out there. And I think they’re lying about being strangers.”
“Let’s get out of these woods, while we can,” yelled the third voice.
“Where are you going?” demanded the man in charge. “Get back here,” but the voice was growing more distant. It was obvious all three of the men were running back towards the village.
“Well, that took long enough,” Robin stated. “Help me up. It is the least you can do.”
Jamie laughed and replied, “You did make it pretty easy. The way you came around that corner, you really had no cover.”
“And you find that funny?” Robin asked.
“Aye, I do,” replied Jamie.
Robin looked down, then said, “But, it is not funny. Not when a man probably lost his life a few minutes ago. And why would anyone send men to stop me in the woods?”
Jamie grew serious. “I was wondering the same thing. Someone must have told them you were coming here and what you were planning to do. Why else would they be waiting for you?”
“I had hoped it was someone lying in wait to rob strangers in the woods. Now, it seems much more personal,” said Robin.
“The question is,” continued Jamie, “who wants to stop you? And why hire it done?”
“Maybe your bartender friend will have some answers,” replied Robin. “As much as I hate to admit it, we should probably go back and wait until the shift is over.”
“Now, that’s a wonderful idea,” agreed Jamie, smiling and slapping Robin on the back. “Why didn’t I think of that myself?”
Pat looked around the bar, wondering where Jamie and the stranger had gone. They had been there an hour ago, but now were no longer in the tavern. At least, not as anyone could tell with all the people crammed into the place tonight.
As Pat scanned the room again, they walked through the front door. Relieved, Pat motioned for Jamie to come over to the end of the bar.
With short brown hair and dark green eyes, Pat looked more like a pixie or leprechaun than a brawler, but Jamie knew those looks were misleading. Pat could take down two or three of the king’s best men in a fair fight.
“Meet me in the kitchen in about ten minutes. And don’t let anyone follow you,” warned Pat.
“As if,” Jamie joked. But seeing the concern in Pat’s eyes, finished with, “We’ll meet you. What’s this all about?”
“Your friend,” Pat replied, glancing at Robin, “and you should be more careful. Wait over by the kitchen and I’ll be back.”
Jamie walked back to Robin, looking more serious than before. “Pat will speak with us in a few minutes.”
Robin had questions, but decided to wait to ask them as Jamie did not seem to have any more information. When Pat returned, Robin touched Jamie’s arm. “Here we go,” Robin said, looking in Pat’s direction.
Jamie nodded. “Aye and something is definitely wrong. Pat is not one to worry and this looks bad.”
Pat motioned for them to follow through the kitchen and out the back door.
“Where are we going?” asked Jamie.
“Not here,” answered Pat. “Just stay close and don’t ask any questions until we get down by the lake.”
“The lake…,” began Jamie, but stopped mid-sentence as Pat turned around with a quick glare. Jamie signaled for Pat to lead on. “Come on,” Jamie whispered to Robin. “Let’s keep up until it’s safe to ask questions.”
They followed Pat out of the village and down towards the lake. As Jamie stopped, Pat motioned for them to continue. “Not here. Too many people will see us. Keep moving down to that stand of trees by the water’s edge.”
As they reached the trees, Jamie stopped. “Enough,” said Jamie. “We’ve followed you a good two miles from the bar and I haven’t asked why, but now I’m asking.”
Pat turned around, looking over one shoulder back towards the village, then said, “Not yet,” and started into the trees.
“No, right now,” insisted Jamie. “I’ll not take one more step until you answer my questions. We’ve known each other for a lot of years…”
“Exactly, and you either trust me or you don’t,” said Pat. “Now both of you keep moving until I say otherwise.”
Jamie looked at Robin and shrugged. “I guess we keep moving,” Jamie said. Robin nodded in agreement.
As they made their way through the trees and down to the water’s edge, Pat finally stopped and turned towards them. “Alright, ask your questions.”
“First, thank you for allowing me to speak,” replied Jamie, stopping as Robin’s elbow connected with a rib. Pat smiled. “Finally, there’s the Pat we know and love,” said Jamie. “What’s with all this sneaking off to the lake, anyway? And why couldn’t we talk in the village?”
“Too many ears,” said Pat. “And I don’t just mean the king’s men either. There is more going on than even you realize, Jamie and I’m sorry I can’t explain it all right now. Just trust me, when I say it’s not safe for your noble friend to be here. So, we’re all going to be leaving for a little while.”
“Noble?” asked Robin. “Why would you think…” but stopped as Pat smiled.
“You don’t make a bad commoner, but we’ve known about you since you left your home. And we know why they are trying to stop you.” Pat walked down to the water and gave a low whistle, then turned back to Robin, adding, “You are more important to this entire story than you realize.”
Jamie and Robin looked at each other, then back to Pat. “Who are you calling for?” asked Jamie. “I’m pretty certain that no one followed us down here. Are you meeting someone?”
“In a way, yes,” replied Pat.
Pat turned and gave another low whistle. As they watched, the water parted off in the distance and they could see something moving towards them. It almost looked like some large fish or serpent was heading directly for them, then the water’s surface broke and a beautiful white horse emerged.
“I’d like you to meet Sam,” said Pat with a small smile. “This is who we’ve been waiting for.”
“Don’t you mean what?” asked Jamie. “Sam seems a beautiful horse, right enough, but how do you get it to swim under the water?”
Robin had stopped and was staring at the horse. “It cannot be.” Robin looked at Pat.
“Why not?” asked Pat. “Don’t you believe in your own stories anymore, Robin?”
“I didn’t tell you my friend’s name,” said Jamie.
Pat held up a hand. “As I said, this is bigger than either of you realize. Now, let’s get on the horse’s back and leave before the king’s men catch up with us.”
“Get on the horse’s back?” repeated Jamie. “Are you daft?”
Robin grabbed Jamie’s arm. “If this is what I think it is, we should not get on its back. We should leave. Now.”
“What is it?” asked Jamie.
“It looks like a backahast,” said Robin, “but I thought they were a myth. I believe you would call it a kelpie.”
“A kelpie?” repeated Jamie. “There’s no such thing. That’s legend, that is.”
Pat looked at them and smiled. “Aye legend, but how do legends start? Someone sees something they can’t explain and often cannot prove. So, the story becomes more fiction than fact and is often dismissed as too many pints.”
“Are you saying this is a kelpie?” demanded Jamie. “If that’s true I will not get on its back. It will drown us!”
Pat put a hand on Jamie’s arm. “I would not bring you all this way to drown you. Have a little faith. In me and in our friendship.”
The horse walked up on the land and stood next to Pat. “Let’s go,” said Pat and jumped up, swinging a leg over the horse’s back. Robin glanced at Jamie, then got up behind Pat. Jamie looked at them both as if they were a bit crazy…but not wanting to look cowardly, jumped up behind Robin.
“Well then, let’s go,” said Jamie. “Either we will meet our doom or have one heck of a story for our grandchildren.”
The horse walked back into the water and started swimming across, easily carrying the three riders. The night closed in around them as they moved through the water until they could no longer be seen from the shore.
The white horse swam so quickly they seemed to be across the lake in almost no time. It effortlessly walked up onto the shore and stopped beside a group of trees, waiting for its passengers to slide off.
Robin and Jamie looked around, wondering where they were as this did not look anything like the land they had just left.
“Where are we?” asked Jamie. “This isn’t the other side of the lake, that’s for sure. Where have you taken us?”
“I think the more important question is why?” Robin said. “We should give Pat a chance to explain as there seems to be a purpose to all this.”
Pat smiled at Robin. “Thank you.” Then looking at Jamie, added, “You’re right, we are no longer in the same land. If you wish to go back, we can return just as quickly.”
Jamie looked back across the lake, but didn’t say anything.
“We’ve known each other a long time,” Pat said to Jamie, “and I’ve wondered if you would be the one to help us. You are brave, true and capable…if a little stubborn at times.”
As Jamie started to say something, Pat held up a hand. “First, let me explain a few things. I am not a bartender. Well, not just a bartender.” Pat smiled, then grew more serious, “And part of my duty is to watch and wait. We’ve known a danger was building in our land, but we cannot stop it alone. I was asked to bring you and your friend here, once you met and then approached me.”
Jamie looked confused. “But how….”
Pat smiled again. “This is going to be a little difficult to explain, so I’m just going to say it and then answer whatever questions I can. I am not human like you and your friend. I’m a water fairy.”
Jamie laughed and looked at Robin. “Come on, have you been sneaking a few drinks behind the bar tonight? That’s crazy.”
“Maybe not,” Robin said, moving towards Pat very slowly. “We have legends of water magic and the beings that control it. They are always portrayed as having the power to go to any land, while traveling over water. And the ability to blend into almost any surrounding.”
“That’s no proof,” Jamie scoffed. “Come on, Pat. Tell Robin you’re having a bit of fun with us.”
“I knew this would be difficult,” Pat said, looking at the horse. “They were all ready to believe you were a kelpie, but my being a water fairy is too much for them.” Pat laughed and walked over, taking a bit of the horse’s mane and moving it gently over one ear. “I think it’s up to you.”
Jamie and Robin watched in amazement as the white horse began to shimmer. Slowly the light got brighter until it was almost blinding, then it faded. The horse was gone and a beautiful woman stood in its place. She had long, blonde hair almost down to her waist and big blue eyes that were the color of the water on a calm day. She was dressed in a beautiful, blue gown that caught the moonlight as she turned.
“As you wish, Pat,” the woman said. “You are always more in tune with humans and their needs. It takes me a little longer to feel that connection again.”
“Robin, Jamie, say hello to Sam,” Pat grinned and seemed to be enjoying the confusion. “Sam is a kelpie as you have already guessed, but with more powers than most humans realize.”
Sam smiled at them, looking so beautiful that neither Jamie nor Robin could think of a thing to say. “This is merely one of my forms,” she said. Then suddenly and with less light this time, she shifted into a blond man with those same blue eyes. Still amazingly attractive, but with a deeper voice. “It’s a gift and a curse,” Sam said, smiling again. “Would you prefer the horse?” She looked at Pat and winked.
“Um, it is a bit to get used to…especially with the different forms,” Robin tried to make a coherent sentence. Jamie was just staring and still saying nothing. Robin nudged Jamie in the ribs.
“Well, uh, I am, that is….” Jamie stammered.
Pat couldn’t take any more, but bent over laughing. “I am sorry, but I’ve never seen Jamie at a loss for words.” Then wiping both eyes, tried again. “Look, you’ve heard the stories. Why is it so hard to believe?”
Jamie seemed to regain some composure. “I don’t see why this is so funny, Pat. You’ve had a lifetime to get used to it and I haven’t had five minutes.” Jamie walked over and gave Pat a playful shove. “The least you could do is give a person some time to adjust.”
Robin was still staring at Sam. “My Lord, I am at your service.” Bowing, Robin added, “How may I help you?”
Jamie looked up at the night sky. “Just like that and you’re all ready to join these two in whatever quest they’re on. What about your mother’s vineyard?”
Robin looked at Jamie and said very seriously, “I have not forgotten my duty nor my obligations.” Walking closer, Robin continued, “I appreciate your help in the woods, but if the Fae have come to us, then we must help them. There is no greater honor in my land than to help those, who lived here before us.”
“You are very much like your brother,” Sam said, smiling at Robin. “He was also eager to help, but that has cost him dearly. I want you to know what you will be facing should you decide to come with us.” Sam shimmered again, back to the blonde woman. “If you don’t mind, I feel more like myself in this body tonight. The breeze feels good moving through longer hair. More similar to my mane.”
Sam walked up and touched Robin softly on the cheek. “Your brother, Liam, is being held captive by the Lord of the North. He has been interrogated and although he has told them nothing, they found out from their sources that you were coming to see about your mother’s land. And that is why they were waiting for you.”
Robin looked down at the ground. “My brother, is he…is he alive?”
“Yes,” Sam replied, “and he will be alright until they can force him to turn over your family’s land. Being the eldest, he is the only one with the ability to do that.”
“Jamie, you are the one, who will help us,” Pat said. “It has been foretold that a great warrior of both humor and courage would bring their crossbow to our aid.
Sam looked at Robin and added, “With a companion both honorable and skilled with a sword.”
Pat nodded. “Jamie, we weren’t sure it was you until Robin came to your father’s home. Then, we knew the prophecy was meant for you. I was not surprised, since I’ve told Sam that your leadership against the king’s men was very promising. And exactly what we’ll need in this fight.”
Jamie walked to the nearest tree and leaned against the trunk. “It’s a lot to take in, but if you really are in this battle, what are we supposed to do? How can we help? And what am I supposed to tell my family and the others fighting in our cause?”
“We’ll return you to your home in a few hours,” Sam assured them. “I doubt anyone will realize you were gone, but I have something to show you first.” Leading them back down to the lake, Sam knelt down and swept one hand through the water. A picture materialized in the water, which showed snow-covered mountains behind a dark forest. A river ran between jagged rocks and then disappeared into the trees. Above it, they could see a waterfall cutting through the mountains and then nothing, but the snow.
“That’s as far as I can take you across the water,” Sam said as she moved her hand and the picture changed. “This is where you’ll need to go if you want to return your lands to your people and eliminate the threat from the North.” They looked down and on a high cliff, overlooking the ice and snow, stood a stone castle. There was very little light, more of a glow through the swirling snow. Then, the blizzard closed in and the castle was gone.
“That’s where your brother is being held, Robin.” Sam looked down and touched the water softly. “Liam is so brave. I should never have allowed him to go before we had our plan finalized. He can be very convincing, when he wants to be.”
Sam smiled, looking both beautiful and sad. “Your brother is so heroic and yet so kind. I feel it is my fault that he is being held captive. I did not realize the full extent of what we were facing or who we were up against with the Lord of the North.” Sam looked over at Pat and said, “Devon is more powerful than any of us realized.”
“This Devon is the Lord of the North?” asked Robin. “No one has ever said his name in the many weeks that our people have battled his soldiers along our northern border.” Robin looked at Jamie. “Do you know anything about this Devon?”
“Aye, but only through legend,” Jamie replied. “I never would’ve believed it to be true before seeing all we have tonight.”
Jamie looked at Pat for confirmation. “Devon was the king, who came to our land more than eight hundred years ago. He fought the First Ones for over a generation until he finally beat them. Those who escaped were forced into hiding deep in the forest, the lakes, and even the caves in the mountains. Those First Ones, who were said to have been magical, were later known as the Fairies.”
“We have a similar story,” said Robin, “but ours describes Magical Beings, who fought an invader for many years until they finally lost. They turned into flames and surrounded the victor…that would be your Devon. When his men saw that their king would be burned alive, they broke the dam that held back the river and flooded the battlefield. Many were drowned, but the king’s body was never found.”
Sam looked at Robin. “There is some truth to that. And Jamie, there is some truth in your story as well. I think every land has a bit of truth in their version of events.”
Pat walked up and gently took a section of Sam’s hair and put it over her shoulder. “It’s time. We have to get them back and meet the others.”
Sam glowed for a moment, then there was a flash of light and the white horse was back. Pat looked at Jamie and Robin, motioning for them to climb up. “We have to go. There will be much to do tonight if you decide to join us. Have you decided?”
Jamie looked at Robin, who nodded. “Very well.” Jamie smiled and winked at Pat. “If you must have a warrior with courage, humor, good looks and an overall wonderful personality, I guess I’m the one you need.”
Robin smiled and Pat laughed. “I think you’ve added a few attributes, but you hit the high points.” The white horse strode effortlessly into the water and swam with such speed that they returned in less time than it took for the trip over.
As they got to shore, Pat jumped down and told Sam to wait by the trees. “You may need to come with me. I know you can’t make yourself unattractive, but do your best to fit in.”
Pat turned to Jamie and Robin. “A kelpie’s power is to entrance those, who might injure it. So, all kelpies look beautiful in their human form. It’s their only option…unless they try to appear as another being, which takes a great deal of energy and the image cannot be held for very long.”
As they talked, a beautiful woman with auburn hair, green eyes and a sexy smile came up to them. Robin and Jamie turned and gasped. “Sam?” asked Jamie. “Is that you?”
Pat smiled. “She loves to do that. Or should I say he?” With a shimmer, the woman was gone and a man stood before them with red hair, green eyes and that same smile.
Jamie laughed. “You’re too good looking even as a man. I can see why it’s difficult not to draw attention to yourself.”
Robin walked up to Sam. “Can you really look like another person? Could you look like Liam?”
Sam waited a moment, then shimmered. “You mean, could I take his place if we have a chance to rescue him?” And the red-haired man was gone. Instead, a tall young man with dark hair stood before them. He had his hair tied back and his dark brown eyes looked sad.
Robin gasped and wiped at one eye. “You do look so much like him. Do you think we could use the confusion to free my brother? Could we get Liam out of the castle before you grew too tired?”
Sam smiled at Robin, then shimmered back into the lovely woman with auburn hair. Touching Robin’s arm, she said, “I would hold the image for however long it takes to get Liam to safety.”
Pat looked at Jamie and said, “Let’s go.” As Jamie and Robin walked ahead, Pat fell back with Sam and whispered, “If you do it for too long…it could kill you.”
Sam turned to Pat and said very quietly, “I would do anything to set him free.”
Jamie leaned over to Robin and asked, “Are you okay? Seeing your brother or rather what looked like your brother must have been a shock.”
Robin nodded. “I am fine. But thank you for your concern.” Then, looking down at the ground, Robin added, “I was very happy to see him. For an instant, even knowing the truth it seemed so real. I almost said his name.”
Jamie took Robin’s hand and held it for a moment. “If that were Bridget or Colleen, I would have been torn up inside. We’ll get your brother home. I promise you, Robin. We will get him back for you.”
Jamie looked back at Pat. “We’re going to head home. Where do you want to meet? And when?”
“At this same spot by the lake and try to be here before daylight. The fewer people, who see Sam, the better,” Pat said as they took the other fork in the path.
“Who do you think they are going to see?” Robin asked Jamie.
“I have no idea,” said Jamie, “but I’d lay odds there is more than one fairy down there. Now that we know, I wonder how many of my friends are actually humans?”
Robin smiled. “I was thinking the same thing. How many people in our village might actually be Fae? There is probably more going on than they have told us. Hopefully, we will learn the rest tomorrow.”
Jamie was just about to answer, when something flew out of the trees. It just missed Jamie and hit the tree behind. Jamie pushed Robin out of the way and rolled to the left. Robin fell on the ground, but quickly recovered.
“I am getting so tired of this,” Robin said, pulling the sword out of its scabbard.
“Well, that’s a relief. I thought it was just me.” Jamie jumped up and leveled the crossbow towards the trees in front of them.
“Do you see anyone?” Robin asked.
“No,” Jamie replied. “My guess is they’ve gone. Walking over to the tree, Jamie pulled out a knife. “Well, this won’t tell us anything. We use them for everything from cutting rope to hunting game. Almost everyone in the village would have one.”
Robin nodded, looking at the knife.
“I think if they’d been planning to fight, they’d have attacked us by now,” Jamie said, glancing around. “Probably surprised one, maybe two of them and they turned tail and ran, once they lost their advantage.”
“I do not see anyone else.” Robin relaxed slightly. “You seem to be right as usual.”
Surprised, Jamie looked over. “Is that a compliment?”
“More of an observation.” Robin smiled. “Never a dull moment with you.”
Jamie laughed. “I do my best.” Then growing serious, added, “We should go. We have a big day tomorrow. We have to help fairies fight a seemingly immortal lord.”
“And rescue my brother.” Robin said.
Jamie nodded. “We’re almost home. Tomorrow, we’ll find out what’s going on. But tonight, I have to think of something to tell my father.”
“Why not the truth?” asked Robin.
“Oh, right.” Jamie laughed. “Da, I can’t fight with you and the others because I have to go help the fairies. Let’s try to think of something a little more believable.”
Robin smiled. “Not that truth. Why not tell him you have a source in the village, who thinks we can get some information if we go with them to see their contacts? And that it may take a few days to get there and back.”
“Not bad,” said Jamie, impressed. “I mean, not bad for a noble.” Jamie started laughing and opened the gate to their barnyard.
Robin smiled, saying, “Well, try to keep up then. We nobles can move very quickly.” Robin ran through the gate and up to the house with Jamie following.
“Aye, that’s the plan.” Jamie said, watching Robin move gracefully through the front door. “I don’t intend to let you out of my sight.” Smiling, Jamie closed the door behind them.
When Jamie and Robin entered the house, Jamie’s family was already asleep. After getting a few hours of sleep themselves, they decided a note explaining their departure would be easiest and probably the best choice. To lie to one’s father is never a good idea, so Jamie decided to use Robin’s suggestion as it was close to the truth. They had the opportunity to learn more about the king’s men and their plans, but had to go to a nearby village to get the information. Between travel and meeting with the source, it could take a few days. Maybe more, if that information led them to another village. In order to end this fighting once and for all, they needed to know why the king was trying to get their lands. Hopefully, this would give them the answer.
Robin was reading over Jamie’s shoulder. “I just want to make sure we have the same story,” Robin whispered as Jamie looked back, “should your father ask upon our return.”
“If we’re successful,” Jamie replied, “we may not need to worry about the king’s men for much longer. Many of us have suspected that his desire for our lands is tied to the Lord of the North. Before these troubles our people and the king had a good rapport. Now, we never even see our king…just his men.”
Robin nodded. “I was warned about the trouble in your land before I left home. Many of our nobles have been denied access to your king and his representatives. Some have wondered if the king is unwell, but no word has come to us of any illness.”
Jamie paused for a moment. “You know, now that you mention it, my father said something similar a few months back. How odd it was that the king’s behavior seemed so unlike his earlier actions. But our contacts in the other villages have said the king was in attendance, when their elders met with the king’s representatives. He said nothing, when those nobles demanded more land be given to the Royal Council.”
Robin looked thoughtful. “Do you know if the king actually spoke or just let his men speak for him?”
Jamie paused. “I don’t remember anyone saying the king made demands on his own. All the talking was done by his representatives. He just sat by and said nothing.”
Robin nodded. “Exactly. After what we saw last night, do you think there is a chance your king is being controlled somehow by magic? I know that sounds a bit extreme, but we have just ridden on the back of a horse that can travel through water faster than any boat. Then, we saw that same horse, or rather kelpie, turn into a woman and then a man. Finally, we discovered your good friend is actually a water fairy. Magic seems to be all around us in your land.”
“Before last night, I would have said you were daft,” replied Jamie. “Now, I’m not so sure. If our king is being controlled by magic, it won’t be enough to stop his men. First, we’ll have to break whatever magic or curse is controlling him.”
“Of course, it is all speculation at this point,” noted Robin. “But I do think it gives us some very good questions to ask your friend, Pat.”
“That’s true enough.” Glancing over one shoulder, Jamie added, “Let’s get down to the water before anyone else wakes up. I don’t want to have two little sisters following us down to see a fairy and a magical horse.” Laughing, Jamie added, “We’ll never get rid of them if they do.”
Robin smiled. “Your sister, Bridget, does speak of her magical tales quite often.”
Jamie nodded. “Aye. She does love her stories. I hope we can give her one with a happy ending, when we’re through.”
The two walked out the door, then down the path and through the gate. They didn’t encounter any trouble in the forest and made it to the lake before daylight. As they looked around, there was no sign of Sam or Pat.
“We seem to be early,” observed Jamie, “or they were delayed by that business in the village.”
“I worry about Sam being seen in the daylight,” said Robin. “As a man or a woman, Sam would attract too much attention.”
“Aye, that’s for sure,” agreed Jamie. “Sam is a real looker. And if you ask me, a bit taken with your brother.”
“In what way?” Robin asked.
“In all ways, going by how she said his name. Didn’t you notice?” Jamie paused a moment. “Of course, all that shape shifting into your brother’s image probably took most of your attention. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It might be exactly what we need to secure Liam’s release. I do not know how much a kelpie can care for a human, but I believe rescuing my brother is important to Sam.” Robin looked down at the ground, adding, “Almost, as much as it is to me.”
Jamie held up one hand as they heard voices approaching from the direction of the village. Jamie ducked down and Robin dropped behind some shrubs along the water’s edge. They could clearly hear a man speaking to someone. Robin started to pull the sword from the scabbard as Jamie reached for the crossbow. They shared a look and nodded, waiting for the stranger and his companion to appear on the path.
A man with dark hair and beard, wearing dirty clothes and looking over his shoulder was talking to someone behind him. Jamie and Robin jumped up and pointed their weapons at the man. “Hold very still,” said Jamie, “while we wait for your friend to join us.”
Robin looked at Jamie and silently moved past, waiting for the man’s companion with sword raised. A flash of light caused Robin to turn back as Jamie lowered the crossbow. The man had become a lovely woman with long brown hair, cascading in waves down her back. A gold dress replaced the old clothes and seemed to match the golden flecks in her brown eyes. Robin gasped slightly, while Jamie laughed and said, “Hello, Sam.”
Robin said nothing, but looked down at the ground. As Pat came around the corner, Jamie nodded, while Robin looked a bit shaken. “What is it?” asked Pat.
“It is a new look for Sam,” Robin said. “I did not expect it.”
Jamie didn’t notice their conversation, but was looking at Sam, approvingly. “I believe this is the best look yet.”
Sam smiled and said, “It has always been one of my favorites. It is the look that I have in Robin’s land….”
“He drew you,” Robin said, slowly walking up to Sam. “He drew your picture all the time. It was a joke of his that you were the girl of his dreams. How long have you known my brother?”
Sam looked confused. “What do you mean? I only met Liam a month ago. I was sent to ask one of the soldiers for help and he’d stopped by the water to rest his horse.” Sam looked at Pat, who seemed very interested in what was being said.
“Tell me,” Pat said turning to Robin, “does Liam draw these pictures about anyone or anything else?”
“When I was very young, he used to tell me stories about the magical ones. Places where they would meet in the forest or under the water and sometimes he would draw pictures to go with the stories.” Robin looked at Pat and then Sam. “They were just drawings of a forest glen under a big tree with fireflies all around…or the dim light reaching down in streaks to illuminate underwater cliffs, where fairies walked down a path to a secret meeting.”
Pat walked up and looked at Robin closely. “That’s not a child’s imagination. Those are two of our most secret meeting places. What else did Liam draw?”
Robin started to say something, when Jamie cut in. “That’s enough. Why ask Robin? It’s Liam doing the drawings and he was only making up stories. I’ve done it and so have my sisters. Colleen draws pictures for Bridget all the time.”
“Does Colleen draw a large tree in a forest glen with fireflies? Or water fairies walking down cliffs to a meeting area?” Pat asked, looking over at Sam.
“Well, no…but she does draw a fine unicorn. I suppose that’s suspicious, too?” Jamie walked over to Robin and smiled. “And even a pretty fairy in a pink dress.”
“There are no unicorns,” Pat replied, “at least not anymore.” As Sam cleared her throat, Pat added, “In this land.”
“Robin, does Liam have the same parents as you and your brother?” Sam asked. “I know that’s a strange question, but…”
“No,” Robin replied, looking at Jamie, then back at Sam. “Liam’s father died, when he was a baby and then our mother married my father. They had me and my little brother Peter, but my father has been the only one Liam has ever known.”
Sam looked at Pat. “That would explain quite a lot.” Turning back at Robin, she added, “Liam seemed to find all of this so easy to believe and he had no trouble infiltrating the lands to the North. It wasn’t until he was in the castle that he had any trouble and only then…”
Pat interrupted and said, “That’s enough, Sam. No more until we get across the water. Michael and Janet should be here any moment. Let’s get ready.”
Sam nodded and walked over to the water. A shimmer and the beautiful white horse was back. Jamie and Robin followed Sam, while Pat went back to check the path.
Robin looked at Jamie and smiled. “That never gets old, does it?”
“Not even a little,” said Jamie. What do you think about all this interest in Liam’s father?”
“It seems very odd, truthfully,” replied Robin. “Liam has always been quick at his studies and very artistic, but his ability with the flute is where he really shines. Our mother always said he got that from his father.”
As Robin smiled, remembering, Jamie whispered, “Whatever is going on, the only thing I care about is getting your brother out of that castle and ending these troubles in both our lands.”
Pat came up to them and said, “We can’t wait much longer. I don’t know what has caused the delay. When I talked to Michael, he was going to meet Janet and bring her here. Something may have gone wrong.”
Suddenly, there was a crash and someone was calling Pat’s name. Jamie grabbed the crossbow and moved even faster than Pat, while Robin pulled out the sword. Turning to Sam, Robin said, “Get in the water, where you will be safe.”
Robin ran up the path to find Jamie and Pat kneeling over a man. He was wearing brown pants and a green shirt. As Robin watched, the pants seemed to be dissolving into dirt. “It’s all gone wrong, Pat,” the man said. “We’ve been betrayed. Some of the air fairies must have sided with the Lord of the North. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
Pat was down on both knees, cradling the man’s head. “Michael, who did this to you?”
“It was Janet,” he replied. “I got to our meeting a little early and she didn’t see me arrive. She was talking to some of the other air fairies. I could barely make them out as they were almost transparent. That alone, gave me pause.”
Pat nodded, explaining to Jamie and Robin, “Fairies don’t use their magical form around other fairies, only humans.”
Michael coughed, then continued. “When they saw me, they didn’t materialize, but came straight at me. Janet only laughed, saying better now than later.” Michael smiled weakly. “Those three fairies won’t be a problem anymore, but Janet got away. They didn’t expect me to have any help, but I’d brought Tom and Sid along and they were waiting down the path. They wanted to see me off on this last grand adventure.”
Pat glanced at Jamie, then said to Michael, “Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be fine. Where are Tom and Sid?”
“They went to warn the others about Janet,” Michael replied. “We don’t know how many more of the air fairies are with her, but we took care of those three. I finally got the last one, but she didn’t go down without a fight.”
Michael coughed a few times, became very still…and then he was gone. Jamie looked at Pat, saying, “What happened to him? He’s nothing but dirt and bits of leaf.”
“He was an earth fairy,” explained Pat. “Once he crossed over, all that was left were the elements that made him.” Pat stood up. “At least, he and his friends took care of those three banshees for us.”
“How?” asked Robin. “How do you stop an air fairy?”
“You can drown them, burn them or smother them…but only another fairy or magical being can do it.”
“So, they were smothered,” Jamie guessed. “Aye, that makes sense. But how did they stop Michael?”
“They literally blew him apart,” Pat said, quietly. “He was disintegrating before our eyes and it was too late to stop it. We have to tell Sam.”
“Do we need to do anything for your friend?” asked Robin.
“No, he’s returned to the earth.” Pat looked down, then back up at Robin. “He’s gone home.”
Sam was still in the horse form, when they returned and as Pat started to speak, Sam tossed her head and stomped a hoof. Pat nodded and told Jamie and Robin, “Get on. Sam says it’s no longer safe here and I agree.”
They jumped on the horse, which moved so quickly through the water that they were soon on the other shore. It did not look like the place they’d visited the night before. It was much warmer and there were no trees, only white sand dunes and a very blue sky.
“Where is this place?” asked Jamie. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Have you Robin?”
“No,” said Robin, “but from what I have read in my father’s books, I believe this may be the land of the Far South.”
“Very good,” said Pat. “But why are we here?” As they got off the horse, they looked around.
There was a shimmer and Sam was now a beautiful, bronzed woman with black hair hanging down her back in tight spirals and dark brown eyes. The red dress she wore was accented with gossamer that swirled around in the soft breeze.
“This is the only place I could go, where the air fairies would have a difficult time hiding,” Sam explained. “There are no trees or grasses for them to blend in with and even virtually transparent, the breeze would ruffle their wings.”
“I thought air fairies controlled the breezes,” said Robin.
“Not here,” replied Sam. “This is the land of the fire fairies. The air fairies must defer to them here as they would have to defer to us in the water or the earth fairies underground.”
“Good thinking,” said Pat. “The only place, where the air fairies have the upper hand is above the ground. But most of the air fairies are still with us or we would have noticed storms and weather problems in the other lands. The only place we’ve seen unusual weather is in the North. And that’s another good reason to be here.”
“Exactly,” agreed Sam, “and we need to see the fire fairies as soon as possible.”
Sam shimmered back to the white horse. As they got back on its back, Pat said, “It won’t take long. You can’t see it from here, but there’s an oasis just past those dunes to the right. We will be there in no time, but at a gallop. Even Sam can only travel as fast as a horse on land.
Robin and Jamie looked at the sand dunes, then at each other. “There’s something wrong,” said Jamie, quietly. “I don’t know what, but I can feel it. Stay close.”
Robin nodded and replied, “I feel it, too. Do not worry though, my sword will protect you.”
“Aye, but by the time your sword gets to the trouble, my crossbow will have flown past and taken it out.”
Robin was about to respond, when Pat shouted, “No! This can’t be!”
Ahead, there was no oasis, only uprooted trees and the remnants of what must have been a large village. Now, it was mostly sand and debris with bits of stone sticking out of the ground.
As they jumped off the horse, Pat ran over to the edge of the debris and sank down, repeating, “This can’t be. We have already failed. We cannot fight him without fire.”
Sam must have shimmered back as they were all looking at what had been the fire fairies’ home. She walked past Pat and placed a hand on the uprooted tree, closest to them. “There is still water here. Help me, Pat.”
Pat got up and slowly walked over to the remains of the palm tree. Placing a hand next to Sam’s, they said something in a language Robin and Jamie did not understand. The wood slowly melted and only a puddle remained. In the puddle, they saw a picture forming. There were dozens of what must have been fire fairies, walking around the village. They had a slight shimmer to them as they moved and their hair seemed to end in soft points of light. One group was singing together as they worked, apparently turning the sand into stone.
As they worked, the air around them seemed to quiver and suddenly there was chaos. The fire fairies were caught up in a whirlwind that shot them up into the sky. As Pat looked away, Sam said, “Watch. I don’t think they’re dead. I can still sense something.”
As they watched, the fire fairies were trapped in the air and then carried away. The other fire fairies ran after them looking up at the sky, but the air fairies were too fast. The captured fire fairies were gone.
“Where are the other fire fairies?” asked Jamie. “Where have they gone?”
“They’re still here,” said a voice behind them.
As they turned, a large fire fairy stood before them. “We mean you no harm,” said Sam. “We’ve come to ask you about the air fairies, but I can see we’re too late.”
“By about six hours,” said the fire fairy, who was slightly sparking and looked very upset. “And how do we know this isn’t another trick? Are the water fairies here to betray us as well?”
Sam and Pat looked at each other, then Sam started to say something, but Robin interrupted, bowing to the fire fairy. “I come to you in the full service of the magical ones we trust to keep our fires tall and our houses warm. I implore you to please heed our words for we would be lost without your light and wisdom.”
Robin slowly sank to the ground and sat with legs crossed looking at the ground. “Oh please, wise one, light a candle so that I may never suffer in the darkness of ignorance. I ask only that I be allowed to meditate upon your glory and learn the wonders of the world through your divine spark.”
Robin stopped talking and continued to look at the ground. As they all watched, the fire fairy came up to Robin and leaned down. “Your words honor us. Please follow me, all of you. We will go somewhere else to talk. Our words travel too easily on the breezes.”
Jamie helped Robin up and asked, “Where did you learn all that?”
Robin smiled and said, “I enjoy reading many of the unusual books in my father’s library. I never expected to use that greeting, but I always thought it quite beautiful.”
“Nicely done,” said Jamie.
As they followed the fire fairy towards the ruins of a nearby building, they could see an opening almost hidden by debris. “Through there,” said the fire fairy.
As the fairies started to enter, Sam grabbed Pat’s arm. “Wait. I can sense there is more here than fire.”
The fire fairy nodded. “We have some of the earth fairies with us. We weren’t sure if you water fairies were still trustworthy, but we could use your help. And this one,” he said, looking at Robin, “I like this one. So, you are all invited to join us.”
Robin looked at Jamie as they followed the fairies. “Do you think this is a good idea?”
Jamie shrugged, saying, “The way I see it, we really don’t have much choice.”
Robin nodded in agreement, but Jamie kept one hand lightly on the crossbow as they walked through the opening.
After the bright sun reflecting off the sand, it took a moment for Robin’s eyes to adjust to the dim glow in the space. Jamie didn’t seem to have any trouble with the lack of light, but walked past Robin and casually leaned against one wall. Robin could tell by the way Jamie’s arm was under the cape that the crossbow could be pulled easily if needed. A good idea, thought Robin, with one hand by the sword.
Robin looked from Jamie to Pat and Sam, wondering what was going to happen next. The fire fairy seemed to be in charge of this group and introduced them as water fairies and their friends.
“I know we have no reason to trust them,” the fire fairy was saying, “but we need as many allies as we can get. We have family and friends, who were taken a few hours ago and we don’t know what the air fairies have planned for them.”
“Why should we trust these water fairies?” asked one of the fire fairies in the back row. “You, Merrick…you lost your son in this raid. How do we know he’s still alive? And the timing is suspicious to me. We lose a group of our own and these four just happen to show up a few hours later?”
Pat looked at Sam, who nodded slightly. Stepping forward, Pat said, “I am sorry for your troubles and I will do what I can, we all will, to help your friends. But we have lost some of our own and they were not kidnapped, they were killed.”
Robin and Jamie looked at each other. This was news to them, too.
Pat continued, “We became suspicious, when we lost contact with three of our water fairies in one of the western lands. It’s my territory, so I was asked to investigate. We found what appeared to be three accidental drownings after a boat crashed into some rocks. But these were water fairies. They would not have drowned.”
There were murmurs around the room with some accompanying sparks. It seemed when the fire fairies felt strongly about something, they grew a bit brighter.
Pat held up both hands, waiting for the crowd to quiet down. “When I saw the bodies, it was obvious to me that they had been pierced by something. Now, I think that something was an assault by an air fairy, probably more than one. We didn’t know that then, but suspected possible human involvement.” Pat took a breath and continued. “Today, we lost one of our allies in the earth fairy group. Michael of the Green was killed this morning.”
Pat paused, then added, “He told me that Janet and three of her air fairies were responsible for what happened. Michael and his friends took care of the three, but Janet got away. One of those banshees managed to launch an air attack before they stopped her. The impact was too powerful…Michael was already disintegrating by the time he reached us.”
The fire fairies and the few earth fairies were now buzzing with comments and the entire chamber grew brighter with all the sparking. Robin could see that the chamber was much larger than it had originally appeared. There did not seem to be any other exit, but there must be some way to get out besides the narrow passage they had entered.
Jamie was looking around and thinking much the same thing. Moving over slightly, so Sam could hear, Jamie asked, “How did all these fire fairies get into the main chamber? And are there other openings somewhere in the back?”
Sam shook her head. “The earth fairies probably helped them build it and carved out this large space. If there was an emergency, the fire fairies could become tall and thin like flames and easily pass ten wide through that opening we used.”
Jamie thought about that a moment and decided to let go of the crossbow. Chances were that it wouldn’t do any good against a flame anyway.
Looking over at Robin, Jamie held up a hand and Robin let go of the grip on the sword. Jamie moved closer to Robin and said in a low whisper, “Our weapons will not be effective against anyone here. I think it would take another fairy or magical being to do much to these fire fairies. At least, that’s what Pat said earlier about stopping the air fairies.”
Jamie was surprised, when Robin replied, “Yes, but Pat may have a vested interest in both of us believing that fact. I would imagine fairies say that to any humans they meet. It does not make it true even if Pat does believe it.”
Jamie smiled, then said, “I’m impressed. I thought you nobles were all about honor and duty. I must be having a positive effect on you.”
Robin gave Jamie an amused look and whispered, “As much as you might like to believe that you are having such an effect, it is logical to assume that no fairy would want a human to have the knowledge to control or injure them. And I do not think the air fairies are the only ones, who could do that to a water fairy.”
Robin looked over one shoulder and continued. “According to texts I have read in our library, there are many ways to incapacitate a water fairy, but fire is the most effective. And after what happened to Michael, we know that any fairy would probably have the ability to stop another type of fairy. Pat mentioned there were three ways to stop an earth fairy, so we are looking for a fairy…or a human with the knowledge to trap those water fairies and destroy them.”
Jamie looked at Robin with a new sense of appreciation. “You know, I am going to have to keep you around. You seem to be an endless source of useful knowledge…even if you are a noble.”
Robin smiled and said, “Thank you. I appreciate any compliment, no matter the source.”
The fire fairies seemed to have ended their discussions and the room began to grow dim again. Jamie walked back over to Sam. “Robin doesn’t think it was necessarily an air fairy, who took out your friends and the reason makes sense to me. We need to talk. I have a lot of questions for you and Pat and I think we’ll have to discuss this somewhere else.”
“Agreed,” replied Sam. “I think we need to get closer to water. It’s starting to feel very dry in here.”
Sam went over to Pat and said, “We need to go.”
Pat nodded and spoke to Merrick. “It’s time for us to leave. We have to get these two friends of ours back to their home and Sam and I must find out if Janet has been apprehended. As soon as we know anything, we’ll get word to you.”
“I appreciate that,” said Merrick. “My son is precious to me, but all of our friends are important. If we can help in any way, contact us immediately. I think our earth fairy friends are still trustworthy. Let’s use them as a point of contact.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Pat agreed. “Michael’s friends, Tom and Sid, will know what we know. They should be able to get information quickly to your friends here. They seem to feel the vibrations in the ground, don’t they?”
“My thoughts as well,” replied Merrick. “I believe we’ve done ourselves a grave disservice by isolating our different factions. We might need to change that in the future. If we have a future.”
Pat carefully put on gloves and then reached out a hand and shook with Merrick. “I would like that. You have my word I will do all that I can for your son and your friends.”
Merrick nodded and escorted them out of the chamber. “I know this is a dry climate for you two and I apologize for any discomfort. We normally have more water available in our fountain and pools in the village square. Even fire fairies enjoy the cooling feel of water vapor in this vast desert. That’s why we built our home at this oasis.”
“Wait, you like water?” Jamie asked. Then, realizing that might sound rude, added, “I didn’t know that about fire fairies.”
“Why should you?” replied Merrick. “We don’t make ourselves known to humans…or even most other fairies. I think that will have to change.”
Turning to Robin, Merrick bowed. “Good bye, my friend. You are surprisingly knowledgeable for a human or a fairy. I would like you to return again, if we all live through this battle. For a battle it will be, before it’s over.”
Robin nodded. “I would be honored. And thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. We appreciate the flame and all that it brings to our lives.”
Merrick smiled, then turned and went back through the doorway. Sam shimmered into the horse and the others quickly jumped on and they made their way back to the water.
As they approached the shore, Sam seemed to slow down. “Get off. Now,” said Pat in a surprisingly firm voice. As they got off, Sam shimmered back into a woman and started to fall over.
Jamie and Robin grabbed her, while Pat ran down to the water. “Quickly, bring her over here,” said Pat, grabbing water in both hands. Pat ran back and patted Sam’s face as they carried her to the beach. “Put her down, carefully, right there in the water,” Pat instructed.
Jamie and Robin lowered her into the water as Pat splashed it over Sam’s face and body. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked at Pat. “What happened?” Sam asked.
“We almost waited too long,” replied Pat.
Glancing over at Jamie, Robin realized that many things could kill a fairy besides magical beings and other fairies. Water fairies needed water. And Robin wondered if their enemies had the same information.
Sam seemed to be recovering, so Robin motioned for Jamie to come closer. “Do you realize what this means?” asked Robin.
“Aye, it means water fairies must have water,” replied Jamie. “I wonder if Merrick knew that.”
“I do not know, but we do and it makes me worried for them both. Maybe it is a good thing we are here,” said Robin. “We can travel to places they may not be able to go. Fairies have many powers, but more weaknesses than I had realized. It would be wise, not to let our enemies see that if they do not already know.”
“Agreed,” said Jamie. “Let’s get Sam back on her feet, so we can get out of here.”
It wasn’t long before Sam was back to normal and apologizing for being so tired. If tired is what she and Pat wanted them to believe, Jamie and Robin decided not to question it. At least, not yet.
“Are you well enough to take us back?” asked Pat. “We need to find out about Janet.”
“Of course,” replied Sam. “I am rested now and can easily travel across the water.”
After they returned to Jamie’s land, Sam decided to rest a bit more, while Pat wanted to go straight to the village.
Jamie stopped Pat and said, “All that talk about Sam being tired is fine if that’s what you choose to say, but she’s not up to going with you and you cannot go alone.”
“But I…” Pat began.
“I agree with Jamie,” said Robin. “You will not go the village alone. We will accompany you, but first we need to make sure Sam is safe. She was more than tired, regardless of what she said in the desert. Now, that we know…we will make sure you both stay near the water.”
“Aye, no more deserts for you two,” added Jamie.
“Sam,” Jamie said, turning back to the now blonde woman, again, “you need to stay here and get some rest. Can you hide somewhere? Maybe in the water?”
“Of course,” replied Sam. “Kelpies can be underwater for many hours without coming up.”
“Then, go into the water and stay there,” Jamie said. “We will go with Pat.”
Robin looked at Sam and said quietly, “You must save your strength in case we need to leave quickly. Will you hear us if we call to you?”
“Yes, I will hear you.” Sam smiled and hugged Robin. “Take care of yourself as well as those two. They can be stubborn sometimes, so remind them to be cautious. And you be careful, too. Your brother would never forgive me if anything happened to you.”
Robin nodded. “You have my word.”
Jamie and Pat were already arguing over how they were going to track down Janet. Jamie seemed to be winning the argument as Robin walked up. “I’m telling you that you’re going to have to talk to those air fairies. If some of them can be trusted, they need to know about Janet. Do you think the earth fairies have told them?”
“No, earth fairies and air fairies haven’t gotten along for many, many years,” Pat replied. “There are some individual friendships, but not many. As a group, they do not communicate with each other.”
“Well, there’s your problem,” said Jamie. “All you fairies need to meet and find out, who you can trust and who you cannot. We did that with the villages. Old grievances are nothing compared to what we will all lose if the king’s men are successful. We have fought them off, so far…but where sheer force failed, they are now trying to take the land by royal decree. If the other lands weren’t watching, it would probably all be over by now.”
“That is a very good point,” observed Robin. “How convenient that the Lord of the North started this fight with our land, while your king begins taking your property. And I have heard that other lands to the east have had similar problems. We need to unite the humans and the fairies.”
“Those are good ideas, but we don’t have time,” said Pat, “at least, not right now. We need to find Janet and discover if she’s the only one behind our betrayal or if she is in league with others. Let’s go.”
The three got back to the village without further incident and walked into the service entrance of the bar. “We’ll stay back here in the kitchen,” said Jamie. “If we’re seen, there will be questions as to why we aren’t home and reporting on our meeting. If you need us, give a yell.”
Pat nodded. “I am going to see my contact and find out if Janet has been apprehended.”
As Robin and Jamie turned back, Pat grabbed Jamie’s arm. “Wait. All this cloak and dagger talk seems foolish with what you two already know. I’m going to see Sid and find out if he and Tom were able to track down Janet.”
Jamie smiled. “Now, doesn’t it feel better to share? Robin and I will be here if you need us.”
Robin nodded in agreement. As Pat left, Robin turned to Jamie and asked, “Can I talk to you about something?”
“Of course,” Jamie replied.
“We are going to need more help. We cannot rely on only the fairies, when we do not know which ones we can trust. I do not want to risk my brother’s life, nor ours if we ally ourselves with the wrong ones.” Robin started counting on one hand, “I trust Pat and Sam, probably Sid and Tom…and Merrick. But that is only five fairies and we will need more if we plan to invade the Lord of the North’s castle.”
“What if we don’t invade?” asked Jamie. “What if we were to gain entrance in some other way?”
“Do you have a plan?” Robin took a step closer. “You never cease to amaze me.”
Jamie smiled. “Aye, that’s why I do it. I like amazing you.”
Robin laughed and Pat came back through the kitchen a few minutes later. “No luck, but Sid says he and Tom were able to find out, who the other air fairies were. They all belonged to the same group as Janet and they’ve been taking quite a few trips up north lately.”
“How did they find that out?” asked Robin.
“The water fairies from your land. They’ve been watching Janet and her group for some time with all the fighting going on along your northern border. They thought the air fairies were doing some sort of reconnaissance…until they found out about Janet’s betrayal.”
“So, you have earth fairies and water fairies talking to each other, but not to the air fairies,” Robin observed. “Is there any air fairy in this land you can trust?”
Pat looked down for a moment. “I thought I could trust Janet.”
Jamie touched Pat’s arm. “Is there any air fairy you’ve ever helped? Maybe someone Sam or even another water fairy might have assisted in the past?”
Pat thought for a moment. “Angela. We helped Angela last month, when her sister was learning to fly. She was just a little thing and got too close to the water. Sam and I were nearby and grabbed her right after she fell. Scared her quite a bit as air fairies don’t always know how to swim. Angela was quite put out at first as she thought we’d caused the whole thing. Then, when she realized…she said to let her know if she could ever help. I’d forgotten all about it.”
Jamie smiled. “There you are. We have one air fairy we can trust. You don’t save someone’s little sister and not earn their undying gratitude. I should know, having two of the little darlings myself.”
Robin laughed. “They are cute. Just very energetic and quite curious.”
Jamie nodded in agreement. Turning to Pat, Jamie asked, “Can you contact this Angela?”
“Yes,” answered Pat. “In fact, I believe she’s in the next village. Air fairies enjoy cliffs and other high points. Let’s check the lookout on the way to Arrington.”
Robin laughed. “Really? You do not see it. The irony. You are going to look for an air fairy in Arrington?”
Jamie smiled. “Ah, humor! I am having such a good effect on this one, don’t you think Pat?”
“Let’s go,” replied Pat. “We have to let Sam know where we’re going…and tell Sid and Tom.”
“No,” said Jamie, suddenly quite serious. “No, Pat. We tell no one. Just you and me and Robin. Sam needs to rest and I don’t know anyone else. If we tell the wrong person or if they do, then Angela may not be alive, when we get there. If she’s your only lead, we can’t take any chances.”
“But…” Pat began.
“Jamie is right,” Robin said, holding up one hand. “Pat, you have asked us repeatedly to trust you and we have. Now, we are asking the same of you. Trust us and no one else for the next few hours. After we talk to Angela, you can decide if we should tell anyone else.”
“If you’re both sure,” said Pat, looking from Robin to Jamie. “Alright, but we take Sam with us. She’ll be rested by now and I don’t want to come back and find her…” Pat coughed and continued, “find her in pieces. It’s too dangerous to leave anyone behind. We all go together.”
“Agreed,” said Jamie.
Within the hour, they’d picked up Sam and were traveling through the woods to Arrington. It was growing dark, but they could see well enough with the three-quarter moon.
Robin and Jamie were walking in front with Pat and Sam following. Sam had changed back to the dark-haired man with the beard. The dirty clothes were a nice touch, but Sam still looked almost too attractive. Pat had suggested as much beard as possible, causing Sam to laugh for the first time that evening.
As they walked, Robin asked Jamie, “Have you taken this path many times?”
“Aye, of course,” responded Jamie. “It’s a fairly easy road with only two or three places for a good ambush.”
Robin raised one eyebrow. “An ambush? Were you the one ambushed or were you ambushing others?”
“Others, of course,” replied Jamie with a smile, then grew more serious. “The king’s men don’t travel these roads often enough to know anything about them. We stopped a few groups, but I’ll be glad when the fighting is over. I don’t care for killing and there’s been too much of it. When these troubles first started, we let the king’s men go. Then, even more returned and started killing our people and we had to find a more permanent solution.”
Robin looked at Jamie. “Of course, I understand. Yet, it must be difficult. I have never killed anyone, but I would do so to protect my brother…or you.” Robin paused and looked over at the fairies, “Or them.”
“That’s what it comes down to,” agreed Jamie. “If it’s to be you or them. Or even more important, the ones you care most about or them.” Suddenly, Jamie smiled. “You know, we could scout ahead and see if anything looks suspicious. We could even…Robin, duck!”
Robin dropped down to the ground as a man came shooting out of the underbrush. Jamie grabbed the crossbow, but the man knocked it on the ground. Robin jumped up, pulling the sword out of its scabbard and swung it at the man. He rolled to one side and as Robin turned, the man lunged.
“Robin, look out!” yelled Jamie.
Spinning quickly, Robin ducked the charge and swung the sword again, landing a glancing blow.
“He’s too fast,” said Robin.
Jamie grabbed the crossbow and shot, but the man was gone.
Pat and Sam had fallen behind, but reached them just as the man vanished.
“He must have sensed us coming,” said Pat. “There’s no doubt now, is there Sam? At least, we know the earth fairies are still on our side. All of them.”
“The smell gave him away,” Sam added.
Robin was still trying to catch some breath, but Jamie asked, “What are you two going on about?”
“That was a troll,” said Pat.
“And we are fortunate, there was only one,” added Sam. “If there had been more, I doubt he would have run.”
“He ran?” asked Robin, putting the sword away. “He seemed to vanish. How can he move so quickly?”
Jamie had walked up to Robin and was checking to make sure there were no lasting effects from the fight. “He was so fast, I was afraid you might be…well, it’s good to see you all in one piece.” Jamie tried a smile, but still looked concerned. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Aye, just fine” joked Robin, causing Jamie to laugh. Robin turned to Pat and Sam. “How do you know he was a troll?”
“Only a troll can move that quickly,” said Pat. “He was almost a blur. I’m very impressed you were able to hit him at all.”
“As am I,” agreed Jamie.
“Trolls usually stay to themselves, but they can be quite nasty…and they avoid earth fairies,” Sam explained. “I can’t imagine them ever working together, so the earth fairies would not be involved with Janet if the trolls are helping her.”
“Why else would a troll attack?” asked Pat. “They don’t go out of their way to challenge people unless they are in a more remote area. The fairies have always left them alone, so they leave us alone.”
Jamie held up a hand. “We need to keep moving. If that troll comes back with reinforcements, we could be in trouble.”
“I agree,” said Sam and with a quick shimmer, the white horse stood before them. They quickly got on and Sam took off at a full gallop.
“Trolls hate horses and I believe the feeling is mutual,” Pat smiled. “Sam doesn’t like them in her human form, but can’t stand them in this one.”
In a very short time, they were coming out of the trees and Arrington was ahead of them. They slid off the white horse and Sam shimmered back into the bearded man.
“We should get a room at the inn,” said Pat. “Angela will not be up on the cliffs at night and we could all use a little sleep. If there are trolls following us, they won’t come into town. Tomorrow morning, we’ll find our air fairy.”
As Pat and Sam walked into the inn, Jamie grabbed Robin’s arm. “Are you sure you’re alright?” Jamie asked.
“Someone might think you were worried about me,” Robin said with a smile. “A noble and all.”
Jamie didn’t smile. “Aye, you may be a noble, but I’d choose to have you at my side during any fight.”
Robin looked at Jamie for a moment, then replied, “I would choose to have you at my side as well.”
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