Fellyans (part two)
The monarch kicked the lamp that had gone out.
By accident…but he would, if he could see it, give it another from spite. He sought the cellar door, thinking to examine the sky. Experience had taught that skywatching played tricks on one’s balance…and in this place, tumbles looked ill-advised. The ruin sat bowled by slopes; its departed owner had planted thorny bushes for a hedge—
This hedge’s presence, the companions knew of for a certainty, though only daylight could mark its malign breadth. Horsehair…or, what was his name? Marshhawk. Let the creature pose at conjuring as he pleased. A place was hopeless when its creator had had unfriendliness to wanderers in mind.
Achieving the door with his shins, the monarch lowered himself. He found the dampness of the wood softened none of its splinters. He cursed the brambles aloud.
A throat cleared.
From the cottage came a drone of, “Candle, candle, candle, candle…”
A woman’s voice remarked a muffled something—
Which tended to account for the three of them. The throat belonged to a fourth party.
A voice, in the same tenor, spoke: “It’s not sensible to curse good berry bushes. You ought to take that back and apologize, or you’ll pick only sour ones.”
“I’d rather have them sour!”
“What, even if Jorinda baked the pies, and all you had to do was eat them?”
Thought occupied a space of time. The monarch muttered: “Seip eht dekab…botheration! Give me the rest again.”
“Can it be you are trying a spell against a riddle?”
“Don’t trick me. I know how it’s done.”
“Every child knows how it’s done. But backwards talk is an old householder’s tale, surely. Have you ever met a troll?”
“Tricks and traps can come as soon from a gnome.”
“Gnomes are under charter to give only gifts.”
“Are they! And a pact put in writing gives you confidence it can’t be flouted? When gnomes invade the hinterlands, where the Queen’s soldiers have been drawn off patrolling…? You think they don’t give piles of manure, and turn your corn into beans?”
“Hmm, well. Gnomes are particular about gardens…and, in fact, beans are an interesting crop…”
“Oh, get it over with! You’re going to stand there in the dark and tell me about gnomes, as though I were an utter simpleton, and couldn’t guess what you are yourself!”
“But, you know, beans…”
“I don’t. Not at all. The riddle, please.”
“I haven’t got one.”
A pause. “Isn’t it the rule, in such case, that you owe me a gift?”
“It would be best if you didn’t speak that way.” Bede heard right-from-the-startness conveyed by a snort to rival Langham’s. He temporized. “I owe hospitality to any stranger. But I’m afraid that—I must warn you—if you and those others are Fellyans, I’m expected to take you prisoner.”
“Bewitch me on the spot, Gnome! Turn me into a toadstool!”
“No, no, nothing of the kind. You see, I have sprites in the house, and I beg you won’t make wishes, or pass any injudicious talk of wanting things, that could… Could very well render you a toadstool. They are accident prone.”
An explosion followed these words.
Two figures scintillating in blue emerged by the shortest way, where a scattering of stones had replaced a wall. Three sheep followed, glowing purple, rich azure, and green.
“This is what I surmise,” the undersized figure said. “In the dark I’d put the first rock aside, and picked up by mistake another, an unhelpful sort, that queered the spell.”
“Can rocks be helpful and unhelpful?”
“Well, ask!” said Marshhawk. His hand had shot to Alma’s elbow in the nick of time.
“But these must have meant to be helpful, when they were holding up the house. That’s your doing, isn’t it, turning them harm-minded?”
She placed her feet with care, employing an upraised palm to light her way. The glow soon welled over Bede.
“Oh! Here’s someone! And here’s Vincent.”
“Someone,” Vincent said, “stood there, allowing me to believe we were all in danger, and never said a word to the contrary.”
With his mind on the Queen’s law, the conscientious breaking of it, the necessary precautions this demanded, and the pyrotechnics consuming Jorinda’s old home, Bede opted to bear with injustice…
But Marshhawk seemed to feel it. “When I’ve only been explaining! And when you’d taken yourself well clear, regardless, afraid of any spell I could do. If you were Alma, and useful, and thought you must make quibbles, I might…”
“Am I talking about you at all! May you glow blue all your life! May you be snatched by an owl and picked clean!”
“Is it the farmer you mean, Vincent? Why, he looks kindly-faced.” Alma smiled at Bede. “We are all hungry.” She could not feel the compunction of a dethroned king, as to begging, and to stating plainly what it was you wanted.
A sizeable nightbird, that cast a moon shadow in the form of outstretched wings, sent a gust of air ahead of itself, and landed, with a crunch of practical boots. Marshhawk cowered, but the wings folded into the generous arms of a cardigan, and the creature greeted Bede.
“It all looked so beautiful from my window. I thought a star might have crashed onto Jorinda’s cottage. She told me, ‘gracious Finch, go to sleep, or let me at least’. And here the cottage is, afire. But a blue one, fancy!”
“Lady!” said Marshhawk. The fire, spare now of materials to consume, snuffed out. The luminescence attached to sprite and woman fell subdued, but the former could be seen to remove a cap and bow.
Finch caught the eye of Alma. “Get out with him, ay?”
Be a Helper
Fellyans (part three)
(2022, Stephanie Foster)