While the faerie maidens danced, the stars shining like diamonds, the drifting snow melting on their hot cheeks, the Ferikrakneh were watching. It was months into winter, the snow having come early that year, and there was not yet sign that the weather was going to break. But the young faerie girls didn’t mind the cold and with the frozen hues of the northern skies as inspiration, they spun and dipped and laughed and enjoyed a night as joyous as any to be had during warmer times.
The Lynch sisters were away from home without permission, as they should not have been. For even though the faerie folk are enchanted and possess powers both wondrous and terrible, there were dangers in the world for which even they are sometimes unprepared. So it proved that night. As the girls danced, they were oblivious to those who watched and waited.
At the edge of the meadow, hidden by a branch that had broken under heavy snow and a violent winter wind, were the Ferikrakneh, a clan of barrow imps that lived on the far side of the valley where the shadows of the mountain linger until midday and the lands are little troubled by sun. The imps had come down to this place on a hunting expedition but in the cold night had found something that was even more to their liking than fresh meat.
“Look at her,” said Popna, the biggest and stupidest of the imps, pointing a crooked finger toward the girl Ann as she dipped and swayed with the wind. “That’s the one I want. She’s such a pretty little thing.”
“Shut your yappin’,” Kekna replied in harsh, whispered tones that could barely be heard over the whistling wind. He was the leader of the imps and was nearly as large an imp as Popna. Neither was much taller than the faeries they watched. “You’re going to give us away.”
“Oh, what you worried about?” said Popna in return, pulling about him a sort of coat that was roughly fashioned from the tail of a black squirrel. He rose to his full height to show he was taller than, and not at all afraid of, his master. Tightening the rope that held the coat at his middle, he said, “We got enough boys to take care of them.”
“Not enough to be sure,” Kekna corrected him, bristling. He looked out across the meadow, watching for the secret signs his people would give when everything was ready. “Not if we want to catch them all.”
“I don’t care about the rest of them, just her.” Popna said, licking his teeth with a long, green tongue.
Kekna said angrily, “Use you head for a change, will you? If we don’t get them all the rest will go for help, and then we’ll be in quite a fix.”
“But someone’s got to come looking for them sooner or later,” Popna said, incredulous, heedless of the warnings for quiet.
Cooling his anger, Kekna petted his own coat, of no better craft than Popna’s, but it was made of mink and Kekna took special pride at having bettered such a worthy adversary. “And the later it is the better for us. A storm’s blowing up and we got to get them home safe before anyone comes or we’re done for.”
“Not me,” Popna said, flexing his broad chest, showing a hint of the armor he wore, a hauberk made from the bones of his victims. He hefted a club with spikes in the end onto his shoulder, spinning the weapon in a show of skill.
“Shut up, the others are almost in place. We got to get this right. All or nothing, that’s how it’s got to be.” Kekna tested the knots of a net, tightening each in turn as he waited nervously for the rest of his band to give the signal. Soon he saw the first sign, then one by one the other signs were given. Smiling to himself, Kekna finished with the net and tucked it into his belt.
Then from a pocket in his coat, Kekna brought out a small, stone jar. Removing the stopper with his teeth, he dipped the tip of a long needle inside. “Here’s the dart,” he said, handing it to Popna, “get ready, the sleeping poison has to be wet to work.” He had given a small portion of the stuff to the others, and at the given sign, they would all let their missiles fly.
Popna set down his club and took up a piece of reed, long as he was tall. Carefully sliding the dart into the tube, he raised it to his mouth, sighting in his intended victim.
“Wait,” Kekna said, putting his hand to the reed.
“Yes,” said Popna, wickedly, “a little something extra for luck, that’s good.”
When Kekna was born, the first finger on his right hand had been black and misshapen. In time, Kekna had discovered that his finger was magic and that it could be used for the working of evil spells. Now, with the broken claw of his magic finger, Kekna inscribed upon the reed wicked signs that glowed red and then faded as the curse settled. Giving the signal to the others, he shouted, “Now!”
On the evening side of the valley, at the crest of a rocky peak, lived an old oak tree. The tree had grown and flourished in the spot for nearly two centuries. Its limbs were long and thick and it had an inner strength born of years in the cruel mountain wind. One of the limbs of this venerable tree held a curious sort of silver spyglass with a rainbow colored lens. The spyglass was mounted on a tripod and pointed toward the heavens. Nearby there was a little bed, perfectly flat and secure in the crook of the limb.
The bed was placed so that the trunk of the old tree would block the wind, and even though a blizzard had come up hard during the night, the bed had been very little disturbed by the storm. The bed was plain, with a box frame and four short posts. The only adornments were some elegant carvings at the headboard, grape leaves with veins as delicate as the tracings of mouse tails on a dusty shelf. The mattress was thick and comfortable, made with the feathers from cygnets still as gray as the winter sky. A down comforter dressed the mattress, white and lacy, and also undisturbed by the weather. Upon the bed slept a little man.
The man was neatly tucked between white sheets, and looked almost like a doll would look to a human child on Christmas morning, quiet and happy beneath the tree. He had dark brown hair and fair skin, and as he slept his face looked as perfect and peaceful as any doll on such a blessed and magical morning.
With some difficulty due to the storm, a faerie man flew up to the bed, his wings flapping wildly in the violent wind, until he finally took hold of the limb and pulled himself to rights upon it. As he stood, the faerie man pulled up a belt that supported a bulging stomach and straightened a heavy bag of tools that was slung round his shoulder.
Satisfied with the condition of his most prized possessions, Danny Gorman marched toward the little bed, kicking snow from the branch as he went. When he had gotten to the head of the bed, having made his way to the spot only with the use of some his faerie craft of dexterity and a flap or two of his wings to keep him steady, he was surprised to find that the man in the bed was still asleep.
“I was loud enough to wake the dead for goodness sake,” Danny said to himself with a sigh. “But if I know my Patrick, he will have spent the whole night up here, though what he could have been up to I have no idea, to be sure.”
Danny gave Patrick Donegal a little shake, saying, “Patrick? Wake up, Patrick.” The little man on the bed only turned over in his sleep, mumbling something that Danny couldn’t make out.
“Come on, wake up. It’s me, Danny.” Still there was no reply. Thinking of the desperate nature of his errand, Danny fixed the belt about his middle once again and shouted, “Wake up!”
Patrick woke with a start. Such was the violence with which he popped out of bed that he didn’t notice that his feet settled on nothing but air at the bedside. Before Danny could do anything to save him, down Patrick fell into the snowdrift below; for even though Patrick was himself one of the faerie folk, he had lost his wings in a terrible accident long ago.
“Patrick, oh Patrick,” said Danny as he raced down to the snowdrift, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drop you.”
“Goodness!” Patrick said in disgust, pulling himself out of the drift and onto the snow, standing as firmly as if he were upon solid ground. He gave Danny a sidelong glance and proceeded to dust his night clothes off as best he could.
“Hey, that’s a neat trick, on top of the snow like that,” Danny said appreciatively, taking refuge on the tree. “Can you teach me how to do that? Is it hard to learn?”
His temper already beginning to fade, Patrick replied, “Not so hard once you get the knack. We’re faerie folk, after all. This is the sort of thing we can do if we set ourselves to the task of learning how.”
Looking down toward his feet, adjusting his stance on the thick bark, Danny cleared his throat roughly and said, “Ah, no. You’re an unusually gifted man, to be sure.”
“Uh oh, that sounds like trouble.”
“What? No worries, laddy.”
“Don’t laddy me, Danny. What’s the problem?”
“No problem at all,” Danny said in shock and dismay. “I just come out to see how you were doing this morning. That’s all.”
“Really? All this way? And how did you know to find me here?”
“Well, you see, I was out with a few of the lads down at the Cornflower Inn last night and Misses Malone happened to mention to me that she sent that butler of hers all the way out here with a late supper for you last night. So, I thought as though I’d come all the way out here and have a nice, quiet talk like we haven’t had for such a long time. You really don’t get around as much as you used to now that you have these,” he waved a hand at the spyglass above, “astrological-type observations of yours to take care of. All those moons and planets and constellations and whatnot taking up your time so you hardly have a chance to come and have a cup or two with your dear old friends anymore.” Flustered and having lost his place in the conversation, Danny crossed his arms and shut his mouth tight.
While Danny spoke, Patrick had been nodding suspiciously. After having listened to the explanation, he said, “All right, out with it. I know something’s going on and you might as well have your say. I won’t have a moment’s peace otherwise.”
“Well, now that you mention it,” Danny said, glancing over to Patrick with a shrug, his cheeks flushing red, “there are some folks that could sure use your help.”
“I knew it!” Patrick said. Danny opened his mouth wide in surprise, but Patrick put up his hands defensively and said, “No, none of that. Just go on. Say whatever it is you came to say.”
“Patrick, I know that you’re retired and that you probably have all kinds of other, very important, kind-of things that you do with your time,” Danny said apologetically, “but that worthless sheriff’s called it all off due to the weather!”
“What?” said Patrick, mystified. “Called what off?”
“Why, the Lynch girls, Patrick, at least four of them anyway, are missing. That little spitfire Kelly got away.” Exasperated, Danny added, “Haven’t you heard?”
“Well, no,” Patrick said weakly, gesturing toward the bed in way of explanation.
“Why, no doubt them ferret-cranky-imp fellows on the east slope got ‘em bound up in some nasty rock pile and that yellow bellied sheriff won’t even try to go after them because of the blow.”
Looking up and around, Patrick said, “Yes, it is quite a storm.” He clapped his hands and the bed and spyglass disappeared. With another clap, an armoire appeared in front of him, settled perfectly upon the snow.
“So you’re going to help?”
“Well, I can’t just let them suffer,” Patrick said as he opened the armoire, a row of identical, dark green suits hanging neatly in a row before him. Patrick chose one and hung it on a hook on the inside of the door. He inspected the suit thoughtfully and then clapped his hands once more. The suit was fitted upon him. The night clothes were neatly folded on the bottom shelf.
“Somehow I thought you’d take a might more convincing.”
“Nonsense, those girls are cousins on my mother’s side. I’m surprised no one came for me sooner.” Danny grunted and Patrick said, “Oh, yes, well, anyway, if you can show me where they were abducted, we can get started after them.”
Danny looked down to his feet again. “Well, I have to get to work, you know, got to make a living.” He tapped his tool bag affectionately and said, “I’m carving a bit of vine into that new alcove at the church.”
Brushing his dark hair in front of the mirror, Patrick stopped suddenly and said, “Goodness! Shame on you, Danny. What would Father Thomas say about that?” Finished grooming, he retrieved his walking stick from the armoire, a carved Hawthorne spike with a silver head, and closed the doors.
“Oh, all right, I can take you down there, but then I got to go.”
Patrick clapped his hands and the armoire disappeared. “Flying is going to give us trouble and there isn’t time to teach you how to walk on the snow, so I’ll have to hold your hand as we run.”
“What?” said Danny, swallowing hard. “Me, run all that way?”
“Certainly, it might even do you some good,” Patrick said.
“If the Good Lord had meant faeries to run, He wouldn’t have given us wings.” Danny nodded deferentially toward Patrick saying, “Begging your pardon, of course.”
“Yes, yes that’s all very funny to be sure. By the by, you didn’t happen to bring a spot of breakfast with you?”
Danny’s face colored and he bit his lip. “Ah, no.”
“So Misses Malone didn’t give you a few of her famous sticky buns to share with a man who spent the entire night out in the cold?” Patrick said, smiling.
Danny reluctantly pulled a packet of waxed paper from his tool bag and handed it over. “All right, there you go. I was saving that for my lunch.”
“Thank you,” Patrick said, holding up the pastry like a prize won at the county fair before shoving it into his mouth. “A man needs his strength.”
The wind blew fiercely through the hardwoods as they ran, Danny’s bag of tools clanking dully like cowbells, his stomach bulging comically as he tried to keep up. Even still, they made good time as they ran, due in part to their faerie craft of speed and in part to the fact that they were going steeply downhill.
“Here it is,” Danny finally announced as they came to the spot where the girls had been taken captive.
“Good, thank you,” Patrick said, releasing Danny’s hand. Shocked at the swiftness with which he began to plummet into the snow, Danny gave a sort of panicked scream. Patrick casually grabbed him by the arm and set him on top of the drift next to him, saying, “Yes, you will have to use your wings again unless you want to end up at the bottom, not that it wouldn’t make us even for this morning.”
Though with difficulty, Danny did manage to maintain his position by the frantic beating of his wings. “Oh, come on now Patrick, that’s not like you to hold a grudge.”
Stepping toward the center of the meadow, Patrick put his walking stick under his arm and retrieved the spyglass from the breast pocket of his jacket. Flipping open the spyglass, he began inspecting the meadow, the trees that surrounded it, and then an invisible line across the valley and up the mountains on the far side. “Got you,” Patrick said to himself.
“I don’t know how you can see anything with all the snowin’ and blowin’ that’s been going on.”
“Let’s take a look from the rocks over there. You think you can make it by yourself?”
“I’ll do my best, but I thought that since you’ve got it all figured out that I’d be on my way. Got that carving to do, remember?”
“Yes, but stay a while, would you? I shan’t keep you long.”
When they were safely upon the rocks, Patrick produced a violin. It was made of dark wood and the strings were of silver. Upon the violin he played a long, sad melody, somehow reminiscent of wolves howling in the light of the moon. It wasn’t long before the melody was answered by the cry of a real wolf, a great, shaggy, gray monster of a male running at full speed into the meadow. Patrick put the violin away and ran down over the snow to meet it.
“That’s the way!” Danny shouted excitedly. “I knew you wouldn’t let a silly thing like a snowstorm stop you.”
In the center of the meadow the two met, neither slowing as Patrick took hold of the long fur above the paw on the wolf’s front leg. Off the wolf ran like a streak, right toward the rocks where Danny hovered, Patrick hanging on with one hand as they went.
Danny exclaimed, “Good going Patrick, you go get…” but he never finished what he was saying, for as he and the wolf passed by, Patrick grabbed Danny by the shirt collar and brought him along.
“What? Let me go,” Danny protested as he thrashed wildly to get free.
Patrick gave him a few good shakes, saying, “Calm down, Danny, I need you to come with me. I need your help.”
“But I’ve got work to do.”
“Nonsense, you wouldn’t leave me to face those imps by myself, would you? There must have been quite a lot of them to catch four faerie girls full of mischief, probably a witch or two amongst them too, don’t you think? I can’t take care of all that without help.”
Danny was quiet for a long time. Finally, he said, “Oh, well now, I didn’t think of it like that. Sorry, Patrick, I’ll give you a hand if mine are any good.”
“You’ll do just fine, I’m sure.” With that, Patrick gave Danny a light flip, landing him smartly onto the wolf’s back. With a little climbing, he came there himself, and they were off.
“That will be the spot,” Patrick said, putting the spyglass back into his pocket. They had traveled until the gray sky began to fade. Darkness was beginning to settle about the land. The air had grown even colder and the wind and snow came harder as the day progressed. He whispered something to the wolf, and they stopped. Giving the animal an affectionate pat on the head, he said, “Home with you now. You have pups to look after and no business with the troubles here.”
Off the wolf ran, leaving Danny and Patrick alone behind a thicket of lilac, stripped bare of leaves, its bones pointing toward the darkening sky. Danny said, “Why did you send him away? A magnificent beast like that would have scared the gooseberries out of them.”
“It’s not his fight,” Patrick said, carefully smoothing the wrinkles from his jacket. “Besides, they’ll be down in those barrows and there’s not much a wolf can do about that.”
The faeries made their way behind a clump of tall grass not yet wholly disfigured from the raging storm and they watched the heap of stones beneath which the Ferikrakneh imps had made their home. The spyglass to his eye, Patrick said to Danny, “It looks quiet but there are two guards up there. Even if we use our faerie craft to make ourselves invisible, this storm is sure to give us away.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“In a quarter of an hour, the evening meal will be brought to them. When their grog is being poured, the man will slip and break the jug. In the confusion we should be able to get into that near tunnel undetected.”
“But how do you know that?” insisted Danny.
Patrick lifted the spyglass, “This shows me what will happen.”
“Then what did you see in the meadow?”
“It also shows me what has happened.”
Interested and much impressed, Danny asked, “Oh, and how’s it work?”
Patrick gave a wink and a nod in reply, saying, “Faerie magic.” He folded the spyglass and put it into his pocket and said, “You’ll have to keep a firm hold on the tail of my jacket so we don’t get separated in there. Take my hand now. Be ready.”
Just as predicted, the accident occurred. The two guards jumped up insulted and angry at having been splashed with the foul smelling drink. Patrick and Danny quickly treaded the distance from the clump of grass to hole at the foot of the barrow. Safely inside, the storm that would have given them up soon covered what little signs were left of their passing.
The tunnel was low and roughly made and in several spots had caved in, though now that the winter had come, it was solid if not entirely safe. Along with the fallen soil, there was a general clutter on the floor, old bones, stones, sticks, hair, half burned logs, but Patrick and Danny were able to make their way quickly enough, and by using their faerie craft of invisibility they were unmolested by the few imps who passed them by. They came to a wide chamber, lit with torches, with a human skull at the far end. In an eye socket a guard slept, the jawbone raised as the gate.
“Ugh,” Danny said, unable to hide his disgust, “how horrible.”
Patrick said, “Don’t let it frighten you. The kings of men were buried here. They believed that the end of the world would come with the setting sun and so they were put here to watch and wait. The fashion as I understand it has changed, and so now, when they have a proper burial, men face the east.”
“Still, how are we to get through?”
After a thorough inspection of the chamber, Patrick pulled a lever that was hidden in a dark corner and the jaw lowered, allowing them passage over sharpened teeth. “Come on, but careful,” Patrick said in a whisper, leading the way.
It was nearly an hour later when they found what they sought, a room deep within the barrow. A foul smell preceded their steps as they neared it. The heavy, wooden door was wide open and there was the red glow of firelight from within. Patrick kept to the wall as he crept closer to the door, leading Danny over the littered floor.
“How much longer?” the deep, rough voice of Popna complained.
Kekna replied, “Just a few more ingredients, all at the proper time, and the potion will be done. Have something to eat and leave me to my work.”
“And let you start the fun without me, not likely. What we got to do all this for anyway? You marked them, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but the mark’s not good enough. The mark’s not permanent,” Kekna said. “The potion will take all the fight out of them. We don’t want them remembering any of their faerie tricks, do we now?”
“I don’t see why all the fuss for just one. Why don’t you let me get at her?” said Popna silkily. “It’ll be all right.”
“An angry faerie is a terrible thing. She’d free the others before you could blink twice and then there’d be real trouble.”
As the imps spoke, Patrick and Danny came to the verge of the doorway. Inside they saw all manner of smoking beakers, bubbling flasks, and a single cauldron of black iron boiling upon a raging fire. The Lynch girls were chained against the far wall and looked as though they were sleeping peacefully. The larger of the two imps was carefully sniffing each of them, while the other was bent over the cauldron, stirring the mixture and adding ingredients as his art required.
Easing himself into the room, Patrick saw the strange symbol on each girl’s forehead and understood what must be done to thwart the magics that held them there. Danny followed, but his feet were not so used to walking, nor were they so nimble, and he kicked a heavy clod of dirt as he went. The clod broke into pieces, rolling a short distance into the room before coming to rest.
“What was that?” said the sharp eared Kekna in alarm, sweeping his blacked finger toward the noise. Patrick felt dark magic taking hold of him, but turned it away. Danny grew instantly visible. Kekna shouted, “There he is!”
“I’ll get him,” Popna said, grabbing his spiked club and racing toward the spot where Danny stood, dumbfounded.
Kekna drew a circle in the air and with a flick of his finger, tossed a ball of red fire toward Danny. Patrick reappeared, and with the silver head of his walking stick, swept the fireball into the chest of the unlucky Popna. The tall imp cried in agony as his entire body burst into flame. A flash of silver light streaked across the room. Kekna yelped in pain and grasped the stump of an arm, black blood gushing, the hand that held the magic finger neatly severed.
“Danny! Goodness me, what a shot,” Patrick said, walking over to the wounded imp. He flicked some of his dust into the imp’s face, sending him to sleep, then sent a bit more onto his hand, healing the wound. He said, “Well, that should leech the bad magic out of him. He’s going to have to find a new line of work, I’m afraid.”
“Better than what happened to his friend,” Danny said, stepping gingerly around the still burning corpse.
“Wow, that’s amazing how you threw that long, pointy, sharp sort of…”
“They call that an axe, hot shot,” Danny said with wink and a nod. “And I use it so rarely that I’ve thought to leave it home on more than one occasion. I’m a detail man, you know, leave the rough work to the young ones.”
“It has earned its place now.”
“I should say so.”
There was a book on a rude stand near the cauldron. Polishing the head of his walking stick with a lace handkerchief, Patrick studied its pages with a frown and, with a flick of faerie dust, burned the evil thing to a cinder.
“Now for the girls,” he said, releasing his dust in a broad arc. The mark on the girl’s foreheads disappeared, their chains fell away. In moments, they began to awake.
“Yes, good to see you unharmed,” Patrick said with a laugh, the starlight in his eyes shining brightly. “We took care of two of them for you, but you may have the others if you like. Might I suggest something in a nice shade of toad?”
Author Bio: Mike Phillips is the author of Reign of the Nightmare Prince and the soon to be released The World Below: Chronicles of the Goblin King Book One. His short stories have appeared in ParABnormal Digest, Cemetery Moon, Sinister Tales, The Big Book of New Short Horror, World of Myth, Dark Horizons, Mystic Signals and many others. Online, his work has appeared in Darker, Lorelei Signal, Midnight Times, and Fringe. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series.