Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Seven League Boots, Ogre, The Southern Witch, ORC! The Changeling.

Book 1 Seven League Boots, Book 2 Ogre!, Book 3 The Southern Witch. Book 4 Orc! Book 5 The Changeling.

The Seven League Boots.
Chapter 1.
Tam O’ Shadow was a Leprechaun and an accomplished shoemaker, as were many of his kind. All the mysteries of leather were at his skilled hands. In those ancient days there existed a rift between the lands of faery and the human world. In those days it was easy to make a portal from one world to the other and humans seeking adventure and faery gold would enter the enchanted land to try their luck.  
Shamus O’Brian was the youngest son of the new king of the Celts who had sailed across the Irish Sea and landed on the fabled shores some centuries ago. He had listened to the stories told in the great hall of the strange lands that co-existed with the lands of his people. Riches were to be found there if you only had the courage to enter and seek in the enchanted world of Faery. At all times it had been impressed on those who might chance their luck to be respectful to all of the inhabitants or lay themselves in mortal peril.
At last the time had come that the full moon had risen and was shining through the dolman that had been placed at the entrance of the wild wood. Two great stones had been driven into the earth by a giant, who had then placed a obelisk across the tops to make the portal. Shamus stood and gazed in wonder at the strange land he could see beyond the entrance. The view he could see through the portal was in daylight and Shamus quickly walked through the great arch and into the enchanted land.
He had packed food and water to make sure that while he was inside the Faery world he would not eat or drink any of the produce that existed there. There was one thing that he had brought to trade and that was a large earthenware sealed pot of Poteen, as he had heard that the ‘Wee Folk’ were very fond of it.
Shamus had heard that it was said that every Leprechaun has a pot of gold, hidden deep in the Faery side of the Irish countryside. To protect the leprechaun’s pot of gold the Irish fairies gave them magical powers to use if ever captured by a human or an animal. Such magic an Irish leprechaun would perform to escape capture would be to grant three wishes or to vanish into thin air!
Leprechauns are also very keen musicians who play tin whistles, the fiddle and even the Irish Harp and various other Irish traditional instruments. They are known to have wild music sessions at night which in Ireland are known as Ceili’s with hundreds of Irish leprechauns gathering to dance, sing and drink.
The leprechaun is fond of drinking Poteen, moonshine and will gleefully trade for it at the right price as the powerful drink will not distil in the enchanted lands into the fiery spirit that can only be brewed in the mortal world. With these few scraps of knowledge, Shamus O’Brian made his way through the active portal and for a few moments his ginger hair stood on end.
All around him the vision of the magic Kingdom was somehow sharper that the world that the human had just left. Shamus could instantly understand why those some of who had ventured here never came back! He shouldered his rucksack and strode along the path that led from the dolman into the enchanted wood. There was only one path in and one path out so the young boy had no fear of becoming lost.
Meanwhile Tam O’ Shadow was putting the finishing details into the pair of boots that he had made from the dragon’s wing that Queen Mab had given him. He sat on a small three legged stool, soaking up the sunshine on the steps of his tiny thatched cottage. His cutting tools were made from obsidian, bound onto sturdy bones with sinew. His hammers were a combination of immensely hard wood for the mallet on springy willow handles. The sewing threads were spun from dragon sinews and spider webs specially bred to produce a stronger platted fibre. What nails were needed were collected from special thorn trees that grew in abundance as a fence around his garden.
He surveyed his handiwork and gave a grunt of approval, holding each boot up to the light to make sure that all knots were sound, before he wove the spell into the very fabric of the boots. Mab had not told him who the boots were to be worn by, so Tam made them to stretch to fit any foot, faery, human or troll. He inserted the leather laces and in doing so enforced the spell that would give the wearer the ability to cover seven leagues at one stride, making sure that they would not come off when the spell became active.
Satisfied, Tam O’ Shadow reached for his fiddle and took it out of its case. He stroked a block of resin over the horse-hair bow and tightened the string. Next he tuned the fiddle, re-tightening all five strings, unlike a human violin that only had four. Soon the sounds of un-Earthly melodies filled the enchanted woods as Tam began to play.
Shamus could not but listen, entranced, as his ears filtered the merry sounds of jigs and fairy dances into his brain. The sound of the fiddle drew him onwards until he walked up the path leading to Tam O’ Shadow’s cottage. There he saw a tiny, well-dressed man no bigger than a baby sat upon a three-legged stool playing a fiddle surrounded by his tools and scraps of leather. In front of the leprechaun there danced in time to his music the finest pair of boots that Shamus had ever seen. Sometimes they were the size of the tiny man’s feet and sometimes they were larger than he would have found them to be comfortable on his own. The young man coughed to make the little man aware of his presence.
Tam stopped his merry tunes and immediately the boots were still.
He smiled at the human and said, “Hello young man. You look as if this is your first time in our wondrous lands. You came through the portal at the edge of the whispering wood?”
“I did that, sir. All along the pathway I could hear the sound of the trees as they watched me use the path. I was careful not to walk off the flagstones that lead to your home. And yes, this is my first time here. My name is----” answered Shamus.
The leprechaun leapt off his stool in horror and said, “Do not tell me your name young man. Names can be used as symbols of power whilst you are here. I have no need of a slave and that would be your fate should you tell me your name. What is your intent in this magic land?”
“I am the youngest son of the present king and have no position to speak of so I have taken a chance with my future by coming here, hoping to return with something of value,” replied Shamus. “Thank you for the warning kind sir. I have much to learn about this place. Would you give me some instruction in exchange for a tot of poteen?”
Tam O’ Shadow spat upon his hand and offered it to the human and said, “Shake my hand and the deal is done. I have not tasted the nectar of your people in many a long year. It would be most welcome.”
Shamus bent down and offered two fingers of his hand to seal the bargain and then reached into his rucksack to produce a large earthenware jar firmly sealed with a wax covered lid. He also produced a pair of small ceramic pots and set them upon the three-legged stool. Once he had broached the lid of the container, he poured a generous amount into both cups.
“Your good health my human friend,” Tam toasted and sipped the fiery poteen, making it last while Shamus only pretended to drink his all down.
He poured another and asked, “This can all be yours if you have something of value to exchange for the contents as well as information about your homeland?”
Tam O’ Shadow eyed the cup of poteen sat upon his stool and reached for it and nodded. As the evening drew near the leprechaun steadily emptied the jar and filled the human’s mind with wonders and the does and don’ts of the faery realm.
Eventually Shamus asked the tiny man, “What is it that you do in this isolated cottage?”
Now well inebriated Tam O’ Shadow replied, “Why, young man I am shoe and bootmaker to the great Queen Mab. What you saw here that was dancing to my fiddle, was a pair of Seven League Boots. They give the wearer the ability to travel seven times the distance that a man could walk in an hour with each stride. That would be three miles times seven. I have made them to fit any size foot. Give the command ‘Stride’ and each step will carry you across the lands at a speed that cannot be matched! I am the finest boot-maker in all the four lands,” he boasted and fell onto the scraps of leather that were all that was left of the dragon’s wing. A steady snoring sound filled the air as the sun began to drop down behind the trees.
Shamus O’Brian quickly made his way to the entrance of the tiny thatched cottage and peered inside. He managed to insert his arm into the kitchen where the stove had long burnt out and dug underneath the range with his finger until he scraped up a pot easily the size of the one he had brought the poteen into the faery world. He dragged the pot into the fading daylight and cracked it open whereupon a cascade of small gold coins fell into his hands. Soon there were thousands of the coins still emptying out of the pot. He emptied his rucksack of all of his food and drank up the water that he had brought. He would not need them now as a few strides with the magic boots would soon get him back to the dolman and once through the portal he would be home. The inhabitants of the enchanted lands would not follow him there as magic was unpredictable in the human world.
He took off his old leather boots and picked up one of the leprechaun’s newly made ones and marvelled as the boot expanded to fit his much larger foot. He pulled it on and carefully tied up the laces so that the boot would not come off as he strode over the land. Next he did the same with the other one and stood up. Shamus strained to pick up the rucksack full of gold and turned to face the way he had come and gave the command ‘Stride’ to the boots.
When Tam O’ Shadow awoke in the morning he saw the blood and guessed what had happened. The rucksack was on the ground with what was left of the human by its side. One leg was missing as it was seven leagues away with the other boot firmly laced to the torn off leg.
Tam wryly smiled and spoke to the empty air, “The command is ‘Stride,’ but you have to jump with your feet firmly together or one leg gets left behind.”
With that Tam O’ Shadow picked up his tools, gathered up the fairy gold and went inside to await the queen’s arrival for the boots.

Chapter 2.

Tam O’ Shadow picked up his gnarly stick, selected a red tartan cap and placed it upon his ginger haired head. He had cleaned the blood-stains off the leather surfaces of the seven league boots after given the command to return. The two parts of the unlucky human he had buried under the roots of the apple-tree at the back of his cottage. There they would fertilise the ground and feed the root system that sustained the tree. In time the boy would awaken inside the tree and learn to accept his new existence.
The Queen had changed her mind about visiting Tam’s cottage in the woods and had summoned him into her presence. She had not told him why and did not need to! It was enough that he was needed there with the results of his labours. The leprechaun laced the boots securely to his feet and let them adjust to his smaller size. With a wave of his hands he sealed the cottage windows and doors with poison ivy and thorny rambling roses. He took the human’s rucksack, filled it with the food that the boy had taken out and then shrank it to suit himself.
Tam buttoned up his coat and turned to face the direction of the queen’s palace, carefully placed his feet together and said, “Stride.”
The boots took him through the air seven leagues in the general direction of the palace. The boots gently put Tam O’ Shadow down into a clearing in the forest and he repeated the command. Once again the leprechaun found himself sailing through the air and did this over and over again until he could see the walls of the palace.
He landed on the road leading to the gates of the palace in full view of the guards and gave the command, “Be still.”
The magic inside the boots froze and he walked up to the guards and bowed to them.
“I am Tam O’ Shadow, bootmaker to the Queen. I am expected,” he said to the elf that was wearing her royal majesty’s star of office.
The guard looked down onto the leprechaun who only came up to his knees and replied, “Are you now? And why would I be believing a little chap like yourself? There are many who walk up to the doors of this palace full of their self-importance. Not that many pass through!”
Tam O’ Shadow sighed with annoyance and spoke to his boots, “Grow me and Kick him seven leagues into the woods to the East.”
With that Tam got taller and taller until he was a head and shoulders above the disrespectful guard. He drew back an enchanted boot and launched a full sized kick that lifted the elf rapidly out of sight. The other guards watched as he rapidly became a dot as he sped through the air and disappeared from sight towards the woods.
Tam turned to the wide-eyed men-at-arms and said, “As I said to your captain, I have business with the Queen! Will you let me pass?”
This time no-one attempted to stop the leprechaun and they opened the great double doors for Tam to enter. He knew the way, as he had been here many times before over the centuries, to meet with Queen Mab. She had asked for his help before in times of trouble and appreciated the skills that he possessed. The pixie shrank himself down to the same size as the elves and fairies, as to be too much taller than the Queen would be an insult and a breach of manners.
Those who knew him nodded and bowed as he passed by on rout to the throne room where Queen Mab had her audiences with those who came asking for help. He smiled and waved back to many of his old friends who had accompanied him on some of his extraordinary adventures carrying out the Queen’s wishes. ‘Mog the Troll’ lumbered forwards and extended a horny hand for Tam to shake it.
“It is good to see you again after all this time, old friend,” he boomed as he bent down to Tam’s height.
Tam shook him by a finger the thickness of his wrist and replied, “Gather your weapons old friend. I think we will be travelling again into danger. See me after I have seen the Queen, to find out all of what troubles her.”  
With that greeting over, Tam O’ Shadow made his way into the Queen’s audience chamber where she was awaiting his appearance. Tam bowed to his sovereign and removed his hat, dropping to one knee. The rays of sunshine streaming through the stained glass windows bathed her in radiant multi-coloured lights. Her eldritch beauty made his heart pound in his chest. She was dressed in a white toga that allowed her transparent, silvery wings to burst through the fabric at the back. Ebony hair framed her face and hung down to her waist. A streak of pure silver divided her head into three locks of hair and was tucked back under her crown to cascade down her back between her wings. A large chain-linked golden belt was strung around her middle pulled tightly above her hips.
“Enter Tam O’ the Shadows and be easy in my presence,” Queen Mab said in a voice that floated through the air, rich in melodies that made the leprechaun a little dizzy.
“My Lady! You called and I came,” he replied. “I have constructed the boots as you requested and have brought them to you to be steeped in the magic that only you can possess. I have placed all the enchantment that I can wield into the very fabric of the boots, but I have a feeling that what you intend me to do will require much more.” 
“They will indeed, dear friend. Come you to me and I will do what will be necessary to enhance what you have begun,” and the Queen made a gesture to the pixie beckoning him to her side.
Tam found himself floating through the air until he stopped with the boots just inches from her face. She laid her hands upon the polished leather of the seven league boots and spat on each boot. Next she rubbed her spit into the leather until it disappeared and the leprechaun felt the queen’s power flow into him through the boots. As it filled his body and mind, just as quickly the magic flowed down again into the very fabric of the boots until it was needed.
“When you need it most, the magic will be there stored inside the boots at your command. Now I will tell you why I summoned you here and asked you to use your talents to make a pair of seven league boots. Humans have always wanted to explore this enchanted world and return to their world with fairy gold. They return and tell stories of the riches that are here and can be won by great acts of bravery,” she said as she gently placed him back onto the ground.
Tam frowned and replied, “I recently had a visitor from the human lands before I came here. He gave me a jar of the poteen and I could not stop drinking the fiery nectar until it was all gone. Whilst I slept he robbed me of my gold and used the boots to escape. Fortunately for me he had only the scant knowledge of how to make the boots work and they killed him.”
The Queen stared at Tam and laughed, “He did not keep his feet together?”
“I’m afraid not and he left an awful mess behind most of him. I buried him beneath an enchanted apple tree where he will one day wake to his new existence.”
Queen Mab scowled, glaring at Tam and with a hiss of anger she cried, “Humans! Soon I will be forced to close the gates into this world and keep them out to prevent the damage that they do. A band of treasure hunters have made their way into my realm and travelled north into the lands of ice. They have awoken something that I buried under the ice eons ago. It is ‘Knorrd’ the last of the dragons that we laid to rest under a great glacier. Thinking that there would be gold near a dragon’s lair they dug down to where he lay frozen stiff. They caused an avalanche that sheered through the glacier right down to the very roots. After the removal of the snow and ice had exposed him to the sun, he struggled out of his tomb and into the empty wastes. He made short work of the humans that had opened what should have been his final resting place. Fortified with that meal he took to the air and is seeking the females that I also buried deep beneath the ice. I want him dealt with before he finds those females and we have a mass hatching on our hands. I have given you enough magic to be able to bring him down. Do not waste it! Gather yourself a band of brave individuals and make your way north to the snowy wastes at the fringes of my domain. There you will find him searching for his mates.”
Tam O’ Shadow did not protest. He bowed to the Queen and kissed her hand to seal the quest and his devotion to her cause.
“My Lady! My Queen! I can think of nothing worse than a plague of dragons. Your wish is my very purpose in life. I will do as you have asked. I have a few stanch companions in mind, along with others that would heed your call,” the leprechaun replied and turning round he walked away from her audience chamber, deep in thought, already beginning to map out the beginnings of a plan of action.

Chapter Three.

Tam shut the chamber doors behind him and looked around the banqueting hall. There was always food on the table, most of it baked by gnomes in the castle ovens. These people were masters of the art of cooking and knew all of the culinary uses of the herbs and wild plants of the enchanted forest. They also knew about the preparation of all living things as what to eat and what to avoid. The leprechaun looked at the mound of meat and vegetable pies and helped himself to several of them. They were just as good as they looked and as he ate he watched Mog the Troll empty a platter of spice laden pasties as he made his way towards the pixie. The peppery breath reached him long before the Troll ambled to where Tam sat. Already his eyes were watering as Mog sat on the floor close by.
“We have a quest of some difficulty, old friend,” he said and explained what the Queen had singled him out to do, first getting his giant friend to breathe to the side.
Mog grabbed a large handful of pies and proceeded to engulf them as well, as he listened to Tam O’ Shadow’s tentative plans.
“We will need a knowledgeable cook to see to our provisions and to be able to live off the land. I’m sure that there may be a more adventurist soul working in the kitchen that might be prepared to risk his life for his Queen? What thinkest you, Mog”
The Troll laughed and pointed to a bearded gnome who was still dark haired and more middle aged than the usual cooks working in the castle kitchens, who was loading up a platter with fresh pies.
In a booming voice he said, “I spoke with him while you were with her majesty and said that there could be an adventure that we might be travelling on when you re-appeared. He was keen to go. Arifan,” he bellowed across the hall and beckoned the gnome towards Tam O’ Shadow.
The gnome wiped his hands in his apron and hurried over and asked, “This troll said that you might be going on a quest for the Queen? Tell me what you are about and I might just be daft enough to join you!”
Tam told him and saw a look of pure fear cross the gnome’s face when he mentioned the escaped dragon. What impressed the leprechaun was that the gnome soon controlled his fear and stretched out his hand to shake his to seal the commitment.
“I will take a travelling sack and fill it well, Tam O’ the Shadows,” the gnome declared and disappeared into the kitchens.
The two old friends ate and drank while they waited for their new companion to return. Tam searched the crowd for another likely member to recruit into their company and caught sight of another old travelling companion that he had not seen in over a century. Jessop was a winged elf. He had the use of his arms like any normal elf, except that he could extend his little fingers from their folded position to support a leathery set of wings. He was dressed in such a way that the folds of skin would disengage themselves from his sides to make a large canopy once he extended his fingers.
The leprechaun stood up and shouted across the hub-bub, “Jessop old friend! Good flying to you and a fair wind to catch your wings. You look bored! Come and join me here at this table and hear what I propose as a worthy quest.”
A smile suffused the elves brown face and he made his way through the busily eating crowd with his arms wide open.
He wrapped his arms around Tam’s upper body and lifted him off the ground with ease and said, “Tam O’ the Shadows, what have you got yourself into now. Tell me all about it. Whatever you are going to do, count me in! I am bored and crave some excitement.”
Tam rapidly told him of the Queen’s expressed need and the dangers of the quest that lay before them. As he was doing so the gnome, Arifan re-appeared dressed for the outside and carrying a travelling sack belted around his waist. With him was a female gnome similarly dressed and also carrying a travelling sack.
“This is my partner, Aisled. She insisted on coming with me on this quest, dragon or not! I can assure you she is tougher than she looks and can use a blade when needed,” Arifan stated and stood with her by his side.
‘Mog the Troll’ laughed and extended his little finger for her to shake and said, “If she cooks as well on the trail as she does in the kitchens, then she is welcome to come with us. Better by far that we collect those who want to go than those who would become reluctant to finish the job!”
Tam O’ Shadow smiled and took her hand in his and said, “Welcome Aisled. Join our band if you so desire, but be warned that we will not be coming back until this quest is fulfilled.  Knorrd will die, or we will fail and we will die.”
The leprechaun turned away and led the way out of the castle.

Once outside, Tam said to the boots, “Grow ten times!”
He began to increase in size until he towered over the members of the company and bent down to put them all into his pockets making sure that the troll was in a pocket on his own lest he crush any of the others of the band.
“Stride,” he ordered and keeping his ankles together he bounded in seven league hops across the hills and dales towards the goblin town of Little Creek where he hoped to find a blacksmith that would join his band and make a dragon lance of pure iron.
The closer he got to Little Creek, the more roads he could see connecting small holdings to a main road leading to the goblin township. A river snaked its way through the settlements and busy boat traffic was in evidence, moving goods up and down the river. Centuries ago the river may have been a creek, but now the goblins had damned the out-fall so that it was now a broad canal that eventually spilled over the horseshoe dam in a cascade, on its way towards the Sea of Dreams. Tam had not been this way for many years since the Troll Wars had come to a finish. It was said that a band of Trolls had destroyed a Faery Dell, not realising that such places were set up by the elves and pixies as reservoirs of magic. They had burnt some of the trees and torn out the stones of power to build a shelter while they explored the bounty of the nearby enchanted forest.
The faerie folk had reacted badly to this act, as to their eyes, it was a sheer act of vandalism of something that the elves held sacred and had to be avenged. Old grudges came to the front and an army of elves descended on the grove and a bloody battle was fought until one of the Trolls ripped the head off the elfin leader and used his corpse as a club. From hand to hand fighting the fight moved to the elves using arrows and although they could not kill the Trolls they inflected great pain. Both side retreated from what was left of the sacred Grove and went home to tell their version of the incident. This resulted in a lasting set of skirmishes between the two peoples. In the end it was Queen Mab who took a hand and froze the combatants in time and questioned them one by one, persuading them to understand the real reason of the war was a lack of understanding. Those whose minds were still set in patterns of vengeance and hatred she changed. Once the faerie Queen had entered the minds of these unfortunates all thoughts of violence dissipated like mist in the wind.
He stopped and surveyed the way into the goblin township, took his companions out of his pockets and set them onto the stony road. He ordered the boots to remake him to his normal size. He then scrambled up the troll’s large stony frame and sat upon his shoulders.
Tam O ‘Shadow looked down on the members of his band and said, “We should enter the township of Little Creek bearing gifts. From past experience I know that all goblins enjoy spicy food laced with extra pepper and chillies. Can you find something of the sort my gnomish friends in those travelling sacks?”
Aisled rummaged around in the depths of the sack and produced a basket full of pasties that were still hot and filled the area with the smell of fresh baking. Travelling sacks worked on the same principle as the leprechaun’s pot of gold. There was more room inside that out! Also time stopped inside so any food put in the sack came out as fresh as when newly baked.
She closed the lid firmly upon the tightly packed pasties and said, “A good batch of well spiced goodies that would tempt any goblin’s fancy. I think that this would entice any goblin to be helpful.”
Arifan lifted the basket onto his shoulders and the gnome made his way towards the township followed by the rest of the band. It did not take them long before they came upon the moat that surrounded the township. Here it was that the gnomes had their hatcheries and bred the carp that they grew on to prodigious sizes. A large drawbridge rattled down and a crowd of green faces soon appeared.
One of the goblins stood in the centre of the bridge and waved them forwards saying, “Welcome travellers, welcome. To what do we owe the honour of your company? I am the mayor of Little Creek all are welcome here particularly if you have something to trade?”
Aisled opened the basket that was strapped to her husband’s shoulders and let the aroma of the spicy pastries waft towards the leader of the town. His large green nose began to twitch as he caught the scent and he mopped his mouth with his handkerchief as it began to dribble.
“Excuse me, but what have you brought in that basket? I have never smelt something so appealing! Whatever you want in exchange, it’s yours,” he exclaimed.
“We have foods and spices that are from Queen Mab’s castle,” Arifan said and waved the diminutive form of Tam O’ Shadow forwards to stand in front of him. Our leader would have words with you and offer a trade.
The goblin looked down at Tam with curiosity and said, “You are one of the little people! A leprechaun! I have heard of your kind, but I have never seen any of you before. What can we do for you?”
“I need a private audience with you as what we need might be a sacrifice that you may not be willing to make.”
The mayor folded his long spindly fingers together and replied, “As you wish.”
“Boots! Give me a circle of silence to include the mayor and I”
A multi-coloured bell spun itself around the two and silence reigned.
In that bell Tam rapidly told the goblin of the threat to the realm of the awakened dragon and their part in its hopeful downfall. He also told him what they had hopefully come for at the goblin township.
“We need a dragon lance with an iron head. This is not only poison to all of the faerie except the goblins, but it is the only material that will kill a dragon. Queen Mab knows that you have a stone that fell from the sky. We need you to have it worked by a goblin smith and also with the courage to also use it. If you can do this the contents of the basket are yours.”
“We do not need the basket as trade for this request! If we can do this for Queen Mab then that is all the incentive we need. My son works the forge at this township and has passed on his knowledge to his apprentices. I will ask for a volunteer and my son will dig up the sky-stone and work it here and now.”
Tam sighed as he could see what would be the likely outcome and replied, “Those who go on this quest may never return. You may never see your son again as I know by the power of these boots that he will want to go. If he does will you let him?”
“If that is to be his destiny, then it will be as the fates decree! Take off the bell of silence and I will go and talk to my son,” the mayor stated and walked away through the main gates and into the street behind the walls.
‘Mog the Troll’ picked up Tam and sat him on his shoulders and followed the mayor along with Jessop, and the two gnomes. After a short walk they saw the mayor enter a building that had a good fire going inside it and sparks flew out of a stone chimney into the air. The sound of hammering suddenly stopped and it all went silent. Mog put the leprechaun down and they waited for the mayor and his son to appear.
The doors into the forge were pulled back and the biggest goblin they had ever seen walked into the light. He was a s green as his father, but from there all was different. The goblin, slim build of the mayor was not reflected in the physique of his son. He had strong stubby fingers, totally unlike his father’s spindly hands. He was as bald as his father and his ears were just as pointed, but he must have been twice the mass of the mayor.
“I’m coming with you,” he stated. “I could do with a dragon-skin apron. It will take me some days to work the iron sky-stone into a lance head and put an edge on it. I will need a strong piece of timber to make the shaft so that will be your task to find one. By the way, I’m called Matt-cinder. Who will I be travelling with?”
After names were exchanged the gnomes undid the lid to the basket and shared out the fiery pasties for the goblins while they found less spicy pies for the others. Mog liked the same food as the goblins, but did not eat quite so many as he usually would, leaving the majority to the mayor, his son and the apprentices. 

Chapter Four.
       
That morning while Matt-cinder stoked the forge and kept the fire white hot, working the bellows in shifts by his apprentices, Tam was taken on a tour of the town by his father, the Mayor. Soon the sound of the hammer rang out as the goblin smith worked the nickel-iron meteorite in the flames. Every scrap of metal that was discarded from the main body of the lance-head was carefully put aside to be re-worked later. The goblins had developed a new weapon using the principle of the bow and combining it with a stock and barrel that would shoot a fletched bolt, carrying a pointed head. The called it a cross-bow and even in the hands of a novice they were deadly accurate. Matt-cinder intended the bolts to be tipped with iron arrow heads. He had fashioned the first of these weapons many years ago and had refined the original one that was his, many times as ideas came to his mind.
These were what the mayor was eager to show Tam O’ Shadow on his tour of the township. Unfortunately because of the iron content that gave the bow its power and spring, they could not be used by the other members of the quest. Nevertheless the accuracy and power of the mechanised bow was soon demonstrated to the leprechaun.
“Every time a sky-stone falls, we send out a search party to collect them. We have been collecting them for centuries,” the mayor explained. “We are the only ones in this realm that can work the metal and it is much harder than anything else we have found. It keeps an edge on it far sharper then bronze and we prize it above all other metals. I warn you though do not allow yourself to be cut by the edge. When I was a boy an elf came to visit us and was fascinated by the knife that my father used. He handled the knife with great care, but tested the cutting edge on his thumb. He died that night with his body blown up to twice its normal size. So be warned. Treat the weapons my son will take, with great caution and do not handle them unless you really have to!”
“I hear you, Mayor. We will not take any risks,” Tam promised and asked, “Do you have any maps that will show us what to expect as we travel North?”
The goblin cupped his long chin in his hand and replied, “We have a few that have been given to the settlement by travellers that have passed through Little Creek. Some of them are centuries old and quite possibly out of date, but mountains do not move and rivers tend to stay put. Only towns get bigger over the years. Come along to my office and I will see what we can do. We have made many copies of all the maps that come our way. We even have maps drawn by humans that are very accurate, but are difficult to read because we cannot understand the runic symbols that have been etched into the skins. Nevertheless they are pictorially correct and most of the places listed on the maps are self-evident except that most of them are not to any scale. There is however marks that seem to correspond to distance. All you need is a human that can read them!”
“I may have the answer to that conundrum,” the leprechaun answered and added, “Please find me as many maps as you can, including the human ones while I am gone. I will be gone at least two days.”
While the mayor retreated to his office to see what he might find Tam O’ Shadow returned to his friends to ask them if they would be willing to allow him to do what he had in mind and add to the company.
He found them wandering through the market section of the township, as the gnomes were on a collecting spree, storing herbs and spices along with the raw ingredients for cooking into their travelling sacks. ‘Mog the Troll’ and Jessop were just following the gnomes around the stalls. There were bewildering amounts of different weapons on show and Mog had traded one of his carvings for a length of chain with a heavy stone ball on each end. This he wrapped over his shoulder and under his other armpit with a leather strap holding the stone balls against his hip.
“My friends I have a great favour to ask of you all. The mayor has maps that show the terrain much further north and he is letting us have the copies of them, but the best ones are written by humans who have passed this way. The young man who tried to rob me, told me that he could read and write, having been taught by one of the elders in his tribe. I have a mind to offer him the chance to redeem himself, but to do this I will have to return to my home and resurrect him. I need some of the life-force that you all share to bring him back, as I cannot do this alone. If you agree, then I will offer him the opportunity to join our quest and be part of this company. Remember also that he can wield iron without being harmed by the touch of it. I think that he will be a valuable asset reading the maps and lending his strength to the quest,” Tam O’ Shadow stated and looked up from person to person.
Every one of members agreed and held their hand out. Tam fished around in his waistcoat pocket and produced a life-vessel. I was no bigger than a sparrow’s egg, but made of crystal and had been given to Tam by the Queen. Its properties were many, but the main power that resided in the heart of the crystal was pure life-force. This could mend the most serious injury or if enough life-force was introduced it could return someone from the realm of the dead. There was a fire deep inside that connected to the Queen, but to do what Tam wanted, he needed much more than just his power to generate a human’s resurrection, as they were definitely not of the faery folk and had such short lives. He placed the crystal in each of their outstretched hands and applied his will, drawing life energy into the stone. By the time all of the company had donated a small portion of their life-force the crystal pulsed with power.
“I will soon return,” the leprechaun promised. “I’m quite sure that the human will rather risk his life with ours, than become a tree.”
Tam gave the order to the boots and grew a half mile in height. Now he could indeed hop in seven league strides across the countryside and see where he was going and follow the road back to his cottage. It took no longer than the morning before his home came into sight. He shrank down to his normal size and made a gesture that drew the foliage away from the door. Tam entered and took his mended money pot from underneath the fire grid and shook out a goodly handful of gold coins of different sizes onto the oak table. These he carefully placed into an inside pocket and sealed the edges with a closing spell.
He now resealed the cottage with the poisoned ivy and the rambling rose with wicked thorns. Tam then walked around the back of the house to the garden where he had buried Shamus O’Brian under the roots of the enchanted apple tree.
“Are you there, Shamus? Have you learnt a better set of manners? I have a proposition to make to ‘thee,” the pixie said and the branches of the tree rustled.
Tam O’ Shadow sat down on a convenient stump and began to tell the entrapped human the offer that he was willing to make in return for his services. After he had finished, the apple-tree began to shiver and shake and a rasping voice made by squeaking the small branches together answered the leprechaun, “Yesss. I am sssorry for trying to sssteal from you, master O’ Shadow. Please give me the chance to make amendsssss.”
Tam nodded and pressed his hands upon the bark of the tree and gave the order, “Come forth, Shamus O’Brian from your wooden grave under this tree.”
A cloud of darkness enveloped the tree and the soil from round the roots began to swirl as something began to wriggle out of its tomb. It was the rotting corpse of the human, dragging his severed leg into the sunlight of the afternoon. There were hundreds of rootlets hanging from the boy’s body that was transferring energy into the enchanted tree. He looked like a hairy creature from the depths of Hell as earth began to fall from his mottled skin. The eyes had long gone and the mouth was full of beetles and burying creatures. The creature crashed upon the ground convulsing, unable to scream as his lungs were solid and rotten.  
Tam O’ Shadow took the life energy crystal and placed it inside the boy’s mouth and stood back to watch the transformation take place. The boy’s body began to come back to life and with the ability to draw breath he was able to scream through the pain. Tam had pity and laid his hand upon the boy’s forehead taking some of the pain into himself.
“Press your severed leg against the stump and it will heal along with the rest of you,” the leprechaun insisted.
Now that Shamus could see, as his eyes had regrown, he gathered up the torn off leg and pressed the raw stump to the tear above his knee. Skin grew along the severed leg and as it did so, the leg filled out with muscle with the blood once more coursing through the veins and arteries. The pain was intense, but began eventually to sub-side into pins and needles. Shamus got to his feet and stood up, shaking with the reaction. He then realised that his clothes were of little use, as they had been his shroud for a week and were filthy and encrusted with dried blood.
Tad looked up at the human and said, “Well young one, we can’t have you wandering the enchanted realm in the nude. I have clothes inside the cottage that will suit you. Oh, and I am sorry for the pain that you endured. There was nothing that I could do about that. The life you have has been borrowed from others that you will soon meet, but what they are, is now part of you. It will not last for ever. I cannot grant you that, but do well in this enterprise and who knows, Mab herself may grant you more years.”
“How can I wear your clothes? I am five times larger than you!”
“We will soon see about that, young Shamus. Touch my boots,” the leprechaun replied.
As soon as Shamus touched them, Tam made him the same size as himself and opened up the cottage again, ushering the human inside.
Tam pointed to a double-doored piece of furniture and said, “You will find clothes in that wardrobe, young man that will fit you now and will continue to do so when you resume your normal size. There are also plenty of boots for you to choose from, but I advise you not to try on the ones that I am wearing. It did not go well for you the last time you tried them on!”
“Master O’ Shadow I am grateful for what you have done and I promise that I will never try to steal from you again. I was desperate to be able to go home with something of value from this enchanted realm. I was the last born ‘prince’ of a large family and so had very little to thank my father for except my life,” the boy replied.
Tam looked deeply into the young man’s soul and found it honest, as he laid out some of the pies that Aisled had baked at Mab’s castle, on the oaken table.
“I expect that you are hungry young Shamus. Eat all that you need, for tomorrow we have a long way to travel for you to meet the others who have pledged themselves to this quest. You literally owe them your life, as each of them and I have donated some of our life energy enabling me to resurrect you. Be assured that all of us may die in this attempt to send Knorrd into oblivion. Either way, if you survive there will be no going back to your homeland. For the moment that you step through the portal, the magic that keeps you alive will dissipate and you will return to the state that I resurrected you from.”
While they ate Tam gave Shamus a quick history of Mab’s struggle with dragon-kind thousands of years ago. Knorrd was the last male dragon and was big enough to swallow a cow. Frozen under the ice where Mab had imprisoned him, his one thought was to find the females that the Queen had buried somewhere else. His goal was to fertilise as many females as he could and unleash a plague of dragons upon the enchanted realm.
“Humans let him out so it must be poetic justice that a human will be instrumental in destroying him,” Shamus stated as he sat himself into a large armchair and prepared to sleep.

Chapter Five.

Tam awoke in his bed and heard the sounds of dish washing taking place in the kitchen. A fire had been lit under the grid and a kettle was belching steam into the room. Shamus was at the sink cleaning the plates that they had used the night before.
The boy turned round and grinned at the leprechaun.
“Good morning Master O’ Shadow,” he said, “I would have got the two of us breakfast, but I did not think that I should go looking in that sack without your permission. So I have laid a fire and boiled a kettle just in case that would please you? I mean to earn my keep.”
“You will do much more than that when we meet Knorrd! Anyway you were wise not to open the travelling sack. Had you fallen in, then things could have been very strange for you. Inside a travelling sack all time is slowed down and anything placed inside will remain as fresh as the day it went in,” Tam explained. While I think about it, no harm will come to you for sharing your name with me now, as some of my life-force is keeping you alive. As for my name? Shall we just say that there is more of it than you know! Now eat and drink for we have many miles to go to reach the others of my company,” and the leprechaun scattered some aromatic herbs into the mugs of hot water, that he filled from the kettle.
After they had eaten their breakfast and left the cottage, Tam instructed the boy to touch the seven league boots while he instructed the boots to return him to his normal size. Shamus rapidly grew back once more along with his clothes, making the leprechaun tiny.
“Now young man I shall increase in size and put you in a pocket and then activate the boots to take us to the goblin township of Little Creek. You will see things that are far beyond your imagination. Be respectful! Do not wriggle around in the pocket as you may fall through the material. I may be many times bigger, but I will be the same weight as I normally am. Being taller than the trees will mean that I can see across the Whispering Wood and be able to use the Seven League Boots as they are meant to be,” Tam explained and started to grow and grow until he was indeed much taller than the trees.
He bent down and let Shamus scramble onto his hand, whereupon he transferred him to a pocket in his waistcoat, where he could look out as they travelled.
After five strides the boots had taken them a hundred miles in the direction of the goblin country and soon the buildings of Little Creek came into sight. The human was amazed at the amount of cultivation that the green people had managed to alter the landscape. Irrigation ditches carried the water from the dammed ‘Creek’ all across the fields and also drove water wheels that powered the mills, grinding the seeds they harvested into various flours. This was a level of mechanisation and land management far beyond the abilities of Shamus’s people.
Tad O’ Shadow caught sight of the other members of the expedition and stopped. He transferred the human to the ground and shrank to his normal size.
“Come and meet the other members of the group,” he said and led the way to where the others were waiting.
Shamus stared at the new ‘friends’ that he was soon to depend on. His life had been granted by them and he was duly thankful, but he could only stare at the Mog the Troll in amazement, as he stood nearly ten feet tall and his ‘skin’ seemed to be made of overlapping stones. He was totally naked except for various belts that carried a variety of weapons. He also had a long chain would around his neck and under his left shoulder that ended in two large stone blocks. The club he carried was a log that was the size of the human that had been thinned down at the base to be a handle. This was wrapped in leather making a loop that could be wound around the troll’s hand and wrist.
The Troll bent down to Shamus’s face level and boomed out, “I am Mog the Troll. Do not look so worried! Trolls do not eat people that they know and we shall be friends!”
The next strange sight was when he caught sight of the two gnomes who were standing by the Troll’s side each carrying what Shamus had come to recognise as a travelling sack. They were male and female, but unlike humans they both wore a beard and had pointed ears.
They smiled at the boy’s bewilderment and the male said, “I am Arifan and this is my wife, Aisled. We are gnomes! Welcome young man.”
There was a rush of wind and down from the skies dropped Jessop, who folded his wings and walked up to the boy and said, “I saw you coming with Tam O’ the Shadows using the very boots that killed you. My name is Jessop and I am a winged elf. You have much to learn and obviously Tam has told you of the peril that we will put ourselves through. Better this than being a tree?”
Tam pointed to the township and asked Jessop, “Has the goblin finished forging the lance head? Is he ready to depart?”
“Not quite, Tam. He has to do something that he calls tempering to make the head keep its toughness and also remain exceedingly sharp. He says that he should be ready to set out tomorrow and join our quest. His father, the mayor, has located a hardwood shaft to bind the head upon when we get to where the dragon is searching for its females. Until then Matt-cinder says that the lance head must be kept in an oiled sack to prevent it from corroding and to protect it from getting wet. This is something that I know very little about. The mayor however had found copies of the maps that they have written by humans so we could enter the township and let Shamus show us how to read them.”
“Time for you to earn your return from a wooden existence,” the leprechaun remarked and pointed again the goblin town of Little Creek and said, “Time for you to meet another member of this company, young Shamus, but first we will meet with his father and you will unravel the mysteries of the maps that show the lands further to the North.”                 
Shamus nodded and replied, “I am sure that I can read them, as they would have been written by my people that landed here over the centuries.” 
Shamus could not take his eyes from the wonders that he saw in the goblin township. The buildings were made of uniform stones all the same size and were several stories high. Some even towering over ten times his height! Later he was to find out that the buildings were made from bricks made in turn by the goblins. They used wood for the doors, window frames and upper floors and tiles on the roof instead of straw thatched together to keep the rain from dripping through. They also used glass to let light into the buildings and this was something that Shamus had never seen! These people were clever artisans and builders and were centuries in front of the human world.
All this filled the human with awe as he walked deeper into the town until they reached the mayor’s office and the map room. Here spread over the table top were all the maps that the goblins had saved over the many centuries including the human drawn maps.
Shamus O’Brian ran his finger over the runes and translated what he understood labelled against various objects that had been hi-lighted. What had amazed the young man was that he understood every word that the goblin spoke as well as the elvish tongue that the others of the company spoke. Tam had explained that as he was the recipient of the life-force of them all, certain abilities had ‘crossed over’ in his resurrection. It was not until he was called upon to interpret the runic symbols on the maps that he fully realised that fact.    
He quickly told the goblin what each hieroglyph represented and the mayor added a note in his own language against each mark. This took several hours and by the end of which, Shamus was mentally exhausted. Rather than stop, the mayor ordered food and drink brought to his office so that the human had no excuse to stop.
“You have done well, young human,” the goblin said and handed the young man an earthen mug filled with cool cider. “Drink this. You have done more to advance our knowledge of the Northern lands than we have managed to do for many, many years. These maps will be copied again, with goblin symbols against the landmarks as well as the runic symbols on the originals. What you have decided to undertake may well mean that we do not meet again Shamus and I am quite aware also that I may lose my son along with all of you. So I wish you good fortune and I will give you this artefact that has been handed down from father to son. Legend has it, that it is a Dragon Whistle that Queen Mab used to subdue the dragons before she buried them in ice. Whether that is true or not, I cannot tell, but who knows until you try it.”
Shamus stared down at the flute in his hand and could plainly see that this was once part of an elf’s leg-bone that had been shaped and holes bored along its length. He shuddered as he put it away in an inside pocket and muttered a sealing spell as Tam O’ Shadow nodded in approval.
“Right young man, is this not better than being a tree? You wanted adventure when you came here and that what you are going to get,” he laughed looking up at the boys thunderstruck face. “Now we must meet the next member of our company. He is a goblin smith and has been working on a sky-stone, forging it into a lance head. This is what we hope will kill the dragon as like the majority of those who live in this enchanted realm iron is a poison. It will not affect you as you are human, but such as I and the others of this band of heroes would die if we cut ourselves on its sharp edge.”
Tam led the way deeper into the township where Matt-cinder worked at his forge. They got there just as the goblin plunged the red-hot blade into a bucket of oil and then into water with a pair of long handled pliers. Shamus pushed his way through the onlookers and made his way to the forge. He stared at the lance head that the smith had produced and could feel it’s killing power from where he stood. The head had been hammered to a long point with two hooks pointing backwards at the shaft end. One inside the dragon, this lance would disengage from the shaft and make its way into Knorrd’s body and if it did not kill him immediately it would produce a festering wound that would ultimately kill him.
“You must be Matt-cinder,” Shamus said to the sweating goblin that stood before him. “I am called Shamus and I believe that only you and I can touch this metal that you have forged into a dragon killing lance head. So we do have something in common even though we look so different!”
“Is that so young Shamus? You must be the map reader that my father spoke about. You are also the one that made the mistake of stealing from a leprechaun! I hope that you have learnt a good lesson by now that there are many repercussions to be had, should you break unwritten laws,” the smith replied and handed the lance-head to the human.
Shamus turned the blade over and over in his hands and noticed the rippled edge running down the flattened part of the blade. This had been forged as part of the blade and not worn into the knife-edge with a grinding stone. Knowing something of smithy practise he took up a round stone and ran it up and down the rippled edge. Immediately a razor sharp edge began to fix along the blade.
“At the smithies that I have watched form steel swords, I have noticed that the blacksmiths always only partially put a sharp edge on the steel, as it was too easy to damage the edge when travelling. Only at the scene of battle would a warrior put the final edge on the blade. Until then they would prefer to carry the blade in sheathed. The sharpening stone would be carried with the blade in a separate pocket,” Shamus replied and gave a wry smile before he added, “I have learnt my lesson Matt-cinder and gave the lance-head back.
The goblin looked past the crowd at Tam O’ Shadow with some concern as he could see that all was not well with the leprechaun and walked towards him still carrying the iron blade.
Tam shouted, “Stop. Come no closer to me or the other members of the quest. That infernal blade is affecting me and the others that I brought here. It stills the magic in my bones. How in the nine halls of Hell can we get that blade to where we need it? The boots will not work if they are too close to that much iron. I must go outside the township walls and think about this problem. Follow us at a safe distance.”

Chapter Six

Tam O’ Shadow watched the approach of the goblin smith and the human as they followed the other members of the quest out into the countryside with anxious concern. The closer that they got to him the worse the effect manifested itself and he could feel the magic drain away from his soul. This was something that the leprechaun had not allowed for, as his experience with the poison metal was very slight. It would seem that as the mass of the iron increased its proximity to anything that relied on magic would be sucked away. The sky-stone was a very large piece of nickel-iron and after the goblin had beaten the impurities out of the rough lump he had managed to hammer the material even denser, thus increasing its properties. The off-cuts had been formed into arrow heads and fitted to the cross-bow bolts and these were small enough not to interfere with Tam’s magical abilities. Close proximity to them caused the leprechaun to feel an itch inside his mind that was irritating, but bearable.
He waved the lance-head carriers to a stop and gestured to them to place the weapon on the grass and then come and join the rest of the quest. The gnomes had fished around inside the travelling sack and found plenty of food that was still as fresh as when it had been taken out of the castle ovens. They had built a fire and brewed a herbal tea while they waited for the goblin and the human to catch them up. Once they had sat down and helped themselves to what food had been displayed, they waited for Tam to tell them what he thought they ought to do to get over the problem.
The leprechaun scratched his chin through his red beard and said, “Gentlemen all is not lost. While I cannot transport us to where we need to go by aid of the magic of the boots there are others that might be coerced into transporting us northwards. It will mean that I shall have to leave you for a while, so while I am gone continue to make your way north. I will take Shamus with me as he is a stranger to the enchanted realm and still has much to learn about survival here.  Matt-cinder you are the only one, other than Shamus here that can be the carrier of the lance-head. The effect of that blade upon me makes it impossible for me to travel with it in close proximity so I am about to call in an ancient debt to Queen Mab.
Mog, I am relying on you to protect Arifan, Aisled and Jessop as you travel. Matt-cinder will have to follow some distance behind the main party, or in front, but far enough that the iron does not adversely affect the others. Always keep each other in sight and avoid any confrontation while I am gone. We are needed far to the north, not here! So keep to the great North road and do not stray into the forest on each side. Keep well my friends and I will see you in a few days or so. Light a fire in the evenings so that I may find you,” the leprechaun insisted.  
The troll looked down on his friend and said, “As you wish it, so will it be, old friend. Once we are on the road we will soon find out how close we can tolerate the closeness of the iron blade. At nightfall Matt-cinder can hide the blade and stay with us during the night. We will have the benefit of his cross-bow should we be troubled by wolves or bears seeking an easy meal. Once the sun rises we can be on our way after breakfast and our smith can follow us at a safe distance behind.”
Jessop turned to Shamus and told him, “I know what Tam has in mind to do and it will require great courage from you. Over a thousand years ago towards the end of the Troll wars the Queen prevented the troll hoard from pillaging and eating the eggs of the Roc when they were driven into the mountains. She cast a misdirection spell that altered the course of the retreating and hungry Trolls, so that they did not find the nests of the Roc, whist they were hunting on the Great Plains. Had they found the unguarded nests, a whole generation of hatchlings would not have survived. As the giant birds only nest every hundred years they would have almost been wiped out as a species. Until you have seen a Roc up close you have no idea what fear can be. They are a bird of prey large enough to carry off a cow in each taloned set of claws. The curved beak is larger than you and could swallow you whole!”
Shamus stared at Tam in disbelief and asked, “Is what Jessop has told me true? Are we really going to ask for help from a giant bird?”
“As we have no other way of reaching where the dragon lives, we have no choice, young Shamus. So you and I are going to where these giant birds hunt and nest and as it is fast approaching nesting time it will be a good time to remind the Roc of their obligation. You wanted adventure. That’s why you came here or would you rather be a tree in my back garden? There’s a very good chance that we will be unharmed as the Roc are generally honourable creatures. Now make ready for we must be on our way.”
Shamus watched with some trepidation, as the leprechaun increased in height and climbed onto Tam’s outstretched hand. Once again he was transferred into the same pocket of the pixie’s waistcoat so that he could see out and remain safe.
“Look to the skies in a week or so,” the giant called out, “and if you see two colossal birds begin to circle above you, you will know that we have been successful! One will carry those of us sensitive to iron and the other one will carry Matt-cinder and the lance-head along with Shamus all the way to the lands of the dragon.”
With that Tam O’ Shadow put his feet together and began to make the first of many seven league hops. For some time they followed the path of the northern road that made its way through mile after mile of forest avoiding any towns that had settled where a river crossed the road. Shamus got out the maps that the mayor had given Tam and studied them for recognisable landmarks and found that there was a great deal of useful information scattered over them. One of the maps showed the glyphs for ‘bird’ and the one for ‘large’ repeated several times. This had to be the symbol for the giant Roc that humans had seen before. The hieroglyph for ‘death’ had been burnt into the map repeatedly and could only mean one thing. The next time the leprechaun stopped and shrank down to his normal size Shamus spread the map he was looking at and pointed out the glyphs burnt into the leather.
“Whoever made this original map took great care to point out that this area of the realm would be best avoided,” the human said and pointed to the mountain and a symbol that denoted high mountains along with the runic mark for extreme danger coupled with several indication of ice-fall. “What this means, I think is that this area is prone to avalanches. Looking at the glyph for the Roc, it would seem that they do not nest right at the top of the snow chain, but seek inaccessible and warmer places well beneath the ice sheets. From where we are now I believe that the magic boots will have to take us away from the North road and more to the East where we can just see the mountain tops.”
“I am impressed young Shamus and I am pleased to have your company as you have proved to be invaluable to this quest. I warn you though; the next step of our journey will become perilous in the extreme! Yes the Roc owe a debt to Queen Mab, but those that live now may not have been told about what happened centuries ago. All that has passed down into our folklore were that they were grateful and an honourable species. Mab of course, remembers everything, but is so busy administrating to her realm that she has little time to spend in idle talk,” the leprechaun replied and finished his pie from the travelling sack. “It’s time to pack our things away young man and to be on our way. Those mountains are several hundred miles away and these boots will take us to the bottom of those mountains in a few hours. I would like to be there before sunset and settled into a safe place before dark.”

Many miles to the North the only active dragon in the enchanted realm prowled the snowy wastelands seeking his harem of females imprisoned somewhere under a glacier in a mountain valley. He systematically hunted each new location breathing his fiery breath deep into the hundreds of feet of packed ice and snow until he reached the bottom of a valley. Each fruitless effort sent him into an even greater rage. Once he had his females back he intended to unleash a plague of dragons that the enchanted realm had never seen before. He was forced to break off his search when his hunger grew too intense and feed to build the fire that his form contained. Every cattle ranch within a few hundred miles had felt the effect of his visits and he had ripped apart the dwellings that he found and ate the people that he found there before he ate their livestock by the dozen. Once he had emptied the stock pens and stables he would return and continue the search working his way around the ice sheet. 
The elves and goblins living in the area gathered together an army to bring him down. Knorrd had destroyed them all and ate every single one. After this he had sought out all the townships that had mounted the attack and torn them apart and feasted on every living thing that he could find. Now the landscape was dotted with broken walls and scattered stones. He had ate enough to last him for months so now he once more concentrated on finding and releasing his ‘wives’ from their hidden icy tombs. He spread his wings and surged into the air and gaining height from a thermal uplift went above the clouds and made his way north to continue the search.
  
Meanwhile many miles to the south, Mog the Troll called a halt to the travelling companions as he saw a very large tree that had become partially hollow. It would make a good place to camp as there was plenty of room for the two gnomes, Jessop and Matt-cinder to bed down, while Mog sat in the entrance like an immoveable boulder. They had soon found that twenty paces away from those sensitive to the iron in the lance-head, the effects of the poison metal did not interfere too much with them. They preferred that Matt-cinder stayed further than this when possible as the travelling sacks would soon lose their powers if he got too close and everything inside would rapidly decay. So the goblin smith made sure that the oil-soaked package inside his rucksack was safely hung in the branches of a tree where wolves could not get to it. He also lit a fire on the road to illuminate the position through the night and banked it up with plenty of dead wood, some of which was a little damp to produce smoke that might mask the animal fat odour from the blade’s covering.
After they had all eaten they bedded down inside the hollow tree while the Troll settled himself in the entrance. It was the grunt of a bear that woke them. The fire had died near the lance-head and a black bear had come out of the forest scenting the fat soaked package and was stood upright trying to reach the branch that Matt-cinder had tied the rucksack on. The goblin squirmed past the bulk of the Troll and took aim with his cross-bow. He released the trigger and the bolt buried itself into the bear’s chest. It missed the heart, but anchored itself into a lung. The bear charged towards the Troll and goblin coughing blood and maddened with rage. Mog unshipped the balls and chain, swinging the balls round and round. He let fly and the bolus wrapped around the bear and thumped it in the chest as one of the stone balls collided with the creatures heart, bursting it while the other ball crashed into its back. The bear fell to the ground stone dead.
As Mog walked forward to retrieve his balls and chain the two gnomes pushed by and set to with their sharp obsidian knives to dismember the bear. They soon had plenty of meat and fat wrapped in broad leaves and had revived the fire at the hollow tree and was busy roasting steaks over the fire. Matt-cinder checked that the lance-head was untouched and he soon came back to enjoy his breakfast. Mog finished off what was left of the bear and crunched up the bones with relish. He also scraped most of the fat off the hide and slung it over his shoulders, fur inside.
“It gets cold in the North,” he remarked and made his way unconcerned onto the road and waved the others to make a start.


Chapter Seven.

Tad and Shamus woke in their ‘safe place’ at a position high above the ground in the fork of an ancient tree. Tad had put the human on the wide branch while he had shrunk himself to his normal size keeping hold of the tree so that he remained by Shamus’s side. They were about fifty foot off the ground and the leprechaun cast a retaining spell to make sure that neither of them could fall off the branch and go crashing to the ground.
That evening he had opened the travelling sack and dug out a large meat and vegetable pie that was still as fresh as when it came out of the castle ovens. Whilst Shamus tucked in, Tad selected a much smaller one for himself. He then offered the boy a drink from an earthen water jar.
“This jar has the same properties as the sack, young man. There is a lot more water inside the jar than you would realise. So when you have drunk your fill, reseal the top and hand it back to me,” the pixie advised.
“This world is full of marvels,” the boy replied. “I have seen such incredible sights since I have been here. I am truly sorry that I tried to steal from you, Tad O’ Shadow, but I am glad to be here. My life in the other world was empty of adventure unless I joined a band of thieves plundering the farms and small towns. As the youngest son all I could hope for was to be a warrior in my father’s army. I was not born with the bloodlust that my elder brothers were.”
“I looked into your mind young Shamus and did not find the soul of a killer when we were at my cottage. You have shown a great deal of courage and have accepted the many different creatures and people that live in the enchanted realm. I know that there is only one species in your world that can talk. Here there are many different beings with the ability to speak. You can understand them all because you have a small piece of each member of the company’s soul giving you life. Remember that I told you this in the map-room?”
“It is still a matter of wonder to me. There was only the one language spoken wherever you went, across the lands,” the boy replied.
That morning just as the sun came up, Tad released the spell that had kept them safely anchored to the tree and handed out breakfast. He checked the water level in the jar and came to the conclusion that drinking supplies were running low.
“We will have to replenish our water sometime on our travel, young man, as we are getting a little low,” the leprechaun remarked.
“I may be able to do something about that Master O’ Shadow,” Shamus replied. “Because you placed my soul in that apple tree I find that I can ‘speak’ with the trees if I can get their attention. The trees in this forest are aware of me and this ancient oak will gladly suck up some water for us from the roots and into the small branch that I have hold of. He will not mind if I snap the end off and direct it into the open jar. When it’s full he will just stop the flow! He is also old enough to remember when dragons roamed the lands burning down the trees and laying waste. It is something that he does not want to experience again. He also pledged that if I call upon the spirits of the woods they would help in any way that they can!”
Tam O’ Shadow stared at the boy in amazement and said, “My dear Shamus you have indeed become a very useful member of this band. It must have been ordained that our paths would cross,” and he held out the jar, as the tree began to fill it with fresh filtered water from the broken branch.
Once the jar was filled, the leprechaun invoked the power of the boots and grew into a giant and once more placed Shamus into a waistcoat pocket. He faced towards the mountains and gave the command, ‘stride’ to the boots and being careful to keep his ankles together began to double-hop over the tops of the forest making his way towards the plains. By midmorning they had reached the foothills of the mountain range. They were hundreds of miles from where they had camped that night and the two of them constantly scanned the skies for any sight of a Roc. As a precaution Tam kept his giant size in case one of the huge raptors mistook them for food.
The leprechaun began to climb the mountainside, heading towards the probable nesting grounds when a large shadow took the midday sun away and a shower of stones peppered his back.
Tam looked up to see a piercing yellow eye regarding his approach and a beak that he could have easily climbed into opened wide in a hiss of warning. As the pixie had increased his size the Roc was the same size as he was, but as the bird was its normal shape and far stronger than the ‘giant’ size fairy, Tam was still in great danger. The sight that presented itself to Shamus was terrifying as he was his normal size and to him the Roc was a colossal size quite large enough to have carried all the members of the quest in its beak. Its plumage was a mottled brown with a bright red crest on the top of its head.
Tad shouted up at the bird, “I come from Queen Mab. I claim the debt that you owe her from the Troll wars. We need your help.”
The bird reared up and stared intently at the leprechaun and answered, “I have not seen your like since those long lost days,” rasped the bird. “Lucky you are that I am old enough to have been there and remember those days well. Help you say that you need? Ask and if possible the Roc will assist if they can.” The bird called a loud ‘Squawk’ into the mountain valley and repeated the call several times, nearly deafening the human who was peeping out of the waistcoat pocket of the ‘giant’ leprechaun. Within a short time twenty of the giant birds had gathered to hear what Tam O’ Shadow had to say about the debt of honour that they owed the Queen of the enchanted lands.
When the Roc had roosted within earshot of Tam, he told them, “Knorrd is loose and hell bent on revenge. He seeks the females of his order, to loose a plague of dragons upon us all. You have managed the Great Plains of this area for many centuries and everything is in balance. Once a thousand dragons have taken every fat beast from under your beaks, you will be left with nothing! You cannot kill them once they are fully grown and they will roast you with their fiery breath. Only iron will kill them and there lies the problem. The metal is as poisonous to most of the elvish kind, except the goblins and the humans. I cannot carry the weapon that the goblins have forged from a sky-stone, as once I get too near to it the magic drains away from my soul. So I need two of your race to carry myself, two gnomes, an elf and a Troll to the north and the other one to carry this human and a goblin along with the weapon of iron. This is a human.”
Tam put the boy carefully on the only piece of flat ground near them for the Roc to inspect. Twenty heads jostled for position to catch a glimpse of this odd creature. Shamus stood very still as he was examined by the giant birds, knowing that if his nerve broke and he ran off, this would trigger off a hunt.
At this moment Tam O’ Shadow reduced his body to its normal size to show the Roc that it was possible to carry him. Again the birds examined the smaller creature and squawked to each other and came to a decision.
“We will do this thing for your Queen and for all of the realm,” said the Roc that they had first met.
“I will take the human,” said a light brown, speckled raptor and squatted to the ground to allow Shamus to climb up to her neck and sit holding to the ruff of feathers just above her shoulders. “I am called Windflutter. Come and make yourself safe. We have far to go and you must hang on
“I will transport this tiny man and his elfish companions,” an almost black Roc decided. “Come aboard man of magic. We shall call upon this dragon and destroy him. First we must find the other members of the Quest and then go to the ice sheets far to the North. My name is Gornn.”
Tam and Shamus climbed onto the necks and shoulders of the giant birds and tied themselves wrist to feather while nestling into the ruff.
Gornn hissed, “Are you both ready? Then hang on.”
With that instruction the Roc opened their wings and took off, retracing the way that the elf and human had come. Once they were aloft and catching the thermals the passengers felt quite secure as the birds did not need to flap their wings very much and the miles flew by underneath them until the great North Road came into sight.  

Meanwhile the other members of the quest were making their way steadily northwards. Wolves had found what Mog had left over from the carcass of the bear and had rapidly devoured the remains. They were now hunting a new prey and were fast catching up with them.
Matt-cinder was the first to hear the high pitched howl and immediately understood what was following them.
He called out to the party in front of them him, “Wolves! They are on our scent and coming at a fast rate. Into the trees as fast as you can and climb.”
He then caught hold of a branch and climbed upwards to a safer position where he could keep the rucksack carrying the lance head safely out of reach of sharp teeth. 
Mog grabbed the two gnomes and thrust them into the lower branches where they soon moved out of reach. Jessop extended his wings and lofted into the air above the road and caught sight of the pack advancing towards them.
“There’s at least ten of them coming at you, Mog so stand ready,” the elf called out, flapped his wings to gain extra height and swerving onto a sturdy branch.
He unshipped the goblin-made crossbow and loaded it with a flint tipped bolt and waited for the wolves to come into range, while the Troll undid the bronze chain and balls. Each stone ball was easily the size of the Troll’s head and made of granite. Mog began to swing the balls around and around picking up speed as he did so. The first of the wolf pack came tearing along the North Road directly at him and Mog swung the balls into the chest of the leading wolf and let the chain go as the bolus wrapped itself around the one by its side. The sound of cracking bones filled the air as the stone balls mowed the other wolves down with screams of agony rendering the air. The remaining members of the pack launched themselves at the troll and tried to sink their fangs into his stony skin and found that broken teeth were all they gained. Jessop aimed and shot bolt after bolt into the wolves at the back, while Mog broke the backs of each wolf as they sprang at him. He then dispatched the ones that were wounded by snapping their necks. After this was finished, Arifan and Aisled climbed down from the tree with the assistance of the Troll and set about skinning the wolves and curing them by rubbing salt into the scraped hides. They then built a fire and dragged many dry and broken branches into a bonfire in the centre of the road. They made sure that no living green wood was used so that the forest was not offended. Mog tossed the carcasses of the wolves onto the fire until he was satisfied by their rough cookery! He then ate as much of the partly roasted wolf meat as he could. The gnomes had found a bunch of wild garlic and had rubbed the bulbs and foliage into the wolf pelts to disguise the blood smell after they had left the pelts in the smoke long enough to cure them.
Matt-cinder retrieved the iron lance head from the branch that he had tossed the rucksack over and once more strapped the heavy parcel onto his shoulders. He walked past the bonfire as far as possible from the elfish members of the company and made his way along the road. He cracked a few skulls with the lance shaft of any wolf within reach that was still alive. Once he was a safe distance from the others he rested the pack on a pillar by the side of the road and doubled back to see if he could be of help.
Mog was indulging in his favourite pastime; eating, by the time that the goblin re-joined his new friends. The Troll was at least four times the size of the goblin and had by now eaten most of what was left of the bear and two or more of the wolf pack had vanished down his throat. The rest he had fed to the fire to reduce the smell of death that would attract more predators.
The Troll gave a contented belch and said to Matt-cinder, “Wolves are a bit stringy, but they have a good flavour! Do you want some?”
“Bears I will eat, but I draw the line at dogs or wolves,” the goblin replied.
“As you wish, my green friend. As you wish! It was worth coming on this Quest of Queen Mab’s just for the food,” he laughed and crunched up a scorched back leg.
The gnomes had finished the treatment of the skins and had fashioned them into cloaks and tunics using the front and back legs as sleeves and trousers. Mog was quite content with his bearskin as he had sliced off the paws and had inserted his powerful arms and legs through the bear’s extremities after turning the hide inside out. He began to drag piles of dead branches out from the side of the road and continued to pile onto the bonfire as Tam O’ Shadow had instructed so that he could find them on the Great North Road.  

Chapter Seven.

High above the seemingly endless forest, Tam watched as the great North Road unwound beneath him. Gornn banked and dropped a few hundred feet as he spotted a smudge of smoke far below.
“I think we have them in sight, ‘magic man’ the bird rasped and called across to Windflutter to follow him on down.
Tam strained his eyes to try and see what the mighty Roc could distinguish under the canopy of dense tree foliage. Suddenly a faint smudge of smoke rising from the direction of the ancient road caught his attention. The Roc’s eyesight was immensely superior to his so he was not surprised the giant bird saw the rest of the company first.
Shamus held onto the feathers of Windflutter’s ruff for dear life, and dug his feet under the neck-feathers as they dropped like a stone towards the smoke rising above the treetops. At what seemed the very last moment she opened her wings to their fullest extent and levelled off and landed on the road in front of the dragon hunters. Gornn pitched down on the other side of the bonfire and allowed Tam O’ Shadow to slide off and greet his friends.
Mog dragged the half cooked wolves from the bonfire and said, “Make use of these vermin mighty one as I have eaten my fill and it would be a shame to waste them!”
The Roc bent forwards and seized two singed carcasses and tossed them over the bonfire for Windflutter to tear apart and swallow while he did the same. Tam introduced the two giant birds and told the rest of the party about their adventures and the offer of help that the birds were willing to take part in.
Matt-cinder walked up to the female bird and asked, “Do you not think that you should get close to the weapon that I forged, just to make sure that the metal is not a poison to your kind?”
Windflutter fixed the goblin with a clear yellow eye and replied, “A sensible idea little one. Take me to this strange metal and we shall see if it affects me.”
The goblin took her along the road until they came to the pillar where he had placed the lance-head. The Roc bent her neck downwards until her beak was touching the rucksack and took a deep sniff. There was no reaction from being this close to the iron weapon.
“As I thought small creature, I have no magic in my soul! So I suggest that you strap the thing to my leg and I keep it safe until you need to use it,” Windflutter suggested. “Also I think that you and the human would be safest if you tied yourself securely onto the back of my neck. What do you think Gornn?”
“I agree, young one,” the male replied and continued, “The four elvish passengers ride upon my neck whilst the Troll should tie himself onto my back, between my wings. We will give this a try, for we should be setting off before the afternoon turns into evening. So climb aboard and let us get going towards the North.”
The first thing that Tam did was to be sure that the bonfire was out and only ash remained along with some charred sticks. Only then did he gave the order to mount up onto the giant birds. Gornn leapt into the air spread his wings and his passengers hung on for dear life as he gained height catching the thermal that flowed upwards from the road. As he was quite capable of carrying an elephant in each taloned claw the weight of his travellers was negligible. Windflutter was soon flying parallel with her mate and the miles sped by as the great North Road unrolled beneath them.
The goblin and human lay spread-eagled over the neck and shoulders of the Roc and were grateful for the heat of her body that was added to the wolf-skin that they both wore. They had tied a length of rope around the neck of the bird and had wriggled underneath it to trap them safely in the ruff of feathers. They had also tied loops around the roots of some of the sturdier feathers and slipped their hands and wrists through it. Hour after hour the birds flew onwards until at last the end of the forest came into sight. Now they were flying over the Great North Plains
Scenes of destruction now began to appear as farm after farm had been raided for livestock. Whole towns and villages had been burnt to the ground. The roofs had been torn off to get at the people hiding inside. Mile after mile the scene was the same but one farmstead stood out as relatively undamaged. Tam urged the two giant birds to drop down some way away from the farm to give them chance to be seen alighting from the Rocs, hopefully to show that they were not a threat. As Tam slid down the feathered leg of the bird he could immediately smell a strong spicy aroma that made him sneeze. The stench of garlic and chillies filled the air and Tam began to wonder?
Gesturing to the others to hold back, Tam wove a shielding spell in front of him and walked up towards the door. An arrow shot through the half opened door and deflected off the invisible shield.
The leprechaun held his hands up in the sign of universal peace and shouted, “Hold your fire. We come in peace and have been sent by Queen Mab to destroy the dragon terrorising this part of her realm. You seem to have been unscathed and survived an encounter with Knorrd. My question has to be why? Is it the spices that you grow here?”
The door opened and an old gnome walked out empty handed. Behind him was the rest of his family that had been hiding inside the house. They too were unarmed and were quick to show that their hands were empty of any weapons.
“My name is Delph of the family Gratis. My apologies for the arrow, but we have been hiding in this house from the attentions of the dragon. The sight of the two Roc frightened us,” the gnome declared. “We were not sure that you might have been looters, as we seem to be the only smallholding for miles that has not been burnt down by the dragon.”
“Tell me ancient one why you think that you were spared,” Tam replied as he closed the distance between them.
“A week or so past, we saw him approach from the sky and he landed close to the house in the steeping pit. This is where we keep the garlic bulbs and chillies to mature for a while before cleaning them and packaging them up. His colossal size meant that he squashed the ripening crop under his belly into a pulp. It made him sneeze great gouts of flame, as he rolled about the smashed pen. For some while he staggered around until he was able to roll into the river and wash the stench off of his scaly hide. It seemed to us that he could not see properly until he had managed to wash himself clean. By then he had lost all interest in our farmhouse and took to the skies and flew off.”
Tam beckoned Shamus to his side and got him to spread out the maps that he had kept safe. He quickly informed the garlic and herb farmer of the events that had led them to his door. Delph listened intently as the leprechaun explained what they were there to do.
“This is the Great North Road,” Tam said pointing to the straight line that cut through the forest on the map. “Where are we in relation to the edge of the trees and the river that flows through your land? Can you also give us some idea of where the towns and villages are that have been visited by the dragon?”
The elderly gnome showed the two of them where the farm was on the map and pointed out the swathe of destruction that Knorrd had inflicted. He pointed to the great ice sheet that covered the North and the mountains that thrust upwards out of the snow. Delph showed them where the dragon had been imprisoned, until a deluded band of human treasure seekers had dug down to him thinking that he was asleep on a pile of gold.
“Our people had kept away from that ice filled valley lest we wake the beast. The fools had no idea what awaited them at the bottom of that glacier,” the gnome bitterly said, tugging at his long silver beard. “Once the sunlight hit his scales Knorrd awoke from his enchanted sleep. He had been hungry for a very long time and each of the humans disappeared down his throat. Now he seeks revenge. It’s a pity that Queen Mab cannot translate him into the human world and leave them to deal with him.”
“There are limits to magic, Delph, as you well know and that is why we are here,” Tam answered and rolled up the maps and gave them back to Shamus. “Not all humans are bad. This young man sought to rob me and paid a terrible price for his impudence. He has travelled with the group and has shown his mettle many times in adjusting to our world. He came here looking for adventure and something to take back to the human realm. Well, he will not be going back, whether we are successful or not and is doomed to stay here for the rest of his life, but I am quite sure that he would rather stay here with us than go back!”
“Master O’ Shadow, I have no desire to go back to my old home. Come what may in the not too distant future, my mind is made up. You have all become my friends on this quest and have given some of your very life-force to resurrect me. I will not let you down,” Shamus replied, tucking the maps back into the leather tube, strapped to his waist.
Tam smiled at the boy and said, “I believe you young man. Now, Delph we need shelter for the night, or maybe several days. We need a base of operations and it seems that our adversary will keep well away from this plantation. I have the beginnings of a plan, but I need time to work it out.”
“You are a welcome guest, as are all of your company. We have plenty of food and places that you can bed down in the great barn or I can turf my children out of their beds for your pleasure,” said the elderly gnome.
Mog, the Troll laughed and said, “The barn will do for me. Houses made for gnomes rarely fit Trolls!”
Matt-cinder asked, “Do you have a forge and workshop that I can use? I need to shrink the lance-head onto the shaft I carry with me. Be warned that the metal that I need to work is highly toxic to your species. It is a sky-stone made of iron. Keep the younger members of your family away from me at all times when I am forging the weapon. Only the human and I can touch this material without harming ourselves. I will now walk back to where Windflutter is waiting and unstrap the blade from her leg.”
Tam watched the son of the Mayor of Little Creek walk off towards the female Roc to get the weapon and turned towards the gnome.
“Thank for your hospitality and we are glad of it, but in the morning I will have things that I shall ask you to do. They may not make a lot of sense to you at first. I am still thinking about the situation so just accept that I shall have a good reason for what I do!”
After the goblin had left the wrapped up blade by the forge they all moved into the gnomes’ farmhouse for the duration of this part of the quest.



Chapter Eight.

That morning Tam went and sought out the Roc and his mate to ask them to undertake a vital stage of the operation.
“I need you to find him without him seeing you. After you have fed on what wanders over the vast plains I want you to bring back a beast each. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is as large as you can carry back here.”
Gornn bent his neck forwards to look the leprechaun in the face with an eye the size of Tam’s head and asked, “There’s a lot more to this plan than you are letting on, little man. Tell me the rest of it.”
“When you have brought us back a large beast, we will gut it, stuff it full of garlic and the hottest chillies that this farmer can provide. The crushed contents of the steeping pit plus whatever else we can find can be hidden inside the belly of the bait. Delph and his family have seen what landing in the pit of garlic and peppers did to him. Think what it will do if Knorrd swallows the beasts whole and they come apart in his stomach as the thread that I will use dissolves! What you two will have to do is to act terrified of him and drop them at his feet. After which you will fly away in a panic. He will grab the bait and wolf it down as he is always hungry. I somehow believe that the chillies and garlic will do him no good and this will be the moment that we will attack him. Matt-cinder will get underneath him and thrust the iron lance-head through his armpit assisted by the human. Others will add to his distraction. What we have to do is to entice him onto a suitable killing ground. I will need to see the terrine that he is working at the moment, as he seeks his frozen mates. This I can do with the Seven League Boots, but first I need to know where he is!”
Gornn sat back and considered Tam’s plan and gave a hoot of agreement, turned to Windflutter and said, “I like your plan, little man. It has great merit. We must be off and see what we can do without alerting us to the dragon’s presence.”   
The Roc spread their wings and with a clap of thunder leapt into the sky and headed north. Tam looked towards the farmhouse and saw that Shamus and Matt-cinder were making their way towards the farm’s forge. Knowing what the object of their errand was to be, Tam would make sure that he would not go anywhere near the forge whilst they were working the iron blade. He smiled as he watched the two odd beings walk away. Considering that the human had never seen any of the faery folk until he had crossed through the portal he had kept his nerve. This was only a few weeks ago, human time and several months enchanted realm time, Tam was pleased how well he had adapted. It had been a hard lesson for him to learn about stealing things that he did not understand, but in the end he had benefited. The only thing that worried the leprechaun, was just how long would the boy live? Sooner or later his ‘borrowed’ life energy would wind down and he would come apart. Tam put that unpleasant thought from his mind and looked round towards Jessop and beckoned him over.
“There will be refugees wandering the devastated highways who have nowhere to sleep safely. I want you to go and find them and bring them here. Exercise those wings of yours and go to the most stricken areas. Tell them that in return for refuge they will have to build their own shelters and bring materials with them. There will be plenty of work to be done here if we are successful in the disposing of Knorrd,” Tad instructed.
Jessop nodded and shook his outer garments open so that he could extend his wings and hopped into the air and soon soared above the leprechaun.
“I’ll see what I can find and report back to you,” he said and flapped his wings, disappearing towards the nearest township.
Tad then looked round for the two gnomes and found them inside the farm’s kitchen stoking up on herbs and spices, aided by Delph and his family. He explained his plan to the spice farmer and had no argument from the ancient gnome.
“Arifan and Aisled I need you to take the travelling sacks you brought and hive off a duplicate from each one,” the leprechaun insisted. “Then I want you to fill it to bursting point with as many cloves of garlic and the hottest peppers that Delph and his family has grown on this farm. When that is done I need a gaseous concoction made that can be buried inside its own sacks, hidden in the larger sack of spices. This will ferment and will explode, once the dragon has swallowed the bait. This we will put in last, as it will become very volatile and I am gambling that Knorrd’s stomach will compress the travelling sacks and my dissolving stitches will come undone anyway. This explosion of gas will add to the mixture fermenting in his insides. I am gambling on the creature becoming so distressed by what is going on inside his body that we will be able to attack him on the outside. It’s our only chance to bring him down without all of us getting flamed and cooked to death.”
At the forge, goblin and human worked the fire with the bellows until it became white hot. Matt-cinder thrust the rear end of the lance head into the flames and once it was hot enough they both hammered the flange at the end until they had extended it to a flat plate. The next task was to fold the plate over until it became a socket for the hard wood pole. They inserted the wood into the red hot socket and as the shaft smoked and caught fire they dowsed it in water, causing the socket to tighten onto the pole. Now it was time to put an edge on the Vee shaped blade including the inside edge of the backwards facing points. Once inside the dragon it would only travel inwards towards his black heart.
Matt-cinder looked inside his bag of tools and pulled out a hard rough stone the size of his fist.
He handed it over to Shamus and said, “Start with this one and put a reasonable edge on the blade while I hold it still on the trestle.”
Shamus began to apply the stone along the two outside edges of the blade while the goblin held the shaft steady, turning the blade from time to time to expose the other edge. From time to time they changed over until the goblin was satisfied that the edge was as keen as they could get it. Next they sharpened the inside of the Vee and then changed over to a finer stone with oil. Now the blade could shave the bristles off a wild pig!
By now the day was done and both ‘smiths’ had worked non-stop until the evening had begun. Jessop had returned with a band of mixed elves, goblins and gnomes. With them were a number of Trolls carrying materials to build shelters. All of them had terrifying tales to tell about the dragon’s wrath and destructive swathe across the countryside. None of the ones who had seen Knorrd in action thought that they were going to their deaths. He had dug into houses like an anteater into a termites nest, ferreting out anything that had meat on their bones. So far he had destroyed sixteen townships and an entire army that tried to stop him. He was systematically working his way around the polar icecap breathing fire into each and every hidden valley melting the snow, looking in vain for his females. Every so often he would abandon the search and come south and feed on whatever he could find, be it faery folk or wild beasts.
Mog the Troll gathered up his kinsmen and took them to the barn where he had a long talk with them. He showed them the chain and heavy stone balls attached to the ends.
“We need more of these,” he said. “All of you that are fit to fight can be transported by the leprechaun to wherever Knorrd is rampaging. Dragon fire will not harm your stony skins and chains wound around the beast might help the goblin and human to get in close with the iron weapon. Scour the countryside for chains and heavy weights to fix on the ends. This will be your task at sun-up while Tam O’ Shadow goes forth with the Roc to find the beast.”
Tam O’ Shadow stared up at the skies waiting anxiously for the arrival of the giant Roc and as the sun was beginning to set he saw two large birds began their descent. Each bird had a buffalo impaled within each taloned foot. With wings outspread, the Roc gently dropped in front of the farm and deposited the four buffalo onto the grassy bank.
“The hunting was good,” squawked Windflutter, “so we brought you extra supplies. We found him, little man. He did not see us. So in the morning we will show you the way to where he sleeps and hunts. He is very large Tam O’ Shadow and I fear will take a lot of killing. He is big enough to swallow all four of those fat beasts at once! Nevertheless I still think your plan will work with a few modifications.”
The leprechaun looked up and asked, “What do you have in mind, Windflutter?”  
“He is too clever to be taken in by us pretending to be frightened of him. No! Gornn and I will stage a fight with me over the fat beasts to get his attention and the prize will be the dead buffalos stuffed with the peppers and garlic. These will be dropped gently so they do not burst and we will be driven away by him, thus leaving him with the ‘prize’ to consume, as he will. We have seen him feed and he does not chew but tips his head back and swallows whole whatever he picks up.”
“My thanks and Queen Mab’s to you, my feathered friends. I will see you in the morning,” with that Tad walked back to the farmhouse deep in thought. 

Chapter Nine.

Tad O’ Shadow awoke to the smell of breakfast, supplied by Arifan and Aisled by dipping into their travelling sacks. They had also gutted the two buffalo and removed the liver and kidneys for consumption by those who enjoyed them. The guts and hearts they turned over to the trolls who looked upon them as a delicacy. This was shared out in the barn where the Trolls that had been directed to the farmstead had collected. Mog went over the plans that they may well have to improvise on and demonstrated the balls and chain as a deadly weapon. Once the messy breakfast had been consumed they spread out over the countryside searching the ruined towns for anything that could be adapted to Mog’s instructions.
During Tad’s absence Jessop would range over areas that he had missed and direct any survivors of the dragon’s onslaught to the farmstead. He had instructed the winged elf to seek out as many Trolls as he could find and explain what was wanted from them. Matt-cinder would operate the smithy and make any tools or repairs that were needed by the newcomers. The leprechaun had decided to take the human with him as he had proved to be useful in the past and had a different viewpoint.
Shamus was waiting for him where the two Roc had perched during the night and was already climbing up Windflutter’s scaly leg to sit upon her neck and shoulders. He had brought enough rope to securely harness the giant bird and prevent him from falling off. Gornn was already aloft and circling round. As soon as he saw the leprechaun he began to make his way to the North-east. Windflutter quickly followed and took to the air in the same direction.
Tam uttered the command, “Stride.”
He also multiplied his height by a factor of twenty so that he could keep the birds in sight, but soon found that he needed to stop every so often to allow the Roc to catch up. The further north he travelled the countryside became less settled and wild. Soon the trees thinned right out and only scrub and tundra stretched as far as the eye could see. Herds of bison and woolly mastodon held sway and large patches of snow began to appear. Large boulders were scattered around the landscape looking very like sleeping Trolls. Tam added that piece of knowledge to the rest of his ideas.
As he stopped to allow the birds to catch up, he saw Gornn come swooping down and came to an abrupt stop in front of him.
“When we last caught sight of him it was just over this tall ridge. He was blasting the snow and ice away from the bottom of a deep valley,” the Roc said. “You stay here and I will go high above the area and see what I can find out.”
Tam watched the giant bird soar into the air and was soon contacted by Windflutter, who disgorged Shamus at the feet of the artificial giant shape that Tad had assumed.
“What’s happening, Master Shadow? Is he close?”
“Gornn has gone up high to see if he can spot him,” the leprechaun replied. “He said that he was close to this area when they saw him last.”
Shamus wrapped the wolf-skin tightly round him and said, “This is cold even by my standards. I’m glad of this poor beast’s furry coat. Do you not feel the cold, Master Shadow?”
“Oh I feel the cold young man, but it does not bother me. Many of the people of the enchanted land are not worried by such extremes of hot and cold as are humans. On the other hand we cannot tolerate the touch or the nearness of iron except for the goblin race, but again they cannot do magic. Instead they are wonderful engineers and craftsmen. Trolls are mostly made of stone and are impervious to dragon fire, yet they can be shattered. We all have our weaknesses young Shamus O’Brian and our strengths.”
A dot in the sky became very much larger as Gornn dropped down onto the rocky plateau and spread his wings at the last moment.
The leprechaun asked, “Well? Have you found him?”     
“He is still busy digging himself down into that valley that we last saw him. Look out for a column of steam some miles over the top of the ridge. At the moment he is head down so the chances of being seen are slim, but be careful, little man, as he can be lightning fast,” the Roc replied.
Tam O’ Shadow stared down at his human companion and asked, “Do you want to risk your life? If so crawl into my waistcoat pocket and hang on. Just remember it will be my first dragon as well!”
The boy jumped onto the cloth and climbed into the pocket and the leprechaun increased his size. The giant stepped over the crest of the ridge in the direction that the Roc had indicated and there on the horizon was a plume of steam erupting into the sky. Tad quickly made his way there and was appalled on what they could see. He had been told that the dragon was a huge creature, but nothing had prepared him for what he saw digging its way to the bottom of the glacier. He had got used to the size of the Roc, but this beast was three times the size of any one of the giant birds. Each time that Knorrd blasted the ice with fire, his tail stood out stiff from the back of him. Only the hindquarters could be seen rising above the snow and ice as the dragon buried deeper. Great gouts of steam rose from the cavern the beast had dug and clusters of earth and boulders were sprayed backwards by his feet. Tad had taken Shamus out of his pocket and had reduced his size back to normal. The two of them had crawled over the ice and managed to look over the rim of the hole that the dragon had dug. Every so often the dragon would wriggle downwards and once more he spat the corrosive venom down into the ice where it turned it into steam.
They heard his scream of fury as he uncovered the bottom of the valley without finding any of his females and he began to back out of the hole.
Tam grabbed Shamus by his wolf-skin coat and said the command, “Stride.”
The two of them moved the full seven leagues in one hop and the leprechaun dropped the boy onto a patch of gravel.  
“I need to do some hard thinking, young Shamus. There will be things that I must get into operation before we start back to the forsaken place. Did you see the thickness of those scales? There is no way that we could do him any harm from the top. Somehow you and Matt-cinder have to get underneath him and as I said push it through his armpit. Once inside him, the lance-head will travel deeper into the beast as he moves around, cutting and slicing its way into his heart or lungs, poisoning the beast as it cuts. Our problem will be keeping away from the iron ourselves. That is where you and the goblin have to be ready to do your part in this enterprise if you are sure that you want to risk your life in this wilderness?
“Master Shadow I came into this world looking for adventure and gold. I have been given another chance in this enchanted land and while here have seen such marvels that no-one would believe if I ever got home. I have friends that have donated part of their life energy to enable me to live. I owe you and the other members of the quest. Live or die, I will stand by Matt-cinder’s side under that dragon and do what has to be done,” Shamus declared.
Tam laid his small hand on the boy’s arm and replied, “Shamus, I will not forget that. Now let us get back amongst our friends and see what can be done to rid this land of an ancient curse.”
With that the leprechaun increased his size and once more tucked the boy into his waistcoat pocket and began to wave to the Roc that could now see them clearly due to the enlarged size.
The two of them landed close by and Tam called out to them, “I want one of you to stay here until we come back, making sure that there is very little for the dragon to feed on whilst we are gone. I want him hungry, but not so badly that he leaves this area. He has been systematic in his search for his females and I am sure that he will continue that pattern.
Windflutter, I think it best that you return to carry Shamus, Matt-cinder and the lance back to here, clutching the two beasts stuffed with peppers and garlic. When Gornn can see you coming, then would be the time to make his fake attack to steal the food from your claws. I will have made my arrival the night before. That area that is studded with large boulders, I intend to seed the area with Trolls who will look just like all the other rocks. In that area there several large bounders close enough together that the lance-bearers can hide inside the cavity between them and wait their chance. I will mark them with a bright red dye so that you can find them more easily.
When Windflutter drops the bait close to the hole that Shamus and Matt-cinder will scramble into, that is where we want him to swallow the tainted bait. Within a few minutes the beasts will come undone in his stomach giving Knorrd a very bad case of indigestion! I’m banking that he will be in so much pain and discomfort that he will rear up exposing his soft underbelly. That’s when we kill him. I can increase the size of the Trolls and the balls and chains with magic. That’s my plan so far. The rest we may have to improvise!”
Gornn lofted into the sky and circled high overhead seeking the herds that Knorrd preyed upon with the intent to disperse them. Wind flutter began the long journey to the homestead with the intention of meeting Tam O’ Shadow when she got there.
To the amazement of Shamus, Tam did not immediately set off but walked towards a dark cliff that had the sun behind it casting a dark shadow. He re-tied the boots securely, reduced his size to suit the barn destination, along with the boy and sealed him inside his waistcoat pocket.
“We are now going to travel through a dangerous land, young Shamus,” he said. “As my name might imply I can become a creature of the shadows. When I am in that translation I can travel vast distances very quickly, but it takes a lot of energy to do this. Do not open your eyes until I tell you to or you will become blind and deaf to the world we live in. I draw down the power of darkness and harness it to my desire to travel the ‘Shadow Lands.’ Do you understand?”
“I believe you master Shadow and will burrow down into your pocket until you tell me that it is safe,” Shamus replied and did so very quickly!
Tam concentrated his will and opened a door in the deepest shadow and reached out to the lay lines and picked one that would take them inside the barn used by the Trolls. He conjured up a fast wind that took his outstretched coat and filled it full as a sail. Tad lifted his feet from the shingle he was stood on and took wing. He concentrated on the lay lines that opened out for him and forcibly refused the others, some of which was home to a soul eater or some other nightmarish entity that lay in wait for the unwary traveller. The sounds and shrieks of those who chose to live here were thankfully deadened by the fabric of the leprechaun’s waistcoat. Down in the darkness of the pocket Shamus wrapped the wolf-skin around his head to help reduce the noises that filtered through. There was no way that the boy would open his eyes or ears to this ethereal realm.
Suddenly the illusion of movement finished and Tam spoke quietly, “We are here young one. Climb out. It’s time to tell everyone what it is that they will have to do.”
Shamus was shocked to see that there were many silver hairs nestled amongst the leprechaun’s usually ginger hair that had not been there before their journey through the Shadow Lands.

Chapter Ten.

Tam O’ Shadow shrank himself down to his natural size and staggered across the barn floor before collapsing onto a pile of straw. Shamus ran to his side and put his arms around the leprechaun and lifted him to his chest.
“Master Shadow, what is wrong with you?”
“Travelling the Shadow Lands comes with a price young Shamus,” he replied. “As I told you, it takes a lot of energy. I will recover, never you mind. Take me to the homestead where the others of the Quest are at this moment eating their evening meal. I too, need something to eat and some rest, before I explain what everyone will have to do to make this venture successful.”
At that moment the doors of the barn exploded outwards and Mog the Troll stood outlined by the evening sun. He rushed in and picked up the two travellers in his arms and turned and walked back to the gnomes’ homestead.
“You used the Shadow Path to return here. So whatever you have seen must have been a terrible thing, for you to use that way of getting here. I felt your presence as you entered the barn. Open your mind and let me see what you have seen far to the North while I carry you to the others. I will give you some of my life-force to give you back your strength. I have eaten well along this mad escapade, so do not refuse my gift.”
Before the leprechaun could protest, he felt the Troll’s energy radiate all through his body and a gentle warmth suffused through his aching limbs. The Troll gently put the two of them down in front of the open farmhouse door where the other members of the group were waiting for them.
Mog stared down on the little people and said, “What you need to see is inside Tam O’ Shadows mind. So open your minds to mine and I will transfer his thoughts into your heads so that you can see what it is that we are up against. Also I will show you Shamuses observations as well, as he and Matt-cinder will have the most dangerous action to take. The plan is good, but everything must be perfect or a lot of us will not be coming back.”
By the time that Tam and Shamus were seated at the table, everyone had a clear picture in their minds of what the two of them had seen.  While they were tucking into the fresh food that Arifan and Aisled pulled out of the travelling sacks, the other members of the group discussed Tam’s plan of action. All agreed that they could find little in the way of a flaw, and just as Mog had insisted, everything had to be just right to bring the dragon down.
By morning most of the Trolls had returned from their foraging across the ravaged countryside. They had brought back all sorts of lengths and sizes of chain made of bronze. Matt-cinder examined them all and got the forge heated up to make repairs to those links that had sprung apart. They had also brought back chunks of granite that they were shaping with their bare hands into balls twice the size of Shamus’s head. They poked their fingers into the granite as if it were soft putty to make a secure link for the chains to attach! They then stacked them next to the forge ready for Matt-cinder to secure the chain to two equal sized balls with the help of the Trolls. The goblin could not even lift them as he bent the ends of the bronze chain-link about them. He had no idea how Tad would be able to carry one of the boluses, let alone all of them and the Trolls?
While this was going on the leprechaun inspected the carcasses of the buffalos that the gnomes had finished stuffing into the cloned travelling sacks. Each sack contained far more peppers and smashed garlic bulbs than could possibly be put into an ordinary sack and when burst would flood the dragon’s gut, when the unravelling spell took hold. This was pressure activated so that once Knorrd swallowed the dead buffalos and they found their way into the stomach the knots would unravel and the cargo would flood out and fill him from neck to arse. To assist this, a second sack of fermenting fruit was inserted into the garlic and peppers. This would also unravel under pressure and be at bursting point, joined by the same spellbound knots that would release the poisoned cargo. The dragon’s digestive juices would do the rest as the buffalos began to be broken down.
This filling of the sacks had taken place down by the river so that once the sacks were full they could be washed clean of any scent or odour. All it needed now was for Tam to sew the cavities shut with dissolving thread and this he did. Next he called the trolls together and separated the stronger and larger of the refugees from the too young or old.
“You are the second line of defence. I will place you around the area where we hope to restrain the dragon. You will remain inert and mimic large boulders scattered about the plain. At all costs you must do your best to protect the human and the goblin after they have thrust the lance into the dragon. We can only guess the effect of the poisoned bait on his ability to fight back. I will shrink you down so that all of you can be transported in my pockets. You will find this to be unpleasant, as I must also diminish your mass so that I can carry all of you. This I will do with the boluses that Matt-cinder had forged to the granite stones. To do this I must place them inside the Shadow Lands where all things can be changed according to my will. Once you are there on the killing ground I will restore your size back to normal and from that situation, treble your size for the time that we are there. You have seen the size of Knorrd so you can understand the reasoning behind this. If I make you too large, you will not have the strength to wield the balls and chains. Just remember that he is not vulnerable along his sides and back due to the thickness of his scales. You must attack the few places where his armour is soft. The most important thing is to remain hidden in plain sight until you are needed,” the leprechaun insisted. “You know the plan, so follow it as best you can.” 
At that moment a giant shadow darkened the ground as Windflutter dropped out of the sky. She made her way to the river and drank thirstily where she then ripped apart a moose she had carried and hungrily swallowed the pieces.
Tam approached the giant bird and asked, “Are you well? Will you be able to fly back carrying the two buffalo with Shamus and Matt-cinder?”
“Give me a moment’s rest little man and let my meal go down and I will be ready to do as you bid,” Windflutter replied and preened a few errant feathers into place.
“I will do as you wish, but I must remind you that when you pick up the carcases do not puncture the fat looking bellies with your exceedingly sharp claws,” Tam joked. “If the contents of its belly can immobilise a dragon, think what it could do to you.”
“I think of it every time I sharpen my claws,” replied the Roc and ruffled her feathers.
“I will leave you to find Shamus and Matt-cinder and stow the weapon. I will take the Trolls to the killing ground and then I must return and take the boluses through the Shadow Lands so that the Trolls are suitably armed.”
At that very moment Matt-cinder was showing Shamus O’Brian something that he had hammered together from the remnants of the lance-head. Each piece that had been trimmed from the main body of the sky-stone’s flange around the shaft the goblin had saved. He had reheated the scrap and pounded the bits together to make an axe head with a steel edge, forged onto a bronze head to give it a killing stroke with extra weight. He had forged the head around a hardwood handle and counterweighted the handle.
“I’ve made this for you, young human. We have no real idea of what awaits us when we confront Knorrd, so I thought that it would be a shame to waste what sky-stone metal was left over. I have put an edge on the steel that would part a soul from its owner! I made a sheath to keep over the blade to protect you from damage and the keenest of its edge,” the goblin said and placed his green arm over Shamuses shoulders.
The boy turned the goblin’s gift over and over in disbelief and placed it gently down. He flung his arms about the bright green goblin and burst into tears.
Shamus said, “You are my friend, Matt-cinder. If we are to die, we will die together, but not before we have dispatched that beast. This axe will be my companion and I swear that it will taste dragon flesh.”
An irritated squawk tore through the air and Windflutter spoke, “Get aboard you two and secure that deadly piece of iron. We have a long way to go and Master Shadow has much to do that will take its toll on him.”
The two lance bearers covered the head of the weapon and strapped it to the Roc’s right leg and climbed aboard the giant bird. Each of them had a small travelling sack stuffed full of food and drink as there would be nothing for them to eat so far north. Each of them was wrapped in the wolf-skins that had been cured by the gnomes. While they were adjusting the safety straps to keep them both in place for the journey they heard several voices from below.
“It is Jessop that asks; can you bear the weight of a few more, great Windflutter? I would join you and so would Arifan and Aisled if you could bear the extra heaviness of our meagre bodies.”
“Climb on if you are sure that you are willing to risk your lives. After all,” she squawked, “If I can lift two buffalo with my feet, a few more fleas will not be impossible to carry as well!”
Shamus leant down and offered a hand to the two gnomes while Jessop beat down with his wings and soared above the Roc keeping well away from the side of the bird that had the iron weapons securely tied to her right leg. Both gnomes and the winged elf tucked themselves onto the left hand side so as to have the concentrated mass of Windflutter between them and the iron. Even so there were unpleasant ramifications to be travelling so close to the poison metal. All the travelling sacks were kept close to the gnomes so that the iron would not undo the spells that kept all the food fresh and untainted by time. They could only hope that the sacks were far enough from the deadly cargo not to revert back to what they once were.
The Roc swept her wings together and achieved lift off and swooped down onto the two tainted buffalo laid out in front of the farm. She scooped them up as gently as she could with blunted talons and reached for the sky with an almighty clap of wing-filled thunder. Progressively she sought any thermal that could aid in her climb and found one that took her up to the cloud level. She headed north towards the dragon’s domain with a steady beat.
Meanwhile Tam O’ Shadow concentrated on the magic that Queen Mab had infused into his boots. He needed to bring to bear the very essence of every life force in the Enchanted Land. This would require a great deal of power; more than he had ever needed before. The Trolls were mostly made of stone and were normally three or four times the size of an elf. Logic said that it was not possible for someone a fifth of their size to carry one of them, let alone the ten he had selected. First he shrank them down to elf size and increased his height by a factor of ten. Next he placed the power that Mab had infused into his boots and reached down into the very atoms of their existence and moved the majority of their mass out of this universe and stored it so that he could receive it when necessary. He then was able to pick them all up, one by one and set them inside his waistcoat pockets. It was then that he realised that the other members of the Quest were nowhere to be seen on or around the farmstead. It must be that they too were determined to be there at the demise of the dragon. Tad smiled to himself and recognised the bravery of Jessop, and the gnomes in making the journey to where Knorrd was searching for the female dragons that Queen Mab had imprisoned below the ice so long ago. The fact that they were enduring the constant scraping at their nerves by being so close to the iron weapon would take some endurance. The leprechaun had no doubt that they would have taken all of this in account before climbing aboard and keeping as far away as they could from the means of the dragon’s death.
Unfortunately there was no way that Tam O’ Shadow could transport the Trolls and the boluses together through the Shadow Lands as the amount of life energy generated by the Trolls would draw every kind of Soul-eater and other predators to him as he slid along the ley lines. He would have to take the Trolls back to where the killing ground would be marked out using the magic of the Seven League Boots. There they would have to become very large boulders and stay very still so as not to alert the dragon.  Fifty or sixty hops would take him the thousand miles or more, but this would take him to the rest of the day before he returned using the Shadow Lands to pick up the Trolls’ weapons.



Chapter Eleven.

Tam gave the command, “Stride” and the boots did their function taking him across the devastated land towards the area that Tam had selected to bring the dragon down. At about the half-way point the leprechaun saw the profile of the giant bird, Windflutter and waved to her as he passed underneath. She knew better than to go anywhere near him carrying the deadly cargo, as that could suck the magic from out of the souls of the boots. There was about an hour left of sunset before darkness flooded the land when Tam finally reached the area he had selected. He took out the Trolls from his pocket and reduced his size to rest for a moment. Tam reinforced the plan into the Trolls minds using Mog as a transmitter so that they could recognise the area that he had picked out. He reached out to the stored mass of the Trolls and increased their substance to their natural bulk, before increasing their size by a factor of three.
“Get used to your temporary new size, my friends. You will find that your strength will remain the same, as when you were normal size, but as Mog puts it, you have plenty to go round. Over there are the two boulders that have a gap between them where I intend Shamus and Matt-cinder to hide with the weapon. In front of that is where the Roc will drop the tainted bait. He must be encouraged to that place to eat our offerings. Now I need you to be boulders so that if he comes this way, you will not be seen. Scatter yourselves around the area and wait for my return.”
At that moment Gornn swooped down from the clouds and planted his feet into the gravel.
He squawked, “I have frightened the game away from this area so he has not eaten well for some time. I leave small parts of my prey so he has not left the area to seek a better living. He still seeks the females that Queen Mab entombed under the ice. Where is my mate, Windflutter? Have you seen her on your travels back and forth?”
“She is on her way. She is carrying more than we planned as Jessop, Arifan and Aisled have hitched a ride to be here as well. Hold back on the mock attack until I give the word,” the leprechaun insisted. “Now I must return through the Shadow Lands to fetch the many balls and chains that the Trolls will need to keep Knorrd busy when the action starts. Goodbye for the moment. I should be back before dawn with the Trolls weapons of choice.”
Tam O’ Shadow made his way to the up thrusting boulders and once again viewed the possibilities that the hideout would present. Into the deepest shadow he translated into the Shadow Lands and immediately found the lay line that would take him to the barn at the homestead. Here next to the cold forge he would find the ten lengths of chain and their granite balls. Once again he opened his coat to make a sail and whistled up a fair wind to take him quickly across the vast distance. He could feel certain entities that were hungrily aware of him begin to move in his direction. Tam concentrated his will and became very small to make it more difficult for them to be aware of him. He reached into an inside pocket and found his spellbinding flute and began to play. Faery music began to beat away the darker shadows and replaced the hunger with a compulsion to dance. The faster the tune, the quicker the soul eaters whirled and bobbed in a state of euphoric abandon. Lightning split the sky as something much larger reached down to a bunch of dancing sprites and breathed them in. Tad abruptly stopped blowing through the flute and exited the Shadow Lands into the barn. He fell exhausted, onto a pile of hay. His heart was racing and sweat beaded his brow as he straightened up out of the soft bedding. He walked unsteadily over to the water trough and washed the sweat from his face and quenched his thirst.
Now he needed all the magic that Queen Mab had infused into his boots. He stared at the pile of chains and giant granite blocks and suffered a terrible doubt in his abilities to pull this change of state. He had done it with the Trolls and shrunk them and reduced their mass, but they were alive and he could feel every soul inside his mind. These chain weapons were inert; very heavy and beyond the leprechaun’s ability to lift in this universe. Tad concentrated his mind and began to offload the boluses into another universe where the rules of logic and physics were slightly askew to the realm of enchantment. Steadily the weapons became lighter as more and more of mass of the chains and blocks was locked away somewhere else. Tad shrunk nine of the boluses and put them in his waistcoat pocket. The last one he adapted the size and mass to suit himself and stepped back into the Shadow Lands. He also drew from his belt the gnarly stick that he had brought with him and with the chains in one hand and the stick’s tip in the other, made ready to repel any creature of darkness that wanted to try for him. The end of the gnarly stick had a large lump carved to suite Tam’s hand, but it would double up as a useful club.
As he stepped back onto the lay line he sensed that a web of darkness was reaching out for him. Tam altered the molecular substance of the balls of ‘granite’ and produced a strong white light that lit up the thing that was inching forwards. The leprechaun swung one of the balls so that it passed through the darkest portion of the ‘thing’ and was rewarded by a sobbing moan as it bubbled across the lay line behind him. He whistled up a wind that would propel him all the way to the inside of the split boulder. Time and again something of the dark would try to pull him off the safety of the lay line and time and again Tad would bring the knob at the end of his gnarly stick into play. During one of these encounters something stung him on the wrist and made him nearly drop his gnarly stick. The pain made him scream out and lay on the stick with even greater vigour. The commotion that he was stirring up was attracting the predators that hunted in the Shadow Lands and in the edge of his vision a darker stalker would slip in and out of the light. Fortunately the light pouring out of the balls and chain seemed to keep them at bay, but one moment of inattention would be enough. Breathing became more and more difficult as the leprechaun began to tire. His lungs itched and his throat became dry as tiny particles of darkness lodged in his mouth. Tam wrapped a piece of cloth over his mouth and nose to act as a filter.
At last he reached the portal in the shadow of the boulders and exited into the cold night air. While he still had the strength he returned the Trolls’ weapons back to their original state and then fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning he woke weak and shivery, feeling the effects of travelling through the Shadow Lands. His wrist throbbed and looked raw where he had been stung. A great deal of his hair had turned grey and felt every day of the centuries that he had lived. He crawled out of the semi-cave provided by the boulders suffering with the dry heaves and into the morning sun, where he did his best to get some warmth into his bones. At this far north, not much!
A large shape blocked out the sun as he lay exhausted on the stony ground.
“Will you look at yourself, Tam O’ Shadow,” cried out Mog the Troll as he reached down to his friend. “Take what you need of my elemental force. You will be no use to us in this state. I have nine other Trolls lined up behind me all ready to part with some of their life force to make you strong again. I have painted the top of the boulders bright red and cleared away the snow so that Windflutter will easily pick out an adjacent landing spot. Come what may, with our encounter with Knorrd, entering the Shadow Lands afterwards must be put out of your mind. It will be a long time before the denizens of that awful place forget the signature of your soul and are no longer attracted to you.”
Once again the leprechaun felt the energy flow into him from his long-time friend and soon felt much better after each and every one of the trolls donated some of their abundant life-force. They all funnelled the strength of the Land through their stony feet and into his bones. He felt the connection slip back with the faery Queen and felt the magic replenished into his boots, ready for when he needed to call upon them.
Gornn had hunted for the Trolls and had left two elk for them to tear apart and eat for breakfast. He had witnessed Tam’s return from the effects of the Shadow Lands and was very concerned at the state of the leprechaun’s health. To his amazement the pixie had regained his ginger hair colour and the silver was almost gone from his head and beard.
The Roc stared down at Tad and asked, “Have you recovered? What did the Trolls do to you for you to look so different?”
“We faery folk can donate some of our life force to each other and combat the effects of being drained of our energy in times of need. Trolls are veritable power-houses of life, particularly after they have stuffed themselves with food and as they can eat almost anything they can soon put back what was given,” replied the leprechaun and pointed at Mog. “My friend over there has an enhanced ability to store and transfer life energy and is also a telepath of some power.”
Mog stood up and scanned the clouds, pointing southwards to say, “I feel Windflutter’s presence and those of her passengers. She will be here soon. I think that it is time that you increased our size if you have recovered and we can scatter across the plain. We can then lie upon the balls and chains to hide them when the dragon comes. Also we need to be as far away as we can from the iron in the weapon that Matt-cinder carries with Shamus.”
Tam agreed and once again focussed his will upon the living stonework of the Trolls, drawing upon the very life-force that flowed through the land. He tripled the distance between the atoms inside their bodies and the Trolls steadily grew until they towered above leprechaun becoming almost the size of the Roc. Now they picked up the chains, slung the granite balls over their shoulders and walked out onto the plain so that they were in front of the twin boulders that would hide the iron bearers. They became a parallel row of large rocks, more than the width of the dragon, leading to the hiding place, but far enough away not to be influenced by the iron in the lance head. Now at this size they could lift and position flat boulders over the split, closing off a roof to protect the two beings that would wait underneath.  
High above, Windflutter spread her wings into a slow gliding mode and soon picked out the scarlet patches on top of the bounders. She also saw Gornn lift off the ground and flap his way upwards until he was level with her when they both heeled over onto their sides and she transferred the tainted buffalos to her mate. Then both of them dropped slowly down towards the killing ground. Windflutter was extremely tired and grateful to hand over the load and could concentrate on offloading the two gnomes and the elf without them getting too close to the lance strapped to her right leg.
They had already wriggled out from the strap and each gnome held onto one of Jessop’s legs as he spread his wings.
“We will leave you now Windflutter,” yelled the elf as the wind took his wings. “I can bear their weight as we coast downwards and away from that accursed iron blade.”
The two gnomes hung on for dear life as Jessop plummeted to the ground far below. He could see the red top of the boulders and made sure that he was heading for a landing some way away. The giant birds made their way downwards and landed in front of the split boulders where Matt-cinder and Shamus quickly undid the ties that securely held the lance and axe to her right leg. Matt-cinder dragged the lance into the shelter of the split in the rocks while Shamus lifted the razor sharp spear-head by the leather case. The axe was attached to Shamus’s right wrist by a thong and was also protected from losing its edge. The two of them placed the weapons down and explored the area inside the two large boulders. The split in the rocks opened out behind them, but left a narrow opening at the front. There was plenty of room to hide and apply the lance when Knorrd lifted his head to swallow the two buffalo. He would tilt his head back to swallow the poisoned bait and this would render him vulnerable for a short while. At least this was the plan.

Chapter Twelve.

It was sometime in the afternoon that Tam O’ Shadow called the hunters together. The nine trolls that he had selected were all stationed into their positions in front of the ‘killing ground’ and were all linked to Mog’s mind.
“Tomorrow will be the day that I have picked to do this thing! It seems that the weather will be settled for some while and that will suit us best. Rain and mud will slow us down so the quicker we go about the plan, the better it will be. I have given this problem a great deal of thought and Knorrd may not be as invincible as we have led to believe. Yes, the plunging of the lance under his armpit is most important so that it will make its way inside his body destroying all it touches. It will either lodge in the heart and kill him that way, but it may also bury itself into his lung. Each destination will kill him, but not immediately! He will have some reaction to the peppers and garlic that will explode inside his gut, but we have no idea just how bad that will be for him. Whatever effect it has we will have only a limited time of surprise. At the moment that the poison takes hold I want the trolls to use the balls and chains to pound him on his toes and joints to fracture them if you can. Also his wing joints are another place that a heavy ball swung on a chain will possibly break them. The two Trolls closest to his head will each carry Arifan and Aisled who will be armed with the iron-tipped bolts and the cross-bows made by our goblin friend. They will lift them up to the level of the beast’s head and take out his eyes. The bolts may be small, against his massive size, but he will become blind if the gnomes can get a direct hit through the pupil of each eye. He is a creature of magic and is as intelligent as are you. Just remember that if he gets away and recovers we will never have a chance of killing him again, as he will extract a vengeance the like of which you cannot imagine. You have seen what he did to the towns and cities that tried to stand up to him. Also if he should find just one of his females and mates with her there will indeed be a plague of dragons and life in this realm will be impossible. When Queen Mab exiled dragon-kind under the ice it cost her nearly all of her life-force to do this and recover. She has entrusted us to destroy this abomination while we can. She has transferred a great deal of her magic into my boots where I can draw upon her power, but it is not unlimited. You have seen the state that I was in when I returned from using the Shadow Lands. This fate awaits your Queen should we fail. Now get some sleep this night and be ready for the morning. Just remember that when I blow this horn, he will be on his way and the plan begins.”

Shamus and Matt-cinder burrowed down into the wolf-skins that they made into a soft bed. Although the goblin was not too bothered by the cold, Shamus certainly was. Outside of the furs the temperature dropped below zero and to a human, enough to die of exposure. The Trolls were quite happy to let a coating of frost glaze all exposed parts without any discomfort at all. Arifan, Aisled, Jessop and Tam made a pile of the wolf-skins and burrowed under these making sure that the cross-bows and the poisoned tipped bolts were right underneath and well covered. Mog laid his bear-skin over the sleeping faery folk. The goblin had warned them that the simple mechanism could in extreme situations become stiff if allowed to be covered in ice. Tam O’ Shadow lay in the security of the skins and went over the plan looking for flaws. His mind was alive with worries, but at some point he dropped into a fretful sleep.
As the sun began to rise over the peaks of the mountain range that the dragon was searching, Tam and the others awoke. Weapons were checked and all of them began to make ready. The two gnomes dug around the bottom of the travelling sacks and found plenty to feed everyone except the trolls. As they had fed well before setting out it was doubtful that they would require anything before engaging the dragon. Instead the trolls took up their positions and took the two gnomes and their cross-bows to their positions in front of the split in the boulders. Arifan and Aisled took up their positions underneath the Trolls and peeped out of their stony cage with their weapons cocked and ready to use.
Everything was set and all they had to do was to wait. Jessop unfurled his wings and took to the air, catching a morning thermal and rising high enough to see when the two Roc would stage their mock battle.
Gornn had flown out early to locate the whereabouts of Knorrd and found him digging into the next valley with some excitement. He had found the scent of one of his females, but hunger was making him weak and he desperately needed to eat if he was to be able to succeed in digging her out. A shadow fell over his excavation and he looked up and saw a giant bird. It was chasing a smaller one that had in its claws not one, but two fat beasts, challenging for the kills. Knorrd leapt into the air and flapped his wings to gain height.
Jessop saw them being chased by the dragon and dropped down to where Tam O’ Shadow had hidden himself away.
“He comes! He comes,” gasped the winged elf. “He is huge! How will we be able to kill something as big as that?”
“If the plan works, we shall. If not we will unleash a maddened creature on the rest of the realm,” the leprechaun replied and blew a note on his hunting horn alerting all the participants to be ready.
 The birds saw Knorrd and swooped away, still fighting to possess the carcasses that the smaller one had hold of. He got above them and the two of them dropped out of the sky and landed on the ground near a pair of boulders that jutted out of the ground. The fight continued between the birds with a great deal of noise and pecking at each other. As he followed the two birds down, the smaller one let go of its prey and rolled away across the gravel. It took to the skies leaving the victor behind to take what it wanted from the two kills. Knorrd let out a scream of fury that alerted the conquering victor of his coming. Gornn waited until the last moment before turning away leaving the two fat beasts just in front of the large split boulders. He rapidly beat his wings to escape, but was sprayed with the venom that Knorrd carried in the twin glands each side of his nostrils. As the liquid hit the air it turned to flames. The fire and acid ate into his plumage and he lost many of his flight feathers. Gornn rolled over and over to put out the fire and tried his best to put some distance between the dragon and his singed plumage. He lay still, pretending to be dead so that the dragon would not feel it needed to chase after him until he had eaten the two beasts.
Knorrd decided that he would eat the wounded bird after consuming the dropped offerings. He landed between a line of large boulders and dipped his head, lifted the first carcass to let it slide down his throat. He bent his neck again and tossed the other one to the back of his gullet enjoying the sensation of filling the almost empty stomach that had irritated him for some time. He decided to take his time dispatching the wounded giant bird. It would take some effort to tear apart, so he would wait until he felt ready to spend some energy and wait for the stolen kills to be digested.
Matt-cinder and Shamus stared at the sheer size of their quarry in disbelief. Seeing the creature this close just made the killing of it seem impossible! Its mouth was big enough for the two of them to stand in it. Nevertheless they made ready the lance and selected the left side armpit as the target zone as the dragon turned to the side exposing the target area.
Their movement was seen by Knorrd and he breathed his fiery breath into the cave containing the two small creatures. Shamus and Matt-cinder had dived out of the cave and moved to the side however, hidden by an outcrop of the buried boulder. Shamus brought out the ‘dragon whistle’ that the goblin mayor had given him and blew a single shrill note that froze the dragon in his tracks. As long as the note was played it stopped the dragon from moving, but every time he paused for breath Knorrd’s head swung further round towards them. He opened his great jaws and licked his lips when Shamus ran out of breath.
Inside the dragon, the dissolving stitches came undone and the contents of the travelling sack filled the stomach under extreme pressure, as the volume inside the sack was three times what had been put in there. The next thing that happened was the fermenting travelling sacks exploded inside all of the mess of chilli and garlic pushing the mixture down through his intestinal tract and up into his throat, flooding his sinuses. The pain was intense and his eyes were blinded by the fire in his mouth. Knorrd reared upwards shaking his head from side to side now completely oblivious of the two small bipeds. As he did so, Matt-cinder and Shamus rushed out of their hiding place and thrust the lance into his armpit and upwards, jamming the other end into the stony ground. The razor sharp point slid easily into the dragon’s flesh through this soft area and the barbed head sunk out of sight. This done they rapidly retreated back into concealment inside the split between the two boulders. The dragon then collapsed forwards in shock, driving the lance deeper into his body as his front legs gave way, trying to paw at his mouth to ease the burning sensation that filled his mouth and body. Knorrd’s head thumped into the stony ground just outside of the hideaway and he belched, filling the cave with his foul breath. Shamus and Matt-cinder’s eyes began to water as the chilli laden breath expanded into the chamber. They retreated out through the back of the split in the boulders and Shamus made his way back towards where the dragon’s front feet were dug into the stony soil in agony.  
 The pressure inside the dragon’s gut was now so expansive that it began to push the mashed chilli peppers through his anal system burning its way into the open air making his back end uncontrollable. Knorrd’s tail lashed from side to side as muscle spasms racked his lower regions. His wings extended and beat up and down but were unable to give him lift, as he was unable to leap into the air
This was when the trolls began to rise from their stationary position and whirled the granite blocks around aiming at the knee and wing joints. As Tam O’ Shadow had applied his magic to their size, they were as tall as the dragon’s back. They still had their strength translated from their normal size and this was plenty enough for them to whirl the sledgehammer blows with the balls of granite attached to the chains. Mog and his apposing troll held the gnomes, Arifan and Aisled high enough, that both of them were able to shoot a number of the iron tipped cross-bow bolts directly into the dragon’s pupils blinding him from both sides. They then placed them out of immediate danger and laid into the dragon with the granite balls, onto his damaged eyes and nostrils. Futile attempts by the dragon to spray the Trolls with fiery venom had no effect on them as they were mostly made of stone. In his blindness Knorrd had no place to go, as blow after blow rained down upon his body seeking out every joint, crushing them. Every time he tried to use the spray of venom, it would make him belch, filling his mouth with the mixture that Delph the master gnome at the homestead had brewed.
Shamus moved out of his hiding place and although scarcely able to see through the tears, he brought the axe that Matt-cinder had forged. He aimed at the joints of the toes bring the axe down as hard as he could. The razor sharp blade took a toe clean off, causing it to pump blood onto the ground. Again and again he swung the axe until he had pruned one foot of every toe and talon. Blood spurted over him drenching his clothes making the handle of the axe slippery. As Knorrd rolled over in his agonies, Shamus could see that only the end of the shaft was visible and for every contortion of the dragon made the lance twist deeper into the dragon’s body. The sharp edges and the barbed effect made sure that the poisoned iron would not come out. Shamus ducked underneath the bleeding foot and buried the axe into the dragon’s throat and rolled out of the range of his claws. As Knorrd writhed, the lance head cut a main artery into the lung and the dragon began to drown in his own blood. Slowly he dropped to the ground, vomited a tide of blood over the stony ground gave a shuddering gasp and lay still.
Tam watched the members of the quest come to the conclusion that Knorrd was finished and was proud of his friends. The killing ground absolutely stunk of garlic and chilli peppers and was making everyone’s eyes water filling them with tears. He increased his size and strode into the battlefield and retrieved Shamus and Matt-cinder from harm, leaving the Trolls to finish the dragon off. To the regret of the boy he had to leave his battle axe behind, stuck fast in Knorrd’s throat as the iron in its makeup would damage Tam’s ability to do magic. He also picked up the two gnomes and put them into a side pocket. Once the leprechaun had made certain Gornn was not too badly damaged he would make his way home again. The trolls would make their own way back after feasting on the remains of the dragon. They would of course avoid the area that was contaminated by the iron lance, but the idea of passing up a good meal was against all their principals. There was another task that Tam left them to carry out, under the leadership of Mog. Before they left they were to make sure that plenty of snow and ice covered up the sleeping female dragon that Knorrd had at last found.

Chapter Thirteen.
Tam O’ Shadow walked over to where the injured bird was being ministered by Windflutter. It was quite plain to the leprechaun that it would take a moult to replenish the flight feathers that the dragon had seared with flame and acid. Nevertheless the Roc was uninjured apart from the singeing he had endured and was triumphant in what they had achieved. Tad took out of his pockets the members of the Quest and reduced his size to normal.
“I suggest that you all treat yourself to a wash now that we have achieved the task set to us by Queen Mab. There is a small pond nearby that will do. You all stink of dragon’s blood and other things. Wash your clothes and I will light a fire while you do this. Shamus, my waistcoat has seen better days particularly the pockets that you have been travelling inside! I would appreciate it if you could swill the blood out of the weave of the cloth? Perhaps Windflutter could gather some dead wood in that giant beak of yours and bring it here? Meanwhile I will gather what I can find and start that fire,” said the leprechaun and threw the bloodstained waistcoat to the boy.
He soon found enough dead wood scattered around the low bushes struggling to live in the cold to start a small fire. A large shadow fell over the campsite and Windflutter dropped a good beak-full of dry wood by his side and went aloft to gather more. Soon Tam had a good blaze going and the returning company were soon drying out their clothes. The things that had not been taken near the site of the killing ground were all of the furs and Shamus was glad of their insulating warmth. He was the only one amongst the elves and the goblin that was bothered by the cold. The pond had been just above freezing and the shock of the cold had taken his breath away. He had stuck it out as his hair was matted with dragon’s blood as was the rest of his body. Everything that he owned was filthy and needed washing out, so he did his best until he could bear no more of the bitter cold. He wrapped the furs around his shivering frame and presented hit wet clothes to the fire. Aisled found a hot soup tucked away inside her travelling sack and Shamus was glad of the warmth that spread through his body. He had grown to accept that the gnomes had salted away a vast amount of hot food inside the timeless hold of the magic satchel. As the youngest son of King Brian he had ranked as having no status within the tribe, but just the insignificant birth-right of being a King’s son by a minor wife. Yet he had seen wonders and taken part in an adventure that his elder brothers would never believe. He was quite content in that he would never go back to his old home. Here he was amongst friends that had risked their lives in this endeavour who treated him as an equal even though he had no magic or ever would have any of the strange abilities that the leprechaun displayed. He had come to look upon the pixie with the greatest respect and valued his approval beyond pride. Tam had resurrected him from the roots of the enchanted apple tree and had borne him no ill will for his attempted thieving of his gold and magic boots. Instead he had offered him an adventure of a lifetime and the chance to show others what he could achieve if given the chance. As for what he would do now? He had long decided that he would do whatever the leprechaun advised him. With that thought in his mind he fell asleep.
Tam O’ the Shadows woke from an uneasy sleep feeling that something was very wrong. The sun had climbed from a cloudy dawn and had warmed the ground a little, enough to melt the frost. He cast his eyes over the company of heroes that had become his great friends and saw that they were all stirring except the young human that he had taken under his wing. He was still cuddled up underneath the wolf-skins grabbing all the warmth that the pile could provide. Tad walked over to him to get him moving and noticed that Matt-cinder had left the communal bed along with Jessop, Arifan and Aisled and were tending the fire and eating breakfast.
Feeling some concern about this, he moved one of the skins away to see what was keeping the boy. Tam stared down at the silver haired arm that was poking out of the furs and shuddered as the knowledge of what was happening swept over him. Gently he pulled more of the furs from around the human until he could see his face. The ginger haired thatch of unruliness on the top of his head was now quite silver, what there was of it. Where the boy had slept, an old man was blearily trying to wake up and get dressed. As he stood up, the cold air made him shiver and he stumbled over onto his face.
“What’s the matter with me, Master Shadow? I feel weak and my hands, my hands! My skin has gone scaly and I am covered with silver hair,” the boy cried out.
Shamus ran his fingers through his hair and came away with clumps of it and screamed in terror. The others came running to him to see what the commotion was all about. When they got there they could see what had happened and their faces filled with grief.
Aisled spoke out and implored Tam, “Let us give him some of our life-force as we did before. We must keep him alive. He cannot die like this!”
Tam bent down, picked up the spent life-vessel that lay on the furs and stared moodily at the dull cracked crystal that had kept the boy alive during the Quest.
“There is nothing that we can do for him here, my friends. But I do have an idea that may work. I asked you to clone a travelling sack to use against the dragon. Can you do this with the ones that you carry, Aisled?”
“I can, Tam O’ the Shadows, but it will not last too long. Also to my knowledge this has never been done before and how it will affect Shamus while he is in there we cannot know,” replied the gnome as she untied the sack that she wore at her waist.
“Shamus, listen to me! You will have to trust us in what we are about to do. If we do not try this last ditch method you will die within the next few hours. Eat something before we attempt to save you. How you will fare once inside the travelling sack is something that we cannot imagine, but if we do nothing we will lose you. Once you are inside, time will stop for you, so you should remain frozen, giving me the time to use the Seven League Boots at full stretch. I will plead your cause to Queen Mag and ask that she extends your life, because of the bravery you have shown in the destruction of the dragon. I must get you to her before you perish,” insisted the leprechaun to the now elderly man.
By the time Tam had finished talking Shamus had managed to eat some breakfast and had shed most of his hair. He was beginning to show signs of rapidly aging and he was becoming very frail.
“Are you ready, Shamus? You are getting weaker by the moment and if you wait much longer it will be the end of you,” Tam urged and took the cloned sack from Aisled to be ready,
Shamus turned to the leprechaun and pleaded, “Do it, master Shadow. Do it now for I do not feel well!”
Tam increased his size and cast the sack over the frail old man and sealed it shut. He then continued to grow until he was twenty times his original size and picked up Jessop, Arifan, Aisled and Matt-cinder and put them into his waistcoat pockets.
“Stride!” he commanded and began to hop the first of many hundreds of miles until at last the great forest began.
Now he needed to grow even taller so that he could find the entrance to the Great North Road. The effect of growing larger began to take its toll on the leprechaun and he became quite dizzy. In vain he searched for the road as it snaked across the plains. Without a clear view of where they had to be, it was all too easy to go in a tangential direction and end up completely lost. He stood a while uncertain about what he should do when he remembered something that he had been told many years ago. Goblins always know where their home lies. They have an inbuilt sense of direction.
Tam flexed his neck downwards and called Matt-cinder from out of the pocket he was sat in and asked, “Is it true young Matt-cinder, that goblins have a sense of direction? Can you point the way toward Little Creek?”
The goblin climbed to the top of the pocket and said, “We do indeed have that ability. What is the problem?”
“I cannot see the Great North Road that will take us to your hometown. Can you point the way? Time is running out and I am all too aware of it. I cannot afford to make any mistake that would land us in some remote area of the enchanted land,” Tam replied.
“Turn slowly around and let me feel the location of my home,” the goblin answered and closed his eyes.
The leprechaun slowly pivoted round until his direction finder called out, “There! That is the direction of my home. We must travel in that direction and somewhere along this line we will encounter the Great North Road. How is young Shamus? Have you any idea?”
“Aisled says that the magic that operates the travelling sack is very weak and will not last for very long, as it is the third time she has cloned the original sack. Now I must get going or all our efforts will have been in vain,” Tam replied and set forth with the command of “Stride.”
As he crossed the forest reaches in seven league hops, Tad’s mind worried at the fact of the unexpected relapse of his human companion. He searched for an answer to the reason that the boy had suddenly begun to age so rapidly. Suddenly the solution came to him. Shamus had been activated by magic, using the life-forces donated by the company to bring him back into the land of the living. He had spent a large amount of time close to iron and iron sucks the magic from anything that uses it. The gnomes had used the iron tipped bolts with the cross-bows that Matt-cinder had made. Had they brought them with them, unknowingly helping Shamus into his grave?
“Come to think of it,” he wondered, “if they have kept some back is it affecting me?”
Once again Tam O’ Shadow stopped and then opened the pocket that the gnomes were occupying.
“Do you still have any of those iron tipped bolts with the cross-bows? I think that they are affecting me and they may have turned the magic that reanimated Shamus to become all used up,” he said to his passengers.
Arifan buried himself into the recesses of the pocket and came up with six of the unused bolts. He threw them away into the topmost branches of a forest tree.
Tam watched them fall and moved a league away and immediately felt a bonus in his energy.
“My dear friends you were not to know,” he said. “I do not blame you as we packed up in a hurry. This might just tip the balance and keep the sack working in time for me to get to Mab. Now forgive my rudeness, but I must be on my way,” with that Tam gave the command “Stride,” and set off across the endless forest as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. By the time that he sighted the Great North Road Tam was feeling the strain of continuing to hop across the forest and the occasional collision with an ancient tree. Several times he had little time to gauge a safe landing as he came down and went sprawling to his knees. The boots were beginning to show a great deal of wear and the magic that drove them was taking a battering. Once the lacing broke on the left boot and fortunately he had spares tucked away inside one of his many pockets, but the time that it took to re-lace the boot securely, caused him great anxiety. The sun was by now past the point of being overhead. He could not afford to spend another night beyond his destination, as once the rest of the magic drained out of the cloned travelling sack, Shamus would rapidly continue to age and would this time be well out of the beneficial aid of magic. Now Tam O’ Shadow was beginning also to feel the effect of the continual spending of his magical powers. He was beginning to stumble and the sweat that dripped into his eyes made his judgement faulty. On the latest landing he went full length onto his hands and knees only just managing to prevent crushing his passengers as one of his knees gave in. Once again a lace had broken and the leprechaun sat down to tie it up and found that he could not put any weight on the injured leg. So he tied his legs together so that the good one would do the work of the two. It was then that he realised that he was sat in the middle of the Great North Road.
He struggled to his feet and gave the command through gritted teeth, “Stride and stride again.”

Chapter Fourteen.

At least by travelling south along the Great North Road, Tam could see where he would land each time he hopped seven leagues, although each landing tortured his twisted knee to make him sweat even more. He was relieved to pass over the scorch marks where the others had built a fire on their way north, so he had an inkling of how far away he was from the goblin township of Little Creek. Here he would drop off Matt-cinder to spread the news that the dragon had been destroyed and none had lost their life, although the human boy’s was set in the balance. As the sun began to slide into dusk the goblin lands came into view.
Tam O’ Shadow stopped along the road next to the side track that went towards the township and took Matt-cinder from out of his pocket and set him on the pathway.
“I cannot stop, my goblin friend. I must reach the castle before nightfall and get young Shamus to the Queen,” said the leprechaun. “His life depends upon it. We will visit you if this is successful, sometime in the future. Give my regards to your father, but I must be on my way.
“I fully understand, Tam O’ Shadow,” the goblin replied. “May the power of Queen Mab save him? He was brave beyond belief when we attacked the dragon. If anyone of us deserves to live it is him! All speed my friend. Now go!”
Tam leaned on the gnarly stick to prevent falling over and gathered his strength.
He faced towards where Mab’s castle was situated and gave the command, “Stride.”
At each hop through the air, he could feel the magic draining from the boots as they began to come apart. The sun was beginning to set as the castle came into sight, casting long shadows across the meadows. On this landing Tam could feel the soles wearing through and his fine stitching coming apart. He felt the laces snap and his weak knee folded and he went sprawling forwards. Once again he avoided damaging the gnomes and the winged elf by taking the fall onto his hands. He turned over so that Aisled, Arifan and Jessop could crawl out of his pockets. Once they were free he reduced his size to normal and examined the boots to see if anything could be done. The castle was still some distance away and impossible to walk to in the time left before sunset. Once the sun had gone down, it would not be possible to find their way through the woods and hills.
“Are you able to continue?” asked Jessop as the four of them stared at the wrecked boots.
“Not in these, my friend,” he answered as he examined the boots. “Every bit of magic has drained away. What is left are just boots.”
Aisled examined the travelling sack that the human was incarcerated inside and said, “This containment will not last for very much longer. The spell was weak to start with and soon it will release the contents and he will die.”
Tam undid the laces and re-bound them around his feet so that he would not lose the soles, so that at least he could walk in them a short distance. He shakily stood up favouring the twisted knee and lent once more upon his gnarly stick.
“What are you going to do? You will never be able to walk to Her! It is too far,” Jessop exclaimed. We have to accept the fact that we have failed the young human. There is nothing that we can do!”
“Not exactly dear friend,” replied and gathered the top of the sack in his right hand. “I am not called Tam O’ the Shadows for nothing. I can travel the Shadow Lands and appear in the darkness at the back of her throne. It should not take me very long to do this. I also have the dragon whistle that was given to Shamus. Hopefully it should make approaching me more difficult from the things that prey upon the unwary.”
“The last time you walked that route the soul-suckers nearly had you. You cannot do this” argued Jessop.
“I do not have the time to argue, my friend as once the sun goes down so does the magic that allows me to enter the Shadow Lands. I am responsible for this boy being here in the enchanted land. I told him the risks and still he agreed to come and be a part of this escapade. He deserves to live. How long Mab decides he should, is up to her, but I know in my very bones that she would not desert someone as brave as he. Wish me luck, for I must go. If all goes well, I will see you tomorrow with young Shamus O’Brian. If not, then this will be goodbye!”
Tam turned his back on his friends and walked into a deep shadow behind a tree and was gone through the portal. Frantically he searched for a ley-line that would take him to the palace and found one that ended in the throne room. In the dimensionless reaches of the Shadow Lands soul-suckers and other predators became aware of fresh energies on the edge of their scope. They began to swarm towards the lay-line leading to Mab’s home. Tam once again conjured up a wind that filled his waistcoat and blew towards the end of the ley-line leading to Mab’s throne room. He made himself almost weightless so that he could be blown along the ley-line. A soul-eater reared up from out of the darkness and Tam blew the dragon whistle as hard as he could and the fiend shrieked and faded away. Something with a long tentacle tried to wrap itself around the leprechaun’s sack and pull it away. Tam brought the lump on the end of his gnarly stick down hard on whatever owned the long feeler and it let go. There was a bubbling sound of anger and more tentacles rose out of the murky fog as a soul-sucker spread itself over the ley-line. Once again Tam used the whistle and the thing retreated, squealing with rage. The trouble was that he had been here too often of late and the creatures that hunt life down amongst the shadows were sensitised to him. Now he could hear slithering sounds as if bundles of snakes were trying to escape from a marsh. More and more of the creatures of the darkness were making their way towards him eager to feed upon his very soul. They could feel his terror and this exited them more. The shrieks of the weaker things being sucked into oblivion filled his ears as they crawled over each other trying to reach him. Now he was blowing the dragon whistle almost continually, but as time went by with less and less effect. His knee throbbed with pain and his grip on the sack was beginning to slip. The sack itself was beginning to unravel and every so often Tam could feel Shamus move inside. As the power began to weaken, time carried on inside the travelling sack, instead of being stopped. When it did this, Shamus became aware of the horrors outside the sack trying to get in. Again and again Tam brought down the gnarly stick onto questing feelers and watched as they burst. Then he became aware of a pearly radiance that was strengthening and casting hated light into the corners of the shadow lands. Now he could clearly see the things that hunted here and his blood ran cold.
A silvery voice filled the void and called out, “This way, Tam O’ the Shadows. I heard the sound of the whistle. Come to me and we will get out of this awful place. You have been using this gift for too long my brave boy. Far too long!”
Tam gave a sigh of relief and made his way towards the light and saw the winged figure of his queen silhouetted by a portal of shining luminosity. She was sending beams of incandescent light into the gloomy fog clearing it away and the creatures of darkness struggled to get away from being seen by other larger things that would feed upon them. She exerted her will and seized hold of him, pulling him to the portal. He dragged the travelling sack through the opening and fell upon the floor behind the throne.
A vision of pure loveliness knelt down beside him and placed her cool hands upon his forehead. Her hair cascaded around the two of them making a small private tent of black and silver hair over their faces. She entered his mind and listened and saw all that he had done until she had the complete story. Mab kissed Tam on his forehead and strength flooded his nervous system. Without another thought she healed the twisted knee and ran her fingers through the silvery locks of Tam’s hair turning it back to a fiery ginger. Understanding the cost of Tam’s excursions through the Shadow Lands and the terrible toll that this would exact upon his body, she healed him by her touch. She flooded him with her life and the years slipped back.
Just as the last of the magic oozed out of the sack Shamus O’Brian returned to a rapidly aging body and sat shakily upright, as the sides of the sack gave way and dropped to the floor.
“Where am I, Tam?” He asked.
“Safe my boy, quite safe now,” the leprechaun replied. “Meet Queen Mab.”
Through filmy eyes Shamus stared at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and said, “Everything was worth it, just to see you, but not for long as I suspect that I am dying.”
“Not yet young dragon-slayer. Not yet. I cannot return you to full life as a human, but Tam O’ the Shadows has vouched for you. So I can offer you a life as an elf or a leprechaun if you so wish. The body that was conjured up for you is a mixture of elf, leprechaun, gnome, troll and even a tree! There is very little human to work with.”
“If it pleases master Shadow I would be perfectly happy to become a leprechaun,” Shamus replied and dropped onto his back with exhaustion, feeling the weight of his vanishing years.
Mab put her left-hand on his chest, sliding it between his ragged shirt and his skin. She placed her right hand on Tam O’ Shadow’s head and concentrated her mind. The Queen could feel the heartbeat begin to slow into stillness and pushed her mind throughout his body copying the cell structure of the leprechaun’s and giving the new body a surge of her own life energy. Shamus’s hair began to change back into the dark ginger locks that he usually tied back. The hairs on his arms and the rest of his body lost the pale silvery look of extreme age. His muscles filled out and his bones shrank to his new size whilst the adolescent smoothness of his chin now sported a beard. Apart from the slightly darker hair, he made a remarkable likeness of Tam. The only problem was that all of his clothes fell off as Tam’s original spell to make them fit had perished. 
Queen Mab reached into the air and took a sheet from one of the many beds in the castle and translated it into her hands. She wrapped it around the boy’s shoulders and looked him up and down.
“Well Tam O’ the Shadows it would seem that you have an adopted son to teach the ways of those who live in the enchanted lands. There will be no more excursions from the humans into my realm, as I have closed all the portals. So, young dragon-slayer, this is now your permanent home. You could never go back anyway, once you had eaten and drunk here,” Mab told him.   
Shamus stood up and found that he now came up to the Queen’s waist, but he knew by his association with Tam, once he had learnt how, he could be any size that he wanted.
He bowed his head and said, “Thank you Queen Mab for my new life. If there is anything that I can do for you in return, just ask and it will be done.”
Queen Mab called over one of her people and said, “Take this young leprechaun and see that he is properly dressed, also take Tad O’ the Shadows with you, before all his clothes fall off!”
She watched them walk out of sight talking to each other and thought to herself, “The boy can read the runes on the ancient maps left here by earlier humans. I have a problem with Ogres at the far west of my realm. Maybe he could be part of the solution to my problem? He could take at least a century or so before he is ready, as he has much to learn, but there is plenty of time.”

Fin.
Barry E Woodham. 14.06.2016.
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The 'Follow on from The Seven League Boots.

Ogre!
Chapter One.

Years had passed in the enchanted lands and Shamus O’Brian was still learning how to become a leprechaun. He was busily absorbing the hallowed trade of Boot and Shoe maker under Tam O’ Shadow’s tutelage. He was a willing pupil and was quite happy with his lot. He had come to the leprechaun’s house in the whispering woods to steal his gold and a pair of ‘Seven League Boots’ through a now closed portal between the two worlds. The boots had killed him when he had tried to use them to make his way back to the early settlements of his people. He had got Tam drunk on Poteen and had taken the pixie’s gold and the magic boots that would carry the person twenty odd miles in any direction. He had given the password, ‘Stride’ and had not kept his legs together so most of him stayed where he was and the other boot plus his leg, had vanished towards the portal. When Tam had woken up he had found the dead boy and immediately understood what had happened. So he ‘called’ the other boot back and buried the boy under the enchanted apple tree at the back of his cottage. He had made the magic boots on orders from the Queen and had received a royal summons to come immediately to her castle.
There he learned the reason for the manufacture of the boots. Some humans looking for gold had mistakenly awoken a dragon that Queen Mab had buried under a glacier far to the north centuries ago. He ate them and proceeded to pillage the towns and villages in-between searching for the females that Mab had buried also. As the Queen could not kill such a creature of pure magic, she called Tam O’ the Shadows to her side to destroy him before he found his females and unleashed a plague of dragons on her people. She added a great deal of her personal powers to the boots to aid her chosen champion.
Tam had returned to his cottage and resurrected Shamus by lending him some of his and his companions’ life-force, as the human could read the runes on ancient maps drawn by his ancestors. They had succeeded, but the life began to run out for the boy on the way back. Tam had just got him back to Queen Mab’s castle in time for her to use her powers to make him into something else. Given a choice, Shamus had decided to become a leprechaun and was left in Tam’s care.
Shamus was sewing the last threads into the enchanted leather that had once been part of a dragon’s wing when he ‘heard’ a voice in his mind.
“I need the two of you. Come now,” the summons rattled through his brain.
Shamus stood up immediately and turned to his mentor and asked, “Was that her?”
“It was indeed our Queen,” Tam replied. “When she calls we come. She will have a task that she will wish preformed. Do not think for one moment that you could refuse.”
“I have always thought of her to be kind and generous. What right has she to order us about and risk our lives?”
“You are alive because of her generosity young Shamus. Think on that! You have no idea what our Queen endures to keep this kingdom safe. Sometimes she needs our help and we gladly give it. Whatever she wants, be it my life itself, she has the right to ask. Just remember that we defeated a dragon and you have made your boots with the skin from his wings. Mog gave you enough, to craft into boots for you and I to be able to use. The rest of it went to Matt-cinder, goblin blacksmith to the folk of Little Creek. You came here to steal from such as I and died here for it. I brought you back to life to offer you the chance to redeem yourself, which you did and Queen Mab gave you another body brimming with life and vitality. You owe her! Not the other way around!”
“I am sorry,” Shamus replied and gathered up his tools. “I was wrong to say the things that I did, but I was not prepared. Things are so different here and sometimes I am out of tune with the way you accept a ‘no questions bondage,’ to her needs.”
Tam looked at the boy and smiled as he also put away his tools.
“I did not mean to be so harsh, young man,” he answered as he swung the bag of tools over his shoulder. “It is a way of life that has endured for thousands and thousands of years. This world is far older than the one that you were born into and has a history that goes back eons. Many wars were fought between the different races until Queen Mab applied her unifying hand. Since then we have learnt to live together and just enjoy our long lives. She does not lightly ask that we risk our lives unless the need is great. She is a force of good, but sometimes she needs us to do the ‘dirty work’ that keeps the realm safe, just as we did with Knorrd the dragon.”
The two leprechauns walked back into the cottage and proceeded to alter their clothing to something more appropriate. Both of them put on a waistcoat of many pockets with an over-jacket and a stout pair of trousers. The next thing to be worn, were the new boots that they had both finished stitching. Tam had instructed Shamus how to draw the magic of the realm into the new Seven League Boots so that they could use the swift movement. The many pocketed waistcoats were then filled to a bursting point with thread, needles, candles, travelling sacks, stocked with food and drink. Once they were both sure that every useful thing had been shrunken and hidden away inside the pockets they were ready to leave.
Shamus stopped before going out the front door and said, “There is one more thing that I must do before we leave and that is to explain to the tree that we will be gone for a while. Through her I can also speak to the whispering wood and ask that if we need help it will be there!”
He exited the door and walked around the back where the apple tree was flourishing. There were thousands of blossoms and also many apples that were turning red. Shamus put his hands on what once was his grave-tree and centred his thoughts into the sap of the tree where the spirit of wood lay dormant.
“Listen to me,” he thought and felt the bark come alive under his hands. “I am going away for some time and I do not know when I shall return. I may become in danger and need your help. I ask that if I need you, you will help?”
“Sssssaaamus. I hear you. I am a small part of you. I am always there inside your heart. Stretch out your hand and take only the ripest apples that you can see. When you need them, you will know! Be at peace with the spirit of wood.”
Shamus withdrew his hands and reached up for the apples presented by the branches of the tree that bent towards him. He filled his travelling sack with as many as the tree would release and shrunk them down. Tam O’ Shadow watched in wonder as his protégée ‘talked’ with the tree and gathered the apples into his sack. This was a gift unique to the human that Mab had turned into a leprechaun, caused by the fact that when Tam had buried the corpse of the young man he had been partially absorbed by the tree. When Tam resurrected him, some of the tree came with him. Since then Shamus had demonstrated to him that he could ask for water from any tree and the tree would send it to him from the root system, pure and cool.
Tam O’ Shadow stood outside of his house and gestured to the poison ivy and thorny rambling roses. He watched as the growth of the plants spread all over the cottage making it safe, covering every door and window.
Satisfied he turned towards the direction of Mab’s castle and asked, “Are you ready?”
“That I am master Shadow,” the young man replied.
Together they gave the command, “Grow twenty times.”
The two leprechauns shot up in size until they could see over the tops of the trees.
Tam shouted out, “Remember Shamus to keep your legs together! Stride!”
It did not take long for the ‘Whispering Wood’ to thin out and turn into the managed meadows of the castle that Queen Mab had made her home. Flocks of sheep and herds of cows filled the rolling hills surrounding the castle. Thousands of fowls of all description pecked and scratched at the fertile earth. A river wound through the landscape that was dotted with farms that supplied the needs of the castle.
Shamus O’Brian felt more than a little nervous as they approached the grey stone walls. The last time he had been here was when Tam O’ Shadow had taken him through the Shadow Lands, as he began to die. He had very little life-force left in his composite body when the travelling sack had fallen to pieces around his aged frame. Queen Mab had given him a choice to become one of the faery folk or die in the next few minutes!
Since then he had left his humanity behind him and had set out to learn about being a leprechaun. He had become a creature of magic, bound by an entirely different set of rules. Mastering changing his size had taken quite a while, but with the perseverance that Tam applied, eventually Shamus achieved the trick. Once this barrier had gone down, then he found that there were many other magical abilities that the pixie body that housed him could do. The one thing that he could do that mystified Tam was his ability to speak with trees! This ability came about when Tam had buried the remains of the human under the bewitched apple tree in the garden of his cottage. When he resurrected Shamus, part of his psyche was carried over into the new body from the tree. Now this was part of his life. He still had an awful amount to learn and studied hard, slowly beginning to understand how the magic worked in the Enchanted Land. Every living thing on this world was connected by a living force that was linked together. The faery folk could tap into this source of power and could use it in many different ways. Some of them like the goblin race could not, but they could work with iron and that was a virulent poison to most of the other creatures. Again there were exceptions such as the giant birds that could carry iron weapons without side effects. Shamus had once had that ability, but no longer, as he was a copy of Tam and was sensitive to all forms of magic and allergic to iron.
In view of the castle, both leprechauns reverted to their normal size and cut down the amount of ground that they could cover. Now the boots became a blur as the two of them took normal steps, but very quickly, drawing on the power that leaked out of the ground. Tam and Shamus stopped in front of the great studded doors and waited for them to open.
The large counter-weight dropped slowly out of sight and the double doors swung open. Behind them were the same company of elves that Tam had met on his journey with the first Seven League Boots.
The captain of the guard nervously nodded to Tam and said, “Welcome Dragon slayer. I apologise for my bad manners when we first met. The Queen awaits you in her throne room.”
Tam smiled and patted him on the arm replying, “Bygones dear fellow, bygones! I bear no ill will. I trust that it took some time to return to your post? I trust that you had a soft landing from the kick of my boot?”
He turned to Shamus and said, “Time we made our way to the royal presence, young Shawn and find out what she wants of us.”

Ogre!
Chapter Two.

Shamus stared around at the incredible carvings stood against the walls, as they walked through the interconnected halls. They looked as if they were modeled from life, as if they were frozen in the act of just being there!
“Who are these people that have been carved from stone?” asked Shamus as he swiveled around to marvel at the perfect statues.
“Not are, but were my young friend. They were a nasty bunch of humans who found a way into the enchanted realm centuries ago and tried to stay here. Queen Mab turned them to stone and left them here to watch over us! That’s when she decided to take up residence here and make it her home. Since that day artisans of all kinds have made their way here and worked on the basic building to make it beautiful. The stone ones, being human, they were very susceptible to her powers and thus easy to control. It takes a lot of magic to keep them as they are and Mab is determined that they should stay there until needed.”
Shamus stared at the fearsome army that lined the walls and asked, “If she could do this, then why did she not turn Knorrd to stone instead of risking all of our lives?”
“Dragons are magical creatures and cannot easily be managed by the power that Mab possesses, so another way was sought. It took her centuries to recover from when she sealed the dragons under the ice. Besides, those such as the faery folk need an adventure from time to time. Did you not see wonders that would have never been seen had you stayed in your world? Did you not find in your heart a bravery that otherwise you would have never found? Also you now walk this realm with a new body that will last an indefinite time. The magic that you are learning will take you on journeys that you could not imagine! Now, I do not want to hear any disrespect when Queen Mab speaks to you. Be humble or you will feel the weight of my boot on your backside!”
Tam increased his height until he was the same size as the Queen and Shamus followed suit until they both could look her in the eye. Mab looked at the young leprechaun that she had created and gave a grunt of satisfaction.
Mab caught hold of his small ginger beard, gave it a tug and said “Young man, I see that you have mastered the rudiments of your pixie existence. Does he show that he can use the gift, Tam old friend?”
“He shows promise great Queen,” replied the leprechaun. “He has an ability that I have never seen before! He can talk to trees! We were becoming low on water when we were travelling to where the Roc live, he asked for water and the tree gave him enough to fill the containers in his travelling sack! I enjoy his company, my Queen and am very happy that you placed him in my care. Now you have not summoned the two of us here just to talk. Surely we do not have to pit our wits against a second dragon?”
“No dear friend it is not a dragon that is giving me trouble this time, but a family of Ogres have built an independent portal and have begun to raid the human world for fresh meat. Their favourite food is human children and if there is one thing that humans will respond to, it’s the loss of their young ones. They will swarm through that portal when the ides are favourable and they will come through with iron weapons and armour. Not understanding what the creatures are that have taken their children, I expect a killing wave that will spread out over the countryside as they seek their offspring. That portal must be destroyed and the Ogres put down like the foul creatures that they are, before this can happen. Once again I will need you to put a team together and sally forth on my behalf to do my bidding,” the Queen instructed.
 “Will you do this for me young Shamus? Would you risk your life in my service and help to keep this realm safe?”
She turned and ran her fingers through his hair as she asked,
“Madam, I would do anything that you asked. You took a stranger to your lands and allowed Tam O’ the Shadows to give me a second chance. When I was dying, you gave me life and left me in the care of a very wise man. I have learnt so much and realise that there is still much to learn. Ask and I will do my best to fulfil your desires,” the changeling replied.
Mab smiled at Shamus, reached forwards gripping his pointed ears and drew him into her embrace. When she kissed him, a massive flow of sheer magic power entered his body and lit up his soul. For a few precious moments he shared her mind and felt the incredible age of this eldritch woman. She was thousands of years old, but still had a young mind and body with the same appetites!
“I will see you in the morning dear Tam and allow you the opportunity to find those who travelled with you the last time,” she said. “They are here in my castle somewhere, as I summoned them all some time ago. This young lad will warm my bed tonight and learn how to please me in love’s pleasures. It’s been far too long since I last took a partner to my chambers and a virgin as well!”
Tam bowed and turned away smiling. He was not surprised that Shamus had been picked by the Queen to quench her desires, as Tam and Mab had a long history together. He made his way towards the great hall where he expected to find his great friend, Mog the Troll and Jessop the winged elf. Arifan and Aisled would be working in the kitchens and would soon know that he had arrived. The one that had also been summoned from Little Creek was the goblin-smith, Matt-cinder. Tam was not sure whether he would have made the distance here yet, as it was a fair journey without magic boots!
He strode through the corridors until he came to the great banqueting hall and stood in the doorway looking for his friends, when he saw a figure that he could not miss!
Mog the Troll stepped over the tables until he stood towering over his leprechaun friend and reached down to pick him up. Held tight in those stony arms there was very little that Tam could do but gasp.
“Dear friend,” he boomed, covering Tam with the aroma of many pies and a roast pig. “We are off again I believe, to pastures new. Not another dragon I hope?”
The necklace of dragon’s teeth pressed against the leprechaun’s chest and pricked him through his waistcoat as he cried, “Put me down you great oaf! Have you seen the others?”
Mog laughed and set Tam down onto the tiled floor and replied, “I have that. Jessop is tucked away with an old lady friend and the gnomes are working in the kitchen. Matt-cinder arrived here yesterday and is also in the kitchens studying the ovens and other cooking equipment. Where is the boy? Have you left him in your home? Is he settling down as a leprechaun?”
“Oh, he is here alright. Queen Mab has him in her chambers teaching him the mechanics of love! If he can still walk in the morning I will eat my boots!”
Mog grinned and stuffed yet another pie into his massive mouth and said, “Well she made him, so it’s her choice what she does with him. Lucky lad! How has his teaching been? Will he master the magic arts as you have? Does he have the power and the strength of will?”
Tam laughed and patted the Troll on his knee and answered, “He never ceases to amaze me, as he has a different set of gifts as well as the ones that I have taught him. He fills my days with questions and observations. There is still very much that he must learn, but I have high hopes of him and I bless the day that Queen Mab put him in my charge.”
The Troll reached over the table where a fresh platter of pies had been placed and shovelled half a dozen pies into his mouth and asked in a cloud of crumbs, “Well old friend where are we off to now? What adversary has the Queen found to need our help again?”
“No dragon this time. Something quite worse and liable to cause a terrible upheaval if we cannot stop what is happening. A family of Ogres have managed to build an independent portal into the human world where they hunt children for their appetites to fasten on. If there is one thing that will stir up the humans more than anything it is the abduction of their children. Armed with weapons of iron they will come swarming through the portal bent on killing everything they see as different from them. Elf, goblin, gnome, troll or leprechaun, it will not matter to them, whether they kill Ogres or us, as long as they stop the stealing of their children. They are far to the west and we need the boy to read the maps in the castle library to get some idea of the geography of that area. We need to know what we will face in that region.”
Mog shrugged his massive shoulders and replied, “Does it really matter? Surely all we have to do is to travel west along the Great West Road until we come to where these creatures live and then thump them into the ground!”
“Spoken like a typical Troll. Brawn and little brain,” Tam replied sarcastically! “Did you not hear me say that they have built an independent portal into the human world? Ogres are clever and very devious. There could be all sorts of traps set up, to take the unwary traveller. We need to understand the area around where they live. Humans are avid map makers and write down anything of interest that they may find. We found the maps of the far north very useful when we planned the strategy to outwit the dragon. A day spent looking at the maps held here will be time well spent in planning our campaign. So for now I want you to find Jessop and the others in the kitchens and tell them I am here and a brief outline of Queen Mab’s latest task. I need some food and a place to sleep while you are gone. In the morning you will find me here under the table and out of the way. When I wake, the boy and I will peruse the maps and decide what our first steps will be. Goodnight old friend.”
With that the leprechaun helped himself to a plate of home-baked pies and a bowl of cooked vegetables covered in a red-wine sauce. He followed that with a glass of cider and pulled a duvet from out of his waistcoat pocket. This he laid upon the floor underneath the table and was soon asleep, totally oblivious to the hub-bub surrounding him.
Ogre!
Chapter Three.
During the night, time and time again Shamus had satisfied the Queen’s needs until he became exhausted and fell into a deep sleep. She looked down on him with a smile on her lips and ran her fingers through the downy chest hair that covered his body from tip to toe. She had made him well and strong so it would not tax him too much to give a little back. As she bent over him, her long black hair with the silver streak spilled over his face and made a tent over his head and neck. Mab bared her sharp teeth and sank them gently into his neck and began to draw his life blood out. She was careful not to take too much, as he would need all of his strength in the morning. Then she gave him some back, mixed with hers, by slitting her thumb with a sharp finger nail and allowing the blood to drip into his mouth, where under her influence, she made him swallow. Now should he need it, there would be a reservoir of power as a back-up to draw upon and she would always know where he was. She licked the last of his blood from his neck and healed the skin together so that he would never know that she had feasted upon him after their sexual lusts had been satisfied. There was much about the faery realm that the young leprechaun had yet to learn and it would be best if he found out in small doses.
Queen Mab gave a flutter of her silver wings and rose above the bed that had seen so much action. She paused for a few moments above him and then darted out of the window to enjoy the warmth of the rising sun, as she rose to the top of the tower. Once there, she perched on the battlements and sent her mind on a scrying trip around her realm. All the female dragons were still safely buried under many tons of ice and the area where Knorrd had laid waste was once again being ploughed and worked to feed the people. The towns however would need a lot of re-building to come back to their former glory.
She sent her mind to the township of Little Creek, a thriving goblin enclave and looked over it. The goblins were mindful of the ecological damage that could be done if the population grew too swiftly. Everything was being kept in order according to her rules and she was satisfied.
She was satisfied that all was as it should be, but when she cast her mind to the West, there was a cloudiness to the visions that she tried to see. Whatever the Ogres were doing in that wild and inhospitable place was upsetting her scrying abilities. It was similar to the use of iron by the collection of the sky stones that the goblins could work in their forges. She could never get an accurate vision of the goblin territory, because of their immunity to the effects of the poison metal and their use of it. Nevertheless the goblins had never been a problem for her so she left them to get on with their lives, as they interfered with none of the many races of faery folk living under her protection. Their knowledge of better agricultural methods and tool making made them a valuable asset. The son of their Mayor, Matt-cinder, had been the one person that could forge the lance-head that he and the human boy had driven into the armpit of the dragon into his organs. Now she had ‘called’ him to travel with Tam O’ the Shadows and whoever extra he chose knowing that he would be useful in some way. She sent her mind down into the banqueting hall and found that her brave leprechaun was still fast asleep under the table. Mab picked up a mug of water and guided it under the wooden spars and emptied it over the sleeping form.
Tam awoke very suddenly and looked around for the one responsible for the drenching and saw no-one near him.
“Get up, lazybones! Its time you were gathering up your party. Yes, the boy is still alive and its time he was on his way towards you. Then it’s to the library and a study of the maps,” the Queen buzzed around his brain.
“My Lady! Give me a chance to wake up! I do not think well on an empty stomach so I will have some breakfast before I do anything,” the leprechaun grumpily replied, drying himself with the edge of the duvet.
Mog lumbered into sight at that moment and laughed at the wet pixie sat underneath the table saying, “Oh dear me! Did Queen Mab wake you?”
Tam threw the empty jug at Mog where it shattered on his stony chest and replied, “Very observant of you stone head! I would have thought that after a night of endless passion she might have slept past the dawn!”
“I take it that you have not seen the boy then? I have found all of the others and they will be along shortly,” he said and began stuffing freshly cooked food into his huge mouth.
Tam O’ Shadow wriggled out from underneath the table and shrank the duvet to fit into a pocket of his waistcoat, after making sure it was dry. There was every sort of food laid out on the table tops all over the hall. The magic ovens of the castle only had to be taught once how to cook something and they could repeat it endlessly. All the raw ingredients came from the cloning chambers and were duplicated every time they were used. Fruit was picked fresh and replicated by the basketful.
Once Tam had finished his breakfast he made his way to the Queen’s bedroom to find Shamus still fast asleep. Feeling a tad mischievous Tam reached for the jug of water by the side of the bed and emptied the contents over his crotch. Shamus leapt out of bed and staggered around the room as the muscles of his legs cramped up. He eventually ended up kneeling at the foot of the bed clutching his erect member and groaning.
“Put the fire out have I? Never mind young Shamus, the ache will go away once you have emptied your bladder! You are not the first to come from the Queen’s bed in that state,” he chuckled and helped the young leprechaun to his feet. Through that archway is the urinal, so go and pee down the hole and you will soon feel better!”
Shamus tottered to the room and then had to try to bend himself to pee downwards not up! Eventually he came out with relief stamped over his face and decanted the dehydrating invocation to make his clothes dry. As he dressed Tam noticed a few spots of blood on his collar and knew at once what had transpired. He remembered many years ago when the Queen had consecrated her love for him at the time, in that same fashion. It had given him powers over and above other leprechauns and remained with him to this very day. This was why he could travel the Shadow Lands, follow the lay-lines and take short-cuts across the realm far faster than the Seven League Boots. It was fiendishly dangerous however as it was patrolled by predators that ate the very souls from those they caught. It was the only way that Tam could get the dying Shamus to the castle and Queen Mab’s healing powers. He was not jealous of Shamus being taught the arts of love by his Queen. Such a thought would never cross his mind. His love for her was endless and without a lust for her body. If she asked he would gladly lay down his life for her if required, besides Shamus was almost a complete copy of himself so he felt honoured.
“Where is the Queen?” asked Shamus when he was fully dressed.
“Going about her business, young man as you must now go about yours. Do not expect to see her again until we have finished the task that she requires of us,” Tam replied and began walking to the door.
“Will she not want me here, now that she has taken me to her bed?”
Tam gently laughed and laid his hand upon Shamus’s shoulder, “Oh foolish, love struck boy, you have fulfilled your requirements and will not be needed again. Do you think that you were the first? In the thousands of years she has reigned she has had thousands of lovers whenever she has felt the need. Each one has been given a parting gift, as was I! You and I, we share her blood. She has taken a small amount of your blood for herself and mixed it with her own. Some of it has been returned to you. You will find as time goes by that you will have a ‘connection’ with our Queen that will enable you to use her magic mixed with your own. One of those powers will be the ability to travel the Shadow Lands by making a portal from a shadow on this world into the next. Be warned that it is a perilous way to travel and full of the most hideous deaths that you could not imagine. Let time roll by and bit by bit you will become aware of what you can do. Now you and I must pay a visit to the library and see what the maps can tell us.”
The leprechaun strode off, up a great stone staircase followed by the stiff and aching youth. They eventually came to a set of double doors leading into a well-lit room that was full of books on shelves and cabinets of drawers. Tam walked around an ancient table and gave a grunt of satisfaction as his eye caught the lettering labelled on a set of drawers above his head. He grew until he became the same size as the elves that had built and crafted the cabinet. Shamus grew alongside him until they were the same size. Both of them exerted their strength to pull out the stiff drawer that had not been moved in centuries. It would not budge!
“I will fetch Mog,” declared Tam and paused before he disappeared though the double doors. “You stay here. The last thing I need is to waste time trying to find you in this maze of rooms and corridors!”
While Tam O’ Shadow went off to get the Troll, Shamus wandered around the ancient tombs of knowledge deep in thought. The words that Tam had spoken to him about the Queen reverberated through his mind. This enchanted land he now lived in was full of the bizarre and left him in awe of what the people here could do and the variety of different forms that they took. He was far happier here than when he had been just a human boy looking for adventure.
Deep inside him he could feel the magical beat of some celestial instrument and he sent his mind inwards to try to understand it. He found himself embracing a power that pulsed through every living thing that could be used, if sparingly, to great advantage. The trick in using it, was to apply just the right amount to do the job! Shamus surfaced and stared at the reluctant drawer and reached out with his mind to fold it around the stubborn receptacle until he encased it. Then in that pocket of his mind he applied the same magic that Tad had taught him to increase and decrease his size. He shrank the drawer until it rattled inside the cabinet and pulled it smoothly out. He pulled out a bundle of maps and laid them on the table top. Many of them were drawn by his ancestors who had come here exploring. Most of the maps were of the surrounding countryside linking the castle to the great North/South and East/West roads that used the castle as the cross-roads to the enchanted realm. He found that the runic symbols had not changed much over the years that the maps had lain untouched and he could read them quite well. he began to search for maps that showed the lands to the West and was pulling an interesting one from a bundle when Tam and Mog burst into the library.
Tam stared at the maps laid on the table and asked Shamus, “How did you manage to free that drawer?”
“Simple really, master Shadow. The wood had swollen over the years, so I took the moisture out of the wood and shrunk the drawer to slide out,” Shamus replied. “I will have to teach you how to do that,” he grinned.

Ogre!
Chapter Four.

The map lay over the table and had a glass paper-weight holding each corner, while they all stared down at the panorama laid out before them. The castle occupied the left hand edge of the map. To the right, extended the Great West Road, that wandered over hills and through settlements on its way to the sea. Whoever had drawn the map had an eye for distance and scale, but all relevant notes were written in runic symbols. Rivers criss-crossed the road and wherever there was a bridge, then a settlement was built. There were symbols by the sides of these townships portraying who the inhabitants were. There were several places that were pictured some distance away from the Great West Road that just had the symbol for township, but nothing else.
It was Shamus who recognised the note that had been scribed into the edge of the sea at the far end of the road. He read it several times before he was sure what it said.
Shamus looked up and said to Tam and Mog, “The map was drawn by Jorvick the Red, and judging by this note, he was the only survivor from the exploring group that got to the sea. He got back to the castle on his own and left the map behind him. These runic symbols tell of a terrible fate that had befallen the rest of his men. They were all trapped and eaten by what we call Ogres. He described them as three or four times the height of a man and very hairy. Their heads were twice the size of what should have been in proportion. They had teeth like spades and great tufts of hair hanging out of their nostrils and ears. This was one slight advantage to the mapmaker in that they were slightly deaf. He was able to crawl away far enough to be able to run for his life.
They tore his men to pieces and ate them in front of him as he lay hidden. He also writes of a nearby settlement of green skinned people smaller than himself and held captive, so they must be goblins. This map was drawn centuries ago so much could be different now. The one thing that will be true is that the rivers will still be there and anything else will not have moved!”        
  Tam pulled a sheet of well-tanned leather from a dispenser on the wall and spread it over the map. It was as thin as silk and very supple. The leprechaun concentrated his will and transported the information on the original map onto the copy-sheet.
He passed the copy to Shamus and said, “You are the keeper of the map as you are the only one who can read it. It is time that we gathered up the other members of the group and were on our way. By now Arifan and Aisled will have baked enough food with plenty to spare. They will have packed it away in their travelling sacks by now, so we will pick them up at the banqueting hall along with Jessop and make our first move along the Great West Road.”
Shamus folded the map the maximum number of folds and after the seventh crease he shrunk it to fit inside the right hand breast pocket of his waistcoat. He followed Tam down the stairs and along the corridors until they came to the banqueting hall where the others were waiting for them. Again Shamus stopped and stared up at the warriors turned to stone and wondered about them.
“Tam! Are they still alive? Are they actually stone or are they just frozen in time? Because I have an idea,” he said and touched one of the figures on the leg.
The statue did not move or felt like anything else but solid stone. Shamus examined the weapons that the man carried and could see that they were not made of iron. Double headed hand axes wrought from bronze and hammers that he knew that he could not lift, let alone swing. Some were archers that were still carrying the long bows that each had crafted along with full quivers of arrows. All of them wore breastplates made from thick and well-seasoned leather. Shamus suddenly realised that he was ‘seeing’ beyond the stasis field to whom and what, these men and women truly were.
Tam’s voice broke off this new gift and brought Shamus back to his senses, “What do you have in mind young leprechaun?”
“Why, offer these people the chance to be alive again, if they will join us in our campaign against the Ogres. Explain the situation to them and see if several more centuries frozen like stone appeals to them. Tell them that come what may, there is no way back to the world of their origin, but if they serve us well, they will have earnt the right to stay here and live out their span. I did!”
“I will seek Mab’s permission before I do anything more,” replied Tam and concentrated his mind.
Within a few minutes the hall was full of the sound of beating butterfly wings as the Sluagh Sidhe swooped into the hall through the open windows. They were the most beautiful creatures that Shamus had ever seen and he felt small in their presence. Amongst them floated Queen Mab resplendent in her shifting colours. She smiled at Shamus and his heart catapulted into his chest and he was struck dumb. As she lowered herself to the flagstones of the hall she increased in size until she was the size of the elves.
Both Tam and Shamus were still enlarged to the size they were when perusing the maps, so were on the same statute as the Queen. Once again she concentrated with her mind and floated Tam into the air so that she could spit on his new boots reinforcing the magic that the leprechaun had in his soul. She rubbed the magic into the leather and to Shamus’s surprise she did the same to him, setting them both gently to the floor.
“I have considered your idea, young Shamus and will take these humans out of stasis and bring them back to life. I will release them one at a time and explain the situation to them and make the offer that you suggested, but I will give you the power to send them back frozen in time, should they try to disobey you or Tam. They will know this,” she informed him.
She touched the human that was wearing a necklace around his neck and the man fell choking at her feet as he drew his first breath in centuries. He knelt there staring around the hall at all the diverse faery folk and his eyes widened in wonder.
“Where am I? What is this place? Who are you and what are you?” he begged, still on his knees.
Mab bent forwards, took his hand and raised him to his feet. She placed her hand upon his forehead and took control of his mind. All he needed to know was passed over to him and he stared around with understanding.
“Gunner do you accept the conditions of my offer?” asked the Queen.
“I would be a fool not to,” he replied and looked into the eyes of a goddess. “This place was once mine. Much has been done since I ruled here. Will you wake the rest of my people from this enchanted sleep?”
“No! This is something that you must do. All you need to do is to touch them and they will awaken. You will explain to them that they have followed you into the realms of enchantment and there will be no return to your world of origin. What I offer will be no easy task to conclude and some of you will die, but you will live in this land and see wonders beyond imagination. I wish you well and commend your bravery. Now I must leave you and attend to my duties. My servant, Tam O’ Shadow will be obeyed in all things and you will listen carefully to what he says and you may return with him. He will keep you alive more than anyone. The other leprechaun Shamus O’Brian is the reason that you are no longer a statue in the hall. He is your benefactor and was once human. Keep him safe at all times for I have other tasks for him should he return!”
Gunner did as he was commanded and touched each of the men and women that he had brought through a portal long, long ago and laid down the conditions of the Queen’s offer. No-one refused.
Tam sat them around one of the many tables and bid them to eat their fill of anything that they fancied. As they ate, he filled in the basics of their task by telling them what he intended to do. When he told them about how they would travel he was met with disbelief. So Tam and Shamus demonstrated their control of becoming larger or smaller to suit overcoming problems. When they both grew to be able to touch the beams on the high ceiling they began to realise just what kind of place they were now living in. Assuming a more normal size, Tam introduced them to the rest of the company and had to smile as they stared up at the stony faced Troll with wonder, particularly when they watched as he shovelled huge handful of bread and a roast pig into his large mouth.
Mog laughed at the expressions on the human’s faces and said, “I eat now what I can put away. It could be a month before I eat again! I do have a travelling sack of my own however, but food that can be reached is food for a Troll!”
He unwound the chain that circled his waist and shoulders with a large granite ball fixed on each end.
“Good weapon for pounding dragons or Ogres,” he said and handed one of the balls to Gunner who promptly dropped it onto the flagstones with an audible clunk. “Sorry, human. I forgot how weak you are!”
As the Troll re-wound the chain around himself Gunner said, “You are an amazing creature, Mog the Troll. I admit that I could not lift such a heavy weight as that, but I would know where to place you to do the maximum damage! I would be proud to call you friend if you would have me?”
Mog laughed again and offered a finger as thick as Gunner’s wrist and they shook on it. Tam then introduced the humans to the other members of the company and Jessop flexed his wings to show them that he was different to many of the other elves and gnomes. The women that had been frozen in time were fascinated by the be-ribboned beard of Aisled that hung down her chin in plaits. They were also interested in acquiring some spare clothes and the gnomes called forth elvish tailors who packed a travelling sack with fresh cloths for both the men and the women that they could take on their way. Everything was compressed and shifted into a different dimension so that the sacks could be easily carried.
Tam called the assembly to order and directed them to all walk outside. The sun was high overhead and very few clouds hung in the sky. The leprechaun warned them that Shamus and he would grow much taller than they had demonstrated in the hall. He also warned them that they would be placed in the many pockets of their waistcoats. What he did not attempt to explain was that the two of them would also reduce the weight of the passengers so that the two ‘giants’ would be able to carry the weight. They would feel peculiar during the time that Tam and Shamus invoked the magic of the Seven League Boots, but as long as they did not fall out during the travelling they would not come to harm. Once they had stopped, a quick transference to the ground and they would revert to their previous states. All of the many pockets were designed so that anyone could stand and see out whilst the leprechauns hopped across the landscape. Some of them were sealed up travelling sacks and contained a great many items that had been shrunk down to fit.
Once everyone had been picked up and placed in the pockets, Tam and Shamus began the journey along the Great West Road. They gave the command ‘Stride’ and they began to move in giant hops along the perfectly straight road.
Gunner had decided that he would travel in Shamus’s top right pocket where he could talk to the leprechaun as they hopped further and further West.
“When I was set free by the Queen she said to me that you were once as human as I. Can you tell me how that came about?”
Shamus told him of how he had made his way into this world to steal anything of value and had found Tam O’ Shadow at his home and what had happened afterwards. He told him of his part in the destruction of the dragon and the friends that he had made here. When he described the horrors of the Shadow Lands and how Tam had taken him through them when he was dying, to get him to the Queen in the chance that she would save his life. She had turned him into Tam’s ‘younger twin brother, leaving his human frame behind and turning him into a leprechaun.
“So,” he said as they bounded along the road, “you will find that the Queen is just and she will reward those who place themselves in danger to do her will. She has granted you a return to life and in return she will expect unwavering loyalty. Her powers are great, but there are limitations to what she can do. When presented with something that she cannot solve, she sends those who in her opinion can perhaps do what is needed. I have never seen an Ogre, but I will do my best to bring them down before the damage that they will cause brings iron into this world. You have met Mog the Troll. Ogres will be perhaps bigger than even him, but much hairier and much uglier!”
“I came here with much the same idea young Shamus and look where it got me and the remains of my clan. Maybe this escapade will put my people in her ‘Good Books’? I promise that we will do whatever is asked of us just for that chance. I do not want to be frozen against a wall for hundreds of years again.” 

Ogre!
Chapter Five.
As the sun was going down the two leprechauns could see up ahead, a wide river that had been shown on the map as also having a township spread across the bridge. It was marked on the map as Bridge-town and was occupied by goblins, according to the information that Shamus could read. It would make sense to use the boots to take them well across the river. This time Tam and Shamus slowed the boots down to just the word ‘Jump’ and they rose into the air high above the town to land on the road at the end of the bridge. Hundreds of bright green faces stared up as they soared over the town. There was a scramble for weapons and soon a determined crowd of fearful goblins began to edge across the bridge towards the two giants. Strangely they were seen to disgorge a small army of all sorts of faery folk and soon the two giants had shrunk down to their normal leprechaun size. They were surrounded by a band of very menacing humans armed and looking very dangerous. From inside this enclave came Matt-cinder who approached green and visibly empty handed.
“We mean you no harm,” he called out as he walked towards them. “We are on a quest from the great Queen Mab. Our business lies many, many miles from here. All we ask is that perhaps you could offer us some lodging from the fast approaching night?”
One of the goblins also spread his hands in the gesture denoting that he carried no weapons and said, “The Queen’s business you say? And what might that be I wonder? I am mayor of Bridge-town and am known as Leos-catcher and make you welcome. Who leads this fierce band of adventurers? I saw two giants that have since disappeared from sight. Would there be a leprechaun amongst you known as Tam O’ the Shadows who led a band of folk to destroy a dragon?”
Tam sidled out from Gunner’s circle of guards and answered, “Word gets around it would seem! I am he. It’s getting cold and my loyal humans feel the cold much more than we do, so I ask you, have you somewhere that we could all sleep?”
“As it happens we do and it is on this side of the bridge. We have a storehouse that has recently been emptied of fish that would complete your accommodation.  Follow me and the rest of you Bridge-towners can all go to your homes. We are in no danger from these people. As for our guests I must warn you that there are things that live in the river below us that hunt and scavenge during the hours of pitch darkness, so make sure that the doors into the storehouse are securely locked and barred before you retire and have your weapons at hand should they be needed.”
Obedient to their leader, the rest of the goblins went off to their homes, taking the usual acceptance of doing as they were told by their elected mayor. Curiosity satisfied, they were soon inside their homes, as the mayor led the Ogre hunters to a place of retirement for the night. The humans looked around the big hall and found bales of straw that they soon unpicked to provide somewhere soft to sleep. They chanced upon a pile of empty sacks and stuffed them with the straw they had found to make impromptu beds. Gunner and his people soon settled down after Arifan and Aisled pulled dozens of hot pies and fresh fruit from the travelling sacks along with elvish beer. To Tam’s surprise several of the humans paired up and disappeared to the far edge of the hall and proceeded to enjoy themselves before going to sleep.
Gunner made his way towards where the small form of Tam O’ Shadow was settling down to sleep.
“May I speak with you before we both sleep?”
“You may indeed human warrior, for there is much that you should know! What we both shall have to face will not be easy,” the leprechaun said. “You and your people came here when there was the end of an era and the beginning of a more beneficent rule. Because the previous ruler was a curious creature he opened many portals into your world and allowed many of your kind into the enchanted realm. He had not understood that humans are greedy by nature and as tales got back, more and more of your kind transferred through the portals, seeking riches that did not exist. His days ended, by being shot with an iron tipped arrow. Queen Mab took over the guidance of the realm soon after his demise. He left her with a great deal of problems that even now she has to solve on her own or with the help of her loyal subjects.
Some of the humans that stayed here became changed by the forces that are hidden in these lands. The creatures that we are up against were once as human as you. Ogres are the embodiment of evil. They prey upon their own kind and most of all use children as delicacies. Somehow they have constructed a portal much bigger than any that have been made before. Word has reached Queen Mab’s ears that they are using their portal to enter your world of origin and are seeking out children for their ovens. Once the humans can find where the portal is on their world they will swarm through it, armed to the teeth, killing every person that does not look like them in revenge for their lost children. They will bring iron into our realm and the poisonous metal will destabilise our world. Magic will be destroyed and the land of enchantment will die. This is our task, to save the world that we love and cherish, that you will be allowed to live in and reap all the benefits that you will find out about should you survive!”
Gunner sat for a while and then said, “Shamus says that he believes that the Ogres are even bigger than Mog the Troll? Is this so?”
“They are indeed and nasty as well. Expect no mercy, for the very idea would not occur in any of them,” Tam replied and lay down in the straw to sleep.
“Thanks for the history lesson Tam O’ Shadow and the information. Be assured all my people will do whatever you decide,” Gunner answered and settled down besides the leprechaun, his brain racing through a multitude of attack plans.
In the darkness of the night something slithered out of the river and hauled itself onto the bridge. It could sense warm bodies the other side of the thick wooden doors. A savage hunger flooded its senses and it dragged the corpulent mass of tentacles up to the building. The eyes of the creature did not work so well out of water so it was nearly blind, but made up for this deficiency by being hypersensitive to any vibration. The land-squid seized hold of one of the doors with one powerful tentacle that ended in a spade-like nest of suckers and applied the other to the side of the building. It began to apply pressure to the door, forcing it inwards. One of the spars in the locking device snapped with a resounding crack and the door began to twist on its hinges, as the creature started to pull the top of the door outwards. As the gap increased other tentacles surged through the opening, forcing the door to pull off the hinges.
By now there were none that slept and everyone had armed themselves and made a semi-circle around the door. The beak of the land-squid became visible as it chewed through the door, opening wide so that it could stuff anything within reach into its maw. The women in the human enclave were all excellent archers and sent three stout arrows down into its throat, holding the beak open. Two of the humans crept to the sides of the beast with axes and drove them deeply into the joints of the two long tentacles. They immediately became flaccid and would not work. Mog the Troll had uncurled his rocks and chain and whirled it around his head and brought the two granite boulders down onto the flesh behind the beak. The land-squid blew apart showering the participants in a gooey fluid as the creature died.
Mog tore off a piece of flesh and popped it in his mouth.
He promptly spat it out and said, “Not worth the effort. Very little flavour and stringy! Nowhere near the taste of dragon!”
The Troll opened the two doors wide and dragged the land-squid to the edge of the bridge parapet and dropped the creature into the river far below. The full moon was out and gave enough light for the victors of the fight to see that when the body of their adversary hit the water, it boiled with creatures feeding off the remains. Once everyone was safely back inside Mog then lifted the door back into place and secured it with a piece of the broken spar. Several of the humans had been plucked from where they stood and flung against the wall. They were not mortally damaged, but one of them had sustained a set of broken ribs.
Tam moved to the man’s side and said, “I will heal and mend your broken bones. Lie very still and I will place my hands on the area of your injury. The pain will go and you will be totally mended. Trust me!”
To the rest of Gunner’s people what happened next was a miracle as they saw the whole side of his broken ribs move back into their normal position and true to Tam’s word, the pain disappeared.
Gunner saw a glowing light in Tam’s other hand and saw some kind of crystal and asked, “What is that glowing thing in your hand? Does it have something to do with the healing of my friend?”
Tam smiled and replied, “It is a Life-vessel that carries some of the Queen’s power and leaks a small part of her energy to my direction. I can store a little of the energy that we all carry, but take too much and the giver can die! It will be a few hours until daybreak so I suggest that we all get a little more sleep as we seem to have fed the local predators!”
As soon as the sun began to shine through the windows the assembly awoke and in the dawning light they began to see the mess that the creature had left behind. Buckets on ropes were lowered to the river and soon everyone that had been coated in the mucus and blood of the land-squid were clean. As they were enjoying breakfast, the mayor of Bridge-town paid them a visit and stared at the mess that the two doors had become.
“What happened here?” demanded the mayor as he looked at the shattered locking spar and the chunks missing from the doors.
Tam increased his size so that he was the equal of the goblin and replied, “As you said indeed last night. There are things out there in the dark of night that prey upon this town. We were visited by something from your worst nightmares with long tentacles and a beak for a mouth. My companions killed it and dropped it into the river far below.”
“We learnt ages ago not to go outside after darkness falls. We cast nets and baited hooks from the parapets of the bridge, but would not dare to set foot off the bridge after dark. You have done us a great service by killing that land-squid as it was becoming so large, as to be a threat to any of our dwelling places. It just got bigger and bigger and always hungry. We had hoped that it had moved downriver and away from the town.”
Tam leaned towards the goblin and warningly said, “I hope that you did not put us in that storehouse expecting that it would attack us, forcing us to fight for our lives!”
“Master Shadow! I would never do anything like that! Please believe me when I promise that this was just a happening that I did not foresee. In gratitude may I offer to replenish your stores with smoked fish and freshly cooked crocodile?”
Tam gave him the benefit of the doubt, accepted his offer and sent the two gnomes to fill up the travelling sacks, before they got on their way.

Ogre!
Chapter Six.
Tam and Shamus walked to the end of the bridge and faced towards the west. They increased their size until they were able to pick up the others and place them inside their waistcoat pockets after reducing their weights, until it became time to stop.
The double command of ‘Stride’ rang out and being very careful to keep their ankles together, the two leprechauns set off towards the sea and the Ogre’s stronghold. Gunner had a good view of the surrounding countryside from his viewpoint in Shamus’s top waistcoat pocket. He could see for miles and what he saw was a vast empty landscape of trees as far as the eye could see. The great West road cut through the undergrowth as if, like a vast shovel, something had scoured the land and laid flagstones behind in place of dirt. Wherever a river crossed its path a settlement sprung up and sometimes all manner of faery folk lived together and had cleared the forest away from the river. In these fields the inhabitants kept their livestock and planted their crops. It was soon apparent that there were creatures living in the water that were dangerous, as a long stockade had been driven into the earth to keep the river dwellers from getting into the fields. The fence enclosed every bit of the cleared land. Running along the inside of the stockade was a veranda that could be manned to keep a watch upon the riverside. Those that walked this thruway were visibly well-armed and watched the waters constantly. Once again the travellers could see that the settlement was built upon the bridge and the sides sloped outwards, so that anything trying to crawl up the sides of the bridge would find it very difficult to get over the parapets.
Tam called a halt to their travels and decanted his small army, decreasing in size until both he and Shamus were once more leprechauns and not looking like giants. Gunner positioned his men and women around the folk as a protective shield just in case there was any trouble. They stood quite still with their hands upon their weapons while Mog the Troll un-wrapped his granite balls and chain.
“This looks like another Bridgetown, young Shamus,” Tam grinned and waved to the group of elves and gnomes fearfully approaching them. “Is this place shown on the map?”
Shamus removed the map from his pocket and followed the road past the first Bridgetown with his finger and replied, “It’s here, master Shadow. They call it Bull-hoen Bridge, meaning that they breed the very best cattle hereabouts. Judging by how isolated this place, is why am I not surprised? We are about half way towards the Ogres’ stronghold according to this map, but the going will get worse as we approach the mountains that are in the way!”
Tam O’ Shadow gently pushed Gunner out of the way and walked up to the leading elf and said, “Greetings! We are on a mission of great importance for our Queen Mab. In fact what we are going to attempt to do will affect you all. Do you know anything about what the Ogres are doing at the end of the road at the edge of the great sea? We are here to try and stop them. I warn you that if we cannot stop what they are doing, we could all be in grave danger and our world also.”
“I hear you Tam O’ Shadow, dragon slayer. You are known to us, as is your protégée Shamus O’Brian and the other members of your band. Winged elves have reached Bull-hoen with the news of your exploits. You are made welcome as are the humans that travel with you.
We have a goblin amongst us who has managed to escape from the Ogres’ stronghold. What she has to tell you would be best coming from her. I believe that the mighty Mog has a rare ability amongst his kind. If it is true and he can transfer thoughts from one species to another, then it would be wise to bring the two of you together as you will learn more by looking into the goblin’s mind than just being told!”
“I am inclined to agree with you, so lead the way and we will follow,” the leprechaun replied.
Mog leaned forwards and picked up Tam and Shamus, putting them on each of his shoulders and followed the elf across the bridge.
The mayor made sure that every one of Tam’s people were attended to before he led the way to where the goblin was recovering from the ordeal of escaping from the Ogres’ stronghold.
As they entered the room that the goblin was resting inside, the elf said, “My name is Elweard. We are not sure of the goblin’s name as we have not seen one before and do not know how to pronounce it. The creature is very thin as it is a long way from here to the sea from where it came from. She came here on the back of a unicorn.”
Matt-cinder pushed forwards and said, “This person is a girl! What is your name, little one?”
“Pssst-pail is my name. I am so pleased to see one of my own people after so long,” she wept and caught hold his hand and kissed it.
Matt-cinder put his arms around her and held her tightly and told her what they wanted her to do. The gobliness nearly fainted when she was introduced to the hulking Troll, waiting outside, but believed Tam when he assured her that Mog was not an Ogre, but a Troll. Mog then produced a carving from a dragon’s tooth, hung on a loop of leather and gave it to her to put round her neck.
“This is a symbol of my friendship,” he said and explained what he was about to do.
The tiny frame of Tam O’ Shadow certainly did not frighten her, so she sat very still as Mog gently placed his forefinger on her forehead and his other one on Tam’s. Shamus placed his hand on the back of Tam’s head to enter the link as well. Pssst-pail felt a comforting warmth inside her mind and recognised the Troll and then she became aware of Tam and Shamus. In a few heartbeats both leprechauns had a clear idea of what the girl had gone through to get here and also what the Ogres had achieved with their portal. The scale of the foraging into the human world was frightening as hundreds of human children had been abducted and eaten, maybe more.
Somehow they were able to move the focus of the portal around, so they never hit the same place twice. Shamus knew what his prior people would do if they could get into the enchanted land. The slaughter would be never-ending, as revenge would be the motivation that would make them risk their lives.  Also, now the humans had the use of iron and steel, they could kill any of the faery folk except goblins, just by cutting them. The disruption caused by so much iron brought through a portal, could start off a chain reaction of leaking magic. This would be the beginning of the end of the Enchanted Land. It had to be stopped!
The two leprechauns examined the route by which the girl had come to Bull-hoen. They were astonished by the speed and endurance of the unicorn that had brought her all this way. One obstacle remained and that was the ancient tunnel that led through the mountains. It was not so much the tunnel, but the scorpions that lived in the preferred darkness that would be the problem they would have to face. Going over the snow-capped mountains would be too much of a challenge for the leprechauns even in giant mode. Unfortunately the only way through was by crossing underneath.
Mog called the rest of the company to his side and transferred the knowledge from Pssst-pail’s mind to theirs. This was something completely new to the human compliment and left them dazed for some while afterwards.
The late afternoon sun was beginning to set when Tam asked, “Have you room to allow us to sleep soundly? We were offered an empty warehouse to bed down for the night at Bridge-town and we were visited by a thing from your worst nightmares. They called it a land-squid and we ended up fighting for our very lives sometime before dawn. Do you have things that hunt at night? Judging by your defences all along the riverbank, it would seem so?”
“Unfortunately we do, my new friend! There had been a breach in the fence that we are struggling to make sound. Every night something climbs out of the water and tears away what we have built during the day. Sometimes it takes one of our cattle and sometimes the herd bull drives it back into the river, but he is getting old and we fear that he will soon become food for whatever it is that attacks the weak-spot at dead of night.”
Shamus asked Elweard, “Where is this breach? Point me in the right direction for I have an idea that just might work and keep you all safe.”
The elfin mayor pointed upstream and answered, “It’s along the fence towards the end. You cannot miss it as the hole it makes is plain enough to see. Whatever you have in mind, make sure that you are back here before darkness falls.”
Tam stared at his young protégée with a mind full of questions and asked, “What are you going to do, young Shamus?”
“Come with me and see. This is something that the apple tree told me before we left. She bade me collect her reddest apples and told me that when you need them, you will know! I am the first one to say that I am not too sure of what I am about to do, but it’s worth a try,” replied the young man.
They instructed the boots to rapid travel and soon came to the end of the stockade and could see that a constant attempt to mend the enclosure had been applied. Shamus dug into his travelling sack and pulled out three apples, knelt down to push them into the earth, one at each end and one at the centre of the damaged fence. He could feel the tiny spurts of life energy from the seeds in the apples and directed them to what he wanted them to do. The seeds thrust roots into the soil and began to grow at an accelerated rate, interweaving thorny branches around the palings. The mutated apple trees spread along the stockade and made an impenetrable barrier where the hole had been. As the two leprechauns watched, the growth began to slide along the fence in two directions. Pointed branches sprouted towards the river making it impossible for anything to crawl ashore. The old fence was soon completely covered with the spiky growth and already the trees in their thousands began to flower on the inside of the stockade and soon bore fruit.
Shamus grinned at Tam and said, “Not bad, eh, for a first attempt? What say you, master Shadow?”
“Young man I must admit that I have never seen the like before! Now let us go back, where I am sure that we will get a good reception at Bull-hoen Bridge now that you have mended their fence for a great many years to come.”
With that said the two of them cranked up the speed of the boots and were soon at the road onto the bridge where they were met by a very grateful mayor. As night fell the inhabitants of the town walked the cobbled stones of the streets without fear although they still kept well away from the edge of the parapets running on both sides of the bridge.
Gunner tapped Shamus on the shoulder and said, “I don’t for one moment think that you would want to be human again, would you?”
“I came here for adventure and riches and am quite satisfied with what I have,” Shamus replied. “I would do anything to protect this enchanted land, even if I had to give up my life for it.”
Many hundreds of miles away Queen Mab smiled and did not regret her decision. She would soon regain the energy that she had lent the young leprechaun.
   
Ogre!
Chapter Seven.
After an uneventful sleep Tam and Shamus were feeling quite rested. They unfurled the copy of the map that was held in the Queen’s library. The township of Bull-hoen Bridge was marked on the map with the runic symbol denoting elves-dominant. At the time that the map was drawn, the township was much smaller and settled only by elves. Obviously over the years, a few more of the faery races had moved in with the elves to exploit the river and the cleared lands gained from the surrounding forest. Just as Elweard had told them, they were not used to goblins as the nearest enclave was hundreds of miles away beyond the mountain and its tunnel. This was why they had difficulty understanding Pssst-pail’s accented speech. Matt-cinder however had no trouble and spent as much time with her as he could. To give the mayor a full understanding of what lay ahead, Tam had insisted that Mog do his thought transferral gift and pass on the knowledge before they left, to the leader of the elves.
The mind of the gobliness had shown that the Ogres had enslaved her people centuries ago and made them fear their cruelty. They ate the weak and those that could not work. Also they selected certain of the goblin children and fattened them up for later feasts. Sometime in the past a goblin engineer built a portal as a means of escape, using as part of the mechanism, the metal from a star-stone that had landed nearby. Before he could escape, he had been captured by an Ogre before he could use the portal. He wrung the secrets from his broken green body before the goblin died. What he discovered was that the goblin’s son had done most of the design work, so he paid him a visit. Hot irons soon loosened his tongue and the ogre, Broken Jaw, induced him to build a much bigger portal to accommodate their large size, so that the Ogres could hunt in the human world, where they had originally come from. Once the portal was working, their hunger was soon satiated by a steady supply of human children taken from isolated farms and villages. They soon found out that none of the faery folk could pass through the portal without aging rapidly, but if they thrust one through, it altered the focus of the portal and moved it away. Sometimes the entrance into the human world would move by hundreds of miles, but sometimes only ten and then they had to be extra careful in case the humans found the entrance and got through into their world bent on revenge.
It was this portal that Tam and his band had to destroy and if possible the stain on their realm that the Ogres represented. The first thing however was to get there through the mountain passageway, without being pulled down by thousands of hungry scorpions.  
At the breakfast table Tam, Shamus and Gunner were pouring over the map when they were approached by Matt-cinder and Pssst-pail.
“Master Shadow, Pssst has put forward an idea,” said Matt-cinder. “I have told her that you can grow very tall and also shrink yourselves and us down to being very small. She wondered if you could do this and ride on the back of the unicorn that brought her here, carrying everyone in your pockets?”
Tam looked up in astonishment and said, “Yes! Shamus I and could carry all of you inside our pockets and ride him through. We would not be very heavy compared to a human or a goblin. The only problem might be that he would not want to gallop through that dark hole again.”
“His herd are on the other side of the mountain,” replied the gobliness. He would go whether or not he carried anyone. He took me through, as he hates the Ogres, because they catch and eat his mares. I would have died and been eaten had he not allowed me to ride on his back to escape. I am willing to come back with you in case you need my knowledge of the people and the conditions in the Ogres’ stronghold. All you have to do is to ask the unicorn. He is called Cortisia which means ‘The Bold One’ and I am sure that he would agree.”
Tam thought the idea through and decided to take Matt-cinder to the stables where the elves kept their steeds, as he had knowledge of horses and amongst his many smithing talents he was an excellent farrier. When they got there, they could see that the elves had treated the unicorn well. A bag of grain and fresh hay had been provided along with plenty of water. The stable door was not locked so that the unicorn could leave if he wished to.
Matt-cinder drew in his breath at the sight of the horned being. He was much taller than the goblin and broader at the shoulders by far. Up against his size the elves horses looked like foals. His hooves were the size of huge dinner-plates and had long flowing hair around them, but stained a dirty brown with scorpion juice. Also the beast was favouring a hind leg and did not want to put much weight on it.
They were startled when a deep voice said, “My name is Cortisia, master of the herd. It was I that brought the gobliness through the dark tunnel under the mountain. I have listened to the elves that have come here and they tell me that you wish to travel through that terrible place to destroy the Ogres on the other side. I too wish to return, but I cannot carry all of you!”
“Yes you can,” replied the leprechaun and told the beast his plan and the magical side of the undertaking.
Cortisia listened to Tam’s plan of the unicorn’s return through bowels of the mountain with the shrunken army and agreed.
“There is one problem that I think that you may be able to help with. The tunnel is swarming with scorpions nearly as half as large as wolves. I stamp on them, but their shelled bodies sometimes leave a lot of sharp edges and I have something stuck in my hind hoof. Can you get it out?”
“I can do better than that my friend,” said Matt-cinder. “If you feel that you can trust me, then I am sure that I can fabricate a set of bronze shoes that will protect your hooves. They will eventually fall off as they wear, but not too soon! So if you would follow me to the forge at the entrance to the stables I will see what I can do.”
They walked together to the forge where the goblin smith soon extracted the piece of tough shell from Cortisia’s hoof and began the process of making heavy bronze shoes for the unicorn. Matt was in his element as he shaped the shoes to fit. He started with flat plates and folded the edges over to give a grip downwards and then hammered out a recess in the plate to suit the hoof. Next he hammered the upstand over the upper part of the hoof to keep them in place, so that no nails would be used. He also made sure that the fronts of the hooves were reinforced, so that the unicorn could deliver a fatal kick without damaging himself. The unicorn now had a full set of bronze shoes that covered the bottom of each hoof and extended partially up towards the fetlock. The unicorn trotted out of the stables and entered the grassy field at the end of the bridge. He took off across the meadow and gave up his fastest speed.
Tam and Matt-cinder watched as the incredible beast pulled to a stop and trotted back to his new friends.
“Right! When do we depart? I am more than ready. Shrink me down and place me in one of your pockets and I will be ready to return the favour when we get to the tunnel,” the unicorn declared and tapped a little impatient dance on the hard cobbled stones of the road.
Tam, Matt-cinder and Cortisia walked to the end of the bridge where the rest of the group were waiting for them. The humans were astounded by the size of the unicorn and his golden horn. The bronze shoes were admired, as the time that Gunner and his people had entered the enchanted realm such things had not been thought of. Although the humans had travelled this way before, it still made them uneasy as the two leprechauns grew in size to the point that they could fit inside their waistcoat pockets. The one thing that made them all feel nauseous was when their density was altered so that they weighed very much less and so could be transported by the ‘false’ giants. As this was the first time that the unicorn had been altered, he was not at all happy about it, but had learnt to trust the members of the group, particularly the goblin, Matt-cinder, who was tucked up with Pssst-pail in a side pocket. The rest of the band was dotted about with Gunner in his usual position in the top right hand pocket of Shamus’s waistcoat.
Facing west, the two leprechauns gave the command of ‘Stride’ and hopped towards the mountains and the horrific passage underneath. After about ten or more ‘hops’ the two leprechauns noticed that the forest was beginning to thin out and the ground became very stony as they approached the mountain range separating this inland area from the sea. The road had now developed into a wide trench with the great flagstones laid down still looking as if they were put there yesterday. Whoever had built this road had made sure that the road was straight and flat so it plunged through any hills rather than up and down them. They could see across the plains from their height, well above the tree-tops and could see that the area was farmed and settled by a variety of different faery folk. They could also see some townships that were many miles from the road. It was puzzling to them that there were no roads leading off the great West Road from either side. It was obvious that the local people avoided this once major highway and kept away from it.
As the sun would be setting in an hour or so Tam decided to call a halt and let the ‘passengers’ stretch their legs and gather as much dead wood as they could find. No-one would sleep well this night if the fire went out, so Gunner decided that he and his people would keep a rotating watch on the fire. Cortisia was very glad to get his hooves on solid ground again and wandered up the side of the road to eat some fresh grass. The unicorn suddenly froze and sniffed the air. He gave a snort and quickly trotted back to the main party.
He walked over to where the two leprechauns were sitting and said, “Tam O’ Shadow, I can smell the scent of scorpions carried on the evening air. When I brought Pssst-pail along this sunken road we were watched by scuttling things that kept out of sight. I will never forget the smell of those creatures deep in the tunnel. If they forage as far as this for food, your people need to be alert. They sting! Too many of their stings and even I would end up paralysed on the ground becoming an easy meal it’s no wonder that the local people keep away!”
The response to this news was a hurried exodus from wood gathering with as much as they could carry. Arifan and Aisled opened the travelling sacks and shared the hot food around the group while Gunner and his people built up the fire. Mog the Troll decided that he would take up a position with his back to the fire and his stony body between the oppressive darkness of the road towards the mountains. He was one of the group of fighters that would not sleep that night, come what may. Mog sat down, wrapped the manacle around his wrist and leant against the two granite balls fixed to the chain.
“What comes this way gets crushed,” the troll declared and stared down the darkening road.




Ogre!
Chapter Eight.
During the night, although the sounds of many jointed creatures slithering and clashing filled the darkest hours the dancing light of the large bonfire kept most of the scorpions away. Mog was the most active, leaping up and pounding the granite balls down onto the chitinous bodies. Several times something likea vast shadow flew between the Moon and the surrounding countryside, hiding it from view. Once the dawn began to show in the cloudy sky the arthropods began to vanish into the many holes drilled into the banks of the road.
“What do you think that the creatures feed on?” asked Shamus to Tad as the light of the sun began to illuminate the ancient road.
“I would think anything that they can overwhelm would do. I would not be surprised if they did not feed on each other,” replied Tam as he stood up. “What worries me is that in a battle for supremacy, the larger ones would take over the best feeding grounds. I expect that we will meet much bigger ones in the tunnels. There may even be things living in that darkness that feed on those. I would not want to bump into them, if they exist!”
“Once this must have been a busy roadway with goods from the sea being transported along the road,” Shamus said as he began to stow away his sleeping arrangements back into a travelling sack.
Gunner had been listening to the conversation and asked, “Who built this road and I would also like to know what happened to make a highway like this derelict?”
“Many thousands of years ago so the records show, there were giants in this world,” replied Tam O’ Shadow, “They were real giants, not like leprechauns, who have to trick the laws of nature to grow and shrink. No! These people were strong in giant form and easily able to form the flagstones and clear the roadways. They built great cities, travelled the world from pole to pole and were masters of magic. There is a network of roads that span this world that they left behind them after they left. We have no records of where they went or why, but their handy-work lasts right into this present day. All of the intelligent peoples that inhabit this world came from somewhere else, through portals much like the humans who have strayed into our realm. It is written that our world was dying and the magic that is part of our very existence was ebbing away. What little that was left was used to bridge over the void to colonise this world. This is a special world with very low amounts of iron. You have been told by the Queen what the poison metal will do to us and that is why we are on this quest. If enough iron is brought here there will develop pockets of ‘un-magic that will begin to destabilise this world such that we will all die. We cannot allow that to happen, Gunner. So now you know a fuller story of who we are and why we are here.”
“Listen to me Tam O’ Shadow. I have grown fond of this realm and I swear that I will do my very best to see it through, even if it costs me my life and the lives of my people. What awaits us in the tunnel I can only guess while tucked away inside your pockets, will render me and all my people helpless, as we gallop through. I have given this matter great thought and I have a suggestion to make. Let me ride the unicorn, sat behind you and Shamus. At least being able to wield a war-hammer, I may be of some use should we need it?”
“Shamus was very wise to ask the Queen to release you from your bonds, Gunner. It may be that your destiny is tied up with this quest and what will be, will be,” answered the leprechaun and beckoned over the unicorn.
Cortisia looked at the human and scornfully said, “One human and two leprechauns would make a very light load. That will not be a difficulty. However I can see that there might be another problem. When I galloped through the tunnel, Pssst-pail hung onto my neck and mane. What will all of you hang onto?”
Matt-cinder walked up to the stallion and said, “If you would permit it, I could make a rope harness that would loop around your neck and chest, giving everyone something to hold on to. I have made harnesses for horses and you are much larger than a horse, but built the same.”
Cortisia nodded his head up and down in agreement and the goblin set to work. He soon had braided a harness that provided a secure hand hold and also loops to fit their feet so that it would be possible for Gunner to swing his hammer without falling off. The two leprechauns would have to almost lie along the stallion’s shoulders and hang on for dear life.
By now all had eaten and drank from the travelling sacks, so Tam and Shamus grew in size and loaded the group into their many pockets. They faced west and gave the order ‘Stride’ and within two steps they were in sight of the tunnel. Now after unpacking Gunner and Cortisia, the two leprechauns shrank themselves and all their passengers to suit and allowed Gunner to lift them onto the broad shoulders of the leprechaun where they wriggled under the ropes and held tightly to the harness. As the unicorn was taller than the human’s shoulder he got Cortisia to edge close to the edge of the trench that led into the tunnel. From here he was able to mount and placed his feet firmly into the loops and held onto the harness with one hand and twisted the thong at the handle of his Warhammer around his wrist.
“I think that we are as ready as we will ever be, great Cortisia. It’s time we entered the tunnel,” exclaimed Gunner as he wrapped a set of furs around his upper chest and the unicorn began the initial trot to loosen up his muscles.
The size of the passageway under the mountains was daunting to look at. A statue of one of the giants stood each side of the entrance. It remained the width of the road and soared above their heads. They must have stood at least five times the height of any human and they were very similar in build, except for the horns that sprouted from each forehead. They also sported a long prehensile tail that ended in a large tuft. Apart from the horns, the faces were quite elf-like with the same pointed ears. Their eyes were slit like a cat and were larger than would be normal.
As they entered the passageway, they could feel the temperature drop as the sunlight ceased to illuminate inside and a dampness filled the air. Tam and Shamus activated the sun-stones that they had charged up during the journey here by leaving them in sunshine. They fixed them onto their hats so that they gave a glow that showed the road ahead, but still did not illuminate the roof of the tunnel as it was so high. Things began to scuttle out of the shadows and were stamped into oblivion by the unicorn’s bronze shoes. As Tam had surmised, the larger scorpions had dominated the inside of the passageway and these were just as Pssst-pail had described them. A scorpion scuttled out of the darkness, reaching forwards with its pincers. Gunner leaned over the side of Cortisia and slammed the hammer down onto the carapace between the eyes, just as the sting was twisting up for the killing stroke. The damaged creature was immediately swarming with smaller ones of its own kind, busily feeding on it. The unicorn picked up speed and really went full tilt, smashing his way through any creepy-crawly creatures that the sun-stones picked out. Time and again Cortisia lashed out with his metal shod hooves and smashed through carapaces as if they were paper. The sound of his shod hooves echoed through the passageway. Suddenly the unicorn pricked up his ears and shouted, “Look above you Gunner. I can hear the sound of wings. Something is following us. If it feeds on the scorpions I think we might have some trouble!”
He then speared a large scorpion through its mouth parts and tossed it aside before it could grasp him with its pinchers, giving another scuttling jointed creature a good trampling as he galloped on.
Tam searched amongst his weapons pocket and withdrew a modified sun-stone. This one was in a deliberately overloaded state. Tam wrapped his mind around it and lifted it high into the air until it was halfway to the roof of the tunnel. He gave it a mental nudge. And a miniature sun lit up the cavernous void behind them scattering something that loved darkness. In an instant Gunner could see what had obscured the Moon during the night. Bats! Not just bats, but creatures out of nightmares. It was no wonder that the area close to the passageway was not farmed. These things were meat eaters that hunted at night. As one of them, half blinded by the sun-stone flare, dropped onto the back of the unicorn, Gunner swung his hammer to connect. He got a quick glimpse of a mouthful of needle sharp teeth before the hammer crushed them. The flock dropped onto the dying creature and devoured it in moments. Others that had been too slow to the feast continued to flap their wings and dive onto Gunner as he swung the hammer, crushing any that came too close. They were the size of the gnomes that were being carried in Tam’s pockets at normal size. The wings ended in vicious hooks and spanned wider than Gunner’s height. He could smell the odour of rotting flesh from their breath as they flew close. The space behind them was thick with the sounds of their shrieks as they navigated by echo location as the sun-stone went dark. 
Cortisia continued to gallop into the darkness ahead and entered a large chamber. Tam lofted another overloaded sun-stone into the air and held it there as the light penetrated areas that had not seen light of any kind for thousands of years. When the unicorn had galloped through the passageway with the gobliness, they had managed to see dimly by the light given off by bioluminescence funguses growing on the walls. What they had now was mightily superior to that, but it seemed that it had also attracted a greater notice by the denizens of the darkness that came swarming back every time that the light from Tam’s sun-stone went out.
Now it seemed as if the whole of the predatory life that lived inside the passageway was on the move towards them. Something long and with many legs struck out of a hole in the wall and grabbed a scorpion in a set of pinchers that could easily take off Gunner’s leg. They were galloping through a colony of these creatures and they slowed the pursuit down picking off the arthropods if they came within reach.  
Someway ahead Tam could see a patch of light that illuminated another hall leading from this one and pointed it out to Shamus and said, “That looks like sunlight, but it’s not the end of the tunnel!”
“In that case I think that an apple might help us by blocking off the pursuit,” he replied and fished one out with his free hand.
Shamus waited until Cortisia entered the sunlit area before he dropped the programmed apple onto the ground. Immediately it began to sprout, driving its roots down into the ground and unfurling a network of branches that spread out, choking off the exit from the eastern side of the passageway. The tree continued to grow towards the light until it burst through into the open air, far above. Any creature that it touched became imbedded in a cocoon of thorny wood, or if on the ground became immobilised by the expanding root system. The deepening roots had by now broken through into subterranean water chambers and the passageway began to fill up behind them. A load rumble echoed through the underground system as the expanding trees began to loosen the ancient stones around the air-vent. An avalanche of debris fell over the route through the hall as Cortisia galloped onwards through the darkness and the passageway closed behind them, trapping the pursuing bats and whatever else lived in the darkness.
On and on the unicorn galloped, never slowing down or faltering in his stride while his passengers held on grimly to the harness. The unicorn took them through chamber after chamber all with air vents to the mountains above, letting in some light. Inside the many pockets of the leprechaun’s waistcoats those that were being carried were suffering a buffeting in total darkness. Every time that the unicorn stamped down on a scorpion the vibration went up his legs and into his torso, shaking the leprechauns up and down. They anchored themselves as best they could hoping that they would not get spilled out and irretrievably lost.
It seemed that this side of the air vents there were no more of the bats to descend from the darkness and only a few of the scorpions were present. After what seemed like an endless journey, a faint spot of light appeared at the exit and the setting sun shone through the passageway illuminating the way out. As the light filled the exit, Tam instructed Cortisia to slow down and stop some way before the end of the tunnel. The ‘riders’ dismounted and the leprechauns carefully removed all of their passengers. They then restored them to their proper size. After cutting the harness from the unicorn’s chest and shoulders, Gunner sat on the cold ground cradling his dripping war-hammer. He gratefully  drank from the cold bottle of elfin beer that Aisled pulled out of her travelling sack.
“I do not want to do that again,” he protested and tried to wipe clean the handle and bronze hammer head with a the furs that he was wearing.
Tam laughed and said, “I don’t think that we will be coming back this way again as we sealed the passageway quite effectively! Whatever happens here my friends, we will not be going back underneath the mountains the way we came. Now according to what Pssst-pail told us in the mind-meld, the old Great West Road leads directly to the Ogres’ stronghold. What we need to do is to make our way to her village and make contact with the goblins that live there. Then we need to find where the portal is located and see what we can do to destroy it.”

Ogre!
Chapter Nine.
Tam and Shamus increased their size until they were the same size as the humans. Before the sun went down completely, all of the group made a last moment check to see that they had left nothing behind to make the Ogres suspicious or wary that the passageway had been used.
Cortisia tossed his head, flaring out his mane and said, “I have had enough adventuring for today my good friends, but if you need me, get word to me and I will come with the rest of the herd.”
“Thank you for all that you have done. Without you, things would have been impossible. I will not forget your bravery in returning through that tunnel! Now return to your herd and we will get on with what we came for,” replied Tam O’ Shadow and turned to Pssst-pail to ask, “Will you take us to your village without us being seen?”
The gobliness grabbed Matt-cinder by the hand and pointed to a narrow path that hugged the cliff wall and led the way. There was enough of the fading light to ensure that they could all follow the girl without having to use the sun-stones to light the way. Ogres may be slightly deaf, but their eyesight was good and any lights moving on the path to the goblin’s village would attract their attention. Keeping the wall to their right hand, the group moved as quickly as they could. Mog carried the two leprechauns, one on each shoulder along the pathway, making sure that he did not tread on any of the humans that were following the two goblins. Now with the sun down and a full moon high in the sky the light given was more than sufficient for the members of the group to see where they were going. The sound of the surf pounding on rocks grew louder as they neared the village by the sea.
Pssst-pail held her hand up to stop the small army that followed her and said, “Wait here for a while and I will go ahead and tell them that our deliverers have come.”
Tam watched the gobliness run out of sight and said to Shamus, “So that’s why she rode the unicorn through the tunnel! Somehow I feel the influence of Queen Mab in this escapade. There are a lot of things that make sense if you add her to the equation! She uses her magic to the limit of her abilities and she uses it well. I often wonder if she can see the future, or is it the many branches of what could be, that she chooses one to become what would be?”
Shamus sat quietly on Mog’s shoulder and thoughtfully answered, “My being here depended on your decision to resurrect me from my grave. She rescued us from the Shadow Lands just in time and transformed me into your younger twin. Now we once again are put to the test in defence of her realm. I am content with my lot and will do my utmost to prevent the destruction of this world and all that live in it. I do not mind being a changeling, as I have a much more interesting life than before!”
Mog spoke and said, “She comes!  With her is an older goblin that wears a chain of office. I will put you down so that you can meet with good manners!”
Both leprechauns decreased their size to that of Matt-cinder’s and waited for Pssst-pail to present the village leader to them. What they were not prepared for was that the old goblin knelt at their feet and hugged their boots making fearful glances at the band of well-armed, larger humans.
“Enough, good sir! Get off your knees and stand. We are here to destroy the Ogres’ portal into the human world, sent by Queen Mab herself. We ask shelter and hiding until we can get an idea of how this place is laid out. I give a solemn promise that the Ogres will be attended to in good time. First the portal, next the Ogres;- in that order,” Tam stated and helped the goblin to his feet.
Over the next few days Tam, Shamus and Gunner watched as the Ogres activated the portal and charged through, always leaving one of them on guard. When they returned they had sacks full of dead children slung over their shoulders. Gunner would have run at them whirling his Warhammer if the two leprechauns had not restrained him. His rage was terrible to contain, but he bit down on the handle of his weapon and choked off any noise.
Tam laid his hand upon the warrior’s arm and said, “Gather your people together and wait for another raiding party to go through the gate and hide them well. As soon as they have vanished from sight take down the guard and kill him as quickly as you can. Shamus will destroy the portal with one of his enchanted apples. The other thing that I want you to do is to close the gate into the stronghold after the portal has been destroyed, so that none of them can get out. It opens outwards so hammering wedges underneath will do the trick. Shamus and I will be going inside and opening a gate of our own. When you go into hiding I want you to take the goblin, Matt-cinder with you. He has developed a weapon of great accuracy called a cross-bow. He will shoot out one of the Ogre’s eyes from the top of that nearby tree. He will be about the same height as the giant’s forehead and will not miss. When he is half-blinded you can then chop him down and retreat as fast as you can to the stronghold. Fortunately for us there is only one gate into the keep. Whatever you do, do not attempt to come inside no matter what you may hear! What Shamus and I are going to do inside the Ogres’ stronghold may mean that we shall not meet with you again. If that becomes apparent, then remember that these freaks of nature were once as human as you. There is something buried here that changes a human into an Ogre over time. When this is finished you must move on and I suggest that the goblins here will be only too pleased to give you one of their fishing boats after releasing them from this terrible bondage. I will ask that you take Mog the Troll with you, along with the gnomes, Arifan and Aisled, as their knowledge of what you can eat and what will kill you will be well worth the trouble of taking them with you! Jessop, as a winged elf is always useful for scouting up ahead. Treat them all well and you will find out the value of friendship in this enchanted realm. I have a strong feeling that Matt-cinder will want to stay here as Pssst-pail has won his heart.”
“I do not understand, my little friend,” the human replied sadly, “But I will do as you say. We have come so far and every step of the way, I have followed your instructions. I take it that after we have destroyed the Ogres’ stronghold and their method of crossing over to my old home world, raiding for children, the Queen will pardon us all and allow us to settle here?”
“I have no doubt of that my brave comrade. Queen Mab does not forget acts of courageousness done in her name. First though Gunner, we have to destroy the Ogres’ portal and prevent it from ever being used again!”
Gunner nodded and stared at the formidable size of the Ogres’ portal and wondered how Shamus could possibly bring the colossal stone and metal edifice come crashing down. The two stone pillars were wider than he could span with his hands and it was as tall as six of his tallest men. The cross-piece was equally massive with an intricate carved pattern filled with hammered metal that was angled to catch the sunlight, giving it energy to store. Lightning conductors spiked out of the metal-filled carvings and drew the power down every time there was a storm. This was the time that the Ogres could alter the focus, randomly pick a new entry into the human world and travel through by sacrificing a goblin.
After a few days the door into the Keep opened and six very big Ogres exited along with a much smaller one carrying a club. Their large heads bobbed up and down on their thick-set necks as they lent over, dragging the knuckle of their free hand along the ground. All of them had a sack slung over their shoulders, except for the portal guard. They were laughing to each other and the mention of another good harvest made Gunner and his people itch to break bones. Suspecting nothing, the giants made their way to the gate and the first one placed his huge hands onto both sides of the dolmen. There was a distinct humming noise and the view through the entrance changed. It was night time on the other side and in the distance could be glimpsed the lights of a town. One by one the Ogres walked through, hardly touching the sides or the top stone. Once they were out of sight, Matt-cinder took careful aim at the Ogre and waited for him to turn his massive head towards him while Gunner and his people remained hidden. The guard remained in the same position staring into the night landscape at the backs of the kidnapping Ogres. It became obvious that he would not move from that position until the raiders returned.
Gunner lost patience and stood up from behind the tree that Matt-cinder was hidden in and threw a rock at the giant’s testicles. The Ogre screamed with rage and clutched his balls as he fell to his knees. The moment that he turned his head, the goblin let fly with the crossbow bolt and pierced his left eyeball, almost disappearing from sight. As the giant clawed at his bleeding face the humans moved in and Mog erupted from his hiding place and whirled the two granite balls round and round and buried them into the giant’s hairy head. One of Gunner’s men moved in, ducked under the Ogre’s flailing arms and cut the Ogre’s throat to make sure that he was dead. The giant fell to the ground and drained his blood into the ground at the entrance to the gate.
Tam walked around the corpse and said, “Well that was easier than I realised, but bear in mind that we had the advantage of surprise! Right, everybody move back from the portal and let Shamus do his trick.”
Shamus reached inside his travelling sack and produced an exceedingly ripe apple and sent his mind into the life glow that was inside every pip and altered the genetic makeup of each seed. He did the almost the same instruction, as he had given the apple that he had used to block the giant’s passageway on their way here. He knelt down and dug a little trench across the entrance of the portal where the blood had soaked through and squashed the apple flesh and seeds into the furrow and covered them up. Next he added some water from a flask to the giant’s blood, along the line of seeds and moved quickly out of the way.
Tam moved the entire group away from the dolmen and waited for the seedlings to begin to grow. A line of shoots began to sprout from the ground and soon reached the level of the cross piece at the top of the pillars. The seedlings soon began to thicken and branches began to jut underneath the top stone. The ground began to shake and a rumbling sound began to fill the air as the mutated apple trees grew larger and stronger, forcing the uprights apart. A snapping sound echoed around the group as goblin designed circuitry came apart and the top stone began to slide off the two uprights. Now the energy stored inside the stonework began to fizz and leak out striking the negatively charged ground and it began to spread outwards towards Tam and the rest of the group. As it did so the stone pillars began to crumble and fall apart.
Above the remains of the dolmen a dark thunder cloud dropped out of the sky and rain began to fall onto the charged device. Forked lightning played around the pillars linking them together and ignited the still expanding apple tree, snuffing out its altered life. The stench of roasting Ogre filled the air and the company retreated as fast as they could, back to the Ogres’ stronghold.

Ogre!
Chapter Ten.
The Keep was built to the scale of the creatures that lived there and towered over the humans as they crept forwards. The grey stone walls looked impenetrable. Even the goblins that served them had little idea of just how many of the misshapen creatures actually lived there. Five of them had been marooned in the human world and would soon be hunted down for the monsters that they were. All the goblins really knew about them were the atrocities that they committed outside of their huge stone fortress. The only windows were high in the stonework and just slits, until the second level was reached. It was designed to keep any invading force outside its thick walls. Now it was going to be turned into containment for the inhabitants. Half of Gunner’s force had crept up to the great wooden door under cover of darkness and had covered themselves with brushwood and sacking. The one thing that the goblins had definite knowledge of, was the Ogre’s eating and raiding patterns. Once the portal had found a ‘rich in human life’ and poorly defended area, they would continue to ransack it every six days before resting the portal or changing its point of focus.
Once the six giants had left the adjoining area and made their way towards the portal, Gunner’s second force moved into view and before the Ogres could open the great door, more long wedges, eagerly shaped by willing goblins were hammered under the door by the humans while the women sent a hail of arrows accurately through the slits keeping those inside away from the battlements.
When Gunner and Mog arrived at the stronghold they could see that the door into the keep was being hammered from the other side and was beginning to buckle. Jessup lofted into the air and climbed upwards until he could see what was going on the other side of the door. He signalled down to Mog that there were four of the Ogres hammering a large wooden bench at the door. Mog picked up a boulder and heaved it over the battlements above the door. It came down on two of them, smashing the battering ram. Within a few moments the boulder came back over the stonework and dropped in front of Mog. His stony face broke into a grin as he hefted the boulder against the door, making it even more difficult to move the door outwards.
The moment that an Ogre put his or her face above the parapet an arrow was loosed by Gunner’s archers. From this short range the large eyes of the giants were an easy target and all attempts to get outside soon stopped. Mog quickly found another boulder and with a grunt picked it up and added it to the other one. Soon the entire village of goblins had lined up to watch their ancient enemy penned up like cattle to slaughter. Centuries of servitude and sacrifice was going to end that very night.
Late afternoon began to ease its way towards nightfall when Gunner noticed that just as Tam had implied earlier, both leprechauns were missing.
He shouted out, “Mog! Where are Tam and Shamus? I haven’t seen them since Shamus destroyed the portal. Have you any idea where they have gone? I can remember him saying that the two of them were going inside. How can they do that? We have blocked the way to get in.”
Mog turned his stony body around to face the human and replied, “The aim was to stop them coming out, my friend. Tam has a strange ‘gift’ that has been passed on to Shamus. They can open a portal into the Shadow Lands and travel very quickly, along what Tam says are Lay Lines! The problem with travelling that path is that in that dimension, lives the very epitome of terror. There are predatory creatures that feed on living souls. Tam calls them Soul-eaters. The two of them are going to entice one or more of those things into our world, inside that Keep! That is why we are to block the exit so that the creatures of death can feed upon the child killers.”
“Before we destroyed the portal, Tam took me to one side and told me that after this exercise we might not meet again. Now I understand just what he meant,” Gunner sadly answered and lowered his Warhammer and added, “Did he know this at the very beginning of this quest?”
“Tam of the Shadows knows a great deal more than he tells, my human friend. Gunner, you must accept that herein this enchanted land;- all things are the Queen’s provenance. What she cannot deal with herself she allots to certain of her most trusted vassals.”
Gunner thought for a while and asked, “What are these ‘Shadow Lands’ that you say the leprechauns can enter and travel in?”
“They are a place that you would not want to know, or find your way into, my friend,” Mog answered and shuddered. “Tam tried to explain to me once what a terrible place it was and how the things that lived there, were the stuff of nightmares. Time works differently there and if you can pick the right Lay Line and travel on that, great distances can be telescoped into short ones. That is, as long as something does not pick you off and smother your mind. Anywhere there is a deep enough shadow, it can be made into an entrance to the twisted world if you have Tam’s gift. Getting in is easy, but getting out? That takes practise and every time you enter could well be your last!”
Tam and Shamus watched as Gunner, Mog and the others made their way towards the Ogre’s stronghold to carry out the next part of the plan. Shamus searched through his pockets for the Dragon Whistle that had been made from an elf’s bone. Tam had used this instrument as a means of defence when he had carried Shamus in a traveling sack through the Shadow Lands to Queen Mab’s throne room. Now in Shamus’s hands it was to become a beckon to entice the predators to come to them. Tam of the Shadows polished the end of his gnarly stick and gripped the other end of it so that it became a club.
Tam stood by a dark shadow by the side of the demolished portal and grinned at Shamus and asked, “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I ever will be, Master Shadow,” he replied and linked his mind to Tam’s.
The darkness opened like a flower and inside there was a multitude of Ley Lines arcing into a murky distance. All places were adjacent to each other, but separated into zones. Linking these zones were the Ley Lines that held everything together. It was actually knowing where these pathways led that made it possible for Tam to travel to the destination he required. This ‘gift’ had materialised in Shamus’s mind some while after his transformation and Tam had spent a great deal of time teaching his ‘younger twin’ the rudiments of travelling the Shadow Lands. Once through the portal the two leprechauns cast their minds along the Ley Lines that spread into the distance. There were several that looked promising and each of them took ‘sight’ of where they led. Shamus found one that kinked inside the stonework of the Ogre’s stronghold. This meant that the pathway momentarily stopped and then linked off to somewhere else.
“Call the wind, master Shadow, as I have the direction and location of a jumping off point inside the Keep. We go in that direction,” Shamus stated and spread the cloth of his waistcoat with outstretched arms.
Tam ‘called’ and the wind obeyed filling the sail that they made with their clothes. Immediately, they altered their weight and were blown along the direction of the Lay Line pointing to the Ogres’ home like an autumn leaf.
As they flew through the air, Shamus took out the Dragon Whistle and began to play a slow paced tune that suddenly would quicken up in tempo. This was not to keep the creatures of darkness away, but rather to say ‘FEED’ and attract them. Soon the dark areas each side of the pathway began to seethe with competing ‘life’ that would raise up a number of tentacles seeking the new life that was traveling. Each time something made a grab for one of the leprechauns Tam clubbed it with his gnarly stick. This was usually met with a shriek that hurt the eardrums of the fleeing couple. As they got closer to the portal inside the Ogres’ dark and oppressive dining hall, they were being followed closely by Soul-eaters, Soul-suckers and a pack of nightmarish creatures all driven crazy by the sounds made by the Dragon Whistle. Just to make sure that the demons would follow through the portal, long enough for the two of them to close it; they cut across the palm of their left hands. That left a blood trail of droplets floating in the air. Live blood drove the predatory creatures wild with bloodlust and an un-escaping desire to rip and bite any living thing. If they got too close Shamus would alter the notes from the whistle and blow a shrill sound that made them draw back.
In between blasts on the whistle Shamus shouted, “The next time Queen Mab decides to send us on a quest please remind me of this moment and try to dissuade me!”
Tam laughed and replied, “You came here looking for adventures. Be sure you know what you wish for! Look ahead my protégée this is where we get off!”
The leprechauns shot through the portal going left and right, leaving an empty hole with dozens of Ogres in front of it, sat at a huge dining table. Following the blood trail out of their dimension the creatures battened onto the flesh and blood of the giants, chewing, sucking and feeding on the minds of the captive killers. Drawn by the scent of blood, other abnormal things came lurching from the doorway out of the Shadow Lands. Shrunk down to their normal size and unseen, the two leprechauns stepped back into the shadows against the wall and eventually closed the portal, marooning the denizens of that awful dimension in the Ogres’ stronghold. They watched dispassionately as one of the giants futilely clawed at the thing that was wrapped around his head, drilling into his forehead with its beak. Horn tipped tentacles had already been driven into his eyes. Others were being eaten alive by hordes of many legged creatures that were removing arms and legs and storing the parts in living bags attached to the sides of the ‘beasts’ for later use. As soon as they could see that the Shadow Land predators were exiting the dining room and hunting elsewhere Tam and Shamus decided that it was time to leave, but first they used the magic in the boots to slow down time for themselves after Shamus used up the last of his apples. What they needed was that the trees would break apart the structure of the building opening it up to the sun. Direct sunlight would kill off the creatures that they had loosed upon the Ogres, leaving just a ruin and bones. They speeded up time and watched as the tree spread upwards pushing the stonework apart and opening the roof to the sun. Every so often Shamus would come back to real time and alter the growth of the tree to make sure that there were no hidden places that a Shadow Land creature could hide. He made sure that sunlight was allowed to fill every nook and cranny of the ruined keep. Finally when both leprechauns were satisfied they debated whether they would use the Shadow Lands portal and the Ley Line that kinked off from the Ogres’ dining hall and decided not to. They could feel that there was a gathering at the portal that they would have to unlock, so they decided to miniaturise themselves and find a way through the ruins and into the open air. Once into the courtyard they both attained giant size and stepped over the battlements and onto grass. They looked back and were amazed at the growth of the apple tree and the spread.
Shamus looked up and said, “How long do you feel that we were inside that ruin? I have a feeling that it was quite some time!”
“We will find out when we reach the goblin village. They will know how long ago we destroyed the Ogres,” replied Tam as they walked along the road back. 
Outside of the grey stone walls, the goblins and their deliverers, heard the screams and shrieks from inside the keep and felt no urge to enter. As the night wore on the screams grew fainter and finally stopped altogether. Several of the Ogres jumped from the battlements rather than face whatever Tam and Shamus had released inside the stronghold. Needless to say Gunner’s people soon made sure that they did not live very long.
The weeks came by and turned into months and remembering what Tam had told him about the area changing humans into misshapen Ogres over time, he put the question of leaving to the group. The grateful goblins gave the best of their boats to their deliverers and stocked it well with dried fish, meats, fruits and vegetables before making a sad farewell. Matt-cinder did not stay behind as Tam had thought, but took Pssst-pail with him.
Gunner met with the mayor of the goblin village before they set sail and said, “If my friends come this way, will you tell them that we sailed in that direction,” pointing due South.
 Pssst-pail’s father looked up to the human and smiled, “I will indeed, great warrior. We will not forget what you and the leprechauns have done for us. For centuries the Ogres used us like cattle and we could do nothing to stop them. Now that the dolmen has been destroyed, we can rest easy that your kind will not someday come swarming through that gateway and slaughter us all in revenge for what the giants did on their side of the portal.”
Gunner shook the much smaller, green hand of the mayor and said, “It is time we set sail and began our journey home. Goodbye to you and all our best wishes for the future. I do not think that we will meet again good sir.”
With that Gunner stepped aboard the ship and got his ‘crew’ to cast off. As if from nowhere a steady wind began to blow and the sails filled and billowed out. He grabbed a piece of netting to get his balance and looked inquiringly at Mog the Troll.
The stony face cracked into a grin and he said, “You have earned the right to stay here, human and all of your people, but she says that there is something that needs attending to, far to the south of here. Somewhere along this way you will meet with our two friends again and that is all she will say for the moment.”
Gunner grinned at the huge troll and grasped his thumb and said, “As Shamus once said to me, he came here for adventure and so it looks did I.”

Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian walked into the village and saw Pssst-pail’s father stare at them with absolute welcome all over his face.
“Where have you been? It’s been months since the Ogres’ stronghold was destroyed and your friends have sailed due South with a fair wind behind them.”
Tam looked at Shamus and said, “Months? Somehow I can feel the manipulate fingers of our Queen stirring our destiny again.”
A silvery tinkling voice rang in their brains, “Manipulate!!!! You have done well here and there is no more mental fog in this area. Due south from here there is another problem to be cleared. The Enchanted Land still has need of your many talents. I suggest that you catch up with your friends and rejoin them!”
“Yes my Queen,” answered both leprechauns.

Barry E Woodham  23-07-2016





This is the follow on from The Seven League Boots and Ogre!

The Southern Witch.
Chapter One.
Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian had been given just a vague direction by the mayor of the goblin village that their companions who had assisted in the destruction of the Ogres and their portal into the human world, had sailed south. The two leprechauns had stayed behind to make sure that each and every one of the foul creatures had perished in the Ogres’ stronghold before they vacated the premises. To do this they had slowed down time for themselves inside the terrible slaughter-house and watched unseen, as the things of nightmare that lived in the Shadow Lands had killed every Ogre. They then waited for the mutated fast-growing apple tree to have wrested off the roof, letting in the sunlight that would in turn destroy the soul-eaters and the other creatures of death trapped inside the ruins of the building. Every pip had taken root and obeyed the commands given by Shamus to grow and grow, forcing the stones apart and spreading through the keep, bringing down the walls. Satisfied that their task was done, the two made their way out and into the world, outside of the stronghold. Here they had a walk of little distance to reach the goblin’s village and were discussing how they were going to get home and hopefully meet with the others of the company who had become good friends.
They were told the news, that the goblins had given them one of their fishing vessels and that the moment that the last person, who was Gunner, had boarded the boat, a strong wind had filled the sails. They were told that this fair wind, soon moved the boat rapidly out to sea and filled the two Leprechauns with an uneasy apprehension.
It was then that Queen Mab had ‘spoken’ to them, lighting up their minds with her presence and said, “Well done the both of you. You and the other members of your company have prevented a nasty probability and removed a terrible threat to our world. They have gone ahead with a fair wind behind them, sailing due south. I want you to join them and once more be my enforcers and clear up a problem that I have put up with for far too long. I will tell you more when you have re-joined the others.”
With the dulcet tones of the Queen’s mind echoing through their thoughts the two just stared at each other and then Tam laughed out load.
“It would seem that we still have much to do my young friend to bring stability to the Enchanted Lands. I feel that it may be some time before you and I have a chance to go home. Still, just to rub it in! You wanted adventure and now you have it!”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Shamus replied. I can only wonder what it is that we have to face in the future. So far, Ogres and a dragon; what could be worse than that?”
Tam stared back at him with alarm and answered, “Do not tempt fate, young man. Never tempt fate.”
“I do not believe in fate,” answered Shamus. “Life is what you can make of it and that all depends on what you as a person decide to do. You have taught me that there are a myriad of choices that spill out into the future and it all depends on what ‘You’ decide to do. You told me a long time ago, it seems that if you knew my true name I would become your slave, unable to do anything of my own free will! No such thing has happened and I know your name and you mine so I can see no sense in that at all. Either that or you were not being completely truthful at the time.”
“Young Shamus! I have never lied to you. Yes we know each other’s given names and that is a great matter of trust, but not the true name of our souls. To know that, would give the one who knows a formidable power over the other. It is called ‘The Knowing.’ That is an awesome thing to possess. It is referred to, as part of ‘The Black Arts’ and not to be used on another being on pain of death. When I spoke to you when we first met, I was afraid that you would blurt out your real name and place me in an impossible position. Now that you are no longer human and by the powers of Queen Mab, a leprechaun that has a little of humanity in him, this knowledge is to be a secret thing. I will not speak of this again,” stated Tam and bent down to check the laces on his boots.
Shamus checked his laces and stared due south along the shoreline and wondered how far had Gunner and the rest of their friends had managed to sail. They had slept over at the goblin’s village and had a good breakfast before they had walked to the beach. They looked at the boats that the goblins used to get out on the deep ocean and could see that they were sturdily built. Although conditions would be cramped, they were both sure that the humans would be able to sail the Wave-snapper, as she was called. Gunner had told them that he was of a sea-faring race known as Vikings and used to single-sailed boats. He had spoken wistfully of the search for good farming territory. This had led them to the Enchanted Land, as the place that he called home, was a poor stony ground that grew stunted crops. This realm was lightly settled and there was plenty of room to spread out. They had fallen foul of Queen Mab by forcing the local inhabitants off their lands and building the start of the castle to defend them against being ‘pushed off’ themselves. Both leprechauns thought that they fought well for a group of farmers!
“Ready, Shamus?” asked Tam.
“Yeah I’m ready. Let’s make a start,” replied his protégée and the command ‘Grow twenty times’ and ‘Stride’ echoed across the beach. 
The goblin mayor watched them sail into the air and disappear from sight with one mighty hop. He and the other members of the village would tell and re-tell the legend of when the Ogres were defeated by the magic of Queen Mab’s enforcers and the bravery of the strange, hairy, pale-skinned people who had fought on their behalf with a mighty Troll. Centuries later, when the village grew to become a major trading port; visitors that docked would be shown the tapestry that illustrated the brave actions of those involved.

Several months of sailing had shown those on board that the lands bordering the sea were by and large empty. This led to several disputes amongst the humans who could see that prime farming land was there just for the grabbing. Gunner reminded them that they would need seeds and livestock, none of which were stored on the Wave-snapper. Mog also reminded them that their benefactor still had a task that she needed them to draw to a close and depending on the outcome he was sure that she would amply reward them all.
There were times that the wind would veer and drive the boat further out to sea and they would see the surf spuming over rocky outcrops. Then the wind would drop and the vessel would drop anchor for a while allowing the crew to fish to restock supplies. Inside the boat was a stone fireplace with a chimney that was bound to the central mast. The two gnomes were quite at home in here and cooked whatever came over the side along with the provisions that they carried. The further south they ventured, the warmer the surrounding area became. Violent storms sometimes lashed the boat with torrential rain, but still the prevailing wind continued to carry the Wave-snapper ever southwards.
One morning as dawn was breaking Mog became aware of a haunting sound as if many voices were calling, calling all that heard, to come closer. He made his way onto the deck and was appalled at what he could see. A set of jagged rocks leading to an island had what he thought were people sat upon them. His sensitive mind could feel the pull of their magic and the hunger that lay beneath. The boat was tacking at an angle to the wind and was heading straight to the rocks. He turned around to see the master steers-man pushing the rudder hard over to deliberately pile onto the rocks. In several strides he made it to the tiller and knocked the bemused man to his knees and pushed the rudder back. The boat yawed wildly to the other side and he could feel the hiss of the spume on his body as the sides of the vessel almost scraped the rocks. Now he was close enough to see that the creatures sat on the shoreline were not completely human. They were definitely fish shaped at the rear, but an ugly kind of humanoid at the top. Their teeth were many and sharp-pointed. Long hair grew from all over their heads and faces. The hands ended in elongated claws rather than nails and they all had dorsal fins running down their backs. The feeling of their hunger for the flesh of those that they had entrapped with their unearthly songs filled his mind.
Several of them slipped into the water and tried to slither aboard by grabbing onto the ropes along the side of the Wave-snapper. All the time the song sapped the determination of the humans to resist. Mog kept hold of the tiller and suddenly change tack to grind the bodies of the Mer against the barnacled sides of the rocks on that side. He seized hold of an oar and pushed it into the faces of those he could reach, knocking them back into the water. Fortunately the siren song of the Mer made the humans go to sleep and they dropped down where they had stood.
“Give the tiller to us, Mog old friend and clear the decks,” said Arifan and pushed a large box underneath the rudder so that Aisled could reach the bar with him.
“Steer away from the rocks and go out to sea,” Mog replied, “while I clear the vermin from the decks. Get us away from the singing.”
As the boat reared away from the dangerous rocks, Mog set upon those of the Mer that had managed to slither aboard with the oar. He poked and hammered the oar onto the heads of the creatures until they returned to the water. Some of them tried to bite him and broke their teeth on his stony skin. Those that would not go, he picked them up by the arms and threw them off the deck against the rocks. He was soon assisted by Gunner swinging his Warhammer and some of the crew that had regained consciousness as the boat sailed away from the island.
Once they had the boat cleared of the invading force, Gunner said, “We owe our lives to you Mog, great amongst Trolls!”
“Well, Gunner, I had to do something to save the day. I’m made mostly of stone and would have sunk like one had the ship gone down! Fortunately the Mer’s songs just gave me a headache and did not put me to sleep. Our gnomes also were not as badly affected and were able to take over the tiller.”
“What happened to the goblins?” asked Gunner.
“Still asleep down in the hold, my friend,” the Troll answered. “You can them what they missed!”
As the sun reached midday once more the wind stopped. They pulled in to a cove with a sandy beach to hunt for dead wood and tied up to the anchor.

The Southern Witch.
Chapter Two.
Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian had covered several hundred miles and were feeling the effects of constantly hopping along in twenty mile chunks. Sometimes they would land miles apart as tiredness took its toll and it would take some time before they caught up with each other. Fortunately as they were twenty times full size they were easy to see above the tree-top level and by and large they kept to the beaches when they could. This was fine when the tide went out but difficult when it was fully in. it was then that they had to go inland so that they did not drop into the sea. At the same time they had to keep a sharp eye out to make sure that they did not overshoot the vessel manned by their friends.
By the time late afternoon had come, both leprechauns were feeling in need of a rest and had made it to a small sandy cove that had an overhanging cliff that would give some protection from the weather. There was plenty of dry wood washed up on the high tide mark, so the two of them collected enough to be able to make a fire. Shamus searched his pockets for an enchanted apple and dug out a pip. This he planted between the high water mark and the fire and gave the seed its instructions. Immediately the tree began to grow in a smi-circle around the fire and up against the cliff.
Tam took out his waterproof duvet and they wrapped the sleeping-bag around themselves and said, “Goodnight young Shamus. We should be safe enough behind your living fence! Maybe tomorrow we will catch up with the others and then perhaps Queen Mab will inform us of what she wants us to do.”
“I do hope so master Shadow. I do not like this uncertainty. I have a hot pie of some description that I found in the bottom of my travelling sack. There are a few left, but not many,” Shamus replied and passed one over to Tam.
Once they had eaten the pies, they cuddled down and went to sleep.
It was the clicking and rustling sounds that woke them both and Tam threw more wood upon the fire lightening up the darkness. The firelight reflected off hundreds of eyes close to the ground and some of them moving up the branches of the tree. The clicking sound was the noise that chitinous pinchers make when they are snapped together. The rustling was produced by hundreds of crabs climbing over each other trying to breach the protection of the apple tree’s interwoven branches. The tide had come in and with it hundreds of hungry crabs had crawled out of the sea intent on reaching the sleeping duo. Some of them were bigger than Mog the Troll’s head and had pinchers the size of their hands. These larger creatures were snipping away at the roots of the many saplings, trying to get inside the barrier by opening a hole. Some of them had made it to the top of the protective growth and dropped onto the sand between the fire and the saplings. They scurried sideways seeking sanctuary in the shadows near the roots of Shamus’s defence. Tam picked up his gnarly stick and laid into the scuttling creatures, cracking their shells open. He flicked the dead crabs onto the fire to cook and as the fire burnt up, giving more light, the crabs retreated sideways out of sight and back to the edge of the sea.
“I somehow have lost all interest in sleeping, master Shadow. I will stay awake and feed the fire! Dawn cannot be too far away, as a sea mist is beginning to form,” Shamus stated and threw another broken branch on the fire.
“We will start off at first light. Eat something now and we will not waste any more time here. I have a strong feeling that we will catch up with the Wave-snapper sometime tomorrow.”
As the sun rose, the crabs disappeared beneath the sea and once more the cove was deserted at low tide. Tam and Shamus cracked open the crabs that had broiled in the embers of the fire. There was plenty of flesh inside the claws and legs. Also opening the carapace was worthwhile, as there was plenty of meat packed inside. They tied the uneaten claws and legs together and bagged them up, dropping them into the travelling sacks to keep fresh.
To prevent any accidents with the boots, both of them tied their ankles together so that they could only hop and not make the mistake of trying to walk.
“Ready, young Shamus?” asked Tam.
“Aye, I am that. Let us hope that we will catch up with them today. We have very little left in the sacks and soon we will run out and have to scavenge for what we can find along the way. I have not seen any settlements along this coastline since we left the goblin’s village near the Ogres’ stronghold,” declared Shamus.
The command to ‘Grow twenty times’ and ‘Stride’ rang out. The two leprechauns stepped over the barrier and were soon on their way further south. As the sun rose further into the sky the temperature began to climb as they entered the beginnings of the tropics. Several times they had to stop and Shamus coaxed fresh water from the trees that sometimes grew right into the sea. Surprisingly the water given up by the trees was fresh and clear even when they expected it to be brackish due to what they were living in. They filled their containers each time they stopped and rested in normal size whenever it seemed safe.
Growing and ‘Striding’ took energy and by the time it was late afternoon both little men were feeling the exertions of the journey and were dreading spending another night on the beach. After two more operations of the magic boots they spotted a pillar of smoke rising into the air a few miles further on. They cut down the power of the boots to move in smaller hops and soon they could see that a fishing boat of the goblin’s design was anchored up in a small protected cove. On the beach was a bonfire that was producing the smoke that they had seen. Suddenly the people on the beach stood up and were pointing in their direction and waving their arms in welcome. The closer the two leprechauns got to their friends the smaller they became until they walked along the beach at normal size. The smell of roasting meat filled the air, making the two pixies’ mouths water and their empty stomachs rumble. Arifan and Aisled had packed well and had made sure that their travelling sacks were well filled with loaves of bread and supplies of all kinds. They had restocked at the goblin village making sure that there would be plenty of food to last, whatever came about.
During the meal the reason that the leprechauns had been so late in catching up the rest of the group was told and the near sinking of the boat by the Mer with Mog’s timely rescue expressed. Then as an afterthought, Tam told them about the attack by the crabs and their escape from the hungry creatures. They passed around the legs and claws of their adversaries as a delicacy. The verdict was tasty, but not very filling! 
That evening Mog and Tam discussed the fact that the constant wind blowing south that had taken them to where they were anchored was definitely the work of their Queen. Both of them had felt her presence and had heard her voice inside their heads. The question was what to do next?
“We wait until she contacts us, Mog, my dear friend. She said that she would when we re-joined together. It may be that we rest here a while until then. This far south is a long way from where I have ventured so my knowledge of the area is slight,” Tam stated and looked up, as a glowing light sped across the night sky.
It came down somewhere in the forest that grew right up to the beach with an explosive bang. The night sky lit up and glowed for some time and a wind blew outwards from the impact, even disturbing the vegetation along the cliff edge and showering the group with stones and dirt.
Tam looked at Matt-cinder and said, “That’s a sky-stone and if I am correct it is loaded with the poison metal.  This is why we are here, I think.”
“You are indeed, my loyal servant and good friend,” whispered Queen Mab in his mind’s ear. “You will need that stone in the future. The smith, Matt-cinder will build a forge and pound that evil thing into strips. Gunner and his people will wear these strips around their necks making them impervious to any mental coercion. Some way along this coast in a citadel, lives the Southern Witch. She has the power of ‘The Knowing’ and all who live under her rule have no free will. She has been here far too long and you and this group will somehow wrap an iron band around her cursed neck and cripple her mental powers. You have the skills on this boat to achieve this. Tell Gunner and his people that I give these lands to him and his people should he accomplish what I ask. If he should fail, I can do nothing more. If she cannot be stopped, then I fear that she will advance into my realm using mind-controlled soldiers and drive all of our people from their lands or place them in endless servitude.”
The Queen’s presence faded from Tam’s mind and he called Mog to his side and relayed Mab’s instructions to the Troll and instructed him to pass on the offer to Gunner.   
Gunner soon found Tam and asked, “What does she mean exactly about us being able to settle here? Also what is the importance of the ‘Sky Metal’ to the faery people? Please explain to me the deeper meanings of this new quest.”
“Queen Mab means what she says! If we are able to throw over the bondage that these people live under and then what you have taken, you keep! The thing to remember is that you will be responsible for all the people that live here and Mab hates domination for its own sake. She will not tolerate cruelty and will use what means she has to crush it. Now the other thing that you must know is the effect that the metal that you call Iron, that is sometimes present in the stones that fall from the sky, negates magic. If I am too close to a large mass of it, my magical abilities vanish. This is a secret known to very few. As the Queen says, the Southern Witch controls ALL the people in these lands by her mental powers, fed by the fact that she knows every secret name of the people who are forced to serve her. It is called ‘The Knowing’ and is a terrible power to wield. If you can find the sky-stone and if Matt-cinder can build a forge to hammer the metal into thin strips, then if all of the humans and the goblins wear them around their necks, it will be as if you are invisible! Only your people and the goblins, who have no magic, are unaffected by the poison metal. She will not see you and will not recognise you as a threat. If you can slip an iron band around her neck, she will be powerless without her magic. That’s all you have to do! As for the rest of us, I’m still working on that!”

The Southern Witch.
Chapter Three.
Annabella was feeling in a particularly spiteful mood this morning and having seen her maidservant take a honey-cake from her breakfast scraps, she felt inclined to punish her. She was bored with her attentions anyway and the brushing of her hair had caught a snarl and pulled out several of her long blond hairs. She dug into the gobliness’s mind and followed the psychic thread to the secret name of her soul. A little pinch here and a jab there soon prompted the unconscious mind to give up her true name of ‘Nimbus.’ There was a tearing feeling from deep inside the girl’s mind as her name rose up into Annabella’s reach.
Her eyes filled with concentrated fear as Minch-kin’s real name came into her mistresses’ mental grasp and she wet herself in terror.
She fell to her knees and begged Annabella’s mercy, but her mistress just laughed and said, “Nimbus, weave a willow cage around yourself and place it in the garden where I can see you rot with all the others!”
At the sound of her true name all resistance fell away from the girl and she had to obey. Without another sound she made her way into the garden outside the chateau and picked up a knife along the path to cut the lengths of supple willow. It took her all day just to collect enough wands to begin weaving the base and sides. By morning she had finished and was slumped down in the wooden cage waiting to die. As demanded, she was in full view of the Witch’s sight and also all of the other servants that tended to her needs. Her cage was one of many, dotted about the garden. As the weeks passed, the terror that her servants felt began to slowly decrease into fear. The new maidservant was an elf and made very sure that when she brushed her mistresses’ hair that she did not pull any knots. She also made sure that any left-overs from her breakfast were swept into a garbage pail in front of Annabella’s sight.
A very long time ago, the Southern Witch had once been human and had found her way through a dolmen during a full moon. She had found herself in the enchanted land and had, as a small child, wandered into the grounds of the chateau. She had been found by one of the gardeners and had been taken to see the ruler of the Southern lands. There had not been a child running through the great halls at Crispin Gate for many years and the elves found the human child fascinating. To their surprise the young girl had an aptitude for magic and they taught her the disciplines of shamanistic enchantement as part of her education.
One of the things that she was taught was the study of Ley Lines with their co-existence in both the Enchanted Land and also the Shadow Lands. Here distance could be squeezed tighter and the ability to travel over vast expanses very quickly, made possible. Travelling that path was dangerous, as the darkness hid the most terrible soul eating predators. The chateau was built over the crossroads of a set of Lay-Lines that were anchored by a ring of Geodes mounted upon a marble plinth, deep beneath the wine cellars. Unknown to the elves the constant field of energy had a very strange effect on Annabella’s mind and body. Just as the same situation had changed human beings into Ogres so it began to alter the human girl. Her mind began to expand in power and understanding, such that she now hid her abilities from her mentors. In the library at Crispin Gate there was a shelf with a few manuscripts on it, locked by a simple enchantment. As Annabella spent a great deal of time in the library the elves allowed her to pursue her own interests and left her to her own devices. It was here during a rainy afternoon that finding the room empty, she undid the lock without any difficulty and picked up the manuscripts. She took them to her room and bolted the door. She conjured up a ball of glowing light and began to avidly study the ancient parchments. Never for one moment thinking that an elf would use the knowledge scattered through the manuscripts, they had just left The Black Arts in full view, with a simple spell locking the case.
The more that she read, the more her mind became twisted and evil as the papers wove a spell of their own into the girls mind. This was a power that once mastered would make her invincible! She had the ‘Power of the Knowing’ and within that power was the ability to stay forever young by stealing the youthfulness from others. Her mind became rapier sharp and able to tear the secret name of anyone’s soul from their mind. The ‘name’ was the true identity of the soul and once in her possession the recipient was hers to do with as she pleased.
From that day on Annabella never grew old. One by one the elves that had taken her in were consumed by her hunger. Whenever she felt that age was creeping up on her she would select a young person and feed upon the psyche and as a special treat, drink the blood of her victim during the process. She had no fear of a night-time visit from a would-be assassin, as she always slept guarded by two huge wolves that never aged, in her bedroom. These she fed on anyone stupid enough to try, or one of the many captives in their self-built cages. In the very bottom of the chateau where the Geodes were kept she had released a Soul-eater from the Shadow Lands. Anyone that went anywhere near that room would find themselves in a final clammy embrace in the darkness.

Tam, Shamus, Matt-cinder, Mog and Gunner were discussing tactics about how to best use the information given by the Queen. What she had advised was a logical method of defeating the Southern Witch, but how to accomplish what she wanted was a different matter.
Tam spoke first and said, “First of all, someone has to fetch the meteorite and bring it here. Once it is in the vicinity, those of us susceptible to iron will have to move away, or we will be drained of our powers. I suggest that Shamus takes you to the vicinity and returns here. Gunner will be responsible for getting the infernal lump to here at the Wave-snapper. Inside the boat there is a stone fireplace where I am sure that Matt can engineer a forge.
Mog the Troll thought for a moment and then said, “Moving the sky-stone by me will depend only on how long the rope needs to be for me not to be affected by the poison metal. Depending just how large this thing is, will determine whether or not we can move it at all. Somehow I believe that Queen Mog would have known if it was too big for us to manage. She has taken an advantage that has happened just at the right time. We have met up here and somewhere out in that jungle the sky-stone fell. How we deal with the incidentals is not her problem. Trust her, human and I believe that things will come out alright.”
“It looks as if the best thing for me to do, as Tam has said, is for me to carry Gunner and what people he feels he needs and of course Mog to be our donkey!” Shamus said and then pointed at the boat. “There is plenty of good strong rope in the stores and enough spare timber to build a sledge. I suggest we go to it and get things moving.”
Once Gunner’s people removed the hatch, Shamus shrank it down and placed it inside a pocket in his waistcoat. Half of the men left the boat behind and travelled in the leprechaun’s pockets along with Mog the Troll once he had grown by a factor of twenty. Gunner took his position in the topmost pocket where he could look down on the tangled mess that was the local jungle. A plume of smoke still rose from the impact site and Shamus made his way towards the crater. It only took a few steps before Shamus could feel the draining effect of the sky-stone and he stopped where he was.
“Here is the closest that I can get to the sky-stone without my magical abilities dwindling away,” Shamus said to Gunner. “So I will off-load you all and make my way back to the Wave-snapper, but I will try to coerce the tree-growth to pull back and leave Mog a better road back. Here is the hatch-cover for the hold, back to its normal size. Do not expect that we who are affected by the stone to be in the vicinity when you return with it. We will soon know if you have it with you when you arrive.”
Mog sat down upon a boulder and uncoiled the long length of rope and gave the other end to Gunner and said, “All you have to do is find the sky-stone and get it onto the sledge and I will pull it to the boat. Once there I can be of no further help to you as you know. So off you go, human and once you have secured the stone, give the rope a tug and I will start to pull.”
Gunner stared at the once impenetrable jungle in amazement, as Shamus ‘persuaded’ the trees, vines and undergrowth to pull back, leaving a wide enough trail for the Troll to pull the sledge along. In front of him the jungle also began to pull back, as iron had no effect on plants and a pathway to the crater began to extend from where he stood. The six of them took hold of the ropes looped around the upturned hatch and lifted the improvised sled walking forwards as the path unfurled in front of them. Fortunately the crater was not too far from where Mog had stopped and they had plenty of rope left over. The vegetation had an eager look about it as if it desperately wanted to close over the trail and that made him nervous. The roots of the plants that had grown where the trail was opening up had pulled to the sides, leaving bare earth showing. It was also very quiet as all the animals that lived in the jungle had also gone away from the area.
Mog had transferred the knowledge that Matt-cinder had about sky-stones into Gunner’s mind so he knew what he was looking for. The six men abruptly found themselves on the lip of a crater so they dropped the hatch onto the trail and made their way down into the hole pulling the sledge with them. Whatever had hurtled down from the skies had disintegrated into manageable pieces and lumps. The chunks were still warm and had a metallic clunk when hit together. Gunner studied the piece that he had picked up and could feel how hard it was against the bronze weapons that he was used to. He thought about the other properties that the leprechaun had told him about and wondered? The more he wondered the more uncertain he became about having Queen Mab as an enemy and decided that she would be a better friend. They searched through the mud at the bottom of the crater and found odd shaped lumps scattered around. They loaded them onto the hatch and tied a piece of spare sail under and over the pieces of sky-stone. Gunner looked up at the sides of the crater and wondered just how strong the troll was? He gave the rope a tug and watched as the makeshift sledge made its way up the sides of the crater and down the trail to the boat. They applied their muscles to the task by pushing and guiding the boat’s hatch along the trail. The few moments that it had taken Shamus to get as far as he could dragged on until the sun began to set and they left the sledge where it was and made their way back to the safety of the boat.
Matt-cinder had made a good search in the bottom of the boat and in the bilges he found ingots of hardened bronze that had been put there for ballast. He soon fashioned them into an anvil, set upon the large wooden block that was used for chopping food and fish. Next he made a bellows to direct air into the fire chamber and had Pssst-pail collect the logs that Gunner’s people had gathered and bake them into charcoal so that he could get a greater heat when he needed it. He heated up Gunner’s Warhammer and extracted the long shaft and replaced it with a shorter one so that he could use it to hammer out the sky-stone into individual torcs. He had planned them in his mind to become a hoop ending in an open hook on each end that could be easily closed. Once on the neck of the wearer and it would not easily come off.
Tam and Shamus had sent Jessop aloft to spy out the land ahead and to get some idea of the state of the Southern Witch’s domain before they made any more plans.

The Southern Witch.
Chapter Four.
When Jessop returned, the sun was beginning to set and everyone had relocated to the Wind-snapper, as the ‘sky-stone’ was sufficiently far away not to interfere with magic powers. Using Mog as a conduit they transferred all that the winged elf had seen to Gunner, Shamus and Tam. With that information they were able to draw a map of the area and study it. They worked out that about ten miles further along the coast a wide river emptied into the sea and separated the jungle from the cultivated lands. A dock had been constructed for off-loading from settlements up-river and it was at the end of set of gardens where a beautiful chateau had been built. The gardens were extensive and full of flowers, vegetable plots and orchards that were well tended. Jessop had glided low over the river, well to the seaward and away from anybody seeing him. He had landed along the edge of the estate. What he wanted to do was to see what was inside a cage made from willow shoots and interwoven stems, hanging from a tree. When he parted the bars of the cage he was horrified to see a decaying elf slumped against the side. What really shook him was that the cage had been made from the inside obviously by the occupant. After seeing that, Jessop crawled away and took to the skies as far away as he thought safe and made his way back to the Wave-snapper.    
Gunner’s face drained of all colour and he asked, “What kind of person would do that to another?”
Tam laid a hand on the human’s shoulder and replied, “The magic in this land can engender evil as well as good. Remember that the Ogres we cleaned out of that keep were once as human as you, long ago. Something in that stronghold altered them over the years and it would seem that maybe the same thing has happened here. What we need to do is to grab one of the people that live there and find out just what is going on. Also what happened in the past.”
In the morning Tam assembled the group together and laid out a plan of sorts. He agreed that he and Shamus would take Jessop and the two gnomes hidden away in their pockets, leaving Mog to haul the pieces of sky-stone back to the forge until he was overcome by the presence of the pieces of iron meteor and had to leave the area. This would then be the blacksmith’s task to beat the pieces of sky-stone into flat collars that hooked together on the ends, so that everyone was protected from mental interference. They would test the immunising effect by one by one approaching Mog whose telepathic abilities would either ‘see’ them or not. Having had some dealings with the effects of the poison metal in the destruction of Knorrd the dragon, Tam was sure that the ‘trick’ would work. Again, he trusted Queen Mab’s intuition. The last human to receive the torc had to be Gunner, as Tam would meet him on the beach away from the iron protected boat and relay what information he had manage to gather. After the meeting the leader of the humans would return to the boat and set sail after he was fitted with an iron band. Clipped to his waist belt would be the neutralising metal ring that he would somehow fit around the Southern Witch’s neck, separating her from all of her magic powers.
Tam extended his size so that he was the same height of Gunner and said, “There is one more thing that I must do before we set off on our separate ways. I have to ‘borrow’ your soul and keep it with me so that she cannot know your real name. This I will do, when I come back to see you before we part company. There is an unpleasant side effect. It will rob you of your conscience for a while and you will find that you will be able to do things that normally you would shy away from. I will leave you to consider the choice that you must make. Do this of your own free will and I am sure that Queen Mab will stand by all she has promised. Should you decide to sail off and make your own way into this world, she will not stop you, or punish you for seeking freedom from this terrible risk.”
“Tam of the Shadows, she has become my Queen as well as yours and I am proud to be able to serve her at a time of need,” the warrior replied and he shook the leprechaun’s hand in his gnarly fist. “Be assured come what may, we will stand together as we did against the Ogres.”
The leprechaun could ‘see’ the truth behind the words that Gunner had spoken and was contented that the human would follow his instructions to the letter. On impulse after he took the man’s hand in his he opened his mind to probe deep into Gunner’s soul and found that it was aflame with determination to do the bidding of the Queen.
“I call you friend, Gunner and in this land of enchantment that means a great deal. Now I must lead those of us with the ‘power’ into the edge of the Southern Witch’s territory and make contact with someone who is dominated by her will. We need to know as much as we can about her and the circumstances that created her before you go on the hardest part of this quest,” Tam declared and turned away towards Shamus who was waiting on the beach well away from the nickel-iron shards of sky-stone that Mog the Troll was preparing to haul on the sledge into sight.
Shamus already had the two gnomes in his pockets along with Jessop and had attained giant size to begin the journey inland. Tad O’ Shadow joined him and the two of them set off with several distance consuming hops over the jungle beneath them. When they were five hops away from the beach they paused and surveyed the lands on the other side of the river. Although cultivated, the fields were empty of people so there were none over the river that would see two giants stepping over the turbulent cascade. So the two leprechauns extended their size even more, simply stepped over the river and then reduced their size considerably.
They used the boots several times to condense the distance and then allowed the gnomes and Jessop to climb out of the waistcoat pockets so that they could attain normal size again. Jessop unfurled his wings and spread them wide to iron out any folds. He flapped them several times and lifted into the air and began to gain height. With a nod to Tam and the others he steadily made his way downstream along the edge of the river looking for someone to abduct.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the heat began to build up and the leprechauns increased their sizes to match the gnomes to make the walking easier. They soon found themselves in a grove of fruit trees and waiting for them was the winged elf, Jessop, holding onto a young goblin who was shaking with fear.
He fell to his knees when he saw the four faery people walking towards him and cried out, “She will soon know that you are here. She has ‘The Knowing’ and your short-lived soul will soon be hers. Why have you come here to this forsaken place?”
“To remove her,” answered Tam. “I need to know all that you know about her and the lands that she rules and then I will take you back over the river to where my friends are waiting for us. Try and be not afraid young man for we have been sent by Queen Mab to rescue all of those who live under her spell. You must trust me and you will be saved. Let me place my hands upon your head and relax, so that I can easily slip into your mind.”
The goblin bent his head down and Tam placed his hands on the goblin’s forehead and closed his eyes. There were layers and layers of fear that he had to penetrate until he was able to access his memories and knowledge of the world he lived in. By the time that Tam had finished, the goblin’s green hue had paled across his face and his eyes were wildly staring about in terror, as all the terrible memories surfaced. Tam reluctantly shut his mind down, as he was beginning to broadcast his fear like a beacon in the night.
The goblin fell forwards in an induced faint and Tam said, “We must take him back with us. I will grow and you will slide him into a pocket along with Jessop in case he wakes. I will return to the boat and speak with Gunner. Shamus I need you to stay here and communicate with the trees that grow here. I have in mind that we will need all the help that we can get and if you can persuade the trees to aid us, then I will have a plan for them. Now I must go so that I can get back to the boat by evening.”
Shamus watched his mentor stride out of sight and felt very lonely, but resolute that he would try to win over the trees to his side. He placed his hands upon the bark of the nearest fruit tree and sent his mind into the green souls of the grove of trees. The apple-tree inside his mind reached out and bonded with every sapling, shrub, tree, and vine, opening them to communication with Shamus. Grove after grove, orchard after orchard, linked into the communal mind that centred on the leprechaun and included him into their ‘woody’ thoughts. Slowly as only growth can be, he opened their consciousness to become aware of the neglect that had been visited upon them by the people that were prevented to do more because of the Witch. The more trees that connected, the more the over-mind grew, becoming more and more sentient.  Finally every growing thing that had wood and sap was part of a greater whole. All they needed was direction and Shamus could supply the purpose.
Meanwhile Tam had returned to the cove where the Wave-snapper was anchored. He could feel the effects of the hammered strips adorning every human and goblin’s neck. As he had suspected, wearing iron around their necks made every mind out of reach to the leprechaun except Gunner’s. Mog the Troll was sitting on the shingle with the human’s leader waiting for his return.
Tam removed the goblin from his pocket along with Jessop who had managed to reassure the goblin about the means of travel in the pocket of a giant.
Mog stared down at the green man, who was shaking with fear as the Troll was four times the size of him and said, “You have nothing to be afraid of here, goblin. You must trust me. Just as Tam has been into your mind, you must bear the indignity of my intrusion. This human will be the one who will win your freedom or die trying. To do this he needs your knowledge and what you know about the history of this evil witch who has dominated your people for so long. I will transfer all your memories to him by placing a finger on your head and the other hand on his. Some of what he is, will leak over into your mind so be calm and strong. It will not take long.”
With that Mog did what he said and filled Gunner’s mind with all that the goblin knew about the witch and her surroundings. The human stared at Tam O’ Shadow in horror as he began to sort out the jumbled memories, realising that the leprechaun was bearing the same burden. After a while Gunner just sat upon the beach and held his aching head between his hands.
He swallowed and coughed as bitter bile came back into his mouth and he said, “She was human once, long ago. Something changed her when she first lived at Crispin Gate. What if what changed her, changes me? There has to be something there deep down, under the chateau that is a poison to the soul.”
“We will deal with that, once Annabella has been neutralised,” replied Tam,     grimly and placed his hand upon Gunner’s head. “Now my friend to protect you from her ‘Knowing’ I have to store your soul where she cannot find it. Close your eyes and relax as much as you can.”
Tam gestured to Mog to bend forwards and placed his other hand upon his brow. He then became a conduit from Gunner’s soul to Mog’s and reached down into the very depths of the human’s consciousness. There deep down, he found what he needed and placed a barrier over the place that the human’s soul would be. He then allowed the precious piece of Gunner’s identity to flow through his mind and into the Troll’s safe place that he had prepared for him.
Tam removed his hand from the human’s head and said, “You may open your eyes now, Gunner, my friend. It is time for you to re-join your crew on the Wave-snapper and wear iron. Take the goblin with you and make sure that he has a band around his neck as well. Believe me when I say that if Mog cannot read the minds of your people with an iron band around their necks, then neither will you be ‘seen’ by her.”

The Southern Witch.
Chapter Five,
As the sun began to set, Gunner made for the Wave-snapper as quickly as he could. Inside his mind he could feel a strange indifference to what Tam had done to him. If anything he felt that the consequences that might take place did not matter as long as the task that the Queen had set them was carried out.  The end justified the means and that he could understand. It would be difficult for him not to fly into a berserker’s rage if provoked by the spell captivated people under the witch’s powers, but the reasoning part of his mind stayed calm. Suddenly the power of the iron band around his neck came to him and he realised that there was nothing that the Queen could do should he decide to sail away from all this and stake a claim to an unoccupied land. He stopped abruptly and turned around to face the Troll and leprechaun who were watching him intently. The goblin that had been under the spell of the Southern Witch stopped walking and looked at the big human, by his side.
“Why have you stopped?” He asked.
Gunner said, “I was just thinking about the risks attached to this enterprise, little man. I could sail away north and settle somewhere else with all my people gathered around me. Tam told me, that if that was what I decided to do, then she would do nothing to stop me. It’s an interesting thought and unworthy of someone who has pledged his word to bring your tormentor down. I can feel that something is missing deep inside me, but with that gone I am able to do what I would have doubted that I am capable of. Have no fear my green friend, I will not abandon you.”
He waved to the two watching him and turned away, continuing to walk towards the boat.
Mog turned to Tam and remarked, “As you surmised my friend, he had an attack of avarice as he adjusted to having no conscience. He has a good soul and I will keep it safe for when he has returned from the task in hand.” 
As the ‘adjusted’ Gunner returned to the boat the sun slipped out of sight and darkness flooded the beach. Mog picked up Tam and put him on his shoulder. He walked away from the beach and into the sand dunes that gave way to the jungle’s edge.
Mog looked round to find a stout tree that he could weave the first set of branches into an easily defended ‘nest’ and placed Tam O’ Shadow safely into it when it was finished.
“From what you have told me, some very unpleasant creatures crawl out of the sea at night,” Mog stated. “I will sit with my back towards the tree while you sleep and make sure that something does not view you as food! As for me? Well unless it eats stones, I feel quite safe!”
“Thanks old friend,” Tam replied, as he pulled a duvet from out of one of his waistcoat pockets. “Wake me at dawn and we can be on our way to join up with Shamus and the others at first light. I doubt that it will take the Wave-snapper very long to sail up the estuary and tie up to the dock. By then I hope to have drawn her army well away from the chateau to give Gunner his only chance at neutralising the Southern Witch. Goodnight, old friend.”
Mog settled himself underneath the shelter he had woven for Tam and waited for the dawn to break. Several times something tried its luck at creeping up to the sleeping leprechaun and met its end by a stony fist. The Troll did not waste the callers of the night and enjoyed quite a filling feast. Nothing was wasted as Trolls have enormous appetites and bone crushing teeth.
The first rays of the morning sun began to penetrate through the leaves and Tam awoke to birds chattering around him, greeting the beginning of the day. As he began to shrink down his sleeping duvet and replace it inside his special pocket, the Troll beneath him heard the sounds of the leprechaun moving around.
“I bid you good morning master Shadow,” he called up the tree and stood to his maximum height.
His head poked through the canopy of woven leaves and branches spilling Tam into an untidy ball on the extreme edge of the nest.
“Be more careful you stone-headed lummox! I nearly went over the edge! Judging by sounds of chewing and belching during the night, I should imagine that you have eaten your breakfast in the dark! Did we have much company old friend?”
“Oh several creatures that could smell a fat leprechaun tried their luck, but never fear, they rapidly became a meal. Have a root around in your travelling sack and dig out a hot pie or two for me. Raw meat makes my breath stink,” the Troll grinned.
Tam dragged out a large steak and kidney pie and handed it over to the ever hungry Troll. He found some fruit pies to eat to satisfy his morning needs and a flask of clean water to quench his thirst. When he had finished, he extended his size and reduced Mog’s mass to be able to carry him instead of the Troll transporting him. He tucked him into his top waistcoat pocket and made off upriver in seven league hops. Soon he reached the place where they had all crossed, before extended his size even more and stepped across. Once safely on the witch’s side of the river he reduced his size to ten times and made his way back towards the rest of his friends, leaving the crocodiles to fight amongst themselves.
The sun had begun to rise directly above the landscape and the full force of the mid-day heat was beginning to make Tam slightly dizzy, when he caught sight of the clump of fruit trees where they had parted company before. Underneath the fruit laden branches, sat in the shade, were Shamus and the others. There was something different in the ‘attitude’ of the trees and Tam could feel it. There was a defensive field of ‘woody’ thought permeating through the air. Although Tam knew that the trees did not have eyes, he was sure that they were watching the Troll and him as they approached. Tam lifted out Mog from his carrying place and resumed his normal size.
Shamus stood up and ran towards his mentor and threw his arms around the ancient leprechaun and said, “The trees master Shadow, will aid us in any way they can. ‘Word’ has spread throughout the plantations from every bush, tree and vine, amongst every growing thing that has a ‘woody,’ centre that the time has come to remove the witch. There is a long standing grudge between the trees that they have not been taken care of and left to grow wild. They feel that she is responsible for the ‘matting’ and tangling of branches and roots. I seem to have awoken something that was dormant.”
“You have done well my protégée in my absence. Can they move easily? Is it possible that they could accelerate their growth? I have an idea that will work if this is possible, Tam replied.”
“Oh master, they are capable of much more than that,” Shamus answered. “All you need is to tell me what you want from them and I will pass it on.”
“I need a moment to speak with Mab,” he said and sat down in the shade.
He reached out for a ley-line that burrowed in the direction of Mab’s castle and followed it along until he sensed the branch that would lead him into the throne room. Because he had not transported bodily into that Shadow world the creatures that lived there were unaware of his presence. Suddenly the light of her existence filled his soul and they made contact. He gave her an update report on what they had managed to do and what he needed from her to accomplish the mission without doing the witch’s subjects harm.
She sat thoughtful for some time and reluctantly considered Tam’s request, “What you ask for is very dangerous to control. You will need to draw the energy that you will require from the earth itself and store it. Carry it too long and you will be lost to me. After you have used it you may take a long time to recover, dear heart. At the moment I can feel the presence of iron in the vicinity of the chateau. As everything has gone ‘fuzzy’ in the area of the docks, so I surmise that the Wind-snapper has docked. What you need to do, you need to do quickly or the two operations will not synchronise. You must collect those people before Gunner makes his way to the Southern Witch. I agree with what you propose. Make it happen!”      
Tam‘s mind returned to his body and the leprechaun stood up and said, “I must do something, that I must do alone. Do not follow me Shamus. Stay here.”
He checked the laces on his boots and hopped into the distance towards a granite outcrop on the horizon. It took more seven league hops than he had anticipated, but eventually he found himself on the edge of a granite cliff with a split in the stone face. Into this he plunged his gnarly stick and cleared his mind as the Queen had instructed. He opened a bridge between that which had never ‘lived’ and himself. A glow emanated from the lump on the end of the stick and power began to flow into the gnarly end. All around him the foliage grew and died off. The sun rose and set at a flickering rate until everything slowed down and the time began to reverse until everything was as it was when Tam had knelt down and inserted the gnarly stick. Tam hesitantly reached for his stick and the moment that his hand made contact he could feel the reservoir of power stored in the gnarly end. He had managed to draw several weeks’ time from the granite outcrop and with Queen Mab’s tuition, the capability to use it.
Tam straitened up, turned to face the way he had come, tucked the stick under his arm and commanded, “Grow ten times and ‘Stride!”
The remote granite outcrop would soon settle down after Tam’s theft of time from its foundation. After all it had hundreds of millions of years of existence so it would not miss a few weeks. All the way back, Tam’s gnarly stick hummed with impatience to let free the imprisoned time.
By the time that Tam had returned to his friends the Wind-snapper had sailed into port and tied up to the bollards on the jetty. Everyone checked their iron collar to make sure that it was secure. Gunner carried six extra collars with self-locking clasps, clipped to his belt. He had asked Matt-cinder to make him plenty of ‘spares’ in case he dropped any in the tussle that was to come. His archers were primed to fire only the arrows that the goblin had fitted out with iron heads. From what the witch’s serving goblin had told them, the wolves were her constant companions and had lived by her side for centuries. They had to be sustained by magic and so an iron tipped arrow would be the only means of killing them. Even so, Gunner had his resurrected Warhammer with a new handle and a leather thong around his wrist. There was no way that the two of them would be parted if things got awkward!
Tam O’ Shadow had impressed upon him that the many different people that were under the witch’s spell must not be damaged if possible. He had said to render them unconscious by all means, but not to kill them. He was to wait until he could see that the people that were making their way East towards the river’s source under her control, were well away from the chateau. Then and only then were they to break open the doors and sweep inside, find Annabella and neutralise her.







The Southern Witch.
Chapter Six.

Annabella was feeding the soul-eater that she kept in the darkest cellar deep underneath the chateau. An elf had spilled wine over her dress at her evening meal. She dived into his mind and ripped the name of his soul from out of its receptacle.
“Benjie,” she said, “Follow me I need you for one last thing before you go!”
With that, she opened the ornate door that opened onto a flight of steps that led downwards and conjured a ball of orange light that just illuminated the way. The elf’s eyes filled with terror as he stared down the cold stone steps. Reluctantly his legs began to move of his own volition dragging him towards the open door and the witch’s soiled dress. Down and down they both went, following the bright orange ball of light until they stopped outside a brass studded door. Something on the other side of the stout barricade slithered and hissed. Annabella lifted the latch and dimmed the light so that the soul-eater did not hide itself away. It was squatted in the centre of the circle of geodes, its toad-like body quivering with hunger and anticipation. A questing tongue expanded from its cavernous slimy mouth and wriggled across the sticky flagstones towards its mistress. Annabella allowed the tongue to wrap around her and gave it an affectionate squeeze before she beckoned the terrified elf towards the hungry monstrosity that guarded the nexus of the witch’s power.
As the terrified elf reluctantly came within range, the soul-eater sent its questing tongue towards him and flowed through one eye socket and sucked out the elf’s soul. It then dragged the mindless body to its mouth and engulfed him. Annabella rearranged the geodes into a new pattern and soaked up the extra energy and power that she required from time to time. It was this influx of power that made her suddenly uneasy. Something was out of balance in her kingdom. She sent her mind out from her body and looked around through the eyes of her subjects. There seemed nothing of any danger towards the sea so she concentrated her efforts towards the other end of her territory and sensed that another faery force had come into play, beyond the fruit orchards. She slipped into the mind of a gnome who was gathering berries and made her climb a tree so that she could look farther. What she saw made her laugh.
She could see two little men, two gnomes, a winged elf and an old Troll. This was the invading party? Annabella gave a snort of derision and began to mobilise her people to drag them in front of her for her to do with as she wished. She could sense the meddling hands of Queen Mab. She must be getting senile if she thought that this little force invading from the east would be able to do her any harm! Still, she thought, better be sure so she used ‘The Knowing’ over all the minds of her subjects in the fields and sent them on their way towards the invaders.
Jessop took to the air and spiralled upwards, drifting from thermal after thermal, until he could see the ragged army of those under the witch’s power advancing towards them. He dropped out of the sky and stood in front of Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian. In an instant, Tam and Shamus had all the information bridged into their minds by Mog as he laid one massive finger on Jessop’s head and the other two on the leprechauns’ forehead.
Shamus held onto a branch of the nearest apple tree and sent the information out into the now fully aware, vegetarian mind. Roots burrowed through the ground at an abnormal speed and sent shoots to the surface in front of the defending ‘army’ that split the force into many columns. Unaware of what was happening, Annabella kept sending them onwards. As soon as a group had passed through the line of new trees, the plant mind sent the command to grow upwards front and back. To make sure that they did not break through, it knitted the boughs together and encouraged the inner branches to grow thorns. 
Tam activated his boots into fast mode and darted from one clump after another, poking the end of the gnarly stick into the matted growth and freezing time inside the barricade. This would make the people ‘disappear’ from Annabella’s questing mind. They would also be safe from harm, should one of the predators that roamed the fields at night, come upon them during the day and decide to add them to their menu.
Mog kept his eyes sharp to make sure that nothing attacked them from behind as they forged forwards. By now all the gardens and fields near the chateau were empty of the witch’s slaves. The only ones that were left were inside Annabella’s ‘home’ still toiling away at the daily tasks completely unaware of the Vikings about to smash their way into the chateau and change their lives forever.
Those workers at the docks had been sent into a deep sleep by being threatened with being tossed into the river or drinking the gnomes’ potion that they had prepared earlier. These were sat around a landing post and tied securely and placed under a light guard. Aisled had assured Gunner that they were unlikely to stir until morning, as she was that sure of her skills. They had all been told that the humans and others had come to set them free and Queen Mab wanted all of them to live out their remaining years in security.
Gunner and his group moved quickly through the gardens, not finding any resistance, as all the ‘outside’ staff were being directed towards the invading force. They had been sighted by the chateau servants and the main doors closed. One mighty blow by Gunner’s Warhammer sent the doors flying into the entrance hall. It did not take the Vikings very long to round up the frightened servants and as soon as they had been urged to drink the potion that Aisled had brewed, they fell into a deep sleep. The witch’s slaves had gladly given the invading force all the information they needed to find her.
Meanwhile Annabella was in her tower and trying to direct her conscripted ‘army’ to capture these woefully inadequate trespassers, without very much success! Mind after mind had simply vanished from her awareness. She increased the power of ‘The Knowing’ without any result. For the first time in centuries she began to feel uneasy and the first trickles of fear began to enter her mind. She laid her hand upon the white wolf at her side and clenched his fur around his neck.
“Long-fang there is something very strange going on,” she muttered and stared out of the window towards the dock. “Where did that boat come from? More important than that, where are the people that sailed her into my realm? Soul-black come over here. What can you sense?”
The black wolf whined and turned so that he was facing towards the door. Annabella sent her mind down amongst her personal servants to see what they could see. One by one their minds were switching off and they were falling into a deep sleep where even her powers could not make them get up and defend her from whatever was loose in her realm. For the first time since she had developed the powers of a witch, she was blind to what was going on in her realm.
She could hear a commotion coming towards her up the winding staircase. Annabella sent her two un-killable companions down the steps. The wolves were centuries old and had been encouraged to grow to twice the size of a normal beast. Steeped in magic, these immortal creatures were an extension of her mind and she could see through their eyes. What they could see were a mixed collection of what had to be humans and two goblins, armed with some kind of short bow. She sent Soul-black into the attack and he sprang at the leading man who carried a huge hammer on a long shaft. He ducked underneath and lay flat. A iron tipped bolt ripped into the wolf’s chest followed by several more that dropped it onto the flagstones, where it began to decay. The bearded leader met the charge of Long-fan with a mighty swing of the Warhammer that stove in the wolf’s chest. Immediately the wolf reformed and open mouthed it sprang towards the next target. Matt-cinders bolt went through its open mouth and snapped its spine, where the iron tipped arrow drained the magic from the beast. Three more bolts from the cross-bows took it in the chest, making sure that it was well and truly poisoned. As it died it to decayed until there was only a pile of bones.
Gunner grinned, “I’m coming for you Witch. There is no escape for you now.”
Annabella laughed wildly and drove her mind into his, searching for the ‘Knowing’ of his soul. She met a blank wall of sheer indifference. It was as if he did not possess a soul and that was not possible! Again she battered down the defences of his mind, only to find that her riposte was turned away. Too late she saw the leader of the invading force was a big powerful man dressed in furs and wearing an iron helmet tied down over his head. Around his neck he wore an iron band and dangling from his waist were other iron collars clipped to his belt. One of these he took from his collection and held it aloft, prising it wide open. She screamed as the negating effects of iron against her magic powers came into play.
Gunner saw the ineffectual attempts by the witch to flee and the tickling sensation inside his mind as she tried to control him. He lent forwards and grabbed her by the hair and swung her round, forcing her to her knees. Holding her there by stepping upon her long hair, he slapped the iron band around her neck and bent it closed. While she was ineffectively clenching at the band with her burning hands, trying to tear it off, he folded more collars over her wrists and ankles. Now the witch was screaming in agony as her powers deserted her and the beautiful creature that she was, began to change. She began to age and wither before the Viking’s eyes. The two goblins, Matt-cinder and Psst-pail entered the room and watched as the Southern Witch began to return to her real age. Her hair fell out, along with her once perfect teeth. Her muscles atrophied until she was too weak to get up from the flagstone floor. Still the resident magic locked inside her black soul refused to let her die.
“Enough,” growled Gunner and swung Warhammer above his head and smashed her skull to pulp.
Matt-cinder placed his hand onto the human’s shoulder and said, “Time I think to light the signal fire and alert the others that we have succeeded. Also it is time to remove all of the iron collars and throw them into the river. Our work is not yet done here, Gunner. There is something evil deep down in this building that will require removing or you will all follow the path into changeling hell. This is something that only the leprechauns can do.”
“A pity,” the Viking replied. “I quite liked the idea of those elfin minds keeping out of mine!”
Once the signal fire was lit, Tam and Shamus set free all those that Tam had trapped in time and Shamus had surrounded by the obedient trees. These now re-occupied their original positions in the land and settled down, satisfied that they would be properly cared for once more. It did not take long to gather the group together and by way of the magic boots arrive at the chateau. By the time that the leprechauns reached the chateau, all of the iron bands had been removed and a deep grave had swallowed the witch. They buried her festooned in iron bangles. One thing that the humans and goblins agreed on was to make sure that Annabella would never return.
     The moment that Tam set foot inside the chateau he could sense the wrongness that permeated the atmosphere. Just as Matt-cinder had surmised, something evil was buried deep beneath the building. Also there was a powerful energy nexus that was the seat of Annabella’s vast power. Somehow these two problems would have to be solved.
It did not take long before one of the witch’s slaves told Tam where the door was that led down to what was referred to as the final chamber. Any that were made to walk down those stone steps were never seen again.
Mog found the Viking warrior deep in thought, sat on what was Annabella’s throne.
He looked up as the Troll ambled across the floor towards him and asked, “A soul my dear keeper. What is a soul? I seemed to manage quite well without one when you had charge of it, although not having one made it impossible for the witch to control me!”
“That you should ask such questions makes of great importance that you have it back. For one thing is certain, you will not govern this land well without one,” Mog replied and placed his finger upon Gunner’s forehead.
The human stared up at the stony face of the Troll as the transference took over and as his soul flowed back to where it belonged, he smiled.
“You are very wise, my friend. Far more than I ever realised!”
Tam had entered the chamber as this act took place and said, “There is one last thing to do my friend until you can rest and feast. Bring your hammer and follow us.”
With that Tam opened the door behind the throne and Shamus led the way down to the depths of the chateau conjuring a steady white light from a floating ball. As the staircase was built for elves, Gunner had a few problems with his height. At the bottom they could see a brass studded door behind which something hissed and slithered in hungry anticipation. Tam took hold of his gnarly stick and pointed it through the small gap that the partially opened door had stopped. He cleared his mind and opened the power that was left inside the stick. Inside the cell, time stopped and the soul-eater froze. Shamus opened the door completely and sent in the glowing globe of light. Captured by the light was the most hideous creature that the human had ever seen. It looked like a giant toad dripping with slime.
“This has to be done in an instant. The moment that I resume time, the soul-eater will be aware of all of us and believe me in this tight little space, it will have us all. So what we will do is that Gunner will get behind it and Shamus will stand before the creature’s mouth keeping the bright light in front of its eyes. The moment that I shout ‘Now’ you bring the hammer down onto its head as many times as you can.”
“Why can I not hammer it now, master Shadow, while it is motionless” asked Gunner.
“It is locked in time. Nothing can touch it while it is in that state. Rather like when you and your people were wall ornaments! Are you ready?”
Gunner swept the hammer above his head and shouted, “Ready.”
Tam pointed the gnarly stick at the toad-like creature and yelled, “NOW.”
The light spewed from the globe and dazzled the creature of darkness and the hammer came down and bounced off of an unexpected thick skull. Gunner whirled the hammer round and this time aimed for the hinge of the massive jaw. A loud crack echoed through the chamber as the creature sagged and he spun round swinging the hammer underneath the bottom jaw. The soul-eater reared up exposing its belly and the forth strike buried the hammer-head deep inside, where it broke through its heart. It fell upon its side and oozed slime and blood.
Tam gasped, “Smash the geodes Gunner. Do not leave this accursed place until all of the crystals inside are open to the air. Then take them to the river and hurl them in. Once they are gone the nexus of power will be gone for ever and your people will not become changelings.”
After this short speech Tam fell on the flagstones in a quivering fit and became unconscious. The end of Tam’s gnarly stick had become blackened and the leprechaun’s hands were raw.
  

The Southern Witch.
Chapter Seven.
Shamus knelt down and cradled his mentor in his arms and said, “Gunner, smash the geodes and do it now before more evil creeps in. Tam had been burnt by time and it has taken its toll. He begins to age before my eyes. There is one chance to keep him alive. I must do what he did for me and I must carry him inside a travelling sack where the spirits of time cannot get to him. I will have to travel the Shadow Lands and get him to Queen Mab. Help me get him into this sack and get him up those steps into daylight, but not before you smash the geodes!
Gunner quickly slid the leprechaun into the sack while Shamus tied the neck tight. Once that was done he waited until Gunner had swung the Warhammer and pulverised the power enhancing geodes. As they came apart the complex crystals could be seen for the very first time since they formed in a volcano. All of these fragments Gunner put in another ordinary sack to drag them up into the daylight where they would expire and the energy that they carried, die by being exposed to the sun.
At the top of the steps they were met by a crowd of anxious people as there was no sign of Tam O’ Shadow with them.
Shamus held up a hand and said, “I have Tam in a travelling sack where he will be safe until I can get him to Queen Mab. The terrible consequences of manipulating time have taken its toll on him. He is rapidly growing older as his magic deserts him, so I have put him in a safe place. The only way that I can get him to the one person that can reverse the effect, is to use the Shadow Path and carry him shrunk down in my pocket.
I may not see all of you again, so I will wish you all well in this new land. Gunner will take over from the reign of the Southern Witch. His people will govern in a benevolent fashion and care for all the many races that have endured her rule. Queen Mab will make sure that all will be run successfully. You now have a fishing vessel that will be manned by the humans and they will work for the benefit of all of you. More of these can be built and added to the beneficent value of the people. 
Matt-cinder is a smith of great talent and his wife Pssst-pail has many crafts. The two gnomes, Aisled and Arifan are skilled in the use of herbs and drugs as well as competent cooks. You will all gain a great deal from their talents.
You all have a new start and should make this realm a sought after place to live. Mog, old friend I have no jurisdiction over you and I cannot tell you what to do. You are and always been a free spirit so I leave it entirely up to you what you decide to do.”   
Mog bent forward and said, “Shamus, my place is by the side of Tam O’ Shadow and where he and you go, then there go I. I can withstand the Shadow Lands and protect you from the creatures that exist there. I am mostly made of stone and my soul is as hard as flint. I will take my balls and chain and crunch anything that tries to take you from the paths you decide to tread.”
Jessop spoke up and added, “I elect to stay here, as there are other winged elves that live in the area and besides, the Shadow Lands would be too strong for me to survive in for very long. Go when you are ready, Tam’s Protégé and keep safe. Make sure that you have enough supplies in another traveling sack before you go. Our thoughts will go with you when you tread those dangerous paths.”
One of the chateau elves spoke up and said, “We who laboured under the witch’s yoke can never thank you enough. These humans who stormed this terrible place have set us free. We gladly embrace them as rulers, as those who would have laid down their lives for us will cherish this land and keep it safe from plunder. There are many envious eyes that will be cast upon this realm now that Annabella is dead. We will need protecting from time to time and the Lord Gunner will be our shield. The others that lent their powers to free us will not be forgotten either. So take the great magician, Tam of the Shadows to a place where he can be healed. His possible sacrifice humbles us all. Do what you can with your magic, Shamus O’ Brian to bring him to full health and one day perhaps you will both visit us here?”
“We may indeed if such things come to pass, but first I must try and get Tam to the Queen’s healing reach,” answered Shamus and he turned to Mog. “Mog dear friend let us get into the sunlight where I may find a deep shadow. I have no time to add supplies to my travelling sack and I will have little time to eat whilst moving through that accursed land. What I have will suffice.”
Mog strode through the main hall followed by Shamus. Outside the sun was beating down in an unrelenting glare and it was directly overhead. There were very little shadow to be found and Tam had always told him that a shadow by direct sunlight would open a better door. Shamus was amazed that the whole process of destroying the Witch, Annabella, had taken just a morning. Or, had Tam altered time more than he knew? He had an idea as he stood there and looked up at the stony crag that was Mog the Troll.
“Mog are you sure that you are determined to travel with me through the Shadow Lands?”
The troll snorted in annoyance, “I gave my word that I go where Tam O’ the Shadow goes and that I would be by his side.”
“Then ready your balls and chain and bend forwards so that there is shadow underneath your massive frame. That will be the way in and I will drag you with me when I open a portal. Drop down on your hands and knees to make a bridge. Be prepared for an instant attack when we emerge into that fearful place. I have my dragon whistle that helps to fend the soul-eaters off and Tam’s burnt gnarly stick, which still has some power left in it. It will take me sometime to decide which lay-line to follow so be ready,” the leprechaun said and readied himself.
The Troll did as he had asked and made a bridge with a deep shadow underneath him. Shamus had a last look round at his friends that he had experienced so many adventures with and gave them a wave, before walking underneath the Troll. As he did so, Mog closed his mighty arms and brought his head down and his knees together, trapping Shamus inside a dark pit.
The leprechaun had opened portals into the Shadow Lands before, but never had he pulled someone with him to travel the twisted trails.
To the ones who were watching the Troll bent over in the sunlight, it seemed as if Mog imploded into a dot. There was a rushing of wind to fill the empty place where he had been and then nothing, where he had stood a moment ago. The troll was still folded over with Shamus underneath, but they seemed to be flowing through a dark tunnel until it spat them out into a nightmare landscape. There was a feeling of maleficence that hung in the misty air. Menacing swirls in the fog manifested themselves as the toad like creature that Annabella kept as a pet beneath Crispin Gate. Long sticky tongues spat through the musty air towards the two of them. Mog stood up and unleashed the granite balls on each end of his chain. All he needed to do was to fatally injure a few of them and a feeding frenzy would take place. A tongue wrapped itself around the Troll’s leg. He seized it in his free stony hand and crushed it under his foot. While this was going on Shamus was searching for a ley-line that would take them in the direction of Mab’s castle.
He found one and invoked the altered state of the two of them changing their density so that they would float above the ley-line, blown along by the wind that he conjured. Soon they were well away from the nest of soul-eaters that had greeted their entrance. They had left the swampy homes of the toad-like creatures and were now floating over flat boulder ridden lands. Here the ley-lines split into several different directions and Shamus called a halt and returned them to normality. While Mog took over the guard position and made ready to defend them, Shamus probed along the myriad lines of force seeking a direction. He began to panic as he realised that he was in an area that Tam had never been to and he had no knowledge of where they were, parallel in the real world.
He suddenly felt a rightness about a ley-line that forked off into the distance through a dense fog. There was a benign influence about that direction and an occasional silver light shimmered over the line. Silver could mean that Mab was aware of them and was guiding them home. Shamus came to a decision and turned to Mog.
“I can feel, I think, Mab’s guidance over that path that leads through the patch of fog. In this place foggy areas are usually best avoided,” said the young leprechaun and pointed along the shining path.
A loud hooting sound rang through the air as a pack of wolf-like creatures caught their scent.
“I think that it’s time to go by magic boots as we need speed to get in front of those creatures. I am going to shrink you down with your balls and chain and legit as fast as I can for the next part of our journey,” Shamus explained, shrunk him to the size of a mouse and put him inside an empty waistcoat pocket.
He then found the last of his apples and picked out a pip, putting the rest of the apple back in his pocket. Shamus pushed his finger into the soil and dropped the apple pip into the ground, taking care to water it with some of his precious drinking water. In a few moments the first shoots began top thrust upwards and the tree spread out. The root system expanded until it ripped itself out of the ground and stood ready for instructions.
The leprechaun placed his hands upon the shiny bark of the tree and said, “Nothing gets by. Follow me and keep the way clear.”
Although nothing on the tree had moved, Shamus knew that the tree was focussing its senses to the trail behind him. Already the tree was developing sharp thorns along its branches and even along the roots that remained supple.
“Stride,” he ordered and hopped far along the road towards the foggy area and soon the hooting sounds got fainter and fainter. To Shamus’s disquiet as fast as he travelled, the foggy area stayed in front of him.
Far behind them, the pack of soul-killers threw themselves at the barrier that blocked the way to fresh meat. As they scrabbled to get by, the tree seized them with its branches and roots tearing them apart. As the tree did not possess a soul they could not feed on its life energy. Vainly the Chockerim tried to dig their claws into the wood to tear it apart, but the shiny bark denied them that ability. Eventually only parts of the soul-eaters were scattered over the trail drawing scavengers to the feast. True to Shamus’s instructions the tree uprooted and began following its master along the ley line.
Many strange ‘miles’ along the trail, Shamus had arrived to the foggy place that had continually receded from him as he ‘Strode’ forwards, using the boots. It was a grey wispy wall that billowed and swirled, but now stayed stationary.      He knelt down and took out of his pocket the Troll and restored him to his natural size. Mog stretched his muscles and asked, “Where to now Shamus O’Brian? Into the fog?”
“I’m afraid that it must be the only way. I am sure that Queen Mab has marked this trail and we are on the right Ley-line. We can afford to rest and plan the next move. Nothing will disturb master Shadow while he is incarcerated inside the travelling sack. I have his gnarly stick and there is still some magic left inside it. I think that I can freeze time for a few short bursts, but I know that I must be careful or I will end up like my mentor. I also have the dragon whistle that stops the creatures for a time, but too much use and it will attract other demons. We have a clear view of the surrounding countryside, so we can rest and I will see what food is left inside my spare travelling sack.”
With that Shamus pulled out from an inside pocket a travelling sack that rapidly expanded and proved to be well filled by Aisled and Arifan. He quickly pulled out a dozen various pies and pasties and the Troll and the leprechaun sat down to a picnic in the most inhospitable place in creation.







The Southern Witch.
Chapter Eight.
Shamus and Mog sat quietly and finished off what remained of the food that Shamus had plucked from the travelling sack. A dense wall of fog lay in front of them and the trail led right through it. The leprechaun suddenly held up his hand and indicated the way that they had travelled. In the eerie silence, a faint scrabbling sound began to advance closer and closer. Mog stood up and began rotating the granite balls around his head, making ready to welcome whatever was hurtling towards them. Suddenly they glimpsed a large ball of waving branches and roots rolling along the trail behind them.
Shamus felt the presence of the altered apple tree register in his mind and put his hand upon the Troll’s leg to say, “Drop the balls onto the ground. This is our protector that I loosed against the soul-killers. I told it to follow us once the creatures were neutralised.”
Mog stared at the advancing nightmare and asked, “Does it know that I am a ‘friend’? It looks very hostile to me!”
Shamus reached out to the overpowering ball of thorny boughs and roots and stopped it advancing any more, by grasping a blossom-laden branch. It stopped and began to unravel, reaching out to touch Mog’s stony face. The feelings that the Troll had for his companion, leaked through into the vegetable mind and he was accepted as something that had to be protected.
The wall of fog had started to advance towards them and Shamus had an idea. He took the bough that he was holding and wrapped it around the Troll and himself. The apple Wood-sprite understood and flowed around the two of them presenting a sharp thorny barrier to anything that might try to attack them. It extended the root system and hauled its warm blooded cargo inside an impenetrable ball of sharp ended wood, by rooting forwards and uprooting behind.
They advanced towards the swirling foggy expanse, still following the trail of the Ley-line that led ever onwards. Shamus dug out his dragon whistle and waited for the oncoming attack that he just knew was imminent. He remembered what Tam O’ Shadow had taught him about the Shadow Lands. Banshees need fog for them to solidify enough to make the screaming noise that draws the soul from the body. This they feed on should the unwary blunder into their foggy air.
He handed a loaf of bread to Mog, just before they entered and said, “Use the bread to stuff your ears and deafen yourself. This is Banshee country and the screaming sounds will drive you mad! Once out of the fog we will be relatively safe, but until then, stay as deaf as you can be.”
With that said, Shamus stuffed as much bread as he could into his ears and the ball of thorns entered the grey fog.  
A thing made of mist and bones formed in front of their pathway and began to solidify producing a high pitched screaming sound from the naked skull. Due to the bread filled ears of the two recipients the sound could not be heard. The bony hands reached out to trap the prey that they had gathered together to feast upon. They had all the allure of a long decayed corpse, with shreds of flesh hanging from their bodies. Shamus knew that this was only an image that the banshee projected and underneath the disguise they probably looked quite different, but the teeth would be needle sharp.
Shamus filled his lungs and blew the whistle as hard as he could. The effect upon the Banshee was immediate. It began to unravel and return to a misty existence, by turning into tatters of grey lumpy clouds. The tree rolled over the ethereal creature and slammed into another one before it could use its screaming cries and tore it apart. On and on the wooden ball of thorns made its way through the at times dense fog. As the tree had no eyes to see with or ears to hear, it was not at a disadvantage and just continued to follow the pathway. One of the creatures dropped onto the roof of branches and struggled to drive itself into the ball of hostile wood. Mog punched away with his stony fist, but not before a long finger-nail scratched Shamus’s arm. The bright bead of fresh blood drove the Banshees into a frenzy. They attacked in great numbers and flung themselves onto the apple ball of writhing thorny wood. The Wood-sprite fought back by thickening the cover and growing more thorns. It came to an abrupt halt and drove its roots deep under the ground, sucking up the life energy that was part of this dark land.
Still the Banshees tried without success to breach the woven woody protection that the Wood-sprite had intensified. Replenished, it mobilised the root system and began dragging the shielded ball away from the fog, following the Ley-line. The fog suddenly began to thin out and visibility brightened up so that at long last they could see some way into the distance. As soon as this happened the uninvited guests dropped away from the hostile wooden ball of rapier ended thorns.
A watery sun shone down from a sullen sky but even its weak sunbeams altered the nightmarish vision to a friendlier place. In that sunshine, the wooden ball that they were travelling inside began to cast bright red apples either side of the trail. They immediately began to sprout and sent their roots deep into the Shadowland soil. To Shamus and Mog’s amazement they uprooted themselves and tagged along with the parent apple tree. They were now fielding a vegetal army quite capable of tackling any of the hideous creatures of this world. Some of them began to wander off and line the pathways of the Ley-lines and putting down permanent rooting systems. Not only that, but they were increasing their numbers and spreading themselves across the bleak inhospitable lands.
Shamus looked down upon his arm and was horrified to see that already the small wound was becoming infectious. Bright red lines were spreading out from where the banshee had scratched him. He also began to feel feverish.
“Mog, have you ever worn Seven League Boots before?” He asked.
The Troll stared at the leprechaun with disquiet and answered, “No young master O’Brian. That is something that I have never tried to do!”
“All you have to remember is to keep your feet together and hop in the direction that you want to cover. That scratch on the arm that the Banshee gave me is going bad and I am feeling distinctly odd. So my dear friend you will have to carry me until we get to where the portal into Mab’s castle is fixed and I just hope that I can open it. I need to bind my arm so that the blood flow does not circulate all around my body. The bread that you used to block off the sounds of the soul hunters might help. Has any of it gone mouldy in this damp place? If so I can plaster it over the wound and use my sleeve as a bandage.”
Mog pulled out what bread had been inside his ears and found some bread that had started to go green inside the stony holes. This Shamus used and wound his sleeve around it. He took off the magic boots and passed them onto Mog who was amazed that they expanded until they were a good fit.
Shamus laid his hand upon the Troll’s leg and said, “Grow ten times.”
After the Troll had turned into a giant, picked Shamus up and placed him on his shoulders, he gave the command, “Stride.”
The wood-sprite had climbed the Troll and anchored itself to the other shoulder. It was ready to drop into action should it be necessary. There seemed to be a marked change in the feeling of the Shadow Lands as if some of the malice had leaked away.
Several times the Soul-eaters tried to attack the giant Troll, but he had enough density to be able to stamp on any that he could not kill with his length of chain and the two granite balls. Other nameless things would surface from out of the swamps, only to find that their prey was now seven leagues away by the time they hit open air. Once at a very difficult multi cross-road they had to stop while Shamus in his fevered state had to try and make the right decision. That particular place had more predators than they could manage whilst stood still. Reluctantly he took out Tam’s Gnarly stick and concentrated his mind into the small reservoir of time unused by his mentor. The knobbly end of the stick had blackened with age and there were still flakes of skin adhering to the thin end of the walking stick where it had burnt onto Tam’s hand. This was something that Tam had not taught him by practical demonstration, but he had spoken about it. Shamus became the power of time for just twelve minutes as that was the limit of what remained in the gnarly stick. He extended his consciousness to include an area the size of a circle of dolmen and let the last of the energy go. Outside of his bubble in time everything froze, giving him time to concentrate on which of the myriad Lay-lines to follow and once again he found a trail of silver dust leading the way.
He pointed the way and said, “That way Mog. Follow that Ley-line and it should send us home. Look for the silver light. I cannot keep my eyes open any more. I must rest. I have an arm that feels the size of your leg and I can no longer see very well.”
Mog gave the command, “Stride” and was gratified that the boots obeyed him. The Wood-sprite tangled its roots in his hair and hung on, as the Troll increased his speed, without any more attacks by the predators. He could see the faint silvery dust leading up to a large dolmen and there it stopped. As he was still giant size there was no way that he could ever get through the aperture. He did not have the kind of magic that would unlock a dimensional portal.
He stopped and wondered what next to do, as Shamus was now completely unconscious. The entrance to the dolmen began to glow and Queen Mab stepped through. She pointed her finger to Mog and he shrank down to his normal size. She beckoned to him and he picked up Shamus and walked through into the throne-room. The Wood-sprite stayed in the Shadow Lands and anchored itself just outside the portal. There it would remain until needed again.
The Queen hovered in front of the Troll’s face and asked, “How bad is it, Mog? I do not see anything of Tam O’ the Shadows. Is he dead?”
“Great lady, no! He still lives, I believe. Shamus and I put him into a travelling sack and shrunk him to fit into his waistcoat pocket. He is still there a-waiting returning to our world, but Shamus was scratched by a Banshee on our travels here and is in a deep fever. His arm is badly infected and is turning black below the tourniquet. I fear that he will soon die, my lady,” replied the Troll as he put him gently on the ground in front of her throne.
The Queen extended her razor sharp fingernail and slit through the bindings and the bad smell of the wound made even the Troll retch. Mog was correct and indeed the arm had blackened as gangrene had set in. She placed her hand upon his forehead and took him into a deep sleep.
“Mog, hold his arm outstretched,” she demanded and laid him on his side.
The Troll did as he was asked and carefully lifted the stinking arm so that it was suspended in the air.
Mab held him by the shoulder and cut through wasted muscle and bone taking the decaying arm completely off. She stopped the bleeding with her mind and pulled the flap of skin over the clean raw stump. This she fused to his upper arm to seal the joint, leaving Mog holding the freed arm above them. He turned and placed the arm into a sack held by one of Mab’s courtiers and watched as the elf disappeared from view.
He looked down at his one armed friend and saw that the Queen had returned him to consciousness.
She sat him up and said, “Shamus look at me! Remove Tam from the spell you put him under and make him and the sack normal size. You full know what it is to travel in that timeless state. The worst part of being in there is coming out of it, into real-time. Only you can control the magic that put him in there so only you can get him out. As for the missing arm? You will grow it back in the fullness of time so put that worry from out of your head.”
Shamus nodded and tore his eyes away from the empty sleeve and reached into an inside waistcoat pocket. He placed the tiny sack on the wooden floor and pulled the strings. The sack grew bigger before their eyes and the burnt hands came into view along with the rest of the leprechaun. Tam groaned with pain as his consciousness returned and stared around at the familiar scene of the throne room in bewilderment. He looked up at his old friend, Mog and then caught sight of Shamus. His eyes widened as he saw that one arm was missing and then he relapsed into unconsciousness, his body racked with pain and shuddering by reaction.
Mab reached up to Mog and asked, “I need life energy to repeal what has been taken from him by manipulating time. I need you to be a conduit for me to cannel life force from every Troll in the enchanted land into this leprechaun, or he will soon be claimed by time itself. Already he ages and his hair turns silver. You too Tam, have used time, so you too need energy to put it back. What I need is tiny, shared from so many, so reach out to all of your kind and ask for me.”
Mog concentrated his telepathic abilities and joined up with Troll after Troll to produce a group mind that Queen Mab could channel the force back into Tam and Shamus. The trickle of powerful life force from each of them all over the realm was as if she had tapped into a torrent at her throne room. She directed it to Tam and was rewarded by watching him assume his ginger hue and his limbs fill out to how they were before he set of for this adventure. Shamus felt a tickling sensation in his upper arm and watched as the arm began to lengthen and eventually form a hand from his wrist. The life energy from the Trolls had spilled over to recreate a perfectly normal arm. He flexed his fingers in amazement and could have wept for joy.
Tam of the Shadows awoke and sat up and grinned at Shamus.
“I think that you have a lot to tell me young Shamus and I want to hear every word once I have filled my empty belly! Just remember that you asked for adventure, before you complain that you are bored.”
Queen Mab laughed and said, “I may have a problem to the East that perhaps you would like to solve?”




Orc!
Chapter One.
Shamus was having trouble with his new arm. Sometimes it itched unbearably and sometimes he could not feel it at all! There was a faint scar around the joint, where the new limb had started to grow, after Queen Mab had cut the old one off, because of the gangrenous development that had very nearly killed him. He had been scratched by a Banshee when carrying Tam O’ Shadow through the Shadow Lands in a travelling sack and the wound had soon turned septic.
His mentor Tam O’ Shadow had used the magic of time dilation and had nearly paid for it with his life, in defeating the Witch of the South. Shamus had carried him through the Shadow Lands, shrunken down, with the aid of Mog the Troll. They had travelled through the terrors of that terrible place, to get to Queen Mag’s aid. She had saved the lives of both of them by opening the dolmen portal and shrinking down the giant-sized Troll to get them through it into the throne room. Shamus had created a Wood-Sprite that had defended them along the perilous journey and it remained on guard, rooted by the stone structure just inside the Shadow Lands. It had been grown from a seed that the enchanted apple tree in Tam O’ Shadow’s garden had given Shamus in the form of a sack of bewitched apples. They had proved very useful in many ways and Shamus had learnt that he could speak to trees and get their co-operation when needed. This was also a useful attribute as the tree kingdom was not allergic to iron.
Only the faery races were hypersensitive to the effects of what they referred to as the poison metal. Only humans and goblins were immune. The mining of this metal and the working of it was forbidden. Only the sky-metal that fell through the heavens occasionally, was allowed to be worked by goblins. They were very careful not to allow the nickel-iron artefacts to come into contact with their magical neighbours. Unfortunately there was another race of beings that had their origins in the goblin history that were also immune to the adverse effects of iron and they were the Orcs.
Long ago a whole tribe of goblins made the mistake of settling in an area in which the plants grew strangely, but provided many edible fruits. Roots and seeds that were planted grew to monstrous proportions. At night when it was at the darkest hour, a glow could be seen around some of the extra hard, granite outcrops. These were broken up to make housing materials that could be turned into walls.
The goblins were totally unaware of the changes that each successive generation did, by the state of alteration of the children. They slowly grew more brutish and lost their green skins, trading them for a dirty grey as they grew larger.  Their faces became ugly to other goblins that happened to pass that way. Sometimes the visitor would not be seen again as the new goblin-spawned, malevolent creatures, murdered those that were weak and ate them. Soon hunting parties would leave the city of the Orcs, as they became known, searching for unwary travellers for food or slaves. In the early language of the goblins, their word for anything bad or evil was to refer to them as Orc-eed.
To stop future invasions of any more lands, Queen Mab had placed an extended Geas that would turn any Orc to a figure of stone if they crossed the border into the faery lands. They had spread along the sea coast and pushing as far to the West as they could, tracking the border by the Orcs that turned into stone figures that would suddenly appear if they went too far. Mab had contained the Orc kingdom into a large half-moon portion thousands of miles to the East of her realm and here they had remained simmering with malice over thousands of years.
Now they were becoming a future menace to all who lived in the enchanted Lands. They had discovered a vein of the poison metal that was exposed to the air. A captured human had bargained his life for the knowledge of what the red material could be changed into. Now the Orcs were following the mineral into the ground, digging the iron ore and smelting it into manageable blocks that their smiths were forging into weapons. A raiding party moving through the woods happened to pass one of their kind, that had been turned to stone and realised that they had passed Mab’s boundary without any harm. When they circled the statue, the Orc came back to life, becoming flesh and blood as they watched. Fearing for his life, the Orc broke through the circle and ran further into the woods. Once he broke the circle, he returned to being made of stone.
Carefully the band encircled the enchanted Orc and watched as he came alive again, but this time they kept hold of him and dragged him to the other side of the boundary.
Drurk shouted to the captive Orc, “Stand still you fool. We have freed you from the stone curse. We did not do it to feast upon you! Do you see this?”
He held up a metal helmet taken from one of the others and placed it on his head.
“This is made of iron and it would seem that iron hates magic! The moment that we surrounded you, the stone curse was lifted. Stay here with Dromm and know that you are going home, while we seek out any more of your group and set them free.”
“I give thanks to ‘ee, master and will do as you say,” the Orc replied and watched as Drurk led his men into a circle around another stone figure and grabbed him as he transformed and they dragged him back across the boundary. They did this several times freeing fem-Orcs as well as more of the afflicted. None of the Orcs that had been turned to stone had any inkling of how long they had been statues, but by remembering key events of their time it seemed that they had been there over a hundred years. Drurk explained to them what had happened and what the captive human had given them as his legacy.
“Follow me back to the city and I will break the news to Gretch Fem-Orc that at last we have the means to turn off the cursed Sidhe magic. The time of slaughter has come. If we wear the shiny metal, they cannot control us. What we need is to capture an elf and see what the metal will do to him. So at the double all of you, back to Gunderstall and future glory,” the Orc yelled and led the way as fast as he could.
Thousands of miles away, Queen Mab had become aware of the breaking of the Geas and the returning to life of the group of Orcs. Also the area was getting more and more ‘foggy’ to her penetrating mind. There had to be only one reason, the Orcs were smelting iron ore into steel. Somehow they had gained the knowledge and were using it to make weapons. Orcs gained their food by using slavery to grow it, or by fighting, steal it and Mab knew that if they had iron, then they could easily break through the barrier that she had laid down long ago. It would not take them long before they would start spreading through the realm taking anything that they wanted. All they had to do was to break the skin with a steel weapon, of any of the faery races and they would swell up and die. Also large quantities of the poison metal would negate any magic in the area. Even close proximity of iron would plunge the faery races into a state of confusion and weakness.

After several months Tad and Shamus were beginning to feel bored once they had returned to good health at Queen Mab’s castle. They missed the company of their friends who had elected to stay at the chateau, Crispin Gate and live there. When Mab sent for them, they set off towards the throne room and met up with Mog the Troll who was clumping along in the same direction.
Mog grinned at Tam and asked, “Any ideas about what her majesty requires this time, old friend?”  
“No, my stony friend,” Tam answered and added, “Whatever it is I can be sure that it will entail travelling to some forsaken place and risking our lives.”
Shamus laughed and said, “First a dragon, next an Ogre family and then a Witch to depose! What else lives in this world that is worse than them?”
Tan abruptly stopped and his face drained of colour.
“Orcs,” he said. “They are the mutated progeny of Goblins. Many centuries ago a tribe of goblins settled a strange land in which the plants grew abnormally and over the years so did the goblins. They became larger, cruel and changed colour from green to grey. A lot of them are misshapen, cannibalistic freaks that make your blood run cold when you see them. Like goblins they have no problems with iron and they have no magic. Because of this they hate us and have sworn to remove or enslave all of the faery races.”
The three of them stood in front of the throne and looked up at the incredibly beautiful creature that was hovering in front of them.  Her eldritch beauty made them dizzy just looking at her. She was dressed in a white and silver toga that allowed her transparent, silvery wings to burst through the fabric at the back. Ebony hair framed her face and hung down to her waist in two plaits. A broad streak of pure silver divided her head into three locks of hair and was tucked back under her crown to cascade down her back between her wings. A large chain-linked golden belt was strung around her middle and pulled tightly above her hips. Inset to the belt were psychic enhancing crystals that augmented her power. These connected her to the earth power that ran through every living thing. Tam and Shamus could not look away and were bathed in a silver light.
The faery queen settled into her chair and said, “My dear friends something has come about that must be addressed, or all of those who live in the enchanted realm will lose everything we have. The Orcs have broken through the barrier I set centuries ago and they have iron weapons.”
 Tam shuddered and his face went as white as snow when the reality of Mab’s words hit home. Even Mog was struck dumb as he explored every avenue that he could think of to defeat this ancient enemy.
Shamus was the first to speak and said, “We need to know a lot more about the properties of iron and how we can protect ourselves from its proximity. The goblins have worked the sky metal for centuries so they know more about its uses and its effects against us. All we know; is that it has a negative value against magic and drags the abilities out of any of the faery races that gets too close to a large piece of it.”


  
Orc!
Chapter Two.
Queen Mab looked thoughtful and considered what Shamus had said before answering, “You have a point Shamus O’Brian and I think that I may have an answer. Some time ago a human found a way to enter this realm and stayed here to study magic. He has been here many years and has adapted to the powers that are part and parcel of living here. Like many of the faery race his lifespan has been long and fruitful, as he gained knowledge of our ways and applied them. He still lives and has a keep by a river not far from my castle using the Seven League Boots. His would be a way of looking at this world from a different viewpoint. If anyone could answer those questions it would be him. His name is Alexius Philomathes and he came over to this world from a place called Greece. He was a teacher and what the people called a Philomath (A seeker after knowledge.) with a wide circle of interests. We would call him a wizard. I have spent many an hour discussing avenues of knowledge with him. I will give you a token, so that he will know that you have been sent by me.”
She sent all of her knowledge of the wizard and where he lived into their minds, also telepathic bridges directly to her mind should it be needed.
Shamus stared at the Queen as all the implications raced through his mind and eventually he said, “I think the sooner that we made our way to this wizard’s keep and seek his advice the better.”
Mab vibrated her wings and rose above her devoted servants, becoming a ball of light. She flew through the walls and disappeared from sight, leaving the one instruction flaming in their minds, “Find him and ask him to come to me.”
The three friends made ready to leave the castle after replenishing their travelling sacks, but Shamus had a short errand to run. He activated the portal under the throne and passed into the Shadow Lands. There where he had left it, was the Wood-sprite rooted into the ground around the dolmen. The leprechaun put his hands upon the bark of the apple-being and bridged into the Wood-sprite’s mind.
“I need you to come with me into my world and be my protector there, as you were in this Shadow Land. Two others will need your protection also, but first I shall have to shrink you down to a size that I can carry in my pocket,” he projected into the mesh of woody thoughts.
The wood-sprite began to withdraw all of its root systems from the ground around the dolmen. It began to contract into a solid ball of woody stems, boughs and roots.
As Shamus shrunk the dryad down to the size of a plumb-stone he ‘heard’ his name, “I am Epimeliades the wood-sprite that you created. Call me Ep and I will respond to your call. Born of the Apple-tree and your will, I belong to you.”
When Ep became small enough to fit in Shamus’s pocket, he returned to the throne room. The other two gave him a quizzical look and he fished out the Wood-sprite and showed it to Mog and Tam.
“This creature saved our lives in the Shadow Lands and I thought that he would make a good insurance against anything that we might come up against. Remember that trees are not affected by iron. We might need that attribute in the future,” said Shamus and he put Ep back into his waistcoat pocket.
Once they were outside the castle Tam shrunk Mog the Troll down in size to fit in his waistcoat pocket and the two leprechauns turned to face in the direction that Alexius lived. After giving the command, ‘Stride’ the two of them set off across the countryside in twenty mile hops. This was good farming country and had been settled by goblins many years ago. Winding through the lush fields was a respectively sized river that dropped through a series of dams that turned water-wheels, powering flour mills. They followed the river upstream until they came to the wizard’s keep. It was obvious to both of them that this building had not been constructed as a castle to keep people out! It had a tower that gave a good view over the surrounding farmlands and had a walled courtyard at the top. Something had been built there and was poking up into the sky, when to their surprise it rotated around and lowered to point directly at them. They powered down the reach of the boots and made their way to the grounds at a slower pace. Extensive gardens had been laid out to grow vegetables and fruit. These were being tended by goblins and also gnomes who were digging and collecting produce.
They were given a cheery wave by the workers and one of the goblins walked up to the two leprechauns and said, “How can I help you. Have you come to visit the great teacher?”
Tam reached into his top pocket and put the Troll down on the ground and let him resume his normal size. Mog stretched his stony arms wide apart and stamped up and down on the ground to relieve himself of cramp. Although the goblin’s eyes widened with surprise he stood his ground.
Shamus bowed to the gardener and said, “Yes good sir, we have indeed come to see your resident wizard on a mission from the Queen. Would that be possible?”
“Of course you may. He welcomes visitors and any news from outside these lands,” he replied and led the way into the keep.
Mog elected to stay outside as he would not fit inside through the doors. Before Shamus entered the great hall he took out of his pocket the shrunken dryad and restored him to his natural size so that he could root and take on water by the doorway. He had told Ep to wait where he was planted and that he was in no danger. The Wood-sprite was so overcome by the tranquillity of the surroundings that he broke out in blossom.
This time what had occurred right in front of him, really took the breath out of the goblin’s chest and he staggered through the door to the safety of the inside with relief! When Tam and Shamus extended their bodies to match the size of the wizard’s helper rather than walk around at his waist high, he fell over his own feet and had to be helped up to a standing position.
“I did not mean to startle you, good sir, but it would be rude of us to remain small and not fit in to the furniture here! You react as if you have not met leprechauns before and I apologise for using magic that you are not used to,” Tam O’ Shadow said and shook his hand.
Stood in the sunlight blazing through a large glass window was a tall silver haired human who beckoned them inside.
“Show our visitors to a comfortable seat, Branch-et, and let me hear all the news from these amazing people. They have come a long way for just a visit, so sit down and tell me why you have come. My name is Alexius Philomathes and as you obviously must know, I am not from this world. I came searching for knowledge and your Queen Mab allowed me to stay,” the wizard smiled and waved them over to a set of padded chairs.
“As you say, Alexius, we have come a long way to see you,” replied Tam. “We too seek knowledge and our Queen believes that you may be able to aid us in a problem that will engulf the entire Enchanted Realm in chaos and bloodshed if we cannot stop it. I would like you to meet a great friend of mine who is waiting outside as he will not fit inside this hall unless I adjust him. I will fetch him to you and he will be able to transfer my thoughts to your mind so that you will know what it is that we are trying to stop.”
Tam O’ Shadow left Shamus and Alexius together while he retraced his steps guided by Branch-et to shrink the Troll down to a more manageable size.
Shamus looked at the white haired, bearded man and said, “Oh! You may call me Shamus and my friend is known as Tam O’ Shadows. We are leprechauns. The troll you are to meet is called Mog and I apologise for the lack of manners and introductions. Have you been here long, Alexius?
“Longer than I can believe Shamus. After the first century passed by, I kind-of lost count of the years, I have spent in this place. This land seems to have that effect on those who live here. During my time here I have learnt amazing things about this land and the laws of nature that apply here. I have no wish to return to the war-racked world of humanity. I hope that this is not your intention to return me to that mad place?”
“Those who Queen Mab allows to stay here do so with her blessing. Sometime she asks something in return for that boon,” replied Shamus. “I came from the human world to plunder and paid the price for that. I was given a chance to pay that debt by killing a dragon and Queen Mab re-created me as a leprechaun, but I still have some human characteristics. It’s a long story, Alexius, but so far it has had a happy ending. Ah! I see my friends are returning and you are about to meet your first Troll.”
Alexius stared at what appeared to be an untidy bunch of stones ambling towards him and then caught sight of the Troll’s eyes staring back to him. With this reference point established suddenly the rest of the Troll became visible to the human.
“You look as if you have not seen the likes of me before! I am Mog the Troll friend of these two adventurous idiots and servant of the Queen,” boomed out the heap of stones. “There’s enough room in here for me to be more comfortable, so I would be obliged if you would return me to my proper size!”
Tam did so and Mog expanded to stand twice the size of Alexius and sat back onto the flagstone floor with a grunt of satisfaction.
Tam turned to the wizard and said, “What I am about to do is to channel my thoughts through Mog and into your mind by placing my forehead against my friend’s finger and he will place his other one against your forehead. This will make a circuit that will impart my knowledge into yours. I must tell you that it is a two-way system and I will pick up some of your thoughts as well. It will not take longer than a few seconds, but will take longer for you to assimilate all that you need to know.”
Alexius nodded and waited for Mog to touch his forehead with his stony forefinger. It was as if a light-show of pictures and sound exploded in his mind when the Troll made contact. The Greek polymath sat ridged, as his mind tried to comprehend the wonders that he had seen and make sense of it all. The gaps in the esoteric knowledge were in applied physics and his agile mind began to sew all the pieces together. Iron was a poison to the faery races because the iron in their blood-streams was bound to other trace elements that built tiny mental transformers in the brains of certain types of people. It was this that enabled them to alter the density of flesh and as in the leprechauns become giants or dwarfs amongst other attributes. The proximity to iron disrupted this process and robbed the red blood cells of the ability to take oxygen around the bloodstream. A cut by an iron blade would quickly go septic and death would occur rapidly.  
Over an hour went by as Alexius sat and assimilated what he had received from Tam O’ Shadow and his thoughts tumbled around each other as he reached for a solution and rejected it. Then an idea began to form in his mind as he relayed the information that Tam had about the Queen and her abilities. When he added that into the equation things began to fall into place.

Orc!
Chapter Three.
Alexius stood up and began to mumble to himself and pace back and forwards around the room. He stopped in front of an ornate door and opened it, showing a staircase that led upwards to the observation tower.
“Come with me,” he said and motioned to Tam and Shamus to follow him, leaving Mog behind, still sat on the floor.
The two leprechauns followed the human up the stairs and were amazed to see glass globes that gave light as the wizard flicked a switch next to them.
He turned towards them and warned, “Be careful as you enter this room that has become my workshop. In my pursuit of knowledge I have worked with what you refer to as the poison metal and you will find that there may be enough up here to unsettle you. The goblins understand my interest in this metal and bring me what they call Sky Stones and I have made all manner of things with them. They are stored at the far end of the room and as long as you stay at this end, I can show you what I have in mind that should work against these Orcs. There is another force that can be harnessed safely in this realm. You see those glass containers with the rods sticking out? They are what I call power cells and can store a charge that I can put to use. I use the water wheel to turn a shaft that rotates inside a magnetic field. This sends power along copper cables to these cells and ----”
He looked at the bemused faces of the two leprechauns and shrugged his shoulders.
“I am sorry, good sirs, I tend to run off at the mouth when talking about my discoveries. I will show a practical example to you about what I have in mind to do. It will take some effort but if I can speak with your Queen and tap into her powers, I think that this will work?”
He placed a long tube tightly wound with copper wire and mounted on wooden feet onto his work bench. Connected to this were two lengths of copper fixed to a block with a switch. This was then connected to the power cells with more wire covered in what looked like bandages. Making sure that he did not get too close to the leprechauns, he placed a small block of the Sky Stone on the bench where Tam and Shamus could see it in front of the tube. He walked around the table and pushed the switch over. The lights dimmed and a wave of heat swept through the room and the piece of poison metal flew through the air and slapped against the end of the tube. When Alexius turned the power off, the metal fell to the floor as it bounced off the table.
There was a stunned silence from Tam and Shamus as they stared at the metal block on the floor as their minds added up the possibilities of what this could do. They began to understand the gulf of knowledge that the faery races needed to come to grips with.
“There is a problem with the use of this possible weapon and it is called the inverse square law! The further away from the device the weaker the pull, so we would need to build something a lot bigger and lots of them. There is something else that has occurred to me that could be done as a trap without using magic,” Alexius explained. “I want you to experience what it would be like to contact the power force. Now I promise that this will be very weak, but you will find it unpleasant! I want you to hold this copper rod in each hand and I will dial up a very low charge and slowly increase it. Which one of you will it be, or are you willing to hold hands and each grip a copper rod to share the experience?”
Tam and Shamus held hands and each gripped a rod in the other hand. At first they could only feel a strange tingling sensation. But as the force was increased the effect was unbearable and the two of them danced around until Alexius turned it off. Both leprechauns reverted to their normal size and found that their magical skills had disappeared. Slowly their abilities returned and they were able to increase their size to the human’s and were filled with respect.
“Can you imagine the effect of walking over a mesh connected to a much stronger power source? The more metal worn the worse the effect would be! I need to speak with our Queen. I have not spoken to Athena for many years and to do what I have in mind will take a lot of man-power and materials. There are many highly skilled goblins on this homestead that have been educated by me and will do much of the technical work. She must trust me to use her powers or all of this will be a waste of time. I came from a warlike world and have seen more bloodshed than I ever wanted too. That’s why I came here to get peace and solitude to study. This is my home now by curtesy of the Queen and I do not want it turned into a battleground,” Alexius sorrowfully said and sat back on a chair to hear their answer.
“We were sent here to meet you Alexius and to ask that you accompany us back to Queen Mab’s presence. What you have shown us gives us hope that we will be able to halt the advance of the Orcs and contain them,” Tam stated and asked, “I imagine that you will need lots of copper and other materials for you to build what you have in mind? Be assured it will be done. Anything that you ask for will be freely given to you for this purpose.”
Without giving it enough thought, Shamus wandered around the table until he reached the block of metal that had rolled off the table onto the floor. He picked it up with his newly grown hand and arm to put it back on the workbench.
Tam shouted out, “Leave it go Shamus. You have a block of the poison metal in your unprotected hand. Touch it and it will do you great harm!”  
Shamus stopped and said, “Tam! I can feel nothing with this hand. The metal does not affect me as it should, but my other hand is reacting to the closeness of the block! I believe that my new right hand that Queen Mab regrew is human not leprechaun! I am indeed a hybrid creature part one thing and part another.”
Shamus put the block of iron back upon the table and walked away from the apparatus that Alexius had demonstrated.
Tam pointed to another doorway that led to the top of the tower and asked, “Can I ask what is the apparatus that is mounted on the roof? We saw you pointing it at us as we began to come into sight.”
“By all means, my emissaries from the Queen! I will show you my latest invention that has opened up the mysteries of the night sky and also can give warning of approaching visitors,” Alexius replied and led the way to the top of the tower.
When they got there they were amazed by the pipe-like contraption that could expand lengthwise or contract, mounted upon a swivel so that it could point in any direction. He showed them the eye piece after he had focussed the instrument at the edge of the distant fields at the small-holdings and got them to look through. Both of the leprechauns were struck dumb by being able to view the buildings as if they were close by.
Alexius pointed to the evening sky above them and said, “There are things in the sky that I need to speak to Athena about that could help our cause. I have discovered with my apparatus many wonders high up above us that might also be of use, so however you got here so quickly needs to be repeated in the morning. After we have eaten, Branch-et will take you to a place where you can sleep, but the Troll may have to sleep where he is.”
Tam laughed and replied, “Mog doesn’t actually sleep, Alexius, he just goes dormant until the sun rises again and gets up when he wants to! Shamus and I however will be pleased to take your offer of kindness and will see you in the morning.”
The two leprechauns followed the goblin through another doorway and found two beds ready for sleeping in, prepared for them. They got undressed and settled into the soft beds, but before they went to sleep they relayed all that they had seen to Queen Mab’s telepathic link.
But before he went to sleep Shamus asked, “Why does he refer to you as Athena instead of Mab?”
His mind was filled with tinkling laughter as she answered, “In his old world he saw me as a god named Athena who was their goddess of wisdom, justice and courage! He has I think a rare mind and that is why I have allowed him to live here. I have extended his life just in case there would come a time that we needed him. It would seem that this was an exceedingly sensible thing to do! Now sleep my dear friend and I will see you tomorrow.”
While the leprechauns slept Alexius laboured on in his workshop and built a portable demonstration model that he placed inside a wooden case. Satisfied he went to his own bedroom where his goblin wife, Flower-et waited for him.
The gobliness asked, “Will I be coming too? Is there room for me?”
Alexius kissed her gently on top of her hairless headand replied, “Oh yes, dear Flower you can be sure that my new friends will do just as I ask. Their magic will take us and I will show you the beautiful home of Athena and all the people that live there with her. Besides I will need you to help me set up my equipment. Now go to sleep and we will start our greatest adventure in the morning.”
Flower-et cuddled up to Alexius and pulled his arm over her green shoulders and shut her eyes. Soon all was quiet and just the sound of steady breathing could be heard.
By the time that the morning sun had broken through the cloudy start to the day, all those that were returning and visiting Queen Mab’s castle had eaten a good breakfast and were ready to go. There was one vital piece of Alexius’s equipment that was presenting a problem however. Somehow they needed to transport a small piece of the poison metal to demonstrate what the Greek had in mind. Everything else had been put into a travelling sack and reduced in size except for the small metal disk that would demonstrate the power that Alexius had discovered. He found that wrapping the disc in lead dampened the effect of negating the magic power that drove the Seven League Boots. Shamus picked the metal block up with his human hand and declared that apart from a slight tingle it did not seem to have the effect on him that it had on Tam O’ Shadow! While he sat down, Flower-et bound it to his wrist with an elasticated strap and they all went outside after Tam had shrunk Mog to the size that he needed to be to travel in Tam’s pocket. Once they were outside, Shamus asked the dryad to uproot and be shrunk down to travel with him perched upon his shoulder and tied to his hair. This amazed Alexius and Flower-et as the apple tree altered its form into its travelling mode. When everything and everyone was in place the leprechauns gave the order to grow ten times and ‘Stride.’
The view from the top waistcoat pockets gave Alexius and Flower-et a view of the surrounding countryside that was unique! The miles flew by in gigantic hops and soon the turrets of Mab’s castle came into sight. Alexius began to wonder if the Queen would agree to use his most radical ideas and allow him to use her as a conduit. For without her co-operation what he was going to propose would not work at all!

Orc!
Chapter Four.
The two temporary giants unloaded their pockets and resumed a more normal size. Mog picked up the equipment that Alexius had stowed away and carried it gently into the castle. He was followed by the anxious scientist and his partner, Flower-et, as Tam and Shamus showed the way.
Queen Mab was waiting for them inside the great throne room and was hovering over her throne. The constant beat of her wings gave a cool draught across the chamber. She was outlined in a multi-coloured, shifting light that sprang from her body as energy from the enchanted realm, radiated from her aura. The sight was too much for the group and all of them fell to one knee and bowed their heads in supplication.
“Enough of this foolishness,” she said. “Most of you I count as friends and certainly as allies. In this coming conflict we will all need to work together, or we will certainly perish under the Orc’s onslaught. Come with me and we will sit and I will watch this demonstration that Alexius has put together. I sense that you have brought into my home a piece of the poison metal. Although the presence is weak I will keep well away from it. I bid you welcome, Greek scholar and your partner Flower-et to my home. Now, we waste time with these pleasantries! Show me something that will fill my heart with hope?”
The Queen had led them into a well-lit room with a large table running down the centre. Mog opened the sack and Shamus thrust his hand into the mouth and began to remove and reinstate the items to their proper size. When they got too heavy, Mog moved them to where Alexius wanted them to be. The human and the gobliness rapidly put the equipment together and soon had everything connected up.
Shamus went to the far end of the table and with the help of Flower-et they took the lead box apart that was strapped onto his wrist and placed the block of the Sky-stone on the end of the table. Alexius checked over the connections to the power-cell and to everything else. Both Tam and Shamus had seen the effect before, but not Mog, or the Queen. The long copper clad tube pointed towards the end of the table.
Alexius said, “Be prepared for the block of poison metal to move along the table. Do not approach the equipment until I switch it off again.”
Having said that he pulled the switch down to make contact and the block twitched. Then it slid faster and faster along the table until it smacked into the end of the cylinder. There it stayed until Alexius switched it off. This time it just dropped onto the table top. As soon as he switched the apparatus back on, the block rose in the air and once again was securely held tight.
Alexius donned a pair of heavy leather gloves and tried to pull the block away from the end of the copper wound tube. It took a great deal of pulling before the block would come away. He handed it to Shamus who put it back into the lead-lined box and closed the lid.
Queen Mab stared at the silver haired old man and said, “I need to enter your mind to be able to understand better what I have just seen, but I think that you will need something a lot bigger.”
Alexius nodded his head and suddenly found the Queen’s mind in his searching for explanations of what she had witnessed. Everything that he had thought about and also his discoveries were as an open book to her powerful mind.
She came out of his mind and remarked, “I was certainly correct in allowing you to come here to study and pursue knowledge. I would never have thought of the many different ways that might be used to defeat the Orcs!”
“You have seen my instrument that allows me to see things that are very distant,” answered Alexius. “I have trained this upon the night sky and found that there are chunks of something that orbit around this world and I think that they are parts of a comet that may have been captured by this planet. I would ask if it were possible to take my mind up there and use your senses to examine these large chunks and come to a decision about their use? Also is it true that you can control the weather and conjure up thunderstorms?”
Mab laughed and said, “Yes and yes to your questions. You Mog, catch him when he falls to the ground. We are going on a trip together so I too will need support in case I fall from this chair.”
She sat into a large chair, extended her butterfly wings so that she could sit back and closed her eyes. Alexius dropped into Mog’s ready fingers as if all of his muscles had snapped. Tam made sure that she did not fall and held her against the chair-back.
Using the knowledge that Alexius had gathered by sweeping the skies, she guided him out of the planet’s gravity well and the last molecules of air. He looked through her eyes and senses and soon found what he was looking for. In the blackness of space tumbling in a steady orbit were very large chunks of dirty ice. They were like giant snowballs that had rolled down loose scree on the slopes of a mountain. All of them were spinning erratically, spitting water vapour out while in the sun’s rays and solidifying on contact with the dark side of the chunk.
Alexius asked the Queen, “Can you slow them down? Is it possible that you could influence the direction of these great chunks of ice? I understand that in the past you have directed several iron-bearing Sky Stones to land in selected places in your realm to be used by your people.”
“I am sure that what you have in mind will be possible, but I fear that we need some time to accomplish what you will need. What horrifies me is that what you are proposing is nothing short of genocide!”
She cut off her thoughts so that Alexius could say no more in that intimate situation and returned them back to her chambers. As the Greek recovered from the incredible experience he shakily stood and faced the Queen.
Angrily he pointed his finger at her and loudly said, “It’s no good shutting me out of your mind, Madam! If you do not carry out what I have proposed, your reign will end and all who live in this enchanted land will either become slaves to the Orcs, or food! I do not carry this burden lightly and I know that this goes against everything that you stand for, but it must be done and without mercy. We have shared minds for long enough for me to be aware of what you can do and how I can link your powers to my ingenuity!  You are Athena to me, goddess of all that is true. This world is in your keeping, so keep it! ”
She sat in deathly quiet and stared at Alexius, as she gave thought about what he had proposed and came to a reluctant decision.
Tam, Shamus and Mog were shocked at the candour of Alexius as he lectured the Queen on what must be done. Nobody to their knowledge had ever spoken to Queen Mab in such a way and gone unscathed. To their surprise she paid the slight no heed, as she considered what Alexius had said. She turned to face them and was aware of their discomfort and laughed at the expressions on their faces.
“My dear friends do you not know me enough to understand that I value truth above all else? What Alexius has proposed, may do more than just defend us from this threat. You do not need to know the how of it, just the method that will give me what I need. The first thing that we need is an abundance of copper and other materials. The goblins can manufacture under instruction of Alexius the equipment that we need. Trolls can build the apparatus when the parts arrive. Leprechauns can shrink it and bring it to my castle via the Shadow Lands. Worry not about what that infernal place used to be, as Shamus’s dryads have altered the makeup of the place. There will be less risk travelling through that place, now that it is swarming with Wood-sprites!
Mog, spread the word amongst your folk to link with the goblin artificers and tell them of our needs. Take from the mind of Alexius what he requires to be made and link him up to the leader of each goblin community so that he can inspect progress and direct it when necessary.
The first thing that Mog did was to connect his mind to every Troll across the Enchanted Land and tell them that the Orcs had enough poison metal to break through Queen Mog’ barriers and would be ravaging through the countryside very soon. As the days went by he organised a link up with the goblin settlements and told them that their services would be required to manufacture whatever Alexius needed. The threat of an Orc invasion would be enough to ensure their co-operation. Meanwhile Alexius commandeered paper and began to sketch the parts of the equipment that he needed to build.
Elves and gnomes would soon enter the edges of the great East/West road and make camps inside the forest and keep a lookout for any marauding Orcs. They would only take them out by bow and arrow if they were sure that the bodies were never found. Goblins would accompany them to strip the dead of any iron and bury it with the Orcs deep enough that it did not interfere with the magical abilities of the Elves and Gnomes. The loss of any Orcs that tried an explorative venture too far along the great East/West road would worry the Orcs back at Gunderstall, as they would just disappear without trace. This would be unnerving enough to keep the Orcs within their lands until they were absolutely ready for the main invasion. By then Alexius would have his answer to the iron clad Orcs in place and waiting.
 Shamus and Ep, the Wood-sprite, would awaken the vegetative mind that slumbered in all the foliage. They would then spread the word that the Orcs were coming to chop them down and burn down the trees. This would protect the iron sensitive elves and gnomes from physical contact with the Orcs as they waited with their bows and arrows for any survivors from the first wave of attack.

Meanwhile in the grim Orc city of Gunderstall, the inhabitants had caught a handful of elves and brought them back as live captives. They took them to ‘The Place of Question’ where all prisoners were taken to have information retrieved before being eaten. Now the Orcs were very curious as to what the proximity to iron would do to the faery folk. They selected an adult male and stripped him, thrusting an iron bar close to his face and watched as he broke out into a sweat. Soon he began to struggle and vomit. Drurk laughed and swept the iron bar across the elf’s naked back and watched as it became a pool of festering boils. He left the poison metal in contact with the elf’s skin and listened to him scream. Soon the elf began to bleed from under the bar of metal, becoming weaker and weaker until at last he died.
Drurk stared at the twitching body at his feet and said, “It would seem my Lady that the poison metal causes the skin to become paper thin and they bleed as if cut deeply!”
  Gretch Fem-Orc, leader of the Orcs said, “A good result, Drurk, but just how little iron would render these abominations dead?”
Drurk looked up from the fire and grinned.
“I have a small sharp knife that might give us an indication, my leader,” he replied and sank the knife into the upper leg of an elf-maiden held tightly by another Orc.
Within a few heartbeats she stiffened and died. They soon found out that if the elves were just stabbed and the knife withdrawn, the elf always died. They threw the bodies onto the roasting rack and enjoyed the feast. Now they knew that the slightest contact with iron would kill the faery people. A wounded elf was an elf that would die in a very short while.
Manufacture went rapidly from swords to arrowheads, breast plates and helmets. They soon found out that an elfin arrow would not penetrate steel armour so sheets of iron were hammered out to fit the barrel chested Orcs and heavy helmets strapped over their grey bald heads. Gretch sent parties of Orcs along the old boundaries, placing iron rings over the stone warriors, turning them back to angry flesh and blood, swelling her army even more. To feed these extra mouths she sent more whaling ships out to sea and they dragged the bloody carcasses back to Gunderstall. Every day the armies of the Orcs grew and grew, swelled by those who had remained as stone statues for eons.
As they ate and drank Orc beer, all they could dream of was the sweet meat of the elves and gnomes that soon would be theirs. Once again, enslaved goblins would be toiling in the fields breaking their backs to grow the food for them. The Trolls would become the heavy lifters and iron would ensure that they obeyed the Orcs in everything that they required. The only people that might present a problem were the magical Leprechauns and iron would soon shut them down and the Orcs would hunt them for sport as well as the hated fairies!

As the shrieks of pain echoed through the inquisitor’s rooms of question, Queen Mab was aware of every agony filled moment, until each elf’s mind shut off. She could not seal off her great telepathic powers and suffered with them. The pain cut through the iron induced mental fog surrounding Gunderstall like a hot knife through butter and burnt into her brain. Through gritted teeth Mab swore that there would be no mercy shown towards the Orcs on that day of reckoning.




   
Orc!
Chapter Five.
Alexius soon found out how quickly the goblins grasped his requirements once they understood what was important and what could be improved upon. The first thing that they got to grips with was producing miles of copper twisted cable fully coated with insulation so that none of the copper touched itself, as it was wound around the wooden tubes. All across the enchanted lands, goblin artificers vied with each other to produce what was wanted and improved. These components were shrunken down and carried by leprechaun through the Shadow Lands without incident and stored at the castle. Soon there would be enough for Alexius to assemble the first test rig away from the castle and use the powers of Queen Mab to energise it. Only then would the Greek know how to adjust the amount of power to make it work safely.
Meanwhile Queen Mab was perfecting her skills many miles away from the castle and possible prying eyes. She used the Shadow Land portals to take herself and others skilled in the control of the weather, to where they could practice the finer manipulation of the elements.
Tam, Shamus and Ep had made their way along the East/West Road as close as they dared, towards the stronghold of the Orcs without being seen. They broke their journey by resting at Tam O’ Shadow’s house in the whispering wood. While Tam prepared a home-cooked meal for the two of them, Shamus walked around the cottage until he entered the leprechaun’s garden. The enchanted apple tree was already aware of him and the branches swayed with welcome. Ep stayed at the entrance to the garden and waited for the right moment to be introduced with typical Dryad patience.
The woody mind reached out to Shamus and a voice creaked around his mind and asked, “Tell me Sssshamus of your adventures and the use you made of my giftssss?”
The hybrid leprechaun/human sat down against the gnarly bark of the tree and told the Wood-sprite about everything that Tam and Shamus had accomplished and the help that the tree’s apples had been, in so many different ways. He then told the ancient apple tree about the coming threat of the invasion of the Orcs and the destruction that they would wrought wherever they went.
“What we are here to do is to awaken the group mind of the forest and show it what the Orcs will do. They will clear the forest and break the ancient covenant between the forest and the faery folk by burning green wood and dragging trees out of the ground, snapping their roots. This land will burn and bleed in a fashion that would become the worst of all bad dreams. Soon elves and gnomes will be entering these hallowed forests to stop them and they will need protection from the poison metal that the Orcs will be carrying,” explained Shamus to the Wood-sprite.
The tree embraced Shamus and gently held him within his branches and said, “You are more ssspecial than you know, young leprechaun. I will send a root message throughout the forest, informing all about the perilous times ahead. There are many thorny bushes and trees that will be very willing to teach these Orcs to keep out of our woods. By morning young Ssssshamus the group mind will be aware.  Tell your people that they will be welcomed into our protection.”
Shamus pulled himself away from the tree, introduced Ep to his father and left the two Wood-sprites together with roots intertwined. Shamus’s protector busily recounted the adventures that he had shared with him and the difference that had made to the once so hostile, Shadow Lands.
In the morning Tam and Shamus awoke and ate a good breakfast before contacting the two dryads with the next item that they required. They re-provisioned themselves from the many travelling sacks that Tam O’ Shadows had stored away from previous adventures. These were stashed away in shrunken form and placed into the many pockets of their waistcoats. Once again Tam covered the cottage with poison ivy and dog-rose briers until it disappeared from sight. They walked around the well defended cottage into the garden at the back. The two Wood-sprites were immediately aware of them and began to stir as Ep began to withdraw his rooting system from his father’s connections with the rest of the forest.
Shamus placed his hands against the bark of the ancient apple tree and said, “Ancient one, there is something that we need that only you can provide.”
“And that issss?”
“A dead Orc in battle armour, delivered to the edge of the forest to be collected by goblins. Alexius needs one to test his weapon,” replied Shamus. “In fact several would be useful!”
A root tore its way out of the ground and wrapped around Shamus’s wrist, while another one did the same with Tam. Immediately they became part of a vast network of trees, shrubs and vines with interlocking minds. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of vegetal units became as one sentient being. It concentrated its powers of sentience to the East and the edge of the Orc dominated lands. It searched for a small group that were closest to where Shamus and Tam were situated and found a small observation post camped upon the old giant-built road, keeping a watch for any activity of the faery folk towards their lands.
Fruit trees located a short distance into the forest began to exude the aromatic scent of sweet juicy produce. Orcs have a great hunger for sweet things and will devour any fruit if given a chance to gather it. They do not willingly share, so only those who would venture into the forest would acquire the bounty. As the Orcs could see along the arrow straight road for miles and that it was empty, they decided to enter the forest and pick the fruit that they could see ripening in abundance. Some of the boughs were at breaking point and were almost lying on the forest floor weighed down by the abundance of the fruit.
Shamus and Tam watched through the forest’s senses as the Orcs began to stuff the ripe fruit into their gaping jaws. Almost as if the roots of the trees were being guided by the two leprechauns, they began to squirm out of the soil and cut off any retreat. Suddenly the greedy Orcs found themselves wrapped up in a wooden embrace unable to move arms and legs. They were lifted into the air and the vegetal mind took information from the minds of the two pixies and shaped a pointed end to one of the flexible roots. The Orcs began to scream in terror as one by one they were forced into opening their mouths wide and the sharp hardened root drove up through the roof of each Orc’s mouth and into their brain.  The dead were then transferred to the tree-tops and were transported from ancient tree to sapling, directly towards the edge of the forest where Alexius was waiting for them with his goblin metal-smiths having been primed by the Queen, who had witnessed everything that had taken place.
They both heard her voice inside their minds say, “Well done my loyal warriors. I am well pleased. Now make your way along the road and seek ambushing areas where we can set our traps. I will see you later. I have much to do!”
Shamus and Tam found themselves no longer in physical contact with the ancient apple tree. The vegetal mind had left them and was busy with other matters, pertaining to remove any Orc that strayed away from his fellows. These would disappear without trace having been pulled into the forest and buried to be used as compost.
Shamus reduced Ep in size so that the dryad could ride upon his shoulders and using the Seven League Boots, they made their way towards the Orc City of Gunderstall.

Queen Mab was honing her skills and was beginning to be successful. In the thousands of years she had ruled over the Enchanted Lands the degree of accuracy had never been called for when she had nudged the occasional ‘Sky Metal chunk’ out of orbit and downwards for the goblins to use. Sometimes she took Alexius’s mind with her so that he could choose the pieces of ice to be put aside for later use. On one of these excursions they built several snowballs out of stray smaller chunks by Queen Mab’s powers and Alexius’s instructions, as to how to ensure that the snowball did not come apart too soon. These they dropped on the other side of the world, in the middle of an empty desert, aimed at a dormant volcano. To begin with, the fireballs missed by twenty miles, but as the days wore on, Queen Mab’s accuracy improved. Great lakes of boiling water formed and sank into the desert sands. Eventually she could hit the peak of the volcano every time. Now all she needed was an accurate view of the Orc city from one of the leprechauns to give her a direction and a place to send her answer to their threats.
During the days that he was not mentally joined with the Faery queen he fussed over the building of the giant electro-magnet proto-type. Once the goblins understood the principals of the arrangement they improved the design. One morning the forest spat out the corpses of the steel-armoured Orcs and the goblins collected them. They studied the armour and searched for any weak spots that could be exploited at long range with bow and arrow. Also the elves found out just how close they could get and still operate their magic. To their satisfaction it was well within bow and arrow range.
Alexius put the finishing touches to the apparatus and made sure that the copper pillars were well impaled into the ground. For the test, he had made sure that all the components were well away from the castle, so that when Queen Mab ‘called’ down the lightening it would not damage her home. He had the Trolls line up the bodies of the Orcs, fully dressed in their armour at set distances from the ends of the coiled tube. He had found out by experimenting that if the tube was bent around to a letter U and wound around the tube, over and over again, he could generate a greater attractive force. Since travelling with the Queen into orbit and seeing the world through her senses he had become linked mentally to her. Now he could converse with her mind to mind over quite a distance.
As he walked away from the tube he could feel the static electricity beginning to make his hair stand on end. Already Queen Mab was building a charge in the ground and creating a thundercloud high above them.
“Not yet! Everyone must get a good distance away from the area or suffer the consequences,” he panicked and broke into a run along with all the other helpers. “Try to keep it down in power to begin with. I have no clear idea just what will happen when the lightning strikes the copper pillars.”
Alexius pulled a collapsible tube from his pocket and viewed the equipment through the lenses bringing the dead Orcs into view.
“Now,” he told her and the faery queen reached down from the thunderhead and connected it to the two copper pillars.
The static charge swept through the pillars and through the wiring. There was a blinding flash and the whole apparatus melted like butter in a fire, leaving pools of molten copper dripping through the mounts onto the ground. When Alexius regained his sight, he swept the glasses back to where the corpses had been left. The nearest armoured Orc was welded to what was left of the end of one tube and several of the others had been dragged across the grass towards the equipment by the attractive force reacting with their armour.
The Greek Philomath hurried over to the wreckage and gloomily surveyed the damage. The wiring had burnt through the insulation and the copper pillars had melted during the lightning strike. The other thing that he became aware of was that all of the static charge in the area had vanished. Queen Mab had used up all the energy at once. The overpowering fact was that the attraction between the open ends of the U had picked up the dead Orcs by their armour and had the force lasted longer he was sure that all of them would have ended up stuck to the ends. Somehow he needed the Queen to engineer a slow release of energy so that she would have enough in reserve to fry the Orcs while their armour was stuck together. This would give her something that she could aim for, as it was evident that the more iron that was put together the more likely that the lightning would strike just where they wanted it. As the goblins collected the dead Orcs they noticed that now the armour had to be prised apart as if the metal was stuck together. This was an unexpected side effect and caused Alexius to think even deeper about what he was going to unleash in this world. During his experiments at his keep, he had constructed something that would detect the power that defused through the ground by accident. He had found that two very thin strips of gold soldered to a brass rod would pull apart if exposed to the charge in the ground. He had placed a bell jar around the rod and insulated it from touch. Just to be sure he had sealed the bottom of the jar so that nothing could make contact. On the top of the brass rod he had mounted a thin metal disk. He had noticed during a thunderstorm that the gold leaves that hung in a vee would push apart. When he had inspected the apparatus and the hair had started to stand out on his body the leaves had done the same, but more positively. He had stumbled upon a way of determining where a concentration of ‘Earth Power’ was stored in the ground. This could be very useful!


Orc!
Chapter Six.
Alexius was busy investigating all the different ways that this new knowledge could be brought to bear on the impending Orc invasion. After the melting of the field generator, he had spent some time paired up inside Queen Mab’s mind and concentrated his understanding of the new electrical energy to her. Bit by bit they managed to slow down the discharge rate so that the generator no longer fused together and remained intact after use. Time and again they had the Trolls drag the armoured bodies of the Orcs into new positions and discovered the range of the generator. As each piece of armour was carried into contact with the ends of the generator, the effect increased and any other pieces of iron armour in the vicinity ‘glued’ itself to another part like bricks in a wall. The forest gave up more dead Orcs from time to time so there was no shortage of experimental ‘vessels’ to enable the goblin artificers to try improvements. Meanwhile as the generators were finished, the Trolls positioned them along ambush points that Tam and Shamus indicated to the Queen. Other leprechauns had used their powers to shrink down the equipment along with the building crews and transport it to where it would do the most good. Each ambush point was checked to find out if the area of the generator had a good charge of power locked inside the ground.
There was one natural phenomena that worked in the defender’s favour and that was, the East/West road like all the other main thoroughfares had been built by giants with interlocking slabs of stone. They were wide enough that forty men could march in line without touching the sides. In the midday sun these got very warm and made a lot of warm air rise up into the clouds above. A positive charge built up in the ground and was eager to escape through any tall object. Copper pillars sunk into the edge of the road made excellent lightening conductors. They shone out like beacons inside the Queen’s mind and made it very easy her to find and direct the energy build-up. The forest soon buried them underneath swaths of ivy, camouflaging them from sight.
The Trolls rapidly re-assembled the generators under instruction from the goblins in the centre of the giant’s road. The Orcs would have to pass them to get by. Hidden in the trees were elves, far enough not to suffer too much by the proximity of iron, they could direct the Queen when to send a bolt of lightning through the copper pillars. Those that survived the electrical onslaught would find another barrier across the road manned by elves with uncannily accurate arrows. After each skirmish the elves would retreat to the next ambush or just vanish amongst the trees, where the Orcs would soon find out if they followed them, would cost them their lives.
A long way from all this activity Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian stared down at the Orc lands with some dismay. They were well hidden up a large oak tree at the edge of the forest and had a commanding view. Shamus had been given a collapsible tube with lenses mounted inside by Alexius which enabled the person looking through, a close up view of what was being observed. He stared through the lenses at all the activity and wondered just what the outcome would be? The sheer multitude of the mutated goblins camped around the outskirts of the city of Gunderstall had to number in the tens of thousands. Even at this distance away from the city the painful effects of the sheer mass of iron made it difficult for them to concentrate and send a coherent picture to the Queen. The stench from the city made their eyes run with tears as the pollution from smelting the iron ore and the open sewage system that flowed into the sea mixed together.
He passed the ‘scope’ to Tam and said, “There are more of them than I can count. Look through the tube and see how spread out they are. We need to strike first or they will over-run us with the number of warriors that have clustered around their city. We need to capture one of them and prise the truth out of him before we alert the Queen.”
Tam put down the tube and asked, “What about the iron that they all carry? How can we get around that problem?”
“We pick off a lone Orc using Ep, as iron does not affect him. He can strip the iron from his body and hold him fast while we question him away from his armour,” replied Shamus and returned the Wood-sprite to his normal size.
The apple dryad expanded his branches and sunk his roots into the ground to replenish his energy levels. He also connected to the vegetal forest mind to seek what they needed. Within a short while there was a crashing sound as something came travelling through a network of branches towards the leprechauns screaming with terror! An Orc, fully dressed in battle-armour came hurtling down through the ancient oak-tree and was caught by the Wood-sprite before he would have hit the ground. Ep held him fast and rapidly stripped the Orc of every metallic thing and tossed them away from Tam and Shamus. He then wrapped some of his root system around the Orc’s arms and bound them to his chest so that he could not move. He then hung him up-side down with his head a few inches from the ground.
Tam walked into view and gave the Orc’s head a light kick to make sure of his attention. The Orc tried to spit at him and was rewarded by another kick on his ear.
“Tell me what you know about this impending war,” said Tam O’ Shadow. “When are you going to be on the move and start your expansion into our lands? I also want to know, where is the Iron ore mine located? Tell me all of this and I might just let you go.”
“Rot in your magical socks you misshapen dwarf! You will all soon feel the yoke of the Orc Empire as we spread through your lands killing and looting, with iron to protect us from your magic!” replied the Orc and wriggled, trying to get away.
“Magic, you say? You think that we just have magic to protect ourselves? We have much more than that, abomination! You see, every other living creature in these enchanted lands dislike your kind intensely, but would have left you alone if only you would do the same. Can you see the column of fire ants making their way from out of the forest? They regard you as food. And once they reach underneath your face, they will begin to make a living ladder until they can latch their front jaws into your flesh. Once they do that I cannot stop them from swarming up and spreading all over your body. It will be too late then to want to tell me what I want to know. Once you are just bones I can soon ask the forest to capture me another Orc. Sooner or later I will have the information that I have asked for.”
The dryad twisted the bound Orc so that he could see what was advancing across the ground towards him. The grass had turned into a red mass of ants surging towards his unprotected face. The column was wider than his leg and was being supplied by a living stream of tributaries oozing out of the forest and would soon reach directly underneath him.
Shamus walked carefully round the hanging Orc until he reached the pile of stripped off armour and using the arm that Queen Mab had regrown he picked up the sword in his human hand and carried it back to where the Orc could see him. He was careful not to get too close to Tam with it and poked the Orc in the stomach making him bleed a little. As the drops of blood dripped onto the grass the ants surged forwards and cleared up every drop in front of the terrified Orc.
Shamus knelt down, so that he could speak into the captive’s ear, “This is a good sword, made from good steel. I shall enjoy using it to cut my way through an army of your kind. Do not be so sure that what you have been told is true!”
“Lift me up. Please lift me up. The mine is in the city,” he gasped and Ep pulled him up several inches.
Now he could see the boiling mass of fire ants beginning to build a living tower of interlocking ants to reach him.
Tam moved away from the heaving mass of ants and said, “I believe you have some more to tell me? You see, I am a leprechaun and I will keep my word. Tell me what I want to know and you shall be set free.”
As the interlocked bodies began to surge upwards the Orc screamed in terror, “The attack will take place very soon. As soon as the last of the iron ore has been smelted and beaten into weapons we will be marching along the giant’s road towards you. There will be tens of thousands of us all armed with the poison metal and I promise you that all will fall before our forces.”
Shamus prodded the Orc with the sword again and showed him that it had not affected him at all. Droplets of blood fell into the grass and the fire ants boiled over it until it was all gone. They redoubled their efforts to reach the hanging Orc by building higher and the up-side down goblin began to scream as the tower of scuttling creatures were only a finger’s width from the Orc’s eyes.
“Throw him beyond the trees, Ep. Try not to break him,” said Shamus and watched   dispassionately as the naked Orc was tossed out of the outskirts of the forest and down the grassy bank.
He threw the sword into the undergrowth and mopped his brow that was dripping with sweat. Both leprechauns moved well away from the seething mass of fire ants and also the discarded armour.
“I was beginning to lose it back there,” said Shamus to Tad. “I do have some immunity against iron, but not enough to hold onto that sword any longer. He will go back amongst his kind and tell them that iron is not poison to all of the faery people. It might help us if he spreads that false knowledge.”
“We do have some useful information about the Orc city from our reluctant informant and that is that the city is built around the mine and the smelting plants. I will contact Queen Mab and tell her that now would be a good time to drop something onto Gunderstall and put a stop to proceedings. Being this close to all that iron will take some extra effort to contact her. Hold my hands and give me your mental strength while I reach out to her.”
Tam sent his mind towards where he knew that his Queen would be and drew a blank. Shamus joined with him and still they could not break through the mental fog that shielded the Orc city. Another kind of strength reached out to the two leprechauns, as Ep folded his roots around them and plugged them into the forest vegetal consciousness. Now there were thousands of square miles of living plants lending their life energy and breaking through the mental fog.
The energy at Tam’s disposal broke through into Queen Mab’s mind and delivered the message to her. He was able to give her the co-ordinates of the city and the fact that inside, was the Orcs’ weapon-shops and smelting plants. The other piece of information of the imminent attack, once the weapons being forged now were sharpened and finished, made the destruction of Gunderstall imperative.
Queen Mab sat desolate as the implications of what she had to do sank in. In the many thousands of years that she had ruled the Enchanted Lands, she had not needed to kill anyone herself. If she did this awful thing she would be committing a sentence of death on thousands of sentient beings. The Sluagh Sidhe danced the dance of atonement around her head. The fleeting touch of butterfly wings against her face was not a touch of assurance. They were her people, these dancing points of light, these balls of glowing beauty. To protect them and all the faery folk, she would have to become the instrument of death, admittedly to a race of people that held her and all of her kind as an anathema. They would enslave everyone who had lived in harmony with each other under her rule and look upon the elves and gnomes as a food source. Iron would be their tool of submission and without the powers of magic all would be lost. She sat on her throne and wept.
Alexius and Flower-et were with the Queen when Tam contacted her. Because of all the close association together, Alexius felt the misery of her predicament inside his mind as clear as if she were weeping on his shoulder. He felt the anger of the Sluagh Side that he had intruded upon the Queen’s misery and speedily held her hand, bonding his mind to hers. All that Tam had ‘told’ her registered in his mind and he considered the information.
Alexius broke apart the barrier she had tried to place before her mind and said, “What you must do, we will do together. I will share this burden with you because of the love I have for this land and the love I have for you. It must be done or we stand no chance of survival at all!”
Orc!
Chapter Seven.
Alexius and Queen Mab worked as a team, with the human providing the knowledge and the elemental spirit providing the power. Reluctantly she bonded his mind to hers and ascended upwards until their twin minds were at the orbital distance where they had ‘parked’ the giant snowballs that were a mixture of frozen water and rocks held together by ice. Now that the city of Gunderstall had been seen and located by Tam and Shamus the pin-point accuracy that Mab had developed on the other side of the world could come into play. Gradually she began to slow the residue of the comet down so that instead of endlessly orbiting her world beneath, the balls began to fall. Thousands of tons of ice and stones began to catch the outer limits of atmosphere and parts began to melt as heat began to build up and it began to vent gas. Mab gave them a nudge to the East to compensate for the deflection. Several miles up from the planet below, it still held together and was still in a direct line for the Orc city. In the sky above Gunderstall several glowing balls could now be seen plummeting towards it.
At that moment, many miles from the city, a naked Orc was recounting his capture and what he had seen, whilst bound and hung upside down. Asoka, battle commander for the Orca hoard, listened to what he had to tell them with scorn and a disbelieving expression on his face. Gretch Fem-Orc stood by his side to listen to what he had to say.
Standing to attention, he begged, “I’m telling you, Master Commander that I was captured by a tree that could move around. It was with two leprechauns and did their bidding. It stripped me of my iron armour and I saw one of the little folk pick up my sword without being harmed by it. Can you not see the scars on my belly where the little shit cut me with my own blade? I swear to you that I have seen the forest trees move without any wind blowing the branches around. I had gone into the forest to have a crap when suddenly I was picked up by ‘something’ and taken through the tops of the trees. I was dropped through the branches until I was caught by this other tree-like thing and bound by its roots. They hung me over a fire-ants’ nest and wanted to know where the iron ore mine was. I told them it was in the city. I could not see what harm that would be, as they will never be able to get in there. They would have let the ants eat me alive, had I not told them what they wanted to know. My face was only a hands breadth away from the little buggers and every time a drop of my blood dropped on the ground they swarmed over it. They continually crawled over each other to make a living bridge to my face.”
“Why did they not kill you, soldier, when they had the chance? I would!”
“One of the leprechauns gave me his word that if I answered his questions he would let me go. He did. They have a strange sense of honour and their word is their bond,” replied the naked Orc and shuffled his feet in discomfort.
The Battle Commander sat back in his chair and asked, “What else did you tell them?”
“I stated the obvious, sir, that we were coming soon and I would be right at the front to see how they liked iron in their guts.”
“Go and get dressed, soldier and let me think about what you have told me. I will think about the information and may the devil chew your bones if you have been lying to me,” the commander replied.
Asoka gave some thought to how parts of the soldier’s story might fit in to information trickling in that Orcs kept going missing if they ventured into the forest. This strange problem he had discussed with Gretch Fem-Orc before he had interrogated the unhappy Orc soldier.
Suddenly the flap of the tent opened and a young Orc ran in and called out, “Sir, the sky in in flames! You must come and see.”
The Commander leapt from his chair and went outside where indeed the sky seemed to be on fire. Gretch pointed at the sky. In the centre of the flames they could see there was a huge glowing ball that was coming apart as they watched. They could feel the heat coming off the object in waves. A roaring noise filled their eardrums and in seconds it was directly over where they both knew the city was situated. A sonic boom shattered the day and a mushroom cloud rose into the heavens as many hundreds of tons, all that remained of the giant snowball hammered into the city of Gunderstall. Scalding water filled the fire pits of the smelting plant and an explosion of super-heated steam tore the industrial heart out of the city. There would be no more weapons manufactured here if ever. Hot rocks began to fall all over the tented encampment along with scalding rain.
From far above the twin minds looked down at what they had caused to happen, as they had followed the ball of ice and rocks all the way down to within a mile above impact. Even here the influence of iron was too unsettling to bear for long and they retreated with what they had seen. Gunderstall had disappeared in a glowing ball of steam and flames. Thousands of gallons of scalding water now filled the crater that was all that was left of the Orc city and major port. The armed camp pitched outside the city walls had also mostly vanished in the explosion. Now the army of Orcs had been cut to the bone. Soon food would start to run out, as the fallout from the crater had buried the arable land under piles of bricks and rubble. It would not be long before the Orcs would be fighting over every crust of bread they could grab. They would have to try their luck along the giant’s East/West road and invade the faery lands.
“My city has gone! Your soldier told them exactly what they needed to know,” Gretch screamed and slapped the Commander across his face. “Get your men together to gather what provisions they can find and march down that road towards Queen Mab’s lands. Do it, or we will starve in this death smashed place! We will slaughter every one of her people that we find. Dead elves will fill my troops’ bellies.”

Queen Mab applied mental pressure against Alexius’s desire to stay and watch. The two joined minds began the descent back to the throne room far below. In moments they were returned to their bodies and both sat quiet as they thought about what they had unleashed.
Alexius turned and faced the group that were waiting for news and said, “Gunderstall has ceased to exist! Where the Orc city was once, is now a water filled crater joined to the sea. All trace of their port has gone along with all of their ships. A great deal of the army perished along with the city, but a considerable number remain. What food they have will be minimal, so their only recourse will be to come at us down the East/West road.”
Suddenly the sound of sobbing rose to a crescendo as the Queen clenched her fists in misery. She rocked back and forth and tugged at her hair staring at Alexius in despair as the enormity of what she had done filled her mind.
“I stand for life! I have become the avenging spirit of death. I cannot do this again,” she sobbed.
Alexius took her hand and replied, “There are still thousands of them and only hundreds of us. You can and you will be our instrument of defence. Remember that they have brought this action against themselves. This is why you brought me here! I have given you the solution, but you have to me the means of delivering it.”
Mog gently held her other hand between thumb and forefinger, kissed it with his stony mouth, saying, “I came here prepared to die to defend all that has meaning and to keep you safe. Every Troll will go into battle knowing that iron-clad Orcs will do their worst to kill us should we be overcome by the poison metal and we are all that separates the forest from castle lands. They will come down that road with only one thing in mind and that will be domination. They will not stop until they fill the Enchanted Land with slavery and death. There will be time to rest and mourn afterwards about what we all must do.”
“I feel humbled by your reminder of my duty, Mog the Troll. I must live with what I have done and accept that the battle is not yet over. Alexius I am sorry for my outburst and, yes as you say they had a choice.”
The portal underneath the throne opened and a leprechaun stood before them.
“We have everything in place my Queen,” he said. “All we have to do is to wait for the first of them to start down the road and enter the first of the traps. The Shadow Lands have changed much since I was last upon that one time perilous maze of roads.”

Tam and Shamus had seen the horror that had been unleased upon the Orcs’ city and decided to make their way back to the great road. They climbed inside the safety cage that Ep constructed for them and the dryad forged through the undergrowth dragging them along with its roots. After a few moments the forest mind opened a through-way for the Wood-sprite to travel along. Inside the apple-tree both of the leprechauns felt safe and protected enough to go to sleep. Mile after mile the Wood-sprite cut through the densest of thickets as if they were made of long grass. Every tree and bush swayed to the side allowing Ep to forge a pathway through that filled in behind him. All through the dark night the dryad kept up its travelling speed, using its sense of spatial awareness to direct the forest to allow him to pass.
A few hours after dawn, the dryad stopped pushing through the undergrowth and halted in a clearing. It gently shook the two leprechauns awake and opened its roots and branches to allow them to alight. Tam and Shamus stepped out of the Wood-sprite and found themselves in the centre of a band of elves, gnomes and trolls. A small dead-wood fire had a pot hung over it and the pungent smell of a gnome’s wake up potion filled the air.
“You must be Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian,” the leader of the group said. “We heard the bang and the sky seemed on fire! Do I take it that is the end of the Orcs?”
“Not by a long chalk, group leader,” answered Shamus. “Their city ceases to exist and a great number of them perished, but be assured those that survived will be coming soon down the great East/West road with vengeance in their black hearts! So be ready to apply yourselves and show no mercy as they will show none to you!”
Tam spoke up and said, “First I would appreciate a mug of whatever is in that pot and then I would appreciate seeing the thing that Alexius designed that is supposed to take out any Orc that gets near to it.”
“Oh, they do not have to get near to it. Once Queen Mab calls down the lightning and energises the ‘Generator’ they will have little choice! The iron that they wear will be their undoing,” the leader said and grinned. “I have seen this apparatus in action and you have to see it to believe it and they are dotted down the road all the way to the castle. We also have in place markers and stops so that we know what distance we have to be from them, before the poison metal renders us useless.”
Shamus and Tam were handed a mug of brew and walked down the pathway to the road and were treated by a view that made little sense to them. The Trolls had built the ‘Generator’ in the middle of the road so that the Orcs would have to pass it to come any further and it was pointing towards the oncoming hoard. The two leprechauns had never seen so much copper in their life. Stood on the top of the apparatus were several gold statues in plain view.
Tam stood back and pointed at the ornaments, “What’s the purpose of the golden statues?”
“Oh that was an afterthought by Alexius. Orcs place great wealth in gold so it may make them storm the ‘Generator’ to grab what would seem to be easy pickings. It would seem that the more iron you can get within the range of this thing, the stronger the effect. I have seen this thing applied and Orc armour sticks to it like honey and flies! The more that gets captured the greater the attraction and the more get caught. Can you also see the area in front of the ‘Generator’ where the metal net is placed? Anyone stood on that will suffer the same fate as the ones stuck on the weapon,” the leader said. “Those that try to get by will be targeted by elfin bow-masters who will melt away into a very hostile forest as soon as the Orcs reach the limiting place markers. We now know how close we can get to an Orc without being affected by the iron. We will not engage them in open battle, but fight a continual guerrilla warfare right to the very gates of the castle if needs be!”
 “Let us hope that it will not come down to that,” Shamus replied and finished his brew. “I would say that the Orcs are no more than two days from you so be ready!”
Tam and Shamus gave back the mugs and walked to the middle of the Great Road.
They gave the command, “Grow ten times,” and grew tall enough to see over the trees. After Shamus picked up the Wood-sprite and settled him on his shoulder, they gave the order, “Stride.”
The first group watched the two of them disappear west along the giant’s road and made their way back into the safety of the forest to wait for the first wave. It did not take Tam and Shamus long to traverse the hundreds of miles back to the castle using the magic of the ‘Boots.’
Along the route back to the castle they passed ambush after ambush laid out along the East/West Road. Some of the generators were situated on the edge of the road covered in leafy branches, donated by the trees. The goblins had pulled the iron shields back into the forest that had been stripped off the dead Orcs that the forest mind still continued to donate to the castle defenders. As the trees had no bother with the poison metal they used their great strength and deposited them next to the generators. The goblins then dragged them across the road making sure that they were touching each other and pegged them down. When the generator was activated the accumulation of iron would drag the armour the Orcs were wearing onto the line of magnetic flux. It was then that Mab would deliver the next example of her power.


Orc!
Chapter Eight.
Tam and Shamus at last caught sight of Mab’s castle and slowed the boots down until they came to the great door into the main hall. Shamus left Ep to root into the soil some way from the castle where he could recuperate. The usual buoyant activity seemed very muted and the assorted faery folk more than a bit downcast as they gained entrance to the inside.
“You there!” shouted Tam. “Whatever is the trouble? We have seen that the Orc city, Gunderstall has been flattened and their port destroyed. Many of them are dead, but still they will come with what is left. So tell me, master-at-arms what is the problem?”
“The problem is that the Queen is not made for death, delivered on the scale that we must experience. She languishes in her chambers and is struggling with her conscience over what she has to do in the near future,” the elf replied and pointed along the corridor to the throne room. “She will need your support Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian to persuade her to carry out the next part of the defence of our realm. Go! Do not waste time here with me. She needs your attention.”
The crowd around the throne soon parted at the approach of the two leprechauns. Alexius, Flower-et and Mog the Troll were at her side giving comfort and gave way as Shamus pushed through. He laid his hand upon hers and was inside her mind in an instant.
“What ails you Queen Mab? I have seen what you have done and it was for the best. They had built their city around the iron ore mine and were turning out weapons made of the poison metal with a speed and efficiency you had to see to believe! Also the land stinks of pollution. The Orc we captured had enough iron on him for several soldiers and he was just an ordinary warrior. All ambush points are fully manned and as soon as they step within range of the generators, you must apply the power at your command or everything that you have brought to bear in The Enchanted Land will be for nothing,” he implored and kissed her hand.
It was as if he had touched the copper terminals on the cell that Alexius had shown him to demonstrate the power at his disposal. There was another mind inside his queen!
During the time that he had been in this realm he had altered a great deal. His telepathic skills had increased since he had communicated with the vegetal mind of the forest and also the times he had ‘spoken’ to his queen. Being mostly a clone of Tam O’ Shadow, had given him the many ‘gifts’ of the leprechaun and also his human side set him apart and had unseated several other ‘talents’ that had lain dormant. The other mind was tiny and mostly unformed, but Shamus knew what it was.
“You are carrying our child! I can feel his mind beginning to develop and grow. I do not need to know how you have managed to keep him in this state for so long, but I am telling you now that the time has come to let time resume in your womb and let him develop normally. Or what passes for normal in this place.”
“It shall be done, Shamus. All that I have learnt in controlling the weather I have now passed on to you. I cannot use my powers to kill again. I know that it would destroy the person that I am. It will take me a very long time to recover from the awful deed that Alexius and I carried out. I always thought that you were brought into this world for a purpose and the acts of bravery that you have done in my name make you the favourite to maintain this realm. I will continue my rule but you will figure in that imperative and will serve our people well.”
Shamus felt the blending of her mind with his and ALL the understanding of controlling the lightning entered his consciousness. Now not only did he have the will to kill, he had the means. 
She vacated the throne and sat Shamus down on it, saying to the others, “This blend of faery, human and something else will do what is necessary to bring the Orcs to measure. It may be that he will sit my throne for several days. See that he is fed and does not go thirsty and attend to him as if he were me.”
Shamus sat and connected with the earth power that flooded into him via the throne that Mab had sat for thousands of years. He became aware of every living thing around the castle and felt the barriers go down until he became the Forest mind, the potential power in the ground, the negative power in the clouds, the living strength that flowed from all of faery into his reach. He sensed the approach of the thousands of orcs marching down the great giant-built road and the proximity to the first trap. It had been a hot and humid day and already the warm, wet air had risen from the ground carrying the ‘to be unleashed’ charge. It had begun to form a cloud and the tops of the cloud began to form ice crystals. They began to bump into each other as the thundercloud started to form and thousands of collisions begin to build an electrical charge. Shamus controlled the clouds and brought them closer to the tops of the forest. Rain began to fall upon the Orcs as they marched towards the generator and the waiting elves. Once the soldiers saw the gold statues on the top of the generator they broke into a undisciplined greedy run.
Shamus could ‘see’ this as if he were there. He allowed a trickle of the earthbound force to enter the two copper pillars and increased the amount. The nearest Orcs found that they could not stop running towards the strange thing dominating the road and some of them flew through the air towards the tubes facing them. The first wave found themselves stuck fast by their armour to the ends of the tubes. Soon many more of the Orcs became stuck onto each neighbour until hundreds were trapped in a writhing ball of super magnetised armour. The massive amount of iron collected together made the targeting so easy for Shamus and he began to build the charge.
Shamus could ‘see’ that the later ranks had drawn back, although some were still stood on the metal net spread over the road. Now would be the time to let the entire charge go. A massive lightning strike drove upwards to the sky through the driving rain and connected each soldier to his nearest iron breast- plate. The bright forks of the incandescent bolts shot from metal to metal either cooking or electrocuting every Orc that was in contact with another. Of the generator there was now no trace, except for puddles of molten copper running off the road edges. Now the elves came into play before any organisation could take hold. The range was perfect and as the Orc force behind began to surge forwards, the elves slowed down time. From the Orc’s point of view the elves moved around so quickly they could not see them clearly. Having studied the Orc armour they knew where all the entry holes would be. Now each elf with a bow and gnome with a crossbow could pick their target and make sure that each arrow counted, as they aimed for the eye slit. Their other attribute that the elves enjoyed was that each arrow loosed could be thought to its target. As the remainder stamped upon the dying front wave and passed the markers, the faery people melted into the forest and out of range of the poison metal. Those few Orcs that entered the forest found that the trees could move and their dying screams testified to that fact. Now an eerie silence hung in the air and the road ahead was empty.
Asoka and Gretch stared at the body count in horror. Some of the armour had melted into the flesh and the smell of roasted meat hung in the air. They turned round and walked back to the waggons that were being dragged behind them loaded with supplies. The rain had stopped as quick as it had started and steam was rising from the flagstones. Whatever had been dominating the road had disappeared completely. Only the stains on the giant flagstones remained.
Asoka asked, “What do we do now Gretch Fem-Orc? Whatever that thing was it made havoc with the armour. Maybe what that soldier said was true, that not all of the faery folk are allergic to the poison metal. He was certainly right about the trees.”
She stared at him and grabbed him by the front of his armour and replied, “We carry on. There is nothing left back in that tiny area that we were ‘allowed’ to live in for us to go back to.  Delegate a scavenging party and collect the legs of the fallen, knee to groin. Have the cooks roast them and share out with the other troops. For one thing it will feed them without taking from the stores and remind them what will happen to them if they fall in battle.”

Shamus came to, whilst sat on the Queen’s throne. He was still connected through the magic of the throne to all the earth power at his disposal.
“Alexius, you are to be commended. The generator worked and worked well. I took out a huge amount of Orcs, but I must warn you that this is far from over yet.  I will need to sit upon this throne and keep watch from this moment on and be ready for the next ambush.”
Tam O’ Shadow stared at his one-time protégée with astonishment trying to accept what the once human boy had achieved. He knelt down on one knee and bowed his head in subservience and was followed by all the others in the throne room.
Shamus gazed at the reaction of all who had heard the Queen’s statement and called out, “This is all very well, but I need your help and assistance while I put my mind elsewhere. Keep my body clean and each time I return give me food and water. While my mind leaves this earthly frame, strip it, wash it and care for it until my task is done.”
Having said what needed to be done, Shamus’s eyes closed and his mind went elsewhere.
Tam rapidly stripped his new King and dressed him in a loose-fitting toga that would allow him to defecate and be washed without disturbing him and organised what needed to be done to have fresh food and drink at hand.
Shamus however was elsewhere.
Once again he was at ‘one’ with the realm and began building more thunder-clouds, seeking out the location of the other ‘generators’ and priming them.

Gretch and Asoka broke camp at dawn and moved their troops further along the road towards Queen Mab’s castle carefully avoiding getting too close to the hostile trees. They quickly marched over the copper-stained, partially covered flagstones and soon left the carnage behind them, still confident that the overwhelming odds of their army would bring victory and the spoils of war.
Overhead thunderclouds began to accumulate and the front wave of Orcs began to get nervous, but as yet the road looked empty as far as they could see along the dead-straight road. Suddenly, boots hit metal as the soldiers marched over the jointed shields and breast-plates. The pressure from behind propelled the three front ranks across the metal obstacles. Until they all came to an untidy stop. Some were stood on the metal and some were not, but all were in range.
Asoka felt that something was very wrong and shouted out, “Those at the front, run! Those, this side of the barrier, pull back as fast as you can.”
Too late was the order given and Shamus fed a surge of lightning into the copper pillars that powered two generators, each side of the road covered in leafy growth. The magnetic field reached out, funnelled by the metal plates linked across the road and the Orcs were once again pulled into two balls of struggling limbs as the Orcs tried in vain to pull themselves off. Some were fixed along the chain of metal that joined each generator. Hail stones began to fall as Shamus ranked up the power and released a powerful thunderbolt from the super-charged ground. This time there was a blinding flash that seared the eyes of those who were facing the electrified soldiers. The air was full of the stink of roasting flesh and an increased humming that set the teeth on edge. The thunderclap that split the heavens above made the ears ring and a bitter cold heavy rain began to fall laced with hailstones as big as a fist.
Also some distance behind them a metal net connected to the device had fallen from the trees and dropped over more than a hundred terrified Orcs electrocuting them in their highly conductive armour.  A rain of arrows and cross-bow bolts took out many, many more from vantage points, high up in the trees. This time none of the Orcs dared to enter and chance the hostile forest.
This time Gretch and Asoka got a brief sighting of the device that had fried their troops before it melted away into puddles of molten copper.
The few Orcs at the front that had made it beyond the killing chain found that elves suddenly appeared from no-where and let loose a deadly cascade of arrows that all found their mark. They were past masters at slowing down time and could only be seen if they allowed it. Once any of the surviving Orcs passed the pre-set markers the elves vanished into the forest before the iron took away their power. Now from the edge of the road came another foe that the Orcs had yet to meet except the one that had been captured and interrogated by Tam O’ Shadow. Dryads had ripped themselves from the ground where they had been content to grow for hundreds of years. They began to tear the dazed Orcs apart with their iron-hard root systems, ignoring the sword thrusts and chops that they attempted to injure the Wood-sprites. When something the size of an oak tree is bent on murder, there is little that an Orc could do, but die. Now, where there had been thousands of Orcs, now there were hundreds.
Shamus called a halt to the slaughter and sent a goblin to speak with Gretch and Asoka.
“I am the perpetrator of your defeat, speaking through this goblin. Do you wish to live? That is the only question that you may answer.”  
The two Orcs faced the little green man and clenched their fists in controlled rage. They nodded.
“Should you harm this messenger I will send the lightning through your bodies. Be assured of that. As for your ‘nod,’ that will not suffice. I would hear you say it and mean what you say.”
“I wish to live,” Gretch Fem-Orc ground out and was echoed by Asoka, her commander.
“Right, now you will do as I say, or even I will not be able to quieten the free spirits of the forest. You will give up every iron weapon and pieces of armour until you have removed every last bit of the poison metal from all of you. Should you keep any of it back, the Wood-sprites will know and they will turn anyone with it into root-feed. Do it now and march down the road and keep going until you see Queen Mag’s castle. I will warn you now that there are more of these traps set along the road. You will meet me there and I will decide what I am going to do with you, but I guaranty that I will keep my word. You will be granted life. Now I will leave you,” said the goblin and walked away as Shamus left him.

Shamus opened his eyes and said, “It is done. I am sick of killing and I hope that I have made the right decision. What Orcs are left will be re-settled somewhere, where over time perhaps, the race of Orc will revert to that of goblin. We shall see as time goes on. I thank you all for your support and looking after this poor abused frame. It would seem that I shall be here for some time. I have a son to watch over and a secretive Queen to solve!”


This is the fifth Novella in the series about the Enchanted Land.





The Changeling.
Chapter One.
Shamus O’Brian, once human, but now a mixture of mostly leprechaun, human and ‘forest sprite’ found himself the titular King of the Enchanted Land. He had been ‘gifted’ with all of Queen Mab’s eldritch powers and had found that he could wield them without the guilty after-effects that the Queen had suffered. She had destroyed the Orc city and port of Gunderstall, but at almost the cost of her sanity, by dropping a mountain of ice and rocks onto it from orbit, turning the place into a fireball. Now the iron mines lay fathoms deep under seawater making it impossible for anyone to dig the ore out and smelt it into steel.
Shamus had finished the problem of the Orcs by activating the lightning into Alexius’s engineered ‘generators’ that stuck the armour plated Orcs together, making them an easy target to ‘fry.’ He had also awoken the forest over-mind and called for its protection against a species that would use and burn ‘green wood’ without any thoughts of the damage that could be done. Now the ‘Wood-sprites’ would stay vigilant and seek out any use of the prohibited metal.
Where there had been many thousands of Orcs there now numbered hundreds. Shamus had given the remainder a choice of life if they removed all iron from their bodies or instant death. They chose to live and to trust that the new King would keep his word.
When Gretch Fem-Orc and Asoka were summoned to the great hall at Queen Mab’s castle they found to their amazement that they were given an audience with a little man no bigger than waist high! He was sat on an ornate throne and did not look at all as the Orcs had imagined him to be. A pair of piercing blue eyes stared out from a face surrounded by a well-trimmed deep red beard. Perched on his head was a circlet of gold with a large jewel of ‘life’ in the centre.
Shamus pointed to them and said, “I will give you new lands to till and build upon, a long way from any iron and a long way from here. There is plentiful game for you to feed yourselves and to build herds. Always bear in mind that I will always be able to see what you are doing and there are a plentiful number of mountains in orbit high above this world. Do nothing that I could deem a threat and they will stay where they are. You brought this terrible death to your people, not I, so remember that. I am tired of the killing and the Queen has petitioned me to save you if I can. Do you agree to my proposition?”
“Yes, great King. We agree and thank you for the opportunity to start again. It may well be that in a different place that our appearance will change back to the goblin forefathers that settled Gunderstall and we will once more be accepted by what was once our kind,” replied Gretch Fem-Orc as she looked up at Mog the Troll who was stood at the side of the throne.
“See that you do,” answered Mog and warned that there were an awful number of Trolls with a grudge that also lived in the same area.
Shamus kept his word and shrank them and all their possessions, piling them into traveling sacks until he had the entire tribe of Orcs tucked safely away. He ‘called’ down the giant birds and had the sacks bound to their legs quite secure. The Roc accepted him as the new ‘manager’ of the Enchanted Land and bent to his will. He allocated Tam O’ Shadow as the leader of the resettlement project and sent them to the empty lands where they had fought the dragon. Here there was plenty of large game and none of the strange glowing rocks that had changed the goblins into the brutal Orcs.
Alexius and Flower-et returned to the Keep and took with them all of the experimental constructions that had made the defeat of the Orcs possible. Shamus made the order that the only metal with iron content that fell from the skies could be used by the goblins. He insisted that all of the Orcs’ iron weapons and tools to be buried in the now well aware and sentient forest where it would revert to rust. These places were to be guarded by Wood-sprites who would soon make short work of any intruder intent on breaking the law.
 Epimeliades the wood-sprite created by Shamus, decided to make his home in the castle grounds inside the first perimeter. Here he took nourishment from his roots and dispensed normal apples to any who would care to eat one! Hundreds of thousands of his offspring had colonised the Shadow Lands, driving out and destroying the fearsome creatures that used to live there and prey on travellers across the wilderness. Now the Ley Lines allowed the leprechauns to use the faster travelling routes without continually risking their lives.
Shamus was now an experienced adept at travelling along the pathways of the shadow lands. Now the skies had lost the perpetual greyness and the sun broke through and warmed the land. The soul-eaters had been driven out and all of the deadly creatures that had preyed upon unwary travellers had been pushed out of the Shadow Lands. Everywhere the sentient apple trees had taken root, after hunting down the purveyors of death, had become safe. Now these new highways were travelled by any leprechaun that had the ‘talent’ of opening a portal. Those that could not, were taught by those who could and bit by bit more and more leprechauns built up a trade route between the far flung communities. Soon fresh fish from the sea from Crispin Gate chateau came to the castle on a regular basis. Gunner had proved to be a good master of the lands of the Southern Witch and the many different faery folk were happy pursuing their many crafts under his loose rule as his family grew. The occasional pirate that sailed into port intent to rob, were soon shown the error of their ways and their crafts altered into fishing boats. The crews were assimilated into the community and soon a small town sprang up supplying the needs of the busy port.
Every so often Shamus would alter the orbit of a nickel-iron meteorite and cause it to land in an empty area close by, for Matt-cinder to get it dug out and he would turn it into ploughshares or other needed tools. Pssst-pail and her husband prospered well at the forge and never went without food or clothing. Their children were all apprenticed to the art of metal-working and already the eldest son was building his own forge next to his father’s.
Time went by slowly in the Enchanted Land, but relentlessly as it will. A thousand years had passed by in the human world and the reality of faery was no longer believed in, except in closely guarded libraries by those who would have met their end by the stake and fire. Armies were on the march and laying waste to the land and the communities that lived there, as king fought king for power.
Among the Saxons were a number of Celts who could trace their history back through many generations. Some were the progeny of ancient kings and carried a secret known to only a select number of druids that had survived the Roman purge.
Over five hundred years before this war-stricken time and during the time of Vortigern, a boy was born called Myrddin Emrys in Carmarthen, who was very different from those he grew up with. His father was a Leprechaun who had entered this realm using a dolmen to seek adventure and never returned to the ‘Enchanted Land’. Emrys inherited all of his father’s eldritch powers and for a time tried his best to bring about a time of peace and prosperity in England. For a time he was successful, but as time moved on all was lost, so he became known as Merlin and lived a mainly solitary life, as he found that he did not age and die. Looking into the future by using his ‘talents’ he could see that there would come a time that the Land would be invaded and his people enslaved. He built Stonehenge to become a super portal that would open up when the right person came along. That person would not be born for over another five hundred years.
The years slipped by quickly against the slower rate of the Enchanted Land and the Normans came, laying waste to the Celt and Saxon holdings, taking whatever they wanted from the subjugated people. King Harold died on the battlefield during the first confrontation with the invading force leaving the Saxons leaderless.
A few years later Hereward the Wake began a Saxon revolt. He set up secret fortresses in the Fens of eastern England, where the miserable weather and terrain prevented the heavily-armoured Norman knights from rooting out the rebels. Merlin escaped and disappeared. He travelled west towards the portal that would mean escape if he could find a descendant of an ancient Irish Celtic King known as Conall O’Brian. He would be the key that unlocked the henge and activated the super portal. The name of O’Brian had passed down the ages until another boy was born with flame-red hair and was called Aelfric O’Brian. 

The Saxon town of Cricklade at the head of the river Thames would soon be taken over by a Norman knight and his followers, once Hereward had been brought to heel. The inhabitants of the town lived in constant fear of that day, for they knew that resistance against the Conqueror’s men would only mean more death and punishment as the fiefdom was created. It was on the outskirts of this small township, that Merlin found Aelfric O’Brian and his family, working a homestead that the river ran closely by.
Merlin watched as the young man easily directed the horse that was pulling the plough and appreciated his skill. He took into account that there was a waggon in the farmyard capable of carrying the possessions of this family. There were a number of children and some younger versions of Aelfric engaged in other useful tasks.  It would not be easy to persuade this small community to move away. It would take some argument and persuading to get these people to leave this farmstead and follow him. It might take a little mental manipulation to alter their minds.
He called out to the ploughman, “Aelfric, will you give hospitality to a stranger? I have come a long way to see you and unfortunately bring unwelcome news for which I am sorrowful.”
Aelfric pulled back on the reigns and gave a hostile stare at the cloaked man in a pointed hat and asked, “What do you want with me? I have much to do and can spare little time on prattle-prattle.”
Merlin smiled at the young man and replied, “I would be thankful if you could provide me shelter and some food. There are things that I need to know and things that I need to tell you, that will be in the long run to your benefit. I mean you no harm so keep that in mind.”
Aelfric looked up at the setting sun, then at the half-cultivated field and disengaged the ploughshare. He turned the horse back towards the stable and began to walk back. While he was busy doing that, Merlin slipped inside his mind and found what he was hoping that he would find. This young man was indeed the descendant of an ancient Irish King, Conall O’Brian, the father of Shamus O’Brian, now King of the Enchanted Lands. What was more; he had the dormant power that had enabled a human to become part Leprechaun and faery in soul.
Aelfric shouted out to the open farmhouse door, “Woman of the house, we have company that bears news. Lay another place at table.” He turned and asked, “What is your name, stranger?”
“Emrys, my friend,” he replied, folding his pointed hat and secreting it in a pocket of his cloak.  

The Changeling.
Chapter Two.
During the evening meal, Merlin told the family about the collapse of King Harold’s exhausted army and the consequent sacking of the towns and villages by the French knights. The new king was intent on building his own impregnable castle using the Saxons as slave labour. This would keep him busy for a while and Hereward the Wake had entrenched himself in the fens of Eastern England where the miserable weather and terrain prevent heavily-armoured Norman knights from rooting out the rebels. Merlin had escaped from there and disappeared from all pursuit.
Merlin made a steeple from his fingers and asked, “How much of your family history do you know, Aelfric? Do you know from where you came before settling in this country?”
“There is a tale told and handed down that far back my family came from Ireland and once they held a kingdom! We were driven out of our homelands and forced to seek refuge by sailing here. Now it would seem that we must do this again.”
“Is that all you know about your past?”
Aelfric coloured up and said, “There is another story handed down that pushes belief, which I think is a tale for children. When my ancient family held a kingdom a king’s youngest son, seeking his fortune, disappeared from this world and entered another realm. He left one night on a full moon and walked through a dolmen into what we always called ‘The Enchanted Land’;- a place ruled by Leprechauns, goblins and faery folk of all description. They searched for him and never found a body or so the story goes! As I said, a story for children.”
“The name of the King was Conall O’Brian and he did in fact lose his youngest son called Shamus O’Brian,” said Merlin to the seated family. “All of what you have told me is true and with your help I intend to take this entire township into the ‘Enchanted Land.’ I can see that by the looks on your faces that you find this hard to believe. I cannot blame you as the simple life you lead would not allow you to understand. There is quite a lot of iron in this house and this makes magic difficult to practise, but not impossible! I have with me, unseen, a small host of the Sluagh Sidhe that I will bid to show themselves. They are what you would call the faery folk of the Olden times and do not usually allow mortals to see them.”
With that, a ring of sparkling lights flew around Merlin’s head and shoulders. Gradually the lights took form and resolved into tiny humanoid figures held aloft by butterfly wings. They were about the size of Aelfric’s fist and were beautiful to look upon. One of them flew towards his outstretched hand and settled on it.
A tinkling voice echoed inside his head, “Hello, Aelfric O’Brian son of kings. There is within you a great power, just as your ancestor had when he entered our home. Use it well and listen to what Emrys tells you and you might be lucky and survive.”
With that, the fairy took wing, shrank into a point of light and vanished from view.
There was a stunned silence as the whole family turned to stare at Merlin with superstitious fear.
“I have come here to save you not harm you,” the druid insisted. “I called the Sidhe to show themselves to you so that it would help you believe my news. Believe me that once the Normans have routed out Hereward from his marshy base they will begin to annex the lands in earnest. All you have achieved here will belong to them. I saw what they did at Hastings and afterwards. They have armoured heavy horse and knights in full armour that can ride through a standing defence, as if you were all blades of grass. Forty miles from this township due South is a ‘Henge’ that has been gathering energy for a thousand years. That is where we must go before the Normans come plundering and knocking on your gates. You Aelfric are the living key that will open that portal and let you and all your people here at this town, colonise an almost empty land where you will be safe. There was a time when humans could travel through the portals and explore the Enchanted Lands. When you began using iron the great Queen Mab closed them all to prevent any more passage. It will need a great deal of stored energy to open that gate I built so long ago. I foresaw this terrible time for my people and planned accordingly.”
Aelfric stared at the middle aged man dressed in drab clothes and scoffed, “Are you seriously expecting me to believe that you have walked this Earth for a thousand years? You look no older than my father.”
Merlin sighed and answered, “There is no way that I can prove that. It has to be a matter of belief! I have lived in both lands and time goes slower in the Enchanted Lands compared to here. If you stay here you will probably die at the point of a sword and your children will become serfs and work in the fields till they drop. Your women will be used as whores and all that you own will belong to one of them. They will build castles all over this land and hold the whole of England, Scotland and even part of Ireland in an iron grip for the next thousand years. The Saxons will lose all of their culture, lands and freedom to this invading force. Sit very still in that chair and I will show you what I have seen and what will be!”
Aelfric stiffened and sat paralysed as Merlin fed into his mind the carnage that the druid had witnessed. He watched as the Norman men-at-arms routinely cut the throats of any of the wounded Saxons run through by the knights after the main battle. Atrocities after atrocity, by the merciless invaders were shown to the helpless Celt. The rounding up of the women and children was the next vision shown to Aelfric and the subsequent multiple rapes as the women were passed around.”
“Now do you believe?” shouted Merlin. “This is what I am trying to save you from. I was there. These are MY memories you are seeing. There was nothing that I could do! This is why I am here. I saw all of this, a thousand years ago and planned accordingly. Were all my efforts so long ago for nothing?”
Aelfric turned to the druid and gasped, “Show me no more, Emrys. I do believe you, I do! I will go before the council of Elders and speak to them about the imminent invasion of the Normans. I will introduce you as someone that has brought this news and I will do my best to persuade them to leave and follow me. I will give them two days to pack what they need and then I will be on my way South.”
The following morning Aelfric was true to his world and went before the council of the town. He told them of the surrender of the city of London and the rapid assimilation of the Saxon towns. Merlin stood and told them more about the treatment of the Saxons under Norman rule and his remedy to escape this yoke being thrust around their necks. Looking round he could see that not all were in accord with what was told so he took a risk and asked the Sluagh Sidhe to reveal themselves to prove that he was not just an ordinary man, but a purveyor of the ‘Old Magic.’
A ring of lights danced around his head and grew to their normal size showing that they were indeed the faery folk of legend. Each eldritch figure fluttered around the inside of the hall and came close enough for the people to see that these creatures were indeed beautiful to look upon. There were dozens of them and they filled the minds of the amazed people with silvery laughter as if tiny bells rang in every ear. Whilst they were in this form, a boost of energy filled Merlin’s mind and allowed him to show a vision of the forthcoming invasion of their lands and town. He was also able to show them the carnage that had been wrecked along the East coast and inland from their landings. These visions convinced the population of the town that a terrible time was coming and coming fast. Now they looked at Merlin with a greater respect and began to take him and his awful news as true.
“What must we do?” asked the tribal leader.
“I will give you two days to pack everything that you will need and to load the wagons yoke the oxen, horses and collect what herds of animals you possess and follow Aelfric due South. The going will be hard at times as we must climb an escarpment until we have reached a long plane. There will be hill forts along the way that are still settled who will be suspicious of us as we travel. Make them welcome and convince them to travel with us. You will need variable bloodstock for all your herds and flocks as where you will be going such things are rare. I will warn you that where you will ultimately settle will be up to the King of that realm, but he is nothing like the Normans and will take you in. Expect to be greeted by creatures of legend and ancient folklore when we get to the portal. Do not be suspicious or afraid of what you find there. There are other humans living in that Land and they made the transition. So can you! There is one last thing that you must abide by and that is the removal of anything that has iron in it once we are there. I can promise you this, that you and your children will never see warfare again.”

Two days later at dawn the caravan set off leaving the fields and crops behind after they had been stripped. They left the town on fire so that when the Normans had finished with Hereward and began to spread westwards they would find nothing of value to steal. Once they had travelled several miles, Merlin saw a large brier in the process of regrowth along the bottom of a valley. Using the power within and his links to the earth he ‘encouraged’ the brier to grow along the valley, filling it with a thorny impassable hedge. There was no way that a band of horsemen could ride through the barrier. The people at the back of the caravan saw this and it strengthened their belief in the druid. Word spread quickly that the newcomer was protecting their rear.
Every time that the convoy passed a suitable brier, Merlin increased its capacity to grow. If they passed a stream he would alter the foundation of the earth and turn the pathway into quicksand that spread along the path of the stream. Every so often Merlin would send one of the Sidhe back through its own portal and give a progress report to King Shamus.
Conner O’Brian stood in front of his father and, looked down. He smiled as he was given a synopsis of the situation that was brewing in the human world. At last he had something that would yield some excitement in this haven of peace. He was now fully grown and master of his magical abilities. Although, as the son of a part leprechaun, he had inherited all of his father’s powers, he was happier at being the size of a human. It somehow felt right to him. His mother, Queen Mab had also bestowed all of her powers of magic to him. The one thing that set him apart from the two of them was his lack of allergic reaction to iron. This had to be the part of being human through his father’s line, combined with the faery side of magic. He was the first person able to wield magic close to steel or cast iron. The ability to do this had yet to be tested fully. There was something within his genetic makeup that made him able to do this that was unusual for a human. Without that ability within his bloodline, Shamus would have never been able to cope with the magic that he lived with. He was also the first that could communicate with trees and the vegetal mind of the forest.

The Changeling.
Chapter Three.
When Shamus had regrown his right arm after Mab had removed the infected one that had reacted from an encounter in the Shadow Lands, strangely it had grown back as human and he could tolerate iron with it except for the rest of his body. He had been cloned from Tam O’ Shadow by the Queen at the end of his first adventure in the Enchanted Land, saving his life. The bloodline of leprechaun, Sidhe and the life-force of the forest were combined in the changeling persona of Conner O’Brian and neither Queen Mab, or King Shamus could even guess what hidden powers would emerge from this mix.
Once Conner had reached adulthood he had chaffed at the lack of any adventurous missions for him to prove himself useful. Like his father he craved adventure and needed a purpose. This exodus into the Enchanted Land by the escaping Saxons and Celts suited him fine. He was eager to pit his wits and prowess against the invading Normans should they impede the progress of his father’s people through the portal.
Shamus and Mab had concentrated their minds on the construction of Stonehenge and zeroed the portal near to the settlement that had grown up at Crispin Gate under the loose rule of Gunner and his people. Now an echo of the portal that Merlin had built long ago in the human world had rooted itself some miles from the area of cultivated lands near to the river that flowed past the Chateau.
Conner O’Brian walked away from the conference that he had with his father still floating in his mind at the incredible opportunity that his parents had given him. Total free will in how this matter could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion!  Ideas began to circle in his mind and the one thing uppermost was the need to be where the action would take place. He would need to translate via the Shadow Lands to Crispin Gate and make contact with Gunner and his people. What he also needed was something that would strike fear into the hearts of any pursuers and make Stonehenge a place to avoid for all time. Conner knew where just such a creature could be found, but it was far to the North and Crispin Gate was far to the South. His father’s friend had used stored time to freeze the groups of people and the Soul-eater that were under Annabella’s thrall, but what he needed to do was quite different. He had Tam O’ Shadow as his mentor since he had been a child. As the years went by, they progressed from pupil and teacher to becoming good friends. The one thing that set them apart was Tam’s allergy to iron and steel as did anyone who could use magic, so Conner made sure that he did not carry anything that would provoke an adverse reaction.
He sought out the leprechaun and put his ideas to him and was rewarded by a look of horror on the pixie’s face.
“Have you any idea what you are proposing? It took an immense effort to lay Knorrd to his rest. Dragons are magical creatures and are cunning manipulators as well. Your father risked his life to end that evil creature and so did I!”
“I am quite confident that I could control a female by offering something that she would prize above all else and that would be a safe place for her eggs. I am confident that she would be prepared to accept that deal. After all, her kind has been buried under those glaciers for eons.  Besides the Enchanted Land has need of adversaries from time to time to keep it vibrant and alive,” replied Conner and reached out for Tam’s hand. “Think about it great teacher. Do you not think that the Land has been peaceful for too long? Anyway I intend to take her through the ‘Echo of Stonehenge’ portal and loose her on the invading Normans. To do that, I need to travel backward through time to put my proposition to her and fly her all the way South to Crispin Gate. I want you to be there ready to greet me and to reassure Gunner’s people that she will do them no harm. If you can give me a month in the past, to give me time to awaken her from under the ice and have her ready to do her part, then I am sure that we will be able to drive the Normans well away from the portal! I have another thing to ask you, dear teacher. When you travel through the Shadow Lands, I want you to capture or persuade as many Banshees as you meet on your way to Gunner and place them into a travelling sack. We can give them a new hunting ground on the other side of the portal that will deter any of the despoilers from ever coming near to that place for centuries. We can make sure that they are ‘tied’ to that place and can only pounce onto any invader.”
“I will do all that you ask, young Conner just as I followed your father, I will follow you. You have a different magic running through your soul and it makes you unpredictable and I cannot read your future. In that lies your strength. As for taking you back through time? I know of an elf that has mastered this art and can aid you, but she will exact a price for doing that service.”
Conner stared at Tam and asked warily, “What do you think that will be?”
Tam laughed and replied, “I do believe she will want to go too. Her name is Wooleen and she is a very good friend of Mog the Troll and if she goes, Mog will go too. It would not be a foolish thing to do, taking him as well. Remember he has a gift that can become very useful to you. He can transfer thoughts between different creatures as he in fact did many times for your father to instruct plans.”
“So is Mog to be my father’s spy upon my progress?”
“Believe me, Conner; your father does not need Mog as a spy! He could find you anywhere on the Enchanted Land and see what you are doing. His powers have increased in ability during the time he has been on the throne and governed this land. He has surpassed my talents far beyond my abilities long ago and they have sprung up inside you, as yet to be realised in their entirety. Accepting help when offered will do more good than turning it down,” the leprechaun remarked and smiled at his prince. “I just want to remind you that a lot of people’s lives are at stake and I would be very displeased if the wrong ones found themselves in jeopardy.”
“I promise that I will do my best not to bring them to harm and I will always look upon them as my people,” replied Conner.

Once Wooleen had been approached and listened to Conner’s plan she was adamant that she would go too and Mog immediately agreed to go with them. So whilst Tam O’ Shadow flitted through the Shadow Lands towards Crispin Gate, Conner was negotiating a path in the opposite direction. He had shrunk down Wooleen and Mog, along with his balls and chain, tucking them in his chest pockets of the standard leprechaun waistcoat. He had stuffed his pockets with all manner of useful implements, rope and food in travelling sacks below the two top pockets where his guests were ensconced. He used the portal under the throne after saying goodbye to his mother and father.
“I have every confidence in your abilities my son, but I ask you to take one more thing with you on your travels. Take Epimeliades the wood-sprite with you. He is a most useful creature when you least think of a situation. He likes to travel, shrunk down and rooted on your left shoulder!”
A ball of light increased in size and became his mother, hovering in front of him, who kissed him and said, “Do what you can and try to be safe at all times. This is your first adventure and it will be a grand one. Save those people with whatever means that you have. You have a great task ahead of you and a test of your talents. Your father proved to be just what the land needed as a protector. This will be your responsibility sometime in the future. Come back to me my dear son is all I ask.”
The image of his mother wavered and shrunk into a ball of light and joined thousands of others and floated away through the throne-room and out into the sunlight leaving Conner and Shamus alone with each other.
“Now, it’s time for you to go,” said Shamus and watched as his son disappeared through the portal under the throne.
Tam O’ Shadow walked into sight from behind the curtains and approached the throne and stood by his friend.
“He is well taught, Shamus old friend and will accomplish the task that you have set him. The young prince needs this to prove himself to the rest of the faery people that he is fit to keep that title. He needs to explore this world just as you did with me,” the leprechaun remarked. “It would not be seemly for you to leave here and go chasing around the realm. With great power comes great responsibility and you have to maintain that order just as Mab has done for thousands of years. You must trust your son and your friends to carry out their allotted tasks without undue interference.”
Shamus gritted his teeth and nodded, replying, “He is my son and he has yet to find out all that he can do. There is locked up inside his mind a great deal of magic that he has yet to find. I have no idea whether he will withstand the use of it, but I must trust your teachings to him as you mentored me. What you taught me kept us safe when I was on my own and carried you through the Shadow Lands in a traveling sack!”
“That reminds me that I to have to play my part in what Conner has planned and I need to travel the Ley-lines through the Shadow Lands to do it, to Crispin Gate. He wants me to persuade a number of Banshees to incarcerate themselves into a travelling sack and be released into the human world. As the realm of darkness has been cleansed by the Wood-sprites I would think that the Banshees have been slowly starving and would be very amenable to be let loose in another hunting ground,” Tam answered and disappeared through the portal under the throne. 
“Leave them be, husband, just as I let you make your own decisions when I sent you off to do my will,” a ball of silver light whispered into his ear.
“He can be impetuous sweet Mab,” Shamus answered.
“Then let him learn not to be,” she replied and regained her worldly form and pressed herself upon his arm. She kissed him and said, “He will overcome what he needs to subjugate and learn by his mistakes. Just as did you when you found yourself without your ‘faery father’ and had to call upon your own abilities. This land is a testing ground for heroes, but it favours the brave. It gave you your second chance!”

When Tam O’ Shadow emerged from the portal he became instantly aware of a Wood-sprite rooted in the soil next to it. It was of course one of Epimeliades offspring, a dryad.
“I ‘see’ you Tam O Shadow, master of the Ley-lines,” she whispered in his mind. “I am known as Trilliaris and have been waiting for you. Climb into the centre of my ‘nest’ and be comfortable. Which direction are we to go?”
“We travel south, to Crispin Gate and it is a fair way to travel. Follow the Ley-line that I picture in my mind, but be sure to stop when we travel through the mists that the Banshees hide in. I have a proposition to make to those who I meet along the way.”
With that, the dryad pulled up her roots and tucked them underneath the ‘nest’ and Tam settled down and watched the countryside flip by as Trilliaris followed the pathway that his mind had mapped out. The Wood-sprite emerged from her twiggy containment and sat beside the leprechaun and ran her fingers through his hair. She was naked as all dryads were of clothes, but covered in tiny green leaves and her hair was a riot of blossoms that popped out of thin pliable branches. The scent of apple-blossom filled the ‘nest’ and Tam O’ Shadow quickly removed his clothes. There was, he could see, another smaller place that was full of blossoms and he concentrated his attentions to this.
As the sun began to set and it grew colder, Tam redressed himself and Trilliaris vanished into the apple tree and cast her senses out into the encroaching darkness for the beings that the leprechaun wanted to collect. As a precaution he had stuffed elfin bread into both of his ears so that the siren song of the Banshees would not scatter his wits. A wild and swirling mist began to form and ‘something’ began to form, blocking the pathway.
The apparition would strike terror into the hearts of an unprepared traveller and render them defenceless when it began to shriek. It looked like a month old corpse with long hooked fingers like claws. A lambent light shone from the empty eye sockets of the naked skull and the jaw gaped open showing a row of pointed teeth. The ‘song’ of the Banshee filled the air and Tam knew that this was only an image that the banshee projected and underneath the disguise they probably looked quite different and just as unwholesome. The leprechaun took out of his pocket the whistle that Shamus had been given and blew hard. The piercing sound stopped the Banshee in its tracks and it stood rigid.
“I know that you can understand me, so listen to what I have to say. This gnarly stick has the ability to freeze you in time and leave you like that. I have a proposition to offer you. Since the Wood-sprites have cleansed this land the prey that you feed upon is not so easily come by. To be blunt, your kind are starving. If you can trust me and I would remind you that I come from the King of our realm, I can offer you almost infinite feeding in another realm, but you have to be selective. You will feed only upon those living creatures that I direct you to attack. They will be bearing iron. Believe me there will be hundreds of souls to feed upon, but only if you are willing to make this alliance. Think about it and seek out others of your kind and put it to them. This sack will accommodate as many of your species that are willing to come. Inside it, time will slow down and stop, so you will not feel that you have been imprisoned!”
The mists thinned and a vision from hell solidified in front of Tam and Trilliaris. It took on the substance of a bat-like creature that waxed and waned in front of them. A thin whispery voice hissed into the encroaching darkness.
“I will seek others of my kind and put the proposition to them. I believe you, traveller of the secret pathways. I have ‘seen’ you before, moving along these ancient paths. Continue on your way and I and others of my kind will join you further along the trail. Your life-force is a beacon of light in the darkness and will be easy to find.”
With that, a deeper curtain of mist enveloped where the Banshee had stood and it vanished from their sight.
“Let us be on our way, Trilliaris, as time is slipping by and I would sleep as we travel along this Lay-line,” the leprechaun insisted and curled up in the ‘nest’ unpacking his duvet from one of his many pockets. The dryad snuggled up to him and left the tree to follow the shining path towards Crispin Gate.

The Changeling.
Chapter Four.
Conner had learnt to travel through any dark shadow into the Shadow Lands with Tam’s tutelage and had explored the strange world that was only just opening up to travellers. The infestation of soul-eaters had been rooted out by the Wood-sprites. The Ley-lines were no longer the perilous journey that they used to be. Not all of the nasty side of this realm had been extinguished however, so it was still necessary to keep a wary eye on possible ambush places. 
Epimeliades the wood-sprite was in his element and had his senses on high alert just to make sure that something was not lying in wait for the Prince. This was the land that he had sprouted in and he was in ‘tune’ to all things that slithered or crawled in the hollows and fens of this world. Wooleen watched the world go by entranced as Mog picked out certain landmarks and told her about them. The Seven League Boots that Conner had fashioned under his father’s critical eye were incredibly soaked in magic, placed there by Queen Mab and his father. They were made from the last pieces of Knorrd the dragon’s wing and had retractable teeth taken from the dragon’s front jaw. These were sharp and pointed so that Conner could almost literally walk up a vertical surface.
Using the power of the ‘Boots,’ he grew his size to five times his normal stature and gave the command, “Stride,” making sure that his heels were locked together.
The Ley-lines opened up before him in the direction of north and he soon ate up the miles, travelling along it.
The scent of apple-blossom filled the air and the dryad whispered in his mind, “Do you smell my children? I scattered my seed all along this path far to the south. They have spread everywhere, all over the Shadow Lands and have made this world practically safe to use as a shortcut for all sorts of trade in the Enchanted Land. Your father did this, using an enchanted apple from the ancient tree in Tam O’ Shadows garden. I was fortunate to meet him once and spent some time rooted into the soil with him. Shamus gave us life and we are grateful for it!”
Epimeliades settled himself on Conner’s shoulder and cast his senses far in front to make sure that it was safe. Now that he had got into a hopping rhythm the miles flew by and while they travelled, Wooleen rolled back time until a month had slipped forwards, as they neared the portal that Tam had used before dispatching Knorrd the dragon. He had brought through the portal the granite balls and chains that the Trolls preferred to fight the dragon with. It had nearly cost him his life. There would not be any similar risk as Ep’s children had multiplied and cleared the Shadow Lands of most of the creatures of darkness.
He recognised the portal that was looming up fast and slowed down his ‘Boots’ to a slow walk. The picture of the exit from this world was clear in his mind as his mentor had passed the knowledge to him by a mind-meld. Also the area that he wanted to explore was in there too and of course he had Mog the Troll who had been here before. They exited the portal and found themselves standing in a bitter cold wind.
Scattered over the plain were the bones of Knorrd where the Trolls had left them after enjoying the feast on his carcass. Somewhere down amongst them was the lance head that had helped to kill him. Unfortunately the presence of so much iron would affect his two companions, so reluctantly Conner decided not to search for it. Wooleen and Mog had worked their way across the cliff-face from the portal where they could get a better view of the surroundings. The valley where the entombed female dragon lay was fairly close by, so Conner increased his size so that he could get a clear scrutiny of the territory over the ice and snow. 
Unlike all the leprechauns that he knew, he increased his strength when he became a giant and could if necessary rip a tree from the soil that it had grown in. He had never done this, as the forest mind would have never forgiven him for that act of destruction. Conner kept it a secret, but felt that where the dragoness was concerned this might be the time to try his fledgling powers.
Mog shouted against the wind and pointed to the east of where he stood, as he remembered where Knorrd was digging down through a crevasse to release one of his mates. Conner bent down and picked up the elf and Troll and strode over the snow to where Mog had been pointing. A great deal of the ice had been clawed away, but plenty more would need to be excavated to reach the shadowy shape that was buried there.
They had come through the portal in the early morning and the sun was shining from a cloudless sky. Conner reached into his travelling sack and pulled out two fattened Hereford bulls and laid them in the snow.
“When I dig her out of that icy tomb I will need to enter her mind and reassure her that I mean her no harm and I have food for her. I need you, Mog, to be that bridge until our minds connect independently.
Wooleen, you must find a place to hide just in case she decides to eat you!
Ep, I want you to root down into this rocky soil and grow over her so that she cannot use her wings to get away. Remember that she can spit acid, so hold her head still from behind her neck. If you can bind her mouth shut until she calms down, all the better,” Conner instructed the Wood-sprite. 
  Epimeliades began to drive his root system deep into the rocky soil and made an anchorage deep beneath them. At the same time he increased his growth towards the hole that Conner was driving into the glacier. Great handfuls of ancient ice broke free and were hurled down the slope. The giant form suddenly stood in a massive trench that was widening around a shape in the ice. Gradually the hind-quarters emerged from Mab’s tomb and Ep grew over the back, tying the wings down across the creature’s back, as it became available. Conner now began to release the ice from around the head and dug around the dangerous mouth until the head became free. An eye opened and the head moved round to try and see what it was that was setting her free. She suddenly realised that her front feet were still securely stuck in the ice and could not move. Then she realised that her wings were bound tightly to her body. A bundle of branches bound her mouth shut and she began to try to struggle.
Mog sent a powerful thought to her mind that said, “Peace! We are here to set you free. We have brought you food to show our intentions are good. Allow the giant to speak into your mind. Use my mind as a bridge and let him tell you the offer that he has brought you.”
Magdrill became still and noticed the offerings that Conner had put before her. The branched withdrew from around her mouth and she dipped her head, so that she could pick up the bull and tilted upwards so that it slid down into her empty stomach. It was a comfortable feeling after so long in suspended animation so she dipped her head and swallowed the other one. Mollified she opened her mind to the ‘giant’ using the Troll’s mind as means of joining the three together. Looking through her captor’s eyes she was able to see that he had the advantage and could pour the ice and snow back over her, should he want to? She was well aware that her hindquarters were well and truly bound to the ground beneath her. Magdrill waited to see what would happen next. The effects of the long entombment were wearing off, as she soaked up the warmth of the midday sun. She next felt the invasion of the giant’s mind that was remarkably gentle and not threatening to her.
“Peace! I have no wish to harm you. You must realize that a very long time has passed since Queen Mab entombed you under this glacier. Knorrd is dead. He was killed by a goblin and my father many years ago. Now he rules this land as King Shamus O’ Brian with my mother, Queen Mab. I have all of their magical powers and some of my very own at my disposal. They know what I have in mind and they will allow me to speak to you. I have a proposal to make to you that I think that you will find attractive. I can see that you are gravid and tucked away inside you is a clutch of eggs. They will need some time before they are ready to inhabit a nest. If you will do as I ask, then I can guaranty that I will provide a place of safety for them, where they will come to no harm. I feel that it is time that dragons came back to the Enchanted Land and once more lived amongst us. All it needs are assurances that you will feed upon the wild herds and leave the domesticated herds of the faery folk untouched.”
Magdrill considered the offer and soon realised that she had little choice about the matter, unless she was willing to be re-entombed under the glacier. Besides, with Knorrd gone and no longer bullying the females, she would be able to pursue her own interests without his interference.
“Son of Knorrd’s killer, tell me what you want from me and if I agree, you have the word of a dragoness that I will carry it through,” she answered.
Shamus told her of the happenings in the human world and how the beings of the Enchanted Land were willing to bring a band of persecuted humans into this world. Also he showed her that the fleeing Celts and Saxons were distantly related family to the King and his son. He warned her that the invading forces would be wearing iron and would have to be dealt with some care, because of the reaction to the poison metal. He explained how Knorrd was killed by the metal lance thrust under his arm-pit as the only weak spot on his body. To be sure that this was not able to happen to her, goblins would make her an armoured harness to shield her vital spots.
Magdrill did not take very long before she said, “You have my word, young Conner. This sounds like fun! Give me some time to get back into trim and I will gladly do as you say. Free my front feet and get the Wood-sprite to unravel its grip upon my wings and hindquarters.”
“This I will do Magdrill, but there is one more boon I ask of you and that is that the three of us sit upon your back while you fly us south.”
Conner shovelled the imprisoning ice from around the dragon’s front feet and stood back as she broke free. She spread her wings and with a mighty thrust leapt into the air and was aloft in seconds. The dragoness flew a spiral course above them until she was just a spot in the sky. There she hovered for a while staring down upon the three people far below and then dropped like a stone. Magdrill spread her wings wide and pulled up just above them and dropped slowly to the ground.
She looked at Mog, Wooleen and the giant form of Conner and said, “I can easily take the two little ones, but even I could not fly with a giant around my shoulders!”
“That’s no problem, Magdrill, replied Conner, “I am usually much smaller than this!”
Conner concentrated his mind to the storehouse of magic laced upon his feet and to the dragoness’s amazement became the same height as Wooleen.
“Now if you have no objections,” asked Conner, “we will climb aboard and once in place, my Wood-sprite friend will make us secure. Feel free to hunt as we go as we will take an estimated several weeks to get to Crispin Gate and we will have much to do when we get there!”
The Changeling.
Chapter Five.
Merlin used his scrying ball to keep an ‘eye’ on William the Conqueror’s progress against Hereward the Wake. His defeat was so imminent that already some of the French Nobles were leaving the hunt to claim lands of their own from the Celtic and Saxon mills, towns and farmland. Hubert de Vernon and Raoul Botin had joined forces with Gui de Craon and Richard de Courei being able to field hundreds of men-at-arms, archers and knights at their pleasure. There was no resistance to this army as it spread westwards and south.
Seeing this, Merlin drew the elders together and told them, “In a few days we will sight Avebury, an ancient stone built Henge. There is something that I must do there and we can rest for a short while. We will be within a few days journey of our objective, but bear in mind that the Normans will be hot on our heels once they discover that Cricklade has been burnt to the ground and the surrounding farms ruined. They will come, sword in hand, seeking revenge and slaves, to work your lands for themselves.”
Over the days that they had travelled, their number grew as the news spiralled out into the countryside telling of the determined escape from servitude. Stories spread about the aid that they would be given by the faery folk of legend and many of the newcomers had seen the wisps of light that flew through the air around the heads of Merlin and Aelfric.
When the dawning sun had risen it was to show that the group of escapees had swollen and now the refugees numbered in their hundreds as more and more people joined the throng. Blind belief now took over, as old tales of Goblins, Fairies, Trolls and Leprechauns circulated amongst the frightened people. Merlin would add to these stories giving avid descriptions of the people that they were going to meet and how different the living would be once they reached Stonehenge. The one thing that he repeated over and over again was to rid themselves of all iron implements and weapons once they got to the monument or they would not be admitted to the Enchanted Land.
The way led through a cleft in the surrounding down-lands and Merlin recognised it as ‘The Valley of the Sarsens,’ that led up to the great Henge. The huge stones were scattered along the valley as if discarded by giants. It was thought that the people that built the Avebury circle had done so thousands of years in the past. In truth, it was sustained by ‘old magic’ when traffic between the two worlds had been much more frequent and the giants still lived in the Enchanted Land. They had built the Henge as a portal to somewhere else and had left it behind them when they departed and closed it to their destination. Merlin had coerced a number of giants to build Stonehenge to his design, before they left, explaining that far in the future it would be needed to save many lives. He had then performed a merging of the two worlds that would stay closed until the right blood-line reactivated it. There was a single path that led to the Enchanted Land through one of the Trilithons, a structure consisting of two large vertical stones (posts) supporting a third stone set horizontally across the top (lintel). Merlin was always very careful to close the portal each time he used it. The Avebury circle of standing stones could be opened once he had activated it, but it was a door in one direction and that was into this realm. Merlin had been ‘told’ by a faery messenger of Shamus’s son Conner’s entrapment of the dragoness and had already made his decision that the portal at Avebury would open up after the Norman invaders had passed by it, on their way to Stonehenge to capture the fleeing Saxons and Celts.
As the refugees topped the rise and saw the Avebury Henge for the first time they became apprehensive, as they climbed the ridges of the bank and ditch that surrounded the stones.
Merlin stopped the caravan before they entered the stone circle and said, “This is where we rest for a while and I now ask of you to remove all traces of iron from your belongings. Even the iron-shoes on the hooves of your horses must be removed and discarded. Every scrap of iron must be left outside of the ditch surrounding the standing stones. I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of doing this. Something from the Enchanted Realm will enter through this portal and lay waste to the army that pursues you even now as I speak. We are within more than a good day’s journey of Stonehenge where the portal remains sealed until we get there. The penalty for trying to take iron with you will be a lifetime’s servitude for all of you under Norman rule. Be the eyes of your neighbour’s and all of you seek diligently for iron in other groups. We will stay here until I am satisfied that there is not a scrap of iron left in your belongings. Aelfric will make sure that you all obey this ruling and will leave behind any that disobey. I warn you again; that what will come through this portal will hunt down any iron bearing man or beast and destroy them!”
Word spread amongst the fugitives and a feverish hunt began through each and every wagon and backpack. Soon there was a pile of discarded iron implements, tools, knives, studded shields, weapons of every description left in a deep hole in front of the first ditch. The Sluagh Sidhe appeared by the thousands and tiny balls of light swarmed around the encampment searching for any iron that might have been forgotten. They managed to find some pieces that had not been recognised as iron and one small knife that was carried by a child. Once the Sidhe were satisfied that even the nails that kept the iron shoes on the hooves of the heavy horses had been removed they gave the order to move off. To the surprise of them all, Aelfric led them around the circle of standing stones and passed a dome-shaped hill and onwards due south. Merlin stayed behind and did what was necessary to open the portal from the Enchanted Land. He awoke the power that fed the stones and linked into the other realm by feeding the cap-stone a few drops of his blood. A chain reaction took place throughout the great grey stones, as stone after stone linked to the next. When the last two ‘joined’ there was a soundless flash and the whole portal began to throb with restrained power. The stone mind reached out and found Merlin waiting for it to key in the commands that would activate the megalith when needed.
One by one the stones went silent and placed themselves ready for activation. Merlin was quite satisfied that when the young prince was ready he would be able to pull the two realms together and come through. Now that Avebury was activated he needed to tell Conner that his plan that mirrored Merlin’s was in place.
He ‘called’ down one of the glowing lights and said, “Snow-petal, seek out the son of Shamus and let him know that I have fulfilled part of my task. Tell him that his plan is also my plan and we will work together. There will be no iron at the great portal to disrupt the exodus and we will be there in a matter of two days, maybe three. Ask him to have the reinforcements ready to assist those who are walking through the gate. Tell him to be ready to enter this world from the Avebury portal when the fugitives start coming through Stonehenge and have the Trolls ready with their balls and chain to mop up any of the Normans who make it through. Get Tam O’ Shadow to double the height of the trolls to increase their menacing look. Have the goblins ready with their cross-bows and the elves set at a safe distance from the iron that the Normans might bring, with bow and arrows. I leave him to organise the resistance.”
Many miles from Crispin Gate Magdrill flew steadily onwards towards the south, easily carrying her passengers, securely bound to the dragoness by the Wood-sprite. Several times they stopped for Magdrill to hunt and provide them with fresh meat although Conner had stocked plenty of food in the travelling sacks. As the days went by an easier atmosphere generated between Magdrill and her rescuers and they were able to telepathically ‘talk’ to each other without Mog’s assistance. Conner filled in the missing years from whence Magdrill and her kind had been entombed by Queen Mab. He told her of his father’s entrance into the Enchanted Land and the subsequent adventures he had carried out for the Queen. The extreme choices that he had taken to save the realm from the massing Orcs had been the last thing that had tipped the balance in his favour. Allowing his son to retrieve a dragon as an ally was just another way that the part human thought so very different from the faery folk. Queen Mab had met   Myrddin Emrys known to some as Merlin many times in the past. He had shown her the future that could be and the results if certain paths were not followed. In all of these scenarios the arrival of the youngest son of King Conall O’Brian into the Enchanted Land was something that had to be. He would become a pivotal force that would by his decisions and his alone would bring the realm into a situation of survival. This escape from the Norman invasion was just such an event that had to be played through. Since Mab had closed all the portals into the Enchanted Land long ago, the actual quantities of humans had fallen to a dangerous level. Far too many interrelated families were forced into intermarriage and this was having a direct effect on the meagre numbers of healthy people. Therefore the influx of the fleeing Saxons and Celts into the realm would be advantageous to those who had settled there. The empty lands bordering Gunner’s estate at Crispin Gate would benefit from the cultivation that it would be subjected to. This was one of the reasons that Queen Mab had decided to allow Shamus O’Brian’s descendants the right of settlement. It could be very dangerous for all who lived here if it went wrong. Too much interference and the timelines could be twisted into an unwholesome pattern that would see that all living in this land would suffer. The giants that had lived here long ago, moved on because of what they could see lay in store for them and all who came to live here.
Finally the towers of Crispin Gate came into view and Magdrill slowed the beat of her wings to land just outside the main doors. Soon after she settled down onto the stone surface of the approach Ep withdrew all of his restraining branches and Conner, Wooleen and Mog dismounted to be met by Tam O’ Shadow.
Conner picked him up and swung him around with joy.
“Did you persuade any of the Banshees to hunt in the human world? I have Magdrill on my side. Wait till the Normans see her! They will shit in their pants,” babbled Conner in excitement.
“Put me down, you gibbering idiot,” gasped Tam, “and get control of yourself. We have much to do and no time to waste. You were quite right; the Banshees of the Shadow lands are starving and jumped at the chance to feed. I have explained the situation to them and they will ignore anyone not bearing iron. There are dozens of them in my travelling sack, seething with the need to suck life from the invaders. Emrys has managed to get them past the Avebury Gate and they are on their way to Stonehenge. He has opened the portal wide enough for you and the dragoness to pass through. Once you are through it will seal shut! Your only way back will be through the portal that your descendant ‘cousin’ will be taking his people through. First however he has to get them there and persuade Aelfric to give his blood to the alter stone to open the gate.    

The Changeling.
Chapter Six.
Hubert de Vernon reigned in his war-horse and pointed at the curl of smoke that was rising from every building and said, “Raoul do you see what the serfs have done?”
The duke answered, “I can my liege! The scum have put their town to the torch to deny us our plunder. Just as they have left the flour mills ruined by the side of the river. My sword arm aches to find them. It will take a great deal of time to repair the damage and by then a summer’s corn will have gone to waste. We need to catch up with them and put them to work.
Gui de Craon had left his troops to rest by the river and in the company of Richard de Courie had circled around the town and had found the tracks left by the waggons through the crops. They made a muddy road due south and would be easy to follow.
Richard rode up to Duke Hubert and pointed in the direction the fugitives had gone and called out, “They travel south my lord. Judging by the depth of the waggon tracks, they are heavily loaded and going at the pace of cattle. We could soon overtake them I should imagine, as some of the timber is still warm and smouldering.”
“Right,” answered Lord Hubert and pointed at the ruined town. “We will encamp there and let the men scavenge what they can that has been left behind. There should be plenty of wood to make fires. Get them cooking whatever they have gathered along the way from that last village and tell them that I intend to be away at first light!”  
A ball of light slipped in and out of vision as one of the Sluagh Sidhe observed what was going on. She stayed a safe distance from all the iron and steel that the soldiers carried. The faery was mistaken for a firefly and ignored. Thistle-berry slipped through her own portal and reappeared by the side of Merlin’s ear and told him all she had seen. She had counted the men and horses and that gave Merlin a great deal to worry about. This was a large heavily armed plunder driven war party that had already proved their worth on the shingle and the meadows around Hastings. These were seasoned killers that would show no mercy if they caught up with Aelfric and the refugees. Now that Hereward the Wake was on the point of giving up, many of the battalions were making their way across England and turning Saxon lands into Norman Fiefdoms. 
The druid quickened his pace and soon caught up with Aelfric and drew him to one side to tell him, “You and I must go ahead to open the portal into the Enchanted Land leaving these people to follow. At the speed that they are going I feel that the Normans may well catch up with the stragglers at the stones. There is something that you must do and only you can do it!”
Aelfric stared at Emrys with misgivings and asked, “What must I do?”
The Henge is locked and can only be opened by someone of your bloodline. There is an alter stone in the centre of the Henge and you must willingly give blood to that stone. I have an obsidian blade that will do the trick. Do not worry I shall not need very much. I did the very thing at the Avebury Henge to open that portal to allow your ancestral cousin to come through behind the soldiers with something that will devastate the Normans while your people go through the portal. They will have more to worry about than trying to capture your people. Borrow a horse and we must go and go now!”
Aelfric left the leadership of the exodus in Magwin’s capable hands. His wife was looked upon by the members of the town and surrounding farms as a ‘wise woman’ of renown so they would follow her.
Before he left, Merlin made sure that all the refugees were well past the standing stones and he rode his horse behind them and seized hold of a thorn tree laden with berries. He sent his mind into the ‘woody’ consciousness and altered its purpose in life.
“Grow east and west,” he instructed and rode the horse away as the roots broke the surface of the ground and began to spread across the downs, sending thorny scrub all along the extended root system.
Soon an impenetrable, spiky hedge formed across the landscape as they watched.
“That should hold them back a while,” remarked Merlin to Aelfric as they galloped away towards the Henge.
“How do you do that? I have never seen the like in all my life,” said the Celt.
“It takes a lot of time and you have to have the power in your soul. You have it, but it is suppressed deep inside. When this Henge was built I sealed it so that no-one could accidently open it, unless they had the bloodline of the O’Brian’s and I foresaw the day that an O’Brian would open the portal with his blood. That was a long time ago, my friend. Since then I have watched the ebb and flow of events in the human world. Where all of you are going will take some understanding by your people, but I can assure you that whatever the differences that you will find in the Enchanted Land, you will find welcome. On the other side of Stonehenge lies an incredible place that humans have settled in the past and made a success of living there, but it will take some adjustment. Also what you have to take into consideration is that the ‘Gate’ is a one-way trip. Any who go through, will not be able to travel back. Protecting that portal on the other side will be Goblins who are not affected by Iron, Elves that are, and Trolls who have some resistance. They will kill with arrows and ‘clubs’ whatever comes through the portal bearing iron should any of the attacking forces make it that far!”
“I do not understand all you say, but I trust you Emrys and the carnage that you have shown me in my mind. There will be time to understand later should we outwit the Norman conquerors and arrive safely in this other land,” said Aelfric as they urged the horses onwards.
At late afternoon they found the landscape flattened and the view across the downs clear in every direction. On the horizon was a grey smudge that grew as they galloped towards it. Unlike the Avebury standing stones and the ditch dug round it, these stones were Trilithons with a lintel mounted on every upright. Just like the Avebury erection a deep ditch had been dug around the circle of stones with an entry point that could easily take a waggon. Some of the distances between the uprights were so tight that it would be impossible to wriggle through them. Others were wide enough to walk through, but none of the spaces would allow a wagon to roll through. In the middle of the circle were several stones laid into certain fey positions. Five other Triathlons had been set into the ground facing to a common point making another circle with gaps between the upright stones. In the centre of the circle was the stone alter laid north to south.
They walked the horses towards the stones and Merlin said, “Hobble the horses, as I am not sure how this will ‘go’ when the Henge is activated and they may bolt if not restrained.”
Aelfric not only hobbled the two horses, but he wound pieces of cloth over both horses’ eyes and tied them on securely. He then hammered two wooden stakes into the ground and tied the horses to these.
“I’m ready,” he said and walked through the entry arch and followed Merlin to the alter stone.
Merlin helped him onto the stone and made him lay with his head to the north. He took out of his neck sheath an obsidian blade bound onto a bone handle that he usually wore under his chin on a leather loop. Next he placed his hands upon the flat surface of the stone and woke up the force that was bound to the Henge. As the power was rising he made two shallow cuts in the palm of Aelfric’s hands and placed them down onto the cold stone and held them there. Merlin entered Aelfric O’Brian’s mind and directed the rising force to open the portal. There was a soundless flash as lightning struck the stones and jumped from stone to stone along the Trilithons until it began to jump to the five upright lintels. The stone alter sank to the level of the surrounding ground and the centre Trilithon became a bank of mist. Now Aelfric could see that when the fugitives got here they would walk through the entrance of the Henge and continue through the centre where the lintel used to be.
Joined to Merlin, he was able to sense another mind on the other side of the portal and realised that it was his ancestral cousin, Conner O’Brian. To his astonishment he could see through his eyes the Dragoness, Gnomes, elves and Trolls that were waiting on the other side.
Conner became aware of him and said, “Welcome, cousin. We are ready.”
He turned his head from side to side to give Aelfric a clear view of the defences that the Trolls had laid down. A row of large stones had been placed some distance from the wall of mist so that the waggons could enter the Enchanted Land and turn to the left and right. This would leave a clear view for the archers. Thirty feet from the stones a line of sharpened stakes pointed at the portal at forty-five degrees, placed in a half-circle and behind these stood the elves and goblins, waiting. Someway behind them was something that the Celt took his breath away. Magdrill the dragoness lay waiting for Conner’s return and around her neck a mass of roots, branches and sharp twigs moved from time to time in impatience. It had to be some sort of a tree, but not like any that Aelfric had ever seen. Then another one came rolling around the dragoness’s flank and sunk its roots into the ground. Both Wood-sprites intended to be part of the resistance to the invading Norman army.
Once he was certain that Aelfric had seen and understood the layout beyond the portal he took his hands away from him and broke the connection. Merlin helped him off the alter stone and could not, but laugh at the expression on the Celt’s face.
He took his hands in his and sent a healing energy into Aelfric’s wounds to heal them and said, “You have now seen what awaits you in the Enchanted Land. Explain to the others what they will see when they walk through the mists. Arrange the waggons so that they go left and right alternatively and remind the people that they are amongst friends no matter what they look like! Do you understand?”
Aelfric groaned and said, “Emrys believe me, when I say that I do understand, but getting the others to accept what their new friends look like might be difficult. Can you not take one of each through that misty gate to show them what to expect?”
“No! I can open a small portal through one of the other Trilithons at the back that will allow travel into this world, but otherwise the central ‘Gate’ is a one directional trip. Stay here and regain the horses while I will see what I can do.”
Merlin walked around the circle until he came to the two uprights that were directly in line behind the boiling mists and placed his hands upon each stone and opened the temporary portal. The first through was Tam O’ Shadow carrying a shrunken Mog the Troll in one pocket with a goblin and an elf in the other. They rapidly regained their size and followed Merlin around the circle of stones until they got to where Aelfric was waiting with the horses. His eyes widened as he looked up at Mog who was mostly made of stone, stood there wrapped round with a length of chain and a heavy granite block on each end. 
A bald, bright green man who only came up to his shoulders and a human looking creature with pointed ears stepped forwards. Also just in front of them was a tiny red bearded man, that only came up to his waist.
 “My name is Tam O’ Shadow,” said the tiny man, “and the goblin is Matt-cinder. My elfin friend is called Wooleen and she has wanted to meet you. She has a talent that might come in useful, but enough of that. Allow us to sit astride your steed and get us back to the waggon train on its way here. They can then dispense with any shock about our likeness! Mog will stay here and wait for our return and give us time to tell your people about him.”  



The Changeling.
Chapter Seven.
As the sun dropped below the horizon, the two humans dismounted and led the horses by hand, as the last thing that they needed was a horse with a broken leg because of putting it into a rabbit hole. After some hours, in the far distance the glow and flickering lights of a number of camp-fires could be seen. Aelfric handed the reigns of his horse to Merlin and set off at a quicker pace to prepare the people to meet their saviours. He was followed by a host of the Sidhe flying around his head giving him the benefit of their light and making sure he did not stumble. He gave out a call to alert the ones on guard and was seen and met by men carrying flaming torches.
“We have returned and I bring with me allies from the Enchanted Land who have agreed to come and let you see what they are like. They are quite strange, but remember all of you that they have set up your rescue. I have seen what preparation they have done to protect you once you are on the other side of the gate. All is ready and once through the portal at Stonehenge we will be safe. You will see a dense mist that leads to another world. You have to go through it and take the waggons to the left and right as you enter. Spread my words pack your things and put out the fires. Do you want to advertise where you are! We will walk the horses and livestock along the downs to this place of wonders. Even now the Normans are preparing to kill or enslave us and they will soon overtake our escape galloping on heavy horses. Behind them will be the men-at-arms with murder in their hearts!”
By this time Aelfric had walked into the camp and as he talked, Merlin came into view with the two horses carrying their passengers. If nothing else the visitors were indeed strange to the Saxons and Celts. Once Matt-cinder the goblin came close to the fire and the people could see that he was indeed bright green they realised that all that they had been told was true. Wooleen’s pointed ears and other subtle differences showed that she was not human, but an elf. When Tam O’ Shadow had decided that being about three foot tall made him at a disadvantage he amazed the humans as he grew to the same size of Aelfric along with his clothes and boots.
While they were staring at him he said, “There is waiting for us at the stones a Troll who is more than twice the size of any of you and mostly made of stone. His name is Mog and he will guard the portal until you are all through. That needs to be soon. Be prepared to see things that are beyond anything that you have seen before. BUT we must get there, so pack the waggons get your livestock moving and I will provide enough light to help you on your way.”
Aelfric’s people had seen enough to accept the truth of the situation and did as they were told by the leprechaun. The fires were soon put out and everything packed away so that they could get on their way. Thousands of the Sluagh Sidhe had crossed over to the human realm and generated enough silver light for them to pick their way over the downs. After some time had passed, the sun began to rise and the faery host disappeared from view as their light was no longer needed.
As the sun rose, so did the Normans who quickly saddled their horses and dressed themselves in polished armour. A quick breakfast was eaten and the foot soldiers made their way into blocks of twenty men and started on their way. The mounted knights soon overtook them and directed the horses at a steady canter that soon ate up the miles. It did not take them long to meet the first of Merlin’s obstacles. A great thorny hedge had somehow grown across their path so dense that it was impossible to force the horses through it, so the knights had to wait for the Men-at-arms to march to the barrier and hack a way through. Time and again the soldiers had to hack their way through hedge after hedge and drag branches over the many areas of quicksand that also blocked the way. Tempers began to rise as these obstacles continually brought them to a stop. Eventually they arrived at the Avebury Henge and looking around the great stones began to become uneasy about the coming conflict. It was obvious that the strange growth of thorny hedges was not a natural part of nature. A tiny ball of silver light watched the Normans trot their horses through the stone circle and could feel the interference generated by so much iron. Thistle-berry decided to translate back to Merlin and pass on the news that the invaders would soon catch up with the refugees.
Aelfric was gratified to pick out the shadowy grey stones on the horizon and heaved a sigh of relief. At their pace they would be able to get the livestock through the open portal in several hours’ time. They were getting fractious from being made to walk through the night and kept trying to break away. The children using whippy sticks, kept urging the beasts along and the dogs kept the flocks of sheep in tight formation. The horses had tired long ago, but necessity made their owners urge them on. Although it would cost them time Aelfric halted the waggons and the stock to offer water to the beasts. He quite realised that the number of people that had added themselves to the exodus would take some time to go through the portal once they got there. This was a bottle neck that he could do nothing about.
“Up, up with you,” he shouted. “You must get a move on. We have to keep going. The alternative is a Norman sword at your children’s throats and a life of slavery! Make for the stones that you can see on the horizon. That is where you must go. No matter what you may see and no matter what seems strange to you, do not stop.”
Tam O’ Shadow took hold of Wooleen’s arm and said, “Use your gift and put a slow-time barrier in their way.”
The elfin girl nodded and walked back the way that she had come and found what she was looking for. Imbedded into the grassy approach was the top of a large, buried stone, millennia old. It had been formed billions of years ago and was a massive reservoir of trapped time. She knelt down and sliced into her little finger and allowed a drop of her living blood to splash down onto the boulder.
The moment that she did this, she became aware of the vast flow of time locked inside the stone. She fastened her mind on this and shuffled the time lines to bring about an intersection. As she moved away she could feel that the atmosphere around the stone had changed and a large area around the ancient grey stone had altered. Anyone who walked into that time-frozen area would feel the time had stretched out and everything was travelling very slowly for them. As Wooleen walked back she spotted another boulder that was half in and half out of the grass covered ground some way to her right and did the same with that one. She knew from experience that this would delay the oncoming force for several hours except those who were outside of the effect.
Thistle-berry had given the information to Merlin and had been instructed to pass on the knowledge to Conner who was waiting the other side of the Henge. Time on this side of the portal flowed slower that in the human realm so it only seemed like a few minutes had passed since they had received the last instructions. Now was the time to move against the plunder driven Normans, so Conner picked up the sack of Banshees and stuffed wadded pieces of cloth in his ears to mute the wailing sounds of the ethereal creatures. He climbed aboard the dragoness along with the two Wood-sprites. Ep made sure that Conner could not fall off by binding him to Magdrill’s neck and shoulders. Trilliaris linked herself around the dragoness’s neck also, but ready to drop amongst the soldiers and wreck mayhem.
Magdrill leapt into the air and pushed down with her powerful wings whilst Conner guided her towards the Avebury gate. After a short time he sensed the approach to the portal that Merlin had left partially activated. It was in a dormant stage, waiting for him to open the gate into the human world. He opened his mind to the pathway through and urged the dragoness into the centre of the maelstrom that was now rotating over the stones. A boiling curtain of fog hung in the air over the mirror of the standing stones, visible only from this side.
“Aim for the centre of the mist, Magdrill and keep your wings close to your body as we go through,” the prince advised.
They shot through the other side and found themselves in a different world. In the Enchanted Land the time of the year was spring, but here it was late summer. From this side of the portal the whirlpool of billowing mist was no longer able to be seen as the gate was only open in one direction. Magdrill spread her wings and gained height. She went up until she was just a dot in the sky and was able to see the Norman invaders down below. There were hundreds of heavily armed men being followed by supply waggons. They were as yet at least five miles behind the stragglers who were pushing their beasts as hard as they dared. Conner could see the construction of Stonehenge from where he sat and that most of the people had made it that far.
The livestock and waggons had been quickly turned from left and right through the portal, leaving the centre open and defendable. Many of the faery folk acted as guides making sure that the many refugees that were at the end of their strength were able to rest after their forced march.
Conner leant forwards and shouted in Magdrill’s ear, “It is time for us to interfere with the back lines. Go for the waggons first and spray them with your venom, making them burn. In the confusion, as we drop, I will release the Banshees from the traveling sacks. Remember that they are kitted out with iron and even you are vulnerable to a well-placed spear, but we have good bronze armour wrapped underneath your armpits. Our advantage will be the fear that the Banshees will generate and also your massive scaled body dropping from the skies doing as much damage as you can. When you are down, give me a few moments to get off and attain giant size.”
Magdrill folded her wings and dropped like a stone until she was a hundred feet from the ground. She opened her wings and stopped over the waggons and swung round, spraying the wooden frameworks and the cloth coverings. A few seconds after this, everywhere the venom had sprayed, burst into flames and the horses panicked and bolted through the back ranks of armed men. As she hovered for a moment Conner released the necks of the travelling sacks and let the starving Banshees loose. A dense fog crept over the massed ranks of steel- clad men and the Banshees began to materialise. They fed mostly on fear and the sight of something clinging onto their bodies caused many of the men to die of shock. Sometimes the Banshees would appear as young girls, beautiful to look on and then dramatically change into a rotting corpse. When they fed, a shrieking sound would deafen the ears of the men.
By now the mounted knights at the front began to be aware that all was not as they expected in the pursuit of the Saxon serfs. They turned their horses to face the threat coming at them from the back ranks. What they could see defied belief as a dragon appeared from out of the strange fog that had appeared from nowhere, and it began to flatten the men-at-arms by swinging round with its tail. By the huge creature’s sides came moving towards them two great trees brandishing sword-like branches, too many to count! Then, rising out of the fog, came a giant of a man dressed in fine clothes and wilding an uprooted tree as a club. This was too much for some of the knights and they broke away and found themselves in a strange muted world where everything slowed down and the outside world moved at a maniacal pace.
Mog had watched the approaching soldiers with a grim joy and moved to intercept them. The troll went into battle mode and swung the blocks of granite by the bronze chain and cut a swathe through the ranks. To the men of Hubert de Vernon it was as if one of the stones had come alive. Needless to say, panic spread throughout the ranks. Some of them ran into the fog inside Stonehenge and found themselves in another world. A hail of arrows stopped them dead from the elves and goblins. Enclosures had been made and erected so that the livestock could be rested and given water. The Saxons and Celts looked about them in wonder as they were administered to by such strange looking people.

The Changeling.
Chapter Eight.
Conner used the tree as a giant broom, sweeping the steel clad soldiers into a heap of wriggling men. He conjured up a set of storm clouds and brought down a mean fork of lightning to finish them off. Magdrill attacked from the edge of the army by thrashing her tail from side to side using it as a battering implement. That way her aversion to iron was kept to a minimum. In vain some of the archers let fly at her, only to see the arrows just dap off her thick scales. Annoyed by this barrage of sharp pointed missiles, she trod on those archers that had tried this. Soon the last thing on anyone’s mind was the fleeing farmers and townsfolk as the dragoness, giant and murderous trees took their toll of the invaders. Gui de Craon and Richard de Courei had both met a messy end under the feet of Magdrill and of the other two commanders Hubert de Vernon and Raoul Botin who had rode fiercely towards the fleeing English, they had met Mog the Troll and his granite balls on the length of bronze chain. Gui was taken out and lifted from his saddle by a flailing ball of granite the size of his chest. He smashed into one of the upstanding stones and lay lifeless in the grass. Hubert dodged the other ball and rode into the mist determined to see what was on the other side.
Now that the refugees had all entered the Enchanted Land the defences were activated by the goblins. A stout rope was fixed across the entrance to the portal so that it crossed the gap about five feet from the ground. The war horse came thundering through with Hubert astride it with his lance pointing towards the defences. The rope caught him in the chest and took him out of the saddle and he went flying off, to land on his back. The weight of his armour made it impossible for him to get up. He lay there helpless as a sea of green faces appeared and small strong hands undressed him. His helmet was stripped from his head and his woven metal shirt dragged from his body, until he was only dressed in his under garments. The goblins bound his arms together, in front of his chest and hobbled his legs, so that he could not run away. Beings that were twice to three times his height and seemingly made of stone were stationed next to the entrance to this world. His armour soon vanished, carried off by the small green men and placed on a shining pile of weapons and breastplates. These trophies were being systematically ferried by a chain of the green men, away to what he thought had to be a river. To his amazement they were throwing the captured equipment into the water along with the weapons, including swords and shields. This was something that his people would never do, as the capture of weapons and armour were standard practice of redistributing them amongst the knights.
A tall man with bright red hair approached him and asked, “Do you speak Saxon?”
Hubert de Vernon stared back at the peasant farmer and replied, “Oui, I can speak your language. Where in God’s name am I? What is this place and what are these strange creatures?”
“You are in the Enchanted Land, Frenchman and the place that was thought to exist only in children’s tales. This is our home now and your kind will never find us again. We can live here as free men, on a land that will never bear the brunt of your swords. You came to take our land and make us slaves to your profit. This will never happen again!
Now you have travelled through a one-way gate, perhaps to be here for the rest of your life. What will happen to you, will be for our King and Queen to decide? You have met their son, Conner. He was the giant that destroyed your army with the help of a dragon and his Wood-sprites. You are responsible for all of that carnage in the human world. Had you left us alone and allowed us to escape through the great gateway none of this would have happened and you would still be a Grand Duke,” Aelfric replied and walked away leaving the Frenchman still flat on his back.
On the other side of the portal Tam O’ Shadow had gathered in and shrunk down Mog the Troll to a size where he could retreat through the Trilithon without getting stuck.
Wooleen had slipped through the mist and returned to the Enchanted Land where she had now taken charge of the French knight, who she now allowed to stand. She had entered the Frenchman’s mind and had seen the brutality of his society. She recoiled in disgust and he felt the intrusion. He tried to kick out at her, forgetting the hobbled ankles and fell awkwardly towards her. She stepped out of his way and slapped his mind, rendering him unconscious with the force of the mental blow.
She stared down at the fallen Knight and said, “It is time that you were taught manners!”  
The battlefield was empty of conflict as any men-at-arms that could escape, had deserted the cause. They were trying to put as much distance between the approach to Stonehenge and themselves as possible before the sun set. The grassy expanse was an open graveyard with dead Norman soldiers scattered everywhere and their burning supply waggons littering the field. Conner got the wood-sprites to round up all the loose horses and shepherd them through the mists that concealed the entrance inside the   Trilithon. They would be useful in the Enchanted Land as this was an animal that did not exist in that realm.
Conner asked, “You have a choice, Magdrill. You can stay here as the only dragon and build your nest to rear your young, or come back with me and fly to the far south. We cannot return to the portal at Avebury, as that was only a way into this realm. To go back with me, I will have to shrink you so that you can travel through the stone gate,” he told her and waited for an answer.
“I will return to my realm. I am sure that one day you will release another pregnant dragoness and my children will have others to mate with. Shrink me and let me through and keep your promise,” she replied.    
Conner placed his hands on Magdrill’s side and concentrated his mind. First he made a place for the excess mass of the dragoness into a pocket in a parallel dimension. He then enveloped the whole of her mighty body in a cover of his concentrated will and squeezed her down to the size of a horse.
“I have not been this small since the time I cracked open my egg,” remarked Magdrill as she stretched her wings and curled her toes. “I cannot say that I like this effect, Prince Conner. So let us go through the portal and you can release me from this power!” 
Conner made sure that nothing was left behind and walked through the triathlon, closing the portal behind him. He was met by Merlin and Aelfric at the stone lintel that the trolls had positioned in front of the portal to slow down anyone rushing in with weapons. Conner picked his way through the bodies of Hubert’s men and stared at the two men in surprise. They were very similar in build and looks. Both of them had a head of red hair, but Merlin’s beard hung down to his chest and was shot with grey. The amazing thing that Conner could not get over was that Aelfric could have been his older brother or even how his twin would look ten years older!
The two men looked at each other and both smiled.
Conner turned and spoke to Magdrill, “Go!  You have served me well and I consider you a friend. Launch yourself into the skies and as you fly so the spell will wear off and you will regain your normal size.”
She leapt into the air and with several beats of her wings the dragon soared into the sky, swiftly growing back to her normal size. This was the first time that Aelfric had seen Magdrill and he gasped in amazement.
“You let that loose amongst the Normans? If those who survived would tell that tale, they would never be believed.”
“Oh, I had help as well. Meet Epimeliades the wood-sprite & Trilliaris his daughter,” said Conner and watched as Aelfric’s eyes opened even wider.
The two trees moved closer to him on a tangle of roots and touched the Celt on his hand. As soon as the rough wooden branch made contact he could ‘hear’ their voices in his mind!
“Welcome to the Enchanted Land, descendant of Shamus O’Brian’s father,” they both told him. “There are very few rules that we would expect you to follow. Cut no green wood without permission. Burn only dead wood and always consider others in what you do. That’s all!”
Aelfric stared at the two trees that were now moving off and said, “Merlin you said that this place would be strange. Talking trees! A Dragon! Men made out of stone! Small green men, fairies, elves and who knows what we may meet here. I think that we will do all in our power to fit in. We just want to farm, not fight and be free. I see that our adversary is awake now and under Wooleen’s control. I have had enough of killing and would be quite content to see him banished back into his original realm. He will find it very difficult to tell of what he had seen and endured. No-one will believe him and they will think him mad. Eventually it will be forgotten and by looked upon as a myth or child’s story.”
Conner called the Sluagh Sidhe to him and gave them his instruction. They formed a ball of spinning light about Hubert’s body and caused him to float in the air. They took him to the triathlon and launched him through the arch, opening a small portal to allow this. He went through the ‘gate’ screaming with fear and landed on the grass on the other side. When he picked himself up and undid the ropes, he found that there were no traces of the battle he had fought and lost. After all, time moves very swiftly this side of the portal and several hundred years soon covers up a skirmish.
Gunner, master of Crispin Gate welcomed the newcomers and directed them to the shelters that had been built to house them. Later he would allocate good land to the farmers and places in the growing town for the craftsmen.
A ball of light materialised close to Conner and Queen Mab and Shamus stepped out of it.
Mab hugged her son with joy and Shamus put his arm about his shoulders and said, “You did well my son. I can see the resemblance to my father in Aelfric. After all these years have gone by, his face still floats down the expanse of time. I cannot but wonder if we will meet more of his descendants in the fullness of time?”

FIN.




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