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This is an open source fantasy novel. So far it is just over 40,000 word and has all been written by one author. The author has provided additional notes containing ideas to provide some direction and inspiration about where the story can go. It is open for anyone to complete.

See the Hengemaster notes page for these ideas (some are really interesting!)

HENGEMASTER

“Watch out! Alf! It’s falling!”

Awenna grabbed Alfred, tugging him out the path of the falling tree that crashed down on the standing stone he had been leaning against, knocking it clean over.

They arrived home late completely drenched, boots squelching. Alfred went about brewing up some hot coco. Once set to boil he threw off his soggy hood and undergarments and changed quickly into something soft and dry. Awenna rummaged in her clothing chest in her room and did the same.

“You know it’s Thora tomorrow,” said Awenna.

“Yeah. I wont get picked though, probably. If I do, then great, another dented plate for the shelf.”

“You’ve not practised at all since last year. I bet you will get picked and lose.”

“Well, you can think that. My axes are the perfect weight; the last three Thorathoraxes have been soo easy. Don’t you remember? Danny practiced all the time and he still lost. He’s got a good throw I’ll admit but father’s axes never miss, not when I through em anyway.” Alfted handed Awenna her cup of hot coco.

“Mother would go mad if she knew you were up this late before a Thora,” said Awenna.

“Mother is mad!” They laughed and Alfred almost spilled his hot coco over the rug. “I wonder what they’ll do about the standing stone. It’ll take the whole village to shift that tree.”

“mmmm,” said Awenna sipping. “And that stone. I’ve never heard of one of them ever being knocked down. I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Mean anything? Oh come on. Of course it doesn’t. Priestly and all that lot are nutters. It’s superstitious crap.”

“You shouldn’t say that… Mother will hear.”

Alfred shrugged.

“What it means is, if you hadn’t grabbed me, I’d have worms eating into my belly button right about now.”

“Alf! That’s gross!”

“I’m just tryin to thank you.”

“Well thanks taken. I’m going to bed.” “Alright g’night Wenny.”

The next morning Alfred felt tired. It was far too early.

“Alfred! It’s Thorathoraxe today, wake up!” His mother shouted up the stairs. He replied with a grunt.

“Come on! We haven’t got long!” Her shrill voice cut straight through the floorboards.

“I wont even get picked,” he said with a croak.

“You don’t know that now come and eat ya oats.” It was never a good time for her to give Alfred instructions, especially not first thing in the morning. “You got your axes ready?”

“Yes I polished them yesterday Mother.”

“Awenna’s gone to the center already to keep us a place at the rope line.”

“Alright.” He swirled his oats. Alfred had eaten oats for breakfast every day for just over eighteen years. All his life. Only for the first 11 his father had made them for him, but that was before he had been told The Story. That was before his father had changed shape, sprouted feathers and flown away.


Alfreds axes were in a set of four. They were passed down from his father and his father before him. They were in the style of a francisca. The top of the blade curved in an S shape and the bottom curved in a semicircle making the blade thinner in the middle and it widened out at the corners where at one end was the razor sharp cutting edge and the other had a short beautifully decorated wooden hande fastened rigidly though a hole in the blade. They had a sleek style to them of a very skilled craftsman and were perfectly balanced. Alfred could throw them double the range of a normal axe and still be more accurate.

Alfred and Mother pushed their way through the crowd of villagers to Awenna. Traditional Angletarian music lifted the mood, people were talking loudly and children were playing on the haystacks. Almost all of the villagers new each other, but Alfred was preoccupied with getting picked for the third year in a row.

“Alf! There you are I’ve been looking for you.”

“Hi Danny, how are the blades?”

“Pretty sharp,” he wiggled them at Alf.

“Where are yours then?”

“Here,” Alfred revealed his four holsters under his cloak.

“I think this year I can take ya. I tweaked my blades. They are perfectly balanced now. See here.”

Alfred casually handled one of Danny’s axes.

“It’s an improvement. Lets just wait till we know we’re playing before getting into it.”

The voice John Felmer rung out, drawing everyone’s attention to the centre of the ring. An excited quiet descended across the crowd.

“Welcome ladies and gents to the annual Mobray village games, and a special welcome to a few visitors we have from Iggleton.”

The crowd made a semi-aggressive “Ooooo”

“Alright alright we don’t want to scare them off, Iggleton folks are very welcome… so long as they don’t mention last weeks potball game.”

The crowd laughed.

“Now let me tell you what we got. Over there you’ll see Farmer Raggit and his Clegos.” Farmer Raggit gave a wave. “The kids can have a pat and them feed em n whatnot. Up there is Mr Hoborn, he’ll be givin a show on how to shave the moustache off your pet Catipus so it don’t choke on it. We got wonderful Mobray ice cream and Mrs Grevil will be telling stories to the kiddies over by the Founding Tree. Comin’ up now though is the main event, Thorathorax!” John Felmer raised his hands and pointed to the mock up straw beasts that stood behind him as trumpeting music introduced them.

The crowd cheered and whooped.

“Mrs Grevil’s gonna start us off with the story of the Barking Moose. Parents, let your children under the rope. They can gather round ere… if they dare.” A few laughs and “oooohh’s” rose up from the crowd. The children moved tentatively forward. A young toddler boy named Billy clung onto his fathers leg, refusing to go, which had a chain reaction on the other toddlers who looked up fearfully into their parents eyes. The parents of the scared children quietly convinced them that it was ok and that they would go and sit up front with them too. “Mrs Grevil, if you please.”

Mrs Grevil walked slowly up, leaning heavily on her cane. She was pasty old lady who had never failed to give a creepy feeling to Alfred in the pit of his stomach when she told stories to him when he was younger.

“Hello children,” she said. “I am going to tell you the story of the Barking Moose.” Her voice was a shaky whisper but demanded their attention. “Listen carefully for what I now say may one day save you from the beast. Many years ago, before any one here was born, a different set of people lived here in Mobray. Each year before celebrating Thorathorax the young men were sent out into the woods at night. The children would stay behind to look after their mothers and pray that the beast did not stamp on their home.”

“What was the beast like?” One of the children asked. Billy whimpered at the question.

“The beast was known as the Barking Moose. It stood upright like us only it was as tall as a tree. It had tiny black eyes of pure evil. Its mind was of a deranged moose and it would roar and bark madly. You could hear it coming with its thunderous strides but as soon as it got close it would get up on its tippy toes and creep up right behind you.” Mrs Grevil’s swollen red face looked like it could explode. Her dark beady eyes flashed between the childrens gazes and their fear seemed to give her some kind of sick pleasure. Silence had fallen across the crowd, even the parents who had heard the story over and over were brought in by Mrs Grevil’s strange power.

“Now this beast, this Barking Moose was terrible. Its skin was so thick that even one of Alfred’s axes would not make it bleed, but all things have a weakness.” A few of the adults gave a weak laugh and glanced at Alfred then straight back to Mrs Grevil. “It’s weakness though was that it liked to eat. It was a wickedly greedy beast. It ate so much that the skin on its belly was stretched. Stretched as thin as a barely balloon. It was there, through the belly that the axe must strike. Thank goodness for those brave young men!” She looked around smiling at all the young men seemingly noting them all, then her face turned sinister and she continued.

“The young men would carry the body of the beast and lay it up on the stone in the centre of the stone ring. I don’t know how many of you children go there now, but it used to be of utmost importance,” she added. “The elder of the Priestly family, yes the great grandfathers of today’s Priestly’s, would cut open the belly of the beast and pull out the axe. Whichever young man the axe belonged to was considered the champion of Mobray.” She ended educationally, “that is why at Mobray we are such good axe throwers, our young men needed to be able to hit the Barking Mouse’s belly, for the sake of their families, and their future lives in the village.” As the tale drew to a close her grip on the crowd loosened. “Now the tradition had been reduced to harmless fun. We build mock up ‘beasts’ out of straw to stick in the air on poles.” She almost seemed sickened by the idea of ‘harmless fun’. “ A strange silence followed the telling, which John Felmer broke.

“Can I ave all the young men up ere. If your over sixteen you’re a man I’m afraid, if your over twenty-four your past it.” The crowed laughed again. “If your fifty-two and a half you’re a wise man.”

Alfred and Danny hoped over the rope and gathered with the others in front of John Felmer.

“Ok looks like everyone’s here. Everyone know the rules?” They nodded. “Throw your barley balloons!” The crowed simultaneously reached into their pockets and took out round balls the size of an apple made of cloth with seeds of barley inside and threw them in at the young men. Two of them hit Danny square on the top of the head straight away. “That’s a hit we have there! And another there! You got hit too there son. And you!” John Felmer kept track. Alfred dodged them but they came from all sides. He ducked under one that came from Mother with a cry and but was hit on the chest by another. “Stop throwing!” John Felmer announced. “We have our contestants. Oy I said stop,” a stray barley balloon landed at his feet. “We have our contestants. It looks like the reigning champion, Alfred, will be defending his title!”

“Go Alfred!” Shouted Awenna from behind the rope line amidst the cheers of the crowd.

“Contestants, take your positions!”

Alfred gave a glance to the left to Mother and Awenna, who continued to cheer him on.

“Good luck Danny,” he said.

“That’s what you’ll be calling me after this,” he replied cheekily. Alfred gave a grin.

“When the Clegor kicks, throw your axes!” John Felmer announced.

A man whipped the buttocks of a clegor which stomped his hooves loudly into the ground. The axe flew out of Alfreds hand effortlessly and went straight into the straw beast and made a metallic clang as it stuck the iron plate posing as the beasts stomach. Danny’s axe flew impressively too also making the clang, showing it to be on target. Two other contestants, a sixteen year old boy named Toby and an his fried of the same age, didn’t penetrate at all with their wooden handles hitting the target instead of the sharp edge of the blade. Alfred couldn’t tell what happened with the other contestants.

“Raise the next round o’ beasts!” John Felmer said as the fake slain animals were hosted down. They were hastily replaced.

“When the Clegor kicks, throw your axes!”

Again Alfred and Danny’s axes flew hard and straight cutting straight though the straw and hitting the metal stomach with a resounding “pang”. This time Toby’s made it in and hit the metal but his friend and the other contestants failed to penetrate.

The third round followed a similar pattern. The metal plates were removed from the straw beasts and shown up to the crowd.

“Round one,” John Felmer said announcing the results. “Round one: We have a HIT from Alfred, a HIT from Danny, and a HIT from Staples. Round two: We have a HIT from Alfred, a HIT from Danny and a HIT from Tobias. Round three we have a HIT from Alfred, a HIT from Danny, a HIT from Tobias and a HIT from Staples.” Some of the contestants clearly had no idea how to throw an axe and missed all their shots. “Looks like we have a tie between defending champ Alfred and rising star Danny. Please allow for silence while the judges inspect the plates, to see who got the better hit.”

The crowd fell quiet with excited whisperings rippling round them.

“We have a winner! Four times in a row Thorathorax champion! Alfred!”

Danny looked very disappointed. Alfred smiled calmly and gave a fairly weak “Yes I won.” Awenna and Mother cheered from the side. He went up on the podium where the judges were and John Felmer presented him with the dented plate. It was a nice piece of metal with concentric circles engraved in it carefully to measure the accuracy of the shot. The others would have their dents taken out and reused. The free drinks he would get all night were the main prize really, but for Danny who would have won the last three years if Alfed hadn’t stopped him, a dented target plate was all he wanted.

The crowd dispersed to the other events and the contestants collected their axes. Evening fell and Alfred wanted to have a drink with Danny. He looked around and noticed all the children had gone. Farmer Raggit was standing by the clegors talking to John Felmer and the straw bales that the children were using as a fort earlier was now sitting alone in the growing light of the moons. He strolled over to the bar. He had a good few drinks in him already and dancing to the catchy county tune was become more appealing.

He found Danny sitting with Awenna around a table by the bar. He saw their drinks were empty and so ordered two nut brown ales from the bar and some juice for his sister, who didn’t drink.

“Free drinks on the champioooon!”

Danny gave a harsh look.

“Well done Alf,” Awenna smiled.

“Yeah. Well done, mate,” Danny said bitterly. “Hey come on I can’t help it, we’re sharing the prize right now anyway, drink.” He shoved the beer over to Danny who let out a weak smile.

“Ah I know, it just don’t make any sense. It’s those damn axes of yours. They’re too good. I tell you they’re from the future or something.”

Alfred and Awenna shrieked with laughter.

“‘Axes from the future’, come on Dan I think when you start talking about axes from the future you’ve had enough beers,” said Awenna.

Danny chuckled. “Lets just have some fun tonight eh, fancy heading over there?” he gestured to the dance area.

“Yeah sure in a minute,” said Alfred downing half his beer. They sat in silence for a moment then Alfred spoke alcohol-fueled wonderment. “Wenny I wonder if they’ve put that standing stone up yet. They didn’t say anything about it.”

“They can’t have yet, we would have heard.”

“Shall we go check it out?”

“What’s that?” Danny asked

Alfred explained how a storm blew over a tree that toppled and knocked over one of the standing stones. Awenna filled in the gaps about how she saved Alfred’s life.

“Well we could go I don’t mind,” said Danny. “Actually yeah it’ll be fun.” He unsubtly tried to hint to Alfred to get some more beers for the journey. Awenna, who didn’t drink alcohol, caught onto his plan, but didn’t object strongly enough to stop them.

As they left Alfred saw the all of the village children were gathered round Mrs Grevil, every single one of them captivated by her words. He still didn’t like her, but was too far gone to care.

They trotted happily out across the fields, singing merrily with Awenna laughing and joining in on the choruses. For the verses Alfred and Danny took it in turns to sing solo while the other made a barely recognisable beat and danced around with Awenna.

“I am utterly Morbrayed,” Danny confessed.

“Mobrayed at Mobray,” said Alfred as he finished off is last pot of beer.

“Look there it is!” Said Awenna.

“Wow! It knocked it flat over didn’t it. That tree is massive. Lets climb up!” Danny clambered up on the top of the tree and proceeded to walk wobbly, with arms stuck out for balance, down the length of the tree into the darkness.

“Maybe no one even knows about it yet.”

“Some one must have seen it. It’s probably just that everyone’s been busy with the Thora preparations,” said Awenna.

“mmm”

Alfred looked over at Danny. He was barely visible the end of the long tree and was poking his head through the roots at the end.

“AAAHHHHHH!” Danny let out a scream. He fell off the fallen tree and landed in a heap. He recovered quickly and ran as fast as he could towards them, which in his current state wasn’t especially fast. “AHHH get out of here!” He shouted “GO GO!”.

He reached them, panting.

“What is it?” Alfred asked

“We have to get back, I wanna go back,” he blurted.

“Calm down a minute Danny, your safe with us now,” Awenna reassured him.

“What’s the big fuss?” Alfred asked again.

“I saw something. Someone,” Danny stammered. “Someone in a robe and a hood. A black robe. They looked up at me. And I think there were more of them.”

“More of who?”

“More of them, more hooded figures.”

“Hooded figures? Come one your just trying to give us the creeps.”

“I’m not Alf I swear. I scraped my ankle pretty bad just now.” He showed them a graze.

“Your seeing things, it’s just beer we’ve been drinking you know. You’re just trying to get revenge on me for winning the Thorathorax again.” Alfred hadn’t meant to say that, he didn’t even really think it, but the beer lubricated its passage.

“You slimly son of Iggleton.” Danny swung a fist at Alfred hitting him square on the chin.

“Danny!” Awenna screamed. Alfred fell over onto his back, nursing his chin. He didn’t try to fight back.

“Calm it guys!” Awenna stepped between them. “Lets just go home.”

“No,” said Danny. “I saw someone and I want to know who it is. If this Iggleton bastard doesn’t believe me he can come and look for himself.”

They were squabbling in the centre of the stone circle just at the tip of the fallen standing stone when figures stepped out from behind the stones. They varied in height and build. One for each stone.

“This is your standing stone Alfred of Mobray Kwendithrelle” a voice said from one of them.

“We will help you raise it,” another said.

“Three. It is a good sign.” Their voices spoke from different sides of the circle like a prism reflecting light. The light faded.

“Alright Priestly and your fellow fools, go home!” Alfred shouted, providing a new spark.

The one who first spoke spoke again. He spoke quickly yet was easy to understand. “We have been waiting and you have been waiting for us too have you not. It cannot be denied. That is why you come here. Your father told you. We know he told you.”

Alfred fell silent.

“What are they talking about Alf?” Asked Danny. Awenna’s expression asked the same question and was fearful.

“Your friend has been keeping a secret from you. It’s for your own good believe me and his own good as well. But first we must raise the stone. Alfred, tell me, did you bring your fathers axes?”

“Yes.”

“Good. It is time for you to slay the beast. It is what your father gave them to you for.”

“The beast still exists?” said Danny desperately looking between Alfred and the talking hooded figure for some kind of reassurance.

“Yes I assure you the beast is in the those woods right now. We will lift the tree and raise the stone and on your return you shall join us Alfred.”

“My father didn’t say a word about you people or slaying any beast. You might as well leave me alone and let me do things my way.”

“And what is your way Alfred? You win village competitions and get drunk? You are bored most of the year, and so far from your deeds things do not look, shall we say, hopeful?”

Alfred glared at his truthful description.

“Consider yourself lucky Alfred, you have two companions to help you slay the beast. And anyway, don’t your father’s axes ever miss? Not when you ‘throw em’.”

Awenna spoke up, “What’s this about Father. Why did he keep secrets from me and not Alfred,” she said feeling hurt. Alfred felt a deep pang of guilt.

“That is between you and your brother and I think you’ll find, in the end, that it works out pretty well for you even if he can not show you how now.”

Her eyes searched Alfred for an explanation but he revealed nothing.

There was a loud cranking noise, the sound of wood creaking and clattering and a great wooden machine appeared out of the forest. Some of the figures had disappeared while they were talking, presumably to move this massive machine. It looked similar to a siege weapon in its hugeness but it carried no catapult. Instead there were think ropes dangling from the top of its lofty arms and giant cogs. It looked like it could move a mountain.

The main speaker of the figures took down his hood, as if sensing that Alfred and the others would object no further. He looked to be in his late fifties and his grey hair had receded leaving him partially bald. He had a flop of thin grey hair combed across the top of his head, which sat upon his short stocky body.

“Now! The beast is out there!” As he shouted a roar so deep and terrifying it must have been heard from the village reverberated out from the woods. Like a belch of a mountain. “Bring back the beast! We will cut open its belly!”

Alfred, Awenna and Danny turned and ran out past the great machine and into the woods. Alfred peered at the machine as they ran past. On its rear there appeared to be a massive wooden cage with rectangular bars as thick as tree trunks. It seemed to prop up the rest of the machinery. It was hard to tell if it really was a cage through the darkness with all the cogs and other parts around it.

“Hawk Hawk!” A hawk crowed its own name from atop the machine.


Chapter 2

They entered the woods stumbling and confused. Alfed wanted to explain to them more than ever and fought the alcohol in his system to not blurt anything out.

The light of the three moons filtered thinly though the canopy leaving a patchwork of shadows and light. Mostly shadow.

“Alf, those sure weren’t Priestly’s lot and that roar sounded awfully real. I have a bad feeling tickling my spine. What’s this secret he’s on about?” Asked Danny.

“If we survive, I’ll tell you ok?” Was all the restraint Alfred could manage.

“Why can’t ya tell me now? If it’s such a big secret shouldn’t we know it before we go ‘to our doom’?” Danny was evidently still more intoxicated than Alfred.

Another roar bellowed up. It was getting closer.

“Lets keep moving,” said Awenna who had been silently observing.

“Why am I am even going along with this? Tell me Awenna, why should we risk our lives for someone who can’t even trust us with a secret?”

“I trust my bother.”

They stood in silence a moment, Danny on the brink of leaving.

“BAAGAAR”

The beast was there. Alfred saw it’s silhouette, and then it was gone. He swallowed his suddenly dry throat. They stood there, the three of them, faces darting from one side to another, following the slightest sound. They moved instinctively into a clearing. Treading softly and walking slowly. As they approached a chocking stench greeted them.

“BAAGAAR”

The roar was so close, how could they not see it?

Danny let out a terrified yelp. He had seen it. He sprinted away but only made it a few steps before he ran straight into a room sized pyramid of stinking brown muck that was hidden in the shadow. He tried to climb up it on all fours without realizing what it was, got the top and started sinking.

The beast appeared in the clearing right in front of Alfred and Awenna. Danny screamed in the background. Awenna clung to Alfred’s arm. Mrs Grevil was right, it was as tall as the shorter trees in the forest. It had ripped off thick dark pieces bark and plated them over itself like armour. That’s why it’s called the barking moose, Alfred thought, the story’s been mixed up. It was a horrid creature. It’s head had the long shape of a moose’s, bark covered it. Its tiny evil black eyes glinted in the moonlight. When it roared its mouth revealed massively thick shiny white molars and two long sabres that somehow fitted back into its mouth when closed. It lumbered towards them and in two lazy strides it was within striking distance. Only its belly was not armoured with bark, like Mrs Grevil had told. Awenna grabbed Alfreds arm.

“Throw! Throw your axes!”

Alfred had an axe in his hand already. He focused a little too hard and threw. The axe bounced of the bark armour on the beasts’ chest. Awenna clung tighter. He threw again. This one went wide and hit an armoured leg. The beer, he thought, we are all going to die because I’m drunk.

The beast lunged at them, they dived apart and tried to run back to Danny, who was still stuck in the excrement. The beast effortlessly swatted Awenna with his golden-brown furry hands. Claws hid in the fur. She was sent flying back behind the beast as it kept coming forward. Alfred looked back, but she didn’t get up.

Angered that someone befouled it’s fouling, it lumbered with quickening pace towards its pyramid where Alfed was now straining to pull Danny out.

“No!” Danny shouted “Go and get Awenna! Get her out of here!” Alfred kept tugging at his arm. “Let go, get Awenna!”

It looked like Alfred might get Danny out just in time to let them both die next to stinking pile instead of in it. The beast was about to strike. There was a clatter of axe striking bark and the beast turned around. Awenna lay with another of the axes Alfred had dispensed at the beast in her hand. She pulled herself up and threw. It flew true and strong, straight into the beasts’ belly. The beast brayed and teetered with its great hands clutching its belly. It was in incredible pain. It fell on its sideways too the floor, head and feet squirming. It’s writhing slowed for a moment, and then it was dead. Awenna collapsed just as Alfred tugged Danny out and they ran over to her.

“Wenny!”

“Holy Thora….” Danny whispered.

She had slash marks on her side and was bleeding badly.

“We have to get her back. Back to the stone ring.” Alfred decided immediately. They picked her up and carried her as fast as they could without tripping over through the woods.

“I don’t know how happy they’ll be. We left the beast behind,” Danny said on the way back.

“Well, they’ll just have to wait to cut open their precious beast belly.” The tree that had fallen now lay over to the edge of the woods. The standing stone was erected.

“Help! Help us!” Alfred cried out but there was no reply. “We need help here!” He panted.

They reached the ring of standing stones. The figure who had spoken to them before was there. The others stood behind him with their hoods still on.

“Place her on the centre stone, ” he said.

“The beast is dead. Alfred’s axe is in its belly. We couldn’t get it back, we had to save Awenna.”

“Save her you still can.” The man said. “Go,” he signalled for the others to retrieve the body of the beast.

“She’s bleeding pretty bad,” said Danny.

“Danny. You know the secret, this is the time to tell you. Wenny, can you here me?” She whispered a reply. Alfred spoke:

Life continues Life endures If you’ll let it It will forever be yours

The man stood watching. The three moons became clouded over. A strange energy fizzed about the air like the feeling of a static charge building up before a storm. The standing stones seemed to hum. Alfred glanced up. The man stood there. Lightning flashed and the landscape around was revealed for an instant then blanketed in darkness once more. There was a moment of total blackness. When it ended the man had moved backwards. He stood hands raised, swaying to the heavens. The skies flashed again and this time when Alfred glanced up again the man was no where to be seen. That takes the risk down he thought. Alfred continued:

This story is sacred. It is between loved ones.

Tell it with hate. You share their fate.

Your soul will be trapped Till death set it free While you live as an animal Or even a tree.

Danny had never listened so intensely to anything in his life. It felt like Alfed had cast a spell over him and Awenna ensuring they soaked up all of his words. He spoke without hesitation just as his father had done. All the way through he kept a reason in the back of his mind for why they each deserved to be reborn, as a human.

To the unprepared one who’s life was a joke As a beast of burden you will bear a yoke.

To the one who with words, brings others down The king of the chickens, he shall wear the crown.

To the one who lives to judge, those all around Through the eyes of the hawk, they shall stare at the ground

To the one who is gluttonous and lives for the feast, Be lonely then slain shall be your life as a beast.

But to the one who makes use of his heads little voice A man you shall be, gifted with choice.

Repeat these words, to loves ones you could And forever seek truth and forever do good.

Everything became a blur. Time changed as did consciousness. They lay there on the centre stone, aware of everything, yet unaware of themselves. The ring of standing stones was their shared womb. Mother Earth, was theirs.


Chapter 3

When Alfred (or just ‘someone’) awoke brilliant sunshine dazzled his eyes. The sun was high in the sky. He sat up and looked around. Tall daisies and wild flowers were blooming in the meadow around the standing stones. Birdsong floated gently across from the forest. The little fluffy white clouds that went on endlessly all lay at same height with flat bases as if they were sitting on an invisible dome above the earth. Two people lay face up next to him. There was a boy, - a young man about his age he didn’t recognize and a girl of similar age who seemed more familiar. She had long black hair and fair skin and her face was so beautifully symmetrical and tender she could have been imaginary.

For a moment he realized he had no idea where he was, who he was or quite literally, what planet he was on. He felt he was part of a beautifully pointless painting. For that moment, everything was a question. “What?” Was all he could utter.

A gentle breeze blew past causing him to blink. Each blink brought back in image, with a memory attached. He closed his eyes and let it all seep in. His memory flooded back like moment of inspired genius. Ahh yes. His lips curled into a thin smile as the realizations dawned simultaneously. I have survived. I’ve been reborn as a human. So has Awenna and so has Danny! IT WORKED!

He nudged them to wake up, eager to here their exited voices. Awenna looked different. They had always been quite a good looking pair of siblings but she looked… extremely pretty, the definition of beauty. The phrase flashed across Alfreds mind. He had no idea what he looked like. He looked at his hands. They looked similar to how they had always been, perhaps a little less worn. Where they a bit bigger, or was it just his imagination? He looked down at his arms. Did they a look a bit stronger? He suddenly gave a quick check in his underpants, checking things were in order. They most certainly were.

Awenna was stirring gently. He gave a few moments silence to let her cherish that state of not-knowing, which he now realized was extremely pleasurable, even blissful. Her eyes swept over him blankly, regarding him with no more attention than if he were a blade of grass. He watched her eyes focus on him and her expression changed to one of recognition.

“Wenny. It’s me, Alf.” He spoke softly, as if to a baby that had just been born. “Do you remember?” She shut her eyes for several seconds and then opened again. “Wenny, do you remember? You’ve been reborn. Remember The Story? The words that changed us?”. She nodded.

“Oh Alf. This is incredible,” she said with wonderment. “The words, in my head. Did you get those too? They told me why I was deserving.”

Alfred had forgotten those for a second, but her words reminded him. Before he woke he had heard a voice in his head and was shown images of the deed he had done to make him deserving. The images showed him staying with Danny till the last moment before the beast would have struck. The words courage and hope were released in his mind. The voice told him, - or had he just felt it, to keep the reason a secret. He must never tell a soul why he was deserving. He wondered if Awenna and Danny had earned their rebirth at the final moment with the beast also.

“Wenny, you look amazing.”

“You look… different, too.”

“Really? How do I look?”

“Well you look much stronger, much more manly.” She giggled. “Your face is pretty much the same though. Your hairs a bit more ruffled, a bit more rugged.” He stood up. “I think I’m taller too!” They laughed together. Danny sat up and proceeded though the blissfully unaware phase followed by the bombarding enlightenment. Alfred and Awenna watched him with glee.

“Did what I just experience… or think I experienced, actually just happen?” Danny asked, hopelessly bewildered.

“Yes!” Awenna said. “It happed to all of us!”

“I’m stronger, and taller. Check it out,” Alfred posed.

“And I’m more beautiful,” Awenna swooned.

“Bloody el,” Danny said. “You’re picture perfect! What about me, what do I look like?”

“Pretty similar to usual,” said Awenna.

“Yeah I’d think you hadn’t even been reborn at all.”

“Well, then that’s because I was already a perfect specimen of a man. Who needs ‘rebirth’ anyway…” They all laughed. It was strange talking to each other again. They felt they had gained a higher understanding, like they should be living better, yet they were joking around like they always used to.

“Change takes time.” A voice said. It was the leader of the hooded figures. He stepped out from behind his standing stone and addressed them, as if giving a speech.

“Change takes time. Now that you have joined our line you will find your memories intact but your motives divine. You may choose for yourself should you wish to hoard wealth but be judged by your deeds you will always be. For three stone rings you are each a king.” He ended his strange rhyming talk with, “I will bring you to your stone ring.”

“I didn’t catch that,” said Danny, “care to repeat?”

“He’s saying we are kings of our own set of standing stones,” said Alfred. WHY HAVN’T THEY ASKED ALFRED HOW HE NEW HOW TO DO THAT? (and why aren’t they marvelling at being not dieing?)

“I’m not being a king, I’ll be a queen.”

“Yes My Lady, A Queen you are.” The man said shyly as if embarrassed he couldn’t fit that into his little ditty.

“‘My lady’? A are you serious?” Danny said.

“I am, My Liege.”

“He is! ‘My Leige’, I quite like the sound of that.”

“Hold on, who are you and who were all those others?” Asked Alfred. “And what good is it being king of some oldstones and can you please not answer me with more rhyming nonsense.”

“I am Simian. I am, or, was the Watcher Regent of the Mobray (Kwendithrelle) stone ring. I am in my eighth lifetime. You are all of the boundary age, the sacred age. That is what makes you kings, and queens. You see, when The Story is told to children, they turn evil. The teller, who already must be a servant of evil to tell children the story, possesses them. All reborns know the rules.”

Why didn’t I turn evil like children are supposed to Alfred thought.

“When The Story is told to those fully grown up, just a year or two older than yourselves, they are reborn as eighteen or nineteen year olds. You have been reborn the same age you died, this is an extremely rare occurrence and gives certain… benefits.”

“Dieing, I don’t remember that!” Exclaimed Danny.

“And you would not, but for the tiniest instant during your sleep life’s energy left you and was injected back in.”

“What are these benefits?” Asked Alfred.

“For you and King Daniel I cannot say exactly, I have only once encountered a sacred-age-reborn and any benefits he was gifted with were not made immediately apparent. However, there is an old tale among the reborn about a woman long ago; the last sacred-age-reborn who was a woman. She was said to have ‘a beauty that cannot be struck, cannot be broken yet cannot be feared.’ I do believe that Lady Awenna’s astounding beauty is this.”

“What does that mean?” Alfred asked.

“I do not know all of its implications, but the story goes that men could not bring themselves to land a blow on her. They could not strike her even in the frenzy of battle with death facing them.”

“Well we just need a battle then,” said Danny.

“Do not joke about such things. There is evil here. Even in your little village of Mobray. Ridding Mobray of this evil will be King Alfreds initiation deed.”

“What evil?”

“A persistent evil that you My Liege must destroy before it grows. It is insidious, it comes from within, from the very roots of the village. You already know of what I speak but do not realize it. But first I must lead Lady Awenna and King Daniel to their stone rings.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m not leaving Alfred behind,” said Awenna.

“Definitely not with this ‘brooding evil’ you keep talking about,” said Danny.

“But your kingdoms await. There is need for you there, possibly greater than here. You have a duty to fulfil.”

“Do I come across as someone who has a strong sense of duty?” Said Danny.

“I’m not going, not yet.” said Awenna.

“Those are your final decisions?” They nodded “In that case Daniel and Awenna may as well become acquainted with the Mobray reborn.”

“Daniel! What happened to ‘My Liege’?”

“Your kingsmanship is delayed as is your queenship. As long as you remain here you are equal to the other Mobray reborn, who all serve King Alfred.”

The was a brief humming sound as if the standing stones were vibrating from side to side. Each of the Mobray reborn stepped out from behind a separate standing stone, hoods down.

“My companions, may I introduce the to-be King Daniel, the to-be Queen Awenna and King Alfred, King of the Mobray reborn.” They bowed down low to Alfred. “They are all of the sacred age and together with them we shall weed out the festering evil of Mobray village. State your names and primary practices.”

A man stepped forward from the circle of reborns. He tapped a clenched right hand fist twice on his heart then held it up to his temple and held it there for a few seconds as a salute.

“I am Welund. I fashion metal armour and weapons.”

“Welund speaks humbly for himself. He is six times reborn and has utterly perfected his craft.” Welund stepped back into the cicle.

“I am Andriad. I live in the forest and care for tormented reborns.”

“Tormented reborns?” Asked Alfred.

“Reborns who were not born again as humans,” explained Simian. “They may seek comfort on occasion with Andriad.”

“You mean humans born again as animals?” questioned Danny.

“Yes. Those who were not deserving.” Alfred remembered the first part of the story:

Your soul will be trapped Till death set it free While you live as an animal Or even a tree.

It was then he realized this could be a chance to find his father. He had to take the chance and try, if not for himself, for Awenna, but now was not the time.

Andriad appeared to have a tree growth around his neck and jaw, it looked like a thin layer of cracked bark. His hair appeared to be deep green moss and hung down playfully over his forehead. His body was rather unusual too, he was a tad on the short side and slender, like a boy. Alfred could see wasn’t completely human. “I am Thunor. I provide food for the reborn, to keep them strong.” They all made the same salute. Two fisted thumbs on the heart and then the fist by the temple.

“I am Flaygrun, I monitor the stone portals and guard them when necessary.”

“Portals?” Asked Alfred.

“Yes,” said Simian. “Each standing stone in a ring represents a reborn. Yours is the one we just resurrected. The full ring must be used when travelling as a portal, reborns must not use the stone rings to travel alone, or dark things can slip though. Travelling alone using a stone ring portal is forbidden. If just there is just a single gap, a single loss in our numbers it is a serous risk, which we only take on very special occasions, such as this.”

“Where does it take you?”

“To other stone rings, generally…. Go on introducing yourselves.”

“I am Sesheta.” The only woman of the group wore leopard fur tightly all over her body and she made the same masculine salute. “I record all rebirths.” She spoke in an exotic accent.

Alfred realized he also should talk to Shesheta to see if she had recorded his father’s rebirth.

“I am Carter, I am a map maker. Where you want to go ey? Rama, Lisbane? I make map for you.”

“Cater is a first time reborn the same as yourselves. He has almost finished his detailed map of Anglataria and he has a vast collection of approximate maps left over from the previous map maker, who died rather unfortunately while cartographing the coast of Lisbane,” said Simian.

“Excellent. Now that you’ve met everyone we must press on with proceedings. You cannot return to Mobray, not yet, your new appearances will cause confusion. Awenna and Daniel, if you will not be taken to your stone rings you must stay here, with us. Daniel, you will be staying with Welund.” Welund gave him a friendly gesture. Danny didn’t return it. “Awenna, you shall stay with Sesheta and Alfred you shall be staying with Andriad.” Andriad smiled and waved, Alfred reciprocated with a flap of the hand. “You will relax there and spend the night.” Danny scowled. He didn’t like being told to relax; it was more something he chose to do at leisure. “Tomorrow we arrange Alfred’s new home and plan our deeds. Unless of course, you wish to add any orders, Sire?”

reborns is rather formulaic..

Alfred shared a brief thought with Awenna: what about Mother. “No, no more orders, but me and Awenna will pay a visit to our Mother tomorrow.”

“Very well my Liege, you can go in disguise. Let us depart.”


Chapter 4

Saying that Andriad’s house was very well hidden would be the understatement of a lifetime. Alfred and Andriad had walked a distance into the woods before they came to what looked like a section of impenetrable undergrowth. The thick brambles and interlocking vines let vision continue for a less than what would be a single very painful footstep. There were holes in the interwoven plants at the base where rabbits and other small woodland creatures had made a warren.

Alfred thought he heard Andriad whisper something but then Andriad lent down, poked his head into one of the rabbit warren entrances and said loudly, “Move Please.” To Alfred’s amazement the vines and prickly bushes parted leaving a single file gap down to a wooden door. He glimpsed a couple of rabbits scampering out of the way and listened to their gentle rustlings gradually disappear. He glanced down at the foot-high holes they had run down and saw one of them, poking its head out as he walked past, staring up at him. He looked behind him saw a variety of small forest animals peering curiously out from the side holes of the warren. Their beady eyes focused in a concentrated way he had never seen before.

Without warning there was the cracking sound of the door opening and when he looked behind again the animals were gone.

The inside of Andriad’s house was beautiful. They were inside a tree that must have been specially modified to grow into a home. To the left there were two alien glowing creatures that kept changing colour. They swam in a transparent tank, providing light to the room. Another tank held a pair of glowing creatures that Alfred recognized as jellyfish. He walked over to the tanks, mesmerized by the colours. The aliens had W-shaped pupils and eight legs.

“I see you are fond of my cuttlefish. They are truly remarkable animals. They have three separate hearts. They say they start looking out of those wiggly eyes before birth and observe their surroundings while still in the egg. They are supposed to prefer hunting creatures they saw before hatching… although that doesn’t apply to those cuttlefish of course. And those I’m sure you will recognize the jellyfish.”

That information didn’t reach Alfred while it was being said but seeped thought his skull gradually as he continued to watch them perform a well-rehearsed dance for him, involving more colours than he had ever seen.

“They crave our attention and will keep dancing like that until it stops working.”

Alfred took the hint. Across the room was a lantern with a firefly inside, and he saw the end of a patch of glowing mushrooms that lit the way along a cosy corridor.

“Come along, let me fix you a drink. El Grental!” He shouted down the mushroom lit corridor. “El Grental, bring us some drinks please. Is elederflower ok?” He checked.

“Yeah that’s fine.”

Quicker than Alfred anticipated, El Grental walked into the room with the drinks, or rather he lolloped. It was a wonder he didn’t spill them.

“El Grental here was reborn as a Chimpanzee. Thanks,” he said to El Grental as he handed over the drinks. “He came to me and I found a use for him. I look after many tormented reborns, as many as possible. I left El Grental with a pack of graphite sticks and he gradually got the hang of writing again. The mind remembers but the muscles don’t. He arranges when it’s time for someone to leave and lets the next person in. He keeps the place running when I’m out.”

“So all the animals here are reborns?”

“Yes, well almost all of them.”

“So those cuttlefish?”

“Reborn. And the jelly fish too, but when they die we usually have to use normal cuttlefish and jellyfish for a time before replacements are found.”

“Why do they come here? What do you do to them?”

“We don’t do anything too them, we do things with them to ease their suffering. Imagine not being able to talk, not being able to use your brain, surrounded by animals that don’t understand you at all and when you go near human beings they try to kill your or shoo you away.” Alfred nodded along in agreement. “We play music for them, we read to them, we find things they can do around this place and set them off to do it. We give them challenges. Or rather, I do all that, El Grental just sends them out and lets them in. If I’m not here there they still long to be in this house to simply be around others who respect them.”

“So you have all types of animal here, how about… a hawk!” Alfred boyishly pretended to name a ‘cool’ animal.

“We have had a few of hawks pass though yes,” nodded Andriad, slightly disappointed with Alfred’s immaturity.

“Do you have any here now?”

A look of understanding rippled across Andriad’s face.

“Alfred, I know what this is about and I’m afraid it’s not going to work.”

“What do you mean? Why shouldn’t it work?”

“Because I’m not going to help you.”

“Why!?”

“Simian instructed me…”

“Simian, how can Simian instruct you, I am your King.” Alfred usually calm demeanour was completely lost. “I want to see my father. You know where he is. Bring him to me!” He smashed his elderflower cup onto the floor, which seemed to let out a groan.

“Alfred, he’s gone.”

“What?”

“Your father, the hawk, he stayed here a number of months ago used up his quota and left. I can show you El Grental’s records. I don’t know where he is anymore than you do. I’m sorry, Alfred.”

Alfred’s gaze dropped to the floor as Andriad spoke. He breathed out though his mouth, deflating slowly. He didn’t know he cared so much about finding his father. He hadn’t become angry like that in years. He realized then that the only time he was ever truly angry was when thinking about his father.

El Gental padded back into the room and scraped the broken cup into a big folded leaf using a piece of moss.

“Thanks El Grental. Why don’t I show you around Alfred. There is a constant flow of things to do.”

Alfred calmed himself and followed Andriad down the mushroom lit corridor, admiring the joyous poses the mushrooms took. Through a door on the left they entered a room filled with birds of various species. The ones that had been reborn the same species seemed to recognize that fact and stuck together in pairs. When the door opened the flapping and hooting stopped quickly and pairs of black eyes turned to look at Alfred. A white dove walked up to Alfred’s feet, wiggled its head from side to side and squawked.

“This is Alfred,” Andriad replied. “King of the mobray reborn. That includes all of you lot.” A brief moment of flapping and squawking erupted and died down. “Alfred is going to read you a story. What would you like to listen to?” He reached for a book of short stories. “Noah’s ark?” A crow cawed sarcastically “har car car.” Andriad let out a cheeky giggle. “A little joke of ours,” he explained. “How about this one called, “Deathly Dream”. Happy sounding hoots and songs burst into the air. “This one it is then. Alfred, do you mind reading this to them? It’s not long. I’ll go and tend to the Oxen. Always stinking out the place poor things, they can’t help it but it drives them up the wall.” He added, “if they won’t be quiet, threaten to leave by standing up, if one of them poops on you, shout for El Grental and he’ll send them outside. Got that everyone? Ok.” Andriad left, leaving Alfred to sit on a well positioned toadstool to read the story.

“Deathly Dream”. Alfred cleared his throat and started to read:

“Isaiah stood on a grassy field at night. He looked up at the moon. “Wow!” The moon was gigantic, perhaps ten or twelve times its normal size. Why was it so close? And to left of it, the sky, why wasn’t it black? An unbelievably dark rich red swirled. A brilliant orange flame slowly moved across the red swirl, as if to attack the moon. Isaiah stared and gazed. If he died this instant he would die happy knowing he had seen something of such astounding awe and beauty.

He forced himself to look away for a moment to rub his aching neck, strained. When he looked up the scene was no more. Just a normal boring sky. “What?” He ran up a small embankment to try and get a better look. Nothing. He looked across the meadow. His eyebrows furrowed. “Lava?” Why was there black lava instead of his lovely meadow? He scanned the landscape. Lava all around! It had either deliberately avoided him, or he was damn lucky. He heard the trickle of a stream, or was it urination. No, he saw it. Water was flowing furiously across the lava. Despite there hardly being any slope it flowed so fast. Was the disappeared moon that was so big pulling it along in a tide? He didn’t have time to think any longer. If the lava had avoided him deliberately, the water didn’t care. He started to run. It was just a thin layer of water flowing on the already cold and hardened sea of lava. A sea upon a frozen black sea upon a sea of daisies. He ran across it. The lava crunched. The water was getting deeper. Over his feet now and then it rushed up around his knees. “Flash flood! Flash flood!” He shouted. Shadowy people appeared from around, running like he was. He made it to a higher grassy embankment.

A few others made it to the embankment. Others were swept away, screaming. The water glowed red. He looked at the sky and saw why. The moon was back and the sky returned to its former scarlet splendour.”

Alfred stopped reading for a moment and looked up at the birds, who were listening with fascination. He hadn’t thought himself as much of a storyteller, but now that he had tried it he found it came naturally(BECAUSE MRSGREVILS HIS MUMMAY?, effortlessly. He read on:

The moon seemed to be getting closer. It glared down on Isaiah now. Its grin drunken, it was in no state to orbit. He ran and ran along the embankment while all around the water glowed red and grew darker in the moons shadow. People running were but shadows in every sense. They did not respond, driven mad by fear. Moon rocks fell from above, the great white being purging itself of its poison. “Who are you!” Isaiah shouted. “Who are you!”

The response was in action only. The great white being was inebriated, and in collapse.

“Drunken moon how could you!”

“Curse your lava pillow!”

Isaiah fisted the sky and ran. Tripping on a fallen moon rock he slid down into the water.

Alfred was forced to stop reading there, to the increased torment of the reborns. Andriad hurried though the door and rasped, “Alfred, Simian is here, something terrible has happened to Daniel.”


Chapter 5

Awenna and Sesheta were underground. That fact, combined with the objects and wall paintings made it feel to Awenna like they were in an ancient Egyptian tomb. She appreciated the air of thoughtfulness and the unimaginable array of ideas that brought this interesting house into fruition. She picked up a black stone carved doll and examined it carefully. It had little pictures on she didn’t recognize but knew they had a meaning. She ran her finger over the side of its face, it was perfectly smooth. It was cold but at the same time felt to her like it was emitting some faint warmth, a life force perhaps.

“You treat the ushabti’s with respect. You therefore respect yourself,” said Sesheta’s voice from behind her.

“What does that mean?”

“You will be one of them one day. I record all rebirths. There are many forms of recording. Ushabti’s are made when someone who has successfully reborn multiple times is killed.”

“How can you know that I will be killed?”

“You entered this life by being saved from a death. You will leave it by repaying death with a life.” Sesheta’s voice was smooth but her words meanings abstract. Awenna mused that she had probably spent too many lifetimes alone in this place, recording fanatically. She was left to wander as Sesheta sat and turned her attention to writing something down. She walked through a door-less joining into a hall. The air was still and heavy. There was an earthy smell coming from a room on the right. Following the pleasing aroma through another door-less doorway she found a room with a single block missing from the wall. A beam shone from it and a breeze rustled the air here. The room was like a forest; palm stems two thirds the height of a person were stuck in the unfloored ground at regular intervals forming a grid. She felt relaxed watching the stems sway. After a few dreamy moments she stepped into the leafless forest and walked among the palm stems, noticing each one was notched dozens of times at varying intervals. A counting system, a recording system?

“Your hold your fathers notch.” Awenna looked up from the palm stem she was fondling. “You hold your fathers notch,” Sesheta repeated.

“What do you mean?” Asked Awenna, trying not to sound rude.

“These stems. They are time measures. These notches, they are reborns, marked there when they pass. You hold your fathers notch.”

“When they pass, is that diying?”

“Yes. It can be, or when they are reborn again. Both are deaths, both are rebirths.”

“So my father is…”

“Your father was a hawk.”

“So now I hold his notch, so he is dead.”

“He could be, but it’s very unlikely. You hold the notch that marks his rebirth into a hawk. There is no other notch for him yet.”

“When will there be one? How will you find out what’s happened to him”

“I will show you soon, but first you must come and eat.” Sesheta lead Awenna out and into the kitchen, Awenna did a skip out of the room, excited at the prospect of learning such interesting things.

“We will eat the Bombay Ganjita Texam, and then I will show you how to navigate the reborn strings of fate.

The reborn strings of fate are like a guitar, but you must have the most finest appreciation for those goddesses that hold each end of the strings. Each must be plucked as if you are trying to make the godess herself cry out the note in pleasure. It takes years of mastery, but years you have and record-stretching years of experience I have to teach and speed your mastery. Keep eating. Swiril the Bombay Ganjita texam in your mouth several times if you wish to learn to play the texam. To read the reborns, to navigate their consciousness. It is like reading an encyclopaedia of a life written by them, each book in their own language which you must become fluent in before reading to the end, which gives you what you need to know. You will discover where to make your notch. If you work hard and think how you should; and if your father lives, you may become master enough to mark his notch and share the end with him.

Now. Close your eyes.”

A drumbeat sounded repetitively in the rational space that was behind her body, far from where her fingers alternated between the chords of the fates, which is where her mental mass now believed itself to be. Her hands raised high as she sat entwining in a double helix dance of kindred spirits adjoining. To be, was to be inside or outside of the dance. She could choose both. She could dance between either, the music flowed in each direction.

“Now,” came the voice of Sesheta, like a chord of it own tune tune anchored around her ankles.

“Now you will not pluck. You will not pluck the strings. Nod if you hear me girl.” Awenna nodded slowly, feeling the cells on her face bow with pleasure to the sound of imaginary applause.

“I will not pluck.” She spoke, the puppeteer of her mouth.

“What you will do is listen to me,” the stern voice from the ground said. “A master’s plucks are already doomed. Each pluck is but a wish unto the fates that will not be granted. But when you make the perfect sound the mind of the fates opens for the shortest instant of time. During that instant you will be connected with that which seeks you, as all death does. You will feel the death of all the creatures that have ever died on earth or anywhere else. You will know all of death. You will know death so utterly that you will see the impending future death in your minds eye of the reborn that finds you, and what you shall see shall happen. And what must you do? Record.”

Sesheta came out of the trance. Without even glancing at Awenna who was still displaying the composure of extreme revelation, she blinked and started speaking how she usually did, without the eerie monotone.

“Man kind is a monkey without records, without writing. We expand the collective consciousness. Memory banks with our records which record the most important events in history.

At that Awenna gradually returned to her normal state, smiling to herself, blinking happily and filled with a sense of wonder and thankfulness for the experience. She still felt the Bombay ganjita texam in her blood, massaging her vessels smoothly, and her mind felt clear and receptive.

“I didn’t know such things were possible,” she said.

“You did. Everyone knows these things. They are instincts. But our minds build up categories and these things cannot be categorized and so we don’t think about them, so we forget, and we lose our way. The Bombay Ganjita Texam took away your lifetimes categories and conditioning, allowing you to experience the true truth. The truth of eternity by understanding all death. You will not understand, you will enderstand, the final understanding.

You will not be taking the Bombay Ganjita Texam for a while now. You have been shown a glimpse of unlearning what you have learned and now you must learn anew on top of that empty foundation. With sober practice, discipline and talent, your next texam experience will be like spending a lifetime with the fates compared to the moments you felt just now.”

“When I was there, I felt disconnected from my body. It felt like I could go anywhere, anywhere I could imagine, but your instructions kept me on course.”

“Yes. The texam has many uses. Without proper guidance the player of the fates can become lost forever. ”

“Lost forever?”

“Yes. When floating on the texam you can lose your way and reach a place where all you know is pleasure and pain, fear and love, a duality. A lost player of the fates’ only hope is to try to navigate into the positive of the two. Fail, and you experience hell for ever. Time in the mind slows so that to an observer the person is simply unconscious, but their soul is in turmoil or is in bliss. They are effectively dead.”

She could have warned me about this, Awenna thought

“Now you must be glad I did not warn you,” Sesheta went on as if reading her mind. “The fear of avoiding the fear could have caused you to lose control. For the first time it is best go in unknowing and innocent, but to become master you must encompass both sides of the mystery and enderstanding death is the bridge between. I see you are patient and attentive, you learn swiftly. You think before speaking and that shows awareness and mindfulness, which is exactly what we want.”

“Does Simian know you’re teaching me about this, did he order you to do it?” Asked Awenna.

“Simian,” Sesheta scoffed. “Simian does not order me to do anything. I have my role defined. It is defined by myself.”

“I thought Simian was in charge, before Alfred.”

“We of the Mobray stone ring all respect each other. Some of us do not need a hierarchy. Our roles are already defined. Some have not been reborn as many times as I, they need a leader until they find their perfect place.”

“How many times have you been reborn?”

“That is a question I will teach you to find the answer for yourself. You ask the right questions. The saying… the mythic version may be true after all… The historically correct saying goes that a sacred age reborn of feminine disposition can be endowed with a gift. They will own a beauty that cannot be struck, cannot be broken yet cannot be feared. Simian told you of this.” Awenna nodded. “Well there is an older version, in texts that I myself gained librarianship over. They say ‘a beauty that cannot be struck, cannot be broken and cannot be afraid’. It is a subtle difference. I had not realized its possible implications regarding the Bombay Ganjita Texam.”

“You think it means I can already instinctively avoid the fear when playing the chords of the fates.” Shesheta approved of her observance and tested her further.

“Yes. And what does that mean on the greater scheme?” Tested Sesheta.

“For me there is no duality. I can explore the positive realms without ever being afraid. I sensed there was more to explore than the chords of the fates.”

“You sensed it too?” Sesheta said with astonishment.

“I did.”

“I developed many of these techniques myself, but there are others who have been trained to record, before me. Anciently old, now long dead. Never before has anyone spoken aloud of the possibility of more. This is a truly magical coincidence. Fear held them back, fear of the black void. I already am mad, you pontificating fool. After Daddy died I can disconnect any part of my mind I feel like, to keep away pain, she thought.

“Insane.” Sesheta continued. Sanity is all any of us truly own, fear of losing that is justified. The only justifiable fear, which is why fear of it exists in all of us, even if we can’t remember how to feel it. I believe you are not subject to it.

And Sesheta thought: The first to look upon a new land discovers much, but the second person names the discoveries once the first has fallen into the first trap of pre-existing dangers. We must work hard to let her think that is why she is being allowed to use the addictive texam so often…

The low toned nock of a door echoed down the stone stairway interrupting her plotting. She hurried up the stairs, opened the door, ran softly down and said,

“Awenna, come. We will train later. Something has happened to Daniel.”


Chapter 6

Before he had even reached the home of Welund, Danny knew what he had to do. It didn’t matter if Welund wouldn’t understand. He had legs, brand new ones. He could out run him.

“When we get back we can start work on your armour,” said Welund as they walked along the grassy side of the edge of the forest. “Yep I’ll be needin your measurements to make it a good fit. It’ll be nice n light too, not like the stuff you’d be imagining.”

“Right,” replied Danny, who appeared vacant. “How far is it?”

“Oh not long now, well doesn’t feel like long for me anyways, bout a five miler as the beast stomps, maybe a bit more for us cos we gotta go over the bridge.”

Danny’s thoughts accelerated. A river, how did that impact things. He wondered if it could be used in his escape from these nutters who had misplaced their faith in him. We were reborn, what a load of nonsense. The river or stream or whatever it was they had to cross must be the Bray, flowing down from the northwest. He would wait to see how big it was to get a better idea of how far they were from Home. He thanked the long sleep in the Stone ring for removing his hangover, but it hadn’t help recover his memory.

“So do ya want to tell me about what The voice said to you about why you were reborn?”

This sent shock right to Danny’s core. He wasn’t meant to say that, ever! It was then that Danny realized part of him had been going along with the idea he had been reborn. Failing to piece together the events, he admitted silently to himself that he didn’t remember a lot of what had happened earlier because he had been drunk.

“The voice,” he replied. “Oh it told me I’d been brave. Only joking!” He covered his mistake as he thought he saw Welund’s face turn to disappointment, “I know we mustn’t say, don’t worry.”

During their conversational hiatus the forest never stopped chirping, singing and emitting wonderful odours but Danny ignored the freshening smell of the pines. After a while the continuous sound of surging water joined in the mellow symphony and Danny’s senses perked up; it was nearly time now.

“There’s the bridge up ahead,” Welund pointed with his stick, Danny nodded. Danny didn’t want to make Welund suspicious by asking how much further again, but it would help in his estimations for how far he was from Mobray.

“Bridge marks the halfway spot so we’re getting there,” said Welund cheerfully.

Stooping down Danny washed his filthy hands and scooped up the freezing cold water to drink. After a good twenty or so scoops he splashed some on his face, which was still brown from the Barking Mooses excrement. The water was so cold it made him exhale suddenly. Together they went and lent on the bridge. The water was remarkably clear and the river was very deep for its width. The water flowed steadily without major interruption, as if on an important mission to reach the sea. Danny knew that was much the same as how it flowed through Mobray and that it changed after two hours walk along it, so they couldn’t be that far away. Now was the time.

Danny reached for Welund’s ankles and lifted him up onto his shoulders, turned and pushed him over into the river, throwing him clean over the bridge. He landed with a great splash.

“Danny! ppleaugh” He spat water out. “Danny! What’re you doing! Stop my lad!”

Danny turned and shouted feelby “Sorry,” immediately regretting saying it. He started to run and then sprint down the path they had been walking along between the tall thing trees and the shorter stouter trees. He ran on until the shorter trees became meadow again and then he stopped to catch his breath, propping himself up with his hands on his knees and continued walking, panting heavily.

I definitely did the right thing he thought. Welund will be fine and now I can get back to Mobray and look for Alf and Awenna to find out what on earth is going on. He walked for another hour until he reached the familiar Stone ring. Seeing the fallen stone resurrected brought back blurred memories of earlier, memories that confused and Danny, but he was used to being a bit confused about what happened after a night at the Beast Fighters. It was just another night that got a bit wild.

The sun was setting. We must have slept for a really long time… well at least the Beast Fighters will be open and serving drinks! Danny chuckled foolishly as he took his first step into the clearing around the Stone ring.

WACK!

Danny fell to the ground, a searing pain on the back of his head felt like half his brains had been turned into a fizzing boiling hot drink. His eyes started to close slowly, consciousness draining. Between his eye lashes he made out two figures.

“Do you fink that’s ‘im?” The stout one said.

“Mus’ be. ‘oo else is gonna be ere at this time,” replied the thin spindly one.

And that was the last thing Danny remembered.


Chapter 7

The village was almost silent. Somewhere ahead a door slammed shut, a distant voice from further away arose and faded. He tip toed around the kitchen downing two pints of water and eating and orange and a couple of slices of raisin bread before walking quietly to his bed room, avoiding the creaky floor board on the stars and the other one by his door and slipped into bed fully clothed. He was asleep before having time to think a single thought.

He woke up after a few hours, alcohol never let him sleep long. He ran over all the events of the day before, the Thorathorax, the celebrations, the stone ring, the hooded people: who where they? There must be a logical explanation, he thought. Then there was the beast and escaping from Welund. It was then he realized an unpleasant odour was living in his nostrils and he checked under the covers. He had worn the beast-soiled clothes into bed. Little brown lumps littered his sheets.

He leapt out with excrement-inspired enthusiasm and changed clothes and went downstairs where he could hear the muffled clatter of his mother in the kitchen.

“Look who’s back,” she said, half sarcastically. “Out all night were ya?”

“Yeah,” he replied, after a pause.

“You did well at Thora the other day, I’m sure you’ll win next year.”

“Yeah. Hopefully.” If Alf’s off ruling his make believe kingdom, maybe I’ll win then he thought. “I’ve got to go meet up with Alf and Awenna, we arranged to have a barbeque.” Danny said that lie while he was making a sandwich and realized how is words contradicted his actions, so he turned his back to his mother, hastily shoved some ham in between the bread and left.

As he walked, the village around him triggered memories. These memories didn’t match what happened last night. The more he thought about it the more he realized it stood separate from anything else he had ever experienced. He felt like there were two parts to him now, nine of out ten parts of him were the same, but there was this other part. This new part. He puzzled over it. That was a rare thing to Danny to do. He’d always been good at living with the focus on the present, thinking too deeply was pointless, but he had to think here. He made up his mind that he would go to the Beast Fighters and ask around if anyone had seen Alf or Awenna and if not then he could check their house.

It was a warm night and a quiet one. The sticky air waned between comfort and oppression. Thorathorax tidying-up had been done during the day, Mobray rested. Somewhere ahead a door slammed shut and distant laughter arose and faded to silence. The three full moons lit Alfred’s way beautifully as he passed John Felmer’s house and approached the Town Hall at a fast pace. It was a tall prominent building with a thatched roof. Memories that had been forged there flashed through Alfred’s mind. There were those of his childhood with Danny, Awenna and the other kids, listening to Mrs Grevil at story time. Her presence made them feel afraid and then the stories soothed the fear, an exiting combination that worked like an addiction. Each word giving momentary relief and setting up a second of agony waiting for the next word to tumble out. She was a talented old lady. Then there were the village dances. Many nights had been spent joyously swinging round and round and stomping to the catchy and infections beat.

The door of the Town Hall opened with a creak.

“Hellooo” he said loudly, but it echoed emptily around the hall. He looked up at the high windows. The room seemed big and strange without people in it. It was one of the places that he only ever went to when there were lots of other people there too. The emptiness gave an odd greeting, as if to say “we’ve met, but not properly.” Alfred walked further inside. Moonlight beamed through the small high windows.

“Hellooo,” he said again, expecting someone to appear from one of the siderooms. Three boys stepped out at the far end of the hall, glaring at him with their arms folded. He greeted them and they didn’t reply. He followed them to the door they exited through, but it was locked. Leaning up against it he could hear a faint voice coming from inside, but there was no way in. Wanting to find out who was in that side room, in case it was Danny, Alfred went outside and found the patch in the wall that was worn away and you could put your foot in it to get a leg up, reach up high to pull yourself up and look through the high windows.

He looked down onto the small room. It was cosily lit by a flickering lamp that sat on a table next to Mrs Grevil. There were children gathered round her. They hadn’t heard his ascent. They listened with the utmost intensity. After a few seconds they started giving each other odd looks. They glared and tightened their lips and vicious glints came from their eyes. Suddenly Alfred recognized the words. She was telling the chidren The Story! The Story that must not be told to children because it turned them evil! The Story that must only be told between loved ones! The Story with Magical Powers! How did Mrs Grevil know The Story? What was happening to those children? Alfred watched on in horror. She was already part way through:

Your soul will be trapped Till death set it free While you live as an animal Or even a tree.

Every part of him was screaming out that this was wrong. This should not be happening. Mrs Grevil spoke relentlessly. The children were barring their teeth at each other, as Mrs Grevil continued they started growling. A knowing look in her pasty old face grew stronger and stronger. Her voice contained unquantifiable malice and anger, hatred and greed:

To the children who hear this before their time Revenge they shall reek on the breaker of the line. Wild and savage they shall become And feast on the flesh of the evil one.

At that Alfred almost lost his hand hold. He scrabbled for a secure place. The children were too preoccupied to hear him but Mrs Grevil had seen him. Her beady eyes darted up at him while she continued to recite. Fear overwhelmed him. The children where growling and barking. Alfred remembered the three moons were out and in an instant he saw a glimmer from the future of what was about to happen.

The children’s teeth grew longer, their expressions and movements wilder. They raved forward and back on all fours and their hair seemed to grow all down their faces. Brown and grey and black. Their fingers stretched and shrunk as each word entered their ears. Barely a second after the transformation was complete they focused their rage on Mrs Grevil. One of them ripped a chunk of her leg off. Another tugged on an arm. Two more joined, wrenching the arm clean off. Alfred noticed that for some reason her blood didn’t spurt everywhere, as if it didn’t want to be wasted. All the time Mrs Grevil’s tone never wavered. She kept reciting, staring up into Alfred’s wide eyes. All children where biting at her now. A pack of deranged wild dogs. Alfred kept staring back at her, not daring to jump down in case he was heard by the pack. She finally finished her recital, with bare leg bone poking through:

But to the one who makes use of his heads little voice A man you shall be, gifted with choice. Repeat these words, to loves ones you could And forever seek truth and forever do good.

Each word sucked Alfred in closer until it seemed all he could see was her wicked red face. That last word was like a trigger. Her face exploded in a splat, spattering the wild dogs with blood and snapping Alfred out of his reverie. He fell down landing on his back. He had never ran so fast in his life. He sprinted to the Beast Fighters to find Awenna. Desperate to make sure his sister was ok. Then they could go to the Stone Ring together and get some answers. As he ran he had a realization, Mrs Grevil was the insidious evil from within the village that Simian was talking about. But Mrs Grevil is gone now… isn’t she?


Chapter 8

Mrs Grevil

The pack ran as one. They were a single smell that automatically arranged itself into a formidable formation. Lolloping through Mobray they constrained their howls and savage barks. There was no need for communication. The one who had been called Billy, the youngest, ran at the centre of the pack. He bit his teeth down hard against themselves, feeling their power. His legs felt full of energy.

They rounded the bend. The one who had been called Staples made a whelping noise and jumped up, turned the unlocked door nob with his mouth and hung on to it for a moment while another wild dog pushed the door. The pack entered.

They ran through the cosy entrance room and down the stone stairs. Each step was smaller than the one above it, to cause outsiders to fall. Inside the room was a roughly circular stone table surrounded by nine stone chairs. They were of simple design, just heavy lumps of cold hard grey stone arranged without arm rests. The room echoed this design. There was a small hole in the ceiling that reached right up to the moonlight. The area had been polished super smooth where the moonlight shone through onto the centre of the table, so that it shone like a little bowl of light, providing a ghostly glow amid the darkness.

The pack divided and took one seat each. They sat and looked at each other, panting eagerly. Slowly a bubbling noise emerged. The wild dogs glanced at each other more frantically. The bubbling grew louder, and louder still. Finally it took hold. Their fur fell to the dark un-see-able ground. Pink pudgy skin started to appear in patches on their faces. It spread, little by little across their entire bodies until at last, they were complete. They whispered a low hiss.

“aaaahhaaaaa eeeeehhhhhh”.

The transformation was done. The nine Mrs Grevil’s grinned a rotten grin.

“STUMPY, where are you!” Shouted one of the wretched Mrs Grevils. They waited. A low slow drum sound could be heard coming down the narrowing stairway, then Stumpy appeared, with his tree-trunk staff in hand.

To call Stumpy stout would be an understatement. His skin was like an old pigs’ and one of his pointy triangular ears had been burned brown and flopped down slightly. He looked like he had already been partially cooked, ready to slice ham off his shiny meat-filled head.

“Fang’aro ‘as ‘im my Priest” he said in a deep and stupid voice, taking a brief unsurprised glance towards all the Mrs Grevils before directing his gaze back at the ground

“Bring him,” she snapped from across the table.

“Yesth, yesth my Priest”. He stumped off up the stairs.

“We should never have let that lad watch us,” one Grevil said.

“It matters not,” replied another.

“We have the Boy King” said a third.

“They will be watching the Stone Ring.”

“It wont take long.”

“We will be strong enough.”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Yes,” they all agreed.

The Grevils waited in silence for short while. They disliked unnecessary conversation.

The thud-a-thud-thud heralded the return of Stumpy. Behind him was Fang’aro, who tugged a young handsome youth of the sacred age into the room. Fang’aro pushed him to the floor, where he fell with a flop.

“My Priest… Priests” Fang’aro stammered, bowing low. The pasty faces of the Grevils turned as one to look at the new arrival.

“What is this?” a Grevil replied.

“He’s not dead is he?” said another.

“It won’t work if he’s dead!” said another from the darker recesses.

“No he aint dead, he’s just sleepin. Stumpy gave ‘im a good wack on the head, but he’s alright.” Stumpy nodded in agreement with Fang’aro.

Fang’aro was a shrivelled and spindly kangaroo, but with sabre size fangs concealed in his mouth. His fir was as thin as his intelligence, but he wrongly thought himself clever, unlike Stumpy.WHOS PERSPECTIVE?

“Listen you dust-brained pod of dried idiocy. If he dies or doesn’t wake up, you’ll wake up with your sabres shoved up that boney behind of yours so far your pouch will pop. Now, lock him up and have him fed and watered.”

“NOW!” screamed all the Grevils at once.

Stumpy dragged Danny off down a second winding staircase.

“Fang’aro, we are hungry, fetch us some shells.”

“Yes my Priests.” He hopped off.

“I cannot stand those utter fools much longer,” complained a Grevil

“We won’t have to,” said another.

“Teh hehehe,” a Grevil giggled.

“Now, duplication plans.” A Grevil pulled out a map from inside her thick creamy grey coat and unrolled it on the table. “Here are the locations. I shall go to Iggleton. There are some children there who I fancy will make a… happy… pack of hyenas. You will go to the school at Hubbersford. There is important work to do there. You will go to Northbray, and you to Eastbray.” The Mrs Grevil continued round the stone circle allotting villages for the others to infest, leaving one behind in Mobray to check up on the Boy King. As she finished Fang’aro returned.

“The finest Shells my Priests.” He bowed low. “I understand they are each tormented reborns.”

“Excellent Fang’aro. We shall be merciful to them.”

Fang’aro handed the bowl over which contained nine whelks, each a little larger than a curled up index finger. The Grevils passed the bowl round and took one each. They licked their lips eagerly. At the same time and with savage hunger they ripped the tormented reborn whelks in half with their teeth and crunched the two halves down, shell and squirming creature alike. Fang’aro gulped nervously. The expressions of pleasure were reflected round the table on the grinning pink faces, which had each become covered in swollen purple veins from the excitement.

“We don’t have long to act. They will find our corpse soon and it wont be long before Mobray realizes their children have gone missing. We must leave at once.”


Chapter 9

By the time Alfred reached the Stone Ring with Awenna puffing and panting it was late into the night. He told Awenna what he saw as they ran, in between fast deep breaths. It was Simian who Alfred needed, someone who would know what to do. His wishes were granted as Simian stepped out from behind his customary stone.

“Simian! We need your help, and the others,” Alfred said, still panting.

“Have you found Daniel?”

“No, but I saw The Story being told. It was wasn’t within the rules, it was being told to children!” Alfred explained exactly what happened as the expression of Simian’s face grew graver. When he finished the trio remained in silence for a moment while Simian thought.

Finally, he said, “Do you know where Mrs Grevil lives, or is thought to live?”

“Yes,” Alfred and Awenna replied together.

“If it is as I fear, Mrs Grevil is a bloodmagia. Or ‘blood controller’. It is likely she now controls the forms that feasted on her flesh and wishes to replicate further.”

“Why do you think this?” asked Awenna.

“Daniel’s disappearance on the same night cannot be co-incidence. We know he made it here from the tracks, and that two others, one with a seemingly massive staff assaulted him and that he fell. On daybreak we will have enough light to find where the tracks lead to. I expect they will take us to the house of the bloodmagia. It is very dangerous when a creature as powerful as a bloodmagia discovers the secrets of the reborns. It is my belief that this particular bloodmagia wishes to gain the power of the Kings of the Standing Stones, who are all sacred age reborns. Alfred, I believe Mrs Grevil thinks she has captured you. Daniel does not yet have the blood of kings pulsing through him and so he is of less use to her.” THE WORD BLOODMAGIA NEEDS FORSHADOWING

“So, what are you saying, she’s going to kill him?” Asked Alfred.

“No, she can’t!” said Awenna, distraught.

“I do not know what she will do to your friend Daniel, but it is likely she will wish to gain the powers of his form, which he has not yet discovered himself nodoubt, given his fleeing from Welund.” Simian grumbled.

“And how would she gain those powers?” Asked Alfred.

“That depends. If Danny convinces her that he is not you, and is not yet a King of the Standing Stones, she will kill him where he stands. If she believes him king, she will bring him here to gain powers via ceremony, using these very standing stones and the stone table they encircle.”

“Via ceremony? Does that involved killing him too by any chance?”

“Yes, unfortunately so. Remember, she is bloodmagia, she needs the blood to have control.”

“But we have to do something!” Said Alfred. “We have to get a message to him to tell him pretend to be me. That way we can lure them here and destroy Mrs Grevil… I mean the bloodmagia.”

“And get Danny back,” added Awenna.

“A bold plan King Alfred, but how could we do such a thing?”

“Andriad. He has animals, we can use them to send the message.”

“I see. A bloodmagia will know which animals to trust, we cannot just send any small creature in to its death. It will have to sneak in, unnoticed and yet have the message attached in such a way it is obvious to Danny that it is something he is supposed to read. Now, I will summon the other reborns to guard the standing stones tonight, but you and your sister must rest, tomorrow you will both have a busy day. I was going to offer you the hospitality of my hearth, but instead it seems prudent we pay a visit to Andriad, Come.”

Alfred was tired, beyond using his Kingly powers to object to being told to go to bed, but didn’t want to go sleep with his best friend captured by a bloodmagia. Simian saw the conflict in his face

“Tomorrow Mobray will awaken to these horrors. All we can do is continue with our plan and pray by the moons and the stones that this evil has not spread beyond Mobray. Come, my King, come, Awenna.”

They departed from the Stone Ring and joined a barely visible rangers trail. The stars and moons lit their way, the spells of the gods. Still, little light made it through the trees and the forest had very hummocky ground causing dark patches to rise up. A thousand years ago the westward side of the forest where the trio now walked had been sand dunes, but it had been planted with special trees consisting entirely of roots that grow in sand. These rootery trees bound the dunes together in a lattice of sand and root, gradually turning the sand into soil for other life to grow in. Few of these rootery trees survived now, the remaining few scraped a meagre existence on the fringes of the beach sand on the shore. The rest of the forest became covered in tall and slender pine trees, standing tall and proud like an army. Most of the ground was covered in soft moss with odd thickets of undergrowth here and there that appeared as dark fuzzy patches in the night. One of these dark fuzzy patches contained Andriad’s refuge for the tormented reborns.

“I don’t understand it Alf. Mrs Grevil being a bloodmagia. It feels like I’ve known it all along, somehow it just makes sense. I feel like I’ve always known. But the other thing, the children. The ones who got… transformed. I can tell you their names. I don’t know how, I didn’t see it happen and you didn’t mention who they were.”

“I didn’t see who they were, I thought Billy might have been one of them, but I’m not sure.”

“Ok well, anyway, I can list them to you. Billy was one of them, so was pancake - you know, Oscar. Then where was Willfred, Jamie, Helen, Staples, Alia, Bran and Patrick. That’s all of them, and I’ve never even met Patrick! How can I know that? I can see their parents faces in my mind too, the ones who will discover their children gone tomorrow. How do I know that?

“I don’t know” he replied.

“You have a gift Awenna,” said Simian from up front. Sesheta told me you tried the Bombay Ganjita Texam and that you fared well. It sounds like you are continually experiencing residual effects from it, giving you clarity over rebirths.”

“How long will it last?” She asked.

“Impossible to say, hasn’t ever happened before as far as I’m aware,” Simian said casually. “You too Alfred have gained certain benefits, but when and how they will decide to present themselves remains to be seen.”

Alfred absorbed the information, but was too tired to summon a verbal response. I guess having infinite energy is not on the list then he thought as he trudged behind Awenna, who seemed to be faring slightly better.

A few more paces, or was it minutes, and they were there. The fuzzy dark patch of interwoven brambles and prickly bushes parted and the path through to Andriad’s house-tree emerged, with Andriad leaning in the entrance with his feet casually crossed over each other, smoking from a pipe. As they approached he smiled, the cracked bark around his jaw creaking with the muscle movement.

“Hello welcome, come in come in. I have the softest beds ready, you must be very tired. Hello Alfred, oh you do look ready for bed.” Alfred managed a weak smile. “Ah, hello yes, Awenna, welcome, do come him. Simian, good to see you.” He shook Simians’ hand and El Grental closed the door behind them.

“You’ve met Alfred and Simian before El Grental. Well, now you can meet Awenna, Alfred’s sister. Awenna, this is El Grental. Being a reborn he has the mind of his previous form, but obviously he lacks slightly in the height department. He keeps things running round here when I’m too busy. Like now for instance!”

“Hi” she said with a smile. El Grental pink cheeks turned red and he waddled off down the mushroom lit corridor.

“I think El Grental may have just experienced his first monkey-crush,” said Andriad, with a highly amused grin on his face.

“Ah,” Simian chuckled. “I believe that may be so, but we have important matters to discuss my old friend,” said Simian. “Why don’t you, oh nevermind”. Alfred had already fallen asleep in his chair. “Well then looks like it’s just us then.” Simian explained to Andriad everything that had happened and what needed doing, with Awenna filling in the odd part here and there. By the end of the tale they were all very ready for a drink.

“Brandysap and elderflower, sweetened with honey, will that do?”

“That sounds delicious,” said Simian “Yes please,” said Awenna.

Andriad gestured to El Grental who returned moments later with three deep thick-sided wooden cups. They sipped away gladly.

“Do you have any suggestions for the reborn as the messenger?” asked Simian.

“I do have a certain little group in mind, yes,” replied Andriad. “They will be just the trick. In fact, let me show you.” He called for El Grental. “El Grental! Would you mind fetching Louie and his crew, thanks.” Moments later El Grental returned with his palms out stretched. He walked over to Andriad and looked up at him. “Great, just set them down on the table over there.”

“Our Liege has gifted us with his presence,” said Simian with a smile as Alfred stirred and opened his eyes.

“How long was I out for?”

“Not long,” said Awenna. “About an hour.”

“That can’t be right.” Alfred sprung up out of his seat grinning. “I feel like I’ve had a full nights sleep, and not the groggy kind!”

Simian and Andriad shared a knowing smile, Awenna frowned.

“It seems your first gift has shown itself, my Liege,” said Simian.

“What?”

“Well, by the look of you now compare to just a little while ago you look like you’ve been reborn all over again.”

“So I an recover after an hours sleep, fantastic!”

“By the looks of it, it could be less. You were pretty exhausted just now, perhaps when only tired a usual amount your required sleep time will be reduced even further,” said Simian

“Do you think I have it too?”

“I doubt that Awenna. It is very unlikely either of you share the same benefits. After all you have already been gifted with a sensory enhancement.”

“But we are brother and sister, shouldn’t that make our it more likely?”

“I am afraid The Story does not work like that. Hereditariness is not involved.”

“Ahehe well, shall we continue,” said and Andriad gleefully, aware of the unusualness of the present situation.

“Yes now, what have you got for us,” said Simian.

“Rather; who have I got for you, is the question you should be asking. Everyone, meet Louie.” He gestured to the small square of wooden table, that was now crawling with woodlice. One of the little creatures seemed to stand up on some of its hind legs, before continuing in the melee. Alfred, Awenna and Simian alike stared with puzzlement between Andriad and ‘Louie’. “Now, allow me to explain. Guys! Listen up!” The woodlice stopped moving. “Care to make a demonstration?” The woodlice seemed to ignore Andriad continued in their frenzied scurrying. But slowly, gradually, a shape emerged. They formed up in ranks and like water flowing down a crack they flowed forward. Alfred peered in wonder. Eventually Louie and his crew formed a giant ‘?’ symbol on the table. “Ahahah,” Andriad laughed. They want to know what we woke them up for.”

“Ingenious,” said Alfred as his and Awenna’s jaws dropped.

Simian lent forward and patted Andriad on the back. “Andriad my old ticklish tree, you’ve done it again.”


Chapter 10

Dark and brown and wet. Danny awoke shivering in it. He tried to sit up but felt a weight on the back of his head pulling him down. He leant back down again, head throbbing. After closing his eyes and waiting for the pain to subside, he tried again. This time he exerted pressure on his head with a hand and was able to sit upright. He wasn’t sure if he could make out a wall in the darkness. It felt like he was holding his brains in. He crawled backwards feeling for a wall with one hand. His fingers touched cold hard stone and as he lent up against it he felt something fall onto his lap and off onto the floor. It was a bandage, for his head, and now it was all soggy. He realized the back of all his clothes were soggy and cold and the front side was damp. His first attempt at tying the bandage failed and it fell back down into the water. His cold slow fingers were making it difficult. Finally, he managed to rap it round his forehead and over the painful lump on the back. He tried to avoid covering his eyes, but ended up covering them anyway to prevent it from falling off again. It made little difference in the darkness. He rested, only wanting the throbbing to cease. Very slowly he got used to it and he remembered that he had been walking through the woods. He replayed all the events in his mind. Throwing Welund over the bridge, the barking moose, Simian.

What a fool I have been. Damn this! He cursed himself angrily and as he did he moved his head forward and it hit against the wall softly but it still sent a pulse of pain rippling through him down to his toes. Aaaah! He breathed deeply and fast in and out of his nostrils, like a bull fuming before a charge. “HELLO. HELLO CAN ANYONE HERE ME” He shouted. “HELLOOO.” There was no answer. He grumbled and cursed again then shut his eyes and rested.

He awoke to a tickling sensation on his right hand. Or was it his arm, no, now it was his shoulder too. Eurgh bugs! He scraped them off angrily and pulled up his bandage. There was a tiny drop of light now allowing him to see the shape of his cell. It was rectangular, made of grey stone with brown muddy paste between the stones. The water on the floor glinted in places. He could make out the location of the door now. The light was entering under it just enough to light up a small triangle of floor space next to it. The bugs seemed determined to annoy him. He had to keep scraping them off. Eventually they annoyed him so much he stood up and walked over to the door. Standing made his head hurt more, but he wanted to test if the door was somehow unlocked. Obviously it wasn’t. He turned round and sighed, thinking were he could sit to avoid the bugs and the water.

But then he saw them, in the triangle of lit ground by his feet. The bugs had formed three circles and were walking round and round. That’s odd. He squatted down to take a closer look. They flowed out of the circles and formed into an exclamation mark symbol. He furrowed his brow. They moved quickly. Now they were the letter “P”, then “R” then “E”. They spelled out “PRETEND”. Pretend what? He thought. He heard footsteps coming. Thud-a-thud-thud. He glanced at the door; shadows covered the place where the woodlice had been. He reached down to feel for them with his hand, but they had gone. Pretend what?

He stood up as the door opened and a blinding light shone through. He shielded his eyes and exerted more pressure on his lump.

“’Es up” said a deep voice. Then he was grabbed by the arm and lead away into the light.

The momentary brightness dimmed fast and as his eyes adjusted Danny found himself in a room with stone chars and a big, roughly round stone table. For a second there seemed to be no one there but then an old woman stood up from the chair nearest which was facing away from him. She turned round.

“Alfred. My my, how you have grown since you were little.” Danny’s eyes were as round as the moons.

“Mr’s Grevil” was all he managed to say.

“I remember reading stories to you when you were eight years old. Yes, you always wanted to be a part of the stories, fighting the villains, saving the girl.” Mrs Grevil drifted off, as if remembering when she was a girl. “Those days are long gone now my boy. My Boy King.” Her rotten teeth were truly disgusting. “I was most disappointed to find you had slayed the barking moose,” she said sarcastically. “Such olds friends we were. You must be strong. But where, prey, are you axes? I would take more care of such beautiful possessions if I were you.” She stroked the side of his head. “Would you like me to tell you a story, just like when you were little?” Danny made no response. “Very well. Well sit down then.” Danny didn’t move. Mrs Grevil ignored him and continued paced around victoriously in front of him. “There once was a little girl who lived in a big house by the sea. Her father was a respectable man of science. He would spend the evenings reading in his study after getting home. There were two older children in the family who were all grown up and the little girls mother had used up all her love and affection on them. There was no one left for the little girl. But the little girl wasn’t sad, because what she loved to do most of all was play with her dollies, and that was best done alone. She had a big house to play in and she had lots of grand adventures with her dollies. Sometimes, her father would bring home another scientist from work and they would talk for hours by the fire all night. This gave a chance for the little girl to sneak out and take her dollies to the caves down on the beach. One windy night the little girl was playing happily with her dollies in the cave when she heard a noise. She had played in the cave lots of times before and never heard noises. The noise came from deep inside, around a bend where it was too dark to see. Now the little girl was used to being brave. After all, the big house could be scary sometimes too. She crept up slowly to where the noise came from. Then she heard it again. It sounded like a growl. She hugged her dollies tightly to her chest and walked slightly closer, careful not to slip on the rocks. It sounded again but much louder this time causing her to drop one of her dollies. She fumbled around in the dark trying to find it and as she did the monster was on her. She screamed. Then she felt a jet of warm blood shoot from her throat. She thought she was dying; but it was the monster that died. She ran back to the house, terrified of what she had done. She tried to tell her parents but her father was busy talking to the scientist man and her mother wouldn’t get out of bed and shoed her away. The little girl cried and cried. The next day no one believed her, not even enough to go down to the cave and look at the monster. Eventually after crying her weight in tears she returned alone to look at the dead monster.

It was gone, claimed by the sea. She tried screaming into the mirror, to see if she could make something happen like before, but it was no use. A year went by. She had given up on convincing people about what happened in the cave. But then one day her mother decided she was too old to be playing with dollies. The silly woman tried to take them from her, so the little girl got angry. Her mother tried to grab them from her and as they wrestled the little girl wished her mother would die. She focused and glared at her mother. Her mother had never loved her, not like her dollies did. And now she was trying to take them. How dare she. The little girl glared at her mother so hard she thought her face would burst. The little girl started to feel a sharp tingly sensation on her forehead. Then the blood burst forth in a current as fast as a beam of light, and it was done. Her mother was dead, the jet of blood gone through her skull. The little girl grabbed her dollies and ran straight into her father’s legs. He had seen the whole thing. She liked father, she didn’t want to hurt him but he picked her up. She kicked and screamed but he threw her out of the door. She almost fell off the cliff! “Daddy” she said. “I’m sorry.” But he slammed the door and wouldn’t open it. When it started raining the little girl didn’t know what do to, so she went to her cave. She found she liked the taste of the muscles and shells in the rock pools in and around her cave. The whelks were her favourite.”

Mrs Grevil stopped. Danny was shaking his head.

“No. It can’t be,” said Danny. Mrs Grevil reached over to a bowl on the table and offered Danny a whelk.

“Something the matter deary? Want to hear a different story? Well you can’t. It’s not over.” Mrs Grevil recomposed herself. “The poor defenceless little girl was left all alone to fend for herself.”

“She wasn’t defenceless she was a freak! You killed your own mother!”

“STOP INTERRUPTING” she bellowed, before continuing as normal. “The little girl tested out her powers. Her powers of blood. She discovered some amazing things. She could lure bigger creatures, from the ocean deep with a few drops. She became wild, savage and forgotten. In time it became easy to survive, but by then the little girl wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was a woman grown, and as strong as an adult clegor. She left her seaside home and went wondering in search of answers. She needed to know what she was. Her travels took her far and she was thrown out of village after village because of the strange way she looked. She was mocked. She was hated, but she was strong. Then one day she met someone; a woman who knew things. This woman, she smelled of the east. She wore makeup and a dark hood. She wanted help.. but it wasn’t on offer.”

“It was a hot cloudy night and the rain was as warm as blood when I discovered the secrets of the bloodmagia and the Kings of the Standing Stones. Yes Alfred. That is where you come in. You see, a bloodmagia is patient; but I have waited long enough! This little girl wants her dollies back! And she will play with your people like dollies! Ah hahaha!”


Chaper 11

The villagers of Mobray awoke to trouble. The bell atop the town hall was ringing out and it only meant one thing. Emergency. Alfred could hear it in the distance.

“Sounds like they’ve discovered Mrs Grevil’s body,” said Andriad.

“Or what’s left of it,” said Alfred as he slowed to try and catch a glimpse of the bell atop the bell tower.

“We must not tarry Alfred, or I fear Mobary will not be the only village to awake to such a sound.”

They pressed onward into Quarrelwood, past the endless trees bearded in lichen. After a period of silence and swift walking Andriad spoke up. “I must warn you, Simian called it a list, but what he meant was for us to retrieve is the complete encyclopaedic list.” Andriad spoke between breaths, their pace was quick and his legs short. “A portion of all species of the past present and future will be available to Mrs Grevil. We will have to share the load of the books.”

“Alright,” said Alfred. “So long as we are back before Mrs Grevil brings Danny to the Stone Ring.” He increased his pace further, making Andriad have to almost run to keep up. “So we should be careful about animal in the forest?”

“We must hope it does not come to that. Anyhow we should be able to get some likely advice from the TearKeeper.”

“The TearKeepr?” Asked Alfred

“Yes, the TearKeep lives at Whittlers Hollow. He should be able to tell us which forms are most likely. He a wise man. They say he is so wise he was born with a beard.” Andriad grinned. “Although, I heard rumours of late that he has completely lost his mind.”

They rounded a bend and the trees thinned. Alfred could make out water up ahead.

“Look there, Braywater Lake, we are making good progress,” said Andriad. They stepped onto the pebbly beach. “Up ahead there, do you see? That’s the bay of lullabies.”

Alfred peered ahead. It was a beautiful sight. The water of Braywater Lake was completely still. It reflected the surrounding trees and mountains that rose up sharply around it. It wasn’t snow that capped the peaks, but cloud. The tallest peaks faded from the greens of the trees to craggy grey into white snow and then grey and mysterious cloud shrouded the summit, forbidding mortal eyes from view. Alfred looked at the pebbles, they would be perfect for skimming across the smooth skin of the water if they weren’t in such a hurry.

When they reached the Bay of Lullabies Alfred’s stomach was rumbling and so they stopped for a snack. The bay was an area of outstanding natural beauty, located on the boundary between the Braywater Lake and Mountain’s Soup. The two equisized bodies of water almost joined together, all that separated their tips was a low and narrow sandbank, which had been aptly named Bay of Lullabies due to the extreme beauty causing a sensation of near spontaneous waking-meditation. They stopped there briefly for a snack.

“Walking across the bay can be dangerous,” said Andriad as he munched on a root. “There is quicksand in places and the stones float on the surface making it appear solid, but the moment a new pressure is introduced, they sink as quick as a hungry boys spoon into custard, along with whoever stepped on them. Every inch of that bay, its very essence, lulls one into a false sense of safety. Fortunately, we are not bound that way. We must continue along the western side of Mountain’s Soup.”

“I’ve never been this far from home before,” said Alfred. “When we were very little, when father was still here, we went, me and Awenna and our parents to the south edge of Braywater Lake. We had a picnic, I think, and I remember me and Wenny building a den in the woods. I remember my father ripped a chunk of the old mans beard from the trees and pretended it was his beard.” Alfred chuckled at the memory. “I do hope we find him.”

“I’m sure we will Alfred,” said Andriad. “He was in good health when he stayed in my sanctuary.” They both glanced at a bird of prey flying over woods on the far side of the lake. It may be he is following us right now. Alfred smiled at the thought. The hunting bird glided so gracefully over the trees. It was so wild.

They stood up and clambered over the pebbles back on the solid grassy ground atop the rim of the Mountain’s Soup to allow for a quicker pace. The remainder of their journey passed quietly, each lost in thoughts and the beauty of the region kept their minds wandering pleasantly away from the troubles they faced.

“There,” said Andriad. Alfred hadn’t noticed, there was a small island just off the shore, or rather it looked like it would be an island if there was slightly more water in the lake. There was a patch of bare sand littered with twisted dead trees and rocks where the water should have been, giving them clear passage across to Whittlers Hollow. “Mind your footing Alfred. There could be quicksand.” Andriad led the way using the rotting tree remains as much as possible.

At first glance Whittlers Hollow appeared to be untouched by man. The little non-island was completely covered in steep little hummocks. The grass between the trees grew high in patches and there were bright red and green mosses growing the in shadowed parts of the hummocks. There were deer droppings all over and Alfred noticed the bark on one of the trees had been chewed off by a deer. There didn’t seem to be a path to follow and there were burrows for small animals in seemingly every possible place. It would have been very easy to twist an ankle.

A fallen tree left its roots flaring up, each as large as a small tree. As they approached it a dwelling emerged, using the tree roots to support the makeshift walls. It had the complexity of a child’s den that had been returned to lots of times and built up into some thing just about worthy of being called a ‘room’.

Alfed walked up boldly alongside Andriad, who poked his head through an entrance, or was it just a hole, in the wall. “TearKeeper, are you here?” Andriad called.

“Why hello. I see you made it across the sand bank. Yes, the mountains have been thirsty of late. My island grows everyday,” the TearKeeper said sadly. He didn’t seem to care that a stranger was in his home.

“TeerKeeper this King Alfred, the King of the Standing Stones.” The TearKeeper bowed low, his shaggy unkept white beard brushing the ground.

“Oh, do rise,” Alfred said awkwardly. He was not at all used to this ‘king’ business. The TearKeeper didn’t notice that his beard had gained a twig in the bow but Alfred was too kind to point it out.

“Forgive my bluntness TearKeeper, but we have come for the Encyclopaedia of Forms. We need to borrow the entire catalogue urgently,” Alfred said. He had been introduced as king, he had better act like one and take the lead.

“You must forgive me my king, but the Encylopaedia of forms has been missing for some time.”

“What? Where is it?” Alfed asked.

“It is no more my king, the mountains drank it like they drank the waters, it is lost.”

“You lost it!” Alfred accused angrily

“No, allow me to explain my king. It was the moles, you see, the ones who dug out these tunnels,” the TearKeeper gestured to two tunnels leading off downwards into the dark.”

“Moles stole it?” Alfred was growing impatient by the TearKeepers jittering.

“No, no, my king, they ate it. You see, when the mountains drank the soup the moles came across, they love knowledge do them moles, but being moles they are blind you see. They learn by eating the paper. It was there one night and gone the next, I would’av had no idea if it weren’t for one of them burping up the last page or two just as I arrived in the morning.” Alfred looked at Andriad as if to say ‘what are we going to do’, but the TearKeeper continued. “Come with me my king, and Andriad if you please, I have something to show you, yes, you like it, yes.” The TearKeeper led them down one of the tunnels. Alfred had to stoop to fit, but Andriad and the TeerKeeper were able to march down at full height.

“Well at least he’s not completely mad, like you thought,” said Alfred, just out of ear shot of the TearKeeper.

“I wouldn’t count on it Alfred, he still hasn’t noticed that twig in his beard and there’s something in his energy that couldn’t be there in a sane man who spends so much time alone.”

As they walked smaller mole size tunnels went off on all sides. The larger tunnel they walked along sloped gradually downwards until eventually there were smaller mole tunnels going up straight above Alfred’s head.

A short walk later and they entered into an underground room lit by lamps. The sight was truly bizarre. Alfred counted at least twenty moles, frantically whittling away at pieces of wood. One of them, who had just finished, scuttled across the room and added his finished piece to a small mountain of other carvings. The moles sat evenly spaced, whittling away as if their lives depended on it.

“I can’t explain it my king. Ever since they ate the encyclopaedia they’ve been whittling. At first it was just one or two items, then they’d go off again. But recently they’ve all been here whittling all day long. I’ve had to start feeding them myself or they’d whittle themselves to death. It’s like their trying to whittle out the whole encyclopaedia or something, and I can’t for the life of me make a guess as to why.” He looked at Alfred and Andriad’s grim faces. “I takes it you can?”

“Can you show us some of the items they have carved?” Asked Alfred.

“Of course my king, come and take a look for yourself.”

They knelt down by the pile of carvings. It consisted of hundreds of different types of animal, many Alfred did not even recognize, but some he did. He saw frogs, toads, mosquitoes, mooses, ear wigs, woolly mammoths, scorpions, hyenas and a great many more. He kept rummaging. There was a one eyed giant and other creatures that he thought only existed in stories. He glanced around at the moles, who were ignoring their newfound company completely.

“What’s that pile?” He asked.

“That, my king, is more carvings. They seem to place their animals deliberately in each pile.” Alfred walked over to it. Again in this pile there were many creatures he did not recognize, but he saw bumblebees, moles, wood lice, clegors, elephants and others.

“Why would elephants go in this pile and yet woolly mammoths in that one?” Alfred asked.

“I presume because elephants are much more friendly animals, being nudists,” explained Andriad. The TeerKeeper laughed, but Andriad continued. “I kid you not, these piles can only represent one thing. The animals over there are the reborn types that will not be subverted by Mrs Grevils evil due to their good nature. These other forms in this pile here are the ones she will be taking, the forms who it is more great a punishment to exist as. Mooses are lonely, mosquitoes live short angry lives, scorpions are hated and ear wigs are hardly popular, whereas bumblebees are much loved for their honey and sheep for their usefulness. The moles are recreating the encyclopedia for us out of wood.”

“How can we carry them all back?” Asked Alfred. “There is no way we can even make a record, I don’t even recognize most of the creatures in the piles.”

“I fear we do not have time to return to Mobray now Alfred.”

“But what about Danny?” Alfred asked, interrupting.

“This changes things. These moles may be blind, but they have eaten a sacred text, these creatures will come into existence, whether we try to stop it or not. We have a duty to make sure we have the power to fight them. Awenna and Simian can guard the stone ring with the help of the other Mobray reborns. ”

“So what do we do?” Asked Alfred.

“We rally your troops for war, my king.”


Chaper 12

Awenna gulped as her consciousness filtered down through the branches of her mind. She did not like what she had seen. She was back, rooted firmly in reality.

“I did not find the Texam pleasing like before,” she said as Simian and Sesheta watched her. “It was more like a nightmare.”

“But that cannot be, you are gifted with no fear. How could it be a nightmare if you cannot be afraid,” said Sesheta, who desperately wanted Awenna’s power to bear fruit.

“No, I wasn’t afraid for me. I was afraid for the children,” Awenna said.

“You felt a rebirth?” Asked Sesheta.

“I felt many. Too many to count, more birds than a tree has branches to hold. My branches snapped under the weight.”

“This is not good news Awenna,” said Simian grievously. His forehead was wrinkled up. It may be too late to stifle the flame of the bloodmagia, but we can still drench it.”

“Drench it in what?” Asked Awenna

“Poison. A poisonous potion,” Simian replied. Shesheta nodded slowly.

“This potion is poisonous to us, but to the innocents the bloodmagia has infested it works as an antidote. They will revert to their original forms, once it is absorbed into their blood.”

“Where can we get this potion? Why did you say so before!” Asked Awenna.

“As far as I know there is not any left in existence. We must gather the ingredients ourselves. It uses the deep magical power of the moons and the stones. I did not mention it my dear, because I thought it would not be necessary. Your visions suggest I was wrong. Is no small feat to gather the ingredients for this potion. The list of ingredients is long and every single one is incredibly rare, and some of the ingredients are dangerous in themselves. Faraway lands may yield some, while others will be hidden right under our very noses. Sesheta, you have the record of these ingredients? You know the potion I mean.”

Sesheta nodded and scampered off. She returned a long moment later with an old tatty piece of parchment with beautiful swirling artwork in the margins. It was attached to the bindings of what once was a book, but it was the only page left. Awenna looked closer, the curly handwriting was hard to read. At the top of the page was a drawing of a magnificent winged rhinoceros. Its wings were huge and still retained some of their brilliant gold and white colouring.

“The Winged Rhinoceros is a ancient reborn symbol. It represents hope, beauty, strength but also arrogance, greed and impatience,” said Simian. “It represents continuity, of the good and the bad.”

In the margins mixed in with the twisting colours were letters. Awenna picked up the parchment and read aloud:

“Unlikely wings and wishes of kings, angels to your gate he brings. To a spell of sorts you shall resort and drink for all that you have fought.”

“What does that mean?” She asked. They all puzzeled silently away at it. She continued down the page, reading slowly aloud:

“Warning: Combine in this list the wrong order or without all the ingredients at your own peril. Outcomes of consumption are varied. The wrongs shall be righted, your deeds shall be sighted, and under the Winged Rhinoceros you shall be united.

Ingredients in order of aquireation - Tears of a mourning mother

- Beard of baby

- Founding Feather

- Pint of a virgins blood (awennas)

- Tongue of Tree

- An Itch

- Feast of Flowers

- Bombay Ganjita Texam

- Song of the sunrise

- Ink of a scribes pen

- Invisible bugs

- ETC

“We should get started immediately,” said Simian. “Tears of a mourning mother. Awenna, you must return home.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You must.”

“You want me to just return home like this, hug her, catch her tears in a bottle and leave? That is WRONG!”

“If you would prefer to find another mother and create a reason for her to be mourning, by all means go ahead, both would be the lesser evil when compared to what the bloodmagia will inflict,” said Simian. Awenna could see Simian was right, but what would mother think? She had been away for days without any word, and mother would have found out about the body of Mrs Grevil and all the missing children. She would think Awenna lost with the children, or dead like Mrs Grevil. How could she hope to explain everything? Then she had an idea.

“I know. If I go in at night, when she is sleeping. When father disappeared I remember hearing her cry in her sleep. I will collect her tears in a dish while she sleeps and return with her never knowing.” The thought of her mother crying herself to sleep made her want to cry herself, especially because her mother was crying about her and Alfred. If I am to be a Queen I must be brave.

Before she left Simian confided a word with her.

“Awenna, I feel I must tell you this,” he said quietly. “I fear the bloodmagia will kill Daniel. There are not enough of us to guard the stone ring and rescue him. He will be dead before anyone gets a chance to recite The Story too him.” Awenna was shaking her head.

“He is not dead, I would have sensed it.”

“I believe that, but he will not be able to fool the bloodmagia for ever, providing he received the message at all. I’m not saying this to without reason. The potion rights all wrongs, but it works according to the old magic of the moons and the stones. It cannot possibly right all wrongs by being forced only upon the bloodmagia’s abominations. That will not bring Daniel back.”

“Danny’s not dead!”

“Yes, but in the event of his death, there is only one way to save him. Alfred must drink the potion.”

“Alfred? But that wouldn’t that kill him?”

“I believe so, but it is the only way to guarantee saving all of the children the bloodmagia will infest and the only way to save Daniel.”

“I don’t sense Alfred’s death at all,” Awenna said.

“But you do sense Daniel’s?”

“No,” she hesitated, “but it feels like it could be possible, but Alfred will live. I am certain of it.”

Sesheta entered the room.

“I have a message from Andriad and Alfred,” she said. She unrolled the message and read it aloud:

“Mrs Grevil is setting a trap for Alfred. He had a terrible nightmare last night where Mrs Grevil tempted him to return to the Standing Stones if he ever wanted to see Daniel alive. He slept as long as I did, trapped in his nightmare. I have persuaded him not to go back. Mrs Grevil is forming an army to wipe out the Mobray reborns so that Alfred is left defenceless. Alfred and I will leave at first light to gather our allies. Awaiting your reply, by the moons and stones, Andriad.”

“Our message must have failed,” said Simian. “The bloodmagia has already spread to another village. She must have formed dreamsnakes to haunt Alfreds dreams with temptation. She has a hold over him now. We must leave immediately.


Chapter 13

As evening fell the eternal slow dance of the trees commenced. They struck an ancient pose in the darkness. Scraggely branches and techno leaves lost their curvaceous charm as the night transformed them black and mysterious.

“I don’t like it here Alfred, the trees grow too easy,” said Andriad. “They know I’m walking past and they envy me. These are young trees, but they have grown quickly and without the tempering and wisdom that comes with an ancient forest.”

“They do seem to loom over us a little,” said Alfred. If we stop I can have a quick nap and go on ahead and meet you at Drummerton.”

“No Alfred, I’ve told you before.”

“But I can find us a captain to take us to the Zifandaeli, it will save time!”

“No it is too dangerous. You could have another nightmare…”

“I really don’t think I will have another nightmare. I killed the dreamsnakes, that is how I woke up, I won.”

“That may be so but we cannot risk it. If anything happened to you Alfred, there will be nothing to stop Mrs Grevil, not without a king for the reborns to rally around.”

“Well, we need to stop soon anyway, I can’t go much further today.”

Andriad nodded. They continued walking along the winding track way to Drummerton, enclosed tightly by the trees. The moonlight and starlight made the sky shine dark blue and it faded blacker each time Alfred glanced up. It felt like the forest was all one thing, a great intelligence brooding in the darkness, on the brink of flowing over into the track way. They settled down next to a huge fallen tree. It looked like it had been booted out of the forest by the younger ones.

“I’ll sit and wait for a while in case you have another nightmare,” said Andriad.

“No its fine, really, I won’t have one. I killed the dreamsnakes. I remember it very clearly.”

“Alright,” said Andriad reluctantly. He was very tired. They were both sound asleep within moments.

Barely an hour later Alfred awoke. He had no nightmares to complain about, but now there was nothing to do. Andriad was fast asleep and needed to remain asleep for at least a few more hours. Alfred fidgeted around, trying to go back to sleep but it was no use. He felt like he had slept soundly all night and was ready and raring to go. He packed his things together and got fully dressed then put his hand to Andriads shoulder and awoke him gently.

“Andriad,” he whispered.

“What is it?”

“I’m going. I didn’t have any nightmares and I can’t be sitting around waiting for hours and hours every night.

“No Alfred, we talked about this.”

“But it doesn’t work! By the time you’re ready to go I’ll be needing to sleep again. I have to leave and get to Drummerton. I’ll find us a boat.”

There was silence for a few moments.

“Alright, fine. Wait a moment.” Andriad got out of bed and started getting dressed.

“What are you doing?” Asked Alfred.

“Showing you something,” Andriad kept getting ready to go as he spoke. “As you can see I was not reborn fully human,” he tapped the cracked layer of bark around his neck. “I will get to Drummerton first, and you can catch up.”

“How?”

“I will shift places with an oak tree spirit. What you will see of my remains will be an oak tree, but I myself will be shifted into another oak tree. I will move to the one that is nearest to Drummerton.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to, now are you sure you still want to go alone, My King?” asked Andriad.

“Yes of course.”

“Then farewell Alfred, I will meet you in three days at The Winking Owl.”

“Ok, farewell,” said Alfred in puzzlement.

Andriad walked over to the side of the road and stood still. He looked up at the moon that was visible between the treetops. He gave Alfred a quick wink and a smile. There was a creaking sound. It started faintly and built up into a roar. Andriad’s finger tips grew into long branches, his toes turned into the tops of roots, which glanced around before burrowing furiously into the ground. The moss that was his hair inflated massively providing the leafy canopy and his midriff widened to form a sturdy middle-age oak tree trunk. All that remained of Andriad’s face was a small notch where his open mouth had been. Two slender branches came out from where his eyes once were. Alfred’s jaw dropped. He walked up to the oak tree that stood where Andriad and been just moments before. He tapped the trunk, it sounded just like normal ‘tree’. He glanced over his shoulder and tried whispering to it, “hello,” but nothing happened. With no other course of action, Alfred picked up his things and started quickly down the track way.

The dream began with water. Alfred saw the Zifandaeli from behind the Hundred Falls. They lived in the eyes of the Crying Mountain. A very long time ago the name had suited the mountain, but now the water had gorged its way down and the long and ghostly eyes looked more like they were bleeding out from a great many facial wounds. Alfred found himself on a great open plain with a peaceful winding river. He floated along the river and followed it down as it went underground. Once beneath the scrutinizing light of day the water turned violent. Alfred was flung and tossed with the torrents, but felt no pain, only excitement. Here and there light shone through holes in the top of the tunnel revealing numerous small off shoots of the main flow, but for the most part it was darkness. At last, he reached the Zifandaeli. Their faces were troubled and weary. The water hurried past them. In moments he was out of the Crying Mountain and flying, falling down one of the Hundred Falls. As he fell a mouth opened beneath him. A giant snake jumped up out of the pool below and swam up the fall. He was falling towards it, helpless and terrified. Ahhhh! He screamed, but it was too late. The giant snake opened its mouth and swallowed him whole. He landed with a painful thump on a stone chair with a stone table in front of him. Mrs Grevil sat opposite.

She spoke in her usual whisper. “Alfred, come back. Come back to me. Your friend Daniel is dying. You must come back, for the sake of your deeds.”

“I don’t believe you!” Alfred shouted back.

“Take a look then.”

Alfred turned and saw a physically obtuse looking ham-headed man holding Danny up by the back of his neck. He looked so pale, and so thin.

“What have you done to him!”

“Oh nothing my dear boy, nothing at all. It will be your failure to return that kills him. You failure as a friend. Your failure as a King. Ahaha!”

Alfred fumed but out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw a snake slither in the darkness.

“You can’t catch me if I kill your dreamsnake.” He leapt up and gripped the snake in a bear hug wrestling with it on the ground. Another one appeared. It took a bite at him but he rolled over just in time and it took a chunk out of the other snake instead. Alfred let go while the first dreamsnake writhed around in agony before falling still. The remaining snake lunged at him. Its mouth opened wide and inside where row upon row of long sharp teeth, each as long as a knife. On its face there was a single massive purple eye with a yellow ring around it. It lunged, he dodged and reached for one of his axes. It lunged again, Alfred swiped. He struck in it the eye and let go of the axe. The eye oozed out dark pus and blood.”

“There!” He shouted, pointing an accusing finger as Mrs Grevil. “You can never trick me again.”

Alfred woke up sweating and alone. The sun was up. I must have gotten trapped in the nightmare again he thought. He was in a bed and could hear raised voices from the other side of the door.

“No I want ten thousand for the lad, and another five thousand for his axes.”

“Five for some peasant’s axes, you must be mad.”

“Have you seen them? They’re not normal axes, he must have stolen them from somewhere, the lowlife. But I have them now and you can have them. Lets make it four and a half thousand then, ey?”

“I’ll give you eight thousand for the lad and four for the axes. Say yes now or I’m walking.”

“Alright fine, but you have to pay upfront, and in silvers. I’ll have no gold coins thankyou, not with all the fakes going round.”

Alfred heard the clink of money exchanging hands. The door opened and a balding fat man with a curled moustache walked in, closely followed by a thinner man, who presumably was the one the fat man selling him to.

“Where am I?” Asked Alfred.

“Shut it,” the fat man said.

“Get him up then,” said the other.

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me who you are and where I am,” said Alfred.

The fat man signalled and three burley skinheads in boiled leather waistcoats and trousers with metal rings attached paced in.

“Take him outside to Magrio’s cart,” he instructed them.

Alfred reached for his axes but they were gone. He punched one of them in the face and retreated up the bed, kicking out at them. One of them grabbed his foot, then another grabbed his other foot.

“Let me go!” He kept struggling but the one he punched stood over him and returned the gesture and they dragged him outside. He was lifted up and dumped in what must have been Magrio’s cart. The skin heads were part way though tying him down with thick ropes when someone asked Magrio:

“How much did you get him for then?”

“Four for the axes and eight for the lad,”

“Eight Thousand!” The man exclaimed. “You’ve been had my friend, the lads half mad. You should have seen him last night, writhing around and screaming in his sleep. They carried him miles down the track and he didn’t wake up. He’s cursed, or infected with something I tell you.” Magrio glanced over at Alfred and stormed off towards the entrance of the wood building.

“You,” Magrio pointed at the fat salesman as he stepped out the door. “You cheated me. I want my money back.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. You can see he is young in peak physical condition.”

“What good is physical condition when he’s mad. Now give me my money back NOW.”

“No,” the salesman replied.

Magrio swung his fist and punched the fat seller in the belly. He keeled over, the wind knocked out of him. The skinheads leapt down from the cart to help while two of the salesmen’s men stepped into defend. Meat fisted punches where thrown on both sides. Magrio joined in himself, but the skinheads had not finished roping Alfred down. With the one hand they had yet to tie up Alfred frantically tried to undo his other hand. It was difficult, the knots where tight. Magrio saw what he was doing and walked over but Alfred freed his other hand just in time to swing a blow that send Magrio to the ground. He quickly undid both his feet, leapt off the cart, grabbed his axes from Magrio’s clutches, and ran. He managed to get up a sprint before he heard Magrio shouting for the skinheads to follow him. He kept running.

It was easy to outrun the Magrio brutes, but in the confusion he had escaped onto the track in the wrong direction. There was only one way back.


Chapter 14

Awenna winced as the door creaked. The kitchen was a complete clegor pen. It was usually tidy, but Awenna knew her mother. The amount of mess described how upset she was. Amongst the clutter there was a rolling pin still covered in flower, and the pastry it had been rolling was left abandoned on the wooden board. It looked like all the pots and plates in the house had been used up and piled up on the side unwashed. The floor was littered in bits of everything. Awenna tip toed over to the dark wooden fruit bowl for an apple, but the only remaining fruit was rotten. Have we turned you completely mad, mother? She thought sorrowfully. She found a suitable glass dish on the side and quietly gave it a wash.

The floorboards had always been creaky, and so Awenna knew to step on the edges of the steps to avoid any noise. She had done it a few times before, sneaking in late, but no where near as many as Alfred coming back from the Beast Fighters. As she rounded the corner at the top of the stairs the floor creaked in where it shouldn’t have done, even the house is upset, she thought.

She heard her mother first. A gentle sobbing sound reached her ears. It was the sound of giving up, the sound of a woman so sad she wanted to turn into her own tears and flow woefully away. Her door was open and the moonlight shone down on Awenna’s mother through the window, illuminating her face and neck. As Awenna had suspected, she was already fast asleep. Awenna watched for a moment. It killed her every second she didn’t wake her mother up and tell her the truth. It felt like she was stealing from her mother. She was getting gratification that her mother was at least, alive, while her mother gained nothing. It was unfair, and now she was going to steal her mother’s tears too. The only thing she had left. She knelt down next to the bed and leant over carefully holding the dish on the pillow to catch the tears. They fell like they meant it. A reckless flinging from the safety of her mothers eyes. They would rather not suffer anymore. You are helping us all now mother, know that.

Awenna had to hold the dish for some time to collect the tears. She endured the emotional storm and collected enough tears to fill the dish as high as she dared. She took one last look at her mother as she stood up and made it out of the room without a backward glance. Once out the door she poured the tears into a small vile that Simian had given her. They poured in deliberately without a drop being spilled.

Awenna was about to leave when she had a thought. She had her hand on the door nob but instead turned around to look at the mess. As quietly as possible she went outside and poured water from the collecting vat into a bucked and brought the bucket inside. She proceeded to wash up a few of the dishes. I’ll just do a few, she thought. Just enough so she gets a pleasant surprise, but not enough to think someone was actually here. Fifty minutes later and Awenna was still there. She had a moment of terror part way through when she accidentally knocked two dishes together rather loudly and heard movement upstairs, but her mother was only going to the toilet. Awenna had frozen still, and then continued. All the washing up was done now and the cooking surfaces were clean again. There was just the floor to do. If only I had some food to leave behind, she thought, glancing at the empty fruit bowl.

At last, pleased she had cleaned the entire kitchen, Awenna left with her vile. As she walked through the starlit Mobray she felt better about herself. Mother will know, she thought. She’ll understand. Awenna smiled and before long was reunited with Simian at the Stone Circle.

“You have it?” He asked.

“Yes,” she handed him the vile.

“Excellent, well done.”


Chapter 15

That night Alfred killed the dreamsnakes again. That was all he remembered this time, killing them. The rest faded into old memory. He awoke as the sun rose, illuminating the trunk of the Andriad tree, which he had slept under. He gazed at the slender branches rising out of the eye sockets. They split off into leafy tendrils that looked almost like eyebrows.

“That sounded like a nasty dream,” the tree said.

Alfred blinked.

“I said, that sounded like a nasty dream,” the tree said again, slowly.

Alfred frowned and watched the face of the tree carefully.

“Well fine if you don’t feel like talking I’ll go to sleep then, moon boy.”

The mouth that was once Andriad’s definitely moved.

“Andriad?”

“No no, I did pass him though.”

Alfred sat up. “Who are you, what are you?”

“Why I am a tree, of course, mmm yes an oak tree I do believe. Now tell me about your nasty dream and I will tell you what it means.” Alfred didn’t see any point in arguing, if a tree was talking to him he would gladly talk back.

“It’s just dreamsnakes… I’m being haunted by them.”

“Dreamsnakes, I see, go on.”

“Well I keep having bad dreams. The dreamsnakes eat me and take me to a bad place, then some things happen and I end up killing the dreamsnakes.”

“But they keep coming back.”

“Yes,” said Alfred.

“I see. Now.” The tree spoke very slowly. “Being a tree, I have spent a lot of time dreaming; in fact most of the time. You see, we trees spend our lives sleeping. We are very lazy, but I do like a good chat every now and then, oh yes hohoho.” The tree’s leaves rustled as it shaked with laughter. “Where was I, oh yes, dreams. Now, you keep having the same dream.”

“It’s not the same, I just always kill the dreamsnakes at the end.”

“Right yes. So you always think it wont happen again, but then it does,” the tree nodded knowingly. Alfred nodded back. “Well, I may be able to help you… moon boy.”

“Alfred, my name’s Alfred.”

“Oh is it. Well, we trees do not believe in names. If I am going to stay awake I will call you whatever I like. Moon boy.”

“Fine whatever, you said you could help with my bad dreams?”

“Yes yes. You know, for a Moon boy you are not very patient.” Alfred glared at the tree. “Nevermind. Now you see these little twigs,” the tree wiggled the tips of its branches. “When I have a bad dream, I chew on my little twiglings and it goes away. Go on, break a few off, it wont hurt me.” Alfred walked over to where the branches hung low enough and started snapping the tips off. “Oh ho ho ha ha,” the tree laughed and wriggled, “that tickles ohh!” Alfred stopped for a moment, worried at what he was doing to the tree. “Oh don’t stop no don’t mind meee ohohoho!”

Alfred gathered a few handfuls and stashed them in his pack.

“Do you have a name then?” Alfred asked. “If trees don’t believe in names, how can I thank you for your twiglings?”

“You can call me Sheepy.”

“Sheepy? Why? If I may ask.”

“Well, I have been switched around a few trees in my time but in my first tree where I lived the longest I was in a field of sheep. The little lambs would come and rest under my shade and leave little gifts all over the grass above my roots. I grew tall and mighty from all their gifts. Oh they were so generous.”

“What do you mean ‘switched around’?” said Alfred.

“Well, have you always been in the same body? I am something quite different to my body, think of me as a tree spirit and I shall think of you as a man spirit.”

“I think I understand,” said Alfred.

“Would you leave a gift for me?” Asked Sheepy.

“I’m not going to poo on you, if that’s what you mean,”

“Not even worth a shit am I?” Sheepy grumbled.

“No its not that, it’s just you would be watching. I couldn’t tell if you weren’t.”

“I promise not to look,” Sheepy covered his eye region with some branches.

“No, look, maybe, just not right now,” said Alfred. “Can you change into a person, like Andriad?”

“No I don’t think so no. I might have once been able to become a man-tree once but it might have been a dream.”

“Can you walk?”

“Mmmm no I’m afraid not. I used to be able to walk quite well actually, but I fell asleep for so long when I woke up I had forgotten how. I used to confuse the sheep so much,” Sheepy laughed. “They would wake up and I would be long gone. Then I’d sneak back again at night and they’d all walk around me. I do miss my sheep.” Sheepy looked very sad.

“Hey, don’t worry, I’m sure there will be lots of interesting people coming along this road.”

“I could try and trip them up,” Sheepy grumbled.

“No, but you could help them, like you helped me with my dreams,” Alfred gestured to his pack with the twiglings and gave an encouraging smile.

“I suppose.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Listen, I need to get to Drummerstown but I can’t go down this path. There’s some bad men waiting for me. Do you know another way round?”

“Hmmm bad men, I don’t like the sound of those. Hmmm well as long as you promise to leave me a gift before you leave I could help you,” Alfred could almost make out a cheeky grin on the tree’s face.

“Alright, but you have to promise not to look.”

“I promise. There is a way for you to travel to Drummerstown, or there was.”

“What is it?”

“The Kingdom of the Leaves they call it. Yes, up in the leafy canopies while the trees are sleeping the leaves doth play. Yes, I remember, The Kingdom of the Leaves. I once overheard a couple of young trees that had woken up, talking about it. One of them was warning the other that he would lose his leaves soon, you see because he had never realized they were gone before because he had always been sleeping. He was telling his friend to let the ivy grow up his trunk so he wouldn’t be completely naked when his leaves fell off. But the other didn’t believe him. Oh he got a bit of a shock when autumn came along hohoho! But yes The Kingdom of the leaves is how you should travel and how you travel is what I shall show you.

Leaves may be weak but there are lots of them. If you let them sit around for too long they start arguing but their instinct you see is to work together like a flock of birds.”

“Or like a shoal of fish?” Suggested Alfred.

“What’s a fish?”

“Nevermind.”

Sheepy continued; “To enter The Kingdom of the Leaves you must climb up the tallest tree around and jump from it into the canopy in the direction you wish to go. The leaves will catch you and transport you along very quickly, much faster than a galloping horse.

No one has entered The Kingdom of the Leaves for a very long time, not since the Great Wooded Stirring when many trees woke up and started talking to people - about the Kingdom. That was a long time ago now and most of the trees have gone back to sleep. Whenever you travel this way you will wake up the last tree on your journey so be sure to leave a gift for him, or her, I suppose I should say. Although, truth be told these forests are a bit of a male-fest, I believe the phrase goes. I can give you a leg up if you like.”

“You’re not joking, this will take me to Drummerstown?”

“Yes, if that’s where you want to go. Oh, a word of warning, moon boy. Some forests in darker realms do not let their leaves sway freely and I did hear once of someone being dropped. You can’t blame the leaves, it’s the trees drinking dirty water, yes.”

“Should I climb up you then?”

“In a moment,” Sheepy looked at Alfred.

“Ok shut your eyes then, or cover then, or whatever it is you have to do not to watch.” Alfred did his business with lots of nervous glances at Sheepy. He thought he might be going mad, paranoid that a tree was watching him poo. With Alfred’s permission Sheepy moved his branches away from his eye region and glared.

“You call that a gift! Ha! That is pathetic Moon boy. Ah well, thank you anyway. Climb away.”

Alfred started climbing.

“Ahh not there you oaf of a Moon boy that’s my ear!”

“Sorry,” said Alfred.

“There we go nice and high up. It has been a pleasure chatting to you Moon boy, I hope my twiglings are of use to you. I’ll give you a little prod just to make sure you make it, it’s quite a long jump this one. Sway Freely!”

“Thank you Sheepy,” said Alfred. “Sway freely,” he returned the formality. Alfred looked out over the tree tops. He could see far, Andriad had turned into a tall tree, taller than most, but Drummerstown was still out of sight. He shut his eyes and thought of Awenna and Danny, his mother, and Simian and Andriad. He prayed: I do this for you all, as a brother, as a friend, as a son and as King.


Chaper 16

The meadow was a feast of wild flowers. Some were edible, literally. Simian picked out a single flower with deep red petals and a bright yellow face.

“Here, eat it. The baby’s breath flower is rare and delicious. Come morning and it will be gone.”

“Thank you,” Awenna replied. It was indeed delicious, a treat of tastes, sweet and stimulating she thought.

“Simian, I actually feel full from that flower,”

“It satisfied your hunger?”

“Yes, completely!”

Sesheta offered an explanation, “The baby’s breath flower has symbolic meaning of innocence and purity of heart. Perhaps it senses those qualities within you and bestows its full energy upon you.”

“Neat!” Awenna smiled, but her smile faded fast as she put a hand to her stomach, which now felt full to bursting.

“Oh… I’m too full now, something’s wrong”. She sat down clutching her stomach. As she did so a vision appeared before her eyes:

She saw a hawk flying high over the desert. Father! But then she realized the Hawk was falling, not flying. Its eyes were still and its body limp. The pace at which it fell was as fast as it was saddening.

“Awenna, are you alright?” Asked simian. She didn’t reply so he touched her shoulder and asked again. “Awenna?”

“She shares the flower’s dream Simian,” said Sesheta slyly, “but will she wake?”

“I saw a city,” Awenna said, interrupting Sesheta, who blushed a dark crimson. “It rose out of the dust where the hawk fell. Where my father fell.”

“You saw this now?” Asked Simian. Awenna nodded and turned to look at Simian, her intense eyes full of worry. “Tell me what you saw,” said Simian.

“It was far away, I’ve never seen anything like it. There was a giant stone head in the centre of the city and the mouth was a doorway and on top of the head was a tower, a tall pointy one. The city was wrapped up in walls that looked to be part of the beard of the giant head,” she paused, noticing the glance between Simian and Sesheta. “I saw a man too, looking out of the left eye of the head. He had eyes of purple flame and a feather mark was branded on each of his cheeks.”

Simian was paying close attention and nodded gravely as Awenna told of her vision. Sesheta’s expression revealed little. “What you saw was the Wizard King, or Swirlo as we should call him, in his fortress city of Bearaderas,” said Simian. “It is indeed a far off land in a kingdom unbeknown to all in Mobray. Even in the distant villages much further than Drummerstown, Bearaderas remains firmly planted in myth. I have not been there myself, but I have been to places where the wicked deeds of Swirlo are well known. He became infamous when he caught his own brother in an act of betrayal. Swirlo tortured him to death, only to bring him back to life to torture him again a thousand times over. His brother still lives, or at least, still exists, only to die again. Revenge is all Swirlo thinks of. He has brooded safe in his tower for millennia, still unsatisfied with the suffering of his brother. His only wish is to find something worse. His only creation are techniques of inflicting suffering which he tests out on slaves bought by gold from his own alchemy. It is to him we must go to collect the founding feather for the potion, to save Danny and the Mobray children from the bloodmagia.”

“Where did you think we would get the founding feather before my vision?”

“My dear you must trust me, I do not know where half of the ingredients may be found, but we must trust in the moons and the stones to reveal them to us because our cause is just.”

“So what are we going to do? We can never get that far!” Awenna said desperately.

“We must trust in the moons and the stones,” replied Simian, Sesheta nodded and looked over to the stone ring.

“I wish you’d stop saying that and think of something more practical,” Awenna said.

“My dear, what I mean is, we can travel using the stone ring.” Awenna immediately felt ashamed for losing patience. “We cannot travel from here though. We need Flaygun, Wellund and the other reborns to guard the Mobray stone ring and remember we can only travel via stone ring when we have one traveller for every stone in the ring, or dark things can slip though.”

“So how can we do it?” Asked Awenna.

“We must travel to your stone ring, where you will become Queen. Once Queen you will have command of the local reborns who will act as our companions.”

“Are you sure they will obey me?”

“Yes,” Simian replied. Awenna searched his face for more explanation. “That is simply the way things are among the reborns. We follow the rules, and we survive.”

“Where is ‘my’ stone ring?”

“East. I know a few reborn horses who live on the borders of your kingdom who can speed our journey. Sesheta, would you bring the saddles and harnesses for Mellowfield and Stomper to us.”

Awenna could see Sesheta disliked being told what to do, but Simian had said they follow the rules.

“Only two? I wish to accompany you also, to guide Awenna in her use of the Texam.”

Simian considered this for a moment, before replying. “Very well all three of us shall embark to Bearaderas. We may have use of your dark tricks Sesheta, but I tell you now, remember the rules.”

“I remember more than you ever could,” Sesheta said, “but come now, I would not conjure unless it is necessary. You know the risks as well as I do, well, almost as well,” she winked at Awenna, who remained blank.


===CHAPTER 17:=== The Egg Watcher.

Danny had grown to hate Fang’aro. His thin rabid fur was not near as repulsive as the coupling of his small mind and huge ego. Stumpy wasn’t so bad. At least Stumpy knew how stupid he was. More importantly, what Stumpy considered to be the rations required to keep Danny in a constant state of starvation, were in fact reasonably sized portions. Danny was becoming an expert at pretending to be on the verge of death. It couldn’t be said that he was in good health, but he wasn’t going to sit here in his cell and lure his best friends to their deaths. Danny had a plan, and it was hatching. SKIP THE ABOVE

The egg had arrived in the night. Danny didn’t know what it was, or rather, what it would hatch into. Hopefully something that can get me out of here he thought. His waking life became revolved around this egg. Sometimes he became convinced he saw it wobble and would glare at it for hours hoping to catch it wobbling again, but it never did. It was infuriating and he wanted nothing more than a big glass of warm red wine, or a beer, or anything for that matter that would settle his worried mind. After watching the egg he felt exhausted and often thought of hurling it against the wall.

It was the size of two clenched fists and sat there, big and helpless, demanding attention. It became as important as his memories. There was him, the past, and the egg.

Then one unremarkable day in gloom Danny was staring at the egg, when it spoke:

“What,” said the egg.

“Huh?”

“What are you staring at?”

“What the! What? Hello?”

“Yes hello. Would you mind not staring, it’s making me quite uncomfortable. Thanks.”

“But you’re an egg, how can you be talking to me? Are you Andriad or someone communicating with me through the egg?”

“No,” replied the egg.

“Well,” Danny looked around over his shoulder, “what is going on then?’

“I’m an egg, and you’re talking to me.”

“But eggs can’t talk.”

“Reborns can.”

“Only human reborns.”

“Only human reborns, and me, and probably a few others.”

“Well why didn’t you say something before?”

“I did, you just couldn’t hear me. It took me a while to work out where I have to speak from for you to hear.”

“Where you have to speak from?”

“Yeah, I bet half the eggs you’ve met have tried to talk to you but they stood in the wrong spot and so just ended up talking to themselves.”

“I doubt that. What do you mean stand up, you are an egg aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I am inside the egg too. Sort of like you are inside your head.”

“Right ok then. How do I get out of here?”

“Get out of here?”

“Yeah, you were sent here, put here, or whatever to get me out. You are here to rescue me.”

“I don’t think so,” said the egg.

“Yes you where! How else did you get here? You are clearly supposed to hatch into some powerful creature and help me escape!”

“Hatch… I don’t like the sound of that. No I think I’m quite alright in here.”

“So you can hatch then?”

“No. I don’t know. I’m not hatching.”

“But don’t you want to know what you are?”

“I am an egg.”

“But you could be something else, you could be anything.”

“Well then I wont be me anymore, will I.”

“You were not made to be an egg for ever.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do! Now shut up and hatch.”

“No.”

“Come on hatch, I’m dieing down here.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Well, if you’re not going to hatch you are going to lead a short and miserable life down here.”

“Who says I’m miserable. I’m perfectly happy here.”

“It’s cold, dark and dingy. It’s horrible here.”

The egg didn’t reply.

“Hello?” Asked Danny, but the egg remained silent. “Hello Egg man, can you hear me?” Still no reply. For Thoras’ sake! “Hello?” No reply. I must be going mad, Danny thought.

Exasperated, Danny turned away and slumped into his usual spot against the wall. Sighing, he shut his eyes and lent his head back to rest. But then he heard a faint rustling sound. He opened his eyes. The egg wobbled! Danny kept his eyes on it. It remained still. Just as he was about to close his eyes again a tiny fist punched through the shell. It was now an egg, with a little fist sticking out of it. Danny stood up and walked over to it. It flopped over, but the tiny hand allowed it to right itself. Another little fist punched through. It fell over forwards this time and when it rebounded there was a crack running down its front. The little fists withdrew back inside the shell. For a moment there was silence. Then suddenly there was sound of cracking egg and a little tiny man inside burst from the shell.

“FOR SCOTLAND!” The little man roared, clenched fists thrust wide and legs akimbo. The little man wore a floppy brown hat and had a thick stubble facial hair. His clothing was a mess of various garments. He had red braces under a scruffy brown jacket that flapped around as he walked and seemed to be adored with all sorts of curious accessories.

“Wow,” Danny didn’t know what to say. “What are you? You hatched!”

“Aye, that a did laddie, that a did. Oh aye, not a bad effort if a may say so me-self.” The little man reached into a pocket and took out a red hankechief before blowing his nose in it loudly.

“You sound different… do you remember talking to me, while you were still an egg?”

“Of course ah do laddie!” He blew his nose loudly again and then tossed the hankerchief aside into a puddle. “It were just ol’ shelly here makin me sound strange. Aye,” the little man gave the shards of shell around him a kick. “NOT SO TOUGH NOW ARE WE SHELLY,” he shouted, stomping and jumping around on top of the shell remnants. He quickly tired of this and strolled around whistling to himself, ignoring Danny completely.

“What are you doing? Do you see now we are trapped in here, in this muddy smelly, cold, dark room?” The little man glanced up at Danny as he spoke and looked around, but didn’t reply. “Let me fill you in. We are being held captive by Mrs Grevil, who by my best reckoning is some kind of evil reborn creature. I don’t know what she wants with me… actually I think she thinks I am someone else. Anyway, they hardly feed me much as it is and I’m not sharing with the likes of you. At least not until you start explaining yourself. What’s your name? I’m Danny.” The little man gave Danny a dirty look. “What?”

“Ah don’t ave a name do I!”

“Oh, of course, you’ve only just been born.”

“Aye.”

“Well, what do you want to be called?”

“Ah dunnooo.”

“Well, maybe I could help you think of something,” said Danny.

“And what would a giant gnome like you know about names ey?”

“I’m not a giant gnome, I am a man.” The little man shrugged.

“Well how about, FEED ME NOW ey, hows that a for a name.”

“Why do you shout all the time?”

“Because I’m TINY that’s why.”

“Arent you going to grow?”

“How do I know?”

“You don’t know?” Asked Danny.

“I don’t want to talk about it ok.” The little man sounded very annoyed.

Just then the thud-a-thud-thud announced the approach of stumpy.

“Quick hide!” Said Danny. “Over there, in the corner,” he pointed to the darkest corner of the room, where the shadow made even the wall completely invisible.

Stumpy opened the door and grunted. He had a wooden bowl in his hand full of oaty slurry, the usual Danny thought. He had taken to not saying anything to Stumpy, after the first few times, which had resulted in some rather hard hits the ribs from his tree trunk staff. Stumpy left the bowl of the floor, grunted a sound that could have meant ‘food’, ‘here’ or even ‘hey’ and shut the door again. The thud-a-thud-thud sound retreated down the corridor.

“Broth?” Asked the little man hopefully from the shadows.

“I wish, just unsweetened oats.”

“Would you mind if I had some, giant gnome?”

“I’m not a giant gnome, but yes you can have a little bit. I doubt you need much do you.”

The little man walked towards the bowl, which was big enough to bathe him. Eyeing it hungrily he limbered up and spread his arms around it and underneath. “AAAHH” he lifted it up and lost his balance, wobbled left, then right then finally he stabilized and raised it up even further to his mouth and tipped the bowl so it angled to flow into his mouth. Danny couldn’t believe how fast the little man could gulp it down.

“That stuff expands in your stomach you know, you wont need much,” but the little man kept on going making loud gulping sounds as he swallowed. He downed half the bowl in moments.

“Hey stop that, that’s enough! You can’t have it all.” In the time it took for Danny to grab the bowl off him another third of the remaining half had been gobbled up. The little man released a massive belch and sat down heavily, his belly swollen so he looked more like a spinning top. Danny quickly ate the remainder before saying,

“Well, I think I’ve got a name for you. (think up name – gluper – but better)


Chapter 18

Drummerstown lay sprawled on either side of the Stretchwater. The river had grown so wide and slow and grey it seemed it was actually two separate towns on each bank, but the folk simply referred to them as North and South Drummerstown. Drummerstown is thought to have gained its name from an ancient cruel king, long lost in history, who was said to publicly beat his children like drums. Or at least, that is the tale Mrs Grevil told Alfred as a boy. Alfred entered the city from the south, having been successfully guided by the Kingdom of the Leaves. He was a day early and meant to spend it wisely. Andriad would be impressed if he could find a captain willing to take them up to the Crying Mountain for a reasonable price. But most of all, Alfred needed to prove it to himself, to get rid of the self-doubt. He needed to become worthy of Kingship.

Alfred remembered the tales of what Old Drummerstown had been. Long ago, in the time of the Small Kings when each city had its own king, Drummerstown was a thriving wealthy port town of traders. That was before the Stretchwater had become so wide and its waters so filthy; and that was before the long slow peace which made the price of weapons and more importantly, mercenaries, the primary export of Drummerstown, so low in value. Now the townsfolk made their money here and there with various small-crafts, but the Stretchwater was poisoned with a hundred kinds of filth, and men who sailed its waters lived short and diseased lives. Alfred had to find a healthy one who would be willing to take a low pay for a long journey.

“Excuse me sir,” Alfred asked a passer by, “do you know The Winking Owl?” He received no reply. He asked another man, but the man just grunted, shook his head and carried on walking. He tried another and another, all giving no response or just a grunt and shaking of the head. This is not a friendly town. The bustling crowds were all too busy for him, but finally he thought of trying someone who wasn’t going anywhere. There were plenty of roadside salesmen and Alfred spotted one selling throwing axes. Perhaps he could pretend to be wanting to sell his own axes to the man and slip in a question about directions.

“What, so you have some axes, I sell axes you clown, why would I want to buy some?”

“Well, I just thought you might want them to sell on again, they are very high quality.” The man waved Alfred off and started haggling loudly with a buyer.

“Excuse me,” Alfred said, but the man kept haggling and ignoring him.

“Excuse me, do you know the way to The Winking Owl?” Alfred asked more loudly, allowing for others to hear.

“The Winking Owl?” The reply came from an old lady, hooded. Alfred could only just make out her chin because her hood hung so low. “The Winking Owl’s not too far from here. Head down to the Stretchwater ‘till you reach the clock tower, then a left and the next right and you’ll see it.”

“Thank you,” said Alfred as the woman walked past him in the direction he needed to go before disappearing into the crowd.

Alfred followed the old lady’s directions and was soon at the clock tower. It was a tall rather odd wooden building that looked somewhat higgledy piggley and near collapse. It got fatter in the middle before getting thinner again and then it widened once more for the huge clock at the top, which told Alfred it was about midday. He took a left at the clock tower as directed, but glancing back he noticed there was another clock on this side saying was three hours later than the first clock. He walked all the way round and there was a third clock on the other side, another three hours later. On the fourth side there was no clock. For a moment he thought about asking someone what the three different times where all about, but remembering the difficulty in getting directions he decided it wasn’t worth it and continued on to The Winking Owl.

Alfred entered The Winking Owl on its lower level that faced the bustling main street. He had decided to resist eating until he reached it, as motivation to get there and to get started on finding a suitable boat and captain.

“Do you serve porridge?” He asked the barkeep.

“Aye, we do a fine porridge, for a little extra we’ll sweeten it with honey and make sure you get a good portion from the middle o’ the vat.” When Alfred just frowned in response the man leant in close and said, “the parts round the edge get a bit… gloopy.”

“Oh, yes, that sounds good, thanks.” He handed over some copper pieces and sat down by a table in the corner insight of the barkeep. While he waited he started forming plans of where to go, I’ll go down to the river, find the prices, see if we can afford any. If not I’ll haggle with the cheapest ones and get it all sorted. He was nervous about it, but determined not to mess it up. When the porridge arrived it quickly took away his worries.

But then on only the third spoonful, the porridge failed to regain its roughly flat surface. The empty space where spoonful Alfred took could clearly be seen in the porridge. He gave it a poke. That’s strange. Then a slit opened up just above the hole he had made, and then another slit appeared right next to it. Steam rose out of them. They got wider and the hole became rounder. Then the centre of the porridge started to rise up and the sides slithered away and a lump that could have been a nose rose up. A face emerged from the porridge. Alfred recognized the face.

It was Mrs Grevil’s. Dropping his spoon in horror it clattered to the floor and he glanced at the bar. The barkeep was not there. No one was watching. The background talk of The Winking Owl faded as the face of Mrs Grevil bulged aggressively. Every second it became more clearly formed and every second Alfred glanced up at the bar checking no one was watching and in those few seconds he glanced several times at the door hoping for Andriad to arrive, but he didn’t. Andriad please, help me. What is this dark magic? He tried to touch the bowl to tip it over and spill the evil face but the bowl had become scolding hot. His touch seemed to spur the porridge Grevil face to life. It hissed at him sssssssssssaaaaaaaaaa. The mouth closed for a moment and when it reopened there was a pool of dark blood in it which started to boil and bubble up. It mixed with the porridge and formed a red bloody and gloopy tongue that constantly flowed and rebuilt itself as the porridge and blood slithered over itself. Alfred wanted to spit out the three spoonfuls he had eaten. At first he didn’t realize quite how much he wanted to, but his body decided for him and he wretched and threw up down to the left of his table.

Recovering Alfred saw the barmen was still not there. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and the face started to laugh.


Chapter 19

“Ahaha hehehe,” the Mrs Grevil in her Mobray lair of cold stone laughed and spat into her porridge bowl. “You think you can escape me, escape us just by chewing a few sticks? Yes I know about those. I know more than you would ever believe. You’re friend Daniel is diying,” she said the lie WRONG POV? slowly and painfully. “You must come back and I will let him go. I only need your blood, just a single drop. I promise. I’d even let you go too and take your sulking mother with you. Far away from me.”

“Do not harm my mother, or your will suffer the consequences, I swear it, bloodmagia.” The voice of Alfred echoed around the stony chamber. (MAKE ALFRED SOUND LIKE A SQUIRREL? LOL? – problems with the magic?) name of book ‘when there are problems with magic’.

“Learnt a new word have we? Oh you’re mothers fine, well, fine given that you and your sister abandoned her. I don’t exactly have to go out and drag her in here for her to be my hostage. It’s not like she’s going anywhere. It’s not like ANYONE in Mobray is going anywhere. Not until you come back.”

“I am not coming back. You are a liar. I know what you have done and what you are doing.”

“And you think you can stop me by finding a few friends to help? Not going to work. Ha! It is already far too late. All you are doing is running away. Come back now and I will spare your friend Daniel and no harm shall come to your mother. You have no idea what you have let that fool Simian talk yourself into. Yes, bloodmagia are powerful, but that is just about limit of Simian’s correctness on the matter. A drop of my blood is worth ten times its weight in gold and now there is so much of it, pulsing through the veins of monsters. Creatures smart enough to know the winning side when they see it… and others who have come to see it. Come back Alfred. Come back now. This is your final warning.”

Mrs Grevil clenched her fist and smashed the porridge into the dying fireplace. The wood of the bowl shattered and fed the fire as the porridge oozed down the stone of the hearth. She reached for her cane and stood up, leaning on it heavily and left the room.

“Daniel,” she said into the gloom.

“Yes?” He didn’t bother to stand, he seemed too weak.

“It seems your friend Alfred is not the friend you thought he was. He has betrayed you.”

“What? No. Alfred wouldn’t. What are you saying.”

“He is running away on some fool’s mission Simian has sent him on. You’ve met Simian?” She could make out a nod in the darkness.

“He has abandoned you like he abandoned his mother. You are nothing to him. You meant nothing to him. You mean nothing to anyone. You are alone.”

“Speak for yeself ye old hag,” a little tiny man stepped out of the shawows.

“Waa? What, who are you?”

“Who am I? WHO AM I? She asks. Oh so you get to ask the questions do ya? And what’s a little man like me to do? Ey?” He swaggered up to her, stood tall (as his height allowed) and looked her straight in the eye. Even bent over on her cane Mrs Grevil was three times his height. “They call me GIBBY, aye. And now I’m going to show you why I’m going to be called Big Gibby, aye.”

“And why is that,” she asked, scathingly.

“Well, I’m one part small, as ye can see. Two parts big for being loud and hungry. A small cancels out a big, leaving only a big but then that’s all backward logic making me Gib not big. Oh, and I’m adding a big by beating the SHITE out of yew!” As he swore he jumped up and broke Mrs Grevils nose with a punch, then quickly kicked down her cane and Danny leapt up and grabbed it and Big Gibby took out her shins. Mrs Grevil fell with a squeal and Danny stomped on her back, scooped up Big Gibby and ran.

They ran up some stone stairs into a room with a stone table and stone chairs and up more stairs where the steps became larger as they went up. Then through the fake living area and they were out, into the open afternoon air of Mobray.

“Ye can put me down now giant gnome man,” said Big Gibby. “I like to walk on me own two feet.”

“I can’t put you down now we have to keep running.”

“Why? Where are we going?”

“To Alfred and Awennas’ house, to get their mother safe.”

“Oh aye saving the girl are we,” said Big Gibby.

“Saving the girl’s mum.”

“Ha!”

They reached Alfred’s house in no time. No one seemed to be about in the village. Danny made five loud knocks on the door. It opened.

“Err,” Danny stammered noticing Alfred’s mothers confounded gaze at Big Gibby.

“Will you put me down now?” He asked.

“Oh, yes.” Danny dropped him with a clump without noticing.

“Erm, Mrs, Mrs Alfred, I mean, Sarah, you have to come with us. I know there’s a lot to explain, but I know where Alfred and Awenna are,” he lied.

“You know where my babies are! Oh Daniel you are a good lad thank you come in.”

Danny could tell she had been crying but her joy now was so great he saw even Big Gibby was smiling cheerily at her.

“No you have to come with me, with us. I can’t explain now, we are all in great danger.” Danny could see she was not convinced. “Please, you have to trust me.”

She deliberated for a moment then replied. “Ok. Just a minute,” she slammed the door and disappeared.

“Well, ah can ney complain. She’s a we bit on the old side but not bad. Shall we take her skinny dipping?”

“No you massive massive idiot. We have to get out of here, away from Mobray, away from everywhere. Don’t you see? We need to find Alfred.”

“I thought you knew where he was?”

“I never said that.”

“Yeah you did, just now, to her.”

“I know they aren’t here.”

“Aye. She knows that too. Gonna be one angry mamma. You’d better hope she’s the type that gets sexy when mad.” Danny sighed as the door opened. Sarah emerged with some blankets and supplies, but dropped them immediately. Danny and Big Gibby turned around. A pack of snarling hyenas surrounded them, led by a Minotaur holding a sharp metal spear.


Chapter 20

Simian lead, Awenna came second and Sesheta walked closely behind. The formation formed quickly and seemed to work well. Different maters of varying of importance had been discussed all day but it wasn’t until the afternoon after a period of silence that Awenna thought to ask:

“Simian, how big is my kingdom, and Alfreds?”

“You’re kingdom, my dear, is roughly the size of a kingdom.” Simian gave a air filled chuckle as he walked. “Reborn kingdoms of the standing stones are not all the same size. The age and importance and complexity of the stones is a factor, and so is the landscape. For example, having the boundary of a kingdom in a forest was avoided as it makes more sense to have the boundary running along the edge of the forest. We are all allies and so squabbling over border resources is not an issue and never has been. You may wonder,” he took a few deeps breaths, they were walking quickly, “what is their function? Well, there are several functions of a reborn kingdom of the standing stones. One is to protect the stones. Their use must guarded. Another is to help the tormented reborns, which by far out number the human reborns.”

“Andriads’ house is not unique?” Awenna asked.

“Oh, I would not say that no. Andriad is most definitely unique, yes,” Simian glanced back, smiling. A tormented reborn sanctuary is Rule in the kingdoms, but few are kept in such good order as Andriad’s, or so I believe.”

“Rule? Do you not have laws?”

“We live by the same laws you do. We cannot make laws of our own because there are not enough human reborns to enforce them. We simply have Rules, that we stick to because we must and because it is clearly seen that they are right. If we were reborn as animals we would be glad for there to be a reborn sanctuary, and glad for the stone rings’ portals to be protected. We know of a life after death and so generally take the long-sighted approach to things.”

“I see, so, how big is my kingdom?”

“Oh ah ha my dear I am sorry I became sidetracked, we must hope my walking is not the same.” They both laughed and Awenna glanced back to see if Seshea was listening but she was far away in a day dream. “The size of your kingdom Awenna, emanating from its stone ring is approximately three solid days walk in any direction, four if you’re feeling lazy, or have bad weather conditions.”

“Wow, that’s amazing.” To be able to go on walks for days in the peace and calm. “I can’t wait to get there,” she added.

“I’m sure your subjects will greet you warmly, I have informed them of our journey. They will be prepared to leave so expect little rest upon our arrival.”

“If we arrive at all Simian,” Sesheta spoke up from the back. There was a pause before Simian replied.

“You refer to your Texam experience last night.”

“Yes. I felt much. Much more than I have in a long time. Reborns are happening more than they should. They are being forced, in these very woods around. Simian, I fear we are being watched even now.” They looked around nervously, apart from Simian.

“Then let us hope we remain only being watched,” he said.

Awenna glanced back and saw Sesheta grumbling. She clearly did not share Simians’ hope.

As if they had called it upon themselves, a rustling sound came from the undergrowth in the bushes to the right. It moved towards them quickly. In lightning fast movements Sesheta grabbed Awenna and pulled her backwards and Simian reached for his long (COCK LOL) sword under his dark grey cloak. The boar burst onto the path and flew across it directly where Awenna had been standing. Simian swiped with this sword but the boar was gone. Only its curly pink tail remained on the path. Awenna had fallen backwards onto Sesheta, who fell back with her elbows landing in a muddy puddle. They were both immobilized there.

“Simian it returns!” Sesheta blurted, struggling to get up.

As brave as a monk, Simian leapt between the fast approaching rustling and the floored pair spreading his legs wide. This time he was ready. He swiped early, using the sound of the boar to judge. As soon he heard it snarl he struck down a blow from above his head that went straight through the boar, slicing it almost completely in two, longways down the middle. The boar slid under Simian’s spread legs. His sword scraped the ground beneath and caught on a stone, twisting his wrist. He let go of the sword and hoped over it out of the way. The boar’s short sharp tusks slowed to a complete halt pressing gently on Awennas shoulder. It had all taken a matter of seconds.

Awenna struggled to her feet and gave Sesheta a hand up out of the muddy puddle. For a moment no one said anything.

“Is everyone ok?” Asked Simian.

“Yes I’m fine. Thank you, so much, both of you. You both saved my life. Thank you, I was useless,” said Awenna. “Are you alright Simian? Your wrist?”

“It is nothing, just a little twist. It will be fine in a few days.”

“That may not be fine enough Simian,” said Sesheta. Awenna expected Simian to be exasperated by that, after his heroic display, but any hint of anger never even simmered.

“We must trust in the moons and the stones.”

“May I see?” Asked Sesheta, gesturing to his wrist. She took it in her hand pressing on different places with her thumb. “Does it hurt here?”

“No.”

“Here?”

“No, a little.”

“Here?”

“A bit more yes, that’s it. Not that much though.”

“Give me a moment,” said Sesheta. She looked Simian in the eye, released his hand and hopped off into the undergrowth.

“Is it ok?” Asked Awenna.

“Oh it’s nothing, don’t worry yourself. Anyway, my left hand is best my for dagger fighting and that one is fine,” he clenched his good first.

“That was some very impressive sword skills, I’m not sure what to say. Should I be learning how to use a weapon now?”

“For now the Bombay Ganjita Texam is your weapon. It will give you intelligence over the enemies’ movements. But… some basic training would be useful.” He eyed her up and down. “You are quick and have a good eye, but are physically weak I have seen. A boomerang will be perfect.”

“A boomerang? I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one, yet alone thrown it to kill!”

“We can practise your aim on the way with sticks. Once we reach your stone ring we can switch to a real one.”

Sesheta appeared out of a bush clutching some leaves with a silver shiny quality and small purple flowers.

“Jewelweed, for your wrist. It will help.” She put the Jewelweed between her palms and rubbed them together into a green stringy pulp then flattened them against Simian’s skin beneath a bandage.

“Thank you, Sesheta,” said Simian.

“Simian look, Sesheta, I don’t understand.” Awenna was standing over the remains of the boar, with a distraught look on her face.

“That was a reborn, not a usual boar Awenna,” said Simian. It was hard to tell how old the boy had been, but the soft face didn’t look like it had seen many razors.

“It’s a boy. You killed a boy,” said Awenna, kneeling she put her hands up to her mouth, her eyes were full of tears.

“It was a boy no longer. It was a form of Mrs Grevil. A form of the bloodmagia. She killed the boy. It will be too late for him. Our potion will not save a pile of bones, but if you wish to save as many as you can, then come Awenna, come and claim your kingdom.”


Chapter 21

The rain bombarded down in big fat drops drumming Alfred’s thoughts around his skull. Inward looking, he paced to the docs. Mrs Grevil is a liar. She needs more than a drop of my blood and would kill me and Mother and Danny if I returned. Get to the docks. Get a boat. Wait for Andriad. But then a stray thought raced across his mind without getting a chance to settle. Ask Andriad the details, I need to know more about everything.

The docks looked like they started fifty paces back where the first wooden mooring spots where, but the Stretchwater was so wide and shallow small changes in rainfall meant it swelled from fat to thin faster than a woman at childbirth. It must have been about a mile from where the buildings on South Drummerstown ended across to the others on the Northern side. Alfred passed a dozen little wooden docks and as many mooring stumps that went straight into the muddy sand before reaching the water of the Stretchwater. The shallowness meant the boats where as small as they were numerous. There would be no sailing up the river in a fine ship fit for a king. It was the city’s misplaced junk that had clogged it, making it so wide, as if wanting to share its grey misery out for everyone. The river did thin and deepen again when it left the city, but securing a place on an expensive non-city boat was not an option.

“How much to the Crying Mountain?” Alfred asked an ageing man standing next to a tiny vessel attached with a rope to a mooring post who was shouting an offer of a ferry ride across to the North side for a big cup of mead in the Grey Guzzlers.

“Crying Mountain? Too far, Too far for me I’m afraid. Try the Blistered Fingers over there,” he pointed to the right, “or maybe the Leather Bellies beyond them.”

“Thanks,” replied Alfred, who didn’t know if those were names for boat, a crew or what. He trudged on completely drenched but undeterred. There was nothing else to do.

“Excuse me, do you know the Leather Bellies? Blistered Fingers?” He asked a boy carrying an oar twice his height over his shoulder. The boy just repeated the names back to him and pointed him in the direction he was already going. After asking three more people he finally discovered the names where for crews of rowers who jointly owned a boat, or ‘ship’ as they called it. If it doesn’t even have a sail, it definitely shouldn’t be called a ship he thought.

The rain continued to fall hard.

“Excuse me sir, sir? Is this the Leather Bellies?”

“Aye that we are. Lookin to go somewhere?”

“To the Crying Mountain.”

“Crying Mountain? What’s you gots business there or something?”

“Aye, business,” said Alfred.

“Well, I’ve never been there myself, and neithers’ any of me crew, but I can get ya there none the same. Its only a river ey not many turnings,” the man attempted to laugh but was clearly too tired to manage it properly.

“How much would it cost for me and one more?”

“Ah tell ye what. If you’ll take me and me four brothers for a nice hot meal with a couple of meads each,” he gestured back up to the buildings of South Drummerstown, “I’ll do it for a silver piece each.” Alfred considered for a moment. “It’s a solid five days five nights rowin that is, or there abouts. You wont get a better deal round here, or even anyone willing to take you that far.”

Alfred thought about it. He didn’t like how this man was making a business deal seem like friendship, but then again maybe that was a good thing. He needed friends. And it was cheap, or cheap enough.

“They call me Sturdy Rowan, by the way, yous can call me Rowan, or Rowe, if you prefer.” The middle-age Rowan smiled up at Alfred through a bushy grey-black beard.

“What about the Blistered Fingers? I’ve heard they offer very good service and fair prices,” said Alfred, attempting to rise to the occasion and not flop so easily like the soaked through wafer cracker he felt like.

“Where’d you here that!” scoffed Rowan. “They’d take you aye, one of the few others who’d take you, but good service? Ha! You’d find better service up a dogs arse. Anyways, they cast off this morning like the rest of the larger crews.” It was then Alfred realized that if four men crews were the larger crews, perhaps coming to Drummerstown was not the best plan after all. “Lots of folk from the villages been coming in lately. Some trouble out there I hear? Strange stuff happening to children, or so I hear. Disappearing in the night. Well, sailing off wont get em back will it. Well, I suppose you got nothing to do with that. What do you say? Hot meal and mead and a silver piece each for you and you friend and we’ll get you there safe and sound.”

“Ok,” said Alfred. He offered his hand and they shook. “I’m Alfred. If you and you’re brothers wouldn’t mind, my friend will be joining us first thing tomorrow and then we’ll need to be off.”

“Got a schedule have we? No problem at all master Alfred.” For a silly second Alfred thought about correcting him, but he hardly looked like a king, or had any power over these people anyway. “OY LADS” Rowan shouted back to his brothers who where doing various bits of small work on their boat, which Alfred saw was called The Belly. They failed to respond so Alfred waited for a soggy minute while Rowan gathered them up. Alfred felt briefly concerned when Rowan leant in close to their ears to get them up and going, but it was hard to hear out here with the wind and the driving rain. Rowan introduced his brothers to him one by one.

First came Lommey no Thumbs, who was keen to show his nickname was not completely true. He had one thumb, on his left hand and had lost the other in a rowing accident when his hand got caught between his boat and another, who’s captain was apparently, “more clumsy than a toddler trying to balance on his mothers tits.” Next up was Billy the Belly Button, or “Threebees”, named after his perfectly round belly, or so he proudly claimed and had nothing to do with the name of the ‘ship’ The Belly, or indeed its crew, the Leather Bellies. Finally, Rowan introduced William Widowmaker, who weakly jested that it was due to his fearsome reputation in battle, but it seemed the truth was that he was the youngest and had killed the brothers’ mother in childbirth. They all seemed to have forgiven him however and they came across as the best of friends. Alfred didn’t trust them entirely, but was relieved for some company and friendly chatter. Hoping he had done well, his spirits lifted and as they departed the weather responded by reducing the rain to a light but constant drizzle.

The brothers did most of the talking as they walked with a seemingly endless stream of memories to laugh over while Alfred listened and answered their questions when asked, none of them too probing. He was rather looking forward to eating and having a drink with them, but their presence, no matter how distracting, would not make the memory of the horror porridge fade, or its message any dimmer. I’ll just have to wait for Andriad’s advice about that he thought as they approached The Winking Owl in good timing for dinner. Alfred’s appetite left him when his meal had started talking to him, but it had been a long walk to find Rowan and his brothers and the cold and rain always made him much more hungry.


Chapter 22

“We are approaching the borders of your kingdom,” Simian announced. “Just ahead here, where the trees end and the meadow begins.” Awenna looked eagerly ahead as the meadow emerged. The bright sun made it shine a hazy yellow.

“So this is it?” She asked.

“Yes. This is yours, or it will be soon. You will have command over all reborns that live here, human and animal alike.”

“There! Look,” Awenna pointed.

“Mellowfield, yes. A fine reborn horse. I have known her for her many years,” said Simian, who put two fingers in his mouth and blew out a loud short sharp whistling sound. Mellowfield turned and galloped across the meadow. She seemed to fit the meadow perfectly with her smooth honey yellow colouring and creamy white mane. Simian and Sesheta raised a hand to wave as she approached which seemed odd but Awenna joined in quickly.

“Mellowfield how are you,” said Simian, not quite as a question, but with the same tones as if he were saying ‘I have missed you’. Mellowfield nodded up and down and her raised her lips to reveal her teeth in a smile while making a happy horse sound. “Good, I am glad to see you still looking as beautiful and magnificent as ever.” Awenna could see Mellowfield liked that, although there was a sadness in the horses eye. “We have need for you, and Stomper and possibly several others. An important task. But first, meet Awenna. Awenna is a reborn of the sacred age and in line to be Queen of the standing stones of Selbure.” At that, Mellowfield made a horse noise and bowed her head in respect. Awenna nodded politely. “We are headed to the stone ring, to unite with its guardians. Can you bring us more as fine as yourself to speed us on our journey? Time is of essence.” Mellowfield gave a positive reply in simple horse noises and body language, turned and galloped faster than any normal horse would do without a rider urging it onwards. “We will wait here,” Simian said to them. “Lunch,” he grinned.

Awenna had no objection to that, it was a lovely location and her legs had been aching all day. At the word lunch her stomach let out a greedy rumble. They were finishing off lunch in the sun surrounded by the tall yellow grasses when Awenna heard the sound of galloping hooves approaching. Standing up to see over the grass, Awenna saw five horses, each a different colour behind Mellowfield. Their movement was as powerful as a river, yet gentle as a breeze. As they arrived, Simian and Sesheta stood to greet them. Sesheta had wolfed down her lunch and spent some time scraping off dried mud from her leopard skin clothing. When Awenna tried to apologize about it, Sesheta had given a weak shrug and said it was fine and unimportant, but Awenna wasn’t convinced from the way she picked at it silently.

“Excellent Mellowfield, thank you,” said Simian. “Stomper, hello,” he greeted the horse that was black all over, who stomped his front legs in response. “Hello Dunster, haven’t seen you in a while. Braverond, welcome and Mearasa, I am glad you have come.” Sesheta was stroking the wonderfully white Mearasa while Simian introduced Awenna to them and Sesheta to rest. Then Simian spoke up and address them all. He spoke like a general addressing an army before battle.

“We are going down a dangerous road, to collect rare ingredients that we may not be able to find. We will be travelling far and have many enemies. We cannot stop the bloodmagia. But with this potion, we can make right the wrongs. Your Queen to be’s mother is danger. Your lives are in danger here and so are all the reborn creatures and humans alike. So I ask you; lend us your strength and loyalty. Lend us your honour and lend us your speed and become more than horses again. Serve us well and in the next life serve the Queen Awenna, not as horses, but as men, as women, as guardians of the standing stones of Selbure!”

The reborn horses reared and stomped, Stomper especially. They snorted loudly and lowered their heads gesturing to be mounted. Sesheta saddled up Mellowfield, Stomper and Mearasa. “Sesheta, Mearasa is for Awenna. A Queen should always ride the white.” Sesheta nodded and mounted Stomper and Simian mounted Mellowfield. Awenna approached Mearasa and gave her a stroke. “Hello, you are so beautiful, will you let me ride you?” Mearasa responded positively and shuffled sideways so her saddle was next to Awenna. Awenna mounted, gave one glance back to the forest they had come from and they were off. The three of them, Simian leading, followed by Awenna and then Sesheta. The two un-mounted horses followed behind.

Their speed was quick, and Awenna could see Simians thin flop of grey hair blowing in the wind as her own hair steamed out behind her in a river of brown. The horses didn’t need kicking, they knew to hurry. They rode across the meadow and up and up gentle hills and down again, stopping briefly at a large puddle for the horses to have a drink. “From here you should take the lead Awenna. As we get closer to the stone ring its guardians may see us and they should see you leading,” said Simian atop Mellowfield. “Mearasa knows the way.”

“Ok. Are they all going to be there?” Asked Awenna from Mearasa,

“I cannot say. They know of our arrival, and so they will have prepared the stones for your coronation ceremony.”

“What will I have to do?”

“Nothing difficult, don’t worry.”

“You will take the Texam as a test,” said Sesheta. “You are ready and have nothing to fear.” Awenna gulped and said,

“Are we ready to go then? Lets go!” Mearasa heard her and they were off again straight up a small hill. So far in Awenna’s kingdom they had ridden through only meadow, but there were trees lining the sides of the meadow, so Awenna was pleased to see she would rule a mixture of rolling grassland and woodland. There were few human inhabitants it seemed, unlike Alfred’s Mobray. They passed an area of fenced off wheat fields with some farm buildings on the other side and a man was leading a donkey down a trackway off to the left, but other than that it was largely unfarmed wild land. My land.

As they rode Awenna wondered what her guardian reborns would be like. She remembered back to Flaygrun and Welund; perhaps they would be like that? But then again, Sesheta and Simian couldn’t be more different. Simian seemed to know everyone, but if Sesheta did she didn’t make it known, not to mention their other differences… I’ll just have to wait and see.

They rode hard and fast. The reborn horses knew the way and were determined to do their very best in the faint hope of a human rebirth. More than once Awenna considered stopping, but Mearasa was never faltered or showed signs of tiring. The drumming of the hooves on the stony path was hypnotic and Awenna found herself leaning forward and whispering in Mearasa’s ear. When they stopped at last atop a hill, which overlooked a green plateau, Awenna realized what she had been doing she but couldn’t remember any of the words she had whispered. But she did feel a deep connection with Mearasa, as if they had floated in the Texam together in a shared and secret experience.

The view from the hill showed green leafy trees framed by rocky crags; almost as if it were once a mountain-sided valley where the top half of the mountains had been lopped off. “The standing stones of Selbure lie just beyond the Smallwood,” Simian announced. “It is a couple of hours hard ride. We should be been there come evening fall.” As simian spoke Awenna heard the hiss of arrow, and then another and another, followed by a snarl and two thuds. A puff of brown dusty mud erupted in the grass between the trackway and the trees. Simian drew his sword with his bandaged hand and the reborn horses wagged their heads from side to side to try and spot the foe. After a few moments of painfully quiet silence the dust began to settle and Awenna could just make out two wriggling figures become still. They were too far away for her to see any details but she could guess from their small bare feet pointing skywards that they were young boys.

A man stepped out from the trees holding a longbow in one hand and raising an empty palm to them. “Hello there,” she shouted. Simian still stood alert, as sharp as his sword. “Simian, is that you? It has been too long my old friend.” At first Simian didn’t react, he didn’t recognize the man, but as he came closer Simian lowered his sword and smiled.

“Edrond,” Simian said “I am pleased to see you.”


Chapter 23

“Daniel, don’t worry I have some things to explain to you. You are going to be fine, I promise,” said Sarah as the Minotaur lead them down the shrinking stone stairs into Mrs Grevils chambers.

“What do you know?” Asked Danny, “I’m the one who has things to explain. You’re the one who listens and says ‘I don’t believe you’ and then eventually realizes that I’m telling the truth.”

“Don’t take that tone with me Daniel. You don’t know the full story. It was me who told The Story to Alfred’s and Awenna’s father. I am,”

“A reborn,” Mrs Grevil completed her sentence. Danny recognized the room with the stone table and chairs and Mrs Grevil standing stout and stubborn with a triumphant look on her face. “Sarah here is a reborn and has been grooming you and Alfred and his silly sister for destruction. She believes in some nonsense prophecy about three sacred age reborns created at the same time who will destroy the bloodmagia and rule the standing stones in peace for an age, or so the twaddle goes,” said Mrs Grevil mockingly. “Sounds more like one of my stories. Ha!”

“You’re stories come true,” Danny piped up, “like the Barking Moose.”

“Clever boy Daniel, but the prophecy doesn’t say anything about the bloodmagia holding one of the three captive does it? As long as you remain in here, there can only be two out there, and so to the prophecy cannot come true.” Danny saw she was right and so simply scowled back, but Sarah had a strangely confident look.

“Aye, but it didn’t say anything aboot me did it ey?” Said Big Gibby. “Where do I fit in your wee plan?” Mrs Grevil ignored him.

“Oy I’m talking to yew!” He shouted.

“Quiet,” said Sarah, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“No, actually, you are quite right,” said Mrs Grevil. “You are not needed here are you.” Big Gibby gulped. “Stumpy!” Mrs Grevil shouted for her ham-headed bag of obedience. He appeared in moments, tree trunk staff in hand. “Take this little thing away. It’s story time for him.”

“No, wait, I don’t understand!” Big Gibby protested. “I can be in this story, see, the prophecy actually said that a man hatched out of an egg and saved everyone, no, get off me!” He jumped up and landed his trademark punch in the face of Stumpy who grunted as if little more than a moth had landed on his nose and picked Big Gibby up by the scruff of the neck and carried him away. There was nothing Danny or Sarah could do but watch.

“You know this cannot work. The Story works by the old magic of the moons and the stones, the old magic of grand justice. It was created solely to reward good living. You are destined to fail,” said Sarah.

“How do you know about this?” Asked Danny, bewildered.

“You will find there is much you don’t understand Daniel,” said Mrs Grevil, “But I’m sure you will be in your cell long enough to hear it all. “Stumpy!” She called for him again. “Reacquaint Daniel with his cell and Sarah too, and be sure it is… adequately furnished.”

“Yesth, Yesth my priest,” he said.

The cell was just as Danny had left it, dark and damp and wet. The puddles were a map of his sorrows. But Stumpy made it worse. Mrs Grevil’s instructions apparently meant to urinate all over the walls, which he did with great enthusiasm. Stumpy starting pissing and skipping sideways splattering urine everywhere but he ran out before he got all the way round, at which point he said, “Don’t tell,” and stomped his tree trunk staff hard on the ground as a warning. Then he left them. The smell was like a knife up the nose and left Danny and Sarah fanning the air in front of their noses and making disgruntled noises.

“Fuck sake,” said Danny, before slumping down into a spot Stumpy missed. Sarah remained standing.

“Daniel I want to explain what is happening. I’ve always played my part, but I haven’t been completely honest with you over the years, or honest with anyone really, apart from Simain.”

“Simian? You know Simian?”

“Yes. It was Simian who explained the prophecy to me. I am a reborn Daniel. I told The Story to Alfred and Awenna’s father. I thought he was a good man, but I was wrong. He was reborn as a hawk and flew away when Alfred was very young. I haven’t seen him since. That day Simian took away my grief. He told me my son was not like his father. He told me that my son would be a king. I believed him because I had to, to keep going, but now it all makes sense.” She looked at Danny to make sure he was paying attention and continued.

“Millennia ago all the kingdoms of standing stones were ruled by sacred age reborn kings for many thousands of moons. But then a bloodmagia like Mrs Grevil discovered the reborns’ secret and used it to kill all the sacred age reborns. The guardians of the standing stones failed and unspeakable evils where blown through the portals. Over time the evil was swept away to other lands. All winters must end. Alfred’s father used to say that, but now this winter is starting again. Simian told me about a mystic seer, who used some magic herbs and saw in a sacred trance what was to be.” Sarah was pacing the cell, not noticing the puddles she stood in. “She saw in her trance three sacred age rebirths happening together, here at Mobray, and on Simian’s watch. She saw the three waging a great war against a new bloodmagia who once again discovered the secrets of the reborns. She saw many rebirths and many deaths. This is all happening now Daniel, don’t you see? I am the only reborn who lives among the people of Mobray, so Simian knew it must stem from me, but I was too old to be sacred age so instead he placed his hope in Alfred. He said nothing of queen’s, only kings, so I spared Awenna the burden of knowing. When Alfred was little I made him learn sections of The Story in reverse so he could learn it without being reborn too young in the hope that he could use it himself it when the time came. When the children went missing and the remains of Mrs Grevil were found and he didn’t return with Awenna, I knew what it meant. There was nothing I could do. The village was doomed and only Alfred knew the story. Only Alfred could save them.

It was too much information for Danny. His best friend knew about these… conspiracies and didn’t tell him? “I don’t understand. How could Alfred have kept all this a secret for so long?”

“Oh I didn’t tell him everything, moons no, that would have been too much for a boy to handle. All I did was teach him The Story in sections, forbidding him to ever put it together, and tell him that he was special. In recent years we haven’t talked about it. I think he thought it was just a childish game.

“But it’s not a game. The villagers are all gone, probably dead, and the children are gone too. You should have done something. You should have told us!”

“I am sorry Daniel, the prophecy said that three sacred age reborns would destroy the bloodmagia, not me. However, once I discovered Mrs Grevil was the bloodmagia I did do something.”

“What?”

“Prepare an escape route.”

It was on his fourth cup of strong mead that Rowan stood and made a japing toast to Alfred and, “his mystery friend from lands afar.” Rowan wasn’t the most friendly of drunks and Alfred had to sternly remind him that he was only paying for the first two cups. This was amid loud and repeated jests of what Alfred’s “mystery friend from lands afar” would be like. Once the plates and cups were on the table the one aimiable brothers seemed to forget that it was Alfred who was paying for it and Alfred who they would be spending the next five days with on the Stretchwater. The relationship was allowed to fray to breaking point on several occasions but Lommey no Thumbs managed to repair it and convince Alfred all over again that they were just having some fun.

“Ey maybe we’ve got it wrong lads,” Threebee’s said, “maybe what the boy means by friend is actually his girlfriend, who he wants to take on a romantic get away down the Stretchwater.” Threebee’s burst into a roar of laughter with Rowan and William Widowmaker who banged on the table loudly making the cutlery jump up and down.

“Romance on the Stretch, now that’s a sight to see!” Said Rowan

“Is that the truth of it boy, your bringing your little girlyfriend along?” Threebee’s asked grinning, his stubbly red checks flushed with alcohol.

“No, he is a friend,” said Alfred who started to stand and push back his chair to leave but Lommey grabbed his arm.

“No please, they are fools when they are in their cups, forgive them. They do not know their place. Stay. Come on, sit down, please.” Reluctantly Alfred sat down again.

“I will not be treated like this. This is good silver. I’m paying for a simple service, not to be mocked every night for a week,” he said to Lommey. The others where eating and laughing too loudly to hear.

“You wont be. They’ve no money but what you will pay them, they will have nothing to drink. I assure you.”

“Well, if they make one more joke I am leaving and they will be in serious trouble with the barkeep.” Alfred brushed his sides subtly with a hand to make sure his hidden axes were holstered safely and ready; just in case he thought. He sincerely hoped the brothers would return to their much more friendly sober state in the morning when Andriad arrived. “Where are you all going to sleep anyway? You’re not sharing my room.”

“I suspect the barkeep will allow us to sleep out the back with the pigs,” said Rowan drunkenly from across the table. Alfred didn’t think he had been listening. “We know the barkeep do we Leather Bellies, aye, we’ll come to an arrangement.” That caught Alfred’s attention. There aren’t any pigs out the back, it’s just a smaller street. Alfred suddenly realized he need to get away from these people, but Lommey no Thumbs was sitting in the way. Alfred finished his only cup of mead and stood up.

“Where are you going?” Asked Lommey.

“I need the toilet,”

“Oh, come on past,” Lommey started to move out the way but grabbed Alfred’s arm. He pulled out a short rusty blade and held it to Alfred’s neck. All the brothers rose and displayed their weaponry, which consisted entirely of rusty knives apart from Rowan, who held a curved and shiny sabre. It twinkled in the dim light as he made a nasty face and wiggled it from side to side.

“Give us your silvers and you shall have a safe journey,” said Rowan. Threebees let out a greedy giggle and Lommey pressed the knife in against Alfred’s neck producing a sharp pain.

“Ok ok,” said Aflred, reaching inside his cloak. He realized he use their previous jokes about him being an innocent young boy to his advantage. “It’s just in here,” he made what he thought to be a scared and submissive face while his mind raced so intensively he was convinced the brothers would hear his plan, his thoughts where so loud. Thankfully they didn’t, and Alfred fell away from the knife at his neck with his hand clutching the handle of one of his throwing axes. He use his other arm to roll onto his back as soon as he hit the floor and flung the axe up back at Lommey in one swift motion. It hit its target with a squelch and blood squirted from Lommey’s neck across the table covering Threebees’ face in red. Threebees fists were clenched, one around a knife and he raised them to his face screaming to wipe the blood out of his eyes, stabbing his own eye out in the process. The eyeball was stuck on the end of his knife. He wiped the blood off from the other and couldn’t stop shrieking with horror.

“Ahhhh! Ahhhhhhh! Me eye! Ahhhh me eye.”

“Shut up shhh, ital be ok, look, try putting it back in, no not that way round,” said William Widowmaker.

“Ahhhhh!” Threebees wailed.

Rowan leapt up on the table with a murderous look, sabre in hand and roared at Alfred who turned and ran for the exit. The barkeep appeared at the bar just in time to receive a handful of coppers in the face from Alfred as he ran past being chased by the blood spattered, roaring and raging Rowan. Alfred made it to the exit out the back into the street. Definitely no pigs he thought crazily. The moons where out in full force, as where the drunkards but the stars where hidden by the streetlamps of Drummerstown. Drummerstown was not known for its polite sober population and Alfred knocked over three drunks before reaching a turning. He glanced back, Rowan was there with his blade raised above his head charging through the drunks like a horse over grass. He didn’t try to avoid anyone and knocked over everyone he came across, which slowed him down, but if they slowed him down too much he would swipe out at them with this sabre. Alfred heard a woman cry out in pain, and hoped Rowan hadn’t hurt anyone. He made a left turn and then a right onto the main street, taking him back up to the clock tower. If I head to the Gate of Katelina I might catch Andriad as he arrives.

Drummerstown didn’t have walls, but there were gates over the roads as they entered none the same, giving the city false prestige if viewed on a map. He looked back again. He couldn’t see Rowan anymore. It was easy to get lost in crowds and shadow, so he slowed his pace to be less conspicuous. The clock tower loomed up ahead and Alfred read the time as ten minutes past eleven from the clock he had gone with before. There was still no sign of Rowan or his roaring anymore. I’m safe.

Alfred kept walking at a brisk pace towards the Gate of Katelina. The images of Lommey’s blood, Threebee’s eye, Rowans roar and the horror porridge, as he had come to call it, wouldn’t go away. Alfred realized he was terrified of The Winking Owl. The only place I don’t want to go is the one place I have to be. He was scared and alone and wanted to see Andriad’s face more than ever. At least I have Sheepy’s twiglings to keep away the bad dreams, if I can find somewhere to sleep.

Alfred went into The Luna Inn, the closest inn to the Gate of Katelina. He bought himself a bed and a wash and some mead and sat at the back of the main room behind a handful of other inn guests listening to a singer sing a song about the long slow peace while plucking simple notes on a harp.

A peace so long we long for war All this waiting is making us poor We make good fighters and sell them for more O’er the north ‘nd the south

But now the Stretch can stretch no more We trade in rags and work ourselves raw So we drink our mead and abide the law O’er the north ‘nd the south

Alfred ordered another mead and continued to listen before reaching for the twiglings and for bed.

The twiglings worked on stopping Mrs Grevil’s dreamsnakes but Alfred had trouble adjusting to only needing an hours sleep. The extra time was very useful in a tight spot, but there were sometimes when he would prefer to be dreaming than to be living. Now was such a time. He woke up in the middle of the night fully refreshed and decided to examine his financial situation. It was not looking good. He had paid twice for a bed tonight. He still had his room in The Winking Owl, but had forgotten in the confusion as he threw payment at the barkeep for his meal and he had left one of his axes behind in Lommey no thumb’s neck. Then there were the extra drinks last night, which weren’t cheap. He felt justified in buying them though. They weren’t the mistake, trusting Rowan and the Leather Bellies was. He still had two silver pieces and enough coppers to survive a few days. That might not be enough.

Alfred didn’t want to go outside, it was warm and safe in the inn so instead he chose to go downstairs in search of sober and friendly company. A mission more difficult than it sounds in the middle of the night in an inn in Drummerstown. He sat down at the bar but didn’t order anything, to save money. And anyway, it felt too early to Alfred be drinking anything stronger than water. The room had emptied. All that remained was a man passed out at the end of the bar, a couple of middle aged men having heated but hushed conversation at a table and an balding older man with a fuzzy grey beard leaning over a board game.

“You boy,” he said. “Fancy a game of Nine Men’s Morris?”

“Sure ok.”

“You know how to play?”

“Yes, although I’ve not played in a while,” said Alfred. He used to play the game as a child with Awenna. It reminded him of her. I hope she’s alright he thought. They started playing. It was a simple game, but took skill to play well. Each player starts with nine men and they alternate turns placing them on the board, which is a square grid consisting of nine points. If a player makes a row of three they may remove one of their opponents men. Once all the men have been placed each player removes them, again to make a row of three to remove their opponents men.

“You know I hear the long slow peace may be coming to an end,” the man said once Alfred made his first set of three, as if that made him worthy of keeping secrets. “I hear there’s riches to be had abroad. Some king in the south. It’s not been declared, but my ears don’t lie.”

“What do you mean, there’s going to be a war?”

“Aye. There’s talk of the old trades coming back. Top knowledge that is.” The man was deadly serious. “Takes time for word to reach up ‘ere. People pay top coin for this knowledge.” The man made his first set of three.

“Well, I’m not paying for anything. I just want to play,” Alfred made a second set of three.

“Don’t you worry lad, not trying to try anything on you. Just a warning is all. You don’t look from around ‘ere. You hang around much longer and I’ll be betting you’ll end up on one o’ those galleons headed south. Next thing you knows you’ll have an arrow in your butt or an oar rammed all the way up it.” The man scoffed as Alfred took one of his men.

“I don’t plan on going to war,” Alfred realized that was technically a lie, as he was planning to do exactly that, only it was a different war. “Where are these galleons leaving from? Do you know?”

The man exhaled through his mouth and shrugged. “Who knows. No galleons will get on the Stretch, too shallow. Wouldn’t be too far away though, or folks would have to walk too far. All I knows is, they’re coming and they’ll want lads like you and will pay good coin for it.” Alfred took the man’s final piece.

“I win.”

“So you have,” the man chuckled. “Again?” Alfred nodded. They played for a few more hours and Alfred won every game. He bid the man farewell at Sunrise, thanked him for playing and stepped out into the cold morning air to head back to the dreaded Winking Owl. There were other entrances to the city besides The Gate of Katelina and so waiting around there for Andriad would probably be unsuccessful.

Alfred passed the clock tower, turned left and was back on the main street. Every ten paces or so he looked around checking he wasn’t being followed. Bad things happen here. He approached The Winking Owl from the front entrance quietly. It had just opened. He walked past the tables where Lommey no Thumbs had died and where Mrs Grevil had spoken to him through his porridge. The blood from Lommey and Threebees had been mopped up, but there was a black stain on the wall where some had dried into the wood. He sat in an alcove out of sight of the bar but insight of the door, so as to avoid having to order anything. Wont be long now. He waited for a good twenty minutes tapping his fingers nervously before hearing any signs of life, but the barkeep didn’t see him. In front of him there was a piece of paper, nailed to the wall. It said:

“Three men for the navy wanted for the townships of Chipping and Dutton. Three able-bodied Seamen or Landmen. Immediate application would be preferred. Handsome bounty and supply of clothing, beef, grog, flip and Strong Beer and also a certainty of prize money, as the Men entered for thus service will be sent to capture The Rich Galleons and in conference will return loaded with Dollars and Honours to spend their days in peace and plenty. HUZZA!!! Come to Fort Bright on the morrow.” Add that they will head north up the stretch past the crying mountain to collect more recruits.

Alfred felt a rush of excitement. That was it! The Crying Mountain lay to the north. Fort Bright on the morrow, I’ve done it, I’ve found a way! Almost at the same time, Andriad appeared in the door.

“Alfred, glad to see you made it.”

“Andriad!” Alfred smiled and laughed. “You have no idea how glad I am to see you here. When I tell you what’s happened you’re going to crack your bark!” Alfred looked to the right. They all appeared at once. The barkeep behind stood the bar.

“You. You I know you,” the barkeep said, wagging his finger. “You owe me for the damages you caused me last night.”

“And I know you too,” said Rowan. Blade in hand, “and you owe me for the damages last night.”


Chapter 24

“I must warn you Simian,” Edrond said as they rode. “The other guardians do not share your enthusiasm for this potion quest of yours.”

“Why not?” Asked Awenna from behind. She was determined to be included in the important talk.

“We think, rather, they think it is a fools errand. There are some ingredients that may not even exist anymore, and of those that do we know only the locations of a few. They think it an impossible task.”

“And do you share their opinion?” Asked Simain.

“I… think it worthy of discussion, nothing more. If it can be done, it should be done.”

“And if it cant?” Said Awenna. She wanted to gauge this reborn. They seemed to have a complex system of relationships and hierarchy, a system she hadn’t yet grasped. Edrond was at least ten years her elder. He was a handsome, if not a little rough around the edges. He dressed well in his silver mail, brown boiled leather and green cloak and tall boots.

“If it can’t,” he replied, “as many in my group suspect, Graegor in particular, we should be rallying the troops as Alfred is. We should be seeking out old and new allies and bringing them into battle against the forces of the bloodmagia.”

“That is fighting talk Edrond, but it is bound to lead to failure. We cannot defeat the bloodmagia like that.”

“We can fight,” Edrond said.

“Yes, we can win battles. We could win all the battles, but every creature of the bloodmagia is a bloodmagia. It only takes one to survive and re-infest all over again and again, until everyone is dead.”

“I see.” Edrond paused to think for a moment. “I am on your side Simian, but it will not be so easy to convince Graegor; and he holds powerful sway over the others.”

“It doesn’t have to be one or the other,” said Awenna. “I only need enough companions to grant me safe use of the portal. With ourselves and our horses only one or two more are needed. The rest can do as they please. I have no need of this Graegor.” Mearasa seemed to agree.

“It is rare for someone with such power over beauty to speak with such power over words, I am honoured to be serving you My Lady,” said Edrond.

“You are most welcome,” she replied. Awenna whispered to Mearasa who proceeded to overtake Edrond and Simian. “Enough talk, we must hurry,” she shouted back before galloping off at full speed. Simian and Edrond exchanged a knowing look.

The sun was falling down below the canopy of the trees making the light dance in time to the fluttering of the leaves. Awenna rode proudly at the head of the column, followed by Simian, Edrond, Sesheta and Dunster the reborn horse. Edrond was riding Braverond. The standing stones of Selbure were in sight up ahead and as they approached Awenna could see a line of people waiting for them. The guardians, my guardians - well they will be in a minute, she chuckled to herself. The standing stones rose up grey and strong. Their stubborn grittiness filled the air around with a strange kind of silence. They dismounted and Mearasa and the other reborn horses waited patiently to the side.

“Welcome My Lady Awenna,” said a fair woman glad in boiled leather and patches of mail, with a sword sheathed at her waist.  She bowed “I am Waendra.”  She tapped a clenched right hand fist twice on her heart then held it up to her temple and held it there for a few seconds as a salute, just like the other’s did for Alf.

“And I am Hempfur, Hempfur Juggard My Lady,” he made the same salute, and held it there. “Waendra is my wife.” Awenna saw that he almost broke his salute to put his arm around Waendra, but duty held him in place. Hempfur was burly and carried a gigantic sword slung over his back, completely unlike Simian’s. Instead of being long, thin and slender and the same width all the way down, it was as wide as a hand span next to the hilt and became gradually narrower into a point. It caught Awenna’s eye as he turned to fall back in line. They continued the introductions “Where is Graegor?” Asked Simian, after the introductions where complete.

“He has taken ill. Come, he is not far, we must go to him. He doesn’t like being left out of important conversations,” said Waendra.

“Very well,” said Simian, “I hope it is not serious.”

“Oh he would have you believe it is nothing, but when stopped eating his Gooseberry Fool, I knew it was more than a tickling.” Waendra led the new group through the standing stones. Awenna looked at each stone as they walked, as if they had names to memorize. I want to remember this moment. Awenna felt a tap on the shoulder. It was Simian.

“Graegor the lucky, some believe, shouldn’t have been reborn,” he said quietly. “Usually the reborns, the many-times reborn especially, can predict with their wisdom who will be reborn human, but Graegor’s rebirth as human has been doubted countless times. Yet for some reason the moons and the stones smile upon him. Graegor the glutton he has become known as in his current lifetime.”

Graegor was waiting just inside the woods on the other side of the stones. There was an area with logs laid out to sit on with a crackling fire in the centre. Four others smaller fires at the corners on the outside of the seating arrangement were being lit by Thoman.

Graegor lay on a raised stretcher, his head propped up for talking. Awenna could see immediately why Graegor the glutton had gained such a nick name. His belly was huge. It rose and fell like waves on a beach. His tight doublet and buckled up belt strap seemed to extenuate the swell.

“Lady Awenna. Do forgive me for not rising to greet you. I’ve,” he took a breath, “had a little trouble with my stomach. You see the moons and stones saw fit to have me reborn as a dying fat man. Ha! I jest. Twas my own doing, yes, and Gooseberry Fool has turned me into itself. Ey, sounds like the work of a bloodmagia, ha, making copies! Ehh, anyway on to business. Do sit down, do sit. Gosh, you are most pleasing to my eyes My Lady. All of a sudden my jokes seem ugly and cold.”

“No, I found them heart warming,” Awenna smiled as she took a seat to the right of Graegor. “Why have you not used The Story?”

“He wanted to make sure he was still human to meet you when you arrived,” said Edrond.

“To convince you this potion quest is foolish,” said Graegor. “I am sorry My Lady but you must see this. These ingredients,” he fumbled for a list. “Tongue of Tree? What on earth is that? Simian, you must go through this list and state plainly and honestly what you know about the ingredients.”

“A reborn who fears the The Story is not someone I take orders from, Graegor.” Simian’s attack cut like a sword. Graegor spluttered.

“I, I do not fear The Story Simian. That is ridiculous!” He looked around for agreement. Some seemed to agree, while others put on puzzled looks. Sesheta remained expressionless, as usual. Edrond looked to Simian for an answer, but Graegor continued. “I do not fear The Story. In this time of crisis, I simply cannot risk, as a responsible watcher regent of the standing stones, another reborn’s fate. I will not ask anyone to tell The Story to me.” Simian stared at Graegor, as if trying to make him pop. “I may be worthy of human rebirth, but they may not. No. I forbid it.”

“That is not the reborn way.”

“This is not an issue!” Graegor shouted. “The issue is your silly potion. We must fight the bloodmagia for all we are worth.” Some of the Selbure guardians were nodding in agreement. Hempfur spoke up. He was sitting next to Waendra at the opposite end of the circle to Graegor.

“Even if we did procure these ingredients, we have no guarantee the potion will work.” Waendra nodded in agreement.

“A fair point,” said Graegor.

“It will work,” said Sesheta, stepping up out of the shadow. Her leopard skin clothes shone like gold next to the fire as she walked around it.

“What do you know of it, mystic,” said Graegor.

“It will work. I know, glutton,” Graegor gasped, “because I have seen it.”

“What do you mean?” Asked Edrond.

“I have seen it in the Texam. I was granted but a glimpse, but I saw enough. I saw the Winged Rhinoceros.” There was a shocked silence.

“You never spoke of this?” said Simian.

“I was not certain.”

“She wasn’t certain. The loon thinks she saw something and thinks that gives her the right to dictate to us,” said Graegor. “You do realize how important this is? Keep your drug induced nonsense to yourself. We have no use for it here.”

“I would hold your tongue Graegor, or you may find us using it as an ingredient,” Sesheta said. She continued with sly confidence. “Lady Awenna has far greater powers than I in the Texam. She is still in need of much training, but I believe she will see it. Let us do it now.”

“No,” said Hempfur. “That can be done later. These lands are not safe.”

“I agree,” said Edrond. “It was only a few hours ago that I took down two boars trying to attack The Lady Awenna. They were both of the bloodmagia, and reverted to their original forms after death. We should not have left their bodies there, but time was too urgent. You’re ceremony can wait. We basic have matters of defence to discuss”

“It is not for the purpose of ceremony Sesheta makes this suggetion Edrond,” said Simian. “It is to gain intelligence over our enemy. To see the future spread of the bloodmagia. Does that not interest you?”

“It serves all our purposes,” said Awenna. “As should everything we do. I am ready.”

“You are most wise My Lady,” said Graegor, but”

Awenna interrupted “Now. I will take the Texam now.” She felt the need for the Texam all at once then, like she was blind without it. It reminded her of a feeling she had not had in many years. It was the feeling she had at Braywater Lake when she lay in the sun for so long without checking tide. She knew it should be lapping at her feet any moment, but didn’t want to bother looking to check. It felt like the creatures of the bloodmagia were about to tickle her toes now, and she needed to take the Texam to raise her head to see them.

Sesheta took Awenna by the hand and walked her over to the fire in the centre. They sat on opposite sides. “Will you?”

“I will not take it with you this time,” said Sesheta. “You must go alone. Remember what it was like before.” The others sat around them on the logs, watching with interest, some more than others.

Novels


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