Oisin’s plan is to come with his bow to help Aedan and Doona lead a party of children into the forest to gather the maidenhair seedlings his people would take across the sea as they flee the trolls who hunt them as prey. Maybe he can be back in time for supper
Dyr’s plan is an early evening head smash for the foolish Elves who think they can steal away to the sands of the endless eye sting water and build their strange float huts. They will make a glorious feast.
But on the way, Dyr’s brutes stumble across Oisin’s gathering party and attack, leaving Aedan mortally wounded and scattering Doona and the children to flee in terror into the dark mountain woods, only to be run down and captured by the bloodthirsty trolls.
Can Oisin find the bonfires of the trolls and rescue them before it’s too late? And what then? Will any of them live long enough to reach safety?
“Hogs!” whispered Kieran. “Someone’s having a roast. Boy! My stomach’s growling. How on earth would anyone possibly have a roast up…here?” Suddenly he saw how it all was and wanted to vomit.
“Who are those vile things cooking?” said Olloo, speaking out without whispering.
“Hey!” whispered Oisin, grabbing him by the shoulders. “If we can smell their fire, you might have just gotten us killed!”
“Please!” he said, dropping to whispers. “I’ll be quiet. Please don’t make us go back. I’ve got to find Doona.”
“Well, you have to or we die.”
“So how should we go about this?”
“We start by being the quietest we’ve ever been in our lives,” said Oisin as he drew them into a huddle. “I say we should follow the smell until we see the fire and then see what we have. We probably won’t be able to do one single thing for the captives without all of us dying on the spot. So the question is, Olloo, what happens if you see Doona? Can you turn your back on her if I say we have to leave? Are you that tough?”
Elf Killer Romance
Dyr sat on his rock just outside the Hooter Cave, looking at the stars as he waited for Ninar-dern to respond to his summons. He was surprised to find himself nervous. He knitted his beetle-brow as he thought about this. No sow had ever made him uneasy before.
“Dyr,” said Dyr-jiny, “Here-be Ninar-dern.”
“Walky-waddle, Dyr-jiny,” said Dyr with an overbearing nod as he struck his best display pose and fixed his eyes on the young sow.
Ninar-dern got down on all fours, licked his foot and stood up to meet his gaze. “You want more big-nod put in your ear?”
“No, just your sit-beside. Is that hum-de-dumdle?”
“Good. Gobble-say. Do you rolly-eye grab-wish for Fnanar?”
“I no-no do,” she said. “Fnanar no be the brute I dream-drooled.”
“No be?” said Dyr. “You look squirm-shudder. You can be big easy-easy hum-de-dumdle. You can gobble-say, gobble-say. Fnanar no-be my son.
Ninar-dern looked at him carefully. “I no-be Dyrney for Fnanar. He only yum-yum nods at my rear-end and my milk-bags. He likes to knee-slap-hoo-hoomp when he flabber-toomphs my ear, but it snuff-snuff like rotten beastie. He big-nods Gnydy be my Da, but I could just-as-well be a big rock.”
“That be Fnanar, but did you ever-be rolly-eye grab-wish for him?”
“No-no, all shaky-head, shaky-head. I dream-wished to-be Big Sow. But I head-nod tried-and tried to be his sow.” This I head-nod, head-nod.”
“Did you like-be Big Sow?”
“Not in Fnanar’s camp. Fnanar’s Big Sow no-be big. His brutes all-be hairjerk kick-sows.”
“Here,” said Dyr, with a smooth toss of his brows, “Big Sow tall-be big-big foldy-arm head-nod.”
“I big-nod think-back, but no-be, no-be with Fnanar.”
“Then I hold-out a would-you-like, Ninar-dern.”
Ninar-dern looked up in surprise, holding her breath.
“Would-you-like to be Big Sow here, to true-Dyrney? You will hold thunder-thump over all sows and all kids.”
“No Sow has ever-had thunder-thump,” she said, dropping her chinless jaw.
“Now-be for you,” said Dyr smoothly. “Do you want?”
“Yes,” she said.
Aedan glanced up the tall trunks as a breeze chased through the treetops and died away amongst the echoes of the bellbirds. “Make sure that each one of the kids has a nice wet ball of sphagnum on the seedlings, if you would, Oisin,” he said as he sank into the ferns to sit on his heels. He watched as each young Elf dutifully opened his vasculum in turn for Oisin’s inspection.
“All that’s left of the sunlight is ‘way up in the treetops,” said Oisin with a nod. “You reckon it’s still safe to try for the blue maidenhair at the summit?”
“I was hoping for all four kinds,” said Aedan, as he ran his hands through his hair. “Looks like I let the time slip away. Listen! Hear that purple-rib, yonder?”
“Well, he thinks it’s a-getting dark…” he said, suddenly looking about for a muffled snap in the leaves.
“Oou-yuyf!” bellowed a troll covered with black and red ochre hand prints, as he took a sudden tramp out of the pawpaw leaves to run a spear under Aedan’s collarbone and out his back.
“Run!” cried Oisin as he loosed an arrow into the troll, sending it staggering about to stumble and fall as the wide-eyed young Elves scrambled to their feet and vanished into the woods. Trolls were starting to appear everywhere. As quick as he could manage, he loosed four or five more arrows, striking one of them and scattering the others. He dropped to his knees where Aedan lay on his side in the ferns.
“Go!” grunted Aedan, blowing blood off his lips.
“Here…” said Oisin, starting to scoop him up.
“No!” coughed Aedan. “They’ll get you if you even try. I’m gone. Go! Save the kids! Damn it! Do it!”
Oisin jerked up at a waft of wind by his ear in time to see a huge rock land and roll through the leaves beyond him. He was on his feet at once, wheeling ’round with his drawn bow to find two trolls about to run him through with a spear. He loosed his arrow at once, killing the one with the spear as the other one fled out of sight. “I can still carry you, Aedan!” he cried.
“Get out of here! Please!”
Oisin was immediately underway, batting aside branches. “We’ll never forget you!” he hollered as he hurtled out of the brush to take huge bounding strides down the side of a steep hogback.
The troll tramped to a halt beside Aedan and pummeled his chest with his fists. “Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot,” he cried with a look of crazed triumph, slinging spittle from the black and red ochre paint on his face. “Gnydy!”
“Ay-ooo,” sang out Gnydy, planting his spear with a fierce nod of his cap of mudcaked hair as he appeared on the far side of Aedan. He jabbed the point of his spear into Aedan’s thigh, drawing blood. “Should-we hair-drag the grab-up-squeaker, Dyr?” he said as he licked the blood off his spear point.
“You-want to haul-meat both-ways?” said Dyr with a beetle-browed glare, as a purple-rib took up calling nearby. “We’ll-quarter him on the way-back.
“Should-we stamp-him to head-smash?”
“No-be mudful hollow-head. Let-him gurgle-bleed to cold-meat. There-go all-the Dyrny-brutes. Let’s-go.”
Aedan listened to the trolls tramp away through the leaves. Damn this! he thought as he squeezed shut his eyes. I loved my life… Suddenly he opened his eyes at the sound of light four footed walking in the leaves, making straight for him. “Niall!”
The deer like unicorn slowed to hesitant steps and lowered his head for a careful sniff.
“I may be out of time, but I have this minute,” he said, wincing with pain at his attempt to pat Niall’s muzzle. “If I can get up onto your back, we’re going back to camp to show them what the Marfora Siofra did to me and to have them try to find Oisin and the children. And even if I don’t make it, you’ll get me there.”
Though Niall understood not one word of this, he would soon know what to do, for he was a terraing pictiur, a picture catcher unicorn. Difficult as it was with all his pain, Aedan managed to clear his mind enough to picture Niall lying down in order for him to mount. At once, Niall lay down before him, patiently waiting for him to get on. Crying out from the horrible pain, Aedan heaved himself onto his knees, where he steadied himself long enough to cough blood down his front before throwing his leg across him. He had a long struggle to keep from passing out before he could manage to picture Niall rising to his feet. Niall got up at once, but it was an eternity of fighting down the pain from the jostling before Aedan could manage to picture the camp. At last they were underway.
* * *
“Prince Neron!” cried the orderly, as he slid off his Dulish unicorn and jogged to a halt. “King Faragher wants you at the council tent, right now. There may be trolls on the way.”
“Tell them I’ll be there as soon as I find my other boot, Finbar,” said Neron as he ducked back inside his tent. A purple-rib was starting to sing nearby as he sheathed Gearr Teigh Sios over his shoulder with a smack and leaped onto his unicorn with butterflies in his stomach.
“Oh my word!” he said at the sight of Niall, shivering and thoroughly soaked with blood, tied in front of the council tent. “Has something happened to Aedan and Oisin?” His legs went so weak that he nearly slipped from his stirrup as he dismounted.
He quickly stepped inside the tent, and seeing others present, bowed briefly toFaragher, catching his eye.
Faragher’s regal posture sagged as pity swept across his face. “I’m sorry Neron,” he said with a sigh. “Aedan showed up just now with a trollish shaft run clean through him and died telling us that they were set upon by the Marfora Siofra while it was still light out…”
“Survivors. Oisin! Did anyone make it?”
“Well, we have no way of knowing. I mean, how could we? Aedan was dead before his feet ever touched the ground…”
“I’ll lead the search party. I’m ready this minute…”
“And you’ll lead it, but not until morning…”
“But Oisin’s my son…!”
“And I’m your brother!” cried Faragher, taking off his crown to thrust himself forward in his chair. “And your King, Prince Neron. And we’ve got trolls on the way and a whole night ahead of us. I’m not forgetting my nephew, but there are far more lives at stake right here than out in the woods. We can’t forget our duties here, but you’ll be on your way with a party of your choosing at first light. Those stinkers must have seen our ships and the camp and are wise to our escape from Lobhadh. There’s no way of knowing what they have in mind, but you know as well as you’re a-standing there, that it’s some variation of swarming in here to butcher us. Maybe Oisin will show up with the childrenduring the night, or more likely, they’ve found someplace to hide in the woods. They may be safer out there than here.”
Neron gave an incredulous look, but quickly hid it.
“In the meantime,” said Faragher, searching his face to find the expression which he had just missed, “In the meantime, I’m afraid you must stay here and help oversee the guarding of the ships and the perimeter of the camp until sunrise.”
Neron turned on his heel and started out.
“Say, Neron?” said Faragher. “How much longer do you reckon it will be until the ships are fully stocked and ready to leave?”
“Less than a day. Two if I’m wrong. Count on two.” And with that, he stepped out into the velvety blackness of the sea air and the calls of chorus frogs and purple-ribs.
* * *
Three of the children ran stumbling and scrambling up a steep mossy slope in the failing light.
“Wait Olloo!” cried one of them as he slipped, spilling his vasculum.
“Hurry up, Mian!” cried Olloo, pausing to heave in a breath. It’s not much further! Come on, Kieran…”
“My side aches…”
“So does mine, but…”
“Hey wait Olloo! I’m still picking up my seedlings!”
“If you can’t see them, leave them. We can’t stop.”
“I got ’em now, but I’m all out of wind…”
“Me too!” cried Kieran, catching himself on his hands in the moss. “How far is this?”
“Not far at all,” cried Olloo from a good way up the slope, “but we’ll never get there if we let the trolls catch us!”
At once the young Elves made a frantic lunge for the top, sprawling out across the carpet of moss when they got there to heave and wheeze as if they’d never catch their breath, listening to a purple-rib repeat its call endlessly from somewhere nearby on the ground.
“Hey,” said Olloo, suddenly sitting up, “I know where this is…”
“You told us you already did…” said Mian.
“That’s when I thought so. I know so, now.”
They were on their feet at once, following Olloo, angling down the far slope, stirring up the leaves.
“Whoa!” cried Olloo. “Hush! There’s the tree, straight across the hollow. It’s a maidenhair and it’s the tallest tree in all the Eternal Mountains. Oisin himself told me.
“Go on!” said Kieran. “How would he know?”
“Somebody spent a whole day and climbed it, once. They had to do it twice because the string they had the first time wasn’t long enough. He said it was well overfour hundred foot. Anyway, there’s a huge rotted out place where a limb broke off thetrunk, ages ago. I spent the whole night in it, last summer. There’s room for all of us. Let’s go!”
They were across the hollow in short order, standing at the foot of the great maidenhair, peering up into it’s deep shadows. “You’re sure this is the tree, Olloo?” said Kieran as he took a stumbling backward step, peering up under his hand.
“I know jolly well it is.”
“Yea? Well, it’s getting awful dark. I don’t see any hole in the trunk.
“Well there is,” said Olloo as he began feeling around the trunk. “Here! This is it. This is the grapevine. It goes right up to it…”
“You want us to climb that?” said Mian.
“You want to be on the ground when the trolls get here? But we’d better climb it one at a time though, so we’d better hurry.”
“Won’t it hold?” said Kieran.
“Of course it’ll hold, but with three of us a-wiggling and kicking, it might be too
hard to hang onto…”
“Yea, but if we can climb it, couldn’t some troll?” said Mian.
“You still have your rope, I hope!”
“Calm down! It’s around my shoulder.”
“You scared me! Well, we climb the vine and cut it. Then we use the rope to come back down…”
“But that’s my rope, Olloo. How would I get it down?”
“Do you want to be safe from the Marfora Siofra, or what? And we’d better start shinnying. It will take a while, and they’re probably still after us, don’t you think? Look, I’ll give you a new rope as soon as I can get my hands on one, all right? Let’s climb.”
“Very well,” said Olloo, parking his vasculum at the foot of the great tree and starting up. In spite of the encouragements he was getting from below, it was a frightfully long way up. Over and again he had to stop to rest, and he was beginning to wonder how he ever made it up the first time. When waves of fear began coursing through him at the thought that he might not survive a fall and that this might be another tree after all, he grabbed onto the lip of the gaping hole in the trunk. He refused to holler out for fear he’d lose his grip, but at last he was inside. “Hoy! I’m up!”
Kieran was next, scuffling, grunting, kicking and banging his way up. Mian put his head and one arm through his coil of rope and started up the vine. Half way up, he stopped and croaked out: “I hear somebody off in the timber!” and began frantically shaking the vine with his kicking. After many worried shouts from above, he finished his way up the vine in short order. The moment he was inside the cavity with the others,Kieran began chopping off the vine as far below the hole as he could reach. As soon as it fell, Mian steadied the end still hanging, while Kieran and Olloo cut off a good long piece of it to use as an anchor for the rope.
“Hush!” cried Mian. “I hear voices.”
The three of them quieted immediately, straining to hear above their pounding hearts and the calls of the purple-ribs.
“There!” said Kieran.
“Hush!” shouted Olloo and Mian in whispers.
“Be still, Lilee!” echoed a voice out of the darkness far below.
“Oh Renny! We must’ve given them the slip by now.”
“Pooh! That’s what you said right before they got Doona and nearly got us.”
“Oh no!” wailed Olloo.
“Hoy! Up here!” hollered Kieran.
“Kieran?” cried Renny, “Is that you? Where are you? Who’s with you?”
“Is Doona all right?” called Olloo, unable to hide the unexpected sob at the end.
“No!” wailed Lilee, “The awful monsters got her! They took her alive, but they took her!”
“Where are you?” cried Renny. “What happened to Mian?”
“I’m here!” he hollered. “We’re up this old maidenhair! Just follow our voices…!”
“We’ve got a rope!” cried Olloo. “We’re letting it down as soon as we get it fast up here!” He picked up the piece of grapevine which they had just cut and held it across the hole on the inside. “See where it is? You each take an end and hold it in place while I tie the rope to the middle. When it’s light tomorrow, we’ll cut notches inside here to hold it so we can all go down the rope…”
Suddenly Lilee gave a shrill scream.
“Fn-dapff-nyj-yo-yoynf!” roared a troll.
“Run Lilee!” cried Renny.
“Hurry!” cried Mian, “Over here!”
“Here!” cried Kieran the moment they heard a much closer scream.
“I can’t see!” wailed Olloo, fumbling frantically with the rope in the dark.
“Olloo! Kieran! Mian!” came the shouts from below.
“There!” cried Olloo as he flung the coils of rope out into the air. “Renny! Lilee! Here! No, no, no! They’ve chased them on by…!”
“What on Earth are you doing, Olloo?” said Kieran.
“I’m going over the side. Don’t let the piece of grapevine slip…”
“That’s madness, Olloo!” said Mian. “You go down and…”
“The trolls have Doona!” wailed Olloo. “I can’t let them eat my sister!”
“You go chasing trolls and they’ll roast you on the same spit,” said Kieran.
“I have to try!” he sobbed. “She’d come after me. I know she would.”
“With tears streaming down his cheeks, Kieran pushed hard against the grapevineto hold it fast as Olloo clambered over the side. “I hate this!” he growled. “Wait!” he cried. “Olloo! Wait!”
Olloo was already halfway down the trunk. “What?” he hollered.
“If you wait for us to cut notches for the ends of the vine, we’ll go with you!”
“In the dark?”
“Will you wait?”
“Oh all right, but I’m not climbing back up.”
Mian and Kieran worked feverishly to cut notches just inside the cavity opening, able to hold their grapevine pole in place well enough to allow them to go down the rope without a fall. Meanwhile Olloo did not enjoy his wait. It seemed to take forever, listening to the calls of the purple-ribs and the deep resonant thudding of the hatchet up the tree, echoing in the trees all about. “It’s not like I can hide quietly here or anything.” he said. “But one thing’s certain: I’m going to kill a troll.”
Presently the chopping stopped and Mian came down the rope to wait wordlessly with Olloo for Kieran to make his way down the trunk. They quietly picked up their vasculums and set out behind Olloo.
“So we’re on our way to find the caves of the Marfora Siofra, right Olloo?” said Kieran, stumbling on sticks here and there.
“That’s where they’d have Doona, wouldn’t you think?”
“Well yea, but nobody knows just where that is…”
“Renny and Lilee went this way, didn’t it sound like?”
“Yea? But just because they ran off this way to escape the trolls, doesn’t mean that this is how we’d go to get to their caves…”
“Olloo,” said Mian, “why don’t we just wait until light and then track them?”
“Because Doona’s my sister and they just might eat her by then! Besides, the Great Rock Wall, you know, all those sheer cliffs, starts in not far from here and we…”
Suddenly he collided with someone in the blackness and found himself on the ground, utterly paralyzed with terror.
“Olloo!” cried the someone.
“Oisin!” he gasped as he rolled onto his hands and knees. “I expected you to be a troll.”
“Is that how I’ve been acting lately…?”
“Oisin, they’ve got Doona. And we’re on our way to get her back before they cook her. Are you coming? And they’ve probably got Renny and Lilee by now, too.”
“You mean to tell me that you know where their cave is?”
“No, but we’re not too far from the Great Rock Wall. Isn’t that where everyone says their caves have to be?”
“Yea, and nobody knows for certain because no one has gone there and lived to tell about it.Look Olloo. Doona’s all you’ve got. I’ll risk my skin to help you get her back. But mind you, I’m the eldest of us and that makes me responsible for you three. If I go with you and I think things are too dangerous, we’re all coming back on my decision. You got that?”
“Indeed,” said Olloo, giving his chest a proud thump which could be heard in the dark. “And you know what? Doona is the best sister ever, and if we get her back, I’ll owe you forever.”
“Well you lead the way then,” said Oisin. “It looks like you know what you’re doing.”
* * *
Renny and Lilee ran on through the moonless dark, flinging aside saplings and stumbling.
“Stop Renny!” cried Lilee, gasping for breath as she staggered to a halt. “Did you hear that? There! What is that?”
“It’s just some kind of big old owl that lives up in the mountains. I know it soundsawful, but it won’t hurt you. Come on, we’ve got to keep going.”
“But I don’t think I can go another step.”
“Oh yes you can! It wasn’t that long ago that we could hear them tramping in the leaves.”
On they went. Suddenly they found themselves over the edge of a hogback in the blackness, flailing their arms, taking long plunging steps down in the skidding leaves until Lilee ran headlong into a tree and fell limp astraddle the foot of its trunk.
“Lilee!” wailed Renny, gently tugging at her arm. “Oh Lilee, please wake up…!”
A massive presence grabbed Renny’s arm. “Pyrn-tey,” he said with breath like smashed bird’s eggs, “du-yuy…pyrn-tey,” he said to Lilee, with a cruel shake of her shoulder.
* * *
At sunrise, Neron sat astride his unicorn looking over his search party. It was a small assemblage, scarcely more than a few family members of the missing, including Oisin’s older brothers, Illiam and Orry. There would have been more had every available person not been needed to guard the camp and to help with the final preparation of the ships.
The Marfora Siofra had not come during the night. Instead there had been a mysterious fire aboard one of the ships. It was even suggested by a few that it had been set by the MarforaSiofra, but no one could imagine how trolls could possibly have managed it, even with their stealth and their owl like ability to see in the dark.
Neron gave his head a shake. He needed to think about the task of rescuing Oisin and the children. It was not likely that he would have more than a day. Let Faragher sort out the fire, he thought as he gave nods to Illiam and Orry and shook his reins.