Long Journeys

Prologue


There were five Hollow Hills in England. Once simply gathering places, where sprites from colonies large and small would come together, they had changed beyond recognition with the coming of parliament. Even now, they held a special place in the affections of the local sprites. Hogtrough Hill in Kent, Bat’s Castle in Somerset, Meon Hill in Warwickshire… then further north, Owler Tor in Derbyshire, and further north still, Northumberland’s Emmet Law… the ancient names still held a powerful sway.
In the early days of parliament, despite the construction of courtrooms, cells and offices, there’d been a grandeur to it all. Beautiful materials had been used with skill, and there had been fine plasterwork, gold lettering and wood panelling. Too often, these days, such places were dusty and unused, and other rooms had taken over the activity, rooms which seemed to have caught the drabness of municipal offices. The illusion of efficiency couldn’t quite disguise the dreary colours and shoddy workmanship.

Not that the sprites who worked in them saw it like that. It wasn’t the surroundings that mattered, but the importance of the work they were doing. They were part of a great network that stretched across the realm, feeding information to Wielkopolska itself, and in return, passing out the laws and dispensing justice. If some of them sometimes thought that parliament interfered perhaps a bit too much, they tried to stifle such thoughts. Unity was important, and the sprites at Wielkopolska had to think of the realm as a whole. All the same, these were worrying times. The news last December, that parliament had sent troops to attack Fjaerland, had shocked the realm. Nothing seemed to have happened since, so they carried on with their work, but thoughtful sprites were uneasy.


One of them was a fairy called Daffodil Shacklow, who worked in Registration at Owler Tor. She arrived for work one frosty morning in January, from her home in Ashford-in-the-Water. As usual, there was a neat pile of messages waiting on her desk. Her job was to read the information and record it on the right form, ready for entry into the ledgers. It was important to work quickly, before the queues started, of sprites coming in person to register births and deaths. Rapidly scanning information, she paused when she came to a message from the army. It was only a routine message, informing the Hill of the names of newly-graduated soldiers in their area. Six of them, all from the same colony… that was quite unusual, but it was the name of the colony that puzzled Daffodil.
Moseley? she thought. I don’t remember that name. She was shocked. I thought I knew the name of every colony in the area!
She didn’t know this one, yet for all that, something was tugging at the corner of her memory. She left her desk and flew down to Records. Any colony that really was a colony would have its ledger here among the leather-bound volumes.
Probably a new one, she thought hopefully. Handful of refugees calling themselves a colony, maybe.

But it wasn’t. She was astonished when she saw the name, squashed in between Mobberley and Mouldsworth. True, it was a slim volume, but it was very old. She opened it with care, and saw a beautiful hand-drawn map showing its borders in 1830, between a farm and a country estate. Her eyes widened as she saw the senior sprite list, which went back to the fourteenth century. An ancient colony that had fallen on hard times, then. By the look of that map, it was probably just another suburb of Manchester now, swallowed up by new building. Yet clearly it hadn’t been abandoned. The most recent entry was only from two years ago, the newest senior sprite… and his was one of the names in the army’s message. Daffodil frowned, trying to remember. Something was giving her a vague impression of great beauty and great incompetence, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
Interested to have discovered something new, she gave up chasing the elusive memory, and pulled out the card she had to initial to say she’d consulted the volume, and she frowned again, this time in surprise. Someone had been looking up this obscure colony only yesterday. ‘RA’ were the initials. She knew who that was.

Later that morning, when the queues had died down and she had time to go and get a drink, Daffodil went to find her friend Rosemary.
“Moseley Wood,” she said. “I’d never heard of it until this morning.”
Rosemary opened her eyes wide.
“That’s weird! Neither had I, till yesterday. A visitor came, asking to see the colony book.”
“Which visitor? Not that envoy, the marigold?”
Rosemary pulled her chair closer, and so did Daffodil, relishing the chance to gossip.
“That’s the one,” said Rosemary, in a quieter voice. “Envoy Pentreath. She’s from Cornwall, but she’s worked at Wielkopolska for years. Turned up at the top desk, all unannounced, and caused a right flurry! But all she wanted was the Moseley Wood colony book. I was sent for to bring it up to her, and they settled her into an empty office and left her to it.”
“How strange,” said Daffodil. “It doesn’t sound the sort of place they’d be interested in.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Rosemary. “A tiny place of no account, never done anything important. But how did you hear of it?”
“Army,” said Daffodil. “They’ve just had six recruits graduating.”
“Six? That’s a lot, isn’t it? Maybe that’s why. They’re wondering if something’s going on. Army numbers are on the up, from all I hear, and Wielkopolska won’t like that.”
“But that news only came today. How could they have known?”
“Hmm… I don’t know. D’you get the feeling there’s more to this than we’ve been told about?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” said Daffodil. “Keeping records should be done for its historical value, not used for spying on people.”
“I agree with you,” said Rosemary, “but there’s not much we can do about it.”
“I wonder if anyone thought of just saying no?” said Daffodil. “I hope we haven’t caused trouble. There’s something about that place that’s nagging at the back of my mind. I wish I could remember what it was.”



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