CHAPTER 5 - Finding Daffodil
North of Fjaerland, in Bremanger Kommune, the Hollow Hill of Vingen was completely shrouded in snow. In a lamp-lit room, Gran Herdalen sat at an old wooden desk. He was dressed as always in black leathers, but tonight he’d added a woollen hat and a scarf. Even so, it didn’t keep out the cold, but Gran tried to ignore it, and just concentrated on the maps spread out before him, where every Hill and major colony was circled in red. The troops Gia had asked for were on the move, but it was up to him to work out how to place them. He was glad they were making the first move, because reacting to events wasn’t enough. Elves moved slowly, goblins more slowly still… whatever he did, they were going to lose some of the Hills, he knew that. He had to work out which were the ones they mustn’t lose. What he wasn’t going to do, was to pour troops into the west from the east. Parliament would love it if he did that. There, the Hills were parliament’s for the taking, but the colonies weren’t. And the general population over there was more avid for news, more clued-up and politically aware, and far more likely to take action. No way was he going to leave them undefended.
Gran looked up as a member of Norway 2 came in with a hot drink for him. It was his young namesake, Gran Starheim, and the general gave him a smile.
“Thanks, Gran, that’s very welcome. Cold night, isn’t it?”
“Bitter. Are you all right, sir? Is there anything else I can get you, or do you need any help, or any company?”
“Ah, no, not just now, thanks. Got to keep thinking.”
He smiled again as Gran left, but then he had to admit he wouldn’t have minded some company – of the right sort. Someone to thrash his ideas out with…Bjørk, for example, or Ace Moseley, or Pice Inari, but none of them was here. Gran warmed his hands on his cup, and made himself concentrate.
No, he wasn’t going to empty the east, and what was more, he could rely on Gia not to overrule him on operational decisions. His opponent, General Huskvarna, didn’t have that luxury. If parliament really wanted to take over the Hills, Huskvarna could be ordered to send troops west, and he’d have to do it, whether he liked it or not.
I wonder how many they’ve got? thought Gran. That’s something it would be so useful to know. But my guess is that they’ll be leaving themselves short in the east, and if they do, then I think I know what will happen.
For a good while, he made lists and notes, made some decisions, and wrote out messages in code, then he went outside. The aurora was in the sky, and he looked at it for a few moments, letting the shifting patterns of yellow and green lift his spirits. Then he jumped lightly across the snow to where some of Norway 1 were standing on guard.
“Yes sir, it’s me, under all these layers. Nothing to report, though.”
“There won’t be, yet, but you’re doing a good job. It’s not just about resisting Special Brigade. It’s about showing the realm that we’re taking a stand, and here, above all places, it has to be visible.”
“It’s a bit hard to be visible when you keep getting covered in snow,” said the captain. “Can’t we fly a flag or something?”
“Good idea, Captain,” said Gran. Just the thought of it made him smile. “At first light, raise the army flag.”
Some miles east of Bat’s Castle, in Honeycombe Wood in Dorset, there was no snow lying on the ground at all, in fact here and there you could actually see some signs of spring. Betch Knightwood grinned to see bright yellow celandines among the dead and faded stalks of last year’s growth. It made him feel a bit more cheerful, which was welcome, because a lot was worrying him.
Everyone knew things were happening. Unofficially, word had gone round that First Regiment should be heading for the Hills, to defend them, so why was his unit still here? And why was Colonel Pentreath here with them? Betch had a strong feeling that the colonel was up to something. Will had said he ought to tell General Herdalen, but what exactly could he say? That the colonel had had a visit from an envoy, some friend of his? That he was looking after two young sprites for her, instead of getting off to Bat’s Castle? It sounded a bit thin.
Not that the colonel was actually doing the looking after, thought Betch. He, Fran and Peter, as the youngest in their unit, had been landed with that job, which was why he was going now to relieve Fran. And that was another thing… why did they need guarding so carefully, Betch wondered. It wasn’t as if they were prisoners… was it?
Betch pushed open the door of a hut.
“Morning, Fran. You ready for a sleep?”
“I’ll say. Thanks, Betch. No sign of us moving yet, then?”
“Not a sign,” said Betch. “These two been good?”
“At least the little fairy’s stopped crying all the time,” grunted Fran. “But you don’t want to let that Aesculus start asking questions, he never shuts up.”
Fran left then, and Betch settled down comfortably on his chair. He wouldn’t mind if the little elf started asking questions, it might not be so boring then. Right at the moment, though, he was sitting on the floor looking truculent. For a good half an hour, he just glared and sulked, but that was as long as he could manage.
“You’re Betch,” he said. “You came yesterday.”
“That’s me,” said Betch. “Was a bundle of fun, wasn’t it? Are you all right? D’you need a drink?”
“No, thank you,” said Aesculus. “I want to go home.”
“I know,” said Betch, not without sympathy. “I don’t know why you can’t, but you can’t. It’s probably to keep you safe. How about you, Viola? Would you like some water?”
Viola wouldn’t talk. She just shook her head. Looked like it was going to be another long, boring day.
“D’you want to play a game?” said Betch brightly.
“No,” said Aesculus. “I want to go home.”
“I don’t like it here. Why did the nasty fairies bring us here? I have to go to Derbyshire with David, and fight the bad elves.”
“Who’s David? Is he your senior sprite?”
“No, silly! He’s a human, he’s my friend.”
“So why is he going to fight the bad elves?”
“Because he’s an Ally. And so’s Sally and so’s Gary and so’s Rowan and so’s Dominic, so there!”
“Whoa, steady on! They’re all Allies? That’s a lot. So who are these bad elves, then?”
“I not sure,” said Aesculus, calming down a bit. “Always, David says, ‘Be careful, Aesculus, or the bad elves will capture you’. And now they have. So you must be a bad elf too!”
“I’m not,” said Betch. “Honestly, I’m not. There’s a lot of strange things happening, but I am definitely not a bad elf. I’m army, not parliament.”
“You in the army? Do you know General Gran? He’s my friend too. I love him. The nasty fairy made me lose my hat.”
“I hope Mal’s all right,” whispered Viola.
Betch was getting even more worried. He’d been told that the little ones had been removed from a place of danger, but someone this small who knew General Herdalen must come from a very important place indeed. He was getting very uneasy about this.
“So is Mal your senior sprite?”
“No, he’s old, he looks after us.”
“Willow,” said Viola.
“No, Viola, you got it wrong again,” said Aesculus. “Will’s not the senior sprite, Ace is.”
Betch nearly fell off his chair.
“Ace? Ace Moseley?”
“Yes,” said Aesculus.
“Then what we need here,” said Betch, “is a really cunning plan.”
Ace and Will broke dozens of human laws and several sprite ones, racing home from Meon Hill, and arrived back on Saturday afternoon. They knew there was nothing they could do, and even Ace, in his worry, could see how daft it was to go rushing to the one place on earth where they knew Aesculus wasn’t, but it still felt like the right thing to do. They didn’t even bother to stop and transform, just parked the car at number six and went to reassure David that it wasn’t his fault.
When they’d heard all about it, David showed them an email from Gran Herdalen, which explained exactly what he was doing to try to find Aesculus and Viola. That was good to know, but it was a sobering thing to read that Gran agreed with David that they’d been taken as hostages.
Or bait, Gran had finished. Whatever you do, don’t let Ace and Will go after them. That might be just what parliament want.
Parliament had been spying on them, Will reckoned, to know just how much Aesculus meant to them. It was a horrible thought.
“Has anyone told Hogweed?” he asked, worrying about Kulsukker.
“Yes, Rose has,” Rowan told him. “She texted me a few hours ago, she was thinking about that, too.”
Ace was doing his best to sound positive, but Will could see the worry in his eyes. It was even worse when David told them exactly how Mal had died. Will found himself more distressed about that than he would ever have thought possible. He admired Mal’s courage and devotion and honoured him for it, but coming so soon after Cyril’s death, it seemed like the last link with the past was broken, leaving them adrift in a different and dangerous world. He was so upset, his phenomenal concentration failed him for once, but he didn’t have to tell Ace. Ace could see for himself that right now, they couldn’t transform. Just as they were, they walked with David and Rowan to the place where they’d laid Mal, to say their last goodbyes.
It was a bit better when Rose and Clover got back. They were full of cheerful common sense and even better, they knew the fairies from Search and Rescue that their colonel had appointed to the job.
“If I was that good,” said Clover, “I’d be so proud my head wouldn’t fit through the door.”
“Everyone seems to think they’ll have been taken to Wielkopolska,” said Rose, “but they won’t get them out of England with those two patrolling the east coast.”
But however much they agreed that they mustn’t worry, because everything possible was being done, they couldn’t help going over it again and again, until finally Sally tried to take their minds off it by demanding an update on the search for Primrose.
Ace talked about Hogtrough Hill, Bat’s Castle and Meon Hill, and Will realised he was talking about the new laws and the list as much as about hunting for Daffodils. They weren’t things you could ignore, they affected everything.
“We had the same problem as you at Emmet Law,” said Clover. “Everyone flapping, didn’t know if this Daffodil would turn up or not… she did, because she’s not on the list, and in no danger of ever being, I’d say. When we asked her if she’d spoken to a human, she looked at us as if we were insane.”
Ace banged his head on Sally’s kitchen table.
“Have some more coffee,” said Sally kindly. “So you’ve looked everywhere now?”
“Well, no,” said Ace. “We haven’t been to the Hill in Wales. But I think it’s an outside chance. Why would an English fairy even know where it was?”
“You haven’t been to Owler Tor,” Rowan pointed out.
“I know, Rowan, but there doesn’t seem much point,” said Ace. “She’s bound to have gone to that one first. And if she’d found help there, why would she have gone to all the others?”
“Yes, but if she’d been to all of them, she might have started all over again,” said Rowan.
Ace stared at her, and Will could see he was trying to get his head round the idea that anyone could be that patient and methodical.
“It’s a thought,” said Will. “She might have.”
“I think Rowan’s right,” said Clover. “To go to every Hill can’t have been easy for her. It shows dogged persistence, so we know something about her character, now.”
“And a character like that wouldn’t give up, but would patiently start again,” said Ace. “I honestly hadn’t thought of that, but right, no question, then. Owler Tor next.”
“I was going to go there,” said David sadly. “Was going to take Mal and Aesculus.”
“Well, you go with Ace, then,” Will offered. “I’ll stay here, get online, see if there’s any news, and try to get my head together.”
Ace nodded, as if he thought that was a good plan, but Clover had an objection.
“You won’t be able to get inside, that size!” she pointed out. “I think Rose and I had better come too.”
“Good idea,” said Ace. “D’you want to fly, or come in the car?”
“Rose, don’t you dare say we need the exercise,” said Clover. “It’s cold, and it’s raining. We’re going for a drive.”
If she was being honest with herself, Daffodil Shacklow would have admitted that occasionally life at Owler Tor was a bit boring. Sometimes, when a day was just the same as the day before, you began to wish that something exciting would happen. Now, far too many exciting things were happening, and she didn’t like it at all. All she wanted now was for life to return to its familiar pattern, but deep down, she knew it wasn’t going to. The arguments that had raged through Owler Tor over the last few days were the proof of that.
Filbert Calder, the judge, had given a good lead, and said firmly that there were going to be no arrests here, but there’d been plenty of defiance… people saying you couldn’t go against parliament like that, people saying he was on the list himself, so he’d lost his authority. Tempers had frayed, disagreements had turned into shouting matches, there’d been punch-ups and there’d been tears.
That had all happened before the police got back.
Then things had got even more tense, because however much moral authority the judge had, the police, with their numbers and their goblins, could override him by force. But they hadn’t. Appalled at the idea of arresting the judge, their captain had messaged his officer in Norway, and after that, there’d been no more talk of arrests. At that, the loyalists had walked out in protest, but no-one else had gone home, even those who lived close by, like Daffodil. No-one wanted to miss a thing. Some news was coming in, but you couldn’t be sure what was true and what wasn’t. They’d heard that Meon Hill had disbanded, and then that it hadn’t, but that there’d definitely been arrests there, and Judge Sam Wensum had been one of them. There’d been no news from the south at all, but just today, news had come from Norway, a message from the Commander of the army herself, and that was why everyone had crowded together now on the top level, among the fountains, to hear what she had to say.
When the judge came in, leaning heavily on a stick, his expression was serious, but Daffodil thought she detected a gleam of excitement in his eyes. He was an elf, after all.
“The Commander of the army is sending help,” he announced, and everyone cheered. The judge held up his hand for quietness, but he was smiling now. “First Regiment are gathering, and some units will be with us as soon as they can. However, it may be some days before they get here, so the Commander advises us to prepare some defences, just in case Special Brigade get here first. It’s unlikely – they haven’t a big presence in England, so they’d need to travel – but you never know. She advises setting up lookout points around the hilltop, so we can have early warning of an approach from any direction.”
People looked at one another with concern. That wasn’t going to be easy, not here. Owler Tor wasn’t a bare hilltop, but was crowned by huge boulders of every shape and size, very pleasing to look at, but a bit of a nuisance if you wanted to look down the hill.
“It’ll need careful thought, but we can do it,” said the judge.
He chose a dozen keen-eyed youngsters to find the best look-out positions, then led everyone else to the bottom of the hill and told them to encircle it and then climb, to see if anyone could make it to the top without being spotted. It would have been quite good fun, thought Daffodil, if it hadn’t been raining, but at least the rain was keeping human walkers away.
The lookouts changed position as everyone climbed, finding the very best viewpoints and trying to make sure that they had every angle covered. Nearly everyone was spotted sooner or later, but it became apparent that there was a blind spot. There was one place where a rocky outcrop jutted out so far, you couldn’t see what was happening below it. A nearby boulder gave a decent view straight down, but its view to the south was blocked by the outcrop itself.
“The trouble is, if anyone got past here, they’d be really close to the entrance,” said a police goblin.
“Oh, state the obvious,” said someone sarcastically.
“Now, now,” said the judge mildly. “What we need to do is…”
“Cover!” shouted someone lower down, and everyone saw that two young men were starting the ascent.
“Bother,” said the judge. “Inside, everyone, please.”
Daffodil’s wings were dripping water down her neck, but she put up with it. Everyone else was wet too, and there wasn’t enough space to spread your wings and shake them.
“As I was saying,” said the judge, “we must not disturb things too much. It would be noticed. But if we move the large boulder from its position to the ledge below the outcrop, no-one could say it hadn’t rolled there by itself. Shrink it, move it, expand it, and I think that will solve the problem.”
“It would, if we could do it,” said the captain of police dubiously. “But when you expand the boulder again, what’s to stop it rolling on you? There’s no guarantee it’s going to keep still.”
“And another thing,” someone else called out. “Those two men are sitting on the outcrop, in the rain, just watching the entrance. Why would humans do that?”
“Maybe it’s Special Brigade!”
“It’s too late!”
“We’d better run for it!”
Consternation was breaking out on every side. While the judge was calling for calm, Daffodil noticed a young fairy whom she didn’t know, who was trying to make her way to the front.
“It’s all right!” the young fairy called out. “Honestly. It really is all right. May I have a word?”
She looked at the judge, who gave her a nod, then she looked around, seeming to gather her wits, and spoke with admirable clarity.
“My name is Clover Moseley, and I’m in Search and Rescue. That’s my friend Rose, over there. You don’t need to worry about those men. One of them’s an elf called Ace, transformed to human size, and the other one’s an Ally – the most famous Ally, David Chambers. All the Allies have been asked to go to their local Hills to see if there’s anything they can do to help. I’m sure they’d be delighted to sort this boulder out for you.”
The mood changed instantly. The judge shook Clover’s hand, and everyone poured outside again. Like everyone else, Daffodil was looking at the visitors. If you looked carefully, she thought, you could see which was the human and which was the elf. There wasn’t much in it – the human certainly wasn’t making any fuss about crouching on a rock in the rain, it was just that the elf looked more comfortable, as if he was used to it. He certainly was handsome, thought Daffodil with a smile, and then something clicked in her memory. The names Clover had mentioned, and the sight of Ace, brought it all back.
I remember you! A couple of years ago, wasn’t it, you’d come to register something, and you couldn’t remember your own name. Well, you seem to have improved since I last met you.
Now she knew why the name of Moseley had seemed familiar, Daffodil was happy. She didn’t like unexplained mysteries. She joined her friend Rosemary to watch. The judge had been explaining what they needed to do. Ace grasped the idea instantly, but looked a bit dubious, possibly about the effort of shrinking a boulder that size on his own, because he waved over his friends Clover and Rose to come and help. Pooling the work, the shrinking was soon done, and with the boulder gone, the view downhill was now clear. It was trickier for them to scramble down to the place where it was needed. Ace could have jumped it, but he didn’t; he stayed close to his friend and kept between him and the edge all the time. Then, with the fairies, he expanded the boulder again slowly and carefully, constantly checking its stability and helping David brace it as it grew.
Once it was steady and back to its normal size, Daffodil was clapping and cheering with all the other sprites as Ace and David climbed back up to join them.
“What a bit of luck!” said Ace, flopping down on the wet grass as if he was tired. “That we should turn up just at the right moment like that!”
“Providential,” said the judge. “Fantastic work. I’m so grateful. I’m sorry we can’t invite you inside, because you wouldn’t fit, but at least we can bring you some refreshments.”
Shortly afterwards, the rain stopped and a little sunlight broke through the clouds. Everyone was drinking hot tea and chatting excitedly, the mood now noticeably more optimistic. Daffodil watched and listened. Ace and David were paying close attention to the judge, who seemed to be filling them in on the latest news. Clover was answering questions about the army from some young fairies, and Rose was talking to Daffodil’s friend Rosemary.
“Oh yes, we know General Arley!” Rose was saying. “We met her when she was still in Guidance, she came to Moseley Wood and transformed us from useless layabouts into army recruits.”
Ah, thought Daffodil. Another mystery solved.
“My name is Rosemary Arley,” Rosemary explained. “When you see her, give her my love, and tell her that the herb garden at Arley is as lovely as ever.”
“I will,” said Rose. “She’ll be delighted. I’ll try and message tonight – Signals has been frantic, lately – I’ll do it as soon as I get home.”
“Oh, do you have to go?” said Rosemary sadly.
“David can come back whenever you need him,” said Rose. “If you have a fast flyer to take a message, he could drive here in an hour or so. But Ace, and Will, who’s at home today, and Clover and I, have to get back to work. We’re trying to find a missing fairy.”
“Missing fairy?” Daffodil joined in the conversation. “It’s not Primrose Delamere, is it?”
Rose’s face lit up.
“Yes!” she squawked in excitement. “Have you seen her? Oh! You’re a Daffodil, aren’t you? The Daffodil we’ve been searching for! Ace! ACE! Come here!”
Ace came running over to see what Rose wanted, and by now a lot of sprites were listening, interested in what was going on.
Daffodil wondered if Ace would remember her, and she had to suppress a smile as she saw that he clearly did. His face dropped, and he looked sheepish and embarrassed. Daffodil determined not to embarrass him any further.
“I’m delighted to see you again, Ace,” she smiled. “Yes, I met Primrose Delamere one day. She was sitting on that very rock where you were just sitting, and she looked like you did - comfortable. But I don’t know how I knew she wasn’t really a human. I just did. I went and said hello, and she told me her sad story.”
“It’s wonderful to find you at last,” said Ace. “Do you have any idea what she did next?”
“I advised her to go to Fjaerland in person,” said Daffodil. “If she couldn’t find a friend to help her, maybe someone there could help, or if not, at least they’d have the resources to find someone who could.”
“She never turned up while we were there,” said Ace. “When was this?”
“Early last summer. But she did say that she wouldn’t be able to go straight away, as she would need money to travel, and she’d have to earn it first. She’d had a job, with a woman she called Miss Longson, and she decided to go back to that job and start saving up.”
“So she had a plan,” said Clover. “Maybe she’s still saving up.”
“Maybe,” said Rose, “but that email made it sound as if she’d given up hope. Maybe she was forgetting why she wanted to go in the first place.”
“Then what we have to do next is find this Miss Longson,” said Ace. “Did Primrose say where she lived, or worked, or anything helpful?”
“Yes, in Llangollen. But I don’t know what her job was. ‘Miss Longson let me help with the flowers’, that’s all she told me. I’m sorry I can’t be more help.”
“That’s a lot of help,” said Ace warmly. “That’s two big clues.”
“Will you let me know if you find her?” asked Daffodil. “It would be so good to know if her story has a happy ending.”
“We certainly will,” promised Clover.
Daffodil shook hands with her and Rose, then flew up to Ace’s shoulder and spoke softly so that only he could hear.
“If Primrose has you looking for her, Lieutenant, then her bad luck has now changed to good.”
Ace’s grateful smile was a sight she treasured to the end of her days.
Will had planned to spend the day quietly, but when he checked in with Signals, he heard that General Herdalen had requested a patch with him. Very excited, Will said that was fine by him, and at the appointed time he was sitting quietly in Moseley Lodge, all alone and ready to concentrate.
Major Inari spoke to him first.
Gran’s off camp, Will, he’s gone to Vingen. Not too far away, but I’ll patch you together myself, just to be on the safe side. Have you ever done a patch before? No? Then as soon as Gran starts coming through, forget about me and concentrate on him, but at the back of your mind remember that your location direction still has to be Fjaerland.
Crumbs, said Will. OK, sir. Ready when you are.
Will’s first feelings were of overwhelming relief, just at the sound of Gran’s rock-steady voice. He hadn’t realised how much he’d been missing him.
Hi Will, I’ve got some news for you. Is Ace there?
No, actually he’s not. He’s gone to Owler Tor with David.
That’s a stroke of luck. I don’t want him picking any of this up by accident. No, you haven’t got to keep any secrets from him, it’s just that I want you to sell this to him in your own words.
I see, laughed Will. You sell it to me, and I sell it to him? What is it?
Briefly, we’ve found Aesculus and Viola, but you can’t have them back yet.
Found them? Oh, brilliant! Where? Are they okay? What’s been happening?
It’s better if I don’t say where they are, but they’re still in England. They’re being very well cared-for, and we found out because someone realised what was going on and had the sense to tell me.
Oh, said Will. You’re being devious again, Gran. Are you trying to trap someone?
It’s not quite as simple as that. This is a fine officer we’re talking about, who may not realise he’s being used. How far will he go? That’s what we need to know. Where do his loyalties really lie?
Will they be in any danger?
Not at any time, said Gran. I can promise you that. But they’ll be far from home for a few more weeks yet, and I wouldn’t do that to little ones unless there was a very good reason for it.
I understand, said Will. And so will Ace. But he’ll fret, especially about Viola. She’s suffered so much, and she’s so vulnerable, and it makes him feel protective.
I know – it’s hard for him – but what you have to help him see is that this kidnap has brought them into the bigger picture.
I’ll do my best. But he’ll rant.
I know, Gran sympathised. I understand. Ket was just the same.
When Ace got back, he was bubbling over with news and excitement, and Will hated to think he was going to have to dampen all that bright enthusiasm. He left it as long as he could, but eventually Ace noticed he wasn’t looking as happy as he ought to be, and calmed down a bit.
“I’m sorry, Will,” he said. “Going on about it so much, when you’re still upset about Mal.”
“It’s not that so much,” said Will. “It’s just that I’ve got news you’re not going to like. And I can stand being unhappy, but I hate to see your happiness evaporate.”
“Tell me,” Ace demanded.
As Will had expected, Ace’s reaction was a mixture of bafflement and anger.
“Just who does Gran think he is? He’s gone too far this time. You can’t play around with the safety of little ones like that! Oh, I know he’s clever and cunning, but it doesn’t matter what good comes out of it, there are some things you just can’t do!”
“Ace, they’re in no danger, he promised.”
“Huh. He can’t know that – but in any case, they’ll be scared and worried and lonely. Well, Aesculus might not be – he might be enjoying himself, I grant you that – but Viola! That poor little mite just doesn’t need this, and you know that as well as I do!”
Will took the brunt of Ace’s rant, feeling it was much better directed at him than at Gran.
“It’s a very bad situation, I agree,” said Will. “But even if we brought her home today, Viola would still be suffering, because of Mal. She’s seen two elves who cared for her being murdered. I don’t know if she’s realised yet that Mal won’t be here to come home to, but when she does, she’ll need time to get used to the idea. I know she’ll be suffering, but she’d be suffering worse if she was here.”
That made Ace pause to think.
“Well, maybe – but if she was here, we could comfort her, or Clover could. She’s only got Aesculus!”
“He might be more comfort than you think. He makes her laugh. And because he’s younger, she feels responsible for looking after him. It might help her to grow stronger and more self-reliant, and the way things are going, she does need to do that.”
“That’s true, but Gran doesn’t know that! He’s just using them.”
“Yes, but no more than he uses himself, or any of us. Leaders have to make hard choices, you know that. He didn’t ask for them to be kidnapped. But once they had been, they became part of the big picture – the picture he’s responsible for.”
“Just because his responsibility outranks mine doesn’t stop me caring about them!” said Ace angrily.
“I know.” Will’s voice was gentle and sympathetic. “And so does Gran. That’s why, even with all the other things he’s got on his mind, he chose the kindest way he could to break it to you. And it wasn’t just a message, Ace, it was a patch.”
“Oh,” said Ace. He was quiet for a few moments, then asked, “How is he?”
“Tense,” said Will. “No time for chat, but everything under control – just.”
“He is a great leader.”
“Takes one to know one,” smiled Will.
That made Ace laugh, and relax a bit.
“He pours himself out,” said Will. “And if we’re as committed as he is, we have to do the same. War is sacrifice, and it starts right here.”
“Deep, Will. You sound more like yourself again. A day on your own’s done you some good, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, I feel loads better,” said Will. “Calm again. So do you want to transform now?”
“Hmm… I don’t know, it’s hardly worth it. We’ll have to get off again in the morning, drive to Llangollen.”
“Well, true, but we’d have a warmer night in the lodge, with Rose and Clover, and we could make some plans. It’s freezing in this big empty house.”
“It’s not that cold. And we’ve got blankets. And plans we can make on the journey.”
“Ace,” laughed Will, “what are you not telling me? We’ll have to transform sometime, and you won’t be able to hide it then. Why not just get it over and done with now?”
“Oh,” Ace groaned, “do you have to be so perceptive? Okay, okay, I’ve done such a stupid thing. But I honestly didn’t realise I was doing it until today.”
“I’m not trying to pry,” said Will. “I wish it didn’t have to work like this, but it does. Whatever you tell me, you’ll get no stupid comments from me. Just love, like always, and respect for your courage and honesty.”
Ace looked gratefully into Will’s eyes and didn’t look away.
“I think I knew, deep down, that the fairy we saw at Owler Tor, when I made such a fool of myself, was a daffodil,” he said. “If I hadn’t been wanting to avoid her, I might have been quicker to see the reasons for going there. Thanks to my vanity, Primrose has had to wait even longer.”
“Then all the barriers are down again,” smiled Will, passing no comment or judgement. “Now, is it going to be this cold house, or a cosy fire in Moseley Lodge?”
“Fire sounds good to me,” grinned Ace. “What are we waiting for?”
For once – to everyone’s amazement – when he’d heard all their ideas about how to tackle the search in Llangollen, Ace had come down firmly in favour of Rose’s idea.
“Start at the station,” she’d said. “Imagine you were Primrose, and walk where she’d walk, and we will find this work she got with flowers.”
Will would have been the first to admit that his own idea of working methodically through the telephone directory would be very slow, with no guarantee of success. He could see that the chances of striking lucky with Rose’s idea were pretty high, especially when they had two intuitive fairies with them, so he was happy to go along with it.
They hadn’t done much the first day, as Rose and Clover had transformed to human size too, to make things easier. It was only the second time they’d done it, and it tired them so much that Ace said they’d take rooms for the night, to give them a good rest. On the second day, they’d started with high hopes, calling at every flower shop they saw, and every hotel that had a nice garden. But no-one they spoke to had heard of a Miss Longson, and as the day wore on they began to get discouraged.
“It’s not a big town,” said Ace. “There can’t be many more places to try, unless she got work in someone’s garden. And there are loads of big houses with gardens, we can’t knock on every single door!”
“No, it’s got to be simpler than that,” said Clover. “We must carry on doing what she would do. Where did she get a drink, where did she spend the night?”
It was easy to guess she would have taken water from the river to drink, because it was shallow, fast-flowing and clean. When darkness fell, they carried on wandering around the town, trying to imagine being alone and friendless, with no money and nowhere to go. There were lights on in the pubs, and sounds of music and laughter, but the doors were all closed and they felt sure she wouldn’t have dared to go inside. They carried on walking, but eventually they were so tired they sat on a bench to rest, huddled together to try to keep warm. Then the pubs closed, and people looked at them curiously as they passed by, but no-one stopped to talk. Silence fell over the town. A policeman passed them, and then, an hour later, passed them by again, and this time, he told them to go home before they froze. Stiffly, they got up, and tried to look as if they knew where they were going. It was only instinct that led them down the river towards the forested hillside, and there they curled up as best they could in the damp undergrowth and tried to sleep.
They managed it, but they only got a couple of hours. It was five o’clock in the morning when they woke, too cold now to keep still any longer.
“This is excellent,” said Rose. “We’re tired and cold and filthy, just like she was.”
Clover didn’t look as if she thought there was anything excellent about it, but she had an important point to add.
“She’d be hungry, too. We’re not, so we’ll have to imagine that bit. But by now, she’d be so hungry she’d be desperate enough to steal or beg.”
“She’d head back to the town centre then,” said Ace. “We can drink from the river on the way… she’d have done that, for sure.”
Once they were in the town again, they noticed a strong smell of frying bacon. None of them liked the smell, but they knew what it was, and quickly followed it. The trail led them back to the station. There, in the car park, was a stall doing a brisk trade in breakfasts to taxi drivers and railway workers. To Will’s surprise, Rose and Clover, sniffing the air, ignored the stall completely and went into the station. Someone was unloading box after box from a railway carriage and by now even the elves could smell that those boxes contained fresh flowers. Daffodils, freesias, tulips, iris… flown in from a warmer country, Will realised, all the flowers of spring. Loaded onto trains and lorries to be delivered to dozens of places, someone had to collect the deliveries and make sure that every flower shop and hotel got what it needed. And there she was, quietly doing the job that had no doubt drawn Primrose just as it had drawn Rose and Clover.
Clover looked at Ace and he nodded at her. She approached the woman unloading the boxes and spoke to her.
“Are you Miss Longson?”
“Val?” said the woman. "No." She lifted out the last box and put it onto her trolley. “She’s got a cold. Do you want me to give her a message?”
“You know her?” said Clover. “We’d really like to see her. Could you tell us where she lives?”
“Hang on a minute, Clover,” said Rose. She smiled at the woman. “The person we really want to talk to is Primrose Delamere.”
“Me?” said the woman. “Why?”
“That’s quite a long story,” said Ace. “Well done, Rose. Hello, Primrose.”
Two hours later, in Miss Longson’s kitchen, Ace felt like banging his head against the wall.
“I’m sorry,” said Primrose. “I really don’t remember sending that email. It’s true I was saving up to go to Norway, but I can’t remember why I wanted to go, now. And I don’t remember going to Derbyshire.”
“I think you’d better stop this,” said Miss Longson firmly. She was a large, sensible-looking woman, with a very kind face, who was struggling to cope with her streaming eyes and nose. “Primrose has been ill. Ill in her mind, and she’s getting better. I don’t know what hospital she met you in, but you’re not helping.”
“I know it must be hard to believe,” Clover began, but Miss Longson interrupted her.
“Primrose has been a real good help to me, and she’s a good friend. All this fairy nonsense is a delusion, it won’t do any of you any good.”
“We’re going to have to transform,” said Ace.
“Go for it,” said Will.
They’d had so much practice, they knew it would be easy. In under five minutes, without having to say a word out loud, they were their real size again.
“How did you get that fast?” gasped Rose.
“I am so jealous,” muttered Clover.
Miss Longson and Primrose said nothing. They were just staring, one in sheer disbelief, and one with hope dawning in her eyes.
“Dead right,” said Ace. “Carry on. We transformed to human size. But you… you were transformed into a human. To punish you for speaking to a human child. What was her name, Primrose?”
“Abigail,” said Primrose, without thinking, then gasped. “Where did that come from?”
“Who did it? Dahlia Royden?”
“Dahlia? Refugees… we welcomed them, but they took over.”
“You’re doing fine,” said Ace. “What else can you remember?”
“You mean it’s true?” said Miss Longson. “I don’t believe this, it can’t be real!”
“Why is it so hard,” asked Will, “to believe in something you’ve heard of but never seen? You believe in germs, don’t you?”
Miss Longson relapsed into silence again, just staring, but Primrose was looking more and more animated.
“Delamere… I remember living there, before the refugees came. I had a house next to the Hatchmere, just under the willow fringes, and I am a fairy.”
“Brilliant!” said Rose. “I knew you’d get there. Tell us about your house.”
For the rest of the morning, they encouraged her to talk, with Miss Longson at first just soaking it all up, and by the end, asking interested questions. But the shock, on top of her illness, was making her quite light-headed, and finally Primrose made her eat some lunch and go and lie down. After that, Primrose settled down with Rose and Clover for another long chat, but Ace and Will wandered out into the garden.
“Cracking work,” Ace exulted. “Let’s check in, report to Colonel Kinnekulle that we’ve found her.”
“Definitely,” said Will. “The sooner we do that, the sooner we’ll get new orders, maybe get sent where the action is.”
The colonel’s reply came through quite quickly, and he was very generous with his praise for their brilliant detective work. But he was also very firm about orders; they were to stay with the fairies and guard them carefully, he said, until Primrose was fit to travel, no matter how long it took, and then she must be safely escorted to wherever she wished to go.
“Rats,” said Ace. “Still, it shouldn’t take too long. A couple of days, and we’ll be off again.”
It was Clover who had to disillusion them. As dusk was falling, she came out to find them.
“Rose and I are going to let Primrose watch us transform, too,” she said. “We want to be totally open with her, to help her be the same with us. Only it’s a big step for us, and we’d like you there too, in case anything goes wrong.”
Ace and Will got up at once.
“Very brave and kind, Clover,” said Ace. “That should help her a lot. How long d’you think it’s going to be before you can transform her? A couple of days?”
“Oh, Ace!” said Clover. “I’m sorry, but not nearly so quick. Primrose is forty-four. If we do it too soon, any memories she hasn’t got back will be lost forever.”
“Oh, I see what you mean,” said Ace. “Yes, I suppose it is quite a big job, all those years’ worth of memories. Still, even if it takes a couple of weeks, that’s not too bad.”
“I think it might be more like a couple of months,” said Clover.
How did they take it? Gran asked his old crony, Bjørk Kinnekulle.
Kicked off a bit when they realised how long it was going to take, but once I’d repeated the orders, no more fuss. They’re good lads, Gran, very good lads indeed.
I know it. But what a stroke of luck, to have such a good excuse for keeping Ace Moseley safe in the middle of nowhere. This kidnap’s aimed at getting him, I’d swear it, and if you ask me, it feels like the Premier’s doing, not Huskvarna’s.
What if they realise what you’re up to?
Ace won’t. He lives in the moment too much. Will might, but he won’t say anything. He’d want to keep Ace safe too.
I’m not so sure of that. There’s such a thing as loving someone so much you let them go, you know.
Stop worrying me like that, Bjørk. Right now I need to know what Huskvarna’s going to do. They’ve got a Cabinet meeting tomorrow, I hear, and you can bet there’ll be some important decisions taken. We have to stay one step ahead.
He won’t want to pull troops off guarding the camps to send them west.
No, and neither will that poisonous elm, I forget his name, the head of Population Control. But they’ll have no choice, they’ll be in the mud right now, those two, after that break-out in Croatia. Not a single sprite was re-captured, you know. The Premier will mark his disapproval by ignoring their suggestions. That’s the way they work.
Even if they send everyone they’ve got west – and they won’t do that – they still wouldn’t have enough to go for every Hill and major colony at once. They’re going to have to pick some to make examples of, and Vingen’s going to be one of them. You want some reinforcements, Gran?
I think that’s a very good idea. Come yourself, and bring the lads from Sweden 3 with you.
We’re on our way. See you in a few days.
The one person who understood perfectly what was going on was the least happy about it. In fact, General Lars Huskvarna was bitterly angry, but the only sign on his face was that he was smiling even more than usual. The Premier wanted action against human-lovers, and he had a scheme of his own on the go in England, as well as all the arrests he was planning, but what he didn’t seem to see was that the gains he wanted in the west wouldn’t be worth the cost if it meant losing the east. A breakout in Poland, like that fiasco in Croatia, and Wielkopolska itself would be in danger.
But General Huskvarna knew all too well that he couldn’t complain or argue against the Premier, in fact he’d be lucky if he got a chance to speak at all. As he took his seat in the Cabinet Room, he knew that if he was going to get what he wanted, he was going to have to be a lot more subtle than that.
The Premier took the meeting at a cracking pace, because he said there was a lot to get through. That was clever in itself, thought General Huskvarna. He made it look as if anyone who had an issue to raise was just being awkward and wasting time. The Chief Lawyer had some fine points to make about the accuracy of some of the arrest documents, but he was shushed reproachfully as soon as the Premier cast a worried glance at the clock. They rattled through the latest arrests, heard nominations for new judges to replace the unsound ones, approved the plans for re-training with barely any discussion, and then had to sit through a long list of new names to be added to the proscribed list. By the time troop movements were mentioned, everyone was getting tired and restless.
“As we expected,” said the Premier, “although an encouraging number of arrests has already been made, there has been resistance and disobedience in many places, and it will be necessary for us to make further arrests ourselves. General Huskvarna, I am sure you will agree that your superb elves in Special Brigade are the right ones for this job.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said General Huskvarna genially. “Sending elves is much wiser than sending fairies. Special Squadron can move faster, it’s true, but if it came to fighting, they’re obviously no match for the army’s elite squadron.”
“Oh?” said the Chief of Communication, almost bristling her wings. “Really? And what makes the army squadron so much better, may I ask?”
“No offence, Strelitzia, but I’m talking about their Fighter Squadron here, not their ordinary squadrons. Intelligence informs us that they’ve been split up and sent to their home countries for one reason only – to defend the Hills. Our squadron can’t match them. Even elves would struggle.”
“They’d certainly struggle in the air,” said the Chief of Communication dryly.
“They are few in number, though,” said Envoy Yantra diffidently. “Chosen, I believe, for their strength and fighting spirit, and not, perhaps, for their intelligence. And we have heard that the army has spread them very thinly. I’m no tactician, but it seems to me that if Special Squadron kept together, they could defeat the Fighter Squadron a few at a time, and this would be a very good thing for their morale.”
“The army will have more than those few defending the Hills,” said General Huskvarna. “But it’s not a bad idea, Yantra. Good thinking.”
“The important thing,” said the Premier, “is not the defeat of army troops as such, but the arrests. Is it your professional opinion, General Huskvarna, that our fairies could help accomplish this faster?”
“Faster, yes,” said the general.
“Then we will adopt Envoy Yantra’s excellent suggestion. Liaise with General Augustów of Special Squadron, and choose your rendezvous points. But we will not, at first, be going to every Hill and colony. No, we must make more impact than that. Three countries have been chosen to serve as examples, and their downfall will make lesser places think twice about resisting the will of parliament. The important thing is to have troops on the move before nightfall. Send for your best troops, the strongest and fastest, and have them across the Rhine before the month is out.”
“How many, Premier?” asked General Huskvarna quietly.
“This is a show of strength,” said the Premier. “I want you to raise three hundred, and plan it carefully. Some will have longer journeys, but all the targets must be taken within a week or so.”
“Certainly, Premier, that will have great impact.”
Could have been worse, thought the general. Three hundred we can manage, just… thanks to Yantra. What’s his game? Was he being helpful by accident or on purpose?
Either way, it seemed to him that it would be worthwhile getting to know Envoy Yantra a little better.
“Excellent. And now, if there is no other business…”
The Premier asked this as a formality, and he certainly didn’t look as if he was expecting anyone to speak today. But for once, he was in for a surprise, and looked just as stunned as everyone else when old Calla Babele, the Chief Interpreter, seemed to unfold herself from her layers of wrappings and held up her head.
“Business? Oh yes, there is business,” she whispered. “You make plans, and your plans will rise and fall, but they won’t get very far if you think you can rely only upon yourselves. There is news, I tell you. News from the south. I heard it on the wind, or maybe in a dream, I am not sure, and it does not matter.”
Everyone looked at one another warily, not sure what to make of this.
The Chief of Communication laid her well-manicured hand upon the table, reaching out towards the old fairy, but she had a mocking smile upon her face.
“What is it, Calla? Do tell.”
“You may mock, but you would be wise to listen,” said Calla. “The weaklings of the army will soon be defeated, but they have one strength which you ignore. They listen to their tree. Oh, the Talende tree is old and weak, but still, it is a tree of power. How many of you listen to the Enlightener? Is it because he is far away that you think you can make every decision without his wisdom? He is a tree more mighty than any that has ever lived, he is the source of all your power and potions, yet you forget to acknowledge this.”
“You are right, Calla,” said the Premier. “We have been most remiss. I shall send a message to the Enlightener’s interpreter this very day, asking her to seek advice on our behalf.”
“You will not be able to do that,” said Calla. “I told you there was news. If you were not so insensitive, you might have heard it for yourselves. The interpreter is dead, she died in her sleep, and there is now no-one to interpret the Enlightener’s wisdom for the realm.”
“But… but surely there’s some mechanism for a replacement?” asked the Chief Envoy. “This must have happened before.”
“What strange words you use,” said Calla. “Mechanism? That is ugly. Simply, the Enlightener uses the dying spirit to summon the replacement. She hears the call, and travels to the Enlightener’s side, to spend her remaining days under his branches.”
“So the replacement has already been chosen? Who is it, Calla, do you know?” The Premier no longer looked stunned, just thoughtful and interested.
“It is I,” said Calla. She rose to her feet. “I have interpreted the languages of the realm for parliament for longer than most of you have been alive, but now I am called to higher things, and I must bid you farewell. Unless you travel to Greece, you will never see me again. But I hope that we may speak again, for you will need his wisdom more than ever now. Remember my words.”
With that, she bowed to them all, then gathered her ragged robes around her with all the dignity of a queen, and began to walk from the room. Led by the Premier, one by one all the sprites rose to their feet in her honour.