CHAPTER 1 - The Elf Network

At dawn on a July morning, a sprite helicopter landed at the foot of the Angel of the North. Out of it stepped four elves. They looked around cautiously, but it was safe. The world was light, but it was only 4am and there was no-one else around at all. Even the nearby A1 was almost silent. It was a morning to fill the heart of any sprite with joy, but there was only a serious sadness on the faces of the elves. Will Moseley, Sal Loughton, Pendo Elveden and Lance Cottingham had come to honour and mourn their colonel.
Rowan Harpsden had been killed at the battle of Fjaerland, the fourth and last sprite to die in that encounter. His body had been laid to rest by his regiment, England 3, on the shore of Fjaerland fjord. But the pilots and the injured hadn’t been there. Flying north to Dovrefjell, to Marta, they’d been the last to hear the awful news. So four of them had stopped here now, at this great sculpture that Rowan Harpsden had loved so much, that had seemed to him to symbolise everything he loved and everything he was fighting for. The rest of them would be ready and waiting to join them in spirit, back there in Norway.
We’re ready now, Ace.
So are we, everyone’s here. Go for it, Will.

“Rowan Sorbus aucuparia Harpsden,” said Will quietly. “Colonel, Sprite Army, Third Regiment, English Section. Born in Oxfordshire, died in Norway, aged 153. Died a hero.”
Sal handed out the tributes that all of them had made back at Marta’s farm, then the four elves pooled their strength and soared into the air, a breathtaking jump that was fuelled by unity, love and grief. They landed on the outstretched wings of the Angel.
The metal was not smooth at all when you saw it from close up. There were plenty of small projections and on these they hung their tributes. A wreath of rowan, a string of beads, a colonel’s wristband and an embroidered headband. Then there was a little bell made from recycled metal, a penny whistle and finally a mead cup. They stood silent and unmoving on the wings after that, just remembering and thinking their own thoughts of their colonel. Then they jumped down together, and with one last look up at the Angel, returned to the helicopter.

We’ll never forget him.
said Ace. Such a gentle spirit, and such a great leader.
We’ll miss him so much. But now I must fly home, and it feels weird to be going home, without you.
I know. It feels weird to be here while you’re going home. At least we can still message.
It feels like a miracle, the way things are,
said Will. I'm grateful for this, at least.
Fly safe, Will, and give my love to everyone at home.

As the little helicopter flew off to the south-west, Will was still feeling very strange. It wasn’t that he'd never been parted from Ace before, he had, and that hadn’t been good at all, but it hadn’t made him feel so disorientated. Maybe it was just because there were so many other things to be worried about, to be upset about. He couldn’t afford to get distracted, so he forced himself to concentrate on the moment, on what he was doing now, and the people he was with now, and on not letting his thoughts get dragged aside.
The trouble with that was, it made him think of where he was going, and why, and then the weight of responsibility felt very heavy. Sal, Pendo and Lance were here only as his escort, because Madge had refused to let him travel alone. But even she had seen how crucial it was for Will to discover how Aesculus had made his phone work. And when Gran Herdalen had heard about it, he had sounded… hungry. He had been convinced that this was the answer they were all so desperate for, and convinced that Will could solve the mystery.
But what if I can’t? What if it only worked because it was Midsummer’s Eve? What if it only worked because Aesculus was in his own tree? What if…
“Hey, Will, stop worrying,” said Sal.
Sal was sitting behind Pendo, who was flying the helicopter. Will turned his head to smile at him.
“How did you know I was?”
He knew the answer really. Sal was a willow too. Will liked him a lot, he hadn’t met a willow of his own age before, and he was amazed how laid-back Sal was.
Sal just grinned.
“You’re really tense for a willow, aren’t you? I s’pose it comes from being twins with a sycamore. Though of course you’re a lot calmer than Ace.”
“Even a whirlwind is calmer than Ace,” said Pendo.
“But that works both ways,” said Lance. “Ace must be calmer than he would be if he wasn’t twins with a willow.”
“Good gracious,” said Sal. “I hadn’t thought of that. Good job he is, then. But anyway, Will, I’ll navigate for a bit, you come back here and have a rest. I can find Cheshire. Well, at least I know we have to keep flying down the Pennines, and even I can’t lose the Pennines.”
“OK,” said Will. “That’d be good. If you’re sure.”
“Definitely,” said Sal. “You need a rest. Ace told me to make sure you got enough sleep.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” grinned Will.
He changed places with Sal, lay back in his seat and closed his eyes. Somehow, Ace felt nearer right then, and that was the best thing of all.

Sal's navigating was good. In a while, they saw the high fells of the Lake District through the windows on the right, and Lance sighed softly.
"Home is over there."
Pendo knew what he meant.
"The school? That feels like home to you?"
"Oh, yes. It does to Douglas too. We don't remember ever being anywhere else, you see. The staff there are like our colony, to us. I wonder if they've heard the news about Fjaerland?"
"Owler Tor have sent messengers out," said Will. "Would they have gone to the school?"
"No, probably not. The school's run by the army so Owler Tor would be used to them keeping in touch for themselves. But the Allies at the farm are not like your Allies, Will. I'm not sure they've even got a telephone."

When they came to the plateau of Kinder Scout, Will came forward again to navigate. He followed the river Goyt into Stockport town centre and after that he was simply following roads he knew well out to Cheadle. It felt strange to be seeing them from this angle.
"We're not going to land at Moseley Wood," he said. "Bound to be spotted on a sunny afternoon. But that's it, below us now. It's only small."
"Nice trees, though," said Sal with respect.
"Thanks," smiled Will. "Lose a bit of height now, Pendo. We're going to land in David's back yard, and we'll need to go quite slowly."
At a giant ash they turned left, crossed the railway then fence-hopped down Hilton Street.
"That's the one," said Will.
"The one with a little elf dancing on the fence and waving? Thought it might be."
"That's Aesculus," said Will.

The back yard of the little terraced house was small. David must have been watching them through the window, so as not to block any space, because as soon as they'd landed he came out of his back door, with three fairies fluttering excitedly round his head.
"Hi, Will!"
"Hi David, it's wonderful to see you. This is Pendo, and this is Lance, and this is Sal."
"Hello," said David. "Great to meet you all. I am so very sorry about your colonel."
"He was a great elf," said Sal. "Everyone thought he was mad, but he was kind and he was wise."
"A great loss," said David. "But come on in, you must be tired and thirsty."
Aesculus was chattering non-stop as David introduced the elves to Primrose, Val and Viola. Once, Aesculus had been shy of meeting new elves. Not any more. True, he was looking around as if he might have missed something, as if he couldn't quite believe that Will was there but not Ace, but once he'd got his head round that, he was more than happy to talk to elves who could fly helicopters.
Will tried to listen to what Aesculus was talking about, as he greeted the fairies and passed on messages for them all from Rose and Clover. They all knew why he'd come, everyone except the little ones. Will didn't want Aesculus alarmed or worried by the importance of what he'd done. His plan was to spend plenty of time with Aesculus and approach the subject gently and naturally. The others would back him up, he knew.
“What did you say, Aesculus? You made taps? What, for the house?”
“Only one tap. Cold tap.”
“Very good! What did you do, move the water tank into the roof?”
“That’s right, rain in the gutter, make the gutter pour into water tank, water comes down to the tap in a pipe.”
“Excellent. And did you remember to make an overflow pipe?”
“What’s that?”
“Well, what will happen if it rains so much the tank gets full?”
“Oh!” said Aesculus. “Oh, no! The house will flood. I have to go and fix it.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not raining just now.”
“No, but it’s going to,” said David. “Weather forecast said so. Why don’t you go with Aesculus, Will, and help him fix it?”
“Good idea,” said Will. “If you three will be all right?”
“You’re kidding,” said Pendo. “Three beautiful fairies to talk to, and the most famous Ally, and a bowl of orange juice. This is bliss, this is.”
“Excuse me, Lance,” said Viola politely. “But what tree are you?”
“Just what I was wondering, Viola,” said David. “Don’t tell us – let’s see if we can guess.”
“That could take some time,” grinned Will. “Come on, Aesculus. See you later!”

Inserting an overflow pipe into the water tank was soon done. Will was really impressed that Aesculus immediately understood where it had to go, and said so.
“You’re getting really good at making things,” he said. “What else have you made lately?”
“Made new paintbrushes for David. They wear out, but it’s easy to grow new bristles from broken ones. And fixed a hole in Sally’s pond. Underwater repair, ha! Primrose told me off for that, Oh Aesculus, you could have drowned, nag nag.”
“Hey, you’re lucky to have kind fairies who care about you,” laughed Will. “But good repair work, well done.”
“And,” said Aesculus, “I made a sprite-sized remote control for David’s television.”
“Really? Wow!”
“Only trouble is, it doesn’t work.”
“Oh, dear. Where is it?"
“In my box.”
Aesculus pulled a box out from under the table, full of bits of wire and circuits and half-finished projects. It made Will smile. He remembered having a box like that once.
“Here it is.”
“That’s beautiful, Aesculus. Very neat work on the buttons. It sends out a beam, does it?”
“That’s right, the beam works, but no television.”
Will thought he knew what the problem was, but he wanted to see if Aesculus could work it out.
“And David’s human-sized one – he sits on his couch to use it, does he?”
“And would it work if he was sitting in the street, say, nine times further away?”
“Shouldn’t think so… oh! Oh Will, you’re so clever! I have to sit nearer, don’t I?”
“I think so, yes. If the beam is working, it’s probably just not reaching the TV.”
“Let’s go and see if it works!”
“We can take it with us when we go back to David’s. There’s no rush. This is my chance to help you with anything else you’ve been stuck with. How’s your phone? Have you tried to phone anyone else since you phoned us in Norway on Midsummer’s Eve?”
“Yes, I tried to phone Laura. She had a phone for her birthday, her first phone, and she was wishing for calls. But it didn’t work that time. I went back in my tree, even, but it still didn’t work.”
“That’s interesting,” said Will. “Where is your phone, in your pocket? Let’s have a look at it.”

It was scratched, battered and several years out of date, yet it was for this that he had left Ace, left the army behind and flown hundreds of miles home. Gently, he switched it on and it chirruped to life.
“Good work on the battery,” said Will.
He thought of Ace, and how much he wanted to talk to him. He thought of the Tree and the frozen column in Signals and all the sprites all across the realm, missing their connection to each other, then he opened his eyes.
No network connection.
“Not working for me either. Tell you what, let’s take it to your tree on our way back to David’s.”
“The baby conkers are growing already, they’re so sweet. Come and see, Will!”

Will admired the baby conkers, then asked Aesculus which branch he had been sitting on, on Midsummer’s Eve. He thought about that, then nodded and took Will to a broad branch with a comfortable horizontal section. He had his choice of good perches in a tree this size.
“I sat here,” said Aesculus. His legs were dangling over the edge of the branch.
“Was it dark?”
“Yes, it was very late. Dancing was over. I was tired but I wanted my tree. And I really, really wanted to talk to you and Ace, I was lonely.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Will. “You were the only elf, and that doesn’t feel right at Midsummer, does it? So you switched your phone on – why? What made you think it might work?”
“David and Gary talking. They’d been saying something about old phones, that sprites could make them work.”
“Oh, I see.” That was when they’d had their brainwave about making the video. “So you switched it on – no problem with that, because you fixed the battery – but it didn’t work straight away?”
“No. Just no network connection as usual.”
Aesculus switched his phone on again and the same message came up.
“I don’t know why it worked. It just did. I didn’t do anything to it.”
“But in between switching it on and when it started working, what did you actually do? Were you holding it?”
“Yes, I think so. I was thinking of you and Ace, and Betch, and General Gran, all so far away. I was thinking of all those countries and all those miles and I was sad. But then it buzzed and I jumped up to see what was happening.”
“Just a minute,” said Will. “You jumped up? Where from? Weren’t you holding the phone?”
“Oh, I think I put it down on the branch.”
“Ah,” said Will softly. “Let’s try that again now.”
“I laid it right here,” said Aesculus. “And then I lay back, looking up at the leaves. I remember now.”
He was getting into it now, thought Will, remembering details.
“When you and Ace were little, you must have played in this tree. And that was years and years before I was even born.”
Will was disappointed that Aesculus’ thoughts had gone off at a tangent, but he gave no sign of it, just answered seriously.
“Yes, Aesculus, we did. Every day. Climbed it, jumped about in it, fell out of it. Loved it and cared for it.”
“Is that why I was born? Because it knew elves, it wanted one of its own?”
“It could be. Some people believe that. Believe that the more sprites there are in a place, the more likely buds are to be born. I used to think that wasn’t very scientific, but now I’m not so sure. We just don’t know how the science works.”
“That’s like the phone, then. It worked but we don’t know how. So we can’t do it again. Have you seen the video, Will?”
“Yes, I saw it on Marta’s computer.”
“I helped!”
“Did you?”
“Yes, I helped Primrose and Val make the necklace. It took a long time, but it was so beautiful.”
“Definitely,” said Will warmly. “Awesome – best I’ve ever seen.”
“Primrose said it mustn’t look like human work, and that way, people might believe Rowan.” Then he sat up and suddenly looked so grown-up that Will was startled. “It really matters about the phones, doesn’t it? Getting them and making them work?”
“Yes, Aesculus. It’s hard to see how we can win the war without them.”
“I knew you’d tell me the truth, Will. Everyone thinks I’m too much of a baby. They pretend everything’s okay, but I know David’s worried.”
“We lost a big battle,” said Will. “And we lost our headquarters in Norway. But that wasn’t the worst of it.”
Aesculus was watching him, solemn-faced.
“Imagine the biggest tree you can, so tall it seems to touch the sky. And so beautiful you can’t bear to look away. And this tree loves you so much, it talks to you, it tells you wonderful things that you need to know. And it’s powerful, so powerful that it can help sprites send messages to each other right across the realm. But General Huskvarna, the one who captured you and Viola, tried to cut it down with a chainsaw. He didn’t manage it, but he hurt the tree very badly. There are no messages any more.”
“I want to see that tree,” sighed Aesculus.
“You will. I’m sure of it.”
“How could any elf – even a bad elf – want to hurt a tree like that?”
“I don’t know,” said Will. “It seems beyond belief. But Lars Huskvarna isn’t just a bad elf. He’s evil.”
It seemed to Will that he had said enough… maybe too much. He was willing to give Aesculus truthful answers, remembering his own young self who had so often been fobbed off with half-truths and evasions. But he didn’t want to frighten him.
“I wish I was big enough to fight,” said Aesculus.
“You’re already fighting,” said Will. “Every time you think of Betch, or hope the Tree will live, or help David, you are fighting too. And we’ll win. Never doubt that. One day, we’ll have a queen again, and be as we were meant to be.”
Aesculus picked the phone up.
“I talked to it. I remember now. Please work, please work!”
And then the phone buzzed into life, and Aesculus was so startled that he dropped it. It fell down through the tree, clattering from branch to branch.
“Oh, no!” yelled Will and Aesculus together, jumping down after it.
They found it on the ground, but it wasn’t broken.
“But the green screen’s gone again,” said Aesculus. “It was there for a minute, the elf network, I saw it!”
He handed the phone to Will, and Will pressed a few buttons, checking for damage. He leaned a hand upon the tree while he was doing that, and immediately the green screen came back.
“Look! It’s back! I touched the tree and it came back.”
“Let go of the tree,” breathed Aesculus.
Will did so, and the green faded. Then, very deliberately, he touched the tree again and the green came back.
“Wow,” said Aesculus. “Phone Ace!”
“Why not?” said Will. “We have to try it out, don’t we?”
Ace didn’t even bother with ‘hello’.
“Genius,” he said. “Knew you could do it. How does it work?”
“Need more data for a full picture,” said Will. “But for us, and for this phone, and this tree, the phone needs to be laid for a while on a branch, and then the person holding the phone needs to be touching the tree.”
“Oh, and it’s Aesculus’ own tree. That could be making a difference, couldn’t it?”
“Exactly. I’ve got a lot of testing to do. But this is great progress. What’s the news from where you are?”
"We're moving. Soon, so don't come back up here. Madge has been talking to General Stalden on Messenger."
"Good grief, how long did that take, at about twelve letters a minute?"
"I know, it doesn't bear thinking about. Karl must be a patient man. But maybe someone else was doing the actual typing. Apparently, all the elves who scattered after the battle had orders to rendezvous in four weeks' time at Oslofjord."
"That's where the Hill for southern Norway is, isn't it? Lots of options from there."
"Exactly. Well, General Stalden's finished unshrinking people. They've utterly stunned Karl with all the repairs and stuff they've done for him, and they're leaving for Oslofjord as well."
"Right, so you're all heading down there too."
"All except the old frail ones, they're going to stay with Marta for now, and she's well pleased about that.”
“You know what, Ace, we’re going to have to give our phones to more senior people.”
“I know, we’re onto that. Clover’s already given hers to Madge and she’s teaching her to use it.”
“So who’s our senior colonel now?”
“Someone we don’t know, Colonel Pesentheim. He’s out there with Gran, he’s Austrian. But he sounds great, he’s a sycamore.”
“They let sycamores be colonels?”
“Ha! Listen, the only reason other trees get a look in is because there aren't enough sycamores to go round.”
“Actually, you might be right there. Have a talk to Aesculus now, ‘cos he’s nearly hopping with impatience. Catch you later.”

Will watched the phone carefully as he handed it over. Aesculus made sure he was touching the tree before he took it, and the signal didn’t waver at all. Will was thinking hard. There was so much to test. He needed a reliable method that could work for any sprite anywhere. He needed fairies to try this, and they needed to use another phone, and a different tree and call a phone that wasn’t Ace’s.
After Aesculus had finished chatting, they went back to David’s. Will explained what he needed, and everyone went back to the horse chestnut. There, they found out more useful information. The phone had to be left on a branch for about ten minutes, almost as if it was charging. But after that, so long as the sprite was touching the tree, calls could go through. Sal called Madge who had Clover’s old phone, and Pendo called Rose. Primrose phoned Rowan, who was gardening, and Val called Dominic, who’d just got back from the swimming baths with his brothers and Adam. The boys came rushing over to help, and even better, they brought an assortment of old phones for them to try.
“We’ve been scrounging them for you,” Dominic explained. “You can keep them all.”
“Thank you so much,” said Will. “This is great!”
They quickly worked out that the phones did need to have a working battery. But they tried out all the ones that had any power, and they all worked just as well as Aesculus’, for both elves and fairies. Everyone was delighted, and Adam prophesied that the sprites would be playing Angry Birds within the month. But when they tried to use a different tree, the giant ash in Abney Park, they had no success at all. Not even the slightest response came from any phone at all.
“Let’s try another horse chestnut,” said Aesculus, convinced that horse chestnuts were much more special than other trees.
But they had no more success with that. Will was baffled, and longed for quietness to puzzle this out, but he went along with everyone’s ideas. Letting people relax and have fun and get to know each other was important too. But eventually they ran out of ideas, and the sprites were getting thirsty and David and the boys were getting hungry. Then it started to rain.
“Let’s go home,” said David.
He took them all back to his house, hospitably providing pizzas and orange juice, and Rowan and Laura came round to join in. The louder it got, the more Will let the sound wash over him. Everyone was all right now, he could afford to let go.

Pendo nudged Sal.
“Look at Will,” he said. “Ace was right. He can’t even hear us.”
“We need to watch him now,” said Sal. “If he goes outside, follow him. He can’t watch out for himself in that state, and that’s what we’re here for.”

What’s so special about Aesculus’ tree, that it can make the phone work, not just for him, but for all of us? It’s not because it’s a horse chestnut. It’s not its age or its size. It’s not the phase of the moon, and it’s nothing to do with Midsummer.
He had no answers there, so he changed tack, tried a different approach. How did it work? Just what was going on?
OK, the power’s coming from the tree. Where’s it getting it from? But not just from the tree. There has to be a sprite there, wanting that connection, concentrating… well, that’s all right. That’s no different to messaging. And that’s tuning in to the power of the Tree himself, and the unity of the realm. But you can access that from anywhere, once you’ve learned how. Except now you can’t. Yet the Tree isn’t dead – weakened, yes, but not dead. So, somehow, his power is getting through to the horse chestnut. But why that tree and no other?
Will sighed. He’d come full circle, he was back where he’d started. So he stopped concentrating so hard and let his thoughts slide deeper and go where they would. The horse chestnut… part of their lives for so long. Yet it was hard to imagine now how life had been before they joined the army and met the Tree. And Clover, of all people, had heard the call first. How she’d grown – how they all had. Will nearly laughed to remember how wobbly they’d all gone when Clover had said she’d heard a call to join the army.
Whoa, hold it right there! thought Will. Clover was in Aesculus’ tree when she heard that call. But I wasn’t. I was in my own tree. And Ace was in his.
Was there anything to stop the logical conclusion? No, there was not.
Clover heard that call because she was in Aesculus’ tree. We didn’t know then, which tree our bud belonged to. But the tree did. And the Tree did. That’s it! That’s the connection. It has to be an elf tree, that’s all.
So, maybe once a plant has a sprite of its own, it’s connected in a special way, or in a more powerful way. Probably needs a fair sized root spread, so not likely to work with a fairy’s flower. What about a small elf tree, though – would that work? So, we need different elf trees, of different sizes to prove it. But mine’s gone. And Ace’s is gone, and so is Cory’s. Mal’s apple tree? Probably went when the farm did. The nearest colony? Cheadle Hulme, but I don’t know where the heart of the colony is, or which trees belong to it. What’s the name of that place? Bulkeley, that’s it. Who’d know exactly where it is?

“Gromwell,” said Will, not realising he’d spoken out loud.
He opened his eyes, smiling, and saw that everyone was looking at him.
“Need to talk to him,” he explained. “Local police sergeant – grumpy old goblin. But he can tell me what I need to know – exactly where the nearest colony is.”
“You don’t know your nearest colony?” said Pendo.
“It’s a long story,” said Will apologetically. He turned to Val and Primrose. “Does Gromwell still patrol the railway line?”
“Yes,” said Primrose, “but not till much later, usually near to midnight. Why do you need another colony, what’s the answer?”
“I think it has to be an elf tree. But all the rest from this colony are lost.”
Aesculus frowned.
“But Will, Mal’s isn’t lost. Or won’t it work if the elf has died?”
Will stared at him.
“That’s a very good question, Aesculus. But I had no idea Mal’s tree had survived, I thought it was lost with the farm.”
“No, he showed it to me one day. It’s very, very old, and it’s in a garden now, on Norfolk Street.”
“Yes,” said David. “He’s right. I remember Mal mentioning that.”
“Well, we can’t go into someone’s garden,” said Rowan. “But you sprites can.”
“It doesn’t need all of us,” said Will. “I just need Aesculus to show me where it is.”
“Oh, let me come too, Will,” said Sal. “Keep you company.”
Will just looked at him.
“Is this Ace’s doing?”
“Er, that would be a yes,” said Sal. “But it’s no bother, no bother at all.”
“Come on then,” grinned Will. “See you later, David, everyone.”
“I’d better go too,” said Laura. “I promised Mum I’d be home.”
“We’ll come with you,” said Primrose.
“Good idea,” said Val. “We need to watch out for Gromwell.”
“Then may we escort you, Miss Laura and fairies?” said Pendo.
When they’d all gone their separate ways, David sighed and leaned back on his sofa.
“Looks like we’re on our own.”
Rowan smiled and lay back too, with her head on David’s outstretched arm.
“It’s okay to relax and forget the war now and then.”
David smiled and softly touched Rowan’s face.
“When you’re here, I actually think I can.”

Once the elves were outside, Aesculus let rip with a particularly screeching whistle, and a couple of minutes later, the Elfcat appeared. He purred and licked the elves, which left Sal nearly paralysed with terror.
“Norfolk Street's full of bad cats,” said Aesculus. “Elfcat won’t let them hurt us.”
“A cat that defends elves from other cats?” said Sal. “This has to be the coolest colony on the planet.”
“Glad you like it,” laughed Will. “OK, Aesculus, lead on.”

Norfolk Street was only round the corner from Hilton Street. Aesculus dealt with the house’s security light by jumping in and out of its beam making it flash on and off until the humans who lived in the house got fed up with the flashing and switched it off. To Will, the scene looked so poignant it was almost frightening. The ancient, weathered apple tree – still bearing fruit, but only just – the last remnant of a farm’s orchard, its dignity deserved better than being crammed inside brick walls and violently illuminated. Cyril had known this tree, had picked its fruit. Mal had been born here. It had been an elf tree. But Mal was dead now. Had the tree lost that special connection, had it reverted to being an ordinary tree?
“Switch the phone on, Aesculus, and lay it on a branch.”
They all jumped up into the tree and waited patiently, even the Elfcat. Will tried not to start worrying about it not working. The sprite’s thoughts were part of the circuit, he was sure. When the screen went green, he sighed with relief.
“Look at that. That’s beautiful, that is.”
“Once an elf tree, always an elf tree,” said Sal. “I’m so glad. If we die before our trees do – and a lot of us will – our trees will always remember us.”

This time they called Pendo, who now had an old phone of Dominic’s. It took him a while to answer it, not being used to the buttons, and he didn’t understand yet that he didn’t need to shout, but there was no problem with the connection.
“We found Sergeant Gromwell all right,” he told them. “He can take you to Bulkeley colony, no problem, if you want to do more tests. And he’s got news, he’s waiting for you here at your house.”
“Thanks, Pendo. We’re on our way.”

“What d’you think, Will? Should we believe it or not?”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” said Will. “A fairy came to your base, and said she came from Owler Tor with a message for you. And the message was that General Ormul has disbanded the Police and is building a new unit called the Guardians.”
“That’s it,” Gromwell agreed. “Doesn’t sound very true, does it?”
“And you have to report to Owler Tor and you’ll be assigned to a place you have to guard, maybe Owler Tor itself, or a vulnerable colony like Arley.”
“It’s crazy! It can’t be true. Who’s going to stop any criminal behaviour while we’re guarding Hills?”
“Well, to be honest,” said Will, “you weren’t doing a great job of that, were you? Not your fault – probably that lazy major of yours – but I didn’t see any attempt to solve the two murders that happened in this area last year.”
“Murders? Who?” said Gromwell.
“Willow Foxwood and Mal Moseley,” said Will. “One senior sprite trying to defend his colony from a gang invasion. One elf trying to save little ones from being kidnapped.”
“Oh. You think those were murders?”
“Of course they were! So no, I don’t think it’s a crazy idea at all. I think it’s a brilliant idea and I don’t think General Ormul thought of it. This is General Herdalen’s doing. It abandons work we can’t tackle properly right now and wasn’t being done properly anyway. It provides strong guards for places that need them. And it frees up desperately-needed First Regiment elves for the next battle, wherever that may be. You bet it’s true, Gromwell, so you’d better get yourself off to Owler Tor as fast as you can.”
“But what if the others won’t come?” worried the goblin.
“I think that they probably won’t,” said Sal. “Not all of them.”
“I don’t know many Police,” said Lance. “But I do know communications are desperate. All the people in charge can do right now is send out messages as best they can, and hope they reach enough people, and that enough of those people listen.”
“You have to decide what you really joined the army for,” said Pendo. “Was it just to have licence to batter people? Or do you truly want to do what the army needs you to do?”
Gromwell still looked worried and uncertain.
“But you’re all elves. You’re all clever.”
“Well, I’m not an elf,” said Primrose. “And I say, just follow your heart. What does that tell you?”
“Oh,” said Gromwell. “I think that tells me that I should go. But I don’t know the way.”
“OK,” said Will. “We can deal with that. Where’s your base, near Macclesfield, isn’t it? We can’t waste time, any of us. But if we call at Bulkeley colony soon after dawn, we can go and round up the rest of your team and be at Owler Tor by midday.”
“You’re joking,” said Gromwell.
“We’re not,” said Pendo. “How d’you fancy a ride in a helicopter?”

By dawn they were on their way. In Norway, dawn had been hours earlier, so Ace just went out to sing as soon as he woke up. When he finished, he realised Marta was leaning on a gate listening to him.
“You sang in Norwegian today,” she said.
“It just felt right, somehow.”
“Dronningen feer, who is she? The fairy queen? You have a fairy who is your queen?”
“No,” said Ace. “It’s not like that. It’s more like it means, queen of the fairies, or queen of the sprites, really. She’s not a sprite herself. She’s a human, who loves the sprites so much, she leaves the human world to live with the sprites, to be their queen. She travels round the realm, and all the sprites love her. And that’s the song they sing for her. It’s over a hundred years since we had a queen. But I believe that when we win the war, we will have a queen again.”
He knew what he was saying. He was watching Marta’s face carefully as he spoke. She looked amazed more than anything, he thought. Happy, too, yet slightly wistful.
“Oh,” she said, “how lucky she will be! She will be able to help put right everything that’s wrong. Because she’ll love all the sprites, not just the good ones. She will love the enemy too, won’t she?”
“Yes,” said Ace.
That was all he could manage. Marta’s answer had astounded him. It hadn’t crossed his mind for a moment that the queen would love Lars Huskvarna and the poisonous Premier and the thugs who’d murdered Mal. But she would.
You would, wouldn’t you?
He decided it was best to say no more. He’d given Marta information she needed to know, that was all. Someone had to. Ace knew he wasn’t the only one whose dreams of a queen were beginning to look a lot like Marta. Marta herself seemed to have gone off into a dream. But then she shook her shoulders and smiled.
“I would love to meet her and be her friend,” she said. “But for now, Ace, General Madge wants you. I have a bad feeling that she’s going to send you away.”
“Could be,” said Ace. “The time feels right, now. We have to fight back. Do you feel it too?”
“Yes,” said Marta. “I hate to admit it, but yes. I would never try to hold you back from your duty, but I’ll miss you so much.”
“I’ll miss you too,” said Ace. “I just love being near you. Well, I just love you, really.”
“You love me?”
Ace jumped up, right onto Marta’s shoulder, so he could stroke her cheek with his own.
“Well, of course,” he said. “How could anyone not? Come on, let’s go and see what Madge wants.”

Madge was in the farmyard talking to Leif. He was in his working clothes, and there were cows and goats waiting to be milked, but right now he was just sitting down on the edge of an old trough that had been filled with flowers. Ace thought he looked a bit shaky, as if he had just had a shock, and hoped everything was all right.
“Good morning, Marta, good morning, Ace,” said Madge. “I’ve been on a lot of farms in my time, but never one as good as this.”
Leif spoke up cheerfully.
“It’s even better since you sprites came. I can’t thank you enough for all the wonderful things you have done.”
“And we are deeply grateful for your hospitality,” said Madge. “It has literally been a life-saver. But now, all who are fit must return to the struggle.”
She pulled Clover’s old phone out of her pocket and stared at it dubiously.
“While we have been staying with you, and others with Karl and Janusz, you’ve made it so easy for us to keep in touch. Once we’re moving again, we now have to rely on phones. Amazing, but terrifying. I think David and Gary’s plan is brilliant, and I feel certain that Will can work out what we need to know.”
“But it will all take time,” said Leif. “Time you do not have.”
“Exactly,” said Madge. “So at least to start with, we will have to rely just as much on trust and instinct. But I will keep learning all that Clover shows me, even if it does my head in. It’s my duty.”
She sighed, as if learning to use a phone was the most onerous of her many duties, and Ace tried not to laugh.
“I can see your lips twitching, Ace Moseley. Well, General Herdalen has an old phone now and I daresay he’ll struggle with it too. It’s an age thing.”
“It is the same for humans,” said Leif. “My old mother, she can use her phone now, but oh, the time it took to teach her!”
Ace homed in on what seemed to him to be the most important thing here.
“General Herdalen’s got an old phone? So when Will susses it all out, we’ll be able to call him? What’s the number?”
Madge glared at him.
“I knew you’d say that! Now I’ll have to find it.”
They waited patiently while Madge poked at buttons, and then her face lit up.
Ace was keying in the number as she spoke.
“Rose is going to give her phone to General Stalden, I know,” said Ace. “Who d’you want me to give mine to?”
“This is very good of you, Ace. I know how attached you are to your phone. I want you to hang on to yours until Will is safely where he has to go, but then if you could pass it on to the senior elf at the Oslofjord rendezvous, that would be wonderful. That will be Colonel Arnsberg, I should think.”
Ace didn’t mind at all giving up his phone. But he minded very much about the rest of what she’d said.
“Where’s Will got to go? Isn’t he coming to Oslofjord?”
“This is tricky. He ought to hear it first. But how can I tell him?”
Marta and Ace just looked at each other. Even Leif was smiling.
“Just phone him, Madge,” said Marta.
“Ah,” said Madge. “So I can.”
Once again – slightly more quickly this time – she found the address book, located Will’s number and pressed ‘Call’.

Ace just listened to Madge’s side of the conversation. He already knew what Will had planned for the day, anyway.
“Bulkeley colony? Oh, your neighbours, yes, I see. Yes, it’s true about the Police. General Herdalen’s been keeping Messengers busy. Anyway, got an order for you, directly from him. Compliments and all the usual elf courtesies, and as soon as you’ve solved the mystery, proceed to Essen and report to Colonel Dünnwald. He’s going to be co-ordinating messages for now, and he needs to know all about the phones. And he is in a good position to distribute them to where they are needed.”
There was a silence from Madge then, and Ace could easily sense Will’s disappointment mixed with excitement. He knew just how Will would be feeling at getting an order like that.
“Oh yes, of course, who is with you? Pendo, Lance and Sal? They don’t need to go to Essen. They need to bring their helicopter to the rendezvous. I suggest you cross the sea together and then part company at some suitable point. Oh, excuse me a moment, Will, Inge is shouting something.”
Leif and Marta, Ace and Madge turned to look. It was so unusual for gentle Inge to shout that they knew it must be something important. She was running across the farmyard with Pedr on her hip, she was smiling, and so excited that her English deserted her.
“Noen har funnet en gammel telefon på en dørstokken!”
Ace caught Madge’s phone as it fell from her hand.
“Hello, you,” he said. “It’s me. Someone’s found an old phone on a doorstep.”

When Ace and Will Moseley had been appointed to Third Regiment, reactions had included shock, surprise and indignation. No such emotions had accompanied the appointment of the only other elves to join Third Regiment from their year, Dub and Lupa Berounka. Gran Starheim had once described them as the worst people on the worst team, and while most people thought that an unkind comment, no-one could deny it did have some basis in fact. Kindly sprites, like Madge Arley, would have said that was what Third Regiment was for – a place where those whose talents were limited in some respect or other could find a happy niche.
But since the Battle of Fjaerland, attitudes had changed almost overnight. The way Third Regiment had poured in to the defence from all directions, and especially England 3, arriving in helicopters, had won respect. Even more respect had come from the fast-spreading news of their awesome fighting power, that had saved a setback from becoming a disastrous rout. There was honour, too, for their colonel, Rowan Harpsden, who had died in battle. His sacrificial attack had cleared the way for all the other elves to escape. It had all given a feeling of quiet pride to Third Regiment, especially to its youngest members, Dub and Lupa, currently attached to the Technical Section.

The headquarters of the Technical Section had been in Essen for as long as anyone could remember, but it hadn’t always been in the same location. Right now, it was on the top floor of an unoccupied office block. If humans started using the building, they would simply move on, but for now, they had a wonderful view across the city, and even better, they were right above the shiny new main station.
Here, until the day when the call had come to defend Fjaerland, had worked Colonel Dünnwald and his teams of scientists and salvagers, message takers, makers, menders and deliverers. But on that day, despite the fact that none of them were good fighters and they knew they had practically no chance of getting there in time, they had answered the call and sent all their youngest and strongest, Dub and Lupa among them. Thanks to their knowledge of ferries and railways, and their own endurance, they had arrived on the final morning, in time only for the last big push down to the beach. And when they had had the order to disperse, they had slowly and sadly made their way back to Essen.

At first, like all the other sprites there, Colonel Dünnwald had just been overwhelmed with grief and aghast at the loss of Signals. But then it had been Midsummer, and instinct had told them to do as they normally did. So the whole section had travelled together to the Hill for their state, at Osning in the Teutoburger Forest, and there they had danced the night away and there they had shared the news they knew, and heard the news that had made its way to the Hill and the colonies. Some of the news was very bad and some of it more hopeful, but it was all perplexing because it was so hard to sift facts from rumour and speculation. All the same, they had come away with lighter hearts and a steadier resolve, and Colonel Dünnwald had made some decisions. He didn’t even wait till they got back, but spoke to his team as they waited together on the roof of Osnabruck station in the middle of the night.
“We can’t wait for orders,” he said, “in case there is no-one to be spared to bring them. We can trust General Herdalen to be organising the counter-attack. We can trust General Arley to be organising people and getting them where they need to be. What will people be trusting us to do?”
“Make things. Take them to where they’re needed. But we don’t know what’s needed,” said the Despatcher, an ancient Danish elf called Kristtorn.
“We know one thing,” said the youngest, the goblin, Ratzo. “A new computer. The one Will made has been burned in the fires.”
“You were there at Fjaerland with Will Moseley,” said one of the fairies. “Did you see the computer?”
“Yes, I saw it, but I don’t know how he made it. Engineering is my thing, not electronics.”
“I saw it once,” said Colonel Dünnwald. “I understood the theory. We could do this if we had the materials, and also the right diagrams.”
Another fairy spoke up. This was Captain Pamisos from Greece who had been working on fibre optics until parliament banned it.
“Well, it’s not something anyone else will tackle,” she pointed out. “If we can’t do it, no-one can, unless Lieutenant Moseley has the time to make another. Why is he not here with us?”
“He’s a twin!” piped up Dub and Lupa together.
“So?” said the captain.
“No, they’re right,” said Colonel Dünnwald. “Twins are usually more effective if you keep them together. And Will’s twin is one of those brilliant fighter, battle-winning type of elves who really are in very great demand right now.”
Two of the Third Squadron fairies who did the scavenging clutched each other dramatically.
“They say he’s the most beautiful elf there’s ever been,” said one of them. “Is that right, Lupa?”
“Er, I don’t know,” said Lupa. “He might be. I never really noticed.”
The captain frowned at the fairy who’d asked.
“Really, Campanilla, that’s not important right now. All that matters now is winning the war.”
“And for that, high morale is important,” said Colonel Dünnwald mildly. “It’s good to cheer each other up.” He winked at his scavenger when the captain wasn’t looking. “This is a useful project. We’ll go for it, at least until other orders arrive. So we won’t all go straight back to Essen. Kristtorn and I will, because someone needs to be there. But I’d like all the rest of you to get off the train at different points, as far as Koblenz, and go scavenging. I want top-quality materials. And Captain, you had better take a few fairies and get inside the university library. That will be the best place to get detailed diagrams.”
“Certainly, sir, it’s a good idea, we’ve found great information there before.”
“Excellent. We have one thing the enemy has not, and that’s Allies. And the Allies keep in touch by computer. Communications are vital now.”

At six thirty in the morning on Midsummer’s Day, Colonel Dünnwald’s teams had moved with impeccable smoothness and speed and spread themselves out on the first train of the day to Koblenz. At every station - Münster and Dortmund, Bochum, Essen and Duisburg, Köln, Bonn and Koblenz - some of them left the train and started their searches. That night, a fine assortment of materials was carried triumphantly back to base. Colonel Dünnwald was delighted. He praised his teams, and the next day, keeping back a couple of makers to start identifying and sorting, he sent the rest out again. A few days later the captain came back with notes and diagrams, and then the requirements became even more detailed. For over a week, while the cleverest sprites tentatively began work, the rest of the team still went out searching every day, with very specific lists of what was needed. These were things that were hard to find, and they were not coming home heavily-laden any more, but competition between the pairs was intense and exciting and every find was a triumph.
It was when Dub and Lupa brought home a whole reel of the finest copper wire, unused and perfect, that Campanilla decided that it just wasn’t right that scavenger fairies were being outdone by the delivery elves. That night, she didn’t sleep, but thought long and hard and by the morning, she had a plan. She explained it to her partner, Maag, as they flew off towards Duisburg.
“Everything they want is for computers, right?” she said. “Silicon, fine-grade steel, copper and all the rest of it. When they wanted battery acid, where did we find it?”
“At the recycling centre,” said Maag, a fond smile of reminiscence on her face. “They were so impressed when we found so much! But there won’t be a recycling dump for computers, they’re too new. No-one will have one old enough to be thrown away yet.”
“You wouldn’t think so, would you? But I’m not so sure. I think they keep making new and better ones.”
“Oh well, it’s definitely worth a try if you think that,” said Maag. “We going to Duisburg again?”
“Might as well. It’s our patch, and we know where all the recycling centres are.”

Campanilla had a shrewd suspicion that there would be a skip for old computers at one of the four recycling centres, but even she was amazed. Not only did the very first centre they tried have one, but it was huge and very, very full.
“I don’t believe this,” said Maag weakly. “The poor computers! So many! It’s so sad. Once they were all new and shiny and now they’re not wanted any more. And some of them look to be less than twenty years old! It makes me want to cry.”
“Don’t be such an elf! Cheer up, you’re going to help some of them live again. Now, what do you think – open them, take some parts, shrink the parts? Or open one and shrink the whole thing?”
“Hmm – good question. I think we could do both. We can take a whole computer each in our backpacks. When the colonel sees just what’s available, he may decide he doesn’t need to make every component from scratch. But we can fill our hands and pockets with materials too.”

Every scavenger fairy knows that trying to carry too much can be counter-productive. It can slow you down, and even worse, you can drop things, sometimes the very thing you most wanted. But sometimes, the trove of treasure is just too great for common-sense, and Campanilla and Maag knew they were overloaded as they flew slowly away.
“It’s going to take us all the rest of the day to get back!” panted Campanilla. “I’m worn out already and we’ve only done about a kilometre.”
“Lots of rests. It’s the only way. Can you make it to that flat roof?”
“That’s a school, isn’t it?”
“It’s all right, they’re on holiday.”

The fairies were tough and used to hard work, and strong for their size. They never made a fuss about anything, but they weren’t very big, and they gratefully slipped off their backpacks and rubbed aching shoulders every time they stopped. One stop was on top of a lorry in a car park, and one was in a garden with a water feature, because they were thirsty and their bottles were empty. They saw an old mobile phone there, but regretfully they had to leave it. They couldn’t carry another thing. The stops got more frequent and the rests longer as the day wore on, but they didn’t give up, and they got back to their headquarters just as the sun was setting and turning the glass in the office block’s windows to liquid gold.
Not for fairies the jumping up the stairwell; they knew which window was left open permanently, and through it they flew, shouting their news.
“Wait till you see what we’ve got!”

The response left a lot to be desired. Several heads turned, faces frowning, and Captain Pamisos actually put her finger to her lips and went ‘Sssh!’ Colonel Dünnwald merely smiled and beckoned them over, apparently anxious that they shouldn’t miss a thing. Feeling slightly disgruntled, but curious, Campanilla and Maag shrugged at each other, dumped their bags and went to see what was going on.
Everyone was listening with keen attention to a fairy who was sitting in their midst. Campanilla recognised her, but couldn’t place her for a moment. It gave her a nasty shock to realise that it was Colonel Gilly Basa of Search and Rescue. Exhaustion seemed to have etched into her face, making her look old and haggard. But despite her obvious weariness, she was speaking quickly and concisely and clearly.
“As soon as General Arley approved the plan, the English Allies put it into operation,” she was saying. “A video was made – at least I don’t have to explain to this team what a video is! – and put online for anyone to see. And in it, Rowan explains who sprites are, what the war is about, and finishes with a plea for mobile phones.”
There was a gasp of astonishment.
“But… but that’ll just lead to total contact, won’t it? Everyone will know we exist!”
“The Allies don’t think so. However many thousands watch the video, the only ones who will believe it are the ones who want to believe it. It might be dozens, it might be hundreds, but it won’t be all of them. But the ones who do believe it, and leave a phone on their step, are all potential Allies."
Campanilla and Maag stared at each other. They tried to speak, and raised hopeful fingers in case someone might notice they had something to say, but they were simply too tired to make themselves heard over the noise of everyone talking at once.
“Excellent plan. Excellent,” said Captain Pamisos.
“Takes us right back to the old days,” said Kristtorn. “We find a phone, we do something special for the human who left it for us, the human realises we are there, and we can make friends!”
“And whenever anyone finds one, they’re going to have it sent here?” said Colonel Dünnwald.
“That’s right. The message is going out to the colonies: if you find a phone, take it to your local Hill. Search and Rescue will collect them and deliver them to you, as well as hunting for phones themselves. And you make sure they work, fix them if necessary, and send them via your delivery teams to the people who need them.”
“Make sure they work!” squawked an elderly imp called Lupin. “How do we do that?”
“Someone’s coming to help you. General Herdalen sent out the order specially. One of the English elves whose Allies made the video.”
“Which one?” mouthed Campanilla and Maag to each other.
“I’m going to pass out,” said Maag quietly. “I can’t stand any more of this excitement.”
“Oooh, I can,” said Campanilla. She stood up. “So, when you see a phone on a doorstep, what do you have to do?” she asked.
“Approach with caution. Be wary of hidden cameras, wires, lights. Real friends will not try these tricks. If all is well, take the phone, shrink it as little as possible, and most importantly, return that night, get inside, and work out what the human would most like. And do it for them. After that, use your own wits and instincts.”
“Thank you,” said Campanilla. “Well, Maag and I saw a phone on a doorstep this afternoon. We couldn’t pick it up, we were already loaded up with computer parts. But now… well, come on, Maag. We’d better get back to Duisburg.”
The reaction that time left absolutely nothing to be desired.
“You saw one?”
“What, the first phone’s been found already?”
“Oh, this is awesome, let’s go and get it!”
“In Duisburg?”
“You saw one and you didn’t pick it up? Whyever not?”

“Hush, hush!” said Colonel Dünnwald, but he was beaming with delight. “One at a time. Well done, Campanilla and Maag, well done! Do you think you can find the place again?”
“Yes sir, I think so,” said Campanilla. “Though to be honest, possibly not in the dark.”
“It might be safer if you retraced your flight from your starting point,” said Colonel Basa, who knew all about finding things. “Where was that?”
“Recyclinghof Nord,” said Campanilla, while Maag dragged their bags over and emptied them out.
That caused another sensation, and even Colonel Dünnwald and Captain Pamisos were exclaiming over the amount and quality of the components. They were far too excited by the treasure before their eyes to worry about precisely where the phone was, but Colonel Basa was less excited by silicon chips and stuck to her task.
“I understand,” she said. “So this recycling centre is in a northern suburb of the city?”
“That’s right, ma’am, it’s the northernmost centre, and it’s in the suburb called Asemissen, but there are more suburbs to the north of that, and those are the ones we were flying through to get back here to Essen. We had passed over Evenhausen, and the next one too, Leopoldshöhe, because we rested on the roof of the school. I think the house we want is in the next place on, Schuckenbaum.”
“Excellent,” said Colonel Basa. “What a joy it will be to have some good news to pass on for a change. I’ll come with you, if I may. Colonel Dünnwald! May I accompany your fairies to the recycling centre?”
“Oh, of course, of course. In fact, I think we should all go. That is, as far as the recycling centre.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am, they can’t help it,” whispered Campanilla. “They’re just so excited about building a new computer.”
“That’s important too,” smiled Colonel Basa. “If just the three of us go to find this doorstep, that will be just fine.”

After a few hours’ sleep, the sprites were on their way at first light. It didn’t take the fairies long at all to reach Duisburg, but the elves weren’t far behind them, having made good use of early morning delivery trucks. Gilly Basa left Colonel Dünnwald and Captain Pamisos eagerly showing the team how to identify and extract the most useful things, and flew off north with Maag and Campanilla. They were so excited, it was hard to go slowly and carefully as they had yesterday. They went wrong only over the busy streets of Leopoldshöhe, but once they had located the school, the rest of it was easy.
“This is it,” said Maag. “Am Mühlenbach, that was the name of the road.”
“And that’s the house, the one with a little fountain in the garden. We chose that one because we were thirsty.”
“And the fountain’s got figures on it,” said Gilly in a curious voice. “Figures of fairies, dancing.”
“Oh!” said Maag. “This is just like you said last night. The ones who believe will be the ones who want to believe.”
“And there’s the phone,” said Campanilla softly. “Still on the doorstep.”
The three fairies looked carefully all around from the shelter of a small lilac tree, but there didn’t seem to be any signs of danger, no traps of any kind. And it was still early, very quiet, with no human noises coming from the house itself. Softly, they landed on the doorstep and looked reverently at the old phone.
“In the name of the queen,” said Gilly quietly, “we return to the old ways.” She picked the phone up with an effort, for it was nearly as big as she was, and they took it away into the garden. There, hidden from view by tall flowers, they worked together to open it, shrink it to a more manageable size, and stow it safely in a backpack.
“Now what?” said Campanilla. “Do we have to come back tonight? Can’t we go inside now?”
“I don’t see why not,” said Gilly. “Can you see any open windows?”
“Small one up there,” said Maag. “It’s only open a crack, but I think I can get through it, and open it wider for you.”
Maag lost a shoe and scratched her face, but she managed it, then pushed hard at the brass latch to open the window.
“Be careful,” said Gilly, as they looked around. They were in a bathroom. “We don’t know how many people live here. First we must find out who likes sprites and left out the phone.”
They quickly realised that there was only one person in the house, a silver-haired old lady who was fast asleep.
“Look at her covers,” said Maag.
“And her curtains,” said Campanilla. “And her lampshade. And her rug.”
“And look at this,” whispered Gilly. She pointed to a sheet of paper on a table beside the bed. “That’s the words Rowan spoke in the video, translated into German.”
“No doubt about it. This is the person who likes sprites,” said Campanilla. “I have a very good feeling about this.”
“All we need to do now, then, is work out what we may do for her,” said Gilly. “Let’s look round the rest of the house while she is sleeping.”
The fairies hunted round for anything which needed mending or making, but they didn’t find anything. The little house was spotless. All the fairy treasures made them giggle at first, but the more they found, the more serious they grew.
“We have to face it,” said Gilly. “All this lady wants, is sprites. And not even sprites, actually. Just fairies. The best and kindest thing we can do for her, to say thank you, is to stick around and say hello.”
“There’s no harm in that, is there, ma’am?” said Campanilla. “If we want to make friends with humans, we have to talk to them.”
“I shall ask her,” said Maag, “why humans always draw fairies with bare legs. I mean, don’t they think we feel the cold? They know some of us live in cold countries. They know we can fly. They know the air is colder higher up. But have you ever, ever, seen a picture of a fairy with trousers on?”
“Good point,” laughed Gilly. “I suppose they idealise us, and give us perfect prettiness instead of anything realistic. It’ll come as a bit of a shock to some humans that fairies are as normal as they are, and just as varied.”
“She’s getting up!” squawked Campanilla. “I can hear footsteps. Oh, I’m so excited, I can’t wait!”

Campanilla did get a bit loud when she was excited, and Hanna heard the sound of voices as she came down the stairs. At first, she was alarmed. It sounded like children – had they broken in?
“Who’s there?” she called out in German. Her voice sounded suspicious and she hoped it also sounded confident, and not scared. There was a bit of high-pitched squeaking then, followed by a very tiny voice, warm and sweet.
“Drei feen,” the voice called out. “Three fairies.”
Physical shock rocked through Hanna’s body. She was telling herself not to get excited, and that it couldn’t really be true, but her body just wasn’t listening to her mind’s sensible thoughts. She could see her hand shaking as it pushed open the door.
“Mein Gott,” she breathed, clutching for support at the back of a chair. “Oh, mein Gott.”
Sitting on her kitchen table were three living, breathing fairies. Only a few inches tall, but each one different, distinct and bursting with character. One looked a little older than the others, with a keen, clever face and a neat blonde bob. Her face had little pink lines on it, and although it was alert and friendly, it also looked very tired. One was rounder and plumper than you’d expect a fairy to be, and she had long black hair, all curly, and blue lines on her face, and pale blue wings and the deepest blue eyes. The third one had blue wings too, but hers were almost lilac, and the lines on her skin were green as well as blue. Then the eldest one spoke.
“Hello,” she said, sticking to German. “Thank you so much for the phone. Yours was the very first one that we’ve found, and we’re all so grateful. We came into your house to see what we could do for you in return, and when we saw all your fairies, we thought you might like it best if we just stayed to say hello.”
“I am so glad you did,” said Hanna. She could hear her voice shaking. “This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.” She sat down at the table, as if she knew her legs wouldn’t hold out much longer. “Please, tell me about yourselves.”
“We’re all in the sprite army,” said the eldest fairy. “Fighting for freedom, and that’s why we need the phones. I’m Gilly Basa, a colonel in a unit called Search and Rescue, and my flower is a clove pink. And I’m from Hungary.”
“And I’m from Spain,” said the one with long black hair. “My name is Campanilla, which is Spanish for bluebell. I’m in Third Squadron, working just now in Essen with the Technical Section, and so is Maag.”
“That’s for short,” said Maag. “My flower is called Maagdenpalm in my own language, which is Dutch. Immergrün in German, periwinkle in English.”
Hanna nodded slowly, taking this all in. She touched her chest.
“Hanna Schell,” she said. “Born and bred here in Duisburg.”
Then tears started rolling down her face. She was so overwhelmed, she just couldn’t stop them.
“It’s all true,” she sobbed. “The young girl, Rowan Grey, every single word she said was true, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Gilly. “You can depend on that. Dear Hanna, I’m sorry we gave you such a shock.”
“Shock,” said Campanilla, “of course, that’s what it is. Coffee, that’s what you need. I would make it for you myself if I could turn your tap on.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” smiled Hanna through her tears. “But I am forgetting my hospitality! Would you like something to drink? Milk, perhaps?”
“Milk,” sighed Gilly, with a smile of longing. “I haven’t had milk for months. Yes, please!”

So one human lady and three fairies had breakfast together, talking like old friends. And then all day long they drank and talked. Gilly asked Hanna if she would like to be an Ally, and Hanna said yes, and that she didn’t know how many years she had left on earth, but every one of them would be devoted to doing good for sprites. They told her what ‘know and be known’ meant and explained how to get into David’s website. Then, at sunset, the fairies reluctantly said they had better not worry their friends, but had better leave now. Campanilla and Maag promised to return the next day with two elves, called Dub and Lupa, who were great friends of theirs, and Gilly said that she would have to fly to Oslo, to take this wonderful news to a rendezvous that was going to happen there, but she promised to come and see Hanna the very next time she was in the west of Germany.
When the fairies had flown away, Hanna stood in her garden, gazing for a long time at the sky where they had been. Then she went and switched on her computer.