CHAPTER 14 - Twins

“What was that noise?” said Will.
“Don’t get jumpy! There wasn’t any noise.”
“I’m sure I heard a noise from the shed.”
“I’ll have a look,” said Ace.
Cautiously, he opened the door of the house and slipped out. He had a good look round, but everything was quiet.

The cash was finished at last, and they had to take it round to Cyril’s house. His solicitor wanted to see it before he’d write the letter to Mr. Pearce. But the elves were very edgy, because yesterday David had told them some disturbing news.
“It sounds like everyone’s round at Rose’s,” said Ace as he came back in, “which is handy. There’s no-one about. And there’s not long to wait now, anyway,” he added, trying to keep his spirits up.
“I bet David’s feeling a bit nervous too,” said Will. “I’m glad we told him. Without him, we’d never have known what Nightshade was up to.”
“I know. Bribing Adam and Joseph! The creep. I wish we knew how long it had been going on. Is that how he’s been finding out our plans all summer?”
“David didn’t think it had been going on very long, did he? He and Tony and Dominic only found out for sure last night, following them to listen.”
“True,” said Ace, “and Nightshade didn’t ask them anything. Looks to me more like he’s working up to something, some plan of his own.”
Will looked at him.
“And what if he’s found out anyway? Despite all our precautions? P’raps he’s a mind reader. What if his plan is spoiling this plan?”
“I know,” said Ace, “but we can’t drop it now, after ten days hard labour. You don’t want to, do you?”
Their eyes met, and lit up again with mischief and daring.
“ ’Course not,” said Will. “Come on, it’s seven, it’s time to go.”
Will went out first, checking the coast was clear, then Ace came out with a case containing half a million pounds shoved inside his jacket. Silently, they crept past Rose’s house, then cleared the distance to the bottom of David’s garden in two jumps. David was just slipping out of his back door.
“Have you got it?” he whispered.
“All secure,” said Ace. “Where’s Adam?”
“In the house. Joseph is in there with him. They’re watching television, but they seem pretty keyed up. I think they’re planning to go out and see Nightshade again.”
“Well, we’ll be at Cyril’s in five minutes,” said Will. “There’s nothing he can do after that.”

David walked round to Hilton Street, and the elves ran and jumped alongside him, along the dark pavements, past the lighted windows. Cyril was looking out for them, and let them in quickly. He bolted the door behind them. No-one spoke. Ace and Will jumped on the table, and grinned at each other. Then Ace laid the case down, and stared at it for a few moments, until with a creak of leather it suddenly expanded, along with its contents.
“Go ahead, Cyril!” said Ace proudly. “Open it!”
With shaking hands, Cyril unfastened the clasps, and lifted the lid. And there, neatly bundled and glowing red, were 10,000 fully-sized fifty pound notes. Everyone gazed at them for a moment, then Cyril closed the case again in a business-like way.
“Ah well, it’s only money,” he said. “Would you all like a drop of ale?”
“What’s that?” said Will. “Is it something to drink?”
“It’s beer, you daft sprite,” said David. “Sit down and put your feet up. You’ve earned it!”

Back on Wildside, Tony and Dominic were hiding at the bottom of their garden. Dressed all in black, with blackened faces, they were waiting for Joseph and Adam to go past. They knew David was busy tonight, helping the elves with something, so it was up to them to keep an eye on what Nightshade was doing to their brothers.
“They’re coming!” whispered Tony.
“Right, you know what to do,” said Dominic. “Let them get ahead, then run, crouching low. Slither flat on your face for the last bit. Don’t get too close!”
As Adam and Joseph rushed cheerfully past, Tony and Dominic followed slowly and cautiously. They hid behind some brambles, as they had last night when David had been with them.
“This is a joyful occasion!” said Nightshade, appearing suddenly before Adam and Joseph. “This is a night for something wonderful. I have such special gifts for you!”
He handed them small bags, which shimmered and grew bigger as Nightshade let go of them. They were very heavy. They opened the bags, and gasped. They were filled to bursting with real gold.
“Thank you!” stammered the boys.
“There’s just one thing,” said Nightshade. “I’m afraid sprite gold will disappear, unless you do the giver a favour in return.”
“What can we do for you?” asked Joseph.
“There is something you could do, actually,” said Nightshade. “Use your telephone, and phone for the human police. The sprite police are already on their way. There’s been some counterfeiting going on, would you believe it? Some dreadful elves, a really disgraceful pair, who ought to be in prison. But I don’t think the humans who’ve been helping them should get away with it, do you? That’s why I want you to send for the human police. If they go round to 60 Hilton Street right now, they’ll catch them all red-handed.”
Adam and Joseph looked at each other. There didn’t seem to be any harm in that.
“Sure,” said Adam. “We’ll go and do it right away.”
“See you again, Sprite,” said Joseph.
They ran off, and Nightshade chuckled maliciously to himself, then spat on the ground and jumped away.

“I feel sick,” said Tony.
“There isn’t time to be sick!” said Dominic. “We’ve got to do something! Everyone knows Will and Ace have been up to something, and we know David was helping them tonight. That’s where they must have gone, Hilton Street. It’s that old chap’s house, Cyril, d’you remember?”
“I know who you mean. He likes this place too, doesn’t he?”
That was it, thought Dominic. It all fitted.
“They’re trying to buy Wildside!” he said. “What a plan. I said it’d be something cool. But it’s not going to work now. We’ve got to warn them before the police arrive.”
“What if the sprites’ police have already arrived?” yelled Tony.
“Oh no,” said Dominic. “Look, you leg it round to Hilton Street and try to warn them. I’ll try to find the other sprites. There may be more they can do than we can.”
“See you,” said Tony, and tore off.

Dominic was running towards the horse chestnut, when he saw Clover flying above him, on her way back from Laura’s, and he whistled to her. Startled, she flew down.
“Hi, Dominic! Why are you camouflaged? What’s going on?”
Dominic poured out the whole story as far as he knew it, and before he’d finished, they were both hurrying towards Rose’s, where the other sprites were.
“Wait here a minute,” said Clover. “I’ll get the others.”
Dominic rested, panting, while Clover slipped inside. May as well clarify one thing first of all, she thought.
“Madge,” she said as she went in, “is it illegal to copy human money? And to use it? It’s not something you mentioned in that long list of illegal things you told us.”
“Well of course it is,” said Madge. “Seriously illegal. I didn’t mention every single thing, just things you might not have realised. Copying human money is so obviously illegal, only the most rattle-brained, irresponsible…”
She ground to a halt. Everyone had gone very quiet.
“Oh no,” she said. “They wouldn’t, would they? This is awful.”
“It’s worse than that,” said Clover. “Come outside and hear what Dominic’s got to say.”

Tony hammered on the door of Cyril’s house, his legs shaking and his breath coming in great gasps.
“Come on, come on! Answer the door!”
Finally it opened, and Tony almost fell into the lobby.
“Where are David and the elves?” he gasped to Cyril.
“We’re in here!” called David. “What’s up?”
“You’ve been betrayed!” sobbed Tony. “The police are coming, ours and theirs! Nightshade’s got it all worked out.”
Ace buried his head in his hands. They’d been so close. He gave a great sigh, and said to Tony,
“Thanks for coming to warn us. You overheard Nightshade? Talking to your brother and Adam?”
“That’s right,” said Tony. “He gave each of them a bag of gold, and said it would disappear unless they did something for him. Phone the police, he said, the sprite police were already on their way, and why should the humans who were helping get away with it?”
“So he got Adam to betray his own brother, without even realising it,” said Will. “He’s gone too far this time. Where’s Dominic? Gone to tell the others?”
“As fast as he could,” said Tony.
“Right,” said Ace, “you get back to Dominic, will you? Tell him and the others that you’ve warned us, I don’t want them worrying. Tell them I know now, who it is, and I know what I’m doing.”
“Thanks, Tony,” said David. “You’re a great mate.”
Cyril closed the door behind Tony, and came back quietly into the room.
“That’s that, then,” he said sadly, and stirred the fire with a poker.
“Sorry,” said Ace. “We could have got you both in trouble.”
He turned to Will. “Together? Are you ready?”
Will nodded. All the sparkle had gone out of his eyes. Side by side, they shrunk the case again and threw it onto the fire.
“Now what?” said David.
“Now,” said Ace, “we wait.”
Cyril looked at them all.
“Let’s have some more ale,” he said.

Tony’s chest was heaving as he got back.
“It’s all right! I warned them in time!”
“Then that’s all we can do,” said Phil. “Ace will make his own decisions.”
“You’re sure he’s all right?” said Hogweed anxiously.
“Positive,” said Tony. “I’ve never seen him look so stern, not even the day they cut his tree down.”
“Could be a long night,” said Hogweed. “Let’s have a bit of a fire, hey? Bonfire’s still smouldering. Could put a bit in a brazier, keep us warm.”
“Good idea,” said Phil. “Put it under the horse chestnut, will you? I feel better with my back to a tree.”
“What was that noise?” said Tony. “Over near your shed?”
“What sort of noise?” asked Phil.
“Sort of creaking. Like someone walking on wood.”
“Probably just the timber contracting.”
Tony was glad when Hogweed came back, with a nice little brazier he’d just made, glowing with embers, and a small stash of left-over firewood. It had felt a bit spooky just sitting in the dark.
“You know what bugs me?” said Dominic. “Our Joseph, and Adam too, getting away with bags of gold for causing all this trouble!”
“Ach, it wasn’t their fault,” said Phil. “They didn’t know what they were doing.”
Dominic was harder than that.
“They should have realised that people who ask you to keep secrets are usually up to no good.”
“True,” said Phil, “but they’ll learn their lesson when the gold turns back into ring-pulls, or whatever he made it out of. Haven’t you heard of time limits?”

It was the human police who arrived first, but the banknotes were dust and ashes long before that. Cyril was a perfect picture of a harmless old gentleman when he opened the door. Two policemen came in, their radios crackling, already suspecting the call had been a hoax. Cyril invited them to look round, and when they’d established that 60 Hilton Street contained no printing presses or elaborate photocopiers, they went off to 2 Cherrytree Close to have a chat about wasting police time.
Cyril closed the door, and Ace and Will came out from the cupboard they’d been hiding in.
“Well, that’s ours sorted,” said Cyril.
“Mum’ll go mad,” said David. “Serves him right, the greedy little toad.”
“You’re not fooling anyone,” smiled Ace. “You were grovelling through the muck last night to protect him from Nightshade.”
“True,” said David, “but a bit of a shock won’t do him any harm. Might turn out a nice lad in the end.”
“Look out,” said Will. “Here come ours.”
“Gromwell,” said Ace. “It would be.”

Standing on the window sill were Gromwell and a rather thuggish-looking fairy with bright orange hair, who had the elegant name of Montbretia. Behind them were Nightshade and Ragwort, trying to look like honest sprites who liked nothing better than doing their duty and helping the law. If they were surprised to see their targets sitting calmly drinking beer and chatting to two human men, they didn’t show it.
Gromwell rapped importantly on the window, and Cyril lifted it and let them in. Ace and Will stood up, respectfully, no emotion on their faces at all.
“You again!” barked Gromwell. He turned to his companion. “Arrest them!”
“What for!” said Will.
“Counterfeiting,” hissed Montbretia.
“Prove it,” said Ace calmly.
“Search the house,” Gromwell told the fairy, and she started flying around impossibly fast, looking in every nook and cranny.
“Right, you two, turn your pockets out.”
With exaggerated, patient sighs, Will and Ace started emptying their pockets. David was astonished how much junk they carried around with them.
“What’s that?” asked Gromwell suspiciously, pointing to a bit of plastic with wires sticking out of it.
“It’s a thermistor,” said Will. “Don’t ask, you wouldn’t understand.”
“Watch your lip, you,” growled Gromwell, and slapped Will across the face with the back of his hand. David gasped, and half got up, but Cyril waved him down again. Montbretia came back.
“Nothing,” she said. “You, Ragwort, where’s your evidence?”
“Dunno,” said Ragwort. “Just something I heard.”
“Well, get your facts right next time,” she said briskly.
“Just a minute,” said Gromwell. “Ragwort? I know that name. Ragwort. I’m sure he’s on the wanted list for something. Arrest him instead.”
Instantly, Ragwort’s arms were handcuffed behind his back, and he stared appealingly at Nightshade, but Nightshade just shrugged.

Gromwell was frustrated. He hated these two cocky elves, with their leather jackets and their long hair. He was determined to get them for something.
“You!” he shouted at David.
“What?” stammered David. It was ridiculous to be frightened of something that wasn’t even as tall as a ruler, but Gromwell had that effect on people.
“Are you on the Register of Trustworthy Humans? Or are you an Ally? Or a friend or relation of someone who is?”
David knew the answer to that one.
“Yes, I am,” he said. “I am a close friend of Sally Cain, who’s been on your register for twenty-three years.”
“And what about you?” he said to Cyril.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Gromwell’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction.
“Right,” he said. “Official warnings, both of you. For talking to an unregistered human.” He smiled nastily at Ace. “That’s three you’ve had. No more warnings. The very next time, you go straight to prison.”
“Understood,” said Ace. “Will there be anything else?”
Gromwell hit him too, and marched off, climbing effortlessly to the window ledge with Ragwort under his arm. Montbretia flew after him, and Cyril closed the window, his hands shaking. Ace hadn’t moved. Without turning his head, he said,
“There’s something rotten in our world, Will. Something that stinks. If the rot’s got as far as the army, is anyone safe? I won’t go without you, but it’s only fair to tell you, I want to. Someone’s got to do something.”
“I know what you mean,” said Will quietly.
“Are you OK?” said David. “What a bully!”
Then they all turned to look at Nightshade, who’d been left behind, isolated and alone. This was what Ace had been waiting for.

“Hello, Mal,” he said.
“What!” said Cyril. “It is, too! Mal! They told me you were dead!”
“Cory said he was dead,” said Ace. “But that wasn’t strictly true. What he meant was, the Mal you all knew had gone. What was left was an evil elf, who changed his name and started living like a goblin. Because the transforming went wrong, didn’t it? You had your personality changed.”
“What’s it to you?” sneered Mal.
“Everything that happens on Wildside matters to me,” said Ace coolly. “I am the senior sprite, you know. You’re coming with us now, to see Cory. That’s an order. Take him outside, Will. I want to speak to Cyril.”
David opened the door, and Will marched the old elf outside.
“He’ll be back in the morning, to see you,” Ace said to Cyril. “Back to his old self. He’ll never leave you again, I promise.”
David came back in quietly, to see Cyril sitting there with a tear trickling down his cheek.
“Can I use your phone?” he asked. “I just want to tell my mum that I’m staying the night with a friend.”

When the elves got back onto Wildside, Ace spotted the brazier at once.
“They’re waiting up for us,” he said. “Nice of them. D’you want to slip over there, Will, and let them know we’re OK? And bring Phil back with you. This could get a bit heavy. We could use some help.”
Will jumped over to the tree, and startled everybody.
“Sorry,” he said. “Everything’s OK, but it’s not over yet.”
He looked at Tony and Dominic.
“Thank you so much, you two, for all you’ve done tonight,” he said warmly. “But you’ll have to go home now. Your parents will be getting worried. Go and talk to your brother, and tell him what real sprites are like. And bring him out tomorrow to meet us, OK? And we’ll tell you the whole story.”
“OK, Will,” said Dominic. He was really tired, and Tony was nearly asleep.
“Come on, Tony. Let me help you up. Goodnight, everyone.”
When they’d gone, Will’s face suddenly looked sadder and sterner.
“Can you come, Phil? We need you. At Cory’s.”
The fairies and Hogweed watched them go, and Clover sighed.
“It’s an elf-thing, then. This could take hours. Let’s put the kettle on.”
“Good idea,” said Madge. “I think I’m beginning to see what’s been happening.”

In Cory’s house, the five elves faced each other. Ace knew this was going to hurt everyone, and he wanted to get it over and done with. Cory hadn’t been to bed, he noticed. He’d known something was going to happen tonight. Ace felt pity in his heart as he looked at the frail old elf, almost transparent. Grief and misery had aged him years beyond his twin. But it had to be said.
“It was you, wasn’t it? Who’s been betraying our plans all summer? And now, our best plan ruined, and all that work wasted?”
“You know why, though,” said Cory. “I couldn’t turn Mal away, when he came asking things. You must see that, Ace.”
“Is that your idea of loyalty? To sink to his level? Why didn’t you try to find a cure? To put the damage right? Why waste your life, being miserable, instead of doing something about it?”
“It was my fault!” said Cory. “I had to realise what I’d done, and live with it. I did it wrong! I hadn’t the skill, like you.”
“Yes, that must have hurt,” said Ace quietly. “When we did it, and got it right. But I learned a lot that night. And I know one thing, Cory; it wasn’t your fault.”

Everyone was very quiet as Ace explained what he meant.
“Sure, it would have been possible for you to do some damage. But for someone’s personality to be completely warped like that, it can only be the fault of the person being transformed. He knew that. He knew what he’d done wrong. But he’s let you believe it was your fault, all these years.”
“Is that true, Mal?” pleaded Cory.
Mal didn’t answer.
“ ’Course it’s true,” said Ace. “For Will to transform me, I had to open up to him. Tell him hidden stuff. Even if it hurt him. And it was hard. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I managed it, because I was only thinking about my tree, not about myself. But you,” he glared at Mal, “asked for it for a trivial reason, to flirt with a human girl. That wasn’t anything like a strong enough motive to get anyone to open up, let alone a character like yours. And so it all went wrong.”

Phil stepped over quietly and gave Cory his arm to lean on. Cory was shaking, and his eyes were brimming with tears.
“I’m sorry, Ace,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Will. Sorry I never taught you anything. I was so afraid, you see. Afraid history would repeat itself.”
“It would have done!” shouted Mal. “If it had been the same way round!”
“Maybe,” said Ace. “But I don’t think so. Yeah, OK, Will’s proud, and self-contained, but he’s not a gibbering apple-tree. He’s a willow. He’s deep, and he doesn’t do things for stupid reasons.”
“You’ve lost me now,” said Will. “What have I got to do with it?”
“They mean, you’re like Mal,” said Cory. “Like Mal was, before it all happened. It frightened me, to see you growing up so like him. If it had been Ace transforming you, Will, are you sure, are you absolutely sure, that you wouldn’t have made the same mistake?”

Will looked at him, steadily.
“I see,” he said. “No, I’m not sure, since you ask. But I’d only ask for it for a reason so strong it’d be worth dying for. Then I’d have made sure Ace had a sharp knife, and promised to use it, before letting me live on as an evil thug.”
“You see, Mal?” Ace smiled. “Why didn’t you think of that? But it’s not too late for you. Ever since I realised who you were, I’ve been trying to think how to cure you. And I think I’ve got it now. A three-way transforming. I start to transform Will, and hold it when it bites. Then, Will, you’ll know what he should have said, and you’ll be able to transform him back as he was, because you’ll be feeling exactly how he felt.”
Phil thought he’d never seen Will look so frightened.
“That’s impossible!” said Phil. “Ace, are you sure it’ll work?”
“Don’t worry, Phil,” said Ace. “We’ve got to try.”
Will backed away, breathing hard.
“That’s too much to ask! In all this crowd? You must be mad.”
“I’ll go, if that’ll help,” said Phil.
“We need you to hold Mal still,” said Ace. “No-one else will be able to.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Ace,” said Will. “I don’t trust myself. You’re asking me to chance turning into that! Or else admit a load of stuff I don’t even admit to myself?”
“Yeah, that’s about it,” said Ace.
Will turned away, trying to grasp what was happening.
“I understand, Will,” said Ace. “But look at the state of him. He was like you, once. He could be, again. We said we were going to sort him, once and for all.”
“I thought you meant beat him up, not lay our own lives on the line. You’ll be taking a big chance yourself, you know.”
“I know. And part of me just wants to beat him up. But this is a more excellent way.”
“OK,” sighed Will. “Let’s try it.” He pointed to the table. “Knife,” he said. “And you don’t stop him, Phil, if it comes to that.”
Ace walked over to Mal, and took his knife from him. For a moment, he stood abstracted, as if he’d forgotten what he was doing. Then with a shiver, he laid the knife on the table.
“It won’t be needed,” he said. “It’ll work.” He kicked a chair out of the way and cleared a space. “Stand in a triangle, so I can see Will and he can see Mal. Stop him, Phil!”
Mal had tried to run for it. Mal was the biggest of all of them, and Phil the smallest, but Phil had the strength of youth on his side. He pinned Mal’s arms to his sides.
“Cory, you keep quiet,” said Ace. “Don’t say a word. Are you ready, Will?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be. Go for it.”

Ace closed his eyes and gathered in all his strength, then opened his eyes and looked steadily across at Will, seeing all he was, all he would be, every strength, every fault, yet concentrating too, to be ready for the moment when he’d have to stop and hold it.
For Will, it wasn’t half as bad as he’d been expecting. He felt as if he was floating. He had no hidden faults to tell to Ace, he knew them all already. Then he realised he was free for once to say anything he liked. He met Ace’s gaze, and smiled.
“I love you,” he said.
Ace knew he mustn’t waver for a second. Instantly, he stopped, and held the transforming exactly where it was.
That’s it, he thought. People like Mal and Will don’t hide their faults. Only their feelings.
Will could sense that Ace had stopped, and turned to Mal.
You’re so bitter, he thought. All wrong. Go back how you were. Admit it, how you feel, and put yourself right. That’s better. He could feel his own imagination doing Mal’s thinking for him, as he transformed him back into himself. Come on, Mal, you’re nearly there. Let go of all that hatred. Be yourself again.
Then Mal looked him in the eyes, and smiled, and both of them swayed and fell to the floor.
“Phew!” said Phil, and ran to Ace, who was on his knees.
“Come and sit still a minute, Ace. Leave Will to come round by himself. He’ll go berserk when he does, anyway.”
“I know,” groaned Ace. “That was worse than I thought. Beautiful - but he won’t see it like that. He’ll be so embarrassed. I wish I’d never done it. He’ll never forgive me for this.”
“Stop wittering and have a drink of water,” said Phil.

Ace drank a cupful in one go, and looked down at Mal, who was beginning to stir. This was it, then. Had it worked? They could see straight away that it had. His face looked so different. He even looked a bit like Will, now he had his personality back. He gazed at Phil and Ace with gratitude in his eyes, but his thoughts were all with Cory. As he went over to Cory, smiling, his own true self again, Cory was so overcome, he collapsed. Mal sat by him, stroking his head and whispering to him. Ace left them to it. Will was coming round.
“Don’t go, Phil,” he said. “I might need you to patch me up.”
They both watched anxiously as Will glared at them and turned away from them, leaning his head on the wall and obviously trying to get a grip on himself. They gave him space, but after a while Ace walked over and touched Will on the shoulder. Will shrugged him off, without turning his head.
“Come on, Will. We’re twins. I love you, too. It’s no big deal, don’t get all embarrassed. Come and see what you’ve done.”
At that, Will turned round, his face wet with tears. Furiously, he wiped them away with his sleeve, and looked where Ace was pointing, at Mal kneeling by Cory’s side. Cory was smiling at him, his old face at peace at last. He closed his eyes, and his body seemed to settle and grow even more transparent. Mal shuddered with pain.
“He’s gone,” he whispered.
He got up and came over to Will.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ve never seen such courage. Thank you for giving Cory his twin back before he died.”
Will thought for a moment of all the grief and pain this elf had caused over the years, and then with humility that he could so easily have done the same, if things had gone differently. He smiled at Mal.
“No problem,” he said.
“I must bury his body,” said Mal. “In the fallen leaves.”
“It’s your job, no question,” said Ace. “But when you’ve done that, you must leave Wildside and not come back. I’m not having Will reminded of all he’s been through tonight every time he sees you.”
“Where do you want me to go?”
“Back where we started. 60 Hilton Street. You can live there, from now on, and make an old man happy for the rest of his life. Go on, he’s waiting for you.”
Mal picked up Cory’s body, and the young elves said goodbye to him.
“See you again one day, Cory,” said Ace. “In the place where there’s blossom and fruit together, wherever that may be.”
“Goodbye, Cory,” said Will. “You had a sad life. I’m glad it had a happy ending.”
“Goodbye,” said Phil. “I think you taught your young sprites more than you realised.”
“See you, Mal,” said Ace. “Make Cyril happy.”
Mal smiled at them all, and went quietly out.
“What d’you mean, ‘he’s waiting for you’?” said Will indignantly.
“Well, I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” said Ace. “I told Cyril that Mal would be back in the morning.”

They told the fairies the whole story, as much as they could, anyway.
“Only Cory knew the plan,” Ace told them. “So when we knew we were betrayed, we knew who’d done it. And I realised there was only one person Cory would have done that for.”
Rose and Clover wept bitterly when they heard that Cory was dead, but they could admit, through their tears, that he would probably have been glad to go.
“He died happy,” said Ace. “If he’d lived, he might have been tormented by regrets, that he didn’t try to think of a cure.”
“You amaze me,” said Madge. “I suppose you didn’t even know that warped personalities are incurable? So you calmly tried to think of a cure. And found one. And found one, for goodness’ sake! You don’t know, do you? It’s never been done before. Never, ever.”
“I did wonder,” said Phil. “I’d never heard of anyone ever being cured of that. And I’d never heard of a three-way transforming. But you know what Ace is like when he gets going. He just convinces you he knows what he’s doing.”
“Give over,” said Ace. “Will knew I was thinking on my feet, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Will. “But like you said, we had to try something.”
“So Nightshade’s gone?” said Hogweed, trying to understand. “Gone back to being an elf?”
“That’s right,” said Ace kindly. “And your old mate Ragwort got himself arrested instead of us. They seemed to think he was on a wanted list.”
“Oh, he is,” said Hogweed, not surprised by this. “He’s not from round here. He was on the run when he came here. Arson, I think.”
“Let’s not talk about burning things,” said Ace. “That’s still a sore point. All that work! Ten solid days. And we had to chuck it on the fire.”
“How many notes did you have to make?” asked Dan.
“10,000,” Will told her. “We were going to do 20,000, but Cyril said half a million would be plenty.”
“A thousand a day, between you?” said Phil. “That’s awesome. No wonder you were shattered. It was a brilliant plan.”

Idly, Ace picked up a scrap of paper and turned it into a fifty pound note.
“Look at it, Phil,” he said. “Did you ever see such a complicated picture? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it.”
“Good grief,” said Phil.
“Incredible skill,” Madge agreed. “But this number, that runs along the side, here; was it the same on every note?”
Ace nodded, not realising what she was getting at. Madge smiled.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, your plan wouldn’t have got much further. As soon as Cyril’s solicitor looked at the money, he’d have rejected it. That’s a serial number. It’s supposed to be different on each note.”
Will and Ace looked at each other, and their shoulders sagged.
“I should have thought of that!” said Will.
Ace laughed, screwed up the note, and tossed it into the fire.
“Never mind,” said Madge. “Your work wasn’t wasted. It was all that practice that enabled you to do what you did for Mal.”
“That’s a thought,” said Ace. “Like training, you mean? Getting in peak condition.”
“I don’t think I ever want to be transformed,” said Clover. “It sounds horrible.”
“It certainly is,” said Will. “You’d never do it except for something really important.”
“Is it just as bad for fairies, Madge?” asked Rose.
“I’m afraid it’s worse,” laughed Madge. “The first time I transformed Heather, she gave me ten minutes of angry Welsh, burst into tears, and didn’t speak to me for six days.”
The elves fell about when they heard that.
“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Will choked. “I don’t feel so bad, now.”

Hogweed fed the brazier, and one by one they fell asleep, until only Ace and Madge were left awake. Madge was sitting on a piece of wood, and Ace was leaning against it, on the ground beside her.
“And how are you feeling?” she said, leaning over and ruffling his hair, like Sally did to Laura. “You’ve thought of everybody else, like you always do, and not worried about yourself.”
“I feel OK,” he said, surprised. “Just glad it all worked out all right in the end.”
“I was wrong about you,” said Madge. “I could see you were a good leader, but I thought you’d lead everyone astray. But you were brilliant tonight. And I bet you’ve not told us the half of it.”
Ace looked at Will carefully, to make sure he was asleep.
“I’ve given you a lot of grief,” he said. “But I was really trying to get my head round it, that the world’s bigger than Wildside. And a lot of what I heard made me angry. There’s a lot I don’t understand. Why isn’t there any freedom any more? How come the same army’s got you in it, and it’s got a thug like Gromwell? Why are so many sprites obsessed with status and value? And about fifty other things.”
“You’re asking the right questions,” sighed Madge. “There’s a lot wrong. You know, in one way you’re lucky to have grown up here, with no education. You’ve had freedom to think for yourselves, and you’ve all got original minds. You could achieve so much. Don’t you want to go to Norway, Ace, and start finding some answers?”
Ace turned his head round, and looked her straight in the eyes.
“You know I do,” he said. “And you know why I can’t.”
“He won’t hold you back,” said Madge. “He’s needed as much as you are.”

Ace never went to sleep at all. Long after Madge dozed off, he just lay back with his hands behind his head, thinking. As dawn glimmered faintly in the cloudy sky, he shook Will awake.
“You coming for a swim?” he said.
Will rubbed his eyes.
“Yeah, OK. It’ll be freezing, though.”
“It’ll wake you up. Come on!”
Ace had been too busy and too tired lately even to wash his hair, but he had no intention of carrying on like that. As soon as his hair was how he liked it, he had an idea.
“Let’s go in Rose’s kitchen, and make everyone a cup of tea!”
“What, real tea? D’you know how?”
“How hard can it be?”
They made a lot of mess, but they managed it. Very proudly, they carried a huge teapot and a tray of cups over to the others, who were beginning to stir, stiff and chilly despite the brazier. The fairies were very touched by their thoughtfulness, and said so, warmly.
“It’s not bad, either,” whispered Rose to Clover.
Suddenly there came another creaking sound from the shed, so loud that this time, everyone heard it.
“What is it?” said Clover. “It sounds like something cracking.”
They frowned at one other with puzzled expressions, then Phil let out a joyful yell.
“It’s the bud! He’s back!”

He raced off, and everyone followed him, excited. Just as they reached the shed, they saw the handle on the door turning, and the door was pulled back, and out stepped the new elf, beaming with happiness. He was only four inches tall. His hair was dark brown, and very shiny. His streaks were particularly spiky in shape, and cream-coloured, against glossy brown skin the colour of a conker.
“Oh, brilliant!” said Will. “The horse chestnut’s got an elf of its own now!”
“Go on, Ace,” said Madge. “Welcome him, and tell him his name!”
“What!” said Ace. “Somebody could have warned me!”
Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward, and crouched down so his head was on a level with the little elf’s.
“Hello,” said Ace. “Nice to see you again. Welcome back to Wildside …Aesculus.”
“Excellent,” said Phil. “Very classy. How did you know, Ace, that Latin names are back in fashion?”
“Instinct,” grinned Ace. “Sheer brilliance.”
The little elf stared at him, with his head on one side.
“Brilliance,” he said, beaming.
“Gosh, he can talk,” said Clover. “Hello, can you remember us?”
He nodded slowly, as if to say, I know I’ve seen you all before, somewhere.
“Come on,” said Ace. “Let’s show him his tree.”
Beckoning to Aesculus, he tore off right to the foot of the horse chestnut, and pointed up into the canopy.
“Off you go!” he smiled. “It’s all yours.”
Then he sat back and watched proudly as Aesculus jumped delightedly from branch to branch.

“Before the week’s out,” said Madge, “you’ll be stunned with admiration that Cory managed to keep you all alive, let alone teach you anything. He’ll copy everything you say and do, and rush about, getting into scrapes. Imagine four at once!”
“He’s happy enough at the moment in his tree,” said Will. “Look at him! He’s good, isn’t he?”
“Oh well,” sighed Hogweed. “You were right, Will. He’s definitely an elf. I did hope he were going to be a goblin.”
“Young goblins are very hard work,” said Madge. “Cheer up, Hogweed! Perhaps you’ll get one to look after, one day.”
“We have to tell someone, don’t we?” Ace asked Madge. “That Cory’s died, and that Aesculus has been born?”
“That’s very law-abiding, Ace,” said Madge.
“It’s my new plan. Keep legal, and find things out. I want to know exactly what we’re up against.”
“That’s very good,” said Will. “So where do you have to go? Somewhere in Derbyshire, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” said Madge. “Owler Tor. Administrative Centre for the north of England. D’you want me to go? It’d take you ages to get there, and you need to be here if any news comes.”
“I’d like to see it for myself, wouldn’t you, Will? How long d’you reckon it would take?”
“No more than a day, there and back.”
Madge looked surprised. “You do know it’s thirty miles away?”
Will grinned. “No law against catching trains, is there?”

Aesculus jumped down, shivering and panting. He seemed to be trying to tell them something.
“He’s cold,” said Rose. “And probably thirsty.”
“Leave that to me,” said Phil. “Come on, Aesculus, let’s make you some clothes. What d’you think, Ace? Usual Wildside uniform? Jeans, trainers, t-shirt, leather jacket?”
“Definitely,” said Ace. “Is there any leather left?”
“There was a bit last week,” said Phil.
“I think we used that to make the case for the money,” said Will. “Here, have a bit off mine.”
Will tore a small piece off his jacket, and threw it to Phil, and Phil led the way to the shed.
“This is the shed,” they heard him say.
“Shed,” said Aesculus.
Then they heard Phil shouting,
“No! Don’t do that to the guitars!”
Will, Ace and Dan rushed off to the rescue. Madge was laughing.
“See what I mean?” she said. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. I’m off to Abney. Have fun!”

When Madge came back, the fairies gathered near Cory’s house. Hogweed and the elves heard the music begin. Phil knew what it was, and they came over to listen, standing quietly a respectful distance away. Clover and Rose were playing their flutes, and Madge and Dan were singing, a song with no words but hauntingly beautiful, that wove itself in and out of the flutes’ sad, mellow notes. It was a cold, winter song of death and loss, but as the elves listened it began to change, and became warmer and faster, singing now of life, and hope, and growth. When the song was over, they held hands quietly, standing very still with their heads bowed. When they’d finished saying goodbye, they walked across to join the others.
“That was beautiful,” said Will. “You didn’t mind us listening, did you?”
“No,” said Clover. “I was glad you were there. It felt right.”
“It was really helpful,” said Ace. “When we said goodbye, last night, so much had been happening I could hardly think straight. It was good to be quiet for a bit, and remember.”
“And in between, Aesculus was born,” said Phil.
They strolled off companionably together, showing Aesculus all there was to see. By the afternoon, he’d learned all their names, fallen out of a silver birch and frightened the Elfcat, who was used to elves, but not elves who hugged him so tight he thought he was being strangled. But seeing the Elfcat gave the others an idea.
“Let’s go and introduce him to Sally,” said Rose. “Maybe he’ll keep still for a few minutes in there.”

When she saw them coming down the garden, Sally opened the back door.
“Come in!” she said. “Oh! Who’s this?”
She crouched down to look at Aesculus, who stared fearlessly at this enormous fairy with no wings, and gave her a big grin.
“This is our new elf, and he’s called Aesculus,” said Clover proudly.
“Oh, I know,” said Sally. “I remember you telling me he’d be here soon. So you’re a horse chestnut, are you? I think I’d have guessed, even without the name. What a very handsome young elf you are.”
“Elf,” said Aesculus.
“He can’t talk much yet,” said Rose. “But he seems to understand what you say.”
“And this is Sally,” Phil told him. “She’s not a sprite, she’s a human. That’s why she’s bigger than us. She’s Rowan and Laura’s mummy.”
“Laura’s mummy,” said Aesculus.
“Gosh, two words,” said Will.
Sally laughed. “Are you thirsty? Jump on the table, and have some milk.”
Sally poured milk into a bowl, and passed the sprites their cups, and they dipped them into the bowl to fill them. It was easier than trying to pour out into such tiny cups.
“No news yet, then?” asked Madge.
“Not about Wildside,” said Sally. “But I’m glad you came. David called here this morning, looking as if he’d been up all night, and asked me if they could all come round after school. Has something happened?”
“Yes, quite a lot’s been happening,” said Ace, catching Aesculus just in time before he jumped into the bowl of milk. “No, you don’t. Milk’s for drinking, not swimming in. D’you think Sally wants milk all over the table?”
“He’s lethal, isn’t he?” said Phil. “D’you think it’ll be safe to go to sleep?”
“It’ll be all right,” said Madge. “He’ll be fast asleep long before you want to go to bed, and when he wakes up, you’ll know about it. Where’s he going to sleep? In the shed with you, Phil?”
“Might as well,” said Phil. “There’s room. If he wakes up too early, Ace and Will can have him.”

Just then, they heard a cascade of joyful woofs, and distant voices. The Elfcat suddenly ran into the kitchen, saw Aesculus, panicked, jumped on top of a cupboard, and knocked a pan down, which clattered to the floor, just as Laura and Gemma came in at the front door. Tony and Joseph ran past the back garden, chasing Barking Mad. Aesculus listened to all the noise with evident delight, then jumped behind Ace and started pulling his hair.
“Ow! Stop it, that hurts! Get him off me, someone!”
“Oh, wow!” said Gemma, stopping in her tracks. “A naughty elf!”
“You can say that again,” muttered Ace, rubbing his head.
“Oh, Mum, where’s Tony?” said Laura. “Barking Mad’s been so awful, it’ll cheer him up.”
Sally opened the back door, and everyone heard Tony say, in a tired voice,
“Sit, will you, you daft dog? Just sit there and be good for once. Even the hodgepig’s got more sense than you.”
“Tie his lead to the fence,” they heard Joseph say. “Tony, will the sprites be angry with me?”
Sally turned to Madge, with a question on her lips, but quickly realised there was no need to say anything.
“Come in, Tony,” she said warmly. “Yes, you too, Joseph.”
The front door opened again, and Rowan led in Dominic, David and Adam. The room went very quiet. Aesculus felt suddenly frightened, and snuggled up to Hogweed, who put an arm round him protectively.
“Hello,” said Sally to them all. “Everyone’s here, David. Whatever’s been going on?”
“Thanks, Sally. For a start, Adam’s got something to say.”
Adam, who was looking absolutely bewildered, took a deep breath and said,
“I’m very sorry I phoned the police and spoilt the plan.”
Dominic nudged Joseph, who looked at his shoes and said,
“I’m sorry, too.”
“They didn’t mean any harm,” said Will. “And a lot of good came out of it in the end.” He looked at David. “Are they both all right?”
“Mal and Cyril? They’re fine. Probably still talking, even now. It was amazing when he came back. I thought it was you for a moment, Will.”
“Please will someone explain?” said Rowan. “I don’t understand.”
“I can’t remember who knows what,” said Ace. “This is getting very confusing.”
“Allow me,” said Madge. “Adam and Joseph, these are the sprites of Wildside. Let me introduce them to you. Ace, of course, you already know.”

Everyone saw recognition dawn in their eyes, followed by a terrified sort of awe. Ace just looked at them, steadily. He wasn’t smiling. He’d had a lot of spiteful remarks to bear from these two. Madge told them the other sprites’ names, then said,
“And I’m Madge. But you’re not the only ones who haven’t met Aesculus, because he was only born today. He’s feeling a bit shy at the moment, so we won’t press him, but there he is, hiding next to Hogweed.”
“The new elf’s been born?” said Tony. “Oh, brilliant! What tree?”
“The horse chestnut!” beamed Madge.
“Oh, thank goodness it’s safe,” said Rowan.
“You’ve missed a lot of fun, this summer,” said Madge to Adam and Joseph. “I feel very sorry for you. But listen and learn, while I tell Sally and the girls what’s just been happening.”
They both nodded, eyes wide, too overcome to speak.
“Ace and Will thought of a new plan,” Madge began. “A plan so dangerous they wouldn’t drag anyone else into it. They knew if they got caught making human money, they’d spend years in prison, but the risk seemed worth it to them.”
She spoke of how hard they’d worked, and how David had helped them. She told them what Nightshade had been up to, and how brave and resourceful Dominic and Tony had been.
“Thanks to their quick thinking, Ace and Will were warned in time. And faced with the ruin of their plan, and the waste of all their work, they calmly threw half a million pounds on the fire.”
Everyone gasped. Madge glanced at Ace and Will, and they looked at her pleadingly, as if to say, shut up, but she carried on inexorably, making sure everyone knew what they’d done for Mal, and how brave they’d been. When she’d finished, everyone was quiet. Sally wiped away a tear, and Ace felt he had to say something before Will died of embarrassment.
“Have you finished, Madge?” he said. “And can we go now, and hide for a week or two?”
“Not exactly,” smiled Madge, cheekily pinching one of Will’s favourite phrases. “I sent a very important message this morning, and got an instant reply. A representative of the army will be calling at Wildside tomorrow - a colonel, in fact. You’re both going to get a medal.”
They hid their faces in horror as a storm of clapping and cheering broke out. Joseph and Adam were cheering louder than anyone.