In the forest the three knights were beginning their long winter’s stay where they were. They cooked the rest of the calf’s meat and squabbled a little over that. Then they found them-selves pursuits that are more profitable. Realizing that they had a forge there and metal, they began to repair their weapons and to make some new ones. Now they made themselves more arrows by cutting branches from nearby trees. So long as they stayed busy and fed then managed pretty well. They ate the calf meat until that ran out. Then they hunted. Some-times they had to go through considerable drifts of snow. But mostly, staying to the trees, the snow did not get too bad. They managed to bring in deer, some of the smaller harts, and one time a turkey.
The tracking was easier in the winter. Tracks were easily visible in the snow. But things could go wrong too. The chargers sometimes crunched through the snow. Twigs were frozen and could crack loudly. More than once their prey got away because they heard something and took flight. The next day they went hunting again. This time they tracked further afield and tried to do it a little quieter. They came across the farm of a troll. They spoke softly together. “I wonder if he has any farm animals.” Sir Joopi asked. They did, but they were mostly close to the house where they could be easily reached in the winter. “It’s too dangerous to try to get them,” Sir Ken-drew acknowledged. “We’ll have to go after something easier.” They did find one thing, a young doe with her first fawn. The doe was too fast for them, but not the fawn. It was like eating calf meat again, only a little wilder.
Finally the long winter came to an end. The snow began to melt and the weather to heat up. It was storm time in the south. The Mer people were far to the south now and would not come back until after most of the storms had subsided. In her chambers in the capitol city, the Queen looked out for a moment from her chambers. The sky was clear and the sun was shining.
She went into her son’s room and spoke with his nurse. “It is spring again,” she said. “Yes,” said the nurse. “The days will be warmer now and there will be pixies and fairies in the garden.” “And it will be campaigning season soon and my husband will be away from home,” the Queen said, somewhat ruefully. “Does it please you,” the nurse asked, “that he plans to go after those men and punish them?”
“I suppose so,” the Queen said, somewhat despondently. “But I am not sure I really want him to go.” “That sounds like a bit of spring fever if you ask me,” the nurse said. Then the baby woke and started to fuss a little. “My goodness,” said the Queen, “he is getting so big, is my little prince, so big.” At the last, she was playing with the baby. The nurse let her so do while she cleaned up the bedding. Then her own child, wrapped up in the rug, began to fuss too. “Yes,” said the nurse. “He’s every bit as big as my boy and will be bigger soon.” The two women laughed and played with the boys for a few minutes. Then the Queen left them, it was time for the boys to be fed. One of the servants brought the tray up from the kitchen. She and the nurse had this down to almost an art form now. So the Queen left so as not to be in the way.
Then it was time for her and the king to take their noon refreshment. The queen joined her husband in the small anteroom that he often used when there was no court. “My dear,” he said, “come and enjoy lunch with me.” She came in and sat. “How long will it be before you take out after those criminals who attacked me?” “Another three weeks, I think,” the King said. “And, don’t worry, we will catch them.”
“Yes, I’m sure you will,” the Queen responded. Now even the king could tell that she was suffering from despond. “Tell you what,” he suggested, “tomorrow why don’t we go check the gardens out. See how they came through the winter. With a little luck, it will be warm enough in a few days, the fairy and pixie eggs will have hatched. You know how you love to watch newly hatched fairies and pixies.” He hated to admit that he loved it just as much as his queen did. “I don’t think so,” the Queen said. She did not tell him that she was still in some pain from the attack. She finished the meal. “I think I’ll just go back to my chamber,” she said.
She was not really dressed for any company. In fact, she had not really dressed for company since the attack. But the king was willing to be patient. After all this was his wife, whom he loved.
As the spring progressed, the supplies were brought together. Finally Sir Fridolf announced to the king. “We are ready.” “I have been considering,” the king said. “We will not need all the supplies we have. I am not taking the whole of the army at this time. I will take a single corps with their support people. I will also take my valet, Arly. He will be enough to serve my needs.” “That will be about a dozen men,” Sir Fridolf said. “Eight fighting men, two scouts and two men to cook and do other odd chores about the camp. They should have a wagon with them with food and other supplies and a team of horses. There should be about 15 men and 17 horses altogether.” “Yes,” said the King. “I will take the men who go with me from the castle guard. That would be yourself and your best men. The lack at the castle can be augmented with members of the city guard. They should be glad of the work. It’ll mean more royals in their pockets.”
“Aye it will,” said Sir Fridolf. “But, do you want such rough men around your gentle wife.” “I have thought of that too,” he said. “I want ladies in waiting for my wife. I think two should be sufficient. They will take up their quarters here in the castle. One of them should be Lady Shann; the other may be a woman of suitable worth whom she will suggest.” Sir Fridolf called
one of the pages. The King gave him his orders, “Do it,” he said.
It was early afternoon of that day that Lady Shann showed up at the castle. And she did have a suggestion. “There are no other ladies of the required rank and temperament available in the city at the time,” she said. “However, Mother Hulder might to as a temporary stand-in until Lady Heriberto can arrive from the East.”
“Yes,” said Sir Fridolf. “I know Lady Heriberto. I’ll send a messenger right a way to her. She is entirely suitable. But it will be a few days before she can arrive.” “Alright’, said the King, “Send for the lady immediately and send for Mother Hulder to act as stand-in until she arrives.”
Mother Hulder came to the castle. The King explained to her. “You will be junior lady in waiting to Lady Shann. You will keep that post until Lady Heriberto can arrive. She will take your place and then you will be able to return to your home and family. Is that acceptable.” But Mother Hulder knew that was not really a choice. The King needed her to stay with the queen for a time while he was going to be gone. It was better if she had someone she knew around her now. “I will stay,” she said.
The next day everything was ready and the King and his men started off. “There is just one thing,” Lady Shann said before they started off. The King asked “What?” “A moment,” Lady Shann said to the king and then turned and embraced Sir Fridolf. “Good-bye, mother,” Sir Fridolf said. Then he turned and mounted. “Lord and Lady Shann are your parents?” the King asked. “Yes,” said Sir Fridolf, “and Lord Onan is my older brother.” Lady Shann went into the castle as they left.
She went straight to the Queen’s chamber. “Your majesty,” she said. She curtsied before the Queen. “Lady Shann,” said the Queen. She put down her cup of Chamomile tea and took the old lady’s hand. “I hear that you are to be my senior lady in waiting.” “That is what the king tells me he wants me to do.” “Well then come and be my friend also,” the Queen said. For she felt sorely in need of friends right now. “Denisha,” the Queen said, “you may leave now. I have some private things to speak with Lady Shann about.” “Yes, Ma’am,” said Denisha and left.
They left the bailey and headed north towards the lands of Lord Ghino. The king was certain that Sir Joopi would try to seek shelter with his father. In fact, that was where the three hunted knights were now. When Sir Joopi led his friends through the gates to the castle his father came striding out to him. “Father,” Joopi called out happily. However, that was not the greeting he got. The still very vigorous Lord Ghino grabbed his son’s arm while Joopi was still in the saddle. He pulled hard, unseating Joopi. Then he slapped the young man just as hard as he could with the back of his hand. “You dare come here to me,” Lord Ghino yelled at Joopi, “after what you have done.” Joopi did not even ask what he’d done.
“How did you know?” Joopi asked. His friends, seeing what greeting he got, stayed on their horses. “The whole kingdom knows,” Ghino said. “It has been the sole topic of conversation the whole winter.” He turned and strode towards the castle. “Not to mention that messenger you sent,” he said. “One of my own trained winged panthers too.” That was spoken as Lord Ghino mounted the castle steps. “Get in here,” Ghino said. “But tell your friends to stay where they are.”
“Wait here,” Sir Joopi said to his friends. “Father,” Lord Doan had just come into the room. “You’re not going to shelter them, are you?” “No,” said Lord Ghino, “your brother will not be staying here. He will take the food that I give him and move on.”
Servants took three bags of supplies out and gave them to the men. Each one put a bag of supplies between the shoulder blades of his mount. If Ghino had given those mounts, the king’s scouts would have noted that. Then the king would know that Ghino had supported one of the criminals who had raped Medora. That would be enough to consider Lord Ghino himself a criminal and throw him into the dungeon. While he might not have Ghino executed, the man would surely never see the light of day again.
Lord Ghino almost dragged Sir Joopi back out to the courtyard. There he mounted his horse with the split hoof again. Then he took his bag of supplies from the ground and got it between the shoulder blades of his horse. All three men wished they had saddles, but they did not. “Where shall we go?” Joopi asked his father. “Try the land of the Shee,” he said, “or the land of my arch enemy Lord Palton. But then, he might turn you in. Better to try the land of the Shee.” That would put him beyond the borders of Shinna.
To the south, the king and his men were making good progress northwards. They would arrive, weather permitting, the next day at Lord Ghino’s lands. They camped the first night near a stream. The two men who had come to do the odd jobs that always needed to be done had the kings tent set up in record time. They were old hands at that. They had done the same things for his father.
Then they had afire going and dinner cooking shortly. It was meat, meade, and bread. Arly brought the King’s dinner to him. Because there was little protection from the cold, everything that was cooked cooled quickly. So the king came and got his dinner quickly. Then it was to retire for the night, for all else that needed to be done had been done.
Lt. Fridolf set the guard for the night. All the men, except himself, the King, and Arly would have the duty during the night. The ones on tonight would not be on tomorrow night. That way the men would not get too tired. It was important for them to stay awake all night. That way the fires would be kept burning all night. Things like evil spirits, winged panthers, thieves, murderers, and other evil things would be kept away. But if any of the men fell asleep, evil things might get by him. That was why sleeping on duty was a death penalty offense,
Sirs Joopi, Kendrew, and, Matyes rode toward the land of the shee. They came via a back way through the forest on to the land of the shee. Joopi, as least, knew that they were related to the fairies, though flightless without their mounts. Continuing through the forest ways, they came across a banshee, a female shee. She was in her garden harvesting some of the vegetables that had wintered over deep underground for her family to eat. Like her sidshee brothers, she was taller than a human woman would be. She had long pale hair that was tied in a bun under a simple bonnet. She also had slightly pointed ears, not so large as those of the Mer people. Also unlike the Mer people, her skin was white. None of that was ever particularly noted about a banshee. What made humans so afraid, especially of the banshee, was their shrill voices, which could give out the most unearthly shriek when they wanted them too. Most of the people believed that it could make a man’s blood run cold, and thus kill him.
The three men could see the vegetables in her hands, and they were getting hungry. Then she also stopped to pick some very early berries. “That’ll make us a nice meal,” Sir Kendrew said. “And the berries will be for desert.” “We shall have to see if we can get them from her,” Sir Matyes agreed with him. Sir Joopi was already moving stealthily towards her. Then he signaled to Sir Kendrew. “See if she will give up her basket willingly?” So Sir Kendrew moved back a bit into the forest. He got away from the others so as not to draw any attention to them.
“Mother shee,” he said, recognizing her for what she was, “please, I am a hungry traveler in these parts. May I please have what is in your basket there? For I am very hungry.”
“I am Lady Dendra,” she said, “a cousin of the king’s. What are you doing here and how dare you to bother me in my garden.” “As I have said,” Sir Kendrew said, “I am a poor traveler here who is very hungry. I beg to partake of that which is in your basket. It has been some time since I have eaten.” But he did not look hungry to her. And she was not sure that he was there legally. “You do not look as though you have missed many meals, human,” she said, “and I mistrust that you are on my cousin’s lands by any legal means. What are you really doing here,” she asked in a very suspicious manner. She began to move towards the woods then. But instead of moving to where Sir Kendrew was, she moved towards Sir Joopi.
“I do not believe that you have told any of these things to my cousin or any of his men,” she said. “My cousin is a generous man. If he had seen you on his land he would have had you brought to his castle and given all the food and refreshment you required.” Then she noticed the other knights. “Here,” she began to call shrilly, “what are you doing there.” In a moment, Joopi was up and shot his arrow into her. So did Matyes. She let out one of those terrible shrieks just before she died.
For a moment, all three knights shivered. Then they brought their horses up. But their chargers were not used to the terrible shriek she gave out with. They danced around a bit, very nervous. Then they realized that the banshee was dead and would not hurt them again. For her dying scream had frightened them and caused them a little pain with their sensitive hearing.
The knights took her basket and all the food that was in it. The chargers settled and they rode back into the forest again. There the men took some time to enjoy the food. For they had not had fresh vegetables for a long time.
When the King got to Lord Ghino’s castle he went right up the front steps. Lord Ghino met him there, at the top of his flagstones. “All right, Ghino,” the king said. He was confrontational. Sir Fridolf dismounted and loosened his sword, in case it would become necessary to defend the king. The other men who were with him did the same. The King had sent the rest to the campsite he expected to use that night. When he finished with Lord Ghino and got there, they would be ready for him. “Where are they?”
“Where is who?” Lord Ghino feigned ignorance. He did not do it well. “You know who,” the King said, in an angry tone of voice. “We tracked him to your door. In case you missed it he was riding a stolen plow horse with a split hoof. My scouts found the last sign just at the gates to your village. I want him and his friends now!” It was clearly an order. “My lord, I assure you he is not here.” Young Lord Doan came forward at that moment. “My father is telling you the truth, sire. He is not here nor are his friends. But what he won’t tell you is that they were. My father gave them food and told them not to stay on our lands. He sent them north to the land of the Shee. Other than that, we have no idea where they might be. My father would never harbor the enemies of his king.” The last he said because he feared that the family might lose their lands if he did not. He saw that the king’s immediate guard was the second son of Lord Shann. He would be looking, and would no doubt get someday, a hold of his own.
“My scouts will look around and find out. If we discover that you have given them more than that, you will be called to account for it,” the king assured them. They did not find the assurance encouraging. The scouts did find the trail going further to the north. The king and his cohort left. They headed to the campsite the king had thought they would use that night. For he had assumed that Lord Ghino would send his son further north.
When they got to the camp the King ordered Sir Fridolf. “Look all around. If you see that Sir Joopi and his friends have doubled back we will go back to Lord Ghino’s hold and I will arrest him.” Sir Fridolf spoke to his men. They scoured the area. But the trail only led further north. “They continue on,” Sir Fridolf told the King, “to the land of the Shee.”
In the castle, Lady Shann talked to Denisha that first night about the tea. “What is in the tea the Queen drinks?” Lady Shann asked. She was prepared for almost anything to be there. “Chamomile,” Denisha said. “Did Mother Hulder tell you to put it there?” “Yes,” said Denisha. “Good,” said Lady Shann. “That is a good healing herb. And in tea is a good way to take it. You do your mistress good service.” “Thank-you ma’am,” Denisha said.
The king and his party continued on to the land of the shee. The king and Sir Fridolf discussed what they knew about those people before they got there. “I have heard,” the king said, “that they are very fierce warriors.” “And they attack from above,” said Sir Fridolf. “But it is not the warriors that we have to worry about,” the King said. “No,” said Sir Fridolf. “It is the ones who attack with their voices. The can cause a man to freeze to death on a warm night.” As they neared the land of the shee, they saw something they did not expect.
In the palace, the baby Prince Inigo began to walk. That led to some missteps that did not hurt the baby, but put a smile on the Queen’s face. The nurse’s son also began to walk with the same result.
As they got within an hour’s ride of the border a sound from above caught their ears and they looked up. There were white winged horses in the air. The riders were white too, and they carried every kind of weapon known. All had swords. Most had bows and arrows. Many carried shields and spears. All of those things were made to be light weight so that their mounts could carry it all and them and still fly. King Jehan called out, “Halloo,” he wanted to try to get their attention. “Halloo,” he cried again. He thought the steed was called a pagasus.
The pale sidshe, for such were the riders, brought his pagasus, for such were the mounts, down closer to the ground facing the king, but he did not land. “What do you want, your majesty,” he asked. His horse fluttered his wings, making the King’s horse nervous. “I search for 3 evil men,” the King told the 6’ tall fairy. “they raped my wife and nearly killed her. I believe they are causing havoc among your people too.” “How does what they did to your wife compare to what they did to one of our females. Your wife still lives. Our female does not.” “They are of my people,” Jehan said. “If that is so, then how will your people fight them without much loss of life?” The light weigh fairy thought about it. They only rode pegasi because they were light enough. The pegasi could still fly with the sidshee on their backs. “You have a point there,” the sidshee said. “I shall inform our King of this. You must wait. Those standing stones,” he pointed to a pair of stone columns just before the beginning of the canyon, “are the guardians of our gates here. Wait beside them. I will bring back word from our king in three days.”
The king moved his men over to the pillars. Once there he could see that they were carved out of rock. They were also covered with magical symbols and words. The one on his right was black and had words and symbols on it in white. Also the top and the bottom parts were white with symbols worked in black. On the other side it was exactly the opposite. The column was white with symbols worked in it in black. The top and bottom parts were black with symbols and words in white. “The pillars of judge-ment,” the king said. “And here we will be judged.”
They made camp there. His servants got food for him and for themselves. His tent was put up and the smaller tents of the men and a fire was started. The cooks prepared a meal there from the food that they had with them. One of the soldiers was put on duty to watch the tents and the horses there.
In three days the sidshee returned. He finally introduced himself. “My name is Sibelius,” he said. “I am to take your leader to our King. Please mount your horse.” Jehan did so and Sibelius mounted behind him. The rest of the men also mounted up. “Only the King,” Sibelius said. “I give you my word of honor that he will not be harmed.” His pegasus flew in the skies over them.
It was not there that they were judged, but a judgement did happen. Sibelius took Jehan to the king of shee. His name was Finnian. He was tall as all shee were tall. But he had long flowing silver hair, showing his age. Again he was pale and his weight light. He was at what looked very much to be a palace among the trees. When the charger approached he stood as the guard challenged. “Who comes here,” he said to King Jehan.
“King Jehan of Shinna,” Jehan answered. “And for what reason do you come?” the guard asked. “I seek an audience with King Finnian of the shee,” Jehan responded. “Let him through,” King Finnian ordered, “for I have sent for him.” Jehan went up the steps and into the hall.
“Your highness,” King Jehan said to the King of the shee, bowing deeply to the older King as was protocol. “What do you wish to see me about?” King Finnian asked. “About three men of my people who are wanted for heinous crimes,” King Jehan explained. “What did they do,” King Finnian asked. “I have reason to believe that these men have come into your lands. They are three men who were knights with my people. Now they have committed grievous crimes against my queen and others of my people. If they are here, I demand that you return them to me immediately for punishment.”
“What makes you think they are here?” King Finnian asked. “Because I have heard that a banshee was killed just recently.” King Jehan said. “I have reason to believe that these men did it. They are certainly of the type to do it.” Sibelius nodded that what Jehan said was true.
“What do you know of this Sibelius?” the King asked. “The lady Dendra was found dead just outside her garden gate three days ago,” Sibelius was only reporting to the King something he already knew. “That is so,” Finnian said. “But what does that have to do with us.” “She was too young to have died of natural causes,” Sibelius said. That two was true. It was well known that although the shee were related to fairies they had many times their life span. They would easily live as long as a human. “And,” Sibelius continued, “We found the hoof prints of horses in the area. Pegasi do sometimes leave hoof prints, but not that many. To make the hoof prints that we observed in the area of the dead women there would have had to be an entire herd of pegasi. No such herd was observed in that area. There could only have been human horses in that area.”
“Yes,” said the king. “And we are limited as to how much searching of the ground we can do for these people. Our men do not walk on the ground much. And our pegasi are even worse. They come to ground only when they have to. But what promise do we have from you that you will not attack us too.” “I have only a few men with me,” Jehan admitted. “And they are waiting by the pillars that guard your land for me. They will not leave there until I return to them. When I do they will follow my orders.”
“This is a good thing if it proves to be true,” the King said. “But how do we know that it is true?” King Jehan knew the promise that King Finnian wanted to hear. He made it, “I stake my life that is what they are doing.”
In fact, at that moment at the pillars that was exactly what his men were doing, though they were not very happy about it. “Who is it said that we had to stay here?” Sakaruta asked the Sir Fridolf. “Why can’t we go just a little ways in there? Just to be sure that King Jehan is still alive.” “Because his highness asked us to stay here,” Sir Fridolf said. “And besides, you know how the shee are. If we do not do as they wish they can and will attack us. And, being fairies, they can attack us even in our dreams. Now do you want to go against power like that.” “No,” said Sakaruta. “But it galls me to have to stand by and just wait while the King goes in there and makes conversation.” But some of the warriors did find the pillars interesting and did draw pictures of them.
King Jehan and Sibelius returned to the pillars in the same manner that they had left. Only now, there was a cadre of Sibelius’ men flying after them on their pegasi. Sibelius own mount was over his head as it preferred to be. “We have permission,” King Jehan said, “To pursue Sir Joopi, Sir Kendrew, and Sir Matyes across King Finnian’s land. But he wants us first to discover if they were responsible for the murder of a banshee that occurred only the other day.” He turned and indicated his companion, who was now mounting his usual mount. “Sibelius and his men will lead us to the place where it happened. After that, we will begin tracking the men. Sibelius and his forces will scout for us, watch for them if they try to run from us. Sibelius will guide us toward them. They will also tell us of any problems, obstructions, and the like that we are likely to meet on the way. Come on men, let’s get started.”
The men had camp struck in short order and were ready to follow the sidshee. The king was aware, and some of the other men were too, that the sidshee were the males among the shee. The banshees were the females.
They moved along the trails indicated as quickly as they could. The horses were not used to the pegasi flying over them. But the soldiers knew how to quiet nervous horses and get them to do what was wanted. They simply stuck their fingers in the noses of the horses, keeping them from making frightened noises to each other. When one horse did not hear another calling out in freight, he calmed down. Soon all the horses that required hitching were hitched and all the horses that required saddling were saddled.
Then they rode along with the sidshee above them pointing the way. When they arrived at the place where the banshee was killed, the scouts among them asked the King, “Sire will you please remain here with the other men. Let us two go forward by ourselves. Then we can examine the hood prints more carefully without so many horses to mess them up.” “Could these be the prints left by the missing chargers?” “It’s likely,” said the scout. “So it more important than ever that they not be messed up. “Alright,” said the king. The two scouts moved forward, and the rest of the men waited with the King. High above them, the sidshee were also waiting, circling on their pegasi.
After a moment, the king called out to his scouts, “What do you see,” one of them came back to him and told him, “We think that they clearly were here. We found shod hoof prints. They look like chargers foot prints. We think that whoever shod these horses did not do a good job of it.”
The men they were talking about were on the edge of shee land. They were enjoying eating the food that they had stolen from the banshee before they killed her. “Surprising,” Sir Kendrew said, “how good plants can taste after a winter of nothing but meat.” They ate the greens and then the fruits. Those made a wonderful desert. Then they turned to get the horses to go on. Only one of them balked at being mounted again. His foot was now very
sore and he would not go another step. He rose up on his hind feet and kicked at the air. He did a little walk backwards on his hind feet, still kicking with his front. Finally, Sir Joopi ran him through his throat with his sword. The animal was dead in a few minutes. “Anyone for some horse meat,” Sir Joopi joked. Sir Joopi forced Sir Kendrew from his horse, saying, “get down, I need that horse.” Sir Kendrew did not want to get down, but Sir Joopi threatened him with the sword he had just used to kill the other horse. So Sir Kendrew complied and Sir Matyes took him up behind on his horse. They then rode off.
It wasn’t long before they came to a sort of bay. What they did not know was that this was the edge of the shee land. The water was the domain of the Nyad. What they did know was that they seemed to be looking at a captive bunch of some of the largest animals they had ever seen. There were the mounts of the nyads, unicorns. “So,” said Sir Joopi, “the paintings that depict them as fish are right.”
“Uhmm,” said Sir Kendrew. “But how will we get to ride any of them. For they are far out in the water, and we must breath air?” Sir Matyes asked. Then one of them surfaced not far from them. “I know what we’ll do,” Sir Kendrew said. “We’ll kill one of them for their meat.” “Aye,” said Sir Joopi, “we’ll kill it for its meat. So they began shooting arrows into it and slashing at it with their swords. It was not easy to kill and they had to pull their arrows out of it with a great deal of determination. Then shoot again and pull them out again, all the while slashing at it with their swords.
The beastie in the meantime began to give out its own kind of distress calls. This brought the nyad who was the herd’s keeper to the spot. She was quickly destroyed by all the fuss. Eventually the unicorn died. The men began dragging its body up on the shore to butcher it. But it was larger than they could move. So They had to butcher it there in the water. They swam around cutting chunks from it and getting its blood on their clothing. In the process, they attracted the attention of predators from the land and from the sea. So they got out of the sea and predatory fish began to eat on the carcass of the dead whale. The meat was all the prize this whale had. For it was a female, without the highly prized long tusk that the males had.
The three knights had as large a slabs of meat that they could carry. But still more than 90% of the animal was left behind. The men got out of the water and rested for a while from their exertions. Then land predators began to show up. Bears and maintain lions and wolves came. When the horses smelled them coming they danced in fear. When the men saw what was happening they got their meat up of the backs of the horses, then mounted and rode away as fast at the plow horses could go. But the animals were not interested in them. After all, why have a morsel when you can have a feast. Once the men were a far enough distance away, the predators turned back to the body of the unicorn.
Some of the nyads in the area hurried to take word to the queen. She was in her palace, heavily pregnant and about to lay her egg. But it was not time quite yet. She was in a chamber with her husband and with the two sisters she shared him with. There were few males among the nyads, so this sort of arrangement was common. The nyads were not so restricted by sun-light as humans were. They could see well at night, and so could the uni-corns they rode. The sister nyads from the outlying pastoral area reached the queen. The guards passed them through to the castle and introduced them to the queen. “Ma’am,” they said. “Your royal herders have come from your herd to bring you information.” Then they stepped back and let the herders, whom the queen already knew, come forward. “Gavriella and Gayna,” she said. “Come forward,” she paused a moment and then asked. “How do my herds do?” “Oh your highness,” Gavriella said. “I bring you bad news. One of our sisters has been killed and one of your female unicorns is taken.” “Who was killed,” the queen demanded to know. “Ianthe,” they responded. “And one of my breeding unicorns taken?” “Yes mistress,” they answered. “We found her near the surface in Shyshell bay, with large chunks of meat cut from her. Predators were eating on her, both land and sea. But we do not think it was a natural death. For then our sister would not be missing. We thought that it is the human pirates come back.”
“Not likely,” said the Queen, considering what they said. “For the human pirates went after the male beasts for their horns. They would have ignored the females. The question is, where are they now?” “We do not know ma’am,” they said. “We came as soon as we found out sister missing and one of the beasts she was guarding for you dead.”
The queen tried to rise from where she had been sitting. A cramp came over her body and she moaned. “This egg will be laid soon,” the queen said. “Until then I can do nothing. But my guard may set out watchers.” The guard was called for. “Send out patrols to watch my herds,” she ordered them. “Have them report any suspicious activities back to the castle immediately. I will no doubt be in the nursery, dealing with this egg.” She managed to get completely to her feet then. “I want to go back to my chamber and lay down,” she said to her mate as he jumped to help her. That night went well enough, although the Queen slept fitfully.
In the meantime, Sir Joopi, Sir Kendrew, and Sir Matyes were by the sea in another bay. They were looking up at a legendary castle. The Island castle was a fortress. It had been used by sea pirates who raided the nyads in an attempt to get their mounts away from them. When one was taken he would be speared and his horn would be cut off. It was believed to have incredible curative powers and even to grant immortality. A man would pay almost any price to get one. That was why the pirates hunted for them. They would make very much royals with very little trouble if they could get a couple of those. But for now the castle was uninhabited, unless one counted the ghosts of the dead nyads. For often they had been guarding their herds when the pirates attacked. No one could get to the castle unless one took a boat to it. In the woods they found two of them. One damaged that they would not take the time to repair. But the other one was still useable.
They got it into the water and took the oars and began to head to the island. “Wait,” Sir Matyes said. They put their oars into the water to stop themselves. They were still very close to the shore. Matyes jumped out of the boat and ran and got the oars from the other boat. “Why did you do that?” Sir Kendrew asked. “Well that boat might not be useful to us,” Matyes said, “but can we assume the same of the people coming after us?” “You’re right,” Joopi said. “We do not dare make that assumption.”
They went on with what supplies they had to the castle. They would have to check now to see if the castle had been kept supplied. It only took them about 20 minutes to row to the island. When they got there they found that it had not been kept supplied. But It was warmer then being outside. So they went into the castle and made a fire of the other set of oars. Then they cooked some of the food they had stolen. They began to talk about this castle. “Is it true that it is haunted?” Sir Matyes asked. “I have heard that it is, by pirates and the ghosts of the unicorns they killed,” Sir Kendrew said. “My father told me of them,” Sir Joopi said. “If it is true, we should know soon enough.” But they were tired that night, so they soon went to bed. Then they slept for the rest of the night.
That night King Jehan and his men made camp on Shee land. Sibelius came down off his mount to talk to the King. Other sidshee were also coming off theirs. They too tethered their animals on long tethers. Almost immediately, the animals were unsaddled, they were up in the air again. They loved to eat the green shoots of the new leaves at the ends of the trees’ branches. This they considered a delicacy. Their masters had other food for them on the ground. But a pagasus never ate much. It would make them too heavy to fly.
The camp was up early in the morning. The men got the horses fed and breakfast ready. The sidshee also fed their pegasi. King Jehan watched them. “You don’t feed your animals much, do you.” He said to Sibelius. “No, your majesty,” Sibelius answered. “It makes them too fat and heavy to fly. That’s makes they vulnerable.” “Are the females too fat and heavy to fly when they have been bred?” Jehan asked. “Yes, sir,” Sibelius answered. “That is why they are so carefully guarded at that time by my people. We protect them from the predators, like bears, lions, and winged panthers.” “Yes,” said the King. “I forgot about those around here.” He looked up into the trees and headed back to camp.
“Don’t worry, your highness,” one of the sidshee said to him on his way. “Winged panthers tend to avoid areas where there are male pegasi around. The males are strong enough and fast enough to kill them if they are stupid enough to let themselves be seen.” The king took some slight assurance from that for his men and his animals.
In short order the meal was served, everything cleaned up and put away, and the camp packed up. The horses were fed and the men ready to mount. The tents were in the wagons with everything else necessary for that size a cohort to camp and they were on their way. Again the men tracked from the ground while their sidshee allies watched from the sky. But the three knights they tracked were staying well hidden, keeping to the forest.
They continued for the day, the humans tracking the knights horses and the sidshee being always at the ready. But there were times when the mounts needed to be rested. At that time the pegasi would come to the ground and let their riders off for a time. During one of those rest stops King Jehan approached Sibelius. “What is around here?” he asked. Like most humans he was unfamiliar with the land. Like most warriors, he wanted to know more about the area he was going to. Some of the other fighting sidshee came and sat next to Sibelius, interested to know what their leader would tell this human king. Sir Fridolf also joined them. “In the waters just to the west of us,” Sibelius began, “there are nyads. They live in underwater cities. They are a strange lot, by out reckoning. They are mostly females. Males are rarely produced among them and therefore precious. The males do not take part in the fighting. Their position as sires is too important. So the females do all their fighting. They ride unicorns, who are, in spite of all humans say, sea creatures.” The other sidshee murmured among themselves and nodded their heads. This fit with what they had heard too. “Years ago there were pirates living in an island castle. They raided the nyads herds of unicorns. In doing so they killed many of the nyad herders. It was said that they did it to get the horns that the males bore because they could be sold to human communities for a lot of money. I have heard from shee that lived near humans, humans believed that the horns had vast curative powers. However, no one has seen evidence that this is true. But it cost the nyad dear that the human’s believed this.” Again the other sidshee nodded that this fit with what they had heard. Sir Fridolf was paying close attention.
When the rest period was over, they pressed on. In King Jehan’s castle, the Queen had started to dress again. Up until now, she was wearing shifts of various kinds. Now she began to put her clothes on, and her ladies in waiting helped her. One of the reasons that she did this was the captain of the guard was coming to see her at noon. Now that she was feeling bet-ter, he would check with her every noon, as had been his want to check with the King every noon. It was the time of the changing of the guard. In a dress suitable for discussing business, she met with him.
“Is there anything to report, Sir Judica?” she asked. “Not particularly Ma’am,” he said. “It is discipline and discipline must be maintained.” “So we meet here in a disciplined manner,” the Queen said. “Yes ma’am,” he said. “And all is well.” “Then you may get on with the changing of the guard,” she said. She reached over then and took what was left of a cup of tea.
In the north, Sir Joopi and his friends saw the male unicorn tethered. They could see the large horn, protruding from his lower lip. “What a beauty,” Sir Kendrew said. “We take that to a tradesman and that will bring a few royals. Maybe we could get horses for that, real ones, not the plow ponies we’ve been forced to make due with.” “Aye,” said Sir Matyes.