CHAPTER IV – The Fourth Spell.
Except in his own mind, Caspar’s incarceration was hardly in a dungeon. He had the entire barracks to himself; much of it was now open floor, although in the way of unused spaces everywhere, it was also now a disorganised storage facility for all the unwanted rummage and miscellany of a large estate. If it were not serving as his own private prison, Caspar would have found the haphazard stacks and crates and barrels and bins fascinating, but in his current gloomy wretchedness, he found it all oppressive. The sleeping quarters were on the upper storey, and even more depressing—there were dozens of empty, dusty beds, with one lonely corner cleared; one dreary bed set up with simple linens, a dilapidated table, and a chair so rickety that Caspar forebore even attempting to sit in it.
His meals were brought over by Warrington’s housekeeper, a relentlessly cheerful person who chattered like a treeful of squirrels. Her name was Abigail Fitzwhistle (‘...but absolutely everyone, an’ Lor! I do mean every one, calls me Fitzie, not Missus Fitzwhistle, that was me mum-in-law, an’ never Abigail nor even Abby, not since I was a girl, an’ that’s been since the Devil was a schoolboy, at least, an’ no mistakin’ it! No, everyone knows me calls me Fitzie, and so must you, Mister Featherstone, so must you!’); Caspar instead called her Flibbertie, but she never seemed to mind, or even notice.
Guard duty had been assigned to Quint, who took his duties seriously enough, though it was a largely nugatory role, as Caspar had given (and Warrington had accepted) his word as a gentleman that he would remain incarcerated until such time that this unfortunate business could be properly adjudicated.
At least once a day Eugenia visited her uncle, although at first he tried to discourage her. After a few days, Caspar began to realise that perhaps Genie was as keen to visit his gaoler as himself, and though he privately despaired that at least one heart was likely to wind up broken between them, seeing them together often brought a smile (and perhaps a tear or two) to his grief-worn face.
Bird was free to come and go at will, of course, but he could only converse with Caspar either late at night (which was problematical, as Bird was temperamentally, or perhaps anatomically, incapable of quiet speech, let alone a whisper) or on occasions when Quint was some distance off (which presented hazards of its own, as the lad, big as he was, was very light on his feet, and could easily be stepping in the door before either wizard or bird heard him coming). As a consequence, Bird spent the better part of many of those days off in the bluffs and dells of the upper border of the Warrington estate, giving vent to his pent up silence by haranguing the magpies there.
In the second week of his rather unique imprisonment, Caspar decided that his given word did not mean he could not pursue his magic. To this end, he reluctantly enlisted Eugenia to bring him the necessary books and supplies and equipment. ‘Reluctantly’ because he still felt a guardian’s responsibility toward the girl, even if she was no longer a child, and had always done his best to shield her from his wizarding ways. But there was nothing for it; he needed his accoutrement, and available volunteers were in short supply.
Of course, Quint was not about to let Dear Genie carry these things, or pull them on a sled, or push them in a wheelbarrow, all by herself. Caspar grimaced to think of Genie pulling items from the shelf of his laboratory, but the thought of Quint—or, in fairness to the boy, any outsider—prying about in his sanctum sanctorum brought out an audible groan from the old man.
All of this transferring of property took some time; Caspar had not asked for permission to bring his wizard’s work to his barracks-cum-gaol cell, for the very simple reason that he felt certain that permission would not be forthcoming. But if he was surreptitiously defying local legal authority, it was with a willing band of conspirators: not only Eugenia, of course, with Quint at her service if not her uncle’s, but likewise Fitzie, and, it seemed, half the servants in the manor house. Nothing was ever spoken aloud of the surreptitious nature of these activities, mind, and it is possible (perhaps even likely) that the young viscount was a vicarious co-conspirator himself by turning a blind eye.
And so, before too long, all the necessaries of the Old Man’s laboratory were in place. In order to maintain a covert air, all had been hauled up to the barracks attic storey, which, like all proper attics, was dark, cobwebby, and inherently spooky. Caspar couldn’t have been more pleased.
Now, it should be noted that all of these accomplices believed that they were humouring a dotty old man; even Eugenia, if we are being perfectly honest (although she might replace ‘dotty’ in her mind with ‘harmlessly eccentric’). None except Genie was aware of his continuing obsession with finding his son, as that detail of the story had long faded from the public consciousness. Certainly none of these folks believed that the Strange Old Man in the Strange Old House (or Spooky Attic, now) wielded any more magic than the occasional puff of malodorous smoke.
During these same weeks, the weather was shifting places as well; the mild late autumn of early December was giving way to a blustery early winter. By the time Caspar had his new sanctum temporarius settled to his grudging satisfaction, harsh north winds were blowing ragged sheets of snow down from the distant hills.
It was the evening of the twenty-third of December, or, as the old wizard suddenly remembered with a pang of nostalgia, what his little son Robin was wont to call ‘Christmas Eve-Eve’ and think himself ever-so clever no matter how often he said it. Caspar hadn’t made merry at Christmastime since that dreadful day some twenty years before; when Eugenia was younger, he had suffered along through some pine boughs and red ribbons for a few days every year, but the poor girl knew how difficult it was for her uncle, for a reason that until now, you, Dear Reader, have not been aware: young Robin Featherstone had been lost at sea on Christmas Day.
(Did you think I had forgot that you have been promised a Yuletide Tale? And one of Mysteries and Magic to boot! Have faith! Christmas is coming!)
Perhaps this explains the sudden urgency in the Old Man’s efforts. By now, Bird had returned from his wanderings, and (Caspar not having the heart to ask Genie to transport the skull-pedestal) was now perched upon a nearby bedpost. (Bird would never confess this to Caspar, but ever since the night that Robin Hood stepped out of the Unknown, he had lost his accustomed complacency about resting on a genuine human cranium; why, that person beneath his talons might have been anyone! Poor Prince Arthur—where were his bones? Or Henry the Pirate! With the Old Man’s spells, what if he turned up, in search of his head!)
‘What of full moons and planetary meanderings and all that astrological gimcrackery we went about the last time out? Does it nae mean anything after all?’ Bird was aware he was bearding the lion with this impertinence, but his nerves were raw with dark anticipation. It was all he could do to keep from reverting to his former ‘Caw!’ vocabulary.
But the lion (if we may stretch our imaginations to picture Caspar as that beast from the earlier metaphor) was not to be bearded, not by the pied raven’s commentary on to-night’s almanac. ‘Bird, you humble me. The half-moon this night will suffice; let the planets wander where they may. Those calculations a fortnight back were needful then; they were my foundation, the root of my confidence. I was as a child; but now I have given up those childish ways. To-night I shall need no propping up. I understand now, in all humility...’ (in this he was sincere, if not altogether accurate) ‘...that the power to do magic is in me, or rather, in my heart. My words to-night—I have laboured over them these weeks, Bird; I have crafted an incantation so pure that I fear no failure. Failure is anathema to me! To-night we will find my son!’
If Bird thought (as you are likely thinking) that this sounded a bit familiar, he was wise enough this once to keep his beak shut. Caspar declared himself ready, though it was not yet nine o’clock. (Apparently midnight had been cast into the same dustbin as the moon and the planets.) Candles were lit. Caspar recited his new conjuration...
In hindsight, Caspar reflected much later, he may have suffered from a slight bout of over-confidence. At any rate, once again, the results of his genuinely heartfelt magic were not what he had hoped for. The accompanying folderol was but a fraction of the smoke and wind and crackling energy that had ushered in Robin Hood, which was fitting, inasmuch as the resulting manifestation was but a fraction of that strapping personage: this time the being that stepped out of the Void wasn’t even human—it was the infamous fairy, Puck; also known as Robin Goodfellow.
‘No!’ cried the weary wizard. ‘What fresh calamity is this?’
The cocky little sprite was surveying his surroundings. When he spoke, more than his voice could be heard: eerie chimes, unearthly song, a hint, perhaps, of the music of the spheres (or it may have been that Caspar’s ears were ringing with the shock of another bitter disappointment). One thing is certain—the fairy spoke in rhyming couplets:
’Calamity? Thou speaks’t aright! Do tell,
Is’t possible I’ve just arrived in Hell?’
‘Shakespeare’s Suffering Syntax!’ exclaimed Bird. ‘The misbegotten creature speaks in verse! Caspar, ye’ve done it again! This time ye’ve reached somehow into the Fey Realm!’ The agitated raven shuddered. ‘Send it back, man, whence it came! Send it back!’
’“Misbegotten”, I? A talking bird
Says I am misbegotten? ’Tis absurd!’
‘Och!’ groaned Bird. ‘There it goes again! For Mercy’s sake, Caspar, ye must—’
‘’Twas a seeking spell, it took me weeks to conceive!’ Caspar responded. ‘I’ve no skill to send anyone, or anything—begging your pardon, Sir Sprite,’ here he nodded at the imp, ‘—back or to, whence or hence anywhere!’
’“Sir” Sprite! “Sir Sprite”, he titles me to-night;
Methinks henceforth I’ll gambol as Sir Sprite!’
Whereupon the pooka (or pixie or brownie or what you will) proceeded to do just that, dancing about in steps no choreographist could catalogue. There was even music to accompany him, though it had no worldly source: panpipes, lyres, and tambourines, out on the aural periphery, where as soon as we hear them, they slip away. The goblin (or imp or fairy or what you will again; there seems no end to the synonymical choices available) was difficult for Caspar to properly see—the bewildered magus removed his spectacles, cleaned them ineffectively on his blouse, and replaced them on his nose, but the fault was not in his lenses, but his senses.
Puck, by his very nature, was incapable of staying still, and on the rare occasions that he did so, was apt to become invisible to mortal eyes. His constant motion was not only in the natural sense, but also the super-natural. Thus, Caspar was beholding a living Will-o’-the-Wisp (which was yet another name for this very creature, less well-known than Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, or Hob-Goblin, but in some ways perhaps the most apt). And so it is that our portrait of him is perforce a bit vague: he is small of stature, certainly, and merry of mien, but what color his hair? Now red, now silver, now absent altogether! His ears, pointed? Perhaps. Are there satyr’s short horns upon his brow? Who can say? His clothing is likewise ephemeral, and seems to be possessed of a life all its own, which of course, in this case, is entirely possible.
Now Puck was singing as he pranced about:
’Swifter than an arrow
Can loose from Cupid’s bow,
Round about this fair ol’ Earth I nightly fly!
Laughing at their Folly,
These mortals here below,
There is none so jolly, nor can there be, than I!
With a fol-the-dol-hey-lolly, and an airy ho-ho-ho
That merry wand’rer b’golly, Robin Goodfellow am I!
Caspar was beginning to lapse into another of his stupors of conflicting emotions, and in his fugue was becoming entranced by the goblin’s frolic. Meantime, Bird had taken note of the range of Puck’s terpsichory: the benighted bogle (you see? yet another!) always stayed within the chalk circle traced on the floor as part of Caspar’s cabalistic design; the ring around the pentagram. Whenever one of his feet breached the invisible border above that line, the chalk thereat flared with argent sparks.
Just as Bird was on the verge of puzzling out the significance of this discovery, he looked up in horror to see Caspar—in answer to a beckoning gesture from Puck—step inside the circle. ’No, Caspar! ’Tis a Faerie Ring!’ Desperately he flung himself at the Old Man, in a futile effort to drag him back across the now-fiery chalk circuit.
He could hear Puck’s sing-song ’Ho-ho-ho’ refrain as the attic disappeared, and the very gravity quit the Earth as they tumbled into a Void as dark as a well at the bottom of a cave.
Some indeterminable time later, as suddenly and as impossibly as they had departed the gloomy attic, they arrived in a verdant glen right out of the pages of a child’s story-book. Bird’s wings were still flapping from his failed attempt at rescuing Caspar, who was now blinking like a mole thrust rudely into the light of day (which simile Caspar was thinking himself). Of Puck there was no sign.
They stood upon grass so green it defies further description, and in the dewy lawn, at the same radius that the chalk had described on the attic floor, was a ring of glistening mushrooms. As Bird was settling onto the wizard’s shoulder, Caspar, sounding very shy, like a child coming out of a vivid dream, and therefore uncertain of the current reality, said, ‘Look there!’ (indicating the mushrooms); ‘’Tis a Faerie Ring!’
The Pied Raven could only groan.
‘What?’ said the Old Man, still blinking, still clearing the fey cobwebs from his Puck-beguiled brain. ‘’Twas what my mother used to say, that a circle of toadstools was a Faerie—’
Bird’s tenuous grasp upon the reins of his temper at last gave way: ’CAW! This is in every way beyond the pale! In fact, it appears that we are now beyond the Ultimate Pale! Caspar Featherstone, ye addle-pated fool! Ye’ve bungled us out of the mortal world altogether! This is the Faerie Domain! The Fey Realm! The Fair Kingdom! Mortals may enter, if they’re extraordinarily unlucky, but they cannae escape, of if they do, they know nae where or when! D’ye at all ken what I’m saying to ye, ye “Mighty Wizard”? Do ye?’
‘Beneath the huff and dudgeon, you seem to be saying we’re lost.’
Bird stayed silent for a moment. ‘Aye.’
‘A simple enough word, “lost.” I’ve been repeating it so often for so many years now, that I fear I had lost what “lost” can mean.’
‘Go on, then.’
’’Tis a small word to say. It feels near infinite to be.’
A quiet stretched into a silence between them. Finally, Bird said, ‘I’m hungry,’ and flew away. Caspar felt an unaccustomed twitching in his face, and realised that a part of him was actually trying to laugh. He set out after the Corbie.
Food was not difficult to find; in truth apples and grapes and wild berries of all description were splendiferously abundant, honey overflowed from several hives of somnambulant bees, and walnuts and chestnuts were readily available for the reaching. No, the trouble was that both of the involuntary travellers knew enough about Faerie to be suspicious of the nutritional reality of the bounty around them, no matter how delicious. There were many cautionary tales of phantom feasts at the edge of the Fair Kingdom where incautious gluttons or beggars or lost children (there were indeed many such tales!) sated themselves on sumptuous banquets and nevertheless starved.
Still, even an army of two travels on its stomach, and nourishing or not, the fruit and nuts and honey settled the growling bellies of both man and bird. They slaked their thirst (apparently, at least) in the nearby babbling brook, and then settled down, Caspar on a tuffet of mossy earth, Bird on a convenient rock. A ground squirrel scampered up to the old wizard and sat up, begging like a tiny spaniel. The Old Man absently fed it some apple morsels.
’Take care, Sirrah; that squirrel is like to bite!
A finger lost is not a happy plight!’
Puck appeared in such a subtle way that it was impossible to say to a certainty that he had not been there all along. He bent over and hissed at the furry rodent, which returned the favour and dashed off, its tail all a-twitch.
’Gentlemen—if that’s the proper word
For company composed of Man and Bird—
I hope you will accept mine ’umble pardon
For bringing you perforce into my garden.’
‘What a coincidence it is,’ quoth Bird. ‘I was just pondering how Eden-like it is here, and now we are replete with our very own Snake-in-the-Grass.’
‘Now, Bird,’ Caspar tried to caution, ‘there’s no need—’
’O’er-vex me not, thou clattering piebald clown,
’Tis impolitic to chide thy host,
Unless thou fancies hanging upside down,
As trolls prepare thee for a fiery roast!’
Puck’s grin at the end of this quatrain was positively demonic, but Bird was past his personal point of no return: ‘Do I look like a wee bairn to ye?’ he shouted, ’that will tremble at yer tales of trolls and ogres? Pah! Spare me yer fairy-tales! Why, I’ve known some real Tricksters in my travels! And nae one o’ them spouted off in verse! Och! Query: “Can there be a greater crime/Than a Fairy forcing rhyme?” Answer: “Nay!” Now, hold still, ye dervish devil, and I’ll—’
But Bird had gone too far. Puck silenced him with the merest flicker of a raised hand.
’In sooth, I do despise a talking bird;
As much as I’d decry a walking clam!
I cannot bear to hear another word,
So be thou silent! Silent, as a lamb!’
There was great significance in that last comma—for as Puck lowered his hand, Bird was indeed silent, as a lamb! The piebald bird had transmogrified into a tiny, wooly, piebald sheep! Bird—or, well, Lamb—wobbled on his four legs, bleated out a pitiful ‘Maa!’ and fell over in a dead faint.
‘I say, Mister Goodfellow, Sir Sprite, eh? Was that really necessary?’ Caspar said, stooping to minister to his companion.
’Necessary? A needful thing? No;
But right is right, and done is done!
I did not need to do this thing, ’tis so;
Necessary? Not at all! ’Twas FUN!’
Withal Puck strolled away, chortling ‘Ho-ho-ho’ until he vanished in the mist, which was only a matter of seconds.
As everyone surely knows, Faerie Time cannot be kept by clocks. As Caspar and Lamb set out (oh, yes, Lamb recovered quickly from his swoon), seeking some path or portal back to the mortal world, they lost all sense of Time. Now it would seem stock still, then swift as a river, and so on, and at every pace in between.
With their very first steps away (headed opposite the direction Puck had taken, or as near to that heading as they could reckon), they found the terrain changing, far too quickly for their few paces to account for. ‘Lost’ was a hopelessly inadequate word for their situation; soon, they had no references left to their senses at all—one moment the sun was over Caspar’s left shoulder, the next low in the sky before them. If they turned and looked the way they thought they had come, that aspect was as unfamiliar as all the rest. Had Caspar been carrying a compass, it could no more have found true North than Diogenes an honest man. There can be no Atlas of the Fey Realm; it owns no objective geography. If ever anyone should offer to sell you a map of Faerie, keep your hands in your pockets—no such thing can exist. A map of Saharan sand dunes would be as worthwhile.
Bird would have doubtless been providing caustic commentary on their predicament, but as Lamb, his vocabulary was reduced to single syllables ending in ‘aa’; by experimentation with his ovine tongue and palate, he established a repertoire of ‘baa’, ‘daa’, ‘faa’, ‘gaa’, etc., but apart from ‘yaa’ for yes, and ‘naa’ for no, these bleats were of little conversational value.
At one point, their peripatetic ramblings brought them to a bridge spanning a narrow but apparently bottomless gorge. Standing (or perhaps crouching is the better word) at a rude, heavy turnstile was a rude, heavy little man. He was extraordinarily ugly, with a bulging, grotesque brow that frowned over mismatched—excepting in their unloveliness—cruel eyes, a nose that seemed entirely composed of corpuscles, and fat purplish lips that had the grace to cover his hideous teeth, except when he spoke. He had no hair per se, but sparse, wiry whiskers that sprouted willy-nilly from incongruous sites all over his hideous head and worse-than-hideous face. His complexion was reminiscent of a spoiled Spanish olive; his garb was the colour of the various grimes it had accumulated, possibly since the time of the Pharaohs, and his odor so rank that tears were springing to Caspar’s eyes in silent protest as he and Lamb approached.
“Hult!” croaked the creature (a sackful of cats being dragged across broken pottery shards would have sounded pleasant by comparison). ‘Ye moost pie vuh toe-ull.’
Caspar was blissfully unfamiliar with this particular wretched dialect, but as the ogre held out one filthy paw, palm up, the meaning dawned: ‘Oh! I “must pay the toll”! I see!’ He began fumbling for the small purse he carried on his belt beneath his fusty wizard’s robe. ‘By all means. What is the custom?’
By answer, the loathsome fellow jerked a thumb in the direction of a nearby plank placard nailed to a gnarled signpost. The crude runes scratched thereon meant nothing to Caspar, nor, he imagined, to any mortal now living. ‘I’m afraid I’m quite illiterate in gnomish hieroglyphics,’ he ventured, then said with exaggerated enunciation, ‘How much? What coins?’
‘Ow, kines, ar’t? Lumme scarify: toe-ull ur be twinny Grint.’
‘Grint? I don’t think I know that currency—’
‘Nar Grint, ull tike a hunnert Queegs.’
‘Nar Queegs, fife Thrummins.’
‘I don’t believe any of these things actually exist; you are try—’
‘Nar Grint, nar Queegs, nar Thrummins, ull tike...’ Here the foul troll turned his bloodshot gaze on Lamb, licked his foul lips with a still fouler tongue, and said with unambiguous if uncharacteristic clarity: ‘Woon mutton.’
‘Naa!’ yipped Lamb, and not for the first time forgetting he had no wings, he leaped into the air, throwing his forelegs out to his sides, and flopped gracelessly onto his belly in the dirt at Caspar’s feet.
The Old Man tossed a coin in the ogre’s direction. ‘You’ll take this guinea and stand aside!’ he said, picking up the winded Lamb. ‘The “mutton”, as you say, is not up for barter.’
Meanwhile, the troll adroitly caught the coin, shoved it between his teeth, bit it in two, and swallowed it. ‘Mutton,’ he growled again, and took a step toward Caspar and the trembling Lamb.
‘Back, I say, BLAST YOU!’ thundered the wizard, slamming his staff into the dirt. And, to everyone’s surprise, not the least Caspar’s, a bolt of blue lightning burst forth from the shillelagh with a tremendous noise, struck the abominable toll-taker squarely in the chest, and blasted him two score or more feet into the air, in a high arc over, and thence into, the gorge. He howled like a wounded banshee all the way down, and perhaps the chasm really was bottomless, for Caspar and Lamb never heard a crash, nor thud, nor splash, nor any termination at all, save for that ever-diminishing yowl.
Notwithstanding his sudden unanticipated facility with thunderbolts, Caspar had no desire to wait and see if the vile ogre had brethren in the vicinity, so he draped the still-stunned Lamb over his shoulders and decamped across the bridge with some alacrity, further and further into more Undiscovered Country. (As this apt Shakespearean appellation sprang into his mind, the Old Man suppressed a shudder; ‘No!’ he thought, ‘we are not dead! Only lost!’ How many times had Caspar Featherstone said the same of his son Robin? A thousand? Nay! Day in and day out, morning, noon, and night for twenty years? Ten times a thousand wouldn’t answer for how often the desperate father had uttered, muttered, or shouted aloud, ‘Only lost!’)
Presently, Lamb had sufficiently recovered to begin protesting the unseemly way he was being borne across the land; he communicated these protests by the simple but effective expedient of thrashing his limbs, accidentally thereby kicking Caspar in the ear, and earning a tumbling to the ground as reward for his efforts.
And as suddenly as that, it was winter. When Caspar began to kneel to the fallen Lamb, a balmy zephyr rustled the nearby leaves. By the time his knee touched the ground, it was already dusted with snow. The temperature had plummeted just as abruptly. Blinking snowflakes from his eyelashes, Lamb looked up at Caspar inquisitively.
‘I’m sure I don’t know!’ the Old Man said, intuiting Lamb’s unspoken query. ‘Is “winter” here a season, or some dryadic whim? Is snow in fact frozen precipitation, or a slumbering frost giant’s exhalation?’
Lamb answered with a snort that plainly meant, ‘What difference would it make?’
‘Point taken,’ Caspar responded, understanding his familiar readily enough. ‘At any rate, we should move along; seek some shelter.’
‘Yaa,’ quoth Lamb, rising to his feet. He shook the snow from his wooly back, showering Caspar’s head a bit rudely, and trotted off as if he knew where he was going. Lacking any more reliable intelligence to guide them, Caspar followed. As far as he knew from his brief experience of Faerie, one direction was as sound as any other.
If they hoped to find a more temperate region of the Fair Kingdom, they were soon and thoroughly disappointed. The cold wind blew ever colder, the snow flurries verged on blizzard, and the day dimmed to a deep, blue twilight as they meandered further and further into what certainly must have been the winteriest corner of the Fey Realm. Visibility, especially to the already myopic wizard, soon dwindled to meaninglessness. For a few heart-pounding moments, Caspar lost any sense of Lamb at all, until he heard a feeble bleat from the equally distressed little creature and they stumbled into each other.
Caspar scooped Lamb up into his arms and tucked him into the folds of his cloak. The atmosphere was growing gloomier by the moment; Caspar raised his staff into the air, muttering, ‘O, for a torch!’ and as the words were uttered, warm, golden flames sprouted from the top of his grandfather’s shillelagh. Instantly, a fine warmth spread out around them, and the swirling snowflakes kept their distance, as if they were somehow afraid of the magic flame, which may even have been the case. A few feet away, Caspar espied a stone outcropping, which he reckoned would serve as a passable bench. As he walked towards it, he saw that it had probably played that role countless times; its surface was worn quite smooth, and it faced a small cairn that was deeply blackened from many previous fires. He touched his staff to it, and immediately a hearty campfire blazed.
As he sat on the surprisingly warm stone, Lamb peeked out from under the old wizard’s arm. He pushed away from Caspar’s lap and stepped up to the fire, warming his face, his eyes closed in momentary bliss. Once well-warmed, he turned to the Old Man. ‘Thaa,’ he said meekly.
‘You are welcome.’
‘BAA!’ responded Lamb, which was of course Bird’s customary ‘CAW!’, translated.
Caspar took a moment to survey their current situation: the thaumaturgical fire blazing on the cairn; the snow swirling in the middle distance; low in the sky a sun so dimmed by cloud or mist or magic that it seemed more lunar than solar. In fact, upon reflection, Caspar wasn’t sure that in these curious circumstances he could reliably know the difference. He looked more closely at the old staff in his hand—it glowed with a faint silvery luminosity, pulsing, he suddenly realised, in time to the beating of his own heart.
Quietly, more to himself than to Lamb, the old wizard mused, ‘O, but this is wondrous strange...’
Lamb looked up at him. ‘Whaa?’
Caspar gestured widely. ’All of it! This realm! Our presence here! ’Tis like a long, waking, walking dream, is it not?’
‘Nightmare? No. Granted, you must find your unique predicament vexing, but I don’t reckon it likely a permanent problem. Perhaps the Puck, Sir Sprite, will reappear and relent—’
‘Now, now. Or, more likely still, I will reverse the spell myself.’
‘Don’t scoff!’ He held his staff aloft. ’Behold! Yesterday ’twas an old stick; today it is a proper talisman! Have you not comprehended the magic I wield here?’
‘Yes, I! The Bard was right, my formerly feathered friend: “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”!’
’What? Ah, true enough; here we are in neither heaven nor earth... I suppose that may be the keenest point of what I am trying to reason out. Lamb, back in our village, I am a poor wizard. No, ’tis true,’ he went on, as if Lamb had made an effort to gainsay him. ‘What have I to show for near two decades at the altar of magic? Have I found my son? No. Robin Hood! Robin Goodfellow! But Robin Featherstone? Nay; he is still lost to me. But here my power grows! Did I not blast the troll into an abyss? Have I not made us a shelter in the midst of the cold? In time, I may become a wizard of renown! Then might I find my son!’
’Aye. There’s the rub. ’Tis Faerie.’ The old man closed his eyes for a long, pensive moment. When he opened them again, he spoke with humble clarity: ’O, Lamb, you are the wise one. Robin, my Robin, is not here! So how can I find him if I am here?’ Abruptly the old man stood. ‘We must away! Only a great fool lingers in the Fey Realm!’ He scooped up the startled Lamb into the crook of his left arm, and held the now-magical staff aloft with his right. The camp-fire leapt into the air, swirling like a tiny cyclone; its flames snuffed themselves out, but the whirlwind continued, and rapidly billowed out until it engulfed the wizard and the lamb. Without another thought, Caspar shouted out a few words, which included ‘Away!’ and ‘Robin!’ but little else in the way of English, or any other language, unless there be a land called Gibber.
The dizzying atmosphere went suddenly dark; above the shrieking magical wind rose a terrified ‘BAAAAAA!’