CHAPTER 6: The Ring and Between
Hugh could indeed see that the mixed group of fairy folk was staying together in one spot as he and Tyrentia made their way down towards them. Only when they got within a few paces of them did they move on ahead. Now, Hugh could make out more detail in two or three of the larger ones he called Glows - enough for him to discern the shapes of small people rather than blurs of light - and they did seem to be gesturing them to follow.
In fact, the further they led into the wooded area, the clearer each individual became. It was almost as he remembered seeing them when he was much younger. Now he could easily tell that they were glancing back every few seconds to see that the humans were still following.
They led them to a small clearing alongside the stream. It had a perimeter of small flowers round it that Hugh could not remember noticing there before. The group of little figures moved to the far side, and beckoned again until boy and girl joined them there. Almost immediately, the two became aware that some sort of transparent wall of a bubble-like substance had formed just behind the fairies – and the group walked straight into it and vanished, with the exception of two Glows who carried on beckoning and then seemed to be trying to shepherd them in that direction.
Taking a deep breath, Hugh stepped towards it with Tyrentia at his side. He was only vaguely conscious of the fact that she had grabbed his arm and was holding onto it hard. They moved to the other side of the ‘bubble’ – and then so many changes happened that it was impossible to take them in unless in small doses.
For one thing, the Glows, after some initial fuzziness, had settled into fairly normal human-type shapes, but now they were only slightly shorter than the two humans. Then they noticed how enormous everything else on this other side appeared to be, and realisation came. ‘We’ve shrunk to their size!’ Tyrentia squeaked.
‘You haven’t really shrunk, as such; not as such,’ said the female of the Glows. Both she and the male one with her now looked a lot like golden versions of the usual depictions of fairies illustrated in children’s stories. ‘You’ve simply taken on your Faie forms. You both have ancestry which allows your Life Forces to Adapt; to Adapt. Welcome to our Link in the Breena Ring Chain. Our one is called Glim Ring. We will be your guides here; your guides. This is Felin, and I am Avinia.’ She turned and said in an aside to Felin, ‘See, I told you they would be a Highest Prince and Princess here; be them here.’
‘Their Daoine forms look older than their Terran ones,’ Felin remarked to her casually.
Somehow, Tyrentia stopped gaping and found her voice again. ‘Glimmering?’ she repeated.
‘No,’ said the Glow. ‘The Ring is called Glim.’
‘How …?’ began Hugh, and then stuck trying to decide which of about a hundred questions to ask first. Tyrentia glanced at him, and then released his arm abruptly and stepped back to stare at him with an amazed expression. He stared back with equal amazement.
Both were quite recognisably themselves. Hugh was still burly, and still with his ruddy complexion, reddish hair, and dark eyes. Tyrentia had kept her long, very black hair, exceptionally fair complexion, and startling blue eyes. However, their features had been fined down to give sharper angles and planes. They now both simply looked more fairy-like, somehow, but at the same time more grown-up.
Also, they glowed.
Then each noticed, on the other, butterfly-like wings sprouting from somewhere on their backs, and both glanced over their shoulders suddenly and gave an experimental flap to see if they had them too and they worked. They did, and they did. It was as easy as lifting a finger. All it needed was to decide to do it.
Hugh was definitely no longer in his school uniform; nor did Tyrentia have the skirt and blouse she had been wearing to school during the ‘trial’ period. After some blinking they made out that they appeared to be wearing versions of what Felin and Avinia had on. – a kind of body-suit and a long flowing dress, respectively. The colours still seemed to be making up their minds, and changed from one to another.
‘I wish you’d stop that,’ Hugh said. ‘You’re making my eyes go funny. Nifty outfit, though.’
‘They were funny to start off with,’ Tyrentia retorted with what looked suspiciously like an admiring glance at his own appearance. ‘Don’t bother with trying to find a shade to suit you. None of them will.’
‘Have you still got legs down there?’ Hugh asked, and grinned at her furious expression after she couldn’t stop herself from checking.
‘Of course, something you need to know from the start, and then ignore, is that you aren’t really seeing exactly what you think you’re seeing,’ Felin addressed them directly for the first time. He got stared at most blankly, and smiled in a way that somehow reminded them of a cat.
‘Being in a completely different dimension,’ he went on, ‘all reality here operates on its own set of rules quite distinct from the ones in force in yours. However, your senses compensate by translating everything into sounds and images familiar to you from your own experiences or books or legends or whatever, just as they do in reverse for us when we visit your world.’
Avinia nodded. ‘Gradually, you’ll probably continue your Adapting. You’ll continue. Then you’ll sense things more as they really are. It doesn’t really matter.’
Neither of them looked convinced about that, so she went on, ‘I mean, say for instance that in your dimension you are seeing a charging rhinoceros as a hippopotamus, you’ll still be trying to get out of the way, out of the way, won’t you?’ Hugh noticed that she spoke in quick little bursts which reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place.
‘If it came to trying to avoid teeth when one should be dodging a horn, it could make a difference,’ Felin said with another smile.
‘Oh, don’t be picky-picky; don’t be picky!’ snapped Avinia.
Hugh and Tyrentia now began taking in more small doses of information. They were standing at one end of a ring of flowers which must correspond to the one on ‘their’ side of the wall, but now naturally looked far larger. Still inside it was the group of fairy creatures which had also been part of the invitation party. They were made up of many different kinds of little persons. The Greenies appeared to be amiable goblins of some kind, the Shiners were slightly smaller and silvery versions of Felin and Avinia, and there were any number of others larger, smaller, or medium, who looked as though they must be elves and sprites and pixies.
There was no stream beyond this flower ring. Instead stretched a clearing of tall blades of grass, with a dense group of enormous-looking trees on the far side. The open part was crowded with what could have been hundreds more of the Little Folk, seated on various plants or flitting about in the air, and all goggling at them. Avinia turned towards them and waved an imperious hand. ‘Right; you’ve seen them,’ she called. ‘Now, scoot; now scoot!’ With obvious reluctance the crowd flew or scuttled off in all directions with many a backward glance, eventually vanishing into the grass or the trees, depending on whether they were flying types or not.
‘Good,’ said Felin, lounging back against the conveniently trailing branch of a shrub. ‘Now, as soon as you’re ready we can begin our journey.’
‘Journey?’ came in a startled chorus from Hugh and Tyrentia; then he added, ‘How far?’ and she asked, ‘Where to?’ both at the same time.
‘It will depend on how long it takes to meet the other one, the other one,’ Avinia said, ‘and then how soon we can travel from there to get to the Queen. Shouldn’t take more than a few days, anyway; a few days. A week or so at the most.’
‘We can’t do that,’ said Hugh. ‘My dad … and her mom … would be frantic.’
‘Oh, who cares about that?’ Tyrentia said in a petulant tone. ’This is simply fantastic!’
‘I care; and you should, too,’ Hugh said frostily.
The two fairies glanced at her with disapproval, and then Felin spoke again: ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about the time side of things. That operates completely differently between the dimensions. If we judge things properly, it will probably mean you’ll return to yours only about an hour after you left.’
‘Good,’ Hugh nodded, becoming excited. ‘Now, what on earth – or wherever we are now - is all this about?’
‘All we can tell you,’ Felin replied, ‘is that we badly need some help you may be able to give us using your special talents, but that only the Breena Queen of Queens, our Supreme Queen Aiennea in Honour Ring, can explain it to you. She could have come to meet you, of course, but she would prefer it if you travel to see her at Aiennea Palace. The trip will give you a chance to become more familiar with Glim and our way of life here – at least, within the limitations of your senses.’
‘The thing is, though,’ Avinia added to Tyrentia, ‘we’re not quite sure about you. We know that Hugh and the other can do it; can do it. We’re gambling that your having power to Adapt isn’t coincidence. Your coming into the picture just now must be significant. We may be wrong, though; be wrong.’
‘Who is the other one?’ Hugh asked.
‘Lusi has gone to find this one. She and I have a Trace Link to let us know where to meet; to meet,’ was the only reply. ‘Now, try flying,’ and a second later Avinia and Felin were airborne.
Tyrentia suddenly shot up, glanced down, and went, ‘Eek!’ before she realised that she could rely on her wings to keep her up there.
Hugh tried a few flaps, and wondered how much force to apply, and where it should be applied, to take off. The only result was that he moved some air. Then he saw that he was being left behind, and his sudden urge to follow was all it required for him to start doing so. It was as natural as walking. He found within seconds that he only came unstuck, or went off course, when he actually tried to do the movements consciously. Otherwise, he simply willed himself to fly in a certain direction and at a certain speed, and his wings responded. Their guides promptly set off across the field, and he and Tyrentia flew after them with increasing confidence.
Remembering what Felin had said, he asked as he caught up with him, ‘Is flying like this using wings also a sort of illusion to simplify what is really happening?’
‘Actually, yes; but it’s one most of us share. Even the Daoine princes and princesses like us aren’t advanced enough to understand it properly, so we also simplify it in our minds as you are doing,’ Felin said.
Suddenly Avinia stopped in midair and started hovering, so that the others nearly bumped into her. ‘Wait,’ she said, when they hovered with her. ‘While we’re still so near the Interface, shouldn’t we do a test; a test? We should make sure these two can return easily.’
‘Isn’t it rather too soon to try that out?’ Felin sounded worried.
‘No, I don’t think so. At the same time, we can find out if they can stay Between. They may want to or need to; need to.’ She zoomed back in the direction of where the flower ring was still in view.
‘Definitely too soon,’ Felin grumbled, but he followed and so the other two did as well.
They landed well forward in the ring, close to the ‘bubble’ wall. ‘Both of you, go straight through,’ Avinia instructed. ‘Then come right back; right back.’
Together, Hugh and Tyrentia stepped through the wall – and nearly died of fright. As if a peculiar sensation of expanding wasn’t enough on its own, a deafeningly raucous ‘Haaaaa!’ and a furious clapping sound also made their arrival definitely unpleasant. They recovered their wits in time to see a terrified hadeda ibis flapping his way through the treetops above them.
Pausing only to check that they were their normal non-fairy selves, and still shaking, they went back through again.
‘Good; good,’ said Avinia. ‘Poor bird. I must comfort him. Anyway, now comes a harder part. You must follow me through. This time, you must concentrate on staying as you are now; as you are. You must go to Between.’
‘Keep your eyes on us as we go through,’ Felin added in a doubtful voice. ‘If we start looking blurred to you, you’ll know you’re going wrong.’
The other three did start going into blurs and Hugh couldn’t work out how to stop them. He arrived on the other side alone. Alone, that is, apart from three Glows he could see just ahead. Back they went again.
‘You weren’t trying!’ Tyrentia accused him, and added maliciously, ‘Why don’t you fly through from high up? Your sense of self-preservation will probably make sure you don’t change.’
‘No!’ yelled Felin and Avinia together, but Hugh, in a mood of recklessness, was already doing it. It worked. He came through to a perfectly normal sight of the other three below him, and a quite abnormal and fuzzy sight of his own world. Apart from their sudden enormous size, trees and plants looked as he was accustomed to seeing them, if a bit blurred, but houses and anything man-made were only vague outlines.
The ibis, looking down suspiciously from a treetop, lost all blurring when Avinia got near it, though. ‘There, there,’ she said, hugging it. ‘Fright all gone away; gone away.’ The bird rubbed his head fondly against her. The sight of Hugh and Tyrentia coming up as well did not disturb it, but it cast a wary eye on Felin. ‘Birds are my special thing,’ Avinia explained. ‘Felin’s, however, are cats.’
They would have liked to have stayed exploring their own world from this different perspective for much longer, but now Felin put his foot down – but not the way he would have done to stop flying. ‘We need to get on with our journey,’ he insisted, ‘and time spent Between takes up time on your side as well.’
Now they set off properly after crossing through again, and flew non-stop for a good distance. Tyrentia was accepting it fairly matter-of-factly, but Hugh was completely overcome with the wonder of the sensations. ‘No human can really have the experience of a bird,’ he enthused, ‘as we are doing now. Parachuting, paragliding, ballooning, or any kinds of aircraft simply can’t give the same. I think it is the most glorious, wonderful feeling there is.’
He was so taken with it that he started breaking off into little aerobatic trials until Avinia became irritated with him. ‘Plenty of chance for things like that later,’ she snapped. ‘Fairies tire out just as easily as humans. Keep your energy for the journey; the journey.’
From the air they saw a lot of activity by all sorts of little people. There were villages where mainly one kind or another of those who didn’t fly were found together. It appeared that the flying fairy types mainly went in for tree houses.
Something which struck Hugh was how normal all their activities were in many ways. They were working, building and gathering food just as humans did. The idea that their lives were spent in dancing and feasting, having fun and playing tricks was obviously far from the truth.
There were also any number of animals, birds and insects, all looking enormous. The larger ones all appeared to keep politely away from the fairy areas. Hugh wanted to ask about this, but one thing or another prevented him each time he remembered, and when he could have asked he had forgotten he wanted to.
Well before the sun set – this looked like a normal sun which set in quite a normal way to produce a normal night - Felin had led them to a large tree-house inn which he told them catered mainly for travellers on their way to visit the Queen of Glit, and which had small - even for here - but comfortable rooms for all of them. The fairy innkeepers and helpers were quite literally in a flutter of excitement at having a pair each of princes and princesses as guests. They asked numerous questions, which were mainly given wordy answers which said nothing by Felin, or brief answers in spurts, which said even less, by Avinia.
The supper was delicious, even if the two ex-humans weren’t always too sure what they were eating, but a certain dizziness afterwards made Hugh suspect that the nectar wine wasn’t as innocent as it had appeared. He tumbled into bed fully clothed, and fell asleep almost immediately.