CHAPTER 7: A Walking Tour, Under, and Over
Breakfast featured scrambled egg. Apparently only one egg had been needed to feed everyone and leave something over as a basis for lunch and supper. Most creatures and plants in Glim did not appear to be scaled down from the sizes the two visitors were accustomed to. They had noticed, though, that tiny plant varieties were favoured for cultivation in village gardens.
They got a chance to see these more closely quite soon. When they set out, Felin said, ‘The Queen wanted us to walk for a while, so that you can get a feel for Glim at ground level. Also, it will give us a better chance to tell you more. Talking isn’t quite as easy while flying, as you will have noticed.’
‘That is ridiculous,’ Tyrentia protested petulantly. ‘If one can fly, why walk?’ Three sets of dirty looks seemed to get through to her, though, and she said no more but followed with a scowl.
‘Something I’ve been wondering about,’ Hugh said as they set off along a wide lane which would hardly even have been a path back at home, ‘is why I haven’t noticed any of the shiny black sort of fairies – I’ve been calling them Shades – since we got here?’
‘Yes, the Darxem you mean; the Darxem,’ Avinia answered. ‘The males are called Darxds and the females Darxtas. There are usually quite a number of them here, of them here, as well as Darxen creatures. Their home is Darx Circle, though. We’ve been seeing fewer of them lately; of them lately. Not sure why.’
‘Darx is one big Magic Circle, with a king,’ Felin added to this, ‘whereas our Rings are divided into many far smaller ones and we have queens for each. Their folk are not too fond of our kind of light. Although they do appear quite often in our daylight time, they prefer night or at least not having actual sunlight.’
Tyrentia was hardly listening. ’Why do we scuttle along like **… - er, I mean - like stupid beetles?’ she asked, and then gave a slightly guilty glance at Hugh for her near-lapse.
Hugh could see what she meant. A walk, for fairies, apparently had many more steps in it than for humans; in fact, quite a good number per second. Being so much shorter, the legs didn’t have nearly as far to go, so they got there a lot sooner. Then the next leg had to take over briskly to prevent toppling forward onto one’s nose. ‘It looks as though you two take fewer steps than we do,’ he observed.
Felin turned round to look at him. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘You are holding your wings in a way that slows you down. Angle them like this and they give some lift when you move forward, so that you travel further with each step.’
When Tyrentia tried it, she moved too fast and actually started gliding in short bursts. The two fairies regarded this as amusing, but being laughed at was obviously not something she enjoyed. Her expression somehow managed to become even sourer than before, which was quite a feat.
Hugh’s mind still kept tying itself up on what Felin had told them about reality. ‘That means natural laws of resistance and aerodynamics and stuff apply here?’ he said. ‘I thought everything we’re seeing isn’t as it really is?’
Felin nodded. ‘The different reality here doesn’t work exactly the same way, but close enough for you to cope with all that is really happening if you carry on sensing everything based on what is familiar to you.’ Hugh grappled with that for a while, and then decided to think of other things before he got even more confused than he already was.
They soon realised why it had been thought a good idea for them to do some travel on the ground. From the air, size differences were not as apparent, and it became clear that such differences were the quickest way of telling the various kinds of fairy folk apart. A visit to a village of elves, for example showed that the elves were about twice their own present sizes, or about knee-high to a human. Pixies, on the other hand, were a good deal smaller than they were.
The features of the elves were even pointier than those their own fairy forms had now assumed, and the elf ears gave an appearance which corresponded rather well with all the traditional reports of how they looked. All those they saw were particularly industrious, with every one of them making something, or tending something, or cleaning and polishing something.
As with all the villages they were to come across, they could see that every effort had been made to use growing things as houses, or to disrupt the ground as little as possible when building with stone or adapting fallen tree trunks. Many homes were built into hillsides using caves as part of them.
Each set of inhabitants looked at them curiously, waved, called out friendly greetings, and wanted to talk to them, but every time Felin and Avinia would wave back smiling, but would also make ‘shoo-ing’ gestures. These were respected good-naturedly. ‘Pity we can’t chat; can’t chat.’ Avinia explained. ‘We really don’t have enough time.’
A number of the pixies in the first of their villages they walked through were also engaged in work of some kind, but a far greater proportion were playing various games, and having fun generally.
Not much distance after passing through that village, they entered another similar one. ‘Oh, more pixies,’ Hugh observed brightly.
Avinia took a dim view of the wattage of his brightness. ‘These are nixies. Can’t you tell the difference?’
‘No,’ said Hugh. ‘I thought they were the same thing, anyway.’
‘They certainly aren’t. To start w…’ Felin started helpfully, but Tyrentia cut him off and he stopped with a start.
‘Who cares?’ she snapped. ’What does it matter whether we can tell the difference between stupid pixies and nixies or not? I’ve just about had it with all of this. We walk when we could fly, when we’re supposed to be in a hurry to do something. Nobody tells us what the “something” is supposed to be. We look at all sorts of stuff that doesn’t matter a bit, and then you want us to learn about it? Well, you can … ’
Felin pounced on her. At least, the way he was suddenly right in front of her made it seem as if he had. ‘I’m sure you can find your way back to where you came into the Ring,’ he said in a cat-like growl. ’Ask for directions if you can’t. I’ve had doubts about you from the start. It’s quite clear that you aren’t really interested in helping us, and that you won’t be of much use anyway. You may as well leave, now.’
Tyrentia had a face which couldn’t really get any whiter than it already was, but apparently shock had the effect of making hers go red. Also, her eyes widened, and she gaped. She took a deep breath, and Hugh braced himself for the explosion.
Then she let most of it out again, and said in a small voice, ‘I don’t want to go back. I want to keep on with you.’ On its own, this wasn’t much of an apology or argument, but what probably decided Felin in her favour was that a few tears came to her eyes which she brushed away angrily. He gave a brief nod, and they set off again.
Now, when the roadway became more of a path and they split into pairs, Tyrentia tried to stay with Avinia, but (as Hugh had noticed before) the latter tended to stick at his side. He didn’t mind at all. She was quite lovely, and seemed a truly nice person – or fairy. He was becoming accustomed to the fact that her dress had assumed vivid colours which varied according to whim, or mood, or the way he was seeing them. She moved in an abrupt, almost jerky, manner, which was enchantingly bird-like. Her expression was merry, and her eyes were bright and alert.
Also, as had mostly been the case before, Felin remained doggedly (not quite the right description for Felin, but still) close to Tyrentia, try as she did to move away from him. At one stage, when a gap had opened between the two pairs, Hugh whispered to Avinia, ‘Has Felin been told to pay special attention to her?’
Avinia gave a grin. ‘Maybe,’ was all she would say. He deduced logically, then, that he was her special responsibility, which wouldn’t suit Tyrentia in the least.
Noticing a particularly bright colour combination in Avinia’s dress made him glance down at his own clothing. It looked as if it had settled to a shimmering black, which reminded him a bit of the Darxem he had seen. Over his shoulder, he could see that Tyrentia’s was a slightly depressing dark blue. Felin’s costume, however, had assumed some striking tabby markings.
The farther they walked, the further their knowledge of all sorts of little aspects of this land increased, but the more unanswered questions accumulated. There simply wasn’t time to ask them all. Then it was Tyrentia who posed one which, indirectly, solved what he had been worrying about since the previous day.
‘Avinia,’ she called forward, ‘I thought fairies were all supposed to do magic, and that fairyland …’
‘Breena,’ Felin corrected.
‘… that Breena was supposed to be filled with magic?’
‘It is, indeed,’ Felin assured her. ‘It relies on magic for its very existence, and most of us are able to use magic. Some, only the most basic kinds, and others right up to Highest Magic. We use it as sparingly as possible, though. As I said, a great deal is needed for our Rings to exist at all, and then we need to do important things like protecting our own living areas and roadways from animals or insects which might harm us. We have a constantly renewed spell around each village or palace.’
‘Ah,’ said Hugh. ‘That explains why we can see all of those creatures from the air, but not while on the road or in village areas. Surely it would take a lot to protect a town or city, though?’
‘We don’t do those; don’t have those,’ Avinia said. ‘Small villages are best. Palaces are for lots living together. Those are built in the most suitable parts. Ones where they will intrude least on the countryside. Like flattening the tops of steep hills. Little would grow there, anyway.’
Just when Hugh thought he was getting some idea of how things worked, Felin had to throw his mind into confusion again by adding, ‘Of course, many of those animals or insects are actually connected through the Interface, and are more in your world than ours. That doesn’t stop them from being dangerous to us, though.’
The path took them alongside a face of rock dotted with cave entrances. ’This village is called … began Felin, but Tyrentia cut in.
‘What village?’ she asked crossly.
Hugh raised his eyebrows at Avinia, who gestured towards the caves. ‘Cobleys,’ she said. ‘They like living and working underground; like it underground.’
With that, a number of greenish goblin-like fairies started popping out of holes and calling greetings while blinking at them in a dazzled manner. Before they could be waved away, Hugh said eagerly, ‘Can I please have a look inside?’
There was a rush of cobleys to conduct him, all talking at once, and he vanished into the nearest entrance with them. Calling protests about not having the time, Avinia and Felin followed, while Tyrentia trailed behind, muttering.
Hugh was entranced with the comfortable living quarters set fairly well back from the entrances. Most of the homes had a tunnel instead of a back door, and a mine instead of a back garden. There wasn’t much light in the homes, and none at all in the tunnels, but Hugh ventured some way down the one at the back of the third home they visited without bothering to wait for Avinia to give him a lesson on how to increase their Glow potential, as Felin did for Tyrentia. ‘S’pose it comes in handy for dark places if one can become one’s own lamp,’ she admitted grudgingly. Her mood, though, failed to match her increased brightness.
When they were led to the communal tunnel, which the cobleys told them was linked to the main natural cave system, there was no holding Hugh back. He went off eagerly without even seeing whether the others would follow or not, so soon they gave up and didn’t.
He found that there was a strange dark sort of light in the passages and chambers, which didn’t need either lightening up or lighting up. It was there, and it worked. Whole gigantic systems, with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, were visible to him without any sign of artificial or magic lamps. When he asked the cobleys about it, they were a bit vague and explained that, for them, that was simply how it was. ‘You must have some cobley in you,’ his main guide remarked casually.
Their mining operations were done with great care to leave little trace of where they had been excavating. ‘We mainly look for loose rock in areas which won’t be weakened when it is taken out,’ they explained.
After a couple of hours he came back enthusing about the wonderful sights he had seen, and apparently failed to notice that he was getting a reception which would have converted the sun into an icicle. Not that there was much sun left to convert, by that time. ‘Nearly sunset; sunset,’ snapped Avinia, waving a hand towards it. ‘We’ll be late at the next inn, which is in Glit Ring. We’d better start flying; start flying.’
Tyrentia was pleased that they were flying at last, but not that they had taken so long to do it. She reminded Hugh a bit of a fast-moving thundercloud when she took off.
Soon the four were winging their way, following the road they had been on but well above it. Not long after, they came to a bubble wall. It hadn’t been apparent from a distance, but suddenly it was ahead of them … and then behind them. The ‘pop’ was hardly noticeable.
‘Glit Ring,’ Felin announced unnecessarily. Hugh smiled to note that in spite of the late hour, this land did appear to have some extra shine to it. As twilight deepened, Felin said at last, ‘Ah, I know that forest shape. Not too far, now.’
Something caught Hugh’s eye and he glanced in that direction. ‘Look out; we’re being attacked!’ he yelled, pointing at the enormous black dragon-like shape flying straight towards them.