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Princess Ruby of Tamworthia by Phil Armstrong - HTML preview

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The flames leapt high, illuminating the clearing and causing the beasts to panic. A large beast led the way, bounding into the darkness and away from the dancing flames. The rest followed, scared by the crackling sounds and the intense heat. The stampede had begun, and the trail of beasts broke for the darkened gorge, flanked by two steep hills. As the beasts ran, they seemed to pull others with them. They streamed into the gorge and entered the welcome darkness. Joseph was smart. He knew the darkness meant safety, but the darkness could easily be a disadvantage to an unsuspecting foe. As they funneled into the gorge, they soon encountered a narrow path. Two steep walls covered in trees, boulders and bracken flanked their path. The beasts approached the trap, frightened by the flames. One of the beasts, a wily old character, sensed a trap, and headed in another direction. He was a loner and the others ignored his chosen path. He headed straight for Ruby, away from the gorge. Ruby was exposed; she hadn't anticipated a lone break away beast. She was assured the beasts would move like pack animals.

 

Ruby was stunned into a motionless state, as she watched the great beast running at full speed, towards her location. Her survival instincts kicked in and without thinking, she rolled to her left, distracting the beast. She landed in a kneeling position. She reached back and retrieved her bow. She raised it with her strong left arm. She quickly reached for an arrow, knowing she had time for one shot only. She loaded the arrow with her right hand and pulled the twine back taught. Aiming at the beast's throat, she waited for the right moment. Her heart pounded and she could feel her arm shaking under the resistance of the bow. "Now!" was the word screaming through her thoughts.

 

Ruby let the arrow fly, but she didn't have time to trace its path. The beast was upon her, snarling its teeth and bearing down. She let the arrow fly and immediately rolled to her left. The beast let out a strange yelping noise, as its momentum came to an abrupt halt. The arrow had hit its mark, felling the great beast. It dropped immediately and slid across the grassy ground, towards Ruby. Ruby had rolled into a ridge, made of rock and covered in moss. She hit the rocks hard, bruising her leg. She lay still, silently watching the beast expire. The pain coursed through her body. She dropped her head to the ground and closed her eyes. The sounds of battle emanated through the darkness as she opened her eyes. The first thing she saw, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, was a stone ridge covered in moist green moss. Hiding below a natural rock ridge was a small plant, sporting a beautiful flower, a Yellow-bell. She squinted in disbelief. She pushed through her pain and approached the plant, to get a closer look. It was indeed a Yellow-bell; hiding beneath the natural rock ledge, this flower would have been shielded from the wet mist. The Witch had missed this one, in her efforts to eradicate the flower from the forest.

 

The pack of beasts continued to pour into the gorge; Ranger had realized the beasts had been bred for their fighting abilities, not their intelligence. For an instant, he felt compassion for the beasts. Then he remembered the carnage he'd witnessed over the last year. The beasts ran along the narrow path, as Joseph had predicted. They ran swiftly, pushing the one in front, in order to escape the dancing flames behind. Soon the forest floor, covered in leaves, ferns, dirt and bracken, fell beneath their feet. A cleverly disguised trap had been laid, with a false floor masking a deep, open, pit. The pit was armed with sharp wooden pikes, waiting to greet the unsuspecting beasts. In their panic and the darkness, the beasts saw nothing; they pushed onwards towards their death.

 

High above the path, stationed on each ridge, creatures armed with arrows and boulders unloaded their arsenal into the pit. The entrance to the gorge was ignited, closing the escape route for any beast that tried. It was over quickly, quicker than anyone expected. The sound of wounded animals rose from the pit. Tar was poured into the pit, and a lit torch was thrown down to finish the job. Joseph turned from the blazing pit and allowed a smile to cross his face. No creature of the forest will be harmed tonight. His plan had worked perfectly.

 

The battle had been a success but the Fairies were still searching the woods, increasing their efforts and moving further away from the protection of familiar surroundings. As the leaders gathered, their mood was buoyant. It was a while before they came down from their euphoric state, and settled to discuss the night's events.

 

Giselle landed gracefully on a sawn off tree stump. "We've done well tonight. Joseph, the creatures of the forest salute you."

 

Ranger scurried to a nearby trunk, "That showed them, fantastic job!" Their excitement was clearly coursing through their veins.

 

Belver was the voice of reason. "We've lost many brave souls in this battle, let's not forget that. We fought well tonight, thank you Joseph, but we still have one more night, and no way to get the Wyvern home. We're hanging on, let's face it. We're bravely hanging on." Belver shook his scarred snout, "We can't hang on forever, and we need the Wyvern's help."

 

Joseph hung his head. He had to admit it felt good to pull off a plan with such precision, but Belver's summary was the truth.

 

Belver raised his eyes and tried to redeem himself. "Perhaps the Fairies will return with good news, perhaps they've found a Yellow-bell."

 

"Or perhaps they haven't." A voice emerged from the darkness. It was Ruby. Ruby joined the group, relieved to see her friends. "Let's face it, it's a long shot. I don't think they'll find one, the Witch seemed pretty thorough."

 

Ruby's tone was unusually negative, out of character from this normally positive, inspirational, leader. Giselle flapped her wings in annoyance, she recognized the truth in the statement, but it didn't help matters by being so honest.

 

"We have to believe; we'll organize and join the Fairies in their search. Get the creatures together; we need to explain the importance of this search."

 

As the leaders turned, Ruby interrupted. "No, I don't think that's a good idea. It seems a fruitless waste of time. They would be better planning for the next night's activities."

 

Everyone froze. Ruby had overstepped her authority. The creatures called her Princess, but Giselle was one of the most revered, feared, and wisest of the mystical creatures. Even the Wyvern listened to her counsel, and rarely went against her advice. Princess Ruby had no right to disrespect the Great White Owl in such an open way. There would be consequences, and the rest of the group tensed, before retribution was administered.

 

The Great White Owl swiveled her head, fixing Ruby squarely within the gaze of her large yellow eyes. Giselle puffed out her feathered chest, and flexed her wings. She resisted the temptation to spring forward, with her razor sharp talons bared. "A fruitless waste of time?" repeated Giselle, giving Ruby one last chance to explain her statement.

 

Ruby stepped forward confidently. "Yes, a fruitless waste of time, when I've already found this." Ruby extended her hand, which contained a darkened cloth, taking an uneven shape. All eyes were focused upon the small, concealed shape, nestled within her palm. She carefully, and gently, removed the flimsy cloth, revealing a clump of dirt, some exposed roots, and a green stem supporting five medium sized leaves and a stalk. The stalk protruded proudly towards the dark sky. At its wilted end, was a perfectly formed Yellow-bell. Ranger gasped audibly. Giselle settled and folded her wings, standing down from her attack position.

 

"You found one!" exclaimed Joseph, stating the perfectly obvious.

 

Belver was excited too; he could feel his heart beating strongly within his chest. For the first time, in a long while, he believed. This flower had restored his hope; he'd always thought the Wyvern could help them fight this enemy, now he believed they could win this fight. Now they had more than a fighting chance. "We need to plant it, care for it and water its roots. Let's keep it safe until tonight, and we'll need to get it to the pond. Giselle, can you help with that?"

 

Giselle was pleased. "Take good care of the plant, keep it in the shade, keep it dry and guard it with your lives. When the Moon returns, I'll fly the flower to the pond and we'll conduct the Moonlight ceremony. I predict heavy rain today; the Witch will use all of her powers to summon the rain. The Black Fox will be running through the forest; it has keen ears. If that Yellow-bell gets damp, it will chime loudly, a noise that will be heard. This is our last chance; it must be kept dry and safe. Princess Ruby...." Giselle stopped, to ensure Ruby's attention. "Fate chose you to find this precious flower. You must be the one to guard it. That's your task today, your destiny; nothing else matters. I'll meet you here, when the light starts to fade. Guard this precious flower with your life; keep it dry and safe." Giselle flapped her mighty wings and disappeared into the forest.

 

The enormous responsibility started to register with Ruby; her excitement was quickly replaced by a nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach. After a while a Fairy fluttered into view; "Giselle said you had new orders for us?"

 

Ranger took control, "Yes, we do. Ask the Fairies to return from their search, we have new orders but it's complicated, and Princess Ruby will need to speak with Acron personally. We need all of the Fairies to return."

 

Looking puzzled, the Fairy saluted, retreating into the distance.

 

Ranger was quick to explain himself. "We can't tell them. Suppose the Witch were to snare a Fairy? We don't want her to know about the Yellow-bell." The group nodded in appreciation of Ranger's caution. "We need to keep this quiet, at all costs." The gravity of his words sunk in with the group.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Chapter 11: The Third and Final Night

The Mystical Forest, Skipton, Yorkshire, England, 1545.

 

The day dragged on, it seemed intolerantly long. The forest was awash in energetic activity. The Fairies returned, eager to know who had found the flower. The creatures organized their defenses for a final night's assault. Everyone was instructed to watch for the Witch and the Black Fox. The whispering trees had seen them far away, on the edge of the forest. The most battle hardened Badgers were assembled to guard Princess Ruby. She'd taken up residence in a lean, made from branches, ferns and mud. The Wood Sprites had cleverly crafted the lean to blend in with the forest. The Badgers were told the Princess was in danger and she needed additional protection. Inside the lean, the Princess guarded the flower, keeping it safe and dry.

 

Under the early morning Sun, the Witch cast one final spell. The Black Fox appeared from the underbrush; between its teeth it carried a piece of bark, stripped from an Ash tree. The Fox approached the Witch, feeling smug and satisfied. He dropped the bark at her feet, and flicked his bushy tail in excitement. The Witch stooped to retrieve the fragment of bark, before glancing at the Black Fox. "This should do it. This is the last ingredient, victory will be ours tonight, and darkness will never leave this forest." She turned to drop the bark into the flaming caldron, boiling the ingredients within a bubbling broth. As the bark entered the mix, a strong spiral of white smoke billowed from the boiling pot. It traveled gratefully into the sky and formed into a thick blue haze. Soon the haze became a thick mist and started to cover the sky as far as the eye could see. It wasn't long before the mist had turned to rain, with a soft wet cloud enveloping the entire forest.

 

If any Yellow-bell remained, it would ring out loud and true. The Fox's acute hearing would detect the familiar sound. The creatures had anticipated this plan. As the sky started to cloud over, fires were lit surrounding the lean housing the Princess. Inside the lean, a small fire kept the air warm and dry. The creatures had created another smaller covered lean, where dry wood was stored, to keep the fires burning strong. The Badgers worked hard to replenish the fires. The lean was situated in a clearing, ringed by the surrounding fires. On the edge of the clearing, Fairies stood guard in every tree. They were instructed to play their horns and sing loudly. Each tree took a turn to play and sing. Their songs recalled famous battles and beautiful women. Lost love and broken hearts seemed to be a popular theme. Each tree sang, until they could sing no more, only to be relieved by the next tree. The Yellow-bell remained dry, surrounded by a pocket of dry air. The ringing noise from the flower would have been overwhelmed by the noise from the Fairies. It would have been kept from the listening ears of the Black Fox. As nightfall approached, the skies had gradually cleared and the wet mist had dissipated.

 

The plan had worked. Joseph had devised another battle plan for the Wortenhogs. Everyone was carefully prepared and confident of the approaching final battle. It had been three Moons since the Wyvern had vowed to return. He didn't want to leave but he’d known this was his only solution, his last resort. The Wyvern was confident that he could return with a winning plan. He'd been less confident that the creatures could last the three nights. He'd been loathed to leave the creatures to fight the Snaggles and Wortenhogs, and the growing power of the Witch. Would they survive? Would they survive if he didn't leave? He'd agonized for days, until Giselle had finally convinced him, that he had no choice.

 

He now relied upon Giselle, a nine-year old Stibmit Human, a Fairy, a Badger and a Wood Sprite, to collectively bring him back. As he sank into the depths of the pond that night, he shook his head, at the absurdity of the plan. Good needed to prevail, good should always defeat evil. Even he had to admit, they were riding their luck.

 

The Sun had fallen in the sky. It wouldn't be long before it dropped lower and disappeared from view. Princess Ruby devoured an apple; she needed to keep her strength up for tonight. She didn't know what to expect, but she felt nervous. She hoped she was doing the right thing, and that her parents could hold on for one more night.

 

"How are you doing?" a familiar voice entered the lean.

 

"Joseph, it's good to see you. How are your plans for tonight?"

 

Joseph entered the lean carefully, not sure of where the flower was stored. "We're all prepared, but you're avoiding my question, Princess." He broke into a smile.

 

"I know; I still can't get used to being called Princess."

 

"I can't get used to animals talking to me and Fairies, real Fairies!"

 

Ruby shuffled her feet, "I'm nervous, if I were to be honest with you."

 

"About what?"

 

"I don't know if I'm doing the right thing? I'm worried about my parents, I don't know if they're still alive? It feels right, but I hope the return of the Wyvern is everything that we’re hoping for. A lot is riding on this Water Dragon."

 

Joseph stumbled to his side, something had moved; his keen reflexes adjusted his body, to face the unwelcome intruder. He peered into the searing sunlight, as a shape emerged. Wide wings and a brilliant white shape gracefully grew larger, as it approached the lean. It was Giselle; the time had come.

 

"Joseph, prepare the troops. You may have to fight tonight, one more time. Princess Ruby, you'll need to follow me. We have a long journey ahead, through the woods." They exchanged glances, but no words were necessary. Ruby hugged Joseph before he strode confidently away to assume his duties.

 

Ruby cautiously gathered the Yellow-bell, covering it in a fabric sack. She loaded her quiver with as many arrows as she could, and strapped her bow to her body. "Are you ready?" inquired Giselle.

 

"Yes. Giselle, I don't want to fail." Ruby looked like a little child, quite different from the fearless warrior that felled a Wortenhog the night before.

 

"You won't child, we'll see to that." It was the first time that Giselle had sounded supportive. Generally, she sounded mean spirited, with a deep loathing of Humans. Today was different, almost empathetic.

 

"Who's we?" inquired Ruby. Giselle was perched in front of the lean, her strong talons gripping a tree root, protruding from the grassy ground. Her wings were outstretched. Her impressive plumage shimmered with white and silver flecks sprinkled through her feathers. Giselle folded her wings and moved to one side. Behind her, waiting in the clearing, were three distinct shapes. A Badger, a Fairy and a Wood Sprite waited. Belver, Acron and Ranger, were accompanying Ruby on her journey; suddenly she felt better, more confident. "Well let's get going," snorted Belver, flashing his white striped fur against the setting Sun.

 

Ruby walked towards them. They bowed respectfully, to the approaching Princess. "Enough of the formalities, we've got an important job to do," said Ruby, setting the tone. "Giselle, are the Humans falling ill because of the Witch? Is it her doing, her evil spells?"

 

Giselle shuffled, "Yes, Princess."

 

"Can the Wyvern break this spell?"

 

Giselle stared at Ruby, with her large yellow eyes. "I’m sure he can Princess. We have to go to the sacred Pond. It's located within the heart of the forest. I'll guide you there; these three have been before. The forest will help you this time, but we have to watch out for the Witch and the Black Fox."

 

Ranger stepped forward. "The trees tell us that they're far away, at the edge of the forest. If we're careful and keep the Yellow-bell dry, we should be able to make this journey undetected. We can get to the pond as the Moon rises; it'll give us some time before the beasts arrive. But we have to leave now." The urgency strained through Ranger's voice.

 

And so it began. An unusual journey through the forest commenced. A battle scarred Badger who would never back away from a fight, no matter how big or ferocious his opponent may be. A small but mighty Fairy, armed with the talent of a sure shot; who's arrow flies true, no matter what pressure he's subjected to. A Wood Sprite with a quick brain and sharp intelligence. One who could galvanize warring fractions into a formidable force through a soul stirring speech. A Mystical creature whose very existence was only told in legends and folklore; an oversized White Owl, with razor sharp talons and cutting wisdom, gleaned from thousands of years.

 

They were assembled to escort a thin, strong willed, brave, nine-year old. Recently appointed a Princess, she possessed a remarkable talent as an archer, only surpassed by the purity of her heart. This purity was a gift from her Father, which manifested in a birthmark and the ability to hear and see what other Humans couldn't. She was a Stibmit, and the last remaining hope for this bastion of Good.

 

Giselle led the way, guiding the group through the forest. She would hop from branch to branch, gliding effortlessly between the hanging limbs. Occasionally the group would stop to rest and drink water. The gravity of the task ahead had altered their mood. They didn't talk much, but no one complained. After a half a day of walking, the worn paths grew narrower and the dense forest closed in. Giselle watched over the group, making sure the path ahead was safe. Ranger received messages from the whispering trees; the Witch and the Black Fox remained far away. As they approached the central part of the forest, the whispering trees disappeared.  The ground was too wet, not ideal conditions for this type of tree. The forest enveloped the group, with no clear path forward. Giselle waited, "The next stage of the journey is less traveled. You can't see a clear path, but the forest will help you. You’re entering this is the mystical forest, the old forest. The plants, trees and animals that live here are all connected. They know why you're here and they'll help.

 

Suddenly the thick branches ahead parted, and the shrubs covering the ground parted to create a path. The group smiled at each other, graciously accepting the forest's invitation. After what seemed a long time walking, they approached a swamp. The group looked at each other with the same question running through their minds.

 

Giselle landed gracefully at their side. "This is the Swamp of the Lost. The plants can drag unwanted intruders, and the fatally curious, deep into the swamp. They'll never reach the sacred pond and never escape the swamp. The swamp is part of the forest; it accepts you. The forest will help you navigate a safe path. You have to cross the swamp."

 

Princess Ruby pushed the flimsy sack of dirt towards the great Owl. "I'm worried about falling in and getting this wet. The Yellow-bell would be safer with you. Just take it and fly across the swamp, I'll take it back, when we reach the other side."

 

Giselle could see the logic in Ruby's plea, but it wasn't possible. "I'm sorry Princess, my talons are too strong. They're designed to be weapons, to rip apart my prey, so I can eat. I can't grip the sack in a delicate way; I may damage the flower. We can't risk that. You must keep it safe, and keep it dry. You must be careful as you cross the swamp, it can't get wet."

 

Ranger accepted the task easily; he led the way to the murky waters edge. Giselle offered a final piece of advice, "Stay towards the center but track to the right of center. The ground is firmer." Ranger nodded confidently, but the group that followed, were not too sure. Acron fluttered past Ruby's shoulder. "If I could, I would carry the flower for you, but it's too heavy for me."

 

"I know; thanks." Ruby followed Ranger. At the swamp's edge, two submerged tree trunks gently floated to the surface. A string of wet, green leafy vegetation, wound its way around the trunks. Like a strong rope, the vegetation started to bind the logs together, creating a floating walkway. The forest was indeed helping, as best it could. Ranger stepped cautiously onto the logs; they swayed gently within the water. Ruby followed as Acron fluttered high above.

 

They gingerly started their journey across the log path provided. The logs helped them reach a clump of land, solid enough to support their weight. Ruby was half way across the logs when she glanced backwards. Belver was storming around onshore, acting in an agitated manner. Ruby shouted over her shoulder, "Come on Belver, you'll fall behind." She concentrated on her balance and keeping the precious flower clutched to her chest.

 

Belver snorted loudly. "I'm afraid of water, I can't swim." His voice tailed off, ashamed at his admission.

 

Acron flew back to assist his fearful friend. "Come on Belver, the idea is not to fall in. You can do this, walking across this log, is like walking across a fallen tree in the forest. You never fall off those. This is not as fearsome as the smallest Wortenhog, and you never back away from one of those. You can do this, you will stay dry."

 

It was all that Belver needed, Acron believed in him, and he was not going to let the Princess down. Princess Ruby needed him; the Wyvern needed him. The forest was helping them; the swamp did not want to claim their souls. He took his first reticent steps forward, and shuffled his way onto the gently bobbing logs. Acron flew above him, "Only look at the logs, just focus on the path ahead of you, you're doing fine."

 

"Thanks Acron, you're a true friend."

 

"And you're a mighty warrior, let's do this," Acron's encouragement was working. Once they’d reached the land rise in the swamp, he joined the others.

 

Ranger teased him, "What took you?"

 

Acron answered quickly, "Belver was teaching me how to fight."

 

Ranger accepted the explanation without question, "Well, he would know." Belver exchanged glances with Acron, who flew onwards without a pause. Suddenly Belver's opinion of Acron had changed in an instant. This little Fairy had a large heart, full of pride.

 

After what seemed an age, the last obstacle was navigated and Ruby managed to plant her feet firmly on solid ground. She'd managed to cross the swamp and was happy to see the welcome sight of Giselle, preening her white plumage. She carefully squeezed her precious package, relieved that it was still dry. When Belver made it to dry land he let out a sigh of relief. Acron fluttered to his side, "Easy big man, you made it."

 

Belver raked his snout from side to side and enjoyed the feeling of hard dirt under his paws. Tree limbs parted ahead, suggesting the next stage of their journey. Ranger took the suggestion, "Let's go."

 

Giselle watched the weary looking group, "There's a cold stream ahead, with fresh water and an apple tree; it'll be a nice place to stop and rest for a while." This seemed to spur the group onwards.

 

After stopping a while, the group was refreshed, feasting on apples, berries, and the clear fresh water. They pushed onwards, guided by the Great White Owl. The skies hinted at the approaching evening, as the Sun started to set. The light was fading but Giselle reassured Ranger, who was starting to worry. "Will we reach the pond before nightfall? I don't relish pushing our way through the forest in the dark."

 

"Relax Ranger Oakmoss, we're almost there. The sky is perfectly clear, no rain in sight. Press onwards, we're so close." The great Owl pushed away lightly upon the branch supporting her weight, and led the group forward.

 

It wasn't long before they broke through into a clearing. Ahead of the group lay a beautiful tranquil scene. The Great White Owl was perched high above the ground, on her favorite branch, overhanging the edge of the pond. A shallow strip of land separated the forest, from the edge of the still water. The pond was silent, not a breath of wind dared to cause a ripple on the smooth surface. The glass like surface reflected the darkening skies. Giselle watched the sky; it would soon be time. She knew the ceremony needed to start at the right moment and it was fast approaching. She flew down to the pond's edge, just as the Moon started to reflect in the water. It had been three Moons and she needed to organize the group quickly. "We're going to start the ceremony and we'll only get one chance to do this right. Line up and face me, now!" screamed the excited bird.

 

The group lined up as instructed. Giselle barked out her orders. "You, Ranger, move to the right, to the edge of the lake, now!" Ranger scurried away without questioning the Owl's order. "Belver to the left, the opposite side of the shoreline to Ranger, go now quickly!" Belver scurried along the edge of the pond and took his position. The Moon had moved across the sky and was now in full reflection of the Pond. Princess Ruby stood motionless in the center, between Ranger and Belver. "Good, now listen carefully, we can only do this once and we can't afford to fail. Ruby, unwrap the flower and detach its head carefully from the stem. Give the flower to Acron. Place the plant and the roots down in front of you, now!" Ruby could hear the urgency in Giselle's voice. She did exactly as she was asked.

 

"Acron will fly over the pond and drop the flower into the water. It will ring loudly and produce a fierce energy wave. You must hold your palms outstretched from your body at your side. Energy will flow through you; you must stand firm. You will create a circle of power; it must not be broken. Stand firm, not matter how much it shakes you. The circle of energy will help the Wyvern come home. The Moon is high and the night is perfect, it is time. Ruby, give Acron the flower now."

 

Ruby unwrapped the precious plant. The flower had survived the journey, it looked fresh and the petals were undamaged. Ruby detached the flower at its stem and handed it to the small Fairy. Acron struggled to grip the wide flower. He glanced at the Owl for encouragement. "Now?" he shouted.

 

"Now," confirmed Giselle. "Go to the center of the lake, drop the flower in the water and fly to the opposite end of the lake. Stay there, until it's safe to return.

 

Stretch your palms out everyone, now!" Ranger, Ruby and Belver each raised their arms, their palms facing each other, creating an imaginary line.

 

Acron flapped his wings furiously, trying to lift the weight of the flower. He managed to lift his precious cargo and flew across the still, moonlit water. Everyone was transfixed; the brave, diminutive Fairy flew erratically across the pond. Acron couldn't achieve the height he desired, so he appeared to skim across the pond's surface. As he drew near the center, he could see the reflection of the Moon. The flower started to vibrate wildly. Acron hung on for as long as he could; flapping his wings as hard as possible. It was all too much for Acron, his arms gave out and the Yellow flower tumbled towards the water. Giselle strained her neck allowing her to witness the upcoming events.

 

As soon as the flower came into contact with the water, a shrill noise pierced the still night's air.

 

The Black Fox's ears pricked instantly, a Yellow-bell was ringing loudly, causing the forest to reverberate. The Witch knew instantly; they'd been outsmarted.

 

The water rippled with the ringing sounds. It was tempting to cover your ears, but the three leaders maintained their stance. A strong yellow-colored beam of energy shot from the floating flower. The Yellow-bell vibrated wildly; the ringing noise caused the water to send ripples across the glass like surface. From the heart of the flower shot an energy beam; the yellow streak shot from the center of the lake, making a loud crackling sound. Ranger instinctively closed his eyes, as the bolt shot towards him. The energy hit him with a force but his body responded in an interesting way. The yellow energy entered his chest, filling him with emotions of peace and joy. His body embraced the energy, and projected a strong beam outwards from each palm.

 

The yellow beam entered Ruby's palm with similar effects. A yellow string of energy connected Ranger, Ruby and Belver. The flower rang loudly, connecting the leaders to the flower, in a circle of energetic light. The water within the circle started to bubble. The water was cool, but it looked as if it were boiling. Air bubbles surged to the surface from deep within the pond. Connected by a strong yellow force, the leaders watched the bubbling water. A large green mass was emerging at the side of the pond. The distinctive shape of a Wyvern’s head could be seen emerging from the bubbling foam. Belver felt excitement; the plan was working. A Wyvern's head emerged, but something was not right. This Wyvern had brilliant green scales and a bright purple stripe that ran the length of its snout between the eyes, and over the back of its head.

 

The emerging Wyvern seemed to have softer features, like a female. It poked its head from the pond and stared at the three leaders, transfixed upon the shore. More bubbles could be seen at the opposite side of the pond. Another scaled head appeared. This time a dark grey, scaled creature, with long whiskers, and a different shaped snout appeared. A dark color of slate grey, replaced the brilliant green scales. This was a Wyvern, but a different variety. Finally, a large froth of bubbles erupted in the center of the pond. The familiar and welcome site of a blue Wyvern head poked itself through the frothing water. The Wyvern of Skipton forest had returned.

 

As quickly as the yellow energy had shot from the ringing flower, it disappeared, releasing the three leaders from their invisible bond. Each collapsed to their knees; Belver sprawled upon his stomach. The Wyverns swam effortlessly to the shore. The blue forest Wyvern was the largest of the three.

 

Acron had fluttered across the pond to join the leaders on the shoreline. Giselle swooped in gracefully to welcome the return of her old friend. The Wyverns bucked at the sight of the large White Owl.

 

"Easy, she's a friend. This is the Mystical Owl that I talked about." The Wyvern's remained uneasy, alert to any danger. They were more comfortable in the water. "Who are you little girl? Where's the Baron?" inquired the blue Wyvern.

 

Ranger answered quickly. "The Baron's sick my Lord, this is his daughter, Ruby; she’s a Stibmit."

 

"I see. My friends, I've brought help. We're the oldest and wisest of the Wyverns. To my left is my sister, Bao. Bao means precious treasure, and she rules over the Eastern seas, far away. The water is warm, with many Islands. In her world, she's the ruler of all Dragons, both land and sea. Bao agreed to come and help, we should be grateful. Bao gently bowed her brilliant green snout. She moved forward and pushed ashore a small, simple wooden box, with her scaled flipper. The leaders looked at the gift, uncertain of their response.

 

"To my right is my other Sister, Safaa; Safaa means purity. Safaa is the ruler of the old world, the dark Northern seas, and the treacherous waters of the Southern seas. She's traveled far to help us today, they both have." Safaa bowed her grey snout in a gesture of patient respect. She too, pushed an offering forward for presentment. It was an elaborate dark box, covered in the leather hide of an animal, and sealed with a gold clasp.

 

"Before you today, you have the Elders of the Dragon world. We've come from the far corners of your planet and the deepest of depths. East, West, South and the Northern seas, we represent everything that is powerful and good. We'll win this war with evil, we always do. This is a close one and we'll need to work together. I've brought some additional help," the great Wyvern raised his webbed flipper and an arrow fell to the shore. "We each have a gift from the place beyond, powerful gifts, that'll help us defeat evil."

 

Safaa stepped forward, "We salute you Mystical animals, for it is your courage that inspires us to fight with you. It is not size that counts," she looked at Acron, "for larger foe have fallen quickly. It's not fierceness that wins the day." She looked at the scarred snout of Belver, "For fierce warriors will never defeat a motivated team. It's not cunning or disguise that wins the day," she looked at Ranger's twig like body, "for cunning can be outwitted and disguises uncovered."

 

Bao stepped forward. "It's the purity of one's heart," she said, glancing at Princess Ruby, "above all other attributes; that’s the one that wins this battle. We have everything represented here today, each of you have a pure heart. We're honored to join your battle."

 

The largest Wyvern stepped forward. "It's good to see you again my friends. I've spoken fondly of you and our forest. I've explained our plight and the reason why I think this is a place worth saving.” He stared at Ruby, “My name's Odin, I preside over the Western waters. I patrol the oceans, rivers, lakes and ponds. I'm the eldest surviving Wyvern and the protector of good. Wyvern’s have been hunted and persecuted, lied about and portrayed falsely, for a long time. There was a time that we were revered; now we're to be feared and hunted. The evil hearts in this world have almost made us extinct. There are more of us, but we protect our homes and habitats fiercely. My friends stand before you today, a Fairy, a Badger, a Wood Sprite and a Stibmit, all showing dignity and honor. We've work to be done, the Moon is almost high and we should begin immediately."

 

The group listened carefully as Odin explained the plan. It would not be long before the gate to the underworld opened, flooding the forest with unwanted beasts of all shapes and sizes. "There's a sequence to this plan, it must be followed precisely. If we move quickly, we can start right away."

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Chapter 12: The Wyver's Return

The Mystical Forest, Skipton, Yorkshire, England, 1545.

 

Meticulous instructions had been conveyed to the leaders at the sacred pond. Each was given instructions that needed to be followed with no room for error. Belver was the first to receive instructions.

 

Bao had lowered her snout, in a gesture designed to be less threatening. "Belver, please approach me." Belver was shocked that he'd been singled out and summoned by Bao. He quickly scurried around the edge of the pond, to a position where he faced Bao. "This is a simple wooden box, constructed from the wreckage of a fine vessel that sunk in a fierce storm. The box is unimportant, but it contains a plant; it's actually seaweed that we call Gorsporth. Gorsporth can only be found in the deepest of seas within my world. It's a special plant, with very unusual properties. It'll grow normally under water, where it's wet and cold. If you expose this plant to heat, it'll grow rapidly. If it dries out, it'll turn hard, rock hard. Once the plant has hardened, it dies and remains rock hard. It'll never return to its soft state, even when it gets wet. I have plans for this plant, but I'll need your help. We can not waste any time."

 

Belver felt privileged to be asked, to play his part, in assisting the Wyverns. "How can I help?" asked Belver, arching his back and lowering his scarred snout in a gesture of respect.

 

Odin turned his head towards Giselle. "Giselle, fly quickly, as quickly as you can. Tell the animals to build fires all around the entrance, the entrance to the underworld, where the great beasts enter. The Moon is rising; we don't have much time before they’ll appear. Dig a pit around the hole; fill it with branches, tar and wood. We need a ring of fire around the Gateway to the underworld. It needs to be sealed and this is the first step. Go now, and wait for Belver's arrival, he'll be joining you at the entrance." The Great White Owl spread her wings and without a sound, majestically glided away.

 

She quickly located the Human, Joseph. He would organize the activities required to construct a circle of fire. Belver redirected his attention from the large Owl to the Wyvern that stood before him. Bao pushed the simple wooden box towards Belver. "Can you carry this safely in your jaws?"

 

Belver looked at the box; it wasn't square, it was long and flat. "Yes, I think I can."

 

"The box is sturdy, but it's full of sea water. The plant needs to remain wet, inside the darkened box." Bao took great caution in relaying her instructions to Belver; he listened intently. He would have to retrace his steps, crossing the swamp alone. Once across, he would run for the entrance to the underworld, it would be a race against time. He would make up some time by using the tunnels; he knew exactly how to navigate his way through to the Gateway. Once he understood, he stooped towards the wooden box. He opened his jaws and wedged his teeth carefully around the box. The salty taste of the water was still evident in the old wood. The fresh water of the pond had weakened the salty taste, but it was still there. Belver glance upwards at Bao; unable to speak, his eyes met hers. She nodded leading with her snout she tilted her head, as if to acknowledge her task was complete. It was up to Belver now, and silently he vowed not to let her down.

 

Safaa inched forward as Bao retreated. The Wyverns looked awkward, lumbering, animals on land, a far cry from their native aquatic home. Acron shuddered as her deep green eyes fell upon his tiny frame. "You Sir, I request your attention. You can also join him," she growled, glancing at Ranger. Ranger scurried to the side of the pond; the fluttering wings of the Fairy arrived first. "I need you both to work together, this won't be easy, but it's vitally important. Inside this box is something precious, very precious. I loathe to give it away, and wouldn't, unless it weren't so important." She sneaked a glance at Odin, who remained stoic. Our Father was a King; he ruled all of the water kingdoms. He taught us to be wise and brave. No one could match the purity of his great heart. He defeated evil for thousands of years, until he succumbed to old age. In your world we are immortal, but even Wyvern's choose to leave their physical body when the time is right. Our Father knew it was time, he wanted to move on; he wanted to re-join our Mother in the spiritual world. He left Odin, Bao and I, as able wards to this world, and we swore to protect it. Contained within this box is a precious gift. It's a fragment of bone, my Father's bone. It's the purest substance in existence, and it's very powerful. The bone of a Wyvern is dense and strong. Wood Sprites and Fairies will have to work closely to successfully deploy this part of our plan." Saffa leaned forward, her enormous head dwarfing the diminutive Fairy. Ranger could feel the air pouring out of her nostrils rising from her scaled snout. She opened her eyes wide and glared at the two small creatures cowering in front of her.

 

"You can work together, yes?"

 

Ranger choked an answer out first. "Yes," he said, nodding his head. Acron could hardly speak, he responded by nodding his head furiously.

 

"Good, then we've little time to waste. I'll tell you what you need to do."

 

Ruby felt apprehensive. Was she an outsider? Did she have a part to play in this plan, or was her usefulness as a Stibmit, now over. She'd been a requirement to summons the great Wyverns, was that the extent of her usefulness? Odin rolled off the mud bank that surrounding the pond. He slipped effortlessly into the welcoming water. If these great animals looked cumbersome on land, they excelled in water. Their shape and size undulated with the resistance of the water. Odin submerged without causing a ripple; his large frame emerged from the water with ease. His head started to break the water's surface, followed by the eyes, snout and mouth. Ruby's eyes adjusted to the emerging sight but lingered on a familiar shape. Protruding from Odin's mouth, snared between his sharp teeth, was the arrow.

 

Odin glided through the water and approached the shore. He'd completed this move a million times, as he flapped his flippers pushing him forwards. He glided effortlessly onto the muddy pond's shore. Propping himself up with his strong flippers, he bowed his head towards Ruby. He pushed his snout forward and opened his jaw slightly. It caused his grip upon the arrow to loosen but the shaft remained lodged within his mouth. He shook his head, motioning for Ruby to take the arrow. She reached forward and gently retrieved the arrow from his mouth.

 

She held it carefully with both hands, her palms facing the sky, with her arms outstretched. "Is this for me?" She looked at Odin, her eyes screaming for an explanation.

 

Odin nodded quietly, not knowing where to begin. "There is a land far away from here, beyond the far depths of the pond. It's called Belhavier. It's much like this world with animals, plants, water, sky and the fight between good and evil. The ruler of this land is a brave King, King Ghard. He doesn't look like you, but I'm sure you would like each other. His kind is highly evolved in the art of magic, and they use their powers to fight the dark forces. King Ghard is a prolific marksman; no one is better with a bow. He's truly a master. I wish you could meet, but unfortunately, that's not possible in this lifetime. I traveled a long way to talk with King Ghard. I’ve described our fate here in this realm. He would want to meet the brave little girl armed with an ornate bow. He has two sons, neither of which aspires to be archers." Odin paused to see if Ruby was paying attention. His peripheral vision caught the flight of Acron, and the scurrying shape of Ranger, leaving the pond to fulfill their mission.

 

Gentle waves caressed the shoreline at each side of Odin's submerged tail. Bao and Safaa appeared in the water. Odin could sense their presence but didn’t break his gaze upon Ruby. "This is a special arrow, a precious gift from King Ghard and his people. For hundreds of years this arrow has been displayed at the Temple of Victorious Dreams, high upon the Mountain of Fallen Souls. This is a sacred object for the King and his people. A powerful Oougi, a magical woman with great powers, blessed this arrow. It carries a powerful force, so pure that it will kill evil, any evil. The Oougi made the supreme sacrifice to save her realm; she cast a spell that would make this arrow all-powerful but the spell took her life."

 

Ruby's attention was distracted. She heard a small noise in the water, to the side of Odin.

 

Bao had left the water and propped her large frame upon the shore, next to Odin. "You must tell her of your promise."

 

Ruby looked inquisitively at Odin. "Child, all you need to know is that this arrow is important. It's made from the finest wood. It will never bend or warp. It will always fly straight and true. Its feathers are from an exotic bird; the feathers are hardy and slice through the air. The tip is carved from a rock that is hard, sharp, and never dulls. This is the perfect arrow."

 

Bao couldn't stand it any longer. "Child, this is a powerful weapon, but it needs respect. The Arrow of Belhavier is well known across our realms. It's never been released from the realm of Belhavier. The Oougi made the ultimate sacrifice. She cast a spell of purity to ensure this arrow will kill any form of evil. In return, she gave her soul to the underworld. She died saving her realm. The King was able to kill the leader of evil, destroying his hold over their realm. You have to do the same; you have to use this arrow to kill the Witch. Child, you can't miss, if you ...."

 

"Enough," shouted Odin, slapping his flipper into the mud. He shot a stern look at Bao, before turning to Ruby. "Ruby is an archer, I've no doubt she'll kill the Witch. We just have to provide her with the shot. We'll deliver you the Witch; you have to hit her with this arrow. You've been practicing your whole life for this. Killing the Witch will save our land, your parents, and the forest. You can do this."

 

"Are my parents still alive?"

 

"The trees say yes, but only just."

 

Ruby added the arrow to her quiver, "It’ll be my pleasure," she said, with the unabashed confidence of a child.

 

A small noise could be heard to her left. A Fairy landed on a sprig, close to Ruby. He looked shocked at the sight that greeted him. Odin glared at the intruder, "Speak now Fairy."

 

The Fairy shook visibly. "My name is Deedot. Acron sent me to guide Princess Ruby."

 

"Good, Ruby I want you to follow this Fairy. Acron, Belver and Ranger know what to do. They'll present the Witch to you, breath deeply and hit the Witch with the Arrow of Belhavier. Listen to me carefully. When you kill the Witch, you must retrieve the Arrow. Do you understand?"

 

"Yes," responded Ruby. She didn't fully understand.

 

"Give the Arrow to Giselle, she'll return it to me. It's very important that you do that."

 

"Yes," nodded Ruby.

 

"Good luck, now go with the Fairy and meet up with your friends, quickly."

 

The Fairy took flight, leading Ruby away from the Pond and onto the start of her quest.

 

"You're an old fool Brother." Bao was not impressed. "Why didn't you tell her?"

 

Odin turned sharply, "Hold your tongue Sister, it's so sharp it'll cut your own mouth."

 

"I don't often agree with my Sister, but this time I do." Safaa joined the conversation reluctantly. "You should've told her the truth, she needed to know."

 

Odin snapped his jaws in disgust. "She's special that one, I have faith in her. She’ll kill the Witch. She doesn't need more pressure placed upon her."

 

Bao flapped the water in frustration. "She might well kill the Witch. In her jubilant celebrations, what if she forgets to follow your instructions and return the Arrow?"

 

"She won't" Odin snapped, unsure of his answer.

 

The two sisters glanced at each other. It was Safaa who tried to restore calm. "If we don't get the Arrow back to its resting place in Belhavior, before nightfall in their realm, you know what'll happen?"

 

"Yes, I'm fully aware of the curse. If the Arrow is not returned in time, the soul who took it will be condemned for all time.”

 

“We’re talking about your soul, Brother. It’ll be claimed by the underworld, and your death will be certain." The two sisters looked at each other again. Bao flipped her snout at Safaa, urging her to continue. "So you trust this small Human with your life?" Safaa tried to use a sensitive tone.

 

Odin let the gravity of her words sink in. "I have no choice, if we're to save this realm."

 

Safaa swam closer to Odin. We all know I'm the fastest swimmer. There's no doubt in that matter, you're not even close. I swim dark and treacherous waters, my flippers and tail are stronger; my body is streamlined and built for speed. If we were in a fight, I'd choose you Odin, my fierce muscle bound Brother. This is a fight for your life, but our weapon is speed. I should take the Arrow back to Belhavior, any delay may cost your life. I will not hear any arguments, my decision is final."

 

Bao swam closer to Odin, she whispered softly. "My Sister is wise; she can out swim both of us."

 

Odin reluctantly agreed; he nodded his head in acceptance. "Thank you, thank you both. Sisters, do you still have what you need to return to your worlds?

 

They both nodded. "I have a rare yellow pearl, from the Island of Pearls. This will provide me safe passage back to the realm of the East. I can leave whenever I wish." Bao dove into the pond and flipped the water with her scaled tail. She re-emerged, satisfied with her show of agility.

 

"I have a golden nugget, washed onto the seabed from a clear mountain stream. Its power will guide me to the cold familiar waters of the Northern realm. I too, can return at will." Safaa reassured Odin, "You'll remain here in the West my Brother."

 

Odin was proud of his siblings. "Then our fate lies with the girl, Princess Ruby."

 

* * * * *

 

The front door opened and swung heavily upon its hinges. The familiar squeaking sound alerted both Kady and Jevon instantly. "Hello?" could be heard drifting upstairs. "Where are you both?"

 

Kady looked at her uncle, in a blind panic. She knew the arrival of her Mother would end the reading for the day. As the reality sank in, her emotions turned to anger. She punched the bedding in frustration. "No, not now Mother!"

 

Jevon understood her frustration. "You mustn’t tell your Mother about any of this; she wouldn't understand. She'll think that I'm filling your head with a lot of dangerous nonsense. If you want to hear more, you have to keep this quiet. You hear me?"

 

Kady nodded in disappointment. The door to her room opened gently. "Oh hi," said Jevon, feigning surprise.

 

"And what are you two up to?" she asked, in an annoying way.

 

"Uncle Jevon's been reading me a fairy story. It was good but I think we're done for today," Kady interjected.

 

"How are you feeling?" Christine ignored Jevon and felt Kady's forehead. It was a Motherly thing to do, as she perched upon the bed. Her body language signaled to Jevon that she was home now and in charge. Jevon folded the book closed, and rose as if to leave.

 

"Wait, thank you Jevon. I had a very good day and you made it possible. Thanks for looking after Kady, I really appreciate it."

 

"That's Okay, I enjoyed our day together." Jevon looked awkward and nervous.

 

"Me too, Uncle Jevon," chirped Kady in agreement.

 

"Mum, can I see uncle Jevon tomorrow, to finish the fairy story? We were close to the end and I kind of want to know how it finishes."

 

Christine looked at Jevon, as if she were weighing up her options. It was nice that he helped her out but he got the distinct feeling that she wouldn't want him spending more time with Kady. "Well, let's see honey. Your Uncle Jevon's a busy man, perhaps he can leave the book and I'll finish the story for you? How's that sound?"

 

Kady shot a panicked look at Jevon; it was a plea for help. "I'm not comfortable with that. This is a rare and valuable book. It's the centerpiece of my collection. I don't want to leave it with anyone."

 

"I left you my Daughter, how more valuable can it get?" snapped Christine.

 

"Are you busy tomorrow Uncle Jevon?" Kady desperately wanted to find a solution.

 

"You might not be well enough young Lady." Christine perched upon the edge of the bed.

 

"I feel fine Mum, the fevers broke. Well, are you?" she insisted.

 

"I have a few spare hours in the afternoon, between 1pm and 4pm. If it's acceptable with your Mother, we can go to the park. It's supposed to be a nice day and the fresh air will do you good. We can pack a picnic lunch and I'll read you the rest of the story. Will that work?"

 

Jevon posed the question carefully. He knew Christine didn't trust him fully with her Daughter, but he'd done nothing to create such distrust. He'd acted admirably today, like a good Uncle should. She would have no reason to stop them spending some time together in a public place. Kady demanded a positive answer by the weight of her stare. "Okay, as long as you are fit enough tomorrow. I don't want you catching another chill. Pick her up at 1pm; I'll pack a picnic for the both of you. It works out well. I have to pop in on a listing during the afternoon anyway."

 

"Great, then I can find out how this story ends." Kady's excitement was palpable.

 

"But have her back by 4pm," warned Christine.

 

"Sure," reassured Jevon. "I'll leave you to it then." He rose and headed for the door.

 

Christine reached out her hand, "Thanks again Jevon," this time it sounded more sincere. Jevon touched her fingers lightly.

 

"No problem Sis', I wanted to help." He turned and left.

 

Kady and Christine were sat staring at each other in an uncomfortable silence. She could have asked her about her showings but she’d have been stuck with a long boring response. They both heard the front door close and footsteps on the gravel, as Jevon walked towards his car. The two ladies contemplated their feelings. Christine was coming down from a stressful day.

 

She was relieved that the showings went well, that Kady was safe and unharmed, and that Jevon had not let her down. Kady was flying high, trying to conceal her excitement. She was energized and stimulated; she'd have difficulty sleeping tonight. She wanted tomorrow to hurry up and arrive. She had to conceal this from her Mother.

 

They stared at each other in silence for a while. "Right, let me clear away some of this mess." Christine referred to the dishes and glasses used throughout the day. "You get ready for bed; the sleep will do you good." All Kady could think about was 1pm.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Chapter 13: Picnic in the Park

Skipton, Yorkshire, England, Present Day.

 

The morning dragged on for Kady. She completed her chores and avoided answering any of her Mothers probing questions. It was obvious; she still didn't trust Uncle Jevon.

 

She had an awkward morning, but she helped prepare the picnic lunch. The weather was superb, a beautiful day with a few scattered clouds providing some shade from the strong Sun. At 12.55pm she heard the familiar scrunching sound of car tires riding along the gravel driveway of her house. Uncle Jevon was on time.

 

"Kady get ready. Uncle Jevon's here." Kady detected an unusual inflection within her Mother's voice. Jevon had reached the door before Kady had tied her shoes and descended the stairs. "Remember what I told you; home before 4pm and don't take her anywhere dangerous."

 

Jevon winced at the way his Sister talked to him. He felt as if he were her child and in the middle of a scolding. Kady overheard her Mother and silently shook her head with embarrassment. She bounded down the stairs and beamed a large smile when her eyes met her Uncles. "Hi, are you ready to go?" he said, cautiously.

 

"Let's go," she said, grabbing the picnic basket.

 

"Hey not so fast," Christine grabbed Kady's arm. "Give me a kiss." Kady rolled her eyes, knowing this would get her on her way quicker. She kissed her Mother and headed for the door. "Behave yourselves; both of you," she glanced at Jevon who slipped through the open door. Christine could see the spring in Kady's step. She was never this excited about anything they did together. She listened as the car retreated from the driveway; then they were gone.

 

It didn't take Jevon and Kady long to reach the park and select a great, secluded spot, for a picnic. Jevon opened the book to his marked page, took a deep breath, and stared at Ruby already munching on an Apple. "Are we ready?"

 

"Yup, let's go." Ruby mumbled with a mouth full of food.

 

* * * * *

 

Giselle was the first to arrive at her designated destination and began the plan laid out by the Wyverns. She found Joseph quickly and relayed her instructions. Joseph began organizing quickly. He enlisted the fastest diggers, Badgers from Belver's guard. "I want two concentric circles, dug around the Gateway to the underworld. The inner circle needs to be deep but the outer circle needs to be twice as deep." The Badger's did not question the orders; they'd seen the success of the previous night. This Human knew how to plan a fight. The Badgers started to dig, assisted by an army of Voles, cleverly deployed to dispose of the displaced earth.

 

Joseph left the team of diggers to their task and approached the Wood Sprites who were itching to help. "You," he said, pointing at the startled creatures. "Work with the trees, I need you to collect tar and sap, to light the fires. Bring it to me quickly; we need a lot to pour into these trenches." They knew exactly what he wanted and scurried away to get organized.

 

Joseph turned his attention to Giselle, perched high above him. "Giselle, I will need fuel for the fire; branches, shrubs, ferns, anything flammable, to throw into the trenches and keep the fires going."

 

Giselle nodded her head in acknowledgement and disappeared into the dense forest. The digging continued throughout the day as the shadows grew longer and the Sun ambled across the sky. The long afternoon would soon draw to a close and Joseph felt pressured to complete his task. He assumed the fires were to capture and burn the beasts, as they streamed from the Gateway. He was wrong, and he would soon find out why. As the afternoon slipped away, Giselle appeared from the trees. Behind her was a disturbance; the rustling of leaves, the pounding of hoofed feet, and the dragging of branches could be heard. Badgers, Deer, Stoats, Ferrets, and an assortment of creatures, pulled fallen branches to the entrance of the Gateway. Each animal joyfully tossed the fuel into the trenches, so expertly excavated. It wasn't long before each trench was brimming with branches, ferns and wood.

 

"Where are the Wood Sprites?" muttered Joseph, in a nervous tone. His question was immediately answered. A strong Bull had been enlisted to help. It willingly pulled a sled, made from branches and ferns. The large leaves were crafted into pots, containing the highly flammable mixture of tar and tree sap. Wood Sprites ran in front of the mighty Bull, guiding it through the brush and into the clearing.

 

Joseph's relief was enormous. "Good job, all of you. We'll win this fight tonight!" He didn't know why he shouted the words of encouragement, but it just felt right. The team had creatively worked together. Together, they'd delivered, even if speaking to a collection of animals did feel a bit weird. The Wood Sprites took wooden ladles and scooped the gooey liquid into the trenches, completing their task. The heat of the Sun had faded and the timing could not have been better. The large Bull looked tired with white foam covering his swollen lips. He collapsed with his front legs folded and his head bowed from exhaustion.

 

Giselle startled the Bull, thinking he was under attack when he was at his most vulnerable. Raising his head he could see where she'd placed a large woven basket, lined with leafs, containing cool stream water. He snorted in appreciation before curling his parched tongue into the refreshingly cool water.

 

Joseph looked at the two rings surrounding the Gateway; he was pleased as he folded his arms. He turned to Giselle, perched next to him, "I hope the others are just as successful."

 

"Well .... we were!" chimed a familiar voice from behind him. Joseph was startled but spun quickly to see Acron and Ranger Oakmoss." Ranger was followed by what seemed like an army of Wood Sprites. Ranger had sent Acron ahead to organize his army. When Ranger arrived at the abandoned Mill he was met by hundreds of dedicated helpers. On the edge of the forest, a hermit used to make bread. He built a small mill where he would grind his flour. The hermit lived peacefully in the forest for many years. The creatures knew of his existence and in the winter, he would feed the animals, with his stale bread. As he grew older, he could not survive on his own, and he moved away. The forest reclaimed the mill and the building remained unused.

 

Ranger and Acron set about their task. They'd been entrusted with a precious bone. It belonged to the Father of the three Wyverns. The bone was made of the purest of material. There was one problem. Wyvern bones are very hard and very dense. It had taken the group all afternoon to grind the bone into a fine powder. The powder had been separated into small pouches. Each pouch was attached to a Fairies belt. The Whispering Trees had been instructed and the Fairies had been dispatched to the far edges of the forest. The Fairies surrounded the forest; it's entire perimeter. They perched, stood, leaned and hovered, waiting for the signal.

 

Giselle flapped her large wings, demanding attention. "Acron and Ranger, you've done well, but you must have patience, for we're not ready yet. We have to wait for Belver; he has an important delivery."

 

You could feel the tension in the night's air. The trap was set and each knew a piece of the overall plan. Where was Belver? Where was Ruby? Perhaps they'd failed in their assignments and needed help? The group was restless as they described their tasks and tried to piece together the plan. The animals grew worried and some skirmishes broke out between traditional adversaries. These were quickly diffused, as they waited for news. The group was heading into the last remnants of early evening, the high Moon approached. This would excite the animals. Some would fear the battle approaching, some would look forward to fighting the beasts. Mother's kept a close watch on their little ones, making sure they didn't stray far.

 

A spitting noise could be heard approaching and the familiar gruff voice of Belver. "I can't seem to get the taste of the sea out of my mouth." He spat again, sneezing and spitting loudly. Everyone laughed; they were relived to see their old friend. "Joseph, I'll need your help with this." Joseph stepped forward wondering what his assignment would be. "Take this foul tasting box to the edge of the Gateway. It contains a seaweed plant called Gorsporth. Listen to me carefully as our plan relies on you doing this right. You only get one shot at this."

 

Belver gave Joseph the instructions under the watchful eye of the Great White Owl. Joseph took the box in one hand, while holding a lit torch in the other. He carefully jumped across each trench encircling the Gateway. He gingerly opened the box as the salty seawater assaulted his nostrils with a pungent strike. He reached in and carefully retrieved the green striped weed. Hanging from below the plant, were white roots that looked like worms; they wriggled madly. Joseph knelt and dug a hole in the dirt, next to the Gateway, with his strong hand. He placed the wriggling roots into the small hole he'd just made. Immediately the roots wriggled into the earth and latched onto their new home. The Moon was still rising and the air was cool. The plant's ferocious roots snaked their way underground, tapping into a water source.

 

It was the perfect condition for Gorsporth; cool and damp. The plant jumped into life with the limbs growing rapidly like a vine. Leaves sprouted uncontrollably from nowhere. This plant was taking over the space rapidly. Joseph was surprised by the speed of its growth but reacted quickly. He started to push the growth into the Gateway of the Underworld. The plant streamed into the hole and expanded to block it with its ravenous growth. Joseph watched in amazement.

 

Giselle soared above his head screaming at Joseph. She swooped down as he struggled to push more of the growth into the densely packed hole. "Light the fire, now!"

 

* * * * *

 

"Wait," said Jevon pulling the book towards him.

 

Kady shot a puzzled look at him, more in annoyance. She followed his gaze and saw an old woman approaching.

 

"It's so nice to see a Dad and his Daughter enjoying a good book. My Dad used to read to me all the time, but these days kid's heads are glued to electronic gizmos. I didn't mean to interrupt you, I just thought I'd comment on how nice it was; ah pleasant memories." She shuffled off slowly down the worn path, as if reliving her youth.

 

"She can't hear us now. Joseph has to light the fire!" Kady prompted.

 

* * * * *

 

Giselle soared above his head screaming at Joseph. She swooped down as he struggled to push the growth into the densely packed hole. "Light the fire, now!"

 

Joseph spun quickly and touched the tip of his flaming torch upon the black tar. The flame jumped into life and started to race into the trench, igniting the inner circle. Joseph needed to move quickly or he’d be trapped within the inner ring. The plant grew furiously, over spilling the hole. He’d be tangled if he didn't leap now. Joseph leapt across the first trench before it had managed to completely fire into an inferno. He leapt across the second trench and reach backwards to ignite it. The crowd of animals and creatures cheered loudly as both trenches burst into flames.

 

Joseph threw the torch into the trench and looked for Giselle. "It's not high Moon yet, the beasts are not coming yet? Why did you tell me to ignite the fires?"

 

Giselle would not take her trained eyes off the center of the rings. "Watch the Gorsporth, watch the weed. The Gorsporth comes from the deepest part of the ocean floor. It thrives on the cold and the wet. Once the weed senses heat, it changes." The concentric rings of fire were throwing off intense heat and light, two things the Gorsporth cannot tolerate. It started with a leaf closest to the flames, but once the process had begun it was impossible to reverse. A large leaf billowed over into the trench and was licked by an exuberant yellow flame. The leaf reacted in a way that the Wyvern's had hoped. It turned to stone, hard, dense black stone. The stem supporting the leaf turned to stone and the other leaves gradually turned. Soon the stem, roots, leaves, and stalks, made a loud cracking noise, as they turned into stone through the heat of the fire. The hardened plant had transformed into solid black rock. The once vibrant plant had now plugged the Gateway, with an impenetrable stone seal.

 

Joseph turned to look at Giselle, was that a look of satisfaction? Giselle didn't bask in the accomplishment for she knew there was still much to do. She extended her large snowy white wings. She soared through the spiraling warm air that the fires had created. In an instant, she was gone. Belver raised his snout in a celebratory gesture; he'd completed his part of the plan and kept his honor intact. As word spread, the excited squeals of animals could be heard echoing though the forest. Joseph realized the fire trenches were provided to create heat and light. No beasts were coming through tonight, he could relax; no fighting would occur tonight. The satisfaction of a job well done swept over him, but he had a strange feeling that he was but one step in a larger plan.

 

The excited squeals did not escape the attention of the Witch or the Black Fox. They knew that something strange was happening within the forest. The normally subdued animals were unusually loud in their celebratory squeals. A famous victory had been won tonight and that would need to be rectified.

 

At the edge of the forest, Ranger Oakmoss had assembled the largest collection of Wood Sprites ever seen. They'd traveled from far and wide, and assembled in a highly organized fashion. It was like a military operation. Acron marveled at Ranger's organization skills and the compliant nature of the Wood Sprites. The Wyvern bone had been chipped into small pieces. The old mill's grinding stone had been restored. Precious bone dust was collected in small leather pouches. The dust was hard to produce and the grinding stone was smoking with the friction and the heat. The grinding stone was losing the battle but continued to create the precious dust.

 

As the small leather pouches were filled, a line of Fairies patiently waited to receive their precious cargo. Acron had organized the Fairies, each with their assigned location. As a Fairy received their pouch, they tied it to their belts and flew as quickly as they could to their designated destination. Each Fairy took refuge in a tree, bush, branch, sprig or vine to create a perimeter around the forest's edge. The furthest points were dispatched first. When the final pouch left for its position, the Wood Sprites cheered and wished the final Fairy a safe flight.

 

At the Southern edge of the forest, the Witch was sensing the growing danger. She turned to the Black Fox in a concerned state. "Tonight, I think we should leave the forest for the safety of the brook. Let's leave the beasts to do their part. I sense changes and I'm not sure what they're up to."

 

"What kind of changes do you feel?" inquired the curious Fox.

 

"Magic, old magic. It's powerful and not of this world."

 

The Black Fox's ears twitched with annoyance. "The Wyvern will not return, let's make sure we haven't missed any Yellow-bells. Let's create one more wet mist and then we'll leave the forest to the beasts."

 

The Witch listened intensely. She knew something wasn't right, but the suggestion made sense. In the distance she could hear the faint sound of a horn, "Stupid Fairies. They can blow all night, the beasts will run them tonight!"

 

The Fairies blew their horns. The sound originated from the old mill. It was the signal to start the Fairies plan. Soon, each Fairy would fly from their safe perch, and throw the dust contained in their leather pouches, high into the air. The wind would catch it, creating a blanket of dust around the perimeter of the forest. Each Fairy would sound their horn jubilantly, to signal their task's completion. An invisible ring of the purest dust now sealed the forest. Once the horns had ceased, the task was complete. The Wyverns could hear the high-pitched sounds and knew the forest was sealed.

 

Safaa turned to her Brother. "This is your world Brother, you live in these parts. It's your energy, your vibration. We defer to you Brother, may our Father's spirit be with you."

 

Odin closed his eyes and concentrated on the memory and image of his once powerful Father. He was a large Wyvern with a pure heart. He'd long since departed the physical world but the dust from his bone now surrounded the forest. To activate it, he would need to vibrate on the same frequency of his departed Father. Odin concentrated, his whole body started to shake. His blue, scaled tail barely entered the water, with his large frame propped by two front flippers. He stood motionless on the mud bank, until his tail created undulating ripples in the calm water. The energy rose up throughout his body, changing his vibrations. He arched his body to support his entire weight upon his strong muscular tail. He stretched his flippers as wide as they would go either side of his large chest.

 

Odin raised his snout and let out a thunderous roar. A beam of strong Indigo colored light streaked from each flipper, like lightening bolts crackling across the sky. The Sisters watched closely, pleased that their Brother had made the connection. The purple bolts shot skywards, igniting the dust filled sky. Each particle glowed, creating a blanket of Indigo. The night sky had been ignited with powerful, pure, positive energy. Odin fell into the mud, exhausted and satisfied.

 

The Black Fox's acute ears heard the roar first, but the entire forest could hear the great roar. The sky continued to shine with a strange Indigo glow. The Witch shot a worried look at the Black Fox. They both recognized the roar of a Wyvern; he had returned. The roar was met with cheers, squeals and shouts of every living creature in the forest; it was a deafening response. They sensed victory and the Witch became worried. She grabbed at the pouch attached to her waist. She opened the pouch and dipped her weathered, spindly hand, deep inside. A cold, dark, sticky gum-like substance, met her fingers. She rubbed her fingers together and withdrew her hand.

 

Holding her arm towards the sky, she shouted a spell conceived in the old world, a Celtic spell, from a dark Witch. Instantly, the sticky substance smoked and spiraled, into the night sky. It would only be moments before the mist would form and cover the forest with a wet blanket. She would know if a Yellow-bell or a Wyvern was present. She would know if the Wyvern's roar was trickery.

 

They waited impatiently as the wisps of smoke ascended. To their horror, the smoke crackled and fizzled, as it met the Indigo sky. The pure energy above choked the evil spell into submission. No evil magic would be allowed to fester.

 

"Let's leave now!" barked the frantic Witch.

 

The Black Fox did not wait; he turned and trotted briskly in the direction of the forest's path. They were heading for the safety of the brook, far away from the forest. A fallen tree had blocked their path; its trunk was thick and mighty. As they approached, the Witch threw her hand in the air with a violent swipe, commanding the felled tree to clear the path. To her amazement, her magic was ineffective. She commanded a fireball to race into the trunk's core, but again she had the same result. She glanced at the inquisitive Fox. He waited for her to clear the path, but she was powerless. That frightened her, for now she was vulnerable. They hastened towards the large obstacle, with fear rising deep within them. They must hasten their journey; they must leave the forest as quickly as they could. They would have to scramble over the fallen tree.

 

It was the alert Fox who saw it first. The tree had not rotted, falling from decay. The bark was not blackened from a lightening strike. This tree had been felled by an axe; deliberately placed to create an obstacle. The Black Fox didn't have time to raise the alarm. Six battle-hardened Ferrets, streamed out from small holes excavated near the log. They were scarred from battle and hand selected for this important job. Their fur was drenched in the smells of green moss and mud. The Fox's alert nose would not detect the ambush that lay in wait for them. The Ferret's were quick; they were attacking the poor helpless Fox before he had a chance to outrun them. Nipping at his legs, they sank their teeth into his sinewy shins, anchoring him in position. He squealed in shock and the Witch ran to his assistance. The Fox's instincts kicked in as he snarled and snapped at the Ferrets. He stomped his feet, but it was of no use. He was wounded and bleeding, his magic had been rendered mute. The Ferrets teeth were small, but razor sharp, piercing his skin and bringing him to the ground in pain. On another day, his blood would have been scolding or his movements would have been too fast, but without his dark magic, he was vulnerable. Today, he was just a Fox.

 

The Ferrets were fast and coordinated. They worked the Fox to the ground, avoiding the kicks, thrown their way by the Witch. A Ferret went for the Fox's throat, but the Fox’s snapping jaws caught the Ferret's back end, sending him sprawling in pain. As the Fox fought for his life, his friend the Witch, had retrieved a large branch, and was attempting to swipe the Ferrets with the weapon. A Ferret lunged for the Fox's throat again; this time he sank his needle like teeth into the soft flesh. The Fox yelped and dropped to the ground helpless.

 

The Witch stepped forward quickly to assist; it was then that her fate was sealed. She turned her body she provided a clear target. Perched high within the trees, above the path, was a hanging branch sturdy and thick. Ruby had sat within its sway, affording her an excellent view of the tussle below. Ruby was wearing a coat made from ferns, mud, pond slime and bark sap. Deedot had arranged for the construction of a smelly coat; designed to confuse the Fox's perceptive nose, and mask her sweet Human odor. She pushed the coat from her shoulders and it fell across the branch. She retrieved the Arrow of Belhavior from her quiver. She'd been patient, she'd waited for her moment; the time had come. She knew she'd be offered one shot and only one shot. She tried not to think of the consequences of missing. She held the bow, her normally steady hand, was shaking. She glanced at the bow and instantly thought of her Father who had arranged for its construction as a gift. A thought floated through her mind. It's amazing that in the heart of the most important moment of your young life, your mind has time to entertain irreverent thoughts. She thought of the arrow and how her Father would be proud. She drew the arrow backwards and focused her eyes on the Witches mid-section. She tried to relax and thought how nice it would be if her Father could meet King Ghard.

 

She took a deep breath and let the strained twine of her bow release from her taught fingers. The Arrow leapt from the bow and flew straight towards its target. The arrow seemed to fly slowly or time seemed to slow down. Ruby watched in horror as the Arrow of Belhavior cut through the thick forest air. Below, the Ferrets attacked the stricken Fox; once feared he was losing a ferocious battle for his life. The Arrow thumped into the Witches long black robes, causing her to fall instantly. The Arrow had pierced the chest and ribcage of the unsuspecting Witch. She'd not anticipated a strike from above. The powerful Arrow killed the last trace of evil from within the young woman; she fell bleeding to the forest floor.

 

The old, weathered woman fell to the ground instantly. She suddenly transformed into the innocent young woman, who first stumbled into the forest. The Black Fox was gone; the Ferret's had made short work of the powerless animal. Ruby leapt from the overhanging branch, she rolled neatly to break her fall. She raced to the Witches body, still covered in the black robe. She ran quickly to the formless shape. Ruby rolled the woman over, unconcerned about the danger or state of the body beneath her. The Arrow had pierced a wound into her rib cage but was protruding from her midsection.

 

Ruby grabbed the arrow's head and firmly pulled it from her victim's body. The arrow slipped out, causing the woman to flinch and groan with pain. Ruby looked around the path. To her relief, she saw the welcome site of a large Owl, wings spread, descending from the Indigo mist. Dropping her bow, Ruby held the arrow aloft in her outstretched hands. Giselle snatched the Arrow of Belhavior; secured within her powerful talons, she changed direction and flew to the pond and the waiting Wyverns.

 

When Ruby looked at the face of the Witch, it shocked her; a pretty, young face, stared back at her. Claire had stumbled into the forest as a young woman, spurned by the man she’d loved. It was the powerful Black Fox that had turned her into pure evil. He'd caught her when she was vulnerable and bitter. He'd preyed upon her insecurities and taught her to be pure evil. She'd been turned and found it increasingly difficult to turn back, to abandon her chosen path. The Arrow of Belhavior was pure; it was designed to kill evil. It had expunged the dark forces, entwined within her body. She was Claire again, pure happy, Claire. The wound had healed and the arrow had left no trace. As she came to, she started to weep. Ruby held her in her arms, as the emotions released. The sky cleared and a faint Indigo glow could be seen swirling around in the crisp night air.

 

The evil spells had been lifted. The Castle and Village seemed to emerge from a deep fog. Even in the late hours of the night, people left their beds, their isolation, and their depravity. They felt healthy again and rejoiced in the streets. On the outskirts of the Forest, they could hear the cheers of Human voices, celebrating their turn in good fortune. Ruby's thoughts turned to her parents; she smiled. She hoped they'd managed to hang on, that they'd fought until she could release them. Ruby learned later, that her parents were close to death, but they’d managed to survive.

 

Princess Ruby and the Arrow of Belhavior became legend in Skipton forest lore. Deep within the forest, on cold nights, when gathered around the fire within a Crackle, young Wood Sprites are still told of the brave Human girl who saved the Forest. They sing of the Stibmit, Princess Ruby, and her friend Joseph. They mimic the archer's pose and sing the songs that tell their tales. Mystical creatures still exist today. Most Human's will walk by them unnoticed, but occasionally, a longer glance and a turned head, will signal the presence of a gifted one; a Stibmit.

 

The forest and its creatures were safe. Giselle had flown powerfully to the Pond's edge, delivering her precious cargo. Safaa was indeed a strong swimmer and sped to deliver the Arrow of Belhavior to King Ghard with time to spare. Safaa and Bao returned to the deep. Odin lived a long life, before joining his Father in the spiritual world.

 

* * * * *

 

Jevon leaned backwards and snapped the large book closed. "So now you know. You've nothing to be afraid of Kady; you're just different, like me."

 

"A Stibmit," prompted Kady with a cute smile.

 

"Yes. You will see the creatures but they respect you, they're indebted to our family and they'll protect you. You must never share your gift," Jevon started to laugh. "They'll think you're strange like me and cart you away." He continued laughing. "We've one hour left and I want to show you something, have you eaten enough because we have to leave now?"

 

Kady didn't know where he would take her and she was still hungry. She didn't want this to end, so she simply smiled and stuttered a response, "Sure."

 

Jevon seemed motivated; he'd repacked the picnic in minutes and was bundling Kady into the back of the car. “Where are we heading?” inquired Kady.

 

“To the Castle, Skipton Castle,” shouted Jevon, louder than he needed to. “I have to show you something, and we’re running out of time. If I don’t get you back by 4pm, you know what kind of trouble I’ll be in with your Mother.”

 

Kady laughed, but inside she knew only too well. Jevon sped towards the Castle, he approached the lights, and they turned yellow. Instead of braking, he sped through the intersection at yellow. He glanced at Kady, to see if she had noticed; she had. It was a short ride to the Castle and Jevon was getting excited. He parked the car and hurried Kady inside the Castle's grounds. Kady could hardly keep pace, as Jevon rushed her into an old courtyard, sporting a beautiful Yew tree.

 

The courtyard contained an inlaid stone floor. Old stone buildings, two levels in height, enclosed the square courtyard. Ornate windows surrounded the courtyard, with a large Yew tree at its center. Jevon’s frantic pace came to an abrupt halt, in front of a carved stone doorway. Kady stopped and faced the doorway. “You're standing in the Tudor Conduit Court, this place oozes with history. Lady Anne Clifford planted the Yew tree in 1659. I draw your attention to the Coat of Arms, located above the door. It’s the Coat of Arms for John Clifford, 9th Lord of Skipton. Study it carefully.” Jevon paused for effect. “You can see three Wyverns, representing Odin, Safaa and Bao. Small front flippers and scaled tails; yes, these are Wyverns, Sea Dragons, yet we’re so far from the sea. Look down at the bottom right hand side of the shield, tell me what you see; talk it out to me.”

 

Kady studied the image carefully. I see the three Wyverns, but on the shield I see a pattern. Six round rings, arranged in a pattern?”

 

“Does the pattern remind you of anything?” Jevon was trying to be patient.

 

“Wait yes. The three rings at the bottom are the Wyverns in the water, lined up across the pond.”

 

“Good, yes. And the three rings at the top?”

 

“They represent the leaders; Belver, Ruby and Ranger.” Kady stared at the shield, carved in weathered stone for all to see. Thousands of tourists have passed under this carving each year.

 

“Remember the ceremony at the Pond; the one used to summons the Wyvern? Well this is their formation, when the Wyvern's returned.”

 

“Wow,” said Kady, hardly believing her own eyes. “That day will never be forgotten. I guess it’s when the shift of power happened, when evil was defeated.”

 

Jevon looked at Kady; it was a profound statement from someone so young.

 

"The mystical creatures took a chance on a small girl. They adopted her as their Princess. She saved the day, Princess Ruby of Tamworthia.”

 

“Did she live happily ever after?"

 

"She did. She married and had two boys. She lived happily into her old age and never went too long without a visit to the forest."

 

Jevon smiled at how bright this young lady was. She stared in awe at the Wyverns carved into the stone wall. “We have to go Princess; we have to get you home by 4pm.”

 

On the ride home Kady was curious. “So tell me,” she paused. “Why does my Mother always give you a hard time, I mean, why doesn’t she trust you?”

 

“So you see that then?”

 

“I’d have to be blind and dumb not to notice.”

 

“When I was younger I excelled at school. My grades were really good. When I became a Stibmit, I wanted to spend all of my time in the forest. I liked my friends, the mystical creatures. They were wise and I learned far more than the stuff they taught me at school. I couldn’t tell people what I was doing in the forest so I became a bit of a loner. Besides, if I started to talk about Wood Sprites and Fairies they would have locked me up.”

 

“That’s true,” blurted Kady.

 

They both laughed. “So, I was always considered a bit weird and a loner. Your Mother means well, but she has never gotten over my choice of career. She thought that my grades would take me to university and I was a huge disappointment to her when I decided to work for the conservation agency. She thought I just wanted to waste my time and my life hanging around in the forest. So I got labeled. Kady, society doesn’t like people who are different. They want us all to be the same. I was labeled weird, odd, a creep, dangerous, mentally unstable. Yet I haven’t done a thing to deserve this reputation. I could never tell your Mother why I so desperately needed to protect the forest. I’m not a land Baron. This is the only way that I could spend my life making sure the forest and those creatures remained safe.”

 

“I get it. My Mother’s so out of order.”

 

“She’s just trying to protect you, but people are not comfortable with people who don’t conform.”

 

“Well I’m a Sibmit now. It’s going to be interesting, I don’t like conformity,” she said with a wry smile.

 

 

The End …

 

 

"The moment you stop believing in fanciful things, the world stops being fanciful."

Phil Armstrong

 

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