Biddy paused to catch her breath and looked up at the grey sky. The clouds were so low and swollen with rain they seemed within arm’s reach. It was many years since she had last attempted the climb to the castle, and she had forgotten how steep it was. She sat down on a large rock and looked up at the jutting towers of the dark silhouette above her head. The last time she entered the world of the Elfin she had been with her mother. Even then the reception they received was not a good one. Her mother left the elfin world a day before her eighteenth birthday. Biddy knew the aging process for the elfin slowed at their coming of age Still, her mother’s decision to leave did not altogether save her from the heartache to come. She aged much slower than her husband, and that was her curse for marrying a mortal. Her mother did die as the headstone proclaimed in her hundred and twelfth year. She might have lived longer if the death of her husband had not broken her heart. Being half elfin meant that Biddy, like her mother, would age much slower than her father. Today, she felt all her hundred and three years, as she sat mopping her brow.
The entrance to the world below is on the north side of the castle. This area never gets much sun and since mortals love the light as much as the elfin, they tend to shy away from this shadowy place. Everything was done to discourage the curious. Gnarled, twisted trees line the steep hill; wild brambles grow between the trunks, ready to tear at the clothing of any intruder. At the summit, six huge stones, weathered by time, stand like rheumatic fingers, the hands raised to repel any intruders who dared approach. These silent sentinels are the last thing one encounters before reaching the ivy-covered entrance to the cave.
Biddy was panting when she reached the summit, and she leaned against one of the huge rocks. In the distance, the ocean looked like a black line against the greyness of the day. The air was still, too still. Despite the great height of the hill, there was no whistling of wind, and no cawing from the crows in the walls of the castle. It seemed that nature itself was holding its breath in anticipation of what would happen when she pulled aside the curtain of ivy. Squaring her shoulders, she stepped into the cave. It was cold here, and she stood for a moment to let the cool air wash over her. The only sound came from the slow dripping of water. With shuffling feet, she descended deeper into the darkness. To steady herself, she kept one hand on the wall of the cave. The rocks were slimy, and she shivered in revulsion, as her fingers encountered the softness of moss. Her heart pounded against her ribs and her breathing echoed off the listening walls. She could not remember how long it took to reach the fairy world. She kept going, her process slow as the ground beneath her sloped further, until her feet went from under her. One moment she was feeling in front of her with the toe of her boot, the next she went sprawling down on to the dusty ground, as her foot encountered nothing but air. At this precise moment the alarm bells sounded, and a small light appeared in the darkness. Its glow was bright enough for her to see the sharp spear pointed at her face and the angry, glaring eyes of its owner.
“Go back, mortal,” the dwarf said. “You have no right to be here.”
Biddy stood up and shook the dirt from her skirt.
“I said, go back,” the dwarf jabbed the point of the spear at her. “You will not get much further mortal. Help is on the way.”
“Don’t you remember me, Roak?” Biddy asked. “I am Petals daughter.”
Roak, the Guardian of the Cave, held the lamp higher and squinted up at her.
“I came here with my mother many years ago to visit with my grandparents,” Biddy said, as the thundering began in the darkness.
She leaned against the wall of the cave as the knights appeared. A line of archers, their bows raised, ready to strike, surrounded her. Beyond them, dozens of dwarves toddled with shields held high and spears ready for battle. She read the question in the elfin eyes as they met, not with the army of mortals they had imagined, but an old woman, cowering against the rocks.
“She says she is Petals daughter,” Roak said, to one of the elfin.
“You have no business here,” one of the knights said. “Turn around mortal or feel the sting of my arrow.”
“I have no intention of turning around,” Biddy said. “I am half elfin and I demand to see the king.”
“You cannot make such demands,” he laughed. “You have no rights here.”
“I demand in the memory of my mother,” Biddy knew the elfin law well.
Though her mother was exiled from her people, she still had to right to return once in every decade to visit her loved ones.
“Send a message to the king. Tell him I am here to speak for those who are called the shadow self.”
The knight whispered something to the elf beside him that sent him running back into the darkness. They waited in silence, until the soldier returned and whispered the king’s answer.
“It would seem that the king wishes to see you,” the knight said. “Follow us.”
Biddy followed, praying she would not lose her footing again. It was a relief when the dot of light appeared. She had to shield her eyes as they moved into the brightness and beauty of the world beneath the earth. Up ahead the castle of Bargamore glowed against the earthen sky, and she bit her lip when she saw the number of steps she needed to climb. As though reading her mind, the knight called over his shoulder.
“I will assist you in the climb, ancient one.
“Really,” Biddy huffed. “You’re probably older than I am, so less of the ancient one, if you please.”
“You may well be right,” he turned and smiled at her.
Biddy felt her cheeks flames as her stomach did somersaults, I am a silly old fool, she thought, but it had to be said, the elfin men were beautiful.