Corey and Juliet walked through the trees. They were both anxious to reach Biddy’s cottage.
The morning air was cold and the flickering light from the fire was a welcoming sight, as they walked up to the front door. Biddy opened it before they had the chance to knock.
“I have been waiting for you,” she stood aside to let them in. “I made some tea and there’s cake if you’re hungry.”
They both asked for tea and cupped their hands around the mugs, glad of the warmth of the tea.
“You’ll be anxious to hear what I’ve learned,” she said after a moment’s silence.
They nodded and waited.
“After I left you yesterday, I went in to the hidden world.”
“I thought you were going up to the castle?” Corey said.
“I was, the entrance to the hidden world is beneath the castle,” Biddy said. “I know what you’re thinking: that I’m a mad old woman who has nothing better to do than fill your heads with my nonsense.”
She held up a hand to still their protests. “It’s all right; I don’t blame you but tell me this. Is it madness to recognise reality? Anyway, I will explain what I can about the hidden world and let you decide for yourselves. The king gave me permission to tell you some of the facts; the rest is up to him.”
She spent the next hour or so telling them about the hidden world. They listened in awe as she described a place, they had heard about in fairy tales. Images of Bargamore, Claradon Faranord and the Ereban Forest swam in their heads, as they tried to envision the places she spoke of. Biddy’s gift for storytelling is unsurpassed, and her descriptions filled them with wonder.
“I know it’s hard to take all this in,” she said. “You are modern children who know nothing beyond television and computers. Here, in this barren place, we are content to live alongside all sorts of creatures be they elf, fairy or even the dead. Though you might not want to believe it, the mortal and fairy world are entangled and interwoven more than you realise.”
“When you say time slows down,” Corey asked. “What do you mean exactly?”
“The Elfin can live for hundreds of years. It was rare for one of their race to die young until…” she let the words trail off.
“Until what?” Juliet urged. “What were you going to say?”
“The king will explain all that. It is not for me to speak of such things and its best you hear it from him.
Juliet felt beneath the table for Corey’s hand. Were the things the old woman saying true, they both wondered and if so, why did what seem wonderful a moment ago, now fills them with something akin to dread?
“Aye,” Biddy said. “You feel it too. There’s something not right in the hidden world and I know the Erebans are plotting.”
Before either of them could ask how she knew this, Biddy continued.
“The Erebans are dreadful creatures. Well, you’ve seen that for yourself,” she nodded at Corey. “They are not just fearsome to behold, but they have great powers of darkness. Erebans are our boogiemen and there is not a child in the hidden world that does not fear them. No one is sure where they come from. No one has ever seen the Ereban young. Perhaps, they sprout from the earth like dark spores and do not come to life until mature. No one knows, but they are strange, savage beings. They poison the mind with terrible thoughts and eat away at the soul. Some have taken their own life and others they turn in to raving lunatics. They have the power to strip away man’s dreams and hopes and as the elfin say, once these are gone, there is nothing left. They have stay quiet up to now, but there is something in the air, a gathering of energy. I’ve sensed it over the past few weeks and it’s getting stronger.”
“What do we do next?” Juliet tried to repress a shudder.
“We wait,” Biddy said. “There’s nothing else we can do. Go back to your dig. Word will be sent when the time comes. I’ll come and fetch you when the king is ready.”
Corey and Juliet could not wait to be alone to talk about everything, but they didn’t want to leave the warmth of the kitchen. They were safe in the cottage. It cocooned them with its strange scent of herbs and though this was just their second visit, it was familiar.
“Run along now,” Biddy stood and started to collect the mugs. “I have work to do.”
“What if something happens and you can’t get to us?” Corey asked.
“Then you’ll hear the bells. The fairy bells ring out at times. I heard them on the night of my mother’s death. Even though they resented her marriage, they could not let her passing go unmarked. Listen for the bells. If you hear them, come and find me.”
“What do they sound like?” Juliet asked.
“You’ll remember them. The memory of their sweetness will return once you hear them.”
The sun was high in the sky and the air felt much warmer when they stepped outside. Tabby, who was basking in the warmth, came over and rubbed against them. She jumped up on the fence and watched as they walked towards the trees. The slight breeze ruffled her fur as she raised her head and sniffed the air. Her mistress was right, there was something wrong. She hissed, drawing her lips back over pointed teeth. Then a stray leaf floated by and she forgot, for a moment, her feeling of dread.