Drayton rowed the boat to the other side of the
loch. Earlier in the day he’d marked a tunnel exit with a red flag so he
could find it after dark. He pulled the boat into the tunnel and dragged it
into the cave. He didn’t want anybody to find it. After tying it up to a
post, he made his way up to the main floor, where he had left the gold and
I’ve had enough of this. I don’t need that
stupid orb any more. I’ve got all this gold and jewels. I can make enough
money to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Forget it, Phelan. You
get the orb back on your own. I’m outta here! He packed as much of the
booty as he could into a wooden crate and dragged it down to the boat. After
dumping its contents in the bottom, he stood wondering how he was going to
get it back to Truro. “I’ll ship it back!”
He refilled the crate several times, having to
drag it down each time to the boat. Fearing the weight would sink it, he
climbed into rickety wooden and pushed it into the water, leaving the rope
attached. It didn’t sink. “Great! I’ll take this and hide it somewhere until
I can get boxes to pack it and ship it home to Truro.” Untying the boat, he
let the flow of the river carry him into the loch. Grabbing the oars, he
rowed. The night was calm, with little wind blowing. The stars blanketed the
sky and the only sound he could hear were a few owls hooting and an
occasional car driving down the motorway towards Edinburgh. His eyes wavered
back and forth, searching for a place to hide the jewels.
The moon shone, reflecting a huge white orb on
the surface in the middle of the loch. Drayton looked over the side of the
boat at it. The water beneath him turned from black to milky white. He
looked up to see if the moon was spreading. It wasn’t. A swirling hole
opened up and the water went down into it. Drayton felt the boat being
pulled toward it. “Phelan!” He rowed with all his strength, moving toward
the shore, but the hole pulled him back. The water level of the loch lowered
as the deep hole swallowed it. “Phelan, leave me alone!” His gut in knots
told him he wasn’t going to keep one bit of the gold, so he jumped from the
boat and swam toward shore. The suction pulled at him, taking him under
water. Remembering his powers, he grew in size and walked to the shore. He
stood watching as the boat with all the riches was sucked into the hole and
taken to the depths below. Since he was still tall, he walked to the island
and went into the castle. “I’ll keep some of this.” He filled his pants
pockets until they bulged and left the castle. Stepping across the water, he
once again stood on the shore.
Feeling confident, he walked into the
surrounding woods, looking for a place to hide what he’d managed to save.
Using his large hands, he scooped out some dirt near the base of a tree and
emptied his pockets into it and covered it up with more dirt. “There.”
Satisfied, he shrank back down and sat on the mound.
A mist floated towards him from the loch. Unable
to see it, he closed his eyes and tried to relax. Fingers of dark clouds
crept through the fallen leaves, rustling them as they passed by. Stopping
behind a cluster of trees, Phelan whispered, sending out a call to all the
malicious, evil spirits of the woods. The first to appear were the redcaps.
The vicious and malevolent creatures, ugly in every way, stood before him,
donned in their human blood-soaked caps. “You called for us, Master.” Fofym
bowed to Phelan. The other redcaps knelt. “What is your command?”
“Take the others and meet me at Castle Athdara.
I have some work for you,” Phelan said. The sight of them revolted him.
Larger than humans, with snouts like pigs, heavy white bears and
wart-covered cheeks, the redcaps lived up to their reputation of ugliness.
Tusk-like teeth jutted from their jowly jaws. Hairs, random and stiff, poked
out from the most unusual places. He saw rusty iron boots on their feet.
“Are you good with that wooden scythe?”
“I am,” Fofym said.
“As I said, I have some work for you.” Phelan
saw their long, curved claws.
“Work? What is your payment?” Dokomik, another
redcap stood and confronted the wizard. “We are at your command, Master, for
the right payment.”
“Go to Castle Athdara. I promise a just reward.”
“As you command.” Fofym and Dokomik led the
redcaps into the woods, heading for the castle.
Phelan whispered again. The wind, heavier and
colder, called to the bean-nighe. Within seconds pale blue forms floated, as
though full of water, toward Phelan. “What is your command?”
Phelan watched the female creatures draw closer.
Each had a single nostril, a protruding tooth, webbed feet and long hanging
breasts. “Washerwoman, I have called you banshee for a purpose. What is your
The leader moved ahead of the rest. “I am Eriya.
Do you have need of my washing?”
“Eriya, I understand your kind wash the blood
from the clothes of the dying. If you do as I command, I shall give you
untold amounts of dying humans,” Phelan said.
“Master, you know we are women who died giving
birth. We are cursed forever to our task. What do you ask of us?”
“Go to Castle Athdara. I have work for you. I
promise you more work than you will ever need.” Without another word spoken,
the ethereal specters disappeared among the trees.
Phelan took a deep breath and blew it out, along
with high-pitched sounds, inaudible to humans. From the west they came,
resembling a flock of birds. Sluaghs, evil spirits of dead sinners soared
towards Phelan. When they landed in the clearing near him, the wizard
watched as they stretched and contracted their bodies from shapeless masses
into pale, colorless humanoid forms. Rofariir, the leader, stepped forward.
“You called us, Master.”
“Yes, you called for us,” Idaor said.
Rofariir turned and sent a bolt of fire through
Idaor’s face. The sluagh fell to the ground, instantly turning to a writhing
pile of maggots. The others, not wasting a moment, fell on him and devoured
him. When they finished, Rofariir said, “Do not ever interrupt me or attempt
to be my equal.” The others cowered before him.
“I did. I have work for you. You were all born
of fear and shadow. If you come to my aid, I promise you a month’s worth of
rotting steak, crawling with maggots, decaying vegetables, such as lettuce,
cabbages, and cauliflowers, and loaves of moldy bread.” Thoughts of these
foods turned Phelan’s stomach, but he knew they were favorites and the
sluaghs were unable to resist. Their mouths drooled and salivated thinking
of the feast they’d have.
Rofariir bowed. “We are here to serve you,
Master. What do you require of us?”
“Go to Castle Athdara. I will be there shortly.”
Phelan raised his wispy hand and the sluagh changed form and flew to the
castle. He drifted further into the forest, hovering above the sleeping
Drayton. “Sleep, my young man, for you will not sleep again for many nights
once I’m through with you. How dare you steel my gold!” He disappeared,
turning into a gust of icy wind.
Drayton woke up. “What was that?” He rubbed his
arms. “It’s freezing out here. I’d better get back to the castle. Don’t go
away, gold and silver and jewels. I’ll be back for you in the morning.” With
a yawn he walked off to find the cave entrance to the tunnels of Castle
Phelan went to the castle ahead of Drayton. The
host of redcaps, bean-nighe and sluaghs awaited his return. They gathered
around him, their vaporous bodies encircling his. “What is it you ask of us,
Master?” Rofariir swooped down from near the ceiling.
“Follow me.” He moved down the stairs, stopping
at a door. Opening it they followed him inside. “In this room there is a
time portal. Men have been coming through it from the past.” He hesitated to
tell them the whole story. “I want you to stop any man that tries to leave
“That is all you ask of us? You call the bean-nighe
from the streams and rivers, the redcaps from the forests, and we sluaghs
from the west simply to guard a door and let no man leave it?” Rofariir
zoomed around the room, his ghostly form glowing like embers of a dying
“It is not a simple task. The men who come
through the portal, come from the days of King Kegan, from another land.
They have a purpose and will be determined to leave the room. Keep them here
at all cost. Do what you need to do, but do not kill any of them.” Phelan’s
voice rose as he commanded the ghouls.
“As you command, Master. Our rewards for this
are great. It is the least we can do.” Rofariir swooped to the ceiling and
stayed. “One more thing, Master, where is the time portal? I cannot see it,
nor can I sense it.”
Phelan picked up a stone from the floor and
threw it into the middle of the room. An upright rectangle sparked as wavy
lines of electricity show their face. “That is the portal.”
“May I ask why you fear the men who will try to
come through the portal?”
“I owe you no explanation. One of them, and I
don’t know which one, has been trained in the language of Xilia. The humans
have a book from my homeland and I do not want it translated. I must stop
the man, all the men, from coming.”
“Master Phelan, my people do not feel
comfortable being trapped in a room with the likes of those,” Fofym said,
pointing to the bean-nighe and sluaghs. “Redcaps prefer to be with our own
kind. We can guard this room without them.”
Phelan saw the sluaghs slide closer together.
“Enough of this. You are to stay here with them and you are to cooperate. If
there’s any trouble, I’ll be forced to take measures.”
“What do you mean by measures, Master?” Fofym
stepped away from the wizard.
“I don’t think I need to explain myself. You are
to stay here and guard this time portal. That is all I command of you.”
Fofym looked at the other redcaps. “I
understand, Master. We will obey your command.”
“I’m glad to hear that. If you fail me, your
punishment will be as bad as your reward will be good. Guard the time
portal.” With that, Phelan disappeared through the door, leaving them
behind. He flew up the steps to the main hall. Drayton walked in through the
arched door. “Now I will take care of you, Drayton.”
Drayton lay down on his sleeping bag. He saw
Phelan’s form appear before him and he sat up. “Phelan, you sunk my boat and
all my gold. Why?”
“That treasure, the gold and jewels, is not your
treasure. It stays here in the castle. When I get the orb back and am
renewed to my physical body as it once was, I will need the treasure to buy
up armies. It lies safe at the bottom of the loch now. I will retrieve it
when I want to.”
“Your treasure? I think you could share some of
it. I work hard here doing all you ask and I get nothing, not even a bed to
sleep on. When will I get my share?” Drayton stood up, shouting. “Some of
that gold is mine.”
“You dare raise your voice to me? You dare
presume to think that you are entitled to the gold? I’ve tolerated enough
from you, boy. You want a bed to sleep on? I will provide you with one.”
Phelan raised his arms. Chains wrapped themselves around Drayton’s wrists
and ankles. They lifted into the air and pulled him to the floor, stretching
his arms and legs wide apart.
“What are you doing, you fool? You need me. You
can’t kill me or you won’t get your orb. I know you need me!” Drayton
screamed in a rage. “Let me go, fool.”
“I do need you, but that won’t stop me from
making you uncomfortable for a while.” The wizard laughed.
Drayton couldn’t move a muscle. His legs arms
ached from the strain of the heavy iron chains. The coldness of the floor
seeped through his clothing to his back. “Let me go!” He heard them before
he saw them. Tiny creatures fluttered their wings, soaring into the castle
and heading straight for him. He turned his head to see. Each winged insect
was half an inch in length with glowing green eyes and a coal black body. A
sharp stinger protruded from the back end. “What are those things?”
“These are called sand niarts. They hail from
the land of your ancestors in Hadremutem. In the days of Rolfin and his
brother, Bartolf, these creatures tormented mankind. You see, Drayton, they
sting. The sting is excruciating, yet you won’t die. There is no poison,
only sharp, needlelike pain as they stinger goes into your body. No, you
won’t die. I need you, just as you said, but it’s time you learn your place.
I’ve been patient enough with you. Enjoy your bed of pain.” A sand niart
stung him on the leg. A scream filled the castle. Another niart stung him.
Phelan disappeared into the night, cackling in rhythm to the screams.