Jabberwocky Dreams was written for Trenchcoat 3. I believe it marks a bit of a turning point in my writing. I was very young when I wrote this, and up to that point, Trenchcoat was a fanzine known more for its enthusiasm than for its quality. The characters were firm,albeit thin and the plots were very simple, and the wording even moreso.
At the time, I was looking for another new story to add to the Trenchcoat season. Continuing to mimic the real television series, I tried to picture how a new story could be constructed. I knew that Doctor Who had been very successful at adopting outside concepts into itself. We'd had a classic vampire story in The State of Decay, and The Curse of Fenric appeared to be mooted as the werewolf story that JNT had long been campaigning for. So, what legendary monsters could I resurrect to insert into the Doctor Who universe?
It was then that I read Brian Froud's famous book on the Faeries. This combined with Patrick Little's The Hawthorne Tree inspired me to do Jabberwocky Dreams. It would prove to have a lasting impact on my writing. Fayette's character, which had been skimpy up to that point, obtained a significant boost. She ended up carrying the whole of the story alone, and her heritage was filled out significantly. For me, this was the start of a long love-affair with Celtic mythology. After writing Jabberwocky Dreams as a nightmare sampler, I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of what Celtic legend had to offer. A 'sequel' was soon penned in the form of Trenchcoat 4's Smaointe (Reflections), and I later incorporated elements of both stories into In Tua Nua, a seventh Doctor and Benny story that was submitted to Virgin Books.
Jabberwocky Dreams, although a rather old story, bucks the trend of gradual improvement in the Trenchcoat series by remaining the fan's most popular tale of all five issues. I thought you might be interested in reading it. For more information on the Trenchcoat canon, please consult my web pages at http://members.xoom.com/JamesandErin/wwwtcoat.htm or look at my other fiction at http://members.xoom.com/JamesandErin/
And now on with the story...
by James Bow
Fayette groaned, squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face in her pillow, but it was no use. Sleep was gone. She lay inert for a few more minutes before trying to move.
Her joints ached and her eyes were sore. Her head felt as though something had sucked out her brain, leaving a vacuum behind. She groaned again as she levered herself to an upright position. The room was too bright; it made her blink.
She thought, none too clearly, that she felt hung over. That of course was impossible, for she'd never drunk to excess in her life and she certainly hadn't begun last night. What time was it anyway? She glanced at the digital clock on her bedside table and her drowsiness evaporated. The display was dead.
Fayette picked up the clock, found the power cord and followed it to the plug. It was stuck firmly in the socket behind her brass bed. She shrugged. The clock must be broken. She would ask papa to fix it when she met him at breakfast.
The aching drowsiness returned and Fayette rubbed her forehead. She felt drained to the point of exhaustion. What was wrong? 'Est-ce que je suis malade?' she muttered.
She left her room, walking unsteadily. There was a replicator beside her door and she programmed it for water. The device usually complied within five seconds, but ten seconds later Fayette was tapping her foot impatiently. To her surprise, a display lit up with the message 'Unit empty.'
'Quoi?' Fayette frowned. She was about to thump the machine with her fist when a glass of water appeared on the receptacle. The stupid mechanism didn't know its own mind!
After gulping down the water, she felt a little better. It was time she got started with her day.
Back in her room she made her bed, fluffing up her pillow and straightening the sheets as she had done back home in Paris. She hummed while she worked, a simple tune from her childhood. When she had finished, she gazed around at her cozy but meticulously clean bedroom. Her antique decorations and books contrasted with the futuristic glass bookshelves and the Spartan, roundeled TARDIS walls but nothing was out of place.
Satisfied, she left her room again, still in her night dress, heading for her morning shower. In the corridors all was quiet save for the soft hum of TARDIS operations and the simple, haunting tune she hummed as she walked along. When had she learned this, she wondered idly.
She stopped at a junction and stared about in all directions, disoriented. Had she gone the wrong way? But no, this was where she was supposed to be. It was perfectly familiar to her, she passed this way several times each day, but the place seemed - no, felt - different, somehow. Fayette rubbed her eyes. Perhaps I should get more sleep, she thought. I am waking up too tired these days. She took the left-hand corridor and headed for the washroom.
She stopped at a cabinet and grabbed two towels before entering the room and turning on the light. Shutting the door, she prepared for her shower by placing the folded towels by the sink and turning on the water in the glass-enclosed stall. Stepping out of her night dress, she dropped it down the laundry chute. As she faced the mirror to twist up her hair, the tune she hummed echoed and reechoed from the polished walls.
Fayette frowned and stopped humming. Something was wrong. She listened and realized that the shower was not running. She had turned on the taps, had she not? Fayette stepped into the stall and peered at the shower head. She couldn't see a blockage. She twisted the taps, then thumped the pipes to no avail. Fayette sighed in frustration.
Three things broken and the day has not even started for me, she thought. This is an ill omen.
A sudden feeling of dread blew over her like a cold wind. She listened intently. There was nothing to hear beyond the hum of normal TARDIS operations, but the icy feeling refused to go away. She peered out of the shower stall. 'Is somebody there? Papa?'
Fayette ordered herself to relax. Her nerves were like violin strings! Grandmere would say she needed a tonic. I'll go straight back to my room, she thought, get dressed, and go tell papa that his ship is falling apart. She stepped out of the shower stall and stopped again. Something was different. The lights of the washroom were measurably dimmer than normal. As she stood and stared, she could see them slowly growing dimmer still.
If something went wrong with the lights, she would be making her way through the TARDIS blind. Papa must do something about this, quickly!
She wrapped herself in a large towel and ran lightly through the TARDIS corridors back to her room. When she reached it, no more than thirty seconds later, the lights were noticeably dimmer. She rushed to her closet and threw on some clothes. Two minutes later she left her room, hopping from one foot to the other as she struggled with her shoes.
Outside her room, Fayette stopped and composed herself. Do not panic, she thought, keep a level head and do not make foolish mistakes. Vraiment, the TARDIS is having problems, but all I have to do is find papa and start him working on the solution. But undoubtedly he already knew. She would probably find him hard at work. She straightened her long white dress, smoothed her sash, took a deep breath and walked briskly but calmly through the TARDIS corridors.
She looked in at the Doctor's bedroom. It was a clutter of books open and closed, and pieces of unfinished circuitry. Papa had firmly refused Fayette's frequent offers to clean up the room but now she took comfort in the mess. The room looked lived-in, and Fayette knew papa couldn't be far. She turned away and continued down the corridor, humming that simple tune from a lost time in her childhood.
The kitchen had a feel to it completely different from the Doctor's room. Papa usually made the breakfasts, preferring real food to machine-produced nutrient bars. She could not remember a morning when this room wasn't warm and filled with good smells. This morning the kitchen was cold. The range sat unused and a few dishes from yesterday's late night snack were stacked beside the sonic washer, waiting for cleaning. No one had used this room all night, Fayette was sure.
A sudden crash made her whirl about. A small china plate that had been drying by the sink had fallen to the floor and shattered. Quickly she pulled a plastic tube from the wall and vacuumed up the mess. Letting the tube slither back into its receptacle, she frowned in puzzlement. What had made the plate fall? She had been on the other side of the room and couldn't have touched it.
She glanced around the kitchen and shivered. In this neglected room she suddenly felt alone. And the TARDIS lights were still dimming steadily. Something was very wrong.
She left the kitchen at a run. If papa wasn't in the console room, she didn't know where else he could be. Her heart beat fast with apprehension as she approached the control room and she stopped at the door. She waited a moment before opening it slowly. Then closed her eyes and groaned in frustration.
Her worst fears had been confirmed. The Doctor wasn't there. Discouraged, she slouched into the console room.
The central rotor rose and fell slowly, showing that the TARDIS was still in flight. Fayette moved around the console, flicking switches and checking displays. Nothing came up to identify a problem with operations. She had to squint at the readouts as the shadows thickened.
An idea struck her and she went over to a panel containing a speaker and a switch. Papa had told her about this useful device only yesterday. Fayette pressed the switch and spoke aloud. 'Ordinateur, ou est papa?'
The console buzzed for a moment. Then a feminine, mechanical voice replied from the speaker. 'The Doctor is not-' To Fayette's horror, the words slurred and slowed like a recording losing power. She flipped desperately at the control switches but to no avail. The speaker was dead.
Then the console itself groaned and the central column stopped its rhythmic rise and fall, instead twisting and jerking in one direction and then the other. Seconds later, these movements slowed, then stopped altogether.
Fayette looked on in horror. She knew what this meant. The TARDIS was now adrift in the time-vortex and wouldn't land. If things were not fixed, she would be aboard the TARDIS for the rest of her life. Where was papa? If she didn't find him, she'd be utterly alone forever.
Lost. Alone. Completely alone. Terror began to creep out from the dark places in Fayette's subconscious. Instinctively, she backed up against the wall. All the lights dimmed to darkness around her. The hum of TARDIS operations faded to silence. Fayette slid down and curled up on the floor in total blackness. The only noise left was the faint hiss of the ventilators.
If the ventilators stop, she thought, I will suffocate. Perhaps that would be better than a life alone in the dark. She hugged her knees to her chest and waited for the blackness of unconsciousness to invade her mind.
But the hiss of the ventilators did not subside. After a while, the sound become the only reality in Fayette's Universe, except for the hard surface under her. She began hearing things in that soft passage of air. It reminded her of a mother hushing a baby one moment, or the drizzle of rain on the pavements outside her old bedroom in Paris the next. A soft rush of air in the chestnut trees; a friendly whisper in the dark.
Fayette looked up in surprise, though she could see nothing. The noise from the ventilators had changed. The steady, quiet hiss had become a rhythmic rise and fall. For a moment, she feared this was a sign the ventilators were about to give out, but the sound continued. It reminded her now of someone's breathing. Someone very large, with a huge pair of lungs. Inhale... exhale...
It seemed to Fayette now that there was a presence with her in the dark. It hovered all around her, breathing down her neck. Yet it didn't feel hostile: just very strange. She shivered and huddled down.
Suddenly a bright light blinded her. She turned away and narrowed her eyes until she could face it. The interior door had opened and the corridor on the other side, though dimly lit by normal standards, was bright compared to the impenetrable gloom of the console room.
The lights in the corridor dimmed and brightened in time with the hissing/breathing of the ventilators. In the distance they glowed and pulsed, as if beckoning. Since anything would be better than sitting in the dark, Fayette scrambled to her feet and walked cautiously out the door, which swung shut behind her.
She crept onward, unsure what to expect. Soon she came to a junction in the corridor and hesitated, wondering which way to go. As she watched, the lights in the right branch dimmed to darkness. The lights in the left branch maintained their wan glow. She turned left. When it happened again at the next junction, she realized she was being guided. Or perhaps shepherded?
But by what? And where was papa? What was happening? The TARDIS had come to be a home to her; never had it acted so strangely before. She felt fragile and alone. Overwhelmed, she reached out and leaned against the wall of the corridor.
At once her fingers were wrapped in warmth, as though a large hand was gently holding hers. Though comforting, the sensation alarmed her. She stared at her hand and blinked in bewilderment. She thought she had seen her fingers slightly sunken into the wall as though embedded in sand, but as she looked more closely there was nothing amiss. Fayette's heart beat faster. Was she going mad?
A bracing feeling swept over her, chasing her fears and strengthening her resolve. She knew she was not mad, despite all she had experienced. She sensed, very near, the presence of a friend. Surely the Doctor must be somewhere up ahead. Firm in her resolve now, she strode deeper into the maze of dimly lit corridors.
She walked along confidently for ten minutes, following a clearly marked route. Wherever she came to a junction one branch was always dimly lit while the others were dark. A glance behind showed that the lights were out where she had been. There would be no going back. She came to the limit of all her previous wanderings: all beyond here was new. Still she walked on. Something assured her there was a reason behind this strange expedition with its unseen leader, some mysterious but benign purpose.
Fayette turned a corner and found herself in a wide open space. It was like a Renaissance courtyard, very different from the TARDIS' standard Spartan interior, but it was on a scale that defied imagination. The greenish light came from everywhere and nowhere. Ivy clung thickly to the stone walls and columns. Benches of carved marble and ornate bronze were set at intervals along a pathway winding among magnolias and overgrown climbing roses, most of the flowers fallen. Stone gargoyles and other statues, their clothes painted a startling grassy green, stood about like frozen ghosts.
Fayette stepped into the courtyard and immediately felt her resolve melt away. The friendly presence that had been with her all this time was suddenly gone. She was alone. She turned to retreat, but the corridor behind her was pitch black.
Reluctantly she turned and walked slowly along the garden path. In the vast courtyard, thick with damp ivy and moist leaves, she couldn't hear even the hissing/breathing of the TARDIS ventilators. The only sound was her soft footfalls on the worn cobblestones. Fayette hummed to fill the emptiness and to keep her spirits up, and the simple, haunting tune from her childhood drifted through the air.
She stopped in her tracks. Now she remembered what that tune was. She didn't know what it was called, or quite how she had learned it, but she remembered what had happened when she had hummed that tune at home. Her father had forbidden her to sing it ever again. That was one of the few times Fayette had seen him angry, but he was more than angry. He had gone white with fear and crossed himself before taking her sharply to task. There was something very, very bad about that tune: but he'd never explained what or why.
Ah! And now she remembered where she'd first heard it. From the gypsy who lived in a hovel of twigs in a park nearby. Father had spoken kindly to the ragged old woman and given her a few small coins, but he'd hurried Fayette away from there. The maids in the kitchen had whispered that the gypsy was a witch, one who dealt with faeries and other, worse things.
Fayette almost laughed aloud at the memory. Such superstition! Then a chill came over her. She couldn't get that tune out of her head. It had been humming itself over and over ever since she had wakened this morning. Now she was aware of it, it tormented her, buzzing in her head, demanding to be hummed aloud once more. She was beginning to be afraid of it.
Suddenly dizzy, she sat down on one of the marble benches. The tune lilted slowly in her head. She fought to suppress it. Think of something else! Where could papa be, what could have happened to make him disappear? Why did he leave me alone? Forcing these anxieties to the foreground helped to turn down the volume on the wayward tune.
A noise made her whirl around. The sound was distinct, as though something had brushed against dry ivy, but she couldn't pinpoint the source. It meant she wasn't alone. But there was nobody there. Nothing living, anyway. Only the grotesque statues of satyrs, fauns and trolls that silently leered and laughed at her.
Fayette breathed deeply to calm herself, then rubbed her brow wearily. 'It must have been the wind,' she muttered. But in here there was no wind...
'It was not.'
The gravelly voice, harsh as stone crushing stone, brought Fayette round with a jerk. Nothing there. She turned and turned again but could see no living person. 'Quoi?' she gasped.
'It was not the breeze,' the voice replied. 'It was me.'
Fayette found herself staring up at a stone gargoyle perched atop a freestanding column. The figure's blind eyes gazed solemnly ahead. Its legs had been sculpted into the hindquarters of a goat while its torso had a humanoid, but inhuman form. Its head sported a goat-like beard and pointed ears. The statue was clearly just a statue, and yet it sounded as if that voice had come from here. Perhaps some sort of hidden speaker?
Eyes fixed on the statue, Fayette tried again. 'Who are you?'
The gargoyle's head turned towards her. She gave a startled cry and scrambled backward off the bench, landing on the grass with a thump. The statue's lips did not move, but it spoke. 'I am myself.'
Fayette found her voice at last. 'H-how do you manage to speak?'
'Because I want to. Why do you ask such silly questions? I know why you're here.'
Fayette crawled back onto the bench, eying the creature warily. 'Oh? Then why am I here?'
'You're looking for your adopted father.'
Fayette brightened cautiously. 'Where is he?'
'He's not here.'
'Do you know where he is?'
'Yes, I know.'
'Then where is he?'
'I won't tell you. You haven't asked me nicely enough.'
Fayette exhaled through her teeth and swallowed hard. This was like a nightmare. Would she soon wake up and find everything as it should be? Before she could move, the gargoyle hopped down from the column and delivered three sharp pinches to her right arm with its stony fingers. She cried out in pain.
The creature chuckled. 'Just proving a point: this isn't a nightmare. You should know that, you've handled stranger matters before this.'
Fayette edged away from the statue, which now sat stony and immobile two feet away from her. She rubbed her arm and winced. Then chose her next words with care. 'Please, monsieur, would you be so kind as to tell me where papa is?'
'He's not here,' the gargoyle replied.
'So you've said,' the girl hissed. 'How do I find him?'
'Temper! You're not a very level-headed young woman, are you? You'll have a hard time finding your papa if you keep on like that.'
'What do you mean?' Fayette did not like its tone.
'If you seriously wish to rescue your adopted father, you'll need to keep your head, use all your resources of brain and nerve, and trust nothing you see. Failure to do any of these could bring disaster. By which I mean, neither you nor your adopted father will ever get back from that... Place.' The last word was said in a strange, guarded tone.
Fayette shivered. 'What is this place?'
'It doesn't have a name, but you should be familiar with it. Your grandmother told you all about it when you were just a little bit of a thing.'
'What are you talking about? This place, is papa there?'
'Can you take me to him?'
'Are you asking me to do that? Be very sure, now.'
'Of course I am asking! For the tenth time!'
The gargoyle's stone face broke into a sinister grin. 'I had to be sure. This part is the most fun for me.' He grabbed her bruised arm, ignoring her cry of pain. The stone fingers dug into her skin and she could do nothing to free herself.
The gargoyle's other arm reached for her face. Fayette tried to pull away, but the arm was too long. The fingers clamped over her eyes, plunging her into darkness.
Then she felt herself begin to drift away, as though her mind was leaving her body. The pain from her bruised arm became more and more distant. The haunting music, now overlaid with a sinister chord she hadn't noticed before, grew louder and louder until it swamped her thoughts. She struggled against it, struggled to remain in command of herself, but her hold on the solid world around her suddenly broke.
Fayette's consciousness floated away, dipping and bobbing in the turbulent stream of the faerie tune.
When she woke up she was lying on her back. Her head ached and she kept her eyes tight shut against a world that was sure to go pitching and reeling should she look upon it. She tried not to think about the events in the courtyard.
The haunting, dancing tune began to play in her head again. But this time something different happened. She could hear it in the air around her as well. Startled, she sat up and immediately whacked her head on a low branch.
Taking a few seconds to rub her head, she looked around cautiously for the source of the music. Nothing could be seen in the inky blackness. Then she found she was watching from under the shadow of a gnarled ash-like tree. The black void around her was slowly taking solid form. As the melody rippled along, the branches and trees of a thick forest appeared around her. The forest stretched into the distance and took its final shape as the music stopped.
Fayette stared about in disbelief. Surely she was dreaming? Perhaps the entire day so far was just a dream. The shower, the TARDIS breakdown, the gargoyle, everything. No doubt she'd be waking up in a moment. She leaned back on her hands then winced at the pain in her right arm. She looked at it carefully. There were four bright red marks, just like the prints of bruising fingers. Fayette shivered.
Cautiously she stood up, pushing away the dry twigs which scratched at her clothes as they broke. This was no dream. The gargoyle and this forest were both real enough.
It looked like dusk. What little light penetrated the leafy canopy was dim and tinged with blue. The air was fresh, cool and moist, and no breeze stirred the stillness. The woods smelled green, wild and earthy, mossy and old. Fayette could see no animals, but the forest itself tingled with barely suppressed energy, as if it were a great living beast.
Fayette was unsure what to make of this. Certainly she wasn't in the TARDIS anymore, but where was here? She shivered again, and not because of the chill. Though the trees in this forest appeared vaguely familiar, on closer study they proved to be species that didn't exist on Earth. The tree she was standing under looked very like an ash, yet it was too gnarled and tangled to be normal. It looked like an ash tree gone demented. The other trees were similar: slightly familiar, yet all wrong and somehow hostile. The surrounding wall of twigs bristled at her malevolently. How was she to get through this?
It was obvious now that she had been kidnaped, and not for any benevolent reason. Some unknown enemy had dropped her into this forest, alone, with nothing but the clothes on her back. No food, no shelter, no idea where to go.
However, this narrowed down the options of what to do. The only choice was to go forward. With no more hesitation she pushed the brambly branches aside and stepped out.
Going forward was not as difficult as she had expected. The many branches barring her way were easy to part. Her dress snagged once on a low branch, then she twisted up the fullness of the skirt in one hand and after that made better progress.
Soon, as she continued to walk, the branches began to part ahead of her, moving out of her way as she approached. Fayette simply noted this and continued her trek onward. She had seen enough of the bizarre today to accept almost anything.
Suddenly she tripped and fell heavily to the ground. Cursing her clumsiness and ill luck, she crawled back to see what had tripped her. She blinked in disbelief.
She had kicked over a mushroom. What was startling was that the fungus had stood at least a foot tall. Not even on the many alien planets Fayette had visited had she seen something like this. The mushroom was earth-like in shape, but its size was impossible.
A faint noise to her right caught her attention. She found herself staring down at an old man with a long white beard, wearing red boots and sturdy peasant clothes. He stood six inches tall and a good third of that height was taken up by a cone-shaped scarlet cap. Fayette's eyes widened as she recognized a creature Grandmere had told her about, years and years ago.
The gnome was upset, shouting up at Fayette at the top of his puny lungs, producing little more than a mouse-like squeak. She didn't recognize the language he was using, but it was definitely uncomplimentary. The tiny man jumped up and down in his rage, kicking dirt at her as she crouched above him. Then he grabbed a springy twig, pulled it back and let go. The thorns caught her in the face, scratching her cheek and drawing blood.
Having vented his rage, the gnome turned away and stared at the toppled mushroom with abject gloom. Now that she looked closely, Fayette could see three holes cut into the thick stem with the middle, largest hole covered in a panel made of miniature planks. The girl realized that what she'd kicked over was the gnome's house.
The little man walked over and pushed against the cap of the mushroom but he couldn't budge it. Finally he gave up the pitiful struggle, sat on the ground, and began crying like a little child. Fayette's heart went out to the stricken creature.
She took the mushroom in her hands. It was very light for its size and she easily set it back on its base. She packed earth around it until it was stable. The gnome wiped away his tears and watched her work. When she was done he circled the house, checking critically to see it was standing firm. Finally he turned and swept a deep bow, plucking his scarlet cap from his head. He said something incomprehensible, but his manner and tone conveyed gratitude.
'Er- you are welcome,' Fayette replied.
The gnome cocked his head, shrugged, then nodded at her. He put on his tall hat, and went back into his house. Fayette bent down close to listen and could hear the sound of someone rearranging furniture. She smiled, stood up and resumed her walk through the dense forest, watching more carefully now where she set her feet.
After walking for fifteen minutes, or what seemed like fifteen minutes (it was hard to tell) Fayette knew this world wasn't natural. The twilight never grew lighter or darker, and the patches of sky that showed through the trees were starless scraps of dusky blue. In fact the sky looked more like a painted canvas than a sky. She suspected there would never be true nightfall here, nor true dawn either. Around her, the forest continued to tingle with barely suppressed energy.
A breeze picked up and rustled the canopy above her. The wind blew steadily for some time, tossing the branches about. The rustling eddied back and forth through the forest. Fayette could imagine that the trees were calling to each other in a language she could not understand, heckling her as she passed. She tried to shrug away the notion, but it stayed.
Finally the breeze ebbed and the rustling of the canopy fell to a whisper. But the sense of tingling energy all about her intensified, as though something was about to erupt.
As she walked she became aware of a new sound. Behind her was a sudden crunching of twigs, a woody, leafy rustling. And was that a mumbled curse? She glanced over her shoulder and saw nobody behind her, not even a rabbit. She stood still and listened but now the forest was silent.
Was someone hiding, waiting for her to turn and walk on? She stared around in all directions, but the thickets were too dense to see through and ten feet away the branches of a willow veiled the distance. Fayette blamed the noises on her overwrought imagination and set off again.
The rustling started up again behind her. And then the mumbling, gnarled curse-like sounds, full of hate.
For a minute or so she tried to convince herself that it was all in her mind. For the next few minutes, she continued walking, but listened carefully to the noises behind her. The sounds were real; but they stayed a careful distance behind her.
She stopped, and the sounds stopped as well.
Fayette fought against her urge to run. She must calmly look back and discover what was trailing her. It was a hard struggle to stay calm and rational. She remembered the lines from the Ancient Mariner: 'And turns no more his head; because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread...'
Again there was nobody behind her. The woods were as dense as ever and, ten feet away, the branches of a willow veiled the twilit distance.
Fayette blinked. She had walked on several metres, and yet this willow was still ten feet behind her? Or perhaps it was a different tree. No, it was definitely the same tree. She recalled that particular ugly node on one side.
Another bit of verse came to her, this one a bit of folklore from out of the past. It made her scalp crawl.
'The Ellum do Grieve,
The Oak he do Hate,
The Willow do Walk,
If You Travels Late.'
It was impossible for a willow to uproot itself and stalk, muttering curses, after unwary travelers, wasn't it?
A shadow fell over her and she looked up. Her eyes widened in terror. A giant oak towered over her, barren branches clawing the sky. The sight of it called up another memory of childhood dread. Instinct named what her reason would not acknowledge.
The wind blew up suddenly at her back, pushing her towards the oak. The branches leaned towards her in defiance of the wind, creaking and stretching like skeletal fingers. She stared up at it, incredulous, frozen to the spot. The air that whistled through the branches gave the tree a distant, whispery voice full of hatred. 'Kill!' it hissed in the wind. 'Kill!'
Fayette's paralysis broke and she ran desperately. Brambles lashed out, catching at her dress and scratching her skin as they sought to hold her back. The leafy canopy roared with terrifying laughter, a sound like stormy surf.
A second oak barred her way and a thick branch came swinging down in a murderous drive for her head. Fayette ducked and scrambled past through the clawing brambles.
She tripped over a root that looped out of the ground and the branches of a hawthorn tree grabbed her. The spiny twigs dug into her skin, the persistent branches tangled around her until her flailing arms were pinioned and her legs and body bound. Fayette screamed as the tree hauled her into the air. The canopy roared its approval.
Earth and sky whirled around her. When the cosmos steadied she found herself high in the air and upside down, staring down at the rocky bank of a river. The branches lifted her higher still, then tensed like a spring. Fayette had an image of being dashed to pieces on the stones twenty feet below. She muttered a final prayer.
Suddenly her woody bonds loosened and something plucked her free. A rowan held her protectively close to its trunk as it beat back the furious attacks of nearby trees. Then, as she was beginning to think she'd been rescued, with a casual flip the rowan tossed her away.
Fayette screamed as she fell, but she struck the water in the middle of the river instead of the rocky banks. Immediately she kicked for the surface and swam to the other bank of the stream. She clambered up the stones and collapsed on the edge of a grassy field free of trees.
She stared up at the dusky sky, gasping for breath as the adrenaline settled. Finally she sat up and looked back across the river. The wind had calmed and the canopy was silent. The trees stood quietly, like normal trees, but she couldn't avoid the impression that a gap had opened around the majestic rowan. The other trees were leaning away from it and glowering at it angrily.
A harsh cry pierced the air and Fayette looked up. At the top of the rowan perched the second example she'd seen so far of this world's fauna. A very Earth-like raven stared at her. It croaked again and plucked something from the tree before flying across the river to her. She edged back warily as the bird landed two feet away with a twig in its beak.
The raven stared back at her solemnly, its black eyes bright and twinkling. It dropped the twig on the grass, cocked its head at Fayette and croaked again. She felt hopeful. Surely this bird was no enemy. Should she try to speak to it? Before she could open her mouth, it glanced sharply back beyond the river and almost in the same instant took flight with a beat of heavy wings. It flapped away into the dim distance, away from the river.
Fayette followed it with her eyes till it disappeared. It looked exactly like a raven, yet it was different, as those trees were like yet unlike Earth trees. In the raven, though, she'd sensed a rightness rather than a wrongness. Too bad it was gone... She picked up the twig it had dropped.
It was a rowan twig, with leaves and a cluster of orange-red berries still attached. A memory of an elderly voice sounded in Fayette's head, telling her that the wood and berries of a rowan were effective against malevolent spirits.
She frowned at that thought. Her father had educated her in the ideals of the Enlightenment. Evil spirits and prescriptions against them were all superstition! And yet... that rowan had saved her from an attack led by two oaks and a hawthorn, trees supposedly the harbingers of the people of Elfland, of faerie power. Perhaps it would be prudent to pay heed to the legends of her ancestors from Bretange, so long as she was in this place. She pushed the twig of rowan under her sash and took stock of herself.
Her dress had been savagely torn by the twigs and thorns of the forest. The skirts below her knees were little more than ribbons and the clammy air sidled in through rips to chill her back and shoulders. Still, there was enough of the dress left for decency. Her skin was scratched all over and some scratches were still bleeding. The pinch-marks on her right arm were black and blue. And she was sopping wet.
While wringing some of the water from her dress, Fayette ran over in her mind what defenses she had in this Elfland-like world. The list was very short: other than the twig of rowan she had nothing. No nail, pocket knife or anything iron or steel. Not even a silver coin in her pocket, and she wasn't in the habit of wearing a crucifix. All she had were the clothes on her back and her wits, both of which had taken a beating lately.
However, she seemed to have some allies in this world. The rowan tree had saved her life and supplied her with the only piece of protection she now had. The gnome had obviously meant her no harm. If she looked in the right places, perhaps she could find others who would help her. One good course of action might be to follow the raven. At least it seemed to know where it was heading. It had flown off as though the hounds of Hell were after it!
Gradually she became aware of a new noise in the distance. Somewhere beyond the dark forest something had begun to wail. Or many somethings. The far off wail grew to a clamoring with a rhythm to it. And it was coming nearer. The sky above the trees began to blacken as the noise grew and grew.
Fayette fought down her instinctive fear. She wanted to hide, but in this flat expanse there was no cover. She flattened herself against the ground and gripped the long grass as though it could keep her from being carried off. The darkness above the trees had taken shape as a dense, dark cloud.
The noise was a cacophony of thundering drums and blaring horns, and over it all an ungodly buzzing howl that made Fayette long to cover her ears. It was like a frenzied brass band marching at double time in the wake of a fox hunt led by screaming devil hounds. And yes, said the voice from Fayette's past, it was a hunt, the most ferocious of all hunts. The outriders had reached the other side of the river now and the music drowned out all except terror.
Fayette hugged the ground and gripped the grass with all her might as the Unseelie Court roared overhead. The most hideous and evil beings of Elfland surged across the river in a mad, chaotic tide. The shrill cries and the ungodly howling clamour buffeted her ears. Finally the noise began to abate. The largest part of the hunt was past.
Fayette couldn't resist turning her head to catch a glimpse of the horror. Then she snapped her eyes shut as two of the hunters landed beside her and peered at her appraisingly. She played dead, opening her eyes a mere slit to see what they were doing. Their leathery wings slapped and twitched as they snuffled at this potential prey. The short hairs rose on her neck. She sent up a silent but fervent prayer, and didn't loosen her grip on the grass for a second.
Finally the creatures lost interest and flew off to join the last of the unholy troop. Moments later they disappeared into the distance, and the clamour died away.
Fayette loosened her stiff hands and sat up. She stared in the direction of the fading noise. The horizon was still black with their cloud but it was lightening steadily. They were traveling in the same direction as the raven. This probably was not a co-incidence. Were they hunting the raven? Why?
And what was she going to do, just sit here and be puzzled? There was no alternative for her but to go onward. Joints aching, Fayette pushed herself to her feet and trudged across the field in the direction the raven and the hunt had taken.
The grassy meadow seemed to stretch on forever and she was already tired. She groaned as her legs protested. Trying to calculate how long she'd been in this place was impossible, but it must have been for more than an hour, perhaps two or three. And she'd been walking for at least twenty minutes across the meadow, though the lack of stars in the sky and the eerie, steady twilight made it impossible to be sure of the passage of time.
It was almost as if time had switched itself off. She wasn't even hungry, though she couldn't clearly recall the last time she had eaten. Certainly she'd had no breakfast. Her only measure of the passing minutes was the distance between the clumps of small trees she passed on the flat grass field, and the growing ache in her legs. In fact the ache was getting so bad, Fayette doubted she could walk much further.
She stopped in her tracks and stared in astonishment. Right in front of her, beside a cluster of white birch-like trees, a small mare was grazing quietly. It raised its head to give her an apathetic look, then snorted and returned to its meal. Fayette approached cautiously.
This horse was the most Earth-like animal she had seen in this world, more so than the raven. It was no thoroughbred and it looked a little long in the tooth, but otherwise appeared to be in good health. Fayette could tell it was well broken in, for it didn't shy away from a stranger.
Fayette's aching legs were dominating her thoughts. She was determined to follow the raven, but it must be far away by now and she was so tired. She couldn't continue on foot. The horse paused in its grazing and glanced again at her with its soft, gentle eyes.
She had been trained to ride and she had no fear of horses. She climbed onto the animal's back, at first trying to take the sidesaddle position she was used to. But on the bare back there was nothing to grip and nowhere to put her feet. After a moment of indecision she shrugged, hitched her torn skirt up to the knees and swung one leg across to the other side. Now she could hold on with her knees and felt much more secure. She kicked the beast gently with her heels and it started forward at a slow trot.
The mare kept a good pace and Fayette was pleased. Able to relax at last, she let her thoughts wander. Memories of her childhood returned to fill her mind: of riding lessons, of hot chocolate with papa before the fire, of Grandmere and her tales. Grandmere had lived with her and papa until Fayette was seven years old. The old lady and the young girl had been very close, and Grandmere's death had seemed sudden. The shock of it and the clouds of grief had obscured Fayette's memory.
Now she remembered Grandmere clearly, as if recent events had brought her into focus. She especially remembered how the old woman used to tell her stories about the inhabitants of Elfland: she never used the term fairies, that was very bad luck. She called them 'The Good Folk.' Haunting, fascinating folk they were, creatures with strange powers and a sense of morality skewed beyond human comprehension. They were at once beautiful and ugly, benevolent and malign.
Grandmere always had a tale ready, though she told some of them reluctantly and never at bedtime. These stories would leave anyone cowering under the covers at night, especially an impressionable seven-year-old. She told of the mischievous spirits of the forest, creatures of the rivers and lakes who delighted in luring unwary travelers into the water, there to drown them or tear them to pieces and devour them. Others were angry entities in the form of trees, still others were amorphous creatures that could alter their very shape to mislead humans.
Fayette never understood why Grandmere called them 'Good,' unless it was to appease them.
Grandmere never read these tales from books: Fayette wasn't even sure if Grandmere could read. She told them from memory, seriously, as though they were undeniable truths, rooted in centuries of experience. As if they were something everyone needed to know.
Fayette began to wonder why she'd been so persistent in pestering Grandmere for another story and yet another. Why such a morbid fascination in a young child? Ironically, those tales might prove to be her saving now, if only she could pick out the clues that would help her defend herself, or find the key to free herself. Because here and now, the tales were coming to life around her.
She emerged from her memories with a jolt. The mare had quickened its pace to a fast trot. This was good, except that without a bridle or stirrups, Fayette was afraid of bouncing off. She stroked the horse and murmured soothingly in its ear to slow it down. It slowed for a moment then quickened again.
Within a minute the mare had hit a gallop and Fayette had to wrap both arms around its neck to stay on. 'Whoa! Hola!' she shouted, but if this had any effect, it was to make the horse gallop even faster. Now it was going so fast Fayette was afraid to jump off. She pulled at the coarse mane, and the creature gave her a quick, sideways glance. She gasped in horror. The mare's soft brown eyes had changed to blood-red orbs glowing like live embers. It whinnied, but the sound was closer to a demonic scream than the cry of a true horse.
Fayette cursed herself for not remembering one of Grandmere's favourite tales -- not till it was too late. This was no mare but a Phooka, an evil creature capable of taking any pleasing shape. But it favoured the shape of a horse, to tempt the weary traveler onto its back and carry him to his death in some bog or deep ravine. Fayette peered anxiously at what lay ahead. The Phooka was heading for a large clump of dead trees standing in a quagmire. Even from here she could see the long sharp thorns and thick bare branches. She yanked at the mane, but the hairs were hard as wires and cut into her fingers. It let out an unearthly shrieking laugh, and raced on.
The twig of rowan brushed against Fayette's elbow and she pulled it from her sash. The short branch with its leaves and berries was strong and wiry. Raising it high, she took another quick glance at the fast approaching mire and brought the makeshift whip down hard on the Phooka's neck.
It shrieked again deafeningly. Then it stopped in its tracks and bucked its hind legs forward, as if to get rid of her as quickly as possible. Fayette sailed through the air and came splashing down into the quagmire. She landed in a foot of mud and standing water, a yard short of the thorn grove. The Phooka's hellish laughter rang out as it galloped away.
She struggled to her feet, groaning as every part of her body protested. One good thing: the Phooka had certainly meant her to land among those skewer-like thorns. The rowan had saved her from that.
The quagmire was a flat expanse of mud studded with the skeletons of dead trees. A few meters to her left meandered a clear stream. The light was dim as it had been in the forest and the air tingled with the same suppressed energy. Fayette rubbed a new bruise on her elbow and looked around nervously.
She had no idea where she was or how close she was to her destination, wherever that might be. She was sore, tired, confused and - she glanced down at herself - black with mud. Could things get any worse?
Then came a noise that made her grow very still. Off in the distance, beyond the trees of the mire, that terrible wail had started up again. Instinctively she crouched down, nearly immersing herself in the standing water. Looking up past thorny branches she saw the raven flapping by as fast as its wings could carry it. Seconds later the abominable hunting party sailed over in pursuit. The loathsome cloud passed like a tornado and the wail trailed away into a quivering silence.
Cautiously, Fayette sat up. She pondered the meaning of what she'd seen. If this was a hunt, why were they hunting the raven?
'They chase the raven because it represents their enemy.'
Fayette jerked upright and glanced about frantically. What now? 'Non! Stay away!'
'Don't say that,' the gravelly voice protested. 'You need help. You can't fight this alone.'
About fifteen feet away a figure eased into view beside a tree. She stared hard as it grew more and more familiar-looking. It had a goat's hind legs and cloven hooves, but its upper body and head were nearly human, except for pointed ears and a goat- like beard. It looked exactly like the gargoyle she'd seen in the TARDIS, only made of flesh and blood, not stone.
She recoiled sharply. 'Stay away from me! Leave me alone!'
'You don't understand.' There was a note of urgency in the gravelly voice. It held out its hands imploringly. 'I'm here to help you.'
It took a step towards her. Fayette scrambled backward through the mud and clawing thorns. 'I do not believe you!' she shouted frantically. 'Keep away!' The creature took another step forward, and Fayette turned and ran.
'Come back!' it called. 'Running is the worst thing you can do!'
She didn't listen. Her nerves had taken all they could handle. She hardly noticed the tearing thorns. She slipped once in the mud but scrambled to her feet in a single step and kept going, heading for the narrow stream.
The stream was barely knee deep and did not hamper her progress. She was halfway across when the water erupted in front of her. It was impossible to tell if the creature was an inhabitant of the river or made of the water itself. But it was deadly, she saw that at once. She turned her face away and raised her hands desperately but the water creature's hand came swiping down. Its nails, like steel claws, tore bloody gashes down her face and neck.
The water hag shrieked triumphantly and fell upon Fayette, who was no match for its terrifying strength. The twig of rowan was knocked flying. She fell, and the creature lunged atop her, sharp green teeth tearing into her neck.
The creature feasted. Head beneath the surface of the stream, Fayette saw the water around her turn red with her blood. She felt the claws gouge into her stomach. She gasped for breath and took a lungful of water. Her struggles became more feeble and the pain from her wounds seemed to be coming from farther and farther away.
The stream thundered with spray as the hag began to thrash about, as though fighting off an opponent. Fayette saw none of the struggle. She no longer felt the creature's teeth in her neck, nor the claws in her flesh; water surrounded her and she felt no need to surface. It was peaceful here, and peace was something she had almost forgotten. An inky blackness crept over her. She sank into it gratefully.
Spray flew for a moment longer, then the stream grew quiet. Hands gripped Fayette's shoulders and yanked her to the surface. She could neither resist nor co-operate. Her body refused to move and her lungs refused to take breath. She lay in the goat-creature's arms, her gaping mouth a still pool of blood and water.
At once the creature flipped the girl onto her side and thwacked her back. She spat up the water in her throat and then some. She began to choke and gag as fresh air rushed into her lungs. The fit continued for several minutes, and then she lay gasping with her head on the bank, the water around her limp body a lurid crimson.
The goat-like creature chuckled sympathetically. 'Believe it or not, you're doing very well, under the circumstances. But you don't have a hope in your present condition. Listen to me, now: I'm here to help you. But first you must get your strength back.'
Fayette was barely conscious, but the creature knew she had heard. 'Listen carefully,' he went on. 'You can leave this place. Not for long, but long enough to heal many of your injuries. This place is real, but it is not physical. You've left your body outside. Return to it! Let go of this place and get back to your body. You're nearly unconscious, so it's easy to let go of here and go there. Just... slip... away... '
The creature's voice seemed to be coming from further and further away. Fayette saw the blood-stained water turn to a reddish blur. A chilling thought crossed her mind: was she dying? But the stream and the ground beneath her were slowly replaced by something quite unfamiliar, but just as constant.
She dreamt she was riding particles of power, shooting through tunnels and junctions at exhilarating speeds. She thrilled in the experience, maneuvering the particles through windy routes, reveling in the forces surrounding her.
Then she sensed something outside this network of power. Something of hers she cherished deeply. She could reach out to it, but not quite enter it. Something was preventing her. Such was her longing to go back that she bent all her will towards it. But something was pulling her back even further.
For a timeless moment she was lost again, whirling, spinning.
Fayette opened her eyes. She was lying on her side in the stream with the goat-like creature holding her steady. Blood-stained water surrounded her, but something had changed. Where was the pain? Her clothes were little more than blood-stained ribbons, but the skin showing through was smooth. She was tired but not exhausted. It was not beyond her to pull herself up to a sitting position on the bank of the stream. Fayette stared at the goat-like creature in astonishment.
'I told you I meant you no harm,' it said with an impish smile. 'I'm an Urisk. I only look malevolent.'
She glanced down at herself, bewildered. 'Comment-'
'Your injuries? All illusion. Faerie glamour. Looks and feels real enough but the true reality is very different.'
'So this is really the Kingdom of Elfland,' muttered Fayette, still half incredulous.
'It might as well be. The rules of the game will be followed to the letter.'
'What do you mean?' Fayette glanced nervously at the stream, where she had nearly met her death. She pulled her feet out of the water. 'This is not the Kingdom of Elfland? If not, then where am I? Who is in charge here?'
The Urisk placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, but quickly dropped it when she flinched. 'Of course, you deserve answers. Unfortunately, due to the rules of the game, I can't talk to you for very long. I suggest you confine your questions to the nature of your mission here.'
'You mentioned rules,' said Fayette. 'Who made these rules?'
The Urisk nodded. 'Not consciously, but this scenario was drawn from your memory, the legends of your ancestors. Surely you've noticed how familiar this place is to you? It's familiar because it's your race memory.'
Fayette thought back. Crooker, the evil spirit of the trees; the Phooka; Jenny Greenteeth the Water faerie. Grandmere had told her these tales. She shivered, thinking of other stories. The creatures she'd met so far had been mild compared to other dangers of the faerie world. She stared warily at the Urisk, the same creature that had dragged her into this faerie realm. 'How do I know I can trust you? You were not so sympathetic when we first met.'
The creature grinned. 'In that instance, the Other was fighting me and manipulating my hand. The Other wants you on your own, ignorant and defenseless. It will doubtless try to intervene again should it learn I'm talking to you, so we must hurry. Do you know what your mission is?'
'I have one?'
'Of course you do. Many of the Celtic legends about faerie/human interaction tell of how the human must complete a mission or quest in order to defeat his faerie antagonists: to free himself or another from glamour, or to win a great reward. According to the rules of this game, you must complete the mission to win.'
'Why do you call this a game? I am not enjoying it!'
'It is a struggle, a contest. The Other has invaded and I'm holding it back. You're a free agent and can tip the struggle one way or the other. Each side has ensured that the other follows the rules that apply to this world. All the elements of a game exist. The only difference is that the stakes are higher.'
'I see,' said Fayette. 'What is my mission?'
'To rescue your adopted father.'
Fayette brightened. 'He is here?'
'The Other started the game by abducting him to this world created from your race memory. It's holding him as the rules dictate. By the rules, however, you have only one chance to rescue him, and I warn you it won't be easy.'
'Is papa all right?'
'Though he is imprisoned here in a form not his own, the Other has yet to have imposed its full influence on him. The Doctor won't hold out for long, however. He doesn't have the advantages - the knowledge - you have. The less you delay, the less he suffers trying to keep himself from falling under the Other's influence.'
'What must I do?'
'The Other will provide an opportunity. It has no choice. It is important that you be at the right place at the right time. Remember all your anti-faerie charms, they will work here, but use them carefully.'
'But what can I use?' Fayette plucked at her ruined dress. 'I have nothing. Even my rowan is gone.'
'Look in the hollow of the tree to your left.'
She stood up unsteadily and went to a gnarled ash tree standing nearby. There was a deep notch at the junction of two branches and something was stuffed inside it. She pulled out a bundle wrapped in green cloth and looked a question at the Urisk.
'Look inside,' it prompted.
Fayette unwrapped the bundle and found a clutter of objects that would have been of little value anywhere else. An iron nail, a crucifix on a silver neck-chain, her lost twig of rowan, or one just the same, with a red thread tied around it. There was also a small wafer of bread.
Fayette held up the wafer in astonishment. The Urisk nodded. 'The Host was borrowed from a recent Mass.'
She gasped sharply. 'It is a sin to do that!'
'Desperate times and desperate measures. Eat the wafer once you leave this place. Before you go, you may even want to consider turning your clothes inside-out... Or perhaps that would be redundant.' It shook its head at her tattered dress. 'These charms will help protect you against most of the faerie tricks you'll encounter from now on, but you must still work to keep yourself from falling under their spell. Another thing: you will need to discard your protection for a brief time when you move to rescue your father. You must rely on your wits alone at that time, and then hammer home the iron nail when all is done.'
Still full of questions, Fayette took a step towards the Urisk, the green bundle in her hand. To her surprise, the creature backed away hurriedly.
'Keep that away from me! It's effective against most of the inhabitants of Elfland, including me.'
She stepped back regretfully. So much was confusing here! 'You have helped me so much. But how do I rescue papa? When will this 'Other' present the opportunity?'
'Soon after your father falls completely under its spell.'
'When will that be?'
A sound swelled from the dim distance. A single chord played by all the instruments that made up the ungodly clamor heralding the Unseelie Court. The note echoed across the strange land and through the half-alive trees. It was a prolonged cry of triumph. Everything, even the air itself, held still until the hideous noise had faded.
The Urisk gazed solemnly at Fayette. 'He has fallen.'
She stared in horror at the horizon and swallowed hard.
The Urisk stepped back onto the patch of damp ground where Fayette had first seen him. He slipped into the shadow of the gnarled tree. 'Go now,' he said. 'I'll point you out of this mire: follow the river downstream. The rest of the way you must find yourself, that shouldn't prove too difficult.'
'Wait!' she gasped frantically. The situation was moving into high gear again. 'Who or what is this 'Other'? I must know!'
'Sorry, can't tell you. Rules.'
'But what must I do? Where must I go?'
'You already know that,' came the voice from the shadows. 'You made up the rules.'
'Now wait a minute!' Fayette rushed towards the sound of his voice but stopped dead in front of the tree. There was no sign of her rescuer. She gritted her teeth in frustration. 'Sapristi!'
The everpresent electric tension in the surrounding air suddenly began to intensify. She could feel energy building up for a momentous event. The crisis was coming and she wasn't ready.
But I'll never be ready for this, Fayette admitted silently. I'll just have to make do with what is in this bundle. At least now she had some protection.
Unwrapping the bundle, she put the chain with the small crucifix around her neck. The nail, a small hammer and the rowan twig were pushed under her sash and she ate the consecrated bread. She dropped the green cloth on the ground. Then she trudged back to the slow moving river and followed it downstream to the edge of the quagmire.
Beyond the mire, the landscape changed dramatically. It became more hilly and the sky was more open, though neither moon nor stars could be seen. Fayette found herself at the beginning of a footpath stretching over hill and dale alongside the meandering stream. She followed it without hesitation.
After what seemed like five minutes, but could have been forty days, Fayette suddenly came upon a junction where the path branched out in three directions. The route to her right crossed the river on a narrow, rickety footbridge and immediately dove into a forest thick with thorns and briars.The route to her left was a broad road that struck out over a treeless field lush with lily-like flowers.
Fayette glanced along each route, puzzled. Which way now? There were no clues to help her here. Or were there?
Then verses from a poem floated into her memory. She did not remember what the poem was called or who wrote it, but it sounded like one of Grandmere's. The words explained everything:
'O ye see not that narrow road
so thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
tho after it but few inquires.
And see not ye that broad, broad road
that lies across yon lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
tho some call it the road to heaven.
And see not ye that bonny road
which winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland--'
The route ahead was a level path that meandered through the glades alongside the stream. It led towards the horizon where a long, dome-shaped hill stood. When Fayette looked more closely, she could see the hill was brighter than the land around it. She marched forward.
The trees closest to the path stood a respectful distance away, clumped together in copses so dense that the individual trees were nearly indistinguishable. Fayette did manage to make out some of the combinations out of the corner of her eye: two hawthorns and an elder; an oak, an ash and a thorn. She thought it best not to give these trees much of her attention and walked briskly on.
About then she was hit with a pang of hunger so intense she had to stop and clutch her stomach. It was as though she had been starving for several days, which seemed quite possible in this place where time was immeasurable.
At this point of the route, the trees stood closer to the path. The fragrant scent told her they were fruit trees, and then she saw their large, red, sweet looking fruits hanging among the glossy green leaves, within easy reach of a hungry traveler. Fayette gazed up at them in delight. This was a Godsend!
As she reached up to pluck the nearest apple, caution checked her. In a place like this, chance gifts were not likely to be sent by God. Her hand fell. She stared longingly at the ripe fruit within inches of her eyes.
Then she remembered another verse from that poem of Grandmere's. '...that fruit must not be touched by thee, for all the plagues that are in Hell light on the fruit of this country.'
Fayette stepped back nervously. Faerie glamour. The deadliest poisons could be made to look like the most luscious delicacy. That was a theme often repeated in the tales: why hadn't she thought of it before? Perhaps the same glamour was at work on her mind and memory? She grasped the end of the twig of rowan stuck in her sash and the pangs of hunger disappeared. One glance at the fruit she had almost touched made her draw back with a grimace of revulsion.
With renewed determination, Fayette resumed her brisk walk along the path to fair Elfland. As she continued her trek alongside the sparkling river, she noticed her surroundings growing slowly but steadily darker. This and the continued increase of electric tension in the air told her she was getting ever closer to the heart of this world. She felt a pang of unease, a desire to turn back, but she fought it down. The only chance of escape lay onward and to think otherwise was unreasonable and probably another example of the workings of faerie glamour.
Fayette didn't realize that she had left the path and was crossing the river until she was in midstream. It was as though something inside her had discretely redirected her feet to the right. She was about to turn back when she intuitively sensed that it might be better to go on. The right bank had its own path and it seemed much preferable to the left bank for some reason. She crossed the knee deep stream, climbed the right bank and continued on her way.
The twilight deepened. The groves of trees were now black humped shapes on the horizon and the sky was an eerie dark blue.
She started when she saw an oak leave its grove and come charging at her, branches like arms waving and a hollow in its trunk gaping in a scream. Fayette recoiled, then blinked. The oak tree had never left the grove. It stood as before. More faerie glamour to beat her off the path. She walked briskly on.
It wasn't long before she sensed rather than saw a presence on the bank across the stream. She kept her eyes on the path ahead as she walked, but a sideways glance out of the corner of her eye caught the shape at the edge of her vision. This time the terror that gripped her was harder to control.
Fayette had wondered when she would run into this particular inhabitant of Elfland. She'd hoped never meet it and she didn't dare look directly at it now.
Grandmere had described Nuckelavee as the most hideous of the Unseelie Court. A monstrous horse with legs that were part flipper, a huge mouth and a single faerie eye like a glowing coal. A hideous torso rose from its back, joined at the waist. Its arms nearly touched the ground, its head lolled from one side to the other on a neck too weak to hold it upright.
Worst of all, not an inch of the torso was covered by skin. All that lay beneath, the black blood coursing through the yellow veins, the white sinews and the red muscles, were all exposed to view.
Fayette couldn't see so much out of the corner of her eye, and she didn't want to. She got the distinct impression that Grandmere had held back on the full description of the Nuckelavee. Merely to look upon it was said to be enough to strike a man dead. Its effects if it ever got hold of you were worse than death.
Fayette kept her eyes straight. At the edge of her vision she saw the creature follow her along the bank, easily matching her brisk pace. The sound of its footfalls was at once the click of hoof on rock and the slap of webbed skin. Step by step, it followed. She could feel the stare of the creature's glowing eye burn into the side of her face.
Fayette's terror built up until it threatened to swamp her reason. The click-slap of the creature matching her pace on the other bank ate away at her nerves. With the same suicidal fascination that drove men to look upon Medusa, Fayette felt her gaze turning toward the monstrosity.
Her reasoning mind called for calm. She was in no danger. The Nuckelavee was a sea faerie who could not tolerate fresh running water and a stream ran between her and it. It had no power over her. It could do nothing. With a ferocious effort she forced the terror down and brought her gaze straight forward. She maintained her deliberate pace.
Immediately she sensed the creature's stare no longer upon her. She heard it break stride and gallop away. The slapping clicks faded into the distance. Fayette heaved a sigh of relief and kept going. The dome-shaped hill was much closer now.
She came to a point where the stream forked, and flowed away on either side of the hill she'd been aiming for. The great mound did not glow as it did when seen from a distance but its eerie power was unmistakable. The air tingled so much that a low hum could be heard. Reminding herself once more there was no turning back, Fayette gathered her courage and waded across the knee-deep stream.
The strange hill so occupied her thoughts that she didn't notice there was something different about the stream until she was almost across. The water was warm, not cool, and it was thick. It was not like fresh water at all. A nauseating and faintly familiar stink rose to her nostrils.
Fayette lunged to the other bank and clambered out. Once free she looked back at the strange water. It wasn't water. The streams around the dome-shaped hill flowed with a thick, dark red liquid. The sticky substance soaked her dress up to her knees. Then she remembered. '...for all the blood that's shed on Earth runs through the springs of this country...'
In trying to wring her dress dry, Fayette only managed to cover her hands with blood. She wiped them on the grass and tried not to be sick. Then she turned away and planned her next move.
She stood at the base of the dome-shaped hill. Before her lay a meadow of lush grass and bluebells. Except for a single huge, spreading hawthorn that stood majestically at the summit, the hill was treeless and covered with short turf. The hawthorn itself seemed to be the center of this world for it glowed with the supernatural power that radiated throughout the land. This was the heart of it all.
She climbed slowly up the hill but found the going strangely difficult though the slope decreased the further up she walked. She struggled a few feet farther. Still at least twenty feet from her target, it seemed as though invisible elastic strings were holding her back. Fayette strained, but made no progress. When she relaxed, she slid back several feet, almost to the base of the hill.
So close to her target and she had to be stopped now! Why? What force was pulling her back? Fayette thought for a moment. Or, was it some force that was pushing her away? Of course!
Fayette removed the crucifix and chain from around her neck. She pulled the iron nail from her sash and dropped it and the hammer on the ground. Immediately, every bluebell within a three foot radius shriveled to the ground. She removed the twig of rowan and was about to discard it when, on second thought, she untied the red thread before throwing the wood away. She could not continue with all her defenses down. Tucking the thread under her sash, she strode up the hill.
Nothing hampered her progress this time. Within seconds she stood a few feet away from the hawthorn tree. The hum of power here was loud enough to drown out anything less than a scream. The air crackled with energy but though Fayette stared expectantly at the tree, nothing happened.
She was about to take a step forward when she stopped in her tracks. The intensity of the energy jumped markedly a certain radius from the tree. Fayette stepped back and looked down.
In the dim light, she could make out a line of toadstools and mushrooms, all barely an inch or two tall. They stood side by side and formed a complete circle exactly four feet from the hawthorn tree. Inside, the grass was a deep emerald green. Fayette sensed that if she set foot inside this circle the power from the hawthorn would blast her. She edged further back.
The character of the energy around her changed, as though the hawthorn had read her intentions. The intensity diminished a little as though it was willing to bide its time.
Faeries, as Fayette knew, had an uncanny ability to know when someone was watching for them and when they knew this, they usually stayed away. Faerie encounters, both humorous and hideous, usually occurred accidentally, or at the whim of the faeries. Humans could not summon them and expect them to come.
Fayette turned her back on the hawthorn tree and walked down to the base of the hill. There she lay down, kept still and tried to block all active thought from her mind.
After what could have been thirty minutes or seven years, Fayette began to tire of waiting. Was anything actually going to happen? Perhaps the creatures of this place had led her all this way as part of an elaborate joke, and they had no intention of giving her any chance of escaping with papa.
She was on the verge of despair when suddenly she heard the terrifying clamour starting up in the distance. Seconds later, the first hideous outriders of the Unseelie Court were hurtling through the air above her. The power coming from the hawthorn tree intensified until the air inside the faerie ring glowed more brightly than twenty searchlights. A cylinder of brilliance rayed up from the crest of the hill.
Then the air above was a mass of leathery wings and flailing limbs as the creatures clambered over each other, piling into the cylinder of light. They poured in endlessly and disappeared. While this was happening, a new noise began playing itself over the deafening howl. It was the faerie tune that had haunted Fayette since the moment she woke up in the TARDIS. As it grew louder, the clamour of the hunt died away.
At last came two gryphon-like creatures with a prisoner in the grip of their claws. They hauled the raven with them as they dove into the cylinder of light. Then they disappeared, but the bird fell to the ground at the base of the hawthorn tree, near the center of the circle, and lay still. Fayette bit back a cry. The raven looked lifeless. She crawled as near to the ring as she dared and watched closely. The raven was alive but barely conscious. It twitched as though it were in agony.
The haunting melody had speeded up. It lilted through the air with a rhythm that caught at Fayette's pulse. She stood up. Faster it played, and faster, till its frenzied pace infected her feet and she could hardly keep from dancing.
In the blink of an eye the air within the circle was filled with hideous fluttering, dancing creatures of various shapes and sizes, all no more than six inches tall. In time with the music they kicked, pummeled and danced mercilessly upon the raven.
Fayette blinked again, and the raven changed form. Its wings turned into arms and its feathers into human skin and hair. It took a human shape and clothes appeared on its body. When the change was complete, Fayette found herself staring at the Doctor. He curled up into a ball as the faeries beat him ferociously.
He stared right through her as he twitched in agony. Fayette knew he wasn't going to last much longer.
She took the red thread from under her sash and quickly tied it around her left ankle. There was no time to think of being afraid. Planting her left foot firmly outside the mushroom circle, Fayette stepped into the faerie ring.
The air grew thick and hazy. Breathing was hard on the lungs and the energy that had been a nervous tingling outside the circle was like high voltage electricity inside. Papa was less than two feet away, just within arms' length. Making sure she could feel her left foot planted firmly outside the ring, she bent and reached for him.
The creatures sidestepped her in their dance, making no hostile moves. But surely they would react when she touched papa. She braced herself for an assault, and embraced the Doctor.
She had wrapped her arms around a pillar of white hot anthracite. It set her dress alight and seared her skin. And that was only the beginning. She shrieked in agony as she felt her whole body shrivel and blacken. Her skin burnt away and her bones crumbled. The smell of burning flesh filled her nostrils. She had to let go!
But it was already too late. Even if she let go now, she was mortally wounded. It was better to hold on and meet a quick death.
A moment later Fayette realized that she ought to be dead, and wasn't. The first faerie-trick had failed. She laughed in triumph and the pain became a distant thing, as though someone else was telling her about it. She wrapped her arms tighter around the pillar of coal.
The pillar disappeared. Fayette found herself clutching a massive boa-constrictor which in turn had her in its clutches. Its coils wrapped around her, crushing her ribs till she could hardly breathe. And other snakes: cobras, copperheads, asps, slithered up her legs and over her body. Crying out in horror, she tried to push them away before they bit her. Yet she still clung to the boa constrictor whose coils were slowly crushing her. Why didn't she let go? She had to let go! Now!
But a small, calm voice spoke through her turmoil and told her she could survive this and must hold on. She didn't know why but she must hold on. Fayette held tight as the snakes sank their fangs into her flesh, sending venom coursing through her veins. She held on as the coils of the gigantic boa constrictor squeezed the life out of her. Even as she was about to black out, she held on.
Now it was the oak tree that had her in its grasp. Crooker's whispery laughter froze her blood. The forest roared and cheered as the oak played cruelly with the stupid human girl who had only to let go of the branch she was clutching to be free.
Crooker sent a second branch on a murderous drive for her head. Fayette ducked and the wood missed her by inches. The oak tree laughed. The branch Fayette embraced rose high in the air, swung over a bank of jagged rocks and tensed like a spring. This time there was no rowan to save her. She had to save herself before Crooker smashed her to a pulp.
All she had to do was let go and she would live. Why didn't she let go? The trees taunted her. Why didn't the stupid girl let go?
The branch came swinging down and she saw the jagged rocks rush up at her. She closed her eyes tight but felt bones break and heard ribs crack. The branch swung up again, with Fayette dangling at the end of it, then smashed down a second time. How many times now, had she died? But she was still alive and aware. Whatever was happening could not possibly be real, no matter how real it felt. She still held on, tighter than ever.
The Doctor was choking. Fayette looked down and saw his arms up, hands scrabbling desperately to pry her murderous grip from his throat. His eyes bulged and his tongue lolled. Fayette gasped in horror. How could she do this to her papa? Her hands began to loosen.
Then she remembered that papa was several times stronger than she was. She couldn't strangle him, even if she wanted to. Why was he so helpless now? Were the faeries subverting his strength? For what purpose? To make her let go. Why?
Fayette knew clearly it was all glamour, but it felt so real she had to believe there was a core of reality in it somewhere. Papa was in agony! She was killing him! She had to let go. But that was what the faeries wanted her to do. Letting go meant losing him to the spell of this place. Recklessly, Fayette clamped down harder.
In the blink of an eye she found herself embracing a stone monolith. For a moment, she wondered how the next attack would come. Then she cried out as a terrible pain shot up her leg. Her left foot was immersed in molten lava. Already her skirts had caught fire and the flames were traveling up her body. She had to pull her foot in to where a small island of solid ground remained.
Suddenly the calm voice in her mind offered an alternate picture. Her right foot was the one immersed in a pool of molten lava and her left foot was outside and safe. She had to step back and be free before she broke down under the strain.
Defying all logic, Fayette brought her right foot back and placed it into the molten lava beside the left. A searing pain shot down her right leg as it left the circle, but the overall pain suddenly became distant and bearable. Still holding onto the stone, she leaned back to leave the circle entirely.
Then she felt the monolith shift on its base. She stared up in horror as it tilted towards her. Unless she let go and moved quickly, she'd be flattened. But she could not let go. She must not let go. She let out a final scream as the great slab came thundering down on top of her.
Fayette fell to the ground and grunted as the Doctor landed heavily atop her. For a minute she could not move. She was utterly exhausted, every ounce of strength drained. She wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and black out but memory nagged at her. There was still one thing left undone: something very important which had to be done before it was too late.
With a great effort, she pushed the Doctor away and rolled onto her hands and knees. She glared frantically down the slope towards the base of the hill. Where had she left them? She got up and stumbled down the hill.
The circle of air over the faerie ring became a blinding greenish-white. Creatures were springing from the crest of the hill like angry wasps leaving their nest. Fayette spotted something a few feet away and scrambled towards it. Two creatures swooped down and clawed her back, and then there were more. She lunged desperately forward but dozens of imps were grabbing at her, viciously scratching at her face, shoulders and back.
The iron nail lay an inch from her outstretched hand. Claws hooked into her clothing and dragged her back. She shook them off, made a final lunge and grab, and the nail lay on her palm.
The creatures around her suddenly began shrieking in agony. Those still touching her fell to the ground in convulsions. With the nail clutched in one hand she grabbed the hammer in the other and charged back up the dome-shaped hill.
The hawthorn sent waves of power against her, but she climbed on. Swarms of creatures, all sizes and shapes, hideous imps and spirits of more than human beauty, railed at her and implored her. But they couldn't penetrate the shell of force which now surrounded her.
She stepped up beside the Doctor, dispersing a small crowd of creatures who were trying to pull him back into the faerie ring. She knelt atop him as she leaned over the line of mushrooms. Placing the nail at the very edge of the ring, she hammered it in. With the first blow, an angry wail filled the air, coming from all sides at once. With the second blow it became a wail of agony. She struck a third and final blow and the wail became a cry of defeat. Then only a whimper, and then silence.
Fayette straightened up, breathing heavily. The adrenaline abruptly ebbed away and she crumpled into a heap on the grass, unable to do anything but stare up at the darkening sky. In her daze, she thought she saw the face of the Urisk outlined in blue, smiling down on her. Then it disappeared as the light faded. The world around her was losing its solidity. The dark swallowed it up, and Fayette felt she was floating.
Gradually the light grew again. New shapes began to take form, shapes that were wonderfully familiar. They were in the TARDIS. Fayette was lying on the console room floor. Her dress, which should have been a collection of bloodstained ribbons, was undamaged and she appeared to be uninjured. But when she tried to get up her joints refused to respond. Her mouth was dry and her whole body ached.
A few feet away, the Doctor heaved himself to his hands and knees. He looked haggard and drained. When he was ready, he crawled over to Fayette and embraced her. She found the strength to hug back. For the moment, no words were necessary. They were both alive and safe.
But Fayette couldn't sit still for long. 'What happened to us back there?'
'I can explain everything... I think.' The Doctor took a minute to recover his strength and then Fayette felt herself lifted from the floor. Papa was carrying her in his arms around the central console to the interior door. She was glad he was saving her the journey.
'You and I were in the TARDIS computer.'
'In the computer?' Fayette echoed, astonished. Then, still more astonished: 'In the computer?'
'That's right. We'd been taken there by a latent force I accidentally discovered while doing routine maintenance. From the start it had me under its control, but you were a free agent so it fought most of the battle against you. Once you defeated that force, we were released from the computer and the force was purged from the system.'
'How long were we in there?' Fayette managed. 'It feels like weeks.'
'Three minutes,' replied the Time Lord.
'Quoi?' Fayette gasped weakly. 'Qui est-ce-'
'I don't know. The programme seems to have been hidden in the computer for some time. Somebody left it there for me to find, to release it myself and bring on my own torment. It used you, ma fille, to devise that torment.'
'I? Papa, non! I would never-'
He shushed her gently. 'Of course you never intended anything of the sort. Once I was abducted, the force created the world we saw from your mind, your race memory. You never told me you had Celtic blood. The kidnaper must have thought it couldn't lose. You had one chance to rescue me, and if you'd failed the force would have had me to torment forever. And you as well. But to do this, it had to follow the rules of the world created from your race memory.
'The TARDIS computer protected you from the worst of the attacks. It was trying to purge the malign programme from its system from the moment I activated it.'
'The Urisk,' Fayette murmured sleepily. She listened to the Doctor talk with her eyes closed. It was amazing how something so bizarre could be the result of purely scientific technology. But technology could be bizarre and sinister like the faeries too if anything went wrong with it, she supposed. The Doctor's quiet tones soothed her and she felt sleep creeping over her like a warm tide. She didn't fight the sensation.
'You know,' the Doctor continued almost to himself, 'that programme had such an affinity with your subconscious. The more I think about it, the more I think it may have been a 'calling card' left by the Mara when it was still in control of Tegan. That was also a creature of the subconscious. Thank heavens we don't let our innermost monsters get out into the real world all that often.'
He looked down and saw that Fayette was asleep in his arms. Then he had to stop and steady himself against the corridor wall. He wasn't in such good shape himself. They hadn't been hurt physically, but mentally they'd both taken a beating.
The Doctor pushed open the door to Fayette's room. He laid her gently down on her bed and tucked the covers in around her. After a moment's indecision, he decided to take a chair and sit by her bedside that night, in case of bad dreams. He was still there when she woke up next morning.
. Last updated: June 2, 1999. Thank you for visiting.