The Golden Pendant

by Marissa Standage


"Do you suppose it's him again?" the girl's eyes lit up and her heart began to flutter with excitement.

The bush before her shook again and rustled noisily, then grew still. A faint groan, as of someone decidedly frustrated, issued from behind the plant.

"I've been expecting him to come back," replied her grandfather, his face glowing and a gentle smile spreading across his countenance, "I knew he'd be missing his pipe.

"Have you still got it with you, Ivar?" the man turned his steady gray eyes to his grandson.

The ten-year-old boy held up the small, brown pipe of which his grandfather had spoken.

It was beautifully made of a rich and glossy wood. Its bowl was deeper than it was wide, and its stem grew ever thinner as it edged away from the hollow. Intricate carvings lined the stem and traveled round the bowl. A smoky, nasty smell hung about the pipe and the inside of its bowl was stained dark brown from much use.

The curious thing about the pipe was its size. No ordinary man could smoke it easily for it was hardly three inches in length from the tip of its stem to the edge of its bowl, and one would be hard-pressed to fit a little finger into its hollow. It had clearly been designed and crafted for a very tiny person's use.

"Isn't this about the same place you set the trap?" questioned Ionait, the girl, as she suddenly recognized fully the location.

"I daresay it is," said their grandfather, whom they called Daideo, with a twinkle in his eye, "Perhaps we won't go home with a wild pheasant for dinner, but we may have caught ourselves a leprechaun!"

"Let's see!" Ivar tore through the bush in great haste, while Ionait and their grandfather slid between it and the nearest tree-trunk.

Before them, sure enough, was what remained of the netting from Daideo's trap, and, lying entangled in the cords, a very little man!

If he had been standing, he would have been an inch or two short of two feet tall. He was dressed in tattered knee-high trousers of a dark greeny-gray with a jacket that matched in color. Dirt and the wear of time clearly showed themselves in forms of dark patches and stains and even occasional holes. He wore an old collared shirt and dirty stockings, both of which had once been white. A green hat with a strip of black leather held in place by a tarnished golden buckle sat upon his head, and black shoes, scuffed and smudged from use, were upon his feet.

The little man had gray-blue eyes and grayish-white hair that still bore the traces of its once red color, now nearly lost with age. His short, rough beard matched the hair on his head, though it was still much more officially red. He had a pointed nose, cheeks like bright red apples, and a twisted mouth.

After staring up at them for a moment, the man in green, with one last strain of effort to free himself, said in a voice which had once been deep but had become somewhat cracked and shallow, "Alright! You've caught your leprechaun. Might as well get going with whatever you're going to do with me."

"We weren't trying to catch you," Ionait began to explain, but she was interrupted.

"And if it's gold and treasures you're after, you'll be mighty disappointed because I haven't any I'd give to the likes of you, nor to anyone else, for that matter," the leprechaun said in a determined voice.

"No, you don't understand," Ivar bent down on one knee, his pocket-knife in hand.

"Get back!" cried the little man in a panic at the sight of the blade, "I can free myself, youngster...don't need any help, see?"

With a nod to Ivar, the children's grandfather said, "When you came last, you left something of value behind, old fellow."

In a flash the leprechaun's bonds were cut, and though he was free, he flew into a rage as a terrible suspicion came over him.

"That necklace!" he shrieked, pointing to a sort of circular medallion that Daideo wore around his neck, "You took it from me, didn't you? I didn't think I had anything valuable on me at the time, but leave it to a human to find it!"

And with that, the leprechaun jumped up, grabbed the medallion, and with a hearty yank broke the chain on which it hung. Then, before anyone else had time to take in what had occurred, he turned and sped into the bushes and undergrowth, heading away from the footpath and the shreds of netting.

Ivar was quickest to respond, and flew after the little man like lightning. Ionait glanced at Daideo, then, after receiving a nod of assurance, she was on her brother's heels.

It wasn't easy dashing through the undergrowth, between trees, around bushes, and still keep up with the leprechaun, but they almost did. Though Ionait and Ivar were only thirteen and ten, they were very fast runners, and while they could not outdistance the little man, they kept him in their sight.

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Ionait's hair wouldn't stay out of her eyes, and Ivar felt he could scarcely breathe, but they kept going.

Soon, the forest began to clear, and there was no more undergrowth. The bushes were in the way less and less and they wound in and out among the trees with ease.

Finally, they found that the forest had officially ceased for a length, though they saw it begin again before them a hundred yards or so and on either hand. Because it was a clearing, they could easily distinguish the leprechaun on the far side, heading straight for a bush of green and brown.

Once the children were half way across the clearing, the little man reached its edge and dove into the bush they had noted from afar. A moment later, a soft yet strong luminous glow glimmered all about the leafy plant. Despite their weariness, Ionait and Ivar raced to the spot, and then paused, gasping for air.

The bush was still glowing.

"Ionait, this might be our chance at last!" cried Ivar, his eyes dancing with hope.

"Ivar, we ought to..." began Ionait conscientiously.

"It's now or never, Ionait!" and with that, Ivar grabbed his sister's hand and dragged her with him into the bush.

The light grew intensely bright and a sort of golden shimmery mist seemed to envelop them. Their eyes couldn't take it for long, and they shut them tight, still clutching each other's hand.

A few moments passed, then the golden brilliance faded away and the children opened their eyes once more.

They were standing on a gently sloping hill and many more in the distance and on their right spread out further than they could see. The scent of warm, sunlit grass filled their nostrils and a mocking bird piped in song. The rays of the red setting sun warmed their backs and the air was perfectly clear. The sky was blue before them on the horizon, a dark, dense blue with the twinkle of a star or two dotted here and there.

"What'd you follow me for?" came a bewildered and rather annoyed voice.

The leprechaun stood before them, his brow knit in an angry frown and their grandfather's medallion hanging from its broken chain which he clutched in his hand.

"That doesn't belong to you," said Ionait in a crisp voice, for she was very angry with the leprechaun's theft, and even more so with his false accusations towards her grandfather.

"Indeed," replied the little man in green and gray, "Then just to what was your grandfather referring when he said I'd left something of value behind?"

"He meant this," Ivar brought out the pipe from his pocket and placed it in the leprechaun's hand, to his utter shock and amazement, "We knew you'd miss it and come back for it, so we kept your pipe safe for you until you returned.

"Now, we must return that to Daideo. It means a lot to him, and I couldn't imagine going back without it."

"You still haven't proved your grandfather innocent of this theft!" the leprechaun retorted.

"It wasn't a theft...on his part," said Ionait, a little icily, "If you will just take a look, you'll find proof enough that that medallion does belong to Daideo."

"Well...what is it, anyway?" the little man lifted it so as to better see it in the fading sunlight.

"That," began Ivar proudly (he couldn't help it, for he was pleased that this was his grandfather's possession), "is Daideo's jus intrandi (YOOS in-TRAWN-dee). Surely you have heard of it?"

The jus intrandi had been given to Ionait and Ivar's grandfather by the King of Fairyland himself. He had received it long ago after having fought for the fairies in great battles and sought their welfare with earnest fidelity, therefore proving himself a true friend of the fairy-folk. The privilege of the jus intrandi, in the form of the circular medal on a golden chain, gave Daideo the right and the power to traverse with ease between our world and Fairyland. On one side of the medallion were the symbol of Fairyland and the King's own signature, while on the reverse face was their grandfather's name inscribed into the gold. Because Daideo's name alone was written upon it, the jus intrandi would not aid any other aside from him in traveling to Fairyland and back.

The leprechaun's face and expression changed at this, but he replied very gruffly, "Of course I have. Any fairy or sprite knows of that honor bestowed on particular humans...in fact only one human ever received it as far as I know. And in looking at it, I see that it's even got the King inscription and all. I suppose I was hasty in my accusation, but one can't ever know what to expect from your race of creatures."

At this the leprechaun tossed the precious medal and Ivar caught it after it sparkled like gold in the sun as it flew through the air. Ivar placed it carefully in his pocket.

"Now I think I'll be heading home," stated the leprechaun abruptly, turning away and heading down the slope.

"Wait! You can't just leave us!" Ionait cried urgently, "Please, can't you show us the way home?"

"The way home?" repeated the little man, and continued irritably, "Go back the way you came! Use your jus intrandi, or jump over the moon, but just go back to your own world!"

"Then we are in Fairyland?" Ionait stated more than questioned, a mix of joy and fear overwhelming her mind at the thought.

"Of course!" the leprechaun replied, "If that's what you humans call it ­ it's known as Breena in the Irish End – and I'd give a good deal to know just what you two did to get here! The jus intrandi should only let your grandfather in and out...though I had it, so that couldn't have caused it, anyway..."

"We got in by following you," insisted Ivar.

"No, that's absurd!" the little man in green was indignant, "I don't carry nor have the proper magic necessary to take humans across the border to Fairyland, and if I did... (The little man shuddered as if imagining some torment)...but enough! You need to return to your own world, and that's that! If you stayed here I could get into a lot of trouble."

"Please, we brought you your pipe back, and we set you free from the trap," began Ionait.

"I already told you I haven't the proper magic!" the leprechaun stamped his foot impatiently.

"I understand, but we haven't got it either..."

"Well, I can't help it!"

"...but couldn't you at least help us find some dinner and a place to sleep?"

The little man looked up and found the sky now truly dressed in its night-time attire and glittered veil of stars. A strong wind was rising and he shivered in spite of himself.

"Couple of kids, hanging about to annoy me and distract me from my work," the leprechaun mumbled out loud.

"Oh, we can leave in the morning," put in Ivar quickly.

"Oh, botheration!" said the leprechaun, "Come on, follow me...but only for supper and bed tonight!"

The children smiled gratefully and began the descent down the hill, following behind the leprechaun.

Though neither of them felt particularly fond in any sense of the word of the cantankerous old fellow, each noticed how heavy his gait was, as if he felt weighed down by a thousand burdens. Their thoughts went back to the evening after they had first met the leprechaun and found his pipe which he had left behind. Ionait had complained to Daideo of the little man's grouchy and rather unfriendly character and Daideo had said,

"Now, don't be too hard on him yet. He's a leprechaun, and that's no easy life. It's full of loneliness. And there was a kind of eagerness about him, if you noticed, almost like a hunger for something he doesn't quite like to admit he wants, and yet he feels he ought to press on for it because it's what his soul desperately needs and desires. Be good to him."

And so Ionait and Ivar hastened their steps so as to walk beside the small fellow and speak with him.

"Since we're spending the night with you," began Ivar in a friendly tone, "we should introduce ourselves. I am Ivar, and this is my sister Ionait. What may we call you?"

"My name's Glaisne, if you must know," grumbled the leprechaun.

"Where do you live?" asked Ionait.

"In the distance, beyond these hills," Glaisne pointed a little to their right, "The farthest south-eastern corner of Gray Man's Hills. Farthest any could be from the outside world. Now, that's the place to be!"

"Oh my!" Ionait looked rather amazed, "Don't you get terribly lonesome?"

"Never, lass," said Glaisne, "We leprechauns are made to be alone. That's the way it's always been and always will be."

"Then you like being alone, I suppose?" asked Ivar, doubtful that he could ever live contentedly under such circumstances.

"Of course!" said he grouchily, "If I ever get to be alone! Now that you're going to be around, that changes it all!" Then he added, as an afterthought, "And to make matters worse, there's this fellow that has been coming around as of late every so oft just to pester and irritate me. He plays ridiculous tricks and laughs like he couldn't stop! It'd drive a person insane, and I don't have time for his shenanigans, either!"

"What sort of fairy is he?" asked Ivar curiously.

"A far darrig," replied Glaisne evenly, as if the question needn't have been asked. Then, a moment later, his eyes lit up as a sudden thought struck him, "A far darrig! He could help you two to escape! Although, of course, only if he wants to."

"That's right!" Ivar was excited at the prospect, "Far darrigs carry the magic we'd need, don't they?"

"I can't say that they do," Glaisne said, "but they're the only fairy-folk that are willing to aid humans in finding their way home. They usually take them by means of an outlet or some other secret passage, I think."

"Is there any way to make a deal or something with him? I mean maybe we've got something or can do something for him in exchange for his help?" Ivar wondered aloud.

"Couldn't you just take us out by one of those portholes yourself?" asked Ionait anxiously, "Wouldn't it be much less trouble and all that? Couldn't you just point us in the right direction?"

"No!" Glaisne thundered, in his shallow, cracked voice, "I'm a respectable shoe-maker and a guard of the fairy treasure. I couldn't help you. I'd lose my reputation, sure and certain. I'd probably suffer the loss of my job, both as a cobbler and as a protector of the fairy gold. I may even be banished from Fairyland! No. It can't be me."

"Then the far darrigs are not punished for helping humans out of Fairyland?" asked Ivar, "And why would you be so badly punished for showing us the way home anyway?"

"Well, to answer the latter, we fairy-folk don't want humans going in and out of Fairyland. The way in and the way out are different, you know. Once a human travels in and gets out, he'll go and tell everybody everything he knows, and even though the magic of traveling back and forth is a little different every time, it is quite probable that once you've been in and out of Fairyland, you'll figure out a way to get hold of the right kind of magic to return. So that one human could bring all his friends here, and then they'd bring all their friends, and so on. Fairyland would be eaten up by humans!

"And so," Glaisne continued, "fairies are forbidden to show a human how to travel into or out of these lands by any means, by order of the Fairy King."

"But we wouldn't do that!" cried Ionait, "Truly, we only want to get home, and would never wish to bring harm into Fairyland."

"Indeed," said Glaisne skeptically, "But to answer your first question, lad, yes, the far darrigs are not punished for assisting humans in and out of Fairyland. The far darrigs are sort of lazy, you know. They don't work and so they aren't respected for any of the reasons I'm held in my slight degree of esteem. They are loved by the other fairies ­ the lords and dukes and knights, and the Fairy King himself ­ because of their laughter and merriment and even for their practical jokes. So, if a far darrig lets a human out of Fairyland, the fairies almost ignore it, if they even hear about the incident. Odds are, though, that they never would.

"Besides, far darrigs are very close to humans, in a way. They certainly dwell in your land far more than any other fairy. Although they love to play tricks on humans, they're sort of attached to them, you know. Not like normal fairies ought to be," concluded the little man in the green-gray jacket, with something like a snort of distaste.

After a little while, when it was almost dark, they reached a very small house made from timber with a thatched roof. It had a little chimney coming from which was a small, skimpy puff of black smoke, like a fire that had finally gone out. The house had a weather-stained front door with a glass window on either side of it, and there was a little walk-way made of round stepping stones, no bigger than five inches in diameter.

"Well, here it is," said Glaisne, a little wearily, "Come in, and I'll make up a fire."

Glaisne opened the door and walked in, while the two children had to get down on their hands and knees and crawl into the little home.

It was very dark inside the house. Glaisne hurried ahead of them and a moment later a burst of light allowed them to see on their left as they entered a little hallway, which led, the children supposed, to Glaisne's bed chamber. Ahead further and to the left was the opening to another room with a tiled floor, and they guessed it to be the kitchen.

They were led into a room before them with very plain walls, once white-washed but now yellowed from the stains of time and wear. A large, brown, prickly hearthrug lay on the floor. There were dusty shelves on the wall before them filled with little hammers, nails, and bits of leather. Below these was a wooden table covered also with a cobbler's tools and strips of leather, and even a shoe half-completed. In the corner on their right was an enormous fireplace, now roaring mightily with a healthy fire.

Ionait and Ivar sat down in this living room with their backs against the little wall opposite the fireplace, and felt the lovely warmth of the fire as Glaisne threw in a log or two. Glaisne then prepared some food over the fire.

"I'm not really sure where I'll put you to sleep," Glaisne was saying, leaning over the fire, "I only have the one bed ­ and it would be far too small for you, anyways ­ I suppose you could sleep out here..."

With that he turned to the tired children and found that Ivar was asleep on his sister's shoulder, and Ionait was also sleeping with her tumbled curls falling over her brother's head.

For almost the first time in his life, Glaisne smiled. He wouldn't have done so if anyone else had seen him, but deep down inside, it touched him that it must really be special to have someone around ­ a friend. He quickly shook himself and mumbled something about "humans' poor manners", and finished preparing the meal. He had his supper and cleaned the dishes, then turned to the sleeping children a moment. He realized that it would be cold once the fire had died down completely (he had already put it out). So he got about five or six leprechaun-sized blankets (which were about the size of a towel) and covered Ionait and Ivar up with them the best that he could.

Grunting to himself, Glaisne turned away and headed down the little hallway to his bedroom and fell asleep.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Despite his natural dislikes for humans, Glaisne found many reasons to let the children stay with him much longer than any of them had intended. The children's voices and laughs not only resounded in the leprechaun's house and bounced off the nearby hills, but echoed in the little man's heart. He found it somehow pleasant, though Ionait and Ivar could hardly have guessed it by his gruff manner and cantankerous character.

Ionait cheerfully offered much assistance in the kitchen, and Ivar quickly learned some of the first steps in shoemaking. Glaisne found that this gave him more time than he had had before, and the children used much of it in telling him tales. By a campfire, under the night sky before the leprechaun's house, Glaisne found himself puffing away at his pipe while Ionait and Ivar related magical stories and sang with their high voices Irish folk songs and fairy poetry (fairy poetry is always sung, for this form of poetry is not so much words put to music, as it is music put to words).

The children loved their time with Glaisne more than one could imagine, for though he was a crusty host, they knew he couldn't be happy and wanted to make him so. It was difficult not to be happy, they thought, with their new life of rising with the sun each morn as it loomed and spread its rays across Gray Man's Hills, and painted tiny rainbows wherever it shone through a drop of morning dew; of crisp days full of bright sunshine and pleasant breezes blowing deliciously past the little house; of evenings below the diamond-studded sky singing and laughing by the campfire. All this beauty was more delicious and wondrous than Ionait or Ivar had hoped Fairyland would be and they hardly felt any desire to return to their own world for quite some time.

After about a week of life in the fresh, clean air, the children began to think of home. A longing to see their parents and grandparents again, and Tomnafinnoge Woods, where they had met Glaisne, tugged at their souls. The desire to return to Ireland encircled their hearts.

"Glaisne," began Ionait one star-lit evening after supper, as they were all sitting round their fire-pit and the leprechaun was smoking his pipe, "You've been wonderful to us ­ and we appreciate your hospitality..."

"Hospitality nothing!" Glaisne pulled the pipe from his mouth, "Couldn't have you two freezing to death out here, could I?" His pipe resumed its former position.

"All the same," persisted Ionait, "We are grateful, but..." she glanced at her brother.

"We really want to go home!" Ivar burst out, in a voice tinged with yearning.

Glaisne sat up and took his pipe in hand, looking each child in the eye, "That far darrig hasn't shown up, and I told you I can't do anything for you, even if I wanted!"

Then with a sigh and a cough, he continued as he saw their hopes falter, "I'll be heading out tomorrow ­ going west. The Fairy King's come up with some new law ­ all guards of royal treasures have got to travel to the Palace every ten years, I think it was, and give an account of the locations, values, and all that of their fairy treasure so's the King can keep track of it all. Well, like I said, I'm leaving in the morning (not that I even know the way, because I'll have to find someone to give me directions sooner or later), but I suppose you two could come along ­ for a spell. I don't fancy being seen with two humans, but we needn't travel out in the open. There's the Kerri forest, as we call it here in the Irish End, and that should allow plenty of coverage..."

"Do you mean it?" Ivar jumped up from his spot.

Ionait, however, asked, "But, even if we went with you, there isn't much chance of meeting someone who could let us back into our own world, is there?"

"I didn't say anything of the kind!" replied Glaisne grouchily, "If we should happen to meet such a fairy, then all's well and good, and if we don't, then I guess you'll have to figure out something else."

"But doesn't the Fairy King have the magic we'd need to return to our world?" Ivar asked as he remembered suddenly.

"Of course he does!" said the leprechaun irritably, "If you're brave enough to ask, then maybe you'll be lucky, though I wouldn't count on it if I were you."

"Then there is a possibility," Ionait's eyes shone with hope.

"So, will you come or stay?" asked Glaisne through his pipe as he lit it again.

"Thank you for the offer," said Ionait politely, "We'll come."

"What an opportunity!" Ivar sighed happily, "To see the Palace of the Fairy King and Fairyland along the way!"

Next day, after packing a store of provisions, the children and the leprechaun headed out early with the rising sun.

Since they were traveling west, the sun beat upon their backs for a good while and they could see clearly ahead of them for miles without the annoyance of the brilliant sunlight in their eyes. Before them, as far as the eye could reach, were the green hilltops of Gray Man's Hills. They seemed to go on indefinitely, and after reaching the top of the fourth hill they began to feel it rather tiresome.

When the sun was above their heads, they paused below a tree in a shallow valley to rest and have some lunch. When the meal was over, the leprechaun said to the children, "A good deal of my store of treasure lies hidden not terribly far from here, and I figure it best to check up on it so as to give the King as current information as possible. So, stay here with our sacks, and don't go anywhere. I'll be back within a couple of hours at the most."

The children agreed to this and waited. The sun lowered in the sky, and they fell asleep.

What woke them was a rustling sort of noise, but it sounded far away. When they opened their eyes and looked about, they saw a small figure in green approaching slowly from around the left-hand corner of the hill to their backs, or from the south. As it drew nearer, they saw it was Glaisne, though a strange and horrified expression dominated his countenance.

Though he was troubled at this, Ivar said in a friendly way, "Hey! Glad to see you back. We'd better get going."

Glaisne crossed him arms and frowned, "As if we could go much farther today."

"Did you find everything alright, Glaisne?" Ionait looked at him kindly.

Glaisne tried to say something, paced up and down in front of them, covered his eyes with his hand, took a deep breath, blew out hard through his nose, and then turned to Ionait and Ivar.

"It's gone," he said quietly, in a voice much softer than they'd ever heard him use, "All of it. Down to the finest gold chain or smallest coin. It's all gone."

Ionait and Ivar were shocked. It was nearly impossible to locate the hidden fairy treasure, due to the expertise of the leprechauns at hiding it, but even if it were possible to find the valued and priceless possessions, who would steal it? The thought was altogether strange and unnerving.

The poor leprechaun, not doubting the trouble he would be in if the Fairy King knew, sat upon the grass, put his head in his hands, and asked helplessly, "What in the world am I to do?"

"Tell the King," said Ivar, after a moment's thought, "After all, the treasure is his responsibility, and he ought to know. He should be able to do something about it, too, I would think."

"No, no, you don't understand!" Glaisne cried impatiently, "I'm the one responsible, and I'll be held accountable, though I took the greatest care to protect and preserve the stuff. The King will be angry, and I thrown into prison, as like as not!"

Ivar sat beside the leprechaun and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, "I shouldn't think the King would throw you into prison. But, however he handles it, we'll go with you and stand at your side."

"Of course we will!" said Ionait, "And I'm sure the King will have the thief caught in no time at all!"

Glaisne was so taken aback at their understanding that he looked up at them for a second. But then, shaking Ivar's hand from his shoulder, he stood up and said gruffly, "Humph! Well, we'll see. Now, it's time we were heading on."

At that moment, a rustle in the branches above Glaisne, followed by a soft cooing, as of a pigeon, was heard from the tree above their heads. They were such gentle sounds that the children hardly paid them any attention, but Glaisne, jumping up anxiously from the sacks he had been gathering, shouted as loud as he could, "Na dean maggadh fum!" (This is Irish for, "Do not mock me!")

"Ah, old man! Can't you let a poor sprite have any fun?" came a voice in a whine of disappointment.

There was a great rustle of leaves in the tree above and a moment later a small person dropped from its boughs, landing on its feet as nimbly as a cat.

The fairy was a little taller than Glaisne and far younger, looking about twenty-two years old or so if he were a human. His breeches, coat, and hat were a bright and bold red. He wore clean white stockings and shiny black shoes with sparkling golden buckles. A hat like Glaisne's, though made of a red material, crowned his head. His clothes were fresh and stainless and, Ionait thought, had been washed and pressed just that morning.

He had bright red hair, well-groomed, and his face was clean-shaven. He had a healthy, robust look about his face. His deep, black eyes sparkled with merriment and mischief, on usual occasions, though they were dark with annoyance and disappointment at the moment.

"Fun?" repeated Glaisne, "I hate to think just what you had in mind! You're never good to me, and seein' as how they're humans, I don't even want to imagine what you had in mind."

"Now don't go blaming me. You don't know what I would have done, if you'd given me the chance!" replied the other.

"Do you know one another?" asked Ivar.

"Of course not!" Glaisne said repulsively, "Though, you may be certain this is the fellow I was telling you about. I just know what a far darrig will do to a couple of human children, and it wouldn't be nice, either!"

"Well, maybe I didn't get you this time, but I'll get you someday! You can be sure of that!" said the red man, determinedly.

Then, glancing down and catching sight of their parcels, the far darrig sat down comfortably on the grass, reached for the nearest satchel, and began nosing through it.

Realizing that this was the opportunity they had been hoping for, Glaisne said calmly, "Now, Mr. Far Darrig, we have to speak with you."

"I've heard enough!" said the little man rudely, "I'm not interested in anything you have to say!"

"We have a favor to ask you," said Ionait, very doubtful that he would help.

"Well, do you miss?" said the red man mockingly, "Tell me, why should I do anything for you if you aren't going to do anything for me? You won't even let me play a trick on you!"

"And, anyway," he went on, "what are a couple of humans like you doing out here in the farthest corner of the Irish End? And how'd you get here in the first place?"

"We don't exactly know," replied Ionait politely, though she watched him pick through their parcels with annoyance, "And what right have you to touch our belongings?"

"Haven't been here long, have you?" the little man in red laughed, "I'll do as I please, and maybe you'll get your wish."

"What wish?" asked both children together.

"Why, to go back to your own world!" the far darrig tossed a handful of nuts from their bags into his mouth, "Any human who gets here wants to go back sooner or later. That's what you wanted to ask me about, isn't it?"

"Well, yes," admitted Ionait, and then asked hopefully, "Do you know the way? Or, rather, do you have the magic?"

"Never carry it with me," said he in a tone of arrogance, "But I happen to know the entrance to your world in a cavern on the western shore."

"We want so much to go home," said Ivar, "Could you guide us there?"

"Could I? Of course I could!" said the far darrig, sitting up from the grass, "The question is 'will I?'. And that all depends."

"On what?" asked Ivar.

"On what's in it for me," replied the far darrig, "It's no easy journey, and I need something out of it."

"What do you want?" Ionait asked.

"What I would have had if your leprechaun hadn't stopped me," he gave Glaisne a look of pure annoyance.

"Your teasing and tricks are cruel," retorted the leprechaun, "I had every right to stop you."

"Keep your hat on, I didn't say you didn't!" said the far darrig, "But both parties might be able to profit from this. Let's see. Suppose that I take you two to the coves, and in exchange I may be free to play a few pranks as I see fit along the way."

"Well, um..." Ionait glanced at Ivar.

"You haven't got any other way to get back, have you?" persisted the far darrig, "Unless you can get back the way you got in. How did you get in?"

"We told you," Ionait was losing her patience, "We don't really know. We were following Glaisne, and..."

A wicked smile spread across the red man's face, "Oh, the leprechaun let you in!"

"No, I did not!" Glaisne got red in the face, and his voice deepened as he got angry, "I don't know how they came here, but it had nothing to do with me!"

"How'd you get the magic to transport humans, I wonder?" continued the far darrig as if half to himself, "Fairies oughtn't carry it on their persons, unless they're disobeying the set code of laws. Though a leprechaun would certainly be the sort to do such a thing."

"Please, enough of this!" Ivar's gentle heart was greatly troubled at the far darrig's meanness toward Glaisne, "It was our own fault for coming here – not that we knew we'd end up where we are – but it was our willful choice, not Glaisne's."

"You can't get here just by making choices," replied the red man, "It takes something much greater and stronger, and you can't ever be sure if it'll work properly – never works the same way twice, in fact."

"Well, Mr. Far Darrig," said Glaisne, getting up and gathering the packs.

"Don't take kindly to that name! Not satisfied with any name but my own!" interrupted the far darrig stubbornly, "Call me Lassar."

Glaisne took a deep breath to keep from getting frustrated.

"Alright! Lassar, we're going to head out, and if you would care to guide us..."

"Course, you can't be sure I'm not following you, whether you know it or not," the red man lounged on the grass lazily.

"Then we might as well have you come along," said Ionait slowly. None of the party much liked the prospect of traveling with such a companion, but it seemed the best option if they wanted to get back to Ireland.

"Yes, I believe I shall," the far darrig stood up.

"We also must see Glaisne to the Fairy King," said Ivar, "Do you know the way to the capitol?"

"Well, sure," said Lassar uncertainly, "but he can handle that himself, can't he? It's just getting you two to the secret coves."

"Well, we'll travel together the way I see it," said Glaisne uncomfortably.

"Of course we will!" said Ionait warmly.

"Well, I guess you can come along, too, old man," said Lassar, "As long as you don't mind folks knowing you're the one who helped two children escape and get back to their own world."

"I'm not helping them to escape!" cried Glaisne, angrily, "I'd like to make sure they're treated fairly, but nothing more!"

"Ah, yes! Of course!" said Lassar mockingly, "I didn't know leprechauns were so found of company. I always thought they kept to themselves, you know."

"Enough!" Ionait was really losing patience, "Now, will you show us the way or not?"

"Alright! Alright! Don't get so excited!" said Lassar in an infuriating tone. Then, after looking about them and gauging their position and the points of the compass by squinting at the sun, he pointed westward, up another slope of Gray Man's Hills, and said, "Well, it's west we want to go, so let's head on out this way."

The children and Glaisne hefted up a pack each, while the far darrig went off without any burdens at all. When they were set, the leprechaun, the far darrig, and the children started up the slope.

By the end of the next day, they had reached the end of Gray Man's Hills, and then the Kerri forest began. At first it was a rather sparse wood, and rather hilly as though it was a gentle continuation of Gray Man's Hills. Then they reached a place that sloped more steeply than any they had yet seen, and it continued father than they could perceive, for the trees blocked the view. But Lassar said they had to scale the mountain.

"Why?" asked Ionait, "Wouldn't it be much faster to go round it?"

"Not really," said Lassar, a gleaming light sparkling in his eye, "But, anyway, there's a short-cut I mean for us to take, and it's through this mountain. Much faster than going round, indeed."

"And just how far is it to this short-cut?" asked Glaisne, breathing hard under his heavy loads.

"Well, we'd have been there by now if we hadn't started way out there in the boonies! (He gave poor Glaisne a severe look.) If leprechauns would live in respectable places like respectable people, then none of this mountainous stuff would be in the way! It'd be forest straight through, without all this climbing."

"About how many days' journey is it to the King's palace from here?" asked Ivar.

"Oh, it's about..." faltered Lassar.

"Don't you know?" asked Ionait, nervously.

"Well, it'll probably take at least a couple of weeks," said Lassar hurriedly, "Anyway, it'll be much easier ­ I should even say faster ­ once we're beyond this short-cut."

Everyone wondered just what Lassar meant by this last comment, but, as the far darrig refused to give any explanation, they had to be content enough with what they'd heard. They proceeded to scale the mountain, and found it 'up-hill' all the way.

After an hour or so of traveling, Lassar exclaimed, with a broad smile, "Ah! This is the place!"

Before them, the mountain leveled out for about fifty yards, and then continued up the slope as it had done before. But at the base of this fresh incline was a dark opening, which was apparently the mouth of a giant cave, carved out of stone and earth. Only a few feet into the enormous fissure were visible. Beyond was utter darkness, as black and dark and thick as could not possibly be imagined. A terrible, smoky stench issued from the cavern and overwhelmed the four little companions.

"What is this?" asked Glaisne suspiciously.

"Oh, my short cut!" Lassar explained.

"You mean it continues through this mountain and will let us out on the other side?" questioned Ivar.

"Oh, we'll get out," said Lassar, "Now, give me a sec – I'll just see if – um – if anything is living in here. After all, we don't want to meet anything fierce. I haven't been in here in a while."

"We'll wait for you out here," agreed Ionait.

So Lassar proceeded to investigate the cave, and the children sat with Glaisne, expectantly awaiting the far darrig's return.

After a few minutes had elapsed, Lassar came out of the cavern with the most happy and cheery smile on his face. The children and Glaisne thought they also saw a glimpse of strange delight, which made them feel uneasy.

"All set – I mean, it's alright!" announced the little red man joyously, "Come on in! It isn't a very long tunnel, and we'll be through within the hour."

Ionait and Ivar thought this a very long period of time to be in total darkness, (probably most are inclined to agree with them on this point) so Ionait asked, "Couldn't we bring a torch of some kind in with us?"

"No torches available that I know of," said Lassar decidedly; then he continued urgently, "Let's get going! We've quite a lot of ground to cover before we reach the coves to take you home!"

"Well, let's hold hands so we don't lose each other, anyhow," Ionait said as she reached for Glaisne and her brother's hands.

Once they were ready, they all trooped into the cavern, with Lassar in the lead. The far darrig was followed by Ivar, then Ionait, and Glaisne took the end of the line.

They walked slowly along, losing the capability of seeing things moment by moment as the last precious shafts of light disappeared and they got deeper and deeper into the darkness.

After a few minutes, Ionait grew quite scared. "Um ­ Lassar," she asked fearfully, "Are you quite sure this is taking us in the right direction?"

"Well, it better, lass," said Glaisne from behind, "And if it doesn't, we can always turn and go back, so don't be too concerned. At least we know that this cave isn't inhabited by anything real fierce."

"I know what I'm doing," came Lassar's voice from the blackness, "I'm taking you just where I intended!"

Just then, a deep, throaty breath was heard very near them. They all stopped on the spot.

"I thought you said this cave is uninhabited!" whispered Ionait anxiously.

"Well..." said Lassar slowly. And, though no one at that moment could see it, he smiled quite immensely, and his fiery eyes blazed with his dreadful delight.

A flash of orange and red light shot over them, and for a second they caught a glimpse of an enormous face that was scaly and hideous and terrifying. Then a deep, thunderous growl issued from the direction of that terrible face. Another, greater stream of light flew above their heads, and this time they knew, without mistake, that the light was the result of tremendous tongues of fire.

They saw this all in an instant, and the next thing they knew, a massive claw had picked up poor little Ionait, and another had grabbed at Ivar. Ionait screamed. Ivar struggled and just got away, but Ionait was not so lucky. Glaisne tried in vain to keep Ionait from being taken, but his little tug on her arm was nothing in comparison with the strength of this monster.

"Lassar!!!" cried Glaisne angrily, "Do something!"

Ionait was crying in mortal terror, and the giant creature once more shot out some fiery light, and they all saw that it was, indeed, a fire-breathing dragon.

Lassar, all this time, was rolling on the ground, laughing when he pleased, and smiling immensely in the dark. Glaisne was so upset, he forgot his reputation as a shoemaker, and positively flew at Lassar in his rage.

"Lassar, how could you send a poor wee one to her doom, just like that?" he shouted, "And you sit there and laugh as though there was something especially pleasing about it! Far darrig or not, this is a terrible trick and I'm going to see to it that that poor girl isn't hurt!"

And with that, Glaisne jumped up on the beast and climbed nimbly and quickly to the arm that detained the unfortunate girl. He pulled out a little dagger that he always carried with him and cut into the dragon's claw that held Ionait captive.

The dragon shrieked in pain, and dropped Ionait. The creature clawed at Glaisne with his good paw, but Glaisne was faster and got down safely.

"OH!" exclaimed an alien voice, "You never told me he had a dagger!"

"Hush!" cried Lassar hurriedly and a little angrily.

"Lassar!" said the three in the dark.

"Alright, I had it planned," admitted Lassar sulkily, "I wanted to take you by surprise – and I did – so, I came to my old friend here and asked him to give you a good scare."

"Oh, Lassar! How could you?" asked Ionait reproachfully.

"Well, it worked! I got to see your mortal fear, Ionait! He-he!" he laughed at the memory.

"Lassar," whined the new voice, "Why'd you let him stab me? I wasn't into your game, really. I like scaring too and all, but it isn't worth this sore!"

"Well, that's what you deserve, frightening innocent folk like that!" said Glaisne in his gruff voice.

"You really shouldn't have scared us so!" said Ionait emphatically, but in a gentle tone.

"Yes, I see that now," said the dragon repentantly, "And I am sorry. I should know better than to listen to a far darrig."

"Now what kind of a remark is that?" asked Lassar indignantly, "We aren't all bad. After all, I did it for the good of these here young ones. I'm taking them to the outlet on the western shore so's they can return to their own world."

Ionait and Ivar panicked inside for a moment at this, fearing what the dragon might do to them now that he knew they were humans. But the creature seemed not to have really taken it in yet.

"Well, if you were doing it for their good, then why did you want to scare them for?" asked the dragon, "Why didn't you just take them there without the scaring part?"

"Well, we made a deal," explained Lassar, "I promised to take them to the coves, and in exchange I am free to scare them a few times."

"Oh, Lassar, please take us out of here!" begged Ionait, who was incredibly anxious to leave the dark, dank cave, "We've been in here forever so long – surely we must be near the end of this extensive passage?"

"Oh – about that," started Lassar, in a surprisingly guilty tone, "There ­ there isn't any opening at the end of this here tunnel."

Ionait, Ivar, and Glaisne stood a moment, disbelievingly.

"I shouldn't have believed him!" exclaimed Glaisne scornfully, "One would think I'd have learned by now that you can never trust a far darrig."

"I was certainly fooled," admitted Ivar humbly.

"So was I," agreed Ionait.

"Well I'm glad!" cried Lassar, his eyes gaining back their gleeful and mischievous luster, "That was the whole point of my lie! If I'd told you that the cave led to nowhere, you'd never have followed me and I couldn't have played my little joke!"

"Oh, please take us out!" moaned Ionait impatiently.

"We really must get out," came the dragon's voice, tinged with fear.

"Why?" asked Ivar, but Lassar interrupted.

"Now," Lassar began, taking command of the situation, "Glaisne, old man, do turn and lead the way out, here's a good fellow! Keep holding hands, everybody!"

"Now, Lassar, what about me?" asked the voice of the dragon in the darkness, "You're not going to just leave me here, will you, without even introducing me to your friends?"

"I don't think you could call us his friends," mumbled Glaisne under his breath.

"Of course! Of course!" exclaimed Lassar cheerily, "Come along and follow us out! I'll introduce you to my companions out in the light!"

So the children, the leprechaun, the far darrig, and the dragon all proceeded out of the cave and into the sunlight once more.

"Oh, how nice it is to see again!" exclaimed Ionait, entering into the light of the sunset evening.

"And now," began Lassar happily, "I would like you all to meet my dear friend, Burns!"

Ionait, Ivar, and Glaisne all blinked in the vibrant rays of the sun as they looked up to see an enormous dragon who was smiling down at them in the friendliest way. The dragon was red and brown from the tip of his snout to the end of his long tail. The children and even Glaisne noticed all at once that the creature had terrible claws, as well as a mouth full of sparkling white teeth that flashed in the sun every time he spoke. But his soft brown eyes were gentle, and there was even a bit of childish nonsense about the way that they would twinkle.

"Burns, this is Ionait, and Ivar, and my dear friend, (here he looked at Glaisne in the most mocking way) Glaisne, the shoemaker," said Lassar, pointing out each respective personage as he announced their names.

"Well, I'm right pleased to know you," said Burns the dragon kindly, "But I must urge you to leave at once, or, if you will (for I feel mighty rude asking you all to leave) I would gladly give you a ride to wherever you're headed. My poor memory ­ I don't remember where you're going."

"What's the rush?" asked Lassar, "I mean there's no one 'round here that would cause us trouble and all, right?"

"Climb up! At least I'll take you down to the river. It would be safer to talk there," Burns laid flat on his belly so that the four could climb up.

Lassar hopped atop Burns' back at once, but Ionait, Ivar, and Glaisne were a little hesitant.

"Come on! What are you waiting for?" Lassar sounded annoyed.

"Can we trust him?" asked Ivar in a whisper.

But Burns heard this question as clearly as if Ivar had shouted it (for dragons are particularly keen of hearing). He raised his head, looked them squarely in the eye, and said, "I give you my word to take you safely to the river."

"It's alright, then," grunted Glaisne, pulling himself onto the beast's scaly back, "A dragon's word can always be depended upon."

Ionait and Ivar followed Glaisne's example, and found themselves hoisted into the air and a moment later, everything spread out beneath them. It was breathtaking, seeing the regal mountain in all its glory in the sunset light, and Gray Man's Hills stretching out behind them with the sun's rays bouncing off them and creating magical colors that danced along their grassy sides. The air was cold and frosty way up there in the skies, and whistled loudly in their ears so that it was impossible to carry on a conversation.

The dragon turned south and flew and darted downward, hovering above the tree-tops, until they looked and saw below them a silver ribbon and heard the rushing of water. The next thing they knew was that Burns had gracefully landed in a shallow of the rippling stream and was wading ashore where the trees were thinner and there was room for a dragon.

After jumping off, they all had to stand back as Burns shook the water from his scales like a little dog shaking itself after a dip.

"Why have you brought us here?" asked Lassar, now that he could be heard, "What are you afraid of?"

"To be perfectly honest, that's not my cave anymore," said Burns quietly, "I just wanted to see it one last time before I moved on, though I haven't figured where to go."

"Well, whose is it then?" asked Lassar in tone which meant that he was shocked that the cave no longer belonged to Burns.

"The black dragon," replied Burns, "I don't know his name, but he's got my home now, and that's that! I've got to get out of here before he returns and finds I've been in his cave. He'll trace me here, sure and certain."

"How could that have happened?" asked Ivar, anxiously, "I thought dragons ­ well ­ weren't the sort to be overcome. I mean, in a manner of speaking..."

"When two dragons meet only one's ever seen again?" asked Burns dolefully, "Yes, that's generally true. But I was lucky, and though he was bigger and stronger than me, I was the faster and saved my scales."

"What about your treasure?" asked Glaisne, for dragons are great hoarders of treasure.

"No, that wasn't taken," Burns said in a thankful tone, "All that is safe."

The dragon very thoughtful for a moment, then, after a muffled sigh, brightened and said, "But you still haven't told me where you're going. Or rather, reminded me of your destination."

"Going west," explained Lassar, gesturing in the general direction, "Taking these kids back to their own world ­ got here by accident, you see, and they want to go home, so I'm leading them to the outlet on the western shore."

"Humans?" Burns looked the children up and down curiously, and sniffed at them. He continued in an interested tone, "Why, now that you mention it, they do have dark eyes! Not like the homins (HOE-mins) you usually see 'round here."

Homins were creatures that looked perfectly like humans except for one feature. Their eyes are a deep, rich blue, a color and tone so beautiful that no human eyes can ever achieve it.

"Say, Burns," said Lassar slyly, "You said you'd fly us to our destination. What do you say?"

"Fly to the western shore?" Burns looked somewhat amazed and bewildered and enthused all at once.

"He doesn't have to do that!" said Ionait, giving Lassar a severe look, "Heavens! It's a terribly long distance."

"Yes he does," said Lassar obnoxiously, "He said he would, and a dragon's 'always true to his word', as they say."

Burns ignored this statement, and addressed the children, saying, "I haven't anywhere to go, and being thrown out of one's home quite frees one from many responsibilities. I think it'd do me good to get away from here anyway."

"That a boy, old fellow!" Lassar jumped up and clapped Burns on the shoulder, "We'll go ten times faster flying!"

After the children thanked Burns for his kindly offer, Ivar brought to light the question of dinner.

"Oh my!" exclaimed Ionait, "We left those packs behind, didn't we? At least I know I dropped mine in the cave."

Further investigation proved that Glaisne still bore his, but that it had a nasty tear through which all that it contained had fallen. Ivar, however, still had his satchel, though it had only bedding and a small bag of dried fruit.

"This won't make much of a meal," Ivar looked incredibly disappointed, for no one wished to go back to the cave to retrieve Ionait's lost bag.

A great splash! was heard and next moment the dragon came back ashore, something silvery and shiny wriggling in his claw.

"Here!" he said, a proud smile spread across his face, "I can catch plenty more, if you like."

Ionait asked, "Could we build a fire?"

Burns looked puzzled, "Why would you?"

"To cook the fish."

"Oh. Well, there aren't really any utensils or anything you could use to cook with. But anyway," here he thumped his tail happily, "The only way to eat it is fresh from the stream like this."

Ivar smothered a disgusted look, and asked, "Is there anything else we could eat besides fish?"

"You don't keep much of a pantry for guests, do you, Burns?" asked Lassar.

"I am so sorry," Burns said apologetically, "I really don't have anything else you would like." Then his face brightened and he cried, "I know! There's a little town only a small distance from here where you could buy some food. Why don't we head that way tonight?"

Burn's kind proposal was gratefully accepted by all.

"But we can't go into town!" Ionait suddenly said, "We'd be recognized as humans for certain."

"You could easily be put off as a homin, each of you," Burns said slowly, looking at them while tilting his head to one side, "You fooled me at first, though, of course, I wasn't really paying close attention. It's just your eyes that give your secret away."

"And what are far darrigs for?" asked Lassar gleefully, jumping up, "I can change your eyes quick as a snap! I don't carry the heavy magic for transporting humans, and all that sort of thing, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeves!"

"Wonderful!" Ivar's face brightened, "I was hopeful we could find a way to make it work. We haven't really seen much of the fairy-folk, you know. This will be a great chance."

"Of course! Now here," Lassar danced up to the children, made them close their eyes, then reached into his pocket with his right hand. Next moment, he flung a handful of a shimmering blue substance at their faces, with a magic word which Ionait and Ivar could not understand.

"Well, come on!" said Lassar, "Show us those blue-button eyes!"

Ionait and Ivar opened their eyes, and everyone was amazed at their beauty. They were so clear, so purely blue.

Ionait and Ivar could hardly believe it themselves when they looked at their reflections in the cool waters of the stream.

"Now off to find some supper!" Ivar said hungrily.

About twenty minutes later, Burns landed gently on the grassy turf of the field that surrounded the town about two hundred feet away from the nearest entrance to the village.

"I'd best not come in," said Burns, "I might scare someone. Besides, I probably couldn't fit in the streets!"

After they entered the town, to the surprise of the children (for they were, by now, used to Glaisne's tiny house), they found that all the stores and homes were human-sized! The little men with them looked, in height, like small children. However, they were not the only little people. The children saw quite a number of dwarves, a far darrig or two, and one leprechaun selling his shoes. They also saw lots of folk who appeared to be quite like humans, although some of them had pointed ears, or silvery, sparkling and glittering wings sticking out from behind their backs.

They soon found a bakery where they decided to purchase something to eat. As Ivar opened the door, a small bell tinkled cheerily just above. They entered a square room which smelled deliciously of freshly-baked bread. A few small tables were spread out in front of the counter, apparently for customers, of which there were none at that moment. However, it was rather dark once the door had closed with a jingle, the walls were quite faded and the whole atmosphere of the shop was rather dreary.

A short little man, bent over with age, shambled into the shop from a back room. His face was wrinkled and he had pointed ears. He wore a faded gray shirt and trousers with a well-used apron hanging loosely from his neck. His hair was quite gray and nearly white, but his blue eyes sparkled and twinkled like those of a young boy. He had no beard.

"Now, how can I help you?" he asked, rubbing his hands and peering at them from over the counter.

They ordered some bread rolls and cheese and the little man began to slowly bustle about preparing the victuals.

"You all travelers, I reckon?" asked the man curiously, "We don't see travelers all that much anymore. Where you all headed?"

"We're going to the king's palace, though we are not sure of the way. In fact, if you could possibly give us some directions, we would be quite grateful," explained Ionait, honestly enough (for no one by this time felt that they could trust Lassar much in the matter).

"To the King's castle, you say?" said the man slowly and thoughtfully, pausing in his work, "You know, nobody goes to the king's palace 'round here. Everyone kind of stays put. Never travels farther than 'bout twenty miles in any direction! Ever since the war ­ though, I once went – well, not quite to the castle, but near there."

The man looked away in the distance, past the travelers and out the window, as if remembering some time long ago.

"I used to be a soldier in the service of the king." He paused a moment in thought, then suddenly declared, looking straight at the little group, "Funny you should mention the king or his palace! I've always wanted to get there somehow. I think I've got something that belongs to him, in fact, or would be useful to him."

He caught himself and stopped short, as if he wasn't sure whether he wanted to tell them all he was planning to say.

His swift gaze turned to Ivar, and then to Ionait, looking them over thoughtfully, "I feel like I ought to say what I was about to because you look so familiar somehow – like someone I knew and trusted long ago."

"We've never been here before," began Ionait slowly.

Now, of course, Ionait meant that they hadn't been in Fairyland before. However, the man just thought that Ionait was saying that she and her brother hadn't ever been in that town before. Glaisne panicked inside for a second lest one of the children say more, but then relaxed as the conversation took a different course.

"But Grandfather has!" exclaimed Ivar excitedly, "Did you ever meet our grandfather, perhaps?"

"What was his name, lad?" asked the man.

"Brayden O'Keeffe!" cried the children in unison.

"That was the name of the captain of my legion. The best captain I ever could have hoped for, in fact!" cried the man fervently, "But that is impossible. He was actually someone far different from anyone of us."

He leaned across the counter, put his hand to his mouth, and said in a whisper, "He was a human."

It seemed to Ionait and Ivar that the whole room shivered with them in their excitement. They wanted to reveal their identities then and there (for they were so overjoyed to find someone who had known their grandfather), but Glaisne gave them such a severe look that they chose not to yet.

"If I might ask, what is your name, sir?" requested Ivar.

"Mr. Malcus," replied he, "Yes, call me Mr. Malcus."

The children couldn't quite remember the person to whom this name was given in their grandfather's tales, but they recognized the name itself at once. They threw all caution aside and blurted out in unison, "Yes! That was our grandfather!"

Mr. Malcus looked incredibly startled. After gazing at them a moment in surprise, his gaze softened, and a hopeful light shone in his eyes.

"How can you prove this to be true?" he asked slowly.

"With this!" Ivar drew out Daideo's jus intrandi, the only one ever forged for a human's use. On it was clearly written Brayden O'Keeffe.

Mr. Malcus was so taken aback that the tears came to his eyes.

"I believe you wholeheartedly! But wait! Half a moment!" he cried, and hurried to the back room and quickly returned with a small box carved out of a dark wood.

"Your grandfather would have wanted me to give you this." He handed the box to the children.

It was square in shape and so tiny that it could easily rest in the palm of one's hand. Fascinating designs were engraved all along its edge and centered inside these patterns were three mysterious symbols. A golden lock seemed to keep the lid of the box tightly shut. Though it was old, the wood was somehow radiantly beautiful in a mysterious way.

"He would have wanted you to have this," said the baker, his voice still choked up with grief.

"Please ­ what is it?" asked Ionait, gazing at it in wonder and awe.

"It's a bit of a story. I'll lock up my shop first so's we can talk in peace. (He advanced to the door and bolted it up tightly.) Please, have a seat!"

They all found a chair, pulled it up to a table nearest the counter, and sat down. They each in turn inspected and scrutinized the curious box as the baker told his story.

Once they were all comfortable, the man began his tale, "Well, as I said, I was a soldier under your grandfather. It was in my last battle I was ever to fight that I saw the incredible courage and fidelity of Brayden O'Keeffe. I was defending myself from a dreadful creature, and already he was getting the better of me, so strong he was. Suddenly he thrust his sword into my leg, and I fell, and my sword flew far from my grasp. As I lay in pain, I knew my end had come, for he raised his weapon to bury it in my heart.

"Then, your grandfather appeared and fought for my life. The demon he battled was indeed strong, and I saw my captain fall to save me. As the enemy prepared to make a final blow that would assuredly have smote the life of the poor man, I found in me a strength that I never felt before. I struggled to my feet, grabbed a nearby sword, and thrust it into the back of the beast. He fell dead, and I knelt, and then fell, beside the captain. He looked at me, and I knew that the life was nearly gone in him. 'You are a brave soldier,' he managed to say to me, 'NEVER GIVE UP. We can't let evil take over.'

"It was clear how much strength he required of himself to say these words. I said, "You saved my life, sir. Thank you."

"'And you saved mine,' said he, struggling more with each breath, 'At least, for the moment ­ but I fear my hour draws near. Here, soldier ­ take (Here he handed me this box, which I tucked into my mail) ­ important ­ get ­ King...' And then I remembered no more.

"When I again gained consciousness, I was in a bed with my wife beside me and my son at hand. I have never been able to walk normally since. Indeed, every step is painful. But, more importantly, I never saw nor heard of Brayden O'Keeffe again, and I feel in my heart that he is dead."

"Oh, but he isn't!" cried the children eagerly.

"He's not?" asked the man, with a hopeful glimmer in his eye, "Where is he? Has he returned safely to his own world?"

"Yes, he did indeed," Ionait explained.

Mr. Malcus smiled and said, "I'm glad he made it through. He was certainly worthy of it."

"And what is the importance of this box?" asked Glaisne, who was holding it in his hand at the moment.

"To be most truthful," Mr. Malcus gazed hard at the box as he spoke, "I never found out, nor was given the opportunity to learn why Brayden O'Keeffe prized it. I can't help from believing it either belongs to the Fairy King himself, or else would greatly benefit him in some way. That's why I hope that you might take it with you when you go to see the King."

"Well, only the leprechaun is going, because he needs to give a report on his fairy treasure," said Lassar, "The kids and I are actually heading to the outlet on the western shore so's they can get home."

"Couldn't the Fairy King send you back?" asked Mr. Malcus, "I mean, with you being the descendants of Brayden O'Keeffe, the human friend of Fairyland, and his jus intrandi to prove it, I should think the King would be glad to perform some service. Especially when you give him this, (he nodded at the box), I should imagine that he would gratefully offer the magic you need."

"We don't even know if this is valuable!" Lassar brought to light in a disagreeable fashion, "You can't even open it, I'm assuming. Where's the key?"

"Oh, I'm afraid that there is no key, as far as I know," explained Mr. Malcus, "At least, your grandfather (this he addressed to Ionait and Ivar) did not give me a means of opening it. I actually don't even know what it contains!"

"What do these letters mean? They are a form of writing, aren't they?" Ionait asked eagerly.

"Yes, I believe they are," said the man, "But I'm afraid that I could not tell you their meaning. Pardon me for my great ignorance in the matter, but I still believe that it is something of great worth."

"Why should we bother the king with this?" Lassar asked in a rough and rather unkind voice.

"I don't know exactly, and I can't explain it, but I feel certain that a good and powerful magic encompasses this box and its contents," said Ivar slowly.

"So do I!" exclaimed Ionait.

"And I," said Mr. Malcus, "Which is part of the reason I feel that it would benefit the king in some way."

"How do you know it has magical powers?" asked Lassar obstinately, though he too felt that there was indeed something quite incredible about the object.

"I don't," said Mr. Malcus simply and honestly, "But this is out of my hands. I entrust this to you now," he handed the box to the children, and Ivar took it, "Keep it safe, both of you, whatever you choose to do with it."

"Well, this is all very well," said Glasine gruffly, for he was beginning to lose patience with all the talk, and besides he was terribly hungry since they hadn't yet received their order, "But how're we going to get there? We don't know the way, nor do you, Mr. Malcus. Do you know anyone who could give us directions?"

Mr. Malcus shook his head, "No one 'round here has done any traveling since the wars. You can try the inn, though. If there's been any stranger in town ­ for only an outsider could possibly help you in any case ­ the innkeeper would be sure to hear of it. In fact," he added, as if he suddenly remembered, "I've heard a rumor of such a stranger, and many claim he's heading west, towards the King's castle."

"Do you suppose he'd be at the inn?" asked Ionait and Ivar eagerly.

"Now, now wait a minute, youngsters!" said Glaisne nervously, which made Lassar's mocking smile appear on his face.

"What do you fear, Glaisne?" teased the red man unkindly, grinning broadly.

Glaisne became somewhat angry. "I'm not afraid of anything, yet!" he replied hotly, "But we shouldn't just go to anyone for directions. I mean, since he's a stranger and all, perhaps we ought to be a bit apprehensive."

"I agree with you wholeheartedly!" cried Mr. Malcus, bringing his hand down on the table with a thud, "I don't trust strangers at first sight either. I don't know where this fellow comes from, or why he's going to the king's palace, if that's even true. I should think you all ought to speak with him a might, at least. You can usually tell if a person's the sort you'd want to trust or not right off."

"How long has he been here?" asked Ionait, "I mean, are you sure that he is still here? And hasn't left yet?"

"I should expect he's here still," said the man, leaning back in his chair with a sigh, "I only heard the rumor nigh an hour ago, and the fellow that told me had only just spoke with the stranger."

"We'd better get going if we want to catch him!" said Ivar sensibly.

"Yes! Yes! You should hurry!" Mr. Malcus jumped up with surprising agility, "Here, I'll get your vittles so you can be on your way!"

As Mr. Malcus bustled about behind the counter, Ionait and Ivar began to discuss the best possible locations for keeping their treasure to reveal to the King. It was decided that Ivar should carry the box, which he gently placed inside his pocket after wrapping it carefully in a piece of cloth from Mr. Malcus.

As the children were discussing this, Glaisne got up to find a place to purchase a nice beer bottle while Lassar just sat where he was, rejoicing inside at the turn of events. Now that Ionait and Ivar wanted to go to the King's Palace first, he would be given more opportunities to play his pranks, for they would assuredly want to make the journey to the coves on the western shore after they had delivered their gift to the King. It was all looking better than before.

The only thing that troubled him was the box itself. That was what had made him so incredibly disagreeable during the conversation. Somehow, it disturbed him deep down inside and made him feel rather uncomfortable. He couldn't decide exactly how he felt about it, for he knew so little of the box, but something about it was pricking the back of his mind and he didn't like it one bit. However, he reassured himself with the knowledge that it would soon be in the King's hands and he would no longer have to see it.

Soon, Glaisne had returned and their order was delivered to them. Glaisne generously removed his shabby wallet (leprechauns don't like fancy things) and paid for the vittles. They exited the shop with many farewells and kind wishes.

"To get to the inn, go up the road, turn left the first chance you get, and it'll be the largest building on your left!" Mr. Malcus instructed.

He wished them good luck before the foursome headed out on their way. Mr. Malcus stood and watched them leave and sighed sadly as they went, remembering days in the past when he was young and strong and traveled as a soldier in the King's army. He turned and entered his shop, putting up his 'open' sign once again.

"Now, don't anyone get too hopeful, 'cause I'm expecting that we'll find that this fellow's already left town," said Glaisne, for he was not very certain that they would have any luck at all.

"Oh, we'll find him!" said Lassar merrily, clapping the leprechaun's shoulder (to Glaisne's surprise). Lassar was feeling much brighter now that the box was not in the open, and the prospect of many extra opportunities for tricks lay before him.

They began to eat their late dinner as they turned the corner as Mr. Malcus had directed them. On their left an enormous, old building loomed before them, and on a sign waving in the gentle breeze were the words: THE INN. It was all painted drab colors of brown and gray, and the windows were fusty and their corners full of cobwebs.

"What a place to spend the night!" said Lassar under his breath.

When they entered, however, a silvery bell tinkled above them and they found a rather homey atmosphere inside. Lace curtains, a huge, red hearthrug before a roaring fire, a couch with fluffy pillows, and a huge wooden desk behind which sat a man of nearly equal size filled the front room.

Ionait and Ivar caught this in a flash, but their real mission was to find out about the stranger. So they stepped forward (rather timidly, for the brawny fellow very nearly looked as would a miniature giant).

The man looked up, smiled kindly at the travelers, and said, "Good evening! How many rooms would you need? We have quite a few open on the eastern wing tonight, and there's always lovely sunrises this time of year."

"Please, we're actually here for some information," explained Ionait, "We're headed west, and we've heard tell that..."

"West!" the man threw down his feather pen which he had picked up when they had entered, "Second group today! Very few strangers ever here in town, and precious few ever going west. North, yes, but west, into the Kerri forest?"

"We need directions, and we were hoping that someone here ­ in fact the very same fellow you spoke of, for we heard about him ­ could help us out." Ivar plucked up courage to explain.

"Well, he'd be the one to help in matters like that, if anyone could, I should expect," said the innkeeper, "He just came and slept a few hours, supped hurriedly, and headed out. I watched him go, and sure enough he went straight for the Kerri forest. He looked, to tell the truth, kind of like someone important despite his drab appearance. I think he'd know a thing or two about the western territories ­ he looked the sort that's traveled a good deal."

"So he already left?" Ionait looked terribly disappointed.

"He left only a few minutes ago. You'd have to run to catch him!" the innkeeper said hurriedly.

"Which way is it to the Kerri forest from here?" asked Ivar.

The man jumped up, opened the door, and pointed left, down the road that they had walked to get to his inn, "He went that way," and then he added, squinting, "I think I can still see him ­ on the outskirts of town!"

"Thanks!" Ionait and Ivar had already slid past the innkeeper and begun rushing down the dusty dirt road that served the town as a street. Glaisne and Lassar were not far behind. In a moment, the four of them, with Glaisne and Ivar in front and Lassar and Ionait behind, were pelting westward.

Soon, there were no more shops and they came once again to the open, grassy field that surrounded the village. The Kerri forest loomed ahead, that wood which was so named for its dark and mysterious appearance, but between them and it a tall figure could be discerned. It was hastening in the direction of the vast wood.

Ivar plucked up his courage and shouted, "Hey there!"

The man stopped, turned, and presently they had caught up and stood a little distance from him.

The young man was probably in his mid-twenties. He had sandy-blond hair, somewhat disheveled, and a clean-shaven face. His blue eyes were deeper and more pure than any human's eyes could ever become, which told them at once that he was a homin.

Judging from his attire, one might guess him to be a peasant, for he wore gray and brown and his clothes were worn, patched, and torn. His muddy cloak, tied about his neck with a hood hanging down the back, was weather-stained.

The strange thing about him was that at his side swung a sword. It was a silver sword in a sheath studded with gems and jewels of green, blue, and red. And, somehow, none present doubted that he was exceptionally capable of wielding the weapon.

"Yes?" the stranger seemed anxious to move on.

"We are on our way to the King's Castle and are in need of directions," Ivar explained.

"What makes you think that I could help?" the voice was deep and almost suspicious.

"Well, we know that no one else in town ever travels far, and the innkeeper suggested that you might..." Ionait was cut short.

"I see," said the stranger, "Pardon me, but I am in great haste, and haven't time..."

At that moment, a great flurry of air beat their faces and whirred in their ears and an immense shadow fell upon them all. The next thing they knew an enormous dragon was landing somewhat roughly in the field on their left and the ground shook.

The stranger acted instantly. He jumped toward the dragon, drew his sword with a loud shing! and shouted to the other four, "Get back! Run!"

"No! No! It's really alright!" Ionait and Ivar both rushed forward.

"I won't cause any trouble," said Burns (for Burns it was) with a smile, his eyes following the motion of the sword as it waved back and forth about fifty feet before him.

"This dragon is a friend of yours?" the stranger looked unconvinced, "Dragons never befriend anyone."

The man stopped short as a sudden thought struck him.

"Is this your means of transportation?" he asked in quite a different tone, gesturing at Burns with the point of his blade.

The dragon looked a bit confused, but Ivar said, "Burns has agreed to take us all the way to the capitol."

"In that case," the stranger slid his sword back into its sheath, "I believe I can help you. I, too, am headed for the King's Palace, but no longer have a horse or any other beast on which to travel. Here is my proposal: Allow me to traverse with you upon this noble dragon, and I shall guide you to your destination."

"You want to come with us?" Lassar looked surprised.

Ionait and Ivar looked at each other, and Glaisne furrowed his brow, unsure whether this proposal should be accepted.

"I won't take much room, and I'll see to my own provisions," but then the stranger was interrupted.

"Answer me this, before any other considerations," Glaisne sounded a little cold and very gruff, and eyed the sword swinging at the man's side suspiciously, "Just why do you carry such a weapon?"

"My reasons are my own," replied the young man rather brusquely, "as is my business. I shall not question your strange party ­ never expected to see a leprechaun with anyone, nor anybody with a dragon ­ or your needs to reach the King's Palace. I only ask you to let me travel with you in exchange for my guidance to the end of both our journeys."

The four travelers crossed the grass to where Burns crouched and spoke in hushed tones while the stranger waited.

"Well, it would be comforting to have someone with us who knows the way," Ionait said slowly.

"If we can trust that he does," replied Glaisne cautiously, "After all, we don't really know anything about him ­ and there's his sword."

"Oh, rubbish!" Lassar said, "You worry too much, old man! He'd probably defend us with it, if there was need, especially since I'm part of this company."

Lassar felt sure anyone of nobility would give his life for a far darrig at the drop of a hat (and, for the most part, he was quite right in believing this).

"Still," Ivar glanced over his shoulder, then turned back to the others, "If he were to have wicked intentions, it'd be five to one, and we've got Burns on our side (the boy patted the dragon's scaly cheek, for he had lowered his head so as to more easily participate in the conversation). I'm sure a dragon would be more effective than a sword, whoever wielded it."

"That's true enough," Burns smiled.

"Then we haven't anything to lose, it seems," Ionait's face brightened.

"So it's settled?" asked the leprechaun, and all agreed.

Striding back to where the stranger stood, expectantly waiting, Glaisne said, in his business-like gruffness, "We've agreed to take you along in exchange for your directions. But at first sight of any tricks or nonsense, especially with that sword, we'll have to send you off on your own."

"Of course," said the man, "But I do not intend to play pranks of any kind. Perhaps I shall be able to offer protection in a pinch. But if we're going, let us be off!"

"First, what do you call yourself?" asked Glaisne, still suspiciously.

"Macoyle (muh ­ COIL)," the man introduced himself, "Call me Macoyle. And, I beseech you, let us be off at once, for my errand is urgent and I have every need for haste."

Burns lay flat on his belly and one by one they mounted him. Macoyle directed the dragon in a westerly direction.

Though it was late, they flew many hours, 'till Macoyle finally agreed to stop for the night. As they had flown over hardly anything but trees and forest, they camped in a clearing surrounded by woods.

The next morning, after a hurried breakfast, they began to pack their blankets and belongings. Suddenly, from the dense trees to the west, a voice came to them, "Ionait ­ Ivar ­ do you not wish to know of what you carry?"

The next morning, after a hurried breakfast, they began to pack their blankets and belongings. Suddenly, from the dense trees to the west, a voice came to them, "Ionait ­ Ivar ­ do you not wish to know of what you carry?"

The voice was dark, a midnight black as on a starless night without the moon. The sound of it sent icy chills up and down the children's backs.

Everyone started as the strange voice began and Burns gave a low growl, like a dog with its fur bristling all down its back. Though they all stared as hard as they could, nothing could be seen in the trees to the west.

As no one gave any response, the voice asked, "You do not deny that you bear something of which you greatly value?"

"Who are you?" It was Glaisne who found his voice first.

"I am he who can tell you just what these children carry and give you an opportunity to use it in a profitable manner," the voice said.

"Use it?" repeated Lassar, who was beginning to get interested, "In a profitable manner? How do you mean?"

The voice chuckled, though it was a dark chuckle and seemed almost greedy, "Bring it forth, and I will show you."

Lassar turned to Ivar, who had the box in his pocket, but neither Ivar nor anyone else had the desire to have anything more to do with this voice, and absolutely no intention of bringing the box into the open.

"Aren't you going to see what this fellow has to say?" whispered Lassar, after about half a minute had passed. Ionait only gave him a shocked look of horror, and Glaisne said, "It's what this fellow would do, rather."

Macoyle, who felt that this had nothing to do with himself and didn't want to interfere, had remained silent up 'till now. He was pretty certain just what this creature was and he knew it was up to no good. At the same moment, however, he feared that the creature might become dangerous if he gave away his knowledge of it. But then, with a great rustling noise, it became clear that the thing intended to venture out of hiding and the others (save the far darrig) looked so frightened that he stepped towards the voice, drew his sword, and said, in a deep, steady voice, "Not an inch closer, until I give you leave."

"Ah, pretty knight," said the Voice with an irritating, muffled sort of laugh, "What is it you fear? And yet, should not a noble knight be brave of heart and never give in to fear?"

"Give our company reason to trust you and your information you claim you wish to share," Macoyle, who had never flinched during the voice's infuriating speech, held his sword steady before him, "and then we shall consider permitting you to draw nearer."

"Do you know who I am?" came the reply in a low, dark tone, "Has it not happened that you have met such as me before?"

At this (he couldn't help it; it sounded so threatening), Burns let out a huge gust of sparks and flame in the direction of the voice. Glaisne and Ivar jumped. Ionait screamed. Macoyle, though taken by surprise at the overwhelming heat and brightness, kept his blade pointing resolutely to the west. And Lassar merely said, "Settle down, Burns! That won't solve anything!"

With a sound of terrible anger and fury that has never been uttered in the world of humans before, a set pair of eyes appeared where there had been blackness. They were large and extremely red, like live coals in a burning furnace.

"I give you one ­ more ­ chance," said the voice, emphasizing the last three syllables, "bring forth your valuable, and I shall make you richer and more powerful than the world has ever known!"

A moment passed, but no one said anything. Ionait and Ivar were too afraid to speak. The eyes drew closer, Macoyle prepared for an attack, and, suddenly, something fluttered about their heads. It was white and no greater than Ionait's hands, but bright and delicate and beautiful. Within a moment, it alighted on Ionait's shoulder and everyone realized that it was a dove ­ a dove dazzlingly white with deep blue eyes.

Once it had perched, it began to sing. Strangely, it did not sound like a birdsong, nor then like a human singing. The dove's music was like the tinkle of clear water and the sound of angels' voices both at once, and though it had no words, its meaning went right to the heart of each present.

The creature in the bush gave a shriek, as though it were in great pain, and its eyes no longer burned but looked as a fire looks when it is being smothered. It seemed to fight with itself, not wishing to yet leave. Finally, after half a minute of the dove's singing, it slunk away with a terrifying scream.

Ionait, Ivar, and their companions felt transfixed by the melody, like it was all part of a delicious dream. They neither wanted to move nor to ever lose this beautiful song. They felt it resounding in their hearts. This made them feel beautifully happy, filled them with a healthy fear and bewilderment, and lifted their minds from the creature in the bushes. Though it must be considered that the far darrig was greatly troubled by the song, and wished desperately that he could flee from the bird, he found his legs immovable. He, like the others, could do nothing but listen, which is all the others desired.

The song did cease, however, much sooner than all but Lassar had hoped, and the dove looked on to the west, in the direction the dark creature had fled. Then it fixed its deep blue eyes upon each present, as if it were delving deep into each soul. Its eyes rested very long on Lassar.

The dove then stretched forth its neck, kissed Ionait on the cheek, and fluttered away much the same way as it had come. No one saw where the mysterious bird flu.

Lassar was quickest to recover and, with a great sigh of relief, clapped his hands together and asked, in a loud, carefree voice, "Ah, got to be moving on, don't we? Let's get that bed rolled up and we'll be set."

Ionait just looked at the far darrig in surprise, and everyone else, with a deep sigh (like Lassar, but of contentment), looked 'round as if they had been suddenly thrust from a world of beauty and light back to the clearing in the woods.

"What was the beautiful dove?" asked Ionait aloud, in wonder.

"Common bird, likely," grunted Glaisne, as though it were of little importance, and bent down to tie up the remaining bundles.

"On a less cheering note," Ivar's eyes grew dark, "What was that voice, black as pitch?"

"That, I think, I can answer," Macoyle hurried to aid Glaisne, and made the bundles into wearable packs, "But I dare not speak of it here ­ in the open. Let us be off at once, and I shall relate what I can of that creature."

Everyone took a pack onto his or her shoulder, save for the far darrig, and scrambled onto Burns' back. With a rush and a roar like a windstorm, the dragon flapped his huge, leathered wings and soared into the air.

Once they were well above the tree-tops and nearly in the clouds (Burns dodged quite a few), and found that they could hear one another when they tried to speak, Ivar pressed Macoyle to tell of the strange voice.

"This creature," he began, "Is not well-known to most fairies in this present time, for they have long hidden themselves beyond the eastern border of this land in the darkness of the Evil Lord. They have come back, however, into Fairyland in recent decades, nay in the past hundred years. But they have not been discovered, and I myself have seen precious few of their kind, for they disguise themselves most craftily. But to turn to the creatures themselves," he added hastily, "all you need to know is this: they are beings brought from darkness to fulfill the will of their Lord. This creature is called the Dark Voice, and Soul-Seeker, for his one desire is to corrupt the lives of every living person.

"Now, that he is after you is a surprise to me, for I felt it in my heart all along that one was on my tail. It shows you carry something that they either fear or desire to make use of, which would be far worse. I cannot deny that I wish to know of your precious burden, but I shall hold fast to my word as I gave you before we departed that I should not press you to know of your affairs.

"Yet, we shall all have to take great care to keep on our guard and beware of that foul voice in the darkness, for it undoubtedly shall follow us and attempt to take us when we are caught off our guards."

They were a silent lot that afternoon, all lost in the depth of thought. Ionait was horrified and somewhat fearful, and Ivar was troubled. They both were now incredibly anxious to see the box safely to the Fairy King, and Ivar placed his hand upon it where it bulged in his pocket. Their companions were eager with renewed vigor to reach the King's Palace without being caught again by the Dark Voice. They even discussed altering their course and veering northward where there were people, and perhaps spending nights (for Burns could not fly all that way without rests) in villages and towns. But Macoyle said, "That should only make the situation worse, because the beast shall not fear attacking us within the comfort of an inn, and this would put the villagers' lives at risk as well as our own. And furthermore, all depends on speed, and such a detour will only give the Dark Voice a greater amount of time to catch us before we reach the King's Castle."

And so, they pressed on and flew long into the cold hours of the night.

Suddenly, there shot through the night a whizzing noise, as of an object rushing at a great speed, and a sharp hiss. It was followed by two more, and with each successive hiss, Burns lurched, twisted, and finally screamed aloud in great pain.

The dragon's wings could scarcely flap and darkness began to overcome him. Macoyle tried desperately to call out directions that they might land as safely as the terrain allowed, but it was to no avail. Nor would it have been much better even if Burns could have heard Macoyle's words, for below, as far as the eye could reach, were trees closely packed together, and nothing more.

Then, as Burns' last efforts came to an end, they were falling. The wind whistled wildly in their ears and the branches smacked their faces as they reached the canopy of boughs.

Next moment, the great crash would come.

With a heavy thud, the whole party found themselves once again on solid earth. No one's bones were broken, nor indeed did anyone even tumble off Burns during the fall. The shock of the massive crash never properly came, and each was surprised.

They soon saw the reason for their gentle landing. Beneath Burns' claws, the forest floor was covered with springy turf and soft, green moss. They spread further and further all around them, as if it went on forever. This was what had cushioned and softened the blow of the great crash. They also looked up and saw that, apparently, beneath what had appeared from the air to be a thick forest was a clearing below overhung by a canopy of trees. It was indescribably amazing to see. All above them were tree-tops and leafy boughs, through which the sunlight filtered. But they stretched from trees far to their right and left, and met and entwined themselves far from their trees. There wasn't a tree within at least twenty feet on either hand of where they sat upon their dragon, breathless from the anxiety of the moment prior.

"What sort of witchery is this?" asked Macoyle aloud.

A painful groan from Burns brought everyone's thoughts back to the poor dragon. They all climbed off and gently as they could.

"Oh, Burns! Are you badly hurt?" asked Ionait, "What happened?"

Once his back was free of its burden, Burns rolled onto one side, revealing hideous scorches in the form of three large, open wounds all along his soft belly. He was nearly unconscious.

"I should have known as much," said Macoyle in a low, angry tone, going down on one knee and setting his hand on the dragon's side in a comforting pat, "This is the work of a very dark creature."

"Yes, indeed, it is!" came a sweet and warm voice.

They all turned, greatly startled, to see a little lady standing before them. She was wearing a dark green dress with a gray-brown apron atop it. Her soft, brown shoes made no noise on the grass. Her face was wrinkled but her smile was smooth and kind. Her eyes were a clear crystal blue that made Macoyle's eyes appear dull and faded. Her face was strangely illuminated by a beauty untouched by human thought.

"Here! I have come to help you. We must cleanse those wounds at once! I have water freshly boiled inside, I will return with a pot-full!" the lady turned and rushed away at a pace that one would not expect a person her age capable of achieving.

Ionait and Ivar then saw that to their right, about twenty yards away, there was a cottage under the protection of an enormous oak. The house was painted a soft white and it had a wooden-shingled roof with brown eaves. A wooden door, painted green, opened westward. A stream rippled by about fifty yards further on from the cottage.

"Who is she?" asked Ionait in a whisper.

"Be on your guards," Macoyle intended to take no chances, "She may be a good fairy, or she may be a witch."

"Witch!" cried Ivar, "I've never seen a more beautiful witch, if she is one. Did you see her eyes?"

"Witches can be crafty, Ivar," Glaisne said slowly, "Or so I've heard; perhaps she could even change her appearance so as to deceive innocent travelers."

"I don't see much harm in her," said Lassar carelessly.

But then there was no more time to counsel one another, for the lady had returned with a stew-pot filled with steaming water. On her arm hung clean white towels.

She smiled brightly at the group and said, "Let me get wash your dragon's burns, then I will prepare something for you to eat."

The lady worked quickly, diligently dipping the towels in the water and washing the wounds on Burns' stomach with such a gentle hand that the dragon never flinched. Within a few moments, the blood and dirt was gone, and the lady took some little home remedies and rubbed them softly on the burns.

When she had finished, she wiped her hands on a spare towel, then walked to Burns' head so she could more easily speak with him. She said, "There. Does that feel better, now?"

"Yes, it does," Burns eyes regained their natural luster, but his voice revealed his pain, "Thank-you."

She patted his scaly cheek kindly, and then said, "Rest awhile, dear one."

"Hello, everyone," she said, "I hope to make you comfortable inside while your dragon rests. Please follow me."

And she proceeded to pick up and carry the pot of water that remained and the used towels. They followed her into the house, where she invited them to sit while she set the things down in her kitchen.

The living room was warm and cozy. Lace curtains, fluttering in the breeze, hung in the windows from which issued the bright sunlight. A couch with pillows of goose-feathers was against the wall on their left and an armchair waited nearby for someone to sit upon it. The couch faced an enormous fireplace, now empty, and before it was a beautiful, woolen hearthrug of a red heather color. Next to the fireplace was a wooden rocking chair and on the floor beside it was a wicker basket filled with yarn and knitting needles.

The lady returned and took a seat on the rocking chair.

"Well, dears," she asked, looking from one to another, "What brings you to this humble house?"

"We crashed through the canopy of trees ­ which really appeared to be unending forest from above, so we really are surprised to be here ourselves ­ when Burns screamed, because he got those sores," Ivar explained, "I'd really like to know who or what it was that hurt him and what it is that was done to cause those wounds."

"Well, that is something I think I can tell you," said the lady, taking up her basket and picking some yarn and a pair of needles, "It was a Dark Voice that attacked poor Burns. I know that mark, the scorch of their evil power. I could not tell you exactly what the soul-seeker does, but it is a power that he can wield with ease for his pleasure as well as his work.

"Now, before we continue any farther," the lady's face brightened, "Tell me your names."

Ionait and Ivar did so, and introduced their companions.

"What may we call you?" asked Ionait of the lady.

"I want you to call me Granny," said the lady, "and now, if I may ask you..."

"Pardon my great need for questioning, but this is all strange to me," Macoyle stepped forward, "How do you know of the creatures called the Voices in the Darkness? None know of them, for they have not been about in this land for over a hundred years."

"I know many things, my son, for I have lived many years more than the century of which you speak," said Granny quietly, "I have seen them roam this land before they were driven out in the Silver War."

"But who are you, and why are you so willing ­ nay ­ prepared to help us?" continued Macoyle, very pressingly.

"I am Granny," said Granny, "I am simply the little lady of this house, and I happened to be preparing for my afternoon tea when you arrived. The kettle always holds plenty, which is why I had enough to wash Burns' sores.

"But what of you, my travelers?" she asked, "Where are you going, and from whence have you come?"

"I do not believe our company wishes to speak of this," said Macoyle, "We have not confided in each other of our need for the journey, nor of from where we have traversed."

"That is a daring venture," replied Granny, looking at them with her steady blue eyes, "If you cannot even confide in one another, then in whom can you confide?"

"Yes ­ well," said Macoyle a little awkwardly, "All the same, I do not wish to reveal my journey."

"But we can tell you where we're going!" said Ivar, who had already taken a fancy to Granny, "We are heading to the King's Castle."

"Indeed," said Granny, taking a grandmotherly interest, "that is a difficult journey. You must take care along the way."

"Oh yes, it's been very exciting already," said Ivar, and he began to relate their adventures from when the children first left Glaisne's house up 'till the present time, being careful, of course, not to mention their humanity.

When he had finished, Granny sighed and said, "You have much yet to tell. But there will be time. I wish to offer you all clean, warm beds and home-cooked meals until Burns is well. There is plenty of fish in the stream outside which may be caught for your dragon to eat. In the meantime, what about some lunch?"

The offer was decidedly appreciated, and everyone made a hearty meal of Granny's cooking, which far surpassed the hard-tack, dried meats and water that they carried in their bags.

After lunch, Granny showed each of them to a room where they might spend the night. Though the cottage had appeared so small from without, it proved spacious and roomy within.

Burns slept all that day and Granny washed and dressed his wounds once more before dark.

After dinner that evening, Granny said to the children, "Ah, now, my little ones, what shall it be? Do you want to tell more of your adventures now, or shall I tell you a tale?"

She scooped up her little basket of needles and yarns and set herself gently in the rocker by the fireside. The children followed her into the living room, which was adjacent to the dining room, while Glaisne, Lassar, and Macoyle stayed in their places at the table. Macoyle and Glaisne, sitting near an open window, puffed away at their pipes and sat deep in thought. The far darrig simply sat with his feet propped up on the table, leaning comfortably back in his chair.

"Do you have a tale, Granny?" asked Ivar.

"Indeed I have," replied Granny, "I know many good things that children love to hear, and I have a story for each of you present ­ even your grown-up companions. But I shall start with a more feminine tale for tonight. (And as she spoke, in the flashing and flickering firelight, she chose a soft and dainty yarn from her basket, though, in that light, its color was difficult to discern.) I believe in ladies first ­ especially in ladies so greatly outnumbered!"

Ionait crossed her legs and sat with one cheek against her hand, gazing at the elderly lady with great fondness, though she had known Granny but a few hours. And yet, Granny already appeared to understand Ionait's heart, as the old lady's gaze seemingly penetrated the very depths of the young girl's soul.

Ionait's younger brother, expecting a silly, girly story, yet not wishing to appear indifferent towards Granny, whom his little heart already loved, laid down on his stomach with his feet up in the air, his face to the warmth of the cheery fire. Leaning his head on his right hand, with his left he reached across the bright rug on which he lay and gently ran the tips of his fingers on each strand of color. It was incredible what firelight did to those colors! It made the rug appear dull one second, and then, with a crackle and a pop of sparks, the flames would leap up, as if by magic, and a burst of rainbow would flash as bright as sunlight. The boy was quite transfixed at the beauty of this carpet, and no wonder, for, as he would later learn, there was more behind that rug than just wool and color.

But then Granny was ready to start. She set her knitting basket on the floor, leaned back in her rocker, slipped on a pair of glasses, prepared yarn and needles, readjusted her spectacles, and then began. Her story was a sweet tale, and it touched everyone present, for Granny was a great weaver of magical tales. She knitted away as she wove her story, and her project grew as the night progressed. Finally, the tale had ended.

The room was still and quiet. All were deep in thought, even the children's "grown-up companions", for they, too, were drawn to the magic and beauty of Granny's story. The only sounds to be heard were the squeak of Granny's rocker and the wispy sss-click! of Granny's needles as she knitted away. At last, Granny set down her needles and spread something out on her lap. She looked kindly with loving eyes to Ionait, and the eyes of the two met for a moment. Then Granny, closing her eyes as if in prayer, said something under her breath in a strange tongue that sounded sweetly like music, and, with one firm, quick motion, she shook out the wrinkles from her work and brought it into the light of the fireside for all to see. It was a glossy, silvery bell.

Not a knitted imitation, but the real thing. It tinkled sweetly as Granny leaned forward to hand it to Ionait.

"This is for you, dear," she said, as Ionait took it with nearly shaking hands.

"Thank-you, Granny, but ­ how could this be?" asked Ionait, holding the bell cautiously in the palm of her hand, too overwhelmed by the strange happening to fully understand what had been given to her.

"My dear, nothing could be more common-place. I wanted to give you something useful ­ a tale to look back upon for support and comfort in your trials, and a gift that will fill one of your needs on your excursion. I cannot see into the future, but my Lord alone, whom I serve ­ the one who governs the universe ­ I simply asked Him to give you what you needed. And He did."

"Granny, this is fantastic!" said Ivar, who had found the story to be not quite so feminine as he had feared, and was amazed at the seemingly inexplicable object which was made by Granny's own hands from yarn, "Can anyone make anything like that from yarn if they wanted to?"

"No, my dear," said Granny, smiling fondly at the boy, "For it is not my power, but the Power of He Who created me and you, and the entire world."

"Forgive me, but this doesn't make any sense," said Macoyle, speaking for the first time that evening by the fire. Granny turned with her same kind eyes to meet his fixed gaze as he continued, "How can you take yarn ­ fibers, plucked from the coats of beasts ­ and transform such into the likeness of a bell? I have not touched it, but it appears to be of pearl, and of glass, yet not a combination of the two. How can this be? And if your claim is true, that the Creator of this world has accomplished this miracle, then why is it at your hands alone, and no one else is so graced?"

"My son," said Granny, with her soft, gentle gaze showing wisdom and understanding beyond the comprehension of any present, "You see, but do not see. Come and touch the bell. (And receiving the bell from Ionait, she placed it in the hand of the soldier, and he found, to his surprise, that it proved to be even more beautiful and real than it had seemed from afar.) It is as solid as any of the jewels in the palace of the King. Does the power of the One by Whom all things are created disturb and confuse you? For I tell you, this is no work of mine. Goodness, no! This is far too great a power for me to have wielded. I am only able to fulfill a small portion of the great feats that the Creator of this world accomplishes continually all about us. And that is all He expects of me, and us all, to simply do the work that He asks of us quietly and lovingly and He will fill in all the details and missing parts. The problem with this world is that some do not even try to complete those tasks, even the most minute and easy. Instead, because they choose to follow their own wills, all their plans unravel. You see, I am simply capable of doing the bit of the before-hand work first, by which I am implying my knitting, and then I turn it over to my Lord. He is the One Who transforms all that is plain, small, unimportant, and lost, to intricate, enormous, significant, and beautiful in His Heart.

"And I am no exception. It is His will alone that causes these occurrences, not mine. What could I do to sway the Divine Will one way or another? No, my son, it is not because of me that these things happen, but, rather, because of Him in whom I trust."

After a moment, still not believing fully the little old lady's speech, the young man handed the bell back to Granny, who, in turn, gave it to Ionait. Ionait, too, found it difficult to believe. But Granny had completely won over Ivar's confidence, as he looked down upon the little bell in his sister's hand and marveled at the simple and yet amazing miracle that had just taken place.

"Granny, is this the same bell, or maybe the same sort of bell, that the girl in the story was given?" Ivar asked, "And what will Ionait need it for?"

"My son, did I not say that I am no prophet? I cannot see into the future any better than you. But I am sure that it will serve some purpose, whether it be simply comfort in sorrows or used to move the hearts of those in need, like the bell in the tale, I do not know. But Ionait will be shown when the time is right. It will be revealed.

"Now, time for sleep, my dears, I have kept you all awake, especially you, Ionait and Ivar, far too long. But, I wish to know, what did you think of my story, Ionait?"

"It was lovely, just the sort of story I'd enjoy and learn from. You know me that well already, Granny!"

"No," said Granny, leaning forward and meeting Ionait's happy eyes with grandmotherly tenderness, "I have known you since the moment of your conception."

They all slept well that night, in the soft feather-beds that Granny had prepared.

The next day, Burns was better than he had been the day prior. He was still in no condition to fly, for his wounds were open and extremely painful as yet. However, Granny washed them and rubbed her home-remedy on them. She then gave Ivar a fishing-pole, which she had frequently used herself to catch something for supper, and asked him to gather a mess of trout for Burns.

Ionait helped Granny in the kitchen for much of the day. Glaisne spent much of his day outdoors, puffing away at his pipe, mulling over the recent occurrences. Lassar meandered hither and thither as he pleased, wishing that they could hurry and continue their journey for he did not see many opportunities for playing his tricks on the children here with Granny. Macoyle, like Glaisne, also considered the events of the past couple of days, but also writhed within with anxiety. He was impatient to get to the King's Castle, for he bore a secret message to the Fairy King, and time was of the essence. His disquiet showed itself in the form of brusque answers whenever he was spoken to and the constant drumming of his fingers on the table at meals.

That evening, they dined much earlier and Granny, after making sure that Burns had been well-fed and had cleansed his wounds once more, took her seat in the rocker and invited the children and their companions to come and listen to her stories.

"Tonight, I believe it's Lassar's turn to hear a tale," said Granny, picking up a pearly-colored yarn from her basket, "Yes, we'll start with you (she looked Lassar straight in the face), and then perhaps I'll tell one more, if there's time tonight."

The far darrig squirmed uncomfortably in his chair at the table, unsure of what sort of tale Granny might tell for him. Somehow, she seemed to know so much about them all. It wouldn't have surprised him if she knew where they all had come from and their own purposes in their venture. It made one feel so uneasy, he thought.

He made no response to Granny's kind words, and, pushing his chair so that its back faced the little old lady, he propped his feet on the table and crossed his arms before his chest indifferently.

But Granny paid Lassar's apathy no heed, and proceeded to spin her tale. It was about a rich king, who believed he was perfectly happy, when he was called upon by his people to protect them from invaders. He ignored their needs and continued in his self-centered life, until a young maiden appeared; the third to tell of the people's need for protection, and begged and implored him to leave his palace with his army and fight to protect the country. He refused, and the lady revealed to him the true state of his soul. Enwrapped about his neck, his arms, his legs, and his waist was a long, heavy chain of metal, the chain, the lady said, that he had forged for himself by his selfish deeds. The man begged her to remove the chain, but she told him that the only way that it could be removed was for him to take his army and drive out the enemy that had attacked his kingdom. If he did not fight in the front line with his troops, proving himself now completely self-less and a true and worthy king, the chain would remain forever intact, to weigh him down.

Granny paused, and looked intently at her needles, working away diligently.

Lassar, in spite of himself, had become so interested that he was now sitting between Ionait and Ivar on the hearthrug before Granny.

When she showed no intention of resuming the tale, the far darrig asked breathlessly, "Well? Did the king go and fight?"

"Did he?" Granny returned the question, and peered at Lassar over her spectacles.

This surprised the far darrig so much that he could think of no response. But Granny didn't seem to wish for an immediate answer, and, next moment, she had finished her work.

As she had done the night before with Ionait's bell, she gazed at Lassar a moment, though her gaze showed mercy and anxiety rather than the tender affection they had shown Ionait, whispered a word of musical magic, and shook out her knitted object.

"Come here, Lassar," said Granny and the far darrig, curious to see what she had made, stood up before her.

Granny held up a beautiful strand of threaded pearls, encrusted with the purest gold.

Lassar's eyes opened wide in surprise and his mouth dropped open.

"Lassar," said Granny, "this is a replica of the state of your soul once it was purified by your Maker. Only you can retain its beauty, or transform it to other forms, as you see fit."

She then placed the pearls in his hands and he immediately set them upon his neck. The clasp clicked into place instantly. But a moment later the chain of pearls became dense, both in color and in weight. Each pearl grew larger and oblong. It had become a chain, weighing down on the far darrig's neck as he stood before Granny.

"What!" cried Lassar indignantly, pulling at the clasp, "What in the world?"

But the clasp could not be undone, nor could the small chain fit over Lassar's head.

"Why did you perform something like this?" he looked angrily at Granny, "What a trick!"

"I told you," Granny replied serenely, "This is the replica, or mirror-image, of yourself. I did nothing to transform the gift that you were given, for that is not my place. And as long as the clasp will not yield to your hand, you are a slave to yourself."

"What kind of talk is that?" asked Lassar, now beginning to take control of himself one more and speaking in a careless sort of voice, "Well, have your fun, then. The King's bound to be able to get it off when we reach the Palace and in the meantime it isn't any bother."

He tucked the chain in the collar of his shirt, but it still weighed down heavily upon him. He put this aside and resumed his former position at the table with Macoyle and Glaisne.

Ionait and Ivar were rather curious at these happenings, but they felt they could not speak up when Granny placed her gift in Lassar's hands. But before they had a chance to say anything to Granny, she chose a soft green color from her basket, cast on a few stitches, and began to rock once more.

"It's quite early still," she said, "I think there's time for a second tale this evening. Glaisne, this is for you."

Glaisne only grunted through his pipe, and remained in his chair at the table for the length of the lady's story.

Granny, in her sweet voice, wove the fabric of her tale as the needles in her hands knitted her yarn into a fabricated gift. Everyone listened silently, and felt themselves swept away into Granny's story.

It ended sooner than any had expected. They felt suddenly thrust back into Granny's little cottage from the world of Granny's tale.

"Ah, now," said the little lady, this time smiling to herself as she gazed upon her finished project. She smiled, too, at Glaisne and whispered her song of magic.

Lifting the knitted piece from her lap, it leaped into the air, shining a radiant and beautiful green. Shards of blue and yellow crystal also decorated the piece, and it suddenly gave a loud squawk, to the surprise of most. Looking above him at the strange gift of Granny's, Ivar saw that it was, in fact, a parrot ­ a lovely bird exquisitely painted in bright and striking colors.

Glaisne winched inside a little at the sight of the creature, as it soared, croaking and cawing above their heads, for a moment. It then perched gently on Granny's upheld hand, and began to preen its glossy feathers.

"Glaisne, this bird is yours," said Granny, "I hope it will be a great comfort and benefit to you."

The leprechaun had risen, as he felt it would be proper, and stood near the fireplace. The bird, at the sound of Granny's words, flew silently to Glaisne and landed on his shoulder. It gave a contented squeak of a squawk and then resumed to preen its feathers.

"Thank you, I'm sure," said he, not yet liking the feel of the bird's claws on his shoulder.

"Wow!" Ivar gently ran his fingers down the silken feathers on the parrot, "What will you call him, Glaisne?"

Glaisne looked hard at the bird with a critical eye. It merely shook itself and ruffled out its shining feathers.

"Saionsaor (SIN-sair)," replied Glaisne, a little shortly.

At this the parrot cocked its head on one side, looked at the leprechaun in a curious fashion, then gave a high shriek, but not very loud.

"You will see that it will serve you in some way," Granny sounded reassuring, "But for the present, let us all retire. The night has now officially come."

They found their beds even more comforting and soft that night. Lassar was the only one who found any difficulty in finding sleep. He lay awake for hours, the chain pulling downward on his throat.

"That Granny!" he thought irritably to himself, "What a nasty joke! If only it weren't so heavy, then I'd have a chance to get some sleep!"

But even as he thought this, something was pricking the back of his mind, and reminding him of Granny's words, "...this is a replica of the state of your soul once it was purified by your Maker. Only you can retain its beauty, or transform it to other forms, as you see fit..." and he did not like to make any conclusions about this, and instead wondered to himself just what she might have meant by these words.

But all the others slept beautifully and they were even more appreciative for breakfast the next day than ever before.

Burns was doing so much better that he could speak easily with the others. The scorches on his belly were healing and he no longer wanted to rest the whole day. He still didn't want to lie on his stomach, but he felt in need of some entertainment and friends.

So Granny asked Ivar to heft her rocker outside that evening after supper. When Ivar found the heavy wood immovable for him, Macoyle offered to carry it instead. The rocker and a few chairs were brought outside, all placed near Burns' head so that he could partake in the tales and talk. Even the hearthrug that Ionait and Ivar had lounged upon in Granny's cottage was brought out for the children's pleasure.

Granny brought out her little basket of knitting and set herself in the rocker. With a sigh of pleasant contentment, she brought her basket onto her lap and said, "Now, let's start tonight with a tale for Burns."

And she did. It was a glorious story, and Burns enjoyed it very much. He was greatly surprised when, after the tale had ended, Granny got up from her rocker and stood near his scaly face.

"Burns," she said, "There is a lot in store for you. I want you to overcome all the obstacles and perform your calling with all your heart. I will not forget you, even in the last hour, when the world may seem against you. I will be by your side."

And with this, she leant forward and gave the dragon a glowing kiss on his scaly nose. It warmed Burns right down to his heart and placed in him a strength and a power he had not ever felt in his life up 'till then. He lifted his head and looked Granny directly in the eye.

"Thank you, Granny," he said softly, "I can do all that now."

Granny resumed her place in the rocker and then brought out a silvery yarn from her basket.

"Macoyle," she said, "This is your story."

When the tale had been completed and so had the gift, she gazed at Macoyle with the tenderness of a grandmother, spoke the enchanting music, and showed them all a fine chain on which hung a dainty coin-like metallic object. She stood and brought it to Macoyle.

"My son, this is yours, and I hope you will allow my help through it in your upcoming battles," Granny let the silver chain slide through her fingers into Macoyle's open palm.

"Ah, one of those again," said Lassar, "Are you going to take a chance, Macoyle? Look what happened to me!"

The soldier looked at Granny as if considering the far darrig's words. But after catching a glance from the little lady, he set the light jest aside and set the chain upon his neck.

"Thank you," he said simply.

"Call upon me," said Granny, placing a motherly hand upon his shoulder, "My son, I am beside you and I want you to ask me for help."

This baffled Macoyle, and he did not understand what Granny meant by it. But he held it in his heart and did not forget these words.

"Is it my turn, Granny?" asked Ivar eagerly, for he had been waiting and hoping that his tale would come ever since Ionait's story their first night in the cottage.

"Yes, Ivar, it is now time for your tale," replied Granny, sitting once more in the rocker. Then, putting away her needles and setting her basket beside her rocker, she folded her hands in her lap and leaned back and forth as she began to weave the magic of her tale, the last that she would tell the company.

Like the first and all the others, it was a sweet and touching tale and touching. It pulled each soul present into the world of the story, as if each were part of the tale.

When Granny had finished, Ivar realized that she had not been knitting anything during the story-telling. He wondered whether Granny intended to give him a gift.

"Ivar," said Granny, "I have a special present for you. I want you to bring this hearthrug (and she gestured towards the rug on which the children sat) with you in your travels."

Ivar's eyes lit up and he jumped from his place, "Oh, Granny, do you mean it? What will I need it for?"

Granny's eyes brightened at the sight of his enthusiasm, "You will know, my son, when the time comes."

"Thank you so much, Granny!" and with that, the boy flung his arms 'round the lady's neck in a warm embrace.

***********************

Later that evening, when the children were tucked in bed, the far darrig and the leprechaun had retired, and the dragon was already snoring outside, Granny bustled about her kitchen. She had just finished her dishes and gone to put out the fire in the fireplace in the living room, when she was surprised to find Macoyle sitting, deep in thought, before the bricks and flames. His left hand upheld his pipe, while in his right he clasped the medal from around his neck.

He started when Granny entered and dropped the medal from his hand.

"Can't you sleep, my son?" asked Granny kindly.

"There will be time for sleep, but it is not now," replied Macoyle, and the tinge of anxiety, which had been enveloping him since before he began to travel with his new-companions, shone brightly in his voice.

Granny sat in her rocking-chair beside the fire, and said, "You have not yet spoken of your errand, my son. You are so restless ­ what do you fear?"

When she saw that he still did not wish to speak of this, Granny's eyes grew more soft and tender and deepened with understanding, and she said to Macoyle, nearly in a whisper, "You bear evil news and great, and you bear it well. You are a soldier both in body and in spirit, which is hard to find in the people of today. But you rely too much on your own strength, my son. You feel the urgency of your quest, and you fear that its success is expected of you and you alone. I know it is a heavy burden to bear, and so, in your fear, you fall back on your own strengths. You block your heart from anything that might possibly be ill, but to your disadvantage. For while you let no evil in, you are also blocking out what is good and pure, refreshing and true. Relax your heart of its tenseness and watch what comes in. Fight what is evil; welcome what is good."

Macoyle looked quite startled, and asked, "How could you know anything of my mission?"

Granny stood, set her hand upon his shoulder, and said, "I know. I want to help you ­ you will see by and by. For now, go and rest, for you need the strength that sleep can provide even more than this agony of anxiety."

Then Granny put out the fire and went to bed. Macoyle found a peace that night that he had not felt before and went to sleep at once.

The next day Burns' scorches were doing so much better that he could fly with ease and move about with very little pain. They decided that the time had come at last to hasten to their destination, and Burns heartily agreed.

Granny provided them with a full stock of provisions and let them fill their water-skins in the spring by her house.

When all was set, an idea sprang into Ivar's head. He whispered it to Ionait, but the very same thought had been tickling her mind as well.

And so, taking the box from his pocket, Ivar went forward to Granny.

"Granny, we were given this to bring to the Fairy King, and we wondered if you might know anything of it," Ivar held up the box.

Granny's eyes grew a soft blue as she took it reverently and lovingly in her hands, "Yes, I most certainly do. This contains the most beautiful that anyone ever thought to call filled with beauty, and the most mighty that ever was called full might."

And with these words, Granny placed her hand on the lid and lifted the box open.

It contained a little cushion of royal purple made to fit its box; but time had clearly made its mark. The cushion was worn, its color quite faded away, and tears here and there were quite visible. But lying on the cushion was a piece of wood. It was, in fact, quite small and splintery. And it was clearly covered with a black, black substance that seemed to have once been wet but now had dried and hardened on the bit of wood.

As each of the companions gazed at the seemingly worthless object, a certain feeling overcame him. Ivar and Ionait felt a sudden infusion of warmth and love overwhelm them. Glaisne felt as if a glow of light had immersed itself into his heart that he had never felt before. Macoyle felt enlightened and a new hope burst forth within him, as he somehow recognized the immense value it would hold for the kingdom of the fairies. Lassar, however, found very contradictory feelings stirring up within him. It was as if a spark had struck within him, but that it burned and stung as he had never felt before. He smothered it at once and yet felt that he wished it to go on smoldering until it became a roaring fire, but that it would be more than he could bear.

"It was as if it could have been opened all along!" whispered Ivar to Ionait.

"Why couldn't we open it?" asked Ionait, though in her heart she knew the answer.

"Because, this is the last hope of this world. I have earnestly petitioned for this grace, and it has been mercifully answered. I have waited long for you to come; you whom I have chosen to bear this gift ­ this last grace."

"But what is it?" asked Lassar.

"This," Granny replied, "is what the King desperately searches for and the Enemy frantically seeks. But it shall aid only they who comprehend and revere its might. It is not as it appears, and shall prove the greatest weapon before the moment of despair."

"So both sides want it ­ feel they need it?" asked Lassar, a thought striking him.

Granny looked sternly at the far darrig, "I entrust this task to all of you ­ this must be safely brought to the King. If it is not ­ if it falls in the hands of the Enemy ­ all will be lost."

And so saying she produced a key, which she placed in the hands of Ionait. The box she laid in Ivar's hands.

"And my children," she continued, speaking to Ionait and Ivar, "truth in all matters is of the essence. Show your true selves, as you must do when you are presented to the Fairy King, and do not any longer deceive your fellow-companions, for it will no longer protect you."

And a moment later, Ionait's eyes shone with their natural dark luster and Ivar's eyes transformed back to their normal color of warm brown. Macoyle started in surprise.

"Humans?" he asked disbelievingly, and then added, addressing the children, "There always was something strange about your eyes, though I never could place what it was. Now I see.

"But from where do you receive all this authority?" asked Macoyle cautiously, addressing Granny.

"From my Maker, and yours," said Granny simply, "For I am your mother, and the Mother of the Divine Son. I do not forget my children, nor shall I leave you behind. Now go in peace."

They all felt, to differing extents, their minds enlightened, their souls inspired, and their hearts filled beyond capacity with that which is good, pure and beautiful.

They all clambered up onto Burns. Granny looked up to them from below, and raised her hand in blessing.

**********************

Once they had been flying for some length of time, Macoyle recognized their position to be, not where they had crashed a few days earlier, but only a day's flight from the King's Castle. This was a miraculous occurrence, and everyone felt much better, for they would reach the Palace by the next day.

Since the day was already nearly spent, they only flew a few hours before finding a place to rest for the night.

"But we shall greet the King before high noon tomorrow," said Macoyle joyously.

After supper that evening, Lassar went off on his own in the woods nearby to think and wonder to himself a bit. Things were not turning out as beautifully as they had originally promised to be. Already he was out of time for his pranks that he had dreamed of playing on Ionait and Ivar. The children, he suspected, would be let back into their own world by the Fairy King once he had the box in his possession.

"It's that box that's the problem," he thought, speaking aloud to himself since he was alone, "Causing much more trouble than it's worth, as like as not. Now, if it were in other hands..."

At that moment, a rustle in the underbrush beside him nearly made him jump out of his skin in surprise. A huge pair of glowing red eyes shone brilliantly in the dark and a low grumble, which sounded faintly like the rumble of an eerie laugh, stirred in the air.

"The box, is it?" the Dark Voice said.

"Who are you?" asked Lassar faintly, but he already knew.

"I am he whom you met but a few mornings past," came the reply, dark and cold as a starless night.

Lassar shivered in spite of himself, but then, to prove he wasn't disturbed, (and because he had wanted to say it at their last meeting) he said boldly, "You claimed you had some valuable information to give concerning that box. Well, if you've got anything useful to say, I'm here and listening."

"I have watched you, and it is clear that you are the only one in your party with any sense," the Voice said with the threat of one of its dark laughs, "Bring me the box, and I will show you just how it may be used to your advantage."

"Yes, well," Lassar fumbled, not really liking the course the conversation had taken. But then, as a thought struck him, he continued slyly, "Of course, it'll be a snap. Could have taken it already, but I didn't have any reason to think it worth my while. Now, it is a different matter. Having a partner in the deal to back me up ­ this might present advantages for us both."

"Indeed," said the Voice loftily, then added, "But, of course, you realize that if you fail..."

He didn't need to finish; the words already sent chills up and down Lassar's spine.

"Very well, then," he said, lifting his voice to a merry tone, "Earliest chance I get, and you'll be first to know."

And with that, the far darrig sprinted away towards the light of the campfire, deceitful thoughts weaving themselves into a terrible plan in the depths of his mind and heart.

It seemed to Lassar that the box was clearly a valuable possession. Granny had said that, not only did the Fairy desire it but also the Enemy. The children would not give it up easily, and the others would willingly fight for its protection, or at least he knew Macoyle would. And then there was that Dark Voice ­ living proof that the Dark Side wanted it. This, Lassar felt, could put himself in a very interesting position, if only he could get his hands on the box, or rather its contents.

"Granny said it's that splinter of wood that contains the magic, or whatever it is," thought Lassar to himself, "So the real prize is the splinter itself.

"Now, if I were to take this precious object, I could use it to persuade either party as I see fit. The King would be impressed with it, or perhaps it could even prove powerful in the hands of one such as I. Who needs royalty if one bears something powerful enough to be sought after by both sides?"

And the more he thought, the more the far darrig desired the splinter.

In the dead of night, once everyone had fallen asleep, a figure in red might have been noted slipping silently over Ionait and Ivar like a shadow. A moment later, it was gone, speeding through the forest woods in the dark cover of the nearly-moonless night.

The next morning, Ionait was violently shaken awake by a panicked Ivar.

"Ionait, it's gone! The box is nowhere to be found!"

"What?" cried she, frantically searching her pockets for the key only to find the same result.

"And where's that far darrig?" asked Glaisne, who had been awoken by the noise, in a voice full of suspicion.

Macoyle, who had been smoking thoughtfully a small distance from the sleeping group near a smoldering campfire, overheard all that was said and clenched his pipe in his fist in frustration.

"Your friend," he said slowly and quietly, "Has been gone before sunrise."

************************

The figure proved to be the far darrig. Lassar rushed through bush and bramble, for the moment not knowing, not caring where he went, as long as it was away from the sleeping children, the dragon, that snippety leprechaun (he felt), and the soldier with the long sword. Branches smacked him in the face as he pushed his way through the denser parts of the wood. Pausing for breath, after a few minutes of running, he glanced back over his shoulder. Not a light was to be seen, but Lassar had no fear of losing himself in that forest for he had an amazing sense of direction and he knew this wood like the back of his hand. For, while he hadn't been to numerous places in his young life, he had dwelt long and extensively in that forest for reasons of no virtue as his next actions demonstrated.

Once he had caught his breath, the little man in red scuttled away quietly to a great oak nearby. Drawing near to it, he found the little nook in its side high above his head that he had always thought would be a handy thing one day, as it was large enough to hide something but difficult to spot unless you knew where to look.

The hiding place was high, so that Lassar had to swing himself up into the tree and set himself on a nearby branch to reach the spot. Once settled, Lassar cautiously drew out from an inside pocket on his jacket, as you probably guessed, the small wooden box that Mr. Malcus had given the children. Then he quietly removed the key from a different pocket.

Taking one more glance about, just in case someone had followed, Lassar slipped the key in the hole and turned it smartly, producing a sharp click! The noise sounded enormous in the silence of the wood to that mischievous soul. He then lifted the lid and saw, looking more beautiful and glorious and yet forbidding than ever before, the splinter of wood. It seemed almost a crime in itself just to touch it without permission of its true guardians. But touch it he did, removing it from its tattered pillow and placing it in the small hollow of the trunk. He snapped the box shut, hurriedly pushed it and the key back into some secret pockets of his vest, and nimbly jumped from his perch, making no more noise than a cat.

After the moment that he had taken the box and key from the children, the chain around Lassar's neck had grown immensely heavier. Now, after setting the splinter in the hollow of the tree, he felt that the weight of the chain would kill him. He felt extremely annoyed with Granny, and placed all the blame for this pain on her shoulders, despite the fact that he knew this was not a just accusation.

This couldn't be the end of the theft, he knew. If he wanted to keep the splinter for his own, he had a few things to take care of first. So he proceeded, walking for a mile or more, deep into the night until he came upon a cottage that he knew well.

It was not a sweet cottage like Granny's with a homey feel, but a cottage seemingly lounging in the arms of evil. Very dark and unkempt in appearance, it gave one a feeling of dismal uncertainty and a foreboding atmosphere loomed before the place. Its roof was of a black, black mossy substance and its outer walls of a dreary gray. Sable windows peeped out on two of its four sides, opposite each other, while a door of black rested ominously before Lassar and just to the left.

Approaching it, and noting the gray wisps of smoke emerging from the twisted chimney, Lassar rapped smartly at the door.

With a loud screech of its hinges, the door yielded to being opened, and standing nearly three feet above the little man in red, all garbed in black with a tall, pointy hat to match, bent over with age beyond measure, stood an ugly witch.

She had a sickly greenish hue to her face and a long pointy nose. Her thin lips and dark eyes were both set back in her face and her hands were as thin and frail as skeleton-hands. But her very glance was sharp and piercing and her voice as high and screechy as only a witch's can be.

She gave a witchy chuckle at the sight of the far darrig, then said to him in her witchy voice, "Good evening, old friend. It has been long since we've met last. What brings you to my homely cottage?"

"Some official business, Crimea (CRY-me-uh). May I step inside?"

In answer, the witch stepped aside for Lassar to enter, and then shut the door behind him.

"Official business, you say?" asked the Witch, eyeing him curiously, distrust already showing itself in her gaze.

"Nothing for me," replied Lassar, catching her gaze, "Just happen to be in a situation that'd be profitable for you."

"Indeed," said the Witch, curious yet not ready to believe without proof, "Well, suppose you sit and explain this situation."

The old woman offered a splintery, worm-eaten wooden chair near the smoky fireplace to the red man. He accepted it, gingerly setting himself near the edge of the seat.

"You see, there's these two kids," began Lassar as the Witch sat down opposite him, "Met up with them near the edge of the Irish End, and seems they're from the Human World. Got here accidently, it seems, and they're going to try to get the king to send them home."

"What's there for you?" asked the Witch suspiciously, in her high, screeching voice, "Why should you stick around them?"

"Opportunity for pranks," said Lassar with a shrug, at which the old witch gave a wry smile, "Anyhow, seeing as how we're here ­ they're just about a mile away in that small clearing ­ thought you might step in and give a hand getting these kids home!"

"And how would that be profitable for me? What's in it for me?"

At this, the red man removed the box from his breast pocket. The Witch's eyes lit up in a funny, anxious sort of way when she saw it and the strange writing on its lid.

"Just where did you get that?" she asked in an accusing and almost envious tone.

"Get it?" repeated Lassar, relishing her interest, "Why, this belongs to those children I was telling you about. The way I figure, they'd give you this ­ if you think you'd want it ­ and you could send them home."

"What made you think I'd want it?" the Witch gave Lassar a cold look while searching his face as he responded.

"Why," Lassar cried in a big, carefree voice, completely undaunted by the Witch's gaze, "They've been saying it's got power of some kind ­ something really amazing, they said ­ and so I thought you'd relish the opportunity of getting your hands on such a thing."

"Let me see it," said she in a commanding tone.

"Certainly," replied Lassar good-naturedly while handing the mysterious box over to the evil old woman, "Look as long as you like."

After a moment's observation, the Witch, holding the container upright before her and gripping it tightly in both hands, gave Lassar such a look that it really took Lassar aback, for he could see she bore a deep understanding of the box already.

"Isn't it a treasure?" asked Lassar nervously.

"Have you read the inscription?" asked she, in an extraordinarily serious voice.

"Does it say anything important?"

"Lassar, it is the key to the entirety of this powerful weapon. It is in the ancient tongue, used only by the learned and well-educated of long ago ­ it is so fortunate you brought it to me. It could be translated in several ways, but it is best read, 'Contained within is power such that endures forever.'"

Lassar's mouth dropped open in surprise, though he had certainly hoped it to be so.

"How...how do you get that power?' he asked, still dazed with unbelief.

"Never mind," said the Witch, "You'll see soon enough!"

Tugging on the lid with a jerk, the evil Witch found it to be locked tight.

"Where's the key, Lassar?"

"The key?"

"Little Man, where is the key?" she boomed, towering above him as she got up from her chair, distrust and anger flashing in her eyes.

"Oh yes! The key," stammered Lassar, surprised and a little frightened at the Witch's wrath, "That's just the point. I haven't got it. I only got away with the box but those kids still have the key. I shall have to bring them so's they can trade the key for getting home."

"I will make such a bargain to get the key. This is an amazing possession, and certainly not one for a couple of kids to be fooling around with. No, it must be well taken care of by those who know how to deal with its kind."

"Shall I take the item in question along?"

"Indeed not! I would not entrust it to you. You just bring those fool-kids with the key and I'll do the rest."

Placing the precious object on the mantelpiece above the fire, she turned and hurried Lassar out the door.

"Come straight away!" she urged anxiously, "I shall be expecting you within a few hours, for it is still nigh an hour before day-break."

As the far darrig scurried away, the Witch, looking after him, cackled significantly to herself and shut the door.

*********************

After about an hour of search for both the box and key and the far darrig, the children, the leprechaun, the soldier and the dragon were all very much annoyed at Lassar's absence and the missing box, and Ionait and Ivar were beside themselves with worry about their stolen treasure. All were relieved to no longer have the presence of the far darrig in their midst, but they felt quite convinced that the possibility of Lassar's disappearance and the loss of the box and key occurring simultaneously by chance were immensely small and so they felt it necessary to find the red man before continuing their journey. They were just about to move to a different section of the forest to search, when, with a great rustle of bushes and undergrowth, out popped Lassar himself into the clearing.

He was terribly bedraggled as though he had had a great struggle with someone stronger than himself, which is very much how he hoped he appeared. Panting for breath, the far darrig fell to the ground, looking so completely exhausted that, for the moment, everyone became quite interested in finding the reasons for his behavior, despite their suspicions about him.

Still gasping for air, Lassar reached into his breast-pocket and pulled out an intricate, dainty object which slid smoothly into the open and shone with a metallic glimmer. The surprise which filled the eyes of all could hardly have been more complete had Lassar produced the box as well.

With a great effort, the little man in red managed to say, "Here...you children...I'm sorry...I couldn't get...the box, too."

"Where is the box?" asked Glaisne, still suspiciously.

Lassar held up a hand, took a few deep breaths, and then said, "With the Witch."

"What Witch?" asked Ionait, wide-eyed.

"The Witch that lives in this forest, it seems," explained Lassar, enjoying the twists he made in his stories, "Well, it's like this: early this morning, way before sun-up, something came sneaking through our camp, and it woke me up quick. So I looked all 'round and made never a noise and there, bending over you (at this he nodded to the children) was a dark figure. It was there but a moment, then it rushed away (and he motioned in the direction he had come from) without making so much as the slightest sound. Suspecting a theft of some kind, I jumped up and hurried after the person.

"I followed the figure for quite a spell, as quietly as I could, but, apparently, not quietly enough. After about half an hour or so, the cloaked person disappeared ahead of me. So I sped up my pace and still I didn't see the strange person. A moment later, I was grabbed from behind. My wrists were clenched together behind my back and I couldn't hardly move because the pain of it. Besides, the person was far bigger and stronger than I.

"'Ah ha! Spying, are we?' whispered a voice fiercely in my ear, and I realized, by the screech of the voice that it was a witch.

"Nothing I said induced her to let me free and so she dragged me off, deep into the forest. We finally came upon an old, dark hut, inside which she pulled me. We were there for hours, it felt like. Tying my hands firmly behind my back with cords, she left me for a moment to go out for something ­ caterpillar fur, I think it was ­ but not before I had had the chance to pick her pocket. Far darrigs are, you know, quite experts in the field. But, anyway, I was out of my bonds within a moment ­ I happen to also know a thing or two about knots, which that Witch doesn't know ­ and I rushed straightaway back to our campsite. I'm afraid the box would have been too great a thing to remove from her pocket without the Witch's noticing it, but at least I retrieved the key."

And with that, Lassar handed the key to Ionait.

"But that Witch still has the box ­ really, the whole treasure!" cried Ivar anxiously.

"Yes, we've got to go back and get it at once!" Ionait agreed.

"Exactly my plan!" said Lassar, quite truthfully, "I knew I couldn't handle that Witch all alone, so I figured we could go back together to get it. After all, we've got Burns and all ­ and Macoyle with his sword ­ surely we'd be a match for one Witch."

"Not so fast," said Macoyle cautiously, "I have had experience with witches ­ precious little, of course, but enough to know that we alone could never overcome her. She would put a spell on us, and nothing but white magic of at least equal power of her black magic could stop her. We have nothing like that ­ or, in any case, it's with the Witch, now ­ so it would be the most foolish thing to do to go running into her waiting arms."

"Then what do you propose to do?" asked Lassar, displeased with this kind of response which would ruin his plans.

"We must go straight to the King, who will undoubtedly send his troops and a wizard or good sorcerer to retrieve the stolen box," replied Macoyle decidedly, hastening to clean up camp as he spoke, "It's our only chance, and the sooner we leave, the quicker we can get back."

"Are you sure she didn't already open the box, Lassar? Before you got the key from her, I mean?" asked Ivar as the thought suddenly struck him that the Witch could easily have opened the box and removed the splinter long before this.

"Of course not!" cried Lassar, "She was too busy with something else ­ bubbling some concoction over the hearth ­ that's what she needed the caterpillar fur for. She said something about 'getting the box to open' ­ in fact, I don't know that she even remembered that there was a key.

"But as soon as she has cast her spells and all that, she'll be able to open it whether she has the key or not. I say we must go and get it at once! After all, Granny entrusted it to us, didn't she? Would she want us to shirk this responsibility?"

"Of course not!" said Burns, "But she wouldn't want us to throw away our lives with the knowledge that we should be doing so without producing some good. The witch would kill us all, and then who'd be left to tell the King of this evil lurking in the woods, bearing the Splinter?"

"Burns is quite right," agreed Glaisne, at which Saionsaor squawked in agreement.

"I suppose so," said Ionait quietly, "But, if that's the way it must be, let us be off at once so that we may return as quickly as can be!"

"The morning hours are already spent," said Macoyle despondently, hefting their packs onto Burns' back, "We shan't be able to return today ­ we'll be lucky to reach the King tonight!

"But, before we head out on this excursion," he continued slowly, eyeing Lassar suspiciously, "I believe that we ought to see if our far darrig isn't carrying anything else."

"You don't trust me? After all I did?" asked Lassar, sounding offended, "Well, if you must, frisk me."

Glaisne and Macoyle did, and found that Lassar had nothing in his pockets.

And so they all clambered up onto Burns' back. Macoyle, Glaisne, and Burns were anxious to reach the Palace in time before the Witch caused any trouble, while Ionait and Ivar still wondered whether they had made the right decision in leaving their responsibility behind. All the same, they were hopeful of retuning at once. But Lassar was greatly disappointed at the turn of events.

He had planned everything out so beautifully. If the children had just come along to the Witch, the Witch could have sent them home. That would have got Ionait and Ivar out of the picture, which, Lassar felt, would have made everything much more comfortable and convenient. Then, when the Witch opened the box and found nothing, he could tell her (privately, of course) that the children must have had it all along and taken it home with them. He could tell Macoyle, Glaisne, and Burns that the witch must have been able to open the box after all, and certainly would not give it back. Then, he could very easily tell them that he no longer wished to partake in their company since the humans were gone, and go off on his own to find the splinter and use it as he saw fit.

He didn't need the key, or the box, or the Witch, or the Dark Voice, or even the King or the Evil Enemy. He could use it however he wanted to get whatever he wanted and there would never be anyone to point out that he had, in truth, swiped it from Ionait and Ivar.

But, now ­ it was a different matter. If they went to see the King first...

"Oh, bother!" thought Lassar to himself, "They really are making a mess of this whole affair! But if I don't continue with them, they will undoubtedly suspect me, and that Macoyle would be on my tail in a moment. It would never work. The only chance I've got is to go along with their plans, and hope the King sends them home for me. Then I can go off and find the Splinter alone."

It was a long flight, and it wasn't 'till dark that Macoyle cried out, "There! There're the highest towers of the Castle!"

Flying over the capitol of Fairyland was amazing, Ionait and Ivar thought. The sight of the castle, the peak of the city, shimmering and glistening like a jewel, took their breath away. The castle itself was constructed at the feet of a rising hill, which reminded Ionait and Ivar of Gray Man's Hills where they had lived for a week just a few days earlier.

In a moment, they had landed on the slope of the hill behind the castle. Burns bent to the grass and let them slip off, one by one.

Once they were all on their feet, Macoyle led them swiftly towards the majestic palace.

"I hope we aren't too late, any of us!" said Macoyle under his breath worriedly.

They enter through the castle gates for the guard recognized Macoyle, and Macoyle vouched for the rest of his company.

They finally reached the doors before the great throne room, where one could seek audience with the King. Before the immense doors of pearly-white and with golden knobs was a man dressed in fine and majestic attire. Frills and finery draped about his thin person were all the color of blue, with yellow and purple as well. The man had blue eyes, like Macoyle's, but they were darker. His hair was a dark brown, and he had a pointed nose and a tightly closed mouth. His face was long and drawn.

Macoyle hastened towards him, saying, "We must see the King at once."

"By what authority do you demand this privilege?" said the man crisply, "No one is to see the King at present ­ he is speaking with Serenus, Lord Macoyle. I may let none pass."

Macoyle grew a little angry at this, "What right have you to keep me out? Stand aside ­ what proof do you want of me?"

"None but the Prince could interrupt this meeting," said he, with a twisted smile.

"Then this should please you," said Macoyle, upholding his right hand. On it shone the blue stone of the Prince's ring!

The man started in surprise, then muttered, "Very well, my Lord. Enter."

The great doors were opened, and Macoyle strode down the great hall. Ionait, Ivar, Glaisne, and Lassar followed closely behind. They noted his stride and the gentle swing of his sword, for it clearly revealed his nobility.

After walking for over a hundred yards, they reached the throne of the King himself, where he sat in his golden chair. The King was also a homin, so his eyes were blue, but a light, clear blue like the sea on a summer morn. His gray hair fell over his shoulders in gently curling strands, and his beard hung before him in silvery wisps. His face shone mightily with happiness and pride, and his soft hands and nails were clean. At his side rested a golden sheath with countless intricate designs and jewels and gems carved to perfection.

Near at hand in a much less fancy chair sat an old man, far older than the King. His grayish-white beard and hair flowed over his back and front like froths of ocean spray. His eyes were black, and his pointed nose protruded from his face. But his face, though worn and weary in appearance, also shone in a way that the children liked at once. His wrinkled hands rested on a gnarled stick or staff which he held before him, and he was dressed all in brown and gray. At the man's side sat a dog with a shiny black coat and sparkling eyes.

"Greetings, my Lord Selwyn (SELL-win), King of the Fairies!" Macoyle cried, bending down on one knee before the throne of the King.

The King's eyes brightened and he rose from his place.

"My Lord Macoyle!" he exclaimed, stepping down from his throne to embrace the soldier, "So good to see you! But where is my son?"

"Sire, I must first introduce to you these children," Macoyle beckoned to Ionait and Ivar, and they drew near.

But before Macoyle could announce their names, the King cried in a voice both amazed and greatly perturbed, "Their eyes! They are humans!"

"Yes, my Lord, King, but they are here to come to your aid!" Macoyle explained hastily.

Bringing forward the key, the children described to the King all their past adventures and the great mishap they had had that morning. The King watched them as they spoke, thoughtfully stoking his beard with his right hand.

"And this is the key," concluded Ivar, placing it in the King's hands for him to examine, "But it may be that the Witch has already discovered a way to open the box without this."

"Yes," said the King slowly and quietly, "And I suppose you wish to return to your own world?"

The children were startled, but Ivar said, "Yes, we do, but we must first see our task completed."

"That is a worthy ambition," replied the King, "But not one that I have time for. No ­ you've done well enough to bring me this knowledge and the key."

And, before anyone could do anything or the children could protest further, (thought the man in gray and brown by his side jumped up at once to try to stop him), the King rose from his seat and, taking a handful of powder from his pocket, thrust a sparkling blue dust towards the children. He cried out in a loud, clear voice something which the children did not understand.

A moment later, a wondrous thing occurred. A glass wall appeared before the children, as if protecting them from the magic. The corners of the transparent shield were a frosty blue. And, at the same time, a deep, resounding roar, like the great roar of a dragon, echoed through the great throne-room.

Next minute, the shield disappeared.

"My Lord, King," said the man in gray and brown, "It is fortunate that the magic failed, for these are the ones you have sought. I can see it in their eyes. They have come from the other world and brought to us this box they spoke of. Surely, Sire, you will send your forces at once to retrieve it?"

"A moment, Serenus," said the King, sitting back down again in his seat, "What use could these children be? But, I suppose it can't be helped if the magic won't work."

Turning to Lassar, the King said, "But why didn't you take them yourself to their world?"

"Oh, King Selwyn," said Lassar, making a small bow, "I would indeed have done so, but these children wished ardently to see you first."

"It is well, I suppose," grumbled the King, "For it happens that Serenus (and he gestured towards the wizard) has come today for the last time to warn me of strange occurrences. And you ­ you children are the ones to which the old prophecy made reference, are you not?"

"Indeed they are, Sire," said Serenus, "But we haven't time to discuss it. The question at hand is the Witch. Shall we set out at once, this evening, to retrieve the stolen treasure?"

"It is late, and my guests shall need rest before that venture," replied the King lazily, "But first, I must learn, Lord Macoyle ­ where is my son?"

"Alas that I should be the one to bear these ill tidings!" exclaimed Macoyle, "For your son, my King, is captured by the enemy."

"How could this be?" the King's face became white and his eyes were wet with tears.

"Our eastern borders, my Lord, are in great need of many things," explained Macoyle, "Not the least of which is men. We are weak, and the Enemy knows it. The Prince, indeed, was intending to send me solely for this purpose, and to inform you of a great secret, which I do not any longer fear to speak of openly.

"Your son received a heavenly visitor, a Lady beautiful beyond description, who informed him that all was not yet lost. In our desperate hour, she promised that she was sending help which would arrive here at your Palace. She instructed the Prince to send me to bring these glad tidings that you might believe it when it came, and to warn you of the great urgency for reinforcements on your eastern borders. Therefore, I will gladly testify on my life that this box contains the Lady's aid and power which she promised, and that nothing is of greater importance than retrieving the stolen gift."

"Yes, that may be," said the King, "But we must save the Prince. Let us go to our rooms at once, and set out first thing at dawn to force from this Witch the box. We shall then head east, collecting more troops along the way."

"If it is your will, sire, let it be done," said Macoyle, greatly anxious to set out at once on their quest.

"There is one more matter, my Lord King, of which I must confess," said Glaisne, his heart pounding terribly and his face growing red with embarrassment.

The King looked disgusted with the leprechaun's presence, "And who are you?"

"Glaisne, the shoe-maker, at your service, sire," said he humbly.

"What have you to say?"

"I'm afraid I bear ill news as well, for the treasure placed in my care has been stolen."

The King's eyes blazed and he leaned forward in his throne.

"Stolen?" he thundered, "What lack of protection and care you provided for the valued treasures I can only imagine!"

Glaisne was silent, but Ivar stepped forward bravely and said, "My Lord King Selwyn, I don't believe it was any lack of protection on Glaisne's part. I must protest that your accusations are unjust, for..."

"I will be the judge of that, young one!" interrupted the King, rather chafed at Ivar's reproaches.

"My Lord, it is quite possible that the fairy gold was stolen," Serenus spoke up in the leprechaun's defense, "For the Enemy is about ­ I no longer doubt that. He is just around the corner, and stealing the fairy treasures at this point should no longer be a difficulty for him. Now that the Dark Voices are about again, nearly anything is possible."

"We don't know that they are about again," replied the King, unwilling to accept the Sereus's words, "But enough of this! We must be off at once in the morn. Let us now go and sleep the few hours of rest that await us before dawn."

They were all given beautifully furnished rooms that evening with all the comforts of royalty.

Lassar's room had a balcony and he spent a few minutes looking out of it to the forest where the splinter lay, unknown to all but him. The dark sky ahead shimmered with stars.

"And what is to be done now?" thought Lassar miserably, "Since the King couldn't send them back..."

A muffled noise below followed by a rustle of leaves and twigs beneath the balcony shook Lassar from his thoughts.

"Well?" came a voice, black as pitch, "Have you yet taken the prized possession?"

It was, of course, the Dark Voice, who had followed them all the way to the King's Palace. This did not exactly coincide with the far darrig's plans, but it could still be worked out.

So, deciding that the Dark Voice would need an update on events in order to be satisfied, Lassar replied, "Experiencing a slight set-back ­ I only got the box, but the key is still to be taken."

Lassar pulled at his chain uncomfortably ­ it was so heavy, now, it felt impossible to bear!

"Very well," said the Dark Voice, "Bring the box forth."

"Oh, it isn't with me!" cried Lassar, "I gave it to..."

But he was interrupted by the angry voice in the blackness beneath the balcony.

"You fool! You should have brought it to me at once!"

"Ah, relax," said Lassar in his careless tone of voice, "It's in good hands. Crimea, the Witch of Kerri Forest, is guarding it. I brought it to her because we need to get rid of the kids. I know they'll be on our trail if they aren't sent back to their own world at once. I had to let Crimea in on our secret."

"She's probably already used it by now," replied the voice darkly.

"Oh, no indeed!" Lassar hurried to say, "I didn't leave her the key. The girl still has it, in fact. If we can just get the kids over to the Witch's hut, then they'll be out of our hair and the splinter will be ours to use as we see fit!"

Of course, Lassar only said this because he feared what the Dark Voice might do if he knew that Lassar had no intention of 'sharing' the splinter at all, and had, in fact, already hidden it away in the forest where no one could ever find it again, save for himself.

"So the girl has the key," said the Dark Voice, contemplating a new scheme, "Alright. I'll ­ keep in touch with you."

And the Voice left in a rustle of bramble and brush.

********************

In the middle of the night, a heavy hand on his arm awoke Lassar from his sleep.

"Now is the time," whispered the Dark Voice in his ear.

Lassar found himself dragged out of bed and rushed down the hallway as silently as a shadow. Next moment, they were before the bedroom door belonging to the children.

"Awake the girl and bring her here," commanded the Voice.

Lassar's head was still dizzy from exhaust and sleep, but he dared not defy this monster.

And so, turning the door handle cautiously, he stole into the beautifully furnished bedroom prepared for royal guests. Slipping through the room without making so much a sound, Lassar came upon a very feminine bed, all pink and frilly as only a royal bed can be, where Ionait lay asleep.

Shaking her gently, so as to not awaken Ivar in the bed only a few feet away, Lassar whispered, "Hurry, Ionait! It's Glaisne ­ he needs your help!"

"Is he alright? What's wrong?" asked she, rousing herself quickly.

"There's no time!" he whispered, sounding extremely anxious and giving Ionait no time to think. He grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him, saying, "Come, quick!"

Ionait rushed with him, extremely anxious that something was seriously wrong, when a dark shadow, huge and terrifying, leaped at her from around the corner as she stepped outside the bedroom. She wanted to scream at once, but the thing covered her mouth with an enormous hand and held her firm in a bear-like grasp. She struggled and kicked, but she was no match for this creature.

"Well done, Lassar!" said the Voice approvingly of the far darrig, who was rather amused at Ionait's struggle, "Follow me."

They snuck back to Lassar's bedroom, and out onto the balcony. The monster had Lassar climb down a tree which grew near the Castle. He followed behind him, carrying poor Ionait.

The Dark Voice then took out some rope, rough and crude and extremely scratchy, from behind a tree. This he used to tie Ionait's hands behind her back, leaving plenty of extra rope so as to have something with which to drag her along. After this, he tore a strip from off of the bottom of Ionait's nightgown, bound it across her mouth, and knotted it behind her head. He then ordered Lassar to lead them to the Witch's hut in Kerri Forest.

It was a long, grueling journey, for the Dark Voice traveled quickly and forced Lassar and Ionait to keep up. It was not until the night was nearly spent that Lassar led them into the clearing of the Witch's house.

"Crimea!" the far darrig shouted out.

A moment later, the Witch opened her door and stepped out into the night.

"Lassar!" she cried mockingly, "Always so tardy. You were expected yesterday morning."

"Now is the time," said the Dark Voice triumphantly, as he had whispered to Lassar a few hours earlier, "For this girl bears the key that will fit into the box."

The Witch grew extremely excited at this, and rushed back into her house, returning within a moment with the strange wooden box.

"Let's have it, girl!" she said.

But Ionait, after having the strip of cloth removed from her mouth, refused to give away the key's location, though she well-knew that they would find it only moments later.

The Witch inspected her pockets and frisked her thoroughly, (for Ionait's nightgown had pockets) but found nothing, to Ionait's great wonder and fear, for she knew she had put both the key and the bell from Granny into her pockets before going to bed. These were equally dear to her, and she was relieved and yet scared that they were not found.

"Alright, where is it?" asked the Witch threateningly.

"I would never reveal the key to you," replied Ionait, quivering with fear but unwilling, even now, to admit where the key had been or to try to beg for mercy.

The Witch's eyes narrowed into black slits of hatred and she drew a long, slender knife from her sleeve. Raising it above her head, she said to Ionait, "I give you one last opportunity to answer me. Where is the key?"

Poor Ionait was so frightened, combined with her great lack of sleep and exhaustion from their long travels, that she fainted dead away.

"Ah, what a waste this all was!" cried Lassar, which made the Witch and Dark Voice jerk their attention from the fainted girl to the far darrig.

"What made me say that?" thought Lassar, and yet he said it just for that reason. He didn't mind if the Witch threatened Ionait or if the Dark Voice tied her up, or any of that sort of thing, but he didn't mean for them to kill her. Something in the gleam in Crimea's eye made Lassar fear that she meant to take Ionait's life. But he quickly thrust this tiny beginning of compassion out of his heart and hastened to explain this outburst.

"Just what do you mean by that, little man?" said Crimea, dropping Ionait to the dust on the forest floor and pointing the knife in Lassar's direction.

"Well, it's too late to try to pretend now," said Lassar, already prepared with a story he felt certain the Voice and the Witch would buy, "It's like this ­ Ionait, fearing that you would take the splinter, bribed me to hide the key so that you'd never find them."

"Where is it?" asked the Witch, now very near and the point of the knife only inches from Lassar's throat.

"In a place you'd never think to look ­ my secret hiding place," which, Lassar thought to himself, was somewhat true, "I would gladly go and fetch it if, in return, you'd spare the life of this poor girl."

Lassar saw that they didn't believe this last line, so he added, urgently, "But I must take the box with me!"

"Go and fetch the key, if you truly have it hidden as you say, and bring them hither. Only then may you lay hands on this box," replied the Witch, now satisfied enough with his story.

"Very well," Lassar looked disappointed but resolute, "I'll return. But I must go alone."

"You have an hour," said the Dark Voice curtly.

Lassar hastened away from the clearing, heading east, then turned north once he felt that he was far enough away that they could no longer see or hear him. After that, he helped himself to a hearty laugh. He had fooled them all! He reached into his pocket, removing a flashing object and flipped it into the air, catching it again as he ran. He had, of course, picked the key from Ionait's pocket to be sure that no one would discover the missing splinter before he could retrieve it himself.

What's more, he wasn't going to return to the Witch and Dark Voice with the key.

"Only a fool would miss an opportunity like this ­ so beautifully laid out and masterfully achieved," he flattered himself.

Now the splinter, the true treasure, would be his and his alone.

He admitted to himself that it would have been nicer if the children were gone, but he was content enough with the fact that they were separated.

"By the time they find each other, it'll be too late for them to do anything about the box," he thought gleefully to himself.

A moment later, he realized that he had almost reached the tree. Though dawn was near at hand, it was extremely dark. He suddenly found that he could hardly see before him. He bumped into a tree that he couldn't see.

"Ow! Gosh!" he thought to himself, shaking his head and straining his eyes to see into the blackness, but he tried in vain.

Then, a light, stronger and more beautiful than the sun shone down upon him. The chain burned into his neck like nothing he had ever felt before, and he discovered that he was nearly blinded by the light. He fell to the ground, losing all his strength, the earth below him seeming to pull on his legs and arms like a magnet pulls nails.

"Lassar," said someone, and Lassar (though he felt that it made no sense) thought it was the light itself.

And he looked up into the light. What he saw surprised him very much.

First, he saw Ionait, Ivar and Glaisne that first afternoon when he had met them, and how he had rudely treated them. He also saw how very much they wished they could have gone on their own, without him. Somehow, that felt very unpleasant.

Next he saw all his succeeding actions ­ Ionait's horror in the dragon's cave that he purposely brought about ­ he nasty comments towards Glaisne ­ his rudeness towards Mr. Malcus ­ and his willingness to speak to the Dark Voice that morning when the white dove came to protect them.

Then the images became more horrid. He saw himself speaking with the Dark Voice and making arrangements with him that he did not intend to follow through with ­ he saw himself rising from their camp and rushing away to his secret tree after having stolen the box and key ­ he saw himself hiding the splinter ­ he saw himself promising Crimea things he did not intend to give her. He watched as he went back to lie to the children, Glaisne, Macoyle, and Burns. He watched as he told some truth mixed with deceit to the Dark Voice, and then lured Ionait out of her bedroom only to aid the Dark Voice in kidnapping her. He finally saw himself lying terribly about innocent Ionait, whom he had so terribly treated, to the Dark Voice and the Witch.

The chain around his neck pulled dreadfully, and, for the first time in his life, he wished he hadn't behaved so horrendously. He felt he couldn't bear to see any more, but another image came forward.

There was a homin, or a man (he couldn't tell which), tied to an enormous pillar of marble stone. He was stripped of his garments, exposing his back, and a soldier was beating him with whips. As the blood poured down his back and the man groaned in pain, Lassar's eyes filled with tears. Next moment, a terrible crown which had been woven from thorny branches was pushed onto the man's head. The pain ­ the blood ­ it was all more than Lassar could bear, and he hid his head in his arms and heartily wept.

"Lassar," said the unknown voice, "Why do you persecute me?"

Lassar looked up and found that the man, covered in wounds and crowned with the horrendous crown of thorns, was addressing him.

"Who are you?" asked Lassar feebly.

"I am he whom you have greatly maltreated by your actions towards my children," replied the man, tears mingled with drops of blood falling down his cheeks, "Why do you seek to harm me?"

"I know you not!" cried Lassar defensively, but he felt deep within that he did know of this man.

"And you are rapidly falling away, so that I hardly know you," said the man forlornly, "But it is not too late. You have done much evil and distorted the welfare of your country by your actions."

Lassar found his eyes brimming afresh with tears and he cried out, "Please ­ what can I do?"

The man looked at Lassar with great compassion and sternness, "You shall have much to fulfill for what you have done. First you must go and rescue Ionait, who, by your actions, shall suffer a terrible death if you do not hasten, for you left her in the hands of evil.

"Repent truly, and take the Splinter. You must give it back to My little one who has served Me well, for it does not belong to you. What is more, your thoughts concerning it are very wrong, for the power is not found in the Splinter of wood. I will work through My Blood spilt upon the Splinter to produce the help Fairyland shall need in her plight."

"But who are you?" repeated Lassar.

"I am He Who has sought long for you," replied the man, his eyes glowing with something much deeper than Lassar's soul could comprehend, "And I command you: go. Take the Splinter. Go back to the Witch's house at once before it is too late."

The vision began to fade, and Lassar gasped with amazement. The tears were still running down his face, and he sobbed a moment in his sleeve. After wiping the tears from his eyes, he found that, there on his right was the tree in the nook of which he had hidden the Splinter itself. After climbing to the nearest branch, with shaking hands, he lifted the Splinter from its place, and hid it in his inner breast pocket.

With a leap he landed on the forest floor, and hesitated.

He put a hand to his head, and wondered, knowing what he ought to do but still wishing that he could continue with his original plans.

But then he recalled the sorrowful look on the man's face, and he determined to rescue Ionait.

It was at that moment that he realized that the chain around his neck was no longer as heavy as it had been. He remembered Granny's words about that chain, "...this is a replica of the state of your soul...only you can retain its beauty, or transform it to other forms, as you see fit." The lightened chain brought him strength and comfort which he felt he did not deserve, but without which he might not have found the courage to bring back the Splinter to Ionait.

Lassar ran through the underbrush, rushing for all he was worth. He was not as fast as a leprechaun, but he found that he was covering the distance.

"If only I'm not too late!" Lassar thought, panting for breath.

It felt like an immense length of time to Lassar (though it was only about twenty minutes by the clock) before he entered the clearing of the Witch's hut.

The Dark Voice and the Witch had not yet harmed Ionait, but she was still tied up and lying on the dusty forest-floor. They were surprised to see Lassar again, for they had figured that the far darrig had lied again and run off. They weren't bothered by this, however, because they still thought that the Splinter itself was in the box that they held, and they both felt sure that Crimea would be able to force it open with strong black magic.

"I never thought we'd see you again," said the Witch, "Now, come clean ­ where is it?"

Lassar's face was radiant beyond description and a look of wonder filled his eyes, and he remained silent and motionless. He seemed to be heavily debating within himself how to respond.

"Where is it?" repeated the Dark Voice.

Finally, as the Dark Voice approached, saying, "This is it, far darrig! You'll spend eternity wishing you had spoken!" Lassar looked straight into his adversaries' eyes, as he had never been able to do before, and (oddly enough) which made them winch inside, and he boldly stated in a low voice, "I wouldn't reveal its location to you over my dead body."

"But would you over hers?" cried the Witch, grabbing Ionait close and pressing the knife to her throat.

"Wait!" cried the Dark Voice, suddenly catching a flash from Lassar's hand.

The Dark Voice jerked the object from the far darrig's closed fist, and held up the key in triumph.

The Witch dropped the dagger and rushed to where the Dark Voice stood, bringing the box with her.

Lassar struggled a moment with the black creature, attempting to retrieve the key, but it was in vain. The Dark Voice gave him a heavy shove which sent him sprawling on the ground. Lassar had only to see what would happen next and almost wondered if his arm had been broken from the impact of his fall.

Ionait watched helplessly as the two villains ran the key into the lock and gave it a sharp twist. The click of the lock seemed so loud in the deafening silence.

"At last!" breathed the Witch, her bony hands shaking with anticipation.

Next moment a Witch's scream, one of the most terrible sounds to endure, sent chills up and down Ionait and Lassar's spines. Crimea's green face had gone nearly white. The Dark Voice appeared to be faint.

Within the box, of course, to Ionait's great fear and dismay, was nothing save the pillow and some of the dark stains which were also on the Splinter itself.

"Oh! The Blood!" cried the Witch vehemently.

The Dark Voice was speechless and looked deadly sick.

Then the Witch, with another horrifying scream, sent the box hurtling through the air into the underbrush and the key with it.

Ionait cried, "No, don't!" at this, but the Witch gave her a sharp rap across the face.

"Silence!" Crimea looked at Ionait with contempt.

Lassar tried to run to where Ionait lay to set her free, but the Witch caught him by the arm and held him in her iron grip.

Then, when the Witch and the Dark Voice had gotten a hold of themselves a bit, Crimea looked at the Soul-Seeker.

"What now?" she asked, her green luster returning to her face.

"I'll take them to the Tower," replied the Dark Voice, still shaken.

"Very well," said the Witch, began to tie Lassar's wrists behind his back as the Dark Voice had done to Ionait. She then tied another rope to both the girl and the far darrig, and handed this over to the Dark Voice.

"I shall find where the Treasure Itself lies," said the Witch, "In the meantime ­ say nothing about the matter."

The Soul-Seeker nodded in agreement, and dragged the two prisoners off behind him at his immensely quick pace.

Ionait was so disgusted with Lassar ­ she had been told by the Witch what Lassar had said about her 'bribing' him to lie to everyone and hide the key ­ that she wished to goodness to never have anything to do with him again. She did not look at him or purposely speak to him, if she were given the chance. She tried desperately to hope that Ivar and the others would find her and rescue her before she was killed, as she feared that would be the case.

While Lassar, on the other hand, was immensely miserable. He wanted dreadfully to give Ionait back the Splinter, or at least to tell her that he bore it, but the Dark Voice was constantly with them and never gave Lassar the opportunity. He realized more and more just how terrible he had been, and it ripped his soul to see how much Ionait loathed being beside him.

Neither Ionait nor Lassar found it a pleasant trip, but it proved to be a very short one, for they reached the Tower of which the Dark Voice had spoken by the end of the second day.

*********************

About the time that Ionait and Lassar had arrived at the clearing of the Witch's hut, Ivar was hammering on Glaisne's bedroom door anxiously.

"Glaisne! Ionait is gone, and Lassar is too!" Ivar cried anxiously through the door.

"Lassar too, you say?" Glaisne sounded rather undaunted by this news, but the look in his eyes gave away his concern, "I should have known better! Should have kept both eyes peeled!"

"But now what are we to do? Could Lassar have done something to her, do you think, Glaisne?" Ivar asked.

"He couldn't have done much to your sister, Ivar," said Macoyle, who had been scrutinizing some footprints which led from Lassar's bedroom to Ionait's, then back again, "for one thing, he at least half her size and weight."

"Then what could have happened?" asked Ivar.

"Well, strangely enough, there are three sets of footprints," replied Macoyle, stroking his chin thoughtfully, "Two coming from Lassar's bedroom and three leading back into it. There was someone else involved besides just Lassar and Ionait, and it's my thinking that it was this person who did the kidnapping."

"Kidnapped them both, you mean?" asked Ivar.

"It's possible," replied Macoyle, "But however it happened, a Soul-Seeker has been present, and indeed was the third person. Look at that filth on the carpet! It will never come clean again, even if were scrubbed for the next thousand years. Only a Dark Voice could have left such grimy traces."

"Then the Dark Voice has taken Ionait!" cried Ivar, "We've got to go after them at once! Where would he have taken her, do you think?"

"He probably wanted the key she carried," said Macoyle, "though, of course, it won't do him much good without the box itself."

"So he's probably taken her to the Witch," said Glaisne, gritting his teeth.

"Exactly," said Macoyle, "But we've got to leave at once if we're to rescue Ionait because these devilish creatures we're dealing with are terribly quick when it comes to travel ­ that's how it got here, like as not. For though we traveled on Burns, they have more speed than dragons."

"At least we still have Burns," said Ivar, keeping back the tears that played at his stinging eyes.

The Fairy King was informed of all the conclusions that the three in the hall had drawn concerning the prior night's occurrences. He agreed that they seemed reasonable deductions and drew up every soldier in the Palace at once. He himself led his army into Kerri Forest, with Ivar, Glaisne, Macoyle, Burns, and Serenus and his dog Rufstitius (ruff-STIT-ee-us). The wizard came especially as their guide, for he could feel the evil presence of the Witch and could lead them to her hut.

Though Burns flew above them, the soldiers marched so rapidly that they arrived hardly any later than the dragon.

It was nearly night-time, for it had taken all day to march there. They found the Witch's house, and waited in the bushes in silence while the whole party surrounded the clearing.

In the blink of an eye, the soldiers came crashing out of the bushes all at once, and the Witch peeped out of her window. She seemed frightened enough, but held up her broom-stick and uttered some frightful words.

It was at that moment that Serenus stepped forward, and said in a loud, clear voice, "I command you, sorceress of evil, to come forth!"

And the Witch cringed. She seemed to hesitate, but was then drawn to the door of her own will. Once it was opened, two soldiers, one on each side, got hold of her and ripped her broom from her hand. The Witch began to scream frightfully.

The wizard asked, in the same commanding voice, "Where is the human girl?"

"She's gone," said the Witch, writhing in her captors' grasp, "Taken to the Tower on the eastern border. She and that far darrig both ­ and it serves him right!"

"What do you mean?" asked Macoyle.

"That Soul-Seeker was here," explained the Witch, whimpering a little as if she didn't want to say anymore but feared what might happen if she didn't speak, "When that far darrig tricked us with that box and key nonsense, the Dark Voice took them both away to your enemy."

"Box and key nonsense?" said Ivar in a puzzled voice, "Did he take the box and key with him? The Dark Voice, I mean."

"You'll never see them again, if all proves fortunate," hissed Crimea, her eyes gleaming.

But all did not prove fortunate (for the Witch, at any rate) and a few moments later a soldier brought to King Selwyn a box and key.

"They were just beyond the clearing, my Lord," replied the soldier to the King's questioning.

"Hidden, more likely," grunted the King.

"It did not appear to be, my Lord," said the soldier, "for they were in the open between two trees ­ they appeared to have been haphazardly tossed."

"Well, at least we'll see this magic gift," said the King, turning the key in the lock, for it had been snapped shut.

When it proved to hold nothing, all eyes turned to the Witch.

"I haven't got it!" she burst out at once, looking furiously from spectator to spectator, "I never saw the thing, nor laid hands on it."

"Then where is it?" asked Serenus.

"Ask the far darrig or the girl," replied Crimea, "I haven't the least idea where it is now; but as far as that goes, it won't be long before your enemy himself knows of its location."

"Indeed," said the King, "We shan't waste more time here ­ it seems that the far darrig and the girl must be rescued on the eastern border, where my son is also undoubtedly held prisoner."

"Yes, my Lord," said Macoyle, "What are your orders?"

"Lord Macoyle," the King laid his hand on Macoyle's shoulder, "I place on you this task: go and collect the forces of the cities, towns and villages. We'll need every man if we are to conquer this villainy before he lays hands on this treasure which had been found in this box. I myself will head out at once with the mass of this company and leave you two hundred. I will expect you on the western side of Gray Man's Hills within three day's time. We shall set out first thing in the morning. Order the men to pitch camp."

"Yes, my Lord," said Macoyle.

Glaisne, who was farther back from the crowd which had encircled the King and the Witch, plucked Ivar's sleeve, "This is good-bye, young fellow ­ can't say I'll be sad to return to my own land, but..."

Ivar interrupted him, "No, you can't go now!"

"Of course not," said Burns, who had found a sufficient amount of space to land beside them, "We've got a task to fulfill."

"We've got to go rescue Ionait and find the Splinter at the very least," said Ivar.

"Well, good luck to you, I'm sure," said Glaisne.

"But Granny sent all of us," said Ivar encouragingly.

"All of you, is more like it," growled Glaisne, "who'd want a leprechaun in their company?"

"Well, I don't see why it matters," said Ivar, "And, besides, we're all heading towards Gray Man's Hills anyway, so it really wouldn't be going out of your way."

"Humph!" grunted Glaisne, "Well, we'll see."

******************

"Sirs!" called the soldier over the hubbub of the market-place in the little village, "You are called to defend your country! The hour is at hand! Come and fight beneath the King's banner!"

Macoyle stood nearby with Glaisne and Ivar beside him. (Burns he had come too, but he was waiting outside the small town.) Macoyle was drumming his fingers against his light armor he wore, for he felt this attempt to collect troops from this village would also prove fruitless. So far, they had traveled through nearly fifteen different towns and cities in ten hours ­ a real record, as far as that goes. But not a single recruit had been willing to join. Not a single man was willing to get up and fight for his country.

"Sirs!" called the soldier again, "Will no one fight for his country's well-being? For his country's safety?"

A fellow in the crowd shouted out, "And who are we to fight?"

"Why, the Evil Enemy has threatened us on the eastern border!" cried the soldier, "He has captured the Prince!"

"Ah, what a lot of nonsense!" replied the villager, "What has the Enemy ever done to us? We say he's coming to harm us, but is it true? Who made him the 'enemy' and us the 'allies' anyway?"

"He has shown a thousand times by his cruelty and his anxiety to overthrow the good King that he is an enemy to the crown and to all of Fairyland," Macoyle became rather defensive at this.

"Indeed," said the man evenly, "Well, we might get better service from our government under this fellow ­ the 'Enemy', as you call him. I've heard plenty about him and all positive, too. He's wealthy beyond the Fairy King, so I've heard, though I know Lord Selwyn takes great pride in the fairy gold. He's generous, too, to the likes of us poor folk. Nothing like Selwyn, so I've heard."

"And where have you heard this?" said Macoyle, a bit crisply.

"Heard it all around ­ everybody knows it!" replied the villager, "But I've no more time to squabble with you! I say, 'let him come!' He'll prove a better king right off than the one we've got!"

Poor Macoyle found indifference to the crown everywhere he turned. He couldn't understand it, but he overheard Serenus saying, "It'd be expected, after all that the King has done ­ or hasn't done, I should say. I've warned him, time and again, but to no avail. The folly of the King will mean the death of the nation." He wanted to question the wizard about this at once, but was called away and never found the opportunity.

That night, Macoyle ordered his two hundred men to pitch camp in an open field. Burns was particularly glad of this, because there was plenty of room for him to rest just outside of the group of tents.

After a party had set out into the nearby Kerri Wood to search for kindling, there were several merry circles around which roared blazing fires. Songs, jokes, and tales spun 'round the camp and there was laughter on all sides.

Ivar sat by Glaisne on a fallen log near the fire while a soldier across from them cracked a good joke. Glaisne had been silent up 'till then and had felt incredibly self-conscious and uneasy, for he had been maltreated and constantly rebuked all day. But he was so taken by surprise at the punch line of the soldier's joke that he helped himself to a hearty laugh, though it rang out in an old, cracked way.

The soldiers all stopped and looked irritably at Glaisne.

"Did you ever hear such a sound?"

"Ugh! A leprechaun!"

"Who invited the leprechaun anyway?"

They all began to buzz with offensive remarks towards poor Glaisne. The leprechaun grew red in the face, and thrust his legs over the side of the log. He scampered away towards Kerri Forest, Saionsaor squawking angrily as he went. Glaisne wished to goodness he was somewhere else.

Ivar saw how cruel the men had been, and stood up boldly, saying, "You should be ashamed of yourselves! Look how terrible you made him feel. What harm had he ever done you?"

"Come on, youngster!" said one, his pipe sticking from his mouth as he spoke, "He's a leprechaun!"

"And he's got feelings just like you and me!" retorted Ivar.

Macoyle, who was sitting nearby in silence was listening to all that was said, and found it a little surprising for Ivar to be so bold as to speak this way to the men in favor of Glaisne.

He excused himself from the merry campfire and went away to his tent. He stood outside it, looking up at the glittering veil of stars across the dark night sky. His heart sank to think what the King would say when he showed up without any recruits. More importantly than that was the fear of defeat at the hands of the Enemy ­ the Evil Enemy who wished Fairyland to burn in the embers of his malice and cruelty!

His hand went to the light, silvery chain around his neck and clutched the medal in his hand. The tears were nearly coming to his eyes as he envisioned his beloved country taken over by evil.

"Granny!" he whispered, the perspiration wetting his forehead.

************************

Ivar rushed away quick enough from the campfire in search of Glaisne, leaving the soldiers behind him saying things like, "Cute little fellow, isn't he? But a leprechaun? Pshaw! Not for me!"

Ivar ran on until he found the little man, away by himself in the shelter of the outer skirts of the trees of Kerri Forest.

"What do you want?" asked Glaisne grouchily.

"I wanted to talk with you," replied Ivar cheerily, "Don't mind what those soldiers said ­ they had no right. We can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume..."

"The benefit of the doubt!" mumbled Glaisne, "Who could stand the company of a leprechaun? No, they were rightly upset with my presence."

Ivar sighed and felt that he couldn't make Glaisne understand that leprechauns are just as important as anyone else. It was already so deeply ingrained in poor Glaisne that Ivar felt it would take more than words.

Then the boy's thoughts turned to Ionait.

"I wonder where Ionait is," he said out loud, "I miss her so! Do you suppose we'll find her, Glaisne?"

He asked this mainly to try to boost the leprechaun's morale, and it seemed to work a little.

"If she hasn't been taken farther than the King can reach, I'd say there's a chance," replied he somewhat darkly.

"I wish we could rescue her now," said Ivar, looking up at the stars, "before anything ­ well, anything went wrong."

Glaisne glared up at the stars along with Ivar for a moment, and then a thought struck him.

He grunted to himself a moment, then said out loud in his gruff voice, "Nobody asked me, but I have a thought in the matter. What do you suppose that carpet of yours is for?"

Ivar's eyes lit up, "Mightn't it be used for magical transportation?"

"Of course, I don't see much reason that it would work like that," said Glaisne, "A rug's a rug ­ there isn't any reason it should have any magical properties."

"You're forgetting," said Ivar with a laugh, "The hearthrug came from Granny."

********************

It was nighttime when Ionait and Lassar found themselves led up a huge stairway and finally into a room, empty almost completely save for two dark figures, hunched over with an animal-like appearance. The Dark Voice pushed the two captives toward these persons.

"What have you got there?" asked one of them, his black eyes glittering in the damp shadows where he sat.

"A human and a far darrig," replied the Dark Voice with something like pride in his voice, "Both have carried something of great value on their persons."

The second figure leaned forward and his tongue lashed out like a snake's as he spoke, "Of great value? Is it on them now?"

The Dark Voice answered hastily, "The girl has been frisked, but I didn't think to check the far darrig."

"Well, let's just see," said the first creature, reaching out a black, scaly hand. Ionait shuddered and felt that she would have fainted had this creature tried to frisk her.

Lassar felt the sweat drip down his brow as he thought, "Now they'll find it! I shouldn't have thought to hope that..."

The creature made a strange, growling noise that scared Ionait but obviously showed that the monster was annoyed and frustrated.

"Nothing! Absolutely nothing!" it shrieked.

"What next?" asked the second, eyeing the far darrig with distrust glimmering in his look and his tongue flicking in and out.

"Send the girl to the chamber upstairs," said the first shortly, "But leave this one ­ we may find that he'll confess."

The Dark voice ripped the rope with his teeth and handed Ionait over to a guard who stood nearby. The guard proceeded to drag Ionait up a steep and narrow winding staircase after pulling her through a doorway on the left.

Lassar looked after Ionait and thought how poorly the rescue was going, but she did not so much as look back.

She didn't really have the opportunity though, because the guard was extremely rough and it was terribly difficult to try to keep from bashing her head against the walls on either hand. By the time they reached the top, her head ached incredibly.

Ionait then found herself before a wooden door with a tiny window on the upper half of it.

The guard produced a key and opened the door, then pulled her through the opening. He cut her bonds and pushed her onto the stone floor. After that, he went out and slammed the door behind him, locking it with a resounding click!

Ionait looked about her, rubbing her wrists, now worn and bloody from their long hours surrounded by the crude rope. The room was quite small, probably no larger than an average living-room. There were tiny windows with thick, black iron rods running up and down about an inch apart instead of glass. The floor and walls were constructed of huge, rough blocks of stone and some straw lay strewn all around.

A little distance off, at the other end of the chamber, sat a young man with golden-blond hair. He hung his head and looked so distraught that Ionait nearly forgot her own troubles and felt that she wanted to cheer him up.

"Hello," she said, a little timidly, "Have you been here long?"

The man did not respond, but only covered his face in his hands and turned his back to Ionait.

At this, Ionait broke down on the floor and wept. The rude manners of the fellow-prisoner seemed too much for her to handle. Everything else had already collapsed, it seemed, before her eyes. She sobbed and sobbed, and felt as if all hope was fading.

Then, a little nudge in her heart, a flutter in the breeze, made her turn her tear-stained face to the window. The stars outside shone brightly, but one in particular touched her with its silvery light.

"Granny," she whispered quietly.

She then reached into her pocket and brought out her glassy bell of crystal shell that Granny had given her. It sparkled in the moonlight as she lifted it up. Then she rang it softly.

The tinkle of the bell was like the ripple of flowing water and voices raised in song. It dried Ionait's tears at once, and a new strength and courage and hope sprung into her heart.

The man in the prison turned his head at the sound, and a moment later his face brightened. Ionait felt that he also was given a burst of fresh vigor and hope.

"I must beg your pardon," said the man to Ionait, "I'm afraid I was on the very brink of despair, but that was no excuse for my lack of chivalry."

"You are pardoned," said she, "I, too, am greatly distraught ­ there is everyone reason for despair, except hope. There still is much hope, I now believe most fully."

"Yes," agreed the man, "And I, the King's son, should know well enough to endure these miseries for the good of my country."

Ionait started in surprise at this, and asked eagerly, "Then you are the Prince?"

"Yes, Damian," said the man.

"Oh, your highness," said Ionait, standing up in her excitement, "We were told of your capture, and the King is on his way ­ right now, I'm sure ­ to rescue you."

"Then Macoyle must have reached my father," replied the prince, then added, looking at Ionait's eyes curiously, "How came your eyes to be that color? Pardon my asking, but you couldn't be..."

"Human?" asked Ionait with a laugh. Then she related all that had occurred to her and her brother to Prince Damian.

When she had finished, the door was opened once more. The guard threw in Lassar without untying his bonds and shut the door behind him, locking it tightly.

Ionait was not very eager to have Lassar around again, but Lassar went to her at once and said, "Ionait, I know you don't want to have anything to do with me ­ and I don't deny that you are perfectly in your rights ­ but I have to say something first."

"What do you care what I think of you?" asked Ionait.

"I must make amends for what I have done," replied he, and tried to reach his breast pocket though his hands were tied behind his back, "I took the box and key and hid the Splinter in the forest."

Ionait said nothing, but her eyes filled with tears and she looked away out one of the windows. She thought how their precious burden, their responsibility, was now far away in Kerri Forest, probably never to be seen again.

"Well, Ionait, that was very wrong, very wrong," he admitted sorrowfully, nearly reaching his pocket, "And I have changed since ­ truly I have."

"If that's true, then where is the Splinter?" asked Ionait, her temper getting away from her, "Back in the woods, never to be found ever again!"

"It's closer than you think," Lassar had just reached his pocket and plucked the Splinter gingerly from it.

Twisting his left arm behind his back, with his right he set the Splinter in her hand.

Ionait's eyes opened wide in surprise.

"I am so sorry," Lassar said quietly, and his eyes grew wet with sincere sorrow.

It was at that moment that Lassar felt the weight of the chain around his neck nearly disappear. Glancing down at it, he caught a glimpse of the white luster of pearls! He turned his gaze again to Ionait.

Ionait could scarcely believe her eyes. She didn't see Lassar's chain transformed, for her eyes were fixed on the Splinter in her hand. This was such a miraculous occurrence; she hardly felt it was real.

"Thank you immensely," said Ionait.

"Not at all," said Lassar, "I only wish I had been able to rescue you instead of getting myself captured as well."

Then he added, "Do you think you could undo this knot, Ionait?"

******************

"Ivar, come here a minute."

Ivar came at once. He was anxious to speak with Macoyle anyway to tell him of the plan to rescue Ionait.

"Yes, sir?"

"About last night," said the young lord and captain slowly, "Why did you stand up for Glaisne?"

Ivar looked rather surprised, "He's just as ­ well, not human ­ but important as you and me! It was awful for the men to treat him like that."

"It wasn't necessary," agreed Macoyle, "But never in my life have I seen anyone stand up for a leprechaun."

"Well, then it's about time that someone did," replied Ivar, then added, "But, Macoyle ­ Lord Macoyle, I should say ­ Glaisne had a very exciting plan for saving Ionait."

Once Ivar had explained the idea, Macoyle consented to let them go.

"I shall send Serenus and Rufstitius with you," decided Macoyle, "You may need some extra help if all goes well and you reach the Tower."

Once the wizard had been sent for, Ivar brought forth his hearthrug from Granny that he had kept safe all this time among his parcels and baggage. It was so light and thin that it rolled up nicely into a small bundle, and yet it would fluff out into a thick, warm rug when it was rolled out.

Ivar set the rug on the grass in the field where they had pitched camp. A feeling in the air, like a snap of static electricity, made Ivar sure that something magical was about to happen.

He, Glaisne, Serenus and Rufstitius found that they all fitted perfectly on the carpet.

Once they were comfortable, they wondered what would be needed to get the carpet to move.

"Please," said Ivar aloud, "Take us to Ionait!"

Then, he added, "Granny, help us!"

Nothing happened for a moment, and a soldier snickered at their efforts.

But a moment later, everything turned to a blur. Ivar felt that they were being rushed through time as well as space. Rushing, rushing, rushing...

But a few minutes later, they stopped and found themselves in a strange hallway. There was no one to be seen.

"The Tower!" cried Serenus, "Come, I know where they were taken!"

"How could you?" said Ivar in a whisper, for he realized that there could be enemies just around the corner.

"I will explain later," replied the wizard, "Follow me!"

The boy, the leprechaun, and the dog padded silently behind them, leaving the hearthrug where it lay on the floor. Glaisne hoped to goodness that Saionsaor would keep his beak tightly closed so as not to give them away.

Serenus led them across the hall and on the left ahead they noted an opening, like a doorway but without a door. Through this the wizard led them, and it proved to lead to a narrow flight of stairs that swirled upward steeply.

The wizard went quickly up these, jumping two steps at a time. The others followed behind them as hurriedly as their legs would allow.

Within a moment, they stood before a wooden door. An enormous lock held it securely in place.

The wizard peeped into the window and his face lit up.

"This is it! They're both in there – Ionait and Lassar! And, oh! The Prince as well!"

The wizard jerked at the lock, then whispered something impatiently under his breath in a commanding tone of voice. There was a huge burst of light and sparks and when Ivar opened his eyes again the lock was lying broken in the wizard's hand.

"They'll be after us in a moment," Serenus said hurriedly, "We must get them out at once!"

They all rushed in and found the three prisoners jump up anxiously. Then the prisoners brightened to see friendly faces.

But before Ionait and Ivar could even greet each other, the wizard swept them all out the door and down the stairs. He pressed them to run to the place in the hall where the carpet lay waiting for them.

Unfortunately, it was far too small to fit all of them. Besides, it would not budge from its position on its own. The magic had faded at present.

"Ha! Look, the prisoners escaped!"

"And a wizard! After them!"

The group turned and saw a handful of soldiers who had apparently just come 'round the corner. These began running towards them at a great speed and the wizard realized at once that they had no hope of outdistancing the creatures.

And so Serenus pressed a secret spring in the stone-wall with his left hand. With his right he urged the rest forward into the dark opening that the spring revealed.

Faster than thought, Ivar had caught up his carpet and they all crowded into the secret passage-way. The wizard himself went last, closing the door softly and securely behind him and leaving a number of flabbergasted creatures behind.

They all found themselves at the top of a winding staircase, much like the stair-way that led to the top of the Tower, only it was far darker. They climbed down it in silence; the heavy breathing of each was the only sound to be heard, but even that seemed enormously loud in that terrifying moment.

Once they had reached the bottom, they all stood still and tried to catch their breath. They listened attentively. They were not yet being followed.

"I don't believe those foul beings knew of that secret way," said Serenus, "And that is all the better, for it will take them a long time to find the spring."

"How did you know about that secret passage?" asked Ivar.

"Come," said the wizard, urging them forward into the blackness of the underground tunnel, "We must get out of here at once.

"But what was that, Ivar? How did I know about this way? Well, as a matter of fact, I've been here before."

"You have?" asked Ionait and the tone of her voice gave away her surprise, "You've been a prisoner here, too?"

"Oh, no!"Serenus almost laughed, "No; this was actually the King's fortress of the eastern border, long ago. But then the Enemy had a secret tunnel dug underneath the walls and battlements and used it to break out into Fairyland. We weren't quite as well prepared as we ought to have been, but we eventually defeated this foe. After that the tunnel was blocked up so that the evil beyond the eastern border could never enter Fairyland by that route again."

"Is this the tunnel?" asked Ivar.

"Yes, it is," replied Serenus, "And after the war had ended – for I must tell you plainly that the Enemy overtook this Tower – the King erected the current eastern border about a mile west of this place. But I believe that the entrance into Fairyland from here was never blocked up. I hope we can find our way to that outlet from here."

"That is comforting," replied the Prince, "But during this war of which you speak, why was the secret door made into the Tower to let one done into this tunnel? Wasn't all this a hidden secret to us?"

"Well, yes, it was, until it was nearly completed," said Serenus, "But we had some advantages on our side and we found out a thing or two before all was lost.

"But that is a long tale. One day I will tell it, but for now we must find the exit."

A moment later he added, as if to himself, "Ah! If only we had some light!"

At this, Saionsaor began to squawk loudly, and the noise was so loud that the wizard jumped and everyone cried, "Shhh!"

But poor Glaisne found that nothing he said or did would silence the bird. He wondered at that moment what on earth the creature was good for save for giving its comrades away.

But then, a glow appeared about fifty feet away on their right. It shimmered in yellow and green rays of light, and they all grew rather curious. Saionsaor quieted and preened his feathers, looking immensely proud of himself.

Once the travelers had got quite close to the glow, they found a tiny fairy! She was hovering before their eyes on silvery wings glittering like gold. She was only about three inches tall, with golden hair falling in rippling curls down her shoulders and bright eyes of gold.

When they were quite close to where she hovered, she asked, "What do you wish?"

Serenus replied, "We are searching for a way out of this dark passage. Do you know the way?"

"I cannot let you pass as you are, for beyond lies the Evil Empire," the fairy floated before a wall of dirt and stone.

"So the Empire is that way," said Ivar, gesturing towards the dirt barricade.

"Yes," replied the fairy, "It was dug long ago by the Enemy as a means of traveling into Fairyland to take them unawares. But it has since been set back to right by the Fairy King and I set here to guard it. It is protected by magic that none can overcome without my consent. I cannot let you pass unless you bring to me the golden sword of the Fairy King himself as proof of the great extremity of your need to enter the evil land and as protection for yourselves once you cross this boundary. Until then, this wall shall not budge."

"We have no wish or desire to enter that dark world," explained the wizard, "But refresh my memory and remind me of the passage that lets back into Fairyland. Surely it lies opposite this wall, but how far?"

"It is a great distance," the fairy waved her hands in gesture, "But head straight opposite here and you shall surely find it. Farewell!"

And with a 'good-bye' and a 'thanks', the small party turned about and plunged into the darkness that loomed before them.

Hours later, something ahead caught the wizard's eye. Everyone was hot and tired and incredibly dirty so it encouraged them to hear Serenus' great sigh of relief. Looking on ahead, they saw a shaft of light.

At first it amounted to very little, but after a while it grew to be a vibrant ray of warm sunshine. They also noticed that the ground was sloping upwards. Next moment, the wizard bumped into something before them. It appeared to be an enormous stone.

"Apparently this outlet was blocked up a bit," said Serenus, pressing up against the stone.

"So the light is seeping through a space between this great rock and the side of the tunnel," said Ionait, "If we can get this stone to move, it looks like it will let us out into the open."

"Yes, into Kerri Forest," said Serenus, throwing his full weight against the rock.

This was still no good. In the end the prince, the wizard, Ivar, and the two little men had to push against the enormous boulder all at once. It wasn't until the third try that the stone groaned slightly, leaned in the right direction, and finally tipped over and out into the brightness of a sunlit afternoon.

Sure enough, they found that they were in Kerri Forest and they could see the beginnings of Gray Man's Hills just a few hundred yards south of where they stood. Away to their right and in a somewhat north-easterly direction, the garrison under the King could be seen. But to the dismay of all, the King's flag was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the black banner of the Enemy flapped in the breeze above the towers and battlements.

"So he has taken the eastern border!" said Prince Damian darkly, "he will have the Irish End under his thumb next, if he doesn't already!"

"The King and Macoyle shall be meeting today just west of here!" the wizard's worn and tired face brightened at the prospect, "Let us set out at once to inform the King. We must before we collapse of exhaustion!"

When the sun had nearly set, the travelers dragged themselves over the final hill and looked joyously below to find the King's banner fluttering in the breeze above a vast camp.

They rushed down the hillside in spite of their immense fatigue. They marched straight to the King's own pavilion. Prince Damian pulled back the flap of the tent and they all entered.

"What do you mean? Not a single man would come? Fight to protect his nation? His country?" came the King's voice as they were entering the tent.

There sat Macoyle looking extremely discouraged and worn. The King was sitting forward in his royal chair with his magnificent sword at his side. He looked shocked and angry and incredibly anxious, as though he were nearing despair.

His tired gaze turned to see those who had entered, and his dull eyes became bright at the sight of his son. He jumped up and threw out his arms to the prince.

"My son!" he cried, and the tears shone as diamonds down his cheeks.

Prince Damian gave his father a warm embrace.

Macoyle gained some spirit at the return of the others and was particularly glad to see the prince again, for he and the prince were very close friends.

Ionait and Ivar took the moment to hug one another for there had been only anxiety and rushing for the last few hours. They felt so relieved just to be together again that their hearts soared lightly and they felt all would be well.

But before much more happened, Lassar stepped forward and went down on both knees.

"Your majesty, Lord Selwyn," said he, "I have done wrong against you, my fellow comrades, and my country."

"What's this?" the King looked perturbed at this, and he tried to raise Lassar to his feet, but he tried in vain for the far darrig would not budge.

"My lord, I purposely took the gift in the box of which the children told you and hid it that I might keep it for my own."

"Oh, Lassar!" a smile began spreading across the King's face, "That couldn't be! Why, where is it now?"

"I returned it to Ionait, the rightful owner – she and Ivar, that is – and I had no right to touch it in the first place."

"I don't believe that could have been the case!" King was now laughing jovially.

"Sire, I assure you it is the truth," it took great effort for Lassar to not accept the King's words, "And I must demand that you seek full justice and punish me as you would a criminal and a perjurer."

"Now, stop this foolishness! Get up. I'm not going to punish you," said the King, "Even if you did do all that – it was rather a joke. I accept it as such. Besides, all is now set to rights."

"Very well, your majesty," said Lassar, "But I shall not leave your side – I offer myself as a constant servant to fulfill your every bidding. I must make up for what I have done."

"As you wish, Lassar," said the King uninterestedly.

The far darrig then proceeded to go around the whole room and apologized to everyone for all the trouble he had caused. That is, he apologized to everyone save Glaisne. Lassar still felt that leprechauns were repulsive and below all the other fairies, and decided that it would be too humiliating to apologize to Glaisne.

"My lord, we must set out at once to collect troops!" said Damian once Lassar had finished, "For your forces here on the eastern border are conquered, and the Enemy's banner flies over what was once your stronghold!"

"We have tried just that, my lord," said Macoyle wearily, shaking his head, "But no man will join."

The prince's eyes opened wide in surprise, "We have not one citizen at our backs?"

"Not one," Macoyle shook his head.

"How could this be?" asked Damian anxiously.

"An outside force has swayed the multitude," replied Macoyle wearily, "Everywhere it was the same: 'The Enemy is rich and generous; why should we fight? This is not a threat, but a blessing.' But I couldn't imagine anything farther from the truth."

"I believe I could explain some of this," said Serenus, "My Lord Selwyn, I beg your pardon, but I must speak openly now of what has occurred."

The King called for more chairs to be brought into the tent. He then sent for a maid to take Ionait and find her some suitable clothes – it must be remembered that she was still in her nightgown and had been so dressed since the Dark Voice kidnapped her a few nights prior – and once she had returned, they all found a seat. Then the King gave the wizard permission to speak.

"It began over a hundred years ago, when your grandfather, Prince Damian, was the King of Fairyland. The Evil Enemy himself began sending in spies and agents, disguised as various fairies, to live among the folk of this kingdom. Over time, more and more poured in, and no one thought much or anything of it. These strange fairies would live and work just like anyone else, but they had much more money and treasure. They did not hoard it, but squandered it generously – if 'generously' is the right term – on the people. And even then their riches did not falter. The people began to get so caught up in enjoying their new lives of luxury that they did not stop to think where all this treasure was coming from.

"While they were so distracted, the Enemy sent spies to assassinate the governors of the various districts. Once they were done away with, the Enemy appointed a new head from among his followers to lead that particular area."

"But I have received dispatches from these various governors as recently as three days ago!" cried this King, "They were signed by the official governors – the ones I have known for years and who rule wisely and justly over their districts."

"They were only sent to keep you, my Lord Selwyn, from becoming suspicious," explained the wizard, "Or, rather, to keep you satisfied enough with what you were told so that you would not investigate."

"But who are these demons in the form of fairies?" asked Macoyle, his hand on his sword-hilt.

"Lord Macoyle, they are everywhere now," sighed Serenus, then continued, addressing the King, "I regret that I did not try harder to prove to you of this tragedy, but I could never find enough evidence to convince your lordship, King Selwyn, of this terrible reality. Now the result of these evil doings – the fruit of their seedlings they planted long ago – is providing the necessary proof. Now the people are against the crown. They have been turned away because of the great encouragement on the part of the Evil Enemy, and also because of the lack of good ruling that they needed on your part, King Selwyn."

The King appeared extremely indifferent towards this last declaration, but Serenus said, "I'm afraid that it is the truth, my Lord. I have tried to warn you, but now it is too late. We now have enemies both within and without Fairyland."

"But surely, if they knew who this person really is, the people would fight to protect their country, wouldn't they?" asked Ionait.

"I believe they might, if we could find a way to prove it to them," said the wizard, "But I see none."

Suddenly a trumpet blast was heard outside. All heads turned and a moment later one of the King's guards poked his head through the flap of the great pavilion.

"Sir! The enemy approaches! They bear the white flag!"

The King rose and all followed suit.

"What devilry is this?" he muttered under his breath.

Then a herald, dark and evil as a moonless night, entered the royal tent and cried, "His Lord Ischyrion (iss-KEER-ee-in), the Ruler of the Eastern Lands, seeks audience with Selwyn, King of Fairyland!"

The King looked rather flustered but knew not what else he could do but accept this visitor.

"Permission granted," he said, a little shakily.

The herald left, and a long, dark shadow fell over the tent. The light faded, and a tall figure entered the pavilion. His very presence stilled their breathing and their hearts. His face was hardly visible beneath the darkness of his being, but his eyes shone black, a black that overwhelmed and nearly overcame every person present. His clothes were all dark and a full cape, sable as death, was wrapped around his shoulders.

He strode forward, went down on one knee, and kissed the King's hand.

"My Lord, King Selwyn," he said, and his voice was like the dark of the most evil thoughts which Soul-Seekers bear in their hearts, "I am honored to meet you at last."

The King, though terrified at the evil light in Ischyrion's eyes, felt pride bubbling up inside him at these words. After all, here was his enemy – the enemy of his father and his father before him, and the enemy of Fairyland from the very dawn of time – kneeling before him and reverently addressing him.

"What has brought you hither on the very eve of battle, my Lord Ischyrion?" asked King Selwyn, very kindly indeed.

"Ah, my Lord, it is just that!" a melancholy expression showed itself in every word he spoke, "it is just that! Need we to go to all this trouble – all the terror, the blood, the pain, the death that war holds – need we to withstand it all? Is it really necessary to trouble ourselves and our fellow country-men to fight one another?"

The wizard answered this question.

"As long as you refuse to stay in your own land, it is quite necessary to fight until you return to your realm. You are only a terror and a threat to this land and, as you have proved a thousand times, you are our deadliest enemy."

Lord Ischyrion's face grew so twisted with emotion and sorrow that the King brought him from his knees at once.

"Yes, it is true we have long been enemies," said Ischyrion, "But is it really needed? I have not come to cause war, but to bring peace and prosperity."

The King said nothing. Serenus tried to protest, but Ischyrion continued.

"I have acquired riches beyond any that Fairyland has seen," swore Lord Ischyrion, "I do not wish to fight you, but to allow you to retain your throne. I desire to bring my wealth into Fairyland and to spread it among your people. What is more, I have obtained the Mighty Weapon, the long-lost sword of your forefathers. It belongs here in your keeping, King Selwyn. I wish to offer it to you, but, in exchange, I ask you to wield it under my banner. This is all I demand of you, my Lord King: place in my keeping this Splinter that you have acquired, for it will greatly benefit Fairyland through my hands, and recognize me as your overlord, and I will forsake my right of the crown."

"The sword?" asked King Selwyn, almost in a whisper, he was so shaken to hear of it, "You have found it at long last?"

Ischyrion smiled wickedly, "Indeed I have, Lord King. Swear to me your fealty, and I will send for it at once."

The King's hands were shaking and his mind was a blur. He found it impossible to think clearly, but it seemed that this was his opportunity at last to retrieve the stolen sword of his forefathers. Who had stolen it? He could not recall.

Prince Damian and Macoyle were fighting dreadfully hard inside themselves. It was assuredly a trick, but they too felt their minds swimming. It all seemed so good and innocent, and yet something was not quite right. Should they really form an alliance with this lord who had always been their sworn enemy?

The wizard found that he could not speak. He was silenced. It was a simple spell that Ischyrion could work easily and which he knew was extremely effective. Without the wizard to point out the false and hollow words he was using to convince the King, Ischyrion knew that it would be simple enough to force the King to give in.

Ischyrion did not, however, pay any attention to Ionait or Ivar, nor to Glaisne or Lassar. He assumed that they were not equipped to fight his persuasive arguments he was placing before the King. He did not count on them thinking for themselves. But they did.

"My Lord, enough of this!" cried Glaisne, surprising even himself for speaking up before this assembly.

"Has this Lord ever been known to speak truly and uprightly?" asked Ivar.

"Would you actually place your country in his hands and fight under his banner?" asked Ionait anxiously.

"Would you form an alliance with the enemy of your people behind their backs and betray us all to this monster?" Lassar asked quickly before the Lord Ischyrion could speak.

The King shook himself, as if awaking from a dream, and his eyes shone clearly.

The prince and Macoyle became alert and knew exactly what was true and how they had almost been taken in.

The wizard regained his speech, for Ischyrion's magic was greatly weakened at this outburst, and he cried, "My Lord Selwyn, to tergiversate at this hour in favor of this false lord and against the will of your soldiers and country would be the greatest evil that could ever overcome Fairyland."

Prince Damian stood up boldly and said, loud and clear, "We utterly reject your offer and must kindly request you to leave at once, before we are forced to throw you out."

Then, turning to the guard at the door, he said, "Prepare for battle!"

The Lord Ischyrion's eyes narrowed and he left in a great swish and swoop of his black cape. The sky darkened overhead as he paused at the flap of the tent.

"You have lost your chance to see the Mighty Weapon – you have now shattered all hope of seeing it again!"

Then next moment, he was gone.

The King sank into his chair and put his head in his hands wearily, "What in the world are we to do now? Without men, without the sword, what hope have we to fight this battle?"

"My Lord, you are forgetting, we still have the Splinter," Ionait' face glowed as she brought the Splinter into the open for all to see.

The King brightened a little, but he asked forlornly, "But what good will this Splinter do us in the fight?"

"My lord," said she, "I have given it much consideration, and I believe there is a way that it can help."

Everyone's eyes were fixed on Ionait as she continued, "When Lassar and I were with the Dark Voice and the witch, and they got hold of both the box and the key. They opened the box, and though the Splinter itself was elsewhere at the time, they were terrified. The witch threw both box and key into the bushes and even the Dark Voice became terribly shaken."

"Why on earth?" asked Ivar.

"I can answer that," said Lassar, "The dark stains in the box and on the Splinter – well, that substance is the Blood of the Savior. It is indeed the Blood Itself that the true power is found – the true gift."

"That is quite true," said Serenus quietly, "It has been thought that these Splinters of wood were all destroyed. It is a great grace to have been given this!"

"Then what do you propose?" asked Damian of Ionait.

"If this touches the good souls as being something of great beauty and worth, then doesn't it follow that it will harm the evil spirits? In fact, the witch and the Dark Voice are living proof that it strikes the evil at heart at once as being something good and beautiful and harmful to the dark side.

"And so," concluded Ionait, "Why not take this Splinter to every village and town, and call every citizen forward to kiss this precious object out of reverence for the Blood of the Savior of Fairyland? The good souls will find strength and courage and come to fight for their true country, and those evil spirits in hiding will flee in terror – they probably couldn't even bring themselves to near this holy object."

"Yes, and then the true citizens will see the evil that has seeped into Fairyland!" cried Ivar excitedly, "And they will amend, won't they?"

"It's worth attempting!" said Ionait, setting the Splinter in the box which Ivar held open.

The King grunted to himself, but a smile spread across his face and it was clear to all that he was encouraged by the turn of events.

"Go, then, with my blessing," said King Selwyn, "Serenus and Rufstitius, I wish you to accompany them."

As soon as packs and provisions had been provided for them the children, the wizard and his dog all set out at once.

"My lord," said Lassar after the four had left, "I beg you, send me in search of the mystical sword!"

The King was a little startled, "What do you mean? Where would you search?"

"In the Enemy's territory," said Lassar darkly, "For that is assuredly where it lies – the Enemy himself said that he would 'send for it at once' as soon as you would swear you loyalty to him. That must mean that he left it behind, in his land!"

"Possibly," said Prince Damian slowly, "But he is a liar. And even if all this you have said is true, it may well be that he will destroy it before you reach the sword."

"That's just it, sire," Glaisne got up his courage to speak, "Just as the evil creatures fear the goodness of the Splinter, so would they fear the mighty greatness of the good sword. Wouldn't it be a proper guess that they would not destroy it – indeed, that they could not, for it was forged to protect Fairyland from evil hands."

"I don't know that Ischyrion could even bear it in his own hands," continued Lassar, "I think he just threatened us with the thought of never finding the sword before he left to scare us into despair. Remember what he said? 'I wish to offer it to you, but, in exchange, I ask you to wield it under my banner.' Why wouldn't he wield it himself, since it is well-known how mighty this sword is, unless he simply could not do so himself?"

"This is logical enough," said Macoyle, "It may be, sire, that all these assumptions are true."

"Very well, I will allow you to try," said King Selwyn to Lassar, "But I must insist that you take with you a companion."

"The smaller he is the better," said Macoyle, "That they may have the greatest chance of not being seen and caught. Why not send Glaisne with him, Lord King?"

Glaisne was so surprised at this that he almost couldn't believe the words.

The King looked doubtful, but then agreed.

"Very well, but what means will you take, Lassar?"

"The underground passage would probably prove safest," replied he, "But I must ask of you your sword. The guard of the tunnel said that only with the King's golden sword could any pass into the evil lands beyond."

The King gripped his sword hilt, and nearly everyone present did not think that he would agree to this.

But then, after drawing a deep breath, he lifted the sword in its sheath from his side and placed it in Lassar's hands. It was rather an enormous thing for the far darrig to lift, and he nearly dropped it from its sheer weight.

"Go, with my blessing," said the King as he had said to the children earlier, "And return as quickly as you may."

"Yes, we will leave at once – perhaps Burns will fly us to the opening into Fairyland," replied Lassar.

He and Glaisne, who had no choice in the matter but to obey the King's orders, were given satchels with plenty of provisions and water for three days time.

Burns knew it would be a dangerous venture to try to take them to the outlet for the enemy's newfound camp lay very near it. However, the kindly dragon agreed at once to do so for the good of his country.

About an hour later, when it was truly the dead of night, Burns landed silently among the trees in a little clearing near the yawning mouth to the dark underground tunnel.

*****************

"Sirs! By order of the king, form a line and come forward!" called the soldier, one of the few that King Selwyn had sent with the children and the wizard.

The first man drew close.

"What's this all about?" he asked roughly.

"Come, and reverently show your respect for the Blood of the Savior of this world," explained Ionait, holding the Splinter higher so that the citizen could see it clearly.

Another man in the crowd jeered, "Ah! A hunk of wood! What nonsense!"

The first man, the one who had asked about the Splinter, came all the way up to where the children stood. He looked upon the Splinter, and his eyes filled with tears. He went down on one knee at once and kissed the Splinter.

He was followed by more and more citizens, and every able-bodied man offered his service in the army immediately afterwards.

"Where are the others?" was a question frequently asked among the new recruits.

They went out and hauled back many who had refused to come with friendly encouragements. The first brought forward was the man who had been jeering so rudely earlier.

He was pushed forward, but he fought immensely. Once he was within a few feet of the Splinter Itself, a curious and terrifying thing occurred. The man's eyes shone with such fear and hatred that his presence shamed everyone else. Then, he began screaming wildly, uttering words in a dark tongue that no one could or desired to understand.

Then, the natural luster of his brown cheeks and hard-working hands melted away, and within a moment a monster beyond description stood in their midst. He was something between a demon and a wolf. All the villagers within a few feet of him jumped back at once in fear, and the creature went galloping away with its tail between its legs, howling terribly.

"So – it is true!" cried Ionait.

"What was that?"

"Did you ever see anything like it?"

"And to think that we had trusted him to live among us!"

Many other such exclamations of anger and fear ran through the crowd.

The wizard stood forward and cried over the noise of the citizens, "This is one of those that we ask you to come and fight. He is one of the demons under the Enemy that threatens Fairyland, both from without and from within. And so, I beg you, let us now rest until every slave of Ischyrion has been put to flight!"

The villagers looked at one another a moment, then cried, "Let us at once before we are overthrown by these foul creatures!"

****************

Three days after Lassar and Glaisne had set out with the King's golden sword, they returned wearily on Burns.

They sought audience with the King at once, but the King came out of his tent to greet them.

In his hands Lassar's bore easily the great sword, the legendary weapon of might.

"Your highness," said he, placing the light, silver sheath in the King's hands, "We have brought back the sword to its rightful owner."

The King drew out the silver sword, thin and smooth and shining beautifully in the morning light. His face lit up as it had never done before and strength was immersed in his soul – a strength that provided him the courage to fight bravely for his country.

"Well done, sirs," said the King, and he raised his sword for all to see, "These valiant knights have returned the Mighty Sword to Fairyland! We now have a chance and a hope!"

The soldiers cheered joyously.

Prince Damian then reminded his father quietly, "Now we have the Mighty Weapon that was lost to us for so long, but of what use will it be without soldiers at our backs? Great and powerful weapons are an advantage to any army, but brave and valiant soldiers are of far greater value."

"Indeed," agreed the King, and then added aloud to his troops, "Now is the time to prove your true worth and attain glory!"

At that moment, a terrible bugle, the enemy's horn was heard. And then the soldiers heard the most horrendous sound of enemy voices raised in shouts.

"It is their battle-cry!" exclaimed the King, "To arms! To arms! We shall break their ranks and send them back to the darkness of the eastern lands!"

It was a long and bloody battle, and King Selwyn scarcely hoped that his soldiers would hold out against the enemy's ranks long enough before the children returned – if they returned before it was too late. He also wearily reminded himself that they may not return with troops. All their hopes might well shatter before the terror of Ischyrion. But every time that Selwyn lifted his sword in his hand – the great sword of his forefathers – he dared to hope that his men could overcome this evil that threatened their country.

Macoyle and Damian, being trained soldiers and fully capable captains, were overwhelmed for the entire length of the battle. They were extremely exhausted from fighting at the sides of their men and directing their forces. They were hardly capable of focusing on anything but the war.

Burns proved a great asset to the fairies, for a fire-breathing dragon on one's side in a battle is worth nearly a thousand soldiers. He could swoop down upon a whole rank of enemies and knock them down with one swipe of his tail, or slow the oncoming masses of demons with his fiery breath. Indeed, Burns was the sole reason that Ischyrion's men had not yet conquered King Selwyn.

Lassar was ready to die for his country nearly at once, and Glaisne became much braver by the second day. They were both tough and hardy sprites and quickly learned the art of swordsmanship.

On the third day, the Evil Enemy, the Lord Ischyrion, brought forth a great surprise for them. At dawn he let loose ten fire-breathing dragons, all black as night. The beasts had long, trailing tails and necks like the coiling bodies of snakes. Their eyes burned red as coals and their leathery wings were as enormous as a ship's sails. The heat and the brightness of their fiery breath could paralyze dozens of soldiers at once. The flames themselves that issued from their jaws set ablaze all who stood within a hundred yards of the creature. These beasts, every knight and noble soldier realized, would be sufficient to snuff out the King's army forever.

King Selwyn knew there was little his men could do against these dragons. He feared for the lives and the morale of his men. And yet his soldiers, fully aware of the grave danger, went willingly to battle and fought desperately for their very lives and the lives of their countrymen.

The fairies' sole dragon also fought valiantly despite the reinforcements of the enemy. Poor Burns found that many of the enemy's dragons were quite bigger and stronger than he. Still, he didn't give up for a minute, but tried his best and nearly defeated one of the terrible winged serpents.

At about midday Burns found himself on one of the slopes of Gray Man's Hills facing the east. Lassar wasn't far on his left, dueling with an evil-looking dwarfish creature. Burns himself was fighting a creature very similar to a Dark Voice, but larger and less shadowy but no less evil. It was the first opportunity Burns had had that day to fight against an enemy other than another dragon. He realized with relief that he would be able to defeat his shadowy opponent, which did not frequently happen in duels against the black, winged serpents. This greatly boosted his confidence.

Suddenly, an enormous black dragon swooped down upon the far darrig just as the dwarf fell. The creature was more than Lassar could hope to conquer and the blast of air from the flap of his wings knocked him down at once. He snapped at Lassar and gave him a sharp blow with his tail which sent the far darrig flying from where he had fallen. Blood now trickled down Lassar's face. He looked dazed and had lost hold of his sword, which now lay far from his reach. The black dragon swung back his head and took a deep breath.

But Burns didn't wait for the fiery breath that was to come. Digging his claws into the dark creature with which he had been fighting, Burns jumped into the air, throwing the dark creature across the field of battle. He was too angry to consider the power and strength of the black dragon that was about to kill Lassar. An anxiety for the far darrig, in spite of all his misdeeds, took hold of Burns' gentle heart. He had to try to defend his friend at the very least.

With a cry that made the sable beast turn his head Burns landed upon his back. Burns' terrible claws drove into the creature's scaly hide. But all in a moment, the black dragon had lifted himself into the air and was upon Burns.

Lassar wiped the blood that trickled across his face and tried desperately to perceive what was happening. His head was swimming and it was hard to see in the sunlight. All he could clearly distinguish were the terrible cries of the angry dragons.

"Burns," he whispered feebly, knowing only too well that neither he nor Burns could ever hope to conquer the black dragon.

His heart pounding, Lassar stumbled a few paces in search of his blade. If Burns was willing to give his life for Fairyland, then Lassar felt that he, too, would die for his country alongside the noble dragon. Lassar couldn't stand by and let Burns be killed while he still had life left within him.

Suddenly with a great crash one of the dragons fell to the ground. The second was upon the fallen beast in a heartbeat, tearing at his soft belly with long, sharp claws. Lassar realized with horror that it was Burns who had fallen.

With a scream of something beyond shock or pain, love or desperation, Lassar found his sword and rushed towards the monster.

He swung the blade and it shone in the sun, but it bounced off the dragon's black scales. Lassar tried again to stab the dragon, but in vain, for the creature grabbed him with one claw and tossed him aside with ease.

The winged serpent turned to Burns once more. He threw back his and breathed in deeply. Lassar could almost feel the fires building up inside the creature for the volcanic explosion that was to bring Burns' death.

Suddenly, a trumpet blast sounded forth from over the hills. Soldiers everywhere rushed across the hillside away to the west, in the direction from which the call had issued.

Though he was distracted, for a sweet moment Lassar thought he recognized the bright and triumphant tone of the horn as the King's own trumpet blare, and it gave him reason to hope.

Next moment, away eastward, Ischyrion's captain began yelling to his soldiers and beasts.

At the sound of his leader's vicious and angry voice, the black dragon instantly lifted himself into the air and headed west with the others. He knew only too well the importance of immediate obedience to his superiors.

Lassar could scarcely find the strength to get up and yet he rushed to Burns' side. He was covered in wounds, and his belly was burned and torn. His eyes were darkening.

Lassar felt the tears running down his cheeks.

"Oh, Burns!" he cried, kneeling by the dragon's head.

Burns could scarcely move.

"Lassar – are you hurt?" he managed to say.

"There's nothing wrong with me, Burns!" Lassar could scarcely comprehend Burns' selflessness, "It's you that's important now. I'll run and get help. The soldiers have left this place, so you should be safe 'till I return."

"Lassar, I don't think – anyone can help me now," said Burns slowly and with great effort, the life nearly gone in him.

Lassar said nothing, but felt that his heart would break with the immensity of his grief.

"Burns, you're the greatest hero that ever lived – oh! that you had died for a worthy soul!"

Burns forced his eyes to lift and a small, gentle smile warmed his scaly face, "I couldn't have been more pleased in giving my life for any other."

Lassar eyes brimmed over and the tears spilled down his cheeks. Each drop fell softly onto Burns' nose.

Lassar could not express just what he felt at that moment. That Burns was satisfied with giving his life for Lassar – indeed, that he would not have been more pleased in dying for any other – touched Lassar more deeply than anything else had in his life. He felt unworthy of this noble gift and wished ardently that he could ease the dragon's immense pains.

Burns' breath was slowing now. He struggled to get air. His eyes faded, and his body stilled.

Lassar leaned over the valiant creature. He wrapped his arms around his enormous head. The tears streamed down his face and they bathed Burns' countenance, dirty and weathered from the strains of battle.

It seemed too much to bear. How could he accept the fact that this noble dragon had given his life for himself, a far darrig? After all of Lassar's treachery, betrayal, cruelty, malice, lies, hurts – the list rambled on in his mind – after all that, Burns still found it good and beautiful to give his life for such a wretched soul?

"Then I must have more to accomplish here," thought Lassar, "The others – I've got to go at once and fight with them! Fairyland almost lost her freedom through me. Now I shall fight to preserve that liberty! Burns wouldn't want me to shirk this responsibility."

At that moment, a small click! resounded in the empty slopes of the battlefield. The strand of pearls around the little man's neck fell across Burns' scaly red nose.

The tears flowed afresh as Lassar recalled Granny's words, "...as long as the clasp will not yield to your hand, you are a slave to yourself..."

Now the clasp was free, and he no longer wanted anything for himself. The only pure desire that burned ardently in his heart was to see to it that Burns had not given his life for him in vain. He wished to answer his country's call in her dire need. He would do all in his power to free her of the evil that threatened to overcome her.

Taking the beautiful necklace in his hands, Lassar lifted it from Burns' nose.

"Burns," he said quietly, his voice clear and steady but his eyes still wet with tears, "You gave your life to defend me – I surrender myself to live or die for the good of Fairyland and the beauty and grace of her true citizens. I wish I could have given my life for you as you did for me, but I offer you this."

And so saying, Lassar placed the strand of pearls upon Burns' neck. It was a miraculous occurrence, for the necklace was many times smaller in diameter than the dragon's neck. Just as Lassar's heart had expanded with a pure love far greater than selfish desires, so too had the strand of pearls grown in size and beauty.

After planting a final kiss of parting on the dragon's nose, Lassar rushed away to the west, the direction from which the horn had issued and all the soldiers had run.

What Lassar beheld brought joy to his heart and to every soldier under the King's banner.

Ionait and Ivar were advancing towards the camp of the fairies. At their backs was an enormous army of sprites-at-arms. The wizard triumphantly approached the King.

"Not a single citizen refused us," he smiled brightly and gestured with his hands towards the lines of troops entering the camp as soldier after soldier marched by.

The King raised his sword, his face shining and his heart now confidently beating in his chest.

"To the enemy!" he cried, "We now have power and strength enough to defeat this evil wretch, Ischyrion! At once, to war!"

And the soldiers raised a great shout and raced into battle behind the King. Victory seemed to waver in favor of the fairies. Hope had been given birth afresh, and this time they felt sure it was to last.

Suddenly the fairy-soldiers began to realize that the enemy ranks were not slowing. In fact, Macoyle and Damian felt that with every demon that they slew ten more sprung up to take his place.

Soon, the enemy had doubled – no, tripled in size.

"What can be happening?" shouted Damian above the chaos and screams of battle.

Ionait and Ivar, who were watching from afar because the King would not permit children to enter the battle, realized the cause of the increase of the enemy's numbers.

"All those demons that were frightened away by the Splinter – they've returned to their dark lord!" cried Ionait with consternation.

"Of course – that's it!" Ivar agreed.

A moment later, King Selwyn was forced to order his men to retreat. The demons were overwhelming them and pressing in from the front and both sides.

"Ionait, we've got to do something!" said Ivar, wracking his brain to come up with a plan.

Ionait held the box which bore the Splinter in her hands and looked upon it, pondering in her mind.

Suddenly, the box seemed more than it had appeared a moment ago. Next instant, it shone gently with a luminous glow.

"Ivar, look!" Ionait cried excitedly.

Ivar's eyes widened as a thought struck him.

"Ionait, come on!" he grabbed his sister's arm and pulled her towards their baggage-train.

**********************

"We can't hold out much longer!" Macoyle called hoarsely.

"We must – we must!" replied Damian, his voice choked with earnest efforts and stress.

"The reinforcements gave such encouragement – if only we had something more to strengthen the men!" called King Selwyn, slaying the creature before him, "If only we could ignite a fire of courage..."

**********************

"Here it is!"

Ivar pulled Granny's hearthrug from among the rest of the paraphernalia.

"But will it work, Ivar?" asked Ionait, a little doubtfully, "It only flew the once and refused to help us escape from the Tower."

"We've got to try, Ionait," said Ivar, spreading the rug on the grass and taking a seat, "If only we can bring the box to where the soldiers can see it, perhaps it will give them the strength and courage they need to keep fighting despite the odds. And look at how it glows! I believe something more than we can understand is about to take place."

"A magic stronger than this box can contain," said Ionait slowly, sitting down next to her brother, "Yes, I feel it, too. I hope this works."

"Please – Granny, help us!" cried Ivar.

***********************

The earth shook beneath their feet. The soldiers went sprawling across the battlefield. Many of them lost hold of their weapons. They found they couldn't regain their stance, for the ground continued to move violently. The fairies felt strange and somehow, excited – oddly enough, considering the circumstances. The enemy soldiers seemed uncertain and unsteady, as if they knew not how to react to this dilemma.

"What..." began a fairy-soldier.

"Look!" cried another.

And they all turned in the direction of the upheld point of the soldier's spear.

There, fluttering in the breeze was a carpet of gold and red, green and blue, and many magnificent colors all beautifully combined. Riding upon the rug were Ionait and Ivar.

"Hearken, and see!" cried Ivar, holding up the box, still glowing luminously.

When he had said this, the light issuing forth from the box grew immensely brighter. All eyes were fixed upon it.

Suddenly, the box burst open. A ray of sunlight, infinitely more brilliant than any that has ever been seen in this world, fell across Ivar's hand onto the box.

At this, the troops under the enemy began screeching horrendously. They lost their composure almost completely and many turned utterly pale.

"The light! The light!" they shrieked in voices like the calls of wild beasts.

"Away, foul creatures of darkness! My land shall not be overrun by such evil!" came a voice, which seemed to come directly from the light itself.

Next moment, a man, dressed in a peasant's garb and without shoes, appeared at the height of the highest peak of Gray Man's Hills. The Light Itself shone brightly through Him and all around Him, as though it were issuing from His inmost being. The man's hair fell upon His shoulders and His eyes were a soft, clear brown, to the astonishment of all, for it proved that he was indeed of the human race. A shepherd's staff He held in His left, while His right bore a sword of magnificent splendor.

He looked down upon the fairies, and gave the ground a resounding thump! with the staff. His eyes grew ever softer and penetrated the very depths of the soul of each soldier under the King's banner all in a moment.

Then His gaze turned to the evil-doers. The man raised the sword and it immediately burst into a flaming rapier.

The demons all trembled uncontrollably and began to shriek hysterically.

"Come, and follow Me!" boomed the Man's voice, and He led the army at once towards the enemy ranks.

The demons were beyond the description of 'frightened', or 'terrified'. They were trembling with mortal dread, a dread that could not be eased by their Evil Lord. Despite his efforts to call them to arms, Ischyrion could not manage his troops, nor force them to advance and attack. They refused even to defend themselves.

The ones in the rear dropped their weapons and fled into the dark lands of the east. The ones nearest the King's soldiers had nowhere to run. They screamed until they were hoarse.

And then the Man approached and brandished His sword. It was more than those creatures could bear.

Screaming and cursing wildly, the foremost ones began to lose their physical forms. They withered, and melted into dark pools of steaming substances which gave off terrible fumes.

King Selwyn knew not what was occurring, but he saw the chance to drive the enemy, and he urged his soldiers forward.

"To arms! Attack!" he cried, following behind the Man as He had instructed them all to do.

The soldiers got up with renewed vigor and hope rising in their hearts. They rushed behind the Stranger towards the enemy.

The remaining demons cried out and fled, to the disgust and anger of Ischyrion.

"What are you doing, filth?" he cried furiously after them, "Get back here and fight like the darkness that you are!"

But it was all in vain. Within fifteen minutes, Gray Man's Hills were free of all Ischyrion's living demons and dark creatures.

Ischyrion himself, however, would not give in. Indeed he had already slain hundreds in the time that his minions had been thrust out of Fairyland.

He clenched his teeth and laughed above the chaos of the fight, "Ha! You think you have defeated me? My slaves, perhaps, but no one can throw the Lord of Darkness out of this land! I have conquered many worlds – this shall be the final blow before I break the strength of the race of men! Then shall I be the Lord of All Worlds, All Races, All Lives! No one can conquer me!"

More fairies fell under his sword. Ischyrion was gaining ground.

The Man stepped forward and held His sword before the Terror of Fairyland and the lands of darkness in the east.

"I can," he said evenly in reply to Ischyrion arrogant speech.

Ischyrion turned towards his new adversary, "So... you have returned. But it is too late! You can never save this world now that I am here!"

"Perhaps," replied the Man, "But I think not. With a host of men at my back, and your villains vanished into darkness, your strengths are shattered."

Ischyrion clenched his teeth and charged at the Man but he blocked the dark lord's blow.

Angered, Ischyrion attempted again and again, but the Man was slowly gaining ground. Now they were ten feet closer to the eastern lands than a moment before – now a hundred. And with each succeeding blow Ischyrion felt his power weakening. He became pale – only the very tiniest bit, but pale nonetheless.

"This world is mine!" the Evil Enemy was finding it difficult to breathe, he was fighting so hard.

"Hardly!" whispered a fairy to a nearby soldier, for the eastern border wasn't more than fifty feet away.

Then Ischyrion really did turn white. He found himself unable to continue dueling with the Stranger. His arms began to quiver and his heart to patter.

"Go! And may you never be called back from this hour henceforth!" the Man thrust his flaming sword.

Ischyrion, with a blood-curdling shriek, dropped his arms and vanished into the darkness of the eastern lands. They could still hear him wailing uncontrollably after he had gone, but it grew ever fainter moment by moment. Soon, not a sound issued forth from beyond the border.

"The enemy is conquered! We are free!" shouted Damian, and the soldiers raised their voices in shouts of joy.

Their cheers rang out over Gray Man's Hills. Their victorious exclamations and joyous cries resounded in that quiet and gloomy place as has never been heard in those hills since before the birth of time.

Such celebrations were held in the King's camp that night. There were bonfires and merry chatter, tales told over mugs of ale and warm cups of chocolate, and roasted deer served all round. An immense relief and peace reigned over the camp and every face was aglow with serenity and the joy of victory.

King Selwyn, for the first time in his life, went about the camp and mingled among his men. He congratulated everyone and praised their efforts. He had become so near the point of the despair of losing everything that his gratitude for the victory overflowed from his self-centered heart. It was transformed. His heart was opened and burst forth in full bloom and his men were astounded. This unexpected friend in the form of their King added greatly to their joy and future hopes.

Macoyle and Damian, though they were fatigued beyond clear description, joined in the party with eagerness equal to any in that victorious camp. In fact, they were the brightest and merriest among the celebrating soldiers. They could hardly believe that they had survived the terrors of the war and stood upon victorious ground, and the fruit of this unbelief was happiness. This feeling bubbling up inside of their hearts gave them such energy and vigor that they found themselves no longer worn and tired.

Ionait and Ivar were overwhelmed by many soldiers who thanked them for the part they played in conquering the Enemy. They never wished to take much credit and always hastened to explain that the truth of the Splinter had been the chief cause of their part of the victory rather than their own performance. The soldiers had caught only bits and pieces of the story over the course of the war, and much of the little that they had heard was twisted and far from reality. And so, Ionait and Ivar found that the tale of the Splinter was wanted at every turn and told the story at least two dozen times that night, to the enjoyment of all who heard it. They were patted on the back and shook several thousand hands and smiled till their cheeks ached. But their eyes still sparkled, even when they were stumbling off to bed, and they enjoyed every moment of it.

Glaisne and Lassar, however, were both having very different times.

Lassar was congratulated by everyone, which would have been pleasant if it hadn't been for the crushing recollection of the loss of Burns. This news had been spread and many soldiers who had heard news of Burns' demise expressed their sorrow to Lassar for his friend's untimely death. Although he knew it was meant kindly, Lassar found it painful to be constantly reminded of that which was already causing him so much anguish within his heart. What is more, Lassar was tired and his heart ached as it had never ached before in his life, so he really didn't want to join in the celebrations. He felt much more like going to bed, or at least going off by himself somewhere where he could be alone, but he was confronted right and left by some soldier eager for a chat or a handshake in honor of the festivities. He finally found a quiet corner behind a tent where he sat for a moment and sipped at a beer mug without much interest, his thoughts far from the cheery campfire twenty yards to his right.

He hadn't seen any of the others the whole night, and he wished so much to speak with them. Ionait and Ivar were so good, he now saw more clearly than ever, and Macoyle and Damian great noblemen. The King was weak, but Lassar had seen him grow strong on the field of battle and knew he had changed at heart from the snatches of conversation he had overheard. And Glaisne...

It was at that moment that the cause for the bitterness Lassar had been enduring struck him. How terribly he had treated Glaisne! Lassar had snubbed him and irritated him without stop from the very beginning. And he had never apologized!

Lassar had refused on the grounds that the humiliation of lowering himself to beg the forgiveness of a leprechaun was more than should be tolerated by an estimable fairy. But Lassar now saw that it didn't matter who is mistreated by whom – if one commits evil against another, it must be compensated for, regardless of the persons involved.

What is more, he didn't truly believe at heart any longer that Glaisne was not as important as any other fairy. Lassar saw now that leprechauns were just as 'fairy' as far darrigs and he lamented his obnoxious behavior.

Lassar stood with a determination in his eye and in his step. After thumping down the mug on a nearby table, he passed the campfire and politely refused the inviting calls of the soldiers. He had something more important to accomplish first.

***********************

Glaisne was ignored and insulted right and left, and even received a cutting blow a time or two, till he felt he could stand it no more.

He wanted very much to find the children and secretly wished to congratulate them (though he wasn't sure he could really bring himself to anything of the sort). He certainly did not care to stay among these soldiers without hearts or patience for leprechauns. But wherever he went, he was discouraged by cutting remarks, unkind glances, rough shoves and whispered gossip spilt to the point of being clearly overheard.

He finally found that there was a nice stretch of grass behind the King's tent and some other pavilion. There, it was as dark and cold as the ring of friends round the campfire was light and warm. Glaisne sat down with a thump on the dewy green and crossed his arms defiantly.

Glaisne had overheard the news of Burns' death, and it weighed upon him to the point of despair. He was just beginning to feel that even a leprechaun could do some good in the world, and it was greatly due to the kindly influences of the two children and the noble dragon. But now – now that Burns was dead – life looked as bleak and unbearable as it ever had before.

Glaisne tried to restrain himself, but he could not stop his poor heart from breaking. He wept bitter tears. Enveloping his face in his hands, he turned away from the thoughts and cares of the world and buried his soul in his grief.

But suddenly, something brought Glaisne's thoughts from his troubles.

"Glaisne! What are you so upset about?"

It was Saionsaor!

Glaisne was so shocked, for the parrot had never spoken but only squawked, that he stared at the bird in astonishment.

"Aww!" the parrot's bright eye glittered with secret pleasure, and he spoke in a squeaky, singsong voice, "Didn't know I could talk, did you?"

"Oh, go away!" said Glaisne once he had got hold of himself, then added emphatically, as his eyes began to smart afresh, "Go away and don't come back!"

"Now, now, old fella," Saionsaor fluttered from his perch to the grass before the leprechaun, "You're thinking too much about yourself. If you considered..."

"Them, out there?" Glainse said irritably, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the group of soldiers around the fire, laughing and singing to their hearts' content.

"What about Ionait and Ivar?" the parrot's dark eyes deepened a little, "Have you considered them?"

"Well, what about them?"

"What have they done for you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Has anyone in this world ever treated you as they?"

There was no answer but only a muffled grunt.

"Who has ever tried to please you as they have? Or to defend you from the cruelty you are so accustomed to receiving? Who has been as cheerful and kind around you as the children? Burns was a good friend – every much as good as Ionait and Ivar, I say – but would he want you to squander your sorrow for his departure by turning to bitterness? I think not! Look to those who are still ready to befriend you.

"What is more, Ionait and Ivar are not the only ones. Have you not seen the respect that Macoyle pays you every time you meet? You have proven to him by your fealty to Fairyland and your willingness to die for her that leprechauns are more than fairies give them credit. And the others would befriend you in a moment if it weren't for your crusty and cantankerous disposition. Why don't you make yourself a friend worth having?"

"A friend worth having!" grumped Glaisne, "As if anyone considered me their friend. Those children are kind enough, I'll admit, but not a soul would care a mite if I had been killed in battle!"

The parrot chuckled, for it saw through those words a glimmer of sweetness that Glaisne had always possessed but had hidden deep within since early in the life of the world.

"Glaisne, old fella, you're tougher than an elephant's hide, but deep down you're softer than butter, though you won't admit it!"

Glaisne was about to object, but Saionsaor stopped him.

"Ever since the dawn of time, you have been watched over by your Creator and protected from more than you know. Glaisne, leprechauns are not so evil as the witches and black dragons, and you can be grateful for that. If you go back in your memory, you know that the leprechauns were first hated for their rude and rough ways, their drinking and smoking, and their unsocial characters. That doesn't mean that you are required, as a leprechaun, to follow these bad habits. Indeed, you have not indulged yourself in these things as some others have. But because of your race, you are automatically accused of the worst. That does not make it just. But it will make you strong, if only you bear it well.

"Now, you think yourself alone, but you have never been left alone for a moment of your life. Yes, I know that you feel abandoned, but your Creator has been watching over you from the first and He will never leave your side. Be of good hope! There is much in life yet for you!

"Now, Glaisne, I want to ask you to take heed to my counsel. I'm here to help you as Granny had intended. Brighten! There is much good that you can do, and Ionait and Ivar are trying desperately to love you – love them in return! Open your heart and try to love those around you regardless of how they treat you."

"Humph!" growled Glaisne, though he took in every word, "You want me to believe all that? As if everyone was not against me in every way! "I wouldn't believe any of that stuff unless Lassar himself apologizes! Lassar, who has wronged me countless times, has not so much as apologized or tried to make up for all those times at all."

"He will in time," said Saionsaor, "Be patient."

"Alright!" said Glaisne, who doubted that Lassar ever would seek his forgiveness, "If Lassar apologizes, I will truly reform and try to be a pleasanter soul!"

At that moment, the tent behind Glaisne shook a little, and, turning, he found that someone was pulling on one side of it as though to keep balance while squeezing through the gaieties that reigned out there. Suddenly, a short man dressed in red stockings, trousers, jacket, and hat popped into Glaisne's little hiding spot. His dark eyes grew very relieved when they rested on Glaisne.

"Oh, here you are, old chum!" said the far darrig (who was, of course, Lassar) in a breathless voice, as though he had been taking great pains to find the leprechaun, "I've been looking everywhere."

"It took me a long time to find this spot, too," said Glaisne, in a tone and with a look much softer than he had used in a long time.

This surprised both sprites very much. Glaisne felt enchanted, as though he had truly become a better person by magic, and yet by his own will, too. And, strangely, it warmed his heart and a smile played at his twisted mouth. Lassar was surprised to hear the leprechaun speak so gently. He had expected the usual snappish response that Glaisne so frequently used to any who spoke to him. But this unexpected response gave Lassar courage to fulfill the quest for which he interrupted Glaisne from his quiet loneliness.

Lassar took a seat next to the leprechaun, clasped his hands round his knees, rocked back a forth, looked up to the moon, and finally took in a deep breath.

"Glaisne," he said, "I'm sure you heard about Burns. That was a terrible affair, and one that I wish I had not had to live. Well, his death lighted my mind and heart, and I see now quite plainly that all those crimes I committed, from my treachery to the torments I forced upon you, were all as wrong as can be. I have done my best – and mean to continue to do my best – to make up for those injustices. But I never sought your forgiveness. Well," Lassar drew another long breath, "Glaisne, I apologize for every cruel remark and trick I ever inflicted upon you."

"Well now, that's quite big of you," a smile really broke out across Glaisne's face and Saionsaor winked brightly at him.

"Really, it is quite terrible on my part, for I have put off this apology much further than ever I should have. Indeed, I should have apologized at once. But now that that is taken care of, I do believe I will go – grief hangs over me like a wetted garment."

Glaisne thought this too much, for the poetical reference to a sorrow they both bore refreshed the pain. The leprechaun's eyes filled once more, and Lassar, too, found it impossible not give in to tears. They both wept.

After a minute or two, they dried their eyes, took their courage in both hands, and marched out to celebrate with the others. They found that their sorrows were much lessened by this time, and their hearts were made glad at the merriment of the others.

*************************

The next morning the sun arose gloriously in colors of gold and rose. It awoke the King's men to the remembrance of the former day's happenings and of their victory.

It was then that the question arose as to where the Stranger, the Man Who had led them all to conquer the Enemy, had gone. King Selwyn gathered his men after breakfast and tried to find whether any had seen Him after their victory, but he tried in vain. The Man had disappeared, seemingly, for no one had any memory of seeing Him since after Ischyrion was thrust out of Fairyland. This was a great wonder to them all and each was firmly convinced that a miracle had occurred.

After breakfast the children were told in full how Burns had given his life for Lassar and for Fairyland. Though they might have caught a snatch or two in murmurs of Burns' heroic deeds the night before, they had not been explicitly told that Burns had died. Ionait and Ivar both loved Burns very much and found it immensely difficult to reconcile themselves to the reality of this grief.

However, they did not bury themselves in tears. They were very silent and spent that day amid the turmoil of the camp in seeking the best ways to help in everything that needed to be accomplished. They took everything that came their way with a cheerful disposition, and tried to please everyone, which was not too difficult for everyone was already pleasant and happy that day.

Now that the celebrations were over, King Selwyn needed the children's willingness to help and the cooperation of his entire kingdom to rebuild all that had been destroyed by the Enemy's hand. That very morning he executed orders to start fortifying the eastern border. The fairies rebuilt the broken walls and towers. They even retook the Tower of old that had been captured by the enemy, strengthened it, and stationed guards all along its walls and battlements.

Ionait and Ivar knew that the Splinter, which had been given them by Granny to protect, was not their own but belonged to the fairies. They brought the Box before the King one day, a few weeks after the ending of the war when the walls on the eastern border were once more strong.

"My Lord, King Selwyn," said Ivar, "we were given the privilege and the honor of guarding the Splinter, but it was not given into our keeping for us to perpetually bear. It is Ionait and my belief that Granny intended for Fairyland to benefit by it."

"And so," Ionait brought forth the Box and the Splinter within it, "We wish to present this gift to you. May the Creator guard Fairyland from every danger by this!"

The King took the Box in his hands, "This is a gift I cannot receive, but my people only. It shall be placed in the fortress, facing into the darkness of the eastern lands that the enemy might never again return."

A golden case, shaped in the likeness of the sun with a glass window, was formed for the Splinter. It was placed inside this gold box and erected on the east side of the Tower as the King had proposed. It was more beautiful and shone more brilliantly than anything that has ever been seen in this world or any other.

Ionait and Ivar were very pleased with this and with the happiness that the fairies now possessed, and helped in many ways to rebuild the Fairy Kingdom. They were also impressed and pleased with the changes they saw in Glaisne and Lassar. The two sprites were much pleasanter beings, and the children found it easier to love them as dearly as friends can love one another. What is more, Ionait and Ivar knew that Glaisne and Lassar loved them truly in return, and their friendship blossomed in those days they spent happily in Fairyland.

But, after the fortifications were prepared and the people safe from further danger from the east, the children began to think again of home. The longing in their hearts to see Ireland swelled so much that they decided to bring their trouble to the King.

"How came you into Fairyland?" asked Selwyn, after hearing their plea with pity.

"My Lord, it is a mystery even still," replied Ivar, "for we followed behind Glaisne one day after he had entered our world to retrieve his missing property."

"He bore the magic for human transportation?" asked the King, a little suspiciously.

"Oh, no!" said Ionait quickly, "He didn't do anything of the sort. We haven't come to understand it ourselves. It's really rather strange, all being said."

"Strange indeed," said the King, stroking his gray whiskers in thought, "Or, rather, miraculous. Yes, I do not doubt your word for a moment, and I am sure that Glaisne did not betray the fairies' laws. What is more, you have had a great hand in saving Fairyland in her most desperate hour. It was no accident that brought you here, my children."

"Then how did we get here, do you suppose, Lord King?" asked Ivar, guessing the answer himself.

"By the Will of the Creator," replied he, "I can see that now. If it weren't for you, I could not imagine how things may have turned out. And the only way you could have come was by a magic stronger than that of the fairies' which is used to keep you out. I believe there was a power at work mightier than any in this world."

"But my Lord, will you not send us home?" asked Ivar with longing in his voice.

"There is much to be accomplished yet here," said King Selwyn, "and I have as yet neglected to properly reward you for your valiant efforts. I have much that I can offer – name your hearts' desire, and I shall try to achieve it for you both."

Ionait and Ivar looked at one another, and King Selwyn knew his efforts to keep them longer were in vain.

"Thank you immensely for your generosity, Lord King," said Ionait earnestly, "but all our hearts desire is home."

"Then I shall see to it that you find your way, when you are ready."

There were tears in the King's eyes.

**************************

Ionait and Ivar were ready by the next day. They came before King Selwyn along with their friends. Macoyle and Damian were present, as well as Serenus and Rufstitius. Lassar was there, too, and so were Glaisne and Saionsaor, perched upon the leprechaun's shoulder.

The children bade a fond farewell to the Prince, who had been so valiant in the wars and whom they had helped to rescue from the Tower. They said goodbye with regret to Macoyle, whom each admired and looked up to as a great example. Serenus and Rufstitius were both dear to them, and it was with heavy hearts that they parted from them.

Then they stood before Glaisne and Lassar, who had become so dear to them, and their eyes brimmed over in tears.

Going down on one knee, Ionait wrapped her arms around first Glaisne and then Lassar, and Ivar did the same.

Glaisne remained slightly indifferent through this, though he did not object to the hugs. But Lassar's heart was so full of remorse for all his past wrongs against these children and the desire to know them better as good friends that he returned their embraces with equal affection and a cascade of diamonds fell bitterly down his cheeks.

"Farewell, Ionait and Ivar," said King Selwyn, "I wish that you would allow me to give you more than the magic to return to your own world, but if that is all you desire, it shall be granted. Glaisne, come forward."

The leprechaun stood before the King. Selwyn stooped, and placed into Glaisne's hands something that glittered and sparkled like gold and silver.

"Take them home," whispered the King, and the next moment the children shut their eyes for the light around them had grown to an immensity that they could hardly bear. They felt winds all around them and the same feeling of magic that they had felt when they had first entered Fairyland.

After about twelve seconds, they found that they could open their eyes with ease. What they found before them were green trees! The trees of Tomnafinnoge that they had missed for so long! The blue sky overhead was turning orange and pink along the horizon as the sun was setting. They were standing on the path that they and their grandfather had so often strolled along, and the breeze blew sweetly through the tree boughs overhead.

"We're home!" breathed Ionait, and Ivar's face said the same without words.

"Well, it has been an adventure," said Glaisne, his grouchiness returning slightly in his misery, for he did not wish to leave them.

"Good-bye, Glaisne. And thank-you," said both children, and Ionait bent to kiss his rough, pink cheek.

"Hurry back," said Glaisne, a smile spreading across his face, "We'll be waiting for you."

And with that, he vanished.

"If we can get back," whispered Ionait.

"Ionait! Ivar!" called a gentle voice. It was their grandfather!

The children raced down the path and right into their grandfather's arms.

"Oh, Daideo! What times we've had!" cried the children.

Their tongues flew so rapidly in their excitement that their grandfather could hardly understand all that was said. But his eyes sparkled and he enjoyed every moment of it.

"I had always hoped you might find the way," said Daideo with a little longing in his voice, "I loved that world so much myself. And did you get back my jus intrandi, by any chance?"

"Oh, yes, Daideo," said Ionait, producing it from her pocket.

"Oh!" Ivar halted and his face clouded, "I left behind Granny's hearthrug! I don't suppose I shall ever get it back."

"You might, Ivar. We may still return," Ionait was looking with glowing eyes upon the jus intrandi.

Ivar turned his gaze to the flashing golden medallion. Below their grandfather’s name, in the script of the fairies, were engraved two names: Ionait and Ivar.