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The Contract: a story.

The Contract.

Leezie was a good strong girl and would have had no trouble getting a decent hard-working sailor for a husband, but she hadn’t felt the need for one and besides, she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to burden themselves with the bringing up of a string of brawling brats. Bah! she thought to herself. Some girls will sell their freedom for a silk scarf and a whiff of patchouli.

Her mother had left her the family farm with its little stone cottage and mossy old well, it’s poultry runs, wort yards, bee-hives, pigsty and cow barn and the broad sunny nettle field. She made herb teas and flower wines and brewed a kind of herbal mead in her big airy kitchen, sold soap, eggs, cheese and butter once a week at the market and flowers, herbs and fruit and veg in the town, and in the evenings she spun the nettle fibres into stout thread for rope and sailcloth.

She didn’t get lonely, even in the long summer evenings when other farm families round about sat chatting and making music far into the night, because all the while she talked in her head and sometimes out loud to the animals. She chatted with the cats, discussed the finer points of dogma with the dogs, and chided the mice and sparrows when they stole from the hens in the mornings. She communed with the cows, talked with the plants and fairies, remonstrated with foxes and hawks and complimented the rabbits on the beauty of their whiskers. She told the bees everything, hiding nothing from them and she chortled and gossiped with the poultry and wild birds without distinction. No, she was never lonely.

She was not rich but it was a good fertile farm and she did quite well enough most of the time, so she was quite content, or would have been, had it not been for the rats. The two cats, Midnight the jet black and Twilight the smoky grey, kept the mouse population stabilised at a low level. Thomas the terrier did a fair job with the rats, presenting her with a sleek dead specimen once or twice a week, which kept the remaining few quiet at least for a while, but then they’d come back just as bad as ever. The mice were all right – they left surfaces clean enough, and it was only when they nested in the furniture that they really became a nuisance. But the rats were filthy beasts, and she hated them.

The cottage was old and made of natural stone laid dry with the gaps plugged with mud and moss which the rats could easily scrape away, so no sooner did she plug up one hole than two or three others would appear. It didn’t matter how spotlessly clean everything was before she went to bed, when she woke up she was sure to find some disgusting mess made by rats. Even if they couldn’t break into the cupboards and chests, you could see where they’d been trying to by their teeth marks in the wood. Even if you could see no marks, you could smell the nasty, ratty smell when you came downstairs. It made her ashamed and embarrassed about asking people in.

She’d tried poison, but it was a nasty business and they were always only gone for a week or two and the new ones were always worse than the old ones, because they hadn’t yet given up trying to break into the flour and would start in with great enthusiasm, leaving deeper grooves than ever in the wood and more of their filth all around where they’d been working.

And she’d tried traps, which were more effective than the terrier, culling all the stupid rats in no time, so that only the smart ones survived to breed, which of course they did prodigiously within a very few weeks. The resulting smart rats psyched her into forgetting to set traps and managed the terrier as a kind of tame predator, throwing him his occasional prey somewhat condescendingly as time went by, pruning their genome for optimal rat effectiveness and happiness.
And they remained filthy, bickering, snitchy-snarly, smirking, grinning beasts with no morals, no manners and no aesthetic values, though the mothers are said to be loving enough, at least while the babes are young and helpless. Perhaps they spoil them. They should certainly teach them humility.

It was while thinking thoughts like this and knitting a nettle dishcloth by the fireside one cold afternoon in autumn, while perhaps five or six fine young nearly full-grown rats were scampering in the storeroom and up above in the rafters and up on top of the cupboards and behind them, that she heaved a sigh, rested her work on her knees and said to the boldest rat, who was finding fallen grains of wheat in the gaps between the flagstones, ‘Oh you are a fine rat, sir!’ Because after all, one should always be polite and look for the best in one’s fellow creatures.

Now, there were usually about five or six at a time, rarely more, since the litters would disperse fairly rapidly, driven out by their snarling parents and ill-natured stronger siblings. There’d be a big male and two or three breeding females, which were usually pregnant or hidden away with a young litter or proudly bringing out a finished brood.

This one was one of the big males, and a civilised enough rat he seemed on first sight. Indeed, his coat was glossy as silver over a soft, velvety grey-brown, his paws clean and elegant, his ears tidy, his nose sensitive and finely drawn. His lips were only slightly curled in contempt. His whiskers were clean and beautifully groomed, and his perfect little fingers were tented under his chin as if he wished to speak. He had stopped a few paces from where she sat, handy to the door in case he needed to exit in a hurry.

At her words he cupped an ear and listened a long time after she’d finished, as if waiting for the words to waft their way in a leisurely way over to him, and gave a little nod and a sweet pleased grin as he caught, held and savoured the word ‘fine’ and appreciated its meaning, mouthing it precisely to himself.

‘If only you didn’t leave such a mess,’ she continued, not even noticing that he had spoken. ‘We could all live together here in harmonious content. You’d be as delightful as squirrels or rabbits or any other small furry animal. Why do you have to foul everything and leave filth wherever you go?’

She wasn’t expecting an answer and had actually taken up her knitting again when it came – a hoarse, slightly hissy, outraged whisper, just at her right ear, as if the rat sat there and not on the floor, saying ‘We hate you!’ She looked up, surprised that the rat was still there. He was still in the same place near the door, not on her shoulder, and his expressive little eyes were hard and angry.

Now it was Leezie who listened amazed while the meaning registered, and mouthed that angry little word to herself to feel the full emotional flavour of it. ‘Hate’.

‘Well, i’ve never much liked you,’ said Leezie after a long, slow time of thinking. ‘Nobody does. You’ve got filthy habits and you stink the place up – much worse than mice. I’m sure you could be cleaner if you tried.’

‘Dainty as a kitten, if i tried,’ the rat agreed.

‘Well, why don’t you?’

‘We’ve explained over and over,’ said the rat, flexing his whiskers.

‘I’ve only ever heard squeaking and snarling and bragging from any of you.’

‘We told you,’ said the rat, ‘in… stench. In roaring, shrieking, text-rich, sensitively detailed, totally articulate, operatically eloquent, quintessentially consummate perfect miracles of stench, illustrated in nervy, fraught visual arrangements of variegated grunge pointed up with pithy pellets of filth. But then you’re illiterate, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I am as far as that goes,’ she said, with a quick involuntary shake of her head, because while the rat had been speaking, she’d let her head begin to elongate and taper towards her nose, which was fast becoming velvety and sensitive. It was the twitching of her stiff little whiskers that alerted her. She was starting to shapeshift! But yes, she’d begun to appreciate, symphonic indeed the stench, but still unintelligible to her. ‘You’ll have to tell me in words.’

‘Well, it’s not my natural medium, but I’ll try. This is a farm. Every day the animals get fed. Cow gets fed, pigs get fed, ducks get fed, chooks get fed, geese get fed, cats get fed, dog gets fed, rabbits get fed, you even plant stuff for the bees. And the plants get fed. Passers-by get fed. You get fed. You’ve even got a bird-feeder for feeding the birds. It’s rat-proof, of course. Well now who does that leave? In this whole delicately balanced farm ecology, who don’t get fed, who have to steal everything they get like low, despicable thieves, slandered and reviled wherever they go? One guess. Dead right – us!’
Well, he’d had his speak and he’d made himself clear. He smoothed his whiskers with both paws.

‘Why can’t you get your own food? You’re a wild animal.’

‘I’m a farm rat. We’re domestic. We’ve always shared with pigs, pilfered from poultry, taken the odd egg, got into the milk and feed, and raised our litters in luxury and grandeur. But now you rat-proof everything. I can’t get into the brewery any more. Even the compost bin is rat-proof. If you could you’d even rat-proof the whole cottage – i’ve seen you try. A rat can do beetles and grubs for just so long…’

Leezie sat deep in thought for a long moment, and then said, ‘All right, what are your terms?’

‘Muesli, same as you, every morning, enough for six rats, all sorts of grains and seeds, nice honey, sweet, raisins, lovely crunchy nuts, fresh milk all over it. Mmm. It’d be no trouble at all making two bowls instead of one. Then we won’t have to gnaw your cupboards and chests to let you know how hungry we are. We’d be nice as anything.’ He smiled sweetly, thinking about how good he’d feel. ‘it would keep us healthy too, and you know there’s nothing so unhygienic or likely to generate disease as a population of sick, starving small furry mammals…’

‘Muesli, that’s breakfast. What about dinner and tea?’

‘No, we can forage for that – and clean up your insect pests, grubs and snail eggs. Fallen fruit, nuts, dead things, stuff lying about rotting. Mmmm scrumptious. And you won’t begrudge us the occasional egg, or a bit of bacon rind now and then.’

‘All right then, anything else?’

‘Revile no more the rat. We’ll give you a year’s probation and if we get fair courtesy, kind words and muesli, we won’t have to roar so loud in stench.’ He stiffened his whiskers again, giving them a little shiver of finality.

Leezie was about to ask one last question, but at that point, the dog came in and the rats were gone with a rattle and a clatter. The rest of the evening was uneventful.

Over the next few days she asked everyone she knew what they thought of rats and it’s true, everyone without exception loathed the poor rat. She was quite shocked. ‘Zooks, hadn’t it suffered with us through plagues and misfortunes and been our loyal companion in times of plenty too? Hadn’t we sailed the seven seas together, bold and hearty through all the deadly dangers of the cruel sea?’ She seemed to feel his urgent little spirit still sitting on her shoulder, and to almost hear his outraged whispering as she had during their close encounter.

And meanwhile, she kept her part of the bargain and the rats got a nice bowl of warm muesli every morning for breakfast. It certainly kept them out of the larder. And they kept their word. She woke every morning to a clean, sweet-smelling kitchen, and not a trace of the rat dirt of yore.

And they lived in peace and mutual goodwill together ever after.

whatever happened to sheilah?

whatever happened to sheila?

‘daughter, what would i do without you?  you’re my only comfort now that your three brothers have left home. how cosy we’ll be with just us.’

‘well, mama, what if i marry?’

‘who would marry you? you are too skinny and ugly. besides there’s no one for you here that isn’t your cousin or nearer. even if there were there’re prettier girls in the towns. a man not smart enough to look there isn’t worth having. you stay here with me.’

‘well, johnnie ransome catches up with me sometimes when i’m going for the mail, and we walk to the post office together. he’s nice. i think how it would be to be married to him, and what our babies would look like.’

‘johnnie ransome? never. he’ll be like his dad, a lazy drunkard with no ambition and no manners. i would never consent. you don’t need a man. stay here with me… was that someone knocking?’

sheila got up from the table and crossed the room to the door. an icy wind came bustling into the cottage and swirled some snowflakes across the floor. sheila leaned out and looked right and left and then closed the door.

‘can’t see anyone,’ she said, ‘it must have been a branch hitting the window,’ and returning to the table she began to clear it, but her mother stopped her. ‘we’ll have our coffee first, then we’ll clear away.’

she was pouring it when something began to clatter at the door and it didn’t sound like a branch tossed by the wind. sheila was sent once again to open the door, but found no one there.

they were settled either side of the fire with their coffee mugs on their knees listening to the keening of the wind when they both heard the knocking again. ‘well it can’t be a branch,’ said sheila, ‘because there isn’t one that could hit the door.’ she opened it again and this time she looked not only left and right and straight ahead, but also up and then down, and she screamed.

there on the step was a tiny man not quite up to her knee.

recovering herself she remembered her manners and invited him in. another swirl of snowflakes followed him in and she shut the door quickly. her mother stared in amazement.

‘step up to the fire!’ sheila said. ‘i’ll get you a seat.’ she found the kitchen stool and a feather cushion and brought them to the fire. they looked far too big for the tiny man at first, yet when she had placed it for him he sat right down upon it and it was exactly the right size, though nobody saw anything change.

the tiny man smiled gratefully. he wore pin-striped trousers and tails and carried a tall top-hat and cane. his shoes were well-mended and polished. ‘terrible weather to be out in. kind hearts you have indeed!’

‘well, i hope so!’ said the mother, fully recovered. ‘have you had tea? we have but little but what we have we share. sheila, bring the man a plate of something.’

sheila put some fish and a piece of bread and butter and some salad on a small plate for him. it looked enormous as she handed it to him but as soon as he took it it appeared just the right size, though nothing changed.

the food cheered him, and they found they had some beer for him, and they passed the night in pleasant conversation, the two women hardly noticing that he told them nothing about himself but made them tell him everything about everyone in the district. he was clearly enjoying himself – even got up to sing a song. at last everyone was tired and sheila made him a bed by the fire. it seemed very big but when he got in it looked just right and he went straight to sleep. the women tidied the cottage and went to bed.

sheila awoke in a strange bed in a weird little room all angles and planes and the little man bringing her in a cup of tea.  he seemed very pleased. the teacup looked hopelessly tiny, but as she reached for it it became just the right size, yet didn’t seem to have changed. the tea was delicious and gave her strength. the little man showed her a beautiful green dress and a pair of green leather shoes, and told her to put them on and come downstairs.

she did so. the staircase looked like a doll’s house staircase, but as soon as she stepped onto it, it was the right size for her. the room downstairs had the same weird proportions as the room she’d slept in. the little man was playing a harp but he stopped when she came in and smiled.

‘where’s my mother?’ she asked.

‘there!’ he pointed to a mirror, and sheila was amazed to see that it was like a window looking into the world she had left and she could see her mother in it. she was staring at sheila’s bed wringing her hands and weeping. on sheila’s bed was a wooden stick.

‘oh, my poor mother!’ was sheila’s first thought. ‘now she’s got no one!’

‘she’ll be all right,’ said the little man, taking up his harp again. ‘this’ll make her famous for miles around and all the neighbours will suck up to her for some of the reflected glory.’

‘you’re a wicked, bad fairy, and you’ve carried me off. what do you want with me.’

‘well, better manners than that! you should be grateful. you never had that nice a dress before, or such good shoes.’

sadly she said, ‘they’re wasted on an ugly girl like me.’

‘you’re not ugly. johnny ransome didn’t think so.

‘oh johnny!’ for an enchanted moment she imagined him seeing her in the new dress. vanity! ‘but now i can’t have him!’ she cried.

‘your mother was right – he’s not worthy of you.’ he played a splendid crescendo of golden notes. sheila went further under his spell and became lost in the beauty of the melody, emerging when it ended to find a sumptuous breakfast laid out on a tiny table that was just her size when she sat at it. she was getting used to the strange interplay of proportions.

as she ate she glanced at the mirror again and saw her mother’s cottage full of neighbours, police, clergy and reporters, and her mother playing up to them like a starlet. sheila drank some delicious fruit juice and returned to the mirror just as the cottage faded and the road she should have been on at that time appeared instead, at the very place where johnny was accustomed to meet her.

johnny was there and yet it was pretty maggie mason who came along, just minutes after she would have, and she heard their conversation.

‘where’s sheila this morning?’ asked johnny.

‘haven’t you heard? she’s been taken by the fairies. one came and got her last night and left nought but a stock of wood. you’d better go and see her ma.’

johnny’s eyes grew wide but then he shook himself and smiled at maggie. ‘so i will – later on, but i think right now i’d rather go with you.’ he leered at maggie and she gave him her arm and off they went billing and cooing like two lovers.

‘so he didn’t want me,’ sighed sheila. ‘and you wouldn’t want me. you’re the wrong type, to say nothing of size. i want to go back to my mother.’

‘don’t take on,’ said he, but sheila began to cry and to complain and to expostulate until it took all his most strenuous harp-strumming to calm her. she finished her breakfast and washed up, putting things in cupboards as happily as she did at home. then he gave her a book to read.

how bright and detailed were the pictures, how evocative the prose. sheila was captivated, running across scented fields with golden-eared dogs, riding a fine white horse towards a moated castle, dancing among beautiful ladies and handsomer youths than she had ever seen. page after page she turned, getting more and more deeply absorbed in what she read until she could smell the flowers, hear the birdsong and the music of the fifes and harpsichords and see the beautiful faces of the characters.

once she pulled herself up just as she was identifying as one of the fairest damsels of that magical fairy kingdom being presented at court, and to chasten herself, looked at the mirror to remind herself of her own face. but the face that stared back was that of the fairest damsel she’d ever seen, and she gasped.

the fairy smiled and stroked his harp strings. she returned to the book and was soon lost in it, and lo, from among that glorious crowd of fairy dancers stepped the handsomest young man of them all, and bowed low. though he used a language she’d never heard before she found herself understanding every word. soon however the music swelled and the dance began. sheila found that she knew the steps and was soon gazing into the young prince’s eyes and never doubting that he was falling as deeply in love with her as she was with him.

and suddenly, when there she was, in the arms of this prince as truly as she’d ever been anywhere, she heard the book slammed shut with a comfortable thud behind her, just like a closing door! turning quickly, in the final fluttering of its pages she saw the last of the leprechaun’s smile, and caught the fading echoes of his rapidly disappearing harp.

but then her young prince swept her away in his arms and they danced their dance of pure pure love…

what the koala told me about the birth of the planets

yeah, he been everywhere, man, and high up in a tree he’s close enough to the stars to clamber aboard and talk to zaphod beeblebrox, or jesus or dr who and the whole star wars crew and the seven sister star girls who wouldn’t marry anyone because they were having so much such super cosmic fun.

he got in my head when i was 8 through a souvenir koala i got for xmas. he’s been my spirit guide and helper for half a century. you wouldn’t believe half the things he tells me. here’s just a sample: gaga the planet

An Koffiji/The Coffee House

An Koffiji

With a soft electrical chuckle, lightning split the cloud-face. Thunder bellowed vocables of elemental power and all the house-lights for miles around went out.

Bel considered closing early. There were no customers and none likely tonight. All the boats were in by nightfall and the men home and dry by now. She went to the window and peered out. Black nothing; but the sea was moaning as if in travail, and dumping its thunderous tonnages of ocean like the hammering of fists on the shuddering beach.  She went on lighting the candles. You never know, someone might turn up and they’d be grateful for some warmth. She built the fire and nursed it into a cheerful blaze.  How pretty the room looked, all its details dimmed and the corners full of softly swaying shadows.  You might almost imagine it was old Cornwall. In choosing decorations, she’d striven for authenticity, called it An Koffiji, The Coffee House, and had watched with pride as they’d painted the bi-lingual signs on the window and fascia boards.

She fell to scrying into the flames, and was lost in reverie when the door rattled and she got up quickly to be behind the counter when the customer appeared.  Through the door came – no, not a child, but a small man. Bel caught her breath, he seemed so small at first, but she soon convinced herself that she’d been deluded by the dipping and swooping of the shadows around him as the wind disturbed the candles. But even sitting down he did look tiny. Maybe he’s just slouching a bit, she reassured herself, and looked at him less closely.  With a bright smile, she greeted him in her best Cornish, ‘Gorthugher da, a Vester!’ and then in English, ‘Good evening, Sir!’

The little monkey face that he turned to her startled her.  It was almost obscured by hair: his overhanging eyebrows, bristling side-whiskers, large moustaches, huge beard that along with the hair of his head covered his shoulders and chest and continued on down out of sight under the table.  All of it was stiff and glistening with salt. Bel had mistaken it for a sort of duffle coat.  She decided he must be a hippy.

To her surprise, he returned her greeting in a tuneful, chirrupy Cornish, praised the nice warm fire and asked for beer and a pasty. His little eyes glittered amicably.

It wasn’t exactly the Cornish Bel knew though she understood it, and she wondered wildly where he’d got it from. One of the other forms, probably, she thought. She wasn’t really acquainted with them all. She thought of asking him, but he was so strange she felt shy. She served him his pasty and beer and gave him his bill and then went and busied herself behind the counter.  Tumultuous was the rain on the roof, though the thunder was further away.

Bel was tending the fire when the man spoke again. ‘Dha arghans!’ he called, and she heard metal hit the tabletop. She had a log gripped clumsily in her tongs and could only smile a quick ‘Meur ras!’ over her shoulder. The shadows danced wildly again, till the wind slammed the door and the stranger was gone.

The coins were large, thick, heavy and irregular. Strange was the writing on them, weird the images stamped into the metal: a large boar’s head, a ship in full sail, a wild-looking man’s profile. They almost glowed in her hand with unexpected richness and warmth, as if alive. It was warmth that flowed straight to her marrow, they were such charming coins, and she smiled, and seemed to herself to know for a moment how much they were worth. A very generous tip. . . but then she pulled herself up.  This was no time for fantasy. This hippy had paid her with play money from some game or other and given her the slip. Nevertheless, she pocketed the coins and went on clearing the table. The rain fell and the wind blew steady and strong.

She had only a short sprint home, diagonally across the road. Her mac would keep her dry enough, but it would be freezing. The fire was still blazing and she procrastinated while it burned itself to embers, soaking up its comfort till the last flicker of flame.  Soon she found herself fingering those coins and she took them out and looked at them again, arranging them on her knee and feeling their strange, compelling power. They were good, sound coins, two of very good gold and the largest one good bronze. They would be trusted by any merchant. She had visions of herself running out into the sunny street, her cap strings flying, over the cobbles to some haberdashery, or the fishmonger, to the rope-makers or glass-blowers – these coins would not be despised! She almost got up to try it, but the wind gusted and swooped in the scattering rain outside, and she remembered that anyway, it was night time, and there was no haberdasher, no fishmonger, no any of those, and she felt bemused.

And suddenly the lights came on again, electronica glowed, the television crackled back to life and blasted a frenetic advertising jingle into the room. Bel leapt up, shocked, not recognising any of it. What was this blaze of white light? this cacophony of weird music? those flashes of red and green? The rain had stopped and the wind was wiping up with light brisk swoops across the roof.

‘The power’s back on!’ She had to say it out loud before she really understood her own words. The Power?  Yes, the lights, the television, the electronic till. It was a moment before they were familiar to her again. ‘Oh, those silly coins!’ she said, also out loud, and added, ‘I bet he was on drugs!’ She looked for them. She’d lost track of them when she’d jumped up, and search as she might she could not find them, not that evening, not the next day, nor did she ever see them again though she took out all the furniture and lifted the carpet. They were not in the ashes from the fire. They had not rolled into the next room. They were gone.

And no one among her Cornish-speaking friends had ever heard of a hippy answering the description of that customer, so fluent in such strange Cornish, who might be coming off that sea at that time of a stormy night. . .

needlework

needlework
with a whoop of joy, moondragon snapped the last thread, plunged the needle with its remnant of thread into the pincushion along with the last of the pins and stood up, flinging the finished cloak into the air like a roustie throwing a fleece, so that it spread itself in the air and fell to the floor almost fully expanded, exhibiting its intricacies and subtleties to full view. she swept away the wrinkles and stood, arms akimbo, smiling widely, waiting for praise.

well, there was no denying its richness of shape and texture and colour. pieces of all shapes and sizes had been painstakingly hand-stitched together to create the thing. there was no counting them – it could only have been a few hundred, but they were arranged so seemingly haphazardly, with the colours so screaming at each other, the shapes jagged and chunky like shards of something shattered, forming such weird twists and turns, spiralling inwards like a staircase here, and juddering off into crazy visual cacophonies over there, each strenuous writhe of shape and shade vying with the others for focus and form. but could you call it beautiful?
but then, as its maker had said, aesthetics weren’t the point so much, although once you understood the functionality, the beauty of the metaphysics became apparent, and you’d look upon it with the eyes of love and see at last its adorableness.

janvas was willing enough to take her word for that. he was wiccan enough to know not to enquire too deeply into another path’s mysteries if you’re only casually interested. he kept a respectful distance and circled it slowly, his hands spread palms out before him for protection. it was a jumbled tumble of shattered patterns of glow and glitter, smooth shine and texture, and among the melee of mostly deep, jewel colours there was a lot of black, silver and gold. light flashed and sparkled from strings of diamantes, beads glinted and glimmered and mother of pearl glowed mysteriously, tiny skulls grinned and goggled and doodahs and geegaws dazzled and danced amid the glancing glitter of tiny mirrors stitched in firmly with gold threads and hair-thin silver wires. in the slow shift of light as janvas circled, symbols and signs, zodiacs strange and wild, chimeras and serpents and magical devices of all kinds seemed to appear slowly, blaze brightly for a moment and then vanish gently in the general dazzle.
seemingly haphazard, yes, but replete with a kind of keen cunning, of purposeful attention to detail, of magical savvy – supplied by the needle, at least in part, because moondragon had enchanted it and charmed it, and invoked its dreaming soul; and if the darned thing has winked a lot, is winking, will be winking, will have been winking, and wills to be winking still, in candlelight and firelight and oil lamplight and firefly light and daylight and electric light and by the light of the seeing fingers of those who’ve sewn on into the dark of night, and of the memories of blind seamsters, over so many generations that its sense of humour can scarcely be doubted, so too did moondragon’s. for it’s true, even the well-defended janvas suddenly caught himself viewing this newborn cloak through the magic needle’s eye. he shook it away with a laugh. such are the hazards of having a druid wife.

he said cautiously at last, ‘good needlework,’ and so it was, nine stitches to the inch, three good tight little stitches one on top of the other at the start and finish of every thread. every seam straight as a die. best work she’d ever done. he was still regarding it critically, a strange smile on his lips, so she waited to hear more. eagerly, gazing attentively into his face so as not to miss a single nuance of his reaction, which is why she saw the ever so slight startle that was almost a twitch although he remained expressionless, perhaps his muscular tension increased a little, and his hand slowly rose to stroke his beard. she saw him shift the focus his gaze, soften the energy of the radiance of his eyes, soft-gaze for a moment and then bow his head ever so slightly, and though she couldn’t now see them, she guessed he was in conversation with the elves who had helped her with the design.

she was not wrong. there were three, the tallest a little man about nine or ten inches high, thinnish, bearded, not yet middle-aged, wearing a tall hat and a soft dark cloak which sometimes lapped open a little to reveal much bright clothing underneath, and high boots wrinkled at the ankles and buckled over the instep. he had nodded and smiled and presented the tallish elf woman who was on his left, who wore a skirt of busy patchwork almost as vibrant and glitzy as moondragon’s and a dark cape that covered her arms to the elbows. she waved a huge needle, the size of the one moondragon had used, trailing several times her own length of thread thick as a rope at him. that was where moondragon had seen janvas smile.

the elf had danced excitedly around a two foot section of the hem of the cloak, pointing out the superlative features with the tip of her needle, the acmes and epitomes, fancies and exquisitudes, so pleased and proud it was bursting out of her in gloriously radiant smiles and giggles of glad mirth. the third was to the right, and presumably too doubled up with the excitement of it all to be included in the introductions, rolling about on his back on the cloak’s broad hem, waving feet and fists in the air, shaking and rocking and rolling about with tears of laughter streaming from his eyes. he was smaller, and so perhaps younger than the other two and the thought occurred to janvas that that elf was probably best ignored. the tallest elf’s eyes flickered briefly towards him, amused, and janvar nodded again, and even forgot himself so far as to smile back. the merest glimmer of a smile it was, but moondragon saw it and smiled too.

‘very nice,’ he said, pulling himself back to his own centre of self with an effort, because the elves’ enchantments are seductive, and anyway, he wanted to see more. ‘put it on.’
‘i will,’ said moondragon, swooping forward and snatching it up. ‘i’m going to the lugnasadh festival in the hills grove this evening. oops, i’m running late. gunna do big magic for planet earth, you know, the way we do. kiss me, my love. i must fly.’

in a single movement she landed a kiss on janvar’s lips and, flinging the cloak over her shoulders, spun off into a wild pirouette. the cloak, a-jangle with its bells and beads flew out in a full circle around her like saturn’s rings and then as she stopped, it speedily wrapped her in many tightening spirals like tentacles, and POOOF!
she vanished.
and how she flew, and how she flew, and the elves flew with her, clinging to the fringes of her cloak . . .