|Farmer Jake MacKennon is an expert bowman, tracker, and knife fighter. |
You will meet him in this installment of THE HOLLY KING.
Black Bottom pecked at a crumb and tilted his beak to the sky. The rooster had been eagerly awaiting the mare’s late afternoon neigh, for the dangers of dusk were at hand. Already the sun was slanting through the wire fence that surrounded his scratching yard, spattering the ground with purple, hexagonal shadows. Black Bottom paused in mid-strut to admire his home.
The chicken coop was nicely decorated with wooden nest boxes and a tin feeding trough. Fresh water trickled into a clay basin from an overflowing rain barrel. There were three windows facing east, north, and south. All were neatly trimmed with rosy, buttermilk paint from an old-fashioned recipe. Black Bottom did not wish to look westward, where the Moonlight Fairies played inside a murky graveyard. It was altogether too frightening! Besides, a window to the west would have disturbed his laying hens, and they were very particular about their nesting.
The rooster dunked his red comb into the sparkling basin and turned his head sideways to better view himself in the surface of the water. With his jade and ebony tail feathers fluttering softly behind him and his bright yellow toes extended with pride, Black Bottom was indeed a magnificent bird. The hens admired him greatly. After all, not every barnyard fowl had been accidently dusted with Sprinkle-Up Spray, while still in the lowly egg stage. The magic powder had lead to the hatching of an exceptionally large rooster with an enormous ego. To everyone’s dismay, Sprinkle-Up Spray had also blessed Black Bottom with the gift of gab. As the rooster matured, he discovered that he loved to crow and chatter; unfortunately, Black Bottom never knew when to stop talking.
All the hens were finally accounted for, even Speckled Fluffy, who was always the last of the rooster’s feathered beauties to retire for the evening. Mrs. Clack Klutz, a rather nearsighted chicken, had already stumbled in. Black Bottom heard her bonk into the nest boxes, followed by several loud squawks. With a disapproving shake of his comb, the rooster flung water droplets across the pebble-strewn yard. There were wild dogs running loose in the misty hills and lonely meadows! It was best for his hen harem to huddle safely together before sundown. Black Bottom crowed mightily and looked around for his farmer.
“Where is the Plow Man?” the rooster clucked to a nearby barn swallow.
“I just spotted him two pine ridges away down near the Blue Hole,” the swallow replied with a tuck and flutter of her wing. “He was looking for something in the creek. Intent, he was.”
“Humph! Fairy nonsense, no doubt,” Black Bottom grumbled aloud. He strode back into the chicken coup, knowing full well that the master of Ghost Horse Hollow would not be able to tend to the rooster’s needs for some time.
|The Babbling Brook Fairy in Ghost Horse Hollow looks a bit like this famous illustration. |
She loves lemon grass tea with honey and watercress snacks.
The barn swallow’s report was true. Jake MacKennon, affectionately known as the Plow Man to all the woodland folk, was searching for his wife’s missing buttons and silver thimbles alongside the Blue Hole. Here, a mountain stream gurgled into a glassy, fathomless pool. In this shady bend of the meandering waters, fairies gathered at night to sip acorn ale. The winged-ones were fond of spinning tall tales and passing gossip back and forth. The farmer bent low over the mossy shallows, deeply occupied with his task; for several sprites had used Lady MacKennon’s silver thimbles for their drinking cups and her shiny brass buttons for their serving dishes during last night’s party. It was not the first time Hannah’s sewing trinkets had gone missing.
“Looky here!” said Jake impatiently. His musical, country accent pleased the wee folk. The Plow Man appeared to be addressing a green stone, which served as an entranceway into a luxurious, miniature lily garden. Hidden behind a tumbling cascade, the garden was formed by a sudden drop in the mountain stream. A small triangular window twinkled off to one side, where clover curtains secreted a shy hostess within her watery home. MacKennon detected the sugary scent of honey and violets coming from a crystal teapot. Wedged into a nearby crevice, the pot was no larger than the tip of the man’s thumb. “You’ve got no right to borrow my wife’s best sewin‘ gear. Hannah will be needin‘ them things soon. Now hand ’em right up to me, or I’ll stir these waters with my cane,” warned the broad-backed woodsman.
There was no reply. MacKennon sighed with exasperation and swished the creek vigorously with his walnut hiking stick. The carved, hooded wizard at the top of the staff looked annoyed.
“I ain’t got time to stand ’round in this here pool. The shadows are stretchin‘! I’ve got many a goat to milk before supper,” MacKennon added hotly.
From behind the slippery entrance came a tiny tapping, followed by a light tinkling. Three silver thimbles and two brass buttons rolled outward and spun to a plop on a flat rock beside Jake’s outstretched hand.
“Thanky kindly,” he responded with a nod. “There’ll be spearmint tea and sunflower cupcakes on the back porch for the fairy folk tomorrow afternoon, as usual. Good evenin‘, Miss Babbling Brook Fairy.”
A sharp complaint was heard over the flowing waters.
“No, I’ll see to it that the white cat is safely inside the kitchen door. I know that Dillydally is a troublemaker for your kind.” Jake spat sideways and wiped a calloused hand across his square jaw. “I suppose that fat feline could just sit on a mouse, and it would surrender,” he grinned. The fairy hostess chuckled in reply. There was a hiccup, and a colorful bubble emerged from beneath her emerald doorway.
The farmer straightened up slowly, his leather riding boots still straddling the foaming waters. MacKennon was well over six feet in height and very muscular, like a trim workhorse. Jake wore buckskin britches, a tan, homespun shirt, and a fringed leather jacket that had been lovingly pieced together by his wife, Hannah Rose. A battered felt hat shaded his brow. Stepping to one side, the farmer felt a wicked breeze spill down his jacket collar and clutch at his spine. Three harsh crow caws rang through the woodland canopy as MacKennon raised his penetrating, brown eyes to the thorny bank above the Blue Hole.
“So, the great Plow Man has lost his buttons,” a thin coyote snickered, as it emerged from the underbrush. The scruffy-tailed creature howled with laughter until he snorted through his wet nose and had to cough. Losing his balance, the coyote rolled clumsily down the embankment. He shook the sandy soil out of his ears and wheezed through his broken teeth.
“What do you want, Ol‘ Spit?” Jake asked casually while reaching for the long knife at his belt. “This ain’t your territory, not ’til dark, no ways. You know the agreement. Now git.”
The animal licked his slate gray lips and whined at the sight of the keen-edged weapon. MacKennon had quite a reputation as an accurate knife thrower, a skill he had learned from his maternal grandfather. Chief Arrowhawk had been a direct descendent from a northern tribe of the First Nations. A well-respected elder, Arrowhawk had taught his grandson to hunt, fish, and fight in the ways of old. To this day, MacKennon had never lost a close tussle with an enemy, seen or unseen, especially when knives were drawn.
|Old Spit the Coyote is treacherous indeed!|
“Pardon, pardon, pardon me, O Two-legged Seed-planter. I am only carrying out my master’s orders to deliver a message.” Old Spit circled his own tail and crouched low. His body trembled slightly, but his brittle eyes never wavered.
“What message?” Jake tested the sharpness of his knife blade on the fringe of his jacket. His grandfather had taught him to keep his weapons clean and ready. “The Coyote King would do well to remember that I’ll have no dealings with him.”
“My master is well aware of your aversion to his proposals,” Old Spit replied, coughing nervously. “Nonetheless, you should meet with him tonight under the Dead Oak Tree, north of Ghost Horse Hollow. It is urgent.” The mangy-looking animal seemed quite pleased with himself. With a twisted snarl, Old Spit added a bit of alarming news: “Tormac will be there as well.”
“The Autumn Fairy Prince?” Jake’s brow wrinkled with concern. He knew the seasonal prince for the fall months of the calendar year was mischievous and even malicious at times. His twin sister, the Autumn Fairy Princess, with her flaming hair and golden slippers, was the exact opposite of her brother. Aradia was warm and generous. She was like a glorious afternoon in Indian summer, a precious, warm interval in mid-autumn when the world was azure blue and bronze. Aradia and Tormac avoided each other in the Time of Falling Leaves. Jake wondered to himself how two such different children could have come from the same parents, the King and Queen of the Starlight Fairies. Then again, all eight of their offspring were individual and unpredictable. Besides, it was true that Tormac had begun drinking Sprinkle-Up Spray mixed with some forbidden blend of elderberry wine and herbal tinctures. The now seven-foot-tall swordsman, with powerful wings and a hot temper, was not to be taken lightly.
“What’s this all about?” Jake felt it best to press Old Spit for more information.
“At midnight, when the moon clears the Third Hill of Dendoran, be there, and you will find out for yourself. I can say no more,” the coyote teased MacKennon.
Old Spit sprang away with remarkable speed, vanishing behind a close growth of sumac trees. The dark, crimson berries stained his fur as he fled through the brushwood. Again, a crow cried three times, announcing Old Spit’s hasty departure. Even the dark, solitary bird was frightened by the coyote’s message. Her black wings whacked through the branches, scattering the sour fruit to the ground. She was warning the farmer, in the wordless language known to all creatures of the wild, that danger was very near.
“Whatever this means for Ghost Horse Hollow, I must go tonight,” Jake murmured to himself. “An alliance between Tormac and the Coyote King spells certain trouble for us all.” The Plow Man shook his head. There was just one person on the farmstead that knew how to speak Tormac’s tricky fairy tongue. Too bad she was only fourteen.