|The Appalachian Wilderness is full of mountain streams and autumn colors.|
The farmer sheathed his knife carefully and hurried up the tumbling stream bed. It was almost dark, and he found himself wishing that he were not alone. With lengthy strides, Jake moved like a buck deer traveling at top speed. He hardly tipped a creek rock, so accurate was his balance on the balls of his feet.
MacKennon headed for an enormous, crisply scented evergreen tree whose dripping branches and textured bark reminded Jake of his forest ancestry. His father, Prince Ellevar, had been a royal hemlock dryad with a passion for taking human form. The prince had fallen deeply in love with a beautiful horsewoman, Gabriella MacKennon, who bore three sons to the delighted dryad father. Gabriella proudly gave each boy her own last name to keep her connection to Prince Ellevar a secret. Jake was the second son of their magically forbidden marriage. Desperate to hide her children from the Judge Lore, Gatekeeper of the Dark Laws of Time, Gabriella had scattered her sons to three distinct territories: the Northern Lakes, the Eastern Woodlands, and the Southern Seas.
Jake had grown up with the loggers and mountain farmers of the untamed woods. He had also inherited his mother’s passion for riding and training horses. Winton MacKennon, the eldest brother, had become a master carpenter alongside the boat builders of the northern shores, and young Gabriel was rumored to be the navigator aboard a merchant vessel that sailed the southern waters. The three boys’ only communication since childhood had consisted of brief, infrequent letters. They longed to see one another again, but travel across the remote territories was risky, due to thieves and wandering rogues.
|Trees are an important element in the magical realm of Ghost Horse Hollow|
Jake MacKennon always hesitated beside this giant hemlock to listen to the wisdom of the forest and to mourn the loss of his father. The Judge Lore had sentenced Prince Ellevar to death for mingling so intimately with a human. The dryad’s tree had been burned, and the remaining stump uprooted from the ashen ground. Since that tragic day, so many fairy folk had fallen in love with wingless, human creatures—simply known as the Two-leggeds—that the Judge Lore had reluctantly altered his pronouncement. Love between a human and a magic forest dweller was still greatly discouraged, but no longer punishable by death. Prince Ellevar and Gabriella had paid a great price to advance this law, for the horsewoman had also perished, following a mysterious plunge over Triad Falls.
MacKennon held still. He quieted his heart and lungs. A redheaded woodpecker hammered at a knothole in the canopy above. A gray squirrel scolded in response. Gradually, the farmer thought he heard angry voices coming from below the rushing stream. Perhaps it was Blinkie Joe, the one-eyed opossum, snarling at Three Toe, the black bear? They were arguing about something. It sounded like a cooking pot. Jake drew his fingers through his shoulder-length, dark auburn hair and secured it with a strip of leather. The bear and the opossum would have to settle their own dispute. These two forest critters were always trying to prove which one was the better hand at making a tasty stew. Jake knew this was not the time to pacify their petty rivalry. Tormac was on the warpath, and a terrible decision had to be made.
The farmer climbed to the top of a steep, mossy bank, and rapidly made for Gravel Cart Road. Wet, crumbling leaves silenced his footfalls as he strode beneath the towering hardwood trees on either side of the winding lane. Sunbeams streaming through the hefty trunks broke the passing of his shadow, like a rhythmic painting of light and dark. Jake remembered that the woodlands had returned to their original size and density after the Time of Great Change. Large paper factories were no longer in operation. All the woodland folk were consequently flourishing—especially the fairies, who spent much of their time awakening and blessing the thriving trees. The fairies’ long period of neglect and near extinction had come to a happy end.
|The Fairies had divided into two clans: The Starlight and the Moonlight|
The magic folk delighted in the renewal of their power. They had divided into two clans: the Starlight Fairies, who specialized in protecting and nourishing living plants, and the Moonlight Fairies, who managed death and decay, necessary parts of the cycle of Nature. Lord Achelon of the Glades and Lady Titrimia were the Starlight Fairy King and Queen. They encouraged the growth of trees, vines, ferns, and flowers. Lord Thrace-rak of the Doomed and Lady Vipress were the Moonlight Fairy King and Queen. Mushrooms, moss, roots, and thorns were their charges, which explained why the Moonlight Fairies were often seen near graves and tombs.
Tolerant and shrewd, the MacKennons had made friends in both fairy clans; only lately, the Moonlight Fairies had begun mutating. They were becoming more horrid in appearance and more aggressive. Certain members of Thrace-rak’s Court were keeping to themselves in remote cemeteries and deserted farms. The Moonlight Lord had even allowed his proud ambassador, Milden-der-mog, to establish trade agreements with several unsavory characters. One such dangerous trader was reported to be General Zuye Drang. She was a ruthless warrior who ran slaves up and down the Muddy Jaygon River. Perhaps, like the Autumn Fairy Prince, the Moonlight Fairies had begun experimenting with forbidden brews? Clearly, their returning powers were too intoxicating for some of the fairies from both clans to control. The survivors in Ghost Horse Hollow had better keep their wits about them, Jake mused as he hurried along. His thoughts centered on encouraging the homesteaders to rely on their true allies, like the honest animals and the light-hearted magic folk. Sir Finnias Glowgold quickly came to mind. He was an ancient soul, full of wisdom, though a bit of a know-it-all.
With a sense of relief, the farmer reached the stretch of Gravel Cart Road which wound slowly uphill toward what had once been a large tobacco barn. Only a few bundles of the brown leaves remained hanging inside the wooden structure from rickety tiers, like shriveling, musty fingers. The remainder of Jake’s annual crop had already been removed from their drying sticks. Hundreds of these bluntly pointed stakes, some four feet in length, lay stacked in an open, dry stall awaiting next year’s harvest. MacKennon noted that the barn’s faded red paint had peeled completely away in several places, and that the door hinges squeaked with age. Inside the three-story barn, a maze of poles and rafters intersected to support its high-pitched, rusty tin roof.
|The Old Tobacco Barn in Ghost Horse Hollow|
After the Time of Great Change, with its devastating storms and polar shifts, Jake had elected to fill the barn with dried sunflowers and corn for his stock animals instead of tobacco. Food was precious, and electricity a forgotten luxury. All modern communication and transportation devices were no longer a part of daily life. The MacKennons knew that storing crops for personal use was imperative, since farmers were isolated and less mobile. Fossil fuels were a thing of the past. Humans lucky enough to survive Earth’s troubled transitions had reverted to working with horses, harnesses, and simple hand tools; consequently, the storage barn also housed several old-fashioned wagons. One flatbed hay hauler was parked in a corner, piled high with neatly split logs and bundles of kindling.
At present, the sound of two men splitting firewood could be heard coming from the far side of the barn. The surrounding hills echoed with the pounding blows of the workers’ hickory-handled axes. Powerful thumps reverberated two or three times across the nearby duck pond, while a mellow, baritone voice could be heard chanting a work cadence to ease the men’s hard labor:
|We appreciate your following the magic in Ghost Horse Hollow as our Family Adventure unfolds for the Holidays!|
Next installment introduces two new characters!