Ghost Horse Hollow ... because a Fantasy should last a lifetime!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

THE HOLLY KING, a Family Holiday Tale #11

THE HOLLY KING continues for the holidays with episode #11.
We are starting Chapter V: The Cloak of Wheels ...

To review... The Coyote King has summoned
Farmer Jake MacKennon to the Dead Oak Tree ...

Chapter V: The Cloak of Wheels

“I cannot allow you to take our fourteen-year-old daughter! Jake, you know it is far too dangerous. Tormac is bound to invite her to dine at his table. The Fairy Laws of Etiquette demand that she reply favorably. Who knows what that ruthless prince will serve?” Hannah’s voice was strained with apprehension.

Panther MacKennon, tucked behind the carved railing at the top of the stairs, could easily hear her parents arguing in the kitchen. She wondered what her father had in mind to protect her from the Autumn Fairy Prince. Purry Paw, Hannah’s pampered blue-point Siamese, wandered down the hall, weaving precise, little steps beneath his plump belly. The cat combed his whiskers against the girl’s extended fingertips and fixed his slightly cross-eyed stare upon her for a brief second. Purry Paw then turned his attention to the frenzied dialogue below.

“I’ll respond to the prince. Panther need say nothin‘ to him directly,” Jake reassured his wife. The chair hounds growled as the farmer explained his plans. “That way our girl won’t be in danger of breakin‘ any fairy codes. She’ll never directly refuse Tormac’s offer of hospitality. I’m takin‘ Aaron Ray, White Hand, the two hounds Bugle and Belle. The other six dogs I’ll leave with you for protection.” Jake felt that Snowy, Cave, Sage, Mountain, Moonwolf, and Guardian could handle any intruders. The homesteaders kept a pair of watch dogs for each side of their wraparound porch. If Bugle and Belle attended the adventurers, only the eastern doorway would be left unguarded. Hannah MacKennon’s fears, nonetheless, were increasing with each passing second.

“Aaron’s two hounds cannot take on the whole coyote pack! Besides, King Vixus has allowed his followers to mingle with larger and meaner wild dogs, even trained pit fighters. Old Spit was well aware of the dangers surrounding the Dead Oak Tree when he delivered his master’s orders. What if Tormac orders the pack to charge? Have you forgotten that the prince is one of the finest swordsmen in all the Fairylands? Jake, this is madness!”

The Dead Oak Tree north of Ghost Horse Hollow
Hannah’s chair ponies were neighing loudly in the background. Panther and the Siamese cat crept down a few more risers toward the rooster. Black Bottom paused for a long moment to admire himself in the full-length, gilded mirror alongside the stairwell.

“Isn’t this exciting?” he clucked.

“Shh! Here. Sit by us, and above all, don’t crow! Where have you been?” Panther whispered fiercely as the chicken squatted down on his long, yellow legs.

“My innocent and unknowing child, there are times when even a Captain of Crow must retreat. I thought it best to hide under the dinner table.”

“I thought I heard you sneaking into the cookie jar, like last time.” Panther smothered a laugh with her hand. She was remembering how Black Bottom had made himself sick by eating too many peanut butter bars while hiding in Lady Hannah’s porcelain jar.

“The container was full this evening,” the bird retorted. “Besides, the truffles were sticky.”

“Once and for all, Panther must go with me!” Jake MacKennon’s voice traveled up the stairs. His wooden hounds were barking fiercely. “She’s the only member of this family that can translate Ancient Fairy Scroll, which the prince is sure to use. If’n I miss Tormac’s instructions to the coyotes, we may not be able to defend this farm. I must know what he’s up to. Hannah Rose, I need your support on this one!”

There was a very long pause. Even the magic chairs were silent. Panther’s future was being tossed into the air, like a ball. Breathlessly, the girl waited to see where it would land. The young apprentice to the Starlight Fairy Queen could clearly detect the sound of her mother’s fingertips rapidly tapping on the rim of a crystal goblet.

Hannah MacKennon's Wood Cook Stove in the Farmstead Kitchen

“Promise me that you will not permit her to dine or to drink from Tormac’s serving stump. There may be Dwindle-Down Dust on everything. I won’t have our daughter returning home six inches tall, even if I do know how to make the antidote! Sprinkle-Up Spray is so difficult to concoct this time of year, for the Sun rides low at the noon hour.” Hannah spoke in a flat, steady voice. Panther sensed that her mother was pacing beside the dinner table and that the wide hem of Lady MacKennon’s patchwork dress was dragging on the pine floorboards.

“Hannah, you have my word. I’ll defend our little girl with my life!” Jake swore.

“That is precisely what I am afraid of!” came the muffled reply.

Husband and wife were now speaking so quietly that the listeners on the staircase had to strain to make out their words. Panther and her two companions slid soundlessly down the broad banister, hopped over the bottom step, and peered around the kitchen corner. Black Bottom poked his beak between the Siamese cat’s ears, and the girl leaned over the rooster’s comb.

There stood Hannah and Jake in each other’s arms. Lady MacKennon was weeping silent, raindrop tears. Her normally steady hands were trembling. She knew that her husband’s decision was the right one. Her own apprenticeship in the woods had not touched upon the old fairy tongue; otherwise, Hannah MacKennon would have readily volunteered to go in her daughter’s place.

“Panther,” Jake asked suddenly, “how long have you been listenin‘ there?”

“Long enough to know that Tormac is more dangerous than a rattlesnake with its tail caught in a bale of hay,” the girl responded candidly. “He’ll strike at everything he can.”

MacKennon grinned, in spite of the gravity of the situation. Panther had summed up her evening’s opponent perfectly.

A Ghost Horse in the Cherokee Mountains
“Jake, I have a cloak that was given to me by the Fairy Queen, Lady Titrimia.” Hannah’s voice brightened with hope. “It was made for protecting a human child. I have never used it. Panther can wear it tonight. She will at least be safe from any of Tormac’s treachery, so long as she does not remove the cloak willingly. It must be tied with a special knot.”

“Quickly then,” Jake agreed. “The moon has crossed the First Hill of Dendoran. We can’t be late for Tormac’s meetin‘ at the Dead Oak Tree. I’d best go saddle up the horses.”

From the background of the tin sink and the wood cook stove, Eli MacKennon stepped forward. The teenager’s hands were covered with dish soap, and he was carrying a drippy wash cloth. He called to Jake just as the farmer reached the front door.

“Uncle, what about me?” Panther’s cousin eagerly asked. “I’m the best trail rider on the farm, and I’ve been practicing with your sword every evenin‘ for a whole six months.”

“No, son,” Jake said forcefully. “That weapon takes quite a while to master. I’ll be takin’ it myself, in case Tormac gives us any trouble. Eli, I need you and Black Bottom to guard the home front. I’ll not leave the ladies alone. I want you to keep watch from the loft above the hay barn. That’s the highest lookout in these parts. The coyotes and wild dogs will come from the northwest should their king order an attack. Take your best bow and your throwin‘ stars. And, Eli,” the farmer said, hesitating to drive his point home, “don’t miss!”

“Yes, sir!” The nineteen-year-old spun around and tossed his washcloth into a tub of suds. It landed with a noisy plop, splashing Pelbert the Crow. The irate bird danced about on the rim of the wash basin and cawed repeatedly. Eli was so caught up in the moment that he almost jumped out the kitchen window feet-first. Gracie Farrow snatched at the young man’s elbow and guided him to the back door, past the well-stocked pantry full of Hannah’s fairy helpers. The Pickled-Egg Fairy looked up from tasting a jar of cherry preserves and wished Eli good luck. Several other sprites turned somersaults in midair and blew kisses at the handsome boy.

Miss Alma Barder intently hoped that the two teenagers would exchange a kiss, but Cousin Eli tore past Gracie and ran lickety-split to the bunkhouse to prepare for his assignment. White Hand alone was a better shot with a bow than Jake’s nephew, who exercised constantly with his extensive collection of handcrafted weapons.

It was fortunate for Eli that Aaron Ray was such a skilled metalworker. Aaron’s creative and accurate designs satisfied the agile youth’s appetite for knives, daggers, boomerangs, and swords. Steel was hard to come by in the Fairylands. Aaron produced oddly shaped, but well- balanced tools for self-defense. He used only scraps of discarded metal from an extensive junkyard north of Ghost Horse Hollow.

Nut and Bolt, the homestead’s squirrel mechanics, had discovered the machinery and automobile graveyard.  Eli helped the squirrels transport broken bits of metal back to Aaron’s forge. It was a risky undertaking, since the salvage yard was owned and operated by two watchful giants. The squirrels whisked in and out without being noticed, but Eli was in considerable danger while sneaking around the Jiggly Giant JUNK . The nineteen-year-old also bravely served as the metalworker’s test partner. Eli had somehow survived each weapon’s test with a grin and a shrug, though he had nearly lost a few body parts during the experiments.

The woodlands are full of squirrels. Nut and Bolt are husband and wife.
“My post, General?” Black Bottom inquired with dignity.

“Rooster, I need you on the weathervane. Crow three times to alert the critters and the ladies of anything unusual ’bout the farm.” Jake reached to embrace Hannah one last time as Black Bottom strutted out the front door to his worthy station. MacKennon then knelt to consult with Panther.

“Which ride?” Jake asked his daughter after they had exchanged a knowing look.

“Elestial,” she murmured.

Jake nodded in agreement. Elestial’s Opal Moon was a sweet, even-tempered, intelligent mare. She would maintain her calm on this uncertain night and would not spook on the high, mountain trails, even with a coyote on her heels. Neither Jake nor Panther could predict the future. They were simply preparing, as best they could, for what lay ahead.

Hope you are enjoying our magical holiday ride
with the MacKennon homesteaders of Ghost Horse Hollow!
Next intallment will introduce readers to a very magical cloak!

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