Elf Killers

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Elf Killers Blurb

It is the very worst time to be in the woods.

Oisin’s plan is to come with his bow to help Aedan and Doona lead a party of children into the forest to gather the maidenhair seedlings his people would take across the sea as they flee the trolls who hunt them as prey. Maybe he can be back in time for supper
Dyr's plan is an early evening head smash for the foolish Elves who think they can steal away to the sands of the endless eye sting water and build their strange float huts. They will make a glorious feast.

But on the way, Dyr's brutes stumble across Oisin's gathering party and attack, leaving Aedan mortally wounded and scattering Doona and the children to flee in terror into the dark mountain woods, only to be run down and captured by the bloodthirsty trolls.

Can Oisin find the bonfires of the trolls and rescue them before it’s too late? And what then? Will any of them live long enough to reach safety?

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Elf Killer Romance

            Dyr sat on his rock just outside the Hooter Cave, looking at the stars as he waited for Ninar-dern to respond to his summons. He was surprised to find himself nervous. He knitted his beetle-brow as he thought about this. No sow had ever made him uneasy before.
            "Dyr," said Dyr-jiny, "Here-be Ninar-dern."
            "Walky-waddle, Dyr-jiny," said Dyr with an overbearing nod as he struck his best display pose and fixed his eyes on the young sow.
            Ninar-dern got down on all fours, licked his foot and stood up to meet his gaze. "You want more big-nod put in your ear?"
            "No, just your sit-beside. Is that hum-de-dumdle?"
            "Big-head-nod, Thunder-man."
            "Good. Gobble-say. Do you rolly-eye grab-wish for Fnanar?"
            "I no-no do," she said. "Fnanar no be the brute I dream-drooled."
            "No be?" said Dyr. "You look squirm-shudder. You can be big easy-easy hum-de-dumdle. You can gobble-say, gobble-say. Fnanar no-be my son. 
Ninar-dern looked at him carefully. "I no-be Dyrney for Fnanar. He only yum-yum nods at my rear-end and my milk-bags. He likes to knee-slap-hoo-hoomp when he flabber-toomphs my ear, but it snuff-snuff like rotten beastie. He big-nods Gnydy be my Da, but I could just-as-well be a big rock." 
            "That be Fnanar, but did you ever-be rolly-eye grab-wish for him?"
            "No-no, all shaky-head, shaky-head. I dream-wished to-be Big Sow. But I head-nod tried-and tried to be his sow." This I head-nod, head-nod."
            "Did you like-be Big Sow?"
            "Not in Fnanar's camp. Fnanar's Big Sow no-be big. His brutes all-be hairjerk kick-sows."
            "Here," said Dyr, with a smooth toss of his brows, "Big Sow tall-be big-big foldy-arm head-nod."
            "I big-nod think-back, but no-be, no-be with Fnanar."
            "Then I hold-out a would-you-like, Ninar-dern."
            Ninar-dern looked up in surprise, holding her breath.
            "Would-you-like to be Big Sow here, to true-Dyrney? You will hold thunder-thump over all sows and all kids."
            "No Sow has ever-had thunder-thump," she said, dropping her chinless jaw.
            "Now-be for you," said Dyr smoothly. "Do you want?"
            "Yes," she said.

Short Excerpt

   "Hogs!" whispered Kieran. "Someone's having a roast. Boy! My stomach's growling. How on earth would anyone possibly have a roast up...here?" Suddenly he saw how it all was and wanted to vomit.
            "Who are those vile things cooking?" said Olloo, speaking out without whispering.
            "Hey!" whispered Oisin, grabbing him by the shoulders. "If we can smell their fire, you might have just gotten us killed!"
            "Please!" he said, dropping to whispers. "I'll be quiet. Please don't make us go back. I've got to find Doona."
            "Well, you have to or we die."
            "So how should we go about this?"
            "We start by being the quietest we've ever been in our lives," said Oisin as he drew them into a huddle. "I say we should follow the smell until we see the fire and then see what we have. We probably won't be able to do one single thing for the captives without all of us dying on the spot. So the question is, Olloo, what happens if you see Doona? Can you turn your back on her if I say we have to leave? Are you that tough?"

Elf Killers
Chapter 1

Aedan glanced up the tall trunks as a breeze chased through the treetops and died away amongst the echoes of the bellbirds. "Make sure that each one of the kids has a nice wet ball of sphagnum on the seedlings, if you would, Oisin," he said as he sank into the ferns to sit on his heels. He watched as each young Elf dutifully opened his vasculum in turn for Oisin's inspection.

"All that's left of the sunlight is 'way up in the treetops," said Oisin with a nod. "You reckon it's still safe to try for the blue maidenhair at the summit?"

"I was hoping for all four kinds," said Aedan, as he ran his hands through his hair. "Looks like I let the time slip away. Listen! Hear that purple-rib, yonder?"

"Sure do..."

"Well, he thinks it's a-getting dark..." he said, suddenly looking about for a muffled snap in the leaves.

"Oou-yuyf!" bellowed a troll covered with black and red ochre hand prints, as he took a sudden tramp out of the pawpaw leaves to run a spear under Aedan's collarbone and out his back.

"Run!" cried Oisin as he loosed an arrow into the troll, sending it staggering about to stumble and fall as the wide-eyed young Elves scrambled to their feet and vanished into the woods. Trolls were starting to appear everywhere. As quick as he could manage, he loosed four or five more arrows, striking one of them and scattering the others. He dropped to his knees where Aedan lay on his side in the ferns.

"Go!" grunted Aedan, blowing blood off his lips.

"Here..." said Oisin, starting to scoop him up.

"No!" coughed Aedan. "They'll get you if you even try. I'm gone. Go! Save the kids! Damn it! Do it!"

Oisin jerked up at a waft of wind by his ear in time to see a huge rock land and roll through the leaves beyond him. He was on his feet at once, wheeling 'round with his drawn bow to find two trolls about to run him through with a spear. He loosed his arrow at once, killing the one with the spear as the other one fled out of sight. "I can still carry you, Aedan!" he cried.

"Get out of here! Please!"  

Oisin was immediately underway, batting aside branches. "We'll never forget you!" he hollered as he hurtled out of the brush to take huge bounding strides down the side of a steep hogback.

The troll tramped to a halt beside Aedan and pummeled his chest with his fists. "Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot," he cried with a look of crazed triumph, slinging spittle from the black and red ochre paint on his face. "Gnydy!"

"Ay-ooo," sang out Gnydy, planting his spear with a fierce nod of his cap of mudcaked hair as he appeared on the far side of Aedan. He jabbed the point of his spear into Aedan's thigh, drawing blood. "Should-we hair-drag the grab-up-squeaker, Dyr?" he said as he licked the blood off his spear point.     

"You-want to haul-meat both-ways?" said Dyr with a beetle-browed glare, as a purple-rib took up calling nearby. "We'll-quarter him on the way-back.

"Should-we stamp-him to head-smash?"

"No-be mudful hollow-head. Let-him gurgle-bleed to cold-meat. There-go all-the Dyrny-brutes. Let's-go."

Aedan listened to the trolls tramp away through the leaves. Damn this! he thought as he squeezed shut his eyes. I loved my life... Suddenly he opened his eyes at the sound of light four footed walking in the leaves, making straight for him. "Niall!"

The deer like unicorn slowed to hesitant steps and lowered his head for a careful sniff.

"I may be out of time, but I have this minute," he said, wincing with pain at his attempt to pat Niall's muzzle. "If I can get up onto your back, we're going back to camp to show them what the Marfora Siofra did to me and to have them try to find Oisin and the children. And even if I don't make it, you'll get me there."

Though Niall understood not one word of this, he would soon know what to do, for he was a terraing pictiur, a picture catcher unicorn. Difficult as it was with all his pain, Aedan managed to clear his mind enough to picture Niall lying down in order for him to mount. At once, Niall lay down before him, patiently waiting for him to get on. Crying out from the horrible pain, Aedan heaved himself onto his knees, where he steadied himself long enough to cough blood down his front before throwing his leg across him. He had a long struggle to keep from passing out before he could manage to picture Niall rising to his feet. Niall got up at once, but it was an eternity of fighting down the pain from the jostling before Aedan could manage to picture the camp. At last they were underway.
* * *
"Prince Neron!" cried the orderly, as he slid off his Dulish unicorn and jogged to a halt. "King Faragher wants you at the council tent, right now. There may be trolls on the way."  

"Tell them I'll be there as soon as I find my other boot, Finbar," said Neron as he ducked back inside his tent. A purple-rib was starting to sing nearby as he sheathed Gearr Teigh Sios over his shoulder with a smack and leaped onto his unicorn with butterflies in his stomach.

"Oh my word!" he said at the sight of Niall, shivering and thoroughly soaked with blood, tied in front of the council tent. "Has something happened to Aedan and Oisin?" His legs went so weak that he nearly slipped from his stirrup as he dismounted. 

He quickly stepped inside the tent, and seeing others present, bowed briefly toFaragher, catching his eye.

Faragher's regal posture sagged as pity swept across his face. "I'm sorry Neron," he said with a sigh. "Aedan showed up just now with a trollish shaft run clean through him and died telling us that they were set upon by the Marfora Siofra while it was still light out..."

"Survivors. Oisin! Did anyone make it?"

"Well, we have no way of knowing. I mean, how could we? Aedan was dead before his feet ever touched the ground..."

"I'll lead the search party. I'm ready this minute..."

"And you'll lead it, but not until morning..."

"But Oisin's my son...!"

"And I'm your brother!" cried Faragher, taking off his crown to thrust himself forward in his chair. "And your King, Prince Neron. And we've got trolls on the way and a whole night ahead of us. I'm not forgetting my nephew, but there are far more lives at stake right here than out in the woods. We can't forget our duties here, but you'll be on your way with a party of your choosing at first light. Those stinkers must have seen our ships and the camp and are wise to our escape from Lobhadh. There's no way of knowing what they have in mind, but you know as well as you're a-standing there, that it's some variation of swarming in here to butcher us. Maybe Oisin will show up with the childrenduring the night, or more likely, they've found someplace to hide in the woods. They may be safer out there than here."

Neron gave an incredulous look, but quickly hid it.

"In the meantime," said Faragher, searching his face to find the expression which he had just missed, "In the meantime, I'm afraid you must stay here and help oversee the guarding of the ships and the perimeter of the camp until sunrise."

Neron turned on his heel and started out.
"Say, Neron?" said Faragher. "How much longer do you reckon it will be until the ships are fully stocked and ready to leave?"

"Less than a day. Two if I'm wrong. Count on two." And with that, he stepped out into the velvety blackness of the sea air and the calls of chorus frogs and purple-ribs.
* * *
Three of the children ran stumbling and scrambling up a steep mossy slope in the failing light.

"Wait Olloo!" cried one of them as he slipped, spilling his vasculum.
"Hurry up, Mian!" cried Olloo, pausing to heave in a breath. It's not much further! Come on, Kieran..."

"My side aches..."

"So does mine, but..."

"Hey wait Olloo! I'm still picking up my seedlings!"

"If you can't see them, leave them. We can't stop."

"I got 'em now, but I'm all out of wind..."

"Me too!" cried Kieran, catching himself on his hands in the moss. "How far is this?"

"Not far at all," cried Olloo from a good way up the slope, "but we'll never get there if we let the trolls catch us!"

At once the young Elves made a frantic lunge for the top, sprawling out across the carpet of moss when they got there to heave and wheeze as if they'd never catch their breath, listening to a purple-rib repeat its call endlessly from somewhere nearby on the ground.

"Hey," said Olloo, suddenly sitting up, "I know where this is..."

"You told us you already did..." said Mian.

"That's when I thought so. I know so, now."

They were on their feet at once, following Olloo, angling down the far slope, stirring up the leaves.

"Whoa!" cried Olloo. "Hush! There's the tree, straight across the hollow. It's a maidenhair and it's the tallest tree in all the Eternal Mountains. Oisin himself told me.

"Go on!" said Kieran. "How would he know?"

"Somebody spent a whole day and climbed it, once. They had to do it twice because the string they had the first time wasn't long enough. He said it was well overfour hundred foot. Anyway, there's a huge rotted out place where a limb broke off thetrunk, ages ago. I spent the whole night in it, last summer. There's room for all of us. Let's go!" 

They were across the hollow in short order, standing at the foot of the great maidenhair, peering up into it's deep shadows. "You're sure this is the tree, Olloo?" said Kieran as he took a stumbling backward step, peering up under his hand.

"I know jolly well it is."

"Yea? Well, it's getting awful dark. I don't see any hole in the trunk.

"Well there is," said Olloo as he began feeling around the trunk. "Here! This is it. This is the grapevine. It goes right up to it..."

"You want us to climb that?" said Mian.

"You want to be on the ground when the trolls get here? But we'd better climb it one at a time though, so we'd better hurry."

"Won't it hold?" said Kieran.

"Of course it'll hold, but with three of us a-wiggling and kicking, it might be too
hard to hang onto..."

"Yea, but if we can climb it, couldn't some troll?" said Mian.

"You still have your rope, I hope!"


"Oh Fates!"

"Calm down! It's around my shoulder."

"You scared me! Well, we climb the vine and cut it. Then we use the rope to come back down..."

"But that's my rope, Olloo. How would I get it down?"

"Do you want to be safe from the Marfora Siofra, or what? And we'd better start shinnying. It will take a while, and they're probably still after us, don't you think? Look, I'll give you a new rope as soon as I can get my hands on one, all right? Let's climb."

"You first."

"Very well," said Olloo, parking his vasculum at the foot of the great tree and starting up. In spite of the encouragements he was getting from below, it was a frightfully long way up. Over and again he had to stop to rest, and he was beginning to wonder how he ever made it up the first time. When waves of fear began coursing through him at the thought that he might not survive a fall and that this might be another tree after all, he grabbed onto the lip of the gaping hole in the trunk. He refused to holler out for fear he'd lose his grip, but at last he was inside. "Hoy! I'm up!"

Kieran was next, scuffling, grunting, kicking and banging his way up. Mian put his head and one arm through his coil of rope and started up the vine. Half way up, he stopped and croaked out: "I hear somebody off in the timber!" and began frantically shaking the vine with his kicking. After many worried shouts from above, he finished his way up the vine in short order. The moment he was inside the cavity with the others,Kieran began chopping off the vine as far below the hole as he could reach. As soon as it fell, Mian steadied the end still hanging, while Kieran and Olloo cut off a good long  piece of it to use as an anchor for the rope.

"Hush!" cried Mian. "I hear voices."

The three of them quieted immediately, straining to hear above their pounding hearts and the calls of the purple-ribs.

"There!" said Kieran.

"Hush!" shouted Olloo and Mian in whispers.

"Be still, Lilee!" echoed a voice out of the darkness far below.

"Oh Renny! We must've given them the slip by now."

"Pooh! That's what you said right before they got Doona and nearly got us."

"Oh no!" wailed Olloo.

"Hoy! Up here!" hollered Kieran.

"Kieran?" cried Renny, "Is that you? Where are you? Who's with you?"

"Is Doona all right?" called Olloo, unable to hide the unexpected sob at the end.

"No!" wailed Lilee, "The awful monsters got her! They took her alive, but they took her!"

"Where are you?" cried Renny. "What happened to Mian?"

"I'm here!" he hollered. "We're up this old maidenhair! Just follow our voices...!"

"We've got a rope!" cried Olloo. "We're letting it down as soon as we get it fast up here!" He picked up the piece of grapevine which they had just cut and held it across the hole on the inside. "See where it is? You each take an end and hold it in place while I tie the rope to the middle. When it's light tomorrow, we'll cut notches inside here to hold it so we can all go down the rope..."

Suddenly Lilee gave a shrill scream.

"Fn-dapff-nyj-yo-yoynf!" roared a troll.

"Run Lilee!" cried Renny.

"Hurry!" cried Mian, "Over here!"

"Here!" cried Kieran the moment they heard a much closer scream.

"I can't see!" wailed Olloo, fumbling frantically with the rope in the dark.

"Olloo! Kieran! Mian!" came the shouts from below.

"There!" cried Olloo as he flung the coils of rope out into the air. "Renny! Lilee! Here! No, no, no! They've chased them on by...!"

"What on Earth are you doing, Olloo?" said Kieran.

"I'm going over the side. Don't let the piece of grapevine slip..."

"That's madness, Olloo!" said Mian. "You go down and..."

"The trolls have Doona!" wailed Olloo. "I can't let them eat my sister!"

"You go chasing trolls and they'll roast you on the same spit," said Kieran.

"I have to try!" he sobbed. "She'd come after me. I know she would."

"With tears streaming down his cheeks, Kieran pushed hard against the grapevineto hold it fast as Olloo clambered over the side. "I hate this!" he growled. "Wait!" he cried. "Olloo! Wait!"

Olloo was already halfway down the trunk. "What?" he hollered.

"If you wait for us to cut notches for the ends of the vine, we'll go with you!"

"In the dark?"

"Will you wait?"

"Oh all right, but I'm not climbing back up."

Mian and Kieran worked feverishly to cut notches just inside the cavity opening, able to hold their grapevine pole in place well enough to allow them to go down the rope without a fall. Meanwhile Olloo did not enjoy his wait. It seemed to take forever, listening to the calls of the purple-ribs and the deep resonant thudding of the hatchet up the tree, echoing in the trees all about. "It's not like I can hide quietly here or anything." he said. "But one thing's certain: I'm going to kill a troll."

Presently the chopping stopped and Mian came down the rope to wait wordlessly with Olloo for Kieran to make his way down the trunk. They quietly picked up their vasculums and set out behind Olloo.

"So we're on our way to find the caves of the Marfora Siofra, right Olloo?" said Kieran, stumbling on sticks here and there.

"That's where they'd have Doona, wouldn't you think?"

"Well yea, but nobody knows just where that is..."

"Renny and Lilee went this way, didn't it sound like?"

"Yea? But just because they ran off this way to escape the trolls, doesn't mean that this is how we'd go to get to their caves..."

"Olloo," said Mian, "why don't we just wait until light and then track them?"

"Because Doona's my sister and they just might eat her by then! Besides, the Great Rock Wall, you know, all those sheer cliffs, starts in not far from here and we..."

Suddenly he collided with someone in the blackness and found himself on the ground, utterly paralyzed with terror. 

"Olloo!" cried the someone.

"Oisin!" he gasped as he rolled onto his hands and knees. "I expected you to be a troll."

"Is that how I've been acting lately...?"

"Oisin, they've got Doona. And we're on our way to get her back before they cook her. Are you coming? And they've probably got Renny and Lilee by now, too."

"You mean to tell me that you know where their cave is?" 

"No, but we're not too far from the Great Rock Wall. Isn't that where everyone says their caves have to be?"

"Yea, and nobody knows for certain because no one has gone there and lived to tell about it.Look Olloo. Doona's all you've got. I'll risk my skin to help you get her back. But mind you, I'm the eldest of us and that makes me responsible for you three. If I go with you and I think things are too dangerous, we're all coming back on my decision. You got that?"

"Indeed," said Olloo, giving his chest a proud thump which could be heard in the dark. "And you know what? Doona is the best sister ever, and if we get her back, I'll owe you forever."

"Well you lead the way then," said Oisin. "It looks like you know what you're doing."
* * *
Renny and Lilee ran on through the moonless dark, flinging aside saplings and stumbling.

"Stop Renny!" cried Lilee, gasping for breath as she staggered to a halt. "Did you hear that? There! What is that?"

"It's just some kind of big old owl that lives up in the mountains. I know it soundsawful, but it won't hurt you. Come on, we've got to keep going."

"But I don't think I can go another step."

"Oh yes you can! It wasn't that long ago that we could hear them tramping in the leaves." 

On they went. Suddenly they found themselves over the edge of a hogback in the blackness, flailing their arms, taking long plunging steps down in the skidding leaves until Lilee ran headlong into a tree and fell limp astraddle the foot of its trunk.

"Lilee!" wailed Renny, gently tugging at her arm. "Oh Lilee, please wake up...!"

A massive presence grabbed Renny's arm. "Pyrn-tey," he said with breath like smashed bird's eggs, "du-yuy...pyrn-tey," he said to Lilee, with a cruel shake of her shoulder. 
* * *
At sunrise, Neron sat astride his unicorn looking over his search party. It was a small assemblage, scarcely more than a few family members of the missing, including Oisin's older brothers, Illiam and Orry. There would have been more had every available person not been needed to guard the camp and to help with the final preparation of the ships.

The Marfora Siofra had not come during the night. Instead there had been a mysterious fire aboard one of the ships. It was even suggested by a few that it had been set by the MarforaSiofra, but no one could imagine how trolls could possibly have managed it, even with their stealth and their owl like ability to see in the dark.

Neron gave his head a shake. He needed to think about the task of rescuing Oisin and the children. It was not likely that he would have more than a day. Let Faragher sort out the fire, he thought as he gave nods to Illiam and Orry and shook his reins.

Chapter 2

The Great Rock Wall was considerably further than any of them had imagined. With no moon, there was no way to get glimpses of it through breaks in the trees, and the only way they had of knowing that they were heading toward it at all was by going up the slope. Even this was bewildering at times, for unless they were certain that they were following the main ridge of a hogback, they could easily find themselves struggling up the side of some ravine, going off at a right angle to the way they wanted to go. In spite of this they were making progress, and after a time, most of the purple-ribs they heard were far behind them, down below in the timber.

Up here, great grey owls traded baleful wails hither and yon which could have stood the hair up on any of the young Elves, were they not tramping along bravely in each other's company. There seemed to be more pines and spruce. Not only was it beginning to sigh overhead in places, but the leaf litter was taking on a spongy quietness. The better for sneaking, thought Olloo. He was growing keenly aware of the dirk at his waist, which he usually seldom noticed.

"Mian!" cried Kieran. "Would you quit stepping in front of me?"

"...in front of me? ...front of me?" came an echo.

"Hey!" shouted Oisin in a whisper. "If those echoes came from the Great Rock Wall, then there might be caves any time. Let's stay closer together. Fates forbid! No more shouting. No more speaking out. We need to start being as quiet as we can. And it may be a very long way yet. Who knows how far it is to their caves."

The company grew quiet at once as they went back to walking, with the scuffling of leaves and the snapping of sticks practically stopping altogether. A shivering owl called out nearby to be answered by another further up the slope.

"Hogs!" whispered Kieran. "Someone's having a roast. Boy! My stomach's growling. How on earth would anyone possibly have a roast up...here?" Suddenly he saw how it all was and wanted to vomit.

"Who are those vile things cooking?" said Olloo, speaking out without whispering.

"Hey!" whispered Oisin, grabbing him by the shoulders. "If we can smell their fire, you might have just gotten us killed!"

"Please!" he said, dropping to whispers. "I'll be quiet. Please don't make us go back. I've got to find Doona."

"Well, you have to or we die."

"So how should we go about this?"

"We start by being the quietest we've ever been in our lives," said Oisin as he drew them into a huddle. "I say we should follow the smell until we see the fire and then see what we have. We probably won't be able to do one single thing for the captives without all of us dying on the spot. So the question is, Olloo, what happens if you see Doona? Can you turn your back on her if I say we have to leave? Are you that tough?"

Olloo gave a sigh in the dark. "Yes I am, Oisin. I'm here to save lives. I'll not return your favor by getting you killed."

"Very well then. When we have our first peek, we need to sneak back a good long way into the woods before we ever try to discuss what to do. And don't forget, even for a moment, that trolls see like owls."

They were underway at once, pausing briefly for Oisin and again for each of the others to remove his shoes. Even with most of the ground being covered with evergreen needles instead of leaves, the stealthy going seemed to take an eternity. A shivering owl suddenly called out very close by, giving them a start. At least we're quiet enough not to bother him, thought Olloo.
Presently they saw the flickering of orange light up the bluff face which reared up beyond the trees. Only a few rods beyond that they began to make out to their utter horror one of the girls being roasted, gutted and bound, gagged with an apple and blackened, burnt hairless and dripping fat into the fire from the pole she was tied to. Doona and Lilee squatted at opposite ends of the pole, forced to keep it turning at spear point by a troll-brute who had left bleeding places all over their shoulders and arms. Eighteen more children of the original party of twenty-nine were tied to posts, leaving four unaccounted for. Tears streamed down their grimy faces as they waited in stunned silence for their own ends to come.

Oisin carefully turned Olloo, Kieran and Mian away and led them back into the woods, well beyond the fire before any of them forgot himself and gave them away. In spite of a couple of muffled sobs, they managed in heroic silence.

"We're not going to leave, are we?" whispered Olloo, the moment Oisin turned to them.

"I don't intend to without taking out that stinker back by the fire, but I don't want to spring our own death trap by doing so. Did any of you see any other trolls besides the one?"



"Nope," said Olloo, "but the way the rocks were lit up all up and down the bluffs, I'd say there must be a whole row of caves."

"Then someone's got to go see," said Oisin, "and just one of us is going to be both faster and quieter. I want the three of you to sit down right here and not say one single word amongst you while I'm gone. If I don't make it back, stay here dead silent until broad daylight and head straight back to camp. Don't you dare go back up to the cave because no one will be alive. Got that?" And with that he vanished.

He was back in surprisingly short order, struggling to catch his breath before whispering: "There are other caves all right, but there's not a brute in sight. It's all sows and kids. And that brute guarding Doona and Lilee seems to be alone and about to fall asleep. This isn't going to last. Somebody's undoubtedly going to come and eat directly. Silent is the word. Stand behind me until I've got him. Then go cut loose the kids. Remember that trolls can see into the shadows. Tell them to keep their mouths shut, hold hands and stay with us. Ready?"

They were. In short order they took up positions just beyond the light of the fire. Oisin drew his bow, and with scarcely a hesitation, loosed his arrow. The troll toppled head first into the fire. At once, Olloo, Kieran and Mian rushed to the fire to cut free Doona and Lilee.

"O cac!" whispered Oisin at the sight of a huge brute meandering out of the cave into the light. At once he let fly another arrow, quietly dropping the big fellow in his tracks. At once two sows appeared, one after the other. Oisin kept shooting, felling them, too. A half grown kid ran out with a whimper and knelt by one of the sows. Oisin quickly got him before he could make any more noise.

"Faf-ny-oyd-fy-phn?" said another brute as he stepped out and saw the others.

Oisin's last arrow went high and got the troll in the throat, sending him into a frenzy of staggering about, gurgling. Olloo rushed up behind and began stabbing with all his might. After seven stabs, the brute fell. Olloo came down on him with bug-eyed fury, plunging his dirk to its hilt in the brute's chest. By the time he'd managed to yank it out, all the Elves had been cut free.

"Are you all right?" said Oisin, still in whispers.

"I feel better at last!" whispered Olloo with a look of wild eyed triumph. 

Doona and Lilee were still squatting by the spit, staring out with wide glassy eyes as if they were still tied. Olloo hurried to Doona's side. "Doona?" he whispered. She paid no attention, as if she had not heard her name at all. When he tried to take her hand, she yanked it away and appeared as if she were looking about for somewhere to escape to. Kieran knelt by Lilee and got the same sorts of responses from her.

"We've got to go now," whispered Oisin.

Olloo took Doona firmly by the hand and ushered her after the others. Kieran tried it with Lilee only to have her try to bolt away. He sprang up and grabbed her, steering her after Olloo and Doona. Feena, the littlest survivor, also had a haunted wide-eyed stare. She grabbed Kieran by the leg and wouldn't let go. Off they went, jogging into the timber holding hands, crashing into brush and snapping sticks, sounding for the world like some behemoth centipede, but dutifully managing not to utter a sound. 

Oisin took them far away down the length of a hogback, his mind numbed from all he had been through, struggling to decide how far to go with them before stopping. We're making so much racket, even the owls have gotten quiet, he thought as he shifted his rattling quiver, but we have to get away from the caves as fast as we can, so we don't dare slow down to be quiet, until we're far enough. Soon he picked a spot where the hogback swept down to the side of a creek. Except for Doona, Lilee and Feena, everyone began talking at once.

"Oisin stood before them in the blackness with his finger to his lips. "Please, we're not really safe here," he said. "There are still a few of us unaccounted for..." He faltered as his eyes brimmed over."

"They began with the little ones..." said a voice.

"Yea," said another. "Feena only lives because she bit that first brute you shot. They thought it was hilarious and grabbed up Renny..."

"Oh no! It was Renny! Poor little girl...!" cried Oisin with a sob as wails of anguish broke out amongst the survivors. After only a moment of struggle with himself, he spoke up: "This place is dangerous. If we get through this we'll be the only Elves to visit the Marfora Siofra and live to tell it. "We must get as far away from here as we can as quickly and as quietly as we can. In order to do that, we have to bear our grief in silence."

The talking stopped at once as they began making their way along the bank of the creek, staying out of the water in order to listen for trolls. Before long they began hearing purple-ribs far below them in the timber, and soon they could make out each other's outlines as a hint of deep purple lightened the sky in the east. "I think it might be safe to rest and talk quietly," said Oisin as he turned and spoke to everyone. "I would guess that the trolls have passed by without seeing us, trying to be back by light. But we need to be alert to every single thing around us."    

"It's all right Doona," said Olloo as he sat in the leaves next to her and took her hand. "You're safe now. Won't you talk to me?"

Doona stared at him, wild-eyed and haunted, jerking free her hand just as she had done by the fire, as she once again looked about for a place to run and hide.

Oisin looked up and came over to sit beside them. "Doona's soul has flown away," he said.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"She's not talking to you because her soul is gone. It was terrified out of her and is hiding out there somewhere. That's all. Use your head and be easy with her and it will soon feel safe enough to come back to her."

"But what if it doesn't?"

"It will if you're not impatient with her and don't scare her..."

"I wouldn't do those things."

"Then you can trust that it'll soon come back to stay. Right now I just need you to keep hanging onto her and be easy with her, so that we can keep going. We might even be lucky and find asafe place to be before it gets dark again."

"Well why not just make for the camp at all speed? I'd bet we could easily make it all the way there before dark, especially since the trolls have no idea where it is."

"I wouldn't know about that, Olloo. Where do you reckon they all were last night?"

"Hunting I'd imagine," he said with a shrug. "How would anyone know...?"

"All of them?" said Oisin, shaking his head. "There were so many gone that nobody else has ever gotten away with what we just did. Think about why no one knows where their caves are. I'm guessing that they found our camp. Besides, we can't be sure that they don't know where the camp is since they ambushed us as close to it as they did. And why did they jump us before dark? They never do that. Getting ready to make a raid on the camp might be a reason."

Olloo gave a tense sigh as ravens croaked from the tops of the maidenhair trees along the stream.

"Look. Let's say I'm wrong. Let's say they haven't discovered it yet. Do we really want to be the ones to make certain that the beasts know where our people are?"

"But how would...?"

"Do you think the trolls could possibly overlook our tracks between here and there? They'll come straight for us, wherever we go. And we don't have much time, either. They'll be on us by dark, his evening. Anyway, if we head for camp, so will the trolls."

Olloo took on a look of dread. "What are you saying?" he croaked.

"I'm saying that we can't lead the Marfora Siofra straight to our camp right when Faragher plans to leave. You should have seen all of the caves. If they ring the camp there won't be very manysurvivors, particularly if they catch everyone trying to board the ships.

"So we can't go straight back as long as there's a chance that the trolls would follow us," he said, pausing to gently pat Doona's hand before looking up. "I see that, but what about us? How do we spend the night anywhere without being butchered?"

Oisin sighed, stood up and stretched. He nervously cast about at their surroundings and squatted again. "You know where Ubh Ollmhor is?"

"What, that giant pile of tumbled rocks at the foot of Mount Sliabh?"

"Yea. If we head straight there, I'm pretty sure that we can hide in a place which I remember, and we might even get there before dark if we're lucky."

"And then we can take our time and sneak back to camp when the trolls have turned theirattention somewhere else, right?"

"Well, I suppose we could..."

"What do you mean?" said Olloo with sudden alarm. "They'd wait, wouldn't they?"

At his sudden change in tone, Doona drew in a breath as if to spring to her feet. Olloo put his arm around her and talked to her in soothing tones while Oisin stared at the backs of his hands, now and again glancing warily at the foliage.

"Surely they've sent out search parties," said Olloo in as soft a voice as he could manage.

"Oh undoubtedly. And I'm sure they searched high and low. And when they couldn't find us after so long of a time... Well, think about this: how much chance would you reckon a party of children and two youths would have against the Marfora Siofra? How long would you hunt? Besides, don't you suppose our disappearance would make them fear for their lives, particularly if they found Aedan and saw how near to camp we'd been attacked?"

Olloo listened to the calls of the pewees and tanagers far up in the maidenhairs and looked at his knees. "All right," he said with a resolved nod as he straightened up, "Doona and I are all ready. Show us the way to Ubh Ollmhor."
* * *
King Faragher let go of the fold of canvas with a sigh and trudged to the far end of the marquee and sat heavily in his great chair, just in time for the sound of hooves to gather outside. Directly, Neron entered and tramped up to the throne.

"You don't have to say it. I saw. I'm very, very sorry, Neron."

"Do I have time for another quick sortie...?"

"Did you find where Aedan fell?"

 "Almost straight east, not above five furlong..."

"That's almost on us! And you didn't come back immediately and tell me?"

"I felt that there were lives at stake..."

"There sure are. I've given the order to embark in about an hour. Where did you have in mind for your sortie?"

"I can see that it doesn't matter now. We felt like we were abandoning them by turning about at the great tree. We wanted to search closer to the Great Rock Wall."

"Then you were already out of hope," said Faragher as he stood up and clapped Neron on the shoulder. "Let's set sail now, so that the rest of us don't run out of hope."

Neron nodded and looked at his feet. "Why, that doesn't give us enough time to break down the camp," he said, suddenly looking up.

"We shall just have to leave it. Besides, there are a few who've decided not to go."

"That's madness! They'll all die."

"No doubt," said Faragher, "but we can't force them..."

"Why not? They'd see that it was for their own good sooner or later and be grateful."

"No they wouldn't. They'd find a way to resent it for the rest of their lives."

Neron looked up to see the pain on Faragher's face and merely nodded. "I'll go tell Nessa and the boys and help with the boarding of the ships," he said.

"Thank you."
* * *

The black night sky had taken on a faint deep purple as Gnydy tramped up the slope. He could hear the icky-icky frogs calling from the spring up by the Hooter Cave just beyond. "Ha!" he said, pausing to toss his head from side to side. "I'll proud-show Dyr for rear-end-firsting myface in-front-of the brutes and hoo-hoo-flabber-toomphing. I'll-get the first-champ of grab-up-squeaker." On he went, very nearly to the top. "Humpf. Odd I smell-no yum-sniffs. I should. Why that-be? Maybe I-do."

Right away he saw the campfire and found that the spit had burnt in two, dropping Renny into the coals, so that all that was left were her charred bones. "Boof!" he hooted as the hair stood up on his arms. He wheeled this way and that to find two dead troll-brutes, two dead sows and one dead kid and no Elves. "Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot!" he cried, beating his chest with his fists. He ran to the edge and peered down to see Dyr and the other brutes coming. He stood up grandly on a rock to drum his chest and begin again: "Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot! Squeaker-meat burnt! Rree-gafi's head's burnt-off! Grab-up-squeakers, grab-up-squeakers, grab-up-squeakers all-gone!"  

Dyr was there in short order to shove Gnydy off his rock onto the ground and take his place. "Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot!" bellowed Dyr through his red beard full of teeth. "Gnydy!"

Gnydy looked sullen from beneath his beetle brow, down on his elbows.

"Gnydy!" roared Dyr.

"Ay-ooo..." cried Gnydy as he scrambled to his feet.    

"Ay-ooo!" howled Dyr as he sprang up and down once to plant his feet and pummel his chest. "Dyrney-brutes!"

"Ayy-ooo," cried the multitude before him down the slope as they began bobbing up and down, chanting: "Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo..."

"Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo," cried Dyr before abruptly changing to: "Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot..." as he sprang from the rock to land amongst his brutes to join their rhythmic jumping and chanting: "Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo..."

Suddenly they all stopped dead still as Dyr drummed his chest once more. "When this come-up-sun night-sinks, we-will jump-bite the grab-up-squeakers and bite and cut and bite and cut them until they-beg to-burn before we head-smash them!"

And with that there was a great stamping and roar of assent.

Chapter 3

It was now broad daylight as the Elves continued making their way along the side of the stream, listening to the bellbirds beginning their ringing calls far and wide throughout the tall dewy timber. The creek sparkled here and there from the first direct sunlight to find its way through the trees. Oisin bid everyone not to make undue noise as he led them into the cold water. They waded a short way downstream until they came to a tumbled pile of shale boulders which made up the bank on the far side. "Everybody follow me," he said before he clambered up onto the first black stones. "Just make certain that you don't string any telltale sand or mud out onto the rocks." Soon they were well away from the stream, wading through the last of the maidenhair ferns, back into deep shade.

"Why aren't we heading back to camp, Olloo?" said Kieran.

"Well, we have to make it as difficult as we can for the trolls who track us later..."

"Yea, but we're going straight south. We're not even going down the mountain anymore."

"No we aren't. Oisin's trying to get us to a safe campsite." 

"I thought we were lost or something. I should've known better. So, do you know where he's taking us?"

"Why don't you ask him?" said Olloo as he thought: Let Oisin be the one to announce that we'll never see anyone back at camp again.

"Well you've been talking to him more than I have. I just reckoned that you might know, is all."

Olloo paused to help Doona clamber over a huge fallen maidenhair. "Are you trying to get me to ask him?" 

"Would you?"

"No!" he snapped. "Oh, I'm sorry Kieran. All right? I've just got my hands full with Doona, and I think that wherever Oisin is taking us, it'll be the best we can do. Why bother him?"

"I shouldn't, I suppose. Lilee's just wearing me out, is all. One thing, though. She's quit trying to run off every time she can yank out of my grasp. How's Doona?"

"Oisin is convinced that her soul will come back sooner or later, and I'm sure he knows what he's talking about, since he's been an apprentice healer since he was a lot younger than me."

It was a very long day on no sleep, endlessly trudging uphill and down dale, across the ridges of the hogbacks running down from the mountains. The bellbirds grew quiet just before noon and stayed that way throughout the heat of the day. By the time they had begun again with their ringing calls in the growing shadows, Olloo was stumbling from exhaustion, tripping on the sticks he kept kicking up between his ankles. 

Suddenly there were shouts through the leaves from up ahead. "Ubh Ollmhor!" said Kieran. "Olloo, is that what they said?"

"I'm pretty sure."

Presently they came out of the trees to begin clambering over a maze of huge round boulders, piled every which way. Soon there was nothing to be seen of the woods at all as they climbed and scuffled around the rocks, with the summit of Mount Sliabh rising quickly into view. 

"Where's everyone going?" said Kieran. "Are we spending the night in a ditch?

"It sure looks that way," said Olloo, "and it's been looking like rain for some time."

"Look! It's a tunnel..."

"From here it looks as though we're going right into the foot of Mount Sliabh."

"At least it hasn't erupted any time during our lifetimes."

"And it probably won't for at least another night."
* * *

Dyr followed the Elf tracks to the creek where they vanished into the current. He gave a growling huff of exasperation, tramped up the bank to a big rock and clambered up on it. "Dyrney nyr-vyr-nirr-trad!" he roared as he hammered his chest with both fists. "Dyrney halt!" Again he pummeled his chest. "Dyr-jiny!" he bellowed.

Dyr-jiny, the right half of his body painted red ochre, the left half painted black, his hair caked with red mud, hurried to the rock with his talismans and ropes of beads a-dangle to plant his staff and began bobbing in time as he chanted: "Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo..."

"Ay-ooo!" cried Dyr as he leaped into the air once and planted his feet to pummel his chest once more. "Gnydy!"

Gnydy jogged up and began leaping in time, crying: "Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo..."

"Ay-ooo!" cried Dyr, leaping and drumming his chest. "Dyrney-brutes!"

Trolls came running from all directions out of the woods to leap and bob in time beside Dyr-jiny and Gnydy as they took up the chant: "Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo..."

"Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo," chanted Dyr, suddenly changing to: "Ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot..." as he sprang off the rock to land beside Dyr-jiny and Gnydy and to leap up and down the highest of all as everyone chanted: "Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo..."

Suddenly they all froze as Dyr pummeled his chest, slinging spittle. "Kid-grab-up-squeakerskatoomp-katoomp off into scurry-water here!" he cried, flinging his arm at the creek. "Dofan-ay-yr-pi! Fnad-ripf! Rre-gafi-ni-oow-fn!"

"Ay-ooo, ay-ooo, ay-ooo!" cried the three, bouncing their shaggy heads in time above the crowd.

"You and you and you go-all-round!" cried Dyr, stirring the air over his head. "Look-on no-see-side of tumble-rocks! Go-down-stream. Find-where kid-grab-up-squeakers hee-hee-sneak. Go! Dyrney will juicy-champ them later. Meet-us at the endless eye-sting-water." Suddenly he furiously pounded his chest. "Dyrney-brutes!" he bellowed. "We-now-go jump-bite the big grab-up-squeaker-nest of skin-huts and float-huts at the endless eye-sting-water! Follow me!" And with a wave of his spear, he set out in a loping run down the side of the mountain.

Gnydy stared at Dyr's back for a moment, then picked up his club and followed.  
* * *

Fynlo sat on an empty keg in the sand down the beach from the quays and watched the twelve ships row away into the red sunset and vanish over the edge of the world. Terns swooped and dove at the water for their evening fish. Bellbirds giving their final calls of the day could be plainly heard all the way from the woods over the sounds of the lapping waves. 

"How long have you been sitting here?" said Catreeney, gently putting her hand on his shoulderas she studied the horizon.

"A while."

"So, have you decided that we should've gone with them?" she said as he turned a haunted look to meet her sea green eyes. 

"No, we did right," he said with flat certainty. "It's 'way too soon to give up the younglings for lost when we don't even know that the Marfora Siofra captured them. Besides, we belong here."

"You truly believe that there's hope for them?"

"Neron could have found them if Faragher would only have given him enough time," he said as he put his arms around her. "That's what I believe."

Catreeney relaxed in his embrace and smiled. "Then," she said, "so do I."

"Fynlo surrendered his keg to her and sped away to return at once with a keg of his own to plant in the sand against hers. He bowed grandly before her, seated himself and kissed her hand. They had always savored the seaside after sunset together. The first purple-rib of the evening began singing as if it had already been doing so for hours. As the last light faded, purple-ribs were calling from the woods all up and down the beach.
Catreeney nestled her head under his chin. A shivering owl called from the timber on the far side of the camp. She thought she heard a muffled pop in the sand behind them and lifted her head just as Dyr came down furiously with his club, completely smashing Fynlo's head. She sprang to her feet with a throat shredding scream only to have Dyr grab her and clap his meaty hand over her mouth. She bit him immediately and screamed again as he yanked away his hand.

"Veyf-nafan nip snaf vi-yaph-ny!" he woofed as he smacked her with his bitten hand, knocking her senseless. "When-will you mudful hollow-heads finally grovel-crawl and big-nod-see Dyrney be your thunder-thumps? Dyrney be everything's thunder-thumps since we crawl-out-of the ground. Arrdsey-phnyr-phey-fne said-so."   

Sigurd sat bolt upright at the sound of Catreeny's screams. He gave his head a shake, threw back his covers and quietly slid his claymore out of its sheath. He held his breath, listening intently. He set down his sword for a moment and pulled on his breeches. Not certain that he was hearing his own noise or something outside, he eased his way out of his tent without bothering with his shirt or shoes. Before him stood a trollbrute, looking the other way. With one big step and a furious swing, the troll's head flew from his shoulders with a metallic ping and rolled into the side of a nearby tent.

At once, another troll stepped around the corner to see what the commotion was, just in time for Sigurd to run him through. The troll took an unexpected step back, yanking the sword clean out of his hands. Sigurd desperately grabbed for its dancing hilt in the blackness as the troll tottered and fell dead.

As he struggled to free his sword, he failed to see a third troll, who stepped up unseen and smashed both his kneecaps. The troll reared back with his club to make a killing blow only to drop it as an Elf ran him through from behind. "Sigurd?" shouted the Elf. "Is that my little brother?"

"Jamys?" came a pained grunt from under the fallen troll. "Thank the Fates!"
* * *

The tunnel into the foot of Mount Sliabh was darker than most of the children had ever experienced. None of them could make out anything at all except by bumping into each other and by groping along its clammy walls. It was not very big either. Most of the older children could easily touch the ceiling, and to make matters worse it echoed like a sewer with the sounds of their walking, rather than like some spacious cavern, making them feel very trapped and closed in indeed. They were only children after all, and even though they had bravely tramped all day long, they began at once to complain. Meanwhile, Oisin was having uneasy ruminations about trolls. They live in caves, after all, he thought, and they probably could see perfectly well in here...

"Hey," said Olloo, who was stumbling along right beside him. "Was that my eyes, or was that a flash of light? Did you see it?"

"Yea. I was hoping it wasn't just me."

"There. What is it?"

"Fire Sprites, if we're lucky. I don't think they'll hurt you. At least the ones I met once wouldn't..."

"That's not very comforting."

"Actually it is," said Oisin. "I'm not sure I would have brought us here at all unless there was a good chance that they were here to help us. I was in here on a dare years ago and met them. They were as frightened of us as we were of them."

"So they speak our language?"

"No, but they can read what you're thinking at the same time that they put their thoughts into your heart."

"I see. Like the terraing pictiur."

"Not quite. I don't think you need a special gift, as you must have with picture catcher unicorns, and they speak with words instead of pictures. And here they come..."

With a wave of gasps, the Elves froze in shocked silence as a radiantly glowinghead furtively peeped at them from beyond a bend in the tunnel and darted out of sight.Directly it peeked at them again, withdrew for a moment and then stepped lightly into plain sight, cautiously coming forth, lighting the tunnel bright as midday.

Before them stood a little woman, half as tall as they, giving off such a brilliant yellow light that they could not quite make out the features of her face, though they could plainly make out her pointed ears. "What are you?" she thought in Olloo's head.

"My word!" said Olloo. "I'm an Elf."

"Peace, Olloo," thought the Sprite as she paused to come at Olloo and Doona as if she were sniffing them.

"How do you know my name?" said Olloo, jerking back to keep from being burnt.

"By the same means which you hear my thoughts. And by the way, you've nothing to fear. I'm as cold as you are. My eldest sister has told me many times about finding an Elf in this tube years and years ago. Is this girl your sister? What became of her soul? I can't find her name or any of her thoughts at all."

"She's Doona. She is indeed my sister, and her soul was frightened clean out of her by the trolls."

"Is that why you're here, to flee the Elf Killers? I pray you've not brought them in behind you."

"That would be awful."

"But something to keep in mind. They've been known to kidnap us, and this is our home, after all..."

"What happens when the vulcan mountain shakes and spews out burning rock?"

"We don't discuss it..." she thought firmly.

"So what's your name?" said Olloo.

"Well I wasn't withholding it, but since you're still babbling your incomprehensible tongue, I can see that you don't know how to simply reach in for it," she thought. "I've always been called Alvina."

"Do you have a language?"

"Of course, but we seldom use it except to sing, and you certainly wouldn't understand it."  

"Alvina," said Oisin, who had been allowed to hear her thoughts from the start, "Would you know of a Fire Sprite by the name of Radella?"

"She's the elder sister I was thinking about for Olloo," thought Alvina.

"Then I be the very Elf she met in this tunnel..."

"Ha!" came a very different thought. "I thought so." And with that, a larger woman Sprite, who burnt with a more yellow flame tinged with pink, stepped into view. "I'm Radella... My, Oisin. I remember you being much smaller."

Oisin was surprised and quite relieved to feel her great pleasure at seeing him being planted in his mind.

"How do those things keep from burning up? said Mian

"What keeps you from freezing, Mian?" thought Alvina in Mian's head.

Mian grabbed at his ears with a start. "What happens if I touch you?"

"The same thing which happens when you touch a firefly."

"Come," thought Radella in everyone's head as she stood with her outstretched arms, filling the tunnel with a sudden flash of violet aura. "Follow us to the great pocket in a nearby tube which has water and even a fine new crop of mushrooms where you can refresh yourselves and spend the night in safety and comfort. Once you have rested we'll take you to the surface so that you'll not be trapped by the trolls."
* * *
Sigurd grimaced from time to time as he lay staring at the shadows dancing up the canvass in the candlelight while Edard, the only healer who had stayed behind, squinted and peered at his broken knees. "How many of us survived the raid, Jamys?" he said with a wince.

"How would I know?" said Jamys, pausing to lean forward and spit into a broken pitcher. "I spent the whole time keeping the curses off you long enough to get you in here and go for Edard. Just calm down. You'll know soon enough..."

"Nine men, two women and three children are laid out in a row, just outside," said Edard as he squinted at the knee he was bathing out of a pan, "along with twenty-two dead troll, stretched out alongside. But the monsters set alight three tents and made off with five men, six women and seven children. That only leaves twenty-seven of us by my reckoning..."

"Was there anyone in this whole place with enough sense to even ask if it mightn't be wise for us to flee this Fates forsaken place before dark, or at least suggest that someone stand guard?" said Sigurd, lunging up onto an elbow.

"Hey!" said Edard, shoving him flat.

"Well I sure as the Pit didn't think of it," he said with another wince as Edard repositioned his ankle. "But believe you me, if we mean to survive another night, we'd best get off the beach and find a good hiding place before sunset, tomorrow."
* * *
The Elves found it vastly easier to follow along behind Oisin with Radella and Alvina lighting the way. They followed them for a good long way further up the tunnel to a hole that forced them to crawl on their bellies and elbows until they reached another tunnel which ran parallel to the one they left behind. This they followed until it suddenly broadened into a huge room with a low ceiling, lit with a soft green glow from a field of phosphorescent mushrooms, watered by the tinkling stream which was running through the middle.

Radella turned to them with a flash of her aura. "This is where you will sleep," she thought to everyone. "Please feel free to drink the water and to eat all the mushrooms you want. Alvina and I will leave you and watch for trolls. When you're ready to leave, Oisin will think out to us and we will come. Sleep well." And with that they vanished.

"These mushrooms glow like lightning bugs," said Kieran. "Are we really going to eat them?"

"I'm not sure, but I think I'm hungry enough to do something like that," said Olloo with a shrug. "Look at Oisin champing them down. Hey Oisin! Have you done that before?"

Oisin gave a ravenous nod as he wolfed down a big one.

Olloo and Mian shared a look and got down on their knees to try the mushrooms. They offered some to Doona and were delighted to see her nibble at them. Soon all the Elves were on their knees harvesting the choicest morsels in reach.

Before long, they drifted off to sleep one by one, though Doona continued to sit and stare off into space. At last she too lay down and closed her eyes.

Doona slept a deep sleep until nearly dawn when she dreamed that a troll captured her in a tunnel and drug her to the very heart of Mount Sliabh, where he slit her open and stuffed her with huge glowing mushrooms. She woke everyone with her screams.

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