The Ballyman Waits

The joys of Summerend were fast approaching, but the elves of Mora were cold at heart, for Doctor Bearing of the Kildareens had come to do his tests on the Ballykin, and no doubt young Wayward would end up on the Isle of the Notorious, like so many of the kin before him. But the longer the Doctor and his accomplices stayed on Mora, the more they became changed at heart, until soon it seemed almost as thought they were at one with the people of Isles and Sound.

What had brought about their transformation? Was it the spell Strange Moran had cast upon the chapel wall? Or was some far deeper magic at work, coming in with the eastern wind from over the horizon, from the disappearing islands of the Come and Go, or even from the Island of Dreams, that could never be seen at all?


Henry, Strange and Wayward, woodwigs to their final day, were sitting at the bar of the Bell’s Last, looking out the window at the autumn rain. It came in slantwise across the Bay of Mora, turning the water’s surface to grey, and ghosting out the few small houses on the other side. The three of them were warm from the fire, and the words that had been spoken between them were good and true; but nonetheless there was a chill in their hearts, one which could not be dispelled. For humans were coming, to take Wayward away.

‘Looks like we’ll have more rain,’ said Strange.

‘And more to follow after that,’ replied Henry.

‘And then the possibility of some sun, which would make a nice change,’ said Strange.

‘Eee, but thun’s a main god fire in placies owt,’ said Wayward.

The two men paused, nodded slowly in agreement with the boy, before draining their tiny spirit glasses and placing them carefully upon the bar. The wood of it was ancient, polished smooth over the centuries by similar gestures. There had been a place of drinking here for nineteen hundred years, and a spirit still for almost as long. They’d allowed themselves a glass or two of the good stuff, well before sundown, on account of the bad news they had received. It was doing little to lift the feeling of sorrow closing in, along with the coming winter.

Henry, Strange and Wayward were wood elves, and had features typical of that race: thick dreadlocked hair, narrow slanted eyes, and long noses that drooped down almost below the upper lip. But that was where the similarity ended.

Henry was large for an elf, almost five feet, and he was weighty about the bottom and had smallish ears and a scraggly black beard. Some people said that his mother may have been visited by a raftie three seasons before he was born, but they’d not have said it to his face.

Strange was just the opposite: a little wiry fellow of four feet. His family were purebloods, of an ancient wood elf line, the sort that couldn’t cover their whole ears with their hands, and whose hair grew green without the addition of any dye, because of all the moss in it.

Wayward was different again, a gangly stooping lad of four foot six inches, with yellow hair and fine crooked teeth of the same colour. He was a Ballykin, a child of dreams. Even at the best of times, he could be hard to understand, but when he had been dreaming well, what he said was so very difficult and wise that it had to be written down in a special book, so that one day, when the Restoration came, the high folk would be able to interpret it correctly.

On this particular occasion, however, his statement was not one for the ages, but a simple observation about the comforts of a fire in cold weather. ‘Fire as sunnis in the eyen,’ he finished.

‘Yes, the fire,’ said Strange. ‘It is like our own little sun, that is most true. But speaking of that and then another thing, do you think the Kildareens will come over in the rain, Henry? Maybe they won’t be bothered to come until the sun is out. They are partial to the sun, I hear.’

‘Yes … it’s a sure thing they are,’ said Henry, uncertain. Strange Moran was the best distiller on Mora, and a powerful chanter too, so it wouldn’t pay to show too much disagreement with what the little fellow said. But the truth was, the letter from Jurally had been quite specific. A human from one of the Kildareen cities, a university man, was coming to see Wayward, and do some more tests on him, like they’d done when he was younger.

Of course, the letter had the Count’s seal on it, and was made to look very official. Henry had seen it many times before. When the Kildareen wizards came to do their tests on one of the Ballykin, it often ended up that the blessed child was taken away, and nobody really knew where, or why.

‘So maybe they won’t come for a while,’ Strange went on hopefully. ‘We can see out Yearsend with the boy around, at least.’

‘Yes, it’s a true thing you say,’ said Henry. ‘Only, the letter did say they would certainly be here by Saturday, which is tomorrow. But even so, it is likely that I am in the wrong here.’

‘I’ll not hear of it,’ said Strange at once. ‘Leaving aside the business of the weather, it is I who am deluded in this matter.’

‘Not at all,’ said Henry. ‘Despite the evidence of the letter, it is clear that I am utterly wrong on this subject.’

They could have gone on like that for quite some time, had not Wayward chimed in with: ‘And ‘tis ee as goodies milks fro bullsy comins!’ and begun hopping up and down on one leg.

‘Do you think that’s one for the book?’ asked Strange.

‘No, friend,’ said Henry. ‘He just needs to visit the toilet.’ He took his nephew through the cluttered kitchen and down the back stairs to the outhouse, hushing and shooshing him, and promising him a piece of liquorice if he behaved.

Strange sat for a moment and considered having another glass of the spirit. He decided against it, settling instead for an inspection of its fine gold colour. He was holding the bottle up to the light when in through the door walked Sally Reidy, shaking the water from her hair.

This young girl was a pureblood like Strange, purple-eyed and narrow-faced, with her red hair in bunches much adorned with brightly-coloured rags. She came by the hotel at the same time every afternoon, largely for the purpose of seeing her man Strange, and in particular, to look at his ears, a thing which sometimes made her giggle and fall about, because they were so fine.

This time, she paid his ears no heed, for she was in a serious frame of mind.

‘Down with that bottle,’ she demanded. ‘There’s three long-legs in the bay! You know anything about them?’

Strange peered out the window. Indeed, there were three figures in a rowboat pressing hard towards the little wooden jetty out the front of the hotel. By the size of them, it was sure they were human.

‘My last word!’ he said. ‘Here already? They’ve taken no time at all, and even less than that.’

He turned to find Henry and Wayward returning from outside.

‘Hey, but they are here already, Henry. The ‘reens are pulling toward the house, not three minutes away. Hide the lad, take him out to the woods, or let me spell him invisible. I’ll make up a story to explain it away.’

Henry Mighty shook his head. He had already thought this through. There was no point in hiding. Most of the humans were ordinary folk, with no more magic than a potato; but their leaders were wizards, and they had the magic sight. If a person had any incantation about them at all, the wizards could track them down. Poor Wayward would be an easy target for their detection, and no magic could be used to hide him either, or else the elves could easily end up on the Isle of the Notorious, or swinging from the justice tree on Jurally Common.

‘Strange, you may be right, but the ‘reens may be too clever for us,’ said Henry. ‘All we can do is hope that Wayward has seen nothing in his dreams to trouble them, and they will let him go again. Sometimes, that is the way it goes. He is a good boy, harmless as the rain, and has been graced by the Goddess. So we must hope that is the way it will go this time, too.’

‘I think you are right in this matter, as in all others,’ said Strange at once, clasping his hands in front of him. ‘I should have stayed silent. That would have been the prudent course.’

‘No,’ said Henry. ‘You spoke out of love, and the world knows your heart is good.’

The two shared a brief embrace while the girl Sally whistled a tune of friendship, and then, they turned their attention to the tall cloaked figure that was coming to change their lives, as he climbed unsteadily out of the rowboat, using his long iron staff to balance himself.


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