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The Prince of Elphame

by PaulB 

Posted: 10 November 2006
Word Count: 4886
Summary: The story is about an 11 year-old boy who sees his brother kidnapped by a fairy queen and his adventures getting him back. The fairies are not at all like you expect them to be, nor are their enemies the Mages, a bunch of interfering accountants whose origins lie deep in ancient Babylon, where double entry book keeping was first invented.

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Book 1 of the Jack Hughes Trilogy

Chapter 1 Kidnapped
Jack Hughes, aged eleven, was spying on his brother and his girlfriend in Tower Hill Park. He spent ages watching them, hoping Alison would go home. He needed to ask Dan if mum and dad were getting divorced. Jack was sure they were because they went quiet when they saw him and yesterday his mum was crying. He could not ask them and he knew they would not tell him if he did, but he was sure Dan knew and that was why he spent all his time with Alison.
The park was almost closing as Dan and Alison headed for the gates. Jack tracked them like a Red Indian, sneaking from hedge to hedge and keeping out of sight. The park keeper was already waiting. Embarrassed, they hurried out and he locked up behind them. But once he left, they hung around kissing and cuddling, much to Jack’s disgust. He thought it was bad enough when they held hands.
Before long, Alison’s dog Penny, started pulling on her lead but it was still another five minutes before they parted, and Jack knew it was five minutes because he had timed them. Once Alison left, Dan snuck back into the park through a gap in the railings. Not wanting his brother to know he was spying on him, Jack stayed in the bushes until Dan was nearly at Tower Hill in the middle of the park.
Running as fast as he could, Jack reached the bottom of the hill as Dan got near the top. He saw an old woman coming towards Dan. She looked worried as if she had lost something and when she called out Thomas, Jack wondered if her dog had run away.
“There you are Cherie,” the old woman said.
Jack looked for the dog, but there was no dog only Dan and he wondered if the old woman was talking to his brother. Perhaps she was mad. She certainly looked mad in her old clothes and her grey hair hanging long and loose like dirty string.
“Come Thomas, beau Thomas,” she said and Jack realised she was talking to Dan.
“I have seen you with the daughter of Eve,” she told him.
“Eve?” Jack wondered if she meant Alison? But Alison’s mum was Carolyn not Eve.
“Beware the daughters of Eve.”
The old woman stretched out her hand, shimmered and in her place stood a beautiful lady with long golden hair, which caught the red and bloody sunset.
Jack did not believe what he saw.
The lady stroked Dan’s face and called him Thomas again. Then, to Jack’s horror, she kissed him on the mouth. Dan did nothing to resist and when she took her lips away he looked like he was drugged.
Thinking Dan needed help, Jack scrambled up the hill as fast as he could. When he reached them the lady turned and wagged a finger in gentle warning. “Frere Jacques, frere Jacques, not today but I’ll be back.”
Jack froze. Startled she knew his name.
“I promise you your day will come, then we will have such fun. But until then silence learn. A kiss sweet Jacques ‘til I return,” she put her hand to her lips and blew him a kiss. It hit Jack like a smack on the mouth. He touched his lips in shock.
“Girls and boys come out to play. Thomas and I must away. Fare you well and serve me true. Recherchez moi and adieu.”
With that she took Dan’s hand and they were gone. There was no flash of light or clap of thunder. They were simply gone and Jack was left painfully translating the words, ‘remember me and goodbye’.

* * *

“What time do you call this?” Said Jack’s father.
Jack did not reply, but that was ok because his father was in no mood to listen. “Your dinner’s in the oven, but don’t go moaning if it’s burnt to a crisp and don’t ask your mother to make something else. She’s sick with worry.”
Jack plodded wearily to the kitchen.
His mother greeted him. “Where have you been?”
She was making tomorrow’s packed lunches and without waiting for Jack to answer she picked up the tea towel and went to the oven, fishing out a dinner covered by a plate.
“Ouch that’s hot!” She said as she placed the plate on a placemat and juggled with the other plate covering the dinner like a lid. “Some kids come home to a sandwich and are grateful for it. I honestly don’t know why I bother for all the thanks I get.”
Jack knew his mother meant nothing. She could go on like this for hours. Surprisingly she came to the point, which meant she was worried. “I don’t suppose you have seen that brother of yours? When I phoned Alison, her dad said she came home over an hour ago.”
An hour? He could not believe it was an hour. He wracked his brains to remember what he had done since Dan disappeared.
“Are you all right love? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Is it Dan?” She felt his forehead saying. “Good heaven’s you’re burning up!” She called Jack’s father. “Ron, I think we need the doctor.”
“No, I’m fine,” Jack replied. “ I think I’ll go to bed.”
“But your TV show’s on soon!”
“I can’t be bothered Mum.”
“But you never miss it!”
It was as if his mother needed him to be all right because she was afraid of what it meant if he was not. Jack did not have the heart to tell her nothing would ever be all right again, but seeing how worried she looked he asked her to tape it. She looked relieved and Jack was glad he had made her feel better.
Jack’s dad came into the kitchen. “Are you trying to get the day off school tomorrow?” He asked suspiciously.
“Leave him Ron. Go on Jack. I’ll bring you some hot milk and an aspirin.”
Jack stripped off his clothes and got into his pyjamas without bothering to get a shower or clean his teeth. The bed looked snug and inviting. He got under the covers and pulled the duvet all the way up over his head before he felt safe. He thought about what happened and wondering why he hadn’t told his mum and dad. He was determined to say something when his mum bought the hot milk.
It seemed like ages before his mother came up. As she bent down to kiss him goodnight, Jack asked if Dan was home and immediately felt stupid. His mother shook her head. “Your father’s out looking. I’d feel happier if he was with Alison, but Alison doesn’t know where he is either. I told her he would probably be home soon and not to worry, but to be honest, this isn’t like him.”
This was Jack’s cue. He opened his mouth, but all he did was thank her for the aspirin.
She ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead. “I’m just being silly. I’ve had a lot on my mind recently.”
It was a perfect chance to ask about the divorce but divorce was the last thing he was worried about. He made one last desperate attempt to say something.
“Mum. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“No mum. I mean… I really love you.”
“I know love. Goodnight”
He was shocked. He wanted to tell her but it was like something was stopping him. He heard the words in his head, but they refused to come out of his mouth.
Much later, his father came to wish him goodnight. Jack could not face his dad, so he pretended to be asleep. Jack felt his father’s breath on his face as he bent over to kiss his forehead. His father hardly ever kissed him or Dan anymore and joked that he did not want to embarrass them or himself.
“I love you son,” said his father.
I love you too Dad, Jack thought and tears welled up in the corner of each eye.

* * *

Jack did not remember falling asleep but he knew he was asleep as soon as he saw the old woman. She spoke to him like she spoke to Dan. She stretched out her hand and changed into the beautiful lady. She touched him and a roar filled his ears. It was like the sound of cars on a busy road.
Everything went hazy and he realised it was because they were moving so fast. Tower Hill Park rushed away. Beneath them, houses and roads blurred to trees and fields. Towns and rivers dashed past in frightful motion. In all of the confusion, all Jack saw was the lady. It was as if she held him still, while the whole mad world rushed by.
They tore over a river estuary and a flock of ducks took to the sky. He screwed his eyes shut expecting to fly into them. It was a long way down and he wondered if you died when you hit the ground or before. He braced himself for the collision of flesh and feathers, but it never came. When he opened his eyes again, the birds were far in the distance. They had flown through them as if they occupied an entirely different world.
The journey ended as quick as it began. The roaring in his ears stopped. They stood on a low hill ringed by standing stones. Through the trees he caught sight of a magnificent mansion.
“Where are we?”
Her voice was like the tinkling of a thousand silver bells. “This is Elphame, your home.”
“It’s not my home. I’m not Thomas,” Jack protested. “It’s not Dan’s home either. You’re mixing him up with someone!” Tears came, leaving him angry and ashamed, but they would not stop.
She touched his tears. Her touch was as light as thistledown on a summer breeze. “Poor Thomas love, be not afraid, for you are with your pretty maid. Nevermore to wonder far, from my loving eye or heart.”
She grabbed his wrist in a vice like grip and pulled him towards the dark unfriendly trees. He tried to shake her loose, but she was strong and very determined. The woods were gloomy, full of shadows and noises, like something from a horror film. Soon he was lost in the wilderness of pine and rhododendron, whose glossy black leaves seemed to suck last of the day from the failing sky.
Jack heard things lumbering in the darkness between the trees. He could tell there was more than one. Occasionally branches snapped as if something heavy bashed into them. At other times he heard heavy panting or screeching. What ever they were, they were large and ferocious. He thought it was not a good idea to run away, even if he could.
Once or twice he thought he saw the creatures through the trees, but never clearly enough to make out what they were. He could tell they were black and massive like lions or horses, but they seemed much too big for either. All around, they hooted and screeched at each other and he wondered if they were dinosaurs.
At last the forest gave way to a broad gravel drive and Jack was relieved when the creatures stayed in the shadows of the woods. Ahead sulked a dark, forbidding mansion, half hidden in the blackness of the forest. Once more Jack thought of all those horror films he should have never watched.
As they approached the house, it became filled with light. He heard the strains of ghostly music floating on the breeze. The front door swung open inviting them in. The music was louder, the lights brighter. They walked up the steps. The lady let go of his hand. Curious he peered through the doorway into a huge empty room, lit by a massive glittering chandelier. It all happened so suddenly. He felt her push him. He stumbled over the threshold. The front door slammed shut. All hell broke loose.

* * *

Jack woke in a cold sweat and scream locked in his throat. He barely remembered the dream, only that it had something to do with Dan, but he was convinced something terrible had happened to his brother.
He looked at the clock, but it was too dark to see and he wondered if his mum and dad were still up. When he saw light under his bedroom door, he knew they were. Suddenly more than anything, he wanted to be with them. He threw back the duvet, found his slippers in the dark and went downstairs.
Jack’s parents were in the lounge and there was a young policeman and a policewoman with them. He stood in the doorway, unsure if he should go in or go back to bed. His mother got up from the settee. “Hello love, what are you doing up? It’s still very early you know.”
His mother was crying, her eyes red and swollen. His father was crying too. It scared Jack because he had never seen his father cry before. He reached out for his mother to hug him like a baby and as she did, he felt safe for the first time since waking up.
“It’s Dan, the police are looking for him,” his mother said.
His father stood up and hugged his wife and his son. He let out a moan that sounded like a great beast in pain. The sound frightened Jack. He had never seen his mother and father so miserable and there was nothing he could do. Yes there was, he could tell them about Dan.
He opened his mouth but as he did, his tongue swelled up. His chest tightened as if iron bands crushed his ribs. He tried to breath but his throat locked and he could not even swallow. He started gasping and gulping for air. He was dying and could not tell anyone. He panicked and grabbed his mum.
“Jack what’s wrong?” She asked.
Seeing his face all bloated and purple she screamed. Jack let out a hiss, like a gasp and dropped to the floor. His eyes bulged. His tongue stuck out, black and swollen as hanged man. Around him everyone moved, barking orders and running back and forth. It was as if after all the waiting, they were relieved to have something to do.
Half conscious, Jack heard the young policeman cry out, quick call the police and the policewoman replied, we are the police. I meant an ambulance, he said panicking, an ambulance. A pair of strong fingers pried his mouth open and pulled his tongue. He felt something pin it down and the policewoman said his airway was open.
Suddenly Jack could breath again. He took a big lungful of air and then another and another. His head swam, unused to oxygen, and he vomited. The policewoman held his face off the carpet. He heard the young policeman speak into his radio and say there’s a doctor on the way.
It seemed forever before the policewoman said his colour was better. She took the hard thing out of his mouth. He saw it was a small leather wallet. She winked at him and told him it was her warrant card. He heard the young policeman tell his parents that shock can take people in funny ways. The policewoman added there was nothing to worry about. Groggy, Jack sat up. He could breathe normally and began to feel better, but he knew he had lost. He would never be able to tell them. Never.
Defeated, he sat on the settee between his mother and his father. His mother held one hand and his father the other. The policewoman sat in one armchair and the young policeman in the other. They were all waiting again, but now they were waiting for the doctor they seemed almost cheerful. At least they knew this waiting would end.
The doctor arrived and checked him over, pronouncing him fit as a fiddle. He gave Jack a tablet and within minutes he started to nod off.
“Come on old man,” said his father half carrying, half walking him up the stairs.
Jack was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow and there were no more dreams. In fact, he would not have believed he had slept, if it were not for the sunshine when he opened his eyes.

Chapter 2 Happy Thoughts
Jack first thoughts were about Dan. He knew he had to tell his parents, but how? He tried to tell them last night and look what happened. He could have died. It was the beautiful lady, Jack was sure of it. She put a spell on him when she blew the kiss.
Jack stopped, feeling stupid for getting carried away. This wasn’t a fairy story. In the real world people did not put spells on you. But in the real world, people did not change from old to young or vanish into thin air taking your brother with them.
Now he was being stupid. There was probably a logical explanation for everything and even though he could not think of one, he was sure the policeman was right and it probably was just shock. This morning he would tell his parents everything. Despite his confidence, Jack could not help feeling a little nervous at the thought.
“Mum and dad, last night in the park,” he whispered. His mouth went dry, his chest tightened and he could not breath. He began gulping, opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish on a carpet. Small beads of sweat ran down his forehead. He rushed to the window gasping for air. What he saw made him forget all about choking and telling. The street outside was filled with police cars, a news van and people.
Jack went downstairs in a bit of a daze. His mother and father were with a new policewoman who was writing something down.
“Who are all those people outside?” He asked.
The adults looked up, as guilty as children.
“They’re reporters. The policewoman is helping us with a statement.” His father started to cry and Jack felt his own eyes brim over. His father hugged him and said it was all right. But Jack knew his father was lying. It would never be all right until Dan was home.
Feeling in the way, Jack wandered into the kitchen to get breakfast. It was gone ten o’clock and he realised his mum and dad must have taken the day off work and kept him home. Although usually overjoyed to be off school, all he could think about was Dan and it left him feeling miserable. He gave up trying to play computer games or read and ended up in front of the television, flicking through the channels with the remote control.
Thinking about it, Jack wasn’t surprised something happened to Dan. Things had been bad for ages. It started about two years ago when his dad could not get a job. When he did, it was more than fifty miles away and they decided to move. But they could not sell the house and his dad had to drive to work, which meant they hardly ever saw him. When Dan went to high school, he went to one in the new town where dad worked, and so Jack hardly saw him either.
Jack was two years younger than Dan and his parents were determined to move before he went to high school too, and that is what they did. They moved as soon as the summer holidays started, which meant Jack spent a miserable summer, because Dan spent all of his time with Alison and Jack didn’t know anybody else.
By September, Jack was looking forward to starting school, but even that went wrong. He had only been there a month and he hated it already. Nobody spoke to him and he sat next to a girl called Catherine who was a right know it all. Dan was no help, because he only bothered with Alison and hardly spoke to Jack. Worse still he could not even tell his mum and dad because he thought they were getting divorced and did not want to make things worse.
Changing the channel Jack saw his house on television and all thoughts of his miserable life went right out of his head. He shouted to his parents and they hurried in with the policewoman. A woman TV reporter interviewed a Police Inspector.
When she finished she began repeating everything and Jack lost interest. Some of the neighbours in the background and Jack thought it was weird seeing people on television you saw every day. There were Mr and Mrs Taylor from next door and he wondered if his dad would call them nosy old buggers, like he usually did. He saw Mrs Schofield from next door, his mum quite liked her, and there was Mr Gibson from over the road.
Jack remembered how Mr Gibson shouted at him for going into his garden to get a football and he bet old Gibson was sorry now. He recognised a few more faces from the avenue but he did not know the man sitting on Mr Gibson’s wall. The man looked like a tramp and Jack bet old Gibson would have something to say about that when he saw him.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. About five thirty, Jack’s mum asked what he wanted for tea. Jack was not bothered so she made burgers, chips and beans. Cooking seemed to cheer everyone up, even the policewoman. His dad peeled far too many potatoes, the policewoman buttered far too much bread and Jack’s mum kept asking everyone if they wanted a fried egg with that.
About nine o’clock Jack’s dad took some tablets from a small brown bottle. He told Jack they would help them sleep. Jack’s mum got upset and asked, how would she wake up if Dan came home in the middle of the night?
The policeman assured her that he would wake her and she meekly took the tablet. Vaguely remembering being troubled by dreams the night before, Jack took his without hesitation. Minutes later he was burrowed under his duvet, his mum and dad gave him a kiss and that was all he remembered.

* * *

Jack thought he was dreaming but he wasn’t sure, because everything felt so real. He was lying on grass under a tree and it was a lovely summer’s day.
“Let’s play a game,” came a voice.
Jack opened a lazy eye. The person speaking was a faun, half man and half goat. Jack could not believe it. He jumped up seeing the old fashioned lamppost in the clearing. So it was true. He was in Narnia and the faun was Mr Tumnus. He grinned like a loon. Dan had been mad on Narnia when he was young and Jack could not wait to tell him. He turned to Mr Tumnus, stammering with excitement, unable to say a word.
The faun’s face was long, but kindly with sparkling brown eyes and a little forked beard. “I know it is hard to believe,” he said gently. “But once upon a time, before Lady Sylvie, it was always winter, always winter and never Christmas. Now it is only winter when it is Christmas and never Christmas without snow.”
Other Narnians emerged shyly from the trees. There were woodland animals, nymphs, centaurs and other creatures Jack did not know. Although he was sure Dan would recognise them. They eagerly crowded around him like long lost friends.
The game was hide-and-seek but everywhere Jack hid, Mr Tumnus wanted to hide too. It was like he could not bear to be parted from him and it began to get on Jack’s nerves. What did the faun think he’d do? He wondered irritably. Run away?
He realised, it was exactly what the faun was afraid of. This was no dream. No wonder it was all so real. Without a word, Jack tore off through the woods. No matter where he went, whenever he stopped, there was Mr. Tumnus, smiling and saying what jolly good fun it all was.
Eventually even Mr Tumnus’ patience wore thin. He came up to Jack looking furious and accusing him of not being his friend. Jack was in the deepest, darkest part of the forest, where the trees grew so thick there was no way through. He realised there was nowhere left to run and he wondered if he could dodge past the faun somehow. Even as he thought of escape, something happened which glued Jack to the spot.
With every step the faun took he grew bigger until he was massive, even bigger than Jack’s dad. His muscles bulged. His skin went hard and leathery. His face twisted to a leering devil with eyes that glowed like burning coals. His smile was a cruel grin, his teeth were pointed and his horns sharp. He raked the air with long jagged claws and stomped his cloven foot in temper. “Come here boy! He commanded in a deep bellow.
His eyes bored into Jack’s soul and Jack knew he could not resist the demon’s call. Despite himself, he took a step forward and then another, and another. He stumbled on a root, breaking the hypnotic gaze. Without looking up, he turned and ran into the deepest part of the woods not caring if the branches tore him to ribbons.
After five meters, Jack ground to a halt. He tried to fight his way through the clawing branches but they held him fast and he could not move. Terrified he looked around, expecting to see the devil after him. Instead of a devil, there was Mr Tumnus, wringing his hands and wailing.
Jack watched the faun totter to the edge of the woods, stop, do a nervous little dance and totter back wringing his hands and moaning piteously. It was as if there was a barrier he was afraid to cross. He saw Jack looking at him. “I am sorry! Won’t you please come back?” He implored. “She will not be pleased, not pleased at all!”
Jack ignored him.
“As much for your sake as mine, come back,” the faun pleaded. “You won’t like what she sends after you!”
Now he knew the faun could not reach him, the woods did not seem quite so bad. He fought his way through them with new energy. After a few minutes the trees thinned out and Jack stopped to get his breath. As he did, he heard something lumbering through the wood after him. Whatever it was sounded big and heavy. Jack was sure it was one of the same creatures he heard when the lady brought him here. He froze, listening.
Something moved in the trees. Jack thought it was a lion, but if it was it was bigger than any lion he ever saw. It was as big as the devil and pitch black. Another one moved. He caught a flick of a tail, definitely a lion. Just then the woods came alive with hoots and screeches. He heard the swish of wings and a flurry of metallic feathers. Another set of hoots and Jack knew they were coming for him. He ran.
He ran until sweat blinded him, and his breath came sharp and painful. Still they came. Still he ran. He ran until his lungs burned and his legs felt like lead. He ran until he got a stitch in his side. He ran until he thought he would throw up and die.
All the while the creatures stayed behind him, driving him where they wanted him to go. When he was where they wanted, they stopped. For a few moments Jack did not even know they were gone. Gradually the silence pierced his tortured breathing. He bent double, gagging and gasping for breath. He listened. The woods were empty. Safe, he collapsed to the ground.
It was only when he could breathe again did he realise he was by a lake. He staggered over to wash his face. Beneath the water, he was shocked to see Dan staring back. He tried to touch his brother but the ripples broke up the reflection. A golden light blossomed over the surface of the water. He was amazed to see the beautiful lady wrapped in the light and floating towards him.
“Happy thoughts are the thoughts of the many, while sad thoughts are yours alone,” she spoke in a voice like the tinkling of a thousand silver bells. “Do not choose to be alone. Be at one with the one and think happy thoughts.”
A frog orchestra on the lily pads struck up a jolly tune and the beautiful lady sang. “Hap, hap, happy thoughts; happy thoughts. Think about things you like to do. You’ve got to have a dream, for if you never dream. Then how you going to have your dreams come true?”
Jack sat bolt upright in bed. He was covered in sweat and it was morning.

* * *

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