GLANCING THROUGH the GLIMMER
Finvarra, the vengeful King of the Connaught Fairies, has kidnapped Janet.
Can Liam, a mere mortal, rescue her?
Inching closer, Liam scanned the bottom half of the cave. Scores of people, dwarf men and women no more than two feet tall, stood around what appeared to be a small banquet hall. The people themselves were ancient, their faces withered, their hair, what there was of it, white. Their rustic clothing had clearly seen better days.
Still in her jeans and jacket, Janet stood with the ugly hag before a grizzle-bearded man about three feet tall. He’d just introduced himself as—Finvarra? This was the King of the Fairies? If so, the old rogue had fallen on hard luck. Perhaps the Tuatha de Danann weren’t immortal after all. Perhaps their kind, whatever that was, simply had a longer lifespan than humans. Liam didn’t care how long the fairies lived. He only wanted to get Janet out of there.
Finvarra announced that he’d chosen her for his new dancing partner. The music started again, and he waltzed with her, a ludicrous sight. She loomed over him, though she didn’t seem to notice. From her sleepy eyes and dreamy smile, Liam suspected she saw things that weren’t there. The necklace had done something to her. The necklace and the hag.
While the fairies and Janet spun through the dust, Liam tried to think what to do. He eyed the cave, recalled the tunnel, wondered if there was another way out.
The dancing stopped. Janet asked for a glass of water. The king seemed eager to please her. He called for food and drink.
Tables and benches appeared. The magic, weakened though it might be, still worked. Liam counted three elderly serving women whose superior height and raggedy clothing suggested they were mortals. They brought trays of wooden cups when Finvarra called for a toast.
Janet mustn’t touch whatever was in those cups! If she did, she’d be trapped, like these poor women. Mindful of the chandelier, Liam hurtled into the room to stop her, but she’d already refused the drink.
Finvarra snagged the cup from her and tried to force her to drink. She pushed him away and screamed.
Liam charged toward them. “Let her go, you thieving scut!”
Bubbles of fairy shrieks plinked through the cave. Finvarra puffed up in challenge. “Who in the name of Danu are you?”
Janet remained silent. Liam ached to speak to her, to see if she knew him, if she was all right, but he didn’t dare unpin his gaze from the shifty-eyed fairy king. “My friends call me Liam,” he said, striving to sound bolder than he felt. The storyteller in him came to his aid: his voice remained clear and steady. “I’ve come to reclaim the young woman you’ve stolen.”
A venomous snarl twisted Finvarra’s face. “How dare you violate our gathering! Remove this intruder from our midst!”
Braced for an attack he doubted he could handle, Liam stole a glance at Janet. She smiled at him. She knew him! But as fast as the light in her eyes had flashed, it dimmed again.
He planted his feet apart. “That’s hardly hospitable, Finny. I’m only after arriving. And you’re the one doing the violating. A little off your turf, aren’t you? Don’t you and your kind usually infest County Galway?”
Though his glare remained fixed on Liam, Finvarra addressed the hag, “You assured us no one followed you, Becula. I should strike him blind for spying upon us.”
The woman cackled. “There’s no need of that, sire. A red-haired man. I never would have seen him. This one has a true shanachie’s soul. You’d have a wealth of stories from him, but mind: he has the heart of a lion.”
The king’s glare eased to a calculating frown. “That red hair bestirs fond memories in me. I know you, shanachie. Or your lineage. How is your clan called?”
No longer caring if Janet knew his name, Liam summoned every drop of royal blood that flowed in his veins and puffed out his chest. “My clan is the Clan Boru. I am Liam Conor Boru, the son of the King of Ireland.”
Finvarra’s mouth fell open, though he quickly composed himself. “A most noble lineage. We have fought beside you when your battles were just.”
“So I’ve heard. Thank you for that. You’ve done much good, but taking this young woman was wrong. You must give her back.”
The fairy king appeared to consider Liam’s demand. “She wished to learn to dance. I’m merely granting her wish.”
“She knows nothing of you. You’ve taken advantage of her innocence.”
“What of it? I required a new dancing partner, and Becula found one for me. It was well worth moving my troop from Galway to obtain her.”
“You don’t obtain young women so! Give her back, now!”
Finvarra peered at Liam as if he were preparing to step on a cockroach. A hooligan’s smile crept over his face. “If I’m to return to Galway without her, you must recompense me for that trouble.”
A bolt of icy fear zapped Liam’s spine. “What sort of recompense?”
“I will have a story, noble shanachie.” Finvarra clapped his hands. “Bring our guest a measure of wine, and another glass for me.”
The mortal women brought more wooden cups. One woman approached Liam. Her piercing gaze cut into him. While the others served Finvarra and Becula, she warned Liam to bypass the wine.
“His silver tongue lies,” she whispered. “He will never let you go. You must take the girl and run. We will try to help you.”
The woman backed away. His worst fear confirmed, Liam left the cup on the tray. Could Janet run in her present state? Again, she eyed him curiously, as if she knew him but couldn’t quite remember who he was. He wanted to rip the necklace away and shove it down Finvarra’s throat.
“All right, Your Majesty,” he said, “I’ll tell you a story.”
Like small children, the fairies oohed and aahed. They settled themselves around the banquet tables, filthy things covered with leaves so old and dry, they crackled. Cobwebs held the leaves together. Wooden bowls and platters on each table contained spoiled fruit and moldy nuts.
The legends said the fairies had fine taste in food and wine. Somehow, Liam doubted that better provisions awaited them in Galway. The Good Folk seemed to have hit an economic downturn.
A rough plank bench appeared behind the king. The witch claimed one end. Finvarra took hold of Janet’s arm, and she sat beside him on the other. “You may start, shanachie,” he said.
Struggling to hide his animosity, Liam eyed his peewee host and pint-sized audience. The perverse idea of telling them a story about giants appealed to him. He began with the standard “long, long ago” and eased into the tale of the giant Finn MacCool’s encounter with his Scottish rival, Benandonner.
“Finn shouted across the sea to Scotland and challenged Benandonner to do battle. The two had never met. Now Finn being a thoughtful sort, he set a trail of mighty stones into the sea between Scotland and Ireland so Benandonner might keep his feet dry when he came.”
Liam continued, stalling for time by embellishing details and adding new twists no one had ever heard. His words enthralled the fairies, and he was only warming up. Janet’s vacant stare left him doubting that she understood a word he said. Would she know what to do when the time came? Even if she did, how was he going to get them both out of here?
He paced as he spoke, making the fairies’ heads turn, careful to avoid the chandelier. “The Scottish giant crossed the sea to fight with Finn, but when Finn saw Benandonner’s monstrous size, he ran home and asked his wife to hide him.”
“Oooooh,” the amazed fairies said as one.
“She dressed him as a baby and placed him in a giant cradle. Benandonner entered their house, and when he saw what he thought was an infant, he screamed in fright. ‘If this is the baby, why, the father must be huge indeed!’”
The fairies belly-laughed at Liam’s theatrical imitation of the terrified giant’s hasty retreat to Scotland. “He tore up the stepping stones as he went, so Finn couldn’t follow.”
Liam paused. Benandonner had given him an idea. He must rip up stones, so to speak, to keep the fairies from following him. He decided to give his story a brand-new ending.
Edging toward the wall, he improvised to shield his intentions. “Finn climbed out of the cradle and held his arms out to his wife.” Liam slowly raised his arms. “She gave him a great…big…”
With his right hand, Liam yanked a torch from the wall and tossed it onto the nearest table. His left hand shook the chandelier. Candles flew over the rest of the tables. The dry leaves serving as tablecloths ignited with an enormous whoosh.
Fairy shrieks pealed through the hall like alarm bells. Finvarra leapt to his feet. Liam ran at the unsuspecting king, knocked him down, and grabbed Janet’s hand.
“Come on!” he shouted.
She seemed to realize she must run. He pulled her from the room to the passageway. Keeping a tight hold on her hand as they fled, he yanked torches from the wall and tossed them behind him. They continued to burn on the tunnel floor, stinking, smoking, and, Liam hoped, blocking the way.
Not bad, he thought, though he didn’t slow down. Squeals of outrage twittered in his wake. Bellowed threats and taunts resounded through the passage. When the din began to fade, he dared to look at Janet.
Her growl made him jump. Her face was that of a snarling wolf.
What had that ballad said, what, what, what? He knew it well enough. What had the Scottish knight, Tam Lin, told his Janet when the fairies changed him to different beasts to frighten her away?
Hold me fast and fear me not…
Liam held fast to Janet’s hand.
“Old tricks!” he shouted. “Can’t you knackers come up with something more original?”
The wolf’s fangs grew. The face turned to a snake’s head with hypnotic black eyes and powerful jaws that snapped at him.
“Ah, Jayz!” he cried, leaping back, but he held fast to Janet’s hand and ran. Her face morphed to a snarling lion and then to a growling black bear. He tried not to look at her. Maybe if he didn’t look, if he focused on what was ahead, kept tossing the torches down…
They reached the end of the tunnel. The standing stone, solid and cold, blocked the exit. Liam punched it in frustration. Then he remembered: the witch had used some sort of password. “What did she say?” he shouted to no one. “Terra Nova!”
The stone remained unchanged. The twittering fairy squeals behind him, however, grew louder.
The squeals changed to chirps and yipping squeaks. He knew the sound from a childhood spent playing in castles: rats. A pack of fairy rats was closing in on him and Janet.
She had a rat face now, beady eyes and a long gray snout filled with sharp yellow teeth that laughed at him.
Trembling now, Liam repeatedly punched the stone. “Toora-feckin’-loora!”
The rats were coming. Clicking. Squeaking.