Preparations are underway for the Ambassadors' Ball at Clontarf Castle.
Meanwhile, Finvarra, the King of the Fairies, is stirring up trouble.
Warned and on guard, three young members of the royal Boru clan seek the long-lost steel treasures
their ancestors used to guard against fairy magic.
Join them in their hunt beneath the castle!
Shortly after he’d arrived at the castle, Liam sat in his bedroom suite reading the list of wristlets, buckles, and bodice chains his ancestors used to thwart the fairies. Though he wondered what had become of the stuff, he wondered more why his family had needed it. Were the fairies really that threatening?
At his cousin’s special knock, he set the papers down. “Come in, Kev,” he called.
The door opened. Kevin was there, but Talty barged past him. “Howya, Liam!” Eyes gleaming, mouth turned up in her matchless smile, she pulsed with front-page news.
He rose and kissed her outstretched hand. “I doubt you’re grinning like a tipsy chimpanzee because you’re happy to see me, Lady Sister.”
“I’m always happy to see you.” Ponytail whipping, she spun toward Kevin. “Aren’t we, Kev?”
Kevin seemed more worried than happy, not an unusual state of affairs. Yet that unmistakable Boru mettle gleamed in the un-Boru blue of his eyes. “Right. We’ve been digging in the archives at Tara Hall. Reading old King Declan’s diaries.”
Liam eyed the dust-streaked jeans and shirts his sister and cousin wore. “You went through the archives without me?”
“And you with a sprained arm and a bocketty head,” Talty said in her older sister tone. “We also found a list of pieces the royal jewelers made or obtained to protect the family from fairies. Are you up for a jaunt?”
They’d found the old steel jewelry! “The jeweler gave me a similar list, but it didn’t say where the pieces were.”
“Declan’s diaries referred to a vault in the basement right here in Clontarf Castle,” said Talty. “A chamber hidden below the drawbridge room.”
Liam pictured the castle layout. “There’s nothing below the drawbridge room. The builders indented the walls like that to allow for the moat that used to be there.”
“Apparently there’s a room there too,” said Kevin. “Your father gave us two keys from a set he inherited when he became king. He said they were the only ones he knew nothing about. He told us to try them. We’re going to have a look.”
Talty gave Liam’s sling a playful tug. “Come on, let’s find it!”
She led the way down the old stone steps to the basement. Kevin switched on the overhead light. The dry cellar air was cool, though not uncomfortably so. Cloth-covered statues and tables huddled in corners and alcoves. The wall hangings remained uncovered, however. They marked the way through the cellar maze, if one knew which ones were which. Liam and Talty and Kevin knew.
Talty pointed confidently to her left. “This way.”
They strode through the bare-bones corridor whose long woolen runner muted their footsteps. Liam watched for the holy water font that preceded the French hunting tapestry. When he spotted the font, he calculated the location of the drawbridge room. “Take a right at the tapestry,” he said, and they turned. “All right, give us a few of the finer points you found in Declan’s diaries.”
“The biggest thing I noticed,” Kevin said as if he were telling a secret, “was how often he repeated that since the first Celt set foot on Ireland, the fairies have been among us.”
Talty was halfway down the corridor. Liam wondered why she was so enthusiastic, but Talty was like that when things caught her fancy. He and Kevin overtook her easily enough.
“I have to admit,” she said, “when I first started reading, I thought poor old Declan was gone for his tea. Altogether loopers, like Mad Sweeney in the old tales. But Declan’s hand was steady, his thoughts coherent. Almost scientific.”
“They were,” Kevin agreed. “He wrote down the story the old fellas told us about the cow and the fairy fort. We found others too, but mostly he bemoaned the loss of contact between the Daoine Sídhe and us.”
A faraway look came over Talty’s face. “They used to visit us often. I wonder what happened to make them stop coming and hide in the long grass all these years?”
Curiosity seethed through Liam like a burning electrical current. “I want to read those diaries.”
“You may have to get in line,” Talty said as she scanned the walls. “Dad came by while we were going through them. Said he thinks his own father must have known something about the sídhe, but he died before he could tell him. We left him in the archives reading away.” She stopped at a spot where the wall curved out. Carved oak panels covered the stone. “Ah, here it is. The drawbridge room is right above this wall, I think. We’ve always thought these panels were decorative, but I’ll bet one of them is a door.”
Kevin ran his hands over the frames that held the panels in place. “I don’t get it. Why would they hide the stuff if they thought they’d need it?”
Feeling useless, Liam studied the Celtic patterns carved into the wood. Talty and Kevin had forbidden him to prod at the wall and risk further injury to his arm. “I doubt it was a secret at first,” he said. “The family must have forgotten about it after a while. Maybe they made peace with Them and had no further need for it.”
“Not according to Declan’s diaries.” Talty pressed and poked the wood as she spoke. “Declan said that every so often, the fairies would stir the pot, and trouble would start again. The steel would come out, though it hasn’t for ages now. Maybe the simple fact that we have the steel precludes the need to use it. Like magical weapons of mass destruction. No one really wants to launch them.”
Liam agreed. “I wonder what caused the falling out in the first place?”
“Who knows?” Kevin switched on his flashlight and shone it over the paneling. “Declan mentioned nothing about that. The situation between us and Them was strained long before his time, it seems.”
Talty knelt. Her fingers skimmed the wood as if she were reading Braille. “I’d love to meet Finvarra and ask him what happened. Tell him we’d like to be friends again. Invite him to some of our parties.”
“Send him a feckin’ email, why don’t you?” said Liam. “Finnie the Worm at Knock Ma dot com.”
“I wish it were that easy. I’m not finding anything here, fellas.”
Liam noticed a glint in the wood, the same sort of spark that gleamed in the door hidden next to the hearth in the great hall. “Tal,” he said, “there’s something just over your left shoulder. Shine the light there, Kev.”
With a triumphant “Hah!” Talty tickled a metal clasp. The wood strained and popped, and the outline of a tall slim opening appeared. She teased the edges, tugging until the door came loose.
As Liam expected, the room lacked electric lights, though black iron sconces with fat yellow candles clung to the walls. Logical Kevin had thought to bring matches. Talty shone the flashlight as he lit the candles, infusing the circular room with the honeyed scent of burning beeswax.
Eager to see what the light revealed, Liam scanned the hoard of steel that covered the rounded walls. Most of the pieces hung on wall pegs. Some dangled from ceiling hooks. Graceful swags of bodice chains accented by semiprecious jewels drooped beside chokers and necklaces.
The opposite side of the room showcased an array of bracelets, armbands, and boot spurs. A suit of armor stood before the only portion of the wall on which nothing hung.
“The real reason why knights wore armor,” said Liam. “To protect them from the fairies. This place is like an armory of jewelry.”
“I see no real weapons here. Only things you can wear.” Talty sighed dramatically. “But alas, none of it matches the dress I’m wearing to the ball on Friday night.”
The disappointment in her voice had Liam wondering what she was after. “That’s the idea, isn’t it? You wear the stuff to protect yourself.”
A puzzled look crinkled Talty’s face. “So where are the smaller pieces? The brooches and rings and earrings? The records we saw listed dozens of them.”
“So did the jeweler’s list,” said Liam. “The armory off the drawbridge room houses antique swords and other grisly things. Maybe there’s a similar room off this one.”
Kevin pointed toward the vacant wall behind the suit of armor. “Maybe there’s a door there.”
Balancing care with impatience, he and Talty moved the armor. Behind it, a slim wooden door appeared.
Kevin jiggled the latch. “It’s locked.”
“Let’s try the keys Dad gave us.” Talty drew them from her pocket. One was large. Both were ancient.
Liam snatched the bigger key. “Allow me. I should at least be able to open a lock.”
He inserted and turned the perfectly fitting key. The lock clicked; the latch yielded.
Armed with his flashlight, Kevin entered the chamber first and lit more candles. The room was so small, he barely fit. “There’s a cabinet in here,” he said. “It’s locked. I’m thinking the other key might open it.”
He backed out to let Talty in. As he and Liam watched from the doorway, she knelt before the carved wooden cupboard. Soon the double doors opened, exposing a dozen narrow drawers.
Starting at the top, she rapidly opened and closed each drawer, indifferent to their contents until she reached the sixth drawer. She drew out what looked like a piece of oilskin cloth. “Give us more light, Kev.”
The flashlight spotlit the bejeweled hilt of an ornate dagger. Talty eased the double-edged blade from its matching sheath, also adorned with precious gems. “There you are, you gorgeous thing.”
“What have you got there, Tal?” asked Kevin.
“A lady’s dagger.” Talty stood hefting the knife in her hand. “Made for Queen Evlin in 1585. Not only beautiful, but practical. A fine grip and well balanced.”
She moved so fast, Liam cringed and shut his eyes. When he dared to look, the quivering dagger was lodged in the doorframe above his head.
“You might have hit us!” Kevin cried, his voice an octave higher than usual.
Talty only smiled. “We’re to lock everything up and report back to Dad. He said if I found Evlin’s dagger, I might borrow it for the ball.” She pulled the knife from the doorframe and slid it into its fancy case. “Now this will match my dress!”
Malevolence lurked in the hidden room. Finvarra sensed its deadly presence the moment the door opened. The danger to him was great, but he stood there shuddering, hunching his shoulders, watching until the mortals entered the evil chamber. Inexplicably sad, he bethought what the girl—her accursed brother had called her Talty—had said:
I’d love to meet Finvarra and ask him what happened. Tell him we’d like to be friends again. Invite him to some of our parties…
He thought he’d like to dance with her. Perhaps he could ask for a waltz at the ball. From what she’d said, she wouldn’t refuse him. Suddenly cheerful, he saw himself up in the great hall hopping a hornpipe with Talty Boru—and her miscreant brother would surely be there.
Finvarra had no idea what email was, but the boy had clearly called him a worm.