Sheer the Seer was studying the flight of the birds above the trees when her daughter ran out of their house below the oak at the brook. The five year old fairy buried her face in her mother's skirts and wailed.
'What's the matter?'
'Bad fairy coming.'
Sheer nodded. She'd sensed the approach some time ago. She stroked her daughters hair and spoke to her re-assuringly. 'It's all right. She won't harm us.'
'She's a bad fairy.'
'I know. But we're safe. Nothing can harm us here.'
Sheer looked up. The birds had disappeared from the sky, as if not wishing to meet the visitor who's approach had already upset the seer's daughter. She patted her child's head and sent her back inside with a few more re-assuring words, then stood and waited. If untroubled, she was curious. It was a long time since she'd sensed malevolence on the scale of the approaching visitor.
'Young too,' murmured Sheer. 'I wonder what she wants?' Sheer's powers were considerable, but not unlimited. She'd just have to wait and see. A few minutes later she spotted her visitor flying over the tall aspens, heading directly for her. She landed gracefully, and approached. Her face was mostly covered by a grey hood and there was a sword at her hip. Sheer noticed her scar, a livid mark on her face, covered by her hood and concealed by magic, but still discernible to a fairy with Sheer's powers of discernment. She also sensed the wound in her abdomen, recently healed.
'Sheer the Seer?'
'I need directions to Under Green Hill Market.'
'Who sent you?'
Sheer nodded. Origath was a good friend. She knew that Origath wouldn't have sent Rainith her way if he had not wanted her to help her. 'The market is far south, several day's flight. I can give you directions. Or I can send you through the Between which will bring you out only a few miles north of there.'
'A gold piece.'
The hooded fairy handed over a gold piece. 'I'll take the Between.'
Sheer paused. 'Is that all you need?'
'I'm not here to have my future told.'
The rage surrounding her visitor was tangible to the seer. 'I've heard tell of you, Rainith the Red.'
Rainith didn't reply.
'Would you like some advice?'
'I'll give you some anyway. I've always like the fairies of Mercia.'
'Make it quick,' snapped Rainith.'
'You can't defeat the Elf in combat. If you face him he'll kill you. So think before you act, Rainith the Red. 'Calm your fury and make a plan. If you do that, you might return to Mercia one day.'
Sheer held up one hand, and a faint beam or yellow light emanated from her palm, as she opened the Between which would let Rainith travel quickly to her destination. 'When you get there, you'll find two taverns between you and the market. The Dove and Lamb is a respectable establishment for travellers. The Pierced Fox is not. I'd suggest the Pierced Fox may be better suited to your requirements. Brin the Seller is a friend of mine. '
Rainith nodded, then took to the air. She followed the beam of yellow light upwards for a short distance before disappearing from sight, slipping between the world of the fairies and the world of the others. Sheer watched her go. Her daughter emerged from the house.
'Bad fairy,' she said again. 'Will she be back?'
'I doubt it,' said Sheer. 'But you never know. Look, there are seven crows above. What does that mean?'
'Death far away,' said her daughter brightly, pleased because she'd been doing her lessons assiduously, and could already read some of the simpler signs foretelling the future.
On their way to see T Rex at the Lyceum in the Strand, Geeda Lala had suggested to her companions that they stay close to her during the evening.
'None of you are used to this world yet. We don't want to do anything that might draw attention. Girsin and 102 Woo are still scanning this era for us.'
'We'll be careful,' promised the others. Fourteen Trees was a few months younger than Geeda Lala, and Eight Trees and Two Rays of Sunlight younger still. It wasn't much of an age difference but for some reason they all displayed an enthusiasm for the upcoming gig that Geeda couldn't match. She'd travelled to London in the mid-seventies to see punk gigs which she loved. When she'd been forced back to the end of the sixties she'd made the best of it, and found some things to like there too, even in the face of Rainith's constant derision. But here, in 1971, she couldn't raise much interest in the music. In contrast, her companions bubbling over with enthusiasm. Since Geeda had bought them tickets they'd talked of nothing else. They weren't even off the tube train yet and Fourteen Trees already had a souvenir poster, bought from a street vendor, and Two Rays of Sunlight was waving a new T Rex badge around like a trophy.
They emerged from the tube station into a throng of girls heading towards the Lyceum. It wasn't that large a venue. The music business was not prepared for the Bolan mania that was about to strike. The four companions, schoolgirls in the world of the Kesh, had to push and shove their way inside, a process hindered by the merchandise they were accumulating. As an experience gig-goer, Geeda Lala generally ignored everything that was on sale outside the venue. Not so her young companions, who were soon loaded up with badges, programmes, posters, t-shirts and anything else that was on offer.
As they made their way from the foyer into the downstairs auditorium, Geeda tried to give her friends one last word of advice. 'Don't do anything - ' At that moment a group of teenage girls with feathered hair and glitter make-up started screaming and ran towards the stage. Two, Eight, and Fourteen immediately followed suit. Geeda Lala watched in surprise as they all disappeared into the melee at the front. When the lights went down and T Rex walked onstage, Geeda was deafened by the screaming and had to move quickly to avoid being trampled by another wave of girls, stampeding forwards. She had to dodge again as several more girls dropped from the balcony above, rolling on the carpet before picking themselves up and sprinting towards the band.
'What on earth?' Geeda struggled to avoid being swept away by the tidal wave of fans now surging forward to get closer to the stage. The screaming intensified, completely drowning out the music. Geeda had a brief glimpse of Marc Bolan, smiling out at the audience, before she was buffeted to one side by another pack of female fans who'd abandoned their seats upstairs, swept the security guards out of the way and now ran into the downstairs section. She picked herself up and took a few steps to the side where she stood beside a pillar for protection. At the front of the auditorium, beleaguered attendants were trying to prevent a youthful female stage invasion. The screaming was deafening. Geeda Lala frowned.
'I don't think glam rock is really my thing.'
Nakishdan was recovering well. His bandages had been removed, revealing a large, livid scar on his chest. He'd been displeased at this, for aesthetic reasons, till Mixt told him how highly regarded frontal wounds had been amongst the ancient Romans.
'Sometimes when a Senator got up to speak in the senate about important business, if he had scars on the front of his body, he'd let his toga go loose so the other Senators could see them. It let everyone know he'd fought for Rome and been wounded in combat, without running away. It was a mark of honour and it made the others listen to what he had to say.'
This information dramatically altered Nakishdan's views on his scar. He was now hoping it didn't fade, and wondering if he might alter his kimono, allowing him to display it at appropriate moments.
'Next time Ms Darben or Glade are criticising me for something I could just show them my heroic warrior wounds. That'll shut them up.'
Mixt smiled. 'I'm sure it will. I'm going to the little shop, do you want anything?'
'You can have half of one small bottle, that's all. You've still not fully recovered.' Mixt had been caring for Nakishdan well, and might even have been suspected of displaying a hitherto unsuspected maternal streak.
'OK,' said Nakishdan, who didn't mind being fussed over.
Mixt put on an overcoat and set off for the small shop at the end of the street quite confidently. It was late autumn and there were still leaves on the pavement, which could cause her problems if she stepped on them, but her obsessive tendencies had been rather less severe recently. Most of her attention had been focused on Nakishdan's recovery which had taken her mind off her own problems. She'd almost reached the shop, avoiding all leaves, when Mathematician Girsin suddenly materialised in front of her with a bunch of flowers in his hand.
'I brought you these.'
Mixt pursed her lips. 'Didn't I make it clear I never wanted to see you again?'
'I thought we could make a new start.'
Girsin was dressed in a rather nice suit, having taken the trouble to examine several fashion magazines from the appropriate period. With his large brown eyes, and his long hair brushed back, he was quite an attractive young man. Mixt was not impressed.
'Why are you bothering me? And why are you suddenly appearing out of nowhere? Aren't you people meant to avoid historical disturbance? What if someone saw you?'
'I checked,' protested Girsin. 'There's no one around.'
'Really? That's good to know.' Mixt's naginata appeared from beneath her coat. In one smooth movement she snapped the weapon together, chopped the heads of the flowers, snapped the weapon back in half, and deposited it again beneath her coat. The whole operation took only a second.
Mathematician Girsin looked rather forlornly at the ruined bunch of flowers in his hand, and the petals at his feet.
'Don't bother me again,' said Mixt. She walked past him and entered the shop.
Behind her Girsin dematerialised. When he arrived home, still clutching the destroyed flowers, Deetmir, his personal robot, burst out laughing. 'I told you it was a stupid idea.'
Girsin glared at the tiny spherical machine which circled around his head. 'One of these days you'll go to far, Deetmir. Now stop laughing and help me plan. I will not accept rejection.'
The Pierced Fox was a small, dark tavern, its low ceiling supported by oak beams and trusses. Elves and fairies sat in small groups at circular wooden tables, mostly leaning forward as they talked, their conversations private. A small coal fire burned in the hearth at the far wall. Behind the bar stood Lily the Fox and Wolf. She was a tall fairy, and joint owner of the establishment. She glanced towards the door as a hooded figure entered quietly.
Rainith the Red walked towards the bar. If no one seemed to be paying her attention, she knew that she was discretely observed by many pairs of eyes. The Pierced Fox had a poor reputation; no one came here without a purpose. Rainith's hood covered most of her face but she was not the one only whose identity was concealed. At the bar she bought a glass of mead. Lily the Fox and Wolf handed it over without a word.
'I'm looking to buy,' muttered Rainith. 'From Brin the Seller.'
Lily said nothing, eyeing the fairy without expression. Rainith took her drink and sat an empty table close to the fire, and waited. The fire was warming; outside the temperature was falling as autumn turned to winter, and the forests became cold. Rainith stared into the flames, and thought about nothing. After about fifteen minutes, she heard footsteps and then the scraping noise of a chair being pulled up to her table. Uninvited, a fairy sat down opposite her. Rainith looked at him. Quite large, with an open, smiling face and black beard. He leaned forward.
'I'm Brin the Seller.'
Rainith leaned forward in turn. 'I'm here to buy.'
'I'd like to know how you knew my name.'
'I heard it in the market.' Sheer the Seer had told Rainith of Brin, but she did not intend to leave any sort of trail behind her.
Brin stared at her for a long time. He didn't look so friendly. 'So what are you looking to buy?' he asked, eventually.
'First, a map of Wiltunscir.'
'The Elves of Wiltunscir aren't that keen on outsiders owning maps of their land.'
'But they do exist.'
'Maybe. What else are you looking for?'
Rainith leaned further forward and lowered her voice. 'A fifteen second concealment cloak.'
Brin the Seller laughed. 'No chance. Anyone who owns one of those isn't selling.'
'I have gold.'
Brin gazed at her. He picked up his glass but was disappointed to find it empty. 'There was talk of an eight second concealment cloak for sale a little while ago. I might be able to get it for you. It will be expensive.'
'I have gold,' repeated Rainith.
Brin the Seller rose to his feet. He spread his wings momentarily before folding them neatly back behind him. 'Meet me back here at the same time tomorrow. I may be able to help though I'm not promising. And it will cost you half a piece of gold for me to make enquiries. Give the money to Lily, I owe her for ale.'
Rainith nodded. Brin left the tavern. She remained there for a while, staring into the fire.