Walking in the Wood, following a visible track, a sound made them hide. As they followed a cattle track by the edge of the trees, Mac pulled him into the cover of the leaves.
‘Don’t move!’ whispered Mac. ‘Not a word…’ He passed his hand over them and uttered a word in a strange language. Men dressed in black with the wolf-like dogs who trained in the Wood walked past. Once they had gone Mac relaxed, but he took them back to his hut via a different route.
‘What was that word you used?’ asked Hudor.
‘A tongue,’ said Mac. ‘A word for concealment. The first peregrini who walked among us concealed themselves as men, as watchers and wanderers, and they had a tongue that could hide them. I made it appear to the dog-wolves as if we were just part of the forest.’
‘That’s so strange,’ said Hudor. ‘It’s just reminded me that when I leave Bentley Wood I forget thoughts I’ve had whilst I am there.’
‘That’s the sleepiness out there in the world,’ said Mac. ‘It’s part of what they do,’ he added. ‘But it’s not safe to talk about it yet. Take a pebble with you from the mere, any of them. Then you’ll find you remember out there, and won’t get sleepy again. But don’t let anyone see it.’
Hudor suddenly had the sense that there was one who was going to pull a plug out of the world of the tide of life, that all that was good was going to disappear down the plughole, and that he would be caught up in the whirlpool with nothing to hold on to.
Finding a cattle trail, Mac led them back to one of the entrances nearer Hudor’s home. Hudor was glad he was with Mac: he didn’t want to meet the ghost cattle on his own. They seemed to have the ability to just appear and disappear nearby, although they left real footprints and real cowpats.
‘It’s not the cows you need to worry about,’ said Mac, ‘although the superstitions about them are useful for keeping people out. It’s some of the wolf-like dogs who have bad hearts. Being a dogkeeper’s son will help you, though. If you get into trouble, find water, either in the ponds or the springs bubbling up in the grass. The bad ones won’t come near that.’
‘Why’s that?’ said Hudor.
‘I’ll talk to your dad,’ said Mac, ‘and see if you’re ready for your apprenticeship. Then I’ll tell you. You also need to be wary of the green parakeets. They spy for the Fowler,’ he added.
Mac smelt the air. Lightning. A spear of death. Without a sound he beckoned Hudor to follow him. Hudor knew better than to ask him where they were going. He soon realised they were heading towards the lake. As they drew near to the lake, Mac dropped down and began to crawl quietly to the brow of the hill. Hudor knew that below them was the summer house. This was where the girl came sometimes, the daughter of the Fowler. Mac whispered in his ear.
‘Watch the balcony.’
Soon a girl dressed in a bleached dress appeared on the balcony. She was slight but tall, with amber-coloured hair. Unbidden, a vow came into his heart. I will protect her with all my craft. He lay there, suddenly aware of his breathing, the beating of his heart, the pulse in his neck, the smell of the earth, the face of the girl.
Then the Fowler came out. Hudor had only seen him at a distance. He, too, was slight and tall. His face was hard to make out, but his hair was dark. He was dressed in black and had brought a mirror out with him – it was full length. He left it with her.
She then began to do a series of exercises in front of the mirror. Faces. She pulled different faces until in the end it seemed as though she became someone different. But in the stubbornness of his heart he could see her underface, as he saw the underwriting on the palimpsest.
And then suddenly, she collapsed, like a puppet on a string. The Fowler came out, for he, too, had been watching, and carried her inside. A servant brought the mirror in.
‘It’s time to go,’ whispered Mac. They left as quietly as they had come. Despite the warmth, Hudor felt chilled to the bone. As if the very marrow had been sucked out of him.
When they reached the edge of Bentley Wood, Mac said, ‘Come to my cottage tomorrow. I will tell you more.’
The launch of my new children’s fantasy book, should be on Monday. We are just waiting for the Kindle version to load! But paperback is now available on Amazon.