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War in Hagwood
The Hagwood Trilogy, Book Three
By Robin Jarvis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2016 Robin Jarvis
All rights reserved.
Within the Hollow Hill
SINCE EARLIEST TIMES, when the world was raw and savage, the Unseelie Court had dwelled within the Hollow Hill, and the burdening years had swollen its numbers.
The subjects of Rhiannon Rigantona were strange, fierce folk. Hidden for uncounted ages from the eyes and minds of Man, they had become the half-forgotten creatures of fireside tales told on winter nights, when the wind moaned under the eaves and twigs scratched at the shutters. But they were still spoken of in fearful voices and country people were wise to respect them.
The world of faerie was a dangerous, treacherous place and few people trod the old cinder road that ran between the Lonely Mere and the western shoulder of Hagwood in easy spirits. The threat of the hillmen was a constant dread and nervous travelers would glance at the green summit of the Hollow Hill in the distance with quailing courage and hurry on their way as fast as they were able.
If they had known the truth, that those creatures of legend were not only real, but on the brink of a bitter and bloody war, they would never have dared journey along that path at all.
BENEATH THE LOFTY, GRASSY SLOPES, under the soil and stone, silver lamps illuminated the winding halls and pillared chambers of the Unseelie Court. When the sun reared over the surrounding treetops, the denizens of the Hollow Hill retired to their mossy beds and stone couches to sleep away the dazzling day and await the dusk.
In the subterranean stables, blue-faced bogle esquires slept alongside snorting steeds while, in the straw strewn byres nearby, a yawning goblin milkmaid lifted her last full pail and waddled dozily between the sleeping faerie cattle. Thin green milk slopped onto the floor and splashed over her gnarled toes, but Squinting Wheyleen was too tired to notice or care. Smacking her lips, she poured the contents of her bucket into one of the many silver churns lined against the wall like a regiment of gleaming sentries, then pattered off to seek her space among the other milkmaids. Fat Jansis, Cheesy Maudlynne, Dugmilla, and Auld Gronk with the Hairy Dairy Hands were already snoring on their cots. It was not long before Wheyleen's whistling breaths joined that slumbering chorus. Contentment and warm, stale air filled the rock-roofed place.
From down the passageway came the sound of purposeful footsteps. A long shadow swept over the dozing cattle and a tall figure headed for the stables.
Lord Fanderyn peered into the gloomy stalls. The horses were asleep. Some were standing with drooped heads; others lay on the rushes with the noses of their attendant bogles nuzzled into their shoulders.
The stalls were arranged in order of rank; the brutish steeds belonging to the goblin knights were housed in the roughest quarters while the delicate-hoofed gray stallions of the nobles were lodged with greater comfort. Fresh, midnight-gathered flowers festooned their walls and their elfin names were carved on wooden plaques above each door. The grandest stall, however, was set apart from the rest.
Glimmering over that door were large, curling letters wrought of pure gold. "Dewfrost," they declared. The dark-green velvet saddle that hung nearby was trimmed with jeweled tassels and embroidered with even more gold.
Lord Fanderyn glanced inside and sure enough, the High Lady's silverwhite mare was asleep within.
"For once, my suspicions were unfounded," the noble murmured with surprise. "The rumor that She ventured out into the forest was false. She must, in truth, have been in the little lordling's cradle chamber a day and more."
With an air of disappointment and a furrowed brow, he turned to leave, but something caught his attention. He took a dark lantern from its hook and uncovered it.
The green light of its flame fell upon his features and glittered in the silver circlet he wore on his brow.
Lord Briffold Fanderyn was one of the most august and powerful of the High Lady's courtiers and the quality of his proud lineage was graven on his stern features. He had a long, lean, solemn face, with piercing eyes the color of summer twilight and a firm, serious mouth that was neither kind nor cruel. His dark chestnut hair was braided in one long plait that hung in a thick rope down his back, and his robes were of shadowy silk, swirling with a pattern of forest ferns.
Holding the lantern aloft, he strode to the far end of the stable. The saddle that should have been hanging outside the furthest stall was missing.
Thrusting the light inside, he stared within.
The stall was empty, except for an astonished-looking bogle esquire, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor, blinking up at him.
"Who be there?" the creature squawked, unable to see past the glare of the lantern.
Lord Fanderyn brought his grim face into the light and the bogle fell forward in a respectful bow.
"M'lord!" he cried. "Hogmidden craves your deepest pardonings, he did not spy it was Your Lordlyship peeping in on him. What may Hogmidden do to serve Your Mightiness?"
"Tell me," Lord Fanderyn commanded. "Why are you here alone? Where is the beast in your charge?"
The bogle esquire blinked some more and wrung his large hands as he struggled for a satisfactory answer.
"Ain't here," was all he managed to say.
"I can see that, you leaden-witted fool. Who took it and why, and how long have they been gone?"
Hogmidden shook his head in defiance. "Doesn't knowed that neither!" he replied.
Lord Fanderyn ground his teeth impatiently but he could see that a terror greater than any he could provoke was upon the esquire and nothing would induce him to surrender that information.
"Then tell me of the steed in your care," he relented. "How long have you tended and groomed it?"
At once the bogle brightened and his eyes shone with pride. "Since it was foaled in this here stall!" he declared. "Back in the days of Good King Ragallach...." He paused and checked himself. It wasn't prudent to speak of the old times in such fond terms; folk had been flogged and had their eyes torn out for less, and there was always some spiteful tongue eager to inform on you.
"Mind you," he continued in a louder voice, "there's no finer ruler than our own dear High Lady. May She ever grace us and keep us."
Lord Fanderyn waved his worries aside.
"You were telling of your steed," he said. "I am keen to know more."
"Why, His Majesty the Old King even put His royal blessing upon my sprightly lad. The best of the chargers he's proved to be: fastest of them all, stronger than three harnessed together and six times more braver. There's none to match my Nightflame — he's a full sack smarter than even his own rider knows."
"Nightflame," Lord Fanderyn repeated. "Of course — why, he is the pride of the Hollow Hill. That preening goblin knight, Sir Ogbin Moldweed, the oafish braggart — he won the beast in a crooked wager did he not? A prize far too grand for that rogue."
Hogmidden drew a scandalized breath then gurgled with laughter. "That's him right enough," he said, disarmed by the noble's scorn. "I never did think he was fit to shovel out my gorgeous lovely's stall, let alone mount him."
"He's a foul, lowborn swaggering bow leg," Lord Fanderyn continued candidly. "Nothing more than a common spear waver, risen far above his base station through toadying, informing, and betrayal. He's unworthy of such a magnificent beast. It must please your heart when She comes to borrow your precious Nightflame from time to time."
"That it does!" the bogle agreed with fervent nods. "And my grand lad, he knows he's in for a rare good gallop when he sees Her at his door. His hooves are a-stampin' an' his tail's a-swishin' an' it's all I can do to put the bridle on...."
Hogmidden gave a choking gasp and clapped his hands to his mouth. He had said too much and he sprang back into the shadows, afraid.
Lord Fanderyn's eyes sparkled. "So the Lady Rhiannon has gone riding," he said thoughtfully. "I find myself wondering why. What could have lured Her outside? What new tempest is She brewing?"
"Beggin' Your Loftly Lordship's pardon!" the bogle pleaded. "Don't tell Her I squeaked, it weren't my fault. You're too brain bright by far, Your Nobleyness — you tricked it out of me. Please don't tell Her. She made me swear not to. I doesn't want that spying owl to chew on my poor old eyes and the rest of me fed to the Redcaps."
But Lord Fanderyn was already walking away, returning along the passage that led to the lower halls. Hogmidden shrank into the corner of the stall, shivering with fright at what would become of him.
THERE WERE NINE OFFICIAL ENTRANCES to the Hollow Hill but there were many more secret ways in and out of the hidden kingdom, created down the centuries by the noblest families for their own private and furtive use. But Rhiannon Rigantona had spies in every noble family. Treachery was easy to buy in a realm ruled by fear. There was not even a stoat-sized gateway she was unaware of. She of course had many exits unknown to all, save herself.
Deep in thought, Lord Fanderyn had left the stables far behind and was on his way to visit the first of the three official southern entrances. He had decided to question the door wardens and glean what he could from them. There was no doubt in his mind that the High Lady was up to something. His own spies had brought word of the thorny fiends seen marauding through the forest recently and those monsters could not have entered the wood without her leave.
He would have to take care in questioning the doorkeepers, however, for his interest would undoubtedly be reported. He was just phrasing what he would say in his mind when a large, broad shape stepped out in front of him and barred the passage.
"You're going the wrong way M'lord," growled a thick, gutteral voice. "Your fine chambers are above and westward."
Lord Fanderyn glared at the creature before him.
It was a fat, sallow-faced and scaly goblin, with a porcine snout and enormous flapping ears that dangled before his sly green eyes. A chain mail coif covered his head and he wore a long leather tunic, belted beneath his belly with a great silver buckle.
"Waggarinzil," Lord Fanderyn greeted coldly when he recognized the commander of the door guards. "Are my movements now to be watched and directed?"
"When were they ever not?" the goblin replied with a grin that showed his gray teeth. "Are not all our to-ings and fro-ings keeked on and made note of by some rat-hawk or other? But on this uncommon morning t'would be best for you to seek out your own dear bed and not tarry in the hallways."
Lord Fanderyn eyed him curiously. "Why is this morning more uncommon than the rest?" he asked, wondering if Waggarinzil knew about the High Lady's absence.
The goblin rubbed his gauntleted hands together. "For one thing, you're still up and tramping about, M'lord," he began with a drawl and a wink. "That's worth someone's jotting it down by itself, but 'tweren't that I meant."
He glanced around warily then leaned a little closer and whispered, "Didn't you hear about the call out?"
"Call out?" Lord Fanderyn repeated. "What tidings are these?"
Waggarinzil chuckled and the mail of his coif jingled and rattled. "Ho!" he snorted, flicking his ears from his face. "By the Great Wyrms' breath, I thunk as not, it was all hushed and cloaky. Well listen to me, my lordship, summat's occurring — summat big."
Again he looked about him and his voice sank into an even lower whisper.
"'Twas nigh two hour since, when that ... fine feathery fellow — may his beak never be blunted — our most blessed Lady's owl, comes calling outside the third south door. In a real fluster he was and fit to exploding with the urgence of his errand. Soon as my lads let him in, he swoops off — and where does he swoop to, eh?"
"Straight to the spriggan quarters, that's where!"
The goblin gave a grunt, then lifted the corner of a nearby tapestry to make sure nothing was lurking and listening there.
Lord Fanderyn narrowed his eyes. "To what purpose?" he asked. "What did the owl do there?"
"Only stirs up the captains," Waggarinzil hissed. "Gets them to rouse their soldiers, all stealthy quiet like."
The goblin cupped a gauntleted hand around his mouth. "The entire garrison sneaked off," he breathed. "That bird done led them through a secret way from the Hill and off into the forest they marched — every last hobnail-booted one. Not a word nor a sign has been heard from them since. Now that's what I call an uncommon morning."
Wiping his piggy snout with the back of his hand, he stared into Lord Fanderyn's dark-blue eyes.
"What make you of that then, M'lord?"
The noble's mind was racing. What was the High Lady doing? Had she been waylaid in the forest and sent the owl to summon her soldiers to save her? No, who would dare attack the Tyrant of the Hollow Hill? Besides, she, with her enchantments, was unassailable. But then why summon the spriggans? Whatever the reason, he did not have the answer — yet.
"I make nothing of it," he answered slowly. "We must not question the designs and policies of our deathless Queen."
"But the whole garrison," Waggarinzil persisted, "and all so silent and armed to the lugs — what lies out there in yonder forest to make Her so sudden fearful? What enemies are out there to cause such alarm? A baffler, that's what it is — but I'd dearly like to know the root of it, by the Big Wolf's ears I would."
Lord Fanderyn stepped back from the goblin. Was he trying to make him say something indiscreet, as he himself had tricked the bogle esquire?
"Spriggans love their knives and spears more than they do their whiskery mothers," he finally answered with a dismissive shrug. "They eat and sleep with their weapons and, if they weren't so terrified of water, would bathe with them too. If the Lady Rhiannon wishes to drill them in the forest, it is Her right to do so, and a very sound decision it is. Their slovenliness has become a byword among the nobles at court; they need a sharp reminder of discipline — as do a good many more in this realm."
Waggarinzil let out an injured-sounding sigh.
"Now, now," he said in a conciliatory tone. "There's no need to huff and be overwatchful on my account. By Howla's broken bones, I'm not out to sell tattling stories to no one. I remembers when this was a sweet kingdom, yes — even during the wars with the troll witches. Never was a finer king than old Ragallach — may His glorious memory never dim. Strange how so hale a tree bore such a sour and poisonous apple."
Lord Fanderyn backed away in alarm. The goblin was openly speaking treason. Was he mad? They could both lose their heads for this.
"Be silent!" he commanded. "I'll hear no more of your sedition. It is I who should report you."
The goblin smiled. "I don't believe you'll do that, M'lord," he said. "Not if what my little whisperers tell me is true. Seems you've no liking for wormy apples any more than us, even if they is golden — if you understand my meaning. Time we tasted the fruit of a different tree is what we say. Plenty of high-born varieties in this here orchard, though there's few with such quality as one not so far away from me right now."
Lord Fanderyn was too astonished to speak, so Waggarinzil continued quickly.
"Should the chance present itself," he said, "there's many who'll fight under your colors, goblins and kluries and a great number of the lesser folk. All us needs is for the golden apple to be found lacking."
"That will never happen," the noble uttered flatly. He didn't trust this goblin for a moment. He had seen too many betray themselves with misplaced trust.
Waggarinzil scratched one of his great ears. "Then by the Great Boar's bristles, what is it out there that's made Her so fearful?" he asked. "For the first time ever, She, who never has before, has got more flutters than a cave full of bats. So I says to you, be watchful and be ready."
Lord Fanderyn was about to answer when a sudden pounding din rang down the hallway.
"Who's banging on my doors?" the goblin cried, wheeling about and hurrying away.
The noble followed him and they hastened to a small courtyard where two goblin guards with pikestaffs were braced against the large boulder that served as one of the Hollow Hill's doorways.
"Open in the name of the Lady!" bawled an angry voice from the other side.
Waggarinzil signaled for the guards to stand aside, then planted himself squarely before the tall rock and folded his powerful arms.
"Who's that a-yellin' out there?" he shouted.
"Don't you go askin' such slack-wit questions!" came the stern reply. "Shift yerselfs and open this 'ere door."
"What's the watchword for the day?"
"How should I know? We've been out this past night. Now open up or there'll be skulls to crack when I does get in and you'll have to answer to Her Dark Ladyship, for 'tis Her bidding we're doin'."
Waggarinzil stood aside and cast a quizzical look at Lord Fanderyn. "Open the way," the goblin grunted.
Excerpted from War in Hagwood by Robin Jarvis. Copyright © 2016 Robin Jarvis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Within the Hollow Hill,
2. The Drum of War,
3. In the Dark Beyond,
4. Gluttons and Weapons,
5. Defending the Tower,
6. That Which She Most Loved,
8. Myth and Sacrifice,
11. The Squirrel Raider,
12. Gabbity and Grimditch,
13. Wary and Cautious,
14. Werlings vs. Spriggans,
15. The Immortal Goddess of the World,
16. The Final Battle,
17. To the Witch's Leap,
18. Over the Edge,
19. The Hub of All Destruction,
A Biography of Robin Jarvis,
Greenwich, London, UK