The BASTARD from FAIRYLAND
Robin Goodfellow to those he knows. Puck to those he kills. He’s lived among humans for centuries, they think he’s a demon. The teenagers he’s forced to protect, despise him. This exiled warrior, traitor to the Fae and victim of persecution because of his sexuality, has turned into a lonely and unforgiving bastard. The perfect stooge to kill a king.
Read the first chapter of The Knights' Protocol trilogy here.
There were fairies at the bottom of my garden and they were torturing someone.
Technically they weren’t Fae. My people didn’t like to bloody their hands, they preferred to use sadistic bastards like Spriggans. Their seven-foot height and ape-like limbs made them ideal fighters, it also made them easy to spot through the spy-hole in my boarded windows. What bothered me was why they’d chosen my garden to have fun with their latest victim, currently screaming in a high falsetto. It had to be deliberate provocation.
They’d come for me. Finally. After centuries of waiting, my people had demonstrated how long they could hold a grudge.
They must have thought that by dragging some hapless human to my door and doing unspeakable things to him, it would bring me running. Screams turned into a high-pitched wail. It had to be a kid. They were trying to yank my heart strings, obviously no one had told them they’d been severed long ago. This wasn’t my fight, whoever was screaming wasn’t my responsibility, I’d be stupid to give up the safety of my cottage, booby-trapped for just this eventuality.
More screams. A plea for it to stop. Silence.
I waited. Listened.
A loud, protracted howl, like a wounded animal. A pause. Next, gibbering calls for help, designed to draw me out. They’d know I’d been a Trooping Fairy once, how the need to save others had been hard-wired into my brain. Indoctrination I’d spent centuries in the human realm trying to repress.
Another plea for help, desperate and raw now. They’d keep it going, Spriggans knew how to make torture last, it was an art form to them. It all came down to how long I could hold out listening to its orchestration.
Whoever was in charge of fetching me home, knew what they were doing. It was the screams of a kid. I couldn’t stand by and listen to the injustice of it any longer.
Well, never let it be said Robin Goodfellow didn’t answer the call, no matter if it was from a bloody refugee’s brat who was nothing more than bait. I grabbed my iron sword from where it hung, pride of place, on my kitchen wall. Unlocked the door, threw it open.
‘All right, you Spriggan bastards. Want a fight, do you?’
Sword aloft, running for all I was worth, battle fury rediscovered after all this time.
‘Come on then!’
Four Spriggans, built like enormous orang-utans, turned their attention from a teenage boy strung up between two apple trees in my orchard, the skin on his back striped red. He was a pathetic specimen of humanity, a bag of bones in rags plastered to his body by the freezing rain. Confident in their greater number, the four Spriggans lazily raised swords and cudgels, ignorant of what it meant to be a Trooping Fairy. I smiled. I’d enjoy teaching them never to underestimate an assailant, a lesson I’d learned painfully long ago.
One of them, the tallest, strode towards me, heavy footsteps squelching in the mud, cudgel raised over his bald head. He picked up speed as I got within striking distance, with a circular movement of his arm he swung his cudgel to drive my jaw into my brain. Except I wasn’t where he expected me to be. I pivoted, turned through ninety degrees, heard the swish of the cudgel as it flew past my handsome features. It left his seven-foot frame exposed for a second, enough time to run my blade through a bloated stomach that brought him tumbling to the ground. I sliced the throat as I turned to face my next opponent who was rapidly reassessing the threat it faced.
Spriggans are good fighters but they’re not quick. At moving or thinking. By the time it had decided I wasn’t going to be a pushover, I’d sliced a bloody gash across its thighs so it fell to its knees, a better height from which to cut its throat. It fell next to its comrade, their blood forming red pools amidst the tussocks of long grass.
A strong wind, straight off the Bristol Channel, strafed us with pellets of ice. I was used to our new form of extreme British weather; my chums weren’t. The next Spriggan roared its anger as it held its long blade aloft and ran towards me, wiping rainwater off its face. All you need is a distraction, a second where your opponent is focused on something else. I was trained to ignore all extraneous factors, schooled in ways so painful you never forgot the lesson, I allowed the rain and the ice to hit my face and kept my eyes fixed on my rangy and angry adversary.
The trouble with fighting Spriggans lies in their length of reach, they can slice your head off before you can inflict a scratch, the answer lies in getting inside their arms before your head hits the floor and rolls away. Wiping his eyes at just the right moment gave me that chance, I ducked my head and ran at him. I gambled on the mud allowing me to push him backwards while preventing his greater strength from getting the traction needed to stop me. My bet paid off, my head hit firm stomach muscle but I had enough momentum to cause him to lose his balance. His arms windmilled as he tried to remain upright, an action that made him commit the gravest sin any warrior could commit. He dropped his sword. I grinned as I remembered the beatings I’d suffered for doing the same thing, memories are fickle like that. As he toppled backwards, like a demolished chimney stack, I ran him through. He was dead before he hit the ground.
The fourth spriggan looked aghast at the carnage and then glanced at his knife, then at me. His fear was evident in the way his hand shook as he drew back the knife he’d used to get the sound effects he wanted from the boy. With a deft flick of its wrist, he flung it, I ducked and it struck the apple tree behind me, no more than an inch from my head.
I didn’t take my eyes off him as I reached up and pulled it out of the wood, he stared back at me through the rain, rooted to the spot, unwilling to commit to any other reaction until he knew my intention. I flipped the knife so the handle fitted snugly in my hand, making it obvious what I intended to do.
‘Who sent you?’
The Spriggan’s eye focused on the knife, waiting for me to throw it. In the silence that followed the kid’s snivelling sobs and gasps were the only answer I received. I deliberately looked at his body and allowed my face to show anger.
‘I’m not going to kill you. Not straight away.’ I pantomimed weighing the knife in my hand and looked into the creature’s face. ‘I’ll stop you from running away first. You’re going to get this in your groin. Then I’ll string you up.’
Spriggans aren’t cowards but I suspected this one had been brought along for his skill at torturing rather than his ability to fight, he was squat and lumpy in comparison to the rest. He swallowed heavily and did nothing to hide his panic.
‘So, unless you want to answer my question in a high voice, who sent you?’
He looked beyond my garden fence, to the empty street, then to the pathway at the side of my cottage. He was expecting reinforcements.
So was I. It made no sense to send a handful of spriggans, they had to know I’d defeat them easily. None of this made any sense.
He must have thought he’d distracted me sufficiently to give him time to hide behind the spread-eagled boy, as though those scarecrow dimensions offered any protection. Before he’d moved two steps he screamed as the knife struck him squarely between his legs and he crumbled to the wet earth, holding what was left of his genitals, blood coursed through his fingers.
I strode over to him, he watched, petrified and blubbering.
‘I told you. Next answer in a high voice. Who sent you?’
I yanked him up by the collar, exposing his throat, with my other hand I pressed my blade against it. He squealed loudly, like a stuck pig.
Amidst pleas for mercy, his snivelling delivered my answer, ‘The High Lord.’
I sighed. Oberon had finally decided to punish me. There would be others arriving shortly, this little incident was no more than a calling card. They’d turn up in greater numbers, I doubted they’d care if they took me back dead or alive. I certainly wasn’t bothered.
I ran the blade across soft flesh and let the body drop to the ground.
I was soaking wet and freezing cold, as the adrenalin from the fight faded, I felt empty and flat. I began to plan my resistance for when the rest arrived. I certainly wasn’t going to cooperate and accompany them without taking as many out as I could. I had a reputation to uphold.
The boy’s sobbing penetrated my deliberations. I ambled over, cut his ropes with my sword and watched him slump to the muddy ground. All he wore was a thin pair of trousers and shoes that were falling apart, his skin was blue with cold, where it wasn’t streaked with his blood. In this weather, he’d die of hypothermia, it was common among refugees at this time of year. Bodies like his littered the countryside. He looked up at me as I turned to make my way back to the cottage, I needed to get ready.
‘Please. Help me. Please. Mister Goodfellow.’
I froze. The kid knew my name. My mind raced with explanations, paranoia fed every one of them. I turned and looked into the desperate features of the lad, he had to be no more than fifteen though he was so thin it was difficult to tell. The kid tried to smile but the freezing rain washed it off.
It was his deep brown eyes and high cheek bones that reminded me of an older version of the youth staring up at me.
‘Are you…?’ I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence.
The kid nodded, the smile appeared again. ‘Mickey’s brother. Yeah. I’m Simon.’
‘Where is he?’
A flicker of eyes and snatched breath told me what to expect.
‘Dead.’ Eyes found the mud at his feet and stared at it. ‘The Taunton gang. Two months ago.’
I stared at the kid as feelings, pushed down deep, found their way back to the surface. Mickey had always looked for the best in people, he was naïve in that way. He’d been the same with me, insisted I found a purpose to life again, laughed at my rants, dismissed my dark moods and made my bed a place of happiness. Qualities that had got him killed.
The kid looked up at me, red eyes full of tears, breath coming in spasms. He didn’t need to repeat his plea for help, my expression probably showed the regret. I pulled my attention away from the kid, tried to remind myself of those severed heart strings but apparently, they’d regrown. I looked around the garden, at the street beyond, expectant. I still couldn’t work out why the Fae had used this kid, unless it had just been some awful coincidence.
‘Oh, fucking hell. Get inside.’
The lad struggled to stand, in the end it was quicker to pick him up and carry him indoors, he weighed so little it was like carrying an infant. I took him into the bathroom, cleaned his wounds and ran a bath.
‘I’ll find some clothes. There’ll be food downstairs afterwards.’
‘Mickey said you were a good man. He loved you, you know.’
I did. That was why I’d driven him away. Towards a murderous bunch of bastards who ruled like medieval warlords. I went downstairs, furious at myself for breaking my golden rule of not getting involved with humans. Like my rabbit casserole, my resentment simmered for the next fifteen minutes, until the kid turned up, wrapped in a towel.
I nodded to the pile of clothes on a chair, left behind by his brother. While he dressed, I ladled casserole into two bowls. I turned around and sighed at the scarecrow lost in the clothes of a man with a muscular body, one I’d savoured getting to know.
Those Taunton bastards had murdered a soldier, a man who’d fought at the Battle of Swindon to protect them from the Fae invasion, the injustice of it stirred resentment into anger. I stared at the kid as he wolfed down the casserole, at the features that summoned his brother’s ghost. It had been good to spend time with another warrior, someone who understood what it meant to fight so others could live. The memory only made me aware of how lonely I was now, so I dismissed it. I filled the kid’s bowl a second time, it was gone in no time. I filled our mugs with cider, the lad drank it thirstily, and thanked me.
‘What happened to Mickey?’ I ground my teeth, furious at myself for wanting to know the details. ‘What were you doing getting caught by those Taunton bastards?’
The kid shuddered and, for a moment, he looked like he was going to blub again. He controlled himself with a few deep breaths.
‘There was no work here in Glastonbury, except for those with boats brave enough to risk the storms at sea. There was supposed to be work picking apples…’
‘He should have known better. There haven’t been large orchards since the mega-storms destroyed them a decade ago. There isn’t work anywhere. It’s just stories of hope passed around by refugees. He shouldn’t have gone. He should have stayed here.’
My tempest blew itself out the moment I uttered that final sentence. The kid looked at me, wide-eyed. Quieter now. So was my own voice.
‘I told him not to trust people.’
Wind hurtled down the chimney, making sparks dance like hyperactive fireflies. Nothing I’d learned so far explained why the Fae had used this kid for bait. Or why they weren’t already attacking me. With the meal finished I motioned for the lad to join me in front of the fire in the hope he could provide some answers.
‘And why did you come back?’
He stared into the flames, jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the landscape beyond my walls.
‘I used to live here. Till the floods destroyed everything. I thought I stood a better chance in a place I knew. Except nothing’s the same any more, is it?’
‘And you travelled all this way without getting caught by slavers? Or by the Fae?’
He looked at me just a little too long before turning back to the fire, watching me out of the corners of his eyes. I growled a threat and it was enough. His words tumbled from his mouth, like he was desperate to spew them out.
‘They found me. Near the coast. They were going to kill me.’ He shuddered. ‘Until they asked me if I knew this town, when I said I did, that was when they got interested.’
I held my breath.
‘They asked me if I knew you.’
There we were. Finally.
‘What did you say?’ The kid had stopped, probably expecting me to vent my fury. I felt vaguely surprised there wasn’t any fury to vent.
‘I didn’t want to tell them, Mister Goodfellow.’
‘But you did.’
A tight nod. ‘I’m not very good at lying. And I was scared. I told them everything I knew. All the stuff Mickey had told me about you.’
I wasn’t angry at the kid, I’d got the answers I needed. I stood up, I had to get ready. I took my supply of salt from the cupboard, it has a painfully astringent effect on Spriggan skin. The kid watched, his question didn’t disguise the hope in his voice.
‘You’re going to fight them, aren’t you? Like you did the others.’ He ignored my grunt of disinterest. ‘Mickey said you used to be a soldier for them. You know, the fairies. Is that true?’
I ignored him and started to clean Spriggan blood from my sword.
‘It’s just that you don’t look like a fairy. When I was a kid, you know, before the floods and stuff, I thought fairies were small, with wings and looked like flowers.’
‘We have the Victorians to thank for that.’
‘Who?’ He scrutinised my face with a frown, when I didn’t reply he continued. ‘Mickey said you’re really old too. But you look like a young man, there’s no lines on your face or stuff like that. You look the same age as Mickey.’
‘Yeah, it’s all down to a healthy diet.’
He scowled, uncertain if I was being serious.
‘Mickey said you could see how old you were by looking in your eyes but I can’t, they’re just really deep blue.’
‘Yeah. Well. Mickey talked a load of shit.’
The lad blinked, realised he was treading on thin ice. His endless references to Mickey made my simmering anger return to the boil, I needed to bring this cosy situation to an end.
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I’m not a nice man. For a very long time, do you know how your people described me?’ A shake of the head. ‘A demon. A hobgoblin. They even wrote a play about me, I wasn’t very nice in that either. I’m something more than a soldier. It’s why, when they come for me, you need to be long gone. It won’t be safe to be near me. Do you understand?’
We both heard the heavy footsteps outside, the kid looked at me, panic written across his face in capital letters. He wasn’t going to escape and we both knew it. I ran to the spyholes in my boarded windows, there were Spriggans everywhere, standing like sentinels. They’d be waiting for whoever was in charge to give the order to attack. I grabbed my sword and turned to the kid.
‘Get upstairs, quick. Find somewhere to hide.’
He didn’t hesitate, he hauled up his clown trousers and hurried to the staircase.
An explosion rocked the cottage, dust fell from the ceiling beams. They’d tried to get in upstairs, it looked like my ancient booby-traps still worked. Outside urgent commands were bellowed. Another explosion and outside things landed heavily on the ground. More commands, growled and furious this time. They were going to make me suffer for this but I didn’t care, I was a Trooping Fairy and we always ran towards a fight, never away. A loud thud smacked against the door and I held my sword ready.