“Where are we?” Pumpkin asked. She sat on Danna’s shoulder and played with Danna’s hair as she looked around. Wherever they were, it was dark, not like six in the evening, but more like midnight.
“The old homestead,” Danna said. She looked around at the scattered hills which were actually mounds built up over a long period of time. “Sorry. I have Casidy on the mind. We are at Cathair Crothind; or Cathair na Ri to be more precise, or Temhair-an-ri as they might say these days.”
“Where?” Ellean looked around as well, but this was all new territory to her.
“Tara. In Ireland” Ignatius spoke before Macreedy could explain.
“Ireland,” Macreedy said with a hard stare at the hobgoblin. “This is the ancient home of the Celtic Gods.”
“The grass is nice and soft,” Prickles said, not wanting to be left out.
“But what are we doing here?” Pumpkin was just full of questions.
“Visiting an old friend. My grandson.” Or great-grandson, or something like that, Danna thought. She waved her hand and a door tall enough for a giant appeared in the mist of the night. “Now be good and doff your hats,” she instructed, and they followed her inside.
“Gwyn!” Danna called out immediately as they came into a grand entrance hall. She ran her fingers across a marble table and felt the dust. Macreedy’s daughters, the sisters of the only son of Macreedy were gone, the last passing away when Danna lived as Michelle Marie and tried to bring peace and save lives during the madness they called the French Revolution. “That was two hundred and ten years ago, or more.” She mumbled and looked at the son of, son of, son of Macreedy who had Ellean by the arm and was looking around like a tourist at the Louvre. “Gwyn!” Danna called again and thought the poor man had been all alone those two hundred years.
“Shall we look for him?” Ignatius asked, and after a moment of thought, Danna nodded.
“Macreedy and Ellean, would you search the rooms of arrival where the labyrinths bring my little ones. They may be closed off, since that mode of travel is not used much these days, since the Isle of the Apples and some others of the innumerable Isles have been cut off from access to this place. Pumpkin, do you remember where the docks are?”
“Yes, Lady,” Pumpkin responded, but she had to scrunch up her face to remember, exactly.
“You might check there and tell Lord Gwyn his mother wishes to see him.”
“Yes, Lady.” Pumpkin fluttered off down one of the five halls that lead off the foyer room.
“Ignatius Patterwig.” Danna looked at the hobgoblin for a moment while Ignatius licked his lips with a tongue that was too snake-like for words. “Can you search the visitors halls and the great hall without getting into trouble.
Ignatius pretended offence. “Lady, I am yours to command.”
“Perhaps,” Danna said. “Just don’t think that out of sight is out of mind.” She dismissed the hobgoblin and turned to the ogre.
“Prickles, you had better stay with me. All of my Little Ones are traditionally welcome here, including ogres, trolls and the like, but I don’t want anything untoward to happen in case you should startle him.”
“I should stay with you.” The ogre grasped that much.
“Be a good boy and I will get you something to eat,” Danna said, and the ogre grinned at the thought of eating, and it was a grin that was so horrific, Danna herself could hardly hold on to her stomach. “Gwyn!” She called again to distract herself and started down the hall to the living quarters.
Danna found Gwyn in the library where the walls were filled with thousands of books and there was a great, roaring fire in the fireplace to provide heat against the October chill. Gwyn was dressed in a rich red dressing gown, his feet in slippers, and he sat in high backed, plush armed comfy chair that was red velvet, the same color as his robe. “Hush.” She quieted the ogre, because Gwyn was asleep, and as she stepped quietly to him a precious tear formed in the corner of her eye. Gwyn’s blond hair that once shone like the very brightness of the sun was gray and scraggily. His gray beard was far too long and fell to his protruding belly, a sure sign of a man who had let himself go.
Danna bent down to tenderly brush that hair out of Gwyn’s eyes, and Gwyn stirred. He pulled the little bit of drool back in and sat up straight while he tried to get his eyes opened and focused.
“Mother?” He spoke in a voice that was dry.
“I am here,” Danna said softly while the man pulled himself together. All of her children, grandchildren, great-grands and on called her mother, and that was always fine with her since great-great-great grandmother made her feel so old. She wanted to say so much to Gwyn, but she just smiled for him, and that was enough.
“I see you brought one of your Little Ones with you.” Gwyn looked up at the big ogre who was trying to fathom what all the things were that were stacked so neatly in shelves along the wall. He wondered if they might be edible.
“I brought several,” Danna said. “You remember Pumpkin, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Gwyn brightened for a second before he scowled. “That little thing was always flittering about.” Then he smiled again. “But she was good company.”
Danna also smiled and watched Gwyn rock in the chair in the attempt to get to his feet before she finally helped him up. “And Macreedy.”
“No, son of, son of, and so on.”
“Of course.” Gwyn walked slowly to the mantle over the fireplace where he had a pipe. “I remember Macreedy walking with Pwyll over to the other side with those three men.”
“My old master, Pelenor and his two friends. Yes, I was Gerraint in those days.”
“I remember,” Gwyn said, and he stuck the pipe in his teeth, but only to chew on it. He did not light it. “And who are you now?” He asked.
“Glen,” Danna said. “But he will have to wait a little longer before he can rest from his very busy day. I have work to do.” She swatted the back of the red velvet chair and caused a dust storm. “I have much work to do.” She looked at the old man.
Gwyn broke free of his memories to meet her eyes. “Me?” He shook his head. “I am fine. I just feel so tired all the time, that’s all.” He lit his pipe and Danna stepped to a table to see what books were open there.
“I was thinking of a young woman,” she said. “She should be nearly twenty now.”
“Moira?” Gwyn asked. “It was just a fling. That’s all.” He spoke offhandedly and tried to show a devil-may-care attitude.
“I believe you called it one last fling,” Danna said.
“Mother.” Gwyn still smiled for one brief moment before his countenance dropped. “None of us could ever hide anything from you.”
“Hmm.” Danna let some quiet thoughts pass through her mind before she clapped her hands. “Everyone here.” She spoke, and Macreedy and Ellean, Ignatius and Pumpkin appeared altogether. Pumpkin shot immediately into Danna’s hair.
“Who is that old man?” Pumpkin asked.
“Gwyn,” Danna said the word and Gwyn looked sad for a second before he made himself visibly brighten.
“Dear Flutterbug. Good to see you again.”
Pumpkin gasped and fluttered right up to Gwyn’s face. “But you’re so oldy,” she said.
“Young enough to know a flutterbug when I see one. But I thought you were in big trouble. Has it been a hundred years already?”
Pumpkin said no more. She just flew up to the old man and gave his cheek a little fairy kiss, and tried not to cry.
“Ignatius Patterwig.” Danna got their attention. “Please take Prickles to the kitchens and see what there is to eat. Prickles, do not eat the hobgoblin. Ellean, would you see if there is any food for the rest of us.” Ellean bowed slightly. “Oh, and Prickles, don’t eat the elf either.”
“Don’t eat the people.” Prickles nodded. “I know that. I remember what you said, you said don’t eat people.”
“Very good.” Danna reached up and scratched the ogre under the chin where the mold gets bad and his big, hammy hands cannot reach. The ogre responded like a puppy and slapped his foot against the floor a couple of times. “Go on,” she said.
Gwyn spoke after they were gone. “Patterwig, son of Coriander Patterwig?” Danna and Macreedy nodded. “I admired the father. Too bad it was a hopeless cause trying to bring order and discipline to a bunch of ornery hobgobs. I’ll say, though, we could have used him back…” Gwyn stopped cold. “Here, I am even sounding like an old man. I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Pumpkin said softly.
“Macreedy, how’s your chess?” Danna changed the subject.
“Quite good, actually”
“I guessed,” Danna said, and she waved her hand after her fashion. The books on the table went back to their places on the shelf and a chessboard appeared on the table, set and ready to go.
“But I haven’t played almost since Pwyll.” Gwyn did not finish his thought.
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” Macreedy encouraged him. “Once you learn, you never really forget.”
“And what are we going to do?” Pumpkin asked.
“We are going to stay the night, and tomorrow we are going to spring clean.”
“But, isn’t it fall?”
“Then we will fall clean tomorrow, but Sunday we have to go to church early in the morning.” Danna did not have to see to know the little fairy nose was turned up at the idea of going to church. “We will be gone a week or so. You will be here when we get back, won’t you?”
“Eh?” Gwyn looked up. “Yes, Mother. I think I still have a few good years in me. I am not in any hurry.” He looked back down at the board. It was his move.
“Mrs. Kettleblack.” Danna called and clapped her hands like before. A very elderly dwarfish-gnomish-impish sort of woman appeared, and after getting her bearings, she bowed as well as her old frame allowed. Mrs. Kettleblack cooked for the Castle of the Kairos for nearly five hundred years before she retired. “Mrs. Kettleblack. I hate to pull you from a well earned rest, but I was wondering if you would mind watching my son while I am away. He needs three squares, and good food, no more fast food.”
“Lady, it would be my pleasure. I was getting antsy in my rocker with no one to cook for.”
Danna just smiled because she knew that already, and she also knew that old Mrs Kettleblack could be good company for an old man. “Thank you,” she said and as Mrs. Kettleblack wandered down the halls toward the kitchens, Danna sat in the dusty chair and thought about how Glen really needed a good night’s sleep. Pumpkin yawned in her ear, but Danna herself would just have to wait and sleep tomorrow.