They were, suddenly, sitting in the middle of a war zone.
Fumes lay all around. A stinking, choking fog crawled in between the congregation’s pews. Screams and clamour swirled around the terrified faithful.
To their right stood a gleaming cavalcade of ilfen troops, their bloodied armour catching the dying rays of a dismal sunset which threatened to be choked by the fog of battle.
A front line of hellish dark shapes moaned and squealed near at hand on the opposite side, shambling forward in a miasma of tentacle, fang and claw. Arrow heads from both sides hummed and whined through the air above them. Occasionally, those of the dark army were fired with the added venom of a cursed spell and these flared a sickly, luminous green as they travelled, giving off an eerie, shuddering wail as they did so.
The vanguard of the black brood were a terrifying sight, being as they were made up of the dreaded Drathian Sackers. These resembled hideous, single giant hands, palm-down with chitinous ‘fingers’ for legs. They appeared to be blind at first… until they were roused to attack, whereupon they would rise up on the dorsal fingers to reveal their true faces on the underside of their bellies – a bloated, weeping visage with long, slit-like eyes that shone with a cold sapphire light. Their cry was similarly terrifying – a bubbling, moaning wail that consisted of both a basso roar and a keening squeal.
Beyond these horrors, piled and towering as if in defiance that despair could not possibly get any more corporeal, stood Yinthii herself.
Bloated, bulbous and hunched, she towered on eight creaking arachnoid legs which supported a furred red and black segmented thorax which looked to be a bastard hybrid of spider and scorpion. Her upper torso was vaguely humanoid, yet sprouted six scaled, purpled sets of arms - one set hefted two enormous black scimitars; another cradled a huge, ebony compound bow with nocked arrow, whilst the last held a pair of hands that glowed with dull, ember-like energy which hissed and spat. Long, wraith-like veils covered her face and body, stirring in the twilight. She bobbed and weaved atop her temple-pillar legs, creating an awful grinding, cracking aria that boomed across the battlefield.
A hoarse cry erupted from the ilfen ranks as another black-winged shape hissed over their assembly. It climbed steeply up into the sky before abruptly halting in mid-air and turning to face the oncoming horde with a piercing bray.
The black Pegasus’ wings pushed urgently against the wind, as if defying the very air to keep it aloft. Seated astride its broad withers sat a proud, robed figure.
The marbled Avunculus sighed as he appraised his former self, his white eyes glistening as if with tears of snow. ‘The last night. How certain were we of victory. So certain. And see,’ – he motioned to the looming projection of the Black Empress, with its sinister bow – ‘here is the deadly tongue ready to silence me.’
Cornwell had regained some of his composure at last, in spite of everything, and now addressed the cleric. ‘Your Eminence – this has gone far enough. If there is to be some kind of trial, then let us be done with it. I am well aware of the events of that day – I… I strove with all my soul to save you. That arrow…’
Avunculus wheeled and fixed the commander with a baleful stare. ‘Yes, Master Whetstone. That arrow. Let us see about it.’
He raised one arm and wheeled it in concentric circles above his head. As he did, the scene about them rapidly wound forward, spooling at high speed as if played through a projector.
Ilfen and black brood flung themselves at each other in horrifically accelerated cadence. Buck watched in amazement as what must have been long, bloody hours of combat played out in moments. He could not make out individual loss and victory, retreat and gain, agony and ecstasy – the whole conflict was portrayed in flickering temporal collusion.
Avunculus seemed to be having trouble locating the point in the battle that he wished to clarify. He continued to rotate his hand this way and that, varying the speed of the celestial recollection. At times he would slow the action down to observe one particular point, before grunting in dismissal and continuing onwards.
Through these apertures in the action, they could see, briefly, a line in the tale given voice for a moment. At one stage, Yinthii could be seen rampaging through the ilfen left flank, hewing about her with her scimitars and sending troops flying, screaming, through the air like so much wheat chaff. This melted away into the ether, to be replaced by a time when the tide appeared to have turned and armoured ilfen mages pressed forward in skirmish line, pushing a rippling, shimmering wall of heat before them and immolating a detachment of Sackers into black-boned scarecrows whilst the rest stumbled back with awful croaking wails of agony to spread chaos amongst their own ranks as walking torches.
Fire. Foe. Flee. On and on it went, loss upon loss; triumph upon sorrow; screaming, keening, barking and bawling.
Suddenly, the vision slowed to a crawl – and Buck saw Cornwell in the maelstrom.
For the first time, he saw that, actually, the taller ilf was not all hummble-wind and preening. His armour was dinted and bloodied; his sword hung limply by his side… and his face held the same slack-eyed terror shared by exhausted foot soldiers caught in a hopeless slaughter in every single dimension.
He turned as the Reverend Beri glided up beside him: ‘Your Eminence,’ he whispered. ‘Is this what you meant? I mean – when you said… about him facing his test…’
Beri looked down at him, her nebulous gaze like drifting mist. She gently shook her head, and her soft voice lapped over Buck’s mind: … Herod has appeared to us as a footstep of another doom. He will advise, admonish – and no more.
The scene shimmered where it was caught in its temporal freeze-frame. Avunculus beckoned to Cornwell: ‘Come forth, my boy. It is time.’
Cornwell’s demeanour had repressurised in the past few moments. He was in control again. Only a slight tremor where his hand rested lightly – no, heroically – on the top of his sword pommel betrayed his unease.
He stepped forward to where Avunculus’ golem now waited. ‘If it please your Eminence – so be it,’ he drawled. ‘I wish only for confirmation of my deeds that day – your Radiance must be only too well aware of how I leapt to your def…’
Avunculus held up one whispering hand. ‘Stop. Unburden your soul with your own lips, The millionfold will embrace you and soothe your repentance if you just confess.’
The façade vanished, slamming shut like a door in a sudden cold wind. Cornwell erupted. ‘Confess?’ he yelled. ‘Confess? Confess to what? That you were a hotwind coward? That you took my command and made them up to me as if I was one of hers? I’ll bloody well tell you what I’ll confess to! I confess I hated your sanctimonious arse!’
Enraged, he reached behind his back, whipped out his hidden dual-daggers and launched himself at the golem. ‘I’ll send you back to the millionfold, you lying bastard!’
The stony form of Avunculus did not appear perturbed. As the furious ilf came charging towards him, he merely waited, hands behind his back. Cornwell’s murderous stroke came falling for his head…
There was a flash of blue sparks. Treyanna Mistvane stood, apparently having burst up through the floorboards, holding one tulwar blade in an uncomfortably close proximity to Whetstone’s throat. The other pointed, rocky-steady, at the floor of the narthex, at the end of a lightning and surgical disarming arc that had neatly embedded Cornwell’s weapons in the floor.
The Fernmaiden’s ruined eye socket seemed to blaze deadly penitence at the outraged ilf as he nursed one greaved wrist with the other hand. Breathing hard, he glared at her. ‘How dare you!’ he spluttered. ‘When my father hears about this, you stunted tavern-slut…’
His tirade ceased abruptly in a strangled croak. The cold steel of Treyanna’s tulwar was now a gnat’s wing-breadth from sending him to join Avunculus.
The ilfess commander grinned wolfishly, her cimber’s torches flaring a glittering cobalt in tandem with her temper.
‘… Yes?’ she hissed. ‘You were saying about parentage?’
Cornwell could not reply, only evoke a small, desperate hacking noise. His hands fluttered at his throat like shadow-puppets.
‘Ack,’ he answered. ‘Ackaack.’
The Maiden turned slowly towards the soft summons. Avunculus closed his marbled eyelids and gently shook his head: ‘Let him go. Yours is not the hammer which will determine his fate. This is.’
He turned his hand swiftly in the air. The mystic frieze came abruptly to life once more, the tumult of battle spooling up rapidly from a basso growl into fully fledged sonic horror-show.
Evidently, this was near the end of the conflict. The sun had all but risen, lancing her deadly fingers of life and light upon the dark horde who were in what looked to Buck complete and panicked disarray. Spectral, flashing figures of grim-faced ilfen charged through the congregation wielding shining halberds, thundering after the black legions in murderous pursuit.
Near the horizon, like some rotting watchtower swaying in the breeze, stood the towering form of Yinthii. As Buck watched, the Empress gave out a thin, piercing screech which knifed across the field. It was an unambiguous scream of defeat and anger.
As her beaten brood swirled around her clattering legs, they seemed to carry her away in their stream, driving their precious leader towards the rapidly diminishing safety of the night mists which were evaporating with every second. Her die had been cast – and she had lost.
Every eye in the narthex turned skyward as the memory of Avunculus’ swept down astride Mandrake. The Pegasus’ flanks were steaming, and he had several arrow heads sticking out from his muscular fetlocks – yet he landed lightly, folding one huge wing neatly along his side, whilst extending the other to the ground to allow his master to dismount.
The cleric’s ethereal shade raised its arms, its smirched staff raised high in the air. ‘Victory!’ it bellowed. ‘For the Gods, the starfold and the glory of Wardhome! To ME!’
Around them, the memory of the weary ilfen troops erupted in a misty tumult, their voices scratchy and distant, as if heard underwater from far off.
And then it happened.
From Yinthii’s fleeing form, a dim star of crawling green light emerged. It swelled and bloomed as it raced back over the torn and immolated husks of her fallen troops, coming closer and closer. As it did so, it gained an eerie voice – a shuddering wail that got louder and louder. It was a cursed arrow.
It arced down from the sky, caught in the spectral sunrise in a sparking, hissing, whining threnody. At first it looked like it was going to fall desperately short of the front line, much too far back to be nothing but a maggot-ridden blight on the unfortunate spot where it would meet the earth’s embrace.
Suddenly, it stopped. Actually stopped in mid-air.
It dipped and weaved this way and that like a drunken cobra, emitting a low, angry buzzing sound, as if it were unsure and searching for something. Or…
As if it had already found it. As if it were – waiting.
The hair on Buck’s neck stood up as he saw, entering the fold from the murky depths of the spectral scene, a desperately figure, heading back towards the ilfen front
At first, he thought it was one of Yinthii’s brood, making a last desperate, suicidal bid to throw themselves in dark glory upon the sons of Wardhome. Then it got closer and he could make out finer details – dinted armour, a smudge of blond hair. It was an ilf.
It was Cornwell.
The corporeal Cornwell erupted again. ‘Lies!!’ he shrieked. ‘What devilry is this now?! I was in the vanguard when the arrow came! I stopped the arrow! STOPPED IT!’
Avunculus did not answer. He watched the scene, hands clasped behind his back, a pillar of reason etched in living rock. His gem-like gaze flashed under his eyebrows.
‘Watch,’ he said.
Cornwell’s mouth worked soundlessly in guppy-fish outrage – but he watched. As did Buck. They all did.
His spectral counterpart continued its flight back towards the congregation. Now Buck could see the terror on his face again, and he felt, suddenly, nothing but pity for him. It must have been a horrific battle and there was no shame in wanting to run – even if the danger had all but passed. Blind panic had obviously consumed Cornwell in the last chaotic stages of the fight and he’d not been aware that the battle was all but won… or even that he was galloping towards his own lines, and safety.
The charging ilf passed under the arrow, which was still hanging in the sky like old doom. As he did, it snapped around venomously and hissed towards him, its evil moan cycling up again.
The memory of Cornwell ran.
Spectral Avunculus turned and raised his arms as if to wrap the terrified commander up in a soothing embrace.
Cornwell seemed, at the last, to realise where he was charging to. Veering crazily to the left he dived across into his brethren. The open arms of the cleric were ignored, a love denied.
The arrow thunked into Avunculus’ eyeball with an ungainly, ugly sound. Its darkling power seeped down into his veins in sickly, luminous rivulets. The cleric remained standing, frozen, arms still outstretched. His head rocked spasmodically up and down, as if it were agreeing with some last painful inner thought at breakneck speed. A dark line of virulent, poisoned drool cascaded from Avunculus’ mouth – and he fell.
From the misty ranks of the ilfen, a sudden figure emerged – jumping over the prone form of Cornwell who was swallowed, unheeded, in the desperate rush to aid the stricken vicar.
Bucklebee gasped. The warrior striding to help wore a bumblebee skin hat, which he tore off in desperation to cradle the dying Avunculus’s head which was still in its rictus throes and had turned an awful, lichen jade.
As the astonished tower-hand watched, the ilfen trooper bravely clamped his mouth over the clerics, trying to force a last breath into his lungs.
It was to no avail. Moments after this heroic act the trooper fell back, clutching his throat as the poison flung its claws into his brain, carried on the dying breath of Avunculus onto his own. He slumped back into the tumult.
A dull, syncopated roaring suddenly cycled up that pressed on the ears, bellowing like some psychic hurricane. Louder and louder it got. The spectral ilfen troops began to fracture and distort, stretching like taffy on some violent astral wind. Their brutal faces began to melt and tear, pulling their features into horrific repose; eyeballs sinking, teeth and mouths crumbling, faster and faster…
The scene dispersed suddenly, like smoke on the breeze. Sunlight lanced down again from the coloured mosaics of Windspire’s stained glass windows.
They were back in the world.
Avunculus had gone.
Cornwell was slumped in a heap in the centre of the narthex, sobbing uncontrollably. ‘I… I tried,’ he whispered, tearfully. ‘All I wanted… was to get out… get out of there. The screaming. The pain. I… never even knew that we’d won. I just ran. Ran for all my worth. Then I saw… I saw our line – and it was like instinct took over. I just wanted to dive in. Get away from… the screams…’
He dragged a greaved fist across his face, savagely wiping away the snot that bubbled there. ‘He had his arms open. It was like he – he was sneering at me. At me. I… I just wanted to get past those eyes. That staff. That stupid horse…’
He tailed off; eyes glazed. ‘I never even heard the arrow hit him. I was smothered. Crushed under my own treacherous men – all they wanted was for the great Avunculus to live. They couldn’t have given a tin turd about their commander.’
Beri stepped up. ‘Look at me, Cornwell,’ she said, softly.
The tall ilf, broken and husked, raised his eyes and saw what she was holding out to him. It was the white staff.
He knew whom it belonged to.
‘Justice,’ he whispered.
Beri nodded. ‘For all.’
Cornwell took the staff. From far off, something like a sigh caressed the stained glass of the Chancel like a sudden breath of wind. Then it was gone.
Patient as gargoyles, the ilfs waited for the sunrise.
A light rain misted over the assembly, vying for skyspace with the encroaching dawn, turning the cobbled approach to Wardhome’s northern passway into a reptilian skin; slick and uninviting.
Cornwell Whetstone sat, slumped atop his horse, flanked by a grim detachment of Fernmaidens. The rain pinged and tinged off his blood-red armour in a banal and tuneless rondo that seemed desperately at odds with its owner’s fatalistic expression.
… Almost time.
A few hundred yards further back, Bucklebee Hazeldust sat astride Otto, who’d been especially girdled and brushed for today. Alongside sat the Reverend Beri Magpielane, who was mounted upon a magnificent piebald shire horse.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Buck, as the penal detachment of Fernmaidens began to saddle up. ‘Why does he have to go? Wasn’t he judged fairly?’
Beri turned to look down at him. Her nebulous eyes were dark under her sable hood – two patient, sorrowing opals regarding the trembling tower-hand.
‘He must,’ she said. ‘It was not enough for him just to bear witness to his cowardice. Now, Master Whetstone must bear out his lot.’
She looked up as a brisk clatter of hooves announced the appearance of Treyanna Mistvane. The grim ilfess commander looked even more imposing now with a tall onyx battle-helmet from which sprouted a tight plume of peacock feathers. ‘All is ready,’ she announced. ‘We await your journey-blessing.’
She unsheathed one of her tulwar’s as she spoke. The rasp of oiled metal set Buck’s teeth on edge. He wanted this done.
He looked over his shoulder. Some five miles further behind him, Windspire rose imperiously from the centre of the town. Her upper spires were wreathed in a phantasm of drifting cloud and he could just make out the foreshortened form of Nel. Her upper torso was cloaked in the same nebulous cloak of mist and it appeared as if she were a headless wight – not beseeching but ravenous, reaching out to steal your soul rather than save it. He shuddered.
Beri nodded slowly and closed her eyes. From beneath her rain-soaked riding cloak her hand slid out and with index and middle-finger together made a short, flicking gesture.
An intimate sparkle of light, barely visible in the wet air, scampered from her fingertips. It clustered together in front of her, spinning around in a tight constellation before zipping forth to meet the outstretched point of Treyanna’s blade where it rotated briefly before fading like an ember.
Beri inclined her head. ‘Go with blessings. May She remain below.’
Treyanna returned the bow. She resheathed the blade with a whining flourish and gathering up her reigns. ‘May She remain below,’ she echoed, before squeezing her spurs and wrangling her mount towards the head of the detachment.
Cornwell turned his head towards the assembled crowd as she cantered past him. His braids were sodden in the rain and he gave them all a single, hunted look.
‘Good people,’ he said, loudly and assuredly although there was a marked quaver underneath. ‘I am come here… to go. To my penance upon the forest floor… and my judgement. I may not return – so I ask for your forgiveness… and to know that, no matter what I may have done… the gods may yet accept my wrongs with notches on my blade – or my soul if not.’
A distant peal of thunder underlined his words. Suddenly, there was a freak break in the clouds. It continued to rain but a finger of the dawn had managed to stretch through the drizzle.
Bucklebee looked back again.
Nel’s fingers were aflame.
Slowly, the column began to trot forwards, out of the northern passway, their hooves making a discordant crackling on the wet cobbles. Out into the mists beyond the wall they rode, still at a ceremonial trot until the last Maiden in the detachment had passed under the archway. As soon as they were onto the open grasslands, the whole column burst into a driving canter, the rhapsody of their mounts mingling with the soft mutter of thunder from the heavens.
Buck watched as they shrank into the mists, catching a last glimpse of Cornwell’s crimson armour amongst the dun-hued plate of the Maidens. Then they were lost to sight as the mist swallowed them.
The tower-hand swallowed. They would now face a two-day journey down the slopes of Wardhome’s surrounding fields until they reached Nigh-Edge – the vast perimeter fence that surrounded their stilted territory. From there, they would pass through the wrought iron bars and meshing through ancient and chain-sealed accessways, leaving their horses at long-abandoned guard-houses before descending on foot via grim stairwells and lifts to the forest floor – a further two-day journey, if the unaccountably ancient machinery held and they were not waylaid by… other things.
Otto hummed happily as the rain finally dwindled and a fresh breeze ferried the sunlight onto the watching crowd. He shook his mighty head in a languid circle, sending a cascade of spray from his fur onto Beri’s charger, which whickered warningly.
Beri patted her mount, soothing her. ‘It is done,’ she said. ‘What will be will be now. He will return in penance – or he will ascend the same.’
Buck took off his wringing bee skin hat and batted the water out of its depths. ‘Reverend,’ he asked, slowly as they turned to head back to Windspire. ‘Why was I there that morning? I still don’t truly know why Avunculus wanted me to witness all that. I mean – I had nothing to do with Cornwell’s fate…’
Beri looked down at him as they began to move. ‘Do you wonder at that, Master Hazeldust? Do you think you truly had no bearing on his lot?’
Buck was silent for a moment. ‘… Well – okay. I didn’t like him much. But I guess that was obvious.’
The Reverend laughed softly. ‘More than a little. No – it was not your lack of love for him that prompted Herod to call you forth. Did you not see the trooper who went to his aid?’
Buck thought back – and then he remembered the ilfen trooper who had fallen, screaming, as he’d tried to save the cleric as he lay dying.
‘Yes,’ he breathed, thickly. ‘He had a hat like mine. Bumblebee skin.’
The vicar nodded. ‘Yes. That man’s name was Zantine Hazeldust. He was your father.’
The words hit Buck like the arrow that killed the vicar. He pulled up the reigns on Otto sharply, prompting a bark of protest from the old hummble. ‘My fa…?’
Beri curved her steed around in front of him and leaned forward, smiling. ‘Yes. Does this surprise you?’
Buck snorted, forgetting himself. ‘Too right. My father was not a hero. He was a disgrace. He gave up his post as tower-hand when I was little. Resigned it. Said he needed to enlighten his soul. Then he just lighted out. Vanished on some bloody navel-gazing moon-mission. We never saw him again…’
He stopped as he realised they were being watched. From a dark stairwell set back from the street Buck descried a willowy form with long, sharply curled red hair hanging about their shoulders.
Beri looked impassively in the direction of this strange observer. ‘Lathspell,’ she said. ‘I saw that she was watching the departure. And she would have to bring along that cursed familiar of hers.’
As if in response to the Reverend’s musings, the red-haired vision suddenly vanished in what appeared to be a flurry of raven-feathers. It reappeared several paces forward of the stairwell, in full view.
Fully revealed, the slender form of Hegarty Lathspell was now visible to Buck. Her umber hair seeming to float in a cloud of fire around her head. The ilfess sorceress wore a long, iridescent cloak of raven-feathers that shimmered and glistened in a mesmerising oiled dance that made it difficult to determine exactly where her true shape began or ended. Her eyes shone a lambent blue which crackled and sparked with distant energy in stark contrast to the languid clouds of Beri’s.
Like Treyanna, she also had two cimbers, signifying a high order of spiritual achievement. These were in the shape of two ancient leather-bound tomes whose pages were perpetually turning, endlessly searching for knowledge and power.
She watched them silently for a moment. As her steely gaze passed over Buck, the tower-hand experienced a not entirely pleasant jolting sensation, accompanied by a flash-frame image in his head. It was too instantaneous to speculate on but he saw the bumblebee-skin hatted warrior of Whetstone’s judgment frieze again. Then it was gone.
Buck blinked and looked up at the Reverend. ‘Wha…’
Beri was not looking at him. She was looking grimly towards the sorceress as the second figure that had been watching them whispered into view.
It was a huge, six-armed golden statue that moved under its own steam. Atop its towering, seven-foot frame sat a many-sided head upon which sat four graven faces. Each face appeared to be caught in sudden, stern sleep, eyes closed under a furrowed, carven brow.
But there was nothing somnolent about J’Set An’anke, Lathspell’s golden protector. It moved in perfect cadence behind her on whispering, frictionless gyros – a discreet shadow of brooding malice that gave every impression of being eerily watchful, despite its slumbering physiognomies. Slung across its back was a huge war-hammer that was carved of pure lapis lazuli and seemed to cling by some arcane magnetism without the need for strap or scabbard.
Buck watched in a mixture of awe and relief as the crowd swallowed them – or else, they seemed to ripple through folk as stones on a millpond. ‘I didn’t see her at the departure,’ he said, softly. ‘I thought she never came out of her tower – she sees everything through those mirrors of hers, doesn’t she? What was she doing, lurking in the shadows?’
Beri stared after where the sorceress had vanished like a bad dream. ‘Standing where she belongs, Master Hazeldust. Her kind do not belong in the open – they are naught but throttlers in dark places.’
She looked towards Windspire, which had emerged from the morning rain now to shine in splendour. ‘She used to be a regular visitor – one of our most devout brethren. Then, twilight descended and she became mired in dark sorceries of Androchine – reanimating golems of precious metal, like that abomination you saw slavishly following in her footsteps just now. ‘
Buck nodded, and suddenly felt grateful for Magpielane’s presence. ‘She was in my head… for a moment, I saw… something.’
Beri nodded and gathered up her reigns, ready to move again. ‘Do not let her wander in your mind, Master Hazeldust. She can but steal glances of your heart as a stone skips on the surface of the sea.’
She became grim. ‘Never let her in. Ever. For you will find it nigh-on impossible to get her out again.’
She gently goaded her shire into a brisk trot. Buck kicked Otto’s flanks and the hummble trilled and lumbered easily after her, his enormous legs comfortably keeping pace in a fluid lope. ‘Is she dangerous then?’ he asked.
Beri shook her head. ‘Her machinations may seem powerful and just but they are naught but smoke and mirrors; lights and clockwork. But they will get under your skin like a splinter that will not yield, and you may yet find yourself crying out for a salve that cannot be applied to such witchery.’
The tower-hand sighed discreetly. Sometimes he wished he could just get a straight answer, instead of florid cryptics.
He looked up as Windspire swelled in his vision reassuringly. Now there was a constant. He felt an eagerness to get back inside her powerful stone embrace. He would pour himself a long drink, and sit with Pyx and let the guardian chew his ear to the quick about latrines and dusty old clerical tiles and he would feel safe.
Nel’s fingers were still afire in the morning sun. Clear as stars, they welcomed the ilf home. To where he belonged.
Forty miles away, a blood-red figure turned and looked back where they had just ridden from. The light on Nel’s fingertips was nothing but a glimmering pin-prick, s dying firefly. The figure stared longingly at it for a moment longer before a sharp, husky voice barked him onwards, into the mist. Soon they were lost to sight and there was nothing but a haunting, wavering cry which echoed rustily across the empty fields.
Author Notes: Thank you, one and all, who've taken the time to read A Sermon of Lies. Constructive criticism always welcome - and there will be more tales from Brackenbough very soon! ;O)