Back on the other side of the Portal Podraig was beside himself with the searching for Danna. He knew she wouldn’t have just run away: they were in love, fer fricks sake, she would’na done that. And…there was something deep down inside himself that told him she had not been killed, that told him she was alight and alive. She was not, as so many hushed voices had said when they didn’t know he was a listening, lying in a gully somewhere, dead as bones.
He knew that in his core. He could not be dissuaded.
He would find her. It was true. The hummingbirds had given him a path on which to start, chittering and twittering and pointing out the pale phosphorescence that marked where his Danna had gone. (All faeries leave that phosphorescence in their wake. Faerie dust, it’s been called, and each trail is as distinctive to the faerie that left it as fingerprints are to humans.) Podraig found the portal too, and he knew Danna had passed through it, not because of that phosphorescence, glittering shyly in front of him, or the disappearing of it twenty feet from his nose. No, he knew Danna had passed through the portal because he knew Danna, and he knew Danna would pass through the portal…how could she not? It was a delightful mystery and Danna would have to see what was on the other side.
He would want to go too; not because he was so very brave, but because he knew he always had fun when he let Danna take the lead on an adventure.
And now she had gone adventuring without him, and how was that to start a new marriage, for they were supposed to have been wed on Saturday last…
So, here was poor Podraig, worried and scared for his Danna dear, all lost and away without him…but, besides that he was frustrated beyond belief. He kept digging and digging, trying to open the portal. With every shovel of dirt he threw out of the hole, another shovel full was thrown into the hole from the other side.
“What sort of evil magic is this? “He said, to no one in particular. “Are the dark ones conspiring to keep me from my Danna?”
He pulled out another shovels worth of dirt, only to be immediately hit by more dirt from within, this time square in the face, leaving him coughing and sputtering and mad.
The dirt stopped falling. The rocks started falling. The demons of this portal, the guardians, he supposed, were dead set against him following his love to whatever new land waited on the other side. He would not be stopped, he knew that and vowed, with a crossing of his heart and a spit to the ground. He would follow and find her, of that you could be sure. He waited till the rocks stopped falling, then he pulled them out of the hole. As soon as he was done, more rocks fell into place to fill the void.
“FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!” he cried, in agony of dashed hopes as well as of the three fingers that had been smashed by the last stony onslaught. He might as well call it a night, and go soak his fingers in some cold water and hope he could sleep through the pain.
It was three days before he returned. His fingers were still swollen, but he could work them now, and it had been determined that, smashed as they were, none of them had been broken. When he pulled the stones out this time, a miracle happened: no new stones rained down to replace them. He was full of hope as he crawled up into the portal, only to have those hopes dashed by the discovery of how solidly the portal was now blocked, by stones held in place by sticks of steel or iron and a spiderweb of such, all glued together by a thin, hard stuff that appeared to have been poured in placed. It was like the wattle of huts, but stonier and impenetrable. He couldn’t cut through the metal, and when he tried to break the stony-stuff it came off only in small, insignificant, pathetic, tiny chips. Fie.
Podraig knew that at present there were only two things to be done, a choice: One, he could give up, go on with his life, eventually love another (or, more likely, he knew, die old and lonely and alone, because Danna would be impossible to get over) or, two, he could go on a journey of his own, with old maps, through forests deep and dark to the throne of the King of Dwarves, all the way to Diamond Mountain, to request assistance from those who knew mines and metals, and stones and such, who could help him forge a way through the cursed portal to find his Danna.
He knew which decision he would have to make, and he’d better started planning and packing so’s he could leave on the morrow.
But finding faeries to go with him proved harder than Podraig would’ve thought possible.
“Podraig, I feel for you, I really do,” said Timothy. “ Danna was a great girl…”
“IS a great girl,” interrupted Podraig.
Timothy looked at his friend kindly…and, truth be told, just a wee bit superciliously. “WAS a great girl,” he repeated. “But she’s gone now, without a trace. Let’s face it, that family always was more adventuresome than they should’ve been, even for faeries.”
“There’s a reason we call you Timidthy,” muttered Podraig.
Timothy just shrugged his shoulders and turned back to his pint. He was not going to help. Podraig thought about arguing with Timothy that there WAS a trace of where Danna had gone, or at least there had been, in the hours after she’d gone through the portal, but what would be the use? And besides, there had to be braver faeries than Timidthy that would want to help.
And there were. Braver, though not necessarily brighter, or fitter or more capable…
Angus approached Podraig at the bar.
“I’ll help, Podraig, sure I will,” said Angus wheezily.
“Oh…Angus.” Podraig grimaced. “Angus…” but then he brightened. Angus was strong. That could be useful.
Angus fidgeted and shuffled his large feet. “I’d like to help, really I would. I know I’m big and lumbering and don’t fly so well, and,” he lowered his head a bit shamefully. “And I know I’m not the brightest firefly in the jar, but I’m strong and hearty and I don’t give up.”
It was true: Angus was as tenacious a faerie as you’d ever hope to see. It was said that he had a bit of the bull in him, though that was said by the kindest in the sidhe. Those not so nice had joked about there having been a troll in the woodpile…
“Please Podraig. I really do wanna help. Danna always stood up for me, and I counted her among my few friends. I owe it to her to help get her back.”
Angus had a point. Danna had always defended Angus, from the play yard bullies when they were young, to the wanna-be Unseelies of their teen years , with dark clothes to go with their dark attitudes , to the meaner of the faeries now.
“Angus, Danna has always had faith in you, and I do too! I’d love your help and companionship.” Podraig turned to Angus’ companion Damon, tall and skinny with a shrill voice, greasy hair and pimples hidden in plain sight between every single one of his freckles. He was fast, he could help. “And how about you Damon?”
Damon looked stricken. “I…I…”
“Oh Damon, you’ve gotta go,” pleaded Angus. “Think of the time we’ll have, an adventure.”
“I…I…” Damon pursed his lips. “I…guess.”
“Great,” said Angus, slapping his friend on the shoulder.
“I’d like to help too, Podraig,” said a small voice behind him.
“Ciara,” said Podraig as he turned to look at the small, slim faerie with a bent and mangled wing. This was shaping up to be quite a troop to lead, manned as it was with misfits and broken sorts…still, Ciara was smart and clever, and good at spreading calm, so she could be useful as well.
“Alright, Ciara, you’re in,” said Podraig confidently, and turned to the eyes watching the goings on from all corners of the hall. “Who else? Who else will journey to Diamond Mountain and then through the portal to find Danna?”
There were various snorts and laughs and rude comments, including muttered “In a ditch somewhere,” and “dead as bones.” Podraigs heart sank.
Then a strong, powerful voice was raised in the back of the hall. “Disloyal cowards, the lot of you.” It was Danna’s Grandmother, imperious, important, with a gold circlet twined in her silver hair. She flew up to a point near the tall ceiling so everyone could see—and hear—her.
“Have you forgotten that my family has always marched in the front of the troop? Have you forgotten our importance simply because my husband and son have died? Have you forgotten that we’ve led you for thousands of years, that we brought prosperity to this mound when we were clothed in rags and exiled from our true home? Have you forgotten that Danna is the heir to this leadership, that she will be your queen when she comes of age? Have you forgotten all that?”
Mutters sounded in the hall.
“Mags,” uttered one man. “It’s not so much that we’ve forgotten, as…” he trailed off.
“As we want a different way,” picked up another.
“A different way!” exclaimed Mags. It was a statement and not a question. “You may yet have your different way, for all the good it’ll do you, but not by throwing out my bloodline in our time of need. Danna needs your help, Podraig has seen where she’s gone and is set to go and find her,”
Grumbles of disbelief echoed amongst the throng, and shouts such as “There was no faerie dust, he saw what he wanted to see.” and “He’s a foolish boys who wants us to join him on his foolish quest.” emanated from one specific table, headed by a powerful looking faerie, with dark hair and especially fine clothes.
“Oh you, Keiran,” shouted Mags to the man at the head of the table. “I know you want to lead, and I know you think you’re worthy of kingship, and I know there are those who agree, and many who may come to agree, with enough talk, convincing and coercion, but that’s a question to be settled later. You can’t have our small throne the easy way, through the last heirs disappearance, but the honorable way, if it’s to be, by the will of the people when given a fair and informed choice, and by proving you deserve it.” She looked away from Keiran and scanned the room, catching even the eyes that tried to look away. “But, the rest of you, I ask, does a faerie who refuses to help to search for a member of our court deserve to be King?”
Shouts erupted around the hall, dissenting views echoing loudly from the stone walls. Mags tried to continue, but her words were drowned out.
Ciara knew what she had to do: she flew a lopsided spiral around the room above everyone’s heads, letting her faerie dust fall on them all. When she got to the top next to Mags, she put two fingers to her mouth and whistled loudly. Those below calmed and quieted and paid her attention.
“I do believe our Mags still has something to say,” she said, and yielded the ceiling.
Mags continued: “Danna is lost. Podraig has said he’s seen her faerie dust leading to a portal and I believe him. Whether the rest of you believe him or not is beside the point,” she looked sharply at Keiran and his companions. “What is important is that we do all we can to find her. Even if she were not of the court, she is a member of our tribe, and we owe her this much.”
This time the shouts were supportive, of the “Hear hear.” and “Indeed.” variety, and the dissenting grumbles were few. Strong, able faeries raised their arms in volunteering, and Podraigs troop increased to nine. They would need one more to make their journey. A voice from Keirans table sounded:
“I’ll go,” said Dugan, while Keiran exhibited a sly, catlike grin.
Podraig didn’t especially want Dugan, who had grown into a bit of a bully in the last few years, due in no small part to his association with Keiran. Still, he was strong, and smart, and they used to be friends…
“You have your ten,” came a shout from the back of the hall, not coincidentally just to the left of Keiran’s table. “Yes! You have your ten,” the chant was raised “Go and find your Danna dear.” And so it was decided, despite Podraigs silent misgivings.