Tepic was quite bouyed up after his encounter with himself, he certainly was a fun person, so he was playing a jaunty tune as he stepped back to where he thought his City should be. Looked like everything was going to work out, so why worry?
The air around him began to shimmer and drifts of coloured mist spun as he walked, and a faint sound of many people all chattering at once. He watched, still playing, as the strands of colour seemed to dance to his tune, taking on more substance, then changed from formless wisps to tall and elegant figures, dressed in the most marvelous shimmering clothing.
They parted to form a pathway forward, and Tepic stepped up, still playing, till he stood in front of a tall man seated on a large wooden chair, his hair the colour and texture of pine. With a flourish, he finished the tune, and heard a quiet murmour from the crowd, as if they had hoped he would play forever. He gave a deep bow, as it was obvious that the man was some sort of king, and it was always wise to give people the respect they thought was their due.
“Well little cub, and what brings you to our fair land?” asked the seated man.
“Just passin through, yer honour, with yer kind permision, of course.” he replied, bowing once again. He had the feeling that these were Fae, and one always had to be careful about dealing with them, they could be tricksy.
“Maybe you had best stay with us, and play your music for my Court’s ammusement, you would enjoy it here, all the sweets you could eat, and never any work to do!”
“It’s very generous of you, me Lord, but my City needs me…. look, fer payment fer crossing you lands, i’ll play yer three tunes, one fer the bit i’ve walked, one fer the bit here, and one final one as i leave your place, that’s fair, ain’t it?”
“It’s better you stay with us, we will take car of you, woun’t we, my dears?”, a harsh laugh rose from the gathered crowd, promising something less than amusing for the boy. He reached into his pocket, and drew forth a short wooden cylinder, intericatly carved, and proffered it to the Lord.
“i got this from the Fae Lord of the Green Fields, yer supposed ter give me free passage, in return fer three tunes, he ain’t gonna be pleased if he finds yer don’t honour his agreement!”
The Fae Lord took the talesman, and examined it carefully, before returning it to the boy.
“Yes, so it is, you are favoured by the Green Fields, arn’t you….. but what he doesn’t know, can’t hurt him, and who here would tell such tales?”
Grimly, the fox-boy put his talesman back in his pocket, and drew out a small, round, and distincly heavy stone, throwing it up in the air and catching it several times before rolling it round with his fingers. All eyes had fixed on it, following it’s path as it flew through the air, and the nearest fae stepped back to press into the throng.
“You dare to bring….. IRON to my domain!” hissed the man.
“Just does ter have some handy, when travelling places, yer honour..”
The man held forth his hand, and began to chant softly, eyes fixed on Tepic, and the boy drew back his hand, ready for one desperate throw. But instead of turning into a frog, or growing donkey’s ears, a blue glow surrounded him, and he knew he was not going to be harmed. The Lord looked confused at the boy, then at his hand, then back at the boy.
“You have protection, from where is this?” asked the fae, then continued “a cat, a large cat, you are his friend!”
“Well, i does know a few cats, an i’m friends with a number…”
“Today you have been lucky, little one, you may continue on your way, for the payment of the three tunes, of course!”
“Thank you, yer honour, pleasure ter meet you!” the lad concluded, then struck up a quick travelling tune as he stepped round the throne, and back on the path tothe City.
As the notes from the final tune drifted away, and the colours faded back to the grey of most of the hidden worlds, the Lord’s voice gave one final bit of advice –
“You need to go back to the place and time you left, look for where time goes back, and count well!”
It was an idea that hadn’t occured to Tepic, time as something you count wasn’t very important in his life – time to milk the voles, time to sleep, time to be up and about, those were the times you had to know, but he had spent several days wandering around since he had met up with Mr Arnold, and if he was gone for that time, they might worry, and anyhow, things were just about to get interesting in the City,a nd he didn’t want to miss anything! So he checked the places he was passing through, most were very boring, but eventually he reached one where the people were doing everything backwards, and more importantly, the clocks were going the wrong way. After some careful thought, counting on his fingers how long he had been in each place, he settled down in the long grass of a meadow that overlooked a rather neat clock at the top of a church tower. It was only a matter of waiting, and he was good at that, until the time he had used wound back. Of course, he stepped our of that world for a few minutes a couple of times a day, to have a bite to eat, or take care of other business, you could take things a bit far otherwise!
Once he was sure he had got the time about right, Tepic looked for the thread connecting him back to the City, said to himself that this was it, time to be back, closed his eyes, and stepped smartly into Miss Sinclair’s downstairs parlour. There was no one around, but in the corner was Mr Arnold’s bed, looking very inviting, so Tepic stepped over to it, curled up, and with the ability of all small and young creatures, fell fast asleep.
Tepic is now back, in the autumn just as the Dark Aether Adventure was reaching it’s climax. He will be making one more trip in this adventure, one in which he will learn quite a bit about life, and which will conclude this sequence of adventures for him – though one never knows what will be next!