Jocy and Hi-lee had never entered Tas-et-lal before, but they had studied the layout of the country many times before. Therefore, it wasn't all that difficult to reach the castle where the king of Tas-et-lal resided. After two nights of cautious traveling, they arrived at the headquarters of the enemy.
The castle did not look friendly. It was much larger than the castle of Jet-a-Miray. It had crocodiles in the wide moat, as opposed to the swans in the moat of Sela Kotu's castle. It seemed to be made of dark gray, almost black, stone, and the very shadows that the castle made looked sinister and foreboding. The castle of Jet-a-Miray, of course, would not look friendly to the citizens of Tas-et-lal, but to Jocy and Hi-lee, it was like a second home. None of the spies could think of this castle as home, not by any stretch of the imagination.
"When are we going to sneak in?" asked Elk-lore in the lowest possible whisper as he stared at the imposing castle.
"Tonight," replied Jocy. "Not now. The sun is rising, so we have to find a place to hide."
The three spies didn't have time to search out a perfect place to hide, so they had to settle for a mediocre spot in the dense forest to the west of the castle. Hi-lee fell asleep as soon as they settled on a hideout, and Jocy didn't seem to be very close behind.
"Jocy, you can go to sleep, and I'll stay on guard--if you want," whispered Elk-lore. Naturally, this slight noise woke Hi-lee, who merely put her earplugs in her ears and went back to sleep.
"I don't know," replied the eagle. She was very tired, but she thought that Elk-lore would fall asleep at his post. "You won't fall asleep, will you?" she asked.
"Of course not. You have my word. If there's one thing I can do well, it's staying awake," replied Elk-lore. "Once I stayed awake for five years."
'Unless they took that from me, too,' he thought.
"Well, all right," said Jocy, reluctantly yawning. She barely had enough energy to fly to a tree branch so she could sleep. She tried to stay awake, because she hated the thought of a small fairy being left alone to be a lookout for all three of them, but her subconscious recalled that Elk-lore seemed capable of looking after himself. Her eyelids closed....
Jocy woke up several hours later. To her surprise, she found that Hi-lee was already awake and having a conversation with Elk-lore. They were both lit by the moon's glow, since Elk-lore was no longer glowing.
"What are you doing awake?" asked the eagle to Hi-lee.
"Well, Elk-lore accidentally woke me up, and he said he was having trouble staying awake, and so I stayed up with him," responded Hi-lee. Elk-lore shook his head, but he was grinning. Sure, he had 'accidentally' wakened her--he had had to hit her over the head with a twig about 6 times before she had even noticed... He had to, though. He couldn't even stay awake, and he had promised. He couldn't stay awake. The fairy who had gone for twenty days without sleep--It was only seven evenings since he had dozed off, and he was very tired now. He couldn't stay awake. That thought scared him to death.
"Well, come on," he said, shaking off his last thought. "Are we going to sneak into their castle or not?"
"Just to see the layout," replied Jocy. "We can't expect them to hold their secret meetings at night- can we?"
"It's happened before," said Hi-lee. "Where do you think the best place to break in is?"
"I'm not sure," answered Jocy, "There are some small windows near the top of the castle. I could take you two up there, and you could check things out." Jocy really wanted to go into the castle, but a little mouse and a fairy that looked like a shadow were slightly less noticeable than a three foot tall eagle, even if she could change the color of her feathers. She was used to it, though. Hi-lee had snuck into numerous other castles without her friend Jocy.
Elk-lore and Hi-lee liked the idea, (or, at least, didn't have a better plan). They decided to act immediately. Jocy made her feathers a beautiful black color that matched the night sky perfectly, and Hi-lee climbed on her back. The trio blended in almost flawlessly as they flew toward the castle.
Jocy picked a window and told Hi-lee when to jump off of her back and into the dark castle. The mouse was used to doing this, so she had no trouble. She was, however, slightly jealous of Elk-lore when she saw him fly easily through the window with his own wings.
"If you two need anything, just yell," said Jocy playfully as she left. She waited in the shadows of the castle wall, because she had to fly back up to the window and get Hi-lee when she gave the signal.
Hi-lee and Elk-lore looked around at the room they were in.
"It's awfully dark. I can't see a thing," said Hi-lee.
Elk-lore sighed. "Neither can I." He lit himself up so they could see the room. To their surprise, it was empty except for a large table in the middle. Hi-lee climbed to the top of the table, and Elk-lore followed.
"How odd," said the mouse. "This is a big map of the world. And look at all the pieces; they look like they're from a chess game. I wonder what they're for?"
"Don't you see?" replied Elk-lore in a tense whisper. "Tas-et-lal is planning to invade Jet-a-Miray! See, these pieces are the soldiers on foot invading from the east, and these are knights going south...." In the shock of the moment, Elk-lore decided to do something that could be considered foolish or brilliant, depending on your point of view.
"Hi-lee, let's scramble the pieces." Hi-lee liked the idea and, in a matter of minutes, the pieces were arranged so that Jet-a-Miray was invading Tas-et-lal. Perhaps it was silly, but neither one of them could bear to leave the pieces invading their own country. Had Jocy been there, she would have never let them touch the pieces; it would raise suspicion.
"I'll bet they'll be confused about their war plans now," said the smiling fairy. "What's this?" he said, lifting a piece of paper off of the table. "It's a note, and a useful one, too."
"What's it say?"
"It says that they're having a meeting tomorrow at 6:00 PM concerning the invasion of Jet-a-Miray in the central room. Come on, let's find this central room."
Elk-lore and Hi-lee managed to push the door open (there are no door knobs in that world) and went into the hall. They noticed a plaque above the door that they had just opened that said, 'War Room'.
"Wait here," said Elk-lore. "I'll fly along up there and read the plaques. I'll bet that one of these is the central room." He flew along, reading the signs, and found the one that said 'Central Room'. He counted the doors to the left and right of it. There were seven to both the left and right. He flew back to Hi-lee.
"I found it," he said. "It's in the center of these fifteen doors. There's 15 windows outside here in this part of the castle. The eighth one probably leads to the central room. I'm going to go check. Just stay here, I'll be back in a minute."
Elk-lore suddenly felt a violent pulling at his back. After a second, he knew what it was. Someone had seen him and was now picking him up by his wings. He had been taught never to struggle if someone had him by the wings because a fairy has very delicate wings and, though they won't break off, they can be bent, and it takes many hours of not flying for a bent wing to heal--provided a fairy still had its magic. Therefore, Elk-lore stayed totally still, even when the man who caught him spoke.
"Oh, great. Not another fairy! Do you know how many of you guys we've found spying around here?" Elk-lore flinched. "Well, at least you're easy to deal with." The man took out a knife and prepared to cut Elk-lore's head off. Hi-lee gasped.
'I have to do something!' she thought to herself. Suddenly, she had an idea. She quickly got out her bottle of fairy dust, uncorked it, and threw the contents at the man. Normally, a mouse wouldn't be able to throw anything high enough to hit a standing man in the face, but, whether there was a breeze, or if the fairy dust still had some magic left, it hit the man right in the eyes. He coughed and closed his eyes. He then tried to get the fairy dust out of his eyes and, in the process, dropped Elk-lore.
"Quick! In here!" said Elk-lore. He pushed the nearest door open and they found themselves back in the war room. "Come on, up on the windowsill. Maybe we can signal Jocy."
"I know!" exclaimed Hi-lee excitedly.
The man opened the door. "Now I've got you!" he said.
"No time," said Elk-lore. He sighed. "You'll have to jump." Hi-lee thought that he even sounded a bit sad.
"I can't jump! I'll never make it! I'll be a smear on the ground!"
"You'll make it, Hi-lee," replied Elk-lore, trying his best to sound encouraging. He didn't think that she would make it, either. "Good luck. I wish I could carry you..."
The man jumped at the small windowsill. Elk-lore had already flown out of the way, but Hi-lee was within easy reach of the man.
"Oh, we have a rodent problem, too?" he asked. Hi-lee took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped over the edge of the windowsill. Elk-lore caught her by the collar, but his fingers quickly came loose from the fabric, and Hi-lee fell.
For a moment, the mouse felt the pure exhilaration of flight without wings, even though her subconscious knew that the brief flight would probably be followed by death. Hi-lee opened her eyes and suddenly hit something hard.
'I wonder what it's like to be dead,' she thought right before she blacked out.
The next thing Hi-lee knew, she was hearing voices.
"Do you think that she'll be all right?"
"Sure she will! She's made it through worse than this. Like the one time she got hit in the head with that cannonball... You know, that explains a lot, now that I think about it."
"If they killed her..."
"They didn't kill her."
"You're right. They didn't kill her. It was my fault. She saves my life, and how do I repay her? I just let her jump off. I could've killed the guy--I had my arrows!--or I could've distracted him, or-"
"You couldn't do anything about it. If you had killed him, we'd be in even bigger trouble. And if you'd've distracted him, he would've probably killed both of you. Then who would tell me about the meeting? Now get some sleep, okay?"
Hi-lee heard a yawn. "I shouldn't have to sleep...." The voices faded away again. Hi-lee tried to open her eyes but found that she had no control over her body. She started to drift off....
Hi-lee woke up hours later. She found that, this time, she could open her eyes.
"What did I tell you? She's awake!" said Jocy.
"She is? Thank Tay-free!" Hi-lee found herself looking into the concerned face of a glowing fairy. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Hi-lee blinked a few times. "All right? Me? Yeah, I'm fine." Elk-lore helped her up. "What happened?"
Elk-lore answered, "You jumped out of the window, and Jocy caught you on her back. I guess the impact knocked you out."
"Don't worry," said Hi-lee. "Worse things have happened to me while I was eating lunch."
"Like the cannonball thing," Jocy reaffirmed.
"How long was I out?"
"A long time," said Jocy. "According to Elk-lore, the meeting starts in about four hours. Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to get lunch." Jocy flew away.
"You saved my life," said Elk-lore. "You almost got caught, and you almost got killed, but you saved my life anyway. I couldn't've done it."
"Wanna bet? You're the Terminator fairy with his trusty bow and arrows who sneaks into enemy territory just to find out more about the people who stole your magic." Elk-lore sighed at this comment. "What's wrong?"
He nearly exploded in anger. "Why should I be proud of that? I go around ending lives. Those people, they had friends, they had families. Do you know how many people I must make unhappy just by killing someone who's trying to assassinate the leader of my own country? The fools that I killed were just under orders. They might kill us, but they sure didn't take our magic away. We kill them, so we're supposedly even, but do two wrongs make a right? I've ended twelve lives. I've murdered twelve people- twelve living creatures are dead now thanks to me. And I have to live with that for the rest of my life, my long, miserable, lonely life. How can a little fairy kill twelve people?" Elk-lore paused. "I-I'm sorry....I've never said that to anyone before. Just give me a minute." Elk-lore, trembling, tried to get control of himself. He finally stopped shaking and breathed normally. "A-all right. I'm better now. What I was trying to say is, I owe you my life. Thank you. I don't take that lightly."
"Oh, so now you're gonna hang around until you can pay me back? Don't worry about it. Jocy and me save each other's lives all the time."
"If it wasn't for you, I'd be dead right now. I didn't even help you out of the mess you got in for helping me. But if you hadn't helped, I'd have been beheaded by a slow-witted guard from this evil country. If I die, I at least want to be heroic, like in the stories. I guess most fairies wouldn't care if someone saved their lives, but I'm not like most of the others. Only she understood."
"My friend, Kara. She was on watch with five others and they all suddenly died."
"It's not your fault. Someone in Tas-et-lal did it, I'll bet. I have to find him... or her. That's why I kill them, you know."
"They killed my friend.... The only friend I had."
"Oh. Well, don't worry. If you're looking for someone in Tas-et-lal, this is the place to be, huh?"
"Yeah. I guess you're right. Hey, I'll bet you're hungry! There's a cornfield nearby--"
"Great! Come on! Let's go!" said the eager mouse.
"Not so fast," said Elk-lore, pulling a leaf aside to reveal an ear of corn laying against a tree trunk. Hi-lee saw that there was almost a path in the grass, leading to the corn, as if someone had dragged something through the grass. Hi-lee put two and two together. She got four. Then she thought about the path in the grass.
'He must've dragged it here because he couldn't carry it,' thought Hi-lee.
"How's you know that I love corn?" she asked.
"You mentioned it once. That's all," replied Elk-lore.
As a spy, Hi-lee had learned to catch a meal whenever she could. This didn't stop her from having favorite foods, though. Naturally, she appreciated almost any kind of food, especially kotu-berries and corn. If you wanted to make friends with Hi-lee, all you had to do was bring her one of these foods, and she'd trust you forever.
"I-I don't know what to say!" exclaimed Hi-lee. "Thanks!" She rushed up to Elk-lore and hugged him. Actually, it was kind of like hugging a light bulb, since fairies in that land glow and feel warm.
"Affectionate thing, aren't you?" asked Elk-lore.
"Oh. Sorry," she said, letting go. "I'm hungry, all right?" Hi-lee ran to the corn and hugged it. Elk-lore giggled in spite of himself. "It's- it's so beautiful! I almost hate to eat it...." Hi-lee set it on its side and promptly devoured it, pulling the corn off, kernel by kernel. In her eyes, this gift more than made up for the inconvenience of being painfully knocked unconscious.
A half hour passed, and Jocy landed near her two companions.
"I can't believe she ate the whole thing," said Elk-lore, looking at Hi-lee laying contentedly on her back and the stripped ear of corn laying beside her, with a bite taken out of one end.
"Come on, Hi-lee; get up!" said Jocy loudly. "We have to get inside the castle."
"Oh. Right," said Hi-lee. "Don't mind me," she said to Elk-lore, getting on the eagle's back. "Corn always makes me sleepy, too."
"What doesn't?" asked Jocy.
The trio went to the castle and through the middle window. Jocy accomplished this by finding a precarious perch on the small windowsill and then entering, since her wide wings were much too large to fly through the narrow window. The spies crouched in the shadows in the darkest corner, away from the window and next to a large bookcase. Jocy made her wings a dark gray color, and Elk-lore already looked like part of the shadowy room. Hi-lee could only hide behind Jocy and hope that she wouldn't be seen. After that came the worst part of spying-- the waiting. They waited for hours for those attending the meeting to enter.
Go on to Chapter 10
Go back to The Stories of Julie Bihn