Authors: Michelle Harrison
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Fantasy & Magic, #JUV000000
The diary fell to the bed, disintegrating on impact.
“There is nothing to be gained from this,” said Raven, gesturing to what was left of it. “You will bring only misery to yourself.”
“Not if someone had read it one day,” Tanya said bitterly. “And believed me.”
“The rules are simple,” said Feathercap. “You speak of us to no one. If you continue to try then we will continue to punish you.”
The remnants of the diary stirred on the bed, lifting from the covers like fine sand, before flying through the open window out into the night.
“Gone. As if it never was,” said Gredin. “To a place where rosemary grows by a stream that flows uphill. The domain of the piskies.”
“I don’t believe in any stream that flows uphill,” said Tanya, still smarting from having her innermost thoughts broadcast for all to hear.
“Heathen creatures, piskies,” Gredin continued. “Unpredictable. Dangerous, some say. Whatever they touch becomes twisted and warped. And the rosemary—otherwise renowned for its aid to memory—grows tainted. The properties are reversed.”
He paused for effect. Tanya, wisely sensing this, did not interrupt again.
“Now, there are some folk, known to the fairies as the cunning folk, who are familiar with the qualities of herbs and plants such as rosemary. For even piskie-tainted rosemary has its uses. In the correct quantities it has the power to extract a memory from a mortal head forever, such as the memory of an old sweetheart. Very helpful in some circumstances.
“But the fairies—much as it pains them to have dealings of any kind with the filthy little piskies—also have their own uses for this magical herb. It comes in particularly useful when humans stumble upon the fairy realm unexpectedly, and witness things they have no business seeing. Usually, a small dose sets the situation right and the human is none the worse for it, seemingly waking from a pleasant dream—albeit with no recollection of what the dream was about. However, it has been known to be administered in the wrong quantities. Entire memories have been wiped, just like that.” Gredin snapped his fingers, and Tanya flinched.
“Of course, this is mostly accidental and rare, but sometimes… just sometimes, it is used as a last resort to silence those who otherwise refuse to be silenced. A highly unpleasant fate, most would agree. The poor souls can’t even remember their own names afterward. Unfortunate, but necessary. After all… one cannot speak of what one cannot remember.”
Tanya suddenly tasted fear in her mouth.
“I won’t write about you again.”
“Good,” said Feathercap. “For you would be a fool to attempt it.”
“Just answer me one thing,” said Tanya, as brazenly as she dared. “I can’t be the only one. I
I’m not the only one—”
Gredin silenced her with a look.
Her descent was sudden and unexpected. Feeling herself begin to fall, Tanya instinctively grabbed the only thing at hand—the star lantern covering the lightbulb. There was a terrible cracking noise as the wire strained under her weight, and the plaster of the ceiling around the fixture came down in plate-sized chunks, cracking further as it hit the floor. Then the lantern came away in Tanya’s hands. The lightbulb smashed as she fell to the floor and the lantern went flying out of her grasp and hit the wardrobe, shattering.
As Tanya lay winded, she heard the landing creaking with anxious footsteps. She did not need to look up to know that the fairies would be gone, vanishing as they always did like a scattering of leaves on the breeze. Then her mother was in the room, pulling her up by the shoulder, causing her to cry out. Tanya caught her exclamation of disgust as she surveyed the mess.
“Mum…” she croaked. “I—it was a nightmare…. I’m sorry….”
Even in the moonlight Tanya could see the resigned expression on her mother’s face. She released her grip on Tanya’s arm and slowly sank down on the bed, her hands clenched into balls that she pressed into her eye sockets.
“Mum?” Tanya whispered. She reached over and touched her mother’s arm.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” her mother said quietly. “I can’t cope with this… this
seeking of yours. I can’t cope with
“Don’t say that. I’ll be better; I promise I’ll try.”
Her mother gave a weary smile. “That’s what you always say. And I want to believe you… to help you, but I can’t. Not if you won’t talk to me—or to a doctor—”
“I don’t need a doctor. And you wouldn’t understand!”
“No. You’re right, love, I don’t. The only thing I do understand is that I’m at the end of my tether.” She paused to look around at the mess. “Well, you’re going to clean it all up in the morning. Every last bit of it. And the damage comes out of your pocket money, however long it might take. I’m not having this anymore.”
Tanya stared at the floor. A shard of glass glinted in her mother’s bare foot. She knelt down and gently pulled it out, watching as a dark bead of blood formed in its place. Her mother did not react. Instead she got up and shuffled to the door, her shoulders drooping, her feet crunching over the fragments of glass, uncaring.
The bedroom door closed, leaving her in darkness. Tanya lay back on her bed, too shocked even to cry. The look on her mother’s face had said it all. How many times had she been warned, how many times had she been told about the so-called last straw? Because now, as she listened to the muffled sobbing from the room across the landing, she knew that tonight really had been the last straw for her mother.
The car moved slowly along the winding lane. On either side of the road lay acres of nothing but golden fields and green trees, the latter forming a dense canopy of leaves and branches overhead that the July sunshine could barely penetrate. Occasionally, a farmhouse or paddock of animals would come into view in the distance, but apart from this there was little else to see, for it was the heart of the Essex countryside. The built-up views of London were long gone.
In the backseat of the car Tanya sat staring stonily at the back of her mother’s head. “I still don’t see why I have to stay with
. There must be somewhere else I can go.”
“There isn’t anywhere else you can go,” said her mother, her face pale with lack of sleep and devoid of her usual makeup. “We’ve been through this a hundred times already.”
“Why can’t I just go to Dad’s?” said Tanya.
“You already know the answer to that. He told us weeks ago that he’d be working away a lot over the next few months. You can’t stay in an empty house.”
“I can’t believe this. A week, a lousy
into summer holidays, and now I have to spend a huge chunk of it with
” said Tanya. “I wouldn’t have minded going to Nana Ivy’s.”
“Well, Nana Ivy isn’t here anymore. She died three years ago, and it wouldn’t hurt you to make more of an effort to get along with the grandmother you’ve still got.”
“Yeah, because she really goes to a lot of trouble for me, doesn’t she? It’s bad enough being stuck in that horrible cobwebby house for a couple of days at a time, and even then, it’s only because you insist on it!”
“That’s not true.”
“Yes, it is! She doesn’t want me there any more than I want to be there, and we both know it! Name one time, just once, that she’s ever invited me of her own accord,” Tanya challenged.
Her mother stayed silent.
Tanya pursed her lips. “No? Didn’t think so.”
“That’s enough! You brought this upon yourself with your behavior last night—not to mention the last few months.” Her mother’s tone softened. “I need a break. I think we both do. Just for a couple of weeks, that’s all. I’m being as fair as I can—I’m even letting you take Oberon with you. And then, when you come back, we’re going to have a serious talk.”
Tanya said nothing, trying to will away the awful lump in her throat. After a few wordless moments her mother turned on the radio. It was a pointed end to the discussion.
A low whine came from the throat of the slightly overweight brown Doberman whose bottom was wedged between Tanya and a large carryall containing her belongings. She rested a hand on the back of his head, scratching behind his silky ears to comfort him, and gazed out of the window miserably. Her protestations had not made the slightest difference. The outcome was the same. She would be staying with her grandmother until further notice.
The journey continued. In the front of the car, her mother stared straight ahead at the road. In the back, Tanya continued to scowl at her mother’s head with all her might.
“Here we are.”
Tanya looked in the direction her mother had pointed to but could see nothing, only rows of dense trees and bushes.
“It’s a bit more overgrown than usual.”
“It’s always overgrown,” Tanya snapped. “If it was any worse we’d have missed it completely.”
There were so many trees lining the lane that it was impossible to see where it ended. Branches and twigs scraped along the side of the car, and numerous fairies were flying out of the trees, disgruntled at the interruption. One settled on the window next to Tanya and stared at her inquisitively. It remained there for about a minute, a grubby finger rummaging in its nostril all the while. To her relief it soon became bored of sizing her up and flew back into the trees.
She sighed, knowing to expect more of the same. Somehow, the fairies always knew she could see them, and it seemed to draw them to her like a magnet, even when she did her utmost to feign ignorance of their existence.
The lane continued, twisting and turning as though it were part of a labyrinth they would never find their way out of. Eventually, the trees grew sparser and the road lighter, and after a final turn to the left the car drew to a halt before a huge set of padlocked gates. Worked into the wrought-iron framework were two words: ELVESDEN MANOR. On a stone pillar on either side of the gate a gargoyle bared its teeth. Her mother blasted the car horn a couple of times and glared at the clock on the dashboard.
“Why haven’t they opened the gates yet? We told them to expect us around ten o’clock.” She tooted again in annoyance.
Several minutes passed with no sign of anyone coming. Tanya averted her eyes from the gargoyles’ unwelcoming expressions. Over the top of the high wall, she could just make out the roof of the house.
“We might as well get out and stretch our legs,” said her mother, opening the door and clambering out. Tanya followed, glad to escape from the hot, cramped car. Oberon bounded over to the trees, first sniffing, then marking his new territory.
“All this fresh country air will do you a world of good.”
Tanya shot her mother a venomous look and stared around at the land outside the gates. In the distance she could hear bells ringing out, and recalled a little church nearby. Apart from this the house stood alone, and although the journey had taken little more than a couple of hours it felt as if they were in the middle of nowhere, completely isolated from the rest of the world. Tanya shielded her eyes from the sun and gazed into the distance. A dark figure was walking briskly toward them.
“It’s Warwick,” said her mother, sounding relieved.
Tanya lowered her gaze and kicked at a pebble. She was not particularly fond of the manor’s grounds-keeper. Years ago, when her mother had been there as a child, the job had belonged to Warwick’s father, Amos. When Amos had retired the job had been passed along to his son. The two of them lived in the house along with Tanya’s grandmother, Florence, and Warwick’s son, Fabian, who was, in her mother’s words, “a nuisance.” Although this did have a slight ring of truth to it, Tanya could not help feeling some sympathy for Fabian, whose mother had died when he was five. Judging by what little guidance he’d had from his father, it was no surprise he had turned out to be difficult.
Warwick drew closer. He was wearing a long overcoat that looked far too warm for the weather, and dirty moleskin trousers that were tucked into equally dirty boots. His straggly dark hair was peppered with gray and tied back loosely; and his skin was brown and leathery, evidence that he spent much of his time outdoors. His only greeting was a sullen nod.
He strode past them, unlocking the gates, and then motioned for them to get back into their car. Tanya noticed with distaste that he had an air rifle strapped to his back. The gates creaked as he swung them open, and then he stepped to one side to allow the car to pass.