Chapter 15: In the Valley of Terrors

 

Jenny watched the Royal Carriage land and she watched the Carriage door open, so that Sir Lucas could speak with the Queen. She could see that most of the Fairies were trying to squash themselves under the seat so she leaned close to Molly and whispered: ‘Why doesn’t Queen Peony leave the Fairies out here if they’re that scared?’

‘Because she will need their magic,’ said Molly.

*

Soon, Sir Lucas and Sir Henry and two more of the Raggedy Knights, called Sir Thomas and Sir Benjamin were leading the way into the valley. Jenny and Molly followed close behind them, then came the rest of the Knights, and last of all, the Royal Carriage floated just above the ground. The path was wide and ran between tall trees that seemed to be the right way up. Jenny could make out large webs stretching between them. She was not convinced that the spiders in her father’s shed could spin webs as big as that.

At first there was enough light coming in from the opening for them to see where they were going, but with every footstep it grew darker. And the darker it got the more Jenny listened to the noises of the forest, and the more her mind imagined unpleasant things. She was beginning to understand what Molly meant when she said that Terrors are what you make up in your mind. So she told her imagination to go to sleep for a while because she didn’t need it at the moment. But she was sure she wasn’t imagining the sound of running water, so she asked Molly whether there was a river close by.

Molly pointed upwards and nodded: ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘most valleys have a river.’

Jenny looked up into the darkness and decided to simply accept Molly’s answer.

After a while it became so dark that it was difficult to see where they were going, so Sir Lucas told everyone to use their torches, and to light the Dragonflies’ headlamps. The torches meant that they could see where they were going, but they also made strange shadows that moved as they walked, and that was bad. Jenny felt Molly take her hand: ‘They’re just shadows of ordinary things, Jenny,’ she said.

‘I know, Molly,’ Jenny replied, ‘but they’re still scary. I bet the Fairies all have their hands over their eyes.’

They both laughed, but suddenly a loud roaring was coming from close by. Jenny threw her arms around Molly and squealed: ‘What’s that?’

She heard the Raggedy Knights laugh.

‘It is only one of the LOST cats,’ said Sir Henry. ‘If time passes and they are not returned, they come here to live in the Valley. They are fond of the dark and there are plenty of wild mice for them to feast on.’

‘But it sounded like a lion!’ said Jenny.

‘That is because of the echoes,’ said Sir Henry.

Jenny tried very hard to imagine a fluffy tabby cat making that noise just because of echoes, but her imagination was still asleep.

*

After a while the trees started to peter out and then they stopped altogether. If you lifted your torch off the path and shone it into the distance the beam of light just went on forever. And that was worse than the shadows on the trees because Jenny’s imagination had woken up and was telling her that there was nothing at all beyond the path, just emptiness. But she could still hear the running water somewhere in the darkness, so there was still the river and the path. Then the path came to an end!

The procession came to a halt. All around them there was darkness. Sir Lucas told everybody to remain still, then he hurried along, past the Dragonfly headlamps, to speak to the Queen and Grandma Lily. The Royal Carriage was glowing with a dull light and as Grandma Lily stepped out, Jenny could see that the light was coming from her White cloak.

‘Majesty, Grand Witch Lily, we have come to the end of the visible path,’ said Sir Lucas. ‘We need the Fairy Magic.’

‘What Fairy Magic?’ whispered Jenny.

‘There’s a hidden path,’ said Molly. ‘And only Fairy Magic can make it visible. We need to know the right direction, because the wrong direction goes on forever.’

‘Queen Peony is a Fairy, can’t she make it visible?’

‘Not alone,’ said Molly. ‘It must be the Magic of many Fairies. That is why we needed to bring the tiny Fairies into the darkness.’

‘But Queen Peony is bigger than all those tiny Fairies put together!’

‘That doesn’t matter, Jenny. It must be many Fairies, whatever size they are. With Magic, it doesn’t matter HOW BIG, it matters HOW MANY. If the tiny Fairies do not help, we can go no further.’

But from the buzzing and squealing it was clear that the Fairies were refusing to get out of the Carriage. So hand-in-hand Jenny and Molly walked towards the commotion. Queen Peony had now joined Grandma Lily and they were both standing beside the Carriage, trying to persuade the Fairies to join them.

‘Majesty, can we help?’ said Jenny.

‘My Fairies fear they will be blown away in the darkness and never be seen again,’ explained Queen Peony.

‘Perhaps you can say something to help,’ said Grandma Lily.

So Jenny and Molly stepped close to the Carriage and spoke to the Fairies: ‘Why don’t you hold hands like us? Then you can prevent each other blowing away?’ suggested Molly.

The Queen translated the squeaking: ‘They fear that they are so light they will be blown away even if they are holding hands.’

Jenny thought for a moment and then she said: ‘Why don’t you all hold hands and me and Molly will stand either end of your row so you can hold on to us? We won’t blow away because we’re too heavy.’

The buzzing and squeaking stopped and one by one the Fairies joined hands. Jenny and Molly stepped apart so the string of Fairies could hang between them, and together they followed the Queen and Grandma Lily to the end of the path. And Jenny watched their Fairy Magic spread across the dark ground until a thin Silver path appeared. ‘We need to hurry!’ said the Queen, ‘because this path will fade and the direction will change.’

So the Queen and her Fairies and Grandma Lily returned to the Carriage and the Raggedy Knights shone their torches and led the procession along the Silver path. And very soon the path took them back between trees, and Jenny was happy that she could see something around her. She was even happy to see the shadows. Then suddenly there was screeching and scratching coming from the forest. And then branches snapping apart.

Sir Lucas turned to Jenny and Molly: ‘Do not be frightened,’ he said.

‘But what is it?’ said Molly.

‘I do not know, Princess Berry.’ Sir Lucas shone his torch into the forest. ‘But we should keep walking,’ he said. ‘If we tarry our path will fade.’

‘But we may be walking into a trap,’ said Sir Henry. We must pause and make a plan.’

‘Very well,’ sighed Sir Lucas. He called the procession to a halt. And everybody shone their torches into the trees but saw nothing. Then, all at once, Jenny and Molly shared a single thought and they both pulled the pot of pepper from their backpacks and threw handfuls into the bushes. And immediately everyone could hear sneezing. As quick as light, the Raggedy Knights leapt into the trees and came out carrying four sneezing, choking Fairies. The Queen came drifting towards them through the darkness with Grandma Lily beside her.

‘What is all this, Sir Lucas?’ demanded the Queen.

‘Majesty, these are The Knave Prince’s Fairies. They were trying to frighten us, but they are now our Prisoners.’

Grandma Lily stepped close to the sneeziest Fairy. ‘Why are you doing this?’

Now, everybody knew how untrustworthy the Prince’s Fairies could be, so nobody was surprised when the Fairy confessed straightaway.

‘Aah-choo,’ he sneezed. ‘The Prince ordered us to stop you reaching the Ebony Palace … Aaaah-choo!’

Queen Peony was very angry. She commanded Sir Lucas to bind the prisoners and bring them along. Then she and Grandma Lily hurried back to their Carriage.

The Prisoners wriggled and sneezed, but Sir Henry hurried into the trees and returned with rolls of spider’s web, which they wound around the Fairies. Sir Lucas ordered the Knights to carry the Prisoners: ‘This has wasted too much time,’ he said. ‘Our path is fading fast.’