Camelot’s Last Heroes

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Chapter 1

It was a bright April day, just over a year into Galway’s self-imposed exile. He sat in his thinking spot; a bench carved out of a tree stump beside the biggest pond in New York City’s Central Park. This place held bitter memories for him. His cousin, Meath, had died saving his life, only steps away from the spot. He came here often for peace, reflection, and to remember home and family.

Galway held fast to his vow not to return to the Seelie world, at least not until King Athelone revoked his unilateral ceasefire with the Crimson Conclave. Galway did not trust those dark beings. With or without the King’s blessing there will be a reckoning. I will see those—those vile creatures pay in full before I offer them peace.

(Image provided by Art Lasky)

He still had a score or two to settle with the dark powers that gathered under the Crimson Conclave banner. Such thoughts were, at the moment, far from his mind.

The spindly, flame-haired, stick figure of a Seelie Fairy relaxed on the stump and enjoyed his favorite pastime: human watching. Galway’s fascination with humans began two-centuries earlier, that fateful night when Meath first introduced him to them. Now a full time resident of the human world, he enjoyed his first-hand experiences with the peculiar creatures by immersing himself in all things human. He watched TV, read newspapers, and poured over many a Zane Grey novel.

Galway deeply inhaled, savoring the green, earthy scent of spring. In front of him, a family of turtles sunned themselves on a convenient rock in the middle of the pond. To his left, a family of humans sunned themselves on a rock not in the middle of the pond.

“Seymour, give it a peanut,” came a woman’s voice carried on the slight breeze came from drew his attention. Off to his right, on the footpath, a gaggle of tourists snapped pictures of a squirrel as if they had discovered Sasquatch. He tried to figure out for the umpteenth time why sightseers always got so excited when they spotted one of the common rodents.

“You look funny.”

The words startled Galway. He turned toward the voice and saw a human boy perched on the lowest branch of an elm tree. The kid looked about ten or eleven, with dark, owlish eyes and untidy black hair sprouting riotously from under a battered New York Mets cap. The boy intently stared at the fairy. Galway quickly looked down, then left and right: paisley bell-bottoms—check, neon orange Dr. Who sweatshirt—check. Okay I’m tall—but not much more than most, I’m very thin—but, thin is in. Can’t possibly be my delightfully red hair. Nope. Everything about me says, ‘native New Yorker.’

Re-assured, Galway smirked. “I don’t look funny; you’re the funny looking one here, Pee Wee.”

The boy snorted, swung off the branch, and lightly landed on the ground. He scooped up a crutch Galway had not noticed and limped towards the fairy. He plopped down on a nearby bench facing Galway and gazed up at him.

“Aren’t you too young to be in the park by yourself, kid?”

“I ain’t alone, Duffy’s with me.”

“Who’s that, your invisible friend?” Galway teased.

“My dog.”

“Oh, your invisible dog?”

The boy whistled. The bushes behind the tree swayed, rustled, and explosively parted; a brown streak of lightening arrowed through them and resolved itself into a scruffy terrier bounding around his young master’s feet. Duffy, a knee-high bundle of energy with twig-tangled, mud-caked fur, spotted Galway and froze. The dog quickly looked from the boy to the fairy and back; canine for do you see what I see.

“Yip! Yap!” the joyous dog leaped into the fairy’s lap, kissing his nose, his left ear, right ear, nose again, chin, left cheek, forehead, right cheek, and nose again—an easy target. Duffy’s long snout with it’s pinpoint precise tongue did not score direct hits on all of his targets, since the fairy was too busy laughing, hugging, and kissing the squirming pooch, to hold still. The exhibition proved what any dog you ask would readily tell you; all dogs love fairies and all fairies—even crabby ones like Galway—love dogs.

“Yuck, dog breath! Stop, I don’t want dog kisses. I hate dogs.”

Neither beast nor boy believed the fairy, since he smiled and hugged the pooch even as he complained. He eventually managed to quiet Duffy and get him back on the ground. The boy laughed while the fairy fussily brushed dirt and twigs from his clothes.

“Keep laughing short stuff; how’d you like a good dunking in the pond?”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“Try me.” Galway tilted his head and looked at the boy. “Hey, what’s your name kid?”

“Harrison.”

“Why’d your parents do that to you?” teased Galway.

“They’re Beatles fans,” said Harrison, with a hint of long-lived disgust.

“At least they didn’t name you Ringo. Now beat it, I’ve got serious thinking to do.”

“Why do you want to go around looking funny?”

“You said that already. Don’t you have any manners at all?”

“I never saw anyone wearing wings before. They make you look funny.”

Galway’s eyes widened and his eyebrows rose in surprise. Humans shouldn’t see my wings, he thought. Unless, of course, I want them seen.

“Wings?” Galway bluffed. “What wings?”

“What wings? What wings!” The boy turned to Duffy. “Is this guy joking me?”

Duffy barked once then cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. Galway, fluent in canine, immediately understood Duffy’s, ‘darned if I know’.

“I’m talking about the big rainbow-colored ones coming thru your shirt and going up over your head, String Bean.”

“But,” Galway frowned, “you’re not supposed to see them.”

“Oh! Well, maybe you should wear a sign around your neck that says, ‘You can’t see my wings’.”

“You’re pretty snarky for an eight-year-old.”

“I’m eleven! And I just want to know why you’re wearing wings? It’s not Halloween or anything.”

Galway glowered, he was one hundred twelve years into his current bad mood. The wing thing did not help. Maybe the truth will shut this boy up, thought the fairy.

“I’m a fairy.”

“Right, and I’m the Duke of Windsor,” said the boy.

“Huh, what’s that mean, kid?”

“I dunno, it’s what my grandfather says when he thinks that people are full of bull.”

The statement intrigued Galway. He suppressed a smile, enjoying the youngster’s direct and aggressive attitude.

“Okay kid, you asked for it.” Galway made sure that there were no other witnesses and then levitated a few feet off the bench.

The boy jumped and shouted, “Freaking awesome! Holy freakin’ smoke! Great trick! How’d you do that?”

“I told you, I’m a fairy. Now go away, kid; you bother me.”

“Alright, don’t tell me then. I don’t care,” Harrison replied.

Showing no sign of leaving, Harrison sat, defiantly crossed his arms, and narrowed his eyes while he glared at Galway.

Galway, for his part, rose to the challenge. “Okay, I won’t tell you. Now beat it.”

“Everyone knows there’s no such thing as tooth fairies,” the boy scoffed.

“I never said I am a tooth fairy.”

“Fairies are just make-believe.”

“Fine, scram,” said Galway, refusing to take the bait.

“My father says fairies aren’t real.”

“He sounds like a brilliant man. Go away!”

“It’s parents who put the tooth money under the pillow.”

“Well, maybe if parents would stop worrying and show a little patience, the tooth fairy would have time to get to the tooth. I’ve never been a tooth fairy mind you, but I’m sure they’re really busy. You know how many teeth get put under pillows on an average night?”

“My father says—”

“Shut up, boy. Shut up and go away,” the fairy said, a touch of anger in his voice.

A shift in the wind brought the distant sound of the carousel. Harrison and Galway both closed their eyes and listened to the calliope music. Duffy was much too busy pretending to ignore a squirrel to notice mere music.

“Can you do any other tricks?” Harrison broke the silence.

“I can turn you into a squirrel and let that mutt of yours chase you around the park.”

“Nah, you can’t,” Harrison waved him off. “So, what kind of fairy do you think you are?”

“I’m the kind of fairy who shouldn’t waste his time talking to irritating manlings. I’m the kind of fairy who’s sick and tired of the incompetence of lesser fairies, especially the one that took over from his father—as our King. I’m the kind of fairy who got the highest grade ever recorded on the SAT.”

“Huh?”

“The SAT. S—A—T. The Seelie Aptitude Test.” He shook his head. “I’m just wasting my time talking to you. Now go away!”

The boy did not budge. Duffy pranced in circles around the bench, the closest the pooch could come to standing still for more than a minute at a time.

Galway started to tell the boy more firmly to buzz off, but an unfamiliar feeling made him hesitate, I’m happy! How did that happen? Could I possibly like this kid? Great Growling Griffins, I haven’t liked anyone in nearly two hundred years. Maybe it’s just gas. Hmmm—

The fairy looked away from Harrison. The park was crowded, loads of sightseers strolling by, cameras and smartphones at the ready. Wait, if my wings are visible people should be staring and snapping pictures. Something is just not right.

Galway focused his magical senses on Harrisons’ aura. There was too much red, especially around the boy’s right leg. A spell! And there’s something familiar about it.

“Hey kid, when did you start limping?”

“A couple of months ago, why?”

“Did your parents have a doctor look at that leg?”

“You’re the nosiest fairy I ever met.”

“I’m the only fairy you ever met; and, I thought you didn’t believe in us. Now tell me about the doctor.”

Harrison shrugged. “Doctors, they don’t know what it is, where it came from, or when it will go away; otherwise they’re right on top of the situation. What’s it to you?”

“I can fix it.”

The boy smiled and almost immediately scowled; a look that flickered between hope and distrust. “How can you help if all the doctors couldn’t?”

“A dark magical spell causes your problem which, by the way, is why you could see my wings. So unless one of the doctors is a witch doctor, there’d be nothing they could find.” Galway paused. “Think back, did anything strange happen before your leg went bad?”

“Uh, mmm, no.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, the crazy hermit, that lives over past the big fountain, you know—in the Ramble, yelled at me and Duffy ‘cause I chased his cat.”

“That doesn’t sound strange at all,” snarked Galway.

“Yeah, he came charging out of his cave and shouted at us in a language I didn’t understand.”

“His cave? Unknown language? You’re right, kid, nothing strange about that.”

Duffy barked for their attention. He stiffly stood, fangs bared, and growled. It started as a deep rumble, then rose, before falling toward the subsonic until Galway felt more than heard the sound waves. The dog finished and expectantly looked at Galway. The fairy nodded.

“The Hermit is from the Crimson Conclave, he’s actually a dark warlock. Dogs hate and fear practitioners of dark magic.”

“Huh?” said Harrison. “What are you talking about?”

“Let me put it in terms your simple human mind can grasp. There are two main groups of magical beings, those that practice light magic like myself, who are the good guys; and those that practice dark magic, who are—not. The Crimson Conclave is a particularly unpleasant assortment of dark mages, greydark fairies, and other foul creatures.

“Dogs and cats are sensitive to magic and recognize magical beings. Humans, on the other hand, are mostly blind to the supernatural world around them. Sometimes even if there’s a spell pushing them away.” Galway pointedly stared at Harrison, a disapproving look on his face. “You humans have been known to go bumbling and stumbling into all kinds of magical trouble—keeping their fairy god-persons very busy. You know, if you believed in fairies, you’d have a fairy god-person, and you wouldn’t be here bothering me.”

“Don’t you mean fairy godmother?”

“Oh my, all of sudden mister I-don’t-believe-in-fairies is an expert on fairy biology,” Galway said to Duffy.

The dog sneezed, perhaps an insightful canine commentary, or perhaps a hair tickled his nose, he gave no indication which. Galway sharply looked at Duffy, but said nothing. After a moment or two, of silence, Galway came to a decision.

“Alright, let’s go find this hermit; and get him to lift the spell. You know, it looks familiar; I think he and I have met before.” If it’s who I think it is, I’ve waited a long time for this meeting.

“What if he refuses? Aren’t you worried? He can put a spell on you, too. Or make mine worse.”

“No worries, kid. I am not just the first fairy you met, but also the most powerful fairy you’ll ever meet.”

“I’ll bet you’re also the most modest fairy I’ll ever meet,” snarked the boy.

“Thank you,” said Galway, missing the sarcasm.

The trio headed toward the Ramble. Galway and Harrison walking side by side with Duffy dashing about greeting and being greeted by passersby like a rock-star out among his fans.

“Hey Duffy!”

“Here, boy.”

“Duffy, where’ve you been?”

“Mommy, look it’s Duffydog.”

“Nice Doggie.”

Duffy worked the crowd like a politician, kissing babies and shaking hands.

Galway took a deep breath and savored the sweet scent of magnolia on the breeze. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but maybe, after all these years—maybe it’s him.

“Hey, wait a minute, how do Duffy and I know you’re one of the good guys? I mean if you are a bad guy, it’s not like you’d tell us,” said Harrison.

“Since I could turn you into a toadstool anytime I want, let’s go with the good guy theory for now, okay?”

“One more question, what’s your name?”

“Kid, you are really bucking for toadstool status—I’m Galway,” growled the fairy. Despite the agitation in his voice, a smile insisted on curving his lips.

***

Deep in the wildest part of Central Park’s Ramble, in a cave protected by spells designed to make the casual stroller unwittingly turn away, lived Spit the Warlock. He kept himself apart from the world around him while he brewed his potions, studied the stars, and perfected his spells. He read omens in the entrails of squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and pigeons; patiently building his strength and knowledge. Occasionally, Spit picked off pixies that strayed too close, other times he ventured out in the dark stillness of night to prey upon one of the human unfortunates sleeping in the park, draining their life essence to feed his own power.

At the moment, Spit was busily constructing poison tipped spears to arm a band of dark pixies. He impatiently waited for a batch of nightshade and hemlock essence to boil down to the tarry consistency needed to stick to the spear tips. Amusing himself while he waited by blinding captured pigeons and then releasing them. Just to see how well they adapted to using their other senses, he told himself.

Phizz, his familiar an ill-favored cat, hissed and spat. The warlock probed her mind and instantly sensed the cause of her alarm.

“I see that the foolish boy and his foul mongrel return for another lash of my power. Idiots!”

The warlock stepped out of his cave, chanting a curse that would turn the boy and dog into mindless, drooling, husks. The words trailed off as he focused on the third figure approaching: a gangly, redheaded fairy.

“Oops, I suppose I should’ve used my own senses, damn cat didn’t think the fairy was important.”

“Remove the curse, warlock!” the winged pest shouted. “Remove the curse and leave this park.”

“A talking scarecrow,” replied the warlock. “Remarkable.”

“Kid!” Galway snarled. “Go back to where we met. I’ll be there shortly.”

“But—”

“Go now!”

“Yes, run little human,” Spit taunted. “First, I will deal with your friend, and then I will seek you out and finish what I only started last time.”

Duffy, bared his teeth and growled. Harrison grabbed his collar just before he lunged for Spit. “Come on Duffy.”

Harrison hurried away pulling the snarling dog along with him.

“So,” Galway said, “you remember our last meeting, Spit.” He touched a faint scar on his forehead.. “One of your friends gave me this.”

“How thoughtful of him. Now, here you are again, fairy. Did you want some more?”

“We have unfinished business, warlock.”

“There are easier ways to commit suicide, you know.”

“What I know is that there were four of you the last time, and you are the only one who got away. Make that, ran away,” said Galway.

“I was young and foolish back then,” said the warlock.

“Well, at least you’re not young anymore,” replied Galway.

“My power has grown greatly, flee while you can.”

“Let me guess, Spit, you are trying to use a boredom spell on me?” Galway said. He offered a mocking salute. “Enough talk; shall we dance?”

Spit replied by hurling the curse he had prepared for Harrison and Duffy. Galway gaped in surprise, and started to raise his magical defense. Too late; the spell, made for the boy and the dog, only stunned him. All of his limbs went numb; Galway staggered and dropped to one knee. The nerves in his unresponsive legs were pins and needles. Before Galway could recover, Spit made an intricate gesture with his right hand and an invisible force pinned Galway to the rocky ground. The warlock swaggered close, picked up a fair-sized rock, and lifted it above his head.

“Sometimes the simple tools are the best. What do you think, Phizz, how far will I be able to splatter the fairy’s brains?”

The familiar yowled in pleasure, a nerve-grating sound.

“I don’t know if you’re right, Phizz. Remember there can’t be very much brain inside that thick skull,” Spit continued. “I do wish the fairy had two heads for me to crush. Only smashing one, is not enough fun” The warlock, enjoying the moment, did not rush to finish off his helpless opponent.

Growling with fierce intensity Duffy launched himself out of the bushes, mouth gaping wide drawing attention to an imposing set of teeth. A squalling Phizz fled for her life. The warlock whirled toward the disturbance and caught a momentary glimpse of Harrison swinging the crutch like a club. With little-league all-star form, the crutch turned baseball bat caught Spit full in the face. The Warlock’s head snapped back, a groan escaped his lips. His eyes became unfocused and he struggled to keep his balance.

“Get up Galway!” Harrison cried. “Galway, get up!”

The fairy scrambled to his feet and flashed a savage smile. “My turn.”

Galway made a sharp pushing motion with both his hands and directed a blast of air. The warlock tumbled across the ground. Spit quickly leaped to his feet. He waved his arms over his head and conjured a giant creature. The animal had an over-sized serpent’s head and a lion-like body. It roared; its gaping mouth revealed long, venomous fangs.

“Run, Harrison, run!” called Galway.

The advice proved unnecessary. His rescuers, having done what they could, were already in wild retreat. Galway glanced from the monstrosity to the warlock and shrugged. “Very impressive, now why don’t you quit before I have to hurt you?”

“My little darling here would never let that happen,” cackled the warlock. “He’ll quickly put you out of my misery and then I’ll return to my research.”

Spit gestured to the creature. It roared and sprang at Galway. The fairy dove underneath it. He flattened himself and twisted, to avoid the creature’s claws. Nonetheless, it left a long painful slash along his right forearm. He scrambled to his feet and pointed both index fingers at his attacker. The monster exploded, covering everything in sticky, mustard-yellow ectoplasm. The stench of quick-cooked creature filled the air.

“I learned that spell from watching microwave popcorn, what do you think?” Galway taunted. “Listen, it’s not too late. I’ll still let you leave. If I have to finally draw my wand, there’ll be all kinds of paperwork involved for me, and a very short life for you.”

“Paperwork? What are you blathering on about,” snarled the warlock. “Do you think you’re funny?”

“Well, maybe just a little,” said Galway, holding thumb and forefinger barely apart.

Spit drew his wand, the twisted branch of a poisonous spider-wood tree. With the flick of his wrist a blast of evil energy knifed toward the fairy. Galway held up his hands, palms facing the warlock. The energy slammed into them and pushed Galway backward against a tree. The bolt scorched his hands, and turned his sweatshirt into a charred and tattered mess.

“Damn, that stings,” Galway grimly smiled. “I’m beginning to think you don’t like me.”

The warlock clenched his jaw, purple-faced with rage. He tightly held the wand in a two-fisted grip and pointed it at the fairy. Bolt after bolt of lightning flashed toward Galway. The fairy raised his wand in one hand and pointed the other at the ground. The lightning struck his outstretched wand, traveled down thru one arm, and out the other. Each bolt harmlessly disappeared into the earth. Spit weakened; his lightning bolts grew less intense and less frequent. They finally stopped. Spit dropped to his knees, exhausted.

Galway held up red, stiff, and blistered hands. His forearm throbbed and blazed from the creatures poison. His head ached and his throat burned. “That’s it?” Galway taunted with all the bravado he could muster. “That’s all you’ve got? Now I know why you pick on little boys and shaggy dogs. Let me show you how I aced section two of the SAT.”

Spit raised his arms and weaved all of his remaining life force into a powerful defensive spell surrounding his body. Galway waved both hands and created one of his favorite spells. A sizzling ball of super-heated plasma spun outward and engulfed Spit. Galway clapped his hands together and smiled.

“What I like about this particular spell is that once I cast it, my work is done. Spit, with your approval, of course, I’ll just sit back, catch my breath, and watch the show.”

A glowing ball of ionized gas enveloped the Crimson Conclave warlock. It brightened from dull red, thru the spectrum, to a blinding blue/white. A mighty explosion shook the ground and the spell dissipated. Spit barely had the energy to remain upright, but he had thrown off Galway’s attack.

“Damn,” said the fairy. “Damn, damn, damn. Well, if at first, you don’t succeed—”

More frustrated than fearful, he fluttered his hands again and re-created the spell. Once more the sizzling ball of super-heated plasma spun outward, engulfing Spit. The glowing ball of ionized gas again brightened thru the spectrum. The ball collapsed with a dull pop. The cave vanished, along with the warlock. His disappearance took with him all his curses and spells; including the one on Harrison.

Galway laughed and pumped his arm in the air once. “Yee-hah! Sheriff Galway, the only law west of the Pecos.”

He blew across the tip of his wand as if it were a smoking gun barrel, and, with a dramatic flair, holstered it in his belt. “I have no idea of what or where the Pecos is, but it sounded so good in the old movie I saw last night.”

A furious guided missile of fur, teeth, and claws arrowed straight toward Galway’s throat. Phizz, Spit’s familiar, seized the opportunity to attack. Galway made a quick circular motion with one hand and froze the cat in mid-air within a large bubble. Trapped, Phizz yowled and furiously thrashed, to no avail. After a minute or so she calmed down, glaring hatred at the fairy.

“What shall I do with you? I don’t much like cats. I certainly don’t like the familiars of my enemies. I’d rather not kill you, though. Tell you what, let’s erase all your memories of being a familiar. Let’s fix you up with a healthy fear of magic, and an affection for humans.”

The fairy paused, mischievously smiled, and added, “Oh, and a deep loving respect for birds.”

The bubble popped, and Phizz, former furry, ferocious, familiar—now bird fancier— lightly landed on her paws. She glanced at Galway, sniffed the air, and scampered into the underbrush.

“Ouch,” said Galway. “Now to deal with my injuries.” He quickly conjured a small wormhole and plunged his arms into an alternate dimension where time ran roughly 4000 times faster than normal. He closed his eyes and murmured,

“Coffee, bagel with a shmear;

by my mouth please do appear!”

I know a spell doesn’t need to rhyme, doesn’t even need words. But, I say that rhyming is the sign of a true craftsman, Galway modestly thought.

A plain bagel with a shmear of cream cheese, and a cup of coffee—light and sweet—appeared, hovering close to the fairy’s mouth. They fed themselves to him while his hands continued healing in the other dimension. He finished his snack and withdrew his hands from the other dimension. Two weeks of mending in five minutes, not bad. He looked at his arms and snapped his fingers. “I need a new sweatshirt, Doctor Who, and this time make it electric blue.”

A new sweatshirt materialized around his torso, replacing the ruined orange one.

“Not a bad day’s work if I do say so myself.”

A proud smile on his face Galway looked around the clearing, “oops.”

The smile faded when he noticed that a small crowd had gathered. They kept themselves at a distance, cell phones and cameras clicking away. One individual slowly approached and Galway thought over his options. I can just leave, but that would leave these curious human too aware of the magical world—a big no-no. Maybe I can cast a spell to make them all forget; nah, I’m too damn tired for that—

Now within speaking distance, the individual—a bearded male human—called out. “Hey man, are you making a movie or something?”

Perfect, Galway smiled.

“Movie, yes a movie.”

“That’s what we thought, you’re the actor from that TV show—”

“Right, that’s me,” said Galway.

The man turned back toward the crowd, “Hey, Margie, you were right, it’s him!”

The rest of the crowd approached while the man questioned Galway.

“How’d you make that other guy disappear, where’d he go?”

“Magic, uhm, movie magic.”

“Trade secrets, huh?”

“Exactly,” said the Galway, with a wink.

“What about the equipment and crew?”

“Uhm, equipment, uhm, we use drones. They help with the authenticity, not to mention the budget.”

“Makes sense,” the man agreed.

“Does it? I mean it does, it does.”

The crowd engulfed Galway. The next half hour passed with lots of questions, which he ignored. There were also lots of posing for pictures and autographs, which he grudgingly allowed. He signed Galway Seelie Fairy in an indecipherable scrawl. Probably helped by his ‘no questions answered policy’ the crowd quieted. By ones and twos the onlookers drifted away.

Galway called out, “I’ve really got to go now, bye.” He turned his back on the diminished crowd and whistled a merry tune, as he sauntered back to his thinking spot.

Duffy raced towards him and almost knocked the fairy down with his happy assault. Harrison, running without his crutch, closely followed. He leaped up into the fairy’s arms. Galway hugged Harrison tightly before stopping himself and abruptly putting the down.

“Beat it, kid, I got things to do and you and the mutt are wasting my time. You’re nothing but trouble.”

Neither beast nor boy believed him.

This is an excerpt from a novel, Camelot’s Last Heroes, published by Jumpmaster Press.
Edited by Marie Ginga

 

Art Lasky is a retired computer programmer. After forty years of writing in COBOL and Assembler he decided to try writing in English; it’s much harder than it looks. His first novel is available from Jumpmaster Press.