Chapter Eleven

A New Tour Guide

"But what are we supposed to do?" Aunt Honora cried.

"That, madam, is your problem, not mine," Seamus O'Brien declared as he rooted through the bags in the luggage compartment of the coach, and pulled out the two that were tagged for Aunt Honora and Molly. He tossed them onto the black pavement and headed for the coach doors.

"You can't just dump us off in the middle of Ireland –"

"It's Northern Ireland, to be exact," Mr. O'Brien corrected the woman, but took no pains to look at her as he climbed the coach steps.

"Okay, Northern Ireland. Whatever. It's your duty as a tour guide – no – as an Irishman – to get us back into Dublin. We have to make our flight home in two days. You wouldn't strand two helpless women in a foreign country just because of some misunderstanding – a ridiculous, presumptuous misunderstanding – " Aunt Honora tried to haul her suitcase unto the first step, but Mr. O'Brien blocked her path with his foot.

"A misunderstanding?" he screamed, and started to pull at what little hair he had left on the top of his head. "A misunderstanding! Madam, that 'misunderstanding' is going to cost this tour company a great deal of money. Thanks to you, Lucky Tours is no longer permitted to bring our guests back to the Belleek Pottery Factory. That's a huge loss to our repertoire. And what's more, the factory intends to send us the bill for the damages. A bill for thousands of pieces of handmade china!"

"I can't believe you're still trying to blame that on us." Aunt Honora already tried to explain what happened; but since she couldn't comprehend the incident herself, her excuses only came across in a manner that made her seem as though she was making up stories . . . and absurd stories at that.

"Not only am I blaming you," Mr. O'Brien's expression suddenly transformed from stark raving mad back into that cool, sneering demeanor of his, "I'll be forwarding that bill directly to you."

With that, he shut the door of the coach and drove off. A few people stared at Aunt Honora and Molly from the windows. One or two of them waved and smiled, their favors made with obvious contempt.

The abandoned woman stood in the middle of the drive in front of the Belleek Pottery Factory, and gaped in shock while the bus turned a corner in the road, and could no longer be seen. She stood there another minute longer (Molly was too afraid to rouse her from her daze) until another tour bus drove up the lane and honked its horn in warning that she should move out of the way. The woman jumped, grabbed her suitcase and ran from its path.

Molly followed her to the side of the drive, and watched as she propped the suitcase up in the dewy grass. Aunt Honora sat down on the black bag, supported her elbows on her legs, cupped her face in her hands and began to cry. Loudly.

Oh, no. It was bad enough that they were thrown out of the factory and off the tour for an accident that Molly couldn't possibly have prevented, but on top of all that, she had broken Aunt Honora's heart more than ever. Yes, if there was anyone to blame, it was Molly, but she didn't intend to cause the circumstances that led them to this. What could she have done? What could she do now?

Molly knew that, as soon as Aunt Honora cried herself out, she would become angry, and that that anger would have to be directed somewhere. The girl sat down on her own suitcase, and waited for the brunt of it. She would willingly take the tongue-lashing, if only her aunt would dry her tears.

But before the woman had her cry out, Molly felt a touch upon her shoulder. It was the warmth and pressure of a supportive hand. She looked up to see to whom that hand belonged, and found Emrys standing beside her, bending towards her hunched frame, and smiling sympathetically.

Molly communicated to him by giving a sorrowful and questioning expression, as if to say: "What will we do now?" Emrys patted her arm, then rose up to his full height, and cleared his throat to get Aunt Honora's attention.

It took her a moment, but Aunt Honora looked up, and nearly teetered off her suitcase as she did so. As soon as she corrected her balance, she inhaled an audible breath, and simply stared at the familiar un-human creature in front of her. Her mouth started to move up and down after a moment of gaping, but no sounds managed to come out of her throat.

"Ms. Honora," Emrys bowed to her. "Allow me to apologize for the state in which my confrontation with the nathair has left you. I come forth to guarantee to you that you are not stranded here, and shall not remain without a chaperone. Therefore, I declare to you now that it is my duty and honor to ensure the safety of you and your niece for the entirety of your sojourn in Ireland."

Aunt Honora's lips tried to shape words, but the only sounds that came out of her mouth were unintelligible sputters. All in all, Molly counted that as progress towards the return of the woman's wits.

While her Auntie-O struggled to grasp the new situation, Molly took a moment to ask, "Emrys, what do you mean: na-thair? Is that what you call that monster?"

Emrys turned to her, and replied, "It is. Nathair are legless, slithering reptilian creatures of the Faery realm. You might refer to them as snakes here, but they are not quite so. These are some of the most sinister subjects of Lord Donn, Ruler of the Underworld. But even he holds them in very little regard, caring not for their mischievous ways. I am sorry to say that they are the very beasts which play into your ancestry, Molly; and they are now playing into your future, as well."

"Oh," she said. "I see." But, of course, she didn't quite see. Not yet, anyway. And she still didn't like snakes- errr nathair.

"Underworld? S-s-snakes? What – what is going on?" Aunt Honora's voice finally came around. "Who are you?"

"I am Emrys Gwennin," the fae bowed again. "Son of Bodb Derg, King of the Munster Sidhe; grandson of Eochaid Ollathair, High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann; and younger brother of Iorwyn Tearlach, King of Bally Cnoc under the County of Carlow, within the Province of Leinster."

Aunt Honora raised her eyebrows in disbelief. Or was it bewilderment?

"You're . . . all that?" Molly asked. She knew he was the younger brother of a Faery king, but . . . wow, what a lineage. Even if she didn't really understand the half of his connections, they still seemed very important.

"I am," he replied.

"Sounds impressive," she stated, and then added a thought that suddenly came to her mind, "Guess it's no wonder that people have surnames now. It's a lot easier to introduce yourself as McGillpatrick or O'Kelly or Smith or something than having to repeat all that."

Emrys laughed his beautiful laugh; and Aunt Honora groaned her pitiful groan. The woman looked so frazzled and confused.

"Ms. Honora," Emrys held out his hand to help her rise from her seat. "If you will allow me to shoulder your burden, I shall guide you away without further ado from this place of distress, and lead you onto a more reliable path."

He picked up Aunt Honora's suitcase and strode towards the narrow road that led to a bridge over the River Erne. The woman followed him in dazed wonder, not because he carried away her belongings as he went, but more because she held the unearthly creature in some sort of stupefied awe.

Molly followed up the rear, grinning over her ancestor's ability to bend her normally inflexible aunt towards his bidding with so little effort.

As the dusk settled in, they found themselves hiking through a wood, thick with a carpet of ivy and a blanket of leaves. A host of moss-covered boulders and an army of towering trees worked to impede their progress, but Emrys stepped about them as though the place was as familiar as any he'd ever been in. Much to Aunt Honora's chagrin (or it probably would be when she finally came out of her silly state of trance), the golden fae didn't deposit them into a hotel when it drew time to rest for the night; rather, he came to a sudden stop at the side of a fallen hawthorn trunk, and indicated that Aunt Honora and Molly should sit.

"This will be a perfect location for a camp," he declared, and set about arranging a campfire. It was a simple task of piling up dried twigs and dead tree branches from the perimeter of the three trees that directly surrounded them, and then (this part thrilled Molly to no end, and would have shocked Aunt Honora to further fright, if only she would stop staring into the empty distance) blowing into it twice to produce a billowing smoke. No matches and no flint required.

When a warm blaze was sufficiently burning, Emrys turned and took several long strides away from the fire. Molly watched intently as he reached a sinewy hand into a small satchel made of some earthy-looking, yet foreign material – strange how she never noticed him carrying that bag before – and began to walk backwards around the three trees. He shook his hands out behind him as he went, in such a manner as one would scatter seed, but it wasn't seed that he sowed. It was a fine shimmery dust, almost like glitter – except that it glowed from within, rather than from any reflection of light that might hit upon its surface.

By the time he finished, Molly could see a ring of mushrooms growing all around them. It sprang up and outward, spreading with the unnatural speed that was becoming so familiar to her; and the finished product looked just as lovely and as perfectly placed as that ring which she had encountered the other day in the meadow.

"This faery ring will protect us for the night. Do not roam out of it until dawn. We do not know what is lurking in the dark, and now that the nathair have shown themselves, I am certain that they will be searching us out." Emrys took a place by the fire, sitting on a low gray rock, and looking as regal as a king.

He speared a few of the mushrooms, which he had retrieved from the bounty of the ring, and propped them near the fire. Molly had never eaten roasted mushrooms before, but the smell that wafted from them as they baked over the flames was divine. It made her mouth water like crazy and her stomach growl in its eagerness. Aunt Honora sat in her place on the fallen log and watched the fire flicker and dance while Emrys readied their dinner. She hadn't said a word since they started walking, and Molly was beginning to worry. Her aunt never seemed quite so unaware of herself as she now was.

"Ms. Honora." Emrys handed her a stick of skewered mushrooms. She took it and began to eat with mechanical slowness; but, at three or four bites in, she shook her head as though waking herself from a dream. She looked at a half eaten mushroom, the color of a ripe banana, and took a few more chews at something in her mouth – it had the texture of a marshmallow and the flavor of a portabella – then moved her gaze to Emrys.

"You!" she cried, spitting out the food. "What did you do to me?"

"I beg your pardon," Emrys appeared sincerely offended.

"You – you drugged me, didn't you?" Aunt Honora accused. Molly looked on in surprise.

"I did nothing of the sort," Emrys returned with quiet dignity. "Some humans display odd reactions during their initial encounters with members of the fae race. You, it would seem, have decided to cope by going into a kind of dreamlike state – for which I thank you, as it has made our progress easier during today's journey. But let me make it quite clear to you, my good woman, that if I have done anything to affect your state of being, it is only that I have just now set you free from your own mindlessness by offering you the victuals of Faery."

Aunt Honora's eyebrows knit together in confusion.

"Ms. Honora, please rest assured that I will never intentionally bring you to harm. I have made it my vow to protect you, just as I have sworn to protect our young Molly, here." Emrys stated this with such evenness and honesty in his tone that the woman could not fail to believe him.

"But – but what is going on?" she pleaded. Her ignorance, of course, could only add to her fear.

"I shall be happy to alleviate your anxieties by relating to you an abridgement of what I have told Molly thus far about her ancestors," Emrys replied, "and then, I will continue with that tale in order to explain the significance of the McGillpatrick clan in regards to the affair of the nathair."

Aunt Honora said nothing. She took another bite of mushroom (hating to admit to herself that it was quite delicious), and then gave the ancient being her full attention. Molly was amazed by her aunt's willingness to hear the fae out. She really had been bracing herself for more of an argument.

With that, Emrys began his account of Cerwyn, and quickly swept his small audience up into his narrative.