The Lad on the Knoll. Part II by Chris Pollard

“Then how can I help you?” I asked the lad.
“Sometimes they send me to fish in the river, by the bridge.”
“So why don’t you just run away when you go there?”
“Would that it were so easy!  They have me under a powerful enchantment, so that I may only go to the river, and when my buckets of fish are full, return directly.”
“What can I do then?”
“At midnight on the full moon, come and look for me there by the bridge, and bring a horseshoe on an iron chain.  Hang it round my neck, and I will be able to escape.  And you’d best protect yourself in like manner too, or they’ll take you in my place!”

The full moon was only two days away, so the following morning I went to the ironmonger’s store, and bought two horseshoes and some iron chain, preparing the two ‘necklaces’ as the lad Angus had instructed me.

The appointed night arrived, and I made my way along the road to the bridge over the river.  There I waited in the moonlight for midnight to come around, wearing one of the horseshoes on its chain about my neck.

Sure enough, at the allotted time, Angus appeared nearby with two wooden pails and a fishing rod.  He was down on the rocky shore of a fishing pool, and he sat upon a large stone, casting his line into the water.

Without hesitating, I ran over to him, and put the chain around his neck, the horseshoe hanging over his chest.

“Quick!” he cried, “We must flee!”

So we began running back up towards the bridge.

“Stop!” cried an evil little voice, “Stop at once!  Come back here!”

Stones began to fly past us from behind, and one of them struck me hard in the middle of my back.  Looking over my shoulder I could see five small men all dressed in green, shouting at us.  Two of them were hurling pebbles from the bank at us, whilst the other three were notching arrows onto their little bows!

“I thought you said we’d be protected with these iron chains!” I complained.
“Somewhat!” replied Angus.

Not wishing to find out how much ‘somewhat’ really was, I carried on running as tiny arrows began to whizz past our ears.  The two of us frantically scrambling back up the slope, Angus suddenly cried out in pain, but made it onto the bridge just behind me, and we ran off down the road together.

Once we felt we had got to a safe distance, we stopped to examine Angus’s injury.  A tiny flint arrowhead was embedded in his left calf.  I gently pulled it out and popped it in my pocket, and he rolled up his trouser leg.  I had a clean handkerchief, so we tied it tight around the wound, until we could get back and clean it up.

Walking along the lane towards the tavern where I was lodging, the rumble of an approaching car began to make itself heard.  It grew loader as the car approached.  Angus looked scared.

“What in the name of God is that?”
“It’s just a car, don’t worry!”

The sharp beam of the headlights came around the bend up ahead, throwing its glare over us.  Now Angus looked panic stricken, and threw himself over a low wall into a field.  The car sped by and rumbled off into the distance, then the lad’s head appeared over the wall.

“Has it gone?”
“It’s gone.”
“Were you not afraid?”
“Why should I be afraid, it was just a car?”
“A car?  Like a cart?”
“Like a cart, but without a horse.”
“A horseless carriage?  I never knew they went so fast!  Or made such noise!  And who around these parts could ever afford a horseless carriage?”
“When did you say you were taken into the mound?”
“I told you, a few weeks ago, it was on Midsummer’s Eve last.”
“Well that was just a few weeks ago, but Midsummer’s Eve of which year?”
“Well, 1910, of course.  Which year do you think it is?”
“I’m afraid that was a hundred years ago, it’s 2010 now.”
“2010!  But…my family!”  Even in the dark I could see the great sadness that filled his eyes.
“I’m sorry, …they’ll all be gone now.”
“And what am I to do in 2010?  How shall I make a living?”
“This is still a rural community, I’m sure you can find work as a day labourer on a farm to begin with.  Later, who knows, if you study you could even become a pilot or a computer programmer!”
“I don’t think so, I know nothing about boats, still less about this ‘computer programmer’ you speak of.”
“Don’t worry, I can lend you some money to eat and stay tonight in the tavern where I am lodged, tomorrow we can see about getting you a job.”

We arrived back at the inn, and rented another room for young Angus.  I went upstairs with him, and we washed his wound, put some antiseptic, and a plaster from my first aid kit on it.

“There,” I said, “it shouldn’t get infected now.”

Downstairs in the bar I ordered a hearty dinner, and some beers, over which he told me about his life as a shepherd’s son in a tiny village nearby, his boyhood playing in the fields, and the simplicity of his rustic existence.  He said that he had often heard tales of the little people, that all of the older villagers believed in them quite firmly, but the younger ones had laughed at them and thought them foolish.

“And who turned out to be the foolish one, hey?!” he added.

Then he talked about his parents and his brother and sister, and a deep regret began to overcome him.

I decided to change the topic of conversation and started filling him in on the huge changes that have taken place in the last hundred years.  He listened wide eyed as I told him about aeroplanes, the two world wars and space exploration.  I don’t think he believed much of what I said, but he seemed to enjoy the stories.  When I got onto computers he had no way to understand what I was on about at all.  A thought struck me.

“Here, I’ll show you, come with me,” I said.

I led him through to the back of the bar, where an old arcade machine stood against the wall.  I put some coins in, and started to play Pac-man, explaining the idea of the game and how to move.  He was fascinated, and once he was absorbed in playing he soon seemed to forget about his former concerns.

The evening wore on, and after several pints and a few whiskies we both began to feel quite drowsy and decided it was time to sleep.  I agreed to help him look for work in the morning, and bidding him goodnight went to my room.

The next morning, before breakfast, I knocked on his door, but there was no reply.  I went downstairs for some toast and jam and coffee, and when I had had my fill I went back to knock on his door again, but again he did not answer.  I supposed he must be sleeping off his great tiredness after a hundred years as a servant in Fairy Land, and decided to wait for him downstairs.

So I sat in the barroom reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.  The hours passed slowly by, and still there was no sign of Angus.  Just before midday, the landlord asked me about my new friend.

“Checking out time’s twelve o’clock you know, any later than that and guests have to pay for another night.”

I explained that I had called twice at his door and received no answer, so the landlord decided to go up and knock and I tagged along.  The landlord knocked at the door.  Silence.  He knocked harder.  Nothing.

“Hello, are you in there laddie?” he called, and still there was no response.

Taking a bunch of keys out of his pocket, he opened the door, and walked in.  I followed him.  Angus was lying there on the bed, motionless in the gloom of the curtained room.

“It’s time to check out lad,” said the landlord, opening the curtains.

As the sunlight streamed in, the two of us stood dumbfounded by what we saw.  I nervously fingered the fairy arrowhead that was still in my jacket pocket.  There on the pillow was the same lean face, the same sharp nose, and the same grey eyes that I had first seen on the fairy mound, but the black hair had turned white as snow, and the face was wizened and wrinkled from brow to chin.  The breath gone from his body, all that remained was the lifeless frame of a hundred year old man.

An Anglo-Welsh Mexican, Chris Pollard was born on the South coast of Britain.  He has lived among bleak mountains of slate, near the Sacred Isle of Avalon, amidst the grey concrete and decaying red bricks of a dying industrial city, in Moorish alleyways on the fringe of Europe, between coffee and sugar plantations in the Sierra Madre, on the Martian plains of the Sahara, and lately on the North African coast.  He is currentlyoscillating between several of these.

His writing can be found at: http://ddraigddu.blogspot.com/

2 thoughts on “The Lad on the Knoll. Part II by Chris Pollard”

  1. Nice story. I liked the Angus’s confusion on the time lapse and the ending. Could be lengthened to flesh out both characters more? I guess I always want more of everything. Might be a personal problem.

    Kevin

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