It was that time of the night when the flames in the fireplace were most delightful, when the milk and the cookies were most delicious, and when Granny’s fairy tales were most enchanting. It was that time before bedtime when the children’s imagination was ready to venture in the farthest and most fantastic worlds.
Granny was dousing calmly in her rocking chair, when Lily and George dashed into the living room. Their faces were red, their hairs messy, and their eyes were gleaming with carefree happiness.
“There, behind! Quickly!” Lily commanded, and before George could react, she pushed him behind the heavy wooden door. They were holding big feather pillows in their hands and giggling.
And the more they waited behind the door, the more difficulty they had controlling their laughter.
Granny casted a sleepy glance at them and smiled.
Some minutes later Carl and Zane ran into the room, both of them red-faced and panting, holding pillows in their hands, and started looking around. At that moment Lily and George popped up from behind the door and, shouting and screaming, started the pillow fight again. They were mightily hitting each other and couldn’t help laughing. Someone’s pillow could not withstand the heroic strokes and after a unexpected “Poof!”, white fluffy feathers flew out of its ripped belly. The clamor ceased at once, the children dropped the pillows on the floor and casted guilty glances at Granny. But as she continued dousing and did not realized what had happened, the children looked at each other mischievously, and carried on playing. George took the torn pillow and shook it with such a force that the whole room suddenly filled up with white feathers.
“Snow! Snow!” a tiny voice squeaked. Eddie was sitting in his wheelchair at the door. His skinny hand pointing up, a glowing space helmet on his head and a Nerf N-Strike Elite Retaliator on his lap.
“Prepare for battle, treasure thieves!” shouted Hunter, who was standing behind the wheelchair. Then she took the blaster and pushed the trigger. Blue and orange darts flew through the room, and screaming and laughing, the four thieves ran around in search of a shelter.
Granny was woken up by the clamor and nearly fell off the rocking chair, when she saw the chaos in the living room.
“Good gracious!” she cried. “I see you’ve had plenty of fun here, little rascals! And what time is it already!?” she wondered and looked at the wall clock. It was quarter past nine. “Oh, it’s time you went to bed!”
“No, Granny! We don’t want to sleep yet!” protested Zane.
“We don’t!” confirmed Lily, and then, in her most innocent voice, she said: “Granny, tell us some story!”
“Yes!” cried the other children.
“Tell us a story, Granny!”
“Okay, okay!” Granny waved her hands helplessly. “But first, promise me that you’ll tidy up around, while I go and bring some milk and cookies.”
No sooner had she got up out of the chair than the children rushed around to collect the goose feathers and the darts from the ground, the windowsills, and all the other furniture. And when Granny came back, the room looked cleaner than before.
She put the tray with the milk and the cookies on the table, near the window, and went to the other end of the room where the bookshelf was. She slid her finger over their hard covers. The one she was looking for was thick and faded, she hadn’t opened it since she was a child. The other day, when she found it in the attic, she thought that the children would like it very much, so she carefully removed the dust from it and put it on the shelf next to her most beloved books.
Granny settled herself comfortably in the rocking chair and opened the book. Before reading it, she moved her grey eyes to the children – Lily, in her favourite Pikachu onesie, was laying on the floor, her head resting on her arms, next to her Carl was slurping his warm milk, George and Zane were sitting behind them, in front of the fireplace, munching cookies, Hunter was sitting, cross-legged, on the right side of Lily, fidgeting with the Retaliator, and behind her Eddie, perched in his wheelchair, was smiling broadly and goggling.
She cleared her throat, put her glasses on and started reading.
This is a story from the beginning of time, when the world was still young and darkness veiled the land. This is a story about magic and bravery in times when ancient evil and fear ruled the realms of Kielo. And it is such an old story that no one knows anymore whether it is true or not, neither do I, nor did my grandma, nor even her grandmother, but this is how it all began:
“Come on! Pass the ball, Brandr! Don’t be such a coward!” Caoimhe shouted and ran through the meadow.
At its far end Brandr could see the flames of the beacons. That was where the boundaries of the Kingdom laid, and beyond the beacons only darkness lingered. The pale sun would soon sink behind the horizon, and the flames, burning on the high stone pillars, would remain the only lights to protect his father’s lands from the darkness.
“We are not supposed to come here!” he said. ”We have to go back! The sun is about to set!”
“The shadows are still short!” said Tuathal as he looked down at the shadows of the pillars along the path. “We have enough time for one more game.”
He grabbed the ball from Brandr and dashed after Caoimhe. Brandr hesitated for a moment, but, as he did not want to be mocked for being a coward, followed his brother and sister.
The grass in the meadow was lush, knee-high, and scarlet poppies had grown here and there. Caoimhe’s emerald dress would occasionally merge with the green grass as she run, and only her long silver hair could be seen fluttering behind her. Finally, she stopped at the top of a hillock and waved her hands.
“Throw the ball to me, Tuathal!”
And her brother threw it. High in the air the brown-greyish hessian ball whirled and swished, and then fell right in the girls’ hands. She chortled and threw the ball at Brandr. Then ran again. And as they were passing the ball to each other, and romping, they were getting closer to the beacons.
Thus, while they were playing, the sun slowly sank behind the hills in the west.
Tuathal hurled the ball one last time to Caoimhe, but as she clasped her hands too early, the ball slipped past her fingers and hit the ground. It rolled over the grass, passed between the stone pillars and disappeared in the darkness. Caoimhe dashed after it but stopped just before the beacons. It was dark on the other side, and she was not allowed to go there. At that moment her brothers came and stood by her.
“Leave it! We must go home! It’s getting late!” Brandr said.
‘’No, I can’t!” Caoimhe objected. “It’s a gift from Eadweard. I can’t leave it there!”
“Oh, did you hear that Eddie?” Lily exclaimed and turned to the boy in the wheelchair. “His name is Edward, just like yours! It’s like you’re in the fairy tale!”
Eddie nodded vigorously and a proud smile appeared on his face.
“Hush, Lily!” Hunter reproved her. “Listen to the story!”
Granny fixed her glasses and continued reading.
“But it rolled beyond the pillars!” said Brandr. “Remember what father says! We mustn’t go there! Whatever happens, we must never go on the other side!”
“I know what father says!” Caoimhe replied annoyed. “But the ball couldn’t have gone too far! It might be somewhere near the columns. Let’s take a look!” And as she said it, she neared the stone pillars and peered into the gloom. In the dim light she could see the grass and the crooked silhouettes of some shrubs and trees beyond.
The boys looked at each other confused. At that moment they heard Caoimhe’s dress fluttering between the stone columns, and they immediately turned their heads only to see her jump on the other side and disappear.
“Caoimhe, come back!” Tuathal cried and strode forward.
No response came from the other side. Everything was silent, motionless.
“I’m going there!” Tuathal said decisively and passed behind the stone columns.
“No! Don’t go!” Brandr begged him.
“I can’t leave her there!” Tuathal replied. His face suddenly became pale and Brandr could see the fear in his eyes. “I’ll be back, I promise!”
Then he turned around and hurried forward. The darkness gulped him at once.
Brandr watched terrified. His brother always kept his promises, but now he lied. He was not coming back, Brandr knew it. Anyway, he waited. In a while he perceived that someone or something had fixed their rapacious eyes at him. He could feel some presence, and it was neither Tuathal’s nor Caoimhe’s. And though there seemed to be no movement, he could swear that he was not alone. He knew that on this side he was safe, yet felt like a prey. His heart pondered, and his body started trembling. His feet refused to move, and beads of sweat broke out on his back. He petrified.
“I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” he mumbled. Tears filled his eyes.
Then there came a shriek from the depths of the wood, a flutter afterwards, and a small shadow flew over the trees towards the meadow. Brandr twitched and yelped. And having felt his feet again, he fled from this horrible place as fast as he could, crying.