As I mentioned, I want to get back to writing stories from Green Lake. Going into my garden earlier to fetch my laundry from the line, I came across an unexplained purple balloon tucked up in the corner of my wall and fence. It cried out to be a Green Lake story; this is it.
Kate worked her way down the rows of vegetables, popping peas, cabbage, broad beans, carrots and potatoes into her basket. She’s promised Malcolm, her husband, vegetable soup for lunch and she was harvesting whilst bread dough proved by the hearth. She had a good crop this year and she’d have to remember to leave some of her best scraps for the fairy folk. Their nightly weeding forays had been a blessing, saving her many an aching back. Her ma had taught her to respect the little people who inhabited the green places and deep shadows, and she made a mental note to leave out some of the bacon fat from breakfast, along with some of the bread spread with rich butter.
Kate stretched languidly, enjoying the last warmth of summer, smelling autumn on the light breeze. Time to rake the leaves, make them into a pile for the hedgepigs to winter in, and there was a lot of pruning and digging over to be done before the last leaves fell. She bent to retrieve her basket, stilled by a sudden shrill of voices.
“It’s getting away, Nid!”
“I know, ain’t blind. Get running, Jid.”
“What’d’ya think I am, a deer? Me legs don’t go that fast, ya maggot.”
“Who you calling a maggot, dungfoot?”
The argument seemed to be occurring somewhere in the pumpkin patch. Gently setting down her basket, Kate sidled along the path and was blindsided by an errant purple balloon. It bounced off her cheek, caught a fresh breeze and drifted toward the far wall. In fast order, Kate started to dash after this pretty but uninvited visitor, her feet suddenly having to dance around the careening forms of two green-clad pixies. They were still blaming each other, even as all three came to a stop, the balloon now cornered by the wall and back fence.
“Where ya going?”
The smaller of the two had taken a single look at Kate and grabbed the tied end of the balloon. He then attempted to tug it through a tiny gap in the fence. The large pixie and Kate both made a grab, Kate winning.
“Don’t” she exclaimed, “It will burst!”
She swung the balloon up and was assailed by piercing shrieks. Belatedly she realised the pixie had neglected to let go. She carefully pincered the cloth on his jacket and pried him away from the balloon, setting him next to his friend. Regarding her first ever fae folk with eager eyes, she held the balloon, aware of their avaricious glances at its purple loveliness. Pixies were well known for their greedy natures, being lovers of all things shiny and brightly coloured.
“Why do you want the balloon?”
The taller creature considered her for a long moment and then sat down on one of the stones edging the path, wringing his brown cap in his lap.
“We didn’ steal it, swear on Queen Nib.”
“I believe you.”
He seemed relieved, continuing with more confidence, his friend still eyeing her with suspicion from behind a sunflower stalk.
“We saw it. ‘Twere bouncing along by the inn. Didn’t seem to belong to no-ne. Didn’t see no Big Ones chasing after it or nowt.”
Ma had told Kate they were known as Big Ones to the more ethereal folk of Green Lake and she giggled, dropping down to crouch opposite her visitors.
“My name is Kate. I’m very pleased to finally meet some of you.”
“I’m Nid. This ‘ere’s me brother, Jid. It’s Queen Nib’s birthday, ya see.”
Kate didn’t but she nodded sagely, hoping all would become clear. With unexpected eagerness, Jid took over, his excitement shining from nut-brown eyes under a mop of green curls.
“Queen Nib’s promised a sack-load of beets to the ones what bring ‘er the bestest present. None of ‘em’s got better than the purple bouncer!”
Kate had a flash of understanding. She began to untie the string of the balloon, Jid and Nid watching with undisguised terror as air started to hiss free.
“This is called a balloon. Big Ones use them to decorate their celebrations. Lots of them blow away and are never found, so no-one will mind if you take this one. As we know, from how you came to be in my garden, balloons are not easy to control or take where you want them to go”
Kate eyed the tiny fence hole and Jid blushed furiously. The balloon was almost flat. Kate gave it a final squeeze – the accompanying noise making all three giggle like small children – then handed the string and the balloon to the pixies. They looked so sad Kate almost swept them into a hug. Instead she explained.
“Big Ones blow up the balloons with lots and lots of air and then tie them up to stop the air escaping. Without the air it will be much easier for you to take to the queen. Then you can simply blow it up again and win your sack of beets.”
Kate felt rather pleased with her solution until she saw the angry look on Nid’s face, Jid looking at his feet and shuffling uneasily.
“An’ just where do ya think we’s gonna get all this air then, Mistress Kate?”
“Oh… I hadn’t thought of that.”
“No, ya hadn’t. Crazy Big Ones!”
Nid threw up his hands, dropped the deflated balloon and started off toward the fence hole, Jid in slump-shouldered tow.
“Wait!” Kate cried, Jid visibly starting and scurrying behind his brother, “I know how we can make this work, but you have to promise me something, ok?”
“What’d that be then?”
Nid paused, regarding her over his shoulder.
“You have to bring it back after you’ve used it and won your beets, ok? No keepsies.”
“I’ll decide when ya tell us what’s the plan.”
“Fair enough. When is Queen Nib’s party?”
“Tonight, at moon-peak.”
“Very well. Take the balloon and the string with you now. Do you have a wheeled cart big enough to carry my bellows?”
Nid’s eyes lit up. He was clearly a well-versed pixie when it came to Big One objects. Kate suspected his knowledge of bellows came from hanging around the smithy, hoping for pretty shards of metal to drop.
“Bring it here at dusk. I’ll leave my bellows outside the back gate. You take them, make a show of blowing up the balloon for Queen Nib, then you bring them back. Before dawn mind, I’ll need to stoke the fire for breakfast.”
Nid bowed low, clapping his brother on the back to force him to follow suit.
“For a Big one, ya mightn’t be so bad, Mistress Kate. A deal it is.”
He stepped forward and they shook hands, Kate offering just her index finger. Jid and Nid tucked the balloon and string into their pockets, waved and vanished into the pumpkin patch.
Kate kept her word, creeping out to the back gate whilst Malcolm was at the inn with his friends – he didn’t approve of airy fairy nonsense – and leaving the bellows half hidden under fallen leaves. She was up before dawn, anxious to know the pixies had kept their word. The bellows lay by the gate, Kate noting some much needed repairs to the fabric, and a beautiful polish on the brass. Turning to head inside, Kate’s toe hit something in the leaves; a small package, wrapped in dock leaves and tied with ivy stems, tumbled into view.
She bent and picked it up. A tiny note was slid under the ivy ties:
‘Mistress Kate, we did win those beets and won’t go ‘ungry this winter. Keep this for your little Big One and put it in their hand the day they’s born. We give you this blessing for thank yous.’
Kate unwrapped the parcel and allowed the contents to roll into her hand. It proved to be a carved swan. She was pretty certain it was created from a conker, the deep red glow and shiny surface tell-tale signs. She wondered what the pixies’ blessing could be… and how they had known. With one hand curved over her flat belly and a smile on her face , Kate went to start the fire for breakfast..