The Chase

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Today’s Daily Post prompt – Autumn Leaves: Changing colors, dropping temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes: do these mainstays of Fall fill your heart with warmth — or with dread?

(Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year. I love misty mornings, dewy cobwebs in the hedges, ‘dragon breath’ on chilly air, Samhain (Halloween to non pagans *wink*), the colours, the smells, the cool weather – I would happily live in autumn all year around!)

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A tale from Green Lake

Briar paused for a moment, aware of the chill in the air, the occasional drip of morning mist settling on a browning leaf, and stretched hugely. She unwrapped the black wool cloak from her shoulders and shook out russet wings, the exact shade Green Lake villagers thought of as Falling red. With a single word of power, she took off, rising straight up, too fast for any mortal to see. Breaking through the forest canopy into hazy golden light, she hovered. Others were already gathered, a myriad shades of Falling glinting and shimmering from hundreds of wings as the fairies prepared for The Chase.

Lichen shot up through the leaves of an oak, dive-bombed her a couple of times and then settled to a hover beside her. He really seemed to think Briar was impressed by his bravado; she wasn’t but they always ran The Chase together. As a flying team they were unbeatable and Briar had already noted a few crestfallen faces amongst the almost complete assembly. Five or six stragglers were still arriving as the first sounds reached the fairies; the children were gathering. Giggles, shrieks and conversations about strategy came closer, the children of Green Lake heading for Bramble Glade.

For centuries Green Lake had held The Chase on the first official day of Falling; a date determined by the first sighting of a red-breasted robin. Long ago, one of the village elders had decided there was a more efficient way to deal with the immense volume of foliage deposited every year; Green Lake forest stretched for several miles around the lake. Many glades and clearing had been given over to growing fruit and vegetables to supplement the meagre days of Deep Dark. Not only did the sprawling drifts of leaves make it difficult for carts and people to travel, especially when wet and slippery, they were a constant source of illicit distraction to the village children.

After ‘The Incident’, as the older villagers still called it, action had to be taken. Three children had built a huge pile of fallen leaves under a tree. They’d climbed up, stood along a branch, holding hands, and dived in together. The tree had marked the site of a long abandoned mine, long flooded, and the children plunged straight through the rotted wooden boards guarding it. No-one had wanted to think what might have happened if a wood elf hadn’t passed by soon after. The elders instituted The Chase, with the agreement and aid of the fae.

All children under the age of twelve gathered in Bramble Glade. All the fairies hovered, out of sight, above the trees. Each child was equipped with a large woolen sack and a good pair of gloves. The fairies needed nothing more than the stirring of air their movements created. At cock crow the fairies descended into the trees, flying in all directions and causing the leaves to fall. The children chased below, catching with hands, sacks or the occasional enterprising net – although that was somewhat frowned upon. Children and fairies worked in teams, aiming to return to the glade at the end of the day with the most leaves collected. The mortal prize was a year of magical education with the fairies. The fae prize was a chance to choose a child and be their life guardian for a year. As the job came with many perks, including regular audiences with Queen Fen and her consort, Prince Stone to report on mortal development, it was much sought after. Briar and Lichen had won for the last fifty years and intended to do so again.

A hush fell over mortals and fae alike, every ear straining to catch the first hint of cock crow. When it came, accompanied by a lemon wash of light, the sun clearing the mist for a single instant, a roar of excitement flew up from the children, hitting the fairies in a wave of sound which dislodged almost as many leaves as their first manoeuvres; The Chase was begun.

Briar and Lichen headed to the willows which overhung most of the Green Lake shoreline, watching for any sign of children in tune with their thoughts; willows gave up their leaves readily and had multiple leaves per stem, a sure fire winning strategy. Hovering by the tree closest to the exit from Bramble Glade, they were rewarded by the appearance of Sally Murphy and Danny Moore, two of the brightest children in the village, pelting toward the willows.
“Go, go go!” Danny gasped, bent double hands on knees, catching his breath.
“We claim you, if you are willing” Sally added, remembering the rules.

Briar and Lichen nodded, grinned and shot amongst the willow boughs. They used their tried and tested maypole pattern of flight, racing round and round, over and under, higher and higher, always heading in opposite directions. Sally and Danny ran to the tree, Sally circling it clockwise, Danny opposed, echoing the movements of their fairy partners. Haring from tree to tree, it wasn’t long before Briar had to send up a flare of purple light to summon a steward with a new sack. The first was sealed with the mark of all four team members and flown off by a local heron to the weighing point. With new sack in hand, they were off again, stopping only for a brief lunch of Mrs Murphy’s currant buns and some troll dandelion juice, a local favourite of mortal and immortal alike.

“It’s almost dusk! We have to run!” Sally yelled, in her official capacity as timekeeper. If the teams weren’t assembled back in the glade by full dusk none of their sacks would count. All four arrived in an exhausted, dirty rush but on time. Only two teams of the twenty who started failed to make it back on time, and Grandmother Ida stepped forward to adjudicate the count. She wasn’t really anyone’s grandmother as she’d been widowed young and never had children, but she received the title when she took up her position as oldest Green Lake female and village wise woman.

It was agony, especially as the top three teams each had fifteen sacks apiece. Finally, as full dark slipped over the throng of children and fairies, Grandmother Ida stepped forward, a scroll clutched in each work-hardened hand.
“The Chase is done. For the next year…” she took a long pause, then winked merrily at the children, “Sally and Danny will be the beloved guests of Queen Fen and Prince Stone.”
The delighted children stepped forward, halting at her right hand and taking the scroll which signified their victory.
“The people of Green Lake village will be pleased to welcome Briar and Lichen as life guardians for Maya Greenleaf and Jimmy Mulch for the next year.”

There were cheers all round as the fairies accepted their scroll. The glade stilled and in the silence Grandmother Ida held up her empty hands. They began to glow, child and fairy alike watching awestruck as her hands filled with Falling red fire, dancing and flickering over her face, and that of the four competitors at her side. With a sudden movement, she threw up her hands and flung russet fire between the trunks of the oaks surrounding the glade. From between each trunk stepped a villager. They all held bowls before them and as the fire struck the first on each side it leapt from bowl to bowl until the entire glade was ringed with Falling fire.
“Let the celebrations begin!” Grandmother Ida called.
The centre of the glade was piled high with logs, now filled and covered with all the leaves collected over the day. The villagers, as one, reached back and then hurled their bowls of fire into the pile. It caught instantly – Grandmother Ida would never have admitted to augmenting that flame – and people began to sing and dance, joining hands and circling the fire. Soon all were a part of welcoming the days of Falling, the safety of the village and holding back the Deep Dark just a little longer.

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