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This story is ancient. I take no responsibility (now) for its many errors of grammar, style, punctuation, and spelling. Read my childhood works and despair.

This story was part of a series I wrote in my late teens called "Tales Retold", which were re-tellings of classic fairy stories updated to the modern day. I'd been reading Katherine Briggs "Dictionary of Fairies", an invaluable guide to countless such tales.

This is a very loose version of the 'venturing into the fairy revel' type of story.

The Red Headed Man

Margaret Hathoway is not what one might describe as a romantic, but she does have a curiosity that has often led her on unusual walks, the kind where one turns off into a lane after a night at a film or a party, through office lots and mews, and thence back to more well known trails.

One night in May she was on just such a walk, under a railway bridge via a road now blocked at its far end, through the shadows of a parking lot that rose, multistorey and skeletal, at the top of a two storey wall of stone that had once bounded a manorial park. Even now a row of dead Elms and live Ashs, perched at the very top of the wall, as if attempting to recreate the ancient woodland that had once grown there.

On that night the trees were in bud, but the buds were shrouded in black and hung over the road like extended cobwebs. It was late, and still, all traffic longsince gone to rest and only a sliver of new moon visible over the roofline high above the street.

After five minutes, Margaret reached a long concrete stair cut into the wall on the left, and hurried up the narrow shaft, and thus into the basement of the parking lot. Here were a couple of longstay cars, a battered van, and a blue Volvo with one fender buckled, but mostly there was empty tarmac, dripping water, and squat pillars of concrete supporting the roof.

She was heading towards the sloping up ramp, with its oil stains, when she suddenly noticed a beam of light, glancing up from a little side corridor.

Curiously, she walked over and peeked down. She saw a short passage, and then a fire-door standing slightly open. She was about to turn away, reckoning that it was perhaps a watchman on night duty, or possibly some sort of repairman, when music started to issue from the door.

It was not pop music, or dance, or any mechanical sound, but distant pipes and fiddles, delicate and irresistable. Margaret was hooked of course. Not only was the music strange and enticing, but its very existence implied some unknown open space just beyond the door.

Quickly she hurried through, and into a further corridor lit by bare bulbs in little cages. Then the bulbs gave out and she thought for a moment that there was only darkness, until she made out a faint coloured glow filtering from ahead. Cautiously she edged forward, each step causing the light to increase ever so slightly, until at last it reached the level of a paper lantern. Suddenly, without realising that the corridor had ended, she emerged. All around her rose strange curled trees and glossy bushes, their branches hung with glowing peaches and pears, that glimmered between the leaves. The grass was dark and glinted with silver dew, each drop catching and refracting the soft glow in a thousand tiny rainbows. Beyond and above rose the black walls of buildings, and she tried to convince herself that they were the backs of office blocks and hotels, enclosing an old lot that she had not found before, but the gables and towers of the roofline that drifted into view against the blue-black sky hinted at an entirely different shape.

In front of her the foliage parted and gave onto a dark path hemmed in by fragrant grass, with wide blades like broad spears, newly forged and bronzed. She crept onwards until at last the path ended beneath a stand of tall Hawthorns, against a brick wall. Looking up, it seemed to her as if she stood at the side of a crumbling manor house, its sagging eaves just above the treetops.

It was as she stood there that Margaret heard the the music again, now much closer, just around the corner of the building. Cautiously she moved along the wall until she reached a thick border of undergrowth, and could look out across the lawn of the house.

She saw long tables, set out with sparkling candles and rich foods at which lords and ladies chattered and ate, She saw dancing figures drapped in finery, she saw little old men with red-caps and long white beards that bobbed in rhythm with the fiddles, pipes, and harps, that they played. Everywhere jewels glittered and fine robes shimmered, complemented by wigs and masks. One dress was blue, one peacock, one flame, and one dappled with silver eyes.

Suddenly one of the dancers stopped and held up a hand to still the others. He sniffed the air in an exaggerated gesture and then said, "What sweet air, what lovely scents, but wait, what is this? Do I smell some other scent? A watcher in the bushes. Come forth sweet lady!"

Margaret was just about to announce herself when a voice spoke in her ear saying, "Go not. Take my advice and leave now." She turned to see a tall man with red hair stride off into the shadows of the Hawthorns, not even waiting for her reply.

"Of all the cheek!" she thought. She would do as she willed and show the man.

But apparently, the dancer took her hesitation as a refusal and cried out, "Lady, you shall not deny us. By hook and by crook, thou shalt come!" No sooner had he said this than a host of tiny figures rose up in the bushes around her. On each fluttered butterflies wings, and from each trailed silver stars, brilliant against the somber leaves. In their hands glittered tiny spears, their heads sharp as razors.

Now at last she realised in whose company she was, and she tried to turn away from the dancers, but the little fairies prevented her. With the pricks of their spears they pushed her out onto the lawn, where two attendants, fine in long coats of green velvet, held her arms. She tried to struggle, but the prince of dancers raised a hand and commanded stillness. In the silence he said:

"Neither heed nor stray
Neither go, but come.
Those who please are pleased,
Those who displease find displeasure."

His tone was sharp and commanding but he suddenly smiled and said, "Come lady, are we not fine enough for thee?"

For the first time she looked directly at him and, all at once, was aware that his eyes were blue like the summer sky, that his voice was sweet and smooth like honey, and that his hand, where it touched her hand was soft like velvet and smooth as silk. It was as if she, on the peak of a mountain, had drunk a cool and heady wine, and was afire with it.

"Dance with me!" she gasped. The Prince smiled and then spun her away across the dew strewn grass.

Round and round they whirled, until she was dizzy, while all around danced other couples and rings, thin men with white pigtails, and dwarves done up with feathers and blue puffed sleeves. There went past girls in silken dresses and men with the ears of horses, or the heads of toads.

At last she was led breathless to the long table, where rows of revellers tore and cut fine meats, fruit dusted with crystals of sugar, red wine like blood in giant glasses. There were bright ices and platters of steaming steaks and fowls.There were stuffed and glazed meats, strange fowls in spiced sauces, ducks in pastry cases, candied eels in golden wine, sea dishes of jellyfish and pickled urchins, and carafes of wines and liqueurs in whose glittering bottles insects, and lizards, and exotic fruits spun slowly in eddies. On dishes of beaten gold, sweet cakes were handed back and forth, and in pitchers of lead glass swum fish with sparkling scales.

All along the table were hordes of fairy revellers, of all shapes and sizes, and still more danced, while others ran back and forth bearing platters heaped with foods and wines. In a carved chair of oak she was seated, and the Prince handed her a golden cup, filled with wine, from opposite her. Still caught in the dream of the dance she raised the cup to her lips,and was about to drink, when the red-haired man, dressed in robes of crimson and irridescent blue, strode out of the crowd behind her and said into her ear, "To eat with the Faries is to be forever theirs. Do not drink the wine." and he was gone as quickly as he had come.

His words brought her abruptly back to her senses and she put the cup down quickly, nearly spilling the wine.

"Wilt thou not drink?" said the Prince smiling.

"No." she tried to smile in return, "Thank you."

"Do not thank me." said the Prince, "For you have not yet drunk. I ask you again, wilt thou not drink?" Again she refused, and his expression hardened.

Three times he asked, and three times she refused. Then a larger man, in black armour beneath his red brocade and feathered hat, threw aside the food before him and surged to his feet, causing her to fall back in fear.

"Methinks the lady mocks us!" he roared, "Let us make her drink!" he threw himself across the table to hold her, while the Prince grabbed up the cup and forced it to her lips, as the other revellers cried out and thumped their heavy goblets upon the table, spilling wine the colour of blood.

For a moment Margaret thought that she would be compelled to drink, and she felt a sudden terror welling within her, but then, for a third time the red-haired man appeared, swirling out of the cloud in a cloak of peacock blue. In one swift move he grasped her by the arm and pulled her out of the seat and away from the dancers, striding out beyond them and into the trees.

In moments they stood in the verdant shadows of a stand of oaks, she panting heavily, and he standing, waiting.

"You have little time, they will soon come after you."

"Who...Who are you?"

"I must tell the truth, I cannot lie,
I am one that did not have such as I
To warn them off, and let them fly.
Now, you must go, they will come after you."

"Go? Where must I go?"

He pointed through the trees and the dark bushes, that stirred softly in the glittering shadows, over where a mass of lanterns swung unlit in a single tree. "That way. You will find a great sward, and must run that way until you come to a set of doors, that way lies your escape." As he spoke dismal horns rang out from beyond the trees, chilling in the warm darkness, and there came the sounds of horses, of milling men, and of hunting cries.

"You must go now," he said, "And hesitate not. But first, take this." He handed her a branch of ground ivy. "Take this and it will protect you from them. Now go!"

With that he was gone and Margaret took to her heels in the direction he had indicated. Soon she found herself on a great, dark, corridor of grass sward, bounded on either side by trees and bushes. This she ran along, hearing behind her the horns of the pursuing huntsmen and the drumming hooves of their horses. She ran with unnatural speed, but still they pursued, coming closer and closer behind her. Yet they could not come level with her, try as they might, and she did not look back, knowing that they would instantly have her if she did.

Now she saw the doors ahead of her, almost frightening in their familiarity, a simple set of grey fire-doors, with an emergency bar across them, set in the crumbling stone-earth wall of a sprawling fortress, brown and blank walled.

The Prince too saw the doors, and knew that he could not catch her. So he pulled a bow and steel tipped arrow from his back and called out:

"Feather and flight
From fletch and arrow
Our sting tonight
Through bone to marrow."

Letting fly, as he did so, the arrow. Margaret heard him call, knew that the arrow was coming, but she did not turn round, and the arrow, aimed for her neck, burried itself in the branch of Ground Ivy instead.

Then she had reached the door, and with one last effort she flung her self through..., and out onto a quiet street near her home. She stood silently for a moment, and then, slowly, turned around. Behind her the doors had swung nearly closed again, but one was still slightly open, revealing a view of a concrete tunnel, and a distant parking lot.

She tried to tell herself that it had all been some strange kind of dream, a freak hallucination brought on by alcohol or overwork, but in her hand she held a branch of Ground Ivy, with a glittering arrowhead of flint burried in the wood, and in her head she heard still, and always would, the haunting music of the dance.