Hesrial’s abrupt departure surprised Kate; she stood staring at the space where Hesrial should be, thinking (not for the first or last time) how unlikely a Fae she was.
Kate had no idea what Hesrial has run off to do but she trusted that she meant no harm, and with nothing else to do she sat and started watching the colours in her suit as they flowed, slowly fading and then coalescing in swirls of beauty, shifting between light and dark.
The suit’s power was leaving. Soon it would be mostly black with the odd hint of red, but now, it was deep purples and blues with scintillations of gold. It was very calming, almost hypnotic, she bent forward, drifting with the patterns. As her breathing slowed, she entered a light kind of trance and almost immediately the voices came. Clear this time, a deep resonant voice.
"Remember, be at the south window in 30 minutes and put it in the locker. Make sure this is with it. Don't open it fool! Now go!
She jumped to her feet, frightened and now entirely awake. It sounded like someone was right in front of her, but she could see she was completely alone.
"What was that about? She thought. “I must be losing it, no more staring at the suit."
Looking up she discovered a clear star filled night illuminated by a spectacular moon just a few days from full which was bathing the courtyard in frosted white light. It was cold with only a few weeks to go before Christmas and winter holidays. There was rarely snow in Dolop but nights could be bitter in late Autumn.
That didn’t bother the Fae who loved all the seasons and didn’t seem particularly affected by the cold, preferring to eat outdoors in all but the worst conditions.
She wandered around the small courtyard, her breath misting in the cold winter air. If she was going to wait, she would rather investigate the place for secrets. Goodness knows the school was full of them and she didn't like hearing voices.
In one corner there stood a vine-covered statue of a pegasus. Despite the rough covering of dirt and lichen, she could still see the beauty of the bloodmoon marble, the color of milk veined with lines of pink. The statue could be lovely again if only someone cleaned it up.
On the gate's stone arch, she found runes in an ancient unknown language. Despite the graceful, delicate script it seemed to glower at her as if in warning.
Realising she was searching for something, the wind decided to join in. Her ears caught a soft babble of "flowers here", “statue there”, “look at this”. She wasn't really paying any heed until she heard, “a passage, a secret passage.”
"What, where?" She asked quietly.
The restless breeze led her to the far side of the gardens below one of the small balconies.
Here Kate found a gap through the hedge that fronted the walls, and passing behind it, she found she could push easily along a small gap between it and the base of the wall towards the corner of the building.
After only a few meters it opened into a small space about 2 meters square, formed by the hedge on one side and corner of the building on the other. There was enough room for perhaps 2 or 3 people.
"Wow", she thought, “a little hiding place. Hesrial will love this”.
Looking down Kate could just make out footprints on the ground leading directly to the buttress. Odd, she thought, and felt a little disappointed that someone already knew this secret place.
Truth be told, there wasn’t a lot to see by the faint light of the moon, but something about the corner of the wall caught the corner of her eye.
Moving closer she was surprised to find that there were actually two walls that formed the corner of the building, the first, a little ahead of the other, sloped out from the wall at an angle to form a kind of buttress positioned near to, but not touching the main wall of the building.
By accident or design the brickwork of the buttress and main wall aligned to make the buttress almost invisible, even when you got right up close.
The odd architecture aroused her curiosity, and moving around behind the buttress, she found a dark and narrow gap. Her suit was still dancing in muted colours but the minimal light it was now emitting scarcely illuminated the way before her.
"Well I’ve come this far" she whispered to herself.
First she touched the cold, rough stone to each side to better gauge the width of this new puzzle. Next she took a tentative step forward into the murky darkness before her.
By the minimal light she could just make out a black opening only a little taller than she was. Reaching forward, she found the edge of the cold stone.
Cautiously she stepped forward into the dark but to her surprise, her foot met empty space. If it hadn't been for her hand on the entrance, she would have fallen.
Feeling around with her toe, she found the beginnings of a stairway leading down.
"This is so weird" she whispered aloud.
She paused for an instant, wondering if she should go on. The air smelled a little damp though not unpleasant but she knew this could lead to even more trouble, and it felt like things were unraveling a little too much already.
"Ok, time to get a grip" she thought, “I think I should wait for Hesrial”, but at that moment the winds playful call came “come on Kate, this is fun”, and her excitement got the better of her. She descended into the darkness.
She headed down a tight, dark circular stairway, keeping one hand out in front of her as the other traced the rough stone of the wall. There was no sound except for her soft footsteps and she found that one section of wall felt warm to the touch.
It was quite difficult to tell but after going around maybe 3 times, her foot finally met a solid stone floor. She was either at the end of the stairs or on a landing and feeling around carefully with her hands, she found it was both. The stairs continued down, but also there was a small crawl hole on the landing on the outside wall of the circular stair.
"I won't go further down", she thought, “I'll just take a quick peek through here then leg it”.
Kate got down on her hands and knees then gently push the heavy black fabric covering small opening out of the way. Brilliant light stabbed her eyes and she immediately turned away.
She first tried crawling through on hands and knees, one hand protecting her eyes from the blinding light, but the space beyond was no larger than a broom closet and there simply wasn't enough room to stand.
The ground under her hands felt cold but not dirty, so she turned onto her back and pushed through that way and gratefully discovered a vertical bar attached to the rear wall above this strange entrance. Reaching up she pulled herself through and up till she could stand.
She faced the wall for a few moments to let her eyes adjust to the bright light coming from behind then slowly turning, coming face to face with a pretty young lady, looking straight at her and applying lipstick. Almost instantly she realised that the girl couldn't see Kate at all, she was gazing at herself in a mirror, but she was so close that Kate held her breath nonetheless.
The room outside behind the young lady was tidy, with a simple bed, table and chairs, an old but nicely carved chest of drawers and a large forbidding wardrobe in the corner. The wardrobe seemed out of place, like it had been put here because no one knew what else to do with it.
Kate thought that she must be one of the serving maids bought in for the Fae delegation - certainly she’d never seen her before. Quickly the maid put on makeup and left, humming one of Fae Furies more popular tracks.
Kate looked around. She was standing in a 40 x 40 cm cubical about 2 meters tall, with stone floor covered in a heavy plain carpet. The carpet was the same in the box as in the room. Clearly the secret closet had been built after the room and not at the same time.
On the back wall of the closet was a plain student's pouch used to carry ingredients for potions or spells. Kate didn't pay it any attention.
She couldn't see any way out of the little box she found herself in. She turned to the right to look more closely for a catch or latch, when something clicked under her foot. Immediately a well-concealed door opened a crack just in front of her at ninety degrees to the mirrored wall. Carefully, she opened the secret door and slipped inside the room.
Quickly, she whispered to the wind, "Is it safe to leave?"
"Yes, oh yes, there's no-one coming, come and play", the babbling continued. She didn't really know if she could trust wind, it was flighty to say the least. But her curiosity got the better of her. “How much trouble can I really get into?” She thought.
Kate scanned the room and saw a small fireplace beside her (which explained the heat of the wall--the secret stair came down next to the chimney). On the wall next to the fireplace stood a full length mirror bordered by a filigree of silver ivy. Kate peered intently, but hard as she tried she couldn’t make out anything of the small room behind, even with the secret door slightly ajar.
Kate was still admiring the silver work around the mirror when the wind rushed at her and fairly shouted in her ear--"THIEF!". Kate gave a shriek, nearly scared out of her wits --Luckily there was no one around to hear her.
"Follow, thief, come." called the wind.
Without thinking, she rushed out the door. In front of her was a long hallway with many chambers branching off of it. It seemed she was in a staff wing. She spotted a small stair to her left and climbed up.
She soon found herself in an elaborate hall or corridor filled nearly to the ceiling with things that belonged nowhere else on campus. Everywhere she looked she saw a riot of portraits, side tables littered with silver, gold and porcelain crockery, pots for umbrellas, a large walking grandfather clock, booming ding dong, ding dong, stuffed animal heads, web-shrouded chandeliers, loud wallpaper, dusty rugs, tapestries, and even an ornate golden carriage missing one of its wheels.
None of that caught her attention, really, because two things happened at almost the same time.
First, she saw a dark figure running up the enormous stairway at the end of the hall, bearing something in front of them.
And second, a high voice bellowed "stop, thief!" and came striding into the room.
It was the Fae jester, his loose green skin flapping as he screamed out at the top of his lungs:
"THIEF! A THIEF HAS STOLEN BARON AVICENNA'S HAMADRYAD SCEPTRE! SEARCH THE HALLS, SEARCH THE ROOMS! SEARCH EVERY LAST WIZARD IN THIS SCHOOL!
REND THEM, WRING THEM, FOLD THEM IN FOUR! THE THIEF WILL BE FOUND AND CRUSHED TO THE FLOOR!"
He was so intent on his pompous shouting that he didn't immediately spot Kate, who fairly flung herself down the servants stair and was back inside the secret closet in seconds.
"Oh no. What could this mean?" Kate's heart was pounding, and she couldn't think, she had to escape.
She quickly crawled through the hole and felt her way up the stair. Her mind was racing. Had she seen the thief, had she heard the thief? She thought so, and there was something about the way they moved that seemed familiar. She knew where they were going - the south window. She'd circle around and find out what was happening.
As soon as she arrived back in the garden she found it filled with Baron Avicenna and his entourage, Headmaster Snowmaine and his wizards, and even the bellowing Jester. She couldn't see Hesrial anywhere, but that didn't surprise her. Though she'd only known the strange Fae girl for a couple of hours, Kate could tell she would hide from this.
Kate was stuck, there was no way to exit, especially in her slightly glowing suit, so she edged quietly back into the garden and hid in the shadows of a large Haciamara tree.
"I understand how important that scepter is to you, Your Grace," Snowmaine was saying. “And we will aid you by searching for it on the Academy grounds. However, please instruct your followers to remain where they are and allow my people to do the search.”
Avicenna replied, "Snowmaine, I understand the delicacy of the situation, but understand no-one in the elf Kingdom would accept a search conducted by humans alone. If the staff is found, well, that’s wonderful, but if not, we’re talking war. You understand the stakes don’t you? This is not a time to work separately. Full cooperation is required."
"Yes, how would we know you searched properly?" demanded a tall elf who appeared to be desperately trying to stretch his height to match Snowmaine’s by pointing his long upturned nose skyward.
"That hamadryad scepter is a family heirloom and a symbol of authority. Now someone has taken it from our lord. We cannot let it fall into the hands of humans. It is an unbearable insult."
"Calm yourself, Raspire," the Baron curtly ordered. “Your distrust plays into the hands of the thief, and I had thought you capable of realising that. Am I wrong?”
The Baron was clearly agitated, for Fae would never normally chastise another like this in front of humans. A shadow passed across Raspire’s face for a second before he clearly realised his error, and with some embarrassment, nodded politely then left without a word.
"Professor Snowmaine," the Baron was saying, “we must find that sceptre and the person responsible. I don't want the… the more volatile sectors our societies to use the incident to their advantage.”
Kate didn't know Snowmaine--she'd not had much to do with him as he always seemed haughty and distant. But she was pleased to see that he bowed low and with true feeling said, "Baron, please, I'm a headmaster of this school. I deal with magic. Politics is your domain, and I fear this is a political attack. The faculty members and I are at your disposal. What do you propose?"
The Baron turned to all the gathered wizards and Fae. "I've known war, I've seen how they start and what they cost. Rest assured this is an act designed to start a war, created by someone with power who cares nothing for lives lost. Gather all the students at the Main Hall, then we shall start a room by room search of the school. Leave no stone unturned. That sceptre must be found.
"You four," he motioned to two elves and two full wizards, “please accompany us. The headmaster and I will attempt a divination.”
The once packed garden quickly emptied. No one really noticed Kate, she stood there dumbfounded, trying to work out what she should do. Should she report that she may have seen the thief? But what would she tell the headmaster? How could she even explain what she was doing in the barons apartments anyway?
A heavy thud behind her nearly made her jump clear out of her skin. Hesrial had dropped down from the branches of one of the large trees nearby . Clutched in her hands was a small golden sack.
"So, I take it you heard everything," she said. “Heavy, hey?”
"You startled me. Were you up there this whole time?"
"Yeah, even saw you appear from that wall. Neat trick. You should teach me that sometime."
"Ah, yeah" Kate wasn't quite ready to confide in her new friend so she ignored her “Hesrial, what's going to happen now? What will your father do?”
"I dunno. He doesn't tell me. But I know exactly what we need."
Hesrial's eyes bugged out, shimmering with delight. "Fairy cake. Come on, when things get serious I bake cakes."
"Are you crazy!?"
"Come on now." Hesrial made such an impatient face that Kate just laughed.
"Fine. Fairy cake."
The girls crept quietly out of the garden, slinking through the trees along the edge towards the path and then the main building. Kate stepped back into the passage and changed out of the suit, which had become almost black over the past hour. Taking it off was quite distressing for some reason, and once she was out of it, she felt instantly cold and a little drained. Hesrial looked at the suit and in a commanding voice said, "go home." And the suit did just that. It rolled up into a small ball and disappeared.
"Hesrial, what's that in your hand?" Kate said.
"Oh, this is for you." Hesrial offered Kate the small bag. “ Dip your finger in and rub once behind each ear. It's whirly white.”
"Wow!" cried Kate, staring at the enchanted powder in the bag. Whirly white was a low-level but difficult to find magic powder used for disguises. You put some behind each ear and said something mundane like “human girl”, and that's what people saw. “Where did you get this?”
Hesrial shrugged. "We use it for Halforth's Day. That's a holiday where we go around impersonating other people and play pranks on each other. There's consequences if you get caught and consequences if you prank the wrong person who is actually just another impersonator, get it? Anyway..."
Kate was barely listening. She rubbed some of bonelike dust behind her ears and chanted, "Whirly white, out all night, got nothing to do but play. Whirly white, you're out of sight, even in brightest day."
The charm worked immediately. Kate felt a slight buzzing on her skin, then she looked down at her hands and saw that even the slightest blue tinge at her fingertips had vanished.
"Hesrial, thanks you, this is really great."
"Nyah s’ok, I like you, and secrets, plus you get stuff being the baron's daughter."
Hesrial then led her to the well-stocked kitchens on the far side of the guest house. They raided the stores for the ingredients they needed and added them into a mixing bowl.
"You may not realise it," Hesrial was saying, “but a good fairy cake is truly magical. The pixies need it to fly, did you know? A small chunk of fairly cake will power their little hummingbird like wings for a day.”
The pair were about to pop the mixture in the oven when the door of the kitchen flew open and Snowmaine, Fluttersquawk, and a couple of elves bustled inside. The two wizards carried identical lines of worry, but the elves all wore scowls.
"Lady Hesrial," Snowmaine said, “your father needs to speak with you. Please excuse us.”
Hesrial glanced a Kate and whispered, "Uh-oh. See you later…" then flounced out the door.
The headmaster's gaze then switched over to Kate. "Please come with us, child."
The divination is an incredibly difficult skill to master. It's made a little easier when there are a number of skilled magicians working together.
In the movies people often do divination by gazing into clear water. What a load of rot. You can't see anything in water. No, for a divination you need good fresh milk. Giant sloth milk is prefered, but cow milk will do at a pinch.
If you want to get an idea of how divination works, put some milk in a dinner plate or pasta bowl, just a few mm deep. Grind pepper on top so it covers the surface of the milk. Now touch the tip of your finger to some washing detergent and lightly touch it to the center of the bowl. See what happens!
This is a great experiment for parties, simple to do and, with a little sleight of hand, appears Magic.
Fill the bowl with milk.
Toss some ground pepper across the water's surface. Make sure it’s a reasonable amount.
Add a drop or two of dishwashing liquid and watch what happens. You don’t need a lot, but you should experiment with different amounts.
This is science but add some theatre and it becomes magic.
Imagine, gathering all your friends around you and in a mysterious voice saying
"Now ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to perform a divination. I’m going to take this bowl of clouded water, and, using the power of my mind, clear a path to what has been and what will come."
As the pepper ring forms at the edge of the bowl you can make up all sorts of stories about the future to entertain your friends.
Why does the pepper race away from the soap? This happens because the dishwashing liquid breaks the water's surface tension, allowing the water to pull the pepper away from your finger. Amazing isn't it?
The surface tension of the water creates a slight upwards bulge across the water’s surface. When the surface tension is broken, the top molecules, race away from the centre as the bulge collapses, carrying the pepper with them.
Hesrial looked seriously at Kate, something Kate didn’t really ever expect to see.
"This is proper fairly cake, not the kind your mother makes either. We’re making the real deal, the bee's knees, you get it - the good stuff. This will be so light you have to hold it down or it’ll float away. Fairies go wild for this stuff."
"They use it to fly?" Kate asked in a question.
"Yeah, awesome hey. You see fairy wings couldn’t really create enough lift for them to fly, Look here (and a large board of what could only be maths appeared in mid air over Hesrial’s head) the power to weight ratio just isn’t right, so they need a bit of a boost, and that’s what fairy cake is for. One bite and a fairy can fly all day."
"How do you know this stuff - you said you didn’t pay attention."
"Yeah, but I’m not stupid or anything. What can I say, maths and I just get on."
"Will we be able to fly too?"
"Wow that’s the dumbest thing you’ve said and I was really starting to like you and all - you don’t have wings and you weigh 40 kg." and with that Hesrial started mumbling to himself about the stupidity of half elves.
"I can hear you" said Kate, but she knew from the smile on Hesrial’s face that she was teasing.
"Ok, let’s crack on, I may not be able to fly but I love eating fairy cake just the same."
A very simple recipe appeared.
"To make a cake light" said Hesrial, “we need to trap air and keep it trapped even when we put the batter in the oven. It’s an interesting process, and here’s what’s going on.”
First, let’s look at the sugar. Sugar has a number of jobs in a cake, obviously it provides sweetness, Fairies love sweet things, so there has to be sugar, but it also helps air get into the mixture. Fairies can’t fly if the cake has no air. It’s too flat and heavy. So we need the air, and it comes from a number of places, one of them being the interaction between the fat (butter normally from Betsy the cow) and sugar. When you cream the butter and sugar together for a cake, air is carried into the mixture and caught on the edges of sugar crystals, where it hangs on tightly.
The other useful little thing that sugar does is lower the caramelisation temperature, the point at which the mixture will change colour in the heat, so you end up with that perfect firm, browned and golden top. Hungry yet?
Next ingredient then is the fat. Fat has two key functions in a cake; it is a ‘shortener’, it coats the proteins and carbohydrates in flour to prevent the formation of too much gluten. Some gluten is essential in cakes to stop them falling apart altogether, however too much can ruin the texture. A ‘shortened’ cake (one where the fat has stopped the gluten getting carried away) is crumblier than a mixture with higher gluten content, like bread for example.
The second role of fat is to help trap the air bubbles that the sugar brought into the mixture. Thin layers of fat surround the air, sealing it into bubbles, so that it cannot escape and instead must hang around to make your cake light and fluffy. Provided, of course, that the air bubbles don’t get overexcited and pop when they get hot and bothered in the oven.
You stop this happening by adding egg to the mixture. Egg proteins are so important in baking. In cakes they follow the example of the fat, and form thin layers around the air bubbles. These proteins become rigid when heated, so the expanding air in the bubbles has no means of escape. Fat and protein are an effective prison, if you’re an air bubble.
An additional means of getting air into a cake is to use a chemical baking powder, which is usually a mixture of alkali (bicarbonate of soda) and acid (cream of tartar) that reacts with heat and water in the oven to produce carbon dioxide gases that expand into the air bubbles and help the cake rise, for extra-light and fluffy goodness. The water you need for this reaction comes from the egg white.
The last key ingredient of the cake is flour. Flour gives structure to the cake and it does this in two ways. First, flour proteins link together to form gluten. Gluten forms a stretchy web throughout the cake that can expand as the air bubbles and carbon dioxide force the cake to rise, and then set rigid to stop the cake falling in on itself, which is another cake-related baking disaster that I’m definitely familiar with.
The second structural aspect of flour is the starch. Starch is involved in helping the egg proteins stay firm and strong, and preventing that all-important air from getting away.
A final addition, which always confuses people, is salt. Why, you may wonder, would you put something savoury like salt into a yummy sweet cake? Well salt helps to strengthen the gluten web, and odd though this may seem, it does also add to the flavour.
"But where’s the magic in that?" said Kate, it’s just cooking.
"We Fae call this soul magic. To do great magic you need to understand the natural magic that holds and supports all magic. Bad fairy cake is bad fairy cake and no magic will fix it. Fairies are above all creatures of love, so love and attention has to go into the cake."
55g of fat such as butter or margarine (softened)
55g of caster sugar
55g self raising flour
2 teaspoons of milk (any fat content)
If You Want To....
1 teaspoon of either vanilla, lavender or rose extract
First, preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a fairy cake tin with cake cases.
Take your softened fat and place it in a bowl. Then proceed to beat it as if you were creaming it(DO NOT ADD IN SUGAR AT THIS STAGE).
Next, add in the sugar (make sure it has been sieved to achieve most air) and cream the two ingredients together.
Using a separate bowl (this will have to be quite large), beat the egg. To make your cakes extra fluffy keep beating it even if you think it is done. The perfect outcome would be to end up with a "blob" of "froth" but that is not an easy feat. Then, spoon around a quarter of the egg to the beaten fat and beat it in thoroughly. To achieve best results make a well for the egg and when first starting to beat it in, mix the mixtures together like you would cement. After that, pour the mix into the rest of the egg and again, beat thoroughly. if you are adding an extract to this recipe then now is the time to do it, beating into the mix.
Fold in the flour (after it has been sieved). if you are unsure as to how to do this then draw figures of eight around the bowl, coming up at the top and bottom.
As with the eggs, beat the milk but this time continue until it is a "blob" of "froth". Then, fold this into the mixture. the cake mix should be a good consistency, softly dropping off the spoon. Finally, spoon into the cake cases