|Scene from Fernilee Forest on which Fernlee is based|
An hour later, the whole village had congregated and everyone was sitting cross-legged round a huge fire which Beech, Larch and Horse had built, using a mixture of dead wood and peat, which smoked horribly and stank even worse. Miles was staggered to see how many of the villagers there were – at least a hundred people, all living in total invisibility from the outside world. Normally, they’d be strumming home-made fiddles and guitars, and relaxing with mugs of gooseberry wine and mead made from honey, chatting happily about the day’s events. Now, however, the urgency of Laurel’s call to council had created tension amongst them, so they waited in silence until Laurel stood up and began to address the assembly.
"First of all, let me introduce you. This is Miles Hadwin and his sister Alice who have just survived a horrible and traumatic experience. Their mother has been arrested on a trumped up charge of treason and for all we know, their father's in custody too. We DO know that their younger brother has already been abducted and, considering he’s hardly eight years old, must be feeling very scared right now."
"So what are WE supposed to do about it?" Beech piped up, as he chewed on an apple, apparently unmoved by the children’s plight.
"Yes, what's it to us?" Horse echoed. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, but he enjoyed the peace of the forest and was loath to get involved with outsiders.
"If you'll give me a moment, I'll explain," replied Laurel. "Now, like me, you have all come to be here largely due to our disappointment with the modern way of life. We're dropouts, hippies, crusties, whatever people like to call us, but we're all united in this respect. We hate the way the world is, we despise its materialism and greed, and we despair of seeing a just society, which cares about the environment. So, we've rejected it, and here we are, minding our own business, looking after ourselves, and keeping out of the rat race...."
"Actually, I'd like to challenge that remark". A young man with a long ponytail and a bone through his nose stood up. "You can speak for yourself but I've faced water cannons with the best of them!"
"Yeah, and I've broken a few shop windows in my time!" agreed another villager who glowered indignantly from under generously pierced eyebrows.
"And I've knocked dozens of policemen's helmets off!" exclaimed another tree person proudly.
At this, several others started boasting about their past achievements until Laurel had to clap her hands to get their attention.
"Look, I'm not here to criticise anyone. What you do or don't is entirely up to you. The fact is we may be very quick to join a riot when it suits us, but are we willing to get personally involved? Are we prepared to help three kids who, for no fault of their own, are up against sinister powers intend on destroying their family?"
"So what's in it for us?" asked a villager.
"Yeah" said another "is it ecological, I ask myself?"
"Or ethical" remarked Beech. "After all, these kids' parents could be fascists for all we know."
"They might even be bankers! Or tax collectors!" someone suggested. "Or meat eaters!" cried a wag, wearing what looked like a bin bag over his head. Some of the villagers laughed, infuriating the more fanatical vegetarians amongst them. Laurel sighed with frustration. "Can we please stick to the point!" she begged.
"The point being.....?" came the bored reply from a man who was virtually covered with tattoos.
"The point being.... who is prepared to help these children find their family and rescue them?"
The village council began to groan again with most of the members unable to see any reason to help two snotty little middle-class school kids. All except for one rather pale, skinny young man with extraordinary dreadlocks, which twisted and twirled in every direction but his scalp. He’d been listening intently to Laurel’s pleas and was deeply disturbed by them.
Noticing his thoughtful expression, Laurel turned to address him directly. "What do you think, Roots?" asked Laurel.
"I think,” he began falteringly, “I mean…that is…what I think is, that every little person who gets stolen away from his house should have an automatic right to be rescued, and if no-one else will do it, then…then it ought to be us. That's what I think..... and I'd like it to go on record, please!"
"Rescued from what? School detention?" someone demanded. There was another roar of laughter, which quickly died out as Laurel took her position in the middle of the circle and, with arms akimbo, she turned gradually to challenge each villager with a long hard stare. Miles was very impressed. "Not even Alice could compete with that!" he thought.
Once satisfied she had everyone shifting uneasily at her silent reproach, Laurel spoke softly but with authority.
"From forces so corrupt, so pitiless, so.... EVIL, they make your worst fascist, capitalist nightmare seem like a fairytale in comparison!" There was a pause, broken only by a few nervous titters. Then Laurel continued. "Has anyone here heard the name Elymas?"
Most of the villagers shook their heads, although one or two gasps could be heard. Eventually, a large, ginger-haired man in a homemade kilt rose to his feet.
"Did I hear you say Elymas?" he asked gravely.
"That's what you heard, Gordon" Laurel replied.
"And you say he’s after these poor wee creatures?"
"He is", said Laurel.
Gordon spat with contempt. "That's what I think of Elymas! And if he's got the clout to be rounding up innocent children from their schools and dragging them out of their very beds.....then anyone with any decency has a duty to use every skills and every wit and every fibre of their souls to stop him!"
Another man stood up. Unlike most of the others, his head was shaved and he sported a goatee beard. "I've heard of Elymas too, but I thought it was just another conspiracy theory. No one can be that evil, that depraved. And if only half of what I've heard is true..... then there's no hope for any of us!"
"Rubbish!" snarled Gordon "He's a mere mortal who can bleed like anyone else. Count me in, I'll help the children, right enough! Who knows, I might even get the chance to spit in the devil's own face, him and his cronies!"
Laurel glanced around the council. "Anyone else prepared to volunteer?"
After a while, Larch rose to his feet. "Not that I'm bothered about the children, mind," he mumbled, desperate to maintain his hard man image, "but it's a long time since I last saw any action and I'm getting rusty."
Beech too rose to his feet. “I could do with some practice, myself.” He announced. “I don’t know who this Elymas is, but I’m always up for a riot – in the interests of justice, of course!” He added, a little too quickly to be convincing.
Just then, Miles thought of another very important reason for the tree people to help them and he sprang eagerly to his feet. "And I'll tell you something else about those horrible men. When we were trying to escape, they set fire to the wood near Alice's school and burnt it! ALL of it! All those wonderful trees!”
Gasps of horror engulfed the Council and, almost immediately, to a man (and woman) the rest of the assembly stood up, including Horse who growled angrily, "I haven't a clue who this Elymas is either, but anyone who murders my brothers deserves a good pasting, and no mistake!”
Laurel hugged each one of the volunteers. "I knew you'd help!" she said.
"There was never any doubt of that with me" said Gordon swirling a rope enthusiastically.
"You're such a big softie!" Laurel exclaimed, and flung her arms around his massive neck.
"Soft in the head, you mean" Larch said. "So let's get practical. Tell us Miles, where did these nasty beggars take your brother then?"
Miles wracked his brain. He remembered one of the men referring to a place, which was on the tip of his tongue. "I think it was....Bab...babble...babbly....."
"Come on Laddie, stop babbling!" rapped Gordon. "Have you any idea what SORT of place it is?"
It took several more minutes for Miles to think, but at last, he remembered something. "It was a treat, I think he said. Yes, a Treat....the Babel Retreat at Moorside!"
"The Babel Retreat!" cried Larch. "You must be joking! We'll never get in there!"
"Aye, it'd be easier to break into Buckingham Palace!" said Gordon, and then his craggy face broke into a grin. "But then, I’m always up for a challenge. So, who’s with us then?! Who's for Babel?" And the whole assembly cheered.
Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 - Flight from the Nunjas
Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 - Flight from the Nunjas