They heard the neighbouring fence shudder with impact as Pinky leapt over, a lipless cut on her flank as she clutched her bow in one clawed hand whilst the empty quiver flapped between her shoulder blades. She landed on the patio and looked at the gap in the fencing at the bottom of the garden before she turned and gave a pointed stare at the pair of them. Her chest rose as she panted with the effort. Sir Brynn’s whiskers twitched as he watched Lovechops follow, carrying the bloodied, ragged remains of a pigeon to her chest as she leapt down to join them on the patio.
Pinky turned and saw the wet mess in her daughter’s arms, hiding the pride she felt with a mask of detached inquiry. Lovechops did not stop to bear their scrutiny as she took her gift through the flap in the door. The rest of them heard the strangled cries of disgust before Lovechops fled outside. She stopped, licking her lips then her claws as she followed the other’s gaze at the gap in the fence.
‘Was a hunt the best use of your time?’ Sir Brynn said.
Lovechops looked back over her shoulder as she heard the sounds of their charges cleaning up. It was an unusual part of the relationship between them and their charges, that they seldom saw the sacrifices which were made for them. Lovechops and Pinky, mother and daughter, hunted to find the best meat for them, and each time it was decanted into the waste places at the front of the castle.
‘They need us to teach them,’ Lovechops said.
Celeste cackled and shook her head as she padded away towards the gap in the fence. She stopped and glanced back over her shoulder, stared at Lovechops who looked away after a moment before she continued to walk towards the fence. Lovechops stared at her mother and Brynn, before she saw Pinky’s wound, and grimaced.
‘Mother…I mean, Pinky, I did not know you were struck?’ she said.
Pinky had her hand pressed over the wound and her eyes were dull with fatigue and pain.
‘Because you took too much relish in tearing that thing to pieces to notice,’ she said.
Their behaviours and duties invited conflict and injury. Celeste, when she remembered, had the means to heal them, but if a charge saw them, or they were all suffering one of Celeste’s episodes then it was a more serious matter. They all remembered Marvin after his playful attitude trapped him in the tumble dryer, and the final journey he was taken on. Those charges who treated the faeline were kindly to them, but their involvement meant journeys conducted without a return. Some of the Faeline had resting places in the garden, which was fitting, but still they avoided the Chambers wherever possible.
Despite her pain, Pinky saw the concern on Brynn’s and Celeste’s faces and how they tried to hide it from them. She pressed her palm to the wound a little harder, the pain lent her tongue an edge which would cut through the meat of their excuses.
‘What is it?’ Pinky said.
Brynn furrowed his brow and gave a thick, uneasy grunt of deliberation before he knitted his clawed fingers together and raised his chin. There was the soft rattle of his armour with each breath as he considered his words. Celeste had found an intense interest in washing her forearms with swift stabs of her pink tongue, staring out at nothing but somehow seeing it all with a blithe equanimity.
‘The barrier has fallen,’ Brynn said.
Pinky blinked in disbelief as she shifted to better accommodate her injury, exhausted by the aftermath of the hunt and now this sudden change in fortune. She struggled to decide which was worse, the personal anguish of the pigeon’s opportune claw which tore a sizeable gash in her left side or the cosmic anguish of their most steadfast defence falling at the brutish exuberance of a boy. Ever the pragmatist, she searched her experiences for a possible solution, before admitting the scale of the issue.
‘Do we have enough weirdwood to replace it?’ she said.
Celeste gave a brittle, cruel laugh which made Pinky gasp as much with disdain as injury. She hobbled close enough for Pinky to smell the meat on her breath as she stared into the younger faeline’s eyes.
‘There’s no weirdwood left,’ Celeste said.
Her tone was firm enough to brook no argument from Pinky, even as the urge towards hope rose in her breast. She ran her tongue over her lips and summoned the will to speak.
‘There must be, surely?’ Pinky said.
Celeste’s nose wrinkled with distaste as her filmed eyes dulled with despair. Stepping back, Pinky heard the rattle of the stones in Celeste’s braid and the charms on her bracelet and felt a pang of anguish at how unsteady her steps were. Brynn saw the exchange and reached out a wide, rough hand and placed it on her shoulder to cement the awful truth of their situation and shook his head.
Pinky looked down the length of the garden. She stared past the even stones of the patio and the small fence which separated it from the lawn and the tractor tyres which housed the results of enthusiastic experiments in horticulture, set in a line and mounted on a bed of white shale. Along the fence panels on the right were strung green wires onto which runner beans had been grown. The shed had been a recent addition, part of the changes which all the Knights had witnessed. It had been quite a day, seeing the efforts made to construct it compared to how their charges used to do things and forced into a sullen surveillance for the afternoon. They all agreed that the roof was a good spot to observe the woods and when the weather was good, to stretch out and enjoy the warmth. Pinky saw the spots which bore the scars of the past, the churned soil under which the fowl had been buried. Brynn and Celeste had remembered their incessant squawking, even if they had proven a useful alarm. The temptation of their succulent flesh took discipline to avoid indulging in, but the charges had put up fencing to protect them. It was ironic that some invisible force wiped them out in an evening, but then their calls joined the awful chorus of the forest beyond, and they faced a combative summer, supported by the arrival of Celeste’s children, Boots and Marvin and the stout defence of the weirdwood. Pinky’s head ached with despair before she removed her palm from her wound, sticking where the blood had adhered to the skin and licked her palm. She had shed blood before, and was prepared to give every last drop.
Pinky sighed and limped towards the back door and shifted to the form her charges saw. All the equipment and armour evaporated in a shimmering aura as she gave a heartfelt meow and Brynn heard the cries of alarm which greeted her appearance. He swallowed and turned to Celeste, but she had limped to the bottom of the garden and sat on the edge of a tractor tyre, staring at the ruins of the fence. He walked over and sat with her, studying the shadows ahead and wondered what would come for them.