The Tale of Sly Hedrek

Submitted into Contest #87 in response to: Write about a mischievous pixie or trickster god.... view prompt

26 comments

Fantasy Adventure

Bricriu, king of the Kernow Fae, stood by as the door to the cairn was opened. He was accompanied by his wife Keary, Malvin his royal advisor, six members of the royal guard, and four torchbearers. Once the cairn was open, the group made their way down a long, winding staircase.


Each measuring exactly six feet in height, the fairies all had elegantly quaffed hair that shone in the low light of the torch lit cairn. Each was anxious about the task before them, yet they moved gracefully down the steps. Serious expressions darkened their austere features and glossy skin, but no wrinkles creased their faces. All were slender and trim, except for King Bricriu.


The group had only just begun their descent and already Bricriu was panting. His rotund belly wobbled with each step and his multiple chins wagged back and forth. His orange hair lay limply on his shoulders and his silver crown was cocked at an odd angle to hide a bald spot on his pate.


Further and further the group descended until they were deep within the belly of the earth. Wrapped in deepening cold and persisting darkness, the group finally reached a sealed chamber. Two guards stepped forward and rolled a stone away from the chamber entrance. The torchbearers rushed to light the sconces lining the chamber's inner walls. The only thing inside the chamber was a large clay pot.


In addition to being the queen of the Kernow Fae, Keary was also the court enchantress. Pulling a square stone tile etched with a series of runes from within her sleeve, she stepped into the chamber.


“Get on with it. Hurry up!” Bricriu shouted.


Heeding the king’s command, Keary inserted the tile into an empty spot on the floor and whispered magic words over it. Then she walked to the clay pot and removed its lid.


No sooner had the lid cleared the edge of the jar than Hedrek leapt out. His appearance was childlike except for his hair and eyes. His curly hair was the same deep green color as moss. His eyes were almond shaped and turned upward at the temples. Barely two feet tall, Hedrek stood naked in the center of the chamber and looked at the group of fairies clustered in the doorway.


"Clothe yourself, pixie," Malvin said as he tossed Hedrek a ragged cloak.


Hedrek wrapped the cloak around himself and locked eyes with King Bricriu. Then he gave an exaggerated bow and said, "It is a great honor to see you again, great king of the Fae. To what do I owe the pleasure?"


"I need loyalty. I expect loyalty, and I require your services," said the king.


"What could one such as I do for a great leader like yourself?" Hedrek asked mockingly.


"Nobody has better respect for intelligence than I," remarked the king. "It is your intelligence that I require. I have a task that is fitting of your cleverness."


"And what task is that?" Hedrek asked, genuinely curious.


King Bricriu motioned to Malvin and the royal advisor stepped forward.


"The humans have built a dam across the nearest branch of River Lerryn. To make matters worse, this has been an unprecedently dry season. No rain has fallen for months. As such, our kingdom is facing a severe drought--"


Malvin was cut off midsentence as Hedrek burst out laughing. "You mean to tell me that the mighty king of the Kernow Fae cannot even provide water for his subjects?"


"I think there is blame on both sides," Bricriu spluttered suddenly. "We have made available plenty of beautiful dew-catchers. Plenty of dew catchers, a great many of them. Anyone who wants one can get one."


"Assuming they can afford the high price, which many of the lesser Fae houses cannot," Malvin muttered under his breath.


Bricriu's face grew red. Balling his hands into fists, he glared at Malvin. Ignoring the king’s irritation, Malvin continued, “We have done what we can to alleviate the drought. We have tried to search out wells, funded the crafting of dew-catchers, and used spells to call rain down upon the palace. Unfortunately, our reserves of magic are strained --"


"False! That is a false report! False report!" the king shouted, bouncing up and down in sudden anger. "We've got plenty of magic! More than any other kingdom! I made magic plentiful again!"


Bricriu continued to shout and Keary placed a hand on his shoulder in an effort to calm him down. Bricriu shoved her away roughly and turned back to Hedrek. Before Bricriu could launch into another tirade, Malvin interjected, "We would like you to use your cunning to destroy the humans’ dam. Thereby restoring water to the kingdom. In exchange for your success, the king offers you your freedom."


"Seems to me that since you have released me from my pot, I already have my freedom," Hedrek said with a smile. "Why would I comply with your request when I can run past you and escape any time I want?"


"You are mistaken, pixie," Keary said. "You may be free from your cell, but you cannot leave your prison. I have bound you to this chamber."


"I see," Hedrek said, rubbing his chin in contemplation. "If I do this thing you ask, I do not just want my freedom, I want my lands restored to me."


"You insolent whelp!" the king exclaimed.


"If you will not agree," Hedrek interjected, "then I will climb back into the pot and you can figure out another way to rid yourselves of the damned dam-imposed drought."


Obviously furious, Bricriu took a minute to compose himself. Then he responded with a barely audible, "I agree."


"You give me your word that if I destroy the dam, you'll restore my ownership of Blyslann?"


"Yes. I mean, I probably will do it. Maybe, definitely," the king reluctantly replied.


This was good enough for Hedrek and he agreed to destroy the dam in exchange for control over his rightful home. The king and his entourage returned to the surface, leaving behind Hedrek, Keary, and a guard named Bevan.


"There is one more matter to attend to," Keary said as she stepped forward and held out a scroll. "Place your mark on this scroll. Should you fail in your quest, or if the king believes you have betrayed him, the scroll will allow me to call you back here and seal you within the clay pot. Be warned, it will also limit your abilities. You will not have full use of your magic and will need to rely on your wiles if you hope to succeed."


Seeing no other choice, Hedrek signed his mark on the scroll, thus completing Keary's spell. The trio made their way up the steps and exited the cairn. Putting on a feathered cowl, Bevan transformed himself into an eagle so he could monitor Hedrek's progress from above.


As Bevan flew into the sky, Hedrek whispered to Keary, "Surely you can see that the king does not give you the honor befitting one so beautiful and powerful. If you were my wife, I would shower you with gifts and pay proper tribute to your grace and majesty."


Letting his words hang in the air, Hedrek turned and started on his quest. As he walked, Hedrek questioned whether or not he could trust Bricriu's word. After all, the king had made false promises before. Kernow had once been home to the pixies. They mostly kept to themselves though they occasionally interacted with the humans. The pixies played tricks on the wicked and offered blessings to the righteous in exchange for clothing or scraps of elegant ribbon.


Then the Fae had come over from Erin. At first, the pixies lived alongside the Fae peacefully. The Fae offered the pixies fine garments and trinkets in exchange for servitude. Before they realized what was happening, the pixies found they had become the fairies’ slaves.


The Fae strongly disdained humans, only interacting with them when a human offered a bargain. Time passed and the humans slowly forgot that fairies and pixies existed. Meanwhile, the Fae horded their magic, isolated the pixies, and ignored the humans.


As he walked on, Hedrek thought about the enchanted scroll Keary had asked him to place his mark on. Just as Hedrek distrusted Bricriu, the king had little reason to trust him. Many years before, Bricriu had decided the kingdom no longer had need of the pixies and planned to have them all put to death. Hedrek got word of the king’s plan and enacted one of his own.


That night, Hedrek snuck into a feast Bricriu was holding. Hedrek mounted the stage and began to sing. His song soon lulled all the fairies to sleep. Hedrek sang through the night, allowing the other pixies to flee the kingdom. When morning came Hedrek fell over from exhaustion. As soon as he had stopped singing, the fairies awoke and imprisoned him inside the clay pot.


Growing at the side of the road was a clump of small red flowers. Hedrek picked the flowers and then whistled. Drawn by his whistle, a bird landed in Hedrek's palm. Hedrek bade the bird to take the flowers to Keary and then continued on his way.


Passing a dry spring bed, Hedrek saw a shiny stone. He called another bird to him and bid it to bring the stone to Keary. Further along the road Hedrek came upon a young girl carrying a jug of water and wearing a beaded necklace. As Hedrek watched, the girl tripped and dropped the jug, which shattered as it hit the ground. The girl sank to her knees and began to weep.


"Do not cry, young one," Hedrek said, stepping forward.


Hedrek began to dance around the broken jug. As he danced, the shards floated into the air and reformed. Once the jug was repaired the spilled water rose from the ground and flew inside.


As Hedrek handed the mended jug to the girl, she thanked him and asked, "How can I ever repay you?"


"If it is not too much to ask, might I have your necklace?" Hedrek inquired.


The girl gladly gave Hedrek the necklace and thanking him again, went on her way. Summoning another bird, Hedrek sent the necklace to Keary as a gift. Hedrek looked up and saw Bevan flying low overhead and hurried on his way.


Soon Hedrek came to the place where the river used to run and caught his first sight of the dam. Stout logs had been stacked between large piles of stone, barring the water from flowing freely into the valley the Fae called home.


Unlike the Fae, pixies could not change their size at will. Hedrek knew that he was too small to tear apart the dam. Unable to call upon the full power of his magic, he would not be able to cast a spell strong enough to destroy the dam either. Hedrek realized that the king and Keary had spoken true. If he was to complete his quest, Hedrek would need to use his intellect.


Hedrek walked further on and soon found a group of men felling trees for timber. When the men returned to their camp for supper, Hedrek set about gathering as many flowers as he could find. Using a stone, Hedrek ground the flowers into a fine powder. When the men fell asleep that night, Hedrek crept into their tents and sprinkled the powder all over them.


In the hours before dawn Hedrek sought out a beehive. Bidding the bees to follow him, Hedrek returned to the camp just as the men were sitting down to breakfast. Attracted to the floral powder, the bees swarmed the camp and sent the men into a frenzy. They ran around like mad, swatting the air and smacking their bodies as the bees flew all around them.


Deepening his voice, Hedrek called, "Run to the river. Bees cannot swim!"


Hearing his call, the men rushed to the dam and all tried to climb it at once. They scrambled up the side of the dam, desperate to reach the river on the other side. In their hurry, the men pulled loose some of the logs, creating gaps through which the river began to leak out. More and more water poured forth until the dam was completely torn apart and the river flowed free once again.


His quest completed, Hedrek returned to Bricriu's palace. He entered the throne room and found the king, Malvin, and Keary waiting for him.


"I have succeeded in the task you set before me," Hedrek said to the king. "The dam is no more. Now, uphold your end of the bargain and restore my homeland to me."


Refusing to keep his word, Bricriu ordered Keary to seal Hedrek back up in the clay pot.


"I will not," Keary said defiantly. "The pixie has shown me more kindness in a single day than you have in two hundred years. He has earned his freedom and he shall have it."


Keary tossed the enchanted scroll into the fireplace and Hedrek instantly felt his full power return to him. Shouting a quick thanks to Keary, Hedrek sprinted out of Bricriu's throne room and rushed toward to his homeland. Hedrek ran and ran, crossing the valley and eventually reaching Bodwin Moor. Soon Blyslann came into view and his heart filled with happiness.


Hedrek made his way to a circle of standing stones in the middle of Blyslann. He built a large fire in the center of the standing stones and threw handfuls of herbs into the flames. Soon sweet-smelling smoke wafted across the moor.


The wind picked the smoke up and whisked it across Kernow. Hedrek knew that the smell of the burning herbs would let the other pixies know it was safe to return to Blyslann. Continuing to feed herbs into the fire, Hedrek sat back and waited for his family and friends to make their way home.

March 31, 2021 01:21

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26 comments

Michael Boquet
01:24 Mar 31, 2021

EDIT: Ended up deleting the part about the troll, but decided to keep the standing stone ending, as I really like it. I think I tied it in well enough to the climax in the throne room that it feels like a natural ending, and not that the tale has two endings. Thanks to all for the feedback. It really helped me make my decision. For my 30th story I went for an elevated fairy tale, satirical in nature a la Reynard the Fox (except with a pixie as my trickster). Except, I may have overwritten it. Should I lose the part about the troll? And jus...

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09:24 Mar 31, 2021

I don't think it needed stream-lining. I like the satirical conversation at the beginning, it was funny but not over-played. I liked the clever way Hedrek worked on Keary instead of trying to attack King Bricriu himself. I enjoyed the bit about the troll, too, but I'm undecided on whether it fits here or not. On the one hand, I think it gives it a nice sense of continuation, it makes it feel, for me at least, as if this is a small snippet of a larger body of work where Hedrek appears as a reoccurring character (like the Anansi stories or so...

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Michael Boquet
12:04 Mar 31, 2021

No that is helpful. I totally thought of anansi or the Native American tricksters from folklore too. (But I don't think any of them are "Gods" so I switched gears and researched pixies). And yeah, I like the end too. If I scrap the troll part, I think I'll keep the ending and have Hedrek go straight from the throne room to the standing stones. Thanks so much for the feedback

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Nainika Gupta
23:55 Apr 02, 2021

Dang it Michael, we can't be friends anymore. You're DC I'm Marvel it was never meant to be. Ha, I'm joking :) I really liked this! I think you did an amazing job with the fictitious/fantasy themes going on around, and I really liked that throne room scene - kept me on the edge of my seat :) The dialogue in the beginning just drew me in and I couldn't stop reading! Congrats on 30 and I can't wait for *hopefully* many, many more!

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Michael Boquet
00:45 Apr 03, 2021

Thanks so much. I've nothing against Marvel, Ive just always been more drawn to DC

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Nainika Gupta
12:29 Apr 03, 2021

Lol no problem :)

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Daniel Hayes
15:52 Mar 31, 2021

Hi Michael, congratulations on your 30th story. I know it takes a lot of time, thought, and energy to write these stories, and this is big achievement. This story is a masterpiece. I liked the satirical dialogue in the beginning, so I wouldn't change that. I loved how you wrote about the flowers and bees, and how the men broke the damn to release the water. This was very creative and clever. I'm undecided on the troll part. I think I would leave it though, simply because it adds some continuation to the ending. My thinking is that when y...

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Michael Boquet
16:01 Mar 31, 2021

Thanks so much. I'm still on the fence about the troll part, but I'm glad to hear you think it works.

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Cassandra Durnin
02:32 Apr 08, 2021

Oh, wow! To be completely honest, I loved this one, and found myself wishing it was a full novel. And congrats on your 30th story! I'm glad to have been around for a few of them.

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Michael Boquet
03:22 Apr 08, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad we're Reedsy friends too!

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Courtney C
22:01 Apr 05, 2021

A really enjoyable fairy tale. I liked how you played off of familiar tropes (using cleverness to achieve a task, trading a favour for something more valuable in a Rumpelstiltskin manner) in a fresh way. A very strong story overall, good work on this! Also, congrats on 30 stories, that's quite the accomplishment. My one piece of advice is something I've been trying to work on myself - using adverbs in dialogue tags that really don't need to be there. - "What could one such as I do for a great leader like yourself?" Hedrek asked mockingly. ...

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Michael Boquet
12:35 Apr 06, 2021

Ha ha, I now realize that Dostoevsky may have influenced this story subconsciously. I've been listening to the audio of Brothers Karamazov for the last week, this morning with your comment rattling around in my mind, and Dostoevsky uses ALL the adverbs lol

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Michael Boquet
22:43 Apr 05, 2021

Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate your comments. While I don't disagree with the overall sentiment of your comment, I kinda like the adverbs in this case. To me, it makes it read more like a fairy tale. They definitely aren't needed in all contexts though, so I totally see where your coming from.

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H L Mc Quaid
09:24 Apr 03, 2021

Hi Michael, This was a fun, enchanting story with interesting characters, and good world-building. I have a few critiques, but they're mostly about tightening the prose, if you wanted to, because the grammar is fine. the phrase 'holding rigid postures' was a bit odd here, maybe consider removing it (not sure if it adds anything to the story, as we know they are anxious yet move gracefully, and have serious expressions etc.) : "Each was anxious about the task before them, yet they moved gracefully down the steps, holding rigid postures. ...

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Michael Boquet
13:19 Apr 03, 2021

Thanks so much. I appreciate the critique.

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Michael Boquet
13:39 Apr 03, 2021

Also, just curious, did you buy a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style? Or is there a free online resource? I've had judges recommend both Brooking's and Elements of style. Plus, the Reedsy people who write those articles are different employees than the ones who run the blog (which hosts this contest). Plus I find actual typos in at least one chosen story weekly. There doesn't seem to be a standard anywhere, especially in regard to this contest, which I find very frustrating.

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H L Mc Quaid
19:06 Apr 03, 2021

Yeah, I agree with you, about the mystery of how stories are selected or what the accepted styleguide is. For my sanity, I've stopped wondering and just try to write at least a few experimental (for me) stories a month, which keeps me interested in writing. I rely on my critique circle to help me catch the grammar/punctuation stuff that I invariably miss. In my bookcase, I have Elements of Style (which has a chapter on punctuation, not the most exciting, but at least it's clear), and while I don't have a current copy of the CMoS, I'm pret...

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Michael Boquet
21:17 Apr 03, 2021

Thanks so much! I can't actually afford to buy any of them at this time, lol. Thanks for passing that link along.

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Claire Lewis
13:58 Apr 02, 2021

This story is very well-crafted. I love the characters: the petulant, childish king, the long-suffering queen, and the trickster hero. Your elements of satire and fairy tale play together nicely to create a very cohesive and interesting story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also, congrats on 30 stories! Some minor suggestions, just wording and technical things. Take or leave whatever you like :) “When the cairn had been opened, the group made their way down a long, winding staircase.” Maybe condense: Once the cairn was opened, the group (cont) ...

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Michael Boquet
14:06 Apr 02, 2021

Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate the comments. As for the quotation thing, I've seen it done both ways, so who knows?

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Ash Jarvis
23:39 Mar 31, 2021

Congratulations of hitting 30! You did a great job giving this a fairy tale feel and rhythm. I am going to jump on the bandwagon and say yes, the troll section should probably be a separate story. For me, at least, it made the pacing feel off, as there was an ending...and then another ending. One tiny grammar mistake—in the second paragraph it should be “hair that shone” not “shined” (it’s a transitive vs. intransitive verb thing which I had to google because I can never remember). Great job!

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Michael Boquet
23:53 Mar 31, 2021

Thank you. And thanks for catching that.

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Ellie Yu
17:12 Mar 31, 2021

Reading this was a treat. I liked Hedrek's character a lot, since his actions were always entertaining and fun to observe from the reader's standpoint. About your notes in the comments - I think the dialogue at the beginning is really good, but I'm also pretty ambivalent about the troll part. I enjoyed reading it, but I'm not so sure it fits with the rest of the story. From a purely objective point of view, I think the ending could be made more impactful by removing the troll part. But, like I said, I liked reading it myself. I'm basically ...

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Michael Boquet
17:21 Mar 31, 2021

Thanks so much. I totally get what you mean. I'm leaning more toward taking it out. I appreciate your comments.

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Beth Connor
16:48 Mar 31, 2021

This was so enchanting! Excellent 30th story. Hedrek was clever and well written. I also loved the satire- definite keep. While I enjoyed the troll part, and I think it had a place in the bigger story it seemed a bit incongruous in this one (hopefully that makes sense.) I would say either expand it, and mix in a bit more troll lore, or lose it. Also one other tiny note at the beginning, you use Elegantly twice fairly close together- perhaps change one to gracefully or something similar.

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Michael Boquet
16:50 Mar 31, 2021

Good catch. I'll switch out for a different word. Thanks for your input. I concur that the troll part feels like it comes from a different tale.

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