Chapter 7 – The Cerqueiras

One day after work, a few months since my first visit to the Faerie Bar, I decided to go back there. Due to work and family commitments, I hadn’t had the opportunity to investigate one of the diary entries for some time, but my curiosity was beginning to become unbearable. The Faerie Bar was close to the office where I worked, so it was an ideal place for a quick visit. Who knows, maybe I would find someone who could answer some of my questions or even have the opportunity to visit the tunnels hidden under Braga.

As before, I accessed the bar via the stairs behind a door in the back of a pastry shop near the Arco da Porta Nova. When I got there, I came across a scene similar to that of my first visit. There was only one significant difference. A man was seated at the counter. Alice had told me that it was rare to see anyone of my race there, so I approached slowly, watching him closely to make sure it wasn’t just another human-like creature. As soon as I became sure that I wasn’t mistaken, I sat down beside him.

He looked as surprised as me to see another human there. His name was Henrique Cerqueira, and although he had known about that other world for some time, he didn’t seem to know much more than I did. Still, we exchanged tales as we drank a glass of the water that was the only drink served at that bar. He didn’t usually leave Braga, so he didn’t know all I had found out, but he told me about another place similar to the Faerie Bar on the other side of town, although he had warned me that it wasn’t so well frequented. There was no mention of it in the notebook I had found, so I made a mental note to visit it later.

Our conversation was interrupted, after just over an hour, by a phone call from my wife. I had to go home, but not before Henrique gave me his cell phone number and invited me to come have lunch at his house one day. Maybe because I finally found someone I could talk to about that world that most people were unaware of, I was looking forward to my visit.

Unfortunately, I was only able to accept the invitation almost three weeks later, when my wife had to go out of the country because of work and my daughter went to spend a few days at a friend’s house.

I drove to the old parish of Dadim, where the Henrique’s house was located. It wasn’t hard to find. Following the path he had indicated, I immediately ran into an isolated house, just above the base of a forest-covered hill. In front of it lay a valley that I never realized existed, for it was in a depression that was not visible from the road. A granite wall enclosed it and the house, telling me that it belonged to the Cerqueiras’.

I drove to the entrance and rang the bell. A voice asked through the intercom who I was, and as soon as I answered, the gate opened.

Even by car, it still took me about five minutes to traverse the dirt road, which meandered through terraces covered with vineyards.

After one last turn, I got to the house. Up close, it was truly impressive. It had only one floor, with the exception of the tower on its right side, which rose two stories high, although the attic also appeared to be spacious. The whole front of the house was occupied by a huge porch, whose ceiling rested on several cast iron columns. Behind it, windows, also made of cast iron and decorated with various shapes, occupied almost the entirety of the wall.

I stopped the car in front of the steps that led up to the main door where Henrique and the rest of the Cerqueira family awaited me.

“Welcome to Vila Marta,” said Henrique with a smile when I reached the top of the stairs.

Then he introduced me to his family. Between children and adults, there were about twenty people there.

From the entrance, we passed to the vestibule, where I left my coat, and from there to the dining room. There was a huge table with ten chairs on each side. As a guest, they gave me a seat near the end of the table, in front of Henrique. To our right, at the head of the table, sat Henrique’s mother, the family’s matriarch, while the rest of the family sat in the other places on our left.

After a short while, an elderly maid, older than any of the diners, began to bring platters from the kitchen. The conversation started with the usual trivialities about job, family, and even the weather. Then it finally went into that world parallel to ours, of which the whole family was aware.

“How did you find the Faerie Bar and all the other places Henry told me you visited?” the matriarch finally asked.

I told her the story of how I found the notebook that had brought me to those discoveries.

“In our case, it’s a family heirloom,” Henrique explained. “No one knows for sure for how many generations we have this knowledge.”

The conversation then became about strange creatures and places hidden from the sight of most men. Everyone contributed something, and I found out things that weren’t even in the notebook.

Lunch lasted almost until four o’clock, when the diners began to rise. Henrique led me into the living room, where we sat down to drink a whiskey older than me. Through the wide windows, one could see the vineyards in front of the house.

Amidst the drinks, Henrique told me how that vineyard was the source of the family wealth since time immemorial.

That’s when I noticed something peculiar.

“Where are the workers?” I asked, noting the lack of movement in the fields. “You must need a lot of manpower to keep a vineyard so big.”

“Here, most work is done at night,” he explained.

“At night?” I asked confused.

“Come,” he said, rising from his chair.

Henrique led me into the corridor and through it to the ground floor of the tower. There he turned aside a bookcase full of books, revealing a narrow tunnel containing a stairway that curved downward until it disappeared from view. Led by my host, I descended to the bottom, where we came upon a wood and iron door that seemed decades, if not centuries, old. Despite its age, Henrique opened it without any difficulty, giving access to a huge cellar that probably occupied the whole area of ​​the house.

We crossed the narrow corridors opened between fertilizer sacks, wine barrels, empty and full bottles, and farm implements until we reached the far side of the basement opposite the one we entered. There, we found a wall interrupted only by a bar door. Henrique took me to it. 

When I peeked through the bars, I didn’t know what to say. On the other side was a small room with a pungent smell. In the middle of the ground, almost in darkness, dozens of small creatures, no more than a meter high, were pilled. Their skin was blue-grey, and long, matted black hair cascaded down their backs. Claws ended their feet and hands.

“You can’t find cheaper labor,” said Henrique, clearly proud. “A bucket of cooked meat every night and they are ready to work.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Those creatures weren’t human, I knew that, and I didn’t know how intelligent they were, but even then, what the Cerqueiras were doing seemed wrong to me.

Henrique noticed my discomfort and led me back into the living room to finish our drinks. I stayed there for almost another hour, but we didn’t speak much. Finally, excusing myself that it was getting late, I left Vila Marta.

On the way home, I couldn’t forget my disappointment. I had found someone with whom I could talk about that world hidden from most humans, but he used it for his own benefit.

During that night, I hardly slept, because I couldn’t take the image of those creatures jailed in that basement. Even the next day, during work, I couldn’t forget. As such, and despite having a lot of urgent work, after office hours I went to the Faerie Bar. I hoped to find Alice there to tell her what I had seen.

I opened the door that gave access to the bar slowly. I didn’t want to come across Henrique Cerqueira. Fortunately, there was no sign of him. On the other hand, Alice was sitting at the counter almost in the same place where I had first seen her. I approached and sat down on the barstool next to her.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” she said sarcastically.

She clearly hadn’t forgotten my sudden departure last time.

I began to tell her what I had seen in the Cerqueiras house. Although she didn’t appear very interested at first, I ended up getting her attention.

“From what you say, they use troll slaves to work the fields. They aren’t the most intelligent of creatures, nor the most agreeable ones, but they don’t deserve to be treated like that. Come back here tonight. I’ll see if I can find someone to help us.”

I agreed. After dinner, I told my wife and daughter that I had to go back to the office to work so I could leave without raising much suspicion. In fact, it wasn’t totally a lie. I should have gone to work that night, but I couldn’t let the Cerqueiras continue to exploit those poor creatures.

When I returned to the Faerie Bar, it was almost empty. In addition to one or two lone clients, there was a group of five creatures, of which Alice was a part. She called me and asked me to tell the others what I had seen.

As I told, once more, what I had seen in the Cerqueiras house, I observed my new companions. One of them, a man, seemed to be the same race as Alice, for he had the same white hair, long neck, and feline eyes as she. Another was small, barely reaching my waist, and had yellow and orange skin. In contrast, beside him was a very tall, slender woman with blue skin and large eyes, and several black lines on her face that I couldn’t tell if they were natural or tattoos. Finally, at a nearby table, sat a tiny creature that closely resembled the popular idea of ​​a fairy. On her back grew dragonfly-like wings, and small multi-colored scales covered the back of her neck and arms.

When I finished my story, everyone readily agreed to help free the trolls. Then Alice led us to one of the doors to the tunnels where their races lived. Ever since I’d discovered the bar, I have wanted to visit them. I just wished the circumstances had been different.

The door, after a short walk, opened into a wide, high tunnel with a cobbled floor, granite walls, and arched ceiling. Blue flames, which seemed to emit no heat, burned in niches on the walls and gave as much or more light than modern light bulbs. There was a myriad of other doors on both walls.

During our journey, we went through several curves and bifurcations. The further we went, the bigger the tunnels became, and the greater the crowd that walked through them. On the surface, only during the summer did I see so many people. And never with that diversity. I lost count of the number of different races I came across.

Finally, we descended a staircase to a huge rectangular chamber. It was traversed in its center by a ditch that connected at both ends to tunnels larger than any we had passed.

Together with other creatures, we waited on that platform. About ten minutes later, a light appeared in of one of the tunnels. Shortly thereafter, a gigantic creature emerged from it. It was as high as the trench and long enough to occupy the entire length of the chamber. It looked vaguely like a centipede, with a red-brown body and a myriad of thin legs. However, it had no antennae, and its face was vaguely human. On the creature’s back lined up six wooden carriages.

Using a boarding plank, we climbed to one of these carriages and settled on the wood and iron benches. A little later, we set off, entering the other tunnel leading into the chamber. Braga had a subway after all. The surface inhabitants simply didn’t know about it.

We disembarked about fifteen minutes later, in a chamber very similar to the one in which we had boarded that strange train. We climbed stairs and returned to a tunnel system. That one was much smaller than the one next to the Faerie Bar, with much fewer doors and bifurcations. Finally, we came to a metal door guarded by a tall, muscular creature, who let us out. We were now in a narrow natural cave, through which I could only walk sideways. A few moments later, a silver light appeared ahead. After passing a thicket, which disguised the entrance, we reached the outside.

It was with some surprise that, in the moonlight, I realized that we were in the valley of the Cerqueiras, near the border between it and the hill, not far from one of the farm’s walls. Was that the way Henrique used to enter the world hidden under Braga?

Without wasting time, the little fairy flew over the wall. She returned about five minutes later.

“The trolls are already working,” she told us. “And they’re not alone. The Cerqueiras use Ogrons as foremen.”

“How many?” Alice asked.

“I’m not sure, but not many.”

“So let’s go.”

“Wait,” I said. “What’s the plan?”

“We go in there and distract the foremen while the trolls escape,” Alice answered, not even stopping. “Come on.”

The wall that surrounded Vila Marta and its fields was more than two meters high. If we were all human, it would have been a hard obstacle to cross. Luckily, one of my companions had retractable claws, so it reached the top with relative ease. Then he helped us to the other side.

There was no lighting on those terraces, and it was one of the last nights of a waning moon, so it was dark. I could see nothing beyond the diffuse silhouettes of the vineyards and the poles that supported them.

“I can’t see anything,” I said to my companions.

“We do,” said the fairy and the creature who had helped almost in unison.

“Come on,” Alice said.

With me following the others blindly, we climbed to the first terrace. We hid behind a circular wall, which must have belonged to a well, and we looked up. On the next terrace, I could see several silhouettes among the vineyards, most of them small, but one exceptionally large, probably the foreman.

Alice put a hand on my arm.

“You don’t see well in the dark, so you’re going to help me with that foreman. The others will take care of the terraces above.”

I readily agreed. Crouched, we climbed the dirt ramp that led to the next terrace. Then Alice and I broke away from the others. We tried to approach without being seen, using the poles as hiding places, but the foreman’s night vision seemed to also be better than mine, for he promptly emitted a fearful howl and advanced toward us.

Alice pulled me, and, together, we threw ourselves against him. At first, the being resisted our onslaught, but we ended up managing to push it to the ground. As we pinned down the foreman, Alice shouted to the goblins, “Run! Get out of here!’

The creatures hesitated for a moment, but soon fled, crawling down the wall that supported the terrace like cats.

The ogron continued to struggle and shout. Alice punched him and, when that didn’t work, again and again, and again still. The creature kept moving, so he hadn’t lost consciousness, but he no longer struggled.

“I think we can go,” Alice said.

When we reached the ramp through which we had climbed, we saw the silhouettes of our companions running from the higher terraces, accompanied by small shapes that could only be trolls. Behind them, I heard Henrique’s voice and heavy footsteps. We had been discovered, and reinforcements were coming.

We ran back to the wall, and the trolls, in their craving for freedom, overtaking us and getting outside before we even began climbing.

After leaving the Cerqueiras land, we saw and heard no further signs of pursuit. Still, we just stopped running when we entered the tunnels that led to the living train. To where the trolls had fled, we didn’t know, nor if we had succeeded in freeing them all. There was no point in thinking about it, though. After that night, the Cerqueiras would be on their guard. We were never going to be able to save anyone from that farm again.

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