Star Dreamer

Chapter XXXV: Wet Jesters and Missing Babes

and brandy and pups

[Back on the street]

Two doors down from The Laborin’ Goose the Widow Crathurs, a still dainty brunette, had started step outside to fasten down a loose shutter – when her tabby cat shot from the doorway.

A mass of angry fur flew towards Fiend.

“Jeremy!!” the Widow called out as her sweet pet headed for pup and puddle.


Jeremy? Jacques blinked in surprise, and stared at the hurtling ball of hissing fury as it splattered past him towards Fiend. What sort of name was Jeremy for a cat? If, indeed, it was a cat and not another creature from the lower levels of the abyss like a certain pup he could mention. He had his suspicions.

Giving a credible “yipe!” of his own in surprise, Fiend turned hurriedly in the mud and gave a full throated growl towards the invading feline. Until he realised it wasn’t a rabbit after all, but something with sharp bits. At that point, Fiend repeated the yipe – only this time it sounded suspiciously like terror – and ran as fast as he could to hide behind Jacques.

From there, he sat giving brave barks at the cat, but made sure not to move more than an inch or two from the the growing mud puddle at the jester’s feet.

And still it rained, as Jacques got steadily wetter, and glared with more and more irritation at everything.

“Madam,” he called over to the woman. “Please restrain your …. animal. It appears to be dangerous.”

The rain ran in thick rivulets down his face as he reconsidered. He sneezed.

Perhaps that hadn’t been the brightest thing to say…

[Widow Talia Crathurs]

At first the Widow – a rather young widow at that – bridled at the jester’s tone and started to say, “My Jeremy is not.....!”

Until she saw the little, flopped ear pup behind the jester’s legs and said, “Oh, what a dear and poor, wet, dear…” So saying she gathered all eight wiggling pounds of irate Jeremy up in her arms, ignoring his muddy paws on her black woolen dress. “Shhh. Shh,” she told the cat, “Tis but a wee pup!”

Her eyes traveled from Fiend’s soggy condition up to Jacques’ and said, “Ye both looked soaked to the bone.”


Jacques lifted a soggy and still barking Fiend in one hand and tried to push the sodden tip of his hat away from his eyes with the other. Then jester and pup both sneezed simultaneously. “I wonder, madam,” asked Jacques as he tried to keep the squirming pup from lunging at the cat. “If we could possibly …” He stopped and tried not to look at the effect the rain was having on this young woman’s clothing. He blinked away a drop of rain slipping from his eyebrows. Fiend shivered, sending sprays of water everywhere – noticeable even in the rain.

“Perhaps we could get out of the rain?” Jacques offered and began walking towards the still open doorway.

[Widow Talia Crathurs]

“Why of course!” the Widow exclaimed, “The poor little one sounds like he’s about to catch a bad cold!” A fact that seemed to override propriety as she let a strange man into her house.

Once in the small cottage, whose furniture seemed to have been assaulted by many animals, she led him to a warm kitchen. “Here” she said, handing the jester a towel, “Let me just tuck Jeremy away – I’m afraid he is very territorial.”


“Territorial?” asked Jacques. “I thought I could smell something…” He peered around the room, and particularly at the furniture, before letting Fiend onto the floor. The pup couldn’t do any more damage, after all, so there was little point in holding him back.

Fiend gave another fierce shake as his feet hit the ground, spraying water everywhere, and setting his fur into bizarre patterns of spiky and damp.

Then he begin going around the room looking at as much as he could, and sticking his nose into every nook and cranny, sniffing out every interesting scent.

Jacques pulled off his hat, the bells ringing wetly, and began to towel himself off as much as he could. A large puddle was beginning to form at his feet as his clothes started to drip-dry.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got a lager,” he called after a moment. A faint hope, to be sure, but it was worth asking.

Fiend gave a bark. “Haven’t you had enough water already?” Jacques was incredulous. Fiend whined. “Oh alright. And something for the animal here?”

[Widow Talia Crathurs]

From the backroom came the indigant yowling of a confined cat! But the dark-haired widow looked unpreturbed as she came back down the hall, and she walked with an energetic, confident step. In her hands were several more, larger, towels, which she handed to Jacques, and said, “I’m afraid I’ve no lager, but I do have a fine, strong brandy to cut the chill.”

She stopped for a moment and said, “Oh my manners….!” With this exclamation she thrust out a petite, but strong, hand and said, “The Widow Crathurs. And you?”

Fiend’s whining brought her attention quickly to the pup, and without missing a beat she said, “Poor wee one – hang on!” She headed for the kitchen cabinet and brought out a rose-patterned bowl, into which she ladled some fresh water from a bucket, and set the bowl down for the dog.


Jacques waited until the apparently hyperactive widow settled in one place long enough to talk to before responding.

“Jacques,” he offered. “Or Jack if that’s too hard to wrap that accent of yours around. And the brandy will do fine.” Well it would have to, wouldn’t it. Why was there nowhere outside of Chatterton that had anything approaching a decent lager? Back in the old days … He squelched that thought in surprise, with a frown. It had been an incredibly long time since he’d last even begun to consider thinking about that. It was probably the approaching conclusion, one way or another, to this lunatic quest for a fantasy that was getting to him.

Grateful for the distraction, he towelled off as much water as he could. The puddle at his feet had grown rapidly, and most of his clothes seemed remarkably dry given the soaking they’d received outside. Well, the deal had been to have the clothes drip-dry and he had to admit that he’d got everything he’d paid for.

“Aren’t you a little young to be a widow?”

Fiend, having looked up from the bowl to stare uncertainly at the direction the cat had vanished, turned to Jacques and gave a surprised little yip, with a distinct disapproving tone.

“Oh I didn’t mean to …. ah, that is…” Jacques gave up and shrugged. Then, turning to Fiend, “well she is.”

Fiend turned back to the bowl, and studiously turned his attention to the pattern of roses.


If the Widow Crathurs thought it odd that a man was having a conversation with a pup she gave no sign – probably because she didn’t find it odd.

And the only sign that the question bothered her was a momentary faraway look in her brown eyes, but she quickly busied herself with pouring a fine, dark brandy and said, in a very matter-of-fact tone, “I’m a widow twice over. My Robert and I were wed right after my fifteenth birthday – and his ship went down three days after our honeymoon. Then my Luken and I were wed about two years later … he was the first mate of the merchant ship Trinity. And she just never came home – ‘course they were sailing near some isles that have been known for cannibals, and a kraken or two – so it ‘tis hard to say what might have got to them.” She paused for a moment and said, “That was five years back – though some of the older women tell me I should wait another couple of years before I start wearing black.” Talia looked up at the jester and said, “But the way I figure it, Jack, five years is enough time to realize that you’re a widow again. Kind of a bad feeling down in your vitals.”

“But enough,” she said, handing him a glass, “Have a glass – its doin’ ye no good sitting in the glass.”


Jacques took the glass of brandy and looked at it suspiciously. Then, with a shrug he downed it and felt a warmth spread rapidly through his body pushing the damp chill from his bones.

Fiend whined.

“No boy, you’ve had enough booze already this lifetime. Besides, you’re under-age – whatever the law around here is.”

The jester looked around for somewhere suitable to sit. Though not dry as such, his clothes were by now far less damp than they had been, and given the nature of the furniture wouldn’t damage it too much. Settling on a chair, he nodded to the widow.

“I figure you’d have heard something by now,” he offered in affirmation. “Besides which, kraken don’t exactly leave anything much behind.” He considered a brief encounter with just such a large squid-like beast many years ago. “Well, they do make an awful lot of sushi…”. There’d been enough squid rings after that particular episode to feed a half dozen shoreline villages for months if most of it hadn’t rotted away on the beach.

“Any more of that brandy?” He held the glass out hopefully. Sure it wasn’t lager, but it’d do.

Fiend, having finished the water, was busy pushing the bowl around the floor with his nose. Then, tiring of that particular sport, he thumped one paw down on the edge of the bowl, flipping it over with a solid crash.

[In the Laborin’ Goose – Enris]

Well, he was wet. And there wasn’t any place he knew to go but the Inn – and it wasn’t in really good shape right now. He spoke a word in a quiet whisper, and the noise ended. Another word, and the foul smoke dissolved into nothing. And with a short spell, again spoken in the lowest of murmurs, he filled the Inn with the clean smell of a mountain forest after a spring rain. Credible deniability, that was the key.

A few minutes later, Enris quietly returned to the Inn and made his way to the fire. It was fortunate that the clothes he wore were wool… but it would take a while to dry everything out. He looked for all the world like exactly what he was… a tired traveler, far from home, and wishing desperately to go back.


Though it took some doing – Laurelyn managed to steer Ani and Vern towards the back of the ‘Goose, but when the twins enthusiastically opened the door they were disappointed to discover no wild wailing or stench.

Laurelyn, however, was greatly relieved, and shooed them off to find their Da -she knew better than not say hello to Ceart since he was around.

“Something made them desert the ‘Goose,” she whispered to Thomis, before quietly entering the still empty tavern. She hoped that soon they could quietly creep back to her mother’s, and hopefully Emlyn would have managed to shoo Weithra and Amber on their way home.

Empty, she discovered when she peeked into the common room, except for Enris, who was warming himself by the fireplace. Laurelyn made just enough noise to let the CRS mage know he had company, and softly asked as she came further into the room, “Everything okay?”


He looked up, shrugged, and replied “Oh, I guess so. But I have the feeling I just don’t fit in very well… and I fear that all I’ve done is burden you while getting no closer to what might let me return to my own home, with some sort of triumph.” He looked into the fire and continued “Home is something you never miss until you lose it… of course, you know that.” He shrugged again and said “Yeah, everything’s fine. Thanks.”

Somehow, not even remembering some of the great leader’s speeches helped.


If anyone had told the storyteller two months ago that she’d being feeling sympathy for a CRS officer she would have told them they were daft – but she couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Enris. He was a young man lost – for she remembered that for the Seldeze soldiers their strength came in their unity.

She wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to ask what had happened, but she did say, “Sometimes it takes some practise at what tact to take.” As for home… much as she loved Emlyn and Acair, and many of her kin – nor would she deny the mountains and sea had formed her – she did not call either the mountains or Morrow’s Hold “home.” Even in the short time she had been back she was reminded of the patterns she had fled. Softly she added, “And sometimes ‘home’ isn’t where we started from.”


Ulric emerged from behind the bar, where he had bunked down with a bottle of brown liquid during the confusion. His eyes were red and streaming tears, but otherwise he seemed in good health.

“Hi,” he said, waving the bottle at Laurelyn as he seated himself at the bar again. “Strange place you live in… I don’t think it likes me.”

He took a very long draught from the bottle, and sighed as the alcohol burned down his throat.


“At least two have been accounted for,” Laurelyn murmured to Thomis – while smiling towards Ulric. “I’m wondering if I’m going to want the story to all of this…” She was also wondering at the theme of Morrow’s Hold being inhospitable.


The Oath-bound looked over the chaos of the common room again – one of Fent’s serving girls had come back in and was starting to right the chairs and tables – and shook his head. “I believe I can survive without an explanation,” he commented easily.

[Eric Dunn]

The fisherman looked at the chaos around him and sighed. With any luck, Bill would be up to finishing their fight sooner or later. For now, he walked back toward the inn with a casual, “Looks like the Goose has cleared up.” Entering, he noticed a couple of the newcomers, but more importantly his cousin Laurelyn was here. He walked over to her.

“Figured you’d be holed up at your mother’s,” he commented, “Especially being newly married, so I hear. Is this the lucky man?” he asked pointing at Thomis behind her.


“Thomis Parch.” He offered his hand to the man as Laurelyn introduced her cousin. (Was she related to the whole village in one way or another? He wondered).


“Good seeing you, Eric,” Laurelyn said, “We were endeavoring to when Weithra and Amber showed up. Then the twins decided to alert us to the fact that the ‘Goose was possessed by demons – though things look, mercifully, pretty quiet.”

Eric was a cousin via Weithra’s marrying Ceart – but Laurelyn remembered the younger Dunn being more personable than Ceart’s wife.

She looked to Thomis and said, “I guess we just as well wait till Ceart comes around …” Laurelyn gestured over towards the fireplace and said to Eric, “Actually you might be able to help us – I’ve lost track of who takes charters.”

Since Eric had always been a man to keep his opinions to himself Laurelyn doubted he would have much to say when she mentioned the legend of The Star Dreamer. Whatever his opinion he would at least point them in the right direction. Sadly, she knew that when Ceart – or any of the other relatives – got wind of the group’s intentions that there was going to be a lot of commentary.

[Eric Dunn]

He took Thomis’ hand and gave it a firm grip. Then he walked over to where Laurelyn had moved closer to the fire. “Charter eh,” he began, “There’s still a few as always. Depending on what you’re carrying and where to.” He shrugged, “I even rent out Brenna’s Rose every now and then.”


Thomis took a moment to greet Fent, who had re-entered, and to exchange a few comments about the last (and first) time the Oath-bound had visited the Laborin’ Goose. The barkeep wanted an update on those who had been his traveling companions then – the “boy with the spectacles who didn’t seem like he even knew how to make a fist, and that lawyer.” And, of course, Brion Hillrover. Thomis kept the telling simple, confirmed that the supplies smuggled into Chatterton had gone to good use, and explained how Drywen had taken up studies elsewhere, Allenel had reopened his practice, and Brion was still there with the volunteer watch.

In the end, he was impressed with how long Fent could go without asking about the hand-fasting. But when it became apparent the Evandin would not volunteer any information, he finally huffed, said that Mary would box his ears if he didn’t ask, and skirted around the issue. The most basic account made him happy, and after a few more minutes Thomis walked over to rejoin Eric and Laurelyn, thinking all the while that Fent was probably a bigger gossip than his wife.

[In the stables]


Fionn cursed, volubly, in the highland tongue, before turning back to Jimi. “Your brother, Art – he was near me when last I saw her. Where is he?” No reason to panic, yet, even though Rue was nowhere to be found in an unfamiliar village, and simply being among the strangers had left him uneasy.


“He’s probably lookin’ around too – but maybe Ceart knows,” Jimi said, leading the way back towards the ‘Goose. On this point the Merkin lad was correct – for there was Ceart and Art – and the twins, though the men seemed to be trying to follow Ani’s and Vern’s very animated conversation.


The dark-haired highlander sneezed once more, and followed Jimi to his brothers, quickly explaining to Art that the baby was missing. When Art explained what he had seen inside the tavern, in the midst of the fight – a sprite child of some sort appearing from nowhere to whisk the basket away – Fionn relaxed some.

A little. Luatha was behind this, he was sure … and though he was not entirely happy about the interference, he doubted that Rue was in any danger. “Meght I borrow a few set of eyes and feet?” he asked. The two twins, Ceart Merkin’s son and daughter, had quieted long enough to listen wide-eyed to the tale of a tavern brawl ended by a mysterious cloud of smoke, Bill turned into a young woman, and the theft of a bairn by one of the fae. “The babe is here somewhere, and I need someone who can shew me the places where the besket meght be hid.”


“Since the ‘Goose is supposedly put to rights,” Ceart said, “Why don’t ye take the lot of them with you.” “The lot” he gestured to were Jimi, Art, and the twins. “With four sets of eyes ye should be able to find the lass.”


While Thomis talked to Fent Laurelyn had settled by the fire. She gestured towards Enris and said, “I’ve a couple of reasons for asking. First off, Enris is needing to go up to one of the bigger ports, and if there aren’t any merchant vessels in he might need to charter.” She knew that the CRS mage was short of funds, and though he might work a passage, she figured that it was only right that some of the Seldez gold she had earned go towards launching his quest for some sort of … triump … to redeem himself from whatever had soiled his name at home. And as she spoke she was also trying to place why the name “Brenna” sounded so familiar.

“The second reason is a little harder to explain…..,” Laurelyn continued. The image of the black-sailed ship was never far from her thoughts – much as she wished it was. Finally the storyteller simply said, “And the rest of us chase a shadow – the Star Dreamer calls us. Calls me.”


At the discussion of chasing shadows, his attention focused on the Star Dreamer.Star Dreamer? Forgive me, but what is the Star Dreamer? It sounds as if you are speaking of a legend of some sort… but why pursue a legend in a ship?”

He didn’t mention the other possibility – that Laurelyn was arranging some sort of deal involving smuggling or piracy. This town had a lot of lawless elements, and it seemed entirely possible that such things could be set up. And given his current lack of funds…perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to use his talents to correct the problem. After all, the ends justified the means…


Oddly enough in the five days of traveling to Morrow’s Hold none in the group had mentioned The Star Dreamer, and Laurelyn realized that it was like a constant ache, or promise, that in a weird way they took for granted. Nearly everyone in the group seemed to have something they wanted so badly they would risk finding the damned ship – or follow a possible madwoman. Though she wondered what boon she would now ask if they did find the ship – she knew that guilt had originally driven her, but even without a concrete desire she seemed to be doomed to seek the vessel. It was as if once called to mind it would not leave. And she often wondered what Thomis would do or ask for if they did find the ship?

After a long moment of staring at the fire in silence Laurelyn looked back at Enris and Eric, and said, “We do seek a legend. The story goes that there was once a ship’s Captain that had been given the blessing to control the winds, but he became arrogant and called the talent his own and not the gods’. Even going so far as to challenge them. And they doomed him to forever travel the oceans – with only the drowned as his crew and companions. But because he begged that his crew not be cursed for his own arrogance the gods gave him the ability to grant a boon to those who pleased him for a night… if they failed they would join him on The Star Dreamer....”

Laurelyn resisted the urge to glance at Thomis as she tried to shape a reason for why she had chosen to chase this particular legend. Particularly since the original reason had been rooted in her inability to aid against the League and Seldez; a guilt born of inaction – though action would have meant a noose. Finally she said, “Shortly before I left Chatterton I began dreaming of the ship and knew I had to find her… and now others have joined the quest.”


He nodded, then chuckled a bit, and replied “It sounds like as good a dream to chase as any, doesn’t it? And I suspect it is my best opportunity to return… home.”

“May I accompany you? For I suspect I will be no worse off if the legends are false…I would be little worse off as part of the good Captain’s crew. Who knows, perhaps our Captain needs a CRS officer to help make sure the crew stays put!” Enris saw little reason to maintain further pretense – and it seemed unlikely that anyone here would know or care about the CRS. And, in truth, he wondered if death by quest might not be as good a way as any to escape the fate of being outcast.


Laurelyn’s first impulse, which she managed to stop before it became visible, was to make some warning gesture at Enris’s commentary about the CRS – for she realized that there were none in Morrow’s Hold that would know the term. Originally her theory had been to part company with the CRS mage once they hit Morrow’s Hold, but she was beginning to suspect that he was exactly what he seemed – lost. For a long moment Laurelyn wondered at her habit of “adopting” stray people or animals. She shrugged and said, “I see no reason why not – we’ve seem to have a wide range of reasons. Along with the fact that your spells, particularly the healing ones, could be of great use – given the type of scrapes we’ve been finding ourselves in.”

She glanced at Eric, wondering how crazy her cousin thought her – now she admitted that they sought a elusive tale.

Laurelyn looked up as Fent came over and gave her a letter, which the storyteller quietly read. Then, after excusing herself from Enris and Eric, she stepped over to Thomis to let him know that Daron had left – to seek her brother by less hazardous routes.


“We all follow our own quests,” Thomis murmured in response. An odd exchange of companions, the artist for the CRS officer. But if Daron’s search for Dillon lay elsewhere, she could not be faulted to choosing to take the hunt in a different direction. When Fent came hurrying over with a stretch of tartan in one hand, muttering in consternation as to what should be done with it, Thomis slipped it into his pocket. A silent farewell to Fionn, perhaps, and something to be returned to the highlander when he showed again.


“Laurelyn!! Parch!!” a hearty bellow from the entrance to the ‘Goose brought the storyteller’s head up. She smiled as her uncle Ceart strode between righted tables.

“It’s good to see you…” she managed – just before getting caught in a hug that engulfed her in the aroma of fish, wet wool, and something less identifiable.

After Ceart Merkin released her he took a look about the ‘Goose, and said, “It looks like the excitment is over – at least in here.” He shot Enris a glance, and added, “I’m glad to see that some were quick to put things to rights.”

“The twins brought word of the excitment,” Laurelyn added, refraining from adding that said “excitement” had been an excellent diversion – to rescue Thomis and she from Weithra and Amber. That would not be the most diplomatic thing to say about Ceart’s wife and middle daughter. “However, there be a new problem – your wee Highland babe is missing. Her Pa seems to think she was stolen away by the ‘good folk,’” Ceart said, offering Thomis a hand.


“Uncle,” Thomis corrected as he took Ceart’s hand with a grin at seeing the man again. “But as much of a father as she will ever have, apparently.” And perhaps mother, but he did not add that aloud. As indifferent as Maeve seemed to be to Rue, she had not abandoned the child completely. It did not take long for Ceart to explain the stories of a sprite taking the babe from the midst of the fight and carrying her away.

Nor did it take long for them to conclude that their time might be best used aiding in the search. So with a final word to Eric Dunn – who had fallen into a thoughtful silence at Laurelyn’s announcement about the Star Dreamer, they too stepped back out into the rain to join the search party.

As Laurelyn stepped from the ‘Goose she bit back a curse at how the wind had picked up, and the rain lashed out. All she could do was pull her hat down on her head, and wrap her cloak tighter – then begin to lead the way towards and then up the steep path. Not that she was looking forward to wandering through a cemetery in a storm!


“Nasty weather, this,” Thomis commented on the obvious to Laurelyn and Enris, and folded his own cloak more tightly around him. At least the rain was not pouring down as forcefully as before, though in the darkness it could be a bit difficult to find a place to set one foot before 


Fionn would have thought the search party quickly organized, except there seemed to be no organization to it. Ceart Merkin’s twins almost leapt at the chance to wander all over Morrow’s Hold in the midst of the storm, spying out those places that might offer shelter to both sprite and infant. And they quickly had recruited Bethy, a young girl who identified herself shyly as the daughter of the prostitute, Bett. (From the looks of her threadbare clothes, her mother didn’t seem to be prospering at her chosen profession.) And as they began the knocking from house to house, and prying through piles of hay, and peeking under porches, they picked up a few more helpful souls who disregarded rain and thunder and wind to join the hunt.


After the twins and Bethy had scampered off Jimi said, “I know who will be a big help – I’ll get Ma! She’s got the Sight and will suredly be able to track a fae.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” McKay said, “She gotten stiff in the joints and all that walkin’ won’t do her any good – nor will this stiff wind.”

Art snorted at that, and said, “McKay I never thought I’d hear ye quoting Weithra. She’s just hoping Ma has gotten that decrepit and will stop meddling.” He turned to Fion and added, “We might want to start our search up by the shrine – its as close to a holy site that we have and would provide a bit of shelter.”

McKay said, a bit defensively, “Last time I saw your Ma she was complaining about her joints – quite a bit.”

“Of course, she does,” Art answered, “But you won’t see it slowing her. She might not be able to row a boat in these days, but there’s not much else she won’t do.”

[At the Widow’s House – Bethy]

The first knock at the door was tentative, but followed quickly by some childish chattering and then a second, firmer <thump>. “Ma … Madam Cruthers?” The voice was small and as hesitant as that first knock, the familiar tones of Bethy, the ten-year-old daughter of Bett the prostitute. The girl glanced at the Merkin twins, on either side of her, and pressed her face closer to the doors. “Ya haven’t seen a baby, have you?” she asked through the wood. The widow was known for taking in strays of all sorts, and this had seemed as good a place as any to start the hunt. With luck, Jeremy hadn’t found it first.


Talia had just been about to answer Jacques when she heard the children, and hurried to the door. “Come in. Come in,” she said to the three, gesturing them in, “What baby? Or who’s has gone missing?” Before they could answer the widow was already in motion. She refilled Jacques’ glass, righted the bowl – after getting a hard biscuit to drop in it for Fiend, and was pulling a long, oiled coat out of a cupboard.


Jacques sighed, looked at the brandy, and around the room, and sighed again.

It had to be Rue. There was no possible chance that some village dweller had inadvertently lost their child on the remarkably coincidental date of the troop coming into town.

He swallowed the brandy in a gulp, and stood. His clothes were now dry, and the thought of going out in the rain wasn’t exactly appealing, but then there was the baby to consider.

“How ‘bout you boy?”

Fiend looked at the open door, and the rain, whined, and returned to chewing on the biscuit the widow had given him.

“Suit yourself then.” Jacques fumbled in his pockets trying to find something that would keep him dry. And turned up empty. Grumbling to himself about children, and kidnappers, and all kinds of other unpleasantness, he pulled his hat firmly down over his head and moved to the door.

“Alright then. Let’s get this witch hunt overwith.” He wondered if he could take the whole brandy bottle with him.


Bethy stared up at the jester, her brown eyes wide. “W – Witch?” she repeated in a hesitant voice, little above a whisper. “They said a sprite took ‘er. Do you mean it was a w- w- witch??” Her ma had told her lots of stories about witches, and how they would snatch little girls who didn’t stay home and out of trouble while their ma was out at the tavern. From the girl’s expression, it was obvious that she was thinking of all the terrible things a witch might do with a baby – bloody rituals involving cauldrons and demons and amphibious body parts. In fact, for a moment, standing there with the points of his hat outlined against the fire, and the lightning from outside occasionally lighting his face, the jester looked like he might be a prime candidate for taking part in the ceremony.


“Well there were daemons howling around the ‘Goose….,” Ani said, with eyes as round as Bethy’s. Vern nodded sagely, and added, “And it smelled like fish guts too!!”

Talia shook her head, and said, “I’m sure Mr. Jack meant ‘witchhunt’ figuratively.” With that she hushered them back outside into the increased wind, and got her door locked.


“No I bloody didn’t,” muttered Jacques very quietly under his breath. There was something about that baby that was either witchery in itself, or something about her drew something that was of witchery. Either way, it smelled like a witchhunt to him.



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