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Peggy Powler & The Trouble At Pook Hill
#1
Considering her legs weren't as long as her fellow-competitors, Peggy Powler managed to grab fourth place in the
annual egg-and-spoon race of Banewood's Last Summer Fair. No trickery or majick had been used and the Last
Witch of Underhill later reckoned to herself that if she hadn't worn her hat, she may have nailed third.

But now from her makeshift seat, Peggy was content to watch the convivial residents of the reasonably-sized hamlet
wander from one tented-attraction to another. With no requests to oust bad-tempered Brownies from a home or give
advice to the worried about Buggane interactions with livestock, the enchantress privately enjoyed the peaceful vista
and the feel of her used-muscles from her recent endeavour.

Children chuckled and raced about in a marquee full of warped mirrors whilst their parents in their Sunday-best frowned
with uncertainty as they listened to a garrulous well-dressed Barker on a raised platform loquaciously assuring his small
audience that behind his particular canvas, a wonder awaited that took several lives to acquire.

"...And I can certify to you -ladies and gentlemen, the pelt you will witness is the actual skin of the malevolent beast titled
with the moniker 'Accam Dey'..." the garishly-attired flap-jaw stated. "...Remember, for only two frollis coins, you will see
evil personified in the form of the hide that the venal wearer displayed during his murderous reign" he urged.

Peggy wiped her mouth of crumbs from devouring a pork-crammed pie and grinned at the gussied-up announcer's
oratory. The wolf that had plagued the Summertide and Barnstead Counties was not inside the Barker's tent due to
the pact he'd made with a certain little Witch currently looking inside her satchel for something to clean her greasy
hands with. Until that vow was rescinded by that same rummaging spellworker, Accam Dey was bound to honour
her demand to keep clear of performing his earlier proclivities.

"...And I'm sure the good lady in the large hat would authenticate my prized exhibit?" the vociferous peddler in the fancy
duds offered and with a winning smile, raised a hand to point at the target of his proposal. Heads turned and looked to
see Peggy sitting on an empty beer barrel wiping her hands on her poncho.

Peggy gathered herself and with a friendly face and a wave of her own hand, replied "Yer' sugarplum words are enough
te' tell me yer'd nay be tellin' pecksniffians te' such a fine set of folk, me-own oath would not improve yer' claim". With that
said, the tired Witch wandered off to find something more interesting, but not before noticing a few of the assembly had
understood her hidden doubt and also left.

Maybe to visit another tent where a tattooed male will -for a single frollis, display an inked portrayal of a scantily-clad lady
dancing seductively on the man's naked buttocks or possibly marvel at a deteriorating Merman in a bottle.
...................................................

The quaint quince tree-lined avenue from Banewood to Calder's Way found a relaxed woman of picayune stature doffing
her hat to take in the late-afternoon sunshine. A Song Thrush -fresh from dining on brown-tail larvae that inhabit the fruits
of the the bird's perch, sang a dulcet melody that encapsulated Peggy's frame of mind during her amble to the sea-cobble
-surfaced road she knew so well.

Reaching the well-trodden highway, the bare-footed Wizard weighed her options on where to travel to next. Calder's Way
offered Moonlight Acres to her left, a solitarian mining community who's main export was honeystone for the jewellery trade.
Peggy had been there twice and found the village -not only reclusive, but downright rude towards outsiders.

Looking eastwards to the little Witch's right was Glasspool, a place she'd never visited and was renowed for its geothermal
springs and the curative properties from the hot sulphurous waters. Maybe -Peggy thought, her aching muscles deserved a
soaking in Glasspool's hot therapeutic springs and accepting that it would be tomorrow before she reached her destination,
looked forward to a quiet night out in the boondocks, snug in her satchel.

Sighing her contentment of her plan, she began her journey away from Banewood's last Summer Fair of the year.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#2
As the sun began its arc westwards, Peggy Powler finished reading a hand-written poem left in one of the many memorial
shrines along Calder's Way and deliberating on the words of lost-love, wondered what the woman in the framed picture had
died of. Such is the price of companionship, a bond that -when taken, is accepted to be broken by a stark reality that would
never even know the deceased's name.

With a flick of her thumb, Peggy brought a flame to reignite the remains of a candle within the wooden chantry and as she did
so, caught sight of a figure cutting a wake through a nearby field of barley. He was a young man and wore a tunic that bore a
colour that the bantam exorcist recognised from her past.

Whoever was trampling a farmer's crop beneath his feet was from a place Peggy hadn't incorporated into her calculations.
However -and staying upbeat in a place of someone's sorrow, there was also the possibility that his ambition wasn't to meet
with the little woman standing on tip-toes investigating the contents of the roadside shrine.

But she knew... she knew something lay ahead for her that didn't involve soothing hot water and the aroma of rotten eggs.
"Ah' hope yer' enjoyin' yer'self" Peggy growled a whisper to the imaginary Fates giggling somewhere amongst the cereal.
...................................................

Albert Hobson tugged a couple of barley-awns from his dull-blue smock before he announced his reason for meeting with
the little Witch sitting on the dry-stone wall. Peggy looked the young man up and down and guessed he'd only just reached
twenty summers, his dark-blue knee-length smock was fairly new and she was versed enough in his sect to know this was
indicative of someone who had just been allotted the status of novice in his home village.
...................................................

Pook Hill is a faith-based community that Peggy had always attempted to steer clear of. Their faddism is planted firmly in a
detached style of living and the family-unit is paramount that only takes second place to their focus of worship. 'Pook' is deity
that the followers believe requires partial seclusion from other populace and requires a strict code of living.

Being a divine spirit of the land, 'Pookers' do not believe in harming their guardian's haven and adhere to only one type of crop
to limit the supposed damage to the reclusive Spirit's habitat. As it turned out, Hops were deemed an appropriate harvest that
-not only brought a hefty income to the community, but displayed an approved discipline via the straight lines of hop vines.

It seems the great God Pook desires rows and rows of beer-flavouring plants that just happens to be bring a good income to
his worshippers. The architect of the religion -Crispin Hobson, created a system of stern sustainment and one of his customs
was that all who take benediction to Pook, must take on the founder's surname.

Devotees to the soil-dwelling eidolon wear long smocks of different hues. Dark Blue -as with Albert, defines a beginner to the
service of maintaining the sacred crops. As one advances through the four-tiered stratum of the questionable denomination,
these garments change in colour to identify the wearer's status. Green would be next for Albert to aim for and then red would
see the lad placed in a supervisory position connected to village's farming and the ceremonial acts within his veneration.
...................................................

The little sorceress waiting for Albert to speak his piece recalled that orange was the ultimate dyed-shirt to acheive to be a
full-blown Pooker and wondered if the brown-haired youngster clearing his throat ever wondered about what he was missing
in the lands outside of his cloistral group. Preparing for his speech, young Albert did what all Pook-worshippers performed
when having to formally interact with outsiders, he turned his back on his single audience.

"Greetings and fair travels, Miss Powler. My name is Albert Hobson..." Albert began, "...I represent the sincere residents of Pook
Hill and those who minister the dedication to our faith. I have been instructed to ask you to accompany myself back to my village
and speak with those who hold a higher standing than myself. Miss Powler, we need your help".
...................................................

Peggy had only entered Pook Hill once and that was just after Crispin Hobson had passed away. A dour-faced woman in a dull
-green tunic called Brenna had met her at the lychgate of the village, performed the observance of showing her back and without
salutation, advised the bare-footed stranger to consider another route. After explaining who she was and why she'd arrived at
the fenced-off colony, Peggy was asked to wait whilst Brenna went to seek further direction from one of her superiors.

A bald-headed man called Alaric had arrived and showed the little Witch into Pook Hill, a place she'd been astounded by due to
its strict construction. All the one-storey wooden houses were the same, plain-brown abodes facing inwards to a roofed-well, a
raised planked-platform and bolted-iron cage dangling from a post that Peggy was sure had once been a gallows.

The split-rail fence that surrounded Pook Hill didn't hide the settlement, it was merely a barrier to imply a difference in territory
to anyone approaching from any direction. The conifer-covered hill that formed part of the village's title was in the shape of a
horseshoe and the devotees of Pook had simply utilised the valley at the bottom of the natural bluff for their home.

Walking in single-file along the neatly-raked gravelled track behind Brenna and the red-smocked Alaric, Peggy marvelled at
the anally retentive need for tidiness and straight lines of their plantation and domiciles. Hundreds of rows of hop vines stood
in neatly-kept fields and shrouded with the fir trees that seemed common around the Pook Hill community. "Whey, Ah'd like te'
see the shape of yer' bloomin' cart-wheels" the diminutive Wizard had mumbled to herself as the weird trio approached a group
of similar-attired folk standing silently beside the well.
...................................................

Following his chosen religious protocol, Albert Hobson waited patiently with his back turned on the person his home required
assistance from and the youngster's assumed-saviour grinned at both the physical behaviour of monastic cults and admiration
for Albert's equanimity of the situation.

"Lead on me-lad" Peggy sighed and carefully climbed down from her perch. Jamming her large hat on her head, the Last Witch
of Underhill set off on her next mission and undoubtedly -she resigned to herself, more strangeness.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#3
After crossing the barley field and following Albert Hobson down a little lane that was almost obliterated by an abundance
of Morning Glory, Peggy Powler thought more about the congregation who lived at Pook Hill. The Song Thrush that had
earlier warbled a tune to celebrate its high-tea of brown-tail grubs, now sang an evensong as the light faded over the little
Witch's latest quest.

Typically, the route to Pook Hill was a stony track that spurred off Calder's Way around half-a-mile further along on the way
to Glasspool and was a regular roadway for those who purchased the sole product of the detached community. But the trail
that Albert was taking her on led away from that road and now enclosed in unkempt foliage, Peggy believed she was being
led back to Pook Hill in a way that would keep her from being seen by unknown onlookers.

Why...? well, that would have to wait and so resigning herself to the reticent lad's sense of direction, she went back to musing
on the odd company that Albert Hobson belonged to. The ale of Pook Hill was a good seller and Peggy had even seen it for
sale in a tavern as far out as Wildhorn County. What Pookers did with the income was something she'd never understood as
her previous visit had never offered any clues to what benefits the nummas had brought.

The houses -even those of the Orange and Red Smocks, were identical and there were no luxuries the sorceress witnessed
that were only exclusive to one particular section of the group. They all prayed the same way, there was no positioning within
the Pook doctrine that raised one Pooker or strata of tunic-wearers from another and she'd seen nothing that implied any
competition for better favour from the chosen deity.

The structure that they adhered to in regards of farming was slightly different though. Those who tilled the soil, cared for the
Hop bines, picked the fruit and mixed the ingredients for the alcohol were seen as more important than those who handled
the administration-side of the business. To Peggy, it appeared that physical-labour was held to a high standard and even a
key-factor in the umbrella that made up the worship of a land Spirit.

But the Pookers' framework of how they conducted themselves hadn't been her concern when she'd first went to the secluded
valley so many years ago, it was how to rid the peculiar sect of their problem. Mainly, the expulsion of the Manticore that had
taken up residence in the pine forest on the Pooker land.
...................................................

"Is Alaric still around?" Peggy asked the back of the silent young man leading the way, he hadn't spoken at all after his initial
request to return to Pook Hill. The dark-blue smock ducked beneath a blooming clump of Morning Glory and didn't offer the
little Witch any answer. Again,  the Last Witch of Underhill appreciated that Albert wasn't a spokesperson beyond his position
of messenger, but out here in the Boonies, she'd thought that he would've at least given her some idea of what had changed
since her last visit.

Through bushes lining forgotten thoroughfares and copses of ivy-tangled trees, Albert Hobson led the needed guest of Pook
Hill towards his home. Even when the familiar split-rail barrier appeared when the plodding pair emerged from a thicket of
elderberry bushes, the young man remained silent until he'd vaulted the fence and waited -with his back to Peggy, until she'd
copied his action.

"Miss Powler, I will now direct you to our Meeting Hall and introduce you to my betters" Albert explained without any emotional
imput. For a moment, Peggy thought about the Replacements that she'd seen on the Isle of Murdigon and hoped the nice -but
withdrawn lad wasn't one of them. "Aye, yer' a darlin' fur' showin' me the way" she replied with a note of mock-sauciness and
was relieved to see the novice's shoulders twitch in his embarrassment.

A moment passed before Albert pressed on through the line of conifers that also surrounded the rear of the Pook Hill residence.
Coming out from the shadows of the evergreens and watching her step as they travelled down the hill, Peggy observed the plain
houses were still identical and from one ground-floor window on the left of the homes, a glowing lantern sat on its sill. The vista
looked so peaceful in the cool night air and making sure she followed Albert's route, the little sorceress felt that if hadn't been
for the required manner of religion, Pook Hill would make an ideal place for a family wishing to seek a safe place to rear their
young.

Now on level ground, Peggy noticed that the surface she was walking on and -also encircling the buildings, was of clipped grass
and enjoying the feel of the evening dew on her bare feet, she wondered if the Pookers now retained sheep to keep the village's
terrain in their much-needed quaint condition.

The Meeting House hadn't existed when she'd last been here and the little Witch hurrying to keep up with the swifter youngster
pondered on what sort of debate had occurred to allow a building like this to be erected. Was this place of gathering open to all
Pookers...? If not, did it effect their dogma of equal setting? Peggy let the query go as Albert climbed the two wooden steps to
the bethel of discourse and staring towards the gate on the main road, opened the door slightly.

"Quickly Miss Powler, your presence is vital to our village" Albert hissed and removing her hat, Peggy could see from the radiance
of a lantern inside the Meeting Hall, that he knew he shouldn't have said those words.
It was above his grade.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#4
Peggy Powler could smell the newness the Meeting Hall straight away, the aroma of pine and cedar told of recent work
that made the little guest tucking her hat into her satchel think that the building had only been constructed very recently.
However, Peggy would later discover she was wrong.

"Welcome Miss Powler..." a female's voice said from the long bench at the rear of the room, "...we hope your journey here
wasn't too tiring". Eight people sat on straight-backed wooden chairs -where Peggy would consider was, the wrong side of
an elongated table and all of the dark-red robed people had their backs facing her.

Two plain lanterns sat on the well-polished surface, but only one of them was lit, but the vigilant spellbinder did notice
other objects on the table she wasn't currently able to distinguish. "Please excuse the clandestine nature of this assembly,
but the night can be a worrisome time here at Pook Hill" the unknown woman added without emotion.

Placing a bare foot on the well-swept floorboards, Peggy surveyed the one-roomed single-storey building that smelled
like a carpenter's shop. The dark-oak beams above the shadowed group had odd-looking items dangling from hooks
and it took a moment in the dim light before the scrutinising sorceress realised were metal charms of an esoteric nature.
Bark-free hoops of willow turned slowly in the quiet gloom, bound with strips of leather, the rings held filament-wrapped
clumps of pine needles and gilded effigies of the sacred-deity Pook.

Peering up at the draft-moving display, Peggy recalled the first time she'd ever had seen such an image. Somewhere on
the eremite-folk's property was a larger stone idol of Pook and though she'd remained reverent during the viewing, she
couldn't help but notice the resemblance between Pook and Herne the Hunter.

The standard representation of Herne was a supernatural wilderness-being with antlers, a masculine bearded face, a torso
of a well-muscled human and cloven-hooves instead of feet. Pook also sported antlers and a long unkempt mane indicated
a divine god that lived with nature, but the furry shoulders and legs took his legend more into a creature-of-the-wilds position.
The muzzle-like features of Pook's face also added to the bestial notion, but the creators of the models always made sure
the deity's eyes were set with a humanistic, enlightened quality.

Four close-shuttered windows were on the two longer walls and apart from a simply-made footstool near to the far-end of
the right-hand side wall, no other furniture decorated the room -excluding the eight chairs and the long bench. The far wall
was blank. No framed painting of their demigod or an alter for prayers, just blank unpainted wooden facades that said a lot
about the impassive nature of the community.

"Whey, it's been awhile since Ah' last visited..." Peggy answered into the echoing chamber with a tone to try and lighten the
mood, "...Is Alaric Hobson still about?" A hooded figure sitting at the far-end of the trestle bench lifted one of the items from
the table and the curious conjurer recognised it immediately.

It was a polished metal tray that doubled as a mirror and squinting to see better in the single source of illumination, the little
Witch saw Brenna Hobson gazing back at her. "Alaric was taken last winter and the cause of this loss is what we reluctantly
wish to speak to you about" Brenna answered coldly.
...................................................

She felt stupid standing on the hassock, but since she had been invited to look through the knot-hole of the wooden wall by
the woman she'd first met many summers ago, Peggy placed her face to the pungent surface of the wall and peered out into
the darkness. There wasn't anything to see.

"It's night?" the balancing Bewitcher suggested and gave Brenna fake innocent look as she beheld the hunched shrouded
group watching her through their respective reflectors. The churlish woman in the red tunic that Peggy had now assumed
was the mouth-piece for the Pooker committee didn't outwardly show her exasperation, but Brenna somehow managed
to transmit her pique.

"Keep looking Miss Powler, if you would be so kind" came the repeated request and so once again, the little Witch in the
old poncho sighed to herself as she peeked through the naturally-formed orifice.

There... it wasn't much and it moved quite quickly in the blackness. There were obstacles that stopped the glow from being
a constant view of lustre and after a moment, Peggy guessed the effect was due to tree branches. It was a light -possibly a
lantern and seemed high off the ground. Allowing her limited inventiveness to explore the possibilities of the source for the 
luminosity, Peggy judged that she was looking at a light in a clump of trees from a distance that would infer the carrier of
such a torch to be either conveying said vivid item on his head or that the bearer was...

"How big...?" the lone figure asked from her position at the Meeting hall wall "...how tall would you say it is?" Peggy astutely
appended without looking at the congregation. Ignoring the irony, she continued to observe the light moving away with the
branches blocking out most of the lambency now.

Brenna stood up and walked close to where Peggy was mounted on the formal footrest and looked at her shiny metal tray.
"He's big enough to smash into this building and take Alaric without a second-glance" the reflection of the stern sister of
the Pookers said menacingly. Peggy deliberately used Brenna's shoulder to lean on as she climbed down from the stool,
it was an act of invasive casualness that the wily Seer knew would effect Brenna's composure and hopefully, the others
who were watching.

"Aye, he's a big 'un, and yer' only see him at night?" Peggy asked as she withdrew her at from her bag and saw Brenna's
reflection nod an affirmative. "Good, that means Ah' can look fur' the bugger durin' the day, then" she added and recalling
the paltry input from the Red-Smocks last time she was here, walked out of the stark interior of the Pooker Meeting Hall.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#5
It had almost been an hour and Peggy Powler had yet to see the return of the phantom lantern carrier. The conifer woods
were man-made or to be more precise, Pooker-made and been here a long time. During the Lilliputian sorceress' last
tarriance, she'd been accidentally informed that one of the secret ingredients to the village's special ale, was the tapped
sap that was extracted from the evergreens.

The Manticore that Peggy had cast out of Pook Hill had stayed to the rear of the woodland and it was only by a stroke of
luck and a little intuition that she'd been able to track the beast back to its lair. The serendipity-part came from the fact that
the man-headed lion was suffering from toothache and with a little witchery and and a sacred assurance that only Fae can
demand, the spine-covered predator had left without anyone knowing. Two dead Pookers are two dead Pookers, but any
further carnage was avoided and the reclusive hamlet went back to doing what they did best, staying away from others.

The night was silent and Peggy was confident that none of the thin dead leaves laid about the ground were giving away a
monster's creeping tread. The surrounding landscape was at-odds with the long avenue of conifers, the neat lines of vines
that rolled away for leagues were all the same in height and gave no cover for the creature she'd spied through the Meeting
Hall's knothole. It just didn't make sense.

The watchful Witch gazed into the blackness of the pine grove and saw that the Pookers had cut back the branches to make
access easier for their sap-taking. To most normal-sized beings attempting to hide in this managed weald, being in full view
-unless they're as thin as the narrow trunks of the conifers, would be difficult to hide their approach.
Again, another conundrum to dwell on.

But it is the walkways through the rows of pine trees was keeping Peggy from retiring to her satchel. Granted -she thought
as she stared into darkness, the woodland was all the same at night, but the Witch's current quarry didn't care about being
seen and the lantern was evidence of that. He was a big and confident enough to charge through a wooden wall and take
the nearest-thing to a leader that the denomination had, that took a bravery which involved planning and a drive to succeed.

Not the standard ordnance for an Ogre, a fiend that Peggy believed she was dealing with. But the lantern moving through
the branches...? What was the sorceress' suspect looking for? Accepting the distant yap of a midnight fox as notification
for bedtime, the puzzled Witch sought a place to sleep and somewhere well away from tomorrow's hunting ground.
...................................................

The rain came just after dawn and just like the last time she was here, Peggy had been awakened by two Pookers and
asked if she'd be kind enough to take breakfast with them. Rufus and Eunice Hobson stood with backs to their grateful
guest as they requested her company. He was thin as a rake with a face who was a foreigner to a smile and his spouse
may have once been pretty, but the cult of Pook had taken its toll on the green-smocked sour-faced woman.

"We eat with our son and daughter, Sidney and Gertrude, Miss Powler..." Eunice had mumbled as the lethargic Mystic
lifted her satchel from a large hook where a single horse harness was kept. Peggy had chosen the well-kept barn at the
bottom of Pook Hill's hollow to use for her slumber for two reasons, both based on her last visit.

One was the outbuilding's distance from the rest of the village, a place that would limit the hindrance to her deductions like
the last time she was here. The other rationale was that she simply preferred the company of the only animal that used the
barn, Ransom the Donkey. "...Our fare isn't much, but we would be happy to start this fine day beside you" the dispirited
woman finished her invite with and setting her hat on her head, the Last Witch of Underhill wondered if Eunice even knew
what the word 'happy' meant.
...................................................

The search of the pine plantation was a miserable affair, but did yield clues as to what Peggy was dealing with. The rain
had persisted, but beneath the canopy of the woods the downpour had reduced to only a couple of droplets tapping the
little Witch's hat to remind her of its company. The gloom of the surroundings matched the glumness of those who took
care of the two league-long coppice and even though Peggy strove to resist the melancholy atmosphere, she felt it hiding
behind each pine tree.

Rufus and his family were a perfect endorsement of this downcast feeling. The man who wore cheekbones that advertised
what his bare skull would look like, never spoke to either the little Fae-woman sitting alone in the corner of their plain room
or the forlorn children that accompanied him at the table. Still, the unsalted porridge would fuel Peggy's inner-kiln for a while
and with a reluctant gratitude, she'd quickly left the house of dismay to pursue her only reason for being here.
...................................................

Crouching over a large unobtrusive footprint between the rows, Peggy accepted that her original idea of the marauder being
an Ogre was almost correct. But the shod-prints indicated that the brazen stealer of Alaric Hobson could well be one the rarer
offshoots of that loathsome species. Ogres were known as cannibals and so the old man's fate would be obvious, but as Peggy
peered closer to the damp impression, she saw marks that determined the spell-worker's conclusion.

Who -or whatever giant had walked this way, had bound their feet in sackcloth and to the little woman gazing off towards the
rear of the dank woodland, this could mean she was hunting something she'd only ever read about in one of Myrddin's ancient
books.

The weather -just like the Pookers, had created an atmosphere of despondency and like a virus, was attempting to infest the
bantam necromancer's reasoning. This new revelation came like a vaccine to drive out the doldrums and setting off towards
the back of the pine plantation where she'd first encountered the Manticore, Peggy Powler grinned and admitted that this new
medicine tasted just fine.

It wasn't going to be easy, she wasn't dealing with a creature who adhered to animalistic traits or standard Ogre cognisance.
This one was a damned Hyder and if the old tome she'd studied was correct, they were as cunning as they were dangerous.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#6
With the aid of her hand shielding the her view from the bright sun- that she mused must have slept-in this morning,
Peggy Powler could just make out the split-rail fence that marked the end of the Pook Hill community's acreage.
The pine woods were now behind her and hopefully, so was the rain.

All around, the hop bines stretched away in battalion rows and offered no haven for a brute the size of her suspected
prey. Blue-smocks walked silently among the tendril-laced supports of twine and posts and would occasionally meet
those of an advisory capacity, the ones in the green apparel. Obviously, throughout Peggy's viewing of the Pook Hill
commodity-conservation, nobody looked towards the little woman in the wide-brimmed hat.

A neat line of clipped turf separated the grove of evergreens from the beginning of the bittering plants that brought a
substantial income to the pious folk who sought the Witch's aid. However, a mild surprise accompanied the solitary
sorceress as she surveyed the farmed land, Peering to her left, she noticed the devout Pookers had branched out to
enhance that revenue with four fields of barley that seemed out of place in the strict practices of the sect.

But out here, alone with her thoughts, Peggy felt more at home than back within the environs of those who gained from
the earthy-smelling vegetation and breathing in the rain-freshened air, that was fine by her. The damp grass sparked
with sun-kissed droplets as she walked along the tidy avenue and ruminating on her situation, she had to admit that
apart from the couple of enormous footprints in the loamy soil under the pines, there was no Hyder roaming the fields
and kidnapping the righteous worshippers of the deity called Pook for nefarious reasons.

Brenna Hobson had mentioned that the giant had invaded their village and stolen Alaric, an act that one would think
afforded more than a mere remark in mid-conversation. So it was this paltry manner of purveying information that had
brought Peggy to the conclusion of investigating on her own would be a more productive stream and only when she
chose to tickle some talk from one the thirty-or-so Pookers, would she do so.
In Peggy's way of explaining, one would mutter "Bugger 'em!"

Reaching for a canteen in her faithful magical satchel, the Last Witch of Underhill mentally assembled what she
knew about the giant known as a Hyder.
...................................................

The book that held the knowledge about the huge humanoid Peggy suspected as being the culprit at Pook Hill
was titled 'Donovan's Practices', a handwritten lexicon of creatures and beings that a cadet magician catalogued
during the time of The Great Coven.

Leaving the reasons for the fall of the illustrious cadre of theurgists to another time, many of the members believed
that the need to have authored documentation of the otherworldly and ethereal characters discovered during their
journeys, was of paramount importance. This concern stemmed from the notion that as time moves on, solutions to
assist in expulsion, spells to contain and talismans to control, could be lost due to changes in social development.
Hence, Donovan's Practices was written.

The Hyder can be described as belonging a primitive culture based on a rejection of other life-forms and a distrustful
view of the reality around them. Stemming from a time before standard humans began to amplify their effects around
them, this gigantic species believe their natural placement in existence was being ousted by an organised long-term
strategy by their smaller similar-looking inhabitants of the land.

Hyders -within their own civilisation, became socially-inherently paranoid and unable to procreate at the momentum
of the smaller-in-stature human race, took the pitiable position of concealment and avoidance as a way of continuing
their existence.

Peggy had read that most Hyders are primarily the height of two to two-and-a-half average humans and resemble
-to some extent, their presumed enemy. Their shoulders are covered in a thick matting of hair, however this growth
wanes towards the lower-back. A long shaggy mane assists in hiding facial features which are the same as standard
humans. Two eyes, broad nose and prominent incisor teeth.

An aversion to wearing clothing, but some Hyders have been seen with their genitalia hidden by a cloth. No footwear
in the fashion most would accept, but some witnesses report that Hyders do wrap their feet with diverse materials like
fur and animal hide.

Procreation only takes place when the full moon blooms in Summer. It is stated that Hyders leave their solitary-living and
meet to pro-generate in the natural manner. Mothers rear their offspring alone and yet the males hold a similar notion to
their alleged foe and work to protect the young and their female parent.

Insight of communication between Hyders is still limited at this time, but verbalisation may be of a language yet unknown.
...................................................

Feeling good about her own type of isolation -especially in the community that endorsed such behaviour, Peggy knew
that her hunt was to be a difficult, but a self-fulfilling one. Whoever Donovan was, the pint-sized warlock guessed that
field-work wasn't his best oyster and so, some of his statements may have been based on mere hearsay.

Still, looking for a naked long-haired giant on a terrain that could not hide a Hyder would not be easy and peering down
at her rain-damp bare feet, Peggy wondered if the dictum 'As Above, So Below' could help her in seeking the thief of
Alaric Hobson.
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#7
"What do yer' mean, yer' never saw it?" Peggy Powler asked the shoulder blades of Albert Hobson and shook her with incredulity.
Where the strip of mowed lawn came to the corner of the conifer plantation, a large marble statue of Pook sitting on a fern-strewn
plinth had been placed for aesthetic reasons to show that their supreme spirit of the land held what the novices did as important.
The exacerbated Witch peered again at the small burrow behind the alabaster sculpture and wondered how it had gone unnoticed.

Albert kept glancing towards the vines and Peggy could see he was uncomfortable about leaving his assigned post, but never once
did he look towards the crouching necromancer examining the excavation. "Miss Powler, my duty is towards the care of the hops"
he offered as an explanation. Standing to her full height, the sorceress decided it was time to take the gloves off on this situation.

"Bugger te' yer' duty, Albert...!" Peggy barked as she walked around to face the young man, "...there's a critter out here who stole
one of yer' own". Albert flinched and turned way, but the woman in the poncho tracked his movement. "Don't yer' ignore me Albert,
this is important" she growled at the cowering youngster and suppressing her annoyance at the silly practice towards outsiders,
grabbed the hood of his dark-blue tunic.

Even though Albert Hobson outweighed the Witch, was stronger than the Witch -although Peggy would be willing to gamble she
could outrun the lad in an egg-and-spoon race, the brown-eyed fairly-handsome twenty year-old shook with fear at being forced
to break the Pook axioms. "Please Ma'am..." Albert mewled "...I'll get into trouble" he weakly assured the angry-looking Oracle
in front of him.

For the first time since she'd arrived at Pook Hill, they looked at each other and Peggy could see Albert's life-long regime-training
squirm against his shrouded natural stance of a human being. Under all the Pooker's proselytising, beneath all the religious rules
he'd grown up with and with the full gravity of what his basic character had been fashioned into, the staring Witch could see that
somewhere in there, Albert Hobson was more than just some kid who was scared of a fabricated demi-god.

The smiling lady under the big hat waited a moment and then whispered "Divna' move from this spot, yer' hear?" and received
a small nod that he understood her order. Swiftly turning on her bare heel, the Last Witch of Underhill went to seek young Albert's
superior.
...................................................

Peggy shrugged her indifference at the back of the woman peculiarly called Hortense and repeated her comment. "Ah' divna
give a bugger what yer' rules are, tell the lad he's te' help me te' find Alaric Hobson, reet?" The frumpy middle-aged red-head
flared her nostrils towards the fields of vines and clenched her hands in anger. "In Pook law, Albert is a subordinate and his role
is to tend the crop" Hortense Hobson answered through gritted teeth and felt the presence of the outsider closer than before.

"Yeah well, he's my subordinate now and yer' can run te' Brenna if she has a problem with it, she can drag her fat-behind down
here and tell me te' me-face" the little Witch chanced and that was enough to make Hortense swing out her fist. Resisting the
reflex to duck, Peggy allowed the wide blow to dislodge her hat. But seeing the flame-haired woman turn around to follow-up
her detonation of emotions, the smaller female set her feet -and if need be, a spell to repel any possible assault.

"Hortense no!" gasped Albert and surprisingly, this was enough to knock the wind out of the sails of the ginger-maned hellcat
with the vicious temper. Hortense Hobson whirled back to face the fields she had authority in and focused on pouring cold water
on her inner-volcano. "I am... I have failed my faith, I apologise" she spluttered in frustration.

Peggy produced one of her rare wicked grins and gently patted the bent back of the green-smocked supervisor. "Divna' trouble
yer' good soul lass, we all have te' let the fizz out of our bottles at times" she said softly so that only the shuddering Hortense could
hear. Realising Albert needed to feel what she had in store for him wouldn't disturb his belief-system, Peggy knew she would have
to push the Supervisor a little more.

"Me-lips are sealed te' what's happened here, but if yer' could find it in yer' power to authorise the lad te' help me fur' a little while,
then Ah'm sure Pook will see the wisdom in yer' verdict" the wily Wizard suggested in hushed tones. Hortense peered out at the
orderly rows of hop vines and wished her apparel was blue..
...................................................

The hole behind the idol smelled of beer. It was faint, but the yeasty bouquet was definitely there and holding down the back of her
poncho, Peggy sniffed at the slightly-acrid scent and wondered how it fit into the kidnapping of Alaric Hobson.

Albert was staring out at the familiar landscape that held no mysteries or required an individual to make decisions of effect. Among
those twisting vines, the young man was nobody and nothing was required of him except to follow a set of simple instructions. The
world was smaller when you... "Albert, get yer'self over here now" snapped Peggy and forsaking her modesty, bent closer to the
clearly deliberate head-sized breach.

The darkness mocked any probability of Peggy seeing the depth of the hole, which is more than can be said for Albert Hobson.
"Ma'am..." a choked voiced offered "...your garment has... is not working" the Blue-smocked lad stammered and turned away
just as Peggy got to her feet. "Aye, sorry about that" the little abashed Witch replied and resetting her poncho and putting her
hat back on her head, added "yer' know Ah' can smell beer down there and Ah've nay idea why".

Albert's wide eyes flicked back and forth from the fields of barley to the grass-surrounded aperture and Peggy could see he was
performing something very rare, he was deliberating without guidance. He was also facing slightly towards the woman his dogma
demanded to shun. "Could it be a leak?" Albert said weakly and again, looked towards the golden fields corralled between the
countless rows of hop plants.

Peggy followed his gaze and wondered what he could possibly mean. The Pookers were known for producing the basics of ales,
but not the actual brewing. When she'd first come to the settlement, Alaric Hobson had unenthusiastically showed the bare-footed
stranger to the area of where they believed the Manticore was hiding and had taken the pair of disciples when he'd attacked.

During their walk to the conifers, Alaric had answered her query when she'd casually asked where the barrels of beer were kept
with the simple response that only the ingredients were grown, harvested, mashed and packaged here at Pook Hill. Waiting until
he was urged to continue, the balding Red-Smock had divulged that the actual fermentation occurred elsewhere and his outsider
-guest had taken his answer at face-value.

"Yer' make beer here?"  Peggy asked as she stepped closer to her taller newly-acquired hesitant assistant and saw his eyes narrow.
If what Albert had said was true, where were facilities to process and store the product? There were no buildings away from the main
section of the village, just houses and small out-buildings built beside them, Ransom the donkey's stable and the new Meeting House.

The young man attempted to turn away, but Peggy grabbed the collar of his tunic again. "Tell me what yer' know and divna' lie, me-bag
of spells will make yer' a stoat before yer' can say Jack Robinson" the little necromancer warned as he tried to twist from her grasp.
Seeing the lad's intrinsic conflict beginning to bring tears to his eyes, she reluctantly wiggled her little finger and Albert became calm
almost at once. It wasn't right and she knew it. Majick isn't a tool to be used in every circumstance, but the torment she was causing
was a fair reason to invoke such power.

"There now Albert..." Peggy cooed and studied his languid face, "...show me where yer' keep yer' brew". Without speaking, the rangy
young man set-off towards the enclosures of cereal and checking to see if Hortense was watching, the little Witch followed.
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#8
At first glance, Peggy Powler had believed the T-shaped derrick to be a version of the gallows she'd seen in the village centre.
But nearing the assumed gibbet, she noticed a metal ring bolted into the cross-bar and a long pole sticking out of the side of
the main beam. This puzzlement became lost as the slightly-hypnotised Albert Hobson reached down into a tussock of grass
and pulled on a similar ring to the one dangling from the gallows.

It was certainly an astounding sight and for a moment, the awestruck theurgist wondered how such a vast clandestine scheme
could be implemented by a supposed pious group of people. On one side of the excavation, oil-fed lanterns glowed softly along 
the smoothed-out wall and opposite, an abundance of oak barrels had been stacked in neat rows. The floor had a wide wooden
walkway and a fashioned wheelbarrow waited by the stairs the pair had just descended.

Looking back at the hatchway, the little woman in the grubby poncho wondered how the casks were being taken out, but recalling
the gallows above, she put two-and-two together. "Whey, yer' bugger" she muttered to herself and stepped over to where the young
lad waited next to the wooden steps. This certainly wasn't a Hyder's hideout and Peggy grimaced inwardly as she realised that more
intrigue lay ahead of her. "Who did this?" she asked up at the dirgeful-faced twenty year-old and hoped she hadn't cast her spell a
little-too heavy.

Albert's half-closed eyes panned the cryptic underground warehouse and then slowly answered that it was a decision that came from
Brenna after Alaric had gone missing. The bantam sorceress gazed up at the lethargic young man and mused on whether to release
him from his semi-stupor, he was a good lad and it seemed unfair to keep him like this. A couple of special words later, he was staring
about the cave with shock.

"Yer' were sayin' that Alaric had gone missin'..." Peggy said with an easy tone, as if they'd been gossiping on a street corner and she
witnessed poor Albert gulping and attempting to get his bearings of where he was at and what he had done. "Miss... Miss Powler, we
shouldn't b-be down here" he huskily stuttered and went to turn his back on the woman standing before him. "Divna' do that,  Albert"
she said sternly and to her mild-surprise, he belayed his action.
"This is a secret place" he whispered -more to himself than his companion.

"Aye, it might be. But you know about it and now, so do ..." Peggy replied, "...now tell me what yer' know about this cavern and about
Alaric goin' missin'". Musing on the assumption that -with the young man being only a Blue-smock, what had he been told regarding
Alaric's disappearance would presumably jibe with what Brenna had said had happened to the previous leader.
How open were the Meeting Hall discussions between the Red-Smock-wearers and their subordinates?

Seeing Albert was still struggling with the dilemma he'd found himself, Peggy took his hand and began to lead him further into the cavern.
"Howay wiv' me and we'll take a look at what else is kept down here..." she said gently, "...Yer' said there may be a leak and Ah'm sure yer'
fella-Pookers would thank yer' for findin' it" the guileful guest of Pook Hill added.
...................................................

After few minutes, the remains of the barrel that had alerted the Last Witch of Underhill to a variable that had changed her investigation,
was seen laid on the wooden walkway. Its contents had soaked into the boardwalk and with a quick glance, Peggy guessed the damage
had been done by someone or something powerful and with deliberate intent. "That's what must have caused the smell" Albert offered
and felt a note of pride from his deduction.

Peggy crouched down and examined the splintered hole in the yeasty-scented hogshead. "Aye..." she said absently as she felt the jagged
edges of the wound, "...Yer' make a fine bloodhound". The barrel had been struck with a sharp object, not from the impact and that meant
a possible altercation. A connection to Alaric's kidnapping...?

Due to the lack of answers from the whole of the cloistered sect -blue-tunic or higher, the little Witch didn't know when the old leader had
been snatched by a brute strong enough to barge through walls. She didn't even have any tangential information of a possible lead-up to
the attack, awareness by the church that such a creature was on their land and if they antagonised the already shaky situation.

The beer had been spilt not too long ago and by the dark stains still on the decking, Peggy estimated no longer than a week. "Ah'll ask
thee again, when did Alaric go missin', Albert?" she breathed softly and looked over to where the lad was standing beneath the pulsing
flush of one of the lanterns.

Albert wasn't looking back at the originator of the query or the clues that lay within the barrel's debris, his saucer-wide eyes were staring
elsewhere and following his gaze, Peggy saw what had caused the young novice's lack of reply. The Hyder standing in the shadows was
sharing his own contemplation of the newcomers to the cavern between the terrified male and the hat-wearing midget crouched beside
the broken keg. "Fee-Fye" the grinning giant whispered and Albert hit the floor in a dead faint.
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#9
As Peggy Powler shuffled along the high passageway behind the huge being carrying the unconscious body of Albert Hobson
and a lantern -that the little follower guessed she'd seen the night before, she studied the irony of how the unknown enemy that
she'd been requested to expel, had explained more about the current situation than those who had sought assistance from the
Last Witch of Underhill.

"...And I can see how it would be certainly seen has a puzzle to anyone outside of the scheme..." the massive Hyder continued and
carefully adjusting his grip on the young man slumped under his arm, looked for confirmation from his tiny guest over his shoulder.

"...I mean, even to a regular Pooker -as you see them, why sell one's ingredients to make ale and then purchase back the very
product one deems to profit from?" the giant silhouette solicited. With the slow realisation of what the red-smock-wearing Elders
had been up to in the valley of Pook Hill, Peggy nodded in the darkness and stifled the vexation she felt.

Of course, the little sorceress' current chagrin came from three sources, the initial being the outright deceit she'd been fed by those
deemed in charge and her own gullibility from accepting piety demanded the virtue of honesty. Peggy looked towards the faint light
further up the tunnel and pondered the third failing she'd embraced without query.

It now seemed Donovan's Practices were not exactly accurate. A Hyder didn't adhere to a primitive culture after all, the lantern was
an obvious clue, but the giant -who had introduced himself as Janus Mockingbird, also spoke with an eloquence that was not only
respectful, but showed the old book as a poorly-garnered selection of information. Peggy didn't say it, but 'Bag of Shite' did cross
her mind.
...................................................

One thing Peggy would agree on was to the same type of outsider that the Hyder had just referred to, the exit from the cavern
of beer barrels would be difficult to discover. Where a huge boulder jutted from the wall behind the piled-up casks, it seemed
that what Pookers were in on the secret stash had capitulated to the rock's size and agreed to just leave it where it was.

And why not, the expanse of the cavern was enough to hold almost double the amount of wooden containers it currently held
and even though the excavation had been clandestine and ergo, performed by only a few of the brethren, the spell-worker knew
that when it came to managerial-types, pushing quills was preferred to manual labour.

Smiling at that thought, Peggy allowed herself to wonder what her day would've been like if they'd only tried to remove the boulder
Maybe her trek down this tunnel with a well-spoken Hyder and a blacked-out cult-novice may have been avoided. But regardless
of how the Fates throw their dice, the waddling Witch surveyed the shoulders of the huge human and thought about how she'd first
encountered the giant. 
...................................................

Standing at the height of two men, Janus Mockingbird had allayed Peggy's initial concerns and her delivery of spells from the
moment he spoke. An uncivilised brute he was not, the plain tunic, thick waistcoat and sailcloth-trousers uttered an introduction
that even a reclusive Pooker could even understand.

"Forgive my sudden appearance, I mean no ill-will to you or your young soporific companion..." the giant said softly and displayed
a smile that prompted its receiver to acknowledge the sender's benevolence. "...From your inadvertently overheard-conversation,
and your attire, am I to presume you are not of the community from above?" Janus asked politely.

Peggy had eased her stance for an attack and viewed the face looming from the shadows of the barrels. He was hairy, but not in
the manner described by the author of the desultory book she'd read back at Myrddin's abode. Long black locks flowed down the
sides of his head and lay across Janus' shoulders that hinted it -was at least, combed from time to time.

Due to the lack of effulgence from the oil-lanterns, the Last Witch of Underhill was unable to see the colour of his eyes, but their
setting broached a kindly demeanour who's observations enjoyed a similar environment. Janus' nose was broad and thus, maybe
Donovan the scribe had accomplished some investigative work on the subject of Hyders, however, the giant's teeth didn't offer
any indication of predatory practices. "Aye" the hesitant Witch answered his inquiry and chanced a bow of greeting

It wasn't until Janus Mockingbird suggested a more comprehensive discussion could be had in a lesser precarious surroundings
that Peggy noticed the Hyder was wearing stout home-made leather boots and not the hessian wrappings she'd believed from
the earlier footprints. Maybe when she'd spied his lantern-lit hunt through the knot-hole of the Meeting Hall, his pursuit had been
spontaneous and not of his choosing?

With Albert still in the embrace of his faint and under the armpit of her huge host, Peggy concluded that the current circumstances
would be nothing akin to what she'd first thought when she'd vaulted the split-rail fence that bordered Pook Hill. As Janus' massive
form moved slightly to one side, this assumption was reinforced by the glimpsing of three young people standing beneath the source
of the light further down the tunnel.
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#10
Entering the presumed home of Janus Mockingbird, Peggy Powler could see that it was obvious from the look on the girls faces
and the lack of the Pooker-style garb that they weren't part of the teachings from above. The huge Hyder had not asked his new
guest to follow him into his well-decorated abode and busied himself with carefully placing Albert on a 'Hyder-sized' couch that
Peggy guessed the giant had made himself.

Being half-Fae, the lack of greeting into a room had always been a bane to the little necromancer. As many know, certain charms
were often placed around entryways to repel those that many of the new religious-types deem bad influence and wariness became
second nature to someone who was always to be an outsider.

Now standing at the entrance of in this wooden-panelled room, Peggy smiled cautiously at the three young girls standing beside
an unlit fire hearth and in front of a human-sized table with a trio of matching chairs. Two of the timid lassies were around ten years
of age and politely removing her hat, the same-sized enchanter accepted that they were human twins.

Both blue-eyed girls had groomed mousy-brown hair that hinted they were not simply feral children that the Hyder had discovered
roaming the countryside. Their attire spoke of village peasantry and of little income, Peggy could see small patches where repairs
had been made and the fabric of their ankle-length one-piece clothes had certainly not been made for any high-social gaiety. It was
just as Peggy was about to move to perusing the taller female between the twins, that a little candle in her head flickered alight and
its faint glow whispered something about the little colour of the little duo's eyes. Mentally carving a notch on her imagined reminder
-stick, the cordial conjurer moved her focus to the fairer-haired girl.

The third girl was almost a woman and with protective arms draped across the shoulders of either younger girl, the smaller Witch
nodded her head in a language only women can appreciate. "My name is Catherine..." the fair-haired teenager said without any
sign of a smile and indicating which was which, added "....and these are Greta and Gretchen". Peggy nodded to all three and with
a quick glance to see that Janus was content that the only other male in the underground haven was comfortable, she curtsied and
introduced herself.

"I have heard of your exploits Miss Powler..." Janus said with a slightly-stronger tone than back in the hidden beer-stash. "...And I
hold high esteem for anyone who conducts themselves in such chivalrous service...". Accepting the giant's comment , Peggy's
eyes surveyed the room as Janus spoke, all the furniture was large -except for the contrivances near the watchful girls. A tall table,
high chairs and massive oven that gave the Last Witch of Underhill a slight jolt when she considered she would be able to stand up
inside it. Fee-Fye and all that.

"...Hence my tolerance of those who dwell above..." the Hyder continued, "...that was until I found out their scheme of perpetuation".
Janus scrutinised the tiny woman in the well-worn poncho, he knew those who policed the human-world had to be fairly quick on the
uptake to what they encountered, but was he merely dancing around the topic that went against his own sensibilities? Maybe the
gawking Witch needed further orientation on how the Pookers were sustaining their number.

"These young ladies were trafficked, Miss Powler, an act that I loathe and if you're the adroit gumshoe I have heard about, you will
understand my spurn to such behaviour". With deft movements, Janus pulled a small hand-crafted chair from beneath settee Albert
was still lying on and placed it before his latest guest.

"I hope this will suffice?" he asked and showed the same good-natured smile from their first encounter. Peggy noticed that the girls
copied her movements as she sat down on the seat and seeing Catherine lean forward to hear what was about to be said, the Hyder's
newest visitor concluded that reality was finally entering metaphysical mockery that was Pook Hill
...................................................

How does one preserve a conscientious creed that holds strongly to keeping others outside of that group from joining and possibly
infecting the original ideals? How does a religion sustain itself of believers in a place that refuses to welcome fresh faith-seekers?

Pookers worshipped a deity that was not dissimilar from other spiritual forces believed to inhabit this world. In itself, the adherence to
a particular God and the manner of veneration shouldn't make any difference within a religion unless the agreed tenets required more
than usual prayer and respect.

Training from a young age can assist in maintaining a following, undeveloped minds can be convinced of certain social and religious
conduits to follow and with use of the natural trust between parent and child, such belief-structures can seem customary and help to
underpin the loyalty for a group-reliance. However, to obtain such malleable attitudes, one needs to procreate and with that function,
certain natural factors need to be in play along with germane social codes.

Listening to Janus Mockingbird explain what had happened at Pook Hill, Peggy agreed with a nod and recollected that it wouldn't
be the first time that a village had just up-and-died. Many times, the bare-footed Witch had wandered through abandoned hamlets
and decaying thorps and witnessed how the rule-bound running of a community had become the very downfall of that community.

The essence of a family obviously requires good foundations, walls of devout trust and a sincerity of where one fits into the clan.
If a man and woman take on extra burdens above the standard chores of creating a home, safety and income, time has a way of
slipping by quickly. Hence the period of breeding for human couples can be short when within a like-minded group that holds rules
that earnestly place idolatry worship and employment above the natural physical act of creating children and the traditional deed
of constructing a family-unit.
...................................................

"...The simple fact, Miss Powler, is that their God of nature got in the way of what men and women do naturally" the giant said and
poured Peggy another Hyder-sized thimble-full of hop-laced coffee from a pot fashioned from a farmer's bucket. Janus then looked
over at the seated girls and nodded to show he was approaching the crux of the dilemma.

"These poor ladies were abducted, sold and brought here to become devotees to what they above failed to conceive themselves..."
he said softly. "...They were to be given a potion and trained to be what those same dastards acerbically call worshippers" he added
and stared at the little Witch he had heard admiral comments about.

Apart from her introduction, Peggy hadn't said anything all the way through Janus' elucidation and now clearing her throat, she felt
that words might not be enough. Standing up beneath the shadow of the giant, she moved her bare feet across the hand-prodded
clippy-rug and looked at each of the girls individually. Young village colleens, carriers of the fragrance men will kill for and where
hearts melt when encountered.

"Considerin' what yer've been through, Ah'd say yon Mister Mockingbird has been a blessing', would yer' nay' agree?" the serious
-looking sorceress whispered and offered a benign smile. "But with the same fella's help, Ah' think we should have yer' home before
yer' can say Ja..." Peggy's assurance was halted as Albert Hobson moaned his way out of his faint. Slowly sitting up, he sluggishly
gazed around the room until his eyes met the gigantic form sitting on a wooden chair. Like a felled-pine tree, Albert keeled over once
more and dangled over the edge of the couch.

Janus stood up and rearranged the lad so that his blood didn't make his head into a tomato. "Oh and before I forget, please tell me
you've noticed the differences in the eyes of your friend here and the damsels that were stolen from their homes?" the Hyder asked
during his chore. Peggy peered at the back of the giant until he turned around and glared her simmering annoyance at the massive
curious face.

"Yer' mean, Albert isn't originally from the Pooker community?" she hissed and had to catch herself from racing out of the Hyder's
home and wreaking her wrath on Brenna and her unscrupulous gang. Janus' compassionate eyes showed that he understood her
anger and approaching the woman he could pick up with one hand, felt his next revelation would only deliver more fuel for the little
Witch's rage. Still, all of this was about the abuse of trust and who was he to emulate the Pooker's deceitful behaviour?

"I believe the one you know as Brenna is the last of the authentic Pookers, but the rest are just like Catherine, Greta and Gretchen..."
Janus said and turned to retrieve Peggy's empty draught. "...Lost children who don't even know it" he added absently and went to
wash out his sewing thimble.
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#11
Alaric Hobson shivered on the sticky branch of what he believed was the tallest Pine tree in the plantation and waited for the dawn.
After escaping Mockingbird's lair and managing to avoid the the usually-even-tempered brute's rage for one night, he didn't rate his
chances of succeeding further considering the simple factors of his age and the poor-developed plan.

After the giant's thankfully-fruitless search for him, Alaric had accepted that he was too-old to be climbing trees and wiping his nose
on his sap-smeared and dirt-smudged orange smock, he deliberated on what to do next. He couldn't be certain, but he believed that
two months had passed since the huge man had appeared in the cavern where he'd been indoctrinating the newcomers. It had been
working so well up until then, the Pook-Hill community were being revitalised and money had been flowing in nicely, thank you.

Granted, Victor Boone had forced his hand when purchasing the damned-ale along with the children as some-sort of cover when he
delivered the kids, but if it hadn't been for that uppity bitch -Brenna suggesting a further hollowing-out of the small cave for storage of
the barrels, the Hyder would have never been disturbed, the blue-coats would be mindlessly working the fields and he wouldn't be stuck
up this darned tree. If there is a God called Pook, he must be laughing his furry-backside off right now, Alaric thought and adjusted his
cold numb buttocks on his current roost.

Brenna's idea had been stupid from the start -he grumbled to himself and peering down at the misty ground, he now wished he'd never
gone along with it. The original families of the Pook Hill 'religion' had simply died-out due to Crispin Hobson's insane teachings and a
lack of pragmatic sociocultural understanding. The reason for worship was there, the physical place for a community to live was there,
but the need for a male Pooker to throw one's leg over their female partner to generate future-devotees became seen as a taint, a dark
mottle of the spiritual by use of the base-physical. 

Alaric had wasted the time he'd spent in Janus Mockingbird's company to attempt to persuade the grinning galoot that had snatched him
and the three girls of a conciliation where the giant could continue his comfortable living beneath the Pook Hill settlement and they could
continue their work. He'd even put forward that the three kidnapped juveniles could stay with the giant and thinking back now, Alaric ceded
that this had only infuriated Mockingbird further and warned the old man that his devious words could steer him towards a nasty end.
It was then, Alaric had planned -with urgency, his escape.

A league beyond the boundary-line of the Pook Hill property, there was a small gorge where most of the soil from the excavation had been
secretly distributed and now the overgrown ravine had been raised by a considerable level. Alaric, Brenna, five other Red-Smocks and a
number of the more-dim-witted Blue-smocks had been involved in hollowing out the cavern and unknown to all at the time, this forgotten
gulch was where the hidden entrance to a Hyder's retreat was situated.

If only they'd spread the soil across their own land -Alaric mused and turned his tired bald head in the direction of the Pook Hill houses,
if only the primary group of those who built those houses had made their beds rhythmically creak and produced children, he wouldn't be
sitting here like a dumb owl. But the same ravine had given him a route to escape and fleeing through the moon-lit hop fields towards the
only place he could think of at the time, Alaric had ended-up here. Cold, exhausted and in a world of confusion.

Sniffing in the cold morning air, the old man wracked his brains on what the end-game may look like. There was no way he could re-insert
himself back into the community without a fair explanation that would undoubtedly require further investigation. Even the drug-induced Red
-Tunic Elders that had been in on the beer-storing scheme would be suspicious if he suddenly turned up at the Meeting Hall and casually
related that he had escaped from the massive hands of a underground-dwelling Ogre living beneath their very feet.

What Brenna had told the community he was still unaware of, but believing her guile would've demanded a reason that would be vague and
yet, have a ring of authenticity to it, the shivering old man wondered if it would be enough -along with what she and Alaric had been adding
to the Pook Hill community's daily drink, to placate their natural instincts of finding their missing leader.

A late-Summer's dawn begrudgingly came to sizzle away the damp mist beneath the pine plantation and begin to make shadows beneath
the chilly director sitting in the tree. Today was a riddle and already, Alaric could see it wasn't to be a good one.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#12
It's never nice to see someone adjust to a reality they'd never believed existed or effected them, but as Peggy Powler watched
Albert Hobson sitting among the overgrown tussocks of grass of the little gorge and come to terms with who he wasn't, the Last
Witch of Underhill felt another pang of rage for what certain parties at Pook Hill had been up to. Namely, Brenna and Alaric.

Pressing Janus Mockingbird further as the Hyder had stirred a breakfast of porridge for the three girls, the little sorceress had
discovered that the presumed leader she'd met when requested to expel a Manticore had been 'grabbed' from the settlement
just as Brenna and the other Elders of the village had implied.

But the dramatic capture hadn't been as exciting as the sullen-faced woman in the red-attire had vaguely described and Peggy
had only realised from an off-the-cuff comment during the easy-going giant's supposition, the 'through-the-wooden-wall' abduction
of Alaric Hobson hadn't even taken place last Winter, a pure fabrication from someone with limited imagination!

Only a few weeks before the seated confused young man currently processing the potion-induced fraudulent life he'd found himself
in, had made his way across a field of barley to ask for Peggy's help, the old man had been returning from a meeting with the person
who acquired the children to replace the dwindling population of Pook Hill. This trader of children had insisted the trio of girls were
to be concealed in one of the barrels that the Orange-hued-smock wearer had been urged to purchase. It was during Alaric's journey
home that the Hyder had made his move on those who threatened to destroy his private home.

Brenna had only discovered had what happened when Ransom the Donkey had clip-clopped his way back into Pook Hill and browsed
the already clipped-grass beneath the rusting gibbet in the village centre. The cart was missing along with its passenger and the cargo
that only the inflexible spitfire and her nearest adherents knew about. The secret had been contained for a couple of weeks until those
who congregated at the Meeting Hall came to realise that something needed to be done to allay the concerns of the novices who were
asking questions.

Albert Hobson was instructed to go to Banewood and inquire of the little Witch who'd solved a previous problem. As it turned out, the
Fates that Peggy Powler knew were playing a prominent role in her wandering lifestyle, had already moved the relevant chess-pieces
into place to make the lad's quest easier. The rest...? Well, you were there, you know what happened!
...................................................

"What do I do now?" Albert asked in a whisper that took Peggy by surprise, she'd been collating what she knew and wondering the
same the question regarding herself and fixing the ghastly situation. The quiet backdrop of the overgrown shallow ravine -well away
from the bottled-up and disciplined place Albert had called home, seemed to have assisted in driving out the apathetic drug-demon
that the young man had carried with him. Albert Hobson had gone and another Albert -maybe a teenager who had a life ahead of
him that once contained great deeds, now sat in the serene clove of wild elderberries, tall grass and Rosemary.

Peggy adjusted the satchel's strap on her shoulder and felt the despair coming off the lad. "Aye, it's a bugger all reet, Yer've found
out who yer' are now and yer' track to a future looks a dauntin' one..." she replied gently. A jittery Song Thrush mildly objecting to
the intrusion of the thigh-revealing woman siting on a rock too close to where his spouse had a nest, concurred in its own clucking
manner. "...But Yer' not alone, the three lasses are in the same..." she was about to say 'barrel', but deemed it inappropriate and so
continued with "... in the same muddle as yer'self" Peggy knew the word 'predicament, but it was not of her usual vocabulary.

Gazing around at the dense undergrowth that had survived and thrived after the contents of the Pooker cavern had been deposited
in the sunken gully, the little Witch wondered again at what her days would've been like if she'd refused to follow Albert. As she mused
on this unanswerable riddle, Peggy glimpsed the unmistakable movement behind a bunch of nettles on the far-bank of one of her own.

It seemed even here, the Fae once again observed the terrible way humans treated their own kind and being the viaduct between the
Good-Folk and those who practice such evil acts of forced-servitude, Peggy Powler reluctantly made her decision on how to solve the
trouble of Pook Hill.
...................................................

With the majority of the Blue-Smocks tying back the hop tendrils, raking the soil beneath the bines and generally being overseen by
their Green-vested superiors, Alaric Hobson took a chance and made for the safety of the Meeting House. Landing poorly from his
descent of the last night's concealment, the old man limped along in the gloom of the plantation and hoped none of the dullards would
notice his stumbling flight towards his cohort in a plan he'd been cajoled into creating.

The carpet of dried pine needles crackled their voices of "here is the Judas of children" as the stooped bald-headed leader of Pook
Hill hobbled through the corridor of branchless rows of conifers and every step accused him of his treachery loudly. "Oh Brenna, you
better have a way of getting us out of this" Alaric hissed in his journey to an imagined haven. The large building could just be glimpsed
as neared the end of the orderly wood and gasping from his exertion, the bald man pulled the orange tunic over that same hairless head
just as he arrived at the edge of the plantation.

Panting beneath the brittle twigs that had kept Janus Mockingbird from finding him, Alaric prayed to any deity listening that he could
traverse the few yards to the Meeting Hall unseen. Maybe the odd Pooker who wasn't consigned to working the fields wouldn't realise
who he was if he just -wearing just a plain-brown under-vest and knee-length underpants, walked directly to the largest structure in the
community and ignored any Red-Smock who might be about on this work-day morning. Taking in a large gulp of air in some strange
form of self-adamancy, Alaric Hobson ran like the betrayer the dead foliage had blamed him of.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#13
Great story !    You might like this. 

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#14
(03-19-2022, 02:45 PM)bluemooone2 Wrote: Great story !    You might like this. 

Thank you, Mr Pratchett is a great author.
minusculethumbsup

...................................................

"No..." said Brenna Hobson stated bluntly as she rushed from window to window, "...you're just an idiot and if the others find out,
it'll be me and you hanging that stupid cage you insisted on". Being a week-day, the Red-Smocks that the furious woman was
referring to were busy with their regular administrative work regarding the sale of hops and the purchases required to maintain
the supposedly-religious community of Pook  Hill.

After a few moments of scanning the quiet houses and the main trail running down to the hop fields, Brenna believed that none of
the nosy scribblers or field-labour had seen Alaric's entry into the Meeting House. Turning to see the half-naked old man standing
like a convicted criminal, she gave vent to what she thought about the whole situation.

"Do you know what you've done...?" she whispered and narrowed her eyes at the once-hallowed leader. "...Losing the next votaries
was bad enough, but we paid for them too. That means if those kids ever get to another town or village and tell what they know, we
-that's you and me, Alaric Pottle, will not see the light of day again".

Brenna had never used Alaric's true surname before and to the sullen man catching his breath at the well-waxed conference table,
he knew it meant they were in deep feculence regarding his and the girls' capture. Causing the hanging  wind-catchers to stir on
the beams above them both, the stone-faced Red-Smock strode defiantly over to the blank wall at the far-end of the room and
touched one of the wooden planks. "I should let you shiver to death, but they'll crucify me for that too" she muttered.

Plucking a garment off a pile of similar-coloured ones from inside the hidden cupboard, Brenna hissed "here, put this on" and
nonchalantly tossed the dark-blue smock towards her accomplice in the crimes of kidnapping, drugging and fraud. Alaric caught
the smock and knew it was no accident that he'd been demoted by the woman watching him from across the room. The Hyder
had caused all of these woes and if they'd only left the giant... his thoughts trailed off as Brenna hissed once more.

"You've earned it" she said absently and gazed out of the nearest window to where she was currently fuming.
...................................................

Peggy Powler thanked the Brownie known as Fenod and returned to the boulder where she'd been sat. Albert Hobson seemed to
have to come to terms with his predicament and was peering into the hollowed-out channel that led back to Janus Mockingbird's
abode. "By Herne, Ah' need that..." the little Witch said with a sigh "...yon giant's cups of coffee went reet through me" she added
and glanced at the lad to see if he suspected anything.

Fenod had been living in the ravine for many Summers and had personally witnessed the ruination of his environment. The little
Fae had vouched for the Hyder's good behaviour and told of a couple of instance where he believed the well-disposed giant was
aware of the Brownie's presence and yet, never attempted association. "He's one of those who likes to keep himself to himself,
but considering how Hyders have been hunted to almost extinction, who can blame him?" Fenod Tarragon had appended.

When asked for any prompts on the human community nearby, the little raggedy Elf's face had  twisted as if he'd just chewed on
young wood-sorrel. "Rascals of the worst kind, they'd be..." Fenod imparted from the side of his mouth, "...not fit to work the soil
and live off the land". Glancing over to where the tall slim young man was musing on his newly-found truths, the Brownie continued
with what he knew about the people of Pook Hill.

"When they first built the houses, planted the pine plantation and began to fence off their fields, I ignored them and guessed the
giant did too.  But when they started tipping their dirt here..." Fenod waved a grime-smudged hand towards the base of the gulch,
"...well, that was when I took to checking what they were up to" he added with his voice lowered.

Realising she'd been away from the wool-gathering ex-devotee to Pook a little too long, Peggy kept an eye on Albert as he stirred
from his grass-squashed seat. "Do yer' care te' tell me what yer' found durin' yer gander?" she asked quickly with a sly smile.
The Brownie rubbed his chin and dramatically surveyed their surrounding for eaves-droppers, an act that was indicative of those
who like to talk, but rarely find others to talk to.

"That new place they built..." Mr Tarragon whispered with a lean towards the Witch's bare leg, "...it's where they keep all their
gains from the growing and a bottle of some stuff they pour into their drinking-well". A solemn nodding assured Peggy that what
the little Fae said was beyond contestation. "There's a battle-axe of human who presides over them and she has a tongue that'd
make a deacon's watch-chain freeze..." Fenod added eyed the movements of the young man walking aimlessly towards the open
tunnel to the genial Hyder's home.

"...Be wary of that woman, Miss Powler, her hidden closet holds not just the many bags of nummas, but a loaded crossbow too"
he warned and decided the hairs on the back of his neck were becoming too itchy due to Albert Hobson's presence. The Last Witch
of Underhill copied the Brownie's early action and nodded. "Aye, she's a bugger that one" Peggy mumbled -more to herself than
her fellow-Fae scampering away into the wild boscage.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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