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Peggy Powler & The Missing Children.
"Fair travels" the man called from his sail-flapping Coble and the small woman dipping her bare feet in the warm estuary water
answered with the standard and appropriate reply. "Tight sheets and a clear wake, Sir" Peggy Powler offered along with a slight

The small boat continued its journey under the hot morning sun and as the clothed-capped man went back to his chores, the last
Witch of Underhill soaked in the serenity of this Summer Saturday. The surrounding salt marshes hinted that high tides were rare
visitors to the parish of St Martin's and as Peggy begrudgingly set her mind back to the problem in hand, a passing breeze brushed
some nearby reeds in an attempt to distract the small woman.

Ten children had gone missing over two years, all girls of a particular age and all disappearing in the evening. The families of St Martin's
had pressed the county's constabulary to investigate and apart from a silly superstition, no theory for the vanishings had been arrived at.
That was a month ago.

The idea of a Woodwose had grabbed the girls was a stupid one, Peggy knew a great deal of these elusive forest beings and invasion
of a household had never been known by those who understood the ways of the ambiguous creatures. There were wooded areas around
the village and there is enough herbage to sustain a small community of Woodwose, but apart from the footprint beside a small stream
that one of St Martin's residents had found, Peggy believed the proposal of a focused kidnapping by these hairy beasts belonged to the

No, something else was going on in St Martin's and the diminutive sorceress guessed it was more mundane than shaggy arms snatching
adolescent females from their beds. The small boat was reaching the edge of the Great Sea as Peggy Powler rose from her comfortable
seat, adjusted her pointy hat and set her own sails to continue the requested examination.

Freshly-washed bare feet trod confidently along the dusty track that led towards the area that the footprint was discovered and beneath
the shade of her wide-brimmed hat, the middle-aged necromancer pondered the variables involving the stolen children
What was their worth...? What abilities can a young girl provide? True, regular birthing had validity and Peggy had heard of such a situation
where a crazy male had built such a terrible 'family'. In fact, she'd later attended the man's hanging after finding the terrified girls stashed
in a cave up in the Grey Wolf mountains.

The coolness of the foliage was welcoming as Peggy stepped into the charitably-called greenwood, a 'copse' would be more accurate she
thought as she followed the small stream that ran through it. Ferns and wild Gingers carpeted the moist soil and the layer of dust that Peggy's
feet had acquired from the path now became sticky with the sun-starved earth.

It was only a minute later that the Witch came across the only alleged evidence that a seven-foot beast had taken up residence of the sleepy
coterie of St Martin's and at a glance, the obvious fakery caused Peggy to smile and stifle a giggle. To the uninitiated of folklore and ancient
races of the land, the large footprint could be taken as proof that a large lumbering wriggling-girl-carrying creature had passed this way.
It wasn't too-bad a fabrication.

The smile remained as small woman in the green poncho crouched to examine the single impression in the bank of the bubbling beck and
resisted the need to utter the query "Did he hop out of here?!" Large toes carved out with fingers and a heel that was obviously created with
the palm of the hand, the forgery hinted at a scheme Peggy knew she was way behind of and a plan she needed to catch-up on quickly.
This was man-made.

But Peggy's fading grin altered into a tight-lipped line of concentration as she peered closer to the footprint, there was another footmark here.
With her nose almost touching the mud and her bare-behind exposed to anyone passing, the Witch observed the faint trace of a smaller
impression, maybe the mark of a young person.

Getting to her feet, Peggy Powler wondered if a return to the small hamlet of St Martin's should be her first stop on the trail of the missing girls.

When Peggy had first arrived at the village close to the coast, she was well-impressed by the layout of the white-plastered cottages and
the single paved-road that led to the reason for the community's name. Local history offers that a renowned holy man had been travelling
Calder's Way on a unspecified pilgrimage and came across a well-manicured plateau of grassed land surrounded by large standing-stones.

Not wishing to leave this ancient place without the blessing of his God, the venerated monk began his benediction. That was when the true
owners of the property appeared from the gloom of the surrounding cedars. Druids. The usual scenarios were rolled-out with displays of
magic and legends thrown as justifiable reasons why the sacred ground should remain within the Soothsayers' command.

Unusual for such stories, the roving priest agreed with the white-robed group of Magus and asking for the name of the hallowed domain,
the Elder of the Druids countered the query by asking the preacher's title. The response was 'St Martin' and so the leader of the mystical
religion proclaimed the flat lawn-like place of aged stones would now be known as St Martin's O' The Lawn. The latter-village's full name.

Peggy had spent the Friday afternoon with the nearest-title to a Mayor, a overweight man who bore the accolade 'Village Chief'.
The ruddy-faced gent in the faded tweed suit and sideburns that would rival those of a Woodwose explained the whole situation regarding
the disappearances of the youngsters. Sitting behind a gnarled desk in his dusty-but obtrusive home that doubled as the nearest thing to a
town hall, retired-major Horace Evans gave the impression that all avenues of investigation had been checked and all possible speculations
had been fully dowsed. It was a true mystery.

The first to be taken was Harriet Heron, a mousy-haired girl who lived with her grandmother. To bring income to the adopted home, Harriet
had advertised that she was willing to repair clothes and laundry if need be. It had been the eve of the Summer Fete and the quaint people of
St Martin festooned the monoliths with bunting and set long tables in the centre of the henge. Accounts say that Harriet took part in preparing
the festivities and the actual gaily-coloured flags that flapped in the warm evening breeze, were her contribution to the gala.

The preparations were done, everyone went home and Harriet Heron never made it to her grandmother's house. That was it.

As the regimental would-be Mayor droned on with his narrative regarding the other girls, Peggy's mind stayed with the initial disappearance.
The beginning always held the real reason and any pre-set statements held little clues, she needed to talk to the villagers.

Peggy had decided to enjoy her lunch in the solitude of the countryside before visiting the twenty-or-so inhabitants of the tidy hamlet, only
because of the weather and the perfect surroundings. The sea was now over a mile away and could still be seen from the hillock that was
now doubling as a dining area. The magical satchel that Peggy always carried with her had produced a canteen of cool spring water and
a wax-paper-wrapped sandwich jammed with aromatic cheeses.

A hawthorn hedge that blocked the view to the village assured some privacy and a cheerful blackbird that lived in the long line of bushes
offered a pleasant melody in his territory-claim. Peggy ate her meal with relish and ruminated on her current quandary.

Saturday afternoon sneaked in quickly and the Witch's need to interrogate the residents of St Martin's resisted the urge to allow her leave
the tranquil place of rest. Faint braying of sheep added to the peaceful nature of the atmosphere and pulling her hat over her eyes, Peggy
convinced herself that a ten-minute nap would only help in the future inquiries.

"Ma'am...?" the voice from beyond the shadows of the hat asked, "...I don't wish to disturb you, but have we need of your bedding-area"
the polite tones stated. The drowsy enchanter lifted the rim of her headwear and peered with half-lidded eyes at the two-foot-tall man
standing near her left shoulder. It was a Bogle, a wary -but smiling, creature that was known to reside alongside humans and often assist
in a human's tasks of maintaining a home.

Peggy slowly moved from her prone position and the Bogle retreated as she moved. "I recognise you from the stories my ancestors handed
down and I apologise for waking you" explained the little man in the dark-blue tunic and ragged pants. Getting to her feet, the yawning Peggy
realised that time had cheated her, the day had almost gone.

"My name is Juno and we..." the knee-high visitor waved a hand towards the shadows of the hawthorn hedge, " friends and I usually
take supper here on this hillock. By the way, it's a honour to meet you Ms Powler" Juno added and broadened his smile.
Peggy gathered her wool-wrapped thoughts and took stock of the intruder of her slumber, sleep that she thought she hadn't needed.
"Thank you for your courtesy and please accept my apologies for my unintended trespass" she said with a dry-throat. Juno flinched as she
reached for the canteen on the grass, but saw that the famous poncho-wearing magician meant no harm.

The sky was still blue, but an early evening azure now held sway in the heavens. Peggy grimaced inwardly and wondered where she would
spend the night. The countryside was not on the menu, but glancing over her shoulder she realised by the odd lantern light in the village that
it wasn't too late to make a visit.

"Do you know anything of the children vanishing in these parts?" Peggy asked the tolerant Bogle who was busy trying to coax his comrades
from the darkness of the bushes and with wide-eyes, he halted his task for the question. "No Ma'am, it's a tragic human business that we
have purposely steered of..." Juno answered "...but I'll wager there's no majick involved" he added enigmatically.

Straightening her hat, Peggy bid the Bogle and his hidden friends fair travels and adjusting the strap of her faithful canvas rucksack, she
set off for St Martin's O' The Lawn.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=953]
"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
That is a cool story so far. Now I want to read more.
(04-17-2021, 02:51 AM)ABNARTY Wrote: That is a cool story so far. Now I want to read more.

Very well.

Kittie Bretton placed her bare feet on her bedroom floor and waited for the tell-tale creak that would alert her Mother downstairs.
As the twelve year-old increased her weight onto the smooth-planed wooden boards, Kittie smiled to herself when she realised
she was also holding her breath.

The Summer night was calling to her again and delicately making her way from the bed to the lead-lined window that looked out
towards the sea, the younger sister of Maggie Bretton -who was taken last fall, breathed in the fragrance from their little cottage

The dark-blue Delphiniums nodded in the occasional breeze as they sat among a bed of pink Phlox and her mother's favourite,
the Foxgloves, stood like a waiting audience to see what would happen next. Gently lifting the window-latch, Kittie allowed her
eyes to be drawn to the panorama of colour below.

The young evening seemed magical to the thin girl with the straw-coloured hair.
Kittie's village lay almost two miles from the Great Sea and from where she currently stood at the half-open window, her eyes
that rivalled the Delphiniums' hue could just pick out the storm lanterns of the out-going fishing boats.
The scent of the Jasmine that huddled under the privot hedges along the sides of the cobbled lane out of St. Martin's wafted
across Kittie's nostrils and seemed to urge the girl to look further out of the window.

She did, just has she had done for the past four nights until Kittie would notice the glow from the downstairs light disappear
and leave the cottage garden in darkness. Then her magical world would be over when it was also assured of it's finishing by
Kittie's mother's footfalls on the stairs.

But for now, the evening belonged to Kittie Bretton and possibly... maybe, the approaching figure coming from the meadow.
Watching the small silhouette making it's way beside the heavy gorse bushes that corralled the infamous pasture where Maggie
had supposedly stolen two years ago, Kittie struggled to keep her thoughts of who this might be rather than dwell on the memories
of that terrible Autumnal night.

The countryside was warned as dangerous. No child was allowed to play there and certainly no girl could visit the fields and woodland
without an adult accompanying. Kittie wondered if the little stranger -in what now she realised was a large floppy hat, had observed
the ruthless monster lurking in the undergrowth.

Mentally tossing out the sad thoughts into the warm evening's gloom, Kittie turned her head from the left and scanned the small lane
that led away from the only place she had ever known. The off-white sea-stones of the single lane seemed ethereal in the oncoming
dusk and as the blue eyes of the girl followed the bone-coloured road that made it's way through the tall cedars towards the strange
plateau, she pondered on what her mother had said that morning about the dwindling occupants of thatched houses known as
St. Martins O' The Green.

The village comprised of only eighteen families now since the work was sparse out here in the county of Abbot's Mount. Because
farming only required seasonal employment and St. Martins was too far from the sea for the fishing option, many of the residents
of St. Martins had moved out to either the industrial town of Kersham or the mining community of Toole.
The disappearances of the girls also hadn't helped.

There were twenty buildings that made up the village and two weeks ago, Connie Marrs' cottage had become the latest empty house
when the woman -who's daughter had repaired clothes and created the quilt that currently occupied Kittie's bed, was said to left in
search of a better income in Durridge. Joannie Marrs had been the fourth victim.

Kittie and her mother would stay, her father had died when she had been a baby and when Kittie had occasionally inquired about him
to her older sister, Maggie had just said it was something that involved a war. Even at her age, Kittie knew it was a subject that she
shouldn't bring up with her mother and since the wound of losing her oldest daughter was still raw, Kittie's assumption had
been reinforced.
Best to just enjoy her magical evenings and the leave the past to the past.

Jack Bulmer's dozing sheep now resided in a field closer to the sea due to what Kittie had overheard two nights ago about how a
passing tinker had seen someone prowling about in the area that the stranger was approaching from. Could this be the 'someone'
coming for the village's next casualty?

Glancing once more to check on the dark shape that was heading towards the wooden gate that usually prohibited Farmer Bulmer's
sheep from consuming the contents of her mother's garden, Kittie focused back on the serene place beneath the line of cedars that
hid the lawn from the main road branded Calder's Way.

It held a strange aura, this rabbit-clipped grass that spread across nearly an acre of level land and the guardian-like trees that shadowed
the lawn. No one had ever built their home on the surreal plain and nobody had ever considered allowing their sheep to graze on it.

Yet, there it was. A plateau that implied it was once a hill and Kittie's imagination tugged to be let free of what may have created the
greensward. The legends had been poured over by herself and her older sister -before the horrible deed of course, and it had always
been a bone of contention to which was true.

Maggie had believed the tale that a Giant called Mellifor had fought with the sea serpent named Old Figgur sometimes told by the
fishermen who lived down in Durridge. The families would come to St. Martins when the village held the Summer fete on the lawn
-a celebration thar was two weeks from today, and some of the older men of Durridge would refill their flagons with mead and tell
their yarns to the children until the sun drew shadows from the surrounding cedars.

It was said that Mellifor swung the long-bodied creature above his head and in his verve, tore off the top of a hill that kept the worst
of the inland weather away from a settlement where Druids supposedly dwelt. The herculean man of fable had hurled Old Figgur
beyond the horizon and the uprooted soil had accompanied the monster out to sea to form the little island to the east called Caine's Holf.

But Kittie put her faith in the other story that she'd listened to at the feet of the grizzled man in the filthy sou'wester bonnet and
well-patched, two-sizes-too-big dungarees. Salty Elijah Cole had a better potboiler that told of majick, warlocks and witches.

Kittie grasped the window-sill tighter and stretched her slender neck to see the main character of old Elijah's folk tale, but the the
empty house that once belonged to the family of the village's only brewer hid the gnarled chunks of stones that stood at the nearest
part of the lawn.

The circle of tall monoliths had been built -if you believe the grubby, ancient man without teeth and a penchant for the brew, in tribute
for the great Magician called Phinneas The Cunning.

It was said that it began in a time before towns and villages had reached this part of the land, when huge beasts roamed the open spaces
between the massive forests and the deep, deadly sea. Elijah could be sometimes coaxed into elaborating on the creatures that brooded
in the darkness of the woods and swam in the waters just off where Durridge now sat.

Extracting such detail usually required one of the children visiting the wooden beer-keg with the retired fisherman's empty mug and hoping
the other adults at the Fete didn't notice.

"Aye, there'd be grizzled fiends about the land..." Elijah would growl with a wink. "...And the worst of 'em was Accam Dey, the foul wolf
from the Catskill mountains" he'd growl and take another gulp of his beer. "Ah've heard it said that even the Witches of Underhill were
wary to tread here..." he'd add as he surveyed his awe-faced audience sitting on the grass.
"...but only Phinneas dared to face the brute that could talk like a man" the little girl would hear and ignore the belch.

Kittie felt the sudden need to look back at the approaching newcomer at the edge of the bare field and in doing so, pulled herself back into
the safety of the bedroom. Whoever it was, they walked with the impression of intent. The figure had clambered over the gate was now on
the small track that would pass her cottage that bordered the village.

A few moments later, the small person in the wide-rimmed hat clicked open the cottage gate and placed an unshod foot onto the rectangular
stones placed in a herringbone design that patterned the garden path. Young Kittie used all her stealth to half-close the window without a
sound, but there was something the little girl in her dead sister's nightgown will never know and never appreciate the symmetry of her earlier
As Kittie held her breath during her clandestine task, it was the face of the stranger beneath the hat brim that was smiling in the knowing.

The knocking on the door brought everything back into a reality that forced any magical narratives to flee out into the warm summer's evening
and nudge Kittie back towards her bed. But she didn't, instead she flicked her mouse-brown hair to one side and leaned towards the narrow
gap of the open window.

The sound of the deadbolts and the creak of the door ajar announced that the stranger was somehow expected and with Kittie Bretton's brow
twisting into a puzzled frown, she heard the words "Me-name is Peggy Powler and 'Ah'm the last of the Underhill Witches... 'Ah believe yer'
have a problem?".
[Image: attachment.php?aid=953]
"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
The clock on the mantle-piece ticked it's hypnotic tattoo that only those with consumption and the twitching ears of a
midnight mouse can fully appreciate. The steady mocking cadence of man-made time told Peggy Powler of many
things that would usually go amiss to a regular visitor to the cottage.

The Witch in the crumpled-crowned, wide-rimmed hat and grubby green poncho peered at the ledge above the fire
and searched for more clues to why she'd felt drawn to this home. Peggy breathed slowly through her nose and adjusted
the strap of the large bag on her shoulder.

Glancing towards the kitchen where Mary Bretton was busy making a pot of tea, Peggy knew not to release the burden until
asked to. Since her days at the Carnival with her Mother, the almost-five-foot woman had kept to the code of the Spellbinders
and this late-Summer's evening would be no exception.

'Tick-tock' the clock offered and almost hid the small sound on the stairs, but Peggy caught it and pulling her eyes from the
ornaments on the mantle-piece, she also estimated the owner of the creak was light. Possibly a child.

The thatched house held two rooms downstairs and the wooden stairs divided them. Ash and lime plaster coated the walls
behind the many fading hand-stitched tapestries, well-worn corn dollies and a sprig of dried lavender.
Above the bare-footed woman who was more used to being outside than enjoying the warmth of a hearth fire, thick wooden
beams held an off-white and slightly spider-webbed ceiling.

"Would yer' take of some food, Miss Powler?" Mary called from the kitchen and Peggy's focus on who the listener on the stairs
may have been was broken for a moment. But dismissing the notion that whoever made the sound could be a nosy Elf or irked
Brownie, she only answered when she had stepped closer to the stairwell.

"Nay, thank you Ma'am..." Peggy said easily "...But iff'n yer' child is still awake, might be a slice of honey-bread would help her
sleep?" the smiling Fee added. This time the slight creak was of someone turning on the stairs to leave.

Peggy placed a dirt-smudged foot onto the clippy-rug in the corridor where both rooms and the stairs met and slowing turned her
head to see into the upstairs shadows. The small dark shape stared back, but remained a statue.

"It's said that children who wander at this hour are changelings who were born on the midnight..." the soft voice from beneath the
large hat commented. "...Could the gloom on these steps be such a creature?"
For the second time this evening, Kittie-the-shadow held her breath.

"You're supposed to be in bed, young lady..." Kittie's mother called from the little kitchen and closing the space to where her guest
was peering up the stairs, she added "...and yer've had yer' supper"

The mousy-haired woman with the wooden tray winked at the Witch from Underhill and continued her journey into the place she called
the sitting-room with a tray of hot tea and her Grandmother's finest china crockery.

Kittie waited a whole minute before she descended the stairs with her mouse feet and peeked into the room. There near the fire, the
small woman that had walked the summer's eve smiled at the girl she had seen watching her trek.

"The night's majick calls to yer' bones, little-one?" Peggy said softly and receiving a timid nod from the little intruder with the well-brushed
hair, the Witch did her party-trick with her hat. Placing a thumb into her mouth, Peggy knew that this act was always an ice-breaker and
many times, it had the ability to put people at ease.

The sorceress' eyes never left the small girl in the too-large night-dress as she puffed her cheeks and blew onto her thumb. The hat shuffled
on the Witch's head as if woken from a long slumber and then like wavering flower finding the spring sun, it rose until it added another
foot-and-a-half of height to the woman from Underhill.

"Abracadabra" Peggy whispered from under it's brim and enjoyed the look of awe from the girl with the beautiful blue eyes.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=953]
"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
Wonderful story so far  tinybigeyes 

Thank you for sharing.
Mary Bretton stood watching the small woman sitting at the only table in the room and wondered what kind of
life Peggy Powler has lived before coming to St Martin's. During their talk, the widow had also pondered if it would
be appropriate to ask famous Witch to spend the night under her roof.
Although she was not used to having guests, one didn't dare deny the last Witch of Underhill a bed.
The neighbours were sparse, but still, what would they think?

"Where will yer' be sleeping tonight?" Mary asked during a small space of silence in the consultation and was
surprised by the reply. She'd chattered on so much about the residents of the village, a rare act for the lonely
dowager, that time had slipped by like a cheeky sugar-stealing Pixie.

Peggy had been mulling over the information that her host had imparted and for a moment, the small living-room
waited alongside the weary Bretton-Senior and the half-asleep Bretton-Junior for a response. It would be a poor
gambler that would've lost his shirt on the reply.

"'Ah'll be be spending the night up on the Green" the Witch murmured as if her mind was still assembling Mrs Bretton's
comments, there was something there... some connection between the missing children. However, Peggy's scrutiny on
what she'd heard and what she'd been asked, didn't blind her from noticing Kittie's worried gaze.

"They say great magic resides amongst the stones..." the now-alert girl whispered, "...they say Phinneas The Cunning
fought the horrible wolf..." she continued until her mother cut her off. "Enough with the foolishness of a drunkard, me-girl
and it's time you were sound asleep". Mary Bretton's voice was stern and strong, a rare show of emotion in a house of
loss. The clock above the dying fire ignored the silent scene.

Peggy reached for her hat and at the same time, checked to see if her teacup was empty. "Aye lass, 'Ah've heard the
tales..." she said and rose from her seat at the table. "...Phinneas was a great one" she added without conviction in
her words. Something that didn't go unnoticed by the other two females.

To lighten the mood, Peggy asked about the beautiful well-stitched hangings on the wall as she hoisted her large bag
onto her shoulder. There were four, all with colours that told of countryside and a life of rural tranquillity.

The tapestry nearest the cottage door displayed a scene that was obviously taken from a view from this actual house.
The sea-stone lane, the surrounding foliage and at the top of the arras, the lawn with its tall monoliths looking like fangs
against the darkness of the trees behind them.

Mary Bretton smiled sadly and stepped-up beside the smaller woman in the green poncho. "Ah yes, places where one
can lose themselves" she said softly. The pair gazed at the threaded vistas, one soaking in the peaceful landscapes
whilst the other ruminating on the gossip revealed earlier.

"How Maggie stitched such beauty is beyond me" Mary murmured and somewhere under the Witch's floppy hat, a faint
spark told Peggy to remember that comment.

The last Bretton child was now asleep, the teapot was empty and midnight was an inch of candle away.
The sacred place that gave the dying village its name awaited and Peggy Powler had some thinking to do.
With a thank you at the door and patting hand on the shoulder of the sad woman who brewed weak tea, the bare-footed
Wizard set off for -what some may consider, her bedroom.

"It's a bit late for a Yetun to be out-and-about, isn't it?" Peggy said easily as she kept her eyes on the cobbled road leading
up to the well-preserved lawn. The not-quite-a-shadow beneath the hawthorn hedge failed to keep still at the comment, and
the sigh of failure only added to the creature's whereabouts.

He was around a foot tall and tentatively avoiding a nomad tulip that nodded in his passing, Treacle Thistle stepped out
from where the thorns had threatened to tear his hat. "Fair travels, Ma'am" the Fayman reluctantly greeted the small woman
scanning him in the road and for a moment, he was tempted to flee.

Treacle wore a brown felt hat that had seen better days, the brim was well-thumbed and sported a large hawthorn barb that
could leave a nasty mark if he wasn't careful. A dark-brown tunic above the obligatory moleskin pants offered a look -that with
the right conditions, could help a Yetun keep a low profile from the humans here-abouts.

Peggy was about to crouch down to keep any conversation on an even-keel when she recalled that she was naked beneath
her poncho. Midnight darkness or not, it would be unseemly for a renown sorceress to be in such a situation.

"My name is Treacle Thistle and I was just going home from visiting a sick friend.." the flustered Brag answered, but the bright
green eyes beneath the hat told otherwise. "...Please Witch, let me be on my way?" he forced his voice to be demanding, but it
still implied a plea.

He'd heard about the children going missing in the human community and it was no leap of deduction to suggest that was why
the woman standing in the lane was here. But still, it was none of his business and best to keep a nose out of it.

Peggy adjusted her satchel-strap and applied the waiting-game. A silent stare can give any Yetun the heebie-jeebies, something
her mother had told her back at the carnival. Memories of those days threatened to soften Peggy's unblinking gaze, but such a
visual study tends not to take long on breaking these types of Bogle.

"'re here about the little 'uns going missing, I overhear things" Treacle stuttered and went to nervously reach for his headwear.
The sudden movement from his taller company caused him to flinch, but the speedy motion managed to pluck the thorn from his hat
before he impaled his fingers on it. "I am" Peggy said smoothly and showed Mr. Thistle the reason for her hasty grab.

Red-cheeked and grateful, Treacle realised he was in the shadow of someone smarter than himself and maybe even part of something
he wanted to avoid. But the wicked-looking wooden spike being tossed back into the hedgerow was evidence that some-sort of
gratitude should be reciprocated.
The night waited for the unenthusiastic thanks.

"I mean no disrespect, but do you know about Chimers?" Treacle asked into the shadow of the wide-rimmed Witch's hat and the faint
-but confident, nod of affirmation told him he was dealing with no layman here. "Well, those poor souls who were taken from St Martin's
were all Chime Children, all born between the Witching... between twelve o'clock and four in the morning." the anxious Yetun supplemented.

Peggy breathed heavily through her nose, a gesture of annoyance that Treacle understood fully. Chimers held the ability to touch the other
realms of reality, to converse with spirits and in some cases, cure ailing crops and heal animals.

This wasn't about a randy Wodewose or even some lurking Gypsy with a mind to sell children, this was deeper. The Bogle called Juno had
earlier said he doubted 'majick' was involved, but standing to her full height on the path to the monoliths, Peggy now wondered if something
darker had come to St Martin's O' The Lawn.
Something from the Other-side.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=953]
"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
The dawn was almost ready to carry the day as Peggy Powler peeked from beneath the flap of her satchel and sighed
from her troubled sleep. After saying goodnight to the nervous Treacle Thistle, she'd eventually decided to take her rest
on the edge of the monolith-strewn lawn, next to the gate of entry.

The large bag that Peggy always carried with her doubled as her sleeping aide, a place where she could enjoy warmth
and know that no beholding to house-dwellers would be needed. The Witch of Underhill had never attempted to discover
the magic of the satchel, the large leather container had always provided what she needed and when the darkness came,
was always empty and ready for slumber.

Except last night, such rest took some time to hunt down.
Chime-Children, the circle of stones, the odd footprint and something she couldn't quite grasp... thoughts and half-baked
theories had jostled inside Peggy's head for placing to build a plan. Staring out towards the where blackness had stolen
the sea, the sorceress had heard the imaginary voice of Mary Bretton again.
"How Maggie stitched such beauty is beyond me"
The puzzle laughed mockingly and followed Peggy down the drowsy tunnel of fitful sleep.

Sunday's chilly morning wouldn't be arriving for another half-hour and denying herself a snooze, Peggy focused on rising
and doing her ablutions. During her visit to the Major Evans, she'd noticed the water-pump in -what seemed to be, the
centre of St. Martin's, but determined that washing one's naked body in a street could cause a loss of respect.
Best to find another place.

Realising that the village was basically oval-shaped with the Brettons living at one of the elongated ends, Peggy gathered
herself, settled her faithful hat on her head and left the silent-staring of the stoic standing-stones to see if St. Martins held a
better emplacement to clean oneself.

The bushes along the lane gave an occasional rustle that Peggy believed was a bird looking for an early breakfast, no self
-respecting Boggart or sprite would dare to be out until it was certain that the owls had retired for the night.
A chirp of delight endorsed the Witch's speculation.

The residence with a barrel at its front door was the Brewer's home, It was the last domicile before the lane slipped away
up the bank to where Calder's Way awaited. The Brettons were next with their colourful garden and shadowed windows.
Kittie was in dream-land now, maybe searching for her sister.

At the point where the large gate of Farmer Bulmer's met the lane, the cobbled byway turned slightly left and passing three
more cottages, Peggy realised she was approaching what would be deemed the hub of St. Martin's. The water-pump, the
far-too long trough and a well-worn stone pedestal that may have held a statue at some point, markers of an attempt to be
a town-square.

A grocery-store leaned next to a run-down building that Peggy guessed was once a drapery, the store sign was gone except
for a rotten wooden piece that proclaimed' Madame Tar.., the rest -the half-curious Witch believed, had allowed the winter to
get its fingers in.
With a twist of her lips at her faint reflection in the dirt-smudged window lined with cobwebs, Peggy pressed on.

Passing a large badly-damaged door that she wagered was the workshop of a Blacksmith, a dark-red building loomed in the
shadows of beech trees further down the cobbled road. Like a pariah, it sat on it's own and held no banner. But the static wheel
jutting out from its rear told Peggy it was a watermill and also hinted as a good place to take a wash.

Checking that no lantern flickered in its windows or stirrings around the main door, the slight figure in the crumpled hat followed
the remains of a stone path down to where the water gurgled over the unmoving turbine. Moss grew everywhere and the quiet
Witch wondered if the mill -just like some of the stores, had been abandoned.

The flow was enough for Peggy's requirements, carefully taking off her hat and bag, the diminutive silhouette carefully clambered
down to where the splashing of falling water told Peggy was the ideal spot for bathing. Small thoughts regarding the terrain darted
through her mind as she scanned her gloomy surroundings.

The river -which a title was a bit of a push, had -though the ages, eroded a passageway in the penultimate part of its journey to
the sea. Pulling the only garment she owned over her head, Peggy wondered if the little stream where the footprint resided ran
into this poor parody of a river.

It was cold, with her well-worn poncho hanging from a ivy-wrapped outcrop of the surrounding rock walls, the naked Peggy Powler
cleaned the night away with a soft cloth from her trusty satchel. If anyone had happened to peek from one the mill's dark windows,
they'd have seen a woman who -merely due to her travelling-required trade, owned a body of high breasts, a flat stomach and
sported a tone of all-around good physical health.

But such an observation would have failed to puncture the spell-binder's ruminations. The rawness of the drenching sang through
Peggy's body and with a stoic upturned face enjoying the cascade of icy water, she arranged her thought-process to re-study the
meagre information involving the missing children.

Harriet Heron, the first child to disappear. She lived with her grandmother and recalling Major Evans' tedious chronology, Peggy
wondered if the location of their home had any relevance. The corpulent functionary had told the small Witch across his desk that
Harriet's grandmother lived in a ramshackle cabin at the rear of the cedars on the plateau. A fact that could have a bearing.

With a brisk shiver, the bare-assed necromancer stepped out of the natural shower and felt the morning air begin to dry her skin.
With her poncho -a garment that could really do with a wash itself, back over her thin shoulders, Peggy climbed onto the stony bank
to retrieve her hat and bag.

It was a welcomed mug of coffee. Granny Heron sat in the creaking rocking-chair next to her fire-hearth and watched the legendary
Witch sip at the hot brew. The day was fully awake now and the shadows of tall trees that waited just beyond the small property were
too busy trying to keep their own immediate domain in shade rather than stretch their umbra towards the shack that the old woman
called home.

"Yer'll be here to find our Harriet?" the toothless crone asked with a tone that said she already knew the answer. Peggy looked over
the rim of her steaming mug and wondered what clues lay within the old woman's almost-bald head. "Aye, me-thinks the lassie is
still alive too" Peggy replied. The room offered the same amount of hope as it's occupier and the physical and mental gloom was

What were once brightly-coloured fabrics adorning the cabin's walls now hung like dusty limp memories of autumn. Behind Granny
Heron, stretched linen on hazel poles brandished faded flowers and advertised the suffocating melancholy that now soaked the

"T'were me-own fault... lettin' the girl roam yon back woods..." the cracked-voice of the ninety year-old tendered. "...There's dark
magic back there and things a kiddie shouldn't know about". Granny's slow rocking movement lulled the time as Peggy reached for
threads of a cohesive audit . Somewhere far off, a cockerel boasted of his harem.

Putting down the half-empty pot, Peggy began her questioning.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
After the ten minute chat with the old woman, Peggy Powler decided to take a look at the so-called 'back-wood' that
Granny Heron had blamed for her grand-daughter's disappearance and to be fair, Peggy didn't think much of it.

Standing next to the remains of a wooden fence and a fierce set of thorny bramble vines, the Witch of Underhill took
stock of the scene before her. Due the trees being so close together, very little foliage obscured the view into the cedar
grove. Carefully avoiding the wicked-looking barbs, Peggy stepped into the shade of the thicket for a better perspective.

The off-white monoliths could be seen on her left quite easily as it seemed any small bushes that attempted to grow
between the wood and the lawn had been taken out. Peggy assumed the residents of St. Martin's still retained some
duty to the hallowed place, but guessed such diligence could be due to them holding their festival on the plateau.

On the right-hand side, the cedars could give vent to their growth and the dry-stone wall that accompanied Calder's
Way was shrouded with low branches that reached for the fabled highway. The wall would continue until the lane that
serviced St. Martin's met with Calder's Way further down the long copse.

Peggy breathed in the spicy aroma of the cedars as she scanned the needle and bark-strewn ground for clues.
There were indications of shoe prints and what branches that had fallen could be see to have been moved.
No doubt, from the worried families that had searched the area.

There was no strange atmosphere or tingling that Peggy would normally pick up when majick had occurred and
the whole place just seemed to simply be what it offered, a clump of trees growing on a hillside. No feelings of
unearthly displacement, no residue of dark incantations and no traces of frightening iniquitousness.

Adjusting her hat and settling the satchel-strap on her shoulder, the small Witch turned her attention back to where
the sunlight waited beyond the unkempt border of Granny Heron's property and the cool shadows of the cedars.
There must be a clue somewhere.

The cabin sat on a piece of land that hadn't seen a spade in a long time, knee-high coarse grass covered most of the
plot except for where the winding hard-packed track came up from the cobbled lane and a smaller attempt that led
towards the cedars.

Blue Cornflowers nodded on the light breeze that had managed to avoid the barrier of trees and woolly-leafed
Candlewick waited just off the path that Peggy had used. Squinting in the late-morning sunshine, a vague memory
bustled its way into the deliberations of the Witch from the days of her teachings in the Carnival.

"Take heed my-girl..." said her drunken fortune-telling mother, "...this Candlewick makes a fine poultice for buckshot
wounds". The young girl in the green dress had watched as Madame Powler -Queen of the Prognosticators, took
another swig of her bottle and fell ungainly onto the sawdust-strewn floor of her tent.

Even at that young age, Peggy had come to realise that the advice from her mother had a connection to the badly-
bleeding Mr Volcano being treated in the next marquee to where she stood.
Something about an irate farmer and his chickens.

Peggy smiled into the warm sunlight and brought her attention back to the present.
A couple of forgotten apple trees stood morosely to the right of Granny's weather-worn building and beyond them,
down the slight rise, Peggy could just see the rear of the grocery-store and drapery.

As the Witch began to turn her focus back towards interrogating the reticent Granny Heron again, a strange series of
thoughts fluttered in Peggy's mind so quickly, that she almost dismissed them immediately.
Drapery... Harriet Heron and Maggie Bretton...the faded tapestries... "Ah yes, places where one can lose themselves".

Peggy's eyes widened in the shade of her broad-brimmed hat as she realised the sewing and embroidery were important
factors in this mystery and to support this undeveloped theory, she needed more relevant evidence.
Time to revisit the retired-Major and maybe, take in some blether with Treacle Thistle again.

"...It's like this, Ms. Powler..." the red-faced man grunted as he took down a box of cleaning materials from a high shelf.
"...The county's constabulary have scoured the surroundings of St. Martin's and looked at every possible angle involving
the abductions" Major Evans added and wandered from his office and out into the high-ceiling corridor.
Moments later, the glass cabinet that displayed the military man's medals was opened and the weekly routine of polishing

 "You're a year too-late and if I may...?" Evans' voice boomed in the echoing passageway, "...I'd suggest looking for tinkers
and vagabonds that passed this way, they're the likely culprits". A contented humming began of some soldiering tune and
the well-dressed man with the whiskery face went about his ritual of remembrance.
Peggy remained at the leather-embossed desk in his office and fumed quietly, but at least she had the list.

She had decided to visit the Major at his imposing manor house due to it being Sunday. Even a self-announced leader
of a small community doesn't ruffle the feathers of his church-going minions by working on a day of prayer. Peggy held
that her profession held no such interdict and so, her bare-feet trod the gravelled path to Evans' large home for further

After politely refusing tea and apologising for intruding on the Major's day of rest -an act that Peggy later felt was a little
over-the-top, she asked him if he could recite the names of the missing children of St. Martin's again. Holding her large
hat in front of her, Peggy fumbled with the brim in a manner the Witch believed was servile and toady enough for the
pretentious buffoon sitting behind his expensive bureau.

Major Evans frowned and his bushy eyebrows told of his scorn for such amateurish comportment. Still, the Army had
trained him this way -he thought, and it would be a lot to demand civilians to hold the qualities he had acquired... and
certainly not from a bare-footed female.

Alas, benevolence went hand-in-hand with leadership, Major Horace Evans believed and so -with Peggy busy scribbling
down the names with a borrowed pencil and on a donated sheet of paper, the names and approximate dates of the
vanishings were once again recalled.
All girls and all between ten and fifteen years of age.

It took Peggy a lot of restraint to endure the prattle of the medal-polishing imperious man in the hallway, but she managed
it with aplomb. Nodding in the right places, the Witch of Underhill moved slowly past Major Evans sitting on the small stool
and chattering on about battles of the past. She even smiled twice.

With an accentuated glance at the tall clock near the front door, Peggy explained that the day was getting away from her
and that she should be going. Assuming Evans was amid some mental foray of ordering soldiers to their death, Peggy
left without a goodbye from him and herself.

Leaving the manor and setting a bare foot back towards the hamlet of St. Martin's O' The Green, the hungry Witch silently
read the list of names and prepared her next step of her investigation. During her rushed writing, Peggy had noticed the
dates were all on or about some kind of event or celebration. This could mean -she thought to herself as she closed the
large gate of Major Evans' long driveway, that she may have a deadline as Midsummer was only a week away.
But first, some food and a chat with Mr Treacle.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
There were two large sandwiches in her bag, one beef and one cheese. Both delights held herbs that enhanced the flavour
and confirmation of a good taste came from the little Yetun sitting on a large rock near the old waterwheel. Resting on a
nearby moss-covered log, Peggy Powler browsed the list of names again, but agreed with Treacle that their fare was a
grand one.

The little Witch had been ruminating on her vague theory as she'd ambled back along the lane towards St. Martin's and had
almost missed the small creature crouched beneath a stunted hawthorn bush and half-hidden by surrounding Lady's Mantle.

"Yer strugglin' to sleep?" she asked peering into where the wide-eyed Mr Thistle was waiting whilst chewing on a last chunk
of a mushroom. Treacle's brow furrowed at the query and then slowly eased as Peggy offered a good-natured smile.
"This stuff is good for insomnia" she whispered pointing to the grey-green plants that had doubled as a blind. Treacle lifted his
chin in understanding, but said nothing. Broad daylight and a human's highway were not the best conditions for Fey-Folk to
discuss the qualities of local flora.

Appreciating the wary Bogle's situation, Peggy leaned closer to the shadowy spot and lifted the flap of her satchel.
In her best composed voice, she suggested that if Treacle cared to partake in some early lunch, hopping into the canvas bag
would assure concealment from any human gaze. Trust is a rare-thing in the realms of the little people, but when it involves
the last Witch of Underhill, faith in her honesty needs no contract.

With an avid nod, the little Yetun clambered into the bag with the foliage continuing to doing its task. Glancing in either direction
of the off-white cobbled lane, Peggy stood erect and continued her journey back towards St. Martin's O' The Green.

"My only question is when I was in your satchel, I'd swear I was its only contents..." Treacle said as he waved crumbs from his
crumpled blouse, there weren't many. "...Such hocus-pocus is beyond me" he added without looking up from his task.
Peggy remained silent and thought about the girls and the times of the year they had vanished.

The trickling water that played on the paddles offered their mysterious tale of how it left the high moors of Devandan Lea,
picked its way through the stony terrain of Kirby Vale, passed under the Troll Bridge at Penyan and veered close to the
small chapel of St. Barnabus where Peggy had once slain an over-amorous Priest.

From there, the aging river had finally made a run to the sea and now it stumbled the last few miles to its goal, thanks to
the stationary water-wheel. Treacle listened to this saga and yawned at the serene voice, such narrations were common to
those of the forest-world.

"What do you recall of the Becky Caldwell disappearance?" Peggy asked as her companion took a drink from the garrulous
waterfall near the mill. The Yetun -for some baffling reason, was standing on his tip-toes, as if the water might decide to fall
upwards. "She was the third" the Witch appended and folded the note for her poncho's inside-pocket.

Treacle Thistle looked towards the donor of his lunch and forgot the effects of gravity on water. The splashes left dark stains
where sandwich crumbs once dwelt. "How do you expect me to remember that far back?" he exclaimed and clambered up to
where Peggy sat.

"Becky Caldwell... where did she live?" Peggy asked softly and wiggled a finger as she placed her hat back on her head.
She didn't like using majick this way and on such an affable person, but the Witch knew that any resident Bogle of a village
prided themselves on knowing who-and-what the community was made of.
And she was confident that such a chronicle of St. Martin's history resided inside Treacle Thistle.

"The youngest of the Caldwell sisters..." the Yetun said with a grunt of exertion, his back was playing-up again and he put
it down to being in damp places like this. "...Her Pa was the Baker here until the family left after the incident." Treacle saw
himself enjoying the warmth of that cooling oven in the evenings when everyone was asleep. In fact, the little Sprite had
spent a whole winter squatted behind that heater the same year the girl had gone missing.

"All Hallow's Eve..." he murmured, " was a windy night, I hate windy nights" Treacle reflected to himself and hunkered down
beside the rotting fallen tree. "The village's concerns of the first-two children had faded after a whole year of regular living and
they'd returned to celebrating the last day before the bad weather came to St. Martin's."

This last comment was just a whisper and Peggy realised her spell had been too powerful due to the sight of Thistle's chin
dropping toward his damp chest.  "Lots of noise on the green... bright colours" the little being muttered as Peggy mouthed
a charm to bring Treacle out of his grogginess. The little brown hat rose and the recollections continued, Treacle's voice was
more hardy again.

"The Caldwell girl was with her friends, they were doing a dance of some-sort with scarves and ribbons. Her parents were
yukking it up with other grown-ups around a barrel of ale" It seemed the Witch's silent invocation and the reversed wriggle
of her digit were working.
"There were breads and cakes, I remember that" Treacle added brightly and with a smile, looked up at Peggy on the log.

A Pied-Wagtail fluttered onto the top of the waterwheel to see what was going on, a wisp of sheep's fleece was still attached
to her beak. If the little man hadn't been so enchanted in his retrospection of the night Becky Caldwell went missing, he'd have
guessed the bird had been feeding on one of Farmer Bulmer's flock or even preparing a nest.
With a characteristic flick of her tail, she went on her way to who-knows-what.

"The wind was getting up and I suppose the villagers were looking to call it a night, I saw the girl wrap her scarf around..."
Treacle stared off towards the slate-grey walls across the river and let his jaw hang. "Oh Herne, I can't see her" he gasped.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
A cold breeze slipped down the shadowed gully where the small river clambered over the multitude of rocks and its arrival
wasn't the only reason that Peggy Powler and Treacle Thistle shivered. The little Bogle's 'pushed' memory had also dropped
the temperature between them.

"I just thought..." Treacle began to say and then looked bewildered towards the steep cliff on the other side of the tight ravine.
The afternoon's sun couldn't penetrate the canopy of the surrounding beech trees and now, the chilling realisation of Treacle's
recollection added to the already undesirable atmosphere. His eyes were half-closed and he held a finger to his lips in the
manner of someone unsure for the first time in their life.

"The rest of the children were singing and dancing back down the lane..." the flustered Treacle said too-loudly, "...the adults
all seemed happy and I took it that the Caldwell girl was in the group". Peggy watched her companion slowly drag the threads
of his evocation into some sensible order and waited for the correct time to ask questions. Any interruption now could cause
a miss of vital clues.

Treacle suddenly stood up and seemed to be re-enacting his movements from that night seven years ago, imaginary bushes
were glimpsed over and one point, the Yetun even crouched down -as if behind a boulder. "Not all the food has been taken
away... her scarf is blowing in the wind and Becky's mother is looking around the green as she's leaving" he whispered and
for some unknown reason snatched a glance behind himself.
Peggy guessed it was due to his inborn fear of a silent owl or a prowling fox.

Then Treacle's eyes widened in shock and his head moved in an almost-exaggerated way in order to examine something
and improve the incredulity of what the Yetun was seeing. "There's a hand... a hand reaching for the scarf on the monolith..."
Treacle was breathing hard now and Peggy could see sweat leaking from beneath his battered brown hat.

"By Herne's antlers... it's just a hand!" he squealed and the Witch of Underhill decided the forage into Treacle's memories
should end. With a unheard mumble and a wiggle of her pinky-finger, the little being's gasping sounds eased and standing
to his full height, he gazed around as if he'd just come out of a deep sleep.

Peggy reached into her bag and withdrew a canteen, moments later Treacle gasped once more at the cold water quenching
his thirst. "Thank you" he whispered and showed his rascal-smile again. The wagtail that had intruded before, now watched
the silent couple from her roost on the waterwheel. The strand of wool was gone.

"That one" the little man in Peggy's satchel said and produced an accusing finger towards the tall stone on the outer-edge
of the lawn. The Witch followed Treacle's indication and then veered her journey to the shadows of the cedars. A few seconds
later, her cargo of Yetun slipped out of the bag and hunkered down behind one of the trees. "I'm getting used to thanking you
Ms Powler" Treacle declared and glanced around to make sure they were alone.
Peggy nodded and went to study the megalith.

The etched markings were almost gone, Peggy stroked the surface and felt the faint engravings of a forgotten language.
Surveying the other menhirs, she saw similar etchings on all of them. "Yer've been a busy-bee, Phinneas" Peggy whispered
and knew what she had to do.

"Ah'll take it yer' not one fur' sewing, Mr Treacle?" the last Witch of Underhill asked over her shoulder and returning to the
crouching shadow in the woods, smiled at the confused Bogle.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
It could be said that the next four days were the best days that Peggy Powler had in St. Martin's O' The Green and in that
short-but enjoyable time, the Witch and her companion set out their scheme to retrieve the lost girls of the little hamlet.

Through hedgerows and thickets, the pair travelled to meet those who humans barely glimpse in their lifetimes and would
certainly only belong in the tales that children are told by their parents at bedtime.

As the summer sun stunted shadows of those working in the fields or going about their everyday village chores, Peggy
and Thistle kept away from the residents of St. Martin's and adhered to the countryside rarely walked. Moss People and
the odd-amicable Goblin, chary Brownies and 'Those of the Marshes', all eventually welcomed the famous Witch into their
respective burrows or abandoned human dwelling, once Thistle had explained their dilemma of course.

When that fiery ball eventually made its way toward the western horizon, Thistle Treacle would stay close to the cedars
and watch as Peggy explained her plan to take back the children. With the aid of a lot of majick, a few colourful materials
and a stout rope, the bantam sorceress described her design to use the monoliths as an entryway.

One night, Thistle led the way to a reticent Genomo who lived on the other side of Calder's Way. As Peggy followed the
the wary Yetun over a wooden stile in the dry-stone wall, the full moon warned the little shaman that time was pressing
and notified Peggy's associate that he was in full view for any hungry owls in the area.
"Stay close" Thistle whispered and the Witch of Underhill smiled beneath the shadow of her hat.

Amongst a clump of gorse, wild ferns and forgotten boulders, there's a hole that an average traveller of the countryside
would assume to be a badger's den. But with closer scrutiny, the shadow of the large tunnel hid a blockage that looked
remarkably like a small wooden door. 

Thistle showed his wide eyes towards his new friend and Peggy observed his frightened features, he should be in his
own burrow at this time of night. "Yer' doin' a yeoman's job, lad" she commended the creature scrambling between the
smooth rocks and lightly patted his shoulder. Thistle's trepidation seemed to ease as he lightly knocked on the hatch.

"Yer'll be Turnip Mudd  then?" Peggy asked the small grumpy elf rummaging around in a battered cupboard for a third cup.
The cave was just big enough to allow the hat-less woman to crouch in and her predicament regarding no under-clothes
never strayed far from her thoughts. Pushing the poncho between her legs, the cramped spellbinder watched as the old
Gnome focused on boiling a kettle.

He was ancient, a long white beard that hid most of his face and clothes that may have been sewn on the day Mudd was
born. A green tunic adored with stains, pants with more patches that original material and a well-thumbed cap jammed
on his unwashed head. Turnip Mudd rarely had or wanted guests.

Thistle sat nearer the door and seemed distracted from any introduction, Peggy guessed it had something to do with the
distant scream of a fox outside. The small brazier discarded its smoke up a flue that disappeared into the root-bound ceiling.
"That'll be me..." Mr Mudd finally replied "...and you'll know that some inane tradition demands I offer you refreshment"
he added with a surly tone.

" Aye 'Ah do, Mr Mudd and I apologise fur' botherin' you so late" Peggy said and accepted the cracked cup of herbal tea.
"Mr Treacle says yer' the fella to see about gettin' some Chimers back" she appended with a restrained decision on the
taste of the brew. Thistle sipped his own beverage and gazed round at Turnip's home.

The subterranean Genomo inspected the Witch's face and Peggy wondered what was going on under that filthy cap.
For almost a minute, If the Bretton's clock had been there, it would have been the only sound in the cave.
Turnip stroked his beard and mused the on the request, Chime Children were a pain in the backside and their parents
should be held accountable for their troubles.

Finally the Gnome sighed and put his discoloured cup onto a makeshift ledge embedded into the soil of the wall.
Peggy waited for the verdict. She knew the spells to open the doorway where she guessed Phinneas The Cunning was
holding the children. The vibrant-coloured tapestries and deeply hued scarves were a puzzler to the Witch, but she hoped
the little scruffy man near the fire could provide the answers.

"You'll have heard the human's legends about the standing-stones...?" Turnip asked the woman with the dirty bare feet,
"...they're all wrong and just for the young ones". he muttered and opened the door of the fire-basket. the warmth in the
cave increased as the old Gnome tossed in a few sticks.

It was Thistle who spoke next. "I heard that Accam Dey lived here centuries ago" he whispered and witnessed his host's
look of disdain. The Bogle merely offered features of genuine curiosity back to the sneering Mr Mudd. "The wolf never
came this far south and certainly never had the sorcery ascribed to him"

Peggy lifted her eyebrows at the statement, but held her tongue of contention. She'd actually met  Accam Dey -or at least
the head of the beast, and learned many things from the horror that terrorised the countryside for years. But now wasn't the
time to argue.

"Your culprit has lived here a long time and she's not one for giving up her growing family" Turnip said enigmatically.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
Mr Turnip Mudd explained thus:

The first time the hermit Gnome became aware of the problem at St. Martin's O' The Lawn were from legends he'd heard from
back in the days before the actual village existed. Back then, most of the land was forest, the coastal area where Durridge is
situated today was a stinking swamp where saltwater Wyrms waited to grab any unsuspecting creature that wandered too close
and the place where the redundant watermill now stood was just a mere crevice that trickled floodage from the high moors where
thirty-foot monsters grazed on the tough grasses.

The subterranean granite remained robust over the centuries and as the land around St. Martin's changed, a hill developed
where the towering conifers crowned its slopes. Due to the thick fur-snagging bramble bushes that also grew there, predators
rarely ventured into the shadows of the prehistoric cedars.

Humans were still waiting in the wings to evolve and the nearest relation to those few who would become St. Martin's residents
were the apes called 'Hiders' that wandered the woods and foraged for their food amongst the undergrowth. Although these
early forms of man would eventually succumb to those who wore animal-skins and harnessed fire, it was said that they decorated
their homes in the trees with colourful feathers and smeared the juice of the violet vine on their faces.

Staying close to the tall cedars, these painted hairy bipeds would perform antics that were assumed to be stories of entertainment
and history. Such presentations were rare, but for those of the Fae world, secrets seldom remain hidden for long.

Hiders lived in fear of any open spaces due to two terrors, one was the flying beasts that would sometimes pluck the unwary from
the ground and tear them to pieces with their wicked talons. The other was the ghost who stole the young simians when the moon
held sway over the forest. 

Of course, Turnip Mudd never personally witnessed all this, his ancestors passed down the stories and Gnomes are known for
their accuracy when it comes to relating information. Hence their solitary existence, repetition isn't one of their pleasures.

As the apes gave way to mankind, the supposed 'ghost' continued its activity of collecting children. The abductions became part
of the legend and a name was given to the spectre that stole by night. The evil phantom was branded ''Gwydionel the Snatcher'...
The Bitch On The Hill.

When the Druids arrived and used their magic to level the mound and erect their orphic monoliths, it was hoped the child-stealer
would be cast back into whatever perdition she'd originated. But Gwydionel took the daughter of the head-Oracle a year after the
settlers finished their new homes of St. Martin's O' The Lawn.

Turnip's Great-Great Grandfather was picking wild strawberries near to where Peggy had seen the two apple trees on the Heron
property. It was late in the evening and the attentive Gnome believed he would not be obstructed in gathering the treats.

As the moon reflected the light from its daytime brother, Calico Mudd observed a grey female-form appear out of thin air and grab
a Druid girl who was returning home from her Straw Bear dance practice. An ancient ritual perfomed to celebrate a favourable
agricultural season
As a side-note, the poor girl was wearing a bright-green and red shawl.

The scion of that sharp-eyed strawberry-picker checked the condition of an oak-apple he was boiling in a pot over the fire and
waited for any questions from the pair who'd visited his underground home. Peggy Powler set down her empty teacup on the
earthen floor and prepared her investigation.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
"I know one thing for sure..." Thistle Treacle said as he scanned the terrain for low-flying owl-shaped predators, "your comment
about a doorway makes sense to me". The Witch of Underhill lightly drew the Yetun to her in the act of protection and began to
find their way out the surrounding foliage.

"Aye, the two standing-stones are obvious, but when Turnip described his great-great Gran-daddy seein' the lassie snatched 
between the apple trees..." Peggy Powler muttered as she skirted around an outcrop of spiny gorse "...'Ah knew then, that this
Gwydionel-woman needed a frame to make her way from the Otherside."

As they walked back towards the wall of Calder's Way, the shadow of Peggy's hat hid her eyes and what she was thinking.
The Bitch On The Hill likes colour, bright colours and needs those who can create such hues of delight.
'...Ah yes, places where one can lose themselves' Mary Bretton had said and the taller of the midnight pair smiled to herself
in the darkness. 

Her conversation with the Gnome had brought up a couple of ideas on how to fix the problem, but the tired sorceress was still
a little grey about how to retrieve the Chimer-Children. Nibbling her lip, she wagered to herself that all of the girls that been taken
held such a gift. But who is this mysterious Gwydionel-character, Peggy knew all the old legends involved in necromancy and all
the players who'd made their mark.

Back in the days of the Carnival, Madame Ruth Powler had taught her only issue well, the names of those who dallied with the mystic
forces that waited just beyond the clutches of regular folk and the dark energies they had wielded. The regularly-intoxicated Fortune
-Teller would impress on her daughter that these esoteric powers were not to be trifled with, a wisdom resided with them and was
not to be taken for granted.

The only man in Peggy's life, a father-figure -she'd later guess was Mister Volcano, the fair's fire-eater. During one the evenings
that she'd sit around the campfire outside his Hades-hued tent, this rangy tattoo-covered man had tossed her another of his special
candies and asked how her training was going. Jamming the Hellfire taffy into her mouth, the young girl had nodded robustly that
all was going well.

"I've heard tell of a woman who haunts the halls of the Otherside..." Mr Volcano said and kept his eyes towards the flames that followed
the sway of his dancing fingers. "...It's said she adores the colour of red and your mother..." the brooding man poked a thumb over his
shoulder towards where the nightly-inebriated clairvoyant slept beneath a tent embroidered with emblems of the supernatural and the
thaumaturgic. "...told me that I'd better watch out when I pass over" Jacob Volcano whispered and gave the girl in the green dress
a knowing wink.

The little cobbled lane that led to St. Martin's felt welcoming as Peggy and Thistle walked under the full moon. The hamlet was
fast asleep and small lights bobbed far out in the Great Sea, all was quiet and it was hard to believe such dark diabolic arts
waited somewhere just out of sight of this reality.

"Will you do me the honour of staying near my home tonight?" Thistle mumbled as they neared the gate to the empty meadow
and with a light pat on the Bogle's shoulder, his companion agreed with a thank you. Following the hawthorn hedgerow, they
emulated the silent village behind them.

The woods where Peggy had seen the footprint was nearby and as she wondered what possible connection the small impression
in the mud could have on the current investigation, Thistle's hand grabbed her poncho and stopped her in her tracks.

"Mind the hollow there..." he whispered in the dark, "here-there be rabbits" the Yetun giggled and pointed towards a grassy mound
just below the remains of an ancient lightning-struck elm tree. Reaching for a string-held key from under blouse, he casually remarked
something that made a faint light go on in his guest's mind. "Damned bolt-holes... you've gotta watch for them" 

Later, as she climbed into her satchel and wishing the weary-eyed thistle a good night's sleep, Peggy wondered if her plan would
be ready in time for the midsummer festival. Gaudy colours, a child-stealing horror and a village that was looking to the only force
that could deal with such uncanny mischievousness. Peggy breathed in deeply and vowed to herself that she should do better.
After all, the celebrations were only three evenings away.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
On Thursday afternoon, Peggy had collected what she believed was the ideal lure for the mysterious Gwydionel, although the
full situation of the Witch's scheme wasn't entirely told to Mary Bretton. "It's an eye-catcher, alright..." Peggy had said with a
tone of admiration, "...Yon tapestry would look just fine behind me as 'Ah draw the future from me-crystal ball" she added with
an genial wink that Mr Volcano would be proud of.

Peggy had ambled past the Bretton home around eleven o'clock after checking with a couple of the other village residents
in regards of joining-in with the midsummer celebrations.  She wanted to leave visiting Mary Bretton as her final destination
believing the endorsement from others would go along way to hopefully convincing Kittie's mother to lend the ornate decoration.

With Thistle busy in his burrow completing a task that would enhance the trap, Peggy confidently believed the child-stealing
she-devil would be brought to justice. But first, real majick requires to be desired, the citizens of St. Martin's needed to be

The first to hear a light tapping at their door was the Brewer, Jack Morgan.
A stout bearded man with a dowdy wife and broad-shouldered son, who agreed with the idea -too eagerly in Peggy's opinion,
and assured the visiting woman in the big hat that the finest of his ales would be right-proud to sit at her table.

The Bowmans, a couple with a daughter of around four years-old and lived just on the bend, nervously concurred with each
other that it would bring something new to the jamboree. It was only when Peggy was halfway down their garden path, that she
realised Mrs Bowman was following her.

"May I have a word, Ms Powler?" the woman with flour on her apron asked and began to anxiously wring the pinafore in her hands.
The woman's face showed a dread that Peggy initially didn't understand, but with the little girl peeking from the half-closed door,
she grabbed the reason just as Jane Bowman revealed it.

"Please sort this horrible situation..." she said softly "...there's an evil here and we're at our wits-end, please help us" and
her tense glance over her shoulder didn't go amiss. Peggy offered her best confident face and lifted the wide rim of her hat,
the gaze of the famous sorceress brought a look of relief on the downcast woman on the bend.

Patting the woman on the shoulder and slipping a small charm into the act, Peggy vowed to rid St. Martin's of whatever
badness was casting a shadow and just as she turned to go, an idea popped into the Witch's head.
"To make yer' feel better, me-charge fur' such services is a rope..." Peggy said with a genuine smile "...a rope bound in
coloured ribbons".

Jane Bowman countered her visitor's grin and vigorously shook Peggy's hand. "I'll be sure to do that" she answered cheerfully,
the skittish woman's height rose as the spell took hold. The Witch nodded imperceptibly and left the fretting family's property
with a backwards wave.

The nosy lady who ran the grocery store was also okay with the idea and leaning over her gnarled wooden counter,
Mrs Spearman imparted that the festival would be probably the last as her customers were becoming less and less.
Standing next to a mouse-nibbled sack of corn and a cracked crate of apples that proclaimed they were the best in
Broadfield County, Peggy nodded that she understood the woman's assertion.

"By the way, does anyone run the drapery next-door?" Peggy asked as she feigned interest in a large jar of pickled eggs.
The late-morning sun made the contents look like the eyes of Tommyknockers that Peggy had once helped to defeat a
loathsome mine-owner.

The proprietor of the Spearman's Country Fare & Goods looked towards the wall that separated her establishment from
the run-down building of the late Madame Tanner. The dead woman had gone-over a year ago and Amy Spearman had
told the nervous Bowman woman up the road that she'd reckoned it was consumption that had took her, although the
Doctor from Durridge would disagree.

"Since Madame Tanner passed away, the shop was just left as it was" Mrs Spearman said softly and slowly moved towards
the glass container full of greenish eggs. "Will you be buying anything today?" she supplemented, but this time added a hint
of strength. It doesn't pay to let perspective customers dawdle.

The last Witch of Underhill turned her face towards where the sunbeams were causing dust motes to dance above a small
barrel of black treacle and keeping her hand beneath her poncho, she moved her little finger and mouthed a similar spell that
she'd used earlier on Thistle. For a few seconds, there was no sound and then in a low voice, Amy began her mesmerized

"She died of consumption, 'though the Doctor from Durridge wouldn't believe me" the drowsy woman muttered. Peggy turned
back towards the counter and closed the space between them, she felt it prudent to wiggle her finger some more.
"She kept herself to herself... you know, I can't recall anyone ever going in there except for the Bretton girl. A crying shame
about that lassie" Amy Spearman said dreamily.

As the sepia-coloured store ticked in the warmth of the summer sun and two cockroaches scurried across a shelf behind the
hypnotised woman, the Witch with the too-large satchel asked if Amy knew more about the lonely seamstress who failed as
a business person.

"She never married, you know... my old man died five winters ago and he always thought that men were visiting next-door in
the late hours... but I never saw anything like that" Amy's eyes were almost closed and a slight tick had begun with her upper-lip.
"Yes, my man said he heard things at night... bumps and such, noises... movements strange for a spinster to make, he told me"

Amy's final testimony was almost a whisper now as Peggy's enchantment drew the store-owner deeper into a sleep.
With a slight wheeze, widow Spearman slowly sagged forward on to the elbow-worn countertop and the little magician saw that
her trick had gone too far. With a resigned sigh, Peggy blew onto her thumb and as her magical hat grew to its full size, the lady
half-laid on the counter reversed her equilibrium and returned from the land of the dazed.

"Missus Spearman, 'Ah thank yer' fur' your time" Peggy said with a slight nod and turning to leave, the reanimated retailer said
something that caused her only customer to pause her gait. Widow Spearman had gazed around at her wares for a moment and
seemed to be wondering where she was. Then setting her best sales-woman's features on her seventy year-old face, she called
to the receding Witch to come back soon and remember that buying something now is a stitch in time.

Standing outside the desolate salon of Madame Tanner, Peggy Powler stared through the crud-smeared windows and wondered
what had been going on in there.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
Looking eastwards, Peggy Powler stared blankly at the thunder-heads on the horizon of the Great Sea and deliberated on her
rescuing scheme. Even though the elevation of the Heron property afforded such a serene vista, the Witch's reason for being
there on this warm late-afternoon was to re-examine the engineering needed to recover the stolen girls.

Peggy was now sure that all of the colleens had been taken by Gwydionel and if the books in the library of Ambroaz had any
merit, time worked differently where this ignoble virago dwelt. Maybe the full amount of girls were still alive and maybe... just
maybe, St. Martin's O' The Green could reclaim some dignity as well as the children.

But the Witch's current concern were the frames, the physical surroundings that contained the magical aperture that Gwydionel
had utilised. To accomplish the plan that Peggy and Thistle had finalised, the evil doorways had to be closed permanently.

A short walk off the beaten track that led to Grannie Heron's home brought the poncho-wearing Warlock to where the long-ago
stealing of a Druid's daughter had taken place. Between the two apple trees that stood on the bank of overgrown grass and
distorted alliums, Peggy allowed her inner-spirit to take the temperature of the immediate vicinity.
After a minute or so, she concluded that if an ethereal doorway had existed here, it wasn't maintained.
It wasn't a regular means of passage.

But cautiousness had been a byword for all fairground folk during Peggy's early years and the small solitary woman in the wide
-rimmed hat surveying the dishevelled pasture had adhered to such prudence since she'd first set out on her purpose of policing
the darker-side of the supernatural. Today was to be no different.

With careful contemplation, Peggy scanned the overgrown area and found no hidden amulets or totems of power. The soil was not
accessible for any scrawled runes of sorcery and the skinny trunks of the stunted apple trees held no carved incantations in their
bark. With a small smile appearing on her lips, the last Witch of Underhill noticed the young sprigs of a Rosemary growing around
the base of one the trees and being a herb that certain malevolence detest, Peggy felt confident, this potential doorway would now
be out of bounds.

However, just to be on the safe side, a quick fumbling in her ensorcelled satchel produced an item that would make certain Gwydionel
the Snatcher would not be prowling between the apple trees in the near future. To an onlooker, it would seem Peggy held a small slab
of greyish clay, a fashioned ingot of dry earth that twinkled with pyrite when turned in the sun.

Assuming our imagined-onlooker would show some decency and find interest in the clouds out at sea, Peggy reached up on her
tip-toes and allowing the summer air to dance upon parts of her body usually shrouded by her poncho, she plucked a twig from
the tree with the garnish of Rosemary.

Words of ceremonial constraint were written on the wedge of semi-dried mud and yet this act was not the simple task of leaving
exorcism-instructions in a forgotten place, the ingredients of the tablet far outweighed the scrawled spell.

Kneaded into the soil were the crushed bones of a gibbeted man that have been cherished for seven years.
Mixed with dried graveyard moss, pyrite (fool's gold) and the head of Hag-worm, the ungodly dough can be fashioned into a
quire where hexes and spells can be written. However, one must wait seven months after such an esoteric suffusion before
these conjurations will activate.

Squatting down, Peggy moved some grass to one side and placed the sacred billet beneath the aromatic leaves of the Rosemary
plant, the Witch's face showed solemnity throughout the act. It was done.

Then out of the blue, another example of tact murmured in Peggy's thoughts. This time it came in the form of Thistle Treacle's voice
and his previous-night's warning of 'damned bolt-holes'. Standing to her full height, Peggy gazed around as she reflected on the advice
until her eyes alighted on the backyard of the grocery store and the derelict abode of Madame Tanner.

"It's a sad-sight to see one -such as yourself, pondering to enter such a dark place" Turnip Mudd said and stepped out from behind
a sad-looking gooseberry bush that used the remains of a crumbling wall to hide against the worst of St. Martin's wintery weather.
Holding a battered burlap at his side and what looked like a rolled-up piece of fabric under his arm, Peggy deduced that she'd
interrupted the Gnome gathering his larder.

But considering the time of day, she wondered why the hoary introverted Elf was taking such a risk to collect the young sour-tasting
cuisine. The answer soon arrived.

"Before St. Martin's was here, the Bitch On The Hill was said to be sometimes seen down here" Mr Mudd said and adjusted his
burden beneath his arm. They were both in the shadow of the drapery building and the temperature seemed lower than it should be.
"My ancestors told of the grey hellion appearing near some rocks that resided just where this structure now stands."

Peggy lifted her chin to show she understood and waited for whatever may happen next. The Gnome looked out of place and his
stance implied that the gathering of goosegogs and his information weren't the only the reasons he was here in the dangerous time
of daylight.

"I... er, I brought you this" Turnip stumbled to say in his awkwardness of being used to solitude. With the quarter-filled Hessian sack
dropped onto the hard-packed earth of the drapery yard, the small friendless being stepped closer to the Witch and handed over
the rolled piece of cloth.

Accepting nodded approval from Turnip Mudd, Peggy unfurled the fabric and with a small intake of air, marvelled at the embroidered
artwork. "It belonged to my mother and her mother before her..." the red-cheeked Gnome said hurriedly "... it's shows the countryside
before humans came here".

And it did too. The little lane where Peggy had first met Thistle was just an imagined space between the fat spruces and what looked
a line of hawthorn bushes. Such thinning between shrubs and trees were ideal places where rabbits used to escape their burrows.
The flat lawn of standing-stones could hardly be seen for the surrounding trees and where the Brettons would live was just an eroded
bank where the rabbits frolicked.

On the right-hand side of the tapestry, more woodland abided and with the use of grey thread, indications of the stone ravine belonging
to the river, was deftly displayed. Showing her genuine enjoyment of the ancient cloth, Peggy whispered " my goodness" before altering
her features into a look of concern.

There -just to the right of where burrows riddled the disintegrated rain-eroded gurry that would be cottages in the future, two dark red
objects could be glimpsed. Clumps of gorse bushes hid most of what they were supposed to be, but Peggy's mind immediately leapt
to what Turnip had mentioned earlier.

The Witch's eyes moved from the stitched map to the same coloured rocks now sitting in the remains of the yard-wall and with a twist
of her lips, hissed "Whey yer' bugger, it looks like we've found the bitch's bolt-hole".
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
The smoke from the Blacksmith's forge was still curling from its brick chimney-stack when Peggy Powler stumbled from
the backyard of Madame Tanner's store and into the lane. The sun was beginning its arc towards the west and the little
Witch's shadow hurried ahead as she made her way to the farrier's large battered door.

The dark-red rock in her arms threatened to wriggle free during every heavy step of Peggy's bare feet and yet it was
the Gnome who had suggested he'd take the longer route to the Smithy's establishment, she was more concerned with.

"It pays me no great sense of pride to be seen by these humans..." Turnip Mudd had said, grunting in lifting the second
boulder. "...But there's a trail I know that will get me close to yon metal-worker" he'd gasped and gave a look that told
the four-foot tall woman in the poncho not to question his strength when laid against his age.

Without another word, Turnip lumbered behind the gooseberry bush with his burden and was gone. In the shadow of
the drapery, Peggy acknowledged the favour that the little old Elf had taken and scooping up Turnip's half-filled bag of
gooseberries, she carefully placed them in her own. Then adjusting the strap of said satchel and spitting on her hands,
the last Witch of Underhill set about attacking her own rubescent encumberment.

Arriving at her goal, Peggy unceremoniously dropped the rock outside the half-open door of the Blacksmith's. She was
sweating heavily, but still managed a wry smile at the sight of the second aggregate sitting in its own crater. Mudd had
beaten her to the finish line.

Where redundant materials of a Plover resided and where rural spiders had come to the conclusion that webs across
rusting urban wheel-rims worked just as well as willow branches, a dark shape moved amongst the other dark shapes
there. Long bars of iron that were as thick as a man's wrist leaned against the Blacksmith's outer-wall and lumps of
energy-spent coke lay scattered everywhere.

"I'll be getting home now, necromancer..." Turnip whispered and his laboured breathing was obvious. Peggy walked
softly down the side of the building and met the weary-looking Gnome who struggled to fake an easy leaning against
a forgotten saw-horse. "...If I'm correct in your notion, it'll pay you to bind those boulders well" he said and offered
one of his rare smiles.

Peggy kneeled down and gently took Turnip's hand, the skin was hard with age and toil. " Yer' a canny 'un in my book,
Mr Mudd" she whispered and handed over his sack of small fruit. The weight told both of them that majick had taken
place as Turnip's eyes widened as he accepted the brimming bag. "I thank yer' lady" he murmured humbly.

Peeking around the weather-chewed door of the Blacksmith's abode, Peggy peered into the shadows and called
out the usual greeting. "Fair travels... is anyone home?". There was some hurried movement in the rear of the dark
interior and when two silhouettes fleetingly appeared before a rear window, the little Witch took the assumption that
Daniel Marney was with his wife.

"And fair elements to you, Ma' can I help" the taller of the dark shapes answered. Peggy stepped out of
the bright sun and allowed her vision to adjust to the shade. Doffing her hat helped too.

Daniel Marney looked around thirty years of age, Peggy estimated and she'd wager his health would be that
of a decade-younger man by the look of his broad shoulders and well-muscled arms. The pretty woman beside
him -who curtsied as they met their prospective customer, must have left her teens very recently.

"Good day, I'm Hattie Marney" she said daintily and ironed any creases from the front of her long frock. The single
strand of straw that stuck out her long fair hair only added to what the Witch believed she had interrupted.
As a dove cooed somewhere up in the eaves, Peggy asked if the Blacksmith could perform the task she outlined
and the handsome man with the handsome wife assured it could be done.
Even if he thought the request was quite odd.

She slept well that night, with Thistle providing roasted rabbit and a bounty of selected salads from around St. Martin's,
Peggy's full tummy and aching arms comforted the tired sorceress in the same manner the Blacksmith had done in
regards of the labour he was undertaking.

Over the flames of Thistle's small campfire and around a final mouthful of delicious fat-fried chicory, she asked her
friendly Yetun if he knew anything about the Marneys and especially about the young woman. The small brown-hatted
being looked out towards the coast and gathered his thoughts.

"He's a fine lad, lived in the cluster of cottages further down the lane..." Thistle said nostalgically. "I first saw him when
his Pa used to take him fishing down at the marshes, he's a stand-up fella -that one" he added and scratched his chin
in further thought.

Peggy eyed her satchel and yet, denied a few more minutes to fall into the arms of Morpheus for a single sorrel leaf
and any information on the wife of this favoured man. Thistle looked inwardly puzzled and rubbing his face similar to
the act of washing, he eventually sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
"You know, I can't recall where she came from" he said and strangely to the affable Bogle, his response drew a grin
from his tired guest. "Aye, Ah' thought not" Peggy replied enigmatically.

The full moon told them that it was time for bed and before the little door of Thistle Treacle's home closed once more,
he wished the spellbinder snuggling down in the magical bag, a very goodnight. Peggy reciprocated the wish and
allowed the strains of the day to take her to dreamland.

Yet a wee-small voice called to her as she tumbled down the feather-soft tunnel of sleep, a voice that asked one
single question. Is Hattie Marney really the now-full-grown Harriet Heron?
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
minusculebeercheers minusculeclap
Once A Rogue, Always A Rogue!
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Some time in the hour before dawn a fret of rain swept in from the coast and watered the Delphiniums in the Bretton
garden and quenched the thirst of the Lady's Mantle along the lane. Sadly, the weak force of the lone cloud failed to
enhance the power of the river in the village, but let us hope that it had better fortunes further inland.

Peggy Powler woke to her Friday morning with a smell of fried mushrooms and hot chicory-coffee hitching a ride on
the wood-smoke of Thistle's campfire. Out at sea, faint squawks of fighting seagulls accompanied the drowsy Witch's
rousing and ruffling her hair, Peggy climbed out of her satchel and like the seabirds, focused on getting on with the day.

The knee-high Bogle pushed back his wrinkled hat and watched the woman in the poncho stumble away into the bushes
for her morning chore. Wondering if she'd be happy with his sewing endeavours, Thistle smiled to himself and went back
to pouring his friend a mug of horseweed.

The freshly-picked mushrooms sizzled in the pan inherited from his grandmother, but whether that cooking skillet was
designed to cloud Peggy's cursing -due to tripping on a root, we can't say. But the foul-language was as faint as the gulls
arguing over their breakfast.

"Mornin' Thistle..." Peggy muttered as she appeared from behind an overgrown rhododendron, the little Witch looked like
someone had dragged her through the azalea shrub during her sleep. "...It feels like the day doesn't want me awake" she
mumbled and plonked herself down beside her genial host.

It would be another ten minutes before the usual investigator from Underhill was her proper self again and Thistle put it
down to a honey-laced mug of coffee, a nicely-browned mushroom and the cold pitcher of seawater he'd bravely acquired
during the dawn's rain.
Another household vessel bequeathed by Mrs Treacle the Elder.

"What do you think?" Thistle asked as Peggy treated herself to another demitasse of beverage. The little Yetun was standing
as tall as he could on the bank outside his home and was merely a ghostly voice behind the blanket that he held high.

The banner proclaimed that 'Peggy Powler, Mistress of the Mysterious, Can Tell Your Fortune And Bring You Happiness...
All for the price of a single coin'. Scarlet darn scrolled around the edges of the material and like the root that brought its
bear-footed victim to the ground earlier, entwined with gaily-coloured renderings of roadside flowers and ripened berries.

The words were embroidered with golden thread and patterned with stitching that had never seen the hole of a worn sock
or torn pants. Filaments of deep blue flowed in subtle curls like a lazy water's edge of a summer ocean and added a cool
strength to the overall vibrancy of the Yetun-high pennant.

"Whey yer' bugger...!" Peggy exclaimed and applauding the work of Thistle, stood up and went to where her unaware friend
was grunting to display what he was proud of. "..'Ah've seen some posters in me-time at the Carnival, but yours takes the
biscuit" she said and manoeuvred around the breeze-flapping flag.

The little Bogle who'd been reluctant to engage the stranger he'd met on the road one night, the scared Elf who had no sensible
reason to endanger himself to the talons of owls and the jaws of foxes, The quiet Fae they called Thistle Treacle looked up from
his attentive position for approval of his enterprise to help rid St. Martin's of an unknown evil.
Peggy's kiss on his warm cheek brought him his answer.

As the pair prepared for the day ahead, the question of where -and even how, the opulent materials that had turned a workaday
bed-sheet into a banner of rococo prisms of colour, was never asked. I've heard it said that Bogle's move in mysterious ways,
just as Peggy often does.
Best to just leave things like that alone, eh?

It looked like a poor attempt to make a snowman out of iron and stone, a creation that failed miserably in the context of art,
but a blue-ribbon winner in the world of stopping girl-stealing bitches. Daniel Marney straightened his rolled-up sleeves
and offered Peggy Powler the same look a smaller being had tendered earlier.

"Well, what do you think?" the young man asked with a light tone of pride and guessing he didn't mean his well-muscled arms,
the Witch of Underhill nodded with appreciation. Although to be fair, the acknowledgment she performed would've been the same
even if he had asked about his sinewy toned-limbs.
Keeping her pondering to herself, "Perfect" she answered softly and leaned closer for a better look.

The two dark-red boulders were bound in cages of metal, not dissimilar from a parcel, four flattened bars were wrapped around
the rocks and then bolted together to make one single object. Not asked for, but drawing no complaint from Peggy, the Smithy
had welded a plate to one end and stood the whole piece upright.
One boulder on top of another, but no space between them. "Perfect" the customer whispered again.

The homely-smells of the farrier's workplace made the morning seem a time when neighbours chat over garden fences or when wily
farmers chew the cud whilst scrutinising tradable livestock. Daniel's well-worn forge glowed like the gates of Gehenna and emanated
a heat that only hammered ores and the wretched damned could appreciate.
In such a cozy setting, Peggy waited for the cost.

"We usually charge ten frollis for such work..." the young lady said as she appeared from the shadows of the foundry, "...but I'm
sure we can come to a reasonable price for our famous visitor" Hattie said easily and displayed a smile that told Peggy why the
broad-shoulder hunk in the leather apron had fallen for her.

Peggy curtsied at the compliment and returned a smile with her own. "Aye, It's a canny piece of work, alright" she said and moved
her hand across the beaten metal, the Witch's other hand remained beneath her poncho. "Me-purse might be small, but 'Ah'm no
robber" she quipped benignly and watched Daniel step back into his realm of twisted minerals and dragon's breath.
Then Peggy cast her spell.

When Daniel glanced up from his toil at the anvil, he saw a chest-high woman in a wide-brimmed hat walking out into the sunlight
with the love of his life. Further perusal would have deducted the notion that the two women were involved in facile palaver and
certainly nothing to be concerned about. The Blacksmith returned to fixing a broken plough blade.

"Yer'll be Harriet Heron then...?" Peggy asked, but it was obviously not a question, "...the lassie who escaped the clutches of the
devil known as Gwydionel" she stated and surveyed the lane for any interruption. Hattie gazed up at the blue sky and sighed,
she was struggling not to answer. A wiggle of the Witch's finger allayed her conflict.

"She... she made us work to create colour..." the pretty woman moaned softly. "...the darkness, the darkness retreated as we sewed"
Peggy watched the torment on Hattie's face as the memories returned, whatever the domain she'd endured in seemed to be a place
of doom and abandonment.

"Yes, but you got away, you found a way out" Peggy urged and pointed aimlessly out into the countryside -just in the event Daniel was
watching. "Tell me how you did it" she hissed tenderly and feigned a smile over her shoulder towards the shadows of the foundry.
Hattie was panting now and the Witch knew she didn't have long left, the mental torment was rising.

"It's the standing-stones... she left the door open and I ran away into the wilds" Hattie responded between gasps and Peggy could
see that she was starting faint. "Are there any other doorways?" she snapped quickly and Mrs Marney lurched alarmingly forward
in her pursuit to stay upright. Peggy rushed to help her and checking to see if her husband was watching, she guided his dazed
partner away from the barn's entrance.

"The apple trees of my grandmother..." Hattie whispered as she almost fell onto the wooden bench her husband had made a year
ago. "Just the trees and the drapery" she repeated and slumped senseless against the wall of her property.

Peggy murmured another invocation and the young woman's eyelids began to flutter, the Witch licked her lips and went into the second
act of her performance. "...And as 'Ah say, such grand work demands better settlement than a mere ten frollis" Peggy said theatrically.

Swifts screamed their joy overhead in the morning air and unseen by anyone, a weasel hesitated in his hunt amongst the tall cattails
across from the Blacksmiths to watch two nearby upright predators acting strangely.

Hattie Marney was now looking around in a similar manner that Treacle had after his trance, but the poncho-wearing woman standing
bare-footed in the dirt seemed too absorbed in her own commentary to have noticed. "A gold numma... no more and no less!" Peggy
exclaimed into the bailiwick of the birds and raised her arms to deny any protestations from her audience.

After another thank you towards Daniel, an assurance that someone would be along to pick up the boulders and of course, the passing
-over of the payment, the relieved Witch of Underhill went on to tackle the next part of her plan.
Hattie Marney pondered on her momentary swoon and when no answer came, she went back to her morning task on the bellows.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
"This'll be a great weight off me-back..." Peggy Powler sighed as she dared another sip from Jack Morgan's wine-sack.
The morning was at its zenith and even though this part of her plan was not urgent, the little Witch walking beside the cart
felt it shrewd to make sure Gwydionel's emergency escape-route was properly dealt with.

Carlton the Brewer's son, was pulling the two-wheeled carriage that -at the most, would hold one barrel of Morgan's excellent
ale, but Peggy was more pleased that it would make an idea source of transport to move the iron-bound boulders to a more
secure place. "...And Ah' can't thank you-two fellas' enough for doin' this" she added and stifled a belch.

Jack Morgan stunted his strides to make sure the woman who could change men into trees and their sons into toads didn't feel
any inferiority of being smaller. His wife had warned him of such offences when Peggy had softly tapped on his door that very
morning. "It's not a problem, Ma'am" Jack responded without looking down at his companion.

Daniel the Blacksmith greeted the Brewer and his son with the usual methods applied when men meet other men.
Peggy Powler smiled under her hat as she witnessed the arm-slapping during the shaking of hands and the enhanced-roughness
of their respective baritone voices. Chit-chat of how business was faring gave way to a feigned resignation that a man's work is
never done as the three chaps eyed the task at-hand.

Yet it was somehow enjoyable to the last Witch of Underhill to see these well-built men grunt in the summer sun as they loaded the
creaking cart with its cargo. Glancing to see if Hattie would make an appearance, Peggy ruminated that her pleasure was derived
from the natural simplicity of social-cooperation in an environment of rustic ambience and not the sight of taught muscles bulging
against fabric.

When the Brewer's chariot was burdened with the heavy freight, the trio of men went back to talking about their concerns of their
personal professions in St. Martin's and the struggle to generate income. Taking off her hat, the little Witch took this opportunity to
slip into the shadows of the foundry and seek something she'd been contemplating during the walk to the Blacksmith's shop.

There they were in small cardboard box, but -and this brought a whispered curse from Peggy's lips, the copper nails she wanted were
on a shelf too high for her to reach. Quickly scanning the hot gloom for a neaby sawhorse or stool, the Witch suddenly noticed Daniel's
wife standing in shadows behind the forge.

"Will you mend the damage...?" Hattie said softly, "...will you bring the gaiety I knew as a child back to St. Martin's?" the earnest young
woman asked. Peggy placed her hat into her satchel and looked squarely at the Heron girl that had become the Marney woman.
"Aye lass, me-patrol demands restoring the land to its proper ways, Ah' swore it long ago" Peggy answered and bowed her head in
the manner of the long-lost high-Elders.

Without another word, Hattie approached and took the box of dark-brown nails from the shelf. Peggy removed the lid, plucked four of
the clouts from their home and was almost about to turn around when a thought halted her movement. It was thin and maybe even too
intrusive, but the idea would be appropriate.

"You do it..." Peggy stated and looked up at the woman with a burden far heavier than the cart outside. " beat these nails into
those yon apple trees and poison 'em. You make sure the Bitch pays fur' what she's done here"
she said with a venom more sour than
any of the fruit from the pair of twisted slack-ma-girdles could ever produce.
The Witch held out two of the nails and Hattie took them, the oath needed not to be said.

Smiling at the three men unaware of the Witch's foray into the Ironmill, Peggy donned her hat and went to cajole the strapping males
to get on with her scheme. A scheme -just like the task ahead for the young woman with the hammer leaving the rear of her husband's
place of employment, would remain unmentioned.

"I don't wish to complain Ms Powler, but is it necessary to dump these rocks here?" Jack Morgan asked as he and his son relieved the
cart of it's load. The sea breeze that fluttered across the marsh was welcoming after the half-hour navigating the terrain, no cobbled lane
came this far into the swampy landscape.

Peggy eyed the depth that the wheels had settled into the boggy ground and then treated the big Brewer to a smile of contentedness.
"We'll be home fur' dinner and Ah' have a surprise fur' the pair of yer's, if yer'll do what Ah' ask now" she said and fumbled in her satchel
as the two men gazed around at the vast reed-bed that moved like waves on an ocean.

"Put these on and don't peek until Ah' tell yer to take 'em off" the little woman said cheerfully and handed the banadanas to Jack and
the quiet lad called Carlton. Glancing at each other to confirm they'd measured their trust in the Spellbinder from out of the county, they
tied the deep-red neckerchiefs around their heads and waited in the squelching turf for what might happen next.

If asked later -but that would be dubious as neither man spoke of it again, Jack Morgan and Carlton Morgan would say that they felt that
someone else was there with them amongst the reeds, but wouldn't swear on it. Whoever or worse, whatever, seemed to loom near them
was big. Even with their eyes covered, it seemed like large shadows were moving silently around the pair of beer-makers.

Carlton would later privately ponder to himself if what he'd heard was the cart creaking as if something powerful had brushed past it or just
an accidental fart from a woman in a poncho who'd drank too-much of his father's brew. 

"Yer' can take them off now" Peggy finally announced and blinking in the brightness as they looked around, the Morgans saw that everything
was just the same except the two metal-encased boulders had vanished. Only an impression in the moss-fighting grass showed that the
rocks had ever been there at all.

"Reet, we've a festival to prepare fur'..." the little Witch declared and set about pushing the two-wheeled buggy from it's mire-moorings.
Jack and his son looked again at each other and a signal that only kin can appreciate passed between them. As the wheels made sucking
sounds during their release, Peggy mouthed a thank you to those who taken custody of the now useless gateway.

If any of the humans there had perchance to look up from their toil, they may have discovered who the bare-footed female grunting in her
exertions was actually thanking. A more aware person may have noticed several large dark shapes moving through the reeds like the great
behemoths boasted about by the fishermen of Durridge. 'Those of the Marshes' were just as elusive.
But nobody did look.

The journey back was uneventful and that was fine for the two men pulling the cart and the woman sitting on it resisting the contents of the
goatskin bag beside her. As Peggy practiced abstinence for beer and the her two stallions heading back to a harbour of sanity and safety
exercised diminution on deep thought, morning seriously looked at becoming afternoon.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
It was a bit of a surprise to the little woman in the tall hat to see that some of the residents of St. Martin's O' The Green
were already preparing for tomorrow's Mid-Summer celebrations. Four men that Peggy Powler vaguely recognised from
around the village, busied themselves erecting wooden poles bound with leather straps and nearby, a large pile of canvas
awaited to hide the bones of what will be the individual tents for the gala.

Thanking the the two Morgans for their assistance in moving the metal-bound doorway of Gwydionel's endmost exit-route,
the Witch's thoughts were on visiting next-door, to borrow the tapestry belonging to the missing daugther of Mary Bretton.

It would make a fine addition to Peggy's marquee and with the aid of Thistle's remarkable advertisement, the last Witch of
Underhill felt that her Fortune-Telling performance would assist in her plan for what she really really here for.
To catch the fiend that was terrorising the little hamlet.

Looking over her shoulder at the men building the temporary awnings, Peggy thought back to her days in the Carnival.
The silence between the builders and yet a language spoken not from the mouth. Billowing giants that rose from the ground,
dressed in bright hues only found when the sun shines through the rain and bound with ropes to stop them rampaging across
the land.

The dreamy features on the sorceress's face told anyone who might be passing that she valued those days, everything was
simpler then and the world was much smaller. But after a few stolen moments of sentimentality, the harsh cackle of a jackdaw
discussing a possible nesting site in one of the village's redundant chimneys brought Peggy back to the present.
Musing was for poets -she thought to herself and opened the gate to the Bretton's pretty garden.

"Fair elements, gentlemen, this my helper for the day..."  the woman in the tall hat said proudly to the sweating men sitting
against the trees and savouring the shade, "...her name is Kittie". The quartet looked warily at the small smiling females as
they finished their lunch, but said nothing.
The one in the hat and poncho could change the weather and demand adders visit your bed at night, everyone knew this.

Peggy had happily dragooned the young girl into assisting her during the discussion with Mary Bretton about the tapestry.
That colourful fabric was now rolled-up and tucked under Kittie's arm.

"Forgive me for intruding on your meal, but would it be alright if I take the tent near those two stones?" Peggy asked lightly
and pointed towards the monoliths she believed Gwydionel used to snatch the girls. A mental reminder arrived at the same
moment that she would retrieve the advertisement from Thistle later and hopefully, the Bowmans would deliver the other part
of her plan.

The huge draught horse that had drawn the cart was snoozing in the lane with its back leg showing the tell-tale sign of equine
rest and as she and Kittie had approached the Green, Peggy had made a guess that the men worked for Farmer Bulmer.

The red-haired man who was stifling a belch after drinking from his canteen nodded and his eyes moved to peer over Peggy's
shoulder. "Here's... er, here's me-boss, he'll be the fella to ask" he said in a tone that would've implied disinterest if he hadn't

Farmer Bulmer was a giant, a man who warranted such a horse and the respect from those who worked for him.
Peggy guessed he topped-out at around nineteen hands high and his belly hinted that the fuel to run such a large figure was
plenty. Bushy eyebrows beneath his flat-cap shrouded intelligent eyes that didn't suffer fools gladly and a strong stubble jaw
offered a strong resolution in whatever he said.
The four men that were now standing as if to attention, also told Peggy that Bulmer was not a man to be messed with.

"I've prepared these festivities for ten years..." Cedric Bulmer proclaimed to the tiny bare-footed woman and the wide-eyed
girl at her side. "...All of St. Martin's know which is their marquee, just as all of St. Martin's know...", that was when he stopped

It had happened when he was a boy, something he'd never told anyone and something he'd never thought about in forty years.

The initial image was of dune grass moving from the warm breeze that wafted into the estuary. Under an eye-watering
sky, farmer Bulmer could feel the warmth of the young sun and the sharpness of broken cockle shells amongst the sands.

Spring is a busy time on his father's land, lambs need around the clock monitoring from lip-licking foxes and their mothers need
to be guarded from something Cedric's father called 'foot rot'. But there were days when he would slip away and run down to
where the meadows met the seashore and caper in the rock pools to watch worlds rarely seen by adults.
It was on one of those days he met the thing he'd like to call a mermaid.

"So thee like my gardens?" the water-nymph asked as she sat on a water-logged stump and preened sea-lice from her tail fins.
Cedric had been squatting next to the large tidal pool not far from where Peggy Powler would sit almost four decades into
the future.

A small crab was contemplating on how to remove a Penny-Gunnel from an ideal hiding place when the enquiring voice reached
his ears. Standing up, Cedric initially believed it might be one of the girls from the village. "Out there in the briny-brim, such wonders
are common and their inhabitants enjoy wealth no dry-lander could thinked" the fish-woman announced without looking up from
her grooming.

Cedric wet his pants at the point of gazing at the creature. A large spiky-fin ran from the base of her spine all the way up to where
long lank kelp-wrapped black hair hung on scrawny shoulders. The mermaid's face was half-hidden under these drying tresses,
but the trembling boy with the growing dark stain on his trousers might have guessed at her age to be around his mother's.

The appendage that made the female invader different from those of St. Martin's occasionally flopped in the damp sand and as
Cedric eyes glanced towards his path of escape, he realised the sea-fairy's skin was covered in off-white scales.

"For a kiss, Me can take thee there..." she said lightly and this confused young Bulmer for a moment, time enough for the mermaid
to slip from the driftwood and begin crawling seal-like towards the lad. "Divna' be bashful Cedric, Me show thee hues so pretty that
thee'll never leave the waters" she hissed as she slithered closer.

Cedric ran then, he ran with an awful cackling behind him and even though his mind raced in wondering how she knew his name,
his thoughts were almost outraced by the work of his bare feet. Feet unshod like... like the little Witch who was standing before him.

"Choose whichever tent you wish, Ma'am" Cedric Bulmer whispered and turning back to where the shire horse swished its tails at
flies, he touched the front of his moleskin trousers to see if they were damp.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"

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