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Peggy Powler & The Missing Children.
#21
Thistle's clear eyes twinkled from the shadows of the hedgerow as Peggy Powler waited for Kittie Bretton to return from
her evening meal. The quiet lane offered its own kind of magic to the spell-worker and her small friend in the bushes,
the remains of the sun sat heavy on the horizon where the Great Sea met the cloudless sky and seemed reluctant to
submerge into the deep green waters.

This was their world now, a place where humans assumed a day was spent, used-up and a had no value for the drudgery
that places like St. Martin's O' The Green held so dear. The tents -all tied and taut, stood behind where Peggy watched
the evening come to life and not unlike the changing of the day, marked the time for when their husks would also have
life breathed into their empty hearts.
All except the awning near the two standing-stones.
...................................................

It had been a busy afternoon, Kittie had tied brightly-coloured ribbons to the poles of the marquee and it would always
make the little girl smile because just as she was sure she'd gathered all of the braids and pennants from inside of the
Witch's mysterious satchel, there was always more when Kittie placed her hand inside.

Peggy had loosely attached the Bretton tapestry to the rear of the interior of the tent and was about to prepare the pair of
monoliths for their dressing when Jane Bowman nervously appeared at the entrance to the Green. Moving a moth-eaten
sack from one hand to her other, she opened the gate and approached the necromancer like a midnight mouse inspecting
a crumb of cheese.

"Fair travels, Ms Powler..." the skittish woman said quietly "...I've brought the item you requested". Peggy resisted the urge to
look around to see who or what Mrs Bowman might be wary of and also stifled a chuckle that Jane's long-ancestors may have
been Hiders. "Ah' thank thee" the Witch replied and with a guiding arm to her waist, steered the tense lady into the tent.

The rope was ideal. In fact, examining the hawser further, Peggy could see that it was two ropes carefully knotted together
and the connection partially hidden by one of the many strips of coloured cloth. "The ribbons even match the tones of the tent"
Jane offered hopefully with a weak smile and the the little woman checking the hemp agreed without looking up from her study.

"Aye, she's a beauty, Ah'' see yer fella is from Durridge, yes?" Peggy asked as she checked the binding where the ropes met.
Jane's small grin changed into an 'O' of surprise and her eyes attempted a similar shape. "Your magic never fails to..." but the
chary Mrs Bowman's exclamation was halted by a wave of the hand from the inspector of her gift.
"Nay lass, yon binding is a fisherman's knot and Ah' was just tekkin' a guess" Peggy said and widened her reassuring smile.

After some more light badinage regarding tomorrow's festival, the weather and how pretty the Fortune-Teller's marquee was
decked-out, Mrs Bowman scurried off back to where fearful people feel less apprehensive about the world that turns around
them. Peggy Powler returned to preparing for another realm that folk such as Jane would never dare to even contemplate.
...................................................

The sky became that captivating dark azure tone that only the stars can fully appreciate. Thistle Treacle had arrived with a
small cough to announce his presence, but hissed his reluctance to be a snatched meal by some passing owl.
Peggy's face remained stoic, but she did appreciate the his concerns and so left any idea of charming the little Bogle until
later.

Occasionally, a lantern in a cottage window would ape the radiance of the Yetun's eyes and both outsiders watched without
comment as a community settled down to wait out the darkness. Rooks, tired from a day of combing the fields for their fare,
passed overhead like black ghosts looking for a haunted house.

"Yer'll be fine..." the Witch leaning on the Green's gate said softly "...she's the kind of child that will keep our secret".
Thistle Treacle was still unconvinced, but with a sideways look towards a well-used track the rabbits use to travel the length
of the bushes along the lane, he kept his features neutral.

The girl's silhouette skipped lightly up the slight rise of the cobbled track and with a straightening of her poncho, Peggy
went to meet her. Kittie's eyes shone too, but not with Mr Treacle's wariness, but with a special wonder that only a child
can generate. The night was the lair of the monster, the haunt of the lusus naturae, the playground of the horror that shuns
the daylight.

"Fair travels, little 'un" the last Witch of Underhill cooed as Kittie soaked in her surroundings. She'd never been allowed
to be outside so late and certainly never this far from her home since Maggie had been taken. Whatever wizardry her
new friend had performed on her mother had certainly worked. "Fair elements, Ms Powler" Kittie replied faintly -but it
was obvious that the remaining child of Mary Bretton was still absorbed in the ambience of the Green.

Lifting the brim of her hat, Peggy waited for Kittie to look at her and then with a serious pose, she stated the situation.
"Lassie, Ah've a rare appeal to ask yer'... Can yer' keep a hugger-mugger?" Kittie's facial muscles moved slightly as
the hounds of suspicion raced across her mind. The night was an exciting place to be, but she was old enough to know
that demons waited here too.

"Hugger-mugger?" she asked and glanced towards the hedgerow where the wary Thistle waited, this was an expression
unknown to the girl and to prove it she shrugged. "A secret, me-girl" the Witch whispered and shone one of her famous
smiles. Kittie's head didn't come off and roll down the lane, but her vigorous nodding should have done that.
...................................................

"Good evening Sire, my name is Kittie Bretton and I'm happy to meet you" Kittie chirped cheerfully into the earthy-smelling
darkness of the hawthorn bush. Treacle Thistle sucked in a large gulp of air and wondered what ancient rules he might be
breaking. This just wasn't done, humans were never meant to interact with the Fae... it just wasn't done.

"Fair... fair elements, young Kittie" a voice replied from the shadows and ignoring the slight tutting from the Witch in the tall
hat, Treacle remained where he was at. With an uncertain glance towards the announcer of the chiding, Kittie wondered if
this was some sort of adult prank, but Peggy stepped forward to allay such doubts.

"Come out yer' bugger...!" the Witch grunted as -quickly leaning into the tenebrosity of the undergrowth, she hauled the little
man in the brown clothes from his hiding place. "...Ah' divna' have the time fur' such ditherings" she added as Treacle was
plucked out of his haven.

Peggy placed the squirming Fae onto the cobbles and braced herself to catch him if he ran, but Treacle only stood looking
ashamed and frightened at his exposure. The banner that Peggy had hoped the little being had brought with him now lay on
the the sea-stones of the lane, her exertions to reveal Treacle had caused it drop from his grip.

"I'm glad to meet you" Kittie said as if it was a regular encounter and brought a look of surprise from the Witch by the act of
a well-executed curtsy. The mild astonishment remained on Peggy's face as the Bogle took off his hat and bowed in response.
" I am Treacle Thistle, we are bonded by our respect for each other" he said confidently and with words once used from the
time of the High Elders.

Peggy smiled at her theory that sometimes, a special magic exists that no magician can concoct or draw from a potion.
Sometimes, life itself is the Seer.
...................................................

"...That's reet, but Ah' need yer' to watch fur when the rope twitches" Peggy explained to her two crouching companions.
Treacle peered over at the Witch holding the flickering candle and whimpered "you don't mean me too?" and with a small
gasp of relief, he accepted Peggy's shaking of the head.

The trio of would-be rescuers were in the tent and the ribbon-wrapped rope laying straight as a fossilised saltwater Wyrm,
disappeared under the canvas and waited directly between the two -now decorated, standing-stones behind them.
Like an angler's line, the thick lanyard waited for the bait to dangled.

"Nay Thistle, thee'll be watchin' from the cedars..." Peggy answered "...and if'n there's a dilemma, yer' te' say the words that
Ah' tell yer' soon" Treacle nodded, but his face showed he didn't fully understand. He'd earlier thought his tasks were over
when his banner had been fastened above the tent opening. A wobbly undertaking that involved all three of them, two lengths
of string and a balancing-act.

Passing the candle to the Yetun, the Witch of Underhill now reached for the bribe that would draw Gwydionel into Peggy's trap.
"The Bitch wivna' be able te' resist this beauty" Peggy whispered as she took the Bretton tapestry down from its place and urged
the girl and the Bogle to accompany her outside with a wave of her head. "Howay me-partners!" she hissed with a smirk.

With the same acrobatic feat that was needed to erect Treacle's banner onto the tent, Peggy Powler, Kittie Bretton and Treacle
Thistle hung the large piece of ornate arras on the back of the Fortune-Telling marquee. The trap had been set.
...................................................

"Goodnight Kittie..." the kindly Witch said as the little girl opened the door of her mother's cottage. "...And remember, not a
word" she added and from her position at the garden gate, pointed towards the darkness of the shrubbery that ran the length
of the lane. Kittie nodded and made the sign of a stitched-mouth, an expression that lit-up the Witch's face with relief.

Ten minutes later and after explaining her assistance in readying the tent to her mother, Kittie swished her nightdress as she
stepped up to her bedroom window and peered out into the night. The meeting between Mr Thistle and herself was omitted
from the account she'd given her mother and gazing at the dull-white track that led towards the Green, Kittie realised it was
just another of her secrets about the night that she'd never told anyone.

Getting into bed, Kittie would never know that the brown-clothed reason for her secret was now watching the cottage from the
shadows of the bushes. And as the downstairs lantern was snuffed, the weary Treacle Thistle accompanied the also-tired Peggy
back towards his home.
Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#22
To be out at this time in the morning was a bit unusual for Thistle Treacle as dawn was still a while away and
the nightshift of those who like to chew on Bogle bones wasn't quite over. The little Yetun tugged at the brim
of his weathered hat, changed his thoughts and continued his vigil on the serene vista of the Green.

He wanted to say the words that the Witch had whispered to him before retiring to the weird interior of her satchel
last night, but Peggy Powler's warning had caused Thistle to just nibble his bottom lip and remain silent in the
undergrowth along the lane.

Some time not far from now, men will arrive with long trestles tables and then the women will bring the foods that
Treacle had enjoyed when they'd all gone home. That time seemed a long way off to the little lonely Yetun in the
brown clothes and what was supposed to occur between now and then just didn't dare thinking about.

Barrels of ale will be rolled up the lane and the merriment would begin. Laughter and games would be the rule
of the day and considering what lay just beyond the standing-stones behind Ms Powler's tent, high spirits would
be the last thing on Treacle's mind.

Still, those silent words of the Witch's spell thrummed in his mind and dared him to give them utterance.
...................................................

"Now mark me-words, Mr Thistle..." Peggy had breathed softly "...What Ah'm about to tell thee can only be used if
me-trap comes a cropper, yer' folla?". Treacle could barely see the owner of the voice and struggled even more
to understand what she was actually saying.

"Why do we have to talk inside this bag?" he asked and resisted the urge to move the satchel's flap.
It was night time outside, but there'd be some light, at least. Peggy sighed and explained that the spell she wanted
Treacle to use if an emergency arose could not be uttered in the open air.
Why such caution was required, she kept to herself.

"These are the words, listen and take heed" the last Witch of Underhill said gently and moved forward to where her
unsure friend was crouched. Peggy's warm breath in his ear related the charm and after repeating the strange words
back to where her cheek waited, she nodded and added "That's me-lad".
...................................................

"Early-bird and all that" Treacle explained to his half-asleep lodger when he returned to his little home that lay off the
beaten track to humans and sheep, his mind was breakfast. Peggy yawned and stretched in the act of unkinking her
muscles from her slumber and only became aware of what had caused Treacle to hurriedly disappear into his burrow
when she glanced down.
"Sorry about that" the red-faced sorceress said to nobody and pulled her poncho down to hide her awkwardness.

Over their morning meal, the odd pair chatted about the day ahead and steered clear of the incantation Treacle had
been burdened with. Peggy had been meaning to ask her host why he didn't seem to interact with the Bogles she'd
accidently met when she'd first arrived at St. Martin's O' The Green, but the moment to do so had just alluded the
opportunity to pose the query.

Quaffing down the last of her chicory-coffee, she recalled one of them in a blue tunic was called Juno and decided
to bring up her encounter with his fellow Fae-folk. Peggy would later admit to herself that it wasn't the best of ideas
that she'd had.

Treacle looked towards the faraway green-grey of the Great Sea and to the woman with the dishevelled hair and
dirty bare feet, he seemed to be concentrating on what might be lurking there ten fathoms deep. With a heavy sigh
of resign, the genial little man told his guest that it was long ago and it didn't really matter if she knew.
Which to Peggy meant that it was important.

"It's because of something I once thought was a funny party-trick, but -if you pardon the pun, it backfired and now they 
and myself thought it better that I keep some distance from them" he said and offered the Witch a refill from his hand
-me-down pottle.

Peggy allowed her battered mug to be rejuvenated and showed her host a puzzled gaze. "What der' yer' mean?" she
asked curiously. Treacle stood up and gazed for a few moments at the woman sitting on the turf outside his home.
"If I show you, you won't laugh, will you?" he requested with a serious tone and received a shake of the spell-binder's
head as a reply.

Peggy's mind raced with what the cause of the Bogle's self-imposed banishment could be and for no particular reason,
combed her hair with her fingers as Treacle took a kitchen match and walked a small distance away.  "You sure?" he
asked again and pulled at some dried grass from beneath the meadow's hedgerow.

Plonking her hat on her head and ignoring her need to urinate, Peggy gave her friend the thumbs-up. Treacle nodded
and prepared himself to show his secret. Checking again at the facial-features of the woman were not of mockery, the
Yetun lit the straw and turned his back on the flickering flame.

Treacle's face twisted in concentration and he bent slightly forward in his focus, to Peggy, it seemed he was in pain.
Whooosh!... with a sound like ripping cloth, the little fire burst into a seven-foot long blaze that roared out across the
sheep-empty pasture and disappeared into the morning air. Only a thin layer of black soot on the surrounding grass
informed that the spectacle had ever occurred.

"Whey, Ah'll go to our back-door" Peggy whispered in her astonishment and wondered why Treacle's pants weren't
burnt. The creator of the instant inferno just stood shamefaced in the bright sunshine and awaited the Witch's verdict.
...................................................

The sound of people chatting as they walked along the lane, the practice of a guitarist from Durridge and the general
furore of the residents of St. Martin's preparing to celebrate Mid-Summer, all signs that the festival was about to begin.

Elijah Cole and his fishermen friends cajoled each other as they passed clumps of corncockle and cow parsley that
snuggled beneath the foliage of the lane's hedgerow. Behind this collection of roadside plants, two people of a different
world watched the passing scene. Treacle Thistle pondered on how the day would pan out and Peggy Powler wondered
if her friend had any matches in his pocket.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#23
After around five or six of St. Martin's residents discovered what lay ahead of their respective lives, Peggy Powler
placed a silk cloth over the large crystal-ball and told his young assistant that she needed a break. Holding the tent
flap, Kittie Bretton nodded and gave the impression of a confident sentinel.

"Take care lass... me-orb is restin'. Divna' mess around in there" the Witch warned and glanced back into the shade
of the canopy. The hand-stitched mural hanging from a cross-member of the awning seemed too elaborate for such
a quaint little pageant, but Peggy knew it was an excellent lure. The rope was still there, behind where she'd been
seated and disappeared under the tent's fabric.

With the grinning Kittie saluting her new and only friend in the village, the poncho-wearing daughter of a true Fortune
-Teller nodded her respect and stepped out to take in the scene of the Mid-summer festival.

There were gaily-coloured bunting cleverly attached to the surrounding cedars and Peggy noticed no nails were used
to keep the flapping pennants in their place. Folks from Durridge and as far as Kersham were milling about, browsing
at the tables and chatting amiably to the St. Martin's residents who were plying their wares and handing out food.

Standing back to admire Treacle's home-made proclamation of prophetic wonder, the little Witch's eyes tracked over
to where the largest congregation were stood at one the trestles, all of them men. Jack Morgan was nodding vigorously
towards two scruffy chaps who interrupting their orations with a swig from their tankards. Peggy smiled in the knowledge
that the Brewer was doing well.

The guitarist who'd she'd seen earlier was leading a group of small children in a rhyme about soldiers climbing a hill
and the happy faces of those sat on the stunted grass of the lawn made Peggy wonder about the heartbreak that the
dark force beyond the standing-stones had wrought to such an idyllic place.

"So thee be the famous crystal-gazer that we're honoured to have here?" a gravelled-voice asked from behind the focus
of the query. Peggy turned around and surveyed the half-drunken man in oilskins that had seen better days. "Allow me to
introduce myself, I'm..." -but Peggy cut him off in mid-sentence.

"You're Elijah Cole, fair travels" she returned and gave a slight non-committal curtsy whilst keeping a flinty look in her eye.
Peggy wasn't one for those who told yarns about things they knew nothing about. "Do yer' need a reading?" she added
with a dollop of faux interest.

Elijah grinned his gummy-grin and took a gulp from a tankard that -from the look of it, had been dropped many times.
"Nah me-girl, I was wonderin' why thee pitched thy tent so close to the stones of the esteemed Phinneas The Cunning"
he said and punctuated his question with a loud belch.

With a glance towards his fellow beer-consumers, the former sailor of the Great Sea slowly shook his head and explained
his question further. "Thee's only a little thing and I wondered if being in such a reverent place might help to bolster yer'
pocket-sized trade".

Of course, Elijah had heard of Peggy Powler -the last Witch of Underhill before, but he'd always suspected her notoriety
came from people who crossed themselves at road-shrines and offered prayers when the night came down. Now here
he was, standing before a miniature woman in a wide-rimmed hat and feet that looked like they'd never seen a pair of
shoes. Surely his own ocean-going exploits outshone any tales of spooks and silly make-believe magic.

The small necromancer kept her smile from blossoming and checked to see if anyone was in earshot, especially Kittie.
Leaning in close to the old man who courted body-odour like a good friend, Peggy whispered something that caused
the retired fisherman to make the same features as when he and his fellow-crewmen had once found a weird creature
in their nets amongst the flapping Danderheads and Loosejaws.

Even though Elijah's thoughts were more on what the woman in the poncho had actually said, his suddenly white face
spoke of a realisation that a person might make when they pause from peeing in a chamber pot at midnight because
of the blinking eyes in the corner of their bedroom.

A minute later, Peggy Powler was alone again and scanning the moving crowd. Elijah Cole was once more standing
with his ale-friendly comrades, but his flagon remained empty and a drawn look on his face spoke of a knowledge that
would make searching for merriment a difficult task.

'Amateur" Peggy whispered and went to grab a bite to eat.
...................................................

Just after noon, Jane Bowman peeked her head in around the tent flap and surveyed the interior of St. Martin's visiting
prognosticator, her sheepish look warned that any strong invitation would cause her to flee from her daring self-believed
trespass.

"Come in me-friend, come in..." Peggy urged softly from her place behind the gnarled table and lit a coloured candle with
a kitchen match borrowed from Treacle. The flame burned blue, orange and the red, another supernatural attraction that her
magical satchel had provided.

Kittie had asked earlier if the fabled knapsack had ever failed its owner and with a comforting pat on the weathered material,
Peggy had replied in the negative. A glass sphere, chiffon napery and a spooky-looking candle, all there beneath the lappet
when she'd placed her hand in the bag. There as always.

"...It'll be a pleasure to take a gander at what lies ahead fur' yer'" Peggy said as Jane sat down on one of Farmer Bulmer's
chairs. She kept an easy smile on her face, but reckoned if she'd said 'Boo', the Bowman woman would tear a hole in the
ceiling of the tent when she jumped out of her seat.
Jane stared around at the quiet interior as if snakes were waiting everywhere, Peggy idly looked at faint rune markings on
a gossamer silk cloth decorated with red Dragonfly and waited for her customer to relax.

"I...I want to help you get the m-monster that stole my sister" Jane Bowman stuttered and watched the Witch's eyes widen.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#24
Jane Bowman slowly sucked in a breath between her teeth and kept her gaze towards the eyes of Peggy Powler.
"It was when I was around ten years-old..." she whispered and was aware of the Fortune Teller's wriggling finger.

However this time, the smiling necromancer was urging the nervous woman to tell her story and not summoning any
bewitchment.
...................................................

It was the Sow In, a time when bonfires turned the night skies into blood and when the villagers stowed away their crops
for winter. The animals were brought down from the hills and a foreboding chill could be felt on the air. When the night
ticked by slowly, a farmer would look away from the dancing flames of his grate and listen to the faint cries of geese
flying north.

Under lantern-light, grinning scarecrows would be repaired from their eternal war against the mocking crows that filled
their bellies in the rich fields around the village of Poppycombe and under the skilled hands of the farmer's wife, he who
protected next year's seed would be reborn.

The days would become shorter and waxy candles would glow in the windows of thatched-roofed buildings to ward off
those who came over from the Otherworld. Small parcels of sugared-bread sprinkled with amaranth seeds would be left
on doorsteps to appease passing ghosts and any holes in the barn's walls would stuffed with Lavender-soaked rags to
repel hungry Pucas.

In Poppycombe -as in most surrounding villages, prayers for the dead would be murmured and down in the bay of
Durridge, symbols of long-forgotten charms were daubed onto the hulls of boats to protect them from the Nuckelavee.
It was a time that man had learned to stay indoors, when the darkness came and a time when everyone would wait
beside a roaring hearth for the coming of All Hallows Eve.

For Jane and her sister Alice, it was when they left the ten-family thorpe of Poppycombe to visit their Aunt in her lonely
house near a favourite place of the two girls, a sleepy hamlet called St. Martin's O' The Green.

Aunt Gretchen was as deaf as a lychgate, but she was their mother's sister and being a sole owner of a quite lucrative
fleet of fishing boats in Salton Bay and Durridge, Jane and Alice's four-day-stay were the grease to remind the ageing
widow of her favourite relatives when it came to updating any last will and testament.

With a half-hearted wipe of the window panes and the odd plumping of a cushion here and there, Jane and Alice hoped
that their task of persuasion was accomplished and their mother's avarice would be sated.
But it was the last night of their visit to Aunt Gretchen's strange-smelling home that the girls enjoyed the most.

As the ancient woman snored in her expensive armchair and the embers beneath the ornate mantlepiece glowed their
sleep-inducing warmth, Jane and her giggle-stifling sister would sneak out of their bedroom window and breath in the
magic of Summer's End.
...................................................

St. Martin's O' The Green's fairly-well known All Hallow's Fete -when spoken about, would always be accompanied with
the comment that it brought out the best in folk. As the sun hitched up its pants to go wherever it goes, the village would
throw a celebration that would hopefully convince that bright ball of light to return next year.

Toasts were made by adults that the coming winter will be an easy one and under the cedars surrounding the timeless
monoliths, a second sip of the ale was offered to keep wayward Hobs from bringing evil to the fields and fallow to the
Great Sea.

But for the children, it was a different story.

Under the occasional warning from their parents, scarf-wrapped youngsters ran amongst the tables in a game of Tag
and if the older children felt daring enough -and Jane recalled being cajoled by Alice to take part in once, the age-old
sport of 'The Farmer Wants A Wife' found the wary ten year-old performing her first kiss.

Elsewhere, bobbing for apples in rusty-ringed barrels brought concerns from overbearing mothers that the coats of her
hair-soaked sons and daughters would be smeared with the sneeves by morning. The fathers of such panting adolescents
just raised another tankard and went back to boasting about their time when the days were longer and magic waited along
every country track...
...................................................

"Ah' have a question, if Ah' may?" interrupted Peggy at this point. Jane was in full-throttle of her version of how Alice Bowman
was taken by the Bitch Of The Hill and the languor in the woman's eyes was something the Witch didn't want to effect.
Jane seemed so different and so happy recalling these memories and for a Fortune-Teller who ousted Church Grims and
fought Werewolves, such emotions was rare.

"Did yer' sister sew?" Peggy asked lightly and for a moment, she saw a slight movement of Jane's eyebrows to indicate
either a long-forgotten thought surfacing or a defence-wall of something the Bowman woman wished to keep concealed.

After a pause, Jane replied "She did so want to be seamstress, but she just wasn't skilled enough. My Aunt even suggested
we visit Madame Tanner in the village for a few tips." Peggy reined-in her excitement of finding the connection and merely
nodded slowly as if only vaguely understanding the answer to her question.
With a sigh, Jane added "No... I used help her with any the embroidery we sometimes did, but we used to pretend she'd done
the fancy work"

After a couple of seconds of silence, Peggy urged her timid customer to continue with her tale.
...................................................

The first memory that came to Jane was of squealing children running alongside the hedgerows of the lane in St. Martin's
and Alice's fearful look when she saw the little-ones with their painted ghost-faces. It was then that Jane had wondered if
her sister had somehow seen something in her past that she'd been reluctant to tell.

But sisters were sisters and if such a terrible instance had happened, Jane was confident that she'd have been informed.

As the laughing children raced by with their ribbon-wrapped payments to the dead, Jane slipped her hand into Alice's and
softly scoffed at the idea that small cakes of oats and berry-laden scones would somehow stop the Fae-Folk from souring
tomorrow's milk.

With a heedful smile from Alice -a grin that Jane would see on leering pumpkins from that year onwards, the two girls stepped
towards the standing-stones and the jollity that Hallows Eve promised.
...................................................

The home-made, once-bitten Taffy Apple lay on the grass alongside the hand-mirror that Alice had won in the Hoopla contest.
It had been touch-and-go whether she'd be worthy of the prize as to win -what the booth-presenter assured Jane and Alice,
was a carved looking-glass once owned by a princess and relied on her final hoop.

Now, for a long five seconds, the scene was the most hypnotic object in the whole of the universe.

A wide-eyed Jane Bowman held her breath and marvelled at the scarlet viscous layer of the fruit that glistened amongst the
clipped-strands of the lawn. A shadow from one of the tall stones lay across the thumb-smeared mirror that only seconds ago,
Jane's sister had been holding.

Alice adored these treats and even though it meant the last of their saved pennies were used-up, the blithe pair had agreed
that the syrupy delights would make a fine supper for their walk back to Aunt Gretchen's. Now that late-night meld was gone.

But where was her sister...? One moment she was behind Jane probably caressing the smooth sandalwood frame of the mirror
and the next, all was left was  a tumbled Candy Apple and the vanity toy. A tooth-jarring windfall and false-proof that we are real,
if you will.

Jane was on her knees as she slowly sucked in a breath between her teeth. People were milling around the Green's gate wishing
each other a good night and fair travels. But what about her sister...? Reaching for the mirror, the girl who would never tell her
mother what really had happened, saw something in the glass that would haunt her dreams forever.
...................................................

"Oh Herne" Jane whispered as the memories slumped like the poor woman's shoulders, what she thought she'd seen just didn't
make sense. It looked like a face, a faint visage of someone Jane thought she knew.

"What did yer' see, lass...?" Peggy whispered at the appropriate point and stilled the need to use a spell on the sob-suppressing
woman "...what did yer' see?" With a rictus smile -the same as Alice when she saw the ghost children, Jane looked at the last
Witch of Underhill and answered.
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"They watch from behind complacent smiles whilst polishing their cutlery. Yet, with egg between the prongs"
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#25
"But... but wouldn't that be too dangerous?" the Bowman woman whispered and subconsciously reached for her apron.
The touch of the fabric of her all-weather coat bought by her husband three winters ago, was her only comforter as she
searched the face of the last Witch of Underhill for support to her question.

Peggy Powler nodded in appreciation of Jane's concerns and without explaining more, gestured that they should leave
the tent.

The afternoon shadows were still short enough to suggest Elijah Cole and his friends would not have felt the calling to
leave Jack Morgan's barrels of ale and seek forty-winks under the surrounding cedars. The noise of merriment had
reduced to cheerful chatter from the mingling adults and mumbled blether from the tired children.

Kittle Heron looked all done-in. She'd left her post during Jane's entry to Peggy's marquee and joined in with the gaiety of
her new-found friends. Guiding her last customer of the day over towards the gate, the smiling Witch recalled Mrs Bowman's
description of the Bitch from the the Otherside and mentally promised herself to make sure the rosy-cheeked young Heron girl
would not be harm's way nor witness the horrible gargoyle that Jane had seen in her sister's mirror.

"Me-ruse was to have the Heron tapestry as bait fur' yer' sister's thief, but Ah've been havin' an idea that Ah' can make it
irresistible fur' the basta... the bugger" Peggy corrected herself and leaned in closer the mousy woman.
"A bit of jam yon demon's muffins -so to speak" she added and winked.

After quickly explaining her scheme to the wide-eyed woman, Peggy went to seek out Kittie Heron, the little Witch's titillation
needed some help.
...................................................

As Peggy dressed into Kittie's sister's clothes, she wondered if her long-dead mother would've approved of such a dangerous
stunt. Pretending to be a girl would work due to her height and hopefully the lateness that Gwydionel the Snatcher would chance
her hand, but there were still many things that could go wrong.

"Yer' Ma divna' know yer' took these clothes, does she?" Peggy called as she straightened the knee-high skirt round her waist.
The blouse felt strange on her skin, but the ankle socks tickled like a Sprite with a sparrow's feather.
Kittie's weary head appeared through the tent flap and for a second, a flood of memories scampered across her mind.

"She never saw me" the young girl said in a slightly distracted way and the preening Witch realised what she was thinking.
"Listen me-lass..." Peggy said softly and approached her drained doorman, "...we're gonna get yer' sister back tonight and
never forget, it's you who made it happen".
They hugged.
...................................................

If you were daring enough to climb one of the cedars and gaze out to the west, one would see the sky was turning from blue to
a faint pinkish-purple. The crowd was thinning as those from the coast began their journey home and Farmer Bulmer's men were
wandering the tents to see if they could dismantle the empty ones. They usually waited until tomorrow, but if there boss showed
up, it was always prudent to look busy and not that they'd frequented Jack Morgan's table.
None of them neared the Fortune Teller's little pavilion.

Peggy kept her poncho over Mary Bretton's borrowed clothes and checked the rope hadn't been tampered with. With a far-too
obvious walk of nonchalance, the Witch took the tapestry behind the tent and after carefully unfurling it, she leaned the beautifully
hand-stitched mural against the back-wall of her place of business. 

The pint-sized spellbinder rarely took enjoyment during her tasks of ridding the counties of hellions, but this time she smiled as she
admired the tapestry that was in full view of the doorway that the Bitch of St Martin's would appear and seize another victim.

Namely, Peggy Powler.
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#26
If such yarns as this one were ever fully discussed in scholarly circles like a Folklore seminar or story-hour
at a children's nursery, one could be sure that -due to today's penchant to dwell on emotional interaction in
all aspects of life, someone would surely ask about Peggy Powler's feelings when she first realised the evil
presence of the child-stealer known as Gwydionel.

To be precise, it was around the time when the last Witch of Underhill decided to remove her socks and her
sensations, her ardour, in fact her very passion at that moment was to get those annoying socks of her grateful
feet.
...................................................

Treacle Thistle's triple task was to monitor Peggy as she loitered around the back of her tent, keep an eye on the
quickly-thinning crowd of the Midsummer's Eve fete and a half-hearted scan for any brave owl that might venture
into the surrounding cedars.

It was early-evening now and even though it meant Treacle had to make a wide detour from his home to arrive at
the haven of shadowy trees, he felt in good shape to tackle the functions he'd been charged with.

However, during the Bogle's travels of scampering across Calder's Way, sneaking along beside the dry-stone wall
close to where the hermit-Gnome Turnip Mudd resided and then a quick dash back across the fabled highway to
the walled-off cedars and lawn, Treacle became aware that his thoughts didn't quite match his physical well-being.

It's okay for Peggy -he had thought as he had glanced towards the thick gorse bushes that hid Mudd's home, she
had battled all sorts of demons and horrors from the Otherside, Treacle's world -on the other hand, consisted of
avoiding foxes and secretly finding warm places amongst the humans to spend the winter.

With another scan of the dark branches above, the little Yetun went back to watching for the Bitch of St. Martin's.
...................................................

Kittie Bretton watched from her bedroom window as the remains of the festival crowd meandered down the lane
towards what she assumed were horses and carriages awaited in what could be loosely labeled the village square.
Most of the men were a little-too ebullient in their chatting and back-slapping, the women tended to walk together
and murmur things too quiet for the tired girl at the cottage window to hear.

To Kittie's right, the short-grassed arena where the Mid-Summer festival had earlier been alive with adult banter
and children's laughter, now looked like a deflating bladder of well-used bliss. With a look of mock-melancholy,
Kittie perceived the Green has a well-dressed Punchinello that had exhausted the sowing of his joy.

As the voices faded, Kittie quietly closed her window and climbed into bed. But before she allowed the wonderland
of dreams to welcome her inside, she mouthed a silent prayer for the woman alone on that lawn in her sister's clothes.
...................................................

"Friggin' things..." Peggy muttered as she tossed the balled-up socks next to the tapestry, "...Ah' divna know how
anyone can wear such leggings" she added and wiggled her unleashed toes in the dew-kissed grass. The last of the
visiting folk had gone and the quietness of the lawn was a bit unnerving, especially with the tents obscuring her view.

Even though Peggy ached to turn around and survey the tall columns of ancient monoliths that stood at this end of the
Green, she felt it prudent to behave like a child marvelling at her hand-sutured creation. The shadows of the stones
and the surrounding trees were hardly discernible with the growing gloom and apart from the faint laughter that came
from down the cobbled lane, she felt alone.

Then she began to feel something else.
...................................................

Back when Peggy was still with the Carnival, she'd been witness to an incident that altered her view on what her mother
meant to a community. Madame Powler had on occasions, been asked to attend a problem in a nearby village or some
quandary that had supernatural tones that a dismissive land Baron begrudgingly admitted he was powerless to solve.

Usually -and with the assistance of Mr Volcano's powerful coffee-mixture, the semi-sober soothsayer would leave around
mid-morning alone and return some time close to the Carnival's evening opening.
However, this particular day, Madame Powler called her only daughter into her marquee and asked Peggy if she'd like
to go with her.

"Tis' part of your schooling..." the refection of the prophet of peasants pronounced from the circular mirror that hung in her
quarters, "...today yer'll see things that'll turn yer' hair white" she exclaimed with a smile that had broken many a man's
heart and went back to combing her own jet-black tresses.
Peggy stifled her grin of excitement as she pondered the day ahead and what wonders she might see.

Hobbsbury is a market town in Callow county. The sixty-or-so inhabitants spend their days either caring for the surrounding
wheatfields or working in the Bluestone mine belonging to Sir William Blunt. Many of Blunt's employees are passing workers
who earn enough to fund whatever their near-futures demand, but the turnover of labour and Bluestone never wavered.

Well, that was until Shandy Gutteridge accidentally stuck his pickaxe into an unseen crevice and pulled a stone away to reveal
the reason of why Madame Powler was called for. Unknown to Gutteridge and Sir William, the tunnel that the men had been
excavating was also the resting place of something called a 'Gast Box' or Spook Chest.

For many towns and hamlets, if such a find surfaces, the first thing to do is request a Wizard or Witch to relinquish the natives
of the area of their concerns about such objects. This always involves removing the cursed thing. However, pragmatic people
like Sir William Blunt didn't believe in such hocus-pocus. That was why he lived on a large estate and those he paid lived on a
plot just big enough for a hen to peck at.

But it's this type of mumbo-jumbo that Shandy and his fellow-workers swear by and so after threatening to fire them, shouting
until he was hoarse about their stupid superstitions and even raising a horse-crop to them (until the Supervisor calmly brought
his boss back to reality), Blunt tasked a young lad called Bobbie to fetch Grannie Sickle.

Matilda Sickle was the old woman who by tradition, knows what's best to hush the fears of Hobbsbury's occupants and from
her ninety-or-so years in Callow county, even the furious Blunt would admit she knew a thing or two. Old Ma Sickle even knew
about a Gast Box and that was why after tramping all the way from the village, looking at the two-foot high container with the
recognisable ornate warning plates on its bolted door, she gave the already-sweating Bobbie Stevens instructions to find a
certain person over at the Carnival that was pitching up on the other side of Hobbsbury.

So that was how Peggy Powler, her mother sporting a large canvas satchel arrived at noon in a dusty work-yard half-filled with
broken quarry equipment, three snoozing mules, a nervous group of smoking men, a red-faced and sweating aristocrat and a
strange container sitting on a wooden flat-bed mine cart.

With an expression that many may use after realising they'd stood in dung, William Blunt approached the females surveying
their surroundings and reluctantly asked if perform whatever rites were needed to get his men back to work.
Madame Powler squinted in the sunshine and peered at the man who believed her was better than those around him.

"Why didn't yer' just toss it on yon scrapheap?" she asked and with a movement of her head gestured towards the pile of
rocks that no longer held the mineral favoured by jewel merchants in the south.

Blunt snorted like one of the drowsy nags tied to the nearby hitching-post and replied that he was someone who didn't believe
in such ju-ju nonsense, but valued his employees beliefs. The raven-haired Seer responded with a dubious "Aye" and stepped
away to prepare her work.

A Spook Chest -the usual term used by those who lived and died under the knowledge that there was sorcery beyond their
understanding, is a two-foot long wooden casket made of white oak that is bound together by iron bands and locked via a
mechanism that involves several particular rotations and ideally, with the correct theurgical descant.

But like most crates, it can be damaged and if its contents are exposed, folk like Madame Powler become far-more important
than the impatient chap in the expensive outdoor attire watching from his position near the explosive shed.

As Peggy's mother softly sang to herself, she plucked items of cabalistic power from her shouldered bag. The Fortune Teller's
demeanour implied a relaxed attitude and a lack of seriousness, but to a Witch, it was a way of putting spirits at ease and
showing a respect through the offering of a canticle.

As Madame Powler went through her ritual, her attentive daughter suddenly felt a strange awareness come over her. It was like
a vague realisation without the comfort of knowing a result. Although unseen by anyone in the mine's yard, Peggy's sensitivity
was due to the lock of the Gast Box slowly turning...
...................................................

That feeling arrived just as the hideous face of Gwydionel appeared between the stone pillars and a moment later, two claw-like
hands reached out and grasped the bare ankles of the next presumed victim of the Bitch O' the Hill.

Even as Peggy's chin smashed into the grass as she was dragged away, our little Witch took solace that it would be much more
than a bruised jawbone that she'd be administering to her captor.
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#27
Even though Peggy Powler had never met Madam Tanner, she could still see the basic features of the woman
who had ran St. Martin's O' The Green's only Drapery store many years ago. But probably due to her eternal
quest to procure light in this place of damnation, the individual that had sold materials and gave tips to Jane
Bowman and her sister had long gone and now, only a scowling white-haired ogress remained.

The Bitch that terrorised the Chime-children of the village clenched and unclenched her skinny dirty-finger-nailed
hands in annoyance and muttered words that belonged to another age. Even Peggy struggled to catch the gist
of what she was saying, but Gwydionel's red-rimmed eyes told the last Witch of Underhill that she was just vaguely
speculating that a scheme could be in operation.

With a swish of her black moth-eaten gown, the proprietor of this shadowy domain slowly approached her seemingly
self-assured guest and for most, it would seem a nightmare had suddenly arrived. For a moment, the scene crackled
with hoary hatred and seasoned spite.

"You're no damned child!" Gwydionel hissed softly as she examined the face of this small figure in the unlikely
garb before her. Peggy resisted the need to commune with the foul-smelling hag and instead, focused on the
dimly-lit cavern-like surroundings where at least, twenty young girls stood huddled together.
One of them looked a little like an older version of Kittie and the forlorn blonde girl behind her was definitely Alice
Bowman.

There were long tapestries hanging from the unseen walls and each length of embroidered cloth radiated light,
but Peggy realised that the effulgence was flickering slightly and hence the reason for the kidnapped youngsters.

A number of tired-looking weaving looms stood far-off to Peggy's right and apart from the partially-braided cloths
that glowed in their heddles, the wooden devices sat in shadow.
Time was different here too, the Chimers were consciously or unwittingly keeping this place in some sort of bubble,
a prison trapped in a moment, the sorceress thought.

Beneath a laboured breathing, Gwydionel asked "So who are you?" and again, the newly-caught woman in a girl's
attire said nothing.
...................................................

Treacle Thistle prayed that the water barrel would be empty enough for him to move it as he placed his shoulder to
the wooden staves. The little friend of Peggy Powler had only been in the Heron cottage once and that was some
time ago. The metal door behind the rain-cask led to a small tunnel where fire-ash once was discarded into, but
Treacle knew it was no longer used.

But even with all his strength, the Bogle could not budge the damned container and as he leaned against the rough
surface of the barrel, he breathed in deeply and set himself for another exertion.

"Yer'll be needing a hand there, Mr Thistle?" Turnip Mudd whispered from the gloom and for a moment, the Gnome
believed the panting Yetun looked like he was going to faint with fright. Turnip had -has he'd done every year, steered
clear of St. Martin's celebrations and was quite content to leave things as they were.
But tonight, he'd felt a strange urge to just take a walk across Calder's Way and examine the end of the Mid-Summer
Festival.

"Oh Herne, you're a sight for sore eyes..." Treacle croaked as he gathered himself. "...The Witch was grabbed and
I don't know what to do" he said and smiled weakly at the new arrival. "I was going to ask Kittie Bretton if Peggy had
told her anything helpful, but to do so, I need to get in her house" he added with the hope that the hermit didn't think
he was totally inept.

Turnip nodded sagely and approached the barrel that was bigger than both of them. "Well, let's get you inside then"
he muttered and placed his hands on the hoop-bound obstacle.
...................................................

"You'll get used to being here..." the abhorrent overseer spat towards the little bare-footed woman with the confident
stance. Gwydionel didn't like this one, but her existence wasn't based on camaraderie. "...They all do" the shuffling
ugly crone warned as she turned to inspect her current crew.

"Back to work girls, it's growing dark in here" Gwydionel cawed as she turned away from the stoic newcomer and
with a claw-like hand, pointed towards the looms in the gloom. The timid teenagers scuttled towards where the horrid
harridan had indicated and for a second, the tapestries around the walls seemed to glow a little brighter.
It was then that the bantam Peggy Powler decided that it was her turn to control the situation.
...................................................

"Kittie...?" Thistle whispered in the dark and contemplated pulling at the heavy bedspread, but he imagined the little
girl waking with the thoughts of the monster who'd grabbed her sister was under the bed and ready for a refill.

The Bogle stood on tip-toes and called quietly again, but the soft snore of slumber told Treacle that Kittie was still in
the realms of reverie. With a look of impatience, he glanced around the star-lit bedroom and wondered what the
reclusive Gnome waiting in the garden would do.

Unknown to Treacle Thistle, almost three weeks ago, Kittie had been sitting in the same front garden that Turnip Mudd
now squatted in. On that bright sunny morning, Kittie was soaking up the warmth in a cozy position surrounded by her
mother's pink floxgloves, watching an orange Ladybird making her way over the back of a slowly-moving snail.

Kittie marvelled at how the little beetle seemed arrive at a point where she could climb off and continue her journey to
wherever, but for no apparent reason, the Ladybird would turn around and scamper back to the summit of the snail's
shell.

Thinking that she should be helping her Ma with hanging out the laundry -although the wet clothes would be one sister
less, Kittie rose from her warm place amongst the flowers and was about to say goodbye to the passive snail and its
jockey. That was when a sharp beak grabbed the gastropod and gobbled it down without a second thought for its rider.

It was a Peacock, a huge wide-eyed and inquisitive long-tailed Peacock.

Nervously holding the kept feather that the intruding and hungry bird had left when Kittie had shooed it away, Treacle
now tickled the sleeping girl's nose in hopes of waking her from her dance with the sandman.
...................................................

Peggy Powler began her murmured chant and waved her hands through the air in the same manner her mother had
expelled the resident of the Gast Box. She hadn't moved from her original place where Gwydionel had released her
and now with the hag and her prisoners on the otherside of the room, Peggy felt it was a perfect time perform the
exorcism.

"Kadoe-mar Hetto..." the Witch sibilated with conviction and as she added "...In verigo venefica", the gloomy cavern's
temperature dropped and the squealing Bitch of St. Martin's began to rise into the air. The girls became statues as they
watched with terrified eyes as the writhing creature hovered a few feet above the cracked slabs of whatever this corrupt
grotto was.

"Balento Gwydionel, de monstrum relinquo" Peggy barked and with a flick of her wrist, spun the now-screaming woman
-thing around for good measure. "You know my name...?" the diminutive magician shouted as the gurgling cacophony
continued to spew from the child-stealer, "...do you?" she repeated with an unnatural rage for the usually easy-going
Seer.

Then the shadows in the room became more compact and from the corner of her eye, she saw that the teenage girls
quaking with fear next to the looms were beginning to fade. The lights from the hanging decorations were going out
and Peggy realised she needed to think of something.
And quickly.
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#28
Even through the mixture of some arcane language and more-modern obscenities from the floating writhing hag
in front of them, Peggy Powler realised that the terrified girls were looking at her for an answer as what to do next.

The darkness was creeping in quickly now and Peggy knew the time-slowed state this hideous place had been
contained in was deteriorating due to the lack of the Bitch's control over her captives. The thing that had hidden
in plain sight as a seamstress would occasionally stare from her lofty cell towards where the last Witch of Underhill
stood and screeched her affront that some back-woods kid would dare to dabble with mystical powers.

"You're nothing but a country dullard and I will have you..." the terror of St. Martin's began, but Peggy launched the
white-haired stinking scarecrow into a spin and her threats changed to a scream of vexation as Gwydionel whirled
in mid-air.

A more vigilant observer may have noticed the long hanging tapestries hanging about them changing from their
once vibrant colours to faded scenes of the countryside and other imaginings. As the sense hope to escape this
purgatory became stronger, the threads seem to lose their lustre.

"Get behind me" the arm-waving Witch proclaimed and without a word, the wide-eyed youngsters stumbled in a
arc around the area where the horrible autocrat struggled to release herself from the spell. Glancing at the girls
as they assembled, Peggy hoped those on the other side were ready.
...................................................

If any of the Morgan family had looked out of their bedroom window that late hour, they'd have witnessed what could
be classed as a lonely scene. Two small hurrying figures, one that was girl-shaped, a companion no taller than an
adult's knee and both running up the lane towards the shadowy arena of monoliths..

Treacle Thistle gasped as he strove to keep up with Kittie Bretton and his questions came out in staccato words.
"She said... to watch... the rope for... a sign" the little Bogle wheezed as they reached the gate of the Green and
with a nervous eye over his shoulder, checked the cobbled roadway for any opportunist flying night predator.

Kittie's was breathing heavy too, but as she entered the dark tent-festooned lawn, her mind was ablaze with anything
the Witch may have merely mentioned before it had been the girl's bedtime. Treacle followed the child towards the
two standing-stones that guarded the entry to the realm of Gwydionel the Snatcher and with eyes as big as saucers,
he surveyed the deserted remains of Summer's-End.

"We should take hold of the rope and make ready for when she wants us to pull her back" Kittie said with all the
conviction she could muster and then ruined her statement by adding "...I think". The little Yetun said nothing, he just
grabbed the ribbon-wrapped cable and set his feet in preparation.
For what, he couldn't imagine or truthfully, feared to think.
...................................................

'Now' Peggy said to herself and hurled the gyrating kidnapper into the darkness where the looms had been postioned.
The loud sounds o pain and shattering equipment told the Witch that Gwydionel had come down hard. Without checking
on the condition of the harridan, Peggy ushered the girls in the opposite direction and into a blanket of blackness.

"Ho'way lasses, yer' freedom is just a step away" she said and managed to marshal a confident smile. The assembly of
shock -wracked girls shuffled into the shadows without a word of protest and the woman in the unusual outfit followed.

With just a single Lucifer borrowed from her little Bogle friend to light the way, Peggy Powler wandered the darkness
and chaperoned the Chime-children away from their wicked mistress. One can only thank Herne, the Girls knew how
to keep the flame alive. They walked in a line and even through their dulled demeanour, they'd obeyed the little woman's
advice to walk with a hand on each other's shoulder.

Even though she wondered if she'd ever see daylight again, Peggy managed to smile as she felt the first girl in the queue
place a hand on her own shoulder.
...................................................

"The night's majick calls to yer' bones, little-one?" Kittie whispered to nobody, she'd been dwelling on the first time the
little Witch had visited her home. Treacle was focused on the task ahead and didn't hear her properly, but the girl's
words were a welcomed distraction, so he asked her to repeat them. "It was something Peggy said... but it didn't
make sense to me" she explained and felt the chill of the wet grass getting to her toes.

The Yetun offered a tight-lipped smile, "Only you can know" he offered and kept his gaze on the dead rope laid between
the monoliths, The scene went back to quietness and both would-be saviours swam in their own thoughts.
Treacle kept his thinking harnessed and simply ruminated on the red and blue ribbons woven into the hemp and how they
had failed to display their colour in the gloom. Kittie sighed softly and wished she held onto the other things Peggy had
said back then.
...................................................

It could have been a trick of the nerves when surrounded by blackness, but the little sorceress thought she'd felt a cool
movement of air. Peggy glanced at the eternal flame of the match and saw it wave slightly, it wasn't much, but it brought
a small sense of hope.
The strange line of people pressed on and somewhere in the back of her mind, the last Witch of Underhill wondered if
Treacle could still remember the words she'd given him. "He bloody -well better" she whispered to nobody.
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