Greely Putterwig hushed Elizabeth. Elizabeth hushed but looked up in the old man’s face and wondered what she was hushing for. They were once again among the trees, but this was more of a mixed forest of deciduous trees, firs and pines. The trees were more spaced over the land than in the old growth forest, but the ground cover remained minimal. It was like the old forest was thinning out. It became a pleasant walk up and down little hills, rises in the ground, where the golden moonlight and innumerable stars were able to keep the world bright. Elizabeth thought that even the shadows were not too bad, as long as the shadows did not move.
When they came to the top of a little rise, they looked down into the next dip in the land. There was a quaint cottage, with roses out front and a vegetable garden in the back. Elizabeth saw pumpkins growing there, and squash, and she was not sure what else. The cottage was lit, and smoke billowed from the chimney which gave the whole thing a very warm and inviting glow. Elizabeth very much wanted to go there, and tugged on Mister Putterwig’s hand, but the old man said no.
“That home belongs to a terrible, wicked witch,” Mister Putterwig whispered. “Mary Procter has lived here for about three hundred and fifty years. Her father, John Procter and his third wife, Elizabeth were condemned in old Salem Town for witchery, though there was no witchery in them. It was Mary, daughter of his second wife that was the witch. She escaped to the wilds of New Hampshire when she was twenty three, but the people were after her, and would have caught her if she had not come here.” Mister Putterwig stopped babbling and wondered why Mary Procter should even matter to him.
Elizabeth tugged again to go toward the cottage, but Mister Putterwig was adamant. “We can’t go there If we do, she will take you away,” and he took her up the next rise in the land.
It was not much further before it became evident that the thinning forest was because the ground was becoming too rocky. They were generally and gradually going uphill by then, like they were coming to high ground, and after a short way, Elizabeth saw the big, dark mountain loom up before her and block all the stars behind those heights.
“Where are we going?” Elizabeth yawned.
Mister Putterwig stopped at the top of a little hill. He waved his hand at the distance. “The eternal mountain. There is a great and craggy cliff, full of all sorts of interesting caves and tunnels. The dwarfs mine there and shape the iron into useful things. The goblins live deep in the recesses of the mountain where they work in metals, gold and jewels. The elves of the grove live not far up the way where they spin and weave the cloth that is shared all over Avalon. There are others who live in and around the mountain, but…” Mister Putterwig became quiet and they stopped walking. “Stay here,” he said.
“Wait. Don’t leave me, alone in the dark.” Elizabeth clutched at Mister Putterwig’s hand. She tried not to cry at the prospect of being left in the dark woods.
Mister Putterwig got down on one knee, then looked once around to be sure no one was watching. He reached out and gave Elizabeth a big hug and said, “Don’t worry, child. There is a light up ahead, and I want to be sure it isn’t dangerous. You are safe here. Can you count the stars? No? Well, why don’t you try. See how many you can count before I come right back. Okay?” He stood and walked backwards for several yards before he turned and scooted up a well worn path.
Elizabeth fretted, but turned her eyes to the infinite stars in the dark sky. She turned her back on the bright moon, which was full and seemed determined to stay big and low in the sky, a bright golden-orange globe with a smiling face. But she fretted, because overhead there were too many stars to count. She tried Jake’s counting method. “One, two, skip a few. Ninety-nine, a hundred.” It did not help. All it did was make her sad. She missed her brother. She missed her mom and dad. She had never been out so late in her life, or so far away from home, and she was afraid she was going to be in big trouble when she finally got home.
Elizabeth jumped. There was a rustling in the leaves and her eyes got big and focused on that one place, but she held her tongue and dared not move. She heard a soft “meow,” and a pitch black cat came out from the trees to sit out of reach in the moonlight. Elizabeth caught her breath and bent down with a smile. “Kitty, kitty,” she said and held out her hand. The cat came when invited. She got to pet the cat, and the cat purred and rubbed up against her leg. “You are a nice kitty. Do you live around here? My name is Elizabeth. I live a long way from here, and I don’t think I know the way home.”
The cat jumped back at the sound of a twig. It ran off when Mister Putterwig came into view. “It’s all right.” Mister Putterwig called before he arrived. “It was just Nuggets the dwarf going up to the upper clearing. He says they are having a Halloween party. I said we might come, but it was kind of late for little girls to be out at night.” He reached for Elizabeth’s hand, and she gave it, but not without a word.
“I should be home. I miss my mom and dad. I miss my brother Jacob. I am getting sleepy.” She punctuated her words with a big yawn.
“Child,” Mister Putterwig said in his kindest voice. “I am taking you home. Soon, you will forget all about that other place, and you will stay with me and care for me in my old age, and I won’t have to be alone.”
“Home?” Elizabeth asked through another yawn. She said no more. She simply walked and began to climb the hill until Mister Putterwig stopped and looked up. Elizabeth heard it too, a high pitch squeak. Mister Putterwig made Elizabeth crouch down and he threw his body over hers. Elizabeth heard the squeaking and then the sharp flap of leathery wings. Mister Putterwig muttered something she did not want to hear.
“Vampire bats,” and the bats headed straight toward them. Putterwig, the hobgoblin, was able to put up a magical shield of force around himself and his little charge. The bats could not reach them, but Putterwig knew he could not hold out for long. The bats, and they were big, made leathery snapping sounds with their wings, teeth and claws as they tried to get at the tasty morsels, full of fresh blood. They rammed into Putterwig’s shield over and over. Every time they struck, Putterwig let out a groan, like a man being punched in the stomach, and Elizabeth cried out, giving voice to her fear.
The bats circled round and round, looking for a way in until suddenly they flew off. Elizabeth heard a different sound, more like a deep screech than a high squeak. Mister Putterwig slowly looked around as he lifted his head. Elizabeth heard leathery wings that were much bigger than bat wings, and she hid her face once again in Mister Putterwig’s belly, afraid it might be a dragon.
One set of great wings landed nearby, and Elizabeth ventured a peek. It was about three feet tall, with legs, and arms as well as wings, and the arms and legs ended in claws. It had two little horns, and sharp, pointed ears to match the sharp pointed teeth, and it was all greenish-gray, and it was talking.
“Greely, is this the tike? Don’t you know what the penalty is for stealing children? I pity you when Lady Alice finds out.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care.” Mister Putterwig shouted back and held tight to Elizabeth, like she was his protector rather than the other way around. “We used to always take the discarded little girls to raise in their own community until they were old enough.”
“Yeah, six thousand years ago, and only babies.”
“I don’t care. I am keeping Elizabeth. She is my friend.”
The creature shrugged, but said nothing more as it took to wing. Mister Putterwig started them walking again and muttered some more while they went. “What do pixies know? They live in caves and hunt bats to eat raw. I wouldn’t expect them to understand.” Elizabeth tugged on Mister Putterwig’s arm. “What?” He faced her and said it too loud and in much too rough a manner, which he immediately regretted. Elizabeth temporarily shrank back, but at last pulled up the courage to ask.
“Are we friends?”
Old Putterwig’s face almost broke. “Yes,” he said, without a doubt, and they walked, his face held high so the little girl could not see the tear that formed in the old man’s eye.