One person who certainly had not forgotten about Herling was Dûae. When she left GaGa’s house she walked to the center of town, where she found the schemer addressing a large (by ToadChapel standards) and growing crowd of listeners.
Herling stood at the foot of an old statue dedicated to some god or saint or hero forgotten by everyone in the village. The dwarf looked very important as he warmed to his subject, fingering his silver bow and pointing at people to make them understand.
“I, for one, won’t wait for trouble to find me!” he cried, raising his fist above his head so it was about level with the face of a brawny, mean-looking man standing beside him. “Harry’s found goblin footprints in his prize pumpkin patch. Pumpkins violated! There’s goblin graffiti on the wall of a mausoleum in our town’s burial ground. Are the shades of ToadChapel to be thus polluted? Why, Fernald the woodcutter was chased from his cutting by a swarm of chattering goblins, he says! Goblins in our very midst!
“Before these younglings, these Mills and Gramm, came to ToadChapel we enjoyed peace and quiet. Now the moon goes all red like blood spilt in the night, and strange goings on have followed ever since. Strange and worse.
“Of course I’m not saying children are bad, or even that these children are in league with goblins. But there’s some mystery that has brought a foul threat to our door, and I’ll wager those two know more than they’re letting on. Could be the lovely GaGa knows, too, but I suspect she’s merely the victim of her own kind and generous heart.
“If the younglings are innocent, they have nothing to fear. But I’d rather we kept this town free from danger than wait to uncover their guilt. What might be the cost of that to all you good people of ToadChapel?”
At this a murmur of support spread through the nervous crowd. Men brandished sticks, farm tools, and even a few hunting bows. The hidden misgivings of the villagers focused their fears on Gramm and Mills.
Herling gestured to some rough-looking characters, including the big man in the front of the crowd, as he continued, “Fear not, friends, I’ve got things under control. With the help of these fine bold men here, we’ll keep the woodland tracks free from marauding goblins. We’ll keep your poultry from the clutches of that pair of urchins. We’ll keep the village streets safe at night, no matter the danger to us.
“If anyone spots Gramm or Mills, they are to be apprehended and brought to me for questioning. They are extremely clever, so take care they don’t slip through your fingers like the breeze. It is important that GaGa knows nothing of this plan.
“Further, we all see the need for increased vigilance in these times of peril, so I’ve instituted a curfew of sundown until further notice. Anyone caught out of doors at night will face a fine. Travelers venturing outside the village must inform me or my assistant, Bultry,” said Herling as he pointed to the burly man beside him. “For your safety.”
By this point Dûae had become truly frightened. With luck the children were safely out of sight, but she couldn’t do anything about that now. She decided she’d better get back to GaGa’s and inform her friend how things stood. As she slipped away from the back of the crowd, she heard Bultry thanking ‘sheriff Herling’ and calling other men together to coordinate a system of patrols, checkpoints, and other ‘security measures’. She scarcely believed the other villagers would accept such nonsense, and wondered how Herling had got himself appointed head honcho. Now that he commanded a gang of thugs, she doubted it much mattered anymore.
With goblins on one side and goons on the other, the adventure of Mills & Gramm continue here.