VII: A Meeting by Moonlight

“Don’t you think we’d better leave a bit early so we’re sure we don’t miss mister Mus? I don’t want to fail him,” said Gramm to his sister.

“Don’t worry, we have plenty of time. The festival moon won’t set for another hour or so, and Jon Mus told us to stay out of sight till then,” replied Mills. “He slipped me some apples and a bit of cheese as we parted. Let’s have a bite to eat and rest here in the barn before the meeting.”

With a sigh Gramm thumped down upon a wooden box. He dangled his feet anxiously and took an apple from Mills. “Imagine,” he said (not for the first time), looking with wide eyes into his sister’s incredulous face, “Jon Mus! What are the chances we’d meet him in the woods? And that he’d know all about our problems, and have a plan to help us in our troubles?”

“Hmm. Let’s focus upon what we do know, Gramm, and think about what we can do for ourselves. I still don’t trust that Jon Mus. Even if this cheese is pretty tasty. Here, have some.

Now, we need to get Herling off our tail. The easiest way to do that is to prove we didn’t steal the chickens. Even he can’t keep his louts chasing us if everybody knows we didn’t do it.”

“Right,” said Gramm, spreading the soft rind cheese onto a slice of crisp green apple. “I didn’t steal any chickens!”

“Well. Your reputation isn’t helping us,” replied Mills. Her brother wrinkled his nose and began to sputter, so she added “I suppose my own isn’t so spotless in ToadChapel, either. What did we ever do to these dull, grumpy people?

Now, once we’ve cleared our names, we need to warn people about this goblin business. Something unusual is going on, and it looks bad. Once it’s safe to return home, we can tell mother. She’ll know what to do.”

“I say we investigate those nasty goblins ourselves and find out what they’re up to. We found them, we get to foil their plot!” said Gramm in a rush. “If we hadn’t gone into the woods to catch trout nobody’d know what they’re up to, even mister Mus. Imagine, mister Mus needing our help. He probably needs us to find out more, too!”

Mills doled our more of the apples and cheese and tightened Gram’s collar against the creeping chill. There was no harm in Gramm’s fantasy, even if she could never allow herself to run such risks with her brother’s safety. The two munched the rest of their food in silence, occupied with thoughts of the mystery. Gramm frequently checked the moon through a crack in the wall, sighing each time at its tardiness. At last he tugged at his sister’s sleeve.

“It’s setting. It’s time to go.”

“Ok,” said Mills. “But be quiet now, we don’t know who’s about tonight.”

The children cracked the heavy barn door and scanned the road. The only sounds were the occasional hoots of an owl and the rustling of the mice behind them in the barn. They crept out into the yard and dashed across to the low stone wall beside the road. Beyond a tiny unplanted field lay the the cemetery, which appeared far more threatening in the pale moonlight than it had in the light of day. Long shadows cast by the low moon stretched out like fingers reaching for them.

Mills squeezed Gramm’s hand and the children scurried across to the cemetery gate.

“That’s odd,” said Gramm. “The gate’s a bit open.”

“It’s just Jon Mus here ahead of us.” said Mills. Her heart was pounding in her chest, but she didn’t want Gramm to know.

The children slipped through the open gate, leaving it as they found it, and crept stealthily through the small cemetery looking for the mysterious man. The weird shadows behind tombstones, crypts, and leafless trees gave the place an eerie quality. Though Mills was as wary as Gramm was eager, she needed to know how things stood so she could form a plan for her brother and her, and so she led her brother through the cemetery with as much confidence as she could muster.

Approaching a far and inconspicuous corner of the cemetery, a spot where tiny mausolea huddled together like some silent congregation, the two stopped short and clutched each other in surprise. There were definitely hushed voices ahead. The two crouched lower and strained to listen, but could not make out any of the words exchanged. One voice was rich and smooth, while the other was high and harsh. The second voice grated on their ears and seemed unsuited to speaking softly.

“Gramm, we’ll see if we can get a look at whose voices those are. Probably Jon Mus has just brought someone else with him tonight, but let’s go quiet as a pair of mice anyway.”

“Maybe we should turn back. Jon Mus knows where to find us,” said Gramm.

“Shh. We can always run, and we can always hide. Right now, though, let’s see what we can learn,” replied Mills. “We’ve come this far and we don’t want to let mister Mus down.”

Holding her brother’s hand, Mills led the children forward, hugging the walls of the gloomy tombs and placing each footstep with care.

As the two frightened but courageous children came nearly close enough to hear what was said, they peered around the wall of a vault and actually saw the speakers. The festival moon had nearly set and the seasonal moon cast only a pale light, but the identity of one of the plotters was clear. The dwarf carried a crossbow and wore a low hood. It was Herling.

The second speaker gave the children even more cause for alarm. He was stooped with age and leaned upon a tall staff. Hanging from the staff the children saw skulls, including the skulls of humans or similar folk. The figure had a long nose on his face, beady eyes, and a chin that jutted out angrily. He wore a large shabby fur and bore all sorts of grotesque trinkets. Now the children understood the harshness of the cruel high pitched voice. Though it was too dark to see, they knew that the figure’s skin was green.

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