“You’d shoot the devil, that’s what you’d do,” growled Kinsley.

I nearly tripped over my axe.

Kinsley wore his leather gambeson and a sour look, his prominent lower jaw pushing forward further than usual, and he carried a hunting bow across his shoulder. He pushed a second bow into my hands. “We’re goin’ faerie-dancing.”

“We’re doing what?”

“You heard me. We’re goin’ after that rat, before he goes and screws up the whole forest.”

I stared at him quizzically.

“Follow me, you’ll see what I mean.” He turned and stalked off towards the trailhead behind the main cottage. I guess that meant we weren’t going to finish thatching the roof on the shed today. I followed him.

Marianne and Cirith, his wife and daughter, leaned against the faded planks of the back door waiting for us. Marianne shook a broom handle at us as we passed. “Now don’t you go getting yourselves bewitched,” she said. “You’ve seen what that thing can do to the animals.”

Kinsley muttered something under his breath that was thankfully lost to the space between us and the house, and it fell to me to put a pretty smile to our exit. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back before dark.”

Cirith looked right at me. “You’d best be.”

I had to jog to catch up with Kinsley, who had almost reached the edge of the trees. The forest rose up abruptly, a black and green wall of dancing shadows and mossy trunks that frowned down at us as we approached. I hesitated; the forest had never seemed an evil place, the trees had never felt like leering sentinels. What sort of magic warped it now?

“C’mon,” said Kinsley, and he plunged into the forest.

With a forlorn glance back towards Cirith, I followed.


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