Goblins on the Prowl
When goblins are good, they are very, very good. But when they are bad, they’re stinkers.
—Stanklo the Scribbler
It started the day five goblins searched my cottage.
I was setting a snare to catch a rabbit when I heard them coming, though I didn’t know yet they were goblins. I stuffed my twine into my pocket and scrambled up a nearby tree. I wasn’t afraid, but a girl living alone in the forest has to be careful. I try not to let people see me until I know who they are and what they are up to.
Soon the goblins came into sight. They were being unusually quiet, for goblins, sneaking along with only an occasional fart to announce their presence.
Since I am officially a “Goblin Friend,” I should not have been frightened by seeing them. But I could tell something was not right.
The reason I am a Goblin Friend is that I helped my human friend, William, do the goblins a big favor after he freed them from the spell that had imprisoned them in Toad-in-a-Cage Castle for a hundred and twenty-one years.
The reason I was frightened was that when William and I had left Nilbog, the goblins had been planning to stay in their underground home for a long time, to recover from their terrible experience in the human world.
So what were these goblins doing “up top”? And why were they looking over their shoulders and hiding behind trees, rather than bounding through the forest as goblins normally would?
I waited until they were a little way ahead of me, then dropped to the ground to follow them.
They numbered five in all, two with tails, three without. The shortest stood only a little higher than my waist but seemed to be the leader. They wore red headbands, which I had not seen goblins do before.
It didn’t take long to realize they were heading for my cottage. Were they coming with a message . . . or were they planning mischief?
Goblin mischief, when goblins are not crazy, is not too bad. And they tend to make up for it by also doing housework. I wouldn’t have minded having them
clean up my cottage some. I’d been fixing it up since I’d found it, but it was still a mess. Not that I was going to stay there much longer. The time was coming when I would have to go somewhere else so people wouldn’t find out my secret.
Moving had not bothered me in the past, at least not after the first few times. Now that I had met William, the idea was making me sad. But I couldn’t let him know the truth about me.
That would be too dangerous.
When the goblins reached the cottage, I slipped behind a tree to watch.
The leader bounced up to the door and called, “Fauna! Fauna, are you there?”
When he got no answer, he threw open the door and bounded in. The others raced to join him. Once they were all inside, I hurried to the west wall, where I crouched to peer through my own window.
To my surprise, the goblins were not doing either mischief or housekeeping. Instead, they were searching for something. They looked under the bed and in the rafters, opened every cupboard, even tried the stones in the fireplace to see if they could find a loose one. And all the while they kept yelling, “Blackstone! Blackstone! Blackstone!”
I was furious and wanted to shout at them to stop. But though I don’t mind fighting, I’m not stupid. Five goblins against one girl makes for bad odds.
Finally the leader shouted, “Urxnagle!” which seemed to be some sort of goblin cuss word. “It’s not here!”
“Helagon is not going to be happy,” whined a green goblin with eyes the size of my fists. “He really wants that thing.”
What thing? I wondered. And who is Helagon?
“I wish we hadn’t agreed to help him,” muttered a third goblin, flapping his pointy ears. “He makes me nervous.”
“Too late for that!” snapped the tallest goblin. He looked around uneasily, then added, “We should go before we get caught.”
“Not until we put everything back!” cried the leader. “Also, we need to make some mischief!”
Leaping about like squirrels, bouncing off the walls, laughing as they worked, the goblins soon had the cottage twice as neat and tidy as when they had entered.
Then they hid my cups and plates under the bed.
That done, they hurried out the door—three running, two rolling—and disappeared into the forest.
I walked to the edge of the clearing, where I sat on a tree stump and stared at my home. What in the world had the goblins been looking for? And who was this Helagon that made them so nervous?
While I was trying to puzzle this out, I heard someone else approaching. This made me cranky. I don’t particularly like company, and twice in one day was at least one time too many.
As the footsteps grew closer, I recognized the sound—the clump of a heavy boot, then the slow drag of the other foot. Just to be sure, I slipped behind a nearby tree, then peered around the trunk.
I was right. It was Igor.
Like William, Igor lives in Toad-in-a-Cage Castle. However, until last year no one knew he was there. That’s because he lived in the dungeon and made his way around through the secret passages, something the castle has a lot of.
Igor is about a foot taller than me. He would be even taller, but he stoops because of the hump on his shoulder. He’s mostly bald but has a bushy black beard that hangs halfway to his knees. His eyes are dark and deep set. His nose looks like a small potato. He always wears a big fur coat, no matter what the weather.
As usual, he was clutching his bear, which is like a
doll, only shaped like . . . well, like a bear. It’s made out of fur. I don’t know what kind of fur it is, or where he got it, and I don’t want to.
Igor uses his bear to bop things that annoy him. A light bop lets you know he is not happy with you. I’ve seen a mighty bop send a goblin flying several feet into the air.
Igor has never bopped me. I think he knows better.
“Fauna!” he growled when he got closer. “Where you at? Igor got message!”
The growl didn’t mean he was angry. Igor almost always growls.
I waited until he had clumped past me, then stepped from behind the tree. I was tempted to tap him on the back, to see if I could startle him, but I knew you should never, ever touch Igor’s hump. Instead I shouted, “What’s the message?”
He spun around, bear raised to battle position. Then his face softened. “Oh, it you. Good job scaring Igor!”
“Next time Igor scare you instead!”
“You can try.”
He scowled but didn’t say anything.
“What’s the message?” I asked.
Igor scrunched up his face, a sign that he was think
ing. Then his eyes went wide and he shouted, “Igor got invitation!”
“Invitation for what?”
I had heard of parties but had never been to one.
“Baron making party for day William free goblins. He call it . . .” Igor stopped and knocked his fist against his head a couple of times. Then he smiled. “He call it Goblin Freedom Day Party!”
“When is the party?”
“On Goblin Freedom Day!”
You have to be patient when you talk to Igor. I took a breath. “Well, when is that?”
Igor scowled, counted on his fingers, and tried twice more. Then his face lit up. “Tomorrow night! It one year from night William free goblins.”
“Well, I’m not doing anything then. I guess I can come.”
“Good! William will be happy!”
With that, he turned and started back along the path, bear tucked under his arm.
As I watched him go, I realized I wasn’t sure what you were supposed to do at a party. I decided to visit Granny Pinchbottom, hoping maybe she could give
me some advice. Also, I wanted to tell her about the goblins who had searched my cottage.
Granny Pinchbottom isn’t really my grandmother, of course. I don’t think she’s anyone’s grandmother. It’s just what people call her.
I didn’t used to visit Granny, because I never felt entirely safe when I was with her. That changed after I helped William connect the Goblin King’s head to his body. Granny has treated me differently since then. I’ve even been inside her cottage a few times.
When I got to Granny’s clearing, the cottage was gone. This didn’t mean anything bad had happened. When Granny isn’t at home, her home isn’t there either.
Sometimes Granny will show up if she knows I want to visit. So I found a stump to sit on and turned my back to the clearing. I had never actually seen the cottage return, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t if I watched too closely.
I took out my knife and began to whittle at a stick. I didn’t whittle it down to nothing. That would have been a waste. Instead, I made a sharp point at the end. When I was done, I set it aside and started on another.
You never know when a sharp stick will come in handy.
About the time I began to shiver from the cold, I heard a rustling behind me. I glanced over my shoulder.
The cottage was back.
Unless you knew better, you would think it had been sitting there for a hundred years.
Granny’s cottage has rough walls and a thatched roof. Though a heavy frost had fallen the night before, the rosebush that grows to the right of her door was in full bloom.
It always is.
I knocked, and Granny called for me to enter.
As usual, a three-log fire blazed in the stone fireplace. Also as usual, the black cauldron that hung over the flames bubbled and steamed. You never know about that cauldron. Some days it holds the best stew in the world. Other days the smell coming from it is so disgusting I can hardly stand to stay in the cottage. Once, I saw something climb out of the cauldron, leap to the wall of the chimney, then scramble up into the darkness.
Granny was in her rocking chair, petting Midnight, her huge black cat. She likes to call this “the stroke of Midnight.”
The cat yawned, then leaped from Granny’s lap to coil around my legs.
“He likes you,” Granny said.
Her voice was cracked and dry because she was being her old-lady self. When she looks this way, her hair is limp and gray, her nose long and hooked, her chin sharp and warty. If she wants, Granny can appear as a beautiful young woman. She rarely does, though. I get the feeling she doesn’t think it’s worth the effort.
I bent to pet Midnight. “I like him back,” I said.
Her lap free of cat, Granny got up to stir the cauldron. It was smelling particularly rank. Over her shoulder she said, “So, what brings you to my door this fine day before Halloween? And take off your coat. It’s plenty warm in here.”
Unbuttoning my coat, I said, “I came about two things.”
“Well, that’s twice as complicated as usual. Let’s start with one.”
“A group of goblins searched my cottage today.”
Granny’s eyes widened. “What were they after?”
“I have no idea! I don’t own much, and I can’t think of anything I do have that anyone else would want.”
“Did they say anything that might give you a hint?”
“They kept shouting ‘Blackstone.’ But that’s not much of a clue.”
“There’s a Lord Blackstone a day’s ride from here.
Hard to imagine he has goblins working for him, though. Anything else?”
“Yes. One of them said, ‘Helagon is not going to be happy.’”
Midnight arched his back and yowled.
Granny spun toward me, her eyes blazing.
With a bang the cauldron split open.