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The Return of the Black Witch
Book 2: The Moleskin Cap

- M.R. Williamson

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One should not expect to slap the hand of an old crone and expect to walk away without at least a limp. The old witch Ethrel Ibenus is up to her tricks again and this time they’ve turned deadly. But where did her spirit go after Professor Martin shot her with his wee pistol?

Now, all are looking for the crone’s familiar, Seleene. But the big timber wolf cannot be found. The search for the spirit of Ibenus now begins in earnest. Will Entwhistle and her Dwarves be able to help? Perhaps the Green Witch Pereen will be able to use a crystal derived from one of the Witch’s own spells will do the trick. Fearing failure, Entwhistle improvises a plan ‘C’, the use of a mythical creature once thought to be long dead.

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Part 1

The Outcast

The half-Dwarf Donder Franks sat nestled inside the branches of an old spruce, listening to the moisture dripping from the trees to the leaves of the forest floor. An early-morning April rain had gifted the wood with just enough moisture to quiet the crackle of the dry leaves from the hunter’s approach. Hunger gnawed at the halfling’s stomach like a cramp that refused to be rubbed out. A well-used game trail was only a weak toss away from him, but for some reason, nothing was using it this morning. Just as puzzling, even the birds were refusing their normal, spring-like chatter.

Then, hearing a slight rustle in the scrub on the far side of the trail, he quickly put arrow to bow. Fumbling to position it to the string, he watched intently.

Please…not another hare. If it’s another rabbit, I’ll eat tree bark, he thought almost aloud.

But another noise came to his ears—the soft crunch of dry spruce needles. Donder didn’t see the old tree move, but he did, feel the moisture as it fell on his jacket. He slowly turned to check both sides. But the spruce was too thick and he could see not a thing. And worse—the pain in his stomach was back again, causing him to grimace and rub his abdomen. His stomach growled, sounding much like an angry old hound. Sensitive ears caught the sound causing a slight movement beneath a young fir tree.

Good…good.

Seeing dark brown or perhaps blackish fur, he gradually raised his bow and sighted down the arrow toward the spot in the evergreen’s shadow.

What part of the animal am I seeing? It’s the size of, perhaps, a young deer. But I’ve never seen a deer with black and tan fur like—

The halfling’s thought was cut short by the feel of cold steel just under his chin. His eyes grew big as he let the tension off the bow.

“All right,” he managed weakly. “You’ve got my attention.”

But his words drew no comment. Instead, his possible ‘deer’ got up, looked toward where Donder was sitting, and then trotted down the game trail and out of sight.

“What the devil kind of dog is that?” he asked, still feeling the cold steel beneath his chin.

“Thank you very much,” came the soft, girlish reply, but the knife remained. “I’ve been trying for six months to gain the trust of that creature and just when I get close, up pops another fool trying to shoot her.”

“I’m hungry. Would you mind removing the knife?”

Donder watched the polished blade slide from his throat and pass so close to his left ear it made it twitch. Moving slowly, he turned to see a small, brown-headed dwarf of twenty or so. Her smile was warm, but the knife point was still against his side.

“Wow,” he said weakly as she pushed by him through the old spruce. “I never heard you enter the tree.”

She paused, two steps in front of him and turned slowly. “Not much of a hunter are you,” she said.

“Well…” Donder eased out of the branches and stood up brushing his pants off. “I’m a real terror on rabbits.”

“Really?” A slight smile started to form on the little Dwarf’s face. “Where do you live?”

Donder straightened up, looking down at her. “A little bit of everywhere really. What kind of dog was that? It was bigger than a hound but looked to be nothing like one.”

The Dwarf frowned. “Why were you trying to shoot her?” She looked up the game trail, but there was nothing to see.

“Her?” Now it was Donder’s turn to frown. “I just saw fur, but couldn’t get a clear shot. I was hoping it was a deer. If I eat another rabbit, I’ll shoot myself. Do you know this creature?”

The little Dwarf smiled as she loosened the draw strings on a pouch she had slung over her right shoulder. “I’ve got flat bread, jerked deer, dried plums, and a few nuts.”

“Anything.” Donder loosened the string on his bow and returned it to its sheath. “My name is Donder Franks. My friends call me Don. Seeing her hold out the bag, he took two of everything he could readily see. “Thank you very much. What’s your name?”

The Dwarf’s smile widened. “Entwhistle Bumpas,” she answered, watching him munch on the jerky. “I live at Leachenwood, or what’s left of it. You’re a little short for a man, where were you born?” She glanced up the trail again.

Donder’s smile was cut by half. “Leachenwood,” he answered with barely a glance.

Entwhistle paused, gripping the drawstrings of her food pouch. “Can’t be,” she finally got out. I know everyone there and have no memory of you at all.”

“Probably wouldn’t.” He devoured his first piece of flat bread. “I was taken from there when I was five or so, just after my mother died. That was probably before you were born.”

“Your father was from the villages of men, wasn’t he?”

Donder nodded. “We lived between White Castle and Lake Horn—closer to the lake really.

“The castle is but a shell now.” She held the bag out again.

Donder nodded, taking jerky and bread as he did.

“Who was your mother?” Entwhistle asked.

“Rose Elfwyck, daughter of Perryman.”

Entwhistle laughed silently, watching him devour the last pieces of bread and jerky while staring at the food pouch. “You must have been pretty hungry to risk shooting the only timber wolf in England.”

“Wolf?” The halfling stopped, mid-bite, with a mouthful of jerky. “Never seen one before now. You’ve got quite a lot of jerky.”

“Seleene, the witch called her, was a gift from one of her traders.”

“But the witch was killed, yet the wolf lives? How does that work?”

“Very good, I think. Seleene is no longer burdened with the spirit of Ibenus. But, all in all, it has left her very shy of men, or Dwarves for that matter. It took me two years to find her and almost another year to get close.”

Donder squinted. You’re trying to tame her?”

Entwhistle smiled, nodding. “I have a bet that I can and I believe I am able.”

Donder slowly shook his head. “Why would you make such a bet and with whom?”

“To prove a point—girls can do a thing most males can’t. The bet is with my father, Billy Bo Bumpus.”

“I see.”

Donder noted Entwhistle had looked past him and up the game trail once more. Finally seeing a smile to go with the distraction, he slowly turned to see for himself. There, about forty yards up the trail, stood what she called a wolf. Acting much like a curious dog, the creature watched them both closely.

“See?” she said proudly. “A wild beast wouldn’t do such a thing. Ibenus made her unafraid of humans while she lived, but her spirit almost destroyed that after she died. How brave are you?” She reached into the food bag and pulled out a particularly large piece of jerky. Handing it to the halfling, she added, “Step out onto the trail, face her, and then take a bite of it.”

“Do what?” Donder’s eyes grew big as he glanced at the wolf again.

“You heard me.” She gently pushed him out onto the trail. Donder turned, eying the biggest dog he had ever seen.

“Take a bite,” Entwhistle encouraged.

Donder obeyed, chewing the tangy morsel as he watched the wolf. Seleene took a half-step forward and then stopped, licking her mouth.

“You’ve got her attention,” the Dwarf whispered. “Now, take two, slow steps forward and hold it out for her.”

“What?” Donder’s voice weak.

“You heard me. She won’t bite you. She knows what you have, and she likes it too.”

The halfling rolled his eyes, his gaze ending up on Entwhistle. “She won’t bite?”

“Don’t think so.”

“You’re guessing?” Donder squinted at the wolf.

Seleene licked her chops again, but then grunted and turned to trot up the trail and away from Donder.

“Stay there,” Entwhistle said encouragingly.

But the hopes of the little Dwarf were diminished as the huge timber wolf, amid glances back at Donder, trotted on and out of sight.