Greycoat was on his feet in half a second.
“He doesn’t care about your children, Susanna,” Claudia said.
She nursed a block of wood in her hands, no bigger than a brick. It had been carved into a vaguely human form, but stooped and snarling and angry like a wolf. A tiny mirror, flashing in the moonlight, was fixed to the figure’s belly.
What kind of magic is that? Danny wondered.
The mother hesitated. She opened her mouth to say something, but her words couldn’t find their way out.
“Thou doest these deathlings no service, young lady,” Greycoat said as his eyes trained on Claudia. He flexed the fingers of his right hand. His will-o’-the-wisps grew brighter and bluer.
“M-miss Claudia,” the mother whimpered, “Lige….”
She raised a hand, and the mother held her peace. “I’ve no quarrel with you, sir,” she said. “But those children are my responsibility, not his.” She gestured toward Danny with her chin. “And I mean to get them to Salem before daybreak.”
“Thou wouldst be wise to leave them be,” he said.
“I was about to say the same thing to you.” She began to chant.
“Thou art loyal, no doubt, and brave. Be thou not stupid. Thou canst not—”
Claudia raised her voice. A mist began to swirl around her wooden figurine.
Greycoat whipped forward his hand to unleash a faery blast.
At the same time, something shot from the figurine—a glowing white ball of mist, but it was as fast as a cannonball.
Greycoat flinched. His blast struck harmlessly high in the trees.
Danny rolled out of the way. The mist had taken form: mostly human, but stooped over like something half-bestial and with an angry scowl. It sported a shield of animal hide on its left arm, and in its right hand it held a war club. It was on Greycoat in a heartbeat, pounding at the elf and driving him back from the cabin door.
Timothy stood stunned. Danny leaped forward and scooped the boy up in his arms.
“This way!” he called to big sister. He grabbed her by the collar and hauled her to the cabin door.
Littleberry just beat him inside. The little person had Claudia’s satchel. He spied where the injured man lay on the floor and hurried to his side. Three other little folk were already gathered around him.
“Tend to your brother,” Danny told the girl. In a second, he was back outside.
By oak, ash, and thorn, he thought. What next?
Greycoat was fending off the mist-man with his sword. The side of his head was swollen and bloody, and he held his left arm close to his body.
Danny couldn’t help but enjoy the beating this strange woman was giving his landlord. Then realization set in.
I am in so much trouble!
He had no love for his landlord, but he sure didn’t need Greycoat’s buddy the Erlking as an enemy.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he called. “There’s no need for—”
“Out of my way, pooka!” Claudia thundered. She advanced on Greycoat with steely determination in her eyes, which never left the mist-man she was controlling.
Greycoat fell to one knee.
“C-can’t we just talk about all this?”
Claudia chanted another command. The mist-man hoisted Greycoat like a sack of potatoes and caught him in a headlock. Claudia smacked him on the hand with her walking stick. He dropped his sword, and she kicked it away.
She walked around the elf and the mist-man, tracing a circle in the ground with the tip of her stick, chanting as she went. Then she reached into a pocket on her skirt, pulled out a small pouch, and strewed a fine, silvery powder around the perimeter.
As she finished her chant, the air shimmered: her magic circle came to life. The mist-man dissolved into fog and blew away. Greycoat’s orbs of faery fire vanished just as quickly.
Greycoat surged forward, but hit an invisible barrier where Claudia had drawn her circle. He recoiled as if from a hot stovetop.
“Underhill!” he spat.
“N-now… Now, Mr. Greycoat…” Danny started. “This lady, sh-she ain’t…I mean, I ain’t never seen her before…and—”
“Get me out of here!”
“Do it and face my hunter.” Claudia held up her figurine. Danny jumped back.
“She’s bluffing!” Greycoat insisted. “No deathling witch can throw that much magic. She’s spent.”
“You’re welcome to test the man’s theory, Mr. Underhill,” she said. The rumble in her voice shook Danny to the core. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Claudia glanced toward the cabin. “I need to see about Elijah. Invite me in.”
Danny’s eyes bounced between Claudia and Greycoat. Even injured, he was seething with anger. “M-miss Claudia, I—”