The Pooka’s Day 4

Claudia rummaged through her satchel and set a jumble of tiny packets and bottles on the floor beside Elijah on a handkerchief of homespun cotton. The little folk had cut away the leg of his trousers, exposing a cleaned but very nasty bite wound.

The figurine Claudia had used to summon that “hunter” thing lay at her side.

The mother knelt beside her husband.

Littleberry and his friends huddled in the corner, trying to distract or entertain the two children. They shot Danny worried glances.

Claudia set a short, thick candle at the wounded man’s head.

“Light that candle,” she commanded.

Outside, Egil Greycoat cursed in his native tongue.

One of Littleberry’s friends squeaked with fright.

Danny pinched his brow. As if it weren’t bad enough he was caught in this mess…

“What am I gonna do?” he muttered. “I am in so much trouble!”

“Underhill!” Greycoat barked.

“I said light that candle!” Claudia rumbled. “I don’t have all day!”

Danny stooped over and produced a spark of fire in his fingers—not faery fire, but a real fire that ignited the candle’s wick when he touched it.

“He’s right,” Danny whispered. “You ain’t got much magic left.”

“Plenty to deal with the likes of you,” Claudia said. She began mixing ingredients in a wooden bowl. “Fire magic isn’t exactly my specialty—but that doesn’t mean I can’t turn you into something tasty if the mood strikes me. Understand?”

“Now listen here!” Danny said.

Claudia turned away. She stirred her mixture into a pungent salve while chanting under her breath.

“I ain’t done nothing to you!” Danny continued. “You’re the one trapping my landlord in a magic circle, barging into my house…”

She started rubbing the salve into the wound on Elijah’s leg.

“By oak, ash, and thorn, woman! Egil Greycoat is a pretty important fae in these parts! Sure, I don’t like him, but I’m stuck with him, ain’t I? I figure you and your passengers will be moving out as soon as he’s able to walk.” He gestured toward the wounded man. “But what about me?”

“Underhill!” Greycoat called from outside. “Get me out of here this instant!”

“You see?” Danny said. He shook his head and leaned back against the wall.

Elijah expelled a breath. Claudia caught his wife’s eyes and nodded. She smiled and started to weep.

“Now you listen, Mr. Underhill,” Claudia said. She rose to her feet. “You left open a portal into the Wonder. My passengers knew nothing of this world or its dangers—until now. If it wasn’t Greycoat, it might have been any number of things: ogres, water panthers… I’ll bet there are even horned serpents around here. Am I right?”

“Now, wait—”

“I’ve already told you these people are my responsibility. I promised to see them through to Canada, and I mean to do it.”

“Underhill!”

Danny sighed. The throbbing pain that had been creeping into his head finally exploded. “Miss Claudia, I understand about keeping promises. I really do. But… Egil Greycoat!”

“Underhill, come thou forth at once, or thou art a dead man!”

Danny crumbled to the floor, his head in his hands.

“What are we gonna do, Danny?” Littleberry asked. “Without you to look after us…”

“I know, buddy. Don’t worry. I’ll figure something out.”

He opened his eyes. Claudia was looking at him. Her expression had softened.

“Don’t you have passengers to look after?”

She glanced over her shoulder. Elijah had drifted off to sleep with his head in his wife’s lap.

“Underhill!” Greycoat shouted, and followed up with a string of curse words.

“I didn’t mean to be rude earlier, Mr. Underhill,” Claudia said. “I’m…rather passionate about my job.”

“Yeah,” Danny said. “I guess I can’t blame you for that. I take it you’re a runaway, too?”

She shook her head. “My mother was a slave. I was born free.”

“Your ma, she escaped up north?”

“She…escaped.”

Danny quirked an eyebrow. “You mean into the Wonder.”

She nodded. “Soon after she met my father. But that’s a story for another day.” Her gaze drifted to Littleberry, who still cowered over Danny’s shoulder.

“These little folk are your responsibility.”

“You might say that,” Danny agreed. “We look after each other. That’s what happens in farm country—you probably know something about that. Neighbors help each other out.”

“You rally together,” Claudia offered.

Danny nodded. “Anybody has a barn to raise or tobacco to cut or hogs to butcher, people are proud to chip in. It’s a point of honor.”

“We’re family,” Littleberry said, puffing out his chest.

“The little folks are the best neighbors you’d ever want, but when it comes to dealing with the likes of Greycoat—”

“You protect them,” Claudia said. “And by putting you in danger, it appears I’ve put them in danger as well. I assure you, Mr. Underhill, that was never my intention.”

“Underhill!”

Danny sighed. “You got a long hike ahead if you plan to make Salem tonight.”

Claudia stole another glance at her sleeping passenger.

“Elijah needs his rest,” she said. “And it seems I need to help you find a way out of this mess I’ve put you in.”

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