A racket of cawing crows woke Awley from a treasure-filled dream. He tumbled from his bed and straightened his wrinkled clothes.
He cupped his hands to his mouth, took a breath that would spread his voice all over Ireland, and shouted as loud as he could: “Becula!”
From the fragrant smell of the place, Hazel was already up. She stood near the fire fixing porridge and herb tea. Groaning sounded from the nook that Toby and Quinn had claimed.
Awley stomped over to get them going. “Rise and shine, lads.”
Far from shining, Quinn stumbled to his feet. Toby sat with his head in his hands. “Whatsa matter wit’ them crows?”
“I’ll have a squizz,” said Hazel. She climbed the stairs and opened the door.
Her piercing scream stabbed Awley’s heart.
The leprechauns scrambled up the stairs. Quinn reached the entrance first. He screamed even louder than Hazel had. “A nid pole! A nid pole! We’ve been nidded, lads! We’re doomed!”
He and Toby shook as though they were caught in an earthquake. Awley jostled them aside, dashed into the clearing, and skidded to a stop.
A horse’s head impaled on a pole dripped blood from its severed neck. Lips drawn back in a grisly grin, the dead horse seemed to be laughing at them. Cawing crows swept at it, picked at its flesh, had already plucked out its eyes.
Hazel whimpered. Quinn locked his arms around her and patted her back.
Toby’s head swiveled nonstop, as if he were seeking a means of escape. “They called the sorceress after all. They might not have known where we camped, but that thing will curse the woods all around, and us with it. We’re done for, Awley!”
“We are not,” Awley said. He studied the trees. Where were Bucket Head and his crew? They wouldn’t still be here, not with the nid pole disturbing the earth and transmitting sinister sorcery. Hoping he was right, he strode to the pole.
Its maker had carved runes into the wood and smeared blood over the symbols. Awley had no idea what they meant, but it couldn’t be anything good. As he approached it, a wave of malevolence hit him. Another followed, stronger this time. He had to get help, and fast.
“’Tis true, their hags are proficient witches,” he said, “but ours have more power. Don’t worry, lads. I’ll summon the best of the lot.”
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