The day the farmboy, Jakob, left to rescue his sweet Elsa from the foul witch began like any other. He woke, dressed in his finest tunic and breeches, broke his fast, and met a talking squirrel.
“Isn’t it the sheriff’s job to find missing persons?” the squirrel asked. He scampered along the forest floor, keeping up with Jakob in fits and starts. “Why didn’t you go to him?”
“I did,” Jakob said, squeezing the rose he was carrying so tightly thorns pricked his fingers. “He laughed at me.” He stared at the drops of blood glistening off the sharp points.
“Let me get this straight,” the sheriff said, his braying laughter turning his cheeks red. “A witch,”—snort—“turned your girlfriend,”—snerk—“into a bird.”
Jakob said, “A nightingale. Everyone knows there’s a witch living in the castle in the forest. Haven’t you noticed all the fair maidens who’ve gone missing?”
The sheriff stopped laughing and furrowed his bushy brows. “Come to think of it, my sister disappeared on round three seasons ago.”
“Disappeared? And you didn’t wonder where she went?”
He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I thought she’d gone shopping.”
“For nine months?”
Again that half-hearted shrug. “She likes to shop.”
“So you decided to rescue her yourself,” the squirrel said, bringing Jakob back to the present.
A loud chittering overhead caught the squirrel’s attention. He answered back. A pine cone came hurtling down at him, followed by a second and then a third.
He dodged the projectiles and leaped onto a tree, clinging sideways to the trunk. “Hurry. I stole his food stash last winter. He still hasn’t gotten over it.”
Jakob jogged after him. “If my precious Elsa is to be saved, I must be the one to do it.”
“The flower’s a nice touch. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the gesture. Personally, I have more luck with sunflower seeds. The ladies go wild for sunflower seeds.”
Jakob held up the brilliant red rose. A dew drop clung to the inner petals as it had since the day he discovered it. “This is the rose that will free my beloved.”
The squirrel scurried up a tree. When Jakob walked by, he hopped onto his shoulder, his claws digging into his skin. He balanced there and leaned forward. “It’s a nice flower, but I think it’s going to take more than that to bribe the witch.”
“I’m not going to bribe her. It’s a magic flower. I dreamed about it.”
His claws tightened. “Your entire rescue scenario hinges on a flower you…dreamed…about?”
Jakob climbed over a fallen log. “A magic flower.”
The squirrel looked at him out of the corner of his eye.
“It made perfect sense in my dream.”
“Right,” he drawled. He cocked his head. “Your parents aren’t siblings, are they?”
Jakob tripped over a root and landed hard on one knee. He sucked in a breath and rolled over, clutching his leg. “Of course not,” he gasped. “What would make you say such a thing?”
“Nothing. Anyway, how did Elsa end up getting caught by the witch?”
He pushed himself to his feet and limped along. “That’s a long story.”
“The castle’s not getting any closer.”
That was true. Though they’d walked all morning, the castle was still but a speck through the trees.
“I must warn you, it’s a sorrowful tale of longing and love, despair and hope. It’s a tale sure to make you weep, to bring you to the brink of—“
“You got lost.”
“She forgot the map.” He smiled. “As the fairest of all fair maidens, Elsa is…”
“I knew a snow hare like that once.” He sighed. “Such a vixen. I mean, she really was. She was cursed by an evil hag for getting into her chicken coop one time too many.”
A movement through the trees caught Jakob’s attention. “Hold. I see something.” He squinted, trying to make it out. “Do you see it? It looks like it’s coming this way.”
The squirrel climbed a limb to get a better look. “Oh, Mother.”
“What? What is it?”
“A troll,” he said. “It must be one of the witch’s minions.”
The trees appeared to part, and Jakob suddenly saw the creature clearly. Battle scars marred its green, scaly hide from its lipless mouth to its overlapping belly. A tiny pink nose glistened between bulbous eyes. Wrapping meaty, six-fingered hands around two large pine trees, it ripped them from the ground. The sound startled a flock of birds into flight.
It raised its arms over its head and roared.
Jakob backed away. “Where’d it come from? I’ve been in this forest many times, and I never saw a troll before.”
“The witch must know you’re coming.”
It let out another roar and threw the trees aside, destroying saplings and knocking a robin and her nestlings out of their nest. It fell to all fours and the ground shook.
“Oh, my.” The squirrel climbed fifty feet up and perched on a branch. “Better get your sword ready.”
Jakob froze. “What? Do you see a sword on me? I’m a farmer, not a prince.”
“Really?” He looked bemused. “Well, you are rather handsome for a human. The witch must have thought you a prince.”
“What do I do?”
“Hmm…” His tail twitched. “You might try running.” He ran onto a limb and leaped to the next tree. His voice drifted down. “Good luck.”
The troll galloped toward him, increasing in speed with each earth-rattling stride. Green saliva trailed from its fangs. Deadly nails ripped the sod from the ground.
Jakob turned and crashed through the forest, crushing flowers, snapping branches, making almost as much noise as the beast. A whimper escaped his throat.
It drew closer.
Panting breaths behind him oozed a pustulant haze into his nose and mouth. An oily film coated the back of his neck. He coughed and brought his tunic up to his face.
A claw scraped against his back, cutting a swath through his clothes and caressing his skin. He screamed and choked on the foul air.
The beast slammed into him. He lost his balance and spun around, bringing his arms up in defense. His fists connected with the massive creature. The jolt rippled up his arms and rattled his teeth. A streak of red followed by a shimmer in the air flashed across his vision and then he was tumbling into the base of an ancient oak. He squeezed his eyes shut and lay there panting, awaiting more pain.
An unfamiliar masculine voice broke the stillness. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a spare tunic on you, would you?”
He opened one eye to see a tiny, naked fairy sitting on the ground a few feet away. He wore his brown hair shorn close to his skull, and his feathery blue wings fluttered when he raised his arm in a shy wave. Except for perfectly round blue eyes, his facial features were human.
Jakob sat up. “Where—where’s the troll?”
“That would be me.” The fairy stood and bowed deeply. “Liam Mac Domhnaill Mac Uidhir. At your service.”
Jakob picked a leaf out of his hair and pushed against the tree until he was standing. “I don’t understand. How are you the troll?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
He started to shake his head and stopped with a wince. Someone had shoved a thousand tiny daggers into his neck when he wasn’t looking, and a blacksmith was hammering out armor for an entire regiment in his skull.
“I was cursed,” the fairy said. “The witch, you see. But you returned me to my true form, and for that you have my eternal gratitude.”
“How’d I do that?”
“You tell me.”
A crashing limb startled him such that he leaped back, banging into the tree. His eyes watered, and he clutched his head.
The squirrel flew to a tree stump and balanced on his hind legs. “I was rooting for you. Glad you made it.” He tilted his head and gave the fairy a hard stare. “Mac, is that you?”
Mac’s eyes and wings turned bright purple. “Squirrel! How’ve you been, you old fur ball?”
“The usual. How are Jane and the kids?”
“Good. Jane’s mad at me for trying to eat them.”
“That’s horrible,” Jakob said. “Now that you’re no longer a troll are you going to go find them?”
Mac laughed. “I wasn’t a troll then.”
The squirrel swiped a paw over his face. “Fairy males are cannibals. Everyone knows that.”
“I…see.” Every part of him ached, and a warm breeze blew through the rents in his tunic, a reminder of his close call with the troll. With Mac. “Well, I better be off.”
Mac flew beside him. “Rescuing a princess, huh?”
“Just my fair maiden.”
The squirrel said, “He’s not a prince.”
“Huh.” Mac rubbed his chin. “That’s too bad.”
Jakob stopped. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He lifted his shoulders in a shrug that sent a rain of fairy dust shivering off his wings. “Nothing.”
The squirrel dug under a pile of leaves, came up with an acorn, and stuffed it in his cheek. “He’s talking about the three trials.” He sounded like he was talking around a cotton wad.
“Trials?” he squeaked. He cleared his throat. “What trials?”
“Everyone knows about the three trials,” Mac said.
“Will you two quit telling me what everyone knows and explain?”
“Every prince who goes to rescue his princess must endure three trials to prove he’s worthy of her love.”
“The first was obviously the troll,” the squirrel said.
Mac bowed again. “I do appreciate you not taking my head off, by the way. Very kind of you.”
“I don’t have a sword.”
“You must have magic then.”
He shook his head.
“There must be something.”
“I guess your flower really is magical,” the squirrel said.
They all stared at the pristine rose.
“Not what I would’ve chosen,” Mac said.
“But I’m not a prince, and Elsa isn’t a princess.”
“Yeah, looks like the witch got confused.” He shrugged again. “Too bad.”
“What am I going to do? All I have is this flower. Even if I had a sword, I don’t know how to fight.”
“Buck up,” Mac said. “Maybe she got the three trials backward.”
“What do you mean?”
The squirrel gave Mac a frantic shake of his head. When he saw Jakob watching him, he brought his back leg to his ear and scratched furiously. “Fleas.”
Jakob leaned against a pine tree to steady himself. “What are you not telling me?”
Mac said, “The trials usually go from the easiest to the hardest. But maybe she got them backward. She is really old.”
“Oh, Mother.” His legs couldn’t hold him any longer.
“You could give up, you know.” Mac picked up an acorn and tossed it in the air. “Go home. Herd sheep. Maybe find a nice milkmaid to marry.”
Jakob brought the rose to his face and inhaled. The perfumed scent filled his nostrils. He’d dreamed of this flower. It had magical powers if the naked fairy hovering before him was any proof. That reminded him. “Weren’t you asking for a tunic earlier?”
“Oh, that.” He bounced the acorn between his hands. “Fairies don’t–”
The squirrel leaped straight up and snatched the airborne nut. “Quit wasting food,” he said, shoving it in his mouth.
“What was I saying? Oh, yeah, fairies don’t wear clothes. Everyone knows—” He stopped at Jakob’s look. “Anyway, I was just trying to cover up an awkward moment. I was embarrassed about trying to kill you. It’s not like me at all.”
The squirrel said something, but the words were garbled by the food stuffed in his cheeks.
“What was that?” Jakob asked.
Mac made a rude gesture at the squirrel. “He said, ‘Are you going on, or are you turning back to herd sheep and marry a milkmaid?’”
“He said all that?”
“More or less. So what’s it going to be?” Mac asked.
He stood and tested his legs. They didn’t collapse on him, so he took a step. Then another. “I tried tending sheep. I’ve never seen a group of creatures go out of their way to die in more stupid ways. I’m going on.”
“Good man.” Mac clapped his hands together and his wings and eyes turned as green as new grass. “Shall we venture forth?”
“You’re free of the witch’s curse now,” Jakob said. “You don’t have to be here.”
“I want to watch you get ripped apart at the next trial.”
He stumbled and had to catch himself. He looked back, unsure if he’d heard him right.
“Residual troll blood,” Mac said with another one of his shimmery shrugs.
The squirrel said something that sounded like, “No it’s not, you bloodthirsty feather duster,” but when Jakob asked the fairy to translate, he said he couldn’t make it out.
“No matter,” Jakob said. “I will rescue my dear Elsa. Nothing, not even a witch, can stop true love. Destiny brought me to this flower, and destiny shall be my guiding hand in this quest. Love will always prevail against—”
“Why are you orating?” Mac asked.
He’d stopped walking, and he was holding the rose aloft as his voice rang out across the forest. “Sorry.” He hurried to catch up.
“What do you think the next trial will be?” the squirrel said. He’d removed a couple of acorns from his cheeks and fastened a pouch from a maple leaf to wear around his neck.
“An ogre, surely,” Mac said.
“Please.” The squirrel flicked his tail rudely. “An ogre is always the third trial. I’m guessing a specter from his past will be second.”
“To suck his soul from his body?” Mac chewed on a blade of grass. “Could be. It’s not very dramatic. Grinding bones for bread. Chopping off heads. You can’t beat the classics.”
“You’re drooling. So if an ogre is the second challenge, what’s the third?”
“Has to be a giant. It’s the only thing tougher than an ogre. And they breathe fire. One good puff—crispy prince. Or farmer, in this case.”
Ogres? Fire-breathing giants? What was he doing here? Sure, Elsa was the fairest maiden in the land, and she had the nicest—anyway, she was a really nice girl, but who was he to say she shouldn’t spend her life as a nightingale? Maybe she liked being a bird.
“Would you look at that?” the squirrel said.
He looked up and gasped.
The castle loomed over them only a few paces away. He turned in place. The forest was far behind, and they stood on a lawn of bright green grass, every blade clipped to the same height. Mature oaks dotted the area and provided shade from the sun.
“How–?” He touched a tentative hand to the castle wall, expecting to find an illusion. The stone was cool and damp and very solid. Ivy clung to the side, and neat rows of hydrangeas lined the castle’s base.
He waited for the insidious evil to worm its way into his blood.
“Pretty,” the squirrel said. “Like a park. I could live here.”
“Don’t let the witch trick you,” Jakob said. “I’m sure all this was created with foul magic.”
“Actually, she has a gnome come by twice a week,” Mac said.
“An evil gnome, no doubt.”
“Let’s get going,” the squirrel said. “The door has to be here somewhere.”
“It’s around front. I can’t wait for the second trial,” Mac said, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s hope it’s an ogre.”
The forest spun around him and night crept in from the corners of his eyes. The witch’s magic! He tried to call out a warning as darkness claimed his sight.
When he came to, two small faces were blocking out the sunlight as they peered down at him.
“What happened?” he said.
“You fainted,” the squirrel said.
A bee flew over his head and Mac’s wings shivered when he swatted it away. Fairy dust rained into Jakob’s nose. A burning filled his sinuses, and he sneezed hard enough to knock both fairy and squirrel onto their backs.
He sneezed and sneezed until he thought his insides were on the outside. When he finally stopped, the sun had moved halfway across the sky, and he was dizzy and weak. “That’s what fairy dust does?” he said with a sniff.
“Yeah,” Mac said. “What’d you think it was for?”
“I don’t know. Granting wishes?”
“I’ve heard it’s great on salad,” the squirrel said.
Mac crossed his arms. “Wish granting isn’t exactly conducive to fairy defenses.”
Jakob used an ivy vine to pull himself up. His rose brushed against it, and the ivy broke free from the wall. He fell backward.
He sat up and wiped dirt and grass from the back of his head. Did all heroes spend this much time prone? “What made me to faint?” he asked. “The witch’s magic?”
“No,” Mac said. “Just nerves, I imagine.”
He steadied himself against the wall and started walking. “Shouldn’t I have encountered another monster by now?”
“I hope the second trial isn’t one of those intellectual ones,” Mac said, his wings turning a sickly yellow.
The squirrel made a noise in the back of his throat. “If so I hope the girl likes being a bird.”
They rounded the corner just then to see a wooden door recessed in the wall. Iron bands as thick as his wrist and as wide as his thighs wrapped the wood planks. It soared twice the height of a man and three times as wide, and no latch or lock marred the surface.
He put his free hand to it and pushed. He might as well have been trying to push the castle wall over.
“Do you want me to tell you how to open it?” Mac said.
“We should give him a chance to figure it out for himself first,” the squirrel said. “It’s only fair.”
Jakob gave them an annoyed look and tapped the rose against the door. It emitted a low groan as it swung open on hidden hinges.
Not even the sunlight at his back could penetrate the blackness within. Far beyond was a strange rustling noise, constant, yet rising and falling with no discernible pattern.
“Let’s get going,” Mac said, flying into the room.
Jakob reached a hand out to stop him. “Wait!”
The fairy was swallowed by the darkness. Jakob waited, expecting to hear a scream, a cry of pain, a guttural death rattle. A dozen tallow candles flamed up.
Mac turned back. “I used to work here, remember?”
The hall smelled of beeswax and spices. The floor was covered in stone tiles that gleamed with the patina of age. Tapestries depicting fields of flowers, bees, and birds of every shape and size covered the walls, and benches and embroidered chairs sat next to side tables covered in vases of fresh flowers. It was, quite simply, one of the nicest entrance halls he’d ever seen.
“This isn’t what I expected,” the squirrel said, his claws ticking as he crossed the room.
“Wait’ll you see the game room,” Mac said.
“We’re not here for a tour,” Jakob said. “We’re going to find Elsa, rescue her, and then get as far away from here as possible. Mac, lead the way.”
“Are you crazy? You still have two more trials to complete.”
“Two? But what about the door? That didn’t count?”
He shook his head. “It’s always like that. I was going to show you the latch.”
“Besides, you know this place better than I do.”
“But we don’t know what form the remaining trials will take.” He mumbled something about spiked ceilings and poisoned darts and pit traps.
“You can fly,” the squirrel said. His eyes narrowed as he studied the tiles around him. “You don’t have to worry about pit traps.”
“It’s the principle.”
Jakob stopped beneath the archway that led to the darkened corridor beyond. The rustling noise grew louder. “Can you at least tell me which way to go?”
“Sure. Straight to the intersection. Then right, right, left, straight past two more inter—”
“How about we take it a little at a time?” He stuck a leg out and pulled it back. Nothing happened. He put a tentative foot on the first stone. A pair of torches flared up, highlighting a hallway lined with paintings of farms, cottages, and frolicking animals.
He headed for the intersection just beyond the dancing shadows. His eyes darted from the floor to the ceiling to the walls looking for trip wires or loose tiles or other telltale signs of a trap.
They reached the first intersection without incident. Rather than breathe a sigh of relief, he only grew more tense. Two more trials. The words rolled around in his head. What form would they take? They would be lethal, of that he had no doubt. The witch’s heart was black as pitch, and whatever she cooked up would be as foul as the warts on her nose.
They walked for what seemed like hours. “You’re not trying to delay me, are you?” he asked Mac.
“Nope. It’s just a very big castle.”
“It didn’t seem that big from the outside. Magic, I know,” he said before Mac could.
“Well, we’re almost there anyway.”
“Really? But I haven’t encountered another trial yet.”
“Maybe she’s planning a big finale.” He grinned. His eyes and wings turned bright red. “Maybe she’ll set you against both an ogre and a giant.”
Jakob took a wary step away from him.
They walked down a few more corridors and he pointed to a wooden door. “There.”
Jakob knew what was making that rustling sound now. Bird wings. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of them. But though he recognized the sound, he didn’t hear one chirp, one peep, not a single birdsong. The knot in his stomach rose to his throat.
“Why are you stopping?” the squirrel asked. “Let’s get the chick and get out of here.”
“Why aren’t they making noise?” Jakob asked Mac.
“What are you talking about? They’re making enough noise to raise the dead.”
“Go,” the squirrel said. “We don’t have all day, you know.”
He shuffled over to the door and reached out a shaky hand. The doorknob shivered beneath his touch, as if it expected the witch and knew fear.
“Oh, yeah, the knob’s a little loose,” Mac said. “Been meaning to fix that. Just jiggle it a little.”
He pushed the door open, bracing himself for attack. He even looked up with the expectation that a monster would be towering over him.
“This woman’s just full of surprises,” the squirrel said, peering between his legs.
A great hall opened before them, redolent in the smell of greenery and birds. Flowers perfumed the air and almost hid the inevitable scent that arose from the thousands of caged birds. Another door stood on the far wall.
“Oh, Mother,” he breathed. How was he to find Elsa amidst all this?
“How many birds do you reckon are here?” the squirrel asked. He spotted a sunflower seed on the floor beneath a cage of sparrows and raced over to it. He picked it up and nibbled it open to get to the nut, a chirping sound coming from his throat as he chewed. “Mmph. That’s good.”
“Ten thousand at last count,” Mac said.
Jakob slid down the wall. Ten thousand? “How many nightingales?” Please let it be just a few.
“About half,” Mac said. “They’re her favorite.”
The squirrel spotted another seed. “Better get started, Jakob.”
The hopelessness weighted him to the floor. He couldn’t have stood even if he wanted. He looked back at the door with longing.
The rose pricked his finger again, and he gazed at it. He’d come so far. Endured so much. What would Elsa think if she knew he’d failed her at her moment of greatest need? That he’d lost his bravery amidst a flurry of wings and feathers, merely because it would take days, possibly weeks, to find his beloved? If all Elsa required of him was his life, then that was but a small price to pay for—
“You’re orating again,” Mac said.
He blinked and snapped his mouth shut. Wiping his hands on his breeches, he stood and approached the first nightingale cage. He would see this through, no matter how long it took.
A furtive movement behind a blooming cherry tree across the room caught his eye. The figure dashed for the far door. She was stooped and slow, and she carried a golden cage with a single bird. A nightingale!
“Stop,” he yelled, running after her. She shuffled for the door in knitted green slippers, but she was no match for his youthful speed.
She cringed away from me. “Don’t hurt me,” she said in a voice cracked with age. The nightingale, the most beautiful he’d ever seen, opened its beak in silent song.
He tugged the cage from her weak grasp. “Elsa, I’ve come for you, my sweet.” He touched the cage door with the rose.
“No,” the witch screamed. She reached for the cage with her clawed hands, but it was too late.
The cage door flipped open and the nightingale flew out. He touched it with the rose. Its form shivered before his eyes, and a beautiful woman stood before him.
Her blonde locks flowed down her back, caressing her shoulders and slender white arms and brushing against her simple green dress. Eyes as wide and bright as a fawn’s blinked at him, and plump red lips pursed together as her pale brows knitted together. She was possibly the fairest maiden he’d ever laid eyes on, even fairer than his Elsa.
“What–? What’s going on?” she asked. “Is it winter already?”
Jakob turned to the witch. “What’s this? Where’s Elsa?”
The witch gave him an odd look. “How would I know?”
“But you were trying to escape with this cage. I thought–”
She put her hands on her hips. “You thought I just happened to be carrying the cage of your beloved?”
“Well…yes.” Of course he did. He was here to rescue her, after all.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you, young man.”
The maiden crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re the one who turned me back into a human?”
The look she gave him was nothing like the way Elsa looked at him. She had a cunning in her eyes, an intelligence he’d never seen from his beloved.
He drew himself up, standing to show his muscular physique to best effect. Maybe she wasn’t his Elsa, but she was a lady most fair. He could see himself sitting across from her in a little farmhouse at the end of the day, enjoying a quiet dinner as they discussed the day’s events. She would be grateful—maybe even very grateful—to her savior. “This evil witch cursed you and turned you into a bird. I rescued you.”
“I’m evil?” the witch screeched. “How many times do I have to tell you kids to stay off my lawn? How many times must I abide you picking my flowers? Stomping through my garden? Throwing goose eggs at my house?”
“Calm yourself, Mother,” the maiden said. “You know what the healer said about your heart.”
Jakob gave a start. “Mother?”
Mac flew beside her and looked her over. “You must be Karoline,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Oh, hey Mac,” she said. “I see your curse is broken.”
“Yeah, the farm boy here did it.”
“He seems to do that a lot,” she grumbled.
Jakob’s mouth flapped like a fish. “But she—but you were a bird. Why?”
She swung around. Her full lips were pursed in anger. “I don’t have to justify my lifestyle to you.”
“Worry not, Karoline. I’ll rid us of this nuisance anon.” The witch raised her arms, magical energy crackling from her fingertips.
He stumbled back and threw the only weapon he had at her. The rose landed on her head and caught in the unkempt strands. The magic died, and she screamed, more in shock than pain. The rose shriveled and blackened before crumbling to ash.
The witch collapsed against the wall, panting. “What have you done?”
“I’ve put an end to your evil reign of terror,” he said.
“’Evil reign of terror’ is rather redundant,” the squirrel said. “It’s not like you can have a good reign of terror.”
“I don’t know if I’d really call her evil, anyway,” Mac said thoughtfully. “She did all right by me.”
“She turned you into a troll!”
“True. But I was throwing fairy entrails at her door. You might say I deserved it.”
“And she set me against three trials. What about that?”
Karoline snorted a laugh as she helped her mother stand.
The witch asked, “What three trials?”
“The troll,” he said, a little uncertain now. “Wasn’t he the first?”
She cackled and brushed ash from her hair. “Goodness, no. He was getting on my nerves, so I sent him outside to play.”
Karoline crossed her arms and scoffed. “Farm boy thinks he deserves a prince’s challenge. Doesn’t even have a sword.”
The squirrel scrambled up Jakob’s leg to his shoulder. “This might be a good time to get out of here,” he said in his ear.
“Yes, go,” the witch said. “You’ve taken my power, leaving an old lady weakened and defenseless in her drafty old castle with naught but one daughter and ten thousand birds to care for. My bones ache just thinking of all that work.” A single tear ran down her leathery cheek.
Karoline gave him a look of reproach. “You broke into our home, hurt my mother, and turned me into a human against my will. Are you going to make things right?”
The squirrel and Mac wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Well?” she said.
Jakob bit his lip and stared at the floor. “What do you want me to do?”
Jakob the caretaker stretched and massaged the muscles in his back. He still had fourteen more cages to clean before he could call it a day.
A roar outside caused him to look up and sigh. He spent three days on that garden, and now Mac was rampaging through it, a troll once more after the witch’s power returned and she caught him using the kitchen fireplace for a—well, that’s a story for another time.