The Goblin Wood - By Hilari Bell

Chapter 1
The Hedgewitch

MAKENNA HAD TO STRETCH onto her toes to reach the small stone lamp, for the shelf that held it was higher than a grown woman's head, and she was only eleven. She'd drawn the fire rune in the sweet-smelling sawdust that littered the floor of Goodman Branno's workshop. Now she set the lamp in its center and murmured the word, the essential name of fire.

Nothing. She clenched her hands to still their trembling and lifted the lamp. Carefully she smoothed the sawdust and drew the rune again. It was hard to get the lines right, in dark. Replacing the lamp, she repeated the word, a call this time, almost a prayer. A tiny orange spark glowed before her. She leaned forward and blew on the wick, and the flame flickered to life.

The light bloomed slowly, filling the toolshed, spilling out the cracks in its walls and under the door. It was dangerous if anyone saw it they might guess she was there, for Goodman Branno, the carpenter, was sound asleep at this hour. But Makenna's hatred flared stronger than the light. Let them come. Likely she could kill a few before she was taken.

She stared around the shed at the tools that covered the walls- - she wasn't sure what she'd need. Finally she chose a saw, a hammer and chisel, and a hatchet. Surely one of them would be sufficient to cut through the thick screw. The tools were awkward, too large for her hands as she packed them into the big grain sack that already held her mother's spell books. She snuffed the light and hauled the heavy sack out of the shed; it clanked when she bumped against the door frame and Grulf, the carpenter's dog, gave a tentative bark. Her heart thumping, Makenna called to him softly - if he raised an alarm it would draw people more quickly than the light!

Grulf whined, and Makenna hurried over to reassure him that she was a known, good person. No spells of calming needed here; she knew every dog in this village, where she'd grown up. Hate rolled and boiled in her stomach, making her feel sick and fearless and strong. There wasn't a man or woman in that mob that her mother hadn't healed or helped - either them, or someone in their families. Branno himself - she'd cured his infected thumb just last year, and she'd charmed the weevils out of the meal bin when his youngest daughter left the lid off. But that was before Mistress Manoc came.

Branno had started suckling up to the new priest immediately, but Makenna's mother had seen through Mistress Manoc, right from the start.

"She speaks against the goblins," Ardis said thoughtful y, the whisper of the spinning wheel making music under her words. "By St. Spiratu, they're pesty enough! But if we stop putting out the goblin bowls, they'l only get more pesty. Besides, goblinkind and ours have been living together since the beginning. It's dangerous to meddle with things like that, Makennie love. Upsets balances you can't even see, turns nature against you. And besides .. "

Makenna blotted out the rest of the memory, angrily wiping away tears. She needed to be strong, not weak and weeping.

She gave Grulf a final pat and made her way to the back of the work yard. The light of the near-full moon sifted through the newly leafed branches, making it easy to avoid the stacks of cut timber. But hauling the big sack over the wall was awkward, and her skirt tore resoundingly. She froze, knowing her dark brown hair and faded clothes would blend with the shadows. No dogs barked. No neighbor stuck his head out the window to see what was going on. She wasn't dressed for this kind of scrambling thievery, but when she'd put on her clothes this morning she'd expected nothing more from the day than her ordinary chores and the fascinating struggle of a magic lesson. Tears crept down her face again, and she wiped them away, sniffing. She'd have thought there'd be no tears left in her, but they kept coming. Well, let them come. They didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore except to lift the gate and cut the screw.

She couldn't go back to her own home. They were watching it. But Krick's house was only a few doors down. He was almost her size, and his mother was lazy about taking in the wash. Makenna's mother had cured their