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Gillian Summers

The goblin's curse

One

The Colorado night air smelled dry and spicy as Keelie Heartwood picked her way up the twisty, unlit dirt path toward Heartwood, her father’s furniture shop. It perched at the top of the hill, with a good view of the jousting field below. She felt like she was coming home.

“Ow, Cricket.” She tugged on her T-shirt to dislodge her pet goblin’s tiny claws, which were digging into her shoulders.

The quaint, medieval-looking cottages and tall, sprawling structures she passed were shuttered and quiet-the High Mountain Renaissance Faire was closed until the weekend and many shops were empty, their owners gone to buy supplies or visit friends in Fort Collins. But the shops that served as seasonal homes for the shopkeepers showed signs of life, their upstairs windows glowing golden against the starry night sky. It was lovely. And on the other side of the faire, the night was filled with flickers of light and bursts of song from the distant campground.

Still, Keelie thought the grounds were a little spooky at night. It didn’t help that some of the shops were painted in fantastical colors, or adorned with dragons and unicorns and cartoon fairies. Fairies that looked like tiny people with wings, that is… Keelie knew the real ones looked very different.

Crickets called out in the shrubbery that bordered one side of the path, and the slight weight between her shoulder blades chirped metallically in response. “Friends of yours?” Keelie asked. No answer, but she hadn’t expected one.

She’d come this way almost a year ago, following a fast-walking attorney from her mother’s law firm. She’d been grieving and angry at her mother’s sudden death, adrift and about to be delivered into the hands of a man she didn’t know. She’d sworn never to call him Dad, but he’d won her heart.

The fact that he wasn’t human had little to do with it.

As she turned the last bend of the path, her heart clenched at the sight of Heartwood across the wide, moonlit clearing. A medieval-looking two-story building, with an open-air furniture showroom downstairs and her father’s apartment upstairs, the shop had been Dad’s home at this faire for years, and now it was Keelie’s as well. A sturdy, narrow staircase on one side climbed up to their apartment. Keelie headed toward it, glancing at the shops on either side of the clearing.

A light glowed from the shop on her left. Last summer, it had been a costume shop called Galadriel’s Closet, but since then the building had been totally transformed. Now it was an open structure with a two-story, stacked- stone chimney jutting above a metal roof, with a shed at the rear. Tools hung from iron hooks all around, and a huge pile of coal gleamed blackly in the moonlight. It seemed to be a forge, which was strange, since there was already a forge down by the jousting ring where the horses could be easily taken to be shod. On Heartwood’s other side was the mask shop, with a new name to complement its new location. A few weather-proof masks hung outside, disturbingly reminding Keelie of ones she’d recently seen.

With a shrug, she skirted Heartwood’s flagstone floor and started up the stairs to the apartment. She lifted the ribbon with the key and squinted at the door, wishing she’d brought a flashlight. She finally stuck a finger over the keyhole, then guided the key to its rightful spot by following her finger with her other hand. With a click of its well-oiled lock, the door swung open.

Immediately, the weight on her back vanished and a small black shadow fell to the floor, moving quickly and silently into the room.

Keelie lit a candle with matches that were kept by the door and walked toward the kitchen. The apartment was one large area, divided into rooms by cloth hangings and wall screens. Dad had made her a bedroom in one corner, with a window that overlooked the jousting ring far below. She opened the closest window, then crossed the room to open another. The temperature was starting to drop, but the breeze would help banish the stale and dusty smells that had built up in the closed space during the weeks that Dad was with her in the Northwoods.

The dark shadow that had been on her shoulders now leaped onto the windowsill and stared out into the darkness, its body shiny black like an insect’s. It turned its big yellow eyes to her and chirped.

“That’s the faire. Stay out of sight, okay? Most folks can’t see you, but if they do, they’ll freak out. Goblins aren’t much loved among the elves.”

The little goblin ran back to her and climbed her leg.

“Watch the claws,” Keelie hissed. “I swear, you’re worse than a kitten.”

Cricket stopped at her shoulder, his usual perch, a hank of her hair snagged tightly in his little clawed hand.

Dad didn’t like the goblin. Who could blame him? After all, he’d recently worn armor for the first time in a hundred years because of goblinkind. But the little guy was a gift to Keelie from Herne the Hunter himself, and she could hardly refuse him. Besides, Cricket was handy to have around since he subsisted on garbage.

Keelie placed her candle on the tiny counter in the kitchen area, then put another on the small square dining table. Dad had told her to run the water for a bit to warm it up, so she opened the tap in the little kitchen sink, then the one in the huge claw-foot tub in the curtain-enclosed bathroom.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs outside and Keelie called out, “Dad?”

A grunt answered her, and she looked out cautiously from behind the bathroom curtains. Dad was bent over, carrying a huge trunk. Her clothes. She ran to help.

“Are you smuggling trees from the Northwoods?” he gasped. He dropped the trunk and fell on it, winded.

“Of course not, silly. They would have talked to you if I had.”

“True.” As a tree shepherd and Lord of the Dread Forest, their elven home in the Oregon woodlands, Dad spoke to trees all the time. The elves had been surprised and unhappy to discover that even though she was part human, Keelie was also a tree shepherd. Of course, the whole elves-are-real thing had been a shocker for Keelie. Mom had never said a word about it. She had kept lots of other secrets, too.

“I’m going to make one more trip, and then I’m done for the night. Leave the candle on the table and blow the others out.” Dad kissed Keelie on the forehead, careful to stay away from the goblin. “I love you, daughter. Get some sleep.”

“I was hoping to catch a bite to eat with Sean at the Poacher’s Inn. Want to come?”

“No thanks. I’m going to talk with Davey, but stop by Janice’s shop. Raven is here.”

Janice ran Green Lady Herbs, and Keelie had met her last summer. Janice and Dad dated sometimes, which Keelie found very creepy even though she knew it was natural. Raven was Janice’s daughter and Keelie’s friend. They’d only been able to exchange emails over the past year, since, when Raven joined her mother at the Wildewood Faire in New York, she’d stayed there-permanently. It’s not every day a girl finds out she’s the intended mate of the Unicorn Lord of the Forest.

“I will definitely stop by and pick up Raven.” Happiness surged through Keelie at the thought of having a friend here. She hadn’t realized how much she missed female companionship.

Keelie suddenly felt the need to hug Dad and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing. He didn’t seem surprised, and he held her for a long moment.

“Missing your mom?” he said softly.

“Yes. But I’m okay, really. It’s just being back here.” She waved her arms around to include the room, the faire outside, all of Colorado.

“I figured. Hey, your overnight bag is in the trunk. I didn’t want to balance it on top.” He turned and walked to the door.

“Say hello to Sir Davey for me. I’ll see him tomorrow.” Keelie smiled and waved him off. Sir Davey was her father’s best friend, and one of hers too. At three feet tall, Sir Davey was as diminutive as he was handsome, and a master swordsman as well as a geological expert. And, as one of the ancient race of dwarves, he was an expert

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