Of Goblins and Gold – Emma Hamm

The chime of goblin bells filled the clearing, as they did every first week of the month. Sunlight slashed through the forest beyond in harsh beams of gold that illuminated their strange carts. All manner of fabric and hide covered wooden wheels and rickety beds. Someone had dyed woolen sheep skins bright red and laid them to hide the rotting planks. Bells were tied all around the edges. Bells that chimed, twinkled, and rang for visitors from all over to see the goblin wares. And there were hundreds of wares. Food from faroff places, jewelry so beautiful it made tears prick a mortal eye, and perfume that would ensure true love. In short, magic. Freya tucked the frayed edges of her scarf securely around her neck, over the layers of her dark hair. Usually, she would lift the edge so she could only see the blurry visage of the goblins. It was bad luck to look at them. Such familiarity invited the goblins to join a weary traveler on their journey home. Those people were rarely seen again. “Freya,” her sister, Esther, tugged at her sleeve.

“Did you see what they have with them today?” “You’re not supposed to look,” she hissed. “I know,” Esther replied. “But today they have—” “I don’t want to know.” Freya yanked her scarf out of its neat knot in the bodice of her dress. She tossed it like a blanket over both of their heads. “Goblin wares are not for us, remember?” Together, they rushed past the goblins who called out in voices sounding like crows. “Pretty ladies! Don’t you want to see our necklaces? I’ve got the perfect one for that swan-like neck of yours!” Freya held her breath until they had placed a safe distance between themselves and the goblins with their temptations. When she couldn’t hear their voices any longer, she whipped the scarf off their heads. She spun around on her sister, fury heating her face. “What were you thinking? You know the rules as well as I.

” Esther’s own face turned beat red, but Freya knew that had little to do with her actions and more with anger. “It was a necklace, Freya. A necklace with a moon at the end, just like mother used to wear. I thought you’d like to know.” The words caught her up short. Their mother had worn a half moon necklace, but she knew for a fact it wasn’t goblin made. Their mother had hated goblins. She had dedicated her entire life to researching their kind and creating rules for their town of Woolwich to stay safe from their leathery clutches. The town emerged from the forest like a mirage lifted from their eyes. Though it was a modest town, it had prospered in the days since it had first been built.

They were lucky to have the large salt mine in the distance. Though mining was difficult, it had given the town more money than most. As such, all the buildings were brand new. Their whitewashed exteriors gleamed in the sunlight, accented by warm wooden beams creating criss-crossed patterns like quilts. Freya stepped onto the dirt path with her sister and ushered them toward the entrance to town. The well was there, and she desperately wanted a drink after their journey through the forest. Then, they would go to the market and buy all the things they needed for the next month. Again, her sister tugged on her sleeve. “What?” Freya said. “Esther, we don’t have time, if we want to return by nightfall.

You know walking past the goblins is dangerous in the dark—” “Freya!” Esther’s shout echoed. Some townsfolk at the gate paused in their stroll, staring at the two sisters like they had gone mad. Or maybe more mad. Very few of the townspeople liked Freya or her sister. The two girls who lived in a hut outside the village, all by their lonesome now that their dear parents had departed this realm. She’d heard their whispers of witchcraft. Freya knew how tentative their place was in this village. Lowering her voice, she stepped closer to Esther and hissed, “Keep your voice down.” “I’m tired of living our life as though we’re walking on glass. Mother wore a necklace just like the goblins were selling.

Did you hear me?” “Yes, I heard you.” “And you don’t think that’s the least bit suspicious?” Esther’s eyes were wide with hope. “Maybe she sold it, Freya. Maybe she’s still out there and we just haven’t been looking in the right places.” Freya’s heart cracked in two. Esther had never given up hope their parents would return, emerging from the mist and walking back into their hut like they hadn’t disappeared for years. In some small part, that was why Freya continued to live where they did. But she was the more realistic sister. She didn’t stay in that hut because she thought they would return. Freya stayed for the memories that lingered in the walls, like ghosts who haunted her waking dreams.

She reached out and brushed a strand of hair behind Esther’s ear. “They’re not coming back, Esther.” “All we know is that they went into the forest and they never returned. They could still be out there, Freya. Why do you insist on stopping our search?” Tears filled Esther’s eyes, like droplets of pearls clinging to her lashes. Freya couldn’t have this argument again. She took a deep breath, held it, and tried to think of the right words. What would calm her sister down? A horse and buggy meandered past them. The sweet grass scent of the horse’s exhale filled her lungs. Clamoring noises of hammers striking metal, people talking on their morning routine, and the clucks of chickens in the farm beyond all took up space in her head.

She couldn’t think with all this noise and sudden sound. Freya’s focus had always been off, but with all these distractions, it was even more difficult to provide Esther with the appropriate answer. “They wouldn’t want us to keep looking for them,” she settled on. “It’s been two years, Esther. They aren’t coming back.” What else was she supposed to say? They’d had this argument every week for months now. Esther’s face turned white as snow. She gave one firm nod, then darted through the gate into town. Freya sighed and planted her hands on her hips. It wasn’t like Esther could get very far.

Woolwich wasn’t that big of a town, and everyone knew everyone. She could ask a single villager where her sister had gotten off to, and they would know exactly where to send her. After all, the witch sisters were hard to miss. She’d let Esther have some time to herself. The last thing she needed was for Esther to take off into the forest trying to find their parents. Freya had no one left. And a single witch in a hut was easier to burn. Freya wrapped the scarf around her waist now, creating a makeshift basket for them to place food in. She already knew what she wanted to get. Squash was easy to come by this year, and she could make that go farther.

Eggs would be best, since they couldn’t keep a chicken to save their life. Esther said the goblins kept stealing their fowl. Freya thought it was the fox that lived within the thicket beside their home. “Hello, girlie.” The unknown voice was startling for two reasons. First, because she’d never heard it before. Freya knew everyone in Woolwich. And second, because it rumbled like water trapped under ice. Freya curled her fingers in the scarf and looked up at the horse and buggy that had stopped beside her. The horse was unlike anything she’d ever seen before.

A great black charger, perhaps something a warrior might have ridden into battle. Its hooves were painted silver and were so bright, the sun gleamed off their sharpened ends. The buggy was a patchwork of colorful fabric. She could hardly guess what it was made of, although the ancient wooden wheels gleamed like polished mahogany. And of course, as she had expected, she could see the bells woven along the edge. Each was perfectly made, reflecting her own pale, startled face back at her a hundred times over. The wind picked up and all the bells began to chime. She told herself not to respond. The goblin man couldn’t steal her away if she said nothing. That was the rule.

So instead, she turned her face slowly to the side. Forcing her eyes to remain on the town that was only a few steps away. The town he couldn’t enter, no matter how hard he tried. But out of the corner of her eye, she could see him. The bird-like beak where his nose should be. The feathers that winged back from his eyes and accentuated the sharp angles of his cheekbones. He wore a cloak over his head, like that would somehow hide the differences. And she knew, if she looked at him or acknowledged him in any way, he would try to sell her something. The goblin man reached out a hand into her line of sight. “Are you sure you don’t want to buy anything, Freya?” Her heart stopped at the sound of her name on his tongue.

He couldn’t read her mind. She knew the goblins weren’t capable of magic like that. Her mother had proven it time and time again. He must have overheard Esther say her name. Nothing more, nothing less. But that didn’t ease the sudden panic in her veins. Fruit appeared in his palm. The apple gleamed in the sunlight. Its taut skin was so vividly red, she knew she’d seen nothing like it before. Probably never would again.

Food grown in the faerie realm was lovely, but it would bind her as their slave forever. Taking another deep breath, she took a shaky step forward. Away from him. Away from the temptation of the fruit that called out to her because she knew it would be so delicious. So much better than any food she’d ever tried in her life. All she had to do was reach out and take it. She had money in her pocket. More than enough to buy a single apple from an old man with an old cloak and a horse that eyed her with fire in his gaze. Shaking herself out of the spell, Freya squeezed her eyes shut and burst into a run. She didn’t care if she ran into someone in town.

All she had to do was reach the boundary. Her feet touched the edge of town and all the temptation fell from her shoulders like she’d shaken off chains. She spun around wildly, staring back at the goblin man who remained where he’d been. Seated on the buggy with the reins in his hand and an apple in his lap. He tilted his head back in the sunlight and laughed. The sound was like that of a thousand voices all screaming over each other. Freya covered her ears with her hands, but stared him down all the same. She would not be cowed by this goblin who thought he could frighten her. Not now that she was in the safety of Woolwich. “I will never buy from a goblin!” she shouted.

His laughter died down, and for a moment, she thought his skin was shimmering. The feathers unraveled to reveal grey skin like moonlight beneath. Then his visage returned to the monstrous form. “Oh,” he replied in that stone-like voice. “You are very brave, Freya. But also very foolish. I think you’ll buy something from me far sooner than you realize.” She squeezed her eyes shut, blinked, and then he was gone. The horse. The buggy.

Even the sound of bells had disappeared like he’d never been there at all. All that remained was the lingering scent of apple in the air. Fresh and crisp, like the last temptation after a day of cooking applesauce on the stove. With a shaky inhalation, Freya turned around and started into town. She needed to find Esther, and then they needed to get back home. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the goblin man.

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