The journey back to their forest home was fairly uneventful for the hobgoblin family. The only delay had been when the wheel on the family's cart had gotten down into the deep rut in the main road that ran the length of the woods. Nip's Da and he had hoisted the cart out and there had been but a slight delay.
But by the time they arrived back at the homestead, all the travelers were weary and hungry. Nip's neighbor had left a pot of acorn porridge with the children and it was a welcome sight. They left the unpacking of the cart, crawled down into their badger hole home and just sat down to have something to eat. The hoblets were all so excited to see their Ma and Da, big sister and Nip return with so many parcels, packages, tubs and tins. Curiousity and hoping that there might be something for them was what got them through the days that the olders were gone. And after the porridge, Ma didn't fail to reward their wishes with real true presents from the faire.
As the hoblets carried on about their gifts and toys, Nip went outside to clear his head, off load the bounty from the faire and put the cart away in the out building behind the stump where they had their home. He loved being home. The smell of the forest, the look of the dim moonlight through trees whose branches that he knew so well, the feel of the cool night air on his bald head and the feeling of comfort overtook him. He realized he had made a place in the world for himself through his knowledge and hard work and a bit of being in the right place at the right time and was well pleased.
As he walked to the shed, his thoughts trailed off to the new appointment to Opener of the Veil. It wouldn't be long before the King and Queen sent for him to perform his new duty and he was bursting with pride. He was so engrossed in his thoughts of his very own new wagon and who he might meet and what he would do when it came time for the opening of the veil that he missed seeing the shadows moving near the shed. And as he reached for the aged and worn wooden pull on the door of the small dirt covered shed, he recoiled as he touched something cold instead of the expected neutral feel of the wood.
Yes, he was startled and a bit confused as he was overcome by the slender shadows. They drug him off behind the shed and made sure that he would not utter a sound to alarm his family to their presence. Nip could not move, or speak, or even close his eyes. He was dumbstruck at what he saw in front of him. He had never seen anything or anyone like these translucent, non corporal beings that inhabited the same space as he but did not appear to be of the same place as he.
The beings, if that is what you would call them were spectral beings, ghost like in their appearance. Dark and yet the dim light from the moon passed through them. And when the tallest one spoke, it was as though the air was being broken. Raspy, harsh and yet small.
"Are you to be the new Opener?" said the specter.
Nip couldn't speak but he did nod his head in the affirmative "We will not hurt you and have only come seeking your assistance. You see, we did not heed the warning from the Changeling Rabbit on last Hallows Eve and stayed out and about past the 3 a.m. curfew. We have been wandering in search of a way to go back through the veil now these many, many months. We are tired and in need of help."
"If we don't return through the veil by the last stroke of Hallows midnight we will be undone. We shan't be. We won't exist. Won't you help us?" begged the trio in unison.
Not knowing whether to believe these shadows, Nip raised his shoulders up in a gesture of not knowing. He felt badly for them if their story was true but these were the ones watching the fae sleep at the encampment. If they were on the up and up, why hadn't they just sought out his help then? If they meant no harm then why did they drag him off so no one else could see them? And why had they make it appear that he had only dreamed of seeing them at the faery encampment? . It was at this point that Nip realized just what these shadows were. Lost souls.
And the tallest one spoke again, "because we didn't want to frighten anyone and because if the Queen were to find out about this, she might not let us go back through the veil. You see, we have seen too much of the world in these months of exile. If you will speak to the Queen, I hope she will let us through. We saw how she rewarded you for your kindness as you took care of the Changeling Rabbit."
All of this was too much for Nip and he felt himself drifting off to sleep again.
When he awoke he was in his bed inside his home. Not again, he thought. How did they do this to me again? And he got up and realized he was still dressed from his journey yesterday. So now he knew he hadn't dreamed the first encounter with the shadows and was determined to get to the bottom of this situation, being the practical hobgoblin he was.
He climbed up to the front door, open it only to be greeted by very bright sunlight and a commotion happening at his front door. A courier from the Queen and King had delivered his wonderful new wagon with a team of three tawny ground squirrels and the family was excitedly asking all manner of questions to the very overwhelmed bliney troll looking for all the world like he might explode at any moment.
"Are you Nip?", questioned the blue skinned troll. "If so, get in, we are already running late. I lost my way at the 2nd fork in the road and had to do a bit of back tracking."
"But I need to change my clothes and eat breakfast", Nip protested.
"No time, old chap, we need to dash. You can fuss about when we get to the veil." said the troll in a very vexed voice as he pushed Nip up onto the wagon seat.
"Oh, alright then. Good bye family. Da, I promise to tell you everything when I return." Nip hollered as they drove out of the front pathway and through the woods to the forest road.
And following behind, in the deep forest shade, the shadows trailed behind at a safe distance.
It was just before sunset when Nip, the bliney troll and the shadows came to the "edge of the world" as it is called. Nip rushed to ask where he could freshen up, not because he needed to because Hobgoblins generally only freshen twice a year and he had freshened before heading out to the faire, but because he certainly did not want to offend the Queen and her lovely court. But that wasn't necessary. He was just fine the way he was, they all assured him of that. But he was still a bit hungry.
Not wanting to be rude but very careful to understand his role Nip started asking questions about his duties and procedures and all the things he had worried and fretted over the last few days. He needn't have concerned himself because "the knowing" overcame him as he stood at the veil. All questions were answered, all worries consoled. He even knew what was to be done with the shadows who stood only a short distance away in the shade and motioned for them to join him as he stood next to the Queen and King.
The King did admonish the three for their disobedience and let them know that because of their crime they would never again be allowed to cross through the veil. And then he wiped their memories of the world from them with his faery glamour.
Nip stepped forward, reached out and pulled the veil back just as the last rays of the sun were dying on the horizon. Quiet, peace and calm were what he felt as he performed his very first opening of the veil. Of course this was before the onslaught of ...................... well now, that is for Nip to know. We mortals must wait until........well we must wait, all will be revealed someday.
As to why Nip had been sent back into his sleep to protect the shadow specters, that is also a secret best kept for another Hallowe'en telling. Do make sure that if you are serving a "dumb supper" that your guests get back in time for the closing of the veil. You wouldn't want to be responsible for wandering spirits now would you?
Just be assured that Nip certainly does his job well and has not lost one shadow in the last 247 years of his being the Opener.....and Closer of the veil.