Mercedes Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series: The Case of the Spellbound Child

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The Case of the Spellbound Child (2019)

[Based on “Hansel and Gretel”.  Again, Ms Lackey combines her Elemental Masters world with the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.]

This book continues with the main characters of “The Bartered Brides”: Nan, Sarah, Suki, and Lord Alderscroft, and John and Mary Watson and Sherlock Holmes.

Isabelle (Memsa’b) and Frederick (Sahib) Harton do not appear in this story, but the school they run (which Suki attends) is mentioned a few times.

Caro, the spirit of a young woman, who helped them in “The Bartered Brides” plays a lesser role in this story.

The story alternates between the experiences of Nan and Sarah on one hand, and Ellie and Simon (the Gretel and Hansel characters) on the other.

In the opening chapters, Sarah, Nan, Suki and Caro work together to capture an evil and mischievous ghost called Alf, and usher him through a portal to the afterlife.

At the end of “The Bartered Brides”, the necromancer Spencer had ejected Peter Hughs’s spirit from his body in preparation for Moriarty’s spirit occupying it.  Peter’s spirit had passed on to the afterlife.  Sarah, Nan and Caro had prevented Moriarty from coming back to life, and Caro’s spirit had ended up in Peter’s body.  She has now taken on the role of Peter Hughs, reconciling with his family and attending university in that persona.  It seems that Caro prefers to be male.  So from now on, Caro would be referred to as “Peter”.

Suki’s paranormal powers are developing.  Without warning, while staying at the Harton School, she had travelled via the spirit plane to Nan and Sarah’s flat and appeared in Sarah’s bedroom.   So now Nan and Sarah include Suki in their paranormal activities.

Sherlock is still officially dead, while there are still possible threats from Moriarty’s gang, but he still occasionally visits John, Mary, Nan and Sarah.  Mary is also officially dead, also because of possible threats from Moriarty’s gang.  While in London, she disguises herself by wearing men’s clothes.

The day after the exorcism of Alf, Nan and Sarah get a message from John Watson. They have a mission from Lord Alderscroft. Nan, Sarah and Suki catch a bus to Baker Street. John, Mary and Peter come to meet them. Lord Alderscroft has sent his coach to transport them.

John explains their mission. It involves the underage female cousin of a member of Aldercroft’s Lodge. The girl’s father recently died, leaving her stepmother in charge of the fortune. The girl was overcome with grief, to a degree which the stepmother found distressing, and she was sent to a private hospital/invalid home. The cousin visited her, and thought she was behaving quite mad. He suspected that the chief physician was medicating her with something which causes hallucinations, or that grief has triggered latent Elemental powers, and she is seeing Elemental Spirits.

They travel to the hospital and investigate, making use of their magical and psychic powers.

They discover that the true story is quite different, and rather sordid. The girl had met an army officer called Robert at a party. She continued to meet with him and even slept with him. Robert hoped to marry her for her inheritance. But when he discovered there were complications with the will, he left her. And the girl discovered she was pregnant. She was distressed and lovesick.

All John Watson can do is report back to Lord Alderscroft, who can decide what to tell the cousin.

***

The Byerly family live in a remote cottage in Dartmoor. They are poor. The father, Roger, had lost his hand in an accident at the mill where he worked. He is looking for a job and not having much success. The mother, Maryanne, comes from outside of Dartmoor, and the local people treat her as an outsider, and are not very friendly towards her. The two children are Helen (Ellie) and Simon.

(The people of Dartmoor speak a particular dialect, which the author presents in the book, which can be rather hard to read and understand.)

This particular day, the children’s mother has asked them to do chores in the house. But Simon is playing around. Dinner, which is on the table, consists of a loaf-end and a bowl of goats milk. Simon accidentally knocks the bowl off the table, spilling the milk onto the floor. The mother is upset with the children, and sends them out onto the moor, telling them not to return unless they bring a feast with them.

The children are used to foraging for food on the moor. But all the nearby places they usually forage are picked over. They have to go further. And eventually become lost. The light fades. They eat what they have in their baskets, which is just greenery and not very filling. They make up beds of bracken in a hollow under the roots of a blackthorn and go to sleep.

In the morning they wake up and head west, to try to get home, since they had been heading east the day before. They gather what food they can find, which is still mainly greenery. They come to a wooded combe (valley) and find mushrooms and nuts left over from a squirrel’s hoard. And then they see a small cottage which seems to be abandoned. They find strawberries in the garden and start stuffing them in their mouths.

Some time later they wake up in a dark damp room. They are lying on straw mattresses and have chains on their ankles. There are several other children also imprisoned there, who introduce themselves: their names are Rose, Lily, Colin, Mark, Stephen, Bill, Sam, Ben, Deborah, Jess and Robbie.  Robbie tells them they are all confined there by a fearsome person (or creature) called the Dark One. And every now and then the Dark One causes the Black Sleep to come upon the children – a sleep from which they awake weary and confused.

And then a dark hooded figure appears in the doorway.

***

Nan, Sarah, Suki and their birds (Neville the raven and Grey the parrot), and John and Mary Watson are visiting Hampton Court Palace, one of their favourite places; the grounds and parts of the Palace are open to the public. Suki is fond of the maze, and parts of the gardens have the untidy appearance of wilderness, which makes it possible that Robin Goodfellow (also called Puck) – that ancient spirit of England – might make an appearance. Suki is off playing in the grounds somewhere.

A little girl appears and calls to her mother about seeing the Grey Parrot. Sarah invites the mother and daughter to join them. The woman’s name is Sapphire Morrison and the girl’s name is Sylvia.

To Nan’s surprise, Mary summons some sylphs, but the reason becomes clear, when it is apparent that Sapphire can see them; she is an Air Magician; Mary and Sarah, as Elemental Masters, had realised this. And Sarah comments that Sylvia is going to be an Earth Magician.

Sapphire is dismayed; Earth Magicians usually can’t tolerate living in London, with the poisons in the soil, air and water. Sapphire is a teacher; she and her husband Gerrold both work in London, and can’t afford to move to the country.

Sarah says she will talk to Lord Alderscroft about arranging a scholarship for Sylvia to go to the Harton School. And Sapphire could get a teaching job there. They could live there, and Gerrold could catch the train to his work in London.

After Sapphire and Sylvia depart, the group notice Robin Goodfellow standing there. He had heard their offer to Sapphire and Sylvia and approves. He had been playing with Suki and had come to give them greetings.

***

Ellie doesn’t know whether the Dark One is male, female or a monster. All the children are terrified of it.

She and Simon have been in the room for four days now. Each day the creature brings them their meals: in the morning a basket of bread to be shared between them, and a bucket of water; at noon a basket of raw garden produce, a basket of bread and a bucket of water; at dinner time, more bread and a hard-boiled egg for each of them. Robbie makes sure the food is shared out properly. The children have to share a slop bucket as their toilet, and the creature takes it away to empty it each day.

There is one window, with the shutters kept closed, so the room is dark. All the children are filthy. They each have a mattress, which is a sack full of straw, which smells of mildew. Their chains are fastened to the earthen floor, although they are long enough to allow the children to move around the room to some extent.

But today something different happens. The Dark One comes straight towards Ellie, unshackles her and takes her into the next room. It throws her down on the hearth, takes a big knife and chops the end off the little finger of her left hand! She screams in agony. The creature takes a hot poker and applies it to her finger, sealing the wound. Then, chanting something, it lifts the hearthstone and drops the severed finger-end in the hole and replaces the hearthstone. She faints.

When she comes to, she is back on her mattress. Sam has come to her, and is holding her hand in his. The pain starts to fade. Sam has healing magic. Rose brings Ellie some bread and a strip torn from her petticoat and Simon brings her a cup of water. Ellie wraps up her finger with the strip of cloth.

Ben says that the Dark One had performed some kind of “witchery” on her.

And then Ellie realises that the Dark One hadn’t fastened her shackle again. She could escape.

She goes to the door of the room. There are no sounds in the next room, so maybe the Dark One is away. She runs to the cottage door and out to the gate. But she stops suddenly and falls to the ground. She tries again, and the same thing happens. She tries jumping over the wall at various places around the garden but each time she falls. The Dark One must have performed some witchcraft on her to stop her leaving.

Then she sees the Dark One beyond the gate. It applauds her ironically, and then leads her back into the cottage.

After this, the Dark One puts Ellie to work. She has to sweep the floors, fetch the eggs from the chicken house, take food to the other children, wash the dishes, bake bread in the oven, pick produce from the garden, and feed the chickens, etc.

But she notices something about the chickens: they all have the end of one toe missing. And they don’t stray out of the yard. Maybe the Dark One had performed the same spell on them as it had on her.

Robbie tells her the Dark One is keeping her as a servant because she has no magic. It is keeping the rest of the children because it eats their magic.

***
Sarah and Nan had taken Suki to the British Museum. They decide to visit the Watsons on the way home. Nan gets Neville to take a note to Mrs Horace, their own landlady, telling her they won’t be home for supper. They catch a cab to Baker Street.

Mrs Hudson, the Watsons’ landlady, meets them at the door. She tells them John Watson had been about to send a message to them. The girls go up to the Watsons’ flat. Mrs Hudson brings in supper for all of them.

John tells them he had received a letter – actually it was sent to Sherlock, but John has been checking his mail. As soon as he opened it, he detected that it was from an Earth Magician.

It is a letter from Roger and Maryanne Byerly saying their two children are missing. Maryanne had sent them to forage on the moor, and they hadn’t returned. But there is not much detail in the letter.

John says that Sherlock gets lots of letters about missing children, but he usually just tells them to go to the local police. But in this case, when it is a person with Elemental Magic – one of their own people – John feels obliged to help.

Sarah asks for the letter. She detects that it was the woman who had written the letter, but it is the man who has the Earth powers. But she thinks that this isn’t a case they should take.

When John persists, she suggests he send it to Lord Alderscroft. He has his network of Elemental Masters who can look into it. Nan says that Alderscroft might still want John to investigate, and may wish Nan and Sarah to go with him.

The next day, Nan and Sarah receive a message to go to Lord Alderscroft’s bungalow on his country estate. So they pack their things, and Nan, Sarah, Suki and their birds catch the train. They are met at the station by his Lordship’s carriage, which transports them to the bungalow.

The bungalow is on the grounds of his former manor, which he had deeded to the Harton school. But he had divided up the property so he still holds a good proportion of it, so the bungalow is surrounded by gardens and woods. It is an Indian-style bungalow, built more recently than the manor, with all the modern conveniences. Alderscroft is there, as are John and Mary Watson.

They sit together in the verandah. Alderscroft asks Sarah whether, when she had examined the letter, she had attempted to learn anything about the letter writer herself, the wife. He hands her the letter. He says, rather than using her Spirit Master powers, he wants her to use her psychic powers to read the history of an object.

Sarah is embarrassed that she had neglected to do this previously. Sherlock would have scolded her.

She does so now. She says that at the time the letter was postmarked, the children had been missing for three days. The woman was frantic with worry, and felt guilty that she had sent them off to forage for ruining their dinner. There were no near neighbours who could help, and in any case she was regarded with suspicion because she was an outsider. After she had sealed the letter, she had learned that her husband had made enquiries at the village of Sheepstor and discovered that other children had gone missing.

[I wonder if the author has made a mistake here. In previous books it was Nan who had the psychic power of psychometry, that is, reading the history of an object. It may be that Sarah has had this ability all along, and it just hadn’t been mentioned in the books, or maybe she had developed the ability more recently.]

Alderscroft says he has sent salamanders (Fire Elementals) to the Earth Masters in the Dartmoor region, seeking consulations. Once the group have gained as much information as they can remotely, he wants to send John, Mary, Sarah, Nan and Suki to Dartmoor to investigate.

***

The Dark One wakes Ellie from her sleep, and sends her to do her chores. Then Ellie realises that she has left the Dark One alone in the room with the rest of the children. And the door is magically stuck fast.

She goes outside and peers through the crack between the shutters of the window. The Dark One is standing still in the middle of the room. And the room is strangely silent: more silent than normal for the room of sleeping children. This must be the Black Sleep that Robbie has talked about, when the Dark One ate their magic. She is worried, but hopes desperately that the children will be all right. She goes about her chores.

Eventually the Dark One emerges, and it seems stronger and more alive.

Ellie goes into the children’s room and discovers the children are locked in sleep, cold and clammy, but still alive. She proceeds to clean the room.

Back in the other room, she sees the Dark One fill a pot with dried peas from a sack. And the sack magically refills itself!

The Dark One tells her the children are stirring and to feed them. So she takes them loaves of bread, and water to drink. The children are all exhausted. Rose is the worst.

She starts to notice that other things are replenishing themselves magically: firewood, grain and flour. The Dark One is apparently using magic to steal things that wouldn’t be noticed, but not things like ham and bacon (which only the Dark One gets to eat) which would be more obvious; it must get them some other way.

She goes out to the garden to collect vegetables, and discovers two dead hares caught in snares. The Dark One teaches her how to skin and clean the creatures and prepare them for cooking. It tells her to gather fruit as well, to feed the children. The Dark One proceeds to stew the hares with vegetables.

When she takes bread, vegetables and fruit in to the children, Robbie says the Dark One always feeds them something sweet after the Dark Sleep.

The Dark One takes some bags and walks out the door. Ellie sees it at the gate; it is surrounded by a glow. A moor pony arrives; the Dark One had summoned it magically. The Dark One gets on the pony’s back and rides away.

But now that the Dark One is away, she organises the children to wash themselves. She heats up water, and drags a tin tub into the children’s room, along with rags and soap. They all take turns washing themselves, their clothes and their blankets.

The next morning, the Dark One has returned, and provides them with rabbit stew with their bread. And then it goes out again, on another moor pony.

Robbie tells Ellie that the Dark One only provides them with meat after the Dark Sleep, and then only if it has caught rabbits. He tells her the Dark Sleep is not like normal sleep; you feel as if you are dead, you can’t move and you have energy draining out of you. And you wake up tired. Ben tells her that there have been some children there previously who had not woken up again, and the Dark One had carried them away, and they had never seen them again.

Ellie resolves to keep the children’s strength up, so the same doesn’t happen to them. She goes to the other room and makes pancakes, and brings them back to the children. She figures that with most of the ingredients replenishing themselves, the Dark One won’t notice she has used them.

She also replaces the straw in all their mattresses (which are just sacks) with fresh straw, as the old straw is mildewed and rotten.

When she bakes bread in future, she increases the number of loaves. The Dark One does notice this, but Ellie tells it how hungry the children are from the Sleep, and the Dark One permits it.

***

The next morning at Lord Alderscroft’s bungalow, they all gather for breakfast.

Sarah, Nan and Suki report how they had spirit-travelled to Dartmoor the previous night, to talk to the ghosts there, but they couldn’t find many ghosts in the area they were able to explore, and the ghosts weren’t very communicative. (Now that Sarah is a Spirit Master, she is able to spirit-travel instantly to anywhere in the world, as long as she has been there before, or she knows someone there who can act as a beacon. And her companions are able to do it with her.)

Lord Alderscroft has communicated with several Earth Masters and Earth Magicians in the Dartmoor area, but without any result. He would talk to a few more that evening. He has also sent a telegraph to the police at Yelverton, which is the closest town to the village of Sheepstor.

Sarah, Nan and Suki set out to contact Robin Goodfellow. Lord Alderscroft’s head gardener suggests a part of the property that has been left as wilderness. And they find him. They tell him about their investigation.

Robin tells them there are lots of magicians on the moor. They have been building up magical defences against beings like him for generations, so it all becomes a blur to him; he cannot detect specific magical people or things.

However, he does what he can: he gives the three of them the knowledge of moor-speech. He tells them that John and Mary can be given this by their Elementals once they get to the moor.

He adds: the bad magicians who are doing small evils behave in much the same way as if they weren’t using magic. And Holmes is good at tracking down that kind of person.

The three girls return to the bungalow. Alderscroft tells them he has received a telegram from the chief constable at Yelverton, saying that more children had gone missing than normal over the last four years, and saying that the police could use Alderscroft’s help.

That evening, Alderscroft invites Nan and Sarah to come with him to his workroom as he communicates with the Masters and Magicians of Dartmoor. As a Fire Master, Alderscroft communicates via a fire, so they sit in front of a fireplace, which has a fire going.

The first Magician to contact him is Harold Linwood, proprietor of the Rock Hotel in Yelverton. Alderscroft tells him he believes someone is abducting children in Dartmoor, and it may be a magician. He asks Linwood whether he has heard anything.

Linwood says he has heard of children going missing, but it is mostly Travellers, itinerant workers and orphans about to be sent to the workhouse. Dartmoor is dangerous, and children run away. His unspoken statement is that such people don’t matter.

Alderscroft tells him he is sending five people to investigate. He tells Linwood their cover story: the married couple (John and Mary) will be there to do paintings of the moor; the other three (Sarah, Nan and Suki) are sisters: the older two are teachers at the Harton School, and the younger one is a pupil at the school; they are going to Dartmoor for the school vacation. Alderscroft asks Linwood to reserve his best two rooms at the hotel.

Alderscroft talks to four more Elementary Masters and Magicians, who say much the same as Linwood.

***

With Ellie feeding the children better food, cleaning the place properly and getting them to wash, they are all healthier. But as a result the Dark One is subjecting them to the Dark Sleeps more often. This also means it leaves the cottage more often. And it brings back more food and clothing.

But the exception is Rose. She is not recovering properly from the Dark Sleep, and seems to have given up.

And then what Ellie was afraid would happen occurs. Following a Dark Sleep, the Dark One unshackles Rose, and carries away her seemingly lifeless body. The Dark One summons a moor pony, and loads its bags and Rose onto it and rides away.

Ellie thinks this would be the best time to escape. She completes her work and feeds the children. Then she tells them of her intention. She thinks that if she recovers her finger-end from under the hearthstone, she may be able to get through the gate.

She levers up the hearthstone with a fire iron. But then she discovers there are two finger-ends there. She doesn’t know which is hers. The other one must have belonged to Liz, a previous girl whom the Dark One had made its servant; it had killed her because she wouldn’t obey its orders. So she takes both. She leaves the cottage and successfully goes through the gate. She goes back and tells the children.

They have made up a pack of supplies for her. She takes it and leaves the cottage.

She doesn’t which direction to go, but she decides to follow her father’s advice: if you get lost on the moor, follow running water downstream and you’ll eventually find people.

She is afraid all the time that the Dark One will catch up with her.

***
Back at the prison cottage, Simon is upset that Ellie has gone, and left him behind.

Then the Dark One comes to him and demands to know where his sister is. Simon says he doesn’t know, which is true.

Robbie tells the Dark One what Ellie had told him to say, that they heard the door closing, and thought Ellie had come to bed late.

Jess and Deborah volunteer to do the chores in Ellie’s absence. The Dark One accepts this and takes them out one at a time, and with each of them, chops the end off one of their fingers. It brings the girls back and Sam applies his healing power to the stumps of their fingers. The Dark One hides the finger-ends so the girls won’t escape like Ellie.

When the two girls have recovered, the Dark One orders them to do the chores. And then he goes out, to try to find Ellie.

Robbie kneels and prays for Ellie’s safety. Simon and some of the other children follow his example.

Later the Dark One returns, without Ellie. It seems to have given up trying to find her.

***

Nan, Sarah and Suki, and their birds, and John and Mary, take the train to Yelverton. A coach from the Rock Hotel is waiting for them at the station and transports them to the hotel.

After settling into their rooms and freshening up, they all (except the birds) go to the public room for a meal. Afterwards a barmaid tells them that Harold Linwood has invited them to meet in his private parlour. Suki is tired and goes to bed, but the other four follow the barmaid to the private room, and soon afterwards Linwood arrives. John introduces the members of the group.

Linwood again expresses scepticism about their mission, but John tells him about what the chief constable had said in his telegram.

John says he will talk to the chief constable and then the group will take a trip to Sheepstor to talk to the parents of the missing boy and girl.

Linwood asks if they can ride horses, apparently thinking that this is not something that London city-dwellers are capable of, but they all assure him they can. Linwood offers them the use of the horses from his own stable – after all Lord Alderscroft is paying for their visit – and other equipment they will need for navigating the moor: Ordinance Survey maps, compasses, sextants, etc.

Night is falling, and they all return to their rooms, except that Nan goes for a walk around the grounds.

She becomes aware of a man following her. She takes out a baton she has strapped to her thigh. But then the man speaks, and it turns out to be Sherlock Holmes.

He is here in Yelverton on a case, and it has some unnatural elements, so he wonders whether there is a connection between his case and theirs. They should help each other if possible. His case involves a delicate matter which involves the reputations of several women who have taken him into their confidence, so he is reluctant to provide details. Nan tells him that their case involves missing children.

Sherlock tells her they can leave messages for him at the local post office for “Benjamin Hubert”. He departs, and Nan returns to the hotel.

The next morning, Nan, Sarah and Mary go to breakfast. Suki has gone out exploring, and John has gone to talk to the chief constable, but they join the others for a late breakfast a bit later.

The chief constable had provided John with details of all the missing children: there were almost a dozen that the chief constable knew about. But his superiors hadn’t been interested because they were all children of the poor. Others had been orphans or children being sent to the workhouse who presumably had run away. The children of the couple who had sent the letter were still missing, so the group should start by talking to them.

Nan tells the others about meeting Holmes and what he had said.

Sarah had been taking notes of what John had said, so she takes them to the post office and leaves them for Sherlock to collect. Mary arranges with the hotel for a picnic lunch.

In due course they all (including the birds) gather at the stable.

They ride out of the village and along a track in the moors. Grey and Neville fly ahead for a while and then return to Sarah and Nan’s shoulders.

Eventually they come to the small cluster of houses which is the village of Sheepstor. John decides to make for the church and rectory, as the parish priest would probably be the fount of all information.

They find him in the garden, picking caterpillars off his cabbages. Neville flies to help him by eating the little creatures.

John greets the priest and introduces his group. The priest immediately recognises the name of Dr John Watson, the companion of Sherlock Holmes, and realises that they have come about the missing Byerly children. He invites them into the rectory.

The priest says he is Father Donald Shaw. He doesn’t know the Byerlys very well. They live some distance from the village. Roger had never been really part of the village. He had left and got a job in a factory. But then he had lost a hand in an accident, and hasn’t been able to get a job since. He had returned to the village with a wife, Maryanne, but the villagers remained distant from them, regarding Maryanne as an outsider. They have the two children, Simon, aged 8, and Helen, aged 11. They all attend the church services every Sunday. Maryanne had been a teacher, so she has been teaching the children herself. The teacher who teaches the village children is not very educated.

When Roger had told the villagers the children were missing, all the villagers went searching, but without success.

Father Shaw gets out his Ordinance Survey map, which shows the locations of the homes of all the people living in the parish (including the Byerlys) – some of them quite scattered – and John copies the details onto his own map.

So the group sets off again for the Byerlys’ cottage. Neville flies ahead as a scout. They eventually come to the cottage. They find Maryanne working in the garden.

John introduces himself, and tells her the cover story that Sherlock is dead, and that he and his companions have come in Sherlock’s stead. Maryanne invites them into the cottage. Shortly afterwards Roger arrives home, and Maryanne introduces the visitors.

Maryanne bursts into tears; she blames herself for sending the children out to the moor, and thinks she may have sent them to their deaths. John reassures her she had done nothing wrong.

He tells them what the chief constable had told him, that several children had gone missing. And then at his prompting, Nan tells Roger they know he has magical abilities; the five of them are all magicians as well. Roger says his grandmother had had the Sight, his mother had had knowledge of herbs, but he himself does not have much magic.

John says they think that all the children who had gone missing have magic, and they had been lured away because of that.

Sarah says that as a medium, she can detect whether the children have died; if they have, their spirits should be in the vicinity of the house. She asks for some possession of the children’s. Roger brings her their pillows. She concentrates for a while, then tells them that the children are not dead.

John says this means that the children must be held somewhere; they must have food and shelter. He and his companions will be using the detective skills that Sherlock has taught them to try to find them. Nan says she will send Neville every second day to tell Roger and Maryanne their progress.

Now, knowing that the Byerlys are poor, the group share their lunch with them; the hotel had been quite generous with the picnic lunch. Then they depart.

On the ride back, they stop to discuss their search strategy. Although the children’s location is presumably invisible to magic, it should be possible for Elementals to see them visibly if they are out of doors. Nan had picked up the children’s images from Maryanne’s mind, and can send them to the Elementals. And Neville can search out other cottages beyond Sheepstor.

Sarah says they should find out where abandoned mines are; maybe the children are being held there.

Most likely a magician has kidnapped the children to feed off their magical energy. Or could they be being used to work the mines?

John tells Suki she should make friends with the village children; they might tell her things that adults wouldn’t tell their group.

Back at the hotel, Sarah and Nan write up their findings for Sherlock, and Nan takes them to the post office. She buys an additional Ordinance Survey map for herself.

When the group gather for dinner, as there are other diners, they discuss the things which are going to paint, as part of their cover story: the quaintness of Sheepstor, the picturesque church, the moor ponies, the shepherd and his flock.

Tired from their adventure they return to their rooms. Nan borrows John’s map and copies all the detail to her own. Before they sleep, Sarah, Nan and the birds enter the spirit realm, and in their spirit forms fly out over the moor, following their route to the Byerlys’ cottage.

They can detect signs of benevolent magic in the cottage, no doubt from Roger’s grandmother; the hearth glows with magic as if there is a roaring fire. With this heritage, no doubt one or both of the Byerly children is a magician.

Outside, the garden glows with magical energy; possibly Maryanne, who looks after it, has a trace of magic. The girls sense that she cares for the garden. But there is also a sense of desperation, that the garden is the last thing preventing the family from starving.

They can’t sense anything that would lure magic users away; the children must have been lured away out on the open moor.

***
Nan sends Neville with a progress report to Maryanne. And then she stays in telepathic contact with Neville as he flies across the moor, and seeing everything through his eyes, she marks on her map such details as copses of trees, combs, cottages, and ruins.

Meanwhile, John would be sending his undines, and Mary her sylphs, to do similar explorations. And John would talk to the chief constable again.

Sarah heads out to talk to people, starting with the wife of the priest of Yelverton Parish, who is bound to kniw everything about everyone in the town. And Suki heads out to talk to the local children.

They all gather that evening in the Watsons’ room to combine their findings. The coloured pencils they had brought for their painting holiday prove useful for marking things on the maps: blue dots for “haunted places”, red dots for “the last known locations”, etc. Nan copies everything onto a new map to leave at the post office for Sherlock.

Suki had found out details of supposed witches in the district, and the group would have to eliminate them from their investigations.

Afterwards, Sarah, Nan and Suki enter the spirit realm to check for ghosts of people who might have drowned in the reservoir. But there are none.

***

They gather again in the Watsons’ room the next morning. They are able to erase “hauntings” from the map, because Sarah, Nan and Suki had eliminated them the night before, ushering the few ghosts they found to the afterlife.

Blue dots are now used on the map to mark locations where sylphs are unable to see into or enter. Green dots are used for the locations of purported witches; three of these are at the same locations as blue dots.

Review to be continued.

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