As they walked, they encountered some of the townspeople going about their business—a farmer on a wagon pulled by a team of oxen, a middle aged woman in a long homespun dress and shawl shepherding a couple of children in linen shirts and patched breeches. Everyone they met wished them a good day, but it seemed to Eric that they eyed them strangely and perhaps a bit distrustfully. Eric guessed that the sight of two unfamiliar children and a dwarf being followed by a snowy owl in flight was the cause of their consternation.
They continued along the road toward the center of town. But it took longer to reach than Eric thought. The town center was much smaller in 1777 than in the present day. It seemed alien to him. There were no supermarkets or shopping centers, just houses and a few shops. Eric’s stream, which had followed the road widened out into a mill pond that powered a grist mill, the rushing water turning a large wheel to grind corn and wheat into flour.
“My town is really different,” he said.
“I think it’s nice,” Kate said.
“Yeah, you said that, but to me it’s like being in a museum. It’s also freaky to think that no one I know will be born for, like, 200 years or more.”
“That’s gotta be strange, sure enough,” Hallo agreed. “But it’s also somethin’ that few if any have had a chance t’ do.”
“What do you mean, Hallo?” Eric asked.
“Well I know I’d love t’ go back t’ the foundin’ of the Dwarf Kingdom, don’t ya know. It’d be great t’ see King Orvis I settin’ up the Kingdom and diggin’ the first mine. It’d be a chance t’ see hist’ry.”
A chance to see history. Eric had not thought about it like that. He might even get to witness the real Battle of Candlewood Corners. That would be cool.
They were passing by the town blacksmith’s shed. When he heard the clang, clang of a hammer ringing on iron, Eric realized how quiet it had been. In the 21st century he was used to hearing the constant rumble of traffic and the occasional jet or helicopter flying overhead. Here in the 18th century bird calls, the hum of insects and the mooing of cattle were the dominant sounds.
In the center of town, only a few things were recognizable. Just about everything was different. In the heart of the village, King’s Highway intersected the road they were traveling on. Directly ahead of them, Eric recognized the old Congregational church which would one day be converted into the town library.
When they reached the King’s Highway intersection, Eric looked to his left and gasped. There stood Keller Tavern. What had surprised him was that it looked almost exactly like it did in his time.
“Wow, I guess some things never change,” he murmured.
“What was that, my boy?” Stig asked as he landed beside him.
“The tavern—It looks the same. The people in my town treat it almost like a shrine.”
“Why’s that?” Hallo wondered.
“There was, or will be, a battle here,” Eric explained. “The British came up this road looking for stores and ammunition collected by the colonists here in town. The local militia mustered under and around that tree,” Eric pointed to a large oak across the street from the tavern. Eric noted it was a lot smaller than it was in his day. “It’s called the Liberty Tree, or that’s what it will be called someday. The militia stood against the British troops. In the fighting, the tavern was hit by several cannonballs. One even lodged in the wall. In my time, it’s a museum and the cannonball is still stuck in the wall.”
Hallo whistled. “Well I’ll be et fer a tater. So you know how this here battle’s gonna go?”
“Well, yeah, of course I do,” Eric replied. “I’ve been going to re-enactments for years. What’s that got to do with anything?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “Oh Eric—sometimes you can be so clueless. You know what’s going to happen. That information will be a big help.”
“Sure, but I don’t know how that’s gonna help us. The Gatekeeper said that the creature is trying to change history. We have to figure out how it’s gonna do that. How does knowing what should happen help us stop it?”
“Perhaps your knowledge will help us spot anything out of the ordinary,” Stig suggested. “You’ll need to keep your eyes open for anything that happens that you have not encountered in your historical re-enactments.”
“Hmm, okay. I guess that makes sense,” Eric said.
“Well, we’re here in the center of town,” Kate said, looking around. “It’s pretty quiet right now. Where do you think we should head?”
“Um, let’s go on over to the tavern,” Eric replied. “I’ll bet it would be a great place to pick up information.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Stig said. “However, I don’t think they would appreciate an owl in a tavern. Maybe the rest of you should go in and see what information you can pick up while I scout around the countryside.”
“Yeah, I guess you’d be a little out of place in the tavern,” Eric agreed.”
“T’ be honest, lad, I think I might be, too,” Hallo said. “It’s been my experience that some Big Folk ain’t too comfortable when it comes t’ folk who’re a wee bit different. I don’t want t’ attract too much attention, so I think I’ll mosey around with birdie.”
“Okay,” Eric said a little reluctantly. “Kate are you up for that?”
“Sure,” Kate said. “But what’s our plan? It’s fine to split up and collect information, but how and when are we going to meet up again to share what, if anything, we’ve learned?”
Eric frowned. “Oh yeah, good point. Uh, I think we should check in this evening and compare notes.”
“Splendid,” Stig said. “Where should we rendezvous?”
“Ronde—what?” Hallo asked, scratching his head.
“It means where should we meet,” Kate explained.
“How about Hangman’s Hill?” Eric said.
“Where’s that?” Stig asked.
“It’s on a hill behind the church,” Eric replied. “All we have to do is cut through the graveyard.”
“Graveyard?” Hallo sputtered. “I don’t much like the sound o’ that don’t ya know.”
“Well, it’s a place where we can talk without anyone overhearing us. I don’t think there will be anyone around once it gets dark.”
“Dark? We’re cuttin’ through a graveyard t’ go t’ a place called Hangman’s Hill in the dark?”
“I think it’s an excellent suggestion myself Hallo. Let’s meet there at eight o’clock then,” Stig said. “Now let’s be off. We shall see you tonight.”
“Where’re we headin’ off to?” Hallo asked. “The young ‘uns are goin’ t’ the tavern, lucky ducks, but where ‘re we headin’ birdie?”
“I say, I hadn’t really thought beyond spying out the countryside. Come to think of it, I’m not sure exactly what we’re to look for.”
“I think you should head toward Musket Ridge,” Eric said, pointing down the road to their left. “It’s right beyond the tavern down King’s Highway. The British will be coming up that road. There’s a forest on a ridge lining the road. In my time it’s pretty small, but from what the history books say, it was a lot larger back then—I mean now.”
“All right, we’ll make for that and see what we can discover,” Stig said. “Let’s go, Hallo.”
“Right behind ya, birdie,” Hallo replied.
With that, Stig flew into the air and over the highway with Hallo stumping off after him down the road, drawing strange looks from the people in the streets.
Eric and Kate headed across the street to the tavern.