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The Maybes In the Orchard (Lady Madeline pt. 5)

Under different circumstances, Madeline would have loved that walk in the moonlight. The quiet breeze stirring up the smells of the grass, the fresh mud, and the apples of the orchard was comforting. The silvery glow was quite beautiful. While the temperature wasn't warm, it would not have taken more than a light jacket to keep her comfortable as she danced around in the shadows.

But the only jacket she had was soaked. Her arm hurt from where the cat bit her. She was tired and very much afraid. She was glad that Handsome was with her — she would have hated to be here alone — but her muscles were sore, and she felt half frozen. She didn't care whether the moon was beautiful or not, just that it let her see in the dark. She only cared about that flickering light and hoped she was getting closer to it.

By now, she had no idea whether she was going in the right direction. The trail seemed to wind up, back, and around the orchard. It never went straight for very long. And it felt like this path was taking forever, far longer than it should.

That light couldn't be this far away, could it? It didn't seem so. It seemed so clear from the river. Would it have been better to try to walk straight to the house? Did it even make sense to try to follow this strange, dirt trail? Maybe she could try to walk in a straight line?

But she couldn't see the light anymore. It disappeared into the trees. Even if it hadn't, the path had taken too many curves. She wasn't even sure what direction she was facing. She might be headed away from the river, but she could be headed back toward it. What if this dirt road never went to the house? What if it just wandered through the orchard and went back to the river? What if it just stopped, and then she and Handsome would be stuck out here? What if it went back to where the cats were?

Maybe she should climb a tree, then she'd be able to see where she was going. Or maybe she should just walk up one of these small hills. That would give her a better view. But if she walked up the hill, she might not find the path again in the dark, or the house might be facing a different direction, and if she climbed a tree, well, tree climbing by moonlight didn't seem like a good idea, especially with a hurt arm.

She was about to send Handsome ahead. He wasn't too bright, but he was loyal, and maybe he could look where the light was coming from. He could find the light and then come back and tell her about it. But that would leave her alone, did she really want to be alone? The cats were gone, but she still heard strange sounds in the night, and there was no telling what strange creatures she might see.

She was still trying to make up her mind when she came around a bend in the path. There she stepped into a field. And at the very center, there was a tiny little house.

It was maybe three feet tall from the bottom to the top of the chimney. It was white with brown beams and a straw roof. There was a giant window in the front, and Madeline could see a fireplace inside with something roasting on it. She could smell cooked meat and stew, and she could hear people talking from inside the tiny cottage.

Up until now, she hadn't realized how hungry she was, or that it had been hours since lunchtime. She was cold and tired, and maybe these people could help. So she stepped up to the door, bent over, and knocked.

The door opened, and a little man peaked out. He was at most six inches tall and had a pointy nose and chin. She might have said that he was dressed like Robin Hood. He even had a green hat with a feather in it. But the most amazing thing was that he had a pair of butterfly wings on his back and, even in the dark, they sparkled with bright blues and whites.

"Hello?" he said, looking at her knee. Then he looked up into her face "Oh, oh my. Madeline, you're not supposed to be here."

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