They all headed back to town. The brothers took the lead while Walter and Alden walked behind them. The floating lantern was in between.
“Why do you call them floating lanterns?” Walter whispered to Alden.
“Because they float,” Alden stated the obvious, but not to Walter. “They are only seen in the woods. Nobody knows why.”
“But, they don’t just float,” Walter said. “A Norseman is holding it up. Can’t you see him?”
“See him?” Alden was surprised. “Are you sure? I really don’t see anything, but a floating lantern.”
Walter had forgotten about the capability of seeing beyond the ordinary, realizing, only he could see the Norseman.
“What does he look like?” Alden was curious.
“Well, he looks like a Norseman,” Walter said.
“Can you really see him?”
“Of course,” Walter said.
“What is he doing?”
The ghost warrior turns to give a cagey glance at Alden. “Um, he just turn to look at us,” Walter became embarrassed.
“Can he hear us?”
“I think he can.”
“Can you talk to him?”
“I suppose I could.”
“Can you ask him a question?”
“I guess so.”
“Why do they wander in the woods?”
The ghost warrior glances back again. “I heard the question, lad. No need to repeat it. We don’t wander. We guide those that have lost their way in the woods.”
“He says they guide those that get lost in the woods,” Walter said.
“We find you. You don’t find us,” continued the ghost Norseman.
“How many of them are there?”
“We are many. We protect any wayward rambler. We mostly see hunters this time of year getting lost. We don’t go beyond the woods. We, especially, eschew going there,” he pointed to the Black Forest. “Even for us, that place is too dark and nefarious.”
“Did you always live in the woods?” Walter said.
“We were warriors and died here, many, many years ago and here we have been, lending our light to folks, like yourself.”
“I’m Walter, this is Alden.”
“I’m Brutus. You have a very inquisitive brother, Walter. I am a little surprised you can hear us or even see us. Nobody else can, no matter how much we yell. Though, we don’t have much to say.” It was common for Walter and Alden to be confused as brothers. It didn’t take them long to reach the town.
“Well, here is where I leave you. Goodnight, Walter,” said Brutus as he walked away. Brutus vanishes and his lantern extinguishes itself in the darkness.
The Sullivan brothers turn to look at the boys. “Ye two better run home moppets,” said George. “Go on, Oi said. Go home.”
Walter and Alden headed off as the brothers watched them leave. Alden was still exhilarated by the ghost warrior. “I can’t believe you spoke to it. I’ve heard hunters’ whisper about the floating lanterns, but nobody ever knew why or who held them. They only come in time of need, when the hunters get lost. Say, do you think they ever came across Mr. Crabb?”
“I don’t know,” said Walter. “He never mentioned it, but Mr. Crabb was said to enter the Black Forest and they never go near it themselves.”
“That is strange. I mean, not really. The Black Forest is creepy enough,” he said as his stomach grumbles. He became embarrassed.
“Have you eaten today?” Walter knew that sometimes Alden didn’t eat because the cupboards were empty. The little gelt the Bagleys’ did obtain went to his mother’s medicines and his father’s spirits. Walter wondered if the gelt Alden’s Aunt had given him were already spent, but Walter didn’t ask. Alden was already abashed about his situation and never begged from anyone, no matter how hungry he was. Walter empathized for him. He, himself had gone through days not eating. His Uncle and Aunt had rescued them when they needed it the most. His mother was too prideful to admit it. Walter then remembered the gingerbread cookies he had taken from the kitchen. He takes them out and hands them to Alden. “I forgot I took them from the kitchen,” Walter said.
“Thanks. Do you want the other one?” Alden said.
“No, I’m fine,” Walter says.
Alden stuffs the rest of the cookie in his mouth. “I better get going. Curfew has probably begun,” Alden starts walking away.
“Alden,” Walter stopped him. “Would you like to have dinner at the inn? I’m sure we can still make it.”
“Really?” Alden lit up. “I would like to.”
As they walk to the inn a Black Coat sees them. It was the one that had stopped Walter the other day. “Can’t be on the streets this time of hour, boys,” he said to them.
“We’re heading to the inn, sir,” Walter said.
“Good,” the Black Coat said. “Don’t mind if I tag along, just to be sure.” The three of them walked together in silence. Once they got to the inn, the Black Coat bid them a farewell and left. Walter and Alden pushed through the crowd toward the bar where Uncle Obel greeted them. “Good to see you, boys,” he said in his cheery manner. “Have you eaten anything? Your Aunt has gone to bed early and your mother is somewhere around. Go in the kitchen. Gertrude is gone for the night, but maybe Bonifacious will attend to you, just say please.” He winked at them and went back to attending the bar. Walter led Alden to the back room down the corridor, in to the kitchen.
“Who is Bonifacious?” Alden whispered.
“The poltergeist,” Walter said.
“He has a name!” Alden was surprised. “Can you see him?”
“No. I can’t see him,” Walter found the kitchen empty, nothing stirred, nothing moved, but something delicious brewed in the pots over the wood-burning stove.
“That smells good,” Alden’s stomach growled louder. “Sorry… Why did your Uncle say to say please?”
“It helps to say please,” Walter said. “Bonifacious, can you please serve us dinner.”
As with any arcane matters, ladles began to move, bowls and plates floated. The small table was being set before them, chairs were pulled out for them to sit, and without hesitation, and the boys took their places. Alden enjoyed the whole scene unfold before them. Walter had to admit it was pretty impressive. It was like Christmas, when he expected the magic and joy to transpire. He could understand why Gertrude was in a better mood. The food was placed before them. They thanked the friendly poltergeist and began eating. Walter didn’t realize how hungry he was until he ate, shoveling food as much as he could. The excitement they had endured in the cemetery opened up their appetites. Maybe because he missed lunch too.
“Those gingerbread cookies you gave me were delicious. Was this made by the same cook?” Alden said.
“No, Mildred bakes the pies and cookies, Gertrude cooks the food.”
“This is really good,” Alden slurped up the rest of his beef stew and moved on to the mutton, dumplings and sauerkraut. He must have been really hungry because he asked for seconds with a please and his plates was refilled. Walter also asked for seconds. He told Alden to save room for dessert, but Alden didn’t have a problem with that. He was able to finish his plate and have two helpings of rauchy, a slice of cheesecake and a gingerbread cookie with a glass of buttermilk. Walter had the same, though, he stopped with the cheesecake. With their tummies full, Walter was now sleepy. Alden didn’t seem to budge himself. Within minutes they both fell asleep at the table.