Whistling woke Andrew from a restless nap in front of the fire. He opened his eyes at the call of a voice.
“Hansel! Stop eating it. We’ll never find out way back.”
There was a muffled choking sound. “Look! Gretel, come and look at this!”
Andrew rose and tugged on his clothes. He met Thomas at the door.
“Where did it come from?” Gretel’s voice was filled with awe.
“I don’t know, but it won’t last long.”
“Do you think we should? What if it’s a trap?”
“Who’s trap?” Disdain filled Hansel’s voice. “He has not power over us, not while he’s trapped here by her.”
Within seconds, the sounds of gingerbread breaking off and quiet crunching, and louder moans of delight, filled the darkened room. Thomas reached for the door handle.
“Wait,” Andrew whispered. “You stay here.” Andrew sidled in front of Thomas. “I’m not a wizard, so even if they run this time, they’ll dismiss me.”
Thomas caught his arm. “No. you have no defences against them.”
“Nor do you. Your magic doesn’t work on them.”
“Inside this house, it does,” said Thomas as he opened the door and slipped outside.
“They’re not inside, you idiot,” Andrew said as the door closed in front of him. He rushed to the window and peered through a gap in the curtains. One of the gremlins broke a piece of windowsill of and chomped on it. A look of pure bliss flooded his features. Andrew felt a grim satisfaction wash through him. His gingerbread really was that good.
“Well, well.” Thomas’s dry voice drew Andrew’s attention. Thomas stood a few feet from the door, feet planted firmly on the stone path, arms crossed over his wide chest. “You’re eating my house.”
“It’s gingerbread!” replied Hansel through a mouthful of crumbs.
“Do you like gingerbread so much you’re willing to eat all that stale stuff?”
“Stale?” Gretel paused with a chunk of icing lacework in front of her open mouth.
“Of course. It’s been there for days. The fresh batch is inside. As soon as it’s cool, I’m going to put it on the door and ice it with a scene of forest creatures.” Thomas sounded so reasonable, Andrew almost believed him.
“It’s still warm?” Gretel swung to Hansel. “Hansel, it’s still warm!”
Hansel shoved the last chunk of windowsill into his mouth and darted over to Gretel and Thomas. “Bring it here. We’ll eat it first, then the rest of this.” He swept his arm around, indicating the cottage.
“The trays are too hot. I can’t move them until they cool.” Thomas turned back to the house. As he walked away from them, he said, “Come in and get it if you want it that much.”
Andrew continued watching through the curtain just long enough to see Hansel and Gretel stare at each other, then he rushed to the rope in the corner. He unwound the rope from the hook in the wall and took the weight of the cage Thomas had built in his shoulders and thighs.
Thomas entered the house and walked directly to the Aga. He kept his eyes lowered, not acknowledging Andrew at all.
Andrew leaned back as much as he could, his muscles shaking at the strain. Above the door, the cage swayed. Would the gremlins take the bait? He couldn’t see out the window from where he was. They could have left completely and he and Thomas would have to wait until they came again.
Thomas turned from the Aga, a mug of tea in his hand. He stared steadily at the open doorway. The corner of his mouth tugged in a suppressed smile.