Rebecca was almost bad-tempered. It was Saturday morning. Billy the smaller goblin had helped her reset and light the fire, bring up water from the well and milk the cow and the two goats. Golly the other goblin was missing. Where was he?
They had just stepped into the hen house to collect the eggs. The hens were flapping around and screeching. Golly suddenly arrived and had to yell to be heard.
"Hey Princess, have you heard? We're going to the circus!"
"I know. George's got free tickets," Rebecca said crossly.
She was worried. Why were the hens so upset? Where was Umby, the best layer in the shed?
"Taken, taken, taken," the hens kept screeching.
"A thief?" Rebecca asked.
She could usually understand the speech of animals and birds because she was an ex fairy, but hens were so silly and now they were upset they were even sillier and harder to understand.
"A thief, a thief, a thief," the hens screeched.
"Who?" Golly demanded.
"Who, who, who," the hens screeched.
"If you were here like you were supposed to be this wouldn't have happened," the white owl perched on Rebecca's shoulder accused.
"So where were you, old stiff rump?" Golly snapped back.
"Be thankful I was protecting my family as I should be," the owl hooted down at Golly.
"Do be quiet," Rebecca ordered. "I won't get any sense out of them."
The smaller goblin, Billy, had slipped out of the hen house. He came staggering in with a small bag of grain. "Maybe they might settle once they've had something to eat," he suggested.
"Sensible Billy," Rebecca praised.
She waited. After a while the hens stopped screeching and started clucking. Then they settled to pecking at the grain. Rebecca waited until they were calm again.
"Poor Umby got stolen by someone who opened the door," she said.
"It opened the door," the hens clucked.
"It wasn't Rebecca?" Rebecca asked.
"It wasn't Rebecca," the hens clucked.
"It wasn't George?" Rebecca asked.
"It wasn't George," the hens clucked.
"It wasn't Miranda?" Rebecca asked.
"It wasn't Miranda," the hens clucked.
"Come on, Princess," Golly whispered. "You gonna name the entire district? The hens don't know anybody except us."
"Was it as tall as George?" Rebecca asked.
"No," clucked the hens.
"Was it as tall as Rebecca?" Rebecca asked.
"Maybe, maybe," the hens clucked.
"So some kid has been in here thieving chooks," Golly said.
Rebecca ignored him. "Was it the same shape as Rebecca?"
"No, no, no," clucked the hens.
"So what was it shaped like?" Rebecca asked.
"The door, the door, the door," the hens clucked.
Rebecca went out and closed and bolted the door carefully after her. "Something nearly my height and wide as a door."
"There's no such thing," Billy said. "An ogre is as wide as a door but much bigger. Hobgoblins are shaped just like goblins."
"Gotcha," Golly said as he pounced down behind a bush. "Thieving our chickens are you?"
Billy jumped after him. Rebecca stepped off the path and peered down to where the two goblins had a fox by the tail.
"Never had the chance," the fox snarled, as it swung around to try and bite the two goblins.
"Would you like an egg?" Rebecca asked nicely.
The fox stopped struggling and grinned widely. "You've got better manners than your servants, Princess."
Rebecca took an egg out of the basket and held it close to the fox's muzzle. "Who stole our hen?"
"They call it living off the land, not stealing," the fox said.
"They?" Rebecca asked.
"Two dwarves," the fox said as it closed its mouth carefully around the egg.
"Dwarves!" Golly said letting go the fox's tail. "I haven't noticed any around."
"Because they have lots of burrows underground," the fox said through the egg. Billy let go of the tail as well and the fox slid off.
"Dwarves!" Rebecca repeated. "I've heard that dwarves are very honest."
"Rotten eggs in all nests," Golly said.
"I'd better tell George that someone has thieved our best layer," Rebecca said with a sigh.
"Only not who," Golly warned. "George can't know you talk to animals."