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Wendy was walking through the woods on a warm summer’s evening when she met a wanderer.

He was a tall man dressed in black, with a large, wide-brimmed hat that concealed his features. He held a large walking stick, and was standing at the edge of the path throwing breadcrumbs to the birds.

She stopped a little way away from him and looked at him curiously. There was something a little odd about him, but she couldn’t quite pin it down.

“Hello, Wendy,” he said quietly.

She blinked. “Do I know you, sir?”

He chuckled. “No, I don’t think you do.”

“Then how did you know my name?”

He dropped a few more breadcrumbs, and a black bird swooped down from a tree to peck them up.

“A little bird told me,” he said.

Wendy pondered this for a moment, but she was a very sensible girl and soon she shook her head decisively.

“You guessed,” she said. “A very lucky guess, but a guess nonetheless.”

He pushed his hat up slightly and smiled at her. “You think so?”

She nodded. “It’s the only reasonable explanation. There’s no way you could have known.”

“Well then, Wendy. You seem very sure of yourself. How about a little wager?”

Wendy took a small step back, but then drew herself up tall. It wouldn’t do to let this strange man see that she was scared.

“A wager?”

He nodded. “You ask me three questions. If I answer all three of them correctly, you give me that necklace you’re wearing. If I get any wrong, I’ll give you something equally precious.”

She put her hand up to her necklace. It wasn’t particularly expensive, but it had been a present from her father, and was very special to her. Still, there was something about the strange man that made her loathe to say no.

“Alright,” she said. “Where is my father?”

The tall man crouched down. Wendy wasn’t sure if it was so that he could look her in the eye or to be closer to the big black bird that hopped up to him.

“Your father is a long way away. He is walking a difficult and dangerous path for his country.”

Wendy looked at him and narrowed her eyes. “That’s rather vague,” she said.

He chuckled. “But can you say it is untrue?”

She folded her arms and thought before asking her second question. “Where is my mother?”

The man stopped smiling and looked at her solemnly. She realised that the shadow of his hat had hidden the eye patch he wore over one eye.

He pointed to Wendy’s necklace. “What’s left of her is there, and in memories.”

Wendy’s lip quivered. She didn’t want to give the strange man her necklace, but was struggling to think of a question that he would not be able to answer.

She ran through riddles in her mind; they were all so obvious. So easy to guess. They wouldn’t do.

Then she remembered just such a situation in one of her mother’s favourite stories, and she smiled slightly.

“What have I got in my pocket?”

Β© Kari Fay