Two scant figures, not much taller than ten-year-olds, scampered outside Hallervord's Druckerei. If one had paid them attention, one would have noticed the stubble on their chins, the wizened crevices scarring their cheeks, and the bulbous bloodshot nose that drooped over their mouth like the belly of a pregnant lady. But those who walked past the print shop gave the figures no mind.
The passersby had lost their sense of wonder to the daily toll of everyday. Instead of remembering tales of Robin Goodfellow or the fantastic fairytales their nurse maids had used to try to encourage good behavior, they let the soft chatter of work carry on dead conversations. The few who did look around, like a man winking at a lady clutching the bag holding her new ballgown, didn't notice the youths.
Those who passed didn't realize they were older than the wind nor did they notice them creep into an alley. Pukje, that merry wanderer of the night, climbed onto the shoulders of Hob, his head just peeking over the edge of the windowsill. Inside Hallervord's Druckerei, dull brown light shone through windows smeared with ink and dust that provided no more than a hint of the tympan stretched taut beneath platen filled with lead, tin, and antimony alloyed type.
Pukje felt a whisper of power from the press. A whisper of the words stealing his natural immortality transferring it to the wooden words on dead paper. Pukje leaned backwards, falling away from the sill when his foot slipped off Hob's back.
"Is this the right place?" Hob asked.
"Don't matter." Pukje sidled towards a side door. His fingers trembled and he magicked an iron key into existence. Sweat ran down his brow and even his nose had paled to a dull gray.
"Course it matters. If they aren't publishing the brothers' lies, it's not going to save Titania."
"Hob, you're so naïve. It doesn't matter whether this druckerei is the right one or not. If we do find the right one, Wilhelm will just find another printer willing to accept his coin."
"But each printed copy --"
"I know," Pukje said. "Shut up. We're wasting time."
The side door creaked open. A gentleman emerged wearing a ruffled shirt that rolled over the edges of his unbuttoned overcoat, squeezed tight over his frail bones. He withdrew a pipe from his pocket and orange flames lit the tobacco. The door thumped behind him.
Pukje balanced on his tip toes. "Herr Hallervord --"
Hob thumped Pukje knocking him off his tip toes and stumbling over a stack of wooden pallets. His foot got stuck.
Hob whispered, "You'll scare him. We're not supposed to know his name."
"Scare me?" Hallervord's voice rumbled. "Well, I'll say. You don't look quite natural. Since when did Robin Goodfellow and," Hallervord stared hard at Hob, but shook his head, "and whoever you might be start caring about pesky mortals?"
Pukje preened, his thumbs tucked underneath his suspenders, and without looking, yanked his foot out of the pallets.
"We are not merry wanderers," Hob said. "We're just two children who need to get inside. Could you open the door and most importantly invite us in."
"You look a little older than children."
"Never mind that. We've just got an odd disease. We're really good workers."
"I don't need more laborers."
Pukje took two long steps towards Hob and jumped on his back, climbing onto his shoulders and then balancing there, blowing a handful of dust into Hallervord's face. "You could replace two of your workers with us and we'll work for free."
Hob backed away from the man, causing Pukje to teeter and roll to the ground. Hob shook his head at his brother. "Stop that. The dust will hurt him."
"So. If Titania dies, I don't care about any mortal."
"He hasn't opened the door yet."
The pipe slipped out of Hallervord's hands. His heart froze, the last twitch of his hand opening the door a crack.
"See. I told you not to use the dust. His heart is too old to experience wonder."
"But, I got the door open."
Hob tentatively extended a finger towards the open door but jerked it back and shouted with pain. "We haven't been invited in yet."
A boy came to the door. His fingers twitching. "Who's out there? Herr Hallervord?"
Pukje kicked the old man. A wiggle of the fingers sent the dead druckerei owner rolling into a corner of the alley where wisps of fog hid the body.
"If you wouldn't mind, could you invite us wee folk in?"
"I suppose it couldn't hurt. Come on in. You haven't seen Herr Hallervord have you?"
As soon as the boy said the words of invitation, Pukje and Hob streaked past him, towards the printing press. They swung on the windlass, cutting the lines, releasing the weights and leading the platen crashed against the table and break the tray underneath.
Too bad youth no longer believed. Or, perhaps that is a good thing for Titania.
Hob grabbed a pamphlet, twisting in his grasp, squinting at the typeface. "This is no fairy tale."
"I told you we'd have to break all the presses." Pukje wiped the dust off his clothes. "We should head to the next one. We're going to have a busy night."