Paul Fleischman, who wrote last year's sentimental Birthday Tree, is more successful (if not much more original) with this atmospheric story of a mute 12-year-old boy held as a prisoner/servant by a thieving, sinister old innkeeper. Aaron has wandered from home in search of his mother, who has failed to return from market during a bad blizzard. He is picked up by a good-natured rag man, but the man is illiterate, and so can't read Aaron's notes or comprehend the situation. When Aaron leaves the man's wagon to find help at an inn. he ends up in the clutches of frightful Miss Grackle--who reads his dreams, makes soup of his boots so he can't run away, and forces him to join her at night in the guests' rooms, where she peels back their eyelids and peeks in at their dreams, hoping some day to catch out a man rich enough to hold for ransom. (Ordinarily, she just picks their pockets.) This dream-reading bit is a good touch, and there are others--such as the curse that leaves Miss Grackle unable to light her fire, and eventually leaves her frozen to death with a bandit captive she thinks is a prince. Otherwise, if this is little more than an exercise in handling very old conventions, Fleischman has learned to wield the conventions most proficiently.