Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chapter Fourteen

“Yer town’s safe,” grumbles the Dwarf, his back still to Cinderella. He is hard at work just outside the town, digging a suitable fire pit.

“Yes, thank you,” repeats Cinderella, and she steps closer to him. “But I just wanted to ask, who are you? Can I offer you any food or water?”

The Dwarf grunts and spits. Human food. Nothing worse, he thinks.

“No,” he says distinctly, after she fails to interpret his grunt. Can’t the daft girl see he’s busy?

“I’m Cinderella, by the way,” she says, and takes another step closer. After a moment’s silence, she adds, “And you are…?”

He snorts. Apparently he won’t be allowed to work in peace. “I ain’t nobody. Just a Dwarf.”

“Yes, but who are you? Why are you here?”

“I’m buildin’ a pyre fer the dead, what’s it look like?” he growls.

“Oh.” Silence. The girl goes away. Took her long enough.

He digs stoically, knowing that blisters are inevitable, even with his hard, callused hands. The big people cause nothin’ but trouble, even in death. Always adding more work to his schedule.

Footsteps approach, but the Dwarf doesn’t turn. He can tell they belong to someone alive - they aren’t shuffling and stumbling like one of the damned. He half-turns his head so he can glare at whoever else is coming to thank him.

It’s that same girl. Cinderella. Only now she’s carrying a shovel.

“What’re you doing?” he asks, and in his surprise, he stops digging.

“What’s it look like?” she responds, though with no bitterness in her voice. “I’m helping to build the pyre. Some of these people were my neighbors.”

The Dwarf sniffs disdainfully but says nothing. Finally, he nods his head and continues digging.

“Yer doin’ it wrong,” he says, as soon as she puts her foot over the shovel. “Point it this way, so y’ get more dirt.” He demonstrates and grumbles to himself. What would a girl know about diggin’, he figures.

Cinderella corrects her shovel and steps down hard on the back of the blade.

He expects her to gab on and on and thank him and ask all sorts of questions, but is surprised (and oddly disappointed) by her silence. But it makes sense – she’s gotta save her energy to dig through the rough grass outside the town wall. And there’s a lot of diggin’ to do.

“Yer goin’ out too far,” he eventually says. “It oughta be a rectangle, out to about there.”

Cinderella nods and steps to where he pointed. Strange that she doesn’t say anything, after being a chatterbox not too long ago. Well, she’ll soon be talking again, that’s for sure, once she starts sweatin’ and gettin’ blisters on her delicate hands, and then he’ll never hear the end of it.

But if her hands pain her, she doesn’t mention them. She continues to dig under the Dwarf’s direction. Soon she is red in the face, and she’s breathing loud enough to wake the dead, but she doesn’t complain.

Though the sun is at its zenith, the Dwarf’ll be damned if he takes a break before the job is finished. He expects the girl to give up any minute, because even when the digging is done, they still have to drag the bodies, then lay ‘em out and burn ‘em up. It’s certainly not women’s work, and she was the one who mentioned eatin’ and drinkin’, so she’s probably hungry, herself.

Still, although she wipes her brow and ties her hair back in a kerchief, the girl shows no sign of slowing down.

Eventually, the silent treatment gets to him. The Dwarf tugs at his beard and says, “I’m lookin’ fer someone. That’s what I’m doing.”

Cinderella keeps her smile to herself. She nods tersely and continues digging. “I hope you find them.”

“It ain’t you,” the Dwarf adds quickly, and he steals a look at the girl to see if she is listening. She doesn’t appear to be paying attention to anything other than the dirt. Of course, why should she respect one of her elders when they’re trying to tell her something?

“I’m lookin’,” he pauses dramatically, since dramatics seem to be the only way to get this silly girl to listen, “fer a prince.”