Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Two

The Dwarf pushes back his bowl with an unsatisfied grunt. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, but he can’t fault the girl - she barely has any food. And rain water and barley mush is better than nothing, so he ate it.

“Well,” he growls, “thanks fer the food.”

“You’re welcome,” says Cinderella, and she takes away his bowl. “I suppose you should be going,” she says evenly.

“And what about you?” he asks, in a tone that indicates he doesn’t care.

“Oh, I’ll stay here,” says Cinderella, and she turns her back to the Dwarf. “I have to wait for my family’s return, after all.”

There’s a snort as the Dwarf surveys the room. “In this place? It’s a trap.”

“I think it’ll be all right. The town is mostly cleared, after all, isn’t it?”

“Mostly?” He stands to his full height and glares up at Cinderella. “I took down every damned one of those things within earshot, I guarantee it. But there’ll be more, there're always more, roaming the countryside, lookin’ fer their blasted dinners.”

Pretending to ignore him, Cinderella looks around the room, and gives a satisfied nod.

“I’ll just move some of the furniture from the staircase. Barricade the doors and windows. It’ll be nice to have the house to myself again, instead of being cramped in the attic.”

“Bah! Look around you, woman. Too many windows. Not well-defended. Too much open space. If they come for you, where are y’gonna go? How will y’fight?” He can’t believe this girl. Decent cook she may be, she doesn’t know anything about survival.

“Well,” says Cinderella, feigning exasperation, “what am I supposed to do? I have to stay here until my family returns. I was told to watch after our home.”

“Aw, wake up an’ open yer eyes. They’re not comin’ back, they’re gone. Fled with everyone else. And I see why they didn’t bring y’along. Yer too buffle-headed to be worth a damn.”

Something about that rings a little too true for Cinderella. Her eyes cloud over with tears as she bites her bottom lip.

The Dwarf immediately regrets saying this. He doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing. During the silence, he fingers the curtains and scowls at their lushness.

Her eyes remain downcast. “Well, that may be, but it’s my duty. Just like it’s yours to find this prince, even though that sounds rather buffle-headed to me.”

The Dwarf bristles, but he doesn’t have the heart to retort in anger. She wouldn’t understand. No one would, unless they’d met Snow White. “If you could bring someone back from th’ dead,” he finally says, “you’d do it, too.”

“I would,” says Cinderella, and she thinks of her real family – her mother, long dead, and her father, gone too recently. Leaving her alone with her stepmother and stepsisters.

“I would,” she says again.

They stand apart for a long while, until the Dwarf thinks of something to say. “Well,” he says in a loud voice. The only way he knows how to apologize is to change the subject. “Yer not safe here, that’s fer sure. ‘Tis better to be out in the open than to have them come crashin’ in at you. Y’better come along with me.”

He knows he’s going to regret this, but he doesn’t want another dead, defenseless girl on his conscience.

“Besides,” he adds lamely, “I don’t know where the prince of these lands would be found, and I could use yer aid as a scout.” He is bad at lying; the castle lies atop a hill, and the entire town spirals up towards it, impossible to miss.

Cinderella smiles a little, but her eyes are still hurt. “Very well,” she says. “I’ll go get my things.”

She’d already prepared a bundle the night before. They don’t amount to much, just a thick coat for when it gets cold, a tiny locket containing the silhouettes of her mother and father, and a small package of her remaining food. That’s all she wants to take from her old life.

As they leave the chateau, Cinderella is surprised to realize she doesn’t care if she never sees her stepmother or stepsisters again. But it still pains her to understand how they’ve felt about her all along.