Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chapter Forty

“Visitors!” says the ancient peasant woman. She smiles a toothless, wobbly smile. “Oh, that’s so lovely!”

She limps toward the Dwarf and the servant girl, and the Dwarf raises his weapon automatically. He just doesn't trust anyone who's so cheerful.

A lavender cat, as plump as its mistress is frail, sidles into the Chamber of the Door and eyes the two newcomers with hungry interest.

“We haven’t had visitors in such a long time,” croons the peasant.

“That’s such a shame,” says Cinderella. She tries to mask her confusion with a smile. “But why wouldn’t you go through the Doorway...?” She stops as she sees why. Most of the Doorway has been bricked up.

The crone laughs. “Well, as you can see, my child, some busy brick-layer walled us in. My little kitty could make it through, but I’m afraid it’s a bit too much of a climb for these old bones.”

“I see,” says Cinderella, but before she can continue, the Dwarf interrupts.

“Well, ‘tis a shame. We’ll be going now.”

He starts to march toward the Doorway, but the old woman tugs at his tunic.

“No, no, you can’t go!” she wails. “We haven’t had visitors in so long! Please, stay for a while,” she persists in a sugary voice. “At least for a meal and a cup of tea.”

The Dwarf glares at her, unpersuaded. Besides, he is allergic to cats and already he’s fighting the urge to sneeze.

The woman turns her bleary eyes hopefully toward Cinderella. It takes the girl a moment, but then she smiles back, polite and confused.

“Oh... well... of course,” she says.

“Excellent, excellent!” wheedles the woman.

The girl's manners might prevent her from asking the jumble of questions bustling about her head, but the Dwarf holds no such qualms. "You've been hidin' here all this time? Fer how long?" he asks. "What happened to the others? And how come y'didn't answer when we first arrived?"

His questions fall on deaf ears, and out of nowhere, the hunchbacked crone produces a picnic basket. A symphony of smells emanates from within.

In spite of himself, the Dwarf sniffs eagerly, all potential sneezes forgotten. He’s been living on scraps for far too long, and though the girl fancies herself a cook, she doesn’t prepare things in the proper Dwarven way.

Whatever the old hag’s got in her basket, it must include some fresh, oaty Dwarf bread, salted venison, and the tangy scent of ale. Exactly what he’d been missing.

“It smells delicious,” says Cinderella.

“Oh, we’ve all sorts of goodies, just waiting to share,” says the peasant. She rummages through the basket with one clawed hand.

“Let me see...” says the woman, “how about an apple?” She finally removes her hand, and it holds two perfect red apples.

The lavender cat stops pawing at a bloodstained spot on the floor, its wide face trained on the visitors.

“But they’re not even in season!” says a delighted Cinderella, and she reaches out happily.

“Oh,” the woman clicks her tongue, “they’re always in season somewhere.”

The Dwarf’s mouth stops watering. Fruits, bah. Good for fattening up deer and nothing more. Though, he has to admit, it’s a nice specimen, almost like a jewel, so shining and red...

“Thank you so much,” says Cinderella.

Been some time since he’d seen an apple that nice. Not since…

“You’re so very welcome, dearie,” smiles the woman, and she offers the other one to the Dwarf. "Now eat up, eat up, both of you, and have a proper breakfast."

He takes it, but something about this apple is very familiar...

Cinderella bites.

The crone smiles.

The sun rises.