Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Hands stained with blood, Cinderella speaks to the glaring Dwarf. “There’s a story about one of these wolves,” she says, her voice purposefully soothing.

“He ate seven baby goats whole. But while he slept, the mother cut open his stomach so that her children were freed. It’s a simple surgery, really.” She sets aside her scissors into a kettle of boiling water.

"You don't know the rest of the story," growls the Dwarf. “I do.” He knew that family very well, in fact, once upon a time. "She replaced her children with seven hot stones. When the Wolf woke up, he tried to drink from a stream to ease the burn in his belly, and he fell in the water. The stones weighed him down, and he drowned horribly."

Cinderella remains unfazed as she considers the Dwarf’s tale. Beneath her nimble needle, the Wolf squirms and whimpers. "Well,” she says at last, “at least it's a happy ending for the goats."

She wipes her hands on the cleanest part of her apron. "I suppose we'll stay here for the night,” she says casually, “and make sure the Wolf has improved before we leave."

"Oh, no, we aren’t," says the Dwarf. "I said I'd getcha to the Doorway, and I meant it. You've dilly-dallied long enough, now yer gettin' out of here to somewhere safe."

Cinderella's prepared for this. Feigning curiosity, she asks, “What makes you think the Doorway leads to someplace safe? We didn’t know that the Castle of the Door had fallen. Perhaps the Other Lands have been invaded, as well.”

The Dwarf grits his teeth and spits into the fireplace. These are thoughts he’s joylessly mulled over for many sleepless nights. Seeing the castle abandoned and unguarded wasn’t as bad as his worst fears – at least the place wasn’t swarming with the dead – but this was bad enough for him.

Still, he has to argue with the girl. “You don’t know nothin’. There could be any number of safe havens out there. We all know them dead can’t breach these walls with the drawbridge pulled up, so it’s better than hidin’ here and starving’ to death.”

His positivity stuns them both.

“And besides,” he adds with a scowl, “I’m sick of you slowin’ me down. I’ve got a prince t’ find.”

He turns his back on the girl and mutters into the corner. “Playin’ nursemaid to a wolf, fer cryin’ out loud.”

“If there are safe havens out there,” Cinderella says quietly, “how do you know your prince isn’t in one of them?”

The Dwarf stops grumbling. He unwillingly turns his ear in her direction.

“Let’s face it,” says Cinderella, and she winds a silk curtain tightly around the Wolf’s ribcage, “the land has been abandoned.”

He grunts sullenly. Truth be told, he hadn’t thought of that, and wouldn’t it be just like a human prince to abandon his kingdom when the going gets tough?

“If there are safe havens,” continues Cinderella, “wouldn’t it stand that one would be led by a prince? He probably fell back to find a more defensible position… isn’t that what you men-folk call it?”

The Dwarf grunts once more and nods slightly. “I don’t like it, though,” he hastens to add. Why would they have abandoned the Castle of the Door? It was fine enough. Doesn’t hold a candle to Dwarven construction, naturally, but it’s a good, safe place. And the Doorway must be preserved. But perhaps they did fall back…

“So why don’t I just go on,” finishes Cinderella, “and if I find the prince, I’ll send him back here to you?”

“What?!” the Dwarf gasps. Of course she’d think of something so nonsensical. “And what’re ya gonna fight the dead with, yer sewin’ needle?” He snorts in outrage.

“No, no, no, Missy, and that’s the final word. I’ll go with ya in the morning and find him myself.” He trails off and pokes angrily at the fire. “Can’t let you go off getting killed, ya daft girl.”

Standing behind him, Cinderella is secure in the knowledge that he cannot see her smile.