Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Six

Unseen in the shadows, a large purple rat watches the two strangers argue.

“What are you doing?!” shrieks the girl. A young, pretty little poppet.

“Yer always askin’ that,” says her companion, a foul dwarf. “What does it look like I’m doin’?”

The Witch had been watching them for quite some time. First as a raven, circling overhead in the midnight storm. Then as a toad, plopping underfoot as they made their way across the moat, heading fatefully to the Castle of the Door.

Such a pity they’d have to die. The Witch titters shrilly to herself, but her ratty squeaks go unnoticed amidst the visitors’ shouting.

The girl thrusts out her arm and grabs ahold of the Dwarf’s polearm. “It’s murder,” she says defiantly.

Bit of fight in this girl. Best to keep an eye on her. She’d been crying earlier outside after rummaging through an abandoned carriage. Must’ve belonged to someone she knew, but it was all too much melodrama for the Witch.

“Look at him,” sneers the Dwarf, and he gestures the weapon at the dying Wolf in the corner. “He needs to be put out of his misery.”

The Wolf whines pathetically.

“You can’t just kill him!” says the girl.

“’Course I can.”

“Of course he can,” cackles the Witch. It’s all the same to her whether they kill the beast or heal him. Just as long as the Mirror’s prophecy is fulfilled.

“No,” says the girl, and she bends down to look at the Wolf’s swollen ribs.

The Dwarf gasps and pulls the girl roughly away. Keeping one glaring eye on the Wolf, he brings his face as close to hers as possible and whispers harshly, "Don't you know what those creatures do? They bite. And how d'you know he isn't diseased? He'll turn into one of them, sure as thunder follows lightnin’."

Stupid, stubborn Dwarf, thinks the Witch, and she laughs again.

"No, he won’t. He isn’t sick. Not like that." says the girl. Clever little poppet. She must’ve witnessed the pestilence before.

The Dwarf stands up straight and levels his blade once more upon the Wolf's throat. "Doesn’t matter. Believe you me, he'll be better off."

And the Wolf, watching the two figures standing over him with dim eyes, nods weakly.

“No. There’s got to be another way.”

“What are you, a doctor?” asks the Dwarf angrily. But at the red-rimmed gaze of the girl, he lowers his weapon. “You can’t help him.”

She looks at the Wolf’s ruined body, a mess of broken bone and fur. The Witch grins eagerly, hopefully, and finally the girl says, “I think I can.”

“Oh, fer the love of the Mountain,” begins the Dwarf, but she’s already fishing through her apron’s pockets for needle and thread.

And the purple rat’s jaw drops as she witnesses something unique and mind-boggling: a Dwarf giving in.

There is the sound of ripping cloth, and the girl turns to see the Dwarf has ripped one red sleeve from his tunic.

"Bandages?" she asks, but the Dwarf scowls.

"I'm makin' a muzzle." He takes the sleeve and ties it across the Wolf's snout with surprising gentleness. “Look at me,” he grumbles, “ruinin’ my clothes for this.

"He's gonna turn,” warns the Dwarf. “Just you watch. And when he does, I wanna be ready.”

Content that he’s said the final word on the subject, the Dwarf busies himself with lighting a fire in the fireplace.

“Doesn’t matter what you want, Dwarf,” chuckles the Witch. Silently, she scampers through the doorway. “Mirror already said you’d be dead by dawn.”