Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chapter Fifty-Eight

The days trickle into weeks, and the summer darkens into fall.

The bonneted dog suddenly looks up from her position at the foot of Cinderella’s bed, which she’s guarded faithfully since their arrival. She bounds over to the nursery window and - despite the Wolf’s best efforts to silence her - begins barking loudly.

“What is it?” grumbles the Dwarf. The dog never barks, despite the horde of dead bodies that eternally watch from the streets below. This must be something different. He reaches for his spear-axe and peers suspiciously out into the cityscape.

“Look,” says the Wolf, and he flicks his snout.

After a moment, the Dwarf’s beady eyes pick it out - something small and colorful wavering in the morning sky. “Hmph,” he mutters. “Don’t see many birds nowadays.”

He doesn’t like the way it’s flying erratically - could be cursed or bitten. It flaps its wings for as long as it can, then rests and dips closer to the ground, then finally forces itself to fly for a few seconds more.

Once the bird hears the dog barking, it changes course, and finally, with much difficulty, lands on the window ledge.

They stare silently at the bird - a red parrot - for some time. The Wolf begins salivating, even though it wouldn’t be much of a meal.

Maybe once it was plump, judging from the folds of flesh that hang from its frame. But like all the other survivors, it’s lost too much weight. Now, the biggest thing about the parrot is its beak, and even that is no longer a bright and cheerful yellow, but dull and flat.

“Get it some water,” says the Dwarf, once he’s satisfied that it isn’t infected. But something’s wrong with the bird - it shudders and breathes fitfully and its eyes cannot seem to focus.

“You get it,” snaps the Wolf.

The Dwarf grumbles under his breath, but before he can stump to the pail of water, the bonneted dog pads forward, the tin dipper held carefully between her teeth.

At first the Wolf rolls his eyes, but then he experiences a pang of unexpected jealousy as the Dwarf takes the dipper and gently pets the dog. “Yer a good girl,” he says, which she accepts with her usual stoicism.

The Dwarf places the tip of his finger into the dipper, and then gently places it next to the parrot’s beak. Drops of water coat its cracked black tongue.

“What’s that?” asks the Wolf.

“It’s a jungle bird,” growls the Dwarf.

“No, stupid. I mean, on its leg.”

The sunlight flashes on something attached to the parrot’s leg. “Gold?” says the Dwarf. Before the Wolf can step forward, he unties the piece of string.

It’s a key. A miniature golden key. And though he wasn’t a goldsmith in the old days, like all Dwarfs he recognizes skilled craftsmanship of any precious metal or jewel. And while this key wasn’t created by a Dwarf, the man who made it hadn’t done that bad of a job.

Ignoring the hungry look in the Wolf’s eyes, the Dwarf pockets the key. Later, he will scowl at its elegant flourishes and curlicues, and wonder why a smith would waste so much detail on such a tiny item.

“Help,” coughs the parrot in a scratched and parched voice. Although it can no longer see, it seems calmed by the warm hands, the cool water.

“Shh, we’re helpin’ ya,” says the Dwarf. “Just rest up, regain yer strength.”

The parrot sputters and coughs some more. The Dwarf wets his finger and places it in the parrot’s beak, but the water drips uselessly from its mouth.

“Not me,” squawks the parrot in an exasperated near-whisper. “Help the prince.”

And then it dies.