Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chapter Sixty

The Wolf doesn’t end up eating the parrot. The Dwarf won’t let him.

“Eh, didn’t want it, anyway,” mutters the Wolf. “It was just a bunch of skin and bones.”

“Sour grapes,” says the Dwarf.

There’s a moment of uncomfortable silence. The Wolf folds his arms and tries to appear casual by leaning against the fireplace.

“So yer really going, huh?” he asks for the third time.

“Yar,” says the Dwarf. He pats down his toolbelt, looks around the nursery one last time, and tightens the twine that is knotted around the parrot’s legs.

The Wolf scoffs. “Just gonna leave us,” he says, but somehow the guilty look on the Dwarf’s face doesn’t bring him any pleasure.

“You can take care of yourself,” growls the Dwarf, “and I’ve done all I can fer the girl.”

We've done,” says the Wolf.

“She’s as safe here as anywhere else.” For some reason, the Dwarf can’t bring himself to look at her bed. “And she’s got a good nursemaid to look after her.”

The bonneted dog sits up a little straighter and cocks her ear in salute. The Wolf glares at her, but she’s grown used to ignoring him.

“And me!” The Wolf doesn’t like the whine that’s crept into his voice, and he clears his throat harshly. “I’ve been riskin’ my neck every night findin’ food!”

The Dwarf grants him that with the slightest of nods. “Fair enough, but there’s a prince out there that needs help. And by gar, I’m gonna help him.”

“Yeah, well, yer wastin’ yer time,” sneers the Wolf. “He’s probably dead. And you don’t know where he is, anyway.”

“You don’t know nothin’,” says the Dwarf. He pulls out the parrot’s golden key, now securely tied around his neck. “You know where this was made? I’ll tell ya. From the Far East, off in one of them desert kingdoms. Merchants pay a fortune fer this kind of craftsmanship back home.”

Seeing the greedy glint in the Wolf’s eyes, he tucks away the key and continues hurriedly, “Not that that means anything nowadays. You can have all the gold you want, and what’s it good for? Nothin’. Can’t eat it, can’t fight the deathlings with it, can’t keep you warm or build a suitable shelter.

“But if this prince sent away this key, it must mean something. That bird died gettin’ this message to us. And lemme tell ya, I’d rather find out what it means than sit here all winter eatin’ yer leftovers.”

The Dwarf double-checks the barricades over the windows and the entrances. He humphs and mutters, but cannot find any faults that could delay them any longer.

Wanting something to do with his hands, the Wolf wanders toward Cinderella’s bed. He smooths out her already smooth quilt and clears his throat again.

“So what am I supposed to do?” he finally asks.

The Dwarf shrugs and looks away.

When it becomes clear the Dwarf isn’t going to speak, the Wolf says, “Well, maybe I should come with you, then.” He steps in front of the only open window.

“I thought yer still wounded,” says the Dwarf.

“I am,” responds the Wolf. He rubs at his stitches, which are now all but invisible beneath his matted fur. “But I can climb like nobody’s business, and I can smell and hear and fight a lot better than you.

“And another thing,” says the Wolf. “I know yer going the wrong way. That bird flew in from the east, and this window faces west.”

“Don’t I know it.” The Dwarf peers over the window sill. “But I ain’t goin’ this way. They are.”

He nods down at the dead creatures milling about. The Dwarf checks the parrot and the length of twine, opens and closes his fist several times, and pulls out his shortest, sharpest knife.

“What’re you doing?” asks the Wolf, but his question is ignored.

After rolling up one sleeve, the Dwarf slices lightly at his arm. The blood flows quickly, and he wipes the wound with the parrot’s body. Soon it is a sticky mess of feathers and blood, and then he begins unraveling it down the side of the house.

“I know it ain’t dignified,” he says to the parrot, “and I’m sorry, but it’ll help us a lot more than it’ll bother you.”

The creatures below immediately take notice. Whether it’s the scent of fresh blood or the sight of something red and wet, they claw at the parrot with a desperate hunger.

At the window’s ledge, the Dwarf stops unraveling the twine once the parrot is just out of reach of the tallest corpse.

He smiles grimly at the Wolf. “That’ll keep ‘em busy for a while. Now, come on, we’re goin’ up the chimney.”

At the fireplace, the Dwarf finally turns and faces the bed. “You watch over her,” he says sternly to the bonneted dog, and she nods once.

“And you,” he says to the sleeping maiden, but he has no words, no use for good-byes or empty wishes of a safe return.

Turning, the Dwarf and the Wolf silently climb the chimney.

It's the last time either of them will ever see Cinderella.