Authors: Jenni James
her?” Gretel thought she was going to be sick. She swayed slightly and walked toward the red-and-white-striped pillar of the porch a few feet away. Setting one hand upon it to steady herself, she asked, “Why me last? I do not understand.”
Hansel interrupted the witch. “So she could tell the world she was you and they would all believe it, allowing her to become—”
“Allowing me to become Queen Gretel.”
“Why?” the witch shrieked. “Why? You fool! So I can rule and reign in such a state forever!”
“So you brought me here to be eaten?”
“Yes, to sweeten you up and keep your mind so foggy that once I was through with you, I would be able to partake of your sugariness.”
All at once, the candy Gretel had eaten seemed to churn and bubble within her stomach. It hurt. All of it cramped and stirred inside.
“How did Gretel break free?” Hansel walked over to his sister and collected the vial she held while asking, “Clearly she is not under the mental fog you thought she would be—though she does not look well. Gretel, how are you feeling?”
“I am going to be ill.”
Just then she groaned, and they both watched as Gretel ran from them to a nearby bush and began to spew out the candy.
The witch sneered as the girl heaved and heaved. “Salt. She must have gotten into some. It is the only antidote.”
“Do you have any salt upon your person?” he asked as he approached the witch again.
“Of course not!” she snarled. “Do you think I wish to offset all I have worked toward? Absurdity does not become you.”
He knelt upon one knee and leaned over her. “Though we have shared a few kisses, I feel it is wise to tell you, I do not believe it would ever work between us.”
She hissed at him and attempted to lunge forward.
“Now, now, do not worry. I can see you are as eager to be rid of me as I am to be out of your presence. So I feel this is honestly the only thing I can do at the moment.” He unstopped the vial.
“You would not dare!” Her eyes flashed with rage.
He grasped her jaw with his strong hand and poured a great amount of the poison down her throat as she coughed and sputtered. “I am afraid I already have.” He smirked.
AS GRETEL CAME BACK, her stomach more settled, she was surprised to see Hansel dragging the witch across the ground and up to the house. “What happened?”
The beautiful, fiery woman was now a sputtering simpleton. She did not complain one bit as he pulled her by her trapped shoulders and heaved her onto the candied porch. “Get the door for me,” Hansel called out.
“Why is she like this? What did you do?” Gretel rushed past him to open the door.
“Just gave her a taste of her own magic.” He grunted a bit as he hauled Cora’s limp body up to be tossed upon the floor inside the house. He then broke off several flowers from a vase on the table and placed them near her eager mouth. She began to nibble at them immediately.
“You did not! You actually gave it to her?” She chuckled.
“Well, what else were we supposed to do with the woman? She would eat us otherwise. So I guaranteed she would remain in the same stupor she was willing to inflict upon us.”
Gretel laughed again and shook her head. “I would never have thought to do so. You are quite wonderful—you know that, right?”
He grinned and shrugged. “It took you long enough to notice.”
Hansel walked over to her and looking down, nudged her with his elbow. “Come—admit you noticed my charms before now.”
Giggling, she rolled her eyes. “Never. I will never admit to believing you are anything but a nuisance!”
“Yes, yes, I know. I am the typical awful big brother.” He tugged one of her braids, his eyes going serious all of a sudden. “Though I am grateful to find you alive. You gave me quite the fright.”
She stepped into his chest and wrapped her arms all the way around him. “Thank you for looking all night for me,” she murmured into his dirty shirt.
“I would have looked longer, little one. I would never have stopped looking for you.”
She nodded and sighed. “Thank you. What would I have done without you?”
He coughed as if he were embarrassed, the great sound resonating through his whole form. “Was it not you who saved me in the end?”
“Yes, but only because you came all the way to me.”
“I love you, Gretel.”
Her heart jolted until she realized what he was truly saying. “Aye. I know. I love you and Pa so very much.”
He gently pulled her away from him and looked right into her eyes. “No, I love you more than that, dear. I love you. It is
I have been in love with all along.”
She was not sure she could breathe. Did she hear him right? Was it truly her? “Hansel?”
“I know you are young. I know it is probably not the time to even whisper such things to you. But I have had these thoughts for some time now, and if I do not say them, I may burst. Or regret it for the rest of my life.”
He was the most wonderful man in all the world. “Hansel!” She caught him up tight. “I love you. I love you. I have always loved you.”
“Are you sure?”
Another surprised chuckle burst forth. “How could I not? My dearest Hansel, you have been the only one to see me and love me from the first moment we met. If not for you, I would surely have died in that storm. You cared for me when no one else thought to do so. I owe you my life. I owe you everything.”
“What you owe is the privilege of seeing you settled upon the throne that is really yours. That will be all the payment I deserve or could ever want.” One hand ran up her back, leaving a delicious trail of sparks.
She shook her head. “No, I will not go there. I do not wish to go there ever again. That is not the life I choose for myself—it never will be. That life is gone now.”
“You do not know what you say. Our king does not deserve the Larkein kingdom. You do. You surely cannot mean to give up all your rights and privileges now? Not after all that has been done to take care of you and bring you up.”
She pushed away from him. “What privileges? What rights? I have heard the gossip in the village! I know that my kingdom was a wicked, cruel place. What right have I to take it back now? None. My rights, my glories, they all rest and lie upon this
here, right now: the fact that I am allowed a second chance—nay, a third chance; the fact that I am alive and thriving and growing and happy. Hansel, I am so happy. You do not speak of a life with you. You speak of a life with me as a queen ruling a kingdom my family does not deserve—
do not deserve. I want a small cottage in the woods, raising a gaggle of children and loving my family every day. I do not want the invasions, the politics, the outrage, the horror… no, my dear Hansel, I just want you.”
She clutched his hands. “Please do not make me face a life I was never destined for. Please accept that I am truly much happier here and I always will be.”
“But you are a queen.”
“No!” Dropping his hands, she turned away from the silly witch upon the ground and leaned her head against the doorframe. She closed her eyes and whimpered. “Must we continuously go round and round over this? Must we? What will make you see reason? Is there anything?”
“Will you allow me to take you to the Larkein castle before you make your decision?”
She sighed, knowing there was no hope for his madness. “Yes, if you must. I will attend you and visit my old home.” Holding out one hand, she exclaimed, “I will promise to consider all my options carefully, but no matter what I decide, I would that you allow me the right to govern myself.” Grinning, she finished the rest. “For if you truly believe I am queen, then remember, I am also of a right and rank to do as I see fit without the help of a meddling village lad!”
HANSEL CHUCKLED AS HE walked to the door. “Come. We shall go as soon as we take care of the witch.”
“What do you plan to do to her?” Gretel asked.
“The only thing we can do at this moment is to guarantee that no one else will be made to suffer because of her again.”
“You mean to
“I mean to burn her to ensure that she never comes back again—in any form.”
Gretel gasped. “How?”
He pulled her out of the doorway and glanced back in at the trapped witch, happily gnawing away at the stool holding her captive. “She is so engrossed in eating, she will not even feel the fire lapping at her feet. And she will be in flames long before she is even aware of what is happening.” He closed the door and pulled out a small piece of flint and steel from his pocket folded within a cloth casing. “Step back.”
Gretel climbed off the porch and stood a few feet away from the cottage. She watched as he struck the steel to the flint several times against the bottom of the wooden beams supporting the candied door until it began to spark and then eventually light. The fire crawled its way quickly up the door, its flames licking wildly at the melting candy. Within moments, the door dissolved into a flaming puddle and the fire rapidly spread to the outer casing of the cottage and then within.
“Hurry.” Hansel jumped off the porch and ran to her, grabbing her hand. He turned and pulled her through the woods to a safer spot some ways away. Already, the whole candied cottage was alight. “Would you like to stay and watch?”
Her heart lurched as her gaze scanned the inferno. “No, please. I would rather not.”
“Very well. Let me try to find our way back to Father’s horse and I will get you to safety.”
“Will the rest of the forest be all right?” she asked, glancing back as he pulled her through the thicket. What if it all burnt down? “Wait.” She paused a moment, and Hansel stopped with her.
“It should be fine. There is a large clearing around the cottage, and with the whole thing being made of sugar, it will simply melt and dissolve without too much mishap.”
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she said, “It smells so divine. Even from here.”
“Yes. It does. Almost as if we were baking a pie of some sort and not a witch at all.”
Gretel frowned. “It is like she is in her own oven.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Do not overly worry yourself. She was wicked—pure evil. If we had not done what we did, think of who else she would have destroyed.
she never would have rested until she had eaten you.”
“I would not have allowed it to happen. Do not fret—all is as it should be.”
“Thank you.” She smiled a sad smile, and then, lightening the mood, said, “Yes, but it does make me awfully hungry.”
“Then let us go and find something to eat. However, I believe we are not too far off from your castle.”
Groaning, she tilted her head and rested it upon his shoulder, loving the feel of his arms as they wrapped her up tighter. “I did promise to visit it, did I not? But does it have to be quite so soon?”
“Well, since I believe we have wandered into your kingdom, it is on our way home. That is, if the spires I made out this morning while running from our stepmother belonged to your castle. At the very least, it does deserve our respect in visiting the place.”
She rolled her eyes and snuggled in closer. “Only if you can promise me supper—a decent meal—without anything sweet in it. Then I may actually consider stopping by.”
He chuckled and kissed her brow. “Done. We shall go at once.”
By the time Hansel and Gretel had made it to the horse and then rode the beast together to the nearest inn, it was well past dinnertime. He paid for their meal and separate clean bedrooms and allowed for a good night’s sleep before venturing out toward the castle. The innkeeper had assured them it was just a mile or two up the lane.
Hansel thought he heard him mutter, “Though why anyone would wish to go there is beyond me,” but he was not sure, and did not wish to open that discussion. Instead, he waited until the morning and then, renting a second horse from the inn, he and Gretel took off after a hearty breakfast.
As they picked their way to the top of the mountain where the fortress once stood, he could tell before the whole thing had come into view that this was most definitely not an inhabitable place anymore. There were hardly any bricks left, apart from a couple of lonely spires. It was quite simply torn down and only a few fragmented ruins remained.
“Where did it go?” she asked as she got off her horse.
Hansel got off his horse as well. “It would seem the villagers decided to make use of the strong bricks and mortar within their own homes and lands. It is what most likely makes up the rows and rows of brick fence we passed by earlier.”
Gretel began to chuckle, and then a hearty laugh accompanied her after a few moments. Relief poured from her in droves, a giddy release indeed. And it was good to feel so carefree and jolly—it had been too long since she had felt this much joy.
“Well, I guess there is no real reason to be here, is there?” Hansel chuckled with her as he joined in after a few minutes.
She crossed over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I hoped you had an actual castle in mind when you thought of me living here.” She grinned and bit her bottom lip to hold in check another bout of the giggles.
“Very well. You win. You do not have to be a queen in the Larkein kingdom after all.”
Smiling, she said, “Thank you. Now can we go home?”
He leaned down and kissed her happy mouth quite thoroughly, causing her heart to flutter all the more. After some time he pulled back and said, “Was that witch really hoping to live in this heap? Or do you think she would have rebuilt the thing?”
“Hush. I have waited too long to kiss you,” she said. “Let us never think of her again. There are so many more enjoyable things to do at the moment.”
He laughed, his eyes sparkling down at her. “You know, this may be the first time it has ever happened, but I believe you are correct.” And then he quickly stopped her outraged gasp with another heart-melting, knee-buckling kiss until she forgot all else but how wonderful it was to be in his arms.