Over time Gretel surprised Hansel. He would teach her more about their sayings and have her listen to him speak. After a few months, all trace of her Rhioninian roots had vanished! After a year, she had gotten used to the poverty. It was definitely a step down but they were still searching for her, and with Hansel it wasn't so bad. She grew closer to him. He tried so hard, often overworking himself or giving her his share of food. Why? She always asked. He wasn’t an enemy with an overflow of pity or mercy. He was her guardian angel. To Hansel, Gretel truly became part of the family with time. She was at first his redeemer but now, she was his one and only sister.
With time their father remarried. It hurt Hansel, his mother being too close to heart. Yet famine was difficult, maybe even beginning to reach its peak! If two spouses had work it could hopefully provide for the children. Truth be told, the missing children signs terrified the wood cutter. He felt his own needed another woman to take watch and be a mother in their lives.
Sadly the famine continued, and just as Grizelda’s family struggled so did Hansel and Gretel’s.
Hansel stared at the ceiling while lying upon a few blankets. At least it wasn’t raining tonight, the leak would’ve kept him awake longer. He held Gretel close to give her heat. The story they made together was believable, and she had ended up embracing the name Gretel with pride. It had been five years since he had brought her home. Of those five years Diana had been with them for one. They couldn’t complain about her too much. She was young, hard working, and kind. Although at times Hansel worried about Diana’s age. He tried to respect her, but she didn’t have the maturity and respect his own mother had had for him. They were incomparable. She was young and unprepared for mothering when she hardly had enough for herself.
At least she was a good communicator. She was usually calm and open to all ideas, because of that it was rare to hear their parents argue at night. Usually when they did Hansel would lean into the wall to further hear what was being said, to help reunite them the next day.
Today was one of those nights.
A loud sigh of exhaustion was heard through the thin walls. “Another woman was forced to leave today.” There was a pause. “I fear what would happen if they sent me home.”
“Then you would stay with us.” Came a worried but calm response.
“The money, The children, would we have enough to feed them and us?” There was a pause. ” Or if it were you, you know the officers have been getting stricter about being in the forest. There’s no wood left to cut if not deeper in the forest due to the flames of the Rhioninians.” There was a stricter silence. “I think we should be rid of them.”
Despite no voices being raised hearing his sister’s race was enough to send Hansel as close to the wall as possible. The sudden shift causing Gretel to fall her head thumping softly against the floor as she groaned a little and held her blanket closer.
There was a shift in the bed. “What?”
“I think we should leave them in the forest.” Diana confirmed.
“Diana, I couldn’t! I refuse! How could I-“
“Its for the best!” Came a louder more emotional yell that woke Gretel completely. She looked at her brother with a worried expression becoming more alarmed when Hansel looked to her with a finger to his lips. This was crucial. “How long do you think you could hide your secret from me? I clean the house daily! I knew, I didn’t say anything! I kept you all safe and I just hoped that one day you’d tell me!”
“You’ll wake the children-”
“And this, will kill us all!” There was a period of silence. Hansel could only guess. He rushed to the corner of his room. Gretel scurried with him to make sure their secret was safe. The floorboards were loosened, and Gretel’s Rhioninian clothing and jewelry were gone. “Its treason! Her face! How long do you think people will remain ignorant?” Gretel panicked immediately beginning to cry as Hansel kissed her forehead repeatedly hugging her for comfort.
There was a period of silence. “Diana. I’m not the traitor.” There was another pause, before they spoke in voices too quiet for Hansel to understand. He leaned in, trying his best to hear but was met with purposeful whispers.
“Hansel?” Gretel whined afraid. “What’s going to happen to me?”
Hansel shook his head. “us.” He replied. “I’m the one who brought you here which also makes me a traitor and enemy. No matter what happens I’ll be right there with you.” Gretel stood there in quiet tears, just watching him. She tried to read his expression, but it was always so difficult with his hair always covering his face. “I’ll think of something. I promise.” Would they get rid of them both? Hansel wanted to doubt it, but so many of the villagers had been doing so recently due to lack of resources, and as a sacrifice to keep others who had provision safe. It was technically a crime, but one so common that there were hardly consequences. Now the truth was out, raising the chances. A better question was what kept them from doing it?
Hansel felt a tug on his shirt. Gretel wanted him. With that he sat down next to her. He was too deep in thought to notice when she left his side and returned with a ribbon. She sat besides him, pulling at his hair a bit and tying it back. The sudden yank and lack of dark strands in front of him left Hansel blinking to get used to a lack of covering. Even the simple moonlight streaming from the windows was lighter than he remembered!
Gretel crawled back in front. “Stop, I want to see your face.” Gretel’s need for comfort was enough to break his heart, and he looked down at her with a smile. It was a sad smile, but one for her. She leaned closer to his chest and held him close. He returned the hold burying his chin and face a little in her hair in a heartfelt sibling moment.
Then it ended, Hansel removed himself his hands rummaging through his hair to feel the ribbon she had placed. He almost slid to the corner, going to the floor boards again, this time with a much more genuine smile. His lips were pressed together. Gretel’s eyes widened. His quick and nearly harsh abandonment of warmth, his expression, they could only mean one thing. “do you have an idea?” She wasn’t sure why she asked, but the silence meant he beginning to have one. He was lost in his thoughts. The floorboards gently clanked on the floor not to alarm the family and half his body disappeared under. Hansel pushed his hands to the dirt, nails sinking in as he began to dig. Gretel approached trying to peek not seeing what he was digging for. Then it came, a loud click from behind his teeth as he turned to her.
“Gretel! Head to bed. You’re going to need your sleep.” Hansel spoke quickly but quietly with excitement as he declared. “I have an idea!”