Gretel woke up terrified at what was to come, but yet woke up to a seemingly normal day. There were nothing but friendly faces and kind voices. Did they really figure it out? Maybe they accepted it? Or maybe it was only a nightmare? Hansel said nothing, quiet most of the morning. He seemed tired. They were eating breakfast, when their father, Lorenzo, spoke first.
“Gretel, I’d like your help cutting wood today. I know Diana is helping you be a proper young lady but with the restrictions in the forest, I’d like to cut as much as I can now in case it worsens. I know you lack strength but maybe Hansel can teach you how to do the little things.” Gretel smiled and looked at Hansel who just seemed to look down at the table whispering things under his breath. His fingers walking along his lap in calculation. He hadn’t even eaten his bread. She then looked back at her father.
“Of course! I’d be glad to help!” She said gleefully. At least she’d be with Hansel today all day. He’d keep her safe.
Lorenzo tilted his head. “Hansel, you haven’t touched your food. Are you feeling alright?” He asked with worry. His son barely took note of him, it was painful. He knew how clever he was, he’d probably be back home by night with Guinniverre. He knew he couldn’t let him. Hansel was a traitor just as much as Guinniverre, to complicate things he knew the truth. He betrayed the family itself by bringing the princess home and deceiving him. Hansel himself had the ability to bring the family to ruins with his own secrets, and Diana had a point. The famine and work difficulties were harsh enough, maybe a quicker death to their children might be more humane to them all, leaving him and Diana safe. It was better than a slow death to all, or one from the officials though, they had nearly given up their search.
“I’m saving the bread for the afternoon.” Hansel responded in a mumble.
He definitely knew. Lorenzo took a deep inhale before hugging the both of them close. “I love you both. Do you understand?”
“Of course papa!” Gretel replied. Hansel barely responded, hardly speaking until they left.
To Diana and Lorenzo’s surprise once they left Hansel wouldn’t stop talking about memories, moments, sprinkled with jokes to make Gretel smile along the way. Gretel was so innocent, bouncing along, pointing at different flowers and wildlife. She was usually stuck at home missing the rustling river, the bright green leaves, and the shadows created by the sun shining in different shapes on the ground. Even the roots of the trees were fun to jump over.
Hansel noticed they were going deeper than usual. Up until this point he could have easily known his way home, now it was getting trickier. With his speaking creating a cover up of noise, he dropped a pearl on the ground. With his memory from earlier he knew how long he’d have to wait to put another, though he didn’t know how far they’d be going. It was a gamble, but he dropped another as he hoped his words got to his father and stabbed him in the heart. This was cruel. All Pearls had been dropped as the chatter finally stopped.
“I think this is a good place.” Lorenzo nodded. “There should be plenty of wood here. Diana and I will go a bit further north, Hansel teach Gretel about marking and which trees are good to cut.” Leaving Hansel’s ax next to a tree he gave his last command. “Don’t wander, stay here until we come and get you.” Hansel glared at his father with betrayal in his covered eyes. Despite not seeing them, he could tell. “I love you.” Hansel gave no response and like that they were separated. He watched his father’s disappearing figure until nothing was left before grabbing a necklace around his neck with tools. Using a pocket knife to mark a tree pointing to the exit route.
Gretel looked at Hansel with confusion as he put the necklace back on. “what’s that for?”
“This was my plan.” He explained. “If we’re left alone out here, we need a path back home, we leave at night. The moon will shine on the pearls making them easier to see, it’ll also give papa time to think about what he’s done.” Hansel had a semi harsher tone to his voice. It was full of seriousness, and less friendliness than Gretel was used to.
Last night wasn’t a dream then… “But Hansel!” Gretel protested. “Papa wouldn’t leave us! Things were so calm this morning. Pretty soon we’ll hear his ax and you’ll have to teach me. You’ll see!” It was true, soon enough they began to hear an ax thumping up north. It didn’t surprise Hansel but to ease her mind he taught her how to mark trees while looking for resources. Some flint to make fire, a log to sit on, or even a place to sleep. As time went on the sun began to lower, but the ax continued, in the same pattern.
“We should head to them now, right?” Gretel asked in excitement to prove her brother wrong. Her facial expression soon changed. “No! you spent so much time teaching me you didn’t get your work done!” She realized.
Hansel shook his head. “It’s fine. He wont be upset.” He reassured, still lacking a cheerfulness in his voice. It had been so long that he was like this, could he be that sure of their abandonment in the forest? He took her hand and they went north, approaching the ax.
“Papa!” Gretel called out. An uneasiness filled her, she didn’t see the cart he usually brought. There weren’t even chopped up logs or stumps. Come to think about it, she hadn’t heard a single tree fall during her time here. “Papa?” The closer they came the more it hurt. All hope diminished as the truth was revealed. A thick branch tied together with a series of pullies to hit against its own stump and sound like an ax.
Hansel stared at it before grabbing the ribbon now empty of pearls and tying it around his hair, knowing his face would comfort Gretel’s broken soul at least a little. She remained silent, just staring at the lengths their father had gone for deceit. It was mainly an attempt to fool his son, but she had believed it. “They left us.” She stated, her voice now echoing her brother’s seriousness.
“But we’re together.” Hansel said trying to give a comforting smile. “With a way back- it’s just like another walk in the woods.”
“But they left us.” Gretel repeated. “They left us alone, deep in the forest, to die with the beast that kills children.”
Hansel took a deep breath. Overtaken by his father’s betrayal he had forgotten about that. The missing children and forest restrictions were the whole reason their father was struggling to find wood. To be this far, he knew they must have crossed the barrier. “Then- we should go then.” He needed the arrow he made earlier to know the way. “Don’t step away from me for a second.” He said with a firm look grabbing her hand as he made his way back.
“Are you scared?” Gretel asked.
Hansel paused staring at her, his eyes shining with honesty. “Aren’t you? Everyone gets scared Gretel. That’s okay, what matters is that you do something with it. Come up with an idea or a plan to keep the things you’re scared of from happening.” Hansel felt his stomach rumble, they were going to need some strength to get home. He reached into his pocket pulling the bread up from earlier dividing it, proving his point with actions. “See, I told you. I use my fear to plan ahead.”
Gretel smiled a little in gratitude not wanting to take the bread from him. “But this is your breakfast. You haven’t eaten since dinner!”
“We both need strength to make the journey back.” Hansel pointed out. Placing the bread in her hands he still took one, making sure she couldn’t leave his side as they walked forward while they ate. After they had finished the bread they continued to walk. Hansel was becoming worried, they hadn’t spent this long walking upwards.
“Are we lost?” Gretel asked.
Hansel shook his head. “Just a moment, we walked straight north and then a short bit north west.” He began snapping his necklace off, taking out the compass. “we’ve walked the same steps no-“ he was cut off by something strange. His compass needle seemed to be turning in all directions, as if something was wrong with the forest around them.
Gretel peeked up to look at the compass. “What does that mean?”
“It means we need a new idea.” He snapped it shut and put his necklace back on with faster strides forward. He was becoming lost, thinking over and over of what exactly had happened to the children in this forest. He looked in all directions with raised alarm as his legs nearly flew in response.
“But, What does it mean?” Gretel asked running a little quicker to keep up with him. He may have been used to the roots of the floor but with his speed she kept almost tripping, trying her hardest to hold on
“It means we’ve gone past the allowed boundaries of the forest.” Finally he stopped, nothing looked familiar anymore. Even for someone who spent most of his days in the forest, all he could see was trees and coming darkness. It was getting chilly, and even with his eyes uncovered the darkness was making it harder to see. “Gretel, we’re going to have to find a place to sleep.”
“We’re going to sleep here?” Gretel asked. At that moment there was a rustle in the shadows. Hansel swore he could see something. There was a loud howl. They were lost at night with a beast that was known to kill children, which he was guessing was messing with his compass. To worsen matters, now there were wolves.
Hansel slowly put his hands over Gretel’s mouth, guiding her against a tree as his back thumped against it. They were going to die here- was all they could think, they were going to die here- “don’t move, all we can do is hide.” He whispered to her. Gretel whimpered immediately beginning to sense the complete desperation of their situation. She began to quickly mutter a Rhioninian prayer, as she did two golden eyes emerged approaching them, surrounded by black fur and a growl.
Hansel could rightfully assume this wasn’t the beast of the forest- but it might as well could be. The wolf was huge! Its growl echoed, saliva bubbling from its mouth. Hansel held her tighter. The wolf approached, it seemed to be alone. It came closer to them, and closer. Finally, its nose grazed Guinniverre’s cheek, listening to her prayer and smelling her. It looked at her closely.
“Plaire! Plaire-Plaire” she pleaded under her breath. With that the wolf retreated and sat in front of them, no longer as a threat. The wolf then circled around them, before licking them and rubbing against them spreading its scent. It drew a circle on the ground around them and in the middle with its claws, it carved the Rhioninian symbol of peace.
The pair looked at it in shock. With that the wolf stood in front of them. It was alert, its head motioning for them to lay on the ground to sleep. The two looked at each other in confusion, slowly laying down. With this the wolf sat closer to the heiress. Sworn to protect her, and let her and her company have safety for the night.