Through her suffering she had received the answer to be free of the curse, or more accurately to set it free from its vessel. She wondered if they meant the same. A wishing heart was an organ given to those who lived blameless lives even through trials and tribulations. It was given to those who would endure suffering and die for others. It would bring them back to life, and allow them to secretly, without memories of their past care for their descendants at just the right time, when they needed a guardian the most. Watching these two, she knew they had plenty of lives that had been lost around them. While the curse was whole and not as unfragmented as they were, it could not tell when the heart would come, but it knew it would. Adiscordia would need to keep them for further observation while she prepared them.
She was beginning to become angry at Hansel. He was actually hurting her. For such a small piece of meat, he was clever. What was once a fun game and dinner was now beginning to form into a rivalry. He was putting up a challenge by bringing up her greatest weakness. It was as if he were reopening her biggest wound, and stealing her health. It was then Adiscordia decided he was a challenger, and the trophy was his greatest weakness, his sister. She would take her from him. Adiscordia sat on her bed grabbing a book and pen with ink. She began to scribble down everything she knew about wishing hearts and everything she knew about the pair.
Gretel was somewhat surprised, Adiscordia had been in her room for a long time. While her brother did have a point that she was the enemy, she hoped she was okay. After all, Guinniverre was also the enemy when Hansel had rescued her. In the meantime she had created all sorts of dishes to the best of her ability. Hansel had mentioned his mother used to work at the bakery, so she also had created plenty of desserts. Her desserts were probably not as wonderfully decorated as Adiscordia’s but she did add cream and powdered sugar! She was running out of counter space and was beginning to worry about being scolded or Hansel being hexed again. She walked to her companion. He had been eating slowly in order to work on the plan he had had with some sort of bone and string. “Hansel, I don’t want us to be punished again because you’re eating too slowly.” She warned gently. “I’m running out of counter space...”
Her fears alarmed him. She couldn’t get in trouble because of him. He put what he was working on down and pushed two empty plates and a platter away. He was already stuffed, with a round distended belly to prove it and a usually loose shirt almost tight around his middle, but he knew he had a long way to go. “I’m trying Guinni, I’m not used to eating so much.” He admitted, voice tired and beginning to show pain but deciding to go for the cake next.
Gretel’s expression softened as she took what he had pushed out. She could see his heavy efforts, and immediately felt bad for reminding him. “What’s the plan?” Immediately his expression shifted to one of excitement. He had always taken pride in being clever, she supposed the bone helped him feel useful. He slowly took out what seemed to be a finger? Gretel looked at it closely in surprise, her brother was a genius! He had taken multiple bones from the rodent, tying them with the toothpicks and twine to create joints. It moved like a real finger. He had dulled the ends of the bones with his knife and left just enough meat still on it for it to seem like his finger.
He then attached it, just above his index finger. “She’ll still be able to smell my hands, but she wont be able to touch it.” As he moved the fingers around it, she saw his knuckles make a difference as the bone began to move, slowly compared to his actual hand, but still in an impressive manner. “I still have to make a few tweaks.”
“It feels so real!” Gretel exclaimed quietly. “See, even stuck there, you’re so clever!” He beamed before forcing himself to go back to the cake.
He munched slowly on the rich moist sweetness before responding. “and you are talented.” He tried to put a positive spin on preparing himself for death. At least his sister was learning how to cook?
Adiscordia came in with quick steps. “Don’t speak to it, it burns too many calories.” Gretel’s jaw dropped a bit at her bluntness, as Hansel froze with a blank expression. She really thought of him as meat sometimes, and it was awful. Adiscordia stared down at the boy at the cage. “Why have you both slowed down?”
Hansel quickly took the blame. “It’s my fault! Gretel has cooked enough to run out of counter space, but I get full easy and can’t keep up.” Adiscordia paused deep in thought. “You said you wouldn’t hex me again-“ He reminded, slowly backing up to the cage walls to avoid what he could.
“No, I believe Guinniverre doesn’t want you harmed. She’s done well, so I will keep my end of the deal. You however,” She paused. “have limited ability.” They both watched Adiscordia fearing what she would do, after the last hex she placed on Hansel left him nearly deathly ill.
“I want to talk to Verre.” She added. “So how about I let you rest for now?”
Hansel was skeptical. “You’re giving me a break?” He would have loved a break. His eyelids were heavy, his stomach pleading for rest after a few hours of being abused. Despite this, he didnt want to sleep. He feared what she would say to Guinniverre when he wasn't awake.
“Yes. I am giving you time to rest and digest. Lie down piglet.” Adiscordia responded in a calmly positive tone.
“Another nightmare?” he growled expecting the worst, but instead Adiscordia shook her head. Finally he laid down, surprised that a pillow had formed under him and a warm blanket on top. He’d lie down and listen, ready to discuss with Guinniverre whatever had happened after. As expected, he barely lasted a minute. The satisfaction of being full and sated combined with a soft pillow to lay his head on and a cozy blanket immediately lulling him to sleep. As clever and stubborn as he was, Hansel was still only human.
Gretel looked down, not wanting to face Adiscordia. “Thank you for not hurting him.”
Adiscordia walked to the dining room. “I don’t like bruised meat.” Adiscordia pulled out a chair for Guinniverre. Gretel didn’t like it. She was afraid. Adiscordia stared blindly at Gretel for a moment which brought nothing but fear. Slowly the cracks on her skin began to seal, and her mouth became a pair of lips, her eyes even regaining some color. She couldn't keep this form for long, but Gretel seemed to be more comfortable.
“I will be honest with you Verre, I am very interested in your companion.” Adiscordia began.
“He’s my brother.” Gretel protested.
Adiscordia raised a finger. “I wasn’t speaking to a poor orphan. I was speaking to the Queen of Rhionine, the only living member of the royal family.” Gretel knew it. Her goal was to tear them apart. She stood up only to find an invisible source pushing her back into a seated position. “Would you listen?” Gretel remained quiet. “Hansel takes care of you because he is plagued by guilt. A fascinating concept that makes me wonder of the validity of his love for you.”
“His grounds killed nearly all of mine. Of course he feels guilt.” Gretel interrupted again.
Adiscordia shook her head. “You aren’t understanding. Your kingdom was fought against due to rumors of flames and burning. Is that correct?” Guinnivere sighed, nodding.
“Hansel’s mother died in that same fire. He knows far more about Rhionine’s death than he dares to share with you. He holds secrets, that were they said in time could have saved the kingdom. Guinniverre, he isn't your sibling or guardian angel. He uses you as his redemption.”
The fact that Hansel, the boy who saved her time and time again could be described this way hurt. “That’s a ridiculous claim, and you know it! If you wanted to split us you were better off using something less dramatic.”
Adiscordia remained calm. “Ask him.”
Guinniverre felt her heart be scraped by Adiscordia’s confidence. “Ask him?”
“Ask him how his mother passed. After all, he’s told you so much about her already. He’s held the pain inside for so long that he barely needs magic to get lost in thoughts of her. Just a little bit of chocolate. The forbidden dessert that left him too unhealthy and slow to run.”
“Stop.” Guinniverre commanded. She didnt want to hear anymore.
“There’s something else.” She looked at Gretel in a far more compassionate way. “Now I speak to Gretel, the orphan adopted by a wood cutter full of compassion and mercy.” Gretel’s face immediately softened. “As you know, this curse is destroying me. I doubt I’ll last much longer. There is a cure, but I need your help to get it. I believe I've burnt all my bridges with your brother.”
Gretel paused speechless. “If I find the cure, you’ll free us both?”
Adiscordia leaned closer. “If I separate myself from the curse before I pass I will no longer require innocent flesh to live. You will have saved yourself, your brother, children after, and myself.”
Gretel looked to her legs. She shouldn't be negotiating with the beast of the forest but Adiscordia seemed desperate! After a moment of thinking she looked at her fearfully. “What do you need?”
“The curse that plagues me is from the gods. Now the gods also sent another gift. This gift is a wishing heart. Those who endure suffering and trials, live blameless lives, and die for the innocent, at times are granted new life. They come back, not human, but to watch over their descendants who need guidance and help. Now, the wishing heart is the closest power to my curse, though it is lacking. Its fueled by love, and once harvested can grant wishes. My wish, to be free, could be granted, but would cause the heart to stop beating. It is the only chance I have to save myself, and my family.” She paused to give Gretel time to process.
Gretel sat quietly, her mind filled with thoughts and conflict about helping someone who was trying to kill her and her brother. Adiscordia continued.
“There was once a woman who endured the suffering of famine, yet still gave what she lacked to others. She was frequently rejected by the wealthy, her class, but adored by the poor who lived by her mercy. She then became poor when she married a wood cutter, her bakery business beginning to fail. By the time she had a son she had almost nothing but continued to work hard and treat those who rejected her with kindness and generosity. It earned enough mercy for others to buy her goods and to get her and her family living well enough. She had more love than most, so much that she went back into forest flames and burned to rescue her son.”
Gretel’s eyes widened with the information. “Are you saying Hansel somehow has your cure?”
Adiscordia shook her head. “No, but he will. I don't know when, but she will come for him, and when she does I’ll need her. Right now, I need an apprentice.”
“An apprentice?” Gretel repeated. “To learn the dark arts?”
Adiscordia took a breath holding tight to the table. “To end the dark curse.” Gretel still wasn't convinced, she’d need to play with her weakness. “Ask your brother about his mother and think about it.” She took a moment to breathe. “You aren’t the only one with family who needs saving.” Just as quick as she said it Adiscordia flashed back into her room. Sounds of pain and agony could be heard. If she didn't get the heart, would Grizelda also suffer that horror? The way Hansel described her, Grizelda wasn't bad! She didn't deserve this. Not even Adiscordia deserved this!
Gretel left, sitting next to Hansel’s cage. “She’s gone now, are you still awake?” There was no response, he was definitely asleep. Going to the counter, she observed. She really lacked space, but maybe she could build upwards?
Small steps clicked against the floor as a young boy peeked past the door slightly. He had found his target, chocolate truffles and cookies that had just been freshly baked. The bowl of cookie dough and chips still begging to be licked. Of course there was her, the tall guardian creating more sweets. She wouldn’t give him any, they were for the bakery. After all Lorenzo would repeatedly tell her to stop giving Hansel sweets, he was gaining weight and it didn’t look good. She was on a constant watch for him while baking.
“I know you’re there Hansel! You aren’t getting any sweets, not this time!” Hansel grinned. Was that a challenge?
“but Mamma!” He pouted coming into plain view. “they’re so good!” He gave her begging eyes of need, she refused to look.
“Absolutely not! I need this to provide for us, furthermore this needs to be shed off!” Lucia argued poking at her son’s round stomach as he tried to climb on the counter. “Nope!” She argued as she picked him up. As she did he crawled around her top, thrashing, whining, and pouting. “Hansel, stop! You’re too old to be throwing a tantrum like this!” Lucia wasn’t sure how it happened, but she found herself on the floor inches from the door after tripping on a thin layer of string. The fall wouldn’t have been as harsh to recover from if it hadn’t triggered a large bucket of soapy water to pour down, making it slippery and difficult to sit up.
When she did rise up she noticed Hansel was in the kitchen and had locked the door behind him. He was the most disobedient spoiled child she knew! It worried her, her son was intelligent but still a thief. She wrapped her arms around her neck ready to unlock the door only to realize the key was gone. He hadn't thrown a tantrum, he had acted that way as a distraction to take her keys! “Hansel, there will be consequences for this!”
Hansel twirled the key chain in his hand, the extra key she usually had, in his pocket as he jumped up on the counter and began to clean out the cookie dough bowl. He knew that his mother would need at least half the dozen chocolates to bargain as he picked only the best few leaving most of the average ones untouched. When the door clicked he clicked between his teeth at his mother in slight mockery. It had taken her longer than usual. Usually she would have raced for the spare key that was still in his pocket. He looked up at the enraged baker. Her soaking black hair was long and curly, reaching to her lower back with a headband that did a poor job at containing all of it. She had an ivory apron on top of an old patterned dress that was covered in flour and ingredient stains. She wore gloves and quickly took out a broom from behind her back.
Hansel took off running, but he was too slow. He always had been due to overindulgence. She grabbed him by the collar as she began to hit his backside with the broom. “Hansel! I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that you can’t take these! They aren’t yours. You are disobedient, immoral, a burglar, and waste your time on very, very elaborate and detailed schemes to get me out of the kitchen.” Lucia sighed. The neighbors could probably hear his yelps of pain by the broom. They all knew the situation of the stealing rat in the kitchen. Taking her keys back she stepped in front of the doorway letting her son go. He was crying in pain, but she knew that after a few days he'd be back at it. “What am I going to do with you? Will I really need to lock the door and hide the keys when I’m working?”
Hansel looked down at the floor hearing as she placed the broom against the wall. “Would it make a difference Hansel?" next came something he wasn't expecting. "You're always five steps ahead!” She laughed. He slowly looked up at her, confused. “I know your father will disagree.” She said leaning towards him. “But keep planning. You’re the only one in the village who can come up with these ideas, It’ll do you good one day.” She then held him with a prideful smile. The warmth and embrace of a mother echoed in his memory. The motherly love despite anger and discipline was right there. Her smile was precious. He loved her and missed her so much. If only she knew it.