Gretel looked at her brother’s wounds unsure of what to do. “Can you hear me? Are you awake?” She tried to shake him but there was no response. She laid him on the ground. He had cuts on his cheeks as well as five deep holes through his middle where Grizelda’s claws had gone through. Despite holding her dress to stop the flow things were not getting any better. He had been cooped up without walking, weakening his legs for over a month. All of a sudden he was running with at least a hundred extra pounds on him, while pulling her forward with bad injuries? How did he expect anything less to happen?
“What would you do? What would you do?” She repeated quietly. He probably would have thought of some sort of expert plan to save her. It was probably one of those plans that helped them escape. She barely remembered leaving. Something must’ve happened between being close to death and being pulled at a disorienting speed by her brother through trees. The only answer could be magic. She wondered if she could heal using the magic she had learned. It wasn’t a great plan but it was all she had.
She placed a hand slowly on his greater wounds and closed her eyes. She tried to focus on how much it hurt her to see him hurt. She began to focus on how much he had tried to get her this far and how much he deserved to be healed. He had gotten hurt because he was trying to take her place! It wasn't fair for him to die now! She began to cry over him gently, trying her best and not daring to look. Levitation spells or creation spells were one thing, but healing was another. What if she made him worse?
Her focus was interrupted by a light groan. She opened her eyes hesitantly to find that his wounds around his stomach had healed, though he had some light scars. His cheeks were no longer cut, and they were even rosier than before. He looked less pale! His eyes were opening looking directly at her. “Hansel!” She threw herself on him in joy. She did it! She held him tightly trying to wrap her arms as tight as she could around him. “You’re awake!” Hansel wasn’t exactly sure what had happened but he was quick to hug her back.
“Guinni, What happened?” His voice was quiet, not wanting to fully acknowledge the incident.
Gretel rose up beaming. “You brought me out! Then you fell and-“ Hansel’s face turned from her not wanting to remember how it felt. “But I remembered some things I learned from Adiscordia and healed you!”
“You healed me?” Hansel asked in disbelief as he ran his hands through his middle. There was no pain or open wounds. There wasn't even blood left behind, only light scars as evidence of what had happened. “Guinniverre, You saved me!”
“I did!” Gretel laughed but something felt off. Her face went from pure joy to sadness and seriousness. She looked towards the ground. He had done so much wrong in his life. He had been a coward. She tried to hate him, but she couldn’t. He had done too much trying to make up for it for her not to forgive him. She looked up to him again showing her expression. “Hansel, when you were a young child you accidentally let a fire spread and took part in a lie that destroyed my kingdom and family. My parents died. You tore my destiny and my inheritance from me. You didn’t tell the truth, you were a coward!” She said anger and hurt evident in her tone. Hansel listened, not defending himself. She was right. He was a coward and he was grateful for her mercy to save him, twice.
“Then to redeem yourself from a lie too far gone, you rescued me. You made a promise to keep me safe despite everyone wanting me to die. You kept that promise then, You kept that promise in the forest, and you kept it now. You comforted me over and over. You stayed awake when I wanted to talk about my parents. You gave me what was yours, and starved yourself for me. You tried to take beatings for me. You tried to take the death penalty for me. We grew past redemption, you loved me.” Hansel felt his chest tighten at her words. “I don’t know what else you could have done to make up for it. It’s hard, but because I love you I need to forgive you. You’re my brother Hansel. For the past few years we’ve been Hansel and Gretel. That’s not going to stop now.”
Hansel felt stiff, hardly moving or reacting. Just yesterday he had no reason to live and was looking forward to being eaten, now redemption had poured in a flood of emotion that he was struggling to comprehend. After so long in the dark he didn’t think it was possible for Guinniverre to forgive him. Of course she called him brother a few times, but now her words acknowledged his mistakes. She was telling him she knew his crimes, and yet still loved him. Could this mean that he might be able to forgive himself?
“You didn’t have to do any of that. You could have rescued me and kept me in your home but you treated me as family. Someone doesn’t do any of that unless they’re filled with complete regret and guilt.”
Hansel nodded quietly. “Adiscordia could sense it. I deserve the death penalty. I killed lives that deserved so much more life!” His voice cracked as he began to cry again. “I’m so grateful you survived...” His hair couldn't hide his tears. After what had happened he found himself easily broken by just the mention of Rhionine. He turned away from Gretel, unable to face her and her forgiveness.
Gretel needed to know the truth. Hansel never seemed like a coward. Most of his life he never showed emotion like fear or sadness. The truth being revealed had shattered that image of him, but he was still brave. His ability to die for her by trapping her under the bed proved it. “Hansel. I take back what I said. You’ve never showed signs of being a coward but I need to know did you at least think of telling the truth? Were you just afraid of being punished?” There was a silence. Hansel leaned back against a tree, lifting his head to stare at seemingly nothing. He took in a heavy breath and reached for his arms as if to brace himself from something. "Hansel?” Gretel approached him. There it was, he was suffering in silence again. This time, she could see it without a doubt. His body tensed up and his mouth started speaking without a voice. For a moment she thought her healing spell may have gone wrong. "Are you alright?" she asked in a panic going to check him. She tried to hear him, but as soon as her hand touched his shoulder he snapped back into reality.
He hunched over, his knees jolting upwards. He wanted to hide, Guinniverre shouldn't be seeing him like this. “I did more than think about it. I tried to tell the truth. I just didn’t try hard enough.” He admitted.
Gretel was shocked by his answer. He did try to save Rhionine. “Did people not believe you?” She asked softly.
Hansel didnt want to go further. He could almost feel the sting of the hand on his face again. He didn't want to ruin her view of Lorenzo but he owed her an explanation. After all, any respect Hansel had for his father was abandoned when they were left in the forest. “Papa kept telling me I deserved the death penalty for it. He kept reminding me I killed mamma and asked me if I wanted to kill him too. If I told the truth we'd both be punished. That stopped me for a while.” He said quietly. “When rumors of war started I realized it had gone too far. I tried to run out and fix things but...” Hansel stopped. He looked to the distance again in memory. He hadn’t eaten that night either, or the night after, or after. Lorenzo had told him so much. How badly she had burned. How would Hansel survive alone if Lorenzo left him? Why would anyone listen to a rotten child like him after the lie had become truth to the point that it was war worthy? "I was forced to stay inside. Papa starved and would beat me if I tried to go out. He was trying to keep me safe, but he had a point. It had gone too far. Once the war started even if I did say the truth it'd be viewed as blasphemy and defending the enemy."
Even before he met her he had chosen her over his father. He had gotten beat trying to save her before she knew he existed. Hansel was anything but a coward, or the traitor she had seen him as. “I didn’t realize you tried so hard.” She held him close. She had thought of him all wrong. “I’m sorry...” Hansel did nothing but slowly hug her in return. They stayed for a few minutes. Gretel could feel Hansel’s anxious breathing, his damp cheeks and his rumbling stomach. It wasn’t his fault. The fire was an accident. If anything it was Lorenzo’s fault for making the lie! At the end could she really blame him? He was trying to save his son from execution. His son was all he had left after the death of Lucia. His methods of keeping him silent were still very questionable. She wiped his tears with her sleeve. Finally she pulled away and stood up. “If you want me to completely forgive you I need you to do something for me.”
Hansel looked up quickly. “Anything...”
Gretel’s response was blunt. “Forgive yourself, cheer up, and take us home.”
He wasn’t expecting that. If anything it only made him more emotional. He buried himself behind his knees and stomach for a moment to finish crying and composing himself. Then he wiped his face and stood up as if nothing had happened. Gretel smiled, her brother was back. He took his compass and observed it for a few seconds before looking at his surroundings. “My compass is fixed. Home is North West” he paused. “I think. We went walked so much last time, maybe we should go south?”
Gretel sighed. “Its been so long, and even then Adiscordia ruined our sense of direction.”
“We’ll find our way home” Hansel smiled reassuringly.
Guinniverre spoke in Rhioninian. He couldn't quite understand it but she just seemed tired of the desperation. She was ready to be home in their poor excuse for beds.
Almost as if on cue something could be heard moving through the leaves and ground. Soon a familiar looking wolf was standing before them. It turned its head in curiosity. The princess was easily recognizable other than some scratches and looking thinner than before. The boy on the other hand-
“I think that’s the wolf from before! Guinniverre exclaimed remembering how the wolf had protected them. “Maybe it could lead us home!”
Hansel took a step back. A wolf taking them home, that sounded like something straight out of a children’s story book. None of this forest was happy and innocent, it wasn’t real. It didn't seem to want to attack Hansel, but it kept getting close to him.
The wolf smelled him. It really was the princess’s guardian. He needed proper clothing. He was wearing some sort of jacket that looked like the remaining seams would hardly last. The arms of it had been ripped away and tied together below his stomach to hide what was necessary. The wolf itself didn't tend to wear clothing, but she was an animal. He wasn't. Its tail motioned for them to follow. She started walking forward and when they didn't follow she looked towards them again.
Gretel stepped forward joyfully when Hansel hesitantly followed. “It’s taking us home!” Gretel chuckled.
“It’s leading us somewhere” Hansel started. “My question is why?”
With that the wolf stopped before drawing the Rhioninan symbol of royalty and circling around the princess before continuing. If anything this just made Hansel’s head spin further. Was it a Rhioninan? Was it a guardian of Guinniverre’s? Could it understand what they were saying? They walked for a while before being met with a hill.
They began to climb before Gretel spoke. “I think we should take a break.”
Hansel was red faced, panting, and sweating. He refused to admit it but he was slower, weaker, and still very hungry. He wasn't at all used to the change of his body. It was his own fault for getting carried away with sweets. The hill had less trees around, they had to be closer to people by now. The last thing he wanted was to stop and be seen publicly like this.
“How much longer?” He asked hoping it wasn't far. None of it seemed familiar but if it wasn't far then maybe he could keep going without hurting his pride. The wolf didn't answer, it only stared. Of course it didnt answer. It was an animal. It raced over the hill.
“Wait!” Gretel called out racing forward before reaching the top. She stopped as she stared down below. “Hansel. It took me home” she called quietly in awe. Below the hill was the rich center of Rhionine. This was the home of princess Guinniverre, and the center of where the war raged the fiercest. She almost expected to see bodies and red all over the ground, but with time grass and wild flowers had begun to grow. The bodies had been moved and in their place were stones. Thousands of stones carefully placed and painted with Rhioninian symbols. The yard was clearly abandoned, and the grounds didn’t hold a single soul. Some weapons still laid around, but for the most part it almost looked frozen in time. The castle wasn’t destroyed, the flags and precious materials had barely been touched! The wolf continued to race down before it disappeared from Guinniverre’s vision. “I’m going under, rest.” She commanded loudly so that he could hear her from the bottom of the hill. She didn't expect him to listen, but she could try.
With that she ran down. Hansel grunted. Climbing up hills was far harder than he remembered, but he was still just as stubborn and protective. There was no way he’d leave her to follow some sort big black wolf on her own. Reaching up to the top he tried to catch his breath but could see his sister running to many stones. She looked so small from up there. It was the castle that gave it away, They had reached Rhionine. Rhionine was just at the border, he could get home from here easily! The joy only lasted for a few seconds as he followed his sister’s orders and sat down. This was what was left of Rhionine. It was completely empty.
Guinniverre looked around before spying two much larger stones, surrounded by flowers. Some had grown, and some were new and freshly placed. They had the Rhioninan seals of royalty painted on. She could only rightfully assume who was buried as she got on her knees. She hadn’t even bothered to ask who had done this. Whoever it was, she owed them. She wanted to say so much before they had passed, never having a chance to say good bye. Now she was speechless.
Violet didn’t know what to do. Should she head to the princess? No, it was a bad time. The princess didn’t know who she was, though King Eudes did. It would be better if her guardian comforted her. Her transformation would startle him but she would explain later. To be in front of those graves he needed proper clothing. It was disrespectful for him to go in front of the king and queen like that. Having gotten dressed she ran to the castle. It was hard to know the boy’s size but she had been protecting the capital long enough to know where everything was. She was quick on her feet, clothing choices flashing through her mind. The closet of the nobles, there needed to be something!
Hansel had been watching quietly from the distance. He watched Guinniverre mourn and try to speak to her parents. He wanted to comfort her broken soul, but couldn’t imagine belonging there. Stepping a single foot in official Rhionine territory was like stepping into a graveyard he felt responsible for. Even if he did go to her what would he say? Both of them stayed in their places for a while before a shadow loomed over Hansel and a button up shirt and jacket, along with some trousers were thrown on his lap. His face going red once again in realization as he held the clothes tightly in front of his bare chest and he turned his head upwards.
A young woman with wild black coarse hair swept to the side of her face, and eerily familiar golden eyes was standing there. She had dark skin, but not much could be seen past her long red velvet cloak. She pointed to the clothes and then the princess. Hansel stared wondering if it would be appropriate to ask who she was, how long she had been there, if she was on their side, along with a multitude of other questions. She could sense the heavy confusion on his face before shaking her head in frustration. She couldn't even see him past that wild mane of his! She was supposed to be the animal- not the other way around. She leaned forward and tied his hair back earning a wince as the light went into his eyes. “Please, Get dressed and go comfort Reine Guinniverre.”