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The Castle of Lost Names

In the middle of the thick Kmeri woodlands stood the Other Queen’s castle. The castle was built with stone bricks, and etched on each brick was a name. The Other Queen was a collector of names. She loved names to the extent that she rarely left her castle, preferring to be alone with her precious names. Each name on the castle was different; the names were ones that were no longer used by a person, and some were forgotten in history. From every reach of the continent, the Other Queen obsessively hoarded lost names.

The Other Queen’s castle was a place of intrigue because of this collection, but the journey to experience what the castle had to offer was not common for the Kmeri or a wandering traveller to make. On occasion, a brave person would come by seeking a name for a newborn or when in need of inspiration for a new identity. Some visited the castle purely for novelty. However, people were steered away by the Other Queen’s mysterious nature, fearing the unknown. No one who visited the castle stayed for long. As much as her people admired her, they opted to leave the Other Queen to her own devices. Only when she needed to grace them with her presence did they see her.

The Misses and the suit of armour initially wanted to sneak into the castle with their newfound friends, but Nelumbella told them that she had a plan that would allow them to be able to stay and interact with the Other Queen directly. She reasoned with them that direct interaction would be the best if they wanted to uncover her secrets. She kept the details of the plan to herself, but she was certain it would be successful. A queen would not turn away a princess. Not wanting to risk the safety of their new human and elfish friend when they were not needed, the sisters complied, staying behind in the woods. Nelumbella did not leave them defenceless. Knowing that the animals were at risk being so close to the witch, Dirus stayed with the animals.

Nelumbella and Charter headed for the castle in the morning. On the way, they saw the Other Queen’s orchard. The fruit smelled wrong to Charter. He did not like faint sounds his sensitive ears were hearing either. The voices he heard were shriller than any enchanted flora he had encountered before. He made his observations known. Although none was currently growing in his forest, he remembered the ones he had met during his childhood. Witches travelling with their children came to his forest occasionally too. Until the Other Queen’s orchard, all the children of witches he had met were relatively friendly, varying on the heart of the witch of course. The trees in the Other Queen’s orchard did not sound as if they had a kind twig.

For Nelumbella, nothing was out of the ordinary about the orchard and she dismissed Charter’s claims. Having basic human senses, she smelled no foul scents nor did she hear sinister whispers. She went by the orchard without much thought and ran to the castle’s exterior, taking interest in the names that made the castle famous, insisting that they walk by the wall of the castle as they made their way to the main entrance. She wanted to appreciate each brick. She loved how the names were not limited to the Kmeri. Cultural names were fascinating. She crouched to inspect a brick.

‘What are you looking at, Nell?’ asked Charter.

‘This one is eleven letters.’ she said, pointing to the brick that had caught her eye. ‘I think it is one of the most beautiful names in the world.’

‘I suppose,’ he said, hunching to see etched letters. In his opinion, the name was overly fanciful. ‘Are you jealous the name is longer than yours?’

‘Maybe a little,’ Nelumbella replied, remembering how she did not finish introducing herself. She wondered how her complete name would sound on his tongue. ‘I will always have Crumpette to fall back on; and that has nine letters.’ When it came to length, Crumpette was almost as good as her birth name. Charter laughed, and she scrunched her nose at him.

She rose, and they continued. A little ways further, another brick caught her attention. ‘This one is sort of like my name,’ she said, tracing her fingers over the text.

Neatly scribed on stone was Crumpet.

‘The ending is different,’ he noted, leaning over her to view the brick. ‘It needs an extra T-E.’

‘Who do you think lost that name?’ asked Nelumbella.

‘Does it really matter?’ asked Charter, distracting her with a poke to her side. ‘We should keep moving. I don’t want to keep the sisters waiting.’ He took her hand in his.

‘All right, Mister Elf. Lead the way,’ she laughed.

The entrance doors to the castle were made of two thick slabs of stone, each embellished with engravings of fruit-bearing trees, creating an ornamental appeal.

As Charter and Nelumbella went to knock, the doors swung open to receive them. Walking in, they saw the same repetitive brick design; and save for what came through the stained glass windows from above, the castle lacked light.

From a dark corridor, perpendicular to where they had entered, a woman came into sight. She had deathly white skin and wore a crimson dress. Her bright auburn hair was spun into a sweeping hive and decked with a golden crown, marking her as the Other Queen. Her gait was elegant as she glided towards them. She stopped several meters before the pair. She offered a weak smile, and with a flick of her wrist, the door slammed shut. ‘Welcome, Princess of Tarsus. Have you lost your name?’ said the Other Queen. Her dull green eyes, which had forgotten how to gleam, inspected her guests.

Nelumbella remained silent. She had not intended for Charter to learn of her identity, having planned to inform the Other Queen privately; but the Other Queen, the master of names, already knew. Sheepishly, Nelumbella replied. ‘No, Your Majesty, I know my name.’

The Other Queen glanced at the man accompanying the Princess, tilted her chin to him, and said, ‘A little birdie tells me he does not.’

He knew her name. He knew the Prince, the Prince knew her; and his forest had once been part of her kingdom. He cursed. Under his breath, Charter said her name: ′Nelumbella.

‘My apologies,’ said the Other Queen, a slight snarl flashing across her face. From behind the Other Queen, a stone brick propelled towards Charter. He grunted as he caught it. ‘Congratulations, you found a name.’ She recomposed herself. Putting on a serene mask, she continued, ‘My dear, if you have not lost your name, why have you come to my castle?’

‘I need your help,’ Nelumbella answered sincerely. Charter glanced at her, realizing her intentions were not as genuine as he had hoped. Nelumbella ignored his penetrating gaze.

‘Yes, you do,’ the Other Queen said, eyes trailing over Nelumbella and resting at her feet. ‘You must be tired from travelling all this way. Tell me of your problem later. For now, I must be a good host.’

Nelumbella and Charter followed the Other Queen down the corridor. The Other Queen did not attempt to converse with them. Neither Nelumbella nor Charter minded, but Nelumbella did want to speak with Charter. She wanted to offer him an explanation for the name he physically held in his hand. The silence between them chilled her, but the way he kept his gaze ahead told her to hold her tongue.

Nelumbella distracted herself with their surroundings. Like the foyer, the corridors relied on the light from outside but were also lined with shining, silent, unmoving suits of armour that resembled the youngest sister. Nelumbella recognized that the sisters had been at least partially honest about their origins. Not much else was present, save for the names carved into the stone bricks. The interior of the castle was rather grey and dead. With each hall being a repetition of the last, they lacked a sense of direction.

At the end of their way was a suffocating, but large, windowless, pitched black room. Charter and Nelumbella stepped inside. The moment they did, the Other Queen vanished. Two chairs swept forward to the pair from behind, buckling their knees and seating them promptly. Lights switched on. They heard the Other Queen call out, ‘Wait here, darlings.’

The room shuffled; tables and ornaments entered through the door. As the room came alive, Nelumbella took the opportunity to talk. ‘How did you know my name?’ she asked, leaning over the arm of her chair as her eyes took in the unfolding magic.

Charter placed the stone brick beneath his chair. ’First of all, I remember when you were born. Linden didn’t come home for days. He was too caught up in the celebration of your birth. The Forest of Old Tarsus was just another forest in Tarsus. Secondly, your uncle comes by the inn at least twice a year, and he rarely stops talking about you,′ he said, more concerned about their surroundings than her question. ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

‘You heard what some of the guests said,’ Nelumbella mumbled. A long dining table set itself in front of them, and a white cloth swept over. ‘They say I am the Ogre Princess.’

‘Ogres are lovely creatures,’ Charter retorted, turning his head to her, frowning. ‘It’s only uneducated fablers that would say such things—let alone believe them. No one would have hurt you.’

Her eyes met his. ‘But Tarsus—’

‘—hasn’t seen the outside world in almost two decades,’ Charter finished. ‘Those words are fictitious. You only listen to the worst. That day when you started working at the inn, do you know how many times I had to tell someone off? You do not look like a monster. Even if they did know your identity, half the guests, including the idiots who brought Tarsusian tall tales past the borders, know your uncle. They like him; they wouldn’t have let someone precious to him be harmed. We wouldn’t have allowed harm to come your way.’

‘It does not matter,’ she said softly. China clinked on the table, organizing on their own. ‘I am the Princess of Tarsus, and Tarsus does not feel the way you do.’

The bright lights went off, and dim candles were lit. ‘Your people are fools not to love you,’ he said, voice hushed.

‘I am sorry,’ said Nelumbella, casting gaze downwards. She did not know what she was apologizing for.

‘Eat,’ said the Other Queen, reappearing on the opposite side of the lengthy table. Food laid across the table in the manner of a feast. The room had become a dining hall.

Sniffing, Charter’s nose twitched. He recognized fruit from the orchard. Skimming the table, his eyes settled on the baked birds. He questioned who the meats once were. Reaching for Nelumbella’s folded hands, he grasped them in his larger one, unwilling to let her sample the meal.

‘What are you waiting for?’ asked the Other Queen, carving into a bird.

‘I am not hungry, Your Majesty,’ answered Nelumbella.

‘It is delicious,’ said the Other Queen, sending a plate of elaborately stacked fruits to the couple. ‘I insist you have a taste.’

‘I must apologise. I cannot,’ said Nelumbella. ‘My mother taught me that a lady is never gluttonous. If I had known earlier that we would be dining with you, I would not have eaten prior to our arrival.’

The Other Queen smiled at Nelumbella, but her eyes narrowed at Charter. The plate shuffled to him, but he made no move for it. ‘What is your reason?’ the Other Queen asked.

‘We both ate prior to arriving,’ he replied.

‘What a shame,’ the Other Queen said with a sigh, stabbing a piece of the bird with her fork. She took a bite and chewed. ‘I was hoping to introduce you to Kmeri cuisine, but I suppose we shall do that later.’

Nelumbella nodded. ‘Yes, that would be ideal.’

‘Then what should we do for now?’ the Other Queen asked wistfully, putting down her fork. ‘I want to be a good host. It has been so long since I have had company. Although, I must admit, I am a bit picky about whom I keep around.’ Creasing her brows, she patted her cloud of hair for an idea. When the idea came, the Other Queen clapped in delight. ‘Perhaps we should dance.’

‘We should not, Your Majesty,’ said Nelumbella. ‘I dance very poorly.’

‘I do not believe you,’ said the Other Queen. ‘Princesses know how to dance. Besides, I need to ensure that the two of you will be hungry once supper comes around. What better way to work up an appetite than dancing?’

‘What about you?’ Nelumbella asked, seeking an excuse. ‘We do not want to dance if you cannot, and there are three of us.’

The Other Queen smiled. ‘Worry not, dear. I will conjure my own partner for our little ball.’ The Other Queen stood, and the room changed. Food rushed out, and the table split apart. The candles disappeared. In the darkness, they heard music, then clanking. A chandelier hung itself on the ceiling, setting the room aglow, and an orchestra played without players. The ensemble was complete with strings, percussions, brass, and woodwind instruments.

‘Dance,’ the Other Queen commanded gleefully.

Nelumbella and Charter’s seats tipped, throwing them off and breaking apart their grasp on one another. Shifting to face each other, Charter offered his hand to Nelumbella.

‘Do you know how?’ Nelumbella asked, apprehensively entwining their fingers. Her feet not being made for the task was bad enough.

‘My uncle taught me the Tarsusian Waltz when I was a boy,’ he said, grinning. ‘We’ll be fine.’

‘My uncle taught me too,’ Nelumbella said, blushing. She wished she had her diamond shoes so that she could manoeuvre with little steps. She remembered how her large untrained feet had stepped on her uncle during their practices. Worried what she might do to Charter, she mumbled, ‘sorry,’ as a precaution.

‘For what?’ he asked, guiding her across the floor.

‘If I step your feet,’ answered Nelumbella.

Charter chuckled. ‘I’ve danced with giantesses, and they have larger feet.’ For a moment, his smile faded. He leaned and stringently whispered into her ear, ‘Please, do not act rashly while we are here.’ Talking to strangers in his forest was one matter. This was entirely different.

The doors slammed open. The Other Queen and a bewitched suit of armour danced in, flitting towards the waltzing couple. Meeting Nelumbella and Charter in the centre of the room, the Other Queen stepped between and stole Nelumbella’s partner, offering the suit of armour to the girl.

‘Would you believe me if I told you that you are the first man I have danced with in decades?’ asked the Other Queen.

Charter looked past the witch to Nelumbella and the shining suit of armour. She was managing poorly, and he saw the armour step on her feet. He winced at the sight. Redirecting his attention to his dancing partner, in the most charming voice he could muster, thanks to years of customer service, he answered, ‘Impossible. A woman like yourself must have a line of suitors waiting for a chance to dance with you.’

The Other Queen dismissed the complement. ‘Tell me why you have come this way,’ she said.

‘I saw an excuse to travel, and I took it,’ he said. The Other Witch was suspicious of him, that he knew.

‘Who is the Princess to you?’ she asked.

‘A friend,’ he replied.

‘I do not believe you,’ she said.

‘Fine,’ said Charter, mocking defeat, ‘I’m her chaperone. I cannot let a young woman travel alone.’

The Other Queen gave him a sly look. ‘No need to be shy. You are a handsome man, and she is a beautiful woman. It is only natural.’

Charter glanced past the Other Queen again to see Nelumbella approaching and being whirled around by the suit of armour. Her dancing was fine, and her feet did not appear to have serious damage. Looking at the Other Queen again, he said, ‘You are a beautiful woman too. Where is your handsome man?’

Her eyes narrowed, and she bitterly, but calmly, said, ‘He left me for a more beautiful woman.’

‘I find that hard to believe,’ said Charter.

Coming in full circle, the Other Queen intercepted Nelumbella and the suit of armour before Charter could, partnering him with the animate object.

The iron palm was warm from Nelumbella’s touch. Attempting to decipher whether he was supposed to lead or follow, Charter made an awkward remark to the armour, but the armour remained silent.

‘He is charming.’ said the Other Queen, taking Nelumbella away.

Nelumbella stepped more awkwardly than she had when dancing with the armour. ‘I would not describe him as charming. He is better than that.’

Twirling the girl, the Other Queen asked, ‘Then what word would you use?’

‘Too many, Your Majesty. I cannot describe a person—let alone him—so simply,’ said Nelumbella.

‘In this moment,’ said the Other Queen, ‘what word would you use?’

Enchanting,’ she said.

‘Does he think you are enchanting as well?’ inquired the Other Queen.

‘I hope so,’ Nelumbella confessed in a hushed voice. ‘Why do you not have a king to share your throne with?’ she asked, recalling the tail end of the conversation she heard.

‘For a few reasons,’ said the Other Queen.

‘Your castle is so large and empty,’ said Nelumbella. ‘You must get lonely.’ The Other Queen was a witch, but witches were still human. Nelumbella thought having company, even if not romantic, would be beneficial for the Other Queen. Having a friend was wonderful. Maybe it was why her first heart did not beat.

‘My castle is a lively one, is it not?’ the Other Queen joked. ‘Besides, if I am lonely, I can make my own company.’

‘I suppose so,’ said Nelumbella.

‘That is enough about me,’ insisted the Other Queen. ‘You have come a long way to seek my aid, Princess.’

‘I did not have much of a choice,’ Nelumbella admitted. ‘Tarsus does not have a drop of magic, let alone a witch.’

‘Then you have come to the right place,’ said the Other Queen. ‘The majority of witches reside here because of my presence. By coming to my castle like a wise girl should, you have found yourself someone who can grant you anything you desire.’

‘I know. I heard,’ said Nelumbella, peeking to Charter, who was coming towards them with the armour. Her lips formed a small smile. Enchanting he was, and she found the scene humorous. ‘A man said you were powerful—that you might be able to help. That is why I came.’

The Other Queen led Nelumbella in the opposite direction, drawing out their dance. ‘In that case, I am glad for my reputation. Sometimes I worry that children might think poorly of me because of that wretched wall.’

‘The wall keeps out as much good as it does the bad,’ said Nelumbella, furrowing her delicate brows.

‘You are a smart girl,’ said the Other Queen. ‘I like you.’

Nelumbella was surprised. ‘You do?’

Pulling the girl close, the Other Queen pressed their cheeks together. ‘I know all too well about having a country that does not want you,’ said the Other Queen. ‘I see my own reflection in you.’ The music continued to play, but the Other Queen stopped their dance. She stroked Nelumbella’s hair. ‘Worry not, my dear. I am Queen, and you can be too.’

Seeing that the two had stilled, Charter stepped between, intending to take Nelumbella. The Other Queen let go. Turning her back to the pair, the Other Queen vanished.

The instruments came to a screeching halt. The bows cracked, and the strings snapped, shattering into glimmering shards and sawdust. The ground shook. Between Nelumbella and Charter, a wall grew from the floor. Nelumbella tried to cross, spotting the exit behind Charter, but the fence sprung up too fast for her to manage.

They were split apart.

Nelumbella backed into the corner of the dark room, feeling the wall behind her to have an idea of where she was. With neither a window nor a door, she panicked. She saw nothing. The room was emptier and bleaker than it had been before the witch brought it to life.

She flinched as she heard the Other Queen call her name. She was alone with the Other Queen, and the thought terrified her. As much as she wanted the witch’s help, she wished for Charter’s presence.

The Other Queen emitted a white glow from beneath her skin. ‘Sit,’ she said, gesturing to a suddenly appearing bench.

Reluctantly, Nelumbella complied and felt for the faintly visible bench as she took a seat.

The Other Queen stood before her. ‘I know what you want, Princess.’

‘You do?’ Nelumbella asked, nervously scrunching the fabric of her dress tightly, refusing to meet the Other Queen’s eyes.

‘Those feet of yours,’ said the Other Queen, titling Nelumbella’s chin upwards, forcing the girl to meet her gaze. ‘You want smaller, nicer feet.’ She released her hold.

Nelumbella nodded meekly. ‘You can do that for me?’

‘Of course I can,’ said the Other Queen. ‘No witch is more powerful than I. However, I do have my limits. I cannot simply shrink your feet. I can only make them appear smaller.’

‘I do not mind,’ said Nelumbella. She wanted her people to like her. If they could not see how hideous her feet were, they could not negatively judge her further.

‘Good,’ said the Other Queen. ‘I have a gift for you, Princess.’

A box appeared on Nelumbella’s lap. She lifted the lid to reveal a pair of dainty, thin soled, red shoes, much flimsier in comparison to the diamond pair she once had. Covered in fine embroidery and appearing as if they had came from Loti, the slippers were the kind Nelumbella had always wanted. But as perfect as it seemed, the footwear were not perfect for her. ‘The shoes are too small,’ mumbled Nelumbella.

The Other Queen smiled. ‘It will fit,’ she said, lifting a slipper. ‘I promise you that. But I need your help in exchange.’

Not all witches were bad. Her uncle had told her many times about the Good Witch. Nelumbella reasoned the Other Queen’s reputation was purely gossip. People were cruel with their words, and Nelumbella was not an ogre. ‘What do I have to do?’ asked Nelumbella.

‘Cursed animals haunt my kingdom. They are abominations,’ said the Other Queen. ‘They must die.’

‘I-I have not met any abominations,’ stuttered Nelumbella.

‘You have, and you know where they are,’ said the Other Queen, dropping the shoe back into the container.

‘Who are you speaking of?’ inquired Nelumbella, feigning innocence,

‘The talking animals,’ said the Other Queen, ‘a little pink pig, the red bird, the mouse, and the worm. They brought you to me.’

‘Yes, I can explain—’

‘You do not need to explain,’ said the Other Queen. ‘They told you vicious lies. Do you think the woman they spoke of would so readily help you? I had these shoes made for you years ago. I have been watching you—waiting for you. I knew you wanted shoes such as these. The Wall has been keeping us apart. It is not good for neighbouring kingdoms to feud, but you will be the Queen of Tarsus. You can change that. You can remove the wall. I want what is best for you, and I hope you will agree to rid those wretched creatures from my land once and for all.’

‘I suppose I could,’ said Nelumbella. She knew all too well how people who appeared kind could have a darker side. If the animals were spreading false words about the Other Queen, she had to stop them. Such slander could not continue. She did not want to imagine what might happen to Tarsus if people started saying such things about her mother.

‘You will hunt,’ commanded the Other Queen, a smile creeping on. ‘I trust you know how to use a bow and arrow.’ A set appeared beside Nelumbella on the bench.

‘Yes, my uncle taught me,’ said Nelumbella.

The Other Queen crouched and held out a hand. ‘Try them on, dear.’ Nelumbella passed the witch a shoe. The Other Queen glided the slippers onto Nelumbella’s feet with ease.

‘It fits,’ said Nelumbella, in awe. Despite the small size, she felt no pain.

‘Not too high either, are they?’ asked the Other Queen.

‘They are perfect,’ said Nelumbella, jumping from her seat to embrace the woman. ‘Oh, thank you.’ With the seemingly smaller size, she moved more freely than when she went barefoot.

‘One more thing,’ said the Other Queen, rising and stepping away from Nelumbella. ‘You should dress like the huntress you are.’ The glow of the Other Queen drifted to Nelumbella and swept around her. Replaced by breeches, a shirt, and a red cloak, the elf dress she wore disappeared.

‘To keep match your shoes and to keep you warm,’ said the Other Queen, handing Nelumbella the bow and quiver of arrows.

Nelumbella took bow and slung the quiver over her shoulder. The long bow was taller than she was, but it was no different from the one she kept at her uncle’s manor. Having practiced plenty, she knew she would eliminate the animals with little trouble.

The wall beside Nelumbella crumbled. Pivoting, she faced the woods where the animals had hidden. Nelumbella glanced at the Other Queen, who no longer glowed, paling in comparison to sun. Nelumbella stepped outside and felt the texture of the ground through her dainty shoes. The wall sealed, and she marched forward.

Charter sat on the floor, his back against the new wall, staring at the swaying chandelier. The door he was lucky enough to have on his side of the room had refused to open.

Soon enough, he heard an unsettling sound similar to the one the room had made when the barrier grew, and the door opened. Nelumbella entered with her large berry like toes and a basket in hand.

‘You’re all right,’ he said, dashing to sweep her off her feet.

‘Of course I am,’ she said as he returned her to the ground. 'Did you think she was going to eat me?′

‘Or turn you into a random animal,’ he said, smiling. He examined her, making sure that everything was in place. ‘Then maybe she’ll eat you.’

‘You worry too much,’ said Nelumbella. ‘I got to look around and talk to her. It was a good experience.’

Charter raised a brow. ‘That was all?’

‘Yes,’ insisted Nelumbella. ‘You want to help the animals, do you not? Haven’t you heard of keeping your enemies close?’

He nodded. ‘What did you learn?’ he asked.

‘Oh, this and that,’ she said, circling him to inspect his person. Stopping when she made her way around, she cocked her head and asked, ‘Aren’t mutts supposed to be freaks?’

Charter frowned, running a hand through his hair. ‘Depends on the opinion of the individual, I suppose. We aren’t common, but we are less rare than when I was born. What has the Other Queen been telling you?’

‘Nothing that should concern you,’ said Nelumbella. ’It is just that you are oddly well proportioned for someone who is half-giant and half-elf. Nothing appears too large or too small. The only mismatched thing about you is your hair and eyes. Even your ears are not long or particularly pointy.′

Charter smirked. ‘I assure you there is a part of me that is unusually large for my frame.’

‘Like what?’ she quipped, ‘Your belly button?’

‘Possibly,’ he chuckled.

Her hand rose slightly, contemplating whether to find out if he had a crater in his abdomen or not, but she quickly dismissed the idea. She lifted her basket, bringing it to his attention. ‘Speaking of bellybuttons, the Other Queen gave me these,’ she said, offering a sweet smile. ‘They are for the belly.’

Fruit. They had discussed the safety of bewitched fruit extensively. The Misses said it was not to be trusted. ‘You haven’t been eating these, have you?’ he asked.

‘Should I not be?’ she retorted, lowering the basket.

‘We’ve been through this,’ he said gently, trying to coax her into understanding. ‘Her orchard, and everything it produces, smells foul and is thus impure.’

She perked, having an idea. Taking an apple from the basket, she held it up. ‘How does this smell?’

Charter took a harmless sniff to humour the girl. To his surprise, the apple smelled like an ordinary apple. Hesitantly, still wary of the Other Queen, he admitted it to her: ‘They smell fine, but you remember what the animals said.’

‘What if the animals were lying to us?’ countered Nelumbella. ‘They taste perfectly fine to me, and I have not turned evil or changed.’

’So you have been eating them,′ he said, frown returning.

‘Yes, and I like them,’ she said pleadingly.

It was too soon for them to be taking what the Other Queen gave. They had only been in her castle for maybe a couple hours. ‘Nel—’

‘No, listen,’ she interjected. ‘I still want to help the animals and the suit of armour, and I still think the Other Queen might possibly be a horrible witch; but I want to share this fruit with a fruit connoisseur, specifically you. I really cannot imagine that there is anything like this even in your forest. So please try one—for me.’

She observed that he remained distrustful of the witch. Giving him the last nudge she knew he needed, she begged: ‘One bite, Charter, please,’

‘One bite,’ he said, caving.

He took the apple and bit.

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