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Beyond Bed Time

Dirus and Nelumbella rushed through the woods to the castle. Pushing past the doors to the former ballroom, they found the talking animals sitting in a circle around Charter, waiting for their arrival. On the side she had been cut off from, Charter laid on the ground, unmoving, and with fruit rolled off to the side. Dirus took Nelumbella to him, and she stumbled off her wolf, scooting to Charter’s side. The Misses backed away, giving her space, silently watching. ‘Oh, Charter. I am so sorry,’ said Nelumbella, eyes wet. ‘I should have listened to you.’ Pressing her ear onto his chest, she listened for a heartbeat. She heard thumping, but he remained unmoving.

Resting on his belly, Dirus extended an arm over Charter’s body, and with his large wet tongue, he licked Charter’s face repetitively. Nelumbella giggled through her tears. ‘He is going to wake up in slobber if you keep doing that.’ With her sleeve, Nelumbella wiped off the residue of Dirus’ licking. Dirus rose as she did so and pushed her onto Charter. Nelumbella toppled onto Charter, and the wolf licked Charter again. Nelumbella looked at Dirus questioningly. ‘Are you suggesting I should do that?’ she asked, pushing herself upright. Dirus barked. ‘You are turning into Linden, aren’t you?’ Dirus whimpered and licked Charter. With her dry sleeve, Nelumbella wiped Charter’s cheek once more. Dirus hung his tongue out threateningly. ‘All right, but I am not licking him.’

Leaning down and closing her eyes, Nelumbella pressed her lips onto Charter’s cheek. She opened her eyes, seeking for a reaction from him, but he continued to sleep. She tried again on his forehead, his nose, and his other cheek. Yet, there was no reaction. From behind, the Misses encouragingly said to try his lips. Dirus hung his tongue out, ready to do the task if she did not. Feeling the pressure, Nelumbella closed her eyes and puckered her lips against his.

Charter made a sound both Dirus and Nelumbella recognized as a signal he was awake. During their travels, he made it every morning, but he still did not move. Nelumbella frowned and tried again, kissing him more firmly. His eyes remained closed. Dirus took another route. The large wolf slammed his paws against Charter’s abdomen.

Coughing from the weight on his stomach, Charter’s eyes shot wide open. He sat up and growled at Dirus, baring his teeth. Gaping, Nelumbella hit Charter. Distracted by the pain Dirus caused first, Charter remained unfazed by her swat. Instead of wincing, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her in, kissing her deeply. Miss Bird gloated. She recognized lovebirds when she saw them. Dirus on the other hand, was not very pleased, having wanted to only wake him. The Other Queen’s castle was not the ideal place to be distracted by physical displays of affection. The wolf pawed at Charter, growling lowly, and broke the couple apart. ‘Wake me up like that from now on,’ murmured Charter, voice rough with sleep. He glared at Dirus accusingly and added, ‘—without the wolf.’

Nelumbella nodded blankly and touched her mouth. ‘It poisoned you,’ she said, pointing to the fruit on the floor.

Charter creased his brow and cleared his throat, attempting to sound like his usual self. ‘You gave it to me.’

Doe-eyed, Nelumbella shook her head. ‘I did not—it was the Other Queen, I think. I was hunting.’

‘What did I miss?’ he asked, taking in her appearance. ‘What happened to your feet?’ His expression was a mixture of disappointment and concern. He had warned her. They had all warned her.

‘Nothing that I am proud of,’ she admitted, ducking her head. ‘I did something I should not have done.’

Unfolding a leg she had bent behind, he took a foot in his hands. ‘Can you move?’ he asked, experimentally touching the foot.

Nelumbella cringed. ‘Not very well,’ she said. He gently attempted to remove the shoe. ‘I tried taking them off already.’ The shoes were stuck.

‘We will figure something out,’ he said, setting her foot down.

‘I interrogated a bush,’ Nelumbella blurted. ‘It gave us a couple answers about the Other Queen and her first heart.’

Charter smiled. ‘That’s something to be proud of.’

‘I am not proud of how I got there,’ she said.

A soft thump echoed through the room. The couple turned to see Miss Pig against the wall, weakly trying to stand. Her sisters cried and dispersed in fear, disappearing from sight. By where the animals had been, the Other Queen stood. Dirus took a defensive stance and growled at the woman. ‘Welcome home,’ said the Other Queen, gleefully. ‘I have found dinner, but I have lost the vermin. I need better pest control in my castle.’ She smiled. ‘It is so good you are here, dear Princess. I need live decoration. A pretty bird is fluttering around my home, and I hope you might be able to catch her for me. Does your wolf like to eat mice or pigs?’

‘I am not in the animal catching business anymore,’ Nelumbella replied.

‘Yes, a little birdie told me,’ said the Other Queen, scowling. ‘That is only metaphorically speaking, of course. Birds are to be caged and killed, a task that you failed at completing. Now what am I supposed to do with a cripple?’

‘I am sorry,’ said Nelumbella, nervously quivering.

Charter entwined a hand in hers. ‘Calm down,’ he whispered into her ear. ‘What did the bush say about her first heart?’

‘Oh, young love,’ scoffed the Other Queen, ‘How disgusting.’

‘What is disgusting about young love?’ snapped Nelumbella.

‘It is foolish,’ said the Other Queen. ‘Familial love is disgusting too.’ She stalked to the fallen pig and grabbed it by the hind legs.

Dirus made a low sound to Charter. Charter nodded and swept Nelumbella into his arms and made for the door. The wolf tackled the witch, pushing her down, and clawed at her flesh. Whimpering, Miss Pig toppled out of the witch’s grasp. The Other Queen flung the wolf off with a burst of light. Heaving, the Other Queen rose from the ground. Her skin was cracked. She shut the doors before Charter and Nelumbella could escape. No longer did the Other Queen present herself with poise. She was mad.

The wall that had grown during the dance retracted, revealing the Other Queen’s dancing suit of armour. ‘I do not think either of you are worth eating. Besides, I already have a ham for the holidays,’ she said.

The dancing suit of armour drew its sword and marched towards the pair. ‘We’re going to be okay,’ he told her, keeping distance. Dirus shook his fur, and before the armour could reach the two, he pounced onto the armour, grabbing the hilt of the sword with his teeth, flinging it to the side. The suit of armour flipped the wolf over and retrieved the sword.

‘Come here, little ham,’ cooed the Other Queen, grabbing Miss Pig by her curled tail. ‘We are finally going to the kitchen.’ Miss Pig squirmed and oinked. From above, Miss Bird swept in and pecked the Other Queen, causing her to drop the pig and further damaging the Other Queen’s shell like skin, puncturing the clay flesh with minute holes. While the Other Queen attempted to thwart the bird, Miss Mouse crawled up her dress and nibbled.

‘Put me down,’ said Nelumbella, seeing that Charter wanted to go to Miss Pig. ‘I am bigger than her. She needs you more.’

‘Are you sure?’ he asked, hesitantly.

Nelumbella nodded. ‘I can do this,’ she said. ‘I know I can, and I know what I have to do. Let me handle this.’ He lowered her onto the floor and ran to Miss Pig. If they were truly so alike, what worked on her might work on the Other Queen.

The door thumped, cracking slightly. Dirus fell onto his back. The suit of armour pinned the wolf to the ground, waiting for further instruction from the Other Queen. ‘Splendid,’ said the Other Queen. ‘Would I rather have wolf for dinner or a new winter coat?’ She flung Miss Bird and Miss Mouse off. ‘I can have both.’

As Charter gathered the animals, inspecting them for concerning injuries, Nelumbella crawled to the fallen fruit and the brick with her name. She threw the fruit at the Other Queen, hitting the witch at the back of her head. The door continued to thump. The Other Queen’s eyes shot to Nelumbella, narrowing. ‘Your aim is superb. How did you manage not to catch my dinner?’

‘They manoeuvre better than you do,’ Nelumbella retorted, throwing the brick, snapping the Other Queen’s nose off as a result.

The door swung open, and the rusted hollow knight stood at the entrance. The youngest sister stalked over to the shining armour that held the wolf, drew her sword, and attacked. Freed, Dirus turned his attention to the Other Queen, but Nelumbella ordered him to stay back.

As the suits of armour fought, the Other Queen strode to Nelumbella, leaving a trail of crumbling flesh. ‘I remember when you were a newborn. You were the same as you are now—needing a man to carry you in his arms.’

Nelumbella scooted back. ‘You knew me back then?’

‘Of course I did,’ said the Other Queen.

‘How?’ asked Nelumbella, knitting her brows.

‘We are family.’

‘You must be mistaken,’ said Nelumbella. ‘If you were family, I would have heard about you.’ She even knew she had a cousin named Ilium, to whom, she was barely related. Her uncle told her everything.

‘They were mine first!’ snapped the Other Queen. The castle shook.

Iron clashed, and Nelumbella thought of the bush’s words. ‘What do you have against the talking animals?’

‘I told you—they slander my name,’ said the Other Queen.

‘What did you do to make them slander your name?’ asked Nelumbella, glancing over the Other Queen to see the youngest sister faring well. The castle shook further, much stronger than before, quaking throughout. Stone bricks fell from the ceiling. The Other Queen ignored her question and watched the girl attempt to evade the bricks. Miss Bird took off, dodging the bricks aerially, while Miss Pig and Miss Mouse allowed Charter to carry them to safety; and large as he was, Dirus was lithe and able to remain unharmed. However, none was able to reach Nelumbella, and she shrieked as she tried to evade the bricks. The Other Queen laughed, and the castle stilled. Miss Bird retreated to Charter.

Nelumbella’s eyes darted to the fallen bricks around her. ‘Why do you live in a castle of lost names?’ She asked. She looked to Charter, who inspected Miss Pig’s little legs while Miss Mouse and Miss Bird perched on his shoulders. ‘Did you lose your name?’

‘Silence,’ exclaimed the Other Queen. ‘You ask too many questions.’

‘You lost your name. That is why you took their names and why you collect names. You are hoping you will find yours,’ said Nelumbella. Narrowing her eyes, she spat, ‘Pathetic.’

The Other Queen screeched. ‘I will roast you for dinner!’

‘I thought I was not worth eating,’ countered Nelumbella. ‘Besides, do you not want to turn me into an animal first?’

‘No,’ said the Other Queen. ‘You look just like them—like him. I will take great pleasure in eating you as you are. You will be a feast to remember.’

’Who is him?′ asked Nelumbella, taken aback.

He does not deserve a name,′ the Other Queen seethed.

The rusted knight speared her sword through the breastplate of the shining armour and kicked it to the floor. With a foot on the shining armour and a hand on the skewer, the rusted suit bent over and tore each part off, scattering the pieces. The shining armour’s helm and limbs clattered against the stone ground.

Cackling, the Other Queen summoned another two suits into the room, one with a mace and one with a sword. ‘Enjoy the show,’ she said. Dirus charged forward, refusing to standby, mauling the one with the mace while the rusted suit of armour took on the other.

Knowing she was running out of time, Nelumbella panicked and attempted to provoke the Other Queen further. ’You cannot remember your name. I bet your subjects do not even know your name. They call you the Other Queen. They do not even think you are the Queen. You are a fraud who needs to take the identity of others to make up for the one you lack. I bet your family does not even know your name.′

The rusting suit of armour stumbled and glanced at Nelumbella, but the suit of armour dismissed her thoughts and focused on the duel.

The Other Queen went rigid as a crack cut through her face. Nelumbella went on: ‘I bet if you found your name, you would not even know it was yours. If I lose my name, I can ask anyone in Tarsus; and every Tarsusian knows it. I bet you could not do that in Kmeria.’ Nelumbella picked up a nearby brick. ‘Look, a name. Maybe it is yours.’ She chucked the brick at the Other Queen’s heart.

The Other Queen cried as the brick forced a beat from her first heart. Rumbling from its core, the castle quaked, and the chandelier fell, crashing into pieces. An upper portion of the Other Queen’s face crumbled apart, revealing a blood shot eye and disfigured skin. A voice escaped the Other Queen, one much softer than the one Nelumbella knew. ‘My husband—I never heard him say my name. I suppose it was too long for him. He probably never knew it. This boy, you have never told him your name, but he knows it—he says it—so well.’

‘You do know who you are,’ Nelumbella said gently. ‘You are not lost.’

‘She is dead,’ said the Other Queen, tone bitter again. ‘We should both be alone.’ She turned her attention to Charter and levitating him off the ground so that he dropped Miss Pig and Miss Mouse. Miss Bird tugged on his sleeve with her beak, trying to pull him down but to no avail.

‘Nelumbella,’ he said, egging the Other Queen on.

‘Stop it!’ Nelumbella cried, wanting him to hold his tongue and the Other Queen to let him go.

‘He says it so well,’ said the Other Queen. She smirked. ‘Tell me, Princess. What is my name? Tell me who she is. You think you can, do you not?’

‘I do not know,’ yelled Nelumbella. The rusted armour and Dirus were barely able to hold themselves against the bewitched suits.

‘Not even my sisters knew my name,’ said the Other Queen. She flung Charter to the floor. ‘It is not fair.’

Nelumbella let out a breath of relief. He appeared to be fine for the most part and was able to sit up. The little animals flocked to him. The Other Queen prepared to strike again, raising the chandelier off the ground. Nelumbella examined the scene before her. She lingered on the sisters and processed what the Other Queen said. Time slowed, and she understood the rusted armour’s sour behaviour. ‘That is why you hate them,’ said Nelumbella.

The Other Queen froze and dropped the chandelier where it had initially fell, breaking it further. ‘No one knows it, but I am Queen,’ she wept. ′I do not even know my name. Tell me my name.′ The Other Queen screamed. Another portion of her face fell off. The castle began crumbling once more, its structure shaking and collapsing like the Other Queen’s appearance. Her hive of red hair disintegrated into dust, trickling off her scalp. ‘If only you knew my name,’ she continued to cry. ‘If only they knew my name.’

Observing that it was primarily the centre of the ceiling collapsing, Nelumbella crawled to the nearest wall, pushed her back against it, and covered her head with her arms. She needed a name, but she did not know which one to give. The Other Queen had claimed to be family, but from what she recalled during the balls in Tarsus, people did not usually include extremely distant cousins like Ilium. However, considering what Tarsus thought was normal, her Uncle Brevis was weird.

He had a never-ending supply of stories. Most people focused on one or two, but with him, it was always a new adventure. Even with the only story he did retell, he changed the ending every time. She recalled the story of the embittered princess—the story in which the characters who now seemed too familiar. With the remnants of the castle raining down around here, the truth suddenly came to her with a jolt. She realized that the prince was not just any prince. ‘Your name is Elmerrillia,’ said Nelumbella. ‘You are the princess in the stories. You were Uncle Brevis’ wife.′

The castle stilled, and so did the shining suits of armour. The sisters, Dirus, and Charter, stared at the women. ‘You know my name,’ murmured the Other Queen. ‘How do you know my name?’

‘My uncle told me,’ answered Nelumbella, grinning.

‘He knows my name,’ the Other Queen said in disbelief.

‘Of course he knows your name,’ said Nelumbella. ‘He might not have been a very good one, but he was your husband. Every night when I was little girl, he told me stories. He told this one story about a princess named Elmerrillia. She had a husband who did not love her—who did not know how to love her. In his stories, he does it over. Every time he told it to me, there was a different ending. He stops the marriage from happening, and she finds someone who loves her the way she deserves. Sometimes, the prince stays and tries to love her—and he does. They become a family.’

‘Which one is the true ending?’ asked the Other Queen.

Nelumbella knew the answer too easily. ‘The one in which your heart breaks. The one where she curses the ones he loves.’ Nelumbella waited before continuing, giving space for the Other Queen to speak, but the woman remained silent. She took a deep breath. ‘You did this to me, didn’t you? You gave me the feet I have, but I forgive you. We all do wrong.’

A profound silence had settled on the castle.. Sensing that it was safe, Miss Worm crawled out from a crack in the wall to observe closely. A screech came from within the Other Queen, but it did not escape from her mouth. She fell to the ground, convulsing until she stilled. The disfigured face beneath the Other Queen’s shell shrunk, pruning until they saw emptiness within the gaps. Her chest grumbled.

Through the wide hole on the upper half of her face, a naked and shrivelled green hag crawled out. Her hair was sparse and wiry, her limbs were stumps, her body resembled a heart of sorts, her nose was reduced to slits, and her red eyes bulged. She was smaller than Miss Pig and larger than Miss Mouse, but without any of the charm of either animal. ‘Look at what you’ve done to me! Look at what you have done to my vessel! You have ruined us both! I hate you! I hate all of you!’ she screeched, weakly slithering across the ground.

As it shouted curses, the rusted suit of armour wasted no time and stepped forward, cornering the green thing. It shrieked for mercy. The suit of armour showed none and plunged her sword into the green prune, splitting it in half, through the skull and down its body. Silver blood gushed out, evaporated, and shrivelled the body further. All that remained were two blackened pieces more minute than a chestnut.

In a poof, Miss Bird turned into a woman and fell from where she hovered. A full red ball gown cushioned her fall. Her hair was as styled as elegantly as it was when she was last human. Miss Worm grew limbs and turned into a bookish bespectacled woman. Dazed, she felt for her glasses and relished in being more than light sensitive. Beside Charter, Miss Mouse transformed into a mousey woman. Suddenly taking up more space, she pushed him over. Then, Miss Pig who had found herself in his arms again, expanded into the plump heavy woman she once was, squishing him. He coughed as she sat on him. Her cheeks were rosy with embarrassment as she apologetically removed herself.

Charter smoothed his clothes and went to Nelumbella. Kneeling, he removed the slippers. She did not stop him, but her feet were more disfigured than before. ‘Good news,’ he said, picking her up. ’You are not the only person who has tried to kill me, and the animals are no longer animals.′ She smiled and slapped his arm. ‘That’s abuse,’ he said, feigning pain.

Nelumbella frowned as he carried her to Dirus. ‘That did not hurt.’

‘If I was human, it would have. You’re lucky my genetics make me durable,’ he said, seating her on the wolf. ‘I’m going to check on the Misses.’ He pecked the tip of her nose and went to Miss Worm, who was trying to make sense of the senses that had returned.

Dirus carried Nelumbella to the rusted suit of armour, which sat by the lifeless shell of the Other Queen, now reduced to fragments of the woman she once was. Sensing Nelumbella’s presence, the armour turned. Her visor was lifted, and Nelumbella saw a face like the Other Queen’s, except her eyes were not flat, sparkling instead. ‘What is going to happen to Kmeria now?’ asked Nelumbella.

‘I do not know,’ admitted the woman. ‘As reclusive and twisted as she was, she was their leader. Although, our eldest sister did name me her successor before she passed.’ She glanced to her sisters. They returned the look and smiled, seeing that she was no longer an empty suit of armour. ‘I hope we will do this together.’

The sun had yet to set, and they were in the Other Queen’s orchard. The youngest sister was back to her merry self. Having removed her suit of armour, she was dressed in clothes appropriate for a worker, which she had found in what had been her bedroom. The youngest sister had challenged Charter to a contest of chopping trees and wanted to dress properly for the game. They were working exceptionally fast, and he was possibly enjoying himself too much. As the source of the Other Queen’s magic had been vanquished, the trees were no longer magical, and thus not crying in agony. The trees were being removed as a precaution because of the foul stench that remained, to which elves were sensitive, resulting in Charter’s amusement.

Feet bandaged, Nelumbella rode on Dirus and watched in envy as she served as referee. She wanted to participate. They had already cleared a third of the orchard. She wanted to ask if she could cut one down, but she knew none of them would agree. Dirus had told Charter about the bush, and he and the sisters had forbidden her from any more strenuous activities.

A distance from the falling trees, the elder sisters had taken out an old set of garden chairs. The sisters had explored the castle after the defeat of the Other Queen and found many of their old possessions dusted over but not removed. They took what they wanted to use for the day and decided that refurbishing the castle could wait. The sisters wanted to enjoy the show, placing bets on who would be the winner.

Consumed by the contest, the group did not notice the giant, red, floating tomato. Landing just outside of the orchard, the bubble burst as it touched the earth. A young blond man stepped out. ‘I have come to save you, Princess!’ he exclaimed.

Ducking, Nelumbella attempted to remain unseen, but as she was high on her wolf, Umbilicus spotted her easily and walked in their direction. Seeing that her attempts were futile, Nelumbella called out, ‘I do not need to be saved!’

He did not stop, shrinking the space between them as he yelled back comments regarding the dangers of mutts. Brevis was not present to stop him.

‘Who is that?’ asked Charter. Dirus went to his side and growled. Charter dropped his axe, for which Nelumbella was thankful. He lifted her off Dirus, sat her on the ground, and met Umbilicus half way with the wolf. She yelled for them to stop, but neither party listened to her.

Occupied by the confrontation, no one noticed the fluffy white cloud that landed, or the man, woman, and wolf that stood on it.

Initially, as Brevis stepped off, he saw the youngest sister who held an axe. He smiled and waved to her. He caught her eye, but she did not return the gesture. With her axe, she pointed in the direction where everyone was staring. He saw Umbilicus pinned down by Dirus. Charter did not appear as friendly as he usually did either. In that moment, he appeared to take after his father.

Brevis thought that if Dirus kept his paw on Umbilicus’ abdomen any longer, the boy would have a crater for a belly button. He turned to Nelumbella, who sat surrounded by tree stumps, panic written in her demeanour.

‘Go sort them out,’ said Lily, standing by his side. ‘I will speak to her.’ Brevis nodded and strode to the misbehaving boys. Dira ran ahead, tackling her son off the blond man.

Lily walked into the clearing of stumps and sat next to Nelumbella, who was watching her uncle attempt to fix the mess. ‘Hello, child,’ she said, startling the girl.

‘You are the Good Witch,’ gasped Nelumbella, her senses striving to process the fable-like woman.

‘I am,’ said Lily, ‘and you are Nelumbella.’

Sensing the genuinely kind aura the Good Witch emitted, Nelumbella was as enamoured as every person who met her. ‘I thought you were gone,’ she said with quiet awe.

‘Your uncle found me,’ explained the Good Witch, smiling.

Pointing to the men and wolves, who still appeared to be in the middle of a dispute, which was at least thankfully no longer physical, Nelumbella asked, ‘Can you make them good?’

‘Do not worry,’ said Lily. ‘They will figure it out themselves. It already is better than before, is it not?’

Nelumbella nodded. The men were standing civilly, for the most part, and Dira was scolding her son.

‘May I?’ asked Lily, gesturing to Nelumbella’s feet.

‘Yes, of course,’ said Nelumbella, turning on the stump and hurriedly presenting her feet.

‘How did this happen?’ inquired Lily, unwrapping Nelumbella’s bandages. Nelumbella held her tongue, unsure if she should say. ‘Never mind that,’ said Lily, sensing her hesitance. ‘It is not important. What is important is fixing what has happened. I assume you want to be walking.’

‘You can fix me?’ Nelumbella inquired eagerly.

‘I can and I will,’ said Lily. ’Good magic is my specialty.′ The girl beamed. ‘But before we start, your uncle told me that you did not like your feet.’

Nelumbella’ brows creased, inspecting her broken, once berry-like toes. ‘They are awfully big.’

‘I would not say awfully,’ said Lily, ‘Maybe by human standards, but I bet you that elf-giant has seen larger.’

Nelumbella grinned. ‘Yes, he says he has.’

‘Big feet are strong too’ said the Good Witch.

Nelumbella nodded. Her feet did have benefits.

‘I need to know if you want me to shrink what you have,’ said Lily.

‘You can do that?’ asked Nelumbella.

‘Yes, I will give you small feet if you want,’ said Lily.

Nelumbella hugged the Good Witch. ‘Thank you so much.’

‘I have not done anything yet,’ Lily chuckled.

‘That does not mean you do not deserve a hug,’ Nelumbella said sheepishly.

‘You have yet to tell me what you want,’ Lily noted.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Nelumbella. ‘I do not need them to be smaller. I just want my feet back. Besides, according to Uncle Brevis, not all nations have a monarchy. Tarsus does not have to have me if they do not want me. I have people of my own, people who like me as I am.’

‘Good,’ said Lily. ‘Taking away and reassembling flesh is far more difficult than only reassembling. You will be up and running in no time.’ Lily further examined Nelumbella’s feet, deciphering what needed to be done. ‘Whoever cursed you should have sung a better song,’ she mumbled, shaking her head. ‘Specificity is very important.’

‘You are specific?’ asked Nelumbella.

‘I am,’ said Lily. ‘I have to be if I want to do good work.’ With both her hands, she covered as much of Nelumbella’s left foot as she could and emitted an indigo glow from her palms, causing a tingling sensation. She moved her hand to the right, repeating the process. Noticing the men dispersing and chatting in a friendly manner with one another, the Good Witch nodded in the direction of the once bickering party. ‘What did I tell you?’

The youngest sister, Umbilicus, and her uncle were picking out axes by a shed near the orchard; and not too far away, in an area where plenty of trees remained, Charter was patiently waiting with the wolves. ‘They are starting without me,’ said Nelumbella, disheartened. With more people playing, not a tree would be left for her.

Lily smiled. ‘You want to cut down trees?’

‘Yes, it looks so fun,’ said Nelumbella. ‘They made a game of it, but I was not allowed to play because of my injury.’

‘Well, in a few moments you will be able to,’ assured Lily.

The trio joined Charter in the orchard. The bespectacled sister took Nelumbella’s place as referee, and they began hacking at the trees. Soon, the first tree fell, and their audience cheered. Nelumbella brooded but patiently waited for the Good Witch to finish.

‘How does that feel?’ asked Lily, lifting her hands. ‘Can you feel all your toes?’

Wiggling her toes, Nelumbella nodded and stood. Lily offered support, but the aid was unneeded as Nelumbella was able to stand and walk without trouble. Her feet were better than ever. Nelumbella embraced the Good Witch again, grinning from ear to ear. ‘You are magical in the best ways, Auntie Lily.’

‘Enjoy your feet,’ said Lily, surprised.

Thanking the Good Witch once more, Nelumbella ran off to participate in the game. Charter argued, claiming it was too soon. Her uncle and the axe-wielding sister were hesitant to allow Nelumbella to play. To prove herself, Nelumbella jumped, demonstrating her feet’s strength. Their concerns quickly dissipated, and Charter handed her his axe without further question. Not missing a beat, Nelumbella swung, finishing the tree he had started.

Lily sat with the sisters who were watching. The sun was beginning to disappear into the horizon, but the group was insistent on removing the poison from the land. As the day chilled to night, The Good Witch knew that all would be good.

The End

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