The King’s Mutt XIV

Subtitled: Maybe Granny Isn’t Telling Tall Tales

Once again, I introduce a character who is surprisingly central to the plot, and I managed to completely not know it until now. Well, poop. I guess that’s what revisions are for, am I right? She’s so whacky, I love her to pieces. I also love how she is  completely unashamed of her past in all its blazing (and scandalous) glory. More people should wear their past on their sleeves. I mean, you can’t change it, so why deny it?

Anyway, this is another one of Belle’s little escapes. While writing this, I had in the back of my mind the tale of Little Red Riding Hood being read to me at bedtime. Such fond memories. If Belle hadn’t already killed the wolf, he’d be here. Except, Grandma’s two falcons would probably have poked his eyes out and run him off the cliff by the time Belle arrived anyway.

According to Book In A Month, I’m a little past the time during which my protagonist should have had a tiny victory to keep her from getting discouraged. I can’t quite tell, since I am way too close to the tale now to be analytical, but I think that she has started to enjoy herself and started to enjoy some of the challenges. It has kindled a fire within her that before now had been smoldering. I don’t know that I would call her a reluctant hero, though that breed of protagonist is very popular today. When it comes down to answering the question, Why? Why would you do this to yourself?, her answer is not logical and is not a force of circumstance. It’s because somehow, it is right, and she knows this is her place….though she might not understand how.

Allow me to extricate myself from my musings. Here is Part XIV, marking the 3/4 line.

Bon Apetit!

Your Dearest Nicolette.

At the mouth of the river was a spring nestled amongst briars in a valley that could only be reached by crossing over the river twice, walking over a rickety bridge across a deep gulley, and navigating through a bog. In a cottage perched on top of a rockface in this valley was a strange and wise woman who devoted her time to making cures for a variety of ailments. While I knew some of the more general poultices, my time with her had been cut short by the whims of a princess.

Hunter’s black horse did not like me taking him out on another ride so soon after going home, but he was the strongest and the quickest, even in his tired state. I left him tied to the hitching post at the base of the trail going up the rock, and climbed up to the top with a stitch in my side. I rapped on the cottage door, hoping that the foot of snow would not slide off the roof and onto me.

“Grandmother! It’s me!”

The door creaked open, and the hunched-over woman did not offer me inside. “What is it?”

Her hair had been darker in her youth, her skin still had the tanned remnants of her glory days. Never before had I noticed that she was not blonde-haired; even her eyes were brown, but for a light blue haze beginning to cover her left eye. It was no wonder she had shut her door to me once I had begun my time as a maidservant, though I had not understood why at the time.

“What was the last news you heard from the castle?”

She squinted at me, an unruly salted curl springing into her face, having come loose from her embroidery bonnet. “The King was dead, an’ his Queen, too, and most of their half-blooded children. Then the new King moved in with his people, an’ they sorted out these folks into a new life. I’m surprised to see you here, letting in the cold.”

“The King’s people have got the Fever. Someone was selling used Fever Blankets as handkerchiefs.”

She snorted, the wart on her nose more profound than ever. “That would do it.”

“I…I came to see what you had to help them.”

The lines fell away and formed loose bags about her face, and Grandmother opened the door more. “Come in before you get something worse.”

I did, more than surprised when she motioned I should sit in the spare chair by the fire. She grabbed a pot off the arm that extended over the fire, pouring a light green tea into an earthenware bowl. “Drink. You’ll catch your death running around through the outdoors.”

As I blew over the tea and took ginger sips of the bitter, overly brewed liquid, she spoke.

“Not much of a cure for the Fever besides keeping them comfortable, feeding them salted meat broth, and serving hot drinks.”

I raised my eyebrows. She could do better than that. Even I could do better than that.

“…nevertheless, I can give you some bundles. One is to make the broth with, one is to brew drink.” Grandmother leaned forward, motioning toward my hound. “I also heard that you were going to start a new breed of hound. A symbol of one nation, once divided, now united. And I also heard that you have an admirer.”

I rolled my eyes. “The prince was interested in my hound, and he’s dead now anyway.”

Grandmother tsked at me. “I was not speaking about him, though I’m impressed someone finally killed the little supplanter.”

I felt like Grandmother had a better grasp on the situation than I did. I should have asked about Bart, but my mouth ran ahead of my brain. “Then, who are you…?”

“It’s probably nothing, Child. No sense in complicating your life further.”

“I see.”

The clack of a lid rattling against her boiling cauldron filled the silence.

I wondered if she remembered that I was still here.

“Why are you helping me?”

Her fingers paused as she gathered dried herb bundles hung from racks secured into the walls of her home. “Because you are Liaison, the hope of our country.”

I ran my hands through my hair, and got all of four inches past my scalp before the tangles stopped my fingers; I put my face in my palms instead. “I’m not doing any good. Every time I think I’m getting something accomplished, someone tries to kill me, or I get an ancient horse, or someone tries to murder the whole stinking castle with handkerchiefs.”

Grandmother patted my knee. “That is how you know you are doing a good job, dear.”

I gaped at her. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Nonsense. You’ve planned the Spring Festival and worked in the Great Hunt as one of the feature events. The entire countryside is assembling their finest white horses to be fitted with the prize bullhorn, and anyone with a confusion issue now has a person they can address their woes to. You’re a tiny slice of celebrity. And what was that about an ancient horse? That war stud you rode in on is quite the keeper.”

“It’s Hunter’s. I was given a nag to ford the river on.”

Grandmother gave me a two-toothed grin and a poke in the shoulder. “So it is true, then!”

What is true?”

“Nothing, dear, nothing. All in good time. After I’ve sent off a my message falcon to tell my friends all the news you have brought me.”

“You have a falcon.”

“Of course I do, though I retired Rumpelstiltskin; he’s upstairs in the loft if you would like to say hello before you go. The new bird is out hunting, I suspect. She’s very energetic, and I’ve finally let her go out on her own. My old bones can’t keep up with these young things too well.”

I had never thought it odd that Grandmother had a falcon; I thought that certainly, every town had a falconeering grandmother hiding in a reclusive cottage. Now that I had served in the castle, I knew that the falcons they had used were not the same ones Grandmother had…but the new King I had seen out hunting with young falcons exactly like hers. Why hadn’t I seen it before?

“You were from King Phinneus’ royal court.”

She hacked, coughed, and spat onto the dirt floor. “Not his, but his Great-grandpappy’s. My sister and I, we never got along. She was betrothed to the prince and made sure everybody treated her like the queen even before she knew what marriage meant. I don’t think she ever understood it, actually. But, during one of the battles, a handsome prince kicked down our door. Aye, he was a handsome thing, he was, flaxen hair down his back, muscles bulging from his chest, straight teeth, slender nose, brilliant blue eyes! And my sister fainted at the sight o’ him, but not I! ‘Take me to your horse’, I said, and that he did! Onto a yellow sinewy stallion with hair like sunshine and hooves like thunder. Off we went into the setting sun, and that night and several nights after I let him ravage me with that body of his! Then he settled me into a cottage at the tip of a cliff, and said he would be back with a deer skinned from hunting.”

The light behind her eyes dimmed and she suppressed a sigh. “I’m still waiting. And save your sympathy, Child, for I will continue to wait. Our love is strong and true, and, one day, he will return to me.”

She had told me that story before, but I’d never heard it. I’d never thought it was real. My ears buzzed as another thought occurred to me. “I’m…I’m blood relative to King Phinneus.”

A two-toothed smile gleamed in the firelight. “Aye, and who else do you think you’re related to, my little Liaison?”

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