Fairytale Hit Squad 3.3 – The Past Is Another Country

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‘Not possible.’ I glower at the stranger, even though I know he can’t see my expression. ‘My father was many things, but he was no werewolf.’

‘Perhaps not when you knew him.’ An infuriatingly enigmatic smile spreads across his face. ‘But I know what I saw, Scarlett. Before the witch took my eyes.’

My fists are clenched; the red mist taken hold. And something more: something … else.

‘If what you say is true — if my father had the beast lurking within his heart — then …’

‘Indeed, Scarlett. Though do they not say a beast lurks within all of us?’

I spit my words through gritted teeth. ‘There are two ways to become a lycan. First, to be bitten by one — to recover from the wound, but infected by the poison already blackening your veins.’

He nods, as though hearing something he already knows. ‘And the second way?’

The red mist darkens to a deep shade of crimson, like sunset on a battlefield. ‘To be born of one.’

Another nod. ’Did you know your father’s parents?’

I shake my head pointlessly. ‘I did not. Father told me they were dead, killed by bandits when he was a child.’

‘And you had no cause to doubt his words?’

‘Of course not.’ Though, I have to admit, I’m beginning to now.  Claws of suspicion, piercing the very sense of who I am. I stare at the back of my hands, half-expecting thick fur to sprout from beneath the smooth white skin, talons to take the place of my manicured red fingernails.

‘If it is any consolation, I do not think Jacob knew of his condition himself. He was as surprised as I was when he began to change.’

‘This was before you went blind, I take it?’ My tone sounds sarcastic, even though I didn’t mean it to be.

‘Ah, yes.’ His forehead furrows. ‘That … affliction … was bestowed upon me later.’

‘So you saw my father change into a wolf?’

‘Not completely. The goblin chieftain slew him before his transformation was complete. Jacob did however buy me enough time to escape with my own life, and for that I will be forever grateful to him. And to his family.’

‘This letter,’ I say, stabbing down with my finger at the paper still lying on the table. ‘It speaks of my destiny, my birthright. What do you know of this?’

‘I know one thing, Scarlett. Your father was not the man you believed him to be, that much is clear. But there is more. Did you know who your father actually was?’

‘He was my father. A simple farmer.’

‘No. That, too, was a pretence.’

‘What do you know about him?’

‘That your father was much more than a lowly tiller of the land.’ The stranger’s voice drops low; I have to lean close to hear his words. ‘He was an exile.’

‘An exile? From where?’

‘From the land beyond the mountains, Scarlett.’

‘From the Kingdom?’ I’m not sure which of the discoveries I’m making about my father is the most preposterous: that he wasn’t killed when I was a child, that he was a werewolf, or that he was an exile from that damned narcoleptic tyrant’s land.

‘Not only that,’ continues the stranger, ‘but he was a man of some repute, prior to being banished. A Lead, in fact.’

‘A Hero? If I find you are lying to me then — blind or not — I shall make you suffer.’

‘I don’t doubt it, Scarlett. Which is why I am telling you nothing but the truth.’

‘So who was my father? Which so-called Hero was he?’

‘You have heard the legend of Snow White?’

I laugh. ‘Don’t tell me he was one of the dwarves…’

‘No.’ He smiles. ‘Jacob was a man of higher stature than that.’

‘So who was he then? Prince bloody Charming?’

‘That was one of the names he went by, yes.’

‘Oh, come on. You expect me to not only believe that my father was a Hero, but the most famous one in the whole Kingdom?’

‘I expect you only to hear my words, Scarlett. What you choose to believe is up to you.’

‘As far as my memory serves, Prince Charming was not a werewolf.’

‘Indeed he was not. My mast … Jacob managed to keep that a secret from everyone. Even your mother.’

‘She certainly seemed to have no clue.’ I recall her, before she died. She was such a quiet woman, accepting of her lot. Resigned to her fate. Even when the fever came, she didn’t complain, not once.

‘Scarlett.’ His tone changes once again. Kinder, more compassionate. ‘The woman you called mother …’

A swirl of red mist. ‘Don’t. Just don’t.’

‘I swore Jacob I would tell you the truth.’

‘Even if I don’t want to hear it?’

‘You need to hear it, Scarlett. Your mother —‘

‘Was Snow White. And my father was Prince Charming. And he was a werewolf.’ I get a weird sense of being outside myself, listening to my own words as if they’re being spoken by someone else. ‘Of course.’

‘It is true, Scarlett. After Snow White’s death, your father was exiled from the Kingdom. Carrying you strapped to his back. He tried, Scarlett. To make a new life for himself. And he truly loved the woman you knew as your mother.’

‘Then why did he leave us?’

‘He was tracked down by SB’s agents. She changed her mind, after exiling him. Decided that he should share Snow White’s fate after all. Fortunately, I managed to find him first and warn him.’

I close my eyes, tempted to give in to the reddening mist. ‘I can’t … ‘ I say. ‘I don’t …’

‘I would not expect you to believe me without proof, Scarlett.’

I pick up the letter and shake it in front of his face, creating a draught that he can at least feel even if he can’t see it. ‘You have proof? More than this?’

‘I do.’

‘Where is it then, this proof?’ The mist is receding; my voice is calmer. The patrons of the tavern have returned to their business, albeit with a thick veneer of nervousness.

‘I could not bring it with me, Scarlett. It is in a place far from here.’

‘You can show me this place?’

‘I can. Though it will be a long and perilous journey to where it lies.’

’It’s not like I have any reason to stay here now, is it? Not if what you’ve told me is true.’

‘There is another reason you may wish to go, Scarlett.’

‘And what’s that? You’re going to tell me my grandparents were fairies now, is that it?’

‘No. Your mother. Your real mother.’

‘What of her?’ All I know of Snow White are the legends. Of her bravery, her kindness. Her ability to see the best in people, no matter how black-hearted they proved to be. Even at the very end, when she forgave her executioner and blessed him moments before the fall of his axe. She sounded like an insufferable dullard to me. ‘She’s alive?’

The stranger’s eyes moisten. ‘Alas, no. Though her memory lives on, in the hopes and dreams of the downtrodden and the abused.’

‘So what about her?’

‘She left you something, Scarlett. A treasure beyond all imagining. Locked in a chest, deep in the forest, able to be opened only by you.’

‘And what is in this chest? The destiny my father spoke of in this letter?’

‘In a manner of speaking, yes.’ He leans back, draws up his hood once more.

‘Tell me. Now.’

‘Your mother left you her crown, Scarlett. Before she was captured, she made me swear that when you came of age, I would find you and return you to the Kingdom.’

‘To do what? Live under the yoke of SB’s rule? No thank you.’

‘No, Scarlett. To take the crown. To take your rightful place.’ He pauses, lighting his pipe from the guttering candle between us.

‘Which is?’

‘Atop SB’s throne, where your mother should have taken her rightful place. Your destiny, Scarlett, is to become Queen of the Kingdom.’

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