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September 2014

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Happily Maybe After Part VI

It took me to the day a month longer than planned and then a bit more to type it up - so far too late for your birthday, but I at least still dedicated it to you, sis xD Hope you and everyone else, who reads it, have fun.

Here's to the sixth part of:

~ There are two kinds of dwarves ~

“Once upon a time – though it might have been yesterday, I can’t quite remember-“
“That is not how you do it,” Bran interrupted rudely.
“Hush, I’m trying to tell a story here.” Luminous green eyes glared at him for a moment. “Where was I? Oh, right. It might have been yesterday, I really don’t remember.”
“There was a strong and handsome hero – two metres tall and built like a Greek god.”
“If only that were true.”
“He travelled the world with two companions: his beautiful fiancée, a woman of arresting beauty-“
“Not my fiancée, not even a woman!”
“Shut up, will you!” Another flashing green glare. “Um… what was I saying? Ah, wait, I know: of such arresting beauty, even the moon and all the stars envied her. And his second companion: none other than the wisest, most powerful, cleverest, the most cunning-“
“Oh, please.”
“- fairy in the world. Together they went through many trials, never once doubting their love and loyalty for one another.” Bran stifled a laugh – not successfully. “They wrestled with goblins, fought evil witches and dragons, accomplished the most impossible tasks and solved unsolvable mysteries.”
“Excuse me, but when did you ever do anything? And ‘solved unsolvable mysteries’? This is no exaggeration anymore, this is nigh fantastical.”
“Listen carefully, for I speak nothing but the truth.”
“Pfft, that’s one hell of a truth, that is.”
“And this is the story of how they brought justice to one who had set out to destroy true love. A story of valour and love and honour…”

It was almost tea time, when they arrived at Cinderella’s castle. The Queen, herself, had invited them to the Midsummer Feast. They had been granted that honour thanks to Finn’s mother, who would be attending the celebrations as she did every year. Cinderella was her closest friend after all. It made Bran unbearably nervous to meet the prince’s mother, even more than being invited to a party by a queen. Would she like him? Would she deem him unworthy of her son? No, wait a moment, that might actually be to his advantage. Otherwise, who knew, but she might force him to marry her son. Why was it that he was the only person in the whole wide world – or so it seemed – who saw the flaw in their engagement? Yes, Finn was the youngest of five brothers, he was never going to inherit the throne, nor did he have the duty to produce an heir. But had anyone ever thought of asking him? He had always imagined his bride to be a pretty, petite, gentle girl, soft spoken and a little shy perhaps. And not a boisterous, arrogant, inconsiderate drag-queen. There was so much wrong about that wannabe bride-to-be that the question of his gender seemed at times like a small or even irrelevant issue – sometimes, on rare occasion, mind you, at all other times it was a huge issue (for Bran).
What was he supposed to do if Finn’s mother really insisted on the two of them getting married? Bran felt sick. Despite Finn’s overbearing personality and the cross dressing, he had come to highly value the prince’s friendship. And yes, even Pax. The pixie seemed at least able to remember him now, though not his name, and sometimes she thought of him as her personal slave, or lackey, or minion – whatever came in handy at the time. Even of Pax’s antics he’d grown fond of. He didn’t want to hurt either of them. But he wasn’t going to marry Finn! Ever! No way! Nope!
“Oi, Bechamel,” Pax called from her perch on Finn’s shoulder, “what’s wrong? You don’t look so peachy.”
“I’m fine.”
“No, Pax is right.” Finn regarded him with a frown. “You’re really pale, or rather colourless, I’d say. Are you sick?”
“No, I’m fine, really, don’t worry.”
“Could it be…” Finn squinted at him suspiciously. “You’re nervous about meeting my mother!” he exclaimed triumphantly.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are!”
Bran didn’t answer. He sniffed indignantly and turned away from his friends’ scrutiny, looking out over the meadow that stretched out to the right of the path. It turned out to be a huge mistake, as Buttercup seized the moment of lacking attention, pushed Bran carelessly aside and plunged his muzzle into the soft, fresh, green grass.
“Ouch, damn it, Buttercup!” Bran cried, hopping on his right foot, after the big horse had stepped on his left, and tried futilely to pull Buttercup’s head up.
“You know,” Finn said, “there’s really no need to be nervous. My mother adores you.”
“She doesn’t even know me!” Bran huffed and pulled the stubborn gelding away from his afternoon snack.
“Of course she knows you. In a sense. I’ve written her all about you.”
“Oh, good. And, of course, you haven’t exaggerated every little thing, have you?”
“I’d never do that.”
Bran found that highly unlikely. Finn and Pax had the bad habit of blowing up his “heroics” until they were completely out of proportion. None of it was even half as heroic as they made it seem. Wonderful. Now he had one more thing to worry about.
“And, what’s your mother like?” he asked.
“She’s pretty and kind and funny – oh, and she’s totally bonkers.”
“What? It’s true.”
“You can’t just call your own mother crazy.”
“I didn’t. I said she’s bonkers.”
“That’s the same. And you’ve said that about her before. You really shouldn’t, you know. She’s your mom.”
“Well, but she is,” Pax piped up. Both she and Finn shrugged indifferently. Yes, things were just getting better and better. Perhaps he should bolt. Hop on Buttercups broad back and ride like the wind – only that Buttercup knew only to speeds: slow and even-a-snail-is-faster-than-this. Resigned to his fate, Bran trudged along after Finn.
They entered the castle grounds through an open archway. To both sides stood guards. They made no move to stop them, but smiled and gave them a small bow. The huge courtyard was bustling with people: servants running to and fro with crates, tables, candelabras and potted flowers. A liveried servant took notice of them and came hurrying.
“May I, sir?” he said to Bran, holding a hand out towards Buttercup’s reins.
“What? Oh, sure, yes.”
“Our stable master will take good care of him.” The servant took the reins and left towards the stables, presumably, pulling the stubborn horse along.
Another servant appeared, led them across the courtyard, past the many workers, busy with preparations, up a flight of stairs and into the entrance hall of the castle proper, splendid in white, pristine marble and gold decoration. They hadn’t gotten much farther than that, when a crystal clear, bright voice echoed off the marble walls.
“Finny!” A small figure shot out of the shadows of an alcove and launched itself at Finn. Laughing, the prince caught it in his arms and spun in a circle, silken skirts swishing.
“Bran, meet my mother Faye,” Finn exclaimed, glowing with happiness. It took Bran a moment to realise that what he had thought to be a young girl, was, in fact, the one Finn introduced as his mother.
“I… I’m glad to finally meet you, your highness,” he stammered ungracefully, staring with round eyes at the woman. She was a miniature version of Finn. The same dark brown hair, mossy green eyes and finely carved face – it was as if she had been cloned, then turned into a man and slightly enlarged. And to top it off, she didn’t look a day older than 25. How in the world was this woman even real? It seemed impossible.
“Oh, Bran, I was so looking forward to meeting you at last. Come into my arms, son!” She opened her arms wide and grinned expectantly at Bran. When he didn’t move, she slapped her chest twice and opened her arms wide again. Someone gave Bran a push forward and he stumbled straight into those welcoming arms – gasping for breath when they nearly crushed him. Small as Faye might be – her head came just level with Bran’s chest – she had the strength (and the attitude) of a lumberjack.
The stranglehold around his middle vanished suddenly. He looked down into Faye’s sparkling, green eyes and smiled awkwardly.
“Oh, Finn, he’s so…” Faye paused, yet her brilliant smile did not waver. “Homely.”
“What? Being homely is nothing bad. It’s just that…” She looked from Bran to her son and back again. Somewhere in the vicinity of his heart, Bran felt a painful stab.
Finn’s mother was disappointed – not that he cared. But she thought him homely – well, still better than ugly or heinous. So what if he wasn’t the most handsome man in seven kingdoms? Not everyone was as blessed with good looks as Faye and her cross dressing offspring.
“Just what, mother?” Finn asked irritably.
“Nothing. I just thought he’d be a bit more… dashing.”
“Like dad?”
“Yes! Exactly! Like dad.”
“Mom, stop comparing every man with dad. It’s not fair and you know it.”
Faye pouted prettily – and inappropriately for a woman her age. She turned to Bran again and the pout turned into a wicked grin. Bran swallowed. He felt like a fly in front of a spider, and he was already caught in her net.
“W-what?” he sputtered.
“You two should get changed now. It’s almost tea time.”
“Ah, yes. All right, sure, we’ll do that.” Faye winked at him, blew him a kiss, then one for her son and a small one for Pax, and swept out of the hall.
“I… what?” Bran blinked owlishly.
“Don’t you worry, Bernstein.” Pax was hovering beside him, consolingly patting his shoulder. “She likes you.”
“How can you tell?”
“She didn’t break your spine with that hug, did she?”
“Would that have been a possibility?”
“Yup. But you’re fine and still in one piece, so: Banzai!”
Bran laughed. It was a mirthless laugh, and he wasn’t even sure why he was laughing.
“Oi, Finn,” Pax said, “he’s losing it. Think we broke him at last?”
“No, he’s fine. Don’t worry. Hey, Bran? Don’t take it personal, okay? My mom’s like that. She compares everyone with my dad. There’s no way anyone could ever win against him though.”
“He’s that handsome?” Bran shuddered at the thought. Finn and his mother were bad enough.
“Not exactly. It’s rather that my mom is blind with love.”
“Delusional is the word you were looking forward, honey,” Pax threw in.
“Yes, delusional. He’s not good-looking at all, but he knows how to use his charm. Anyway, don’t take it personal.”
Bran nodded, unsure if he could believe his friend’s words or whether he was just trying to cheer him up. In any case, the king was not here, so Bran had no way of finding out. Not that he wanted to anyway.
The servant that had led them into the castle cleared his throat politely and gestured towards the marble staircase. They took the hint and followed him to their room. It was room, granted, and beautiful, but it had only one bed. Bran sighed. There’d be no use arguing about it, so he could as well give up.

Hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower, occasionally hovering over the tables of the tea party. The air was fragrant with the sweetness of lilac and roses. Birds chirped their songs from the trees that provided shade for the assembled ladies and gentlemen.
Bran had never before in his life felt so out of place. He hardly dared to touch his tea cup, so fragile and delicate was it in his rough, clumsy hands. And the colourfully iced petite-fours that were served with the tea, were so pretty, it was a shame to eat them. Which obviously was no concern of Pax’s. The pixie stuffed her tiny face happily with every piece of pastry she could lay her little fingers on. When she grabbed a yellow glazed petite-fours, decorated with a delicate sugar daisy, from his plate, Bran half-heartedly made a sound of protest. Pax’s green, orb-like eyes regarded him curiously, yet it didn’t keep her from munching the small pastry.
“What’s wrong, Bran?” Finn asked, worry tingeing his voice, a frown between his perfect brows.
“Well, you know…” Bran’s voice trailed off. He didn’t want to tell his friend he’d rather be on a lonely road than having tea with the royal court.
“Know what?”
“It’s nothing. I’m tired, I guess.”
“Who wouldn’t be tired when keeping company with a cross-dressing egomaniac and his flying boozehound?” a voice snapped from behind him. Bran twisted around in his seat and looked up at a young lady. She wore a silken gown the colour of the spring sun, her chocolate brown hair fell in shiny ringlets around her small shoulders, a haughty expression flushed her angelic face and there was fire in her doe-eyes. For a moment Bran stared open-mouthed at the young woman, thinking her to be the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Then he remembered his manners and jumped to his feet.
“Oh, it’s you,” Finn sighed, remaining seated and waving a hand dismissively at the girl.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded, blushing. Finn didn’t answer. Instead, Pax flapped her wings and rose into the air.
“Finn, look,” she called and pointed a finger at the young woman. “It’s Grendel!”
“It’s Giselle, you stupid, overgrown moth, and you know it!” The lady called Giselle was positively furious now, shaking with rage, her hands fisted into the fabric of her garments.
“That’s what I said,” Pax replied calmly, stuffing another morsel into her mouth. “So, where is that sorry excuse of a fairy godmother of yours?”
“Just who do you call a sorry excuse? You lousy drunkard!” A tiny, blurry shape shot out from behind Giselle. Bran had to dodge it as it raced towards Pax. When it stopped, he saw it was another pixie. Whereas Pax was all black and brilliant green, this fairy was a rather washed out shade of maroon.
“What do you ever do that doesn’t involve drinking and stuffing your face?” the pixie squeaked. She sounded like an agitated squirrel.
“Now, now, Tip, no need to be jealous. Just because I can eat as much as I want and still have this fabulous figure.” (Here, Bran was genuinely surprised that Pax remembered the name of someone other than Finn) “And someone as fabulous as me has no reason to show off her amazing skills all the time, as opposed to someone like you, who manages but one trick.” By now, the pixie called Tip had flushed a beet red that clashed horribly with her maroon hair and eyes. “Seriously,” Pax continued mercilessly, “is putting a glamour on that girl really all you can do? I always thought the minimum requirement for being a fairy godmother is to provide your charge with true beauty. And that glamour isn’t even well done – it glitters too much. See, our poor Bonanza is already totally dazzled by it!” Mazed, more like it. Bran looked from the pixies to Giselle, rubbed his eyes and regarded her closely again. As it was, he was confused by two things: first, did Pax really mean to say, that Giselle’s beauty was merely an illusion? A spell worked by her fairy godmother? And second: Pax had spoken several coherent sentences in a row, not to mention she remembered Tip’s name and seen through a spell, yes, even declared it a bad one. Not for the first time it made Bran wonder just how much of her antics were real and how much was show.
“Excuse me?” Giselle huffed angrily, hands on her hips, angry red spots on her cheeks. “You stupid, little pest, how dare you? Finn! How can you allow that flying annoyance to speak to me like that? I’ve never been in need of a glamour and I’m sure as hell aren’t now.”
“Giselle,” Finn replied calmly between sips of tea, “we both know that’s not true. Without it you’re as ugly as a troll.”
“H-how dare you, y-you… you-“
“Children!” Queen Cinderella, seated between her husband and Finn’s mother at the table next to theirs, rose from her chair and regarded her daughter disapprovingly. “This is a tea party and not some cheap tavern. Giselle, you haven’t even greeted Finn’s fiancé yet.”
“Fiancé?” At long last, the princess acknowledged Bran’s presence. She looked him up and down, then pushed him aside and took his chair. “I feel sorry for you,” she snapped, not sounding sorry at all.
Finn’s eyes met Bran’s, the prince grinned wickedly. Bran shook his head and shuffled over to the last free chair. To his surprise, Pax fluttered over, one of the pretty little petite-fours in her hands, and placed it carefully on Bran’s plate, smiling fondly at him. She’s up to something, I know it, Bran thought suspiciously.
The rest of the afternoon passed dreadfully slowly. Finn and Giselle threw snide remarks and insults at each other – though, as usual, Finn had the upper hand. Pax and Tip contributed to their banter in their own way. Only occasionally did either of them actually utter a word, for the most part, their argument seemed to be a purely magical one – albeit very one-sided. Pax send tea pots and pastry flying, made the wooden tables and chairs sprout fragrant roses and the canopy above them, despite the bright daylight hour, sparkle with a myriad of tiny lights like stars.
Tip… well, Tip made Giselle sparkle, some times more, some times less. One moment the princess seemed to glow from within and looked like a young goddess, the next she dulled and her features become homely.
And so the hours passed, with Bran stuck between them and two queens, who were plotting and planning what sounded suspiciously like a wedding.

“So, is dinner going to be like this, too?” Bran asked sullenly when they finally left the royal gardens on their way back to their suit.
“What do you mean?”
“You and Princess Giselle. Do you two have to be like that or can you act like civilised people once in a while?”
“The former, I’m afraid. If you haven’t noticed, but Giselle isn’t exactly the personified kindness. She’s spoilt rotten, arrogant and jealous by nature. It’s her mother’s fault, to be honest. After how her step-mother and step-sisters treated her, she became… let’s say a bit peculiar. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a fundamentally nice person, but revengeful and slightly paranoid.”
“Revengeful? How so?”
“Well,” Finn confided, “you’ve of course heard her story, so you know how it ended, how she disowned her step-family and sent them into exile?”
“All right. But what you don’t know is this: Years later, Queen Cinderella reached out to her step-sisters, after hearing about her step-mother’ death. She allowed them to return to the kingdom and even gave them back the old mansion. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Yes, it looked like an act of mercy and forgiveness. But Cinderella had one condition: that her step-sisters send their children to court as playmates for Giselle.”
“That’s not a bad thing, is it?”
“Oh, you’d think so, wouldn’t you. So naïve, my darling, so naïve. Cinderella treated them like scum – and she encouraged Giselle to do the same. Those poor kids were treated like slaves, ordered around and bullied. And when they or, worse, their parents complained, they were told to suck it up or leave the kingdom for good – with nothing but the clothes on their bodies.”
“That’s horrible!” Bran exclaimed in shock.
“Yup. So now you see what this family is like and why I will never get along with that scarecrow, don’t you?” Bran nodded his head. He hoped for a moment his friend would start laughing, telling him he had just been pulling his leg and how stupid he were for believing him. But for once, the prince’s face remained serious. Bran couldn’t believe it. He’d heard stories of Cinderella’s good heart, her gentleness, her mercy, about what a loving and good queen she was – and now it turned out to be a lie, just public appearance.
Shaken and bemused as he was by this revelation, Bran didn’t notice the small group of people heading their way across the marble floor of the entrance hall, until they were almost on top of him.
“My lords, these people say they have urgent business with you,” a harassed looking guard addressed them. Bran considered for a moment to tell him that he was no lord, but discarded the thought almost immediately. As if anyone here listened to anything he had to say anyway. Instead he glanced at the people behind the guard: two girls of about 18 years of age and a dwarf. There had been a time this odd combination, plus the fact that they had come looking for him and his friends, would have surprised Bran.
“Um… is there anything I could help you with?” he asked, trying hard not to sound exasperated.
“Indeed you can,” the dwarf replied and took a step towards Bran. He reached into a pocket of his jacket and produced a small, sturdy looking card, no larger than an ordinary playing card, which he flashed at Bran and Finn and put it in his pocket again. Bran blinked, confused about the card trick, he hadn’t even been able to make out what was on it. “Dwarf Police. I’m Inspector Holmes.”
“Oh!” Pax appeared out of nowhere, suddenly very intrigued. Finn’s sparkling eyes mirrored his godmother’s interest. Bran, on the other hand, felt a sharp pain between his brows.
“Sorry, but… what?” he asked tiredly.
“Dwarf Police,” Inspector Holmes repeated.
“I didn’t know something like that existed.”
“Oh, but of course. Not all dwarves are as peaceful, cheery fellows as your acquaintances, Mr. Bran.”
“Just Bran. How do you know who my acquaintances are?”
“It’s a small world – and Grumpy is my cousin. Anyway, I’m here because I’d like to enlist your help in a very urgent matter.”
“Ah, yeah, well, you see, we’re only-“
“We accept,” Finn cut him off. Bran slowly turned towards him and gave him the hairy eyeball, but the prince in drag wasn’t impressed. He didn’t want to be drawn into another stupid ‘adventure’ by the idiot prince and Mighty Mouse. It always ended with him getting the short end of the stick.
“Why don’t we go up to our suit, where we can talk in private?” Finn suggested. He ushered their guests up the stairs before Bran had any chance to protest. The guardsman seemed happy enough to be relieved of them, Bran envied him.
When they were all seated around the table in their suit, a glass of fresh water in front of everyone (except Pax – her glass held whiskey), the Inspector introduced himself and the girls again:
“As I’ve already mentioned, my name is Holmes. And these two ladies are Snow White and her sister Rose Red.” The sisters looked shyly up from their glasses. Bran saw then, how red their eyes were, how flushed their faces. They were pretty, both of them. If it hadn’t been for the different colour of their hair, they could have been identical twins. But Snow White had hair so fair, it was almost white. Rose Red’s, however, was a rich, glossy auburn.
“And what is it you need help with?” Finn enquired after a moment.
“To apprehend a felon, who committed an act of violation against paragraphs 38.1 and 38.3, Dwarven Law, Human Interaction Act of 1268.” The dwarf regarded Bran expectantly, as if any of that gibberish was supposed to make any sense to him.
Finn saved Bran from having to answer. “Sorry, but my Dwarven Law is a bit rusty. Do remind me what those paragraphs say exactly.”
“They state, that every dwarf shall always be grateful and follow suit when shown an act of kindness by a human being, and never shall he disregard or dismiss it. Furthermore, in case of a human stealing a dwarf’s treasure or hurting a dwarf in any way, said dwarf has the right to punish the human by putting a curse on him. HOWEVER! Should said human redeem himself through acts of kindness towards others or defeat the dwarf in a game of riddles or a fight, the dwarf is urged to free him of any curse.”
An awkward silence settled over them. Bran gauged from Finn and Pax’s expressions that they, like him, were waiting for the Inspector to elaborate on his request, but he didn’t. Eventually, Pax snapped: “And?”
“Oh, yes. Well, I guess it’s best the girls tell you what happened themselves.”
The girls looked at each other, nodded in unison, then turned to the others. Taking a deep breath and holding her sisters hand, Rose Red began their tale.

And so Rose Red told them how it had all began on the first day of winter the year before, when they had met a kind and gentle bear and took him in. (“Who the hell takes in a bear? A bloody grown bear?” – Bran) The bear had been good to them and soon the girls and their mother loved him like family. (“What the-“)
When spring came, the bear left, saying he had something very important to do, but he would be back come winter. (“Now hold it right there. The bear spoke? Are you sure it was a bear, a real bear? Not just some weirdo in a teddy bear costume?” “Bran, let the girl finish her story.” “Yeah, Bonzo, shut up!”) But when he pushed his ample body through the small door, his shaggy coat caught on a nail and a piece of it ripped off. The bear didn’t seem to notice at all and the girls were too startled by the shimmer of gold beneath it to mention it. (“See, what did I tell you?” “Shush!”)
And so the bear left. And that’s when it really began: Over the course of the next few months, the girls had three consecutive encounters of the unfriendly kind with a dwarf. Each time, they saved his life; each time, instead of being grateful, he spat at them, threw things at them, insulted them and yelled at them. And then, about a month ago, they met him a fourth time.
The dwarf was sitting on a tree trunk, counting precious stones. When he saw them, he freaked out, accusing them of trying to steal his treasure, blah blah – and attacked them. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere came the bear – their bear – and protected them from the evil dwarf. A solid blow with his paw (“Yeah, right, his ‘paw’”) and the dwarf went down. All of a sudden, the bear began to shudder and sparkle and a moment later, a handsome young man stood in the bear’s place. (“That’s a nifty trick.”)
Turned out he was the neighbouring kingdom’s prince. The dwarf had stolen his treasure and when he came after him, intent on retrieving what was rightfully his, the dwarf cursed him and turned him into a bear.
Long story short, the prince declared his love to Rose Red and proposed to her. Snow White was, by the way, now betrothed to the prince’s brother (“Um… do they even know each other?”), the dwarf was dead – yay, happy ending, yay.
Or so they thought.
But, the dwarf wasn’t dead. And only two nights before the wedding, he found the prince and his brother and turned them both into mice, which he put into a cage and carried away with him.

“There, see? That’s why we need your help.” Rose Red concluded, staring imploringly at Bran. “We have a good idea where he’s hiding, but we can’t do much against him on our own. Please, Mr. Bran, you’re the Goblin Slayer. Please, help us!”
“First, it’s just Bran. Second, I’m no goblin slayer, they are just plain stupid. And third: I’m all right with helping you, but I’m not sure what I can do. Besides, isn’t Inspector Holmes here to see to it that the evil midget gets what’s coming for him?”
“Um… well… that…” Holmes stammered, suddenly blushing a furious shade of red. “The DP is actually more of the investigative kind… less the taking action kind…” his voice trailed of and he hid his face in his hands, embarrassed.
“Well then,” Pax cried. She lifted her magic drinking straw to her lips and downed her whiskey with one strong pull. “What are we waiting for? Come on, Bard, let’s go catch us some knave.”
“Actually,” Finn interrupted her, “it’s already getting late. I suggest the two ladies and the Inspector join us for dinner and stay the night. Tomorrow morning then, we’ll leave on our quest.”
No one argued. The prospect of a lovely dinner and comfortable beds to sleep in, as opposed to traveller’s fare and a pallet on the hard ground, decided them quickly on following Finn’s plan. The princes could surely survive another night as mice.

Bran had hoped dinner to be a less disastrous affair, with Inspector Holmes and the sisters joining them. He had been so wrong. It had been worse.
For reasons he could only speculate about, Giselle had been absolutely despicable towards Snow White and Rose Red. Finn, therefore, had walked right over her, downright flogging her with his barbed tongue. If she hadn’t been such a pain in the neck, Bran would have pitied her.
And the mutated hummingbirds? Well, they gave a spectacular display of their magic prowess. Or rather Pax did. As it turned out, putting a glamour on someone really was all Tip could do, whereas Pax turned out to be a fairy-reincarnated Merlin. Along the way she knocked back more whiskey than a small pub could provide in one year.
“My magic’s fuelled by booze,” Pax proclaimed as if it should have been obvious from the start.
“I thought you ran on booze.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.” Bran rolled his eyes and wisely refrained from saying anything else.
Pax’s magic had at least provided some distraction from the bantering next to him. Immeasurably glad they finally retired for the night, Bran hadn’t even argued with Finn about the sleeping arrangements.
For the day at least, they’d get out of the castle and hence out of Giselle’s way. It was early yet, but with Midsummer upon them, the sun stood already high in the sky.
Bran rolled over, intending to quickly get up and ready, but found himself face to face with Finn instead. Mossy green eyes sparkled merrily, a smile played on his lips.
“Good morning, darling,” Finn breathed.
“Good morning,” Bran replied cautiously. Careful, don’t offer him an incentive, he’s only going to tease you for the rest of the day otherwise. Careful. “I… think we should get ready now. The Inspector and the girls will be waiting.”
“What a pity,” Finn drawled, running a finger down the side of Bran’s face and along his lower lip. Hold still, hold still. Don’t breath. Don’t make any hasty movements. They stared at each other, Bran holding his breath. And then, quite suddenly, Finn rolled over and out of bed. Bran exhaled, relieved. But when he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, Pax was there, squinting hard at him. Again, he held absolutely still and held his breath.
“Oi, you two, hurry, we’re late,” Finn interrupted the stare-off, much to Bran’s relief.
The others were already halfway through breakfast when they came out into the garden. Servants brought them plates and more food and tea.
“So, how far is it to this renegade dwarf’s lair?” Finn asked.
“About four hours by foot.”
“We could get horses from the stables.”
“Oh, er… that… you know, dwarves… they don’t usually hide in horse friendly territory, so…” Inspector Holmes stuttered, flustered. Out of the corner of his eyes Bran saw a wicked grin spread across Pax’s fox-like face.
“But we could go at least half the way by horse, couldn’t we?” she said malevolently.
“That… oh.” Holmes fidgeted nervously on his chair, wringing his napkin in his hands.
“Pax, don’t be mean,” Finn interjected. If he had intended to make it sound like he was scolding her, it failed – the wicked grin on his face was the same as the pixie’s. “Everyone knows dwarves are scared of horses.”
“What? No, no, no. We’re not scared, I’m not scared. It’s just that… they are so very high…”
“Perhaps they have a small pony for you, a Shetland pony perhaps,” Rose Red suggested helpfully. The girl – bless her – hadn’t at all understood that Finn and Pax were just being bullies. Nor had her sister, according to the agreeing nod.
“Oh yes, we do have Shetland ponies in the stables,” one of the servants, pouring fresh tea, said. “If you like, I could tell the stable hands to get horses ready for you.”
“Please do!” Finn smiled brightly at her. “Isn’t that great, Inspector? Now we don’t have to walk all the way.”
“Yeah, great.” The colour drained from the dwarf’s face. He looked up at the sky, his beetle eyes sad, and sighed, resigning himself to his imminent death.
“You’re all up awfully early,” a disgustingly familiar, annoyed sounding voice rang through the garden.
“Oh, look, it’s Gollum.” Pax waved a hand dismissively in the general direction of the voice.
“You little…” Giselle took a deep breath. Her fairy godmother, perched on her shoulder, glowered at Pax. “So, what are you up to?” the princess demanded.
“We’re going on a mission, quest, something like that,” Finn answered. “Nothing for fair princesses.”
“How about you let me decide that?”
“How about you choke on a bug?”
“Why don’t you-“ Giselle began, but was cut off by an elderly butler clearing his throat.
“You’re horses are ready,” he announced.
“So you’re going for a ride? I guess I will too then.”
“Certainly, but you go in the exact opposite direction from us,” Finn said quietly, a dangerous tone in his voice, and gave her a hard look. “And while you’re at it, keep going until you drop off the edge of the world, will you.” He didn’t wait for her to reply. He grabbed Bran’s arm and pulled him along, out of the garden and towards the stables, leaving a fuming Giselle behind.

With much bravado and false cheeriness, Holmes sat astride his pony and led the way. For a pony, the small Shetland had luckily very little mischief in mind, and so they made good progress. Bran felt guilty for leaving Buttercup behind and riding another horse, but the big old fellow would not have been able to keep up with the others.
At midday they took a break on a lovely, small clearing. It was then that Finn took Bran aside.
“Have you noticed we’re being followed?” he asked.
“No! Really? By whom?”
“Goliath,” Pax hissed.
“Are you sure? Why is she following us?”
“Who knows. But I’m certain we’re going to find out soon enough.”
It took them an hour longer to reach the edge of the forest, where they left the horses behind. Half an hour later, they reached the knave’s lair – a cosy little cave in the side of a grassy hill. A white picket fence surrounded a neat garden in front of the entrance. Birds were fooling around in the bird bath, butterflies and bees flitted from flower to flower and the scent of herbs and roses lay in the air.
“That’s it?” Bran asked. “Seriously? I kind of expected something different, you know.”
“Yes, I know.” Holmes nodded his head. “It’s horrible, isn’t it? One would think he’d have at least some taste, but…” he trailed off, the nodding turning into a sad shaking.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“Nevermind. Shall we?”
Ducking low, they hurried stealthily out from behind the row of trees they had been hiding behind and towards the grassy hill. Very carefully, very quietly, they crept closer to the white fence. Bran reached the white, wooden door first. He crouched down and with much care pressed the handle down. It swung on open on well-oiled hinges. Bran cast a quick glance at the caves entrance – everything was silent – then motioned for the others to move on.
Crossing the garden was the trickiest and most dangerous part. They dropped to the ground and crawled forward – it was tedious work. Still, everything remained calm.
“Okay,” Holmes whispered, “careful now. And be quiet.” He slowly got to his feet, listened at the door – and then kicked it in unceremoniously, with a loud and ringing “AHA!”.
“Yes, very subtle,” Bran remarked sardonically, brushing bits of grass, daisies and dirt from his shirt. Finn gave him a one-shouldered shrug and cocked his head towards the now open cave. They followed the DP Inspector inside, the girls close behind them.
The inside of the cave was not what one would expect of a cave. In one word, it was dreadful. Wherever one looked: pink – in various shades. It was a pink torture hole. Lace, plush and crocheted doilies everywhere.
“Ugh, I think I have to puke,” Pax gasped and made a few retching noises.
“Ah, Bran – hold me, I think I’m going to faint,” Finn whined, clutching at Bran’s arm.
“Oh stop it, will you? You won’t faint.”
“So cold.” Finn turned those blasted puppy eyes on him, his lower lip protruding. Bran rolled his eyes and shook his head with a sigh. A small, happy smile lit the prince’s face. He slung his arm around Bran’s and leaned his head against Bran’s shoulder. It forced him into an awkward lopsided pose, seeing as they were the same height. Behind them, the girls giggled quietly.
But in this pink horror cabinet, one thing was amiss: the evil dwarf. Bran scanned the cave, but except for Holmes, it was dwarf free. A rhythmic squeaking sound made them turn to the far left corner. A big cage stood on a sturdy pedestal. It had several levels, connected by little ladders and tubes, two mice occupied it, running in a wheel that squeaked with every turn.
Snow White and her sister drew a sharp breath and ran to the cage holding their beloved princes.
“The princes are here, all right, but where is the offending midget?” Bran asked. Holmes, meanwhile, had begun to systematically go through the cave, turning over cushions, opening drawers, looking under armchairs and tables.
“Oh, he’s here somewhere, don’t worry.” At last, he pulled a wooden crate out from behind the sofa. It seemed too heavy for the dwarf, so Bran hurried to help him. And it was indeed heavy. A smug grin spread across Holmes’s face. With another loud “AHA!” he yanked the lid away. A terrified squeak answered from within the crate.
“Oi, get out!” Holmes commanded, kicking the side of the wooden box. With another yelp, the dwarf inside sprang to his feet.
“H-H-H-Holmes,” he stammered.
“Morty. Should have known it was you from that tasteless garden of yours. Not to mention… what’s with all the pink?”
“Well… why? I like it.” Morty fiddled his thumbs, looking deeply embarrassed.
“Yeah, whatever,” Bran interrupted. “We’re not here to arrest you for bad taste.”
“You’re not?” There was actually hope and relief in Morty’s eyes.
“You should be sentenced to death for this interior design,” Pax snorted and Morty’s face fell.
“Yes, but it’s not why we’re here. We’re here for the mice – I mean the princes.”
“Ah, yes, see, now that’s a problem then. I really can’t give them to you.”
“What do you mean, you can’t give them to us?” Holmes snapped. “Do you know the situation you’re in? You’ve violated the Human Interaction Act, paragraphs 38.1 and 38.3 – repeatedly! You’ll face five years hard labour in the mines, plus being stripped of all magic and privileges, not to mention your family treasure.”
“But… but…” Tears swam in the dwarf’s big, round eyes. “But she…” Morty didn’t finish his sentence, instead he broke down crying. Finn, Pax, Bran and Holmes looked at each other uncomfortably. Now this was not as they had expected it to go.
Pax fluttered to the distressed dwarf’s side and awkwardly patted his arm. “There, there. Um… say… you got any booze?”
“What? A pixie’s allowed to ask, right?”
“Tsk. Drag.” Pouting, she fluttered back and landed on Finn’s shoulder, where she crossed her arms over her chest and sat down, glaring daggers at Bran.
“Well, then, Morty,” Holmes said in a stern voice. “Come quietly and you will at least not get hurt.”
“I can’t,” Morty sobbed. “She… she…”
“She?” Finn asked. “Morty, who is ‘She’?”
“Can’t… can’t say.”
“Why is that?”
“She’ll get angry.”
“Hold on,” Bran said. It all suddenly made a whole lot more sense. The image he’d gotten of the dwarf from Snow White and Rose Red didn’t match that snivelling, pink-loving, scaredy-cat of a dwarf he had in front of him. “Morty, right?” The dwarf hiccoughed and nodded. “Say, could it possibly be that his mysterious ‘She’ forced you to do all this? To turn the princes into mice?” Morty nodded emphatically, a spark of hope in his beetle eyes. “And before that, she told you to steal the princes treasure and turn him into a bear?” Nod. “And what about being ungrateful and mean to the girls?”
“She hates them. She got very angry when I told her what nice girls they are, so…”
“Fine,” Holmes cut him off, irritated. It was obvious he didn’t like where this was going. He liked his villains as evil as they come and not some whiny baby controlled by someone else. “Why the hell do you even do what ‘She’ tells you?”
“Because he’s a greedy, spineless, snivelly twat.” Giselle strode into the cave like she owned the world, her head thrown back, her arms crossed in front of her chest. Her dark brown curls were fanning out behind her in the wind – provided by Tip and a large fan. Her doe eyes had a dangerous gleam – real or also provided by Tip, who could tell.
“Oh, look, it’s Godzilla!” Pax exclaimed, pointing a finger at the princess, in case someone hadn’t noticed her yet.
“It’s Giselle, you blasted bug!” Giselle screeched furiously. Then she took a deep breath and resumed an air of superiority.
“Why am I not surprised you’re behind this?” Finn rather stated than asked.
Inspector Holmes cleared his throat. He looked from Morty, who had shrunken back into his crate, to Giselle, a deep frown between his brows and an angry vein pulsing on his forehead. “Care to enlighten us to the whole story?” he grated out through his teeth.
“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter anymore, so I might as well. Morty,” her voice dripped with disgust and contempt as she spoke the dwarf’s name, “is what you’d call my henchman, I guess. He does as I order him to and I provide him with all this pink, lacy, fluffy stuff he likes so much. There, are you happy now?”
“No,” said Bran. “What about the princes and the girls?”
“Tsk. If Prince Randolph had agreed on marrying me, none of this would have been necessary. But he dared to reject me. Me! Can you believe it?”
A collective “Yes” rang through the cave. Giselle chose to ignore it, although there were red, angry spots blossoming on her cheeks.
“Anyway, he needed to be punished. I had planned on releasing him from the curse as soon as he admitted that he was wrong and agreed on marrying me. But then those brats showed up. All gentle, kind-hearted, pretty innocence. Bah! Yes, I admit, I might have been a bit overreacting when I set Morty on attacking them – though let’s be honest, look at him, as if he’d have been able to do much harm. And then Randolph decided to mime the knight in shining armour – or rather the bear… you know. I mean, who would have thought that curse would break that easily? He just knocked the bloody dwarf out for a few hours. I’d have let it slide, I was fully prepared to do so. But then he and his stupid brother had the audacity to choose these… these… fillies over me!”
“Shut up!” Giselle was fuming. If it had been possible, there would have been steam pouring out of her ears and nostrils – but Tip didn’t provide any.
“So, what now, Inspector?” Bran asked eventually.
“Well, this changes things.” A hopeful Morty rose slowly out of his crate. “But not much.” And he sank back down again. “The charges are what change really. Morty, I hereby arrest you for the violation of the Human Interaction Act, paragraph 3.5: you shall not assist any human in doing evil. And you, princess, will hear from us.”
“What?” Giselle turned on him. “How dare you, dwarf? Do you have any idea who I am?”
“Oh, I know only too well. Wait till your mother hears of this.”
Giselle blanched, staggered to the sofa and plopped down, hiding her face in his hands and mumbling something unintelligible. Tip tried to console her in vain.
“Excuse me,” a shy, small voice said. Snow White was holding one of the mice in her hands, patting its head gently. It was the first time Bran had heard her speak. “Um… what about them?”
“Right!” Holmes exclaimed. He fished in the crate for the cowardly dwarf, then pulled him up by the collar of his shirt. “Morty!” he threatened. Morty squeaked, sighed and relented, lifting the curse from the poor princes and turning them back into handsome young men.

“Prince Rudolph and his brother are really nice guys,” Bran said. He flopped down on their huge bed, exhausted from the day. It had taken almost the rest of the day until everything had been dealt and they had finally been allowed to go home. Snow White and Rose Red had invited them to their wedding the following months. Now this was a wedding Bran was looking forward to.
“Yes, they are,” Finn replied, stretched out next to Bran and fiddled with an old, battered looking pocket watch.
“I didn’t think Queen Cinderella would be so furious about what Giselle had done. After what you’ve told me about her, I would have thought she’d have appreciated her daughters deeds.”
“Oh that. That was just a joke. Cinderella is a humanitarian through and through. She’d never compliment anyone on harming another person in any way.”
“What?” Bran sat up abruptly. “Why the hell did you-“
“Because I wanted to see the look on your face. It was really hilarious. Pax and I had a super hard time not laughing out loud – OUCH!” Bran punched his friend’s arm hard and shook his head. It wasn’t as if he’d expected anything else from the idiot prince and his flying nuisance.
Pax fluttered towards him, swerving left and right in a drunken stupor. She suddenly folded her wings and let herself fall. Bran caught her in his hands and she grinned fondly at him – or he thought it was meant for him, it was hard to say where the pixie was looking, cross-eyed as she was. She had drunken ten kegs of whiskey , thirty bottles of elderberry wine, five huge barrels of spiced ale, and to top it off, a barrel of rum. For once, she was actually drunk.
“Hey, Booboo, I love you, you know,” she drawled.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Go to sleep, you’re wasted.”
“A pixie is never wasted!” (In her drunken slur it sounded like: “A pischy is neva washed.”) But as soon as she had finished the sentence, she curled up and was fast asleep within a second. Bran carefully put her down on the pillow that served as her bed and spread a silken handkerchief over her as blanket.
Finn was still fiddling with the watch, so Bran asked: “What are you doing with that old thing?”
“It’s a magic watch.”
“All right, it used to be, the magic has mostly worn off by now. But it still works well enough to tell you a specific time.”
“Um… isn’t that what all watches do?”
“Not like this. Let’s say we want to get up at a very specific time tomorrow morning, this watch will wake us up by calling out the time.”
“I see. And do we want to get up at a specific time tomorrow morning?”
“Yup. Right after sunrise, before the rest of the castle wakes up.”
“And that is because…”
“We scram.”
“We do what?”
“We get out of here.”
“But the Midsummer Feast is tomorrow. Shouldn’t we stay at least until after? “
“Sure, if you want to get married tomorrow evening.”
“M-m-m-married?” Bran cried.
“Hush. Yes. My mom and Cinderella were planning on getting us married on Midsummer even before they invited us.”
“And you know this since…?”
“I had a hunch, nothing certain.”
“Are you okay with this?” Bran asked quietly.
“What do you mean?”
“Not getting married.”
Finn finally looked up from the watch and met Bran’s eyes, a wane smile on his lips. “I’m not going to force you into something you don’t want,” he said and Bran could tell that this time, he really was serious. “I’m not planning on letting you get away either though,” he continued with a crooked grin.
Bran smiled at his friend. It was good as it was. To be honest, he had grown so used to Finn and Pax teasing him, he wouldn’t want to miss it anymore. He lay down, an arm behind his head, and looked up at the silken canopy of the bed. He was content with his life, not something a lot of people could say. Yet something was still nagging on his mind, it had been ever since they had returned to the castle.
And then it came to him: “Why the hell did Holmes even want us to tag along? It’s not like we did anything, we were totally redundant.”
“That’s not true,” Finn argued.
“Really? What did we do then?”
“Hmm.” Finn worried his lower lip with his teeth. Yeah, that’s what I thought. “Oh! We bore objective witness and thanks to that, Morty and Giselle can be convicted of their crimes.”
“Objective witness?”
“Yes, that’s a very important role. And now sleep, we have to get up early.”
Bran smiled and shook his head. Finn always knew how to cheer him up, even though he didn’t belief half of what the prince said.

Their escape from the castle had been a full success. By now, they were already too far away for any possible pursuit to catch up. It was growing late and inside the forest light had already made way to twilight.
Buttercup suddenly shied. He threw his head up, huffed and danced back.
“What’s wrong with the cow?” Pax asked, sounding quite indifferent.
“I don’t know,” Bran replied. He had a hard time not losing his hold of the reins or being pulled off his feet. “Something startled him.”
“Yeah, I guess that’d be us then,” a raspy voice came out of the shrubs lining the path. It was followed by a tough looking goblin, then another and another and another. A moment later a good dozen goblins blocked their way, brandishing clubs and what looked like long socks.
“Princess Giselle sends her regards,” the tough looking goblin rasped and barked a laugh.
“Giselle? What? Does she have some sort of criminal organisation?” Bran asked, irritated.
“Probably,” Finn sighed. “But, I mean, look at them. Incompetence en masse, if you ask me.”
“Yeah, what’s she doing? Letting every Tom, Dick and Harry join?”
Pop. Pop. Pop. Followed by several high pitched screeches. The goblins looked about themselves, shocked and surprised.
“What is that?” the tough one cried, not being so tough anymore.
“What you mean is: every Torben, Mick and Perry,” Finn corrected.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
“No, no, no,” Pax said. “It’s Tim, Nick and Barry.”
Pop. Pop – and pop.
“W-what are you doing?” the not-so-tough goblin cried, his eyes wide with fear.
“Didn’t Giselle tell you whom you’re dealing with?” Finn asked with mock surprise. “This,” he indicated Bran, “is the mighty Bran the Goblin Slayer!”
Two of the remaining goblins screamed and ran, vanishing in the thick shrubs. That left only one.
The once-so-tough goblin was positively shaking with fear now, but he stood his ground, holding his club protectively in front of him. “S-s-so what?” he stammered, trying again to sound tough.
“And you are?” Bran asked innocently.
“A-as if I’d fall for that.” Figures. But it had been worth a try.
“Okay, in that case, we’re just going to call you John Doe, shall we?”
Screech, pop, some more screeching – and the path was clear. Except for the clubs and long socks that littered the ground and the smoke that lay like fog in the air.
“Phew,” Pax exhaled, “I’m hungry. What about you, boys?”

Bran sighed contentedly, patting his belly. They had been lucky and found a cosy tavern that also rented out rooms for the night. The food had been delicious. They had stuffed themselves with roasted chicken, baked potatoes, pudding and pie, while listening to an excellent young bard, singing tales of long ago heroes.
The food was gone now, however, and the bard retired for the night. They weren’t the only ones sad about the latter.
Suddenly, Pax go to her feet, emptied her tankard and determinedly fluttered into the middle of the tap room, where the bard had sat only moments ago.
“What is she doing?” Bran wondered.
“I guess she’s going to tell a story,” Finn answered. “She’s good at this.”
“Really?” Bran wasn’t convinced.
“Let me tell you a story,” Pax began and was greeted by cheers. “Better yet, a true story. The story of three companions travelling the world.”
Finn winked at Bran, who rolled his eyes. He knew what was coming: another overly exaggerated recount of their adventures. Despite the lack of accuracy Pax’s tales were bound to have, it made Bran smile.
And so, Pax began: “Once upon a time…”

End of Part VI

Continue to Pax the Mighty


No wonder it took you so long to type up all of this :D I loved it, as usual. And Pax is still my favorite. xD
Yeah, well, I would have been quicker if that stupid try-out-for-a-job-you-don't-get-week hadn't interupted me. xP

Ah, Pax - seriously, who doesn't love that drunken bat-ear? ;D (She will turn everyone who disagrees into apples and feed them to the cow - I mean, Buttercup!)
-sigh- I finally wanted to read it but my eyes are closing :( Will HAVE to return tomorrow.

You have made a dwarf out of your beloved Holmes o.O
Mwahahahahahahahaha - yeah well... ;P