I sometimes wonder if people like the Miser King chose names for things with a deliberate intention to mislead or if they’re simply so bent that they’re incapable of communicating clearly.
“The Larder” that we were taken too should have been a terrible, bleak hole in the ground. Maybe filled with ice, or perhaps just meat hooks and dried blood splashes on the walls. I wasn’t supposed to watch horror movies, but I’d absorbed enough creepy imagery that I had certain expectations for what a psycho’s prison should look like.
Instead of chains and rust and stone, the Larder turned out to a spacious garden with fruit trees and a living rainbow of flowers. There wasn’t even a roof on the place!
“This is like the worst prison ever,” I said, wondering why our guard had bothered to manacle me at all if he was taking us to a spot that was this nice.
“It’s pretty horrible, but it’s not the worst,” the bat-faced guard said. “Not by a long shot.”
“What’s so horrible about it?” Rosie asked from her perch in the guard’s arms. She didn’t look happy to be there, but at least he hadn’t manacled her and he seemed to be carrying her with a surprising gentility.
“Don’t be fooled by how it looks,” he said. “Getting out of here is all but impossible and most of the things that look nice are anything but,”
“Should you be telling us that?” I asked.
“It’s only my actions that are bound to the Miser King,” the guard said. “I can say anything I want. Though to be fair, warning you not to try escaping is the kind of thing he’d want me to do anyways.”
He walked over to one of the trees and set Rosie down on the soft moss in front of it.
“So we don’t have to be chained up in here?” she asked. “I’m guessing the plants will come to life and grab us if we try to escape?”
“Exactly,” the guard said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to organize the first patrol to watch over you and set a trap for the people who are coming to rescue you. My name is Mortimer if you should need anything.”
And with that, he turned and left.
“He’s not quite what I expected in a jailer,” September said. He’d somehow cleaned himself of the toad puke that the rest of us were still covered in.
“I know,” I said and that’s the spot where my brain fell apart. I was joyful unto tears that my friends were with me. I was angry enough to explode that they were with me too when I told them to run away. And I was scared to the tips of my toes at what I’d gotten us into.
“We shouldn’t be here,” I mumbled and plopped down onto the open grass area, staring at the perfectly manicured green blades in front of me.
“Are you ok Penny?” Rosie asked. I couldn’t see what she was doing. Or I didn’t want to. it was too hard to look at her. Or September. And it was impossible to look at the wreckage of Sweepy.
“No,” I said. “We’re in prison, who knows where, none of this ok!”
“At least we’re together,” September said.
“That makes it worse!” I wanted to keep my voice calm and even, but my words came out in a scream. “Why are you here! Why didn’t you run! You shouldn’t be trapped like this!”
“We couldn’t leave you behind,” Rosie said.
“They’re going to eat us!” I said, or screamed. It was hard to tell. “Or feed us to something!”
“You’ll get us out of here,” September said. “I know you will.”
“I…” I faltered at that. It cracked my heart in two to have someone place that much trust and faith in me. The rest of me crumbled to dust under the knowledge that September’s belief in my abilities wasn’t at all warranted though.
“He’s right,” Rosie said. “You’re our best chance at getting home again, and there’s no way we’re leaving you behind.”
My throat got too tight to speak and my cheeks were warm and wet. For some reason the grass was blurry looking too, like all the tiny bits of me had sunk to the bottom of the sea.
“I’m just a kid.” My voice sounded more like a frog than the giant toad’s had.
Move waves crashed down my cheeks until I felt a warm, furry head and shoulders rub against my leg and purr. A moment later, a strong arm wrapped me and I felt Rosie nearly crush my rib cage with a hug.
“You’re not just a kid,” Rosie said.
“Yeah, you’re my witch,” September said, hopping onto my shoulder
I didn’t feel like that. I didn’t feel like I could be anything amazing. For them though, I wanted to try.
It was a long time later, or maybe ten seconds, it was hard to say (my sense of time was a bit messed up along with the rest of me) when my tears stopped flowing and I managed to dry my eyes.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling very small and very silly. What kind of scary witch could I be if I broke down because someone put me in pretty garden?
Rosie gave me another quick squeeze of a hug and then pulled herself back to the tree where Mortimer had placed her. Three pieces of wood were piled neatly there waiting for her.
“They broke Sweepy’s broom when they grabbed us,” Rosie said. “She’s still here though and I think I can fix up the broom with some of the stuff from the garden. Maybe even make it stronger.”
“Wow, really?” I asked. That was like saying you could fix a jet with a box of scrap metal and some duct tape.
“Maybe?” Rosie said. “I mean I’ve always liked arts and crafts right? I don’t think this is all that different. It’s not like I need magic for it, just the right bits to stick everything back together and the Sweepy does all the incredible stuff.”
I looked at September for confirmation on that. The little shrug of his shoulders told me that neither of us were sure magic brooms worked precisely like that but neither of us wanted to discourage Rosie’s efforts either.
“I’m small enough that I don’t think the traps will notice me,” September said. “So I can go scout out the paths and how we can escape.”
I didn’t think the traps worked like that, but I knew he would be careful and we needed the information he was volunteering to get, so I couldn’t object to his plan either.
“I’ll talk to Mortimer then,” I said. “He seems to want to help us and I want to know why.”