Good to the Last Drop

Kapitel Ein - The Real Story of Hansel and Gretel

Sometimes tales get told and retold so many times that the truth gets lost somewhere along the way. Such is the case with the tale that you are about to read. Many know the story of Hansel and Gretel, the two little sweethearts with a father too weak of will to stand up to his wife when she sent his children off into the woods to die alone. And everyone knows that the two resourceful young children found a house made of gingerbread, and within it an evil witch with a taste for little lads and lasses, and that the brother and sister eventually shoved the witch into her very own oven and returned home with pockets full of jewels to find their stepmother conveniently deceased. At least, that's the tale that everyone thinks that they know. It is not, however, the truth.

What follows is the absolute true and honest tale of Hansel and Gretel. The way that it really happened.


There are wealthy villages and then there are poor villages. And then there is the village in which Hansel and Gretel grew up. The village was so poor, and the villagers so destitute, that more than a fifth of its population died every winter from starvation. Children that were born in that village rarely survived past their sixth birthdays. Life was dark and sad, and hope was a rare thing indeed. It was only through sheer luck that the gentle old woodcutter was blessed with two beautiful and healthy children that were already well on their way to their tenth and fifteenth birthdays. Especially when the children's mother, as well as their little playmates from the houses on either side of them, were all dead and gone.

Hansel and Gretel had been born to the woodcutter and his first wife, a charming young lass from a kingdom far away. Almost all of the other villagers were of local stock, with hair the color of mud and eyes that were dull and unremarkable, their moods usually matching their appearance. Hansel and Gretel, however, were rays of sunshine in an otherwise dark and desolate place. Hansel was fast growing tall and broad, his form filling out with each year that passed, and whenever anyone saw him words like strapping and brawny came to mind. He turned heads wherever he went. Gretel, on the other hand, was small and delicate, dainty as a flower and every bit as lovely. While their neighbors were normally pale and washed-out, both of the woodcutter's children were naturally golden, their skin glimmering like gold in the candlelight. They had soft blond hair that curled playfully about their finely boned faces, eyes of purest blue like a morning sky after a rain, and each had a smile more radiant than the most perfect of diamonds.

The beauty of the two children, however, did not sit well with everyone. The woodcutter had taken a second wife after many years of being alone with naught but his offspring, and his wife was as dull as any local that was ever born. She was wholly unremarkable, in every sense of the word, and the very sight of the two young people in her home was enough to drive her to fits of anger, for they were everything that she was not. She would yell at the children for the simplest of offenses, often beating the two siblings with her wooden cooking spoon until they were black and blue, but the woodcutter was too henpecked even to come to his children's defense.

Matters in the woodcutter's house were made even worse by the fact that he was extremely poor, even by his village's standards. A fact that his wife never let him forget. And no one in the village was in any position to help their impoverished neighbor, for they were all in a state of constant need. The village, you see, was surrounded by a majestic forest. This, of itself, should not be a problem for a woodcutter. However, the forest was the very reason that everyone suffered so. Many generations before the forest had become the home to an evil witch, and she had forced the forest to bend to her will, surrounding the village and forever isolating it from the world outside. It soon became a very rare occurrence for anyone to either leave or enter the village, and in time the kingdoms outside of the forest all but forgot that the place had ever existed. No one was quite sure why the witch hated the village and its occupants enough to do such a wicked thing, most suspecting that she was just born bad and needed no other reason, but regardless of the reasons behind her behavior it soon became common custom for the villagers to offer tribute to the witch in exchange for what little happiness they could find. So, you see, even if his neighbors had been able to gather enough to share then they would have felt compelled to give it to the witch instead of the woodcutter and his family.

One night not long after Hansel's birthday the woodcutter and his wife were talking about just how bad things had gotten. Or rather, the woodcutter's wife was talking and the woodcutter was left with no option but to listen to her. The children were not the only ones in the family who feared the woman's wooden spoon.

"We are down to our last pig, the grain is running thin, and we have but thirteen loafs of bread left. And winter is fast approaching."

"I know, darling. I will find a way to gather more." Even to his own ears it sounded like an unlikely promise. "Somehow."

"We would have more to eat between us if only you would get rid of those children." His wife saw the solution as an exceedingly simple one. "Why, Hansel is fifteen now. He's practically old enough to leave and start his own family! We should not be supporting them any longer."

"But they are my children!" The woodcutter could not believe that his wife could say such things. He had known her cold, but to suggest that he abandon his children? "My dear dead wife would never forgive me."

"I am your wife now!" She said with a smack to the back of his head. "I think that we should take the children with us out to the woods when you go to work tomorrow. We will leave them there."

"But the animals will surely tear them to pieces!"

"Would you have us starve instead?"

The children had been unable to sleep, and as a result they had overheard everything. Including the fact that their father did not argue with his wife after her last question. Gretel cried pitifully, but her ever resourceful brother held her in his arms and shushed her gently.

"Dear sister, do not worry. I'll think of something."

A sudden idea struck him and, leaping from his bed and leaving a very confused sister behind, Hansel climbed out of the window and made for the small garden that sat behind the family's small shed. There, in the light of a nearly full moon, the pebbles that made up the garden path were glowing in the moonlight. Hansel scooped up as many as he could, shoving them into his pockets, before once again climbing through the window.

"Hansel, what are you doing?" Hansel only smiled at his little sister and said, "Wait and see."


The next morning Hansel and Gretel's father and stepmother roused them from their beds and told them to get their cloaks. Their stepmother handed each child a half a loaf of bread for their lunch, telling them that it was all that they would be getting for the day, and then she herded them off into the home's small front yard to await their father. Together the four traveled far into the forest, and the children would surely be lost should they even attempt to find their way back home, but the ever clever Hansel only smiled and hummed a happy little tune. It drove his stepmother mad all day.

"Sit here," Their stepmother finally said when they had reached a clear spot far from their home. "I will make you a fire, and then you can both rest here while your father and I go and cut the wood. We will return for you when it begins to get dark."

True to her word, their stepmother built them a splendid fire, and then she and the woodcutter left the two children alone to tend to it as they went off into the woods. The woodcutter looked longingly back at his children before he went into the trees, but he did not say anything to them, not even goodbye.

Once the two adults were gone Gretel began to grow frightened, but Hansel put a comforting arm around her and said, "Do not worry. All is well."

They had walked for a very long time, so the children were exceedingly tired, and they soon fell asleep by the fire. When at last they awoke it was dark out, and Gretel huddled close to her brother, fearful of what lie beyond the line of trees that surrounded them.

"However will we get home?" She cried. "Father and Stepmother have left us out here all alone and we don't know the way home."

"Nonsense." Hansel told her, taking her hand in his and using it to tug her along after him. "Look at the path in front of us and tell me what you see."

Gretel did as her brother instructed, and there, glittering on the path like little lanterns lighting their way home, were the pebbles that Hansel had gathered the night before. She squealed happily and skipped along after her brother, confident now that he would lead her home safely.

Sure enough, before the night was through, Hansel and Gretel found themselves at their father's door. Their father opened the door and threw his arms around his lost children, crying tears of joy for their return, but their stepmother only shook her head and told them that they were late to supper. There was nothing left for them but a half a loaf of bread each.


For a time things were once again calm in the woodcutter's home, but before very long the food again ran short and his wife's temper even shorter.

"This time we will take them further into the woods so that they will not have a chance of finding their way back again."

"But darling, they are my children."

"And I am your wife. Listen to me, for I know what is best."

Once again Hansel and Gretel heard their father speak not a word of protest, and together they cried long into the night. There would be no pebbles to rescue them this time, because their stepmother had locked the doors and bared the windows, and Hansel could not make it out into the garden. He did not know what to do.

"Do not worry, sister," Hansel told Gretel, hoping to calm the frightened girl. "I will think of something."

In the morning their stepmother came to wake them, and Hansel and Gretel obediently followed her and their father out of the house and into the woods.

As with the time before, their stepmother had given each child their bread for lunch, although this time it was only a half a loaf between them. Hansel had thought to give his bread to his sister, knowing that she would be weak after their long journey, but then he was struck with a sudden idea. Crumbling the bread in his pockets Hansel began to leave little bits of bread behind him, thinking to follow the trail as he had the pebbles before, and soon he found himself humming his happy little tune again. It still drove his stepmother mad.

They traveled much further than before, and the children did not recognize the woods around them by the time that the woodcutter's wife decided they should stop. As before, she and her husband built the children a fire, sitting them down beside it and telling them to wait there while the woodcutter went about his business. They promised to come back for them before dark. Again the woodcutter looked sadly back at his children, but he did not pause as he walked into the woods, and he did not say goodbye.

Hansel and Gretel sat by the fire for a very long time, perhaps hoping that their father would have a change of heart and come for them before darkness fell, but the children soon fell asleep with no sign of their father or stepmother. When they at last woke it was very dark out and the fire had died down to embers.

Gretel was again frightened, but Hansel quieted his sister and told her happily of his earlier idea. Gretel was so very proud of her brother for his fast thinking, and she sighed with relief, certain that they would be home safely in their beds before morning broke over the horizon.

Hansel used a nearby branch to fashion them a makeshift torch, and soon the siblings were ready to leave. They started off in the direction that they thought that they had come from, but soon they were both looking around in confusion, scouring the ground for bread crumbs that simply weren't there.

"What will we do?" Gretel wailed. "The birds must have come along and eaten up all of your bread crumbs while we slept!"

Hansel was not sure what to do now that his markers had disappeared, but he squared his shoulders and smiled confidently, knowing that he had to remain strong for the sake of his little sister. He set off in the direction that he thought they should go, saying simply, "We'll just have to find our own way then."


The children walked on well into the night, only stopping to listen for strange noises in the cursed forest, changing their path on the occasion that they heard something awful baring their way. Hansel held fast to his sister's hand as his torch grew shorter and shorter, doing his best to stay strong despite the fact that he was every bit as frightened as his sibling. Only his anger helped him to keep his head. He could not understand how his father could have allowed his wife to convince him to do this to them, and he told himself that if they ever found home again that he would never forgive the man.

The night seemed to stretch on forever, and before very long Hansel's torch was sputtering and threatening to go out. He wasn't sure what they would do once that happened. Then, just as his flame gave one last half-hearted sputter, something caught Hansel's eye. He was certain that he had seen something colorful glittering from just behind a thick grouping of trees. Grabbing his sister's hand more tightly, Hansel began to run, wanting to at least see what it was before his torch went out for good. Gretel followed after him as best she could, but by the time they had reached the clearing behind the trees she was all but exhausted.

When at last the two siblings were able to see what it was that had caught Hansel's eyes neither child could believe what they were seeing. There, sitting in a neat little clearing surrounded by majestic old trees that had surely seen centuries pass, was a handsome little house made entirely out of gingerbread and decorated by cakes as big as their heads! The bright pink icing that decorated the window shutters and the edges of the roof's shingles had reflected in the dying light from Hansel's torch, drawing him to it like a moth to a flame, and now he was more than glad that it had. No matter what else happened, at least he and his sister were no longer in danger of starving to death.

Squealing with happiness, Gretel darted forward. She danced about in front of a door seemingly made of pure sugar, standing on tiptoes to tap at a beautiful window made of rock candy, before eventually bringing her lips to a decorative little dollop of icing on a windowsill and taking a great big bite. When she found it to be every bit as delicious as it looked, Gretel began nibbling randomly at bits and pieces of the house, intent on gorging herself until she was too full even to walk. It was like a dream come true after such a horribly hard day.

Hansel was a little more reluctant than his sister, but he too was soon tempted by the delights set out before him, and he began to eat away at the house as voraciously as little Gretel. His pale blue eyes kept darting back and forth, looking around for signs of danger or the owner of the house, but his growling stomach would not allow him to worry over much about where the strange little cottage had come from or why it was made of sweets. He decided to worry about such things only after his belly was full.


Hansel and Gretel had nearly eaten themselves sick when they heard the first noises from inside of the little house. The sounds of footsteps making their way steadily towards the front door became ominous, scaring the two children so much that they froze, completely unable to move. Then the front door flew open with a rush of air and Hansel and Gretel were left face to face with the most hideous being that they had ever had the misfortune to set eyes upon.

The woman stood hunched over, leaning heavily on a gnarled old staff that was nearly as crocked as she was. Her skin was a strange shade of grey that was even darker than her tangled mass of silvery hair, and she was covered everywhere by thick layers of wrinkles, her beady red eyes barely visible behind the folds of her skin. When she smiled, her teeth were yellowed and uneven, broken in places, some of them missing completely. The ones that were there, however, were pointed and stained with something dark and unpleasant.

She looked from Hansel to Gretel, taking in each one from head to toe, smiling as the frightened children began to tremble before her. Then she laughed. The sound grated on their ears like fingernails on the chalkboard, a sound that Hansel and Gretel had only heard once since the school in their small village had been shut down when the only capable school teacher had died the winter past. It was a sound that they had hoped never to hear again. Hansel grabbed his sister in his arms as the strange old woman laughed, not sure what she wanted with them, but certain that she would be mad that they had eaten away a good portion of her home.

At last she spoke, in a voice that was gravely and full of wheezing breaths, "Do not be frightened, children. It is exceedingly rare that I receive guests all the way out here in this accursed forest, and I am very glad to see such pretty young faces looking back at me after all this time with just my one apprentice for company."

Neither Hansel nor Gretel believed for a moment that the old woman was a kindly as she pretended to be, but they tried to relax all the same. At least she did not seem to be angry about them having eaten her house.

"My poor little dears," she took a step towards them, and in response Hansel pushed his little sister behind his larger body to hide her from the woman's view. He didn't know why, but he didn't like the way that she looked at the little blond girl. "Whatever are you doing way out here, all by your lonesome. Where are your parents?"

"Our mother is dead," was all that Hansel would say. "We are lost in the woods, and were so very hungry, so please forgive us for having eaten from your house."

Again she laughed, and again both children cringed. "Don't concern yourselves with such matters. I will simply have my apprentice bake some more cakes, and we'll have the damage replaced in no time. What is more important, my darling little lambs, is that cakes and sugar are not a fit supper for a growing boy and girl."

"We had a bit of bread for lunch." Gretel provided, peaking out from under her brother's arm. "But that does seem like it was a very long time ago now."

"Then you must come in," the old woman said. "My apprentice will fix us all a splendid feast and you shall soon be full of all of the best foods. I shall even let you have a proper desert if you clean your plates like good little darlings."

Hansel was not sure if they should accept the offer, but they had been walking in the woods for such a long time, and both he and Gretel were exhausted. Although the grey skinned old woman made him uneasy, the thought of sending his sister back out into the dark of the forest was even more unsettling. They tentatively took a step forward, as one, when the old woman pushed the door to her little cottage wide open and gestured with a withered arm for them to enter ahead of her. Hansel was careful not to put his back to the strange woman, but he let his sister go in all the same, following her with the woman just behind him.

Once they were all inside the old woman shut the door behind them, throwing the lock with an ominous grating of metal on metal. It made Hansel feel somewhat claustrophobic. He had no reason to be ungrateful for the woman's hospitality, but still he didn't like being locked in with her. He was careful to keep his eyes on the windows, hoping that they could make a quick escape through those should the need arise. There was just something wrong about their host. Horribly wrong. But his sister, it seemed, hardly noticed once they were inside. She ran with an excited giggle towards the roaring fire that had been built in the massive fireplace, glad to be warm after a long night of trekking thorough the woods.

Then the old woman shouted and both children jumped. "Kherun!"

At first neither sibling knew what the word meant, but Hansel decided that it had to be a name, albeit a very odd sounding one, because no sooner had the echo of the old woman's voice died on the wind than a door opened behind her and a man stepped out from behind it. He was tall and willowy, moving with a quiet grace, and Hansel instantly found his eyes drawn to the man's every movement. He was unlike anyone Hansel had ever seen. His skin was the color of rich coco after milk and cream had been added, and every bit of his skin looked sleek and satiny where it showed from the loose fitting sleeveless shirt and shortpants that he was wearing. Even his bare feet looked somehow elegant. His hair was long and wavy, pulled back from his face by a simple black ribbon, and in the light from the fire Hansel and Gretel could see that it was the green of rich moss, his eyes nearly the same color but just a shade paler. He was the most exotic looking creature that either child had ever seen.

"Master Ruhiyyih?"

"There you are," the old woman muttered once Kherun was closer. Gretel noticed that she squinted even when Kherun was close enough to reach out and touch, and the girl thought that maybe the old woman had lost her sight with age. It made her feel sorry for the poor old woman, for she was a kind soul at heart. Hansel did not feel so bad. In fact, when he noticed that the old woman's sight was poor he was glad, for it meant that it would be easier to evade her should she wish he and his sister ill. "We have guests for dinner. Fix them something to fill their adorable little bellies straight away."

Kherun looked at the two children as though he had just noticed them, and there was something in his haunting jade gaze as he looked between them and the old woman that made Hansel even more uncomfortable. He really was nearly ready to bolt for the door, despite the old woman's hospitality and seeming kindness. And he refused to let himself feel guilty for thinking such thoughts. After all, he was feeling more than a little distrustful after the way that his father and stepmother had left him and his sister to die. And they were supposed to be his family. This woman was but a stranger. A very strange stranger.

Then Kherun smiled at him and Hansel felt a weight within him lifting.


Within the hour the four occupants of the little house were sitting down to dinner; Ruhiyyih, Kherun, and their two unexpected young guests all seated around a table laden with more food than the children had ever seen before. Kherun had prepared a feast fit for a royal fete, complete with hot soups, fresh bread, roast pig, and even the promised desert of a gently spiced rice pudding. And everything was utterly delicious.

Not that Hansel really noticed. He tried to keep one eye on their host, still weary of the old woman's seemingly noble act of kindness, but he found himself repeatedly drawn to their chef instead. Kherun kept his head bowed as he ate, occasionally placing spices and condiments nearer to his ill-sighted master without even having to be asked, but from time to time his deep green eyes would meet with Hansel's pale blue ones and the boy would feel his heart skip a beat. In those moments he forgot all about his misgivings and wanted nothing more that to stay at that table forever. He had no idea why he felt that way simply from a glance, a look from someone that he had only just met, but by the time that he had finished his dinner he found himself grateful to the woman for taking them in for the night. If only for the fact that he had met Kherun.

When Kherun rose and began to clear away their plates, Hansel was more than happy to offer a helping hand. The two boys stood in the kitchen talking long into the night, Hansel keeping one eye on his sister in the other room, but his attention mostly on the exotic looking man with the captivating green eyes. He occasionally noticed that Kherun seemed uneasy, and he'd glance at Gretel and Ruhiyyih with worry on his handsome face, but then he would laugh and smile and Hansel would forget that such behavior should concern him.

The sun was nearly on the horizon when Kherun at last showed Hansel and Gretel to a small guest room at the back of the cottage where they could rest. There were two little beds, with fresh sheets and fluffy pillows, and the siblings lay down gratefully and were soon fast asleep. They had full bellies and matching smiles on their faces, although the two smiled for very different reasons.


                    ~~~~~~~~ Back to Hansel & Gretel ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 2



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