Good to the Last Drop

Kapitel Zwei

Hansel slept well, images of warm brown skin and gently smiling lips filling his young head, so he was caught completely unaware when strong hands grabbed ahold of him and tore him from his bed. He struggled for all that he was worth, catching glimpses of wicked red eyes that he knew he'd been a fool to trust as he fought, but the clawed fingers held firm and he was soon being dragged into the small stables behind the gingerbread house and thrown into a rusted cage in one of the stalls. He pounded against the metal bars, but they were utterly unforgiving, and before very long he was laying panting on the straw floor, exhausted and no closer to being free than he had been when he'd started.

"Gretel!" Hansel called for his sister the entire time that he fought his captivity, desperate to know if the younger girl had suffered a similar fate as he, or if perhaps she had been fortunate enough to escape while Ruhiyyih had been dragging him into the stables. He didn't think it very likely, but he still held on to hope for as long as he could. "Gretel!"

After what felt like an eternity Hansel heard a voice at the edge of the shadows, just inside the stable doors. It told him the one thing that he most wanted to know at that moment. "Your sister is safe, for now at least, although Ruhiyyih will surely keep a close eye on her from now on. I am sorry."

Hansel was still glad to see Kherun, although not nearly as much as he would have been before being put in the cage. "What's going on? Why has your master put me in this cage, and what does she intend to do with my sister?"

Kherun looked behind him one last time, presumably looking for the woman in question, before pulling the door nearly closed and walking over to the edge of the cage. He sat down crosslegged on the wooden planks of the stable floor, heaving a great sigh as he looked at Hansel through the bars. "Ruhiyyih is an evil witch."

That explained much for Hansel, not the least of which was the woman's strange grey skin and eerie red eyes. He knew that not all witches were bad; in fact, his own little village had a healer who was a good witch, and she was very kind and good to everyone that she met. But the boy also knew, from tales told by villagers far older and more knowledgeable than he, that when a witch went bad, she went very bad. Hansel was witnessing that with his very own eyes.

"She is the one responsible for the curse that surrounds this forest." Hansel knew that such a thing would mean that the woman was over five hundred years old. Only a fool would doubt her strength knowing that. "She was once beautiful and powerful, but one of her own spells went awry and nearly blinded her, now on the best of days she can barely see beyond the tip of her own nose. She lost much of her power on that day. The spell also caused her to be as you see her now, old and wizened, her beauty forever denied her. She was cruel and wicked before that... but after, she became nothing more than a monster."

"But what does she want with me and my sister?" Hansel demanded. Knowing why she was such a black soul really would not change the present. Although, at another time, he may have found the tale interesting. He had always had a sharp and curious mind.

"She thinks that, by devouring the flesh of the young and the innocent, she will regain her lost youth." Kherun sounded skeptical, and Hansel wondered if the witch wasn't the only one who believed this. "She will fatten you up first, since you are the oldest and not truly a child any longer, and then she will force your sister to help her cook you. She will feast on your flesh and grow strong from your vitality."

"And my sister?" Hansel asked with an audible swallow. Only the evening before he would have done almost anything to have a full stomach and a quiet place to sleep, and now it would only serve to draw him closer to his death? It did not seem that fate was on his side.

"She will use her to help with the household chores for now, keeping her in line by threatening to harm you." Kherun couldn't look at Hansel as he said this. He obviously didn't approve, and for that Hansel was glad. "Then she will most likely eat her after she has finished with you. Gretel is young and innocent, and that is the type of meal that Ruhiyyih covets most."

Hansel thought that he was going to be sick when he heard this. He could not even fathom the idea of Ruhiyyih murdering his darling little sister and eating her flesh. It was horrifying.

"I am sorry," Kherun said again, his voice sad. "I would stop her if I could."

"And why can't you?"

"I belong to her." He touched a finger to the simple black collar that adorned his neck. Hansel had noticed it before, but had thought it nothing more than an attractive decoration. "This collar is the mark of my servitude. I have belonged to her for the past two hundred years, ever since my sixth birthday, just as my father before me had, and his father before him. My father's father belonged to Ruhiyyih's mother. All of us are bound by very powerful spells and to fight them would mean instant and painful death. We are not free to stand against her, no matter what our hearts tell us to do."

If Hansel had been mad at Kherun before, even in the slightest, all feelings of blame left him when he heard the other man's tale. Kherun was as much a victim as he and his sister were. He had seemed so kind the night before because he was, Hansel was sure of that now. He was also certain that Kherun spoke the truth when he said that he would help them if he could. Although, Hansel feared now that there was nothing that any of them could do against Ruhiyyih. The thought left a cold and empty feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. His future, as well as that of his sister, was starting to look very bleak indeed. He wondered if they wouldn't have been better off alone in the forest after all.

Thinking to lighten the mood, if only for a moment, Hansel jokingly said to Kherun, "So, are you saying that you do not wish to eat me?"

Kherun could not answer right away because his throat was suddenly very dry. Eat Hansel? Not exactly. Although, looking at the young man's strong body and handsome featured he did want to do something involving Hansel's body and his mouth. But it wasn't eating. He had been having the same urges ever since the handsome blond had walked through the front door of the gingerbread house. Then Kherun shook his head violently, reminding himself that this boy, despite appearances, was still just that. A boy. And a captive of his master to boot. Such thoughts could only lead to madness, at best, so he finally answered Hansel's question with a simple, "No." Then, seeing Hansel's skeptical expression and thinking that he had taken far too long to answer, he added, "Human's aren't to my liking. Too chewy."

Hansel saw the lie for what it was and knew instantly that Kherun did not share Ruhiyyih's taste for human meals. It made him glad. Kherun would probably be his only company in the stable, and he had found himself liking the other man from the moment that they'd met, daemon or no. He did not want to have to consider him an enemy.


Gretel had been terrified when she had awoken to her brother being dragged from the room by their host, and she had desperately tried to follow, but one inhumanly strong blow to her face had sent her flying back into the room and she had been completely unable to help her brother in any way. Kherun had appeared and put his arms around her, telling her that everything would be all right, and that she must not try to take on Ruhiyyih alone because she would only suffer for her efforts. He whispered to her that he would do what he could for her brother, and that in exchange she must not oppose Ruhiyyih, that she had to remain strong and to always do what the witch told her to do. Gretel was not certain that his plan would keep her or her brother safe, but she tried her best to remember what Kherun told her to do, and she promised both the green haired man and herself that she would do her best.

It had seemed like hours before Ruhiyyih had at last come for her in the little room in the back of the cottage, grabbing her round the arm with a gnarled old hand and hauling her to her feet as she shook with fear.

"Master Ruhiyyih," Kherun was again there to do what he could, and Gretel was grateful that she and her brother were not completely alone. "Remember, she is but a child, and a small and delicate one at that. You must be careful not to be overly rough with her if you can help it."

Ruhiyyih looked angry for a moment, but then she released Gretel and patted her on her golden curls, nodding thoughtfully to Kherun. "You are right, apprentice. They do not taste nearly so good when the meat is bruised."

The way that she spoke of her as meat sent a shiver down Gretel's spine, and tears began to fall from her big blue eyes, but when Ruhiyyih walked out of the room and yelled for her to follow Gretel was unable to resist. She wasn't sure how many times Kherun could save her if she made the old woman angry.


Ruhiyyih took Kherun's words to heart and rarely manhandled Gretel after that first time, but the fear of violence to both her and her sibling was ever present, so Gretel did her best to always do as told. Gretel was forbidden from seeing her brother, but Kherun would bring her word of the boy's health and wellbeing every day, as he was the one charged with taking care of Hansel. He even managed to sneak her into the stables once to see her brother, although when Ruhiyyih had found out she had beaten Kherun severely and Gretel had not dared to ask to see her brother since.

The days ran on into months, and with each day Gretel feared more and more for her brother. Ruhiyyih would leave her in the cottage to do chores, occasionally letting her outside to cut wood or gather berries and nuts from the forest, but always the witch would come back into the cottage muttering about her caged sibling.

"Never puts on any weight," Ruhiyyih would grouse. Then, turning to Gretel, she demanded, "Has your brother always had such trouble putting on weight? Why, he is practically skin and bones, despite the feasts that you prepare for him daily!"

Gretel smiled at that. Kherun was Ruhiyyih's apprentice, and he often helped the old witch prepare her potions. As a result, he had become very good with herbs and medicines. When he had been informed that Gretel would be preparing the meals for her brother he had brought the girl a strange looking purple plant and told her to crumble the leaves and put the little bits into any food that she made for Hansel. He promised that it would keep her brother from growing fat like Ruhiyyih wanted him to.

Gretel wasn't sure how long their plan would succeed, and every time that she made a meal she feared that Ruhiyyih would find out what she was putting in it. She worried that should the witch find out then it would mean death for not only herself, but her brother and Kherun. But she had to at least try. It was the only thing that she could do to help Hansel.


Kherun also helped Hansel to deceive his captor, because even with the purple herb Hansel was still fed three large meals every day, and it was impossible to keep himself as thin as he needed to be to avoid Ruhiyyih's dinner table. Kherun reminded Hansel that the witch had been nearly blinded by her own spell, and when he was clearing away the remains of Hansel's dinner for the night he handed the boy one of the little bones from the roast chicken that he had eaten. Both boys had smiled, understanding each other perfectly.

When Ruhiyyih entered the stable the next day she walked up to Hansel's cage, hitting the bars with the tip of her walking stick, before demanding that he stick out his finger so that she might see how well he had fattened in the past days.

Hansel walked up to the edge of his cage, smiling a sly smile as he held out not his own finger, but the bone that Kherun had given him. The old woman's sight was so bad that she noticed not the bone nor the smile.

"What is this?!" She cursed. "If anything, you have lost weight. I'll have to have that worthless sister of yours start cooking you heavier foods. At this rate, you'll be a grown man before you're fit to eat!"

It was all that Hansel could do not to laugh. He hadn't honestly believed that the witch could be so easily fooled until the moment that she had first tested the bone. After that it became a near daily source of amusement. One of the few that he had. His days, for the most part, were spent trying to find a weakness in the bars of his cell. Ruhiyyih kept the only key around her neck, and not even Kherun could get to it. If Hansel wanted to be free, then he would have to make his own escape.


As the days passed the occupants of the gingerbread house fell into a pattern. Ruhiyyih would wake Gretel every morning and set her to her chores, and Gretel would spend her days from sun-up to sun-down cleaning, chopping wood, and preparing large meals for her brother. She was allowed table scraps, and nothing more. Ruhiyyih kept a close eye on her chore-girl, but otherwise the witch spent her days making potions and doing spells and research. On every third day she would make her way out to the stables and test her captive for readiness. Kherun split his days between his job as apprentice to Ruhiyyih, keeping an eye out for Gretel's safety, and keeping Hansel well. He would take the boy all of his meals, build him small fires outside of his cell on cold nights, and would stay and talk to him for as long as Ruhiyyih would allow him to remain absent. He found himself looking forward to his time with the handsome blond boy more with each day that passed.

He also tried to do small kindnesses for Hansel, although he was certain that Ruhiyyih would be furious should she find out. In an attempt to make Hansel's captivity a bit more bearable, Kherun had taken to bringing him pails of hot water every other night so that he might clean himself properly. And, if he did on occasion stay to watch from the shadows, well, Kherun was a daemon apprenticed to an evil witch. That entitled him to a little wickedness now and then. Besides, he reasoned with himself, Hansel didn't seem to mind. In fact, Kherun could almost swear that Hansel had begun to smile at him while he bathed, displaying himself as he washed, well aware of his eager audience. Although Kherun suspected that was more the work of his overactive imagination than from any real intention from Hansel. None the less, he always stayed to watch. And Hansel, for his part, never told him to leave. Not once.


It was nearly a year before Ruhiyyih's patience at last wore thin. She had thought that Hansel would be plump and eatable within a few weeks, a month at most. She had not expected an entire year to pass before she could enjoy her meal! Every third day she would go out to the shed, and every third day she would find the boy wanting. In fact, she thought that he continued to grow thinner, though Kherun swore that the boy ate every bite that was given to him. And so, not wanting to wait any longer, Ruhiyyih at last decided that she would just have to eat him as he was. After all, he was sixteen by then, and in the witch's opinion, his youth was fast slipping away. He would be no good to her very soon.

She went into the kitchen on the morning that she had chosen to be Hansel's last, growling menacingly as she saw Gretel cooking away at the stove. She looked the girl over, seeing no more than a vague shape of a delicate little girl in a threadbare red dress, and decided that she would just have to eat the siblings together if she wanted a proper meal. She didn't like having to change her plans, but she told herself that she could just find a new child in the village when she was done with these two. The poor villagers were ever eager to have one less mouth to feed.

"Girl," Ruhiyyih laughed to herself when the girl jumped at the sound of her voice, "Get the big oven at the back of the house ready. It needs to be nice and hot for tonight."

Gretel simply nodded, by that time more than used to taking orders from Ruhiyyih. She moved to the back of the house as quickly as she could, but as she made her way out of the door she bumped into Kherun, fresh from his morning visit with Hansel. Gretel glanced longingly at the stable door, so close and yet so far, but she dared not try to go in there herself.

"How is my brother?" Gretel asked instead, willing to believe Kherun instead of risking the wrath of Ruhiyyih. "Is he all right?"

"He's fine." Kherun assured her, a smile on his dark lips. "He's almost done with the book that I brought him."

"Oh," Gretel smiled, thinking to herself that there must be something special between her brother and the daemon. The way that Kherun always smiled at the mention of her brother told her as much. "That's good. By the way, do you know what the big oven in the back of the house is used for? Ruhiyyih has asked me to prepare it, but I've never cooked in it before."

The color drained from Kherun's pale brown skin, and he placed a hand on the side of the door frame to steady himself before looking forlornly back at the confused girl who was suddenly frightened for her friend. When he spoke, Kherun's voice was shaky and choked, as though he were forcing the words out with great effort. "She's going to do it."

"Do what?"

Kherun paused, wanting nothing more than to spare the girl the truth, but knowing that there was no way to do so. "She only ever uses that oven for one thing. To cook the children."

That was when Gretel started to cry. She couldn't see it through her tears, but she wasn't the only one.


Ruhiyyih came around to the back of the house later that afternoon to check on Gretel's progress. She was very much looking forward to her meal that evening, fully intending to gorge herself and regain some of her lost youth, and she wanted to make sure that everything was running smoothly. She didn't trust the girl to do anything right.

Gretel saw the old grey witch making her way towards the oven and she knew with certainty that if she didn't do something, and soon, then all would be lost for her brother. And perhaps herself as well. She and Kherun had spent the morning trying to figure out a way to save Hansel, but even the two of them working together had come up with nothing. Kherun had left to Ruhiyyih's workshop hoping to find something there to use against the witch, but Gretel didn't have much hope of that happening. The witch would see any attempts at poisoning coming before it had a chance to be effective, and her magick would protect her from anything else. That left only her to save them all.

Suddenly, as the witch walked towards her while shouting about her incompetence, Gretel had an idea. She smiled with glee, thinking that her brother wasn't the only clever one in the family. She only hoped that her plan worked.

"Is the oven ready yet, you silly little child?"

"Oh, I'm not quite sure, Mistress Ruhiyyih." Gretel tried to sound as innocent as possible, not wanting to tip her hand to the witch. She clasped her hands behind her back, and leaned back on her heals, a pout pulling at her pink little lips. "I've never used this oven before, and I'm not quite sure that I've started it right."

"Started it right?" The witch repeated in a mocking voice. "How can you start it wrong? You just stoke the fire underneath through the grate at the bottom, feed it some wood, and then look inside to check your flame."

"Look inside? Inside where?"

"The oven, you fool!" Ruhiyyih shouted. "You open up the door to the oven to check on the flames!"

"Oh, but I don't think that I can reach." Gretel continued to sound confused, the sweat beading on her forehead as she waited to see if the grey skinned old woman would buy her act. "I'm not very tall, and I'm not sure if I would see the flame even if I did open the door."

"Then stand on a log." Ruhiyyih was becoming more angry with each word, and Gretel wondered if she wouldn't pay dearly for upsetting her. She was certain to find out if her plan failed. "Or crawl inside and look from there. I don't really care."

"How would I crawl into the oven?" Gretel questioned stupidly. "Perhaps you could show me, and then I would understand better."

"You foolish creature!" Ruhiyyih huffed, but all the same she pulled open the oven door, grabbing Gretel harshly by the upper arm as she moved closer to the oven. "Watch carefully."

Ruhiyyih heaved herself up onto the lip of the massive oven door, mindful of the heated metal and the dancing flames, and peered into the back of the oven. At least the child had done that much right. She turned to crawl back out of the oven, thinking to beat Gretel for her ignorance before killing and cooking her, but instead of seeing the girl standing on the lawn Ruhiyyih's weak eyes were just able to make out a smiling face as the great oven door slammed shut in her grizzled old face. She shrieked and pounded on the door as she felt the flames licking at her feet, but she was unable to push the heavy door open, and soon she was completely engulfed in flames. She went to her grave cursing the smiling child who had been her undoing.

                                                                                                                                    Chapter 1 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Hansel & Gretel ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 3



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