Good to the Last Drop

Kapitel Drei

Kherun came running when he heard a scream, fearing that Ruhiyyih had finally chosen to do away with Gretel, but he found the girl laughing beside the huge oven without so much as a scratch on her. He was confused at first, until at last his eyes fell on something laying in the grass. It was Ruhiyyih's walking staff. She could not go far without it. Then he understood, his green eyes darting to the oven door, relief finally flooding though him as he fell to his knees and laughed. His laughter turned to tears, and still he smiled, hugging Gretel to him tightly when she too let herself fall to the ground with long denied ease.

At last he collected himself enough to pull away from Gretel, smiling at her cherubic face, finally finding his voice. "Go and wait with your brother. Tell him that you have saved us all, my darling girl. I'll be along shortly."

Gretel thanked him and ran off to the stables, finally free to do so at long last. She couldn't wait to tell her brother what she had done!


Kherun followed Gretel into the stables after a moment, happy to see her and her brother talking animatedly, grasping hands through the bars of Hansel's cage. He was still smiling, although his smile had taken a decidedly sad turn. He held his right hand close to his body, and in his left he grasped a cloth wrapped around something that neither Hansel nor Gretel could make out when they turned to him as one and called him closer.

"We're free at last!" Hansel cried. "I can't believe that my sweet little sister was so brave."

"She has a strong soul, just like her brother." Kherun agreed. "I am only sorry that I was not able to be so strong. Gretel should not have had to do such a thing on her own."

"It's all right, Kherun," Gretel giggled. "I'm proud of myself. I'm glad that things happened as they did!"

"And now we're all free from that witch." Hansel said, looking meaningfully at Kherun. The siblings had spent a year with her, but he had been there much longer. Hansel couldn't even image what it must have been like to be six years old and suddenly be under the horrible old witch's care. "She can't hurt any of us now."

Kherun nodded, moving up to the cage door and unfolding the cloth, revealing the keys that had once hung around Ruhiyyih's neck. Hansel wondered how the other man had come to posses the keys when they had presumably went into the fire with their owner, but then he saw Kherun's other hand and he gasp. It was blistered and red, and Kherun winced every time that he moved his fingers. Hansel had to forcibly stop himself from taking hold of that hand, instead reaching for the one holding the keys, "What have you done?"

"Someone had to get the keys to your cage," Kherun answered simply, shrugging his shoulders a little as though it were no great matter that he had burnt himself while reaching into the fire to retrieve the keys. "It's protected by magicks and can't be opened any other way."

Hansel let his hand go, and Kherun put the key in the lock, at last freeing Hansel from his cage after nearly a year. Hansel stepped out of the cage, unable to believe that he was at last looking at the world without the obstruction of metal bars, and he wept for joy as his brave little sister threw herself into his arms. It felt good to be able to freely touch another living person again. His eyes, however, saw only green. He smiled at Kherun, silently promising himself that the next body that he held in his arms would be his. Hansel had been waiting for exactly that for a very long time.

"The witch has collected a fair amount of wealth over the years," Kherun said after a silence, "you should take as much as you can carry with you when you leave. Now that Ruhiyyih is dead the curse on the forest should die with her, so the outside world will once again be open to your village."

"Let's get it and go then," Gretel agreed. "I don't want to stay here any longer than we already have."

The girl ran off to the cottage, expecting Hansel and Kherun to follow, but the two boys remained behind. When at last Gretel was gone from sight, and Hansel and Kherun were left alone, Hansel could restrain himself no longer. He reached out to Kherun as he'd been wanting to do since the day that they had met, pulling his lythe chocolate colored body close, until at last he could put his arms around him and hold him close. Kherun tensed at first, but soon he relaxed into the embrace, bringing his arms up to hold Hansel just as tightly. He too had been waiting a very long time.

Both boys felt like they had things to say, important things, but neither could find the voice. Then Gretel called out from the back door of the cottage and the moment was lost.

"We should be leaving," Hansel said at last, reluctantly letting go of Kherun and moving off towards his sister's voice. "I don't want to be caught in the dark again. It didn't work out so well the last time."

"Just go east from here, no more than a mile or two, and you'll hit a path within the hour. After that it's an easy trip back to your village."

Hansel didn't like the tone that Kherun had used, or the words that he had chosen, and he looked back at the green haired man with apprehension in his heart. "That's all well and fine, but you can just show us the way rather than tell me. Now come on, we need to get going."

"I'm not going, Hansel."

Hansel felt like the daemon had delt him a physical blow, and he stared at him a long moment before he was able to speak once again. "What do you mean, you're not going? Of course you are. You're coming home with Gretel and me."

"I can't go, Hansel."

"Yes, you can."

Kherun only shook his head, his long hair tumbling from its ribbon and falling down to hide his eyes. He could not bare to face the pleading look in Hansel's honest blue eyes. "Her magick binds me still."

"Then we'll break it!"

"Only time can do that," Kherun said sadly. It wasn't that he didn't want to leave. In fact, he had never wanted anything more in his life than to be far from the witch's lair and always at Hansel's side. But it simply wasn't to be. "She owns me, and I fear that she always will. Even in death."

Hansel wanted to argue with Kherun. Over the past year he had thought many times about what would happen once he was free, never allowing himself to doubt that he would be some day, and always his dreams had involved Kherun at his side. Always. Now it seemed that his dreams were nothing but illusions. He hung his head in sorrow.

"How long will it take before her spell is broken?"

"Ten years."

Hansel tried to force a smile to his lips as he looked back up at Kherun. Ten years was a very long time, but it was not forever. "Ten years, huh? Well, that gives me time to see that Gretel grows into a fine young woman. Maybe I'll even see her wed before I come back to you."

"You won't come back," Kherun said with certainty.

"Yes, I will." This time the smile was real. Hansel had already made up his mind, and nothing Kherun said would dissuade him. "In ten years time I'll come back. Then you'll be mine, and we will never be parted again."

"You won't come back," Kherun repeated sadly.

Hansel didn't want to argue, so instead he pulled Kherun close and claimed his lips in a searing, if clumsy, kiss. He let his actions be his promise, since Kherun wouldn't take his words. Then he released Kherun and turned towards the cottage with tears in his eyes and a smile on his lips.


Once free of the gingerbread house Hansel and Gretel quickly made their way for their village, miraculously finding the right path the first time and making it home before dusk had even arrived. This, dear reader, is where the story begins to take a drastic change from the tale that you think that you know. The way that the story of Hansel and Gretel is commonly told, Hansel and Gretel run through the door of their home to find their father heartbroken over their fates and his wife miraculously dead and gone. The children throw themselves into their loving father's arms, the family happily reunited at long last, and then they empty their pockets of the witch's pilfered treasures and go on to live a happy life with their now wealthy father. Such is not the truth, however.

When Hansel and Gretel at last came to the front door of their father's home they were greeted by their neighbor, a kindly old man who was always sitting on his front porch watching the world go by, even on inclement days. He called out to the children, thinking at first that they were lost souls visiting from the land of the dead, but upon realizing that they were indeed real he rushed out to meet them on the path just beyond their front gate. "Hansel? Gretel? You have come back to us at last!"

The old man pulled both children to him, and they gratefully accepted the comfort, glad to be back at last. Their village might be poor, and full of drab and boring people, but at least it was home. Although, after what they had been through, the two siblings would have been glad to be anywhere that wasn't made of gingerbread or contained an evil witch.

"We are very glad to be back," Gretel told him. "You wouldn't believe what we have been through this past year. But we must go and get father before we can tell our tale." Gretel tried to pull her elderly neighbor with her towards the front door, but the old man stood firm and would not be moved.

"No child, you must not go in that house," He said in a grave voice that the siblings did not understand the reasoning behind. "Not yet."

"Why?" Asked Hansel, eyeing the door to his childhood home with a critical eye. "Why have Father and Stepmother not yet come out to greet us?"

The old man took a deep breath, looking uneasily between the brother and sister, obviously not sure how to say what he needed to say. In the end he just took another deep breath and stated things as plainly as possible. "Your father was heartbroken over your disappearance. He couldn't even speak about you two when he returned to the village on the night that you went missing, but your stepmother told us that they had left you to rest while they chopped wood and that when they'd returned for you they had found you both missing and blood on the ground. We all went searching for you the next day, but no trace was ever found. We assumed that you had been eaten by wild bears."

"But we are here now," Gretel said. "That doesn't explain where Father and Stepmother are."

"Your deaths were very hard on your father," the old man continued. "After a time the grief was too much for him. Just after young Gretel's birthday he..."

"Out with it!" Hansel'd had quite enough of beating around the bush. Although, deep down, he thought that he already knew what the old man would say. It worried him slightly that he was not more troubled by what was to come.

"We found your stepmother stabbed to death and your father hung by his own hand from the great tree in the backyard."

For a long moment no one spoke, then Hansel nodded once and began walking again toward the front door of the home that had once belonged to his father. This time, the old man did not try to stop him. Hansel was glad of that, because he did not want their kindly old neighbor to see the slight smile on his face. Although, he couldn't resist saying, "It seems that Stepmother was right after all. I am old enough to be the head of my own household."


The years passed smoothly after that. With the curse on the forest lifted the villagers were once again free to pass between their village and the outside region. Wealth and happiness was quick to return to them, and soon the village was nearly unrecognizable from its days as a drab and boring place filled with poverty and misery. After the witch's death even the colors seemed brighter, the bird's songs merrier, and the laughter of the villagers easier.

The good fortune of the village extended to Hansel and Gretel as well. The children had felt no hesitation in moving into their old home, despite the grizzly fates that had befallen their father and his wife. The wealth that they had taken from the witch's coffers had insured that they would be able to keep the home up no matter what the children themselves decided to do, and they were contented for a time to live together in the little cottage.

Then, nearly a year after they had returned home, the siblings finally found the cause of the strange occurrences that had plagued them since their return. It turned out that their murdered stepmother had returned as a vengeful spirit to haunt her murderer's children. She had not been very strong while haunting an empty house, but as the sibling's youthful essence had infused the house her power had grown, until at last she became a very unruly poltergeist.

The problem of their stepmother's haunting did not bother Hansel and Gretel over much, however. They found her far easier to deal with in death than they had in life, and as it turned out Gretel ended up showing a great deal of spiritual power as she grew up. She studied hard, even making a visit to some neighboring villages to meet with their shamans and sorceresses, and she was soon capable of exorcising the spirt of their father's wife from their home forever. After that she became quite popular in the village, and before very long everyone was looking to her whenever they needed help with a deceased soul being laid to rest, or a protective spell for a traveler, or even a blessing at the birth of their children. Hansel sometimes wondered if perhaps Ruhiyyih's power hadn't somehow rubbed off on his sister during their year long captivity, but in the end it didn't really matter. Being of help to her village made Gretel happy and that was more than enough for her brother.

Hansel, on the other hand, found that he could be of help to his sister and his village at the same time. He had grown up to be a strapping young man, with broad shoulders and a strong back, capable of wielding a sword with deadly accuracy and more than able to defend his sister and their village from any threat. He would accompany his sister whenever there was a mystical beast to be felled or a shambling corpse to be put back into the ground. The rest of the village looked to him for slightly more mundane tasks, but he gladly helped his neighbors to take down game and protect their borders. He even, on occasion, kept his family's tradition and served as a woodcutter. In truth, however, it was all just a way to distract himself as he passed the time. His mind was ever in the woods, counting away the days until he could at last make good on an unspoken promise.


Soon ten years had passed.

Gretel was known far and wide as a powerful sorceress, and villages across the land would send requests for her help on a nearly daily basis. That was how she eventually met her husband, a kind man who had traveled from a far away town to seek her help in exorcising a demon that would possess him on every third night. She had healed him easily, sending the demon from the mortal plane, and as he had convalesced in her spare room the two had fallen deeply in love. Hansel approved, as the foreigner was not only a smart and capable man who worshiped the very ground that Gretel walked upon, but he was willing and able to take over Hansel's job as a warrior for the village. The two were married and Hansel at last considered his job as his sister's protector to be over. He was free then to take care of his own heart's desires.

When at last the day came that marked the anniversary of the day that the two sibling had returned to their village, Hansel packed up his things, kissed his sister goodbye, shook his brother-in-law's hand, and headed off into the forest. It had been ten years, but his soul knew the way, and before nightfall he was standing once again before a strange little gingerbread house in the middle of the forest.

Hansel stood silently for a long time, just looking at the house, the place where so much had changed for him. Then, taking a calming breath, he walked up to the front door and pushed it open. He had known that the way would not be bared to him. He dropped his bag just inside the door and moved steadily about the house, checking the few rooms for the reason that he had come. All of the rooms were empty. Then it hit him, and Hansel quickly went through the back door and made his way toward the small stable at the back of the property. He knew that it would not be as empty as the house.

"You came?"

"You're surprised?"

There, sitting on the ground just inside of the cage that had been Hansel's home for almost a year, was the reason for his journey. Kherun looked exactly as Hansel remembered him, all coco and cream skin in a willowy body, with satiny green locks that still hung nearly to his waist. Only his eyes had changed. Their deep green depths held a sadness that hadn't been there before, mixed with a quiet shock at Hansel's appearance, and Hansel wanted to weep suddenly for the ten years that had been lost.

"I thought that you'd have forgotten about me by now." Kherun's voice stayed hushed, and he did not dare to move, thinking that Hansel's appearance might just be another dream created by his fervent desire to see the young man once again. "I didn't really dare to hope that you'd still..."

Hansel knelt down next to Kherun, unable to resist touching him when he was finally at his side again after ten long years. He pulled Kherun into his arms, and the daemon let him, the both of them feeling instantly better for the contact.

"I've dreamt about you every single night for the last ten years," Hansel confessed. "How could you possibly think that I could forget you?"

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Hansel had to ask.

"The dreams," Kherun hesitated, unsure if he could tell Hansel the truth. "When you kissed me that day, the day that you and your sister left, I think that it must have created a psychic bond. They weren't exactly dreams."

"So you've been having them too?"

"Every night for ten years."

"Good," Hansel sounded very pleased with himself, and Kherun had to pull away from his comforting embrace just a little in order to look at his laughing blue eyes. How he had missed those eyes. "If you've been with me for ten years now, even if it has been only in our dreams, then at least you'll believe me when I tell you that I love you with all of my heart."

Kherun didn't know what to say. He loved Hansel as well, to the very depths of his daemon soul, but he had never dreamed that his feelings would be returned. Looking into Hansel's eyes, however, he knew that the human spoke the truth. It made his heart soar.

With nothing else for the couple to say to each other, the two let their bodies come together again, and for the first time in ten long years their lips met in a kiss. This time, however, there were no tears to hold back. And there never would be again.


So now, dear reader, you know the true ending to the story of Hansel and Gretel. It is not a tale that ended with a pair of happy little children running into their father's waiting arms, but instead with two happy young adults finding love and acceptance in the arms of a foreigner and a daemon.

Gretel went on to help many people over the years with her peculiar skills. She did not, however, let this hold her back from a normal life, and after only a year she and her husband began what was to become a very large family. Hansel, on the other hand, sought freedom and excitement. He and Kherun traveled the world, never knowing a dull day, and never knowing a day without love. It was a very happy ending for all involved. And much better, by far, than the ending that is so often told to children begging a fairy tale before bed, because it reminds us all that truth really can be better than fiction.

The End

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



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