Once upon a time, in a far-away land, there lived a beautiful young girl whose name was Aline. Smart and strong, Aline was a brilliant soul who was often enraptured by the brilliance of nature, from the crescending meadows of the nearby valleys to the shadows of the mighty Pyrénées that often covered her like a gentle, dark cape. Dark yet mighty, she told herself one day when she was young that she would reach their snowy tops.
“I can’t wait to see what angels live on those peaks,” she whispered quietly to herself one calm evening, wherein the pastures of lavender had been shaded a dark, cool blue by the falling night.
Sadly though, Aline found herself not living in the best of circumstances. For you see, though she was human, her mother, Aurore, had once been one of the hand-maidens to the queen of the fairies as well as one of the queens’ closest friends. But through circumstances she did not yet fully understand, her mother had been turned into diamond and had then been shattered, pieces of her having been scattered and traded by the hands of merchants and farmers all across the land. But the greatest piece of her that remained, Aurore’s diamond heart, had fallen into the hands of a terrible ogre, named Brute. And with the claiming of Aurore’s diamond heart, he had inexplicably found himself the caretaker of her daughter, Aline.
Aline remembered the night when she had first found herself in the dreaded mansion of the ogre, but somehow she could not remember how she had gotten there. Her head ached and she was confused, wiping pretty blonde hairs away from her eyes as she picked herself up off the cold wooden floor to look at the towering, immense and ugly creature, who held the diamond heart, still beating, in one of his massive claws.
“Hmm,” the ogre growled thoughtfully, as he stared into the shimmering stone with small, snakelike eyes, that were like tiny match fires in-between an ugly cliff of misshaped, goblinoid features that served as his face. His gaze was intense and visible amidst the darkness of his cabin and through the shabby window several feet behind him, Aline could only look out into the darkest night she had ever seen, hail and rain dreadfully pounding themselves against the walls, begging to be let in like a million orphan daggers.
“Give me back my mother’s heart!,” screamed Aline, as she ran against the ogre with all of her might, slamming her body against his long leg. But the ogre’s muscles were as hard as stone and Aline was sent flying back onto the floor with an “oompf!”
“Bwa ha ha!,” the ogre boomed with laughter while Aline massaged her shoulder, and while he looked over her. “How foolish of you to think you would be strong enough to stop me in any capacity, ma petite.”
But Aline had not yet given up; spotting a nearby stool, she got up off the floor, grabbed it, then ran back to the monster and slammed the wooden furniture piece against the ogre’s leg as hard as she could, only to feel the simple pieces of wood that constituted the piece break apart in her hands and before her shocked eyes.
The ogre laughed and snarled even harder than he had before, clutching his massive gut while flecks of rotten fat and gristle spewed with spittle from his fang-lined maw, some of which flew against Aline’s face, which she then quickly wiped away with the sleeve of her coat. Still holding the beating, diamond heart in his right hand, Brute reached out and shoved Aline with his left hand as hard as he could, sending her flying against one of the nearby walls.
The ogre laughed hard again, getting ahold of himself as Aline, adjusting herself against the wall, stared into Brute’s yellow eyes with her own fierce hazel-brown eyes unflinchingly, from across the room and between the skein of darkness.
“Give me back my mother’s heart,” she screamed as hard as she could. But the ogre scoffed, quickly looking away from the child. He reached into the back pocket of his enormous, dirty jeans and pulled out-compared to the rest of his filthy living conditions-a beautiful red box. When he opened it, Aline saw briefly that it was full of pretty but ultimately dead, red leaves. He closed the beating jewel into it’s red prison then pulled out from his coat pocket a dark, large iron key and locked the box. He then put the chest away in his back pocket again, still smiling smugly the whole time.
He then returned his attention to Aline, who was still staring at him in pure anger, and he shuffled himself to where he was standing right before her.
“I should eat you here and now while you’re still young and juicy,” he began. “But I believe I have a better use for you,” and as he finished this statement, he walked over, reached down and picked Aline up by one of her small arms. She instantly began thrashing in his steel-like grasp. “Let go of me, you foul ogre, let go of me!” And even though it was useless in his taut strength, she was fighting with such veracity that the ogre, who was leading her to the back door of his cabin, still had to stop and kneel down to her, anger in his eyes. “Stop struggling or I will snap your arm in two!,” he bellowed. Aline stopped struggling, but just barely, for her eyes still could not hide her anger, which was far greater than his.
And this he knew.
For when he saw the anger in her stare, he flinched. But then he recovered, with a fleeting air discontent.
The ogre made a sly, fanged smile at her. He then stood up and having reached the back door, pulled it open. Aline stared into the tomb of the night and only saw leaved, twisting shapes. “Though you may not be able to tell now while the sun is gone, I have here many dead and dying pear trees. Four-hundred thousand to be exact.” He looked down at her again. “Your task is simple; restore them and maintain them, though you cannot eat them. In return, I will let you live. And who knows? Maybe you will be lucky and I will let you see your mother’s heart again.”
Aline stared with hatred first at the ogre then, with angry huffs, at what must be a long orchard.
“Now,” the ogre said, closing the door and leading her to another small door next to the stairs by the front of the house, which he opened so powerfully, Aline thought he would pull the door off it’s somehow still intact hinges. Aline saw briefly that it lead into the basement of Brute’s house, before she herself was shoved all the way in, tumbling down a small flight of stairs that lead down into a cold, dirty and disgusting chamber, closed in by many musty walls. She moaned in pain, spitting out a small bit of blood, while the door to this place was suddenly closed tightly, trapping her in this frightful realm, as impenetrably dark as pitched tar.
Feeling the floor she found herself laying on, she reached out and felt something that she at first thought was a rock. But as she felt the long shape and somewhat softer texture, she realized in sudden horror what she had found. “Bones,” she whispered lowly. “These are the bones of his victims.”
She heard the shuffling of heavy footsteps away from the basement door, only for them to loudly come back. The door opened briefly, letting in a tiny gasp of light, and the ogre threw down for her the tiny rug he had kept by the front door. “You can use that to keep yourself warm, my human pet!,” he angrily laughed, before closing the door once again.
Aline took another minute to get to her feet before she ran up the small flight of the basement stairs and began angrily pounding on it’s surprisingly heavy frame as hard as she could, until her fists were covered in splinters. “You can’t do this to me!,” she roared. “Let me and my mother go!”
She yelled like that for several more minutes, until she heard the approaching thud of angry footsteps. She took a few steps back away from the door and meant to run at it when it opened so as to make her escape. But when Brute opened the door and Aline began to try to make her fast escape, she found herself suddenly splashed with freezing, icy water from the bucket held in his hands. This stopped her immediately as she gasped from the shock, wiping her wet bangs from her eyes.
“Silence! Quit your hollering!,” Brute frantically roared at her so loud, Aline saw the dust in the air shake around him. There was a moment’s pause while the fat Brute regained his breath and Aline, soaked and shivering, watched him intently. “Let me remind you that you are in this predicament because your mother lost a very important bet with the king of the goblins. Now she has shattered into a million pieces. And the only hope you have of bringing her back is with her diamond heart, which I have now hidden from you. So if you want to have any chance of bringing her back you. Will. Listen to me!”
And with that, Brute slammed the door for the last time that night.
Aline, confused, tired, wet and angry, was forced to retire, where she tried to keep herself as warm as possible with the rug she had been given. She clutched her dress and coat tight and rubbed her arms as to keep warm. She was immensely sad and confused, trying desperately to figure out what had happened to her mother, and how she had fallen into this predicament. But though she thought long and hard, no answers would come to her.
For the next year, Aline-always begrudgingly-found herself working in Brute’s pear orchard, her body becoming hard and strong from the nature of the fieldwork. And indeed, what once had been a dying lot was soon turned into a beautiful place due to her surprising affinity for orchard-work. But though the pears she found herself surrounded by were beautiful and their blossoms smelled ripe and wonderful, they remained an impossible treasure to taste, for Brute kept a close eye on the orchard every night and every day, and he knew exactly when a pear had been picked. Only once had she eaten one of the pears out of famished desperation and Brute had punished her by taking her rug away for the night. The basement ended up being so cold she had almost frozen to death, so she kept as compliant and ate the bones, gruel and meat of the animals Brute gave to her as best as she could instead.
She never spoke to Brute who was content to watch her from his perch up on the second-floor of his house. As he had reminded her many times, “feel free to leave whenever you want, ma petite.” But then he would smile sickly and add “it is about a month’s trip to the nearest human settlement,and if nature doesn’t get to you first the wolves will with the absoluteness of death. And more than that, my house is protected by magic that makes it impossible for any human to find it. That means you won’t be able to find it either. And lastly,” Brute concluded with a sick smile, “you will definitely never see your mother’s heart again.”
So Aline was content to play along as best as she could. She tried her best to formulate a plan to escape Brute’s clutches but she could not find any way to escape that could include both her and the heart of her mother. And what’s more, Brute revealed to her his plan one night, just as the pears were approaching harvest. “If you are wondering why I make you work in my orchard as much as I do, it is because I knew you would be able to bring it to life spectacularly, for I could tell the moment I saw you that you have a magic for healing.”
Aline eyed him from across the floor where she ate while he looked down at her from his tall table and rickety chairs. “And now, my plan to feast has also come to near completion. For you see, in the next few days I will lower my spell that allows my house to not be found by humans-or other magical beings.” As he spoke, a sudden flicker of fear quickly raced across Aline’s strong face.
“Then,” Brute continued, “I will snatch up any passerby’s attracted by the sight of my delicious pears, and I will devour them.” Aline kept her gaze stoic, but thought to herself “oh no,” while Brute laughed his hideous, awful, smug laugh before he got up and pushed Aline back into the mold-ridden and rat infested basement.
Quietly, having remembered which steps were the creakiest, she stood close to the door of the basement. As she listened to him step in his heavy boots walk up the nearby stairs, to his room, where she heard him locking his door, she tried to glean any more details of his habits-searching for any weakness in his nightly routine. But, to no avail.
Deep in the bowels of that basement, Aline desperately searched for answers; she knew she could not allow anyone to be eaten by Brute on her good conscience. But she also knew that she would never let herself be killed by the ogre, not while her mother’s heart was still in his clawed clutches. “I am stronger than that,” she whispered to herself, while gently pounding her head against one of the basement walls that formed her prison. “I will be in charge of my own fate and I will save my mother’s soul. And then, with all of my strength, I will defeat the ogre before he has a chance to hurt anyone ever again.”
She stopped pounding her head against the wall and went to lay down as she thought about how little time she had left to come up with a plan.
“It is three days until my 14th birthday,” she suddenly realized. “And it is four days until the pears are ready to be picked.”
Grabbing her rug, she went to the driest corner of the basement where she kept a small pile of leaves she had gathered over her year of work as a small pillow and rested her head there as best as she could.
“What am I going to do?,” she whispered to herself quietly as she fell into a fitful sleep. “What am I going to do?”
On the first day of the last four days before the harvest, Aline was content to just work and let her mind wander absentmindedly, hoping that a brilliant plan for a daring escape would come to her on it’s own. This was a futile hope, but as she was pulling some weeds out in the cold, spring afternoon dirt she heard a loud snap-the breaking of twigs and a growl.
It took her a moment before she realized that the audibility of what she had just heard could only have come from a very large animal. She then immediately stood up and began looking around her to find the source of whatever it is that had made that sound, but all she could see was the dazzling greens and browns that come with the ripening of pear blossoms.
She wondered what could have made such an intimidating sound; the growl sounded as large as that of Brute’s! But the only animals that really ever made themselves known in the pear orchard were small, like insects and birds, which Brute often captured and used to feed his most poor slave. Furthermore, Aline had never encountered a wolf here, and the growl certainly had not sounded like that of a wolf’s.
However, her concentration was then split away by Brute’s bellowing, “get back to work, girl!” Snapping back into the present, Aline hurriedly began picking up the work where she had stopped, though her mind was still racing fervently, searching for a plan.
And still, none came. As long as Brute was alert and awake, Aline could not come up with any assured way to steal his key away from him safely. And Aline had no immediate concoctions, poisons or potions that could reliably put Brute to sleep.
On the second day before the harvest, Aline was busy cleaning up some of the branches of the smaller pear trees, when she heard the same snap and and an even greater growl!
This time, when she heard that growl, she looked behind the tree she was mending and saw a fleetingly fast blur of fiery orange-like a rabbit made of candle flame. She jumped where she stood, startled, and quickly chased after the blur for a short time to where she thought it had gone, but she found nothing.
“What on Earth?,” she whispered to herself. Not entirely unaware of how to stalk an animal, she tried to look for any sign of paw prints or scat, but could not find any sign that any large animal had recently passed by.
She continued for the rest of the day still desperately trying to find anything, be it an old weapon from an ancient war or unearthed path available to her that could help her escape and still, nothing that could be of use to her in this accursed orchard was found. And again, she went to sleep that night feeling the pressure to come up with a plan even harder then she had been before.
“Is it too late?,” she asked herself. “Am I out of options to save anyone?,” she asked herself while the horrid laughter of the despicable ogre rang through the halls of his cold cabin, loud and freezing. And Aline could only imagine how, up in his chamber, Brute was holding the beautiful heart of the lovely Aurore, staring and unjustly petting and caressing it, something he absolutely did not deserve.
For the first time since she had been imprisoned here, she cried. She let herself go and the tears poured forth with no dam of any kind to stop them.
That night, Aline fell asleep to the visions of rage she imagined against the darkness of the ceiling. Rage, which had been her guiding strength. Rage, which had told herself not to give up on. Rage and only rage.
And so it was on the third day, the day before harvest, the day that was Aline’s 14th birthday, that answers once cloudy suddenly became clear, like fire in a wheatfield.
Aline was mending the roots of one of the larger pear trees, the trees that had in a way lead to her downfall. It was one of the farthest clearings away from the house of the ogre but Aline knew that Brute was still keeping an eye or ear out for her-he always did. But that was the least of the reasons she had at this point in her life for why she was upset, for more than anything she was upset at herself for not being able to come up with a plan of any kind to save her mother, herself, or anyone else. And this in a way was another small victory Brute kept over her.
So upset was she that she did not immediately notice the sudden burst of red leaves and petals that suddenly surrounded her. When she finally did, she stood up quickly, wrapping her musty cloak over herself and the poor dress she wore, her blonde hair whipping around her like golden vines. All around her red pear blossom petals were swirling with sudden velocity and wind, and Aline could sense that magic was around her.
When the storm stopped, Aline found herself atop a red hill overlooking a strange, wine-dark sea. She turned away from the distant, intimidating waves and saw for miles and miles, red meadows that went like the bloody footprints of giants. These red meadows were devoid of trees, like a desert. Aline turned around yet again to look back at the large pear tree she had originally been working underneath. It was still there, though it’s petals and leaves had suddenly taken on a brilliant, blood-red color to them. And beneath those branches, at the base of the trunk lay a large, orange colored cat with long, sharp, black stripes along his massive body, staring at Aline with the intense eyes of a hungry king.
For a moment, Aline could do nothing but stare into his regal gaze, remaining as unflinching as she could be. “Welcome to my domain,” the beast suddenly spoke to her.
Aline gasped! “You are a tiger!,” she yelled. “You talk!”
“I am Xavier,” he spoke again in a loud, royal, deep voice that hinted at an intoxicating accent. “I was once a prince, a son of the king of the Genii, until my father exiled me for my ferocity. But though I am now old, and I don the form of this beast, I still have great power.”
Aline gulped, while a zephyr brushed past her. “You were watching me in the orchard these last couple of days?”
“Oui,” said Xavier lowly. “I have come, possibly, to help you rid yourself of this miniscule nuisance, this ogre.”
“Are you going to defeat him?,” Aline asked pleadingly. “You are strong enough to kill him, prince, I can tell.”
“No, I am not,” Xavier began, his eyes glowing brightly. “Though your gilded presumption is most correct. But I hope you are strong enough to do so on your own, for the weapon I am going to give you has a price of it’s own.”
“Please, tell me, lord prince!,” Aline shouted.
“Look at the branches of the pear tree I lay beneath,” said the tiger. “What do you see?”
Aline looked on intently; though the tree once had many sweet fruit growing from it’s branches, now there was just one: a pear as white as snow that glowed with a small hue of magic, aloft on one of it’s bending noir branches. Aline looked back at Xavier who merely regarded her from his rest, exuding power from his frame.
He was waiting.
“Pick it, this pear,” he commanded. “And fill it with all of the rage you have.
“And you will kill the monster.”