The Princess, The Tiger & The Pear

Chapter 6

She had been dreaming, that she was in a place other than the deep, dark dungeon of the ogre. It had been another room of darkness, but of a gentler kind.

Then there had been a light.

Geometric lines and edges, that were soft.

A sweet hum, melodic.

Then her eyes opened.

She took in her surroundings; the first thing she saw was a spacious ceiling made of clean stone, painted white with the black points of many tiny stars.

She blinked a few times, moving her sore neck to her left and right.

She had awoken in a fine, restful bed with silken sheets, comfortable pillows and blankets. More than that, she was in a cozy room with walls painted in gentle blues and other lulling colors. Next to her bed on the opposite wall was a tall window, which overlooked to an expansive forest and clear sky.

Maybe her dream hadn’t been a dream at all.

She pulled the blankets off of her and stiffly stood up. As she moved her blonde waves, she saw that she was wearing a long, silken night gown. She gently moved to the window and looked out and saw besides a forest, a small town, bustling in the afternoon light. People were strolling between stalls, carrying goods, dressed in simple clothes and busily talking to each other and the merchants they encountered.

Truth.

Truth, it wasn’t a dream!

“Wooh!” Aline cried, throwing her arms in the air and jumping up in excitement. She went back to her bed and rolled around on top of it, clutching the pillow and laughing hysterically. Tears of happiness were welling up in her eyes. For the first time in a long time, she was smiling and so, so happy.

She was free!

She slowed her excitement though and stopped rolling on the bed as she started putting her memories back together.

Wait, where was she and how had she gotten here?

She remembered running from the burning house and-

Aline’s senses were suddenly alerted as she heard the door to this room suddenly open. She quickly turned her head and saw an older woman, dressed in the outfit of an attendant staring in at her.

“Oh my goodness!” the lady cried while Aline jumped out of her bed. “Don’t be afraid, cherie!” said the attendant.

“Who are you?” Aline asked.

“I am Henriette, handmaid to King Grande and his son, Prince Beau, the young man you rescued. Do you remember?” The woman’s voice was as sweet as rose petals dipped in honey.

Aline calmed herself, but still looked at the woman warily. Then she remembered her run through the forest, a deep pool and a young boy at it’s bottom. She remembered diving in cold water and seeing nothing but dark depths and the distant shape of the boy.

That was it.

“I… I remember some.”

“Good, good. Now, stay where you are, the prince would like to see you very much.” Henriette gave a big, sweet smile, while moving a gray bang from her eye. “Don’t worry dear, you are safe here. Oh, and there are fresh clothes for you in that cabinet there. We’ll knock before we come in.” And with that, Henriette closed the door, and Aline heard a few shuffled footsteps of the old lady walking away.

Aline stood there for a moment, swaying. She turned her head and saw a mirror, and saw that she was still in her sleeping gown. Next to the mirror was a large dresser, which after she opened revealed many fine clothes. She grabbed a turqoise dress, an additional cloak and fixed her hair before sitting on an adjacent chair.

Yes, she remembered much now.

She remembered her encounter with the tiger and the promise of her rage for a way out.

She remembered the ogre exploding in a wreathe of fire before her.

And she remembered carrying with her the chest that held her mother Aurore’s heart.

Immediately, she began furiously searching the room for the chest. She had carried nothing else with her during her escape, but had the prince left the chest back in the forest?

“Are you looking for this, cherie?”

Aline, who had been looking under the pillows she had just been sleeping on, turned her head to the doorway. There before her was the boy from the forest that she had saved from drowning, dry and dressed in fine accoutrements. And in his hands was the chest. Behind him was an exasperated Henriette.

Aline eyed him carefully. He was handsome, with dark hair that fell in fine bangs. He had somewhat small eyes, and his cheekbones were well shaped. Once she was sure of him, she remembered some of Aurore’s points on civility. Aline smiled and gave a tiny curtsy.

“Um, bonjour my dear. My name is Beau.”

“The prince of these lands,” chimed Henriette spoke behind him. Beau looked back at his handmaid, cheeks slightly blushed. “Yes, Henriette, I just didn’t want that to be the first thing I said.”

Henriette swatted the young man’s ears, causing him to flinch in pain. “Prince Beau, your cheeks should be redder than that! Cherie, I’m so sorry, I told you we would knock first but this young man was so excited to see you that he barged right in!” Henriette’s frown at the young man was scarier than the kindness of her face would have led you to believe.

Aline giggled, for she found this exchange humorous and a relief compared to what she had just been through.

“It’s fine, sweet Henriette, I had already changed. Then, Aline’s gaze became strong and her attitude serious. “Prince,” she began while clearing her throat. “May I take my chest back?”

“Oh, of course,” said Beau, as he actually stepped towards Aline and placed the chest before her. Aline took it and as she did so, Beau reached into his pocket and gave her a familiar dark key. Aline took both, walking back and putting them under her pillows. That would have to do for now. After this, she looked at Beau.

“Did you?,” and as she spoke, she motioned to the spot that hid the treasures. Beau shook his head.

“No, of course not, and I kept chest and key with me at all times. No one else but me and Henriette know of it.” Aline’s shoulders dropped in relief, deeply exhaling.

“Merci beaucoup,” was all she could say.

There was a moment’s pause.

Beau stepped forward. “My good friend, what is your name?” Aline blinked, then gasped as she realized she had not introduced herself yet to anyone here. She immediately stepped forward, taking the prince’s hand and looking him in his dark eyes.

“Je m’appelle Aline,” she said, her naturally melodic voice sounding lyrical as she spoke her name. Behind her eyes, she thought about how long it had been since she had heard, let alone spoken her name.

Aline.

The prince looked into her eyes, then squeezed her hand. “My pleasure,” he whispered.

They barely had a moment to say anything more before loud, angry footsteps could be heard. Aline and Beau turned around to see a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in splendid garments suddenly in the doorway. He had long, dark hair, a long beard and the same eyes as Beau. Aline could immediately tell that this man was Beau’s father. But whereas Beau’s light eyes held a gentle incandescent shine to them, his father’s eyes radiated fury.

“Boy!” he roared like a wyrm. “Why are you here right now? Why aren’t you hunting right now?”

“Grande, please,” Henriette began before the king looked down at her, swords of impatience stinging into her vision. Henriette, now forcibly humbled, then meekly silenced herself. Beau then stepped forward.

“Father, please, I was just coming to check on the girl who saved me. Remember? I had my guards bring her up here. Her name is Aline.”

The king huffily regarded Aline, but he managed to take a single, calming breath, his cheeks losing only a hint of their red sheen.

“Yes. Yes, thank you. Sincerely, I thank you. Please, come to dinner tonight.” He didn’t necessarily sound sincere, but Aline graciously nodded in acceptance. The king immediately returned his attention to his son.

“As I said, you should have been hunting by now! Our handmaids would have taken care of this vagabonde, and you could have met her in the evening once you were done.”

“Father, I couldn’t wait until then, I owe her too much. And as I’ve told you before I-”

“You what?” the king growled menacingly, interrupting his son. Beau suddenly stopped any action. Gulping, he quickly flicked his head to look at Aline before returning his attention to the king, straightening himself.

“I hate hunting!”

With a surge of speed, the king stepped forward and slapped Beau across his face. The smack was loud and Beau immediately clutched the cheek that had received the blow. He stared at the ground, trying to fight back the sting he felt before it brought on his tears.

“My prince!” Henriette yelled as she rushed over and gently reached down to inspect the spot. Aline walked to Beau, resting a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it to let him know he was all right.

“Go down, get your musket and make up for the time you’ve lost,” the king hissed. “No son of mine will be allowed to be weak,” he said before turning around, his robes trailing behind him like a lizard’s tail. But as he walked away, Aline turned her attention to, stabbing at his back with her coldest, iciest stare.

“King Grande!” she roared a challenge with so much bravada, the king did stop and turn to face her, his visage belying a crease of open surprise. Though he was much bigger than her, Aline walked forward with no fear felt at all to impede her steps. How dare this man strike his own family! She stepped to him, to let him know this fact. But when she had summoned the breath-

Nothing.

She felt nothing.

Aline gasped, suddenly short for air as a cold rush crashed across her spine, chest and forehead. A sliding feeling was felt in her gut, for in her mind, she had reached forth from there to pull out her own fury. But where there should have been a fire, a heat, there was an emptiness that brought a feeling of weightlessness to her entire frame.

The consternation of the tiger prince.

She stumbled, and the king’s gaze regained it’s edge. Aline looked up at him, and he now seemed immensely intimidating to her. And his blooming rage felt as though a hot desert wind had blasted her in the face, causing her to stumble back.

“I said you were invited to dinner. Don’t make me take my invitation back,” the king spoke, grabbing and ruffling the hem of his robes. “Boy, follow me.”

Aline could only wobbily stand there, as she felt Beau walk past her. She saw he was still clutching his face. But he briefly turned to look at her. Somehow, he was smiling.

“Let’s talk later,” he managed to quietly squeak out before he followed his father out and down the hall.

Aline was still weak, but she felt the kind grip of Henriette lead her to sit at the edge of the bed, touching Aline’s forehead to check her temperature, wiping away beads of cold sweat. So distraught was Aline, and in a cold daze, she didn’t even hear Henriette say she would come back with some cold water for her to drink.

The Princess, The Tiger & The Pear

Chapter 3

She was trying to think.

She was trying to think about the moment and not what it would soon be like to be free of the hell she had lived in for a year.

She was trying to think about what she would say to try and get the wicked ogre to eat the fruit that would spell his ultimate doom.

But most of all she was focusing on being calm and being natural, trying to harness whatever rage still flowed in her veins into this, her final mission, if she was not careful. And as she walked into the entrance, holding the pear behind her in her hands, she felt the disgusting cool of the wooden cabin welcome her like a vulture’s claws wrapping themselves around a mouse. And of course, there was that ugly ogre, Brute, sitting by his gross living-room table on his chair, looking smugly expectant as rivers of anger flowed through the squelches in his brow.

Aline tilted her head down, looking at him with unflinching intensity, breathing with hard anger.

For a moment, neither said anything.

“Don’t just stand there girl!,” Brute roared, clearly uncomfortable with the vicious stare Aline was destroying him with. “Get over here now!”

But Aline stood as still as as the mountain; only a slight breeze rustled her hair.

Brute blinked in stupid confusion; ‘did this scrawny human girl just disobey me?’ But that was impossible, he would kill her immediately if she disobeyed him.

He immediately stood up, hoping that his eight-foot height and bulky frame would scare her back to her senses but this too was ineffective. So he began walking towards her, raising his hand to strike her across her stubborn face. But before he could, she raised her right hand in front of her, holding the red pear in front of her.

“Un moment, monsieur,” she said aloud and Brute did stop for a brief moment to eye the oddity in her hand, only to smack it out of her grasp. The moment was fast but she saw the pear fly across the air and hit the nearby wall.

No!, she thought to herself as she focused her gaze back on Brute who had now wrapped his ugly claws on her shoulders and was shaking her with great, angry strength. Aline heard inconsolable and unintelligible anger in his voice as she saw her hair whipping all around her. She was being shaken so hard and with such force that she thought that if she didn’t keep her neck straight she thought it might break, before he forcefully threw her hard on the ground, causing her to hit her forehead against the floor.

“Ugh!,” Aline coughed in pain as she began massaging her forehead, all the while Brute roared so hard, dust in the air was pushed all around him. Aline didn’t pay attention to him for she knew that he was just blabbering on about how she could never disobey him like that without punishment. And yet, in that moment, the only thing she found herself doing was being angry; not at the ogre but instead at Aurore, of all people. How is it that her mother, the most beautiful and gentle woman Aline had ever met had not just let herself become shattered but had also left her daughter in the dregs of a hideous, unstoppable, offensive beast like this monster?

Aurore.

Why?

How could you do this? How could you do this to yourself and to your daughter?

“Hate,” Aline whispered to herself, spitting a tiny bit of blood onto the floor in front of her while trying to get up. “I hate you, Aurore.”

Pardon?,” came the deep voice of Brute, confusion swathing through his anger. Aline looked back up at him.

“How did my mother shatter? How is it that I am here, and have only memories of living with my mother and then suddenly being here?

“I have no idea why I’m here right now.”

There was a moment’s pause from Brute before he made a quiet chuckle which of course quickly turned into a belly grabbing, full forced laughter.

“Who the hell are you?,” she demanded.

“Stupid girl, it looks like I shook you into idiocy,” he said, while looking down at her coyly. “But as I told you once before, your mother lost a bet with the king of the goblins.”

“What bet?”

“The bet that she could not fall in love with him or else she would turn into diamonds. But Matthieu, the king of the goblins is shrewd and cunning; he courted her the way all men who want a woman only for the sake of a game court them.

“Do you know how men court women only for the sake of a game?”

Aline shook her head and Brute smiled smugly.

“Some find those with little self-confidence and force themselves into their lives by way of sweet blessings. Others find those who have a little more confidence and let them think they are in charge of the relationship and the situation, even when they are clearly not. But your mother, well, she was not either of those types of women. She is the strong and mystical type, the type of woman that is the hardest and most satisfying to conquer. To conquer strong women like Aurore is hard.

“But Matthieu is patient. And so, by using his charms, his magics, his cleverness and his vernacular she could not help but fall in love with him. And when she did, in a gasp, she turned into diamond; all according to his plan, his plan to steal her magic.

“But,” said Brute, looking disgruntled and angry, stopping himself. His already angry brow suddenly became more intense.“But the queen of the fairies was watching over your mother. And when Aurore fell into pieces, she shattered her to protect her from falling into his clutches.

“Yet, fortunately, I was lucky enough to have claimed Aurore’s heart. Even now, Matthieu looks all across the kingdom for me.”

Aline listened intently, while memories of Aurore flooded her vision, cold goosebumps creeping across her arms. Looking up at Brute, she asked him plainly, “Why am I in your clutches then?”

And for the first time, Brute looked at her with but the slightest hint of something other than cruelty and malice. It was a look of condescension tinged with a small balance of respect, as if this is something his young prisoner should know herself. And yet, even this was laced with sarcasm and credulence. Still, his answer was honest.

“Because you are closest to her heart,” he replied.

For a moment, he kept looking down at her while Aline, dirty and calloused, covered her mouth with her hand and let out a small tear. Any sympathy Brute may have had had quickly left his senses. But he turned around to where the red pear had landed, went over and picked it up. It was small in his massive claw.

“A red pear?,” he asked the air. “And it is warm with the softness of a slight magic.” Looking over to her, he said, “Once I eat it, you will go back to work immediately.” Aline then looked up to see Brute, without anymore hesitation, throw the fruit into his mouth and swallow it with a loud, juicy crunch.

Then, nothing.

“What a strange flavor,” Brute said. “Hot, with an Earthy flavor. Like a heavier, darker cinnamon flavor.”

Aline watched expectantly from her corner on the floor. Had the magic failed?

Then, Brute went to say something when he suddenly stopped, a horrified expression on his face. He made a few puzzled, painful gasps as tears began to flow from his eyes and smoke began to pour from his mouth in lengthy plumes.

“Aaaah!,” he loudly screamed, clutching his throat and falling onto the floor. Aline stood up, watching in horror as Brute’s entire body soon began smoking and sparking, his dirty clothes quickly catching fire while he rolled in agony and futility.

What have you done to me?!!,” he roared as the fire consuming his body from the inside began to fume from his bubbling skin and start igniting the entire cabin on fire. He was in such pain, he was destroying the floor with his bare hands as he pounded them in painful vain.

In but a moment, Aline was beginning to find herself in an inferno.

But still, she was paying attention.

Brute, who was writhing on his back, quickly turned onto his gut and was trying to crawl out to the back porch door when Aline saw her opportunity finally before her. She ran over to the struggling ogre and while his back pocket was undefended, she pulled the iron key from his pocket, surprisingly cool in her hand.

Without a moment to lose, she ran up the stairs to Brute’s room and let herself in to the poorly maintained room that consisted of a lone mattress in the corner, several piles of trash and next to a little stand, the ornate box that held her mother’s diamond heart.

She had just grabbed the box when she heard the heavy stomps of the ogre coming up the stairs. Knowing that he was in a rage and no longer had any patience for her to be alive, she noticed his long window, the one he had used to watch her work in his orchard with for several months.

“That has to be it,” she told herself. Looking around the room that also had smoke breaking through the cracks in it’s walls, she put the heart’s box on the ground, grabbed Brute’s little nightstand and threw it against the glass of the window, shattering it. She picked the heart’s box again and noticed a clear bottle that messily read ‘alcool‘ next to the nightstand when the door to the room opened and Brute came in, practically nothing more than a flaming, angry skeleton.

“Give me back your mother’s heart!,” he roared with fury, running over to where Aline stood. With few options left, Aline picked up the bottle, pulled out the cork that sealed it and threw it against the monster that had enslaved her for a year of her life. At the same time, she picked up the massive pillow Brute slept with, a hard and disgusting thing. And with the ornate box still underneath her arm, she leapt out the window with the pillow underneath her while the explosion that once was Brute followed behind her like a shadow.

Of fire.

 

The Princess, The Tiger & The Pear

Chapter 2

“What is this, grand tigre?,” Aline asked the great beast, her strong voice laced with twirling rivers of confusion and anger while her hair pranced in the wind like many wild horses. She was still staring at the strange, white, magical pear, while the voice of Xavier informed her of it’s purpose. “It is an aspect of power that comes to those who are gifted with the sight of compassion and the hearth of fury, to accomplish a great task.

“Pluck it, than whisper unto it’s skein the mission you seek to complete and gift it with a kiss. Then give the fruit to the being you wish to have eat it and with but a single bite, they will have all of that emotion forced into their being, like the venom of a million vipers suddenly crashing in their veins. They will not only feel the emotion, they will also feel the hammer of the memories that crafted those feelings. All of this will slam into them, and the element associated with the emotion will wrack their body, fully. But be warned, for there is a price to be payed”

Aline’s gaze then immediately centered themselves and dived into the oceans of power that constituted the former prince’s grand eyes. For a moment, mortal and genii, female and male, determined and reserved stared into each other, their soul’s dueling in the divide between them. In the warm air, Aline searched for unpronounced truth hidden in the labyrinth of Xavier’s formidable, regal stare.

But she could only find cool honesty.

“And what is this price?,” she asked.

“The pear will absorb all of the emotion you put into it, an emotion you will never feel again. An emotion that will be as gone as the wind that now whispers across your palms will be in the next three minutes when you decide with finality the course of your predetermined, fatalistic, rouge destiny. And yet still, in this case, only your rage can defeat the ogre.”

Aline listened to Xavier explain the magic and to her slight surprise, she found she accepted the nature of the spell rather easily, for here she was talking to him to begin with. The magic was evident, but that didn’t mean she didn’t comprehend the possible severity of the action that must be done without any less realization as to it’s possible consequences. “I must sacrifice my rage,” she whispered to herself as she lowered her head and wondered what it would be like in the future to never feel anger again.

Would she be less different?

Would she not be as powerful.

Had it not been her anger that had helped her survive in the ogre’s prison for as long as she had? Had told her to never, ever treat him with respect even when he stamped his lumbering feet and demanded it of her?

Had rage really been her saving grace?

She closed her eyes and contemplated this for a second that was scraping at the lashes of eternity before she regained her focus and returned her attention to the tiger prince. “Not only is the life of me and my mother at stake but so are potentially more innocent lives, lives that do not deserve to end by way of the ogre’s violence. Lives full of their own miracles, tribulations, contributions and softer romances that must be felt by the meridians and leylines of this world. So do not lecture me on prices, prince, for I seek to do that which is gracious. And graciousness should never have a price.

“Or, so Aurore once told me,” Aline whispered. She briefly winced at the pain of thinking about her mother, before she once again gazed into the eyes of the tiger. All tears were gone.

“Than go and pick the white pear,” the tiger whispered sternly before he said with great force “and know that I will return to you in the future.” As he said this, a hard breeze rustled through where they stood and as it reached Xavier, he dissipated into a swirl of red pear blossom petals that became a hurricane that stormed the entire clearing. Across the prairies of this strange domain, the petals chased invisible spectres, shooing them away to the fits from whence they came, retreating from the power that surged through the tall grass of the meadows and threatened to destroy them.

Aline walked with renewed strength and confidence to the low branch where the pear hung calmly, past the reach of where Xavier rested while the red blossoms magically circled around her. She then plucked the white fruit and brought it to her lips, so that her breath graced it softly while she spoke. “I wish to kill the ogre.”

Then she kissed it; immediately, there was a flash of blinding light, and Aline again found herself in the beautiful pear orchard where she worked. At first, it seemed as if nothing had changed; the sun was still out and birds were still singing in the brisk April air. She looked around before she realized that she must have simply had a strange reverie; she had not been transported to the dimension of a tiger prince, not at all.

“Pas possible,” she said to herself.

But as she readjusted herself to her everyday surroundings, she became aware that she was holding something in her chill palms. She then looked at her hands and saw that in her grasp she was holding a pear that glimmered with the fading mystery of a spell most consequential. Certainly, this was the same pear that Xavier had given her but there was a difference; no longer fresh snow white, the pear was now a deep crimson, like blood coated iron. It even pulsed with slight warmth that felt not unlike an ember’s shade, the warmth Aline knew came from her fine, royal rage.

For a moment she did nothing but stare at this lovely ruby crafted from sweet flesh while the songs of sparrows were replaced by the mellow caws of distant ravens.

Then, terrible, shrill shrieking interrupted the brief moment of contemplation. “Girl! I see you have a fruit in your hands! Come here now and face the consequences of your dim, reckless decision!”

Aline snapped back into reality, having zoned off. But though she had regained her senses, it was almost as if her feet were walking on their own accord as she strolled to Brute’s cabin, time seeming to have slowed, not unlike ice sliding across the grass of a meadow. And then she opened the door and let herself in to the ogre’s foul home.

The Princess, The Tiger & The Pear

Chapter 1

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.

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 fireflies.

“Give me back my mother’s heart!,” screamed Aline, who 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 shoulders, 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.

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 of 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 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 from away 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 candleflame. 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 pawprints 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 her not to give up. 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.”