26: Valor

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Part 26: Valor


"He who helped you when you were in trouble ought not afterwards be despised by you." (The Frog King, Grimm Brothers)



Our group marches on. Sullen and tired, weary and drained, yet still, we move forward. Each face contains the faintest glimmer of hope, although carefully hidden behind masks of pain and doubt. Nate's promise of shelter, combined with the presence of Prince Charming, is like an airborne elixir, numbing all of our scattered thoughts from the terrible fact that we've lost nearly everything we've had.

In my case, I had nothing to begin with. These two men, seated upon their steeds of black and of white, are the only strands of optimism I have left to cling to. My trembling hands clutch tightly onto the folds of Prince Charming's delicate shirt as he guides his horse forward, towards the black castle in the distance. I'm afraid to release him, afraid that he will turn to vapor in an instant, like a mere illusion made real by my delusional mind.

From time to time, he will glance at me from over his shoulder, checking to make sure I am alright. When his lips curve up into a smile, I must look away, fearing that he will see the blush that he draws to my face. After he turns around to continue his conversation with Nate, I allow my thoughts to drift back to the red-headed child who vanished into the forest.

It has been hours since she's disappeared and there hasn't been a sign of her yet. We've pulled so far away from the forest that I can barely see the green trees anymore. They're mere specks. Whatever persuaded her into the forest most likely had her in their clutches now. My stomach clenches at the thought of the girl swimming in a boiling cauldron, her flaming hair matted over her face like rivers of orange blood.

I grip the Prince's shirt even tighter and retch over my shoulder a few times. The action is dry and painful, yet no vomit comes forth. After a few deep breaths find their way into my tightened lungs, my hold on the Prince's shirt relaxes a bit.

No, I've already came to the conclusion that the Witch is not behind this. The little girl's fate shall not be the cauldron. It could be possibly worse, if this magician is truly more powerful than the Witch. If it is, then I have no chance against it. Even the thought of seeing the Witch makes me feel faint. I can't imagine facing a creature even more terrifying than she is.

A careful glance over my shoulder reveals the smudged faces of the survivors of Atrea. No one seems alarmed, no one is panicking. The adults are all conversing amongst each other, surely making plans for when we reach the castle. None of them seem to have witnessed the disappearance of the child.

Guilt gnaws at my insides as I turn back around. I'm the only witness, yet I do nothing. I'm too afraid. I am safe now, seated here behind Prince Charming, a man of legend. To go back into the forest would be to lose this warm feeling in my heart, to lose my assurance, to risk stumbling upon the Witch.

Despite the guilt I feel eating away at me, I stay silent. I know that even my being here with these unfortunate people puts them all at risk. I would do better going back into the forest to investigate, yet I do not. I am selfish, I am weak, and I am a coward.

My face burns with shame as I ball my wobbly hands into fists and lower my head. Blonde wisps of hair fall over my warm face, shielding me from others' curious eyes but not from my own inner anguish.

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