21. You Say Tomato, I Say Ick, Pass me a Towel

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Ashley's bladder threatened to burst—rather like the morning Charming had left her handcuffed to the bed. But this time was even worse. She'd reached a new low in terms of bladder discomfort.

There was a silver lining, however. She focused most of her attention on the frantic need to pee rather than being questioned and turned into a chamber pot by a sadistic magician, worrying about Gerald pulling some stupid hero stunt, wondering if the potion had worked, realizing her chances of escape had wildly declined, not to mention her aching back, neck, and wrists.*

Still in her itchy wig, praying the mustache held, Ashley occupied the pillory next to the bearded man. Her head and arms protruded through holes while the rest of her body hung out on the other side, bent over like a housemaid scrubbing kitchen floors. Fortunately, Ashley's years of doing just that had strengthened her back. Even so, her body creaked and growled and howled with the injustice.

"If it's any help, eventually you'll lose all feeling in your limbs," the old man, whose name turned out to be Manfred, informed her. Whereupon, he sneezed so loud, a flock of vultures charged out of a nearby half-dead sycamore amongst a flurry of wings, utterances of indignant complaint on their beaks.

A trio of tooth-deprived laundresses watched the vultures, then set down their washing bats** and selected rotten tomatoes from the pile of rotted fruit someone had artfully arranged near the pillory section.

"Really?" Ashley said, one eye on the laundresses as they cackled with glee. You know when people cackle with glee, and you're not one of the cacklers, something terrible is about to happen to you.

"No. I just wanted to make you feel better. You don't look good, mate."

"I need to relieve myself," Ashley confided as a tomato splatted against the top wooden board of the pillory. "Stop that!" Ashley cried as a little bit of pee escaped.

"You draggle-draggles," *** Manfred mocked. The rest of the rotting ammunition spewed in his direction.

"Thank you," Ashley said, trying (unsuccessfully) to cross her legs.

"Don't mention it. You're a whole lot cleaner than I am. And the truth is, I was feeling a little peckish. Why don't you pee?" Manfred kicked the wet dirt on the backside of the pillory. That explained the mud and the chicken coop odor.

She shivered. "Uh, I don't think I can."

"Course you can."

"Not yet, I mean. I'm going to escape."

Manfred laughed. "Not a chance. Don't you think I've tried?"

Ashley yanked back her left arm. The pillory had been designed for burly males, not delicate fairy princesses. Her hand nearly made it through. If she deliberately broke a finger or two, she might get her hands out. But her head was another story. One couldn't risk a skull fracture in the name of freedom. At least not without significant consequences. If she could free a hand, maybe she could pick the lock with a broken fragment of wood from the pillory. Or, she could summon some snails to lubricate the armholes. "Ugh!"

"Look at the bright side," Manfred said.

Ashley looked up; the sky was the dull color of dried blood on a rusty blade. The flock of vultures circled over the pillory section of the camp. Black leaves and ash caught by the wind swarmed like an infestation of locusts. Then she checked in front of her, to the left and right. Behind wasn't an option for obvious reasons. "Sorry, I can't see anything bright."

"Huh? Oh, that was a figure of speech."

"Right. Of course," Ashley said. "Tell me, what is the bright side of being bent over in an impossible position with our necks and wrists stuck inside a splintered chunk of wood with no water, food, or toilet facilities? Not to mention the smell." She wrinkled her nose.

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