#QueerBlogWed: Hidden Truths Part 3

On September 9, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a new recipe, thread, and a sudden silence.

This enormous Fairest freebie story was the result, so enormous that I’ve had to break it down into segments…this is the last part.

By the way, this a freebie story for Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystal Coffins as well as Fairest as you may have guessed. 😉

She backed away from the doorway and beckoned, inviting the witch over the threshold. A foolish thing to do, aye, as Quartz would say, but cleverness and guile could be exhausting. 

“I know this cottage with its spacious interior,” Oriana murmured, stepping over the threshold, carrying the basket with great care. “The imp wished me to have it vacated once I became queen for a Person of Interest and his family. It was the price for my magic mirror.”

Ah, it was exactly as the girl feared. The magic mirror had been a gift from Quartz’s jealous lover. All this heartbreak could be part of the kobold’s revenge but he couldn’t have known Blanche would be collapsing on Quartz’s door or that Quartz would take her in. Could he? For that matter, how could he or anyone else be sure his actions hadn’t set in motion the events which set Princess Blanche into flight? If he hadn’t given Oriana the magic mirror, Blanche might never have sought refuge in the Forest of Tears. 

One’s brain ached, simply trying to contemplate it all. 

“This is where that Person of Interest lives with his brothers.” Blanche gestured to the table. “They sit here every morning before they go to work in the mines, digging up beautiful stones so often overlooked and scorned, like the quartz crystal.”

“Quartz, that is the name of this Person of Interest.” A glint sparkled within Oriana’s bright blue eyes, a dangerous glint. “He appears to be of interest to you as well.”

“He took me in. He’s been a father to me, a father to replace the one who was taken.” Blanche gazed back in steady reproach. “It’s a simpler life, an easier life than the one I left.”

“Simpler.” The queen uttered the word as if it was obscene. 

Blanche turned from her to gesture to the cauldron. “Here is where I prepare breakfast and dinner for the seven dwarves who spend all day in the mine. I find myself worrying more about how much they enjoyed the meal than I ever did about any courtiers whom approached me with a petition.”

“Many a petition is no more than self-serving rot.” Oriana inspected a sturdy wooden chair and the cauldron in turn, frowning. “Yes, I listened to every one with a smile, but only one in ten wasn’t an ode to a particular courtier’s self-importance and a way to bolster it.”

“I couldn’t smile the way you could. Not the way I smile at these seven brothers, wondering whether they’re happy or not, if I made their day a little better.” The girl took a deep breath before meeting her stepmother’s eyes. “I’ve never cared about anyone this much other than you.”

“Care must be nourished and given ample opportunity to grow.” The queen gazed at the quiet hearth under the cauldron. “How can you expect it to flourish in the face of empty sentiment, which was all your father and his court ever gave you?”

“You cared or gave the illusion of caring. You made it seem simple.” What had always been a source of great admiration and envy dropped from her lips. “You seemed to care about my father and his people the moment you laid eyes upon them, or touched their hands.”

“Oh, but I didn’t. Not really. Smiles came easily but not caring. I may have convinced myself that I did, but the affection came easily and left just as quickly.” Oriana began to pace the kitchen with slow, swaying steps. “You may have learned the art of caring far more seriously than I did just as you learned the art of keeping things tidy.”

“You taught me well.” The girl moved away from her, did a little spin herself, allowing her wooled skirts to flare. “The best of you lives on in this cottage, Oriana. She lives on in my daily life.” She stopped, fixed her dark blue eyes upon the cobalt ones of her former lover. “I am finding the best of myself in that life as well.”

“I won’t interrupt your journey of self-discovery. It appears I already have a place here, even if I am not involved in your life at all any more.” The queen turned her back on her step daughter and began to dig through the basket with one hand. “I simply don’t want to leave things between us as they are.”

The girl watched her with wary suspicion as the queen removed an apple from the basket. Not the hard, green one she remembered, the heart of the hunter, the heart of the queen. No, this one was red, ripe, and glistening, just inviting a hungry mouth to take a bite of its crisp flesh. 

“We loved each other once.” Oriana held out the apple in a trembling hand, keeping her moist blue eyes upon the girl. “Whatever passion grew out of our feelings, there was once love between us, my snow-white beauty. You can’t deny it.”

Oh, her own eyes were growing hot and itchy with unshed tears. “Please don’t, Oriana. You broke me. I’m still picking up the pieces.” 

“Consider this a token of my acceptance of your new life.” How steady, how carefully checked the queen kept her emotions, but the girl could feel her trembling. She trembled right along with her. “Please. You don’t have to take it, just take a bite. This way, a little piece of me will stay with you, even as we lead separate lives.”

Never had Oriana seemed more beautiful, the embodiment of the growing dawn, yet so fragile, so liable to shatter. The tear-filled softness of her gaze was irresistible as it had always been to Blanche, and yes, the girl was still Blanche, even if she tried to deny her. 

Unable to look away, she reached blindly for the apple. She lifted it to her mouth, took a bite. 

The foulest sweetness filled her nose, her mouth, her entire head. It traveled through her body, pulling her into a swoon she couldn’t resist. Green smoke filled the air, her mind, swallowing the present. The very last thing she heard was her former lover’s laughter. 

“As if I’d ever let these dwarves have you! You’re mine, even if you have to sleep a hundred years to prove it!”

Yes, sleep, sleep sounded so inviting, an escape from this poison, an escape from her own heart, an escape from everything. She couldn’t think of a reason to resist it, nothing strong enough to stand against the urge to give it. 

The girl collapsed, falling into sleep, hoping dark dreams wouldn’t follow her. 

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