Christopher sits facing a dwarf with silvery-black beard, gold buttons on his waistcoat, and an even more pronounced scowl than Quartz. Indeed there’s a strong resemblance between the two.
Christopher: Hello, Opal. How are you?
Opal: Bloody shards, I ache when I’m not hurting outright. Been noticing parts of me I never paid a wince once upon a time. Now my joints are screaming at me every time I trek up to the mine.
Christopher: Why make the trek?
Opal: For stones to trade and keep. Aye, my brothers and myself have a roof over our heads and plenty to eat, but who knows when the price for those things will become too uncomfortable, eh?
Christopher: What is the price now?
Opal: Don’t know. All I know is my brothers and I haven’t been paying it…as far as we know. The bargain for our current cottage was struck between Quartz and Nimmie Not. That grinning kobold never told me the terms, not that I was going to inform him of my ignorance. The one I could ask about this is now lying in a crystal coffin. Shards know when he’ll wake up. I’m guessing not before trouble comes knocking at our door the way it always does.
Christopher: You mean Oriana?
Opal: Aye, I mean Oriana and the girls she brings with her. Those human princesses and all their misery, the biggest misery being Oriana.
Christopher: Quartz was very fond of one of those princesses. Weren’t you?
Opal: There was a time when she was a good lass. No question our cottage was brightened by her presence…for a time. Only she disappeared into the darkness, taking our brother with her, leaving a big empty hole in our lives where they once were.
Christopher: I don’t think she meant to take Quartz from you.
Opal: Who knows what she meant to do? Only Quartz seemed to understand her, may the mountain’s roots help him.
Christopher: What do you mean?
Opal: There’s was serious pain in that princess’s eyes, pain I too often saw reflected in Quartz’s. Some secret pain neither would share, no matter how it haunted them. In the end it got both of them.
Christopher: What secret?
Opal: Not sure, but if I were to guess, I’d say Nimmie Not was at the heart of it. All trouble seems to lead back to that grinning kobold.
Nimmie Not: (disembodied voice ringing out into Opal’s ear: I beg your pardon, oh grumpy future brother-in-law, but our scribbler is currently fixing up Fairest. I’m not even in Fairest!
Opal: Gah! (jumping, only to smooth his beard and waistcoat, glowering in all directions) Right, you’re a later addition in Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystal Coffins. That doesn’t mean some of what happens in Fairest isn’t your fault.
Nimmie Not: (voice filled with wounded innocence but is there just a hint of mockery?) Such cynicism, such doubt. You have nothing to accuse me of when I’ve been more than generous to you and your brothers.
Opal: Right. (looking around uneasily) I’m guessing there’s a price tag attached to that generosity.
Christopher: Speaking of Fairest, how is that story going?
Opal: It goes. I was worried that Nimmie Not might squirm his way into the new version, but Fairest is about our girl and the brave little princess who falls in love with her, thank the scribbler. I’m in a bad enough place in that story as it is. Least I am when you first meet me. Quartz is as good as dead, our Fairest has become a wicked witch, and she wasn’t witch enough, Oriana has to come knocking on our door. Had half a mind to slam the door in her face.
Christopher: Only you didn’t.
Opal: Aye, well, Quartz wouldn’t have. He’d grumble his fool head off, but he’d let them in. He’d give that witch another chance. Seems like I ought to be offering that chance in his place.
Christopher: That’s very decent of you.
Opal: Aye, well, I’m a lot more decent than anyone gives me credit for. Including Quartz. Especially Quartz.
Christopher: You might be surprised.
Opal: Right and good riddance to surprises. They always come with trouble.
Christopher: Not always.
Opal: Too often and happiness doesn’t last, for Happily Ever After is a liar.
Christopher: (looking away with a measure of guilt) Just because they lie doesn’t mean they don’t offer hope. Hope that’s real.
Opal: Right. It’d be nice if that were true. Not sure if I believe it.
Christopher: Wait and see.