Other Fan Fiction ❯ Room to Breathe ( Chapter 16 )

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CHAPTER 16: Room to Breathe

Not even the candles in the caravan dare fizzle.

« You knew her, » Granny asked in a creaky voice.

« She was my mother… I thought she was my mother. She took me
when I was a baby. When my mother… my real mother… was giving
birth to me, she was having trouble. So they fed her this potion
made from a magical golden flower. But they didn’t know Mother
Gothel had found it first. »

« Use not that word for the witch. She is a mother to the devil
only. »

Rapunzel wasn’t sure how to take that, so she continued. « The
magic transferred to me. So she kidnapped me and took me to a
tower. I never knew who I was or that I was the lost princess. Just
that she was keeping me protected from diseases and thugs and
things like that. And I wasn’t ready for them. I was too gullible
and naïve. But on my eighteenth birthday I met someone who
helped me escape, and… well, we managed to take away the magic
and she died. »

Rapunzel closed her eyes and looked away, trying to shut out
Gothel’s death scream as she turned to dust. The caravan stayed
silent, while tears formed at the corners of her eyes. She didn’t
know what else to say.

Ariel mouthed the words ‘eighteen years?’ to Elsa, who was just
as astonished.

« Everyone! Leave us. » Granny commanded. « And Nash… » She
pointed her bony finger at Elsa and Ariel. « Treat these women like
princesses. Or I’ll hang you by your ears. »

Nash backed away. « O-of course. » He squirreled Ariel and Elsa
out of the caravan without another word. Now it was only the old
lady and Rapunzel, knelt like a woman at an altar.

« Rise, my child, » Granny said. « Come closer. »

Rapunzel leaned down. Granny’s eyes were like black opals filled
with stars. « I never knew she was one of you. If I’d-« 

« Feh, » Granny said. « Not one of us. Never one of us. May the
devil boil her face in pitch until it cracks. Glamor hides the mark
of Cain. A sundew’s flower looks luscious to a fly, with droplets
of water to sip. Do not forget this. Nature does not. It is full of
deception. Man is no different. It is smarter than the sundew, and
thus uses smarter traps. This is the advice I give you. »

Granny twirled her finger around a swatch of Rapunzel’s hair.
« Eighteen years… » she uttered. « All that time… You have a
greater spirit than mine, child. I’ve seen others descend into
madness for less. Tell me, child–do you forgive her for what she
did? »

« I… I don’t know, » Rapunzel said. She looked away.

« Well, don’t! »

« Don’t? » Rapunzel asked.

« She was a vain, selfish woman. She had no care for anyone who
stood in her way. That is the worst kind of human being. If one can
call her that. »

« But… doesn’t everyone deserve forgiveness? »

« What is forgiveness? The reprieve of sins? Release of the
feelings of hate? No. She earned your ire. She took away
eighteen years you can’t get back. Eighteen years of your life.
Forgive her nothing. »

« I… I don’t know. When I think back, I don’t remember bad
feelings. I became good at so many things–music and art and crafts
and baking and climbing. I remember always looking forward to the
next day. And I still do. »

Granny lay back. « As so it should be, child. »


Ariel and Elsa held their hands over the fire. Other gypsies sat
near, but ignored them, laughing and eating stew.

« She really spent eighteen years locked in a tower? » Ariel asked
Elsa.

« I guess so. I didn’t know. I mean… » Elsa rubbed her hands
together. « I knew she was kidnapped, but I thought she was just…
raised somewhere else. I thought she lived a peasant’s life, stolen
by a crazed woman and raised as her own. I had no idea about the
tower. »

« She seems so… normal, » Ariel said. « I would have gone crazy
if I was her. I had the whole ocean to explore and it still wasn’t
enough. But now that I know what she went through, I feel, I don’t
know… » Ariel rubbed her shoulders. « Childish. »

Elsa said, « When I was eleven, they closed off the castle to
control my curse. We operated on minimal staff. Limited my contact
with people. Especially Anna. Sometimes I’d find Anna sleeping
outside my door, and I’d carry her back to bed. I rarely left my
room. »

« Wow. So you were kind of alike. »

« But… my exile was self-imposed. Rapunzel believed it was for
her protection. Mine was to protect others. » She stirred the fire
with a stick. « How she made it, I’ll never know. She’s a stronger
person than me. »

« She had no one, except her ‘mother’. And Pascal. I had Daddy,
my six older sisters, Sebastian, Flounder, Scuttle, a whole ocean
of friends. Even on land, I started alone, but I made new
ones. »

« Land. » Elsa looked at the sky. The sun was halfway behind the
mountains.

« Oh no, I forgot, » Ariel said.

« Excuse me? » Elsa asked a gypsy named Cooper. « Where are we to
sleep tonight? »

« Figure you’ll take one of our caravans. We can sleep under the
stars. » He pointed to a conestock wagon big enough for three. « I
know she said to treat you like guests, but… er, honestly, that
is the best we have. »

« Fewest mouse droppings, » another man interjected. « Due on
that’s where we sleep our hounds. »

Elsa stood up. « Ariel and I are going to take a walk. Into the
swamp. »

« Er, you are? » Cooper asked.

« Yes. And if anyone follows us, they will regret it. Do you
understand? I don’t want any of your men in the trees following
us. »

Nash responded, « Ain’t no one keeping track this close to camp.
But you shouldn’t be walking in the dark. What if-« 

« You ask a lot of questions, » Elsa said. « Do I have your word
that we will not be followed? »

« You kept your word. I’ll keep mine, » Nash said.

Elsa held her head stiff as Ariel followed her. She brushed back
the vines and the world dimmed. Pungent swamp gas had mellowed in
the fall of evening. The dim lights of fireflies circled in the
distance. Ariel used her trident as a machete, pulling back
creepers and shooing animals.

« Do you have a plan? » Ariel asked.

« We need water. And we can’t get it from them without raising
too much suspicion. »

« Right. They’ll wonder why I’m taking such a long bath. »

« If we can find a small pond, will you be okay? It’s not salt
water. »

« I think I’ll be okay. All I need to do is make it until
morning. »

They walked further into the swamp, following a stream up to its
source–an overflowing pit of dark water. Moss overhung the edges,
but it was clean as marshes went.

« I think this should do. We can’t wait much longer anyways. »
Ariel took off her skirt. Elsa folded it while Ariel walked into
the water, shivering from the cold.

She turned to Elsa, arms crossed over her chest. « What about
crocodiles? »

« Can’t you use your trident? »

« Not if I’m asleep. »

« I can create a dome over the pond. Ice will keep everything
out. But it might be a cold night. »

« Better than being chomped on. »

Elsa circled her hands. A white arc grew from one side of the
pond, curving over the top. Ariel bit her lip as the hatch closed,
leaving her with little light.

Elsa knocked on the dome. « You all right in there? »

« Just fine, » Ariel said, lying through her teeth.

« I’ll come find you in the morning. Have a good night. »

Ariel played with the water while waiting for the change to
come. Pain gripped her torso. She writhed, splashing against the
dome’s ceiling. When the transformation was complete, a lingering
fire burned in her chest. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could
do this. Her mermaid body resisted the cold, but the darkness kept
her uneasy.

Something scratched at the base of the dome. A badger curiously
pawing at it?

Ariel sank into the water, hoping for the best.


When Elsa returned, she found Rapunzel by the fire. A Romani man
played the lute while others laughed and clanked frothy mugs
holding conversation with her. Three women weaved her hair with
their bony fingers. « It’s like working with spun gold, » one
cackled.

« Where’s the red-headed one? » Cooper asked.

« She prefers to sleep alone. It’s… it’s how she was
raised. »

« That’s a bit unusual. »

« We’re all a bit unusual, » Rapunzel said. « I lived in a single
room for eighteen years and my hair is seventy feet long. » The
gypsies laughed and continued their cups. Rapunzel’s distraction
had worked. « Is Ariel okay? » she asked Elsa.

Elsa sat down beside her. « I think so. She… found a pond, and
wanted to ‘sleep’ there. I made sure she was protected. »

Rapunzel nodded. « I asked Granny about Omis Ravir. She said the
folk tale is that he lives in an old cathedral further west, deep
in the woods. She’s not sure if it’s real or just a legend to scare
people. Her people weren’t exactly welcome near the church. »

Elsa nodded. « Is he supposed to be a man? A monster? A
wizard? »

« Granny wasn’t entire sure. She thought it was once a man. But
the stench of evil was so strong, she couldn’t believe anything in
there was ever human. She wouldn’t even try burning down the woods,
in case it survived and found its way out. Anyway, she promised to
have us guided there tomorrow morning. »

Someone handed Elsa and Rapunzel two bowls of steaming stew.

« Then… I guess all that’s left tonight is to eat, drink and be
merry, » Elsa said.


In the morning, as Rapunzel finished hemming her stockings, she
heard rustling vines. Elsa emerged, leading Ariel out. She was
wearing Elsa’s shawl.

« Are you okay? » Rapunzel asked.

« I can’t w-w-wait to have this c-c-curse lifted, » Ariel said. « I
d-d-d-d-don’t think I can d-d-d-do that ag-g-g-gain. » Elsa rubbed
Ariel’s shoulders.

Nash finished tying his boots. The tin objects on his hiking
pack jingled. « Ladies, I’m ready to go whenever you are. »

« Is it far? »

Nash shrugged. « It’ll take about half the morning to get
there. »

« Maybe the walk will warm me up, » Ariel said.

They left the camp behind and traveled across the prairie. A
jade forest swallowed them up, full of dense thickets and jungle
vines the color of parrot feathers.

Nash led, hacking at the brush with a short sword. In the
beginning, birds chittered overhead. But now deep in, only the wind
creaked old boughs.

« All right, » Nash said. « This is far as I’m taking you. »

« We’re not there yet, » Ariel said.

« I’m not going anywhere closer. Sorry, miladies. I know Granny
said I’d take you all the way, but I’ve gone further than I feel
comfortable. And I’m not taking one more step if I’ve got breath. »
He pointed. « Just keep going that direction. You can see the
cathedral from here, if you’ve a mind to climb a tree. Just
don’t… aw, never mind. »

« What? » Ariel asked.

« Nothing. Did you bring any weapons? »

Ariel held out her trident. Elsa flexed her fingers.

Rapunzel said, « Um, should I have something? »

« I wouldn’t go in with anything less than a king’s battalion. »
Nash sloughed off his backpack. « Let’s see… maybe I can give you
something. There’s a decent knife. It’s a bit chipped. Um… Maybe
I can whip up a sling, but… no, I don’t have any leather. » He
turned the pack around.

« How about that? »

Rapunzel pointed at a cast-iron cooking pan hung off the
strap.

« This? It’s an old fry pan. »

Rapunzel, bright-eyed, nodded. « That’ll work. »

Nash shrugged and unhooked it. « Okay… if that’s what you
want… » Rapunzel held up the pan to her chest, grinning, while
Ariel and Elsa returned confusion.

Nash put his back pack on and huffed. « Good luck, ladies. May
rain fall to your south and the rainbow touch your shoulder. »

They waved goodbye as he disappeared behind a tall oak.

Ariel used her trident to push aside the branches, searching for
the path of least resistance. All the trees were old and gnarled.
The farther they went, the more grizzled they got.

Ten minutes later, they reached a clearing. Vines and dead
branches draped everywhere, giving the appearance of a sun-dappled
rotunda scooped out of the forest. Just beyond lay a brick facade,
covered in thick bushes and ropy ivy.

« We found it, » Ariel said, squealing.

The forest, try as it might, couldn’t seem to reclaim the
cathedral as its own. Heavy trees obstructed access to anything but
the front wall. Shards of stained glass windows poked around the
frame, some with branches snaking through. Weeds had grown through
cracked steps and hassock melded with stone.

« That’s creepy, » Ariel said, pointing.

A stone statue stood in an inset above the cathedral doors. It
was as big as an elephant, but shaped like a grand lion or dog.

« Some kind of gargoyle or manticore. » Rapunzel said. « Should we
go in? »

Rapunzel and Ariel approached, while Elsa stood back, unnerved
by the statue. She couldn’t figure out why it stood out to her.
Empty coal-black eyes stared out from a face constructed from thick
discs. Spires flared out around its neck like a mane. Something
about its architectural style seemed off. Or maybe it was the
stonework. Elsa couldn’t put her finger on it.

Then Elsa snapped her fingers. It was the only object in the
glen with no moss.

Before she could tell the others, Rapunzel and Ariel stepped on
the walkway. Something started humming. The stone veneer over the
statue’s eyes cracked. Bright blue whorls lit up, lifeless like
glass.

Stone pebbles and shards spilled onto Ariel’s and Rapunzel’s
heads. They stepped back toward Elsa.

The monster shook its head, raining dirt and dust. It leapt off
its perch. The ground trembled on landing. It adjusted its
haunches, dropped its jaw, and roared.

« Oh boy, » Ariel said.

Traveled Ground
Omis Ravir