The Killing of Wolves

Thief and (suspected) murderer Red Riding Hood joins with poor boy Pip on an unexpected journey to kill the Big Bad Wolf. Along the way, they run into a host of fairytale characters and dangerous challenges that they must overcome so Red can have her revenge on the wolf and Pip can go back to the life he used to live. But they uncover more than they thought they would, scandalous secrets straight from the heart of the Royal Family. All of a sudden, they realise the Wolf is not all it seems. Nothing will ever be the same again. Not once the truth is revealed, once and for all...

It's just a draft, so any tips or critisicm would be appreciated. Also, thanks to the Fuzz for making the amazing cover.

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4. Gingerbread Houses

The night enveloped Pip in its shadowy, chilly embrace and he wished it would never let go. But it loosened its fickle grasp, and the dawn’s first light was something he’d dreaded all night long. He had felt safe amongst the blankets in which he’d wrapped himself; however, as the reality of his situation hit him a ghastly shiver surged through his body and a sickening feeling rose in the pit of his stomach. He remembered what he’d have to do today and the horrible sensation increased.

   He got ready. He bade his siblings’ farewell. He kissed Gertrude the cow on her dear nose and stroked her slowly. He said goodbye to Ma, who had never backed down from a fight in her life but was now in serious danger of crying. He said goodbye to his life as it was, as he knew that he would never get it back after the quest had been fulfilled.

   The arrival at the Imperial Palace was swifter than he’d wanted and dragging his heels did nothing to help whatsoever, no matter how much he tried. Dawn’s light grew ever stronger, whilst his legs grew ever weaker with the pressure that was on him. Imagine if he succeeded. Then Grimm would be rid of the Big Bad Wolf for good and would no more have to live in fear. He would be a hero. No longer would his family live in such poverty. All aspects of life would improve, all because of him.

   And then he thought about what would happen if he failed, if he were to die at the hands of the beast, if every attempt he’d made would ultimately be in vain. It didn’t bear thinking about.

   There the Imperial Palace stood before him, dazzling in the morning light. It had looked beautiful before, but now, bathed in a calm glow, Pip could not grasp its vast glory. In front of it, a girl clad in a scarlet cloak sat upon the back of one of the white horses that were used for occasions of particular importance to the Royal Family- birthdays, funerals and so on. And if this was not one of those few occasions, then Pip thought that the words ‘particular importance’ were severely misused.

   He approached her hesitantly and it was her horse that noticed him first, with a swish of his tail and slight whinny that alerted the rider to the stranger. As soon as the horse tugged ever so slightly at the reins, the girl’s hands moved to the bow and arrows that were strapped to her back. The arrow was aimed at his heart before Pip could even manage a small greeting. He raised his hands in surrender and, after acknowledging this, she very slowly lowered the weapon while not taking her eyes from him. This tension faded as a tinder soldier thrust the reins into Pip’s hands and led him towards the direction of another horse, which too whinnied and brayed as he mounted and their journey began.

   The last glimpse of what Pip held dear was especially poignant for him, but he carried on, the way everyone in his situation should. It was hard, but no-one ever mentioned it being easy. And it was about to get a whole lot harder.

   The rain lashed down, an almost perfect reflection of what Red felt at that precise moment. She cursed the Fairy Godmother and the Queen. She cursed the boy who rode next to her through this tempest. But most of all she cursed herself for having gotten into this situation in the first place. Hanging would have been a preferable choice to going on this damned quest, she thought. She was going to die either way and after much consideration, she realised that the coil of rope would have been far faster, far more efficient and much less painful than the ordeal she was facing at that moment. Or, rather, the Queen was subjecting her to. But then again, if she hadn’t agreed to do it then she would never be able to feel the life of the Wolf leaving its body, to tear out its flesh bit by bit, to watch it suffer like it had made others suffer. Red’s sense of justice was slightly twisted, her sense of morality unhinged and her perception of right and wrong often blurred into one another without warning but she always did what she thought was fair. It was merely that others just didn’t see things in the same way. To them she was scum, a murderer… she hadn’t killed anyone in her whole life yet for some reason people didn’t believe her. But then again, she thought, people never seem to take the side of ‘murdering’ scum, do they?

   She was so preoccupied with these thoughts that she didn’t realise that they were making their way towards a vast gate which led to the First Kingdom, until her unruly horse reared backwards, throwing her on her backside with an enormous thud and a burning feeling of embarrassment. The horse ran off into the distance, clearly unsettled by the storm that raged around them and did not show any sign of coming back. Red was aware of the boy watching her, so she got up slowly in the most dignified manner that she could possibly muster. The effort of keeping up the most dignified manner she could possibly muster, however, made her trip and fall right back on her backside again.

   At times like this, Red found that the best thing to do was to laugh, because at the moment it was a toss up between that or tears, and she doubted that she could stop crying if she started. So she laughed. A great, infectious laugh for someone of her size, one which carried over to Pip, who too suddenly found the scene very amusing. They laughed for a while, and these sounds of happiness were such a stark difference to everything the guard who came to tend to them was used to that the most bewildered look crossed his face.

   Red stopped laughing and studied his puzzlement. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“What,” the guard stammered, “are you doing?”

“We’re laughing.”

“Laughing?”

“Yes,” Pip interjected. “It’s what you do when you find something funny.”

The guard nodded slightly, as if to show that he understood, although his face clearly showed that he didn’t. “What do you find funny here?”

   With that, Red and Pip turned to look at their surroundings. It was a barren place, where nothing much grew and everything that had was slowly dying and withering in the corner. Everything seemed to be tinted with a grey hue, one which was drab and devoid of any colour whatsoever. The paint had been stripped of all of the buildings, yet the most notable feature about each of the houses were that they were covered in rosary beads and crosses carved out of wood and talismans dangling like disturbing ornaments from the roofs. Red had seen this kind of thing before, back when the Big Bad Wolf still reigned large over Grimm and people were scared for their lives. They had hung up anything that they could possibly find to fend of dark spirits and in particular the lupine horror. But he would find them despite this and the rosary beads and crosses carved out of wood and talismans dangling like disturbing ornaments from the roofs would be a reminder to all that no one was safe, no matter how superstitious you were. Her own family had hung some up and she knew that it didn’t save them.

   And suddenly Red didn’t feel like laughing.

   “You’re afraid,” she said. “But we’re going to get rid of this Wolf, alright?”

The guard simply shook his head. “Yes, we are afraid. But not of the Wolf. Naturally, we are terrified of such a beast, but something else presses on our minds also.”

Red was confused. “There’s something else?”

The guard nodded glumly. “It takes our children. It is something that leaves us petrified and overshadows our lives, but this is no Wolf. It is a Witch.”

“A witch?” Pip spoke up. “What kind of witch?”

But the guard simply shook his head. “You must come to the Palace now. The King wishes to speak with you.”

   He walked away. Red and Pip followed.

 

The Palace of the First Kingdom was grand indeed, but it seemed to give off a sense of sadness and desperation that lacked the decadence of the Imperial Palace. The whole kingdom seemed forlorn and this left Red feeling very uncomfortable, especially when talking with the King. All through the meeting, his Queen sat beside him, weeping uncontrollably, her chest heaving with every heartbreaking sob. Whenever it seemed as if she was finished, there was always something that could send her back into despair and by the time they had finished she had used up a mountain of handkerchiefs. But far more distressing to Red was the reason for which she was crying.

   The King was a stoic man, however even his eyes were damp as he spoke of his missing son. Apparently, his wife had given birth to a baby boy and he’d loved little Prince Tristan with all of his heart. Until, one day, the five-year old-heir-to-the-throne ventured outside to play in the woods and had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The Witch had taken him. Whenever the King paused whilst telling the story, his wife’s moans were clear and by the time he had finished telling the horrible memory, his Queen was a snivelling wreck.

   “I know of the Wolf,” he told them. “I know everything there is to know and I will tell you it all. The truth, how it can be defeated, where to find it… every single thing. However, I am afraid that in return for this information you must find my son and bring him back to me. Please. You have no idea what heartbreak it is to lose a child. There is no such misery, and it is a malady that no medicine can cure. Please.”

   Pip felt a lump form in his throat as he thought to how Ma would feel if something close happened to him. He remembered the time she was last pregnant, how she was as happy as he had ever seen her before. Then, when it was time for her to give birth, the baby was stillborn and the image of his strong mother cradling her dead baby back and forth while she gasped with tears was something he’d never forget. A tear formed in his eye, yet he pretended that some dust had gotten in there instead. He didn’t want to look weak in front of his companion. But he didn’t care what she would say. His mind was fully made up in that they were going to help the King and Queen. He said that it was for the vital information. In reality, he just never wanted to see the face that Ma had after the loss of her child again. Not ever.

 

The woods in the First Kingdom were remarkably big, but in the end they managed to find it. The home of the Witch. Pip was mesmerised by the house and wondered how someone so apparently evil could live there. It was made entirely of gingerbread, with gum drops and swirls and sugar canes and icing and marzipan and honey and liquorice bootlaces and marshmallows and sherbet and all things nice. He could feel himself beginning to salivate as they advanced to the house of the child-snatcher.

   “Listen,” Red announced, “you are not to eat any of this, do you hear me? It’s dangerous. We need to get in there, find Prince Tristan and get out before the Witch comes back. Understand?”

Pip did. “By the way,” he said, “my name is Pip.”

“Red. Now come on!”

   The delicacies on the inside of the house looked even more enticing than the ones that had decorated the outside. Pip longed to stretch out his hand and taste the treats that surrounded him but Red’s watchful eye forbade him from even daring. They had both gone hungry on more than one occasion; therefore, a house full of food was tempting to say the least. But they were there for a reason, and Red would be damned if they left without fulfilling it. That is, if they left at all. To Red Riding Hood, cynicism came far easier than optimism; however, when the bright side was so bleak, to look at the negative points would be torture.

   “Hello, my children,” came a wizened, rasping voice from the direction to Red’s right. She turned on her heel to face the old woman, whose wrinkled face was twisted into a smile that brimmed with warmth. The woman’s posture was bent and she clutched a polished cane that seemed to be made out of a mixture of objects that she’d collected over the years. “Don’t be shy,” she cooed. “Eat as much as you want.”

   Her offer seemed forced, as did her smile, and Red immediately stiffened. The whiff of peril caught her nostril and she recognised the look in the kindly dowager’s eye now. It was something she’d often seen before, in the poorer parts of Grimm primarily, but it made her feel particularly uneasy now. It was hunger.

   Pip stepped forward, towards the old woman and she beckoned him with a single, bony finger, that ravenous look continuing to gleam in her eye. Red scanned the room hurriedly. It had all the furnishing that a normal home would, except for an especially large oven which blazed with tongues of flame at that moment. It all seemed normal the first time Red looked, but she had learned to always look twice. To see if the coast was clear, to be sure of something, to see the truth hidden beneath a façade.

   The cane which the woman clutched had been made out of a miscellany of objects, in particular the bones of the children she’d devoured over the years. The hunks of beef that hung from the ceiling, ready to be eaten for the next meal did not seem very much like beef at all. And worst of all were the pile of bones that littered the floor near the oven. Red noticed a few curls of blonde hair and royal clothing and knew that little Prince Tristan would never be returned to his parents.

   The woman offered her calloused hand to Pip and Red knew that if she didn’t act fast then he’d suffer the same fate as the poor, innocent five-year old Prince. Hate coursed through her veins and in a fit of fury she leapt at the Witch, ready to claw her wicked eyes out and make her pay for what she did.  Red’s sense of justice was slightly twisted, her sense of morality unhinged and her perception of right and wrong often blurred into one another without warning but she always did what she thought was fair. So she opened the oven door and paid no heed to Pip’s cries. With an almighty push, the Witch was thrust into the cooker and locked there while she writhed and screamed with pain. Her face began to melt and Red watched it as it did, before Pip pulled her away.  

   They couldn’t go and retrieve the information from the King now, no matter how vital it was. Red couldn’t, she simply couldn’t, look into his eyes and tell him of his son’s fate. What she was glad of though was that Pip had been there. If he hadn’t dragged her away then she would have stayed and possibly inflicted even more damage on the vile creature. For Red was capable of terrible things, more than she let on to anyone else.

   But especially herself.   

 

 

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