The Final Chapter
Knock Knock Knock
Mrs. Plow nearly dropped her pie as she rapped on the door. It was evening in Shepherd's Hill. The trees were beginning to turn into blazing oranges and reds, the wind was becoming cooler but the sky was a spectacular pink as the sun lowered on the horizon.
"Mr. Lout!" she called. "Mr. Lout! This is Mrs. Plow!"
knock knock knock-
The door opened a crack and Mr. Lout peered through, warily.
"Mr. Lout! I have news!" she declared."Please, will you let me inside?"
"Last time you were in my house I was limping for days!" he pointed out.
Mrs. Plow frowned as she recalled that she had left Mr. Lout rather rudely in her last visit. Perhaps she had over reacted a bit. But it didn't matter anymore.
"I... simply wasn't myself," she tried on a reasonable tone. "I'm very sorry- but I baked you a pie!"
The door opened swiftly and Mr. Lout stood before her, looking in even better health than before. His eyes sparkled, his hair had gained a rusty tinge at the roots and years seemed to have been taken off of his face. Beyond him the house looked positively radiant! The walls were patched and repainted, pictures hung back up and the cobwebs swept away.
"What happened here?" asked Mrs. Plow in astonishment as she stepped in.
"Happy things, Mrs. Plow! Happy things indeed!" Mr. Lout was nearly jumping up and down in excitement it seemed. "But first you.. ah, mentioned a pie."
They bustled to the kitchen and sat at the table. Mr. Lout put the kettle over the fire, brought out the appropriate plates and silverware and..promptly tore a crumpled envelope from his shirt pocket.
"I've received a letter from my son, Fritz!" he blurted.
"Oh Mr. Lout!" Mrs. Plow rummaged through her apron and retrieved her own letter. "I got one from my Audrin! She's going to be a knight, you know!"
"Oh that's nothing," said Mr. Lout. "My Fritz is going to be a great wizard!"
"Please, Mr. Lout! My Audrin bravely trekked all the way to Graves' Lair just to save a friend-"
"Just a friend?" Mr. Lout snorted. "That friend is my other son, Fier! He wrote me a letter as well, Mrs. Plow! That's two letters!"
He pulled out the other to show her.
"Well my Audrin's letter was twice as long!" she scoffed. "And she wrote it with only nine fingers!"
"Only nine fingers? Pah! My Fritz could have done it with two! Did I mention he fulfilled a prophecy?"
And so it was that Mrs. Plow and Mr. Lout argued away an evening and a half over whether nine fingers really presented a challenge in ones writing. Mrs. Plow had never felt so proud in all of her life, and soon Mr. Plow was knocking on the door to visit and six little Plows followed soon after to hear about the adventures detailed in the letters and rejoice at the harrowing details. All the while the pie sat untouched on the table and sent wafts of sweet Briarberry steam through the kitchen window and out into the world.
Shadows were cast broad onto the wall as fire light flickered from two torches. Fritz had to bend down a little, as the dungeon steps were narrow and meant for shorter people than himself. The air in here was stagnant and wet, with the faint smell of mildew clinging to every breath he took in. The guard ahead of him walked heavily, keys clinked at his belt with every move. On Fritz's shoulder a crow sat dutifully and watched every shift in the light alertly
"Been a right pain, this one has!" the guard muttered. "But the nobles always are. Shame to see such a pretty girl go so wrong-"
They entered a cramped hall and came before a wooden door with a small, rectangular hole at the bottom where a bowl of porridge had been unceremoniously toppled over onto the floor.
"See what I mean?" The guard grumbled as he fidgeted with his keys. "Says our food isn't good enough. But just wait until she gets hungry! You'd be surprised what prisoners are willing to eat when they're hungry enough, sir."
The door opened. Fritz hesitated before going in and handed the guard a golden coin.
"I think I can handle it from here," he suggested.
The guard looked between Fritz and the shadowy cell. He opened his mouth to argue but probably thought it through before he could. Fritz was a hero after all.
"Alright, sir." The guard took the coin with a nod. "Just yell when you need me- and mind you don't get too close. She's got ways, sir. Terrible ways."
Fritz watched the guard shuffle away and then stepped into the cell. His torch lit the space and he found Niarosa standing in a corner looking at the opposite wall dismally. Her golden curls were now flat and dull with dirt, her clothes were stained and she looked positively miserable.
"Finally come to see me, have you?" she asked, hollowly. "Even Marcos comes to see me and I didn't even save his life."
"I know," Fritz mumbled, guiltily. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be.. I won't be in here much longer," she said. " ...and I suppose I had this coming.. what with trying to sell out the safety of the world and all of that.."
Fritz nodded. He couldn't very well argue this. The crow on his shoulder stretched his wings and tilted his head a little.
"So," Niarosa folded her arms proudly. "How did you do it? How did you replace the stone?"
Fritz had known that this question was coming. It had been eating at him for some time, actually. He leaned against the wall, pretending to be comfortable and said, "...In the Fairy Grove.. you were fast asleep and I knew that it was my only time to speak to Marcos. So I woke him up and told him everything-"
"He knew the entire time?" she snapped. Life finally seemed to come into her eyes as she flashed them onto him angrily.
"Yes," Fritz admitted. "I just wanted to take the stone away from you and be done with it.. but he told me not to.. he said that he still needed to find Fier and Audrin.. so he suggested I try to make a duplicate of the stone and hide the real one. I practiced on some of your things first- I'm sorry."
"So that's why I had two cloaks?" she asked, in an unamused tone.
"I had to use an object to disguise as the stone, as well," he said. "Your broach worked because it was around the same size, I think."
"You figured out how to do all of this on your own?" she asked, skeptically. When he nodded she only shook her head and sighed, "You really must be Parsimum's great great grandson."
Fritz could only manage a shrug at this. He had been hearing it for days now but he still didn't know how to take it.
He decided to continue with his story instead.
"It took me all night to get it right. Finally I managed a convincing stone and put it where the other one had been. Then I ran off to hide the other one. I had just found the fairy nest when I heard you scream- I think that's probably when you found all of your things had been doubled."
Niarosa scowled slightly.
"I threw the real stone into the nest and that sent up the fairies.. from there on you were meant to assume that the fairies had been responsible."
"And I did." Niarosa concluded. After a tense silence she sulked and said, "So the whole time you and Marcos were just using me to get to Graves lair?"
Fritz couldn't even meet her eyes now. In a way this made him even guiltier than she was.
"I'm sorry," he said.
They fell silent as there was a clang down the hall, and the sound of keys clinking together.
"Sir?" the guard's voice was coming back down the hall. "Sir- are you done now? Visiting time is nearly over!"
Fritz sighed and stepped towards the door.
"I'll come see you again," he suggested to Niarosa.
"I won't be in here much longer. My parents might be penniless but they still have connections," she replied. Then she added, in a more desperate tone, "I'm a good person, Fritz. Really, I am."
The guard came to the door and held it open. Fritz understood that it was time to go. He gave Niarosa a final, faint smile and said, "I know."
He climbed out of the dungeons of Knight's Haven and walked quickly through the main hall, trying not to be seen. These days he had become something of a celebrity and it seemed he was shaking someone's hand or being thanked profusely at every turn. He ducked out of the castle quietly and came upon the open field beyond it. The crow stretched his wings and then took off into the sky. Fritz smiled as he watched the crow circle high above. Perhaps not all things had worked out as he had meant them to, but life had returned to the forests, birds were singing and the songs they sang sounded like freedom.
a/n: Sorry if any of this seemed rushed. I was just so excited to finally be done with it. If you catch anything that needs more explaining let me know. I thank anybody who favorited this, alerted this or just looked at this. I want to send a gajillion thanks to Lone Canine, Athensfell, Daphne Auguste, Lux Aurora, the mysterious MNS, ChocolateCookies and ..you for the reviews! (I thank everybody who reviewed earlier as well -should they still be reading this.) They were all incredibly encouraging and helpful. I can safely say this would not have been completed if it wasn't for the feedback (seriously, I never finish things).