by E.M. MacCallum
ddlaug pocketed the small note in the seam of her dress when her
two goblin guards arrived.
two goblin guards arrived.
The dungeon was especially damp today, the evening rain the night before provided puddles all throughout the lower stone hallow of the castle.
Oddlaug sat in the cage obediently, hearing the grey skinned goblins latch the top of her cage. Curling her spine, as the wooden cage was only tall enough for her to sit with her shoulders hunched, she waited to be picked up by the two silent guards.
The stout round goblins had stick-like arms that one would assume couldn’t pick up a wooden cage, let alone with a human in it. But they did and they performed their duties without a struggled breath or wobbled knee.
Lifting her above their heads, she was carted through the empty corridor of the dungeon and out towards the gateway leading to the Commons. She struggled to cross her legs beneath her tattered skirts, hiding her feet from view. She tucked her hands into her lap as the iron gates to the ruby palace closed behind them.
She tried to ignore the crowd of Munchkin goblins as they poked and prodded at her with sticks through the flat wooden bars like malicious children. She glared hatefully with her pale purple eyes at the lopsided grins oozing saliva. The grotesque creatures bred like cockroaches in a junk pile. There were hundreds in the courtyard that day. They milled around each other, waddling in their blue frocks with their heads high as if they had something to be proud of.
Carried through the nameless crowd in her tiny portable cage Oddlaug shielded her eyes. Even with the sun hiding within the confines of the clouds it still stung her vision.
Today was the one day out of the month Oddlaug would be allowed outside the dungeon.
Her half sister Gayelette would be away today. The beauty couldn’t stand the sight of her own flesh and blood. In fact, Oddlaug hadn’t seen Gayelette since they were children. Gayelette was utterly beautiful. Oddlaug was just as ugly.
Oddlaug clenched her bony hand into a fist, feeling the rage bubble inside her. She and her sister never got along. When Gayelette became a sorceress she banned Oddlaug from her sight.
Oddlaug curled her skeletal body up in a ball. Her neck was sore from arching forward already.
Ahead she could make out the platform that she usually visited on her monthly outing. It was plain. They constructed it the day before and took it down the day after. Goblins of all shapes and sizes could see her; the monstrous sister to Gayelette.
If it wasn’t for Gayelette’s pity Oddlaug would be trapped in the dungeon always. The outings would be prohibited and her identity a legend. This did not assuage any of her hatred for her half sister. The only comfort Oddlaug would receive on the monthly outing was a special meal. The loathing gleamed in her eyes even as she licked her cracked lips in anticipation.
A half-human, like Oddlaug, needed special nutrients. No food would be able to sustain her. If it wasn’t for the monthly feedings she would surely die or succumb to insanity.
The small cage stopped rocking and the blue clad goblins set her down on a platform. The smaller goblin children raced around after her. At one withering glance they’d scatter in the crowd behind their elders with shrieks of terrified delight.
It was then that she spotted Quelala, her sister’s husband across the courtyard. He was dressed in blue from head to toe. Only the Golden cap on his head was of a different color. The Golden Cap was a gift from her sister; it had the ability to control the Winged Monkeys. It had a circle of diamonds and rubies running around it. At each tilt of his head, even with the clouded skies, the stones shimmered.
Quelala smiled pleasantly towards Oddlaug once she caught his eye. He was a wise man but a foolish one all the same. Years had taught Oddlaug her secrets. He hadn’t lived as many years as she and her sister.
She felt her spirits lift like a veil on a crystal ball as the meat was carted out on a large silver tray. Squealing with delight, her gnarled fingers flexed experimentally at the prospect of fresh meat. Not just regular meat, oh no. Her hunger could never be sated by just regular meat. The soft flesh of children was the only thing that could sustain her crippling crone-like body.
The silver platter was always being handled by the most unsuitable carriers. A thin goblin held it in front of him like a water pail He waddled awkwardly, careful to avoid Oddlaug’s eye contact. He also took his sweet time approaching the platform as if every step were his last. It will be if you don’t hurry up, she thought venomously.
The little goblin in blue stripes placed the end of the tray onto the platform and pushed it into place in front of her cage. The tray made an uncomfortable scraping sound of metal on wood as the goblin stepped to the side. On Oddlaug’s cage there was a door placed in the wooden bars. It wasn’t very large, just enough to reach her hands through it. Normally it was locked because no one wanted to be touched by the ugly sister of Gayelette. She knew of the rumors, the hushed voices that whispered in the corridors that vehemently proclaimed that one touch from Oddlaug and ones children would all die. If you had no children, your future children would die at childbirth.
The rumor was tantalizing and she didn’t mind it at all, except when they’d dare each other to poke her with a stick in the Common. Idiots, she gnashed her teeth together trying to focus on the meal before her. They had cooked it. They always did, which displeased her some, but complaining in her position would be useless.
The goblin reached over towards the clock-work mechanism slapped up against the side of her cage and with a flip of a switch the door began to open.
Clawing her fingers beneath the opening as it rotated upwards she grabbed for a leg.
She had to swallow many times to keep the salivation down. She didn’t want to be mistaken for a goblin. The idea made her chuckle as she sunk her decaying teeth into the leg.
The instant she did, she knew something was wrong.
The taste was wrong, the texture was tough, not like a child, rather...with a howling shriek she threw the leg back out of the tiny opening. It bounced against the platter and off over the platform into the dirt.
“Are you trying to poison me?!” She bellowed, sneering at the startled Quelala.
He approached immediately.
“Poison you? Never, that would be a terrible thing to do.”
Pointing towards the leg as if it were a filthy sewer rat, Oddlaug cracked her voice like a whip.
“That is poison!”
Quelala inched towards the silver platter with keen interest. He dared not touch it for he did not need to eat children. In fact, the idea would have repulsed his kind.
“Did you smell a poison? Perhaps saw something that I cannot? For it appears to be meat.”
For a man considered wise against the others of his species he rarely managed to impress Oddlaug.
“That abomination is not the flesh of a child,” she hissed, “that is a monkey.”
Their bickering managed to attract an audience. Goblin citizens waddled in for a closer inspection of the fiasco. Their curious eyes switching between the royalty and prisoner.
“Falsely accused,” Oddlaug ranted, turning to the abundant of faces all tilted up towards her. “And here I sit, being poisoned before your eyes.”
No one cheered for her, not one appeared to wan from neutrality. Their eyes flickered towards Quelala for his response.
The handsome prince gapped at Oddlaug, flabbergasted.
“Monkey won’t poison you,” he snapped, his face flushing.
“It’s not what I eat, you tried to poison me. Everyone knows you can hide poisons in monkey meat, one cannot even tell it’s there,” Oddlaug flared.
Quelala opened his mouth to retort when his eyes flickered towards the hem of her tattered skirts.
“What’s that?” His voice reduced to guarded curiosity.
Oddlaug turned her head just in time to see a goblin dart forward. It shot its hand through the bars and snatched the note she had stuffed away in the hem. In her anger and frustration she must have moved enough for it to wiggle free of its hiding spot.
Frantic, her clawed fingers swatted for the goblin, but he was much too quick. Hopping back out of arms reach, adrenaline smearing his face, he offered the note to Quelala. He was careful not to chance a glance at Oddlaug. Whispers roared up all around the brave little goblin.
“Did you touch her?”
“She didn’t cut you, did she?”
“Did you get close enough to see the maggots in her hair?”
“I certainly hope you didn’t look into her eyes.”
Ignoring the numerous questions to his own safety, the goblin waited for Prince Quelala to take the note.
Plucking it from his companion’s fingers, Quelala opened the folds. His eyes scanned it briefly. He lifted his face to meet her gaze. Unlike the goblins, Quelala wasn’t superstitious. His features were grim as he approached the cage.
Oddlaug squirmed miserably in her confinement. She couldn’t run or hide; she knew holding down her skirt would only prolong the inevitable. Instead she tried to read his subtle expressions, but they were strictly guarded.
Reaching within the bars, Quelala, brushed the edge of her clothes away from her foot. Seeing for the first time the shoes she wore he jumped back. He grabbed the hand that had brushed up against the shoes protectively.
“Who gave you those?” He demanded.
Oddlaug wiggled her toes within the silver shoes, uncertain about her answer. The truth would not only imprison her but someone else as well. Turning the possibilities over in her mind the silence stretched for countless, merciless seconds.
Tilting her chin down into her upturned knees she glared at the crowd. Where was the note giver? Wouldn’t they have wanted to be around the day after they gave her the shoes?
Quelala was always known as being a sympathetic man; it was rumored that he was the only reason Oddlaug was still alive. But, today, his mercy had fallen short.
“Hang her,” he said. Words stabbed her repeatedly before Oddlaug was able to recover from the shock.
At first nothing happened. Perhaps the irregularity of those words had to wring themselves out in the minds of the goblin commoners and guards before they even registered recognition.
The moment it did, the first Munchkin moved toward the platform to pick up Oddlaug’s cage. He grunted for help and was immediately assisted by another goblin.
Oddlaug felt a scattered moan scratch at her throat. This couldn’t be happening to her; her sister would never allow it. Or would she?
All because of the silver shoes that had been gifts just the night before?
As she was carried through the crowd the Munchkins didn’t poke her this time. They didn’t playfully slap a hand on the cage or offer cruel comments.
Across the common were hanging posts erected hundreds of years ago. Enchanted by Gayelette herself, they had never faded with time nor crippled during a storm. They stood as fresh and tall as the day they were built.
A hanging in the East was so rare that the people had forgotten the brutal pleasure that came with it. The sickening curiosity of watching someone die wasn’t entirely recognized.
A single goblin cheered amongst the faces in the crowd. Soon after, a few others joined in the cheering. Before she knew it the entire common had erupted in voices.
Fear began to creep along the edges of Oddlaug’s flesh. She twisted in her seat. She glanced behind her at Quelala. The shoes had convinced him to order her death. He kept his back to the commotion, his head lowered and still.
“Quelala, do you really want to kill your wife’s only sister!” she shrieked, but her voice was drowned in the resounding shouts that roared through the Common.
Grabbing her shoes, she was tempted to take them off and throw them away. With Quelala’s back turned and the excitement rippling through the crowd it would have done her no good.
Why had her secret pen pal chosen to give her the note and the shoes the day before her feeding? She had the entire month to provide Oddlaug with such a gift. And such a curious gift. The silver shoes had shone even in the darkness of the dungeon below the castle. She had been so delighted to find the note when she woke that morning that read:
Enjoy the new shoes.