AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't own the characters (Miramax does) or the fairy tales referenced in this story. I'm not making one single penny off this story. (pauses) I wouldn't mind borrowing the boys for awhile though…
I'm still burned out from writing my two big stories (now three) back to back, so this may not be my best creative effort. Honestly, I almost didn't post this. For one thing, there are some plot holes I never got patched, but I'm going to take a chance and go ahead. I want to emphasize a few points before you go in: 1) This is rated TEEN for a reason. There are some very adult themes and situations and angst in here and some violence. It deals with rather dark issues relating to familial rifts and deaths of family members (if you saw the movie, you know to what I'm referring). Can't handle, please don't read. 2) Although there are religious references in the story, nothing is based on any real people or cults. They were completely fabricated for plot purposes and if you see similarities to any real people or cults, you are squinting way too hard, if you know what I mean. Do not try anything you see in this story, boys and girls, because it's all made up stuff. So, if anyone flames for reasons of dark themes or religious references, I'm going to ignore it because I've given fair warning. 3) The opinions expressed by characters do not reflect the opinion of this writer.
I never read other fictions for fandoms that I'm writing, so I haven't checked any of the other BG fictions posted yet. If there are any other stories like this out there, it's a coincidence.
We've already established in my previous fics that history is not my strong subject either. I based the locations on real places, but they are fictional. (Desdemond's "altar", for example, was based on places like Fingal's Cave and Devils Postpile. Even the tree growing out of the side of the cliff is based in reality. If you've driven Highway 1 in California heading north between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, you might even have seen the tree that inspired it. :-) Blame the Internet translators if my German is wrong. Sister, Mother, and Father Grimm don't have names. I know it's bad writing form, but I don't recall if Mom or Sis had names in the movie or not and Father Grimm wasn't in the movie and I'd rather put no names than wrong names.
It's slightly AU and I take a few liberties with the characters (exaggerating some of their personality traits mostly, but they do some stuff that some might consider OOC), but I'll try to bring it back in line with the movie by the end. No sex, slash, or incest, no Mary Sues/writer's alter egos. Finally, I tossed in references to fairy tales the same way they did in the movie. However, the fairy tales referenced herein were not all written by the Brothers Grimm, some were written by Hans Christian Anderson, Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont, and Carlo Collodi. Okay, here we go…
The Brothers Grimm"On The Trail of Jacob Grimm"
by llnbooks (llnbooks)
It lacked the quality of a dream. Will felt the cold of the night through the nightshirt he wore. The damp winter fog penetrated the damped fabric and chilled his unprotected hands and face. His breath, coming in pants born of fear rather than exertion, mingled with the mist that hung in the air. The wet grass and dirt beneath his bare feet froze his skin until his toes felt like ice.
Death---not just in the dried grass and the trees devoid of leafs---was all around this place. It's presence permeated the air, filled his nostrils and mouth with its acrid stench so that he could barely keep from gagging on it. Its presence made the darkness around him all the more forbidding and terrifying. Will half-expected that the specter of Death lurked in the shadows of the trees that lined the trail on which he stood and might reach out with bony fingers to claim him as its prize. The fear of it kept him frozen in place, afraid to take a step, lest the faintest snap of a dry twig or crunch of withered grass beneath his foot betray his presence to whatever ghosts and demons dwelled here. He was sure they were present; this was their realm.
This was the land of the dead. He knew it with certainty. The ice in his veins, the feel of the hair on his neck standing on end, the gooseflesh on his arms, and the way each gust of wind carried disembodied voices told him so. It didn't occur to Will to wonder how he'd gotten here. Every fiber of his being was focused on finding his way out of this cursed, frightening place.
His eyes would not grow accustomed to the oppressive blackness surrounding him. In the faint light (was it moonlight? He could see no moon or stars above despite the fact that it was night), Will could not get his bearings. He saw only a path beneath his feet---frozen dirt and dead grass---and he didn't want to follow it. He dared not follow it, but his body betrayed him. His legs carried him onward of their own volition. The voices on the wind called to him, beckoned him, and drew him forward even as his mind and senses silently resisted their urgings. He feared being lost in the blackness, but, miraculously, with each step he took, the darkness retreated before him so he stayed consistently in the soft illumination. He was grateful, for the gentle light kept the lurking spirits at bay.
The murmur of voices on the wind was growing stronger and more clear as he moved along the path. Soon, Will could begin to discern individual voices in that unearthly chorus of whispers. A feminine voice rose to the forefront. Unlike everything else in this realm, the female's voice was warm and the sound of it sent its warmth into his chilled body and blood. The caress of it settled the gooseflesh on his arms. Its company abated the chill of the mist and the night.
It called his name in the sound of a welcome. Will.
He turned his head, seeking the source of the gentle call. There, ahead of him on the trail, he spotted a pocket of brighter light that seemed to be moving among the trees. Its glow revealed more of the landscape of this netherworld. The trail curved along the base of a grassy hillside. The hillside gave way to a rather sinister looking mountain. Up that slope, rocks jutted from the earth like columns of blunted, broken teeth. Their pattern was too peculiar, too evenly and deliberately spaced to be naturally occurring. It gave the entire hillside the impression of being a giant, gaping jaw of some monster that would devour Will if he strayed from the trail. And still his body betrayed him as his feet stepped from the relative safety of the path onto this incline. He had no choice: That warm glow and that protective feminine voice that spurred him on, the presence that he knew had brought him to this realm, emanated from the center of those unnatural rocks.
The voice, the presence, was familiar to him somehow. Yet, the desire to find it warred with growing dread of why it had called him to this place and what it meant to show him among those stones.
Will. The call was still a greeting, but also a summons.
The glow nearly turned night into day as he threaded his way between the large boulders and over smaller stones. The razor-sharp rocks should have cut his bare feet to ribbons, but he passed over them without an instant of pain or a single nick to mar his skin. He moved past an old man sleeping beneath a tree, who didn't so much as stir at Will's passing. Will had no desire to reach out and touch the gaunt, withered figure. He passed a cliff. Halfway up, a woman with long locks of hair stood on a rock that protrude from the side of the cliff…long locks of green hair. That just wasn't right…
Will squinted against the glow as it intensified to become almost blinding. "Who's there?" he called into the light.
Something moved within that glow…a shape human and yet not human. She was composed of mist, a shadow like all that around him. The form lacked the solidity of a body even though it radiated the warmth of a human touch as an arm reached from the light and brushed a finger along Will's jawline. He could see the grass and rocks through the translucent form. The arm emanated the same luminosity as the light around him. It was a small arm bearing a tiny, delicate, feminine hand. As Will looked on, equally petite legs and bare feet emerged from the light…
…walking on the air. Those small feet—the whole body---were floating on the air. Will's breath seized in his throat as he realized the figure was another ghost.
The rational part of his mind (and Wilhelm Grimm considered himself a very rational man indeed) rejected this discovery even as his every sense told him that this childlike figure was a specter risen from the grave. More disturbing, its voice---her voice---was alarmingly familiar.
Not possible, he thought, blood turning to ice. Wide-eyed with renewed apprehension, Will's gaze traveled from those small feet, up the ethereal torso and arms, to the face of this apparition. Not possible, he thought again.
The word would not come from his lips. He couldn't open his mouth to say it. He could only stare, stunned. He knew her face. It was burned into his memory even after all these years, indelible.
She was unchanged in death, from the curve of cheeks still round with baby fat, to the round eyes filled with the same warmth as her touch, the smile missing one front tooth. The tooth was a casualty of childhood roughhousing with her brothers. It was debatable whether Sister or Mother had raised the greater ruckus over the loss. A bubble of laughter, still so familiar that the sound of it was an ache in his heart, escaped the spirit. She had always welcomed her family home from their wanderings with that smile and that laughter and those eyes bright with love and joy no matter what, no matter the misery owing to their poverty or her own fading health. On the gloomiest winter's day, that smile and laughter was their sunlight. He remembered that much.
Will. Sister hadn't spoken his name; her smile never ceased even to form words. He heard her voice in his mind and on the wind.
"You're not real. This is some sort of nightmare." Terrified, Will tried to look away. He squeezed his eyes shut, but the illumination was still visible behind his eyelids.
Will, look. Sister's voice, gentle but insistent, commanded him.
"I don't want to! Whatever you want, whatever it is, you're not real. I don't want to see…" Will resisted, squeezing his eyes more tightly closed to block the inviting glow from his sight and his mind…from his heart. He didn't want to see. Her presence, even in a dream, opened wounds and raw grief deep in his soul. He had never let himself remember her face, her smile, or her laugh.
She would not be defied, however. Her touch, like the sun on his skin, brushed once more over his chin, preventing him from turning away from her. As the warmth and light passed across his face, his eyes obediently snapped open.
Her incorporeal hands grasped his own. You must see. Her words were kind but stern, not to be disobeyed, just the way Mother had spoken. Those ghostly hands pulled him further up the hillside, towards the center of the circle of rocks, and still her feet never touched the ground. Will didn't want to see where she was leading him, so he kept his gaze fixed on the ground. The stones under his feet were smooth, but cold as everything else in this dreary landscape save for Sister. He could discern carvings on the stones, but the markings—language though they seemed to be---were as so much gibberish to him. They looked like the scribblings of a madman.
You must save him, Will, Sister added.
That got Will's attention. "Save who?"
He met those eyes—Sister's eyes---finally. He saw what he had not noticed in the first shock of finding her here: Her eyes were bright with love and wisdom, wisdom not of this world and far beyond the precious few years she'd lived. Wisdom and…sadness. He knew that sadness. He'd seen it in his own reflection for years after her death.
Her death because of…
Then Will saw it, through the vaporous, translucent form of his Sister, saw what---who---she'd meant him to see. This figure was as real as Will, of living flesh and blood, and yet also part of this nightmare. This figure was also familiar, despite the years that had passed since Will last laid eyes on him. The years had changed him from the gawkish boy that he'd been when last they'd spoken. He didn't look at all as he'd been when they'd last spoken, but Will still would have known him anywhere.
His hair was shorter, so much that the blonde curls were gone as if they'd been shorn away because he couldn't be bothered wasting time on trivialities like grooming, and a growth of beard made him appear older than his years. His eyes, peering now from behind round glasses, were gazing not at Will but at the ground. His eyes were nearly the mirror image of Sister's.
Nearly. The same kindness was there in those depths, the same sadness felt by Will was a constant presence in this man's gaze, the same intelligence as Sister's was in them—almost preternatural, as if he were attuned to some secret wisdom of the world that only he could see…no, 'intelligence' may not have been the right word, Will corrected himself. 'Naivety', that was a better one.
'Madness' might be another. What other word would you use for one for whom fairy tales, myth, magic, and hokum had all the reality and plausibility which practical science and rationality held for every other reasonable soul on the planet? Who else but a madman, or a fool, at any age believed beans held magical powers, let alone magical powers over life and death? Who would believe it enough to wager his own sister's---their sister's---life on damned 'magic beans'?
"Jacob," Will growled under his breath.
His brother didn't turn at the sound of his own name nor take notice of the presence of Will and the apparition. Jacob knelt on the ground, his undivided concentration on something obscured from Will's sight by the shadows of tall grass. In one outstretched hand, Jacob held a thick book open-faced. His gaze shifted between the unseen object beneath his knees and the book in his hand. He read aloud from that book, his voice barely a whisper, much like the voices carried on the wind. Like the inscriptions Will had seen on the rocks surrounding them, the words his brother recited were gibberish, their meaning known only to Jacob, further giving the younger man the appearance of being a madman.
Stuck in myth and hokum as always. Still scribbling in that infernal journal. Jacob began writing in that book the night Sister had died. Will had cried. Mother had cried. Jacob had written in that book. That was his reaction to her death, that and nearly breaking Will's jaw when he'd tried to snatch the journal away to pitch it into the fireplace. Will felt the darkness around him seep into his own heart. His anger—always bubbling in his subconscious, always since the day Sister had died---darkened his thoughts…anger so long directed at his brother that Will could scarcely recall a time when the sight of his sibling didn't elicit the bleak emotion. His fault. His fault Sister died.
Sister's warm touch grazed Will's jaw again. She had heard his thoughts as clearly as if he had spoken. Not his fault, Will.
Will was astonished she could say such a thing. "Not his fault! If he'd fetched a doctor as he was told…a doctor…instead of magic beans!"
Her smile never faded. You have to forgive him, Will. Will had heard those same words from their Mother far too often. The urgency and concern in Sister's plea failed to move him, to dispel the rage in his heart. He didn't meet her otherworldly gaze. She didn't know what she was asking of him. He had tried before, so many times, but the bitterness would not be assuaged.
Sister's eyes were sympathetic. Whether the sympathy was for one brother or both, he didn't know. So much pain, for both of you. You've been angry too long, Will…time's almost gone.
He shook his head. "I canno----wait, 'time's almost gone'? What are you talking about?"
Dream-Jacob, still oblivious to their presence, ceased his recital and set his ever-present journal carefully onto the ground. Sister moved so that she no longer stood between her brothers, affording Will and unobstructed view of Jacob's activities. She floated to stand at Jacob's shoulder, her radiance illuminating the large stone upon which he knelt. She beckoned Will to come closer, but he stood fast, surveying the area in the brighter light.
The stone had been carved into an altar of some sort. Inscriptions in the rock matched those on the large, jagged stone monoliths that formed a circle around the altar stone. A bundle, an object wrapped with sackcloth and bound with a red silk cord, lay on the stone beside Jacob's knees. With great care, Jacob picked up the bundle and began to unwrap it. Sister watched with an expression akin to despair lining her eternally childlike features. Her sad eyes met Will's confused stare.
Time's almost gone, she repeated her warning.
Now, for the first time, Will felt the fear in her words. "What does that mean?" he demanded of her. When she didn't answer, Will shouted at the unresponsive Dream-Jacob. "What are you doing!" Placidly, Jacob continued unwrapping his prize without so much as a blink in answer to Will's question.
Sister answered for him: What he's always done…for me, Will.
"Stop talking in riddles!" Will snapped at the ghost as his own anxiety deepened.
The cloth fell away from the object in Dream-Jacob's hands. It resembled nothing so much as a wand from one of Jacob's damnable fabled wizards or witches. The shaft was some sort of metal, twelve inches long, and was carved with inscriptions and symbols matching those on the stone altar. Jacob's finger traced each marking, breathing the proper translation, before pausing over one snake-like shape. At the touch of his finger on that symbol, both the wand and the altar came suddenly to life. Fire poured skyward from each marking on the altar, encircling Jacob in a ring of flame. Beams of light poured from the matching shapes on the wand in his hand until Will was nearly blinded. This light was not the soft glow emanating from Sister; it was a harsh and painful glare. The stench of burning flesh filled the air.
Will recoiled from the heat of the flames and squinted against the light. Jacob, however, still sat, unperturbed, at the center of the blazing altar. He paused only long enough to reach over and slide his book safely out of reach of the lapping flames. His entire being was focused on the wand-thing in his hand. Jacob brushed his finger over a triangular symbol, and the blunted ends of the wand spewed out a jagged knife blade. Remarkably, the blade seemed to be made of pure light.
And, suddenly, Will comprehended Jacob's intentions…even before his brother poised the blade of fire just above his own heart.
"Jake, no!" Instinct took control. Without a thought or hesitation, Will reacted. He lunged through the wall of flames in a dive for the knife-wand. His grasping hands passed right through Dream Jacob and Will felt himself falling…
…until the impact with the very real and quite unyielding floor of a barn jolted Will from his nightmare into wakefulness. "Ouch!" Grunting in pain, Will rolled from lying on his stomach onto his back and pried open his eyes. He'd fallen from the barn's loft down a few feet to the dirt floor. He tasted blood from where he'd bitten his lip upon landing. With a shudder, he noticed that he'd missed landing on the upturned points of a pitchfork by mere inches.
Still half-asleep and disoriented in spite of his rude awakening, Will was surprised to find the bizarre netherworld of his nightmare was now gone. He was flat on his back on the floor of a barn, and he vaguely remembered stumbling into the barn and up the ladder to the loft with---
"Will?" The hay piled in the loft above rustled softly as something---no, someone---moved up there. In the moonlight that streamed through open shutters, Will saw a spill of long, dark curls and the ivory skin of a bare shoulder. Who was that? "Will, are you all right?" the woman called.
Gretchen, that was her name. Will blinked. Or was it? He sincerely didn't know. Too much drink had made his memory fuzzy. He recalled only an endless series of drinks and songs and a few pretty feminine faces. No, yes, definitely Gretchen. Maybe. He had learned from past mistakes never to call a lady by her name unless he was entirely sure it was, in fact, her name. Better very safe than very sorry. "I'm fine," he answered. "Fortunately, the nice, hard ground broke my fall."
Was it really Sister's voice in the air or the memory of her voice? Images from his vivid nightmare---Sister, Jacob, symbols, a blade of fire---returned to him in a rush like the deluge of a tidal wave crashing down on him. Forgetting the ache in his protesting body, Will sat bolt upright.
"Will?" Maybe-Gretchen called from the loft.
Save him Will, Sister called in his mind. The gentle urging was punctuated by a soft gust of wind that rattled the shutters and the half-open door of the barn. The wind kicked up a soft cloud of dust and straw not unlike the mist in Will's dream. Stabled in the barn, Will's horse nickered uneasily at the sudden breeze.
"Will?" Maybe-Gretchen's voice was growing impatient.
"Yes? I mean, I'm fine…" Will answered distractedly. He attempted to put the dream images from his mind, but they wouldn't be quelled. Every time he blinked, he saw the glinting blade of fire.
"Come back here then," Maybe-Gretchen's sultry voice invited.
Time's almost gone, Will, Sister's voice persisted.
"Yes, would you give me a minute to think!" Will barked at the nagging voice in his head.
Above him, his flesh and blood companion, thinking the words had been directed at her, became defensive. "If that's how you're going to speak to me, I'm going home!"
"I wasn't talking to you," Will answered without thinking.
"Who are you talking to then?" No doubt about it, Maybe-Gretchen was livid now. Her face appeared at the top of the ladder, trying to see for herself if Will was alone down there. So much for romance. "Are you alone down there? Have you got another woman down there?"
"Excellent question," he grumbled. Moving gingerly in favor of his still aching body, Will climbed to his feet.
Wilhelm Grimm wasn't like his brother---not in any sense of the word. Most particularly, he did not share Jacob Grimm's belief in the supernatural, in magic, fairy tales, clairvoyance, or any related nonsense. There was no phenomenon in this world that couldn't trace its origins to something scientific, natural or man-made. Purveyors of magic or magic charms (or magic beans) were nothing but charlatans out to bilk superstitious people…and if people were foolish enough to believe in such rot, they deserved to be separated from their hard earned money as far as Will was concerned. Dreams were the products of over-active imagination and desires. They were not prophetic and dead relatives did not use them to pay social calls.
But Will had never dreamed like that, never so vividly that the icy mist still chilled him and the stench from that fire still lingered in his nose and lungs. He never dreamed of Sister, either, not once since she had died so many years ago. He didn't let himself dream about her.
The dream had seemed so real, though.
Yes, Will, that's quite plausible, he chided himself for that instant of doubt. Your dead sister paid a visit in your dream to warn you that your brother is planning some sort of bizarre self-sacrifice. That sort of thing happens all the time. Even if Will believed in spectral visitations, even Jacob wasn't foolish enough to do---
Well, this is Jacob we're talking about….
No, it was ridiculous. It was a bad dream and nothing more. Dismissing it, Will resolved to go make peace with his ruffled lady-friend, who was searching in mounting fury for whomever preoccupied Will.
He didn't take one step before a stronger gust of wind slammed the barn door open as far as it would reach. The temperature dropped so suddenly that the air became as ice. Even Every creature in the barn reacted---horses reared up in their stalls, chickens woke and scattered with squawks of alarm, a pig in the corner tried to burrow into the wooden wall to escape, and Maybe-Gretchen let out a cry of surprise. Straw and dirt blew into Will's eyes, and his raised his arms to protect his face. His saddlebag, perched on the door to his horse's stall, was blown to the ground. Its contents, the whole of Will's worldly possessions, spilled across the barn's floor. Distantly, as the wind shrieked, Will wondered if Maybe-Gretchen could hear the voices whispering in the howl of the gust.
He called into the gale, "All right, then! I can take a hint!"
The wind ceased almost at once. When he was certain it was done, Will wiped dirt and grit from his eyes. Frowning, he hurried to gather up his scattered belongings. Maybe-Gretchen watched silently, then gaped as he swiftly began saddling his nervous horse. "Where are you going?" she asked, indignant at the idea of being abandoned.
"To find my brother."