A/N: I'm taking my first step into the world of D.Gray-Man fanfiction and this is something I've really wanted to do for a while, so I really hope you like it! Any and all feedback is very appreciated mates!
This first fairytale is based on the Russian Baba Yaga, Hansel & Gretel, The Three Army-Surgeons and the Huntress from John Connolly's 'Book of Lost Things' :D
Cast for this fairytale
Hansel - Komui
Gretel - Lenalee
Allen - the Thief
Kanda - the cat
Jasdevi - Jenny Greenteeth (old Yorkshire myth)
The Bookman's Tales
Babes in the Wood
'Turn your back to the forest, your front to me.'
- - -
Outside in the forest, the snow was deep and the winds were howling, whipping up blinding spindrifts and causing snow-laden branches to crumple under the weight, so that every now and again an almighty crash could be heard. Sitting inside the stone bothy, Lavi listened carefully to the creaking pines of the Black Forest all around them; it made him think of every winter fairytale he'd ever been told as a child; of slavering wolves, Ice Giants and beautiful Snow Maidens with long frosty fingers.
"Strike..." He sighed and prodded the red fire, burning busily.
"Stop that!" Kanda snapped. "You'll put it out."
"Ah, the only thing that's likely to put this fire out is your icy cold exterior," he shrugged and gave the fire one last prod for good luck. "You really don't appreciate the life of a dashing young hero, do you, Kanda-pipi?"
Kanda lifted one delicate eyebrow, mustering his most measured stare. "What are you talking about? And don't call me that."
"Heroes," Lavi repeated. "You might be unfamiliar with the concept, being a miserable git. They're the good-looking fellas like me, who defeat the bad guys and ride into the sunset with the distressed damsel."
Kanda gave a derisive snort and turned his back on him, in the all too familiar manner of a cat. "No. Heroes are try-hard idiots who risk all, lose their silly girl and choke on their blood in the dark - alone."
Lavi threw his head back and released a bellow of laughter that made his seething comrade seethe all the harder.
"You just ratted yourself out as a Poe fanatic, Kanda-rin!"
Kanda bristled. Even Lavi's damned voice smirked.
"How about I give you a taste of real hero's story, eh?"
"What will it take for you to stop talking?" A rhetorical question; Kanda knew there was no power in the world that would keep the red-haired man sitting by the hearth to keep his great, incessant, trap shut.
"Cheer up! You're just gloomy 'cause it's cold. I reckon a good story keeps the chill away."
Kanda peered over his shoulder, his thin slice of face glowering in the orange glow of the bothy's fire. "I'm too old for fairytales."
"Pfft! No one's too old for fairytales!" Lavi snorted, waving off the comment with an airy hand. "Here, I've got the perfect one for the occasion. Listen close, Kanda-pon!"
"Stop calling me that!"
'Once upon a time, there were two children, Komui and Lenalee, who lived at the edge of the Great Ironwood, where all the wolves of the world come from - or perhaps all woods are Ironwood, even the one that surrounds us now.
The children's father died and their mother remarried, but the stepfather was a wicked man who begrudged the children every meal they ate and beat them black and blue each night before bed. The stepfather often said that everything that went wrong was the children's fault. And the mother believed these words, despite her children's tears, for love is deaf as well as blind, and so there were no kind words left over for her bairns.
As the days shortened and the harsh winter rolled in, the food came short and the beatings became worse than ever, for the stepfather's temper was thin as his hunger was great.
One particularly icy night, the stepfather said to his wife, "Those ugly mugs! Those little sluts! Devil take them both! There is little enough food for us both. If we give it to our bairns, we shall starve. If we keep it for ourselves, they shall starve, but might we then make a meal of them both, for you, dear wife, can give birth again when times improve."
So fearful was the mother for her children's lives that she gathered them up one morning before her husband awoke, and hurried them deep, deep into the wood where the jackdaws karked on high branches tangled above their heads, like bony fingers (indeed, fingers they were - but that is another tale, for another time).
"There are no safe paths in this part of the world," their mother sobbed, holding them close, "and nothing is what it seems. The worst demons are fair of face and temperament, so never be too trusting my little maid, my little red cheeks."
And off she sent them into the old forest, with the last of the barley loaf from the kitchen table tucked safe inside their pockets and a knife with which to cut it. Deeper they went, following the paths that Beowulf once trod, though now they are overgrown and disused, for even the most steadfast hunter would not seek out prey in those trees. One path lead to an impassable marsh, where old Jasdevi Greenteeth lay in wait, sharpening his teeth on the bones of the last unlucky child to chance upon his mire.
As the children crossed the slippery stones over the marsh, Lenalee remarked that the water was suddenly darker, greener, but her brother only laughed and clutched her hand and said, "Ho! little sister, it's only the marsh-weed. Listen close, brother knows best."
But the water began to boil and bubble, until at last it fountained upwards in a great shoot of steam, and a pair of long green arms clawed madly at the rocks, finding purchase on Komui's ankle and dragging him into the slick.
Lenalee flung herself down on the rocks and cried, "Dear Jasdevi, please do not harm my brother, for he is my world! I will give you my shawl, for you must be cold in these icy waters, and my share of the barley loaf, for your hunger must be greater still."
"Hold your tongue, I'll hear no more," snapped the hag, gnashing his needle-like teeth, and snatched up the gifts in one swipe. "I shan't eat you or your brother, for I'd choke on your sweetness, little maid. But as you've helped me, I'll give you one kind word - the Huntress, Baba Yaga, rides tonight and a terrible demon she is. No matter how far your little legs carry you, she will chase all the faster. And wherever you hide, she will look for you there. Take these so you might outwit her."
And the hag bit down hard until his front teeth shattered, and Lenalee caught them in the pockets of her dress, and thanked the hag kindly for all his help.
On and on they walked until the snow began to trickle down from the leaden sky and an icy wind whistled through the trees. At last they came to an open field, where only a great beech stood. Hoping for shelter against the wind, Komui squeezed his sister's hand and cried in delight, "Look there! We can shelter against the storm beneath the branches of that tree."
But Lenalee shook her head and her eyes turned round with fear. "Oh brother! But the field - it's covered with blood."
"Ho! Little sister, it's only the red ferns," said Komui, kindly. "Listen close, brother knows best."
But the moment they reached the beech, did a grawny young man leap from behind its great trunk and his blood darkened the snow from a wound on his leg.
"Who goes there?! Speak true and speak swift, or I'll have you for old Gaffer's oven."
The children bowed and curtsied, for their mother had taught them well, and told him of their adventures so far. The man, in turn, took pity on the children, who were now more ragged than he was, and welcomed them around his meagre fire, breaking bread and sharing meade.
"My name is Allen and I am a thief who has fled the Gallows, for the rope that meant to hang me snapped," the thief explained. "The fall broke my ankle and I can run no further. Will you help me, little maid, little red cheeks?"
"I will help you, sir," said Lenalee, though her brother was anxious of the man and whispered that bad luck followed those who helped a thief. But Lenalee had a kind heart and bandaged the thief's leg together with her petticoat.
The thief thanked them graciously and promised he would return the favour one day. They left the thief and the field soon after, following a frozen stream until they came to a bridge where a thin, black cat sat, licking its paws.
"Hello Cat," said Lenalee, curtseying, for she knew cats prized good manners above all else. "How is your evening?"
"Have you caught any mice?" said Komui.
"All the mice are frozen in their little mice holes, little maid, little red cheeks," said the cat, "and the ones that survive are too fast for me to catch in this sorry state, so I will have nothing to eat this winter."
"Then we will find you something to eat," said Komui, and off they ran, hunting high and low, but not a morsel could they find and so they returned to the cat with sorry faces.
"Ah ha! But there is something I can give you," said Lenalee happily and took the bread knife her mother had given them and cut off her pinkie finger. "Can you eat this, dear Cat?"
"This will make a fine meal, little maid," the cat purred. "With this, my strength will return and I can catch the mice again. If ever you need a favour in return, call my name and I will come."
And off they went again. The night was drawing in and the great pines were blackly outlined against the sky. The cold stung the bleeding stub where Lenalee's pinkie finger had been and Komui began to fear for his beloved sister's safety, for wolves, he knew, could smell blood on the wind from miles away and the hag had forewarned of the terrible Huntress on the run.
At last they came upon a log cabin hobbling around a yard on four chicken's legs. A tall palisade carved from human bones surrounded the cabin, five grinning skulls speared on each pole. Smoke was coming from the chimney and with it drifted the scent of roasting meat and baking bread.
"Look there, we can shelter here for the night," said Komui gratefully, for his own stomach ached with hunger and his bare feet were rubbed raw from the snow. "Once they see what a sorry state we're in, the mistress of the house is sure to let us board for the night."
But Lenalee shook her dark head, fearfully. "Remember what the old hag warned us. This may be the Huntress' cabin."
"Ho! little sister, that cannot be. What wicked witch could cook so well? Listen close, brother knows best."
And he opened the latch on the door and led her across the threshold. It was dark inside the cabin. The fire was out and no meat was roasting on the spit; nor was there bread baking in the oven.
"What little sweets come into my home, what little presents come through the door, and caught without bow and without arrow," cried a wicked voice. "How lucky am I! Come closer, little maid; come closer, little red cheeks."
A lamp was lit and in the dribbly candlelight they saw the terrible Huntress, Baba Yaga. Her teeth were iron, like the poker and tongs, and across her shoulder was slung the body of a rabbit. More lamps were lit and in the light they saw that every wall was covered in heads, each belonging to a child and mounted to a wooden fixture, their eyes replaced with marbles and gazing glassily out.
"I think you will be the first to join my wall, little red cheeks," said the Huntress, clasping Komui's chin between her bony fingers, "for your pretty head is a rare treat, but do not ruin it with those tears or you will make me angry."
Komui began to weep in fear, but Lenalee remained silent and thoughtful, for she was as cunning as her heart was kind, and her mind was already conjuring up a plan.
"Dear Baba Yaga, how did you manage to fit such fine teeth in such a pretty head?" asked Lenalee.
The Huntress smiled, showing her iron teeth, for she could not deny an answer to one who flattered her so. "Why, the Millennium Earl gave me a salve which joins together anything that has been severed. So I took out my teeth and replaced them with iron, for chewing bones is a difficult thing, little maid."
"Dear Baba Yaga, and how did you come to have such a strong heart that could willingly sever the heads of children from their bodies?" asked Lenalee.
"Why, I used the salve to cut out my heart and replace it with a demon's, little maid, for a human heart could never achieve such a thing as this."
"Dear Baba Yaga, I have heard of your great bowmanship. How is your skill so great?" asked Lenalee.
"Why, I used the salve to chop off my hand and replace it with that of the greatest archer in the country, little maid, for his aim never missed the heart of his target."
At this, Lenalee pretended to look puzzled and doubtful of the Huntress's word. "It's a very good tale," she said, "but could it be that such a magic salve exists?"
The cruel woman bristled with rage, for she was proud of heart and did not like her word being questioned. "Of course it exists! Here, I will prove it to you."
And she cut out her heart and pulled out her teeth, and chopped off her hand, then laid all on the table beside the body of the rabbit and the bottle of salve the Millennium Earl had given her. "Tomorrow morning I will replace them all with the salve and prove that I am a witch who keeps her word. Then, my little maid, my little red cheeks, you will join the others on my wall."
And the Huntress locked them up in an iron cage close to the table, then departed to her room through a door.
At once, Lenalee turned to her brother, who was still weeping pitifully, and said, "Listen to me, brother, you must take the bread knife mother gave us and cut off my head, then fix it to the body of that rabbit so I might escape through these bars and find help."
Komui, too terrified to speak, could only nod numbly and together they reached through the bars to the kitchen table and snatched up the body of the rabbit and the bottle of salve. Then, with a chop and a snap, Lenalee's head rolled straight off her shoulders and Komui immediately fixed it to the rabbit's body, and smeared it with the salve.
The next moment, Lenalee opened her eyes, laughed and said, "I have never liked carrots before, but now I feel I could eat a whole field's worth."
"Shh!" her brother hushed. "Be quiet or you'll wake the witch. Look there, the window's open. Hop up and escape if you can. If you cannot find help, do not come back for me."
She did as told and hopped out the window and into the snow. Past the high fence with the grinning skulls and through the tall pines she raced, until the bridge they had crossed earlier that day came into sight.
"Cat!" she shouted, desperately, "Oh, Cat! Please hear me, the terrible Huntress, Baba Yaga, has trapped my brother in a cage and will chop of his head come sunrise. Can you help me?"
"What is all the hollering about?" hissed the cat from beneath the bridge, a dead mouse dangling from its mouth. "You nearly chased my prey away, little maid. And what are you doing like that?"
So Lenalee told her of the Millennium Earl's salve and how the Huntress had removed her heart and pulled out her teeth, and chopped off her hand, and would do the same to her brother's head.
"It is difficult, but as you helped me, I will return your kindness," said the cat. "Take the heart of this mouse and swap it with the heart on the kitchen table. But listen carefully, that will not be enough to stop the Huntress. You must replace the hand of the bowman, too, for the arrow it shoots will find you wherever you run."
Lenalee took the mouse's heart and bowed her head, gratefully, for cat's are very sensitive when it comes to good manners, then off she raced again, over the bridge and across the bloody field until she reached the great beech where Allen, the thief, slept, resting his bandaged leg.
"Allen! Oh, Allen; my brother is trapped and the Huntress has promised to chop off his head come sunrise. Can you help me?" and she went on to explain the Millennium's salve.
"That is a grave situation, little maid, but I would gladly do anything to repay your kindness and keep you safe from harm, so take my left hand and replace the Bowman's with it," Allen insisted, despite her refusal. "That should fool the old witch. I will come for you in the morning."
So Lenalee took the thief's hand and the mouse's heart, and returned to Baba Yaga's cabin. Once inside, she replaced the demon's heart with the mouse's, the Bowman's hand with the thief's and the iron teeth with the teeth Jasdevi Greenteeth had given her. Then she slipped between the bars of the cage where her brother waited with the breadknife to cut off her head and fix it back on the shoulders of her own body.
The sun rose late the next morning and the Huntress woke in a very foul mood, for sleeping without a heart, even a wicked one, is an uncomfortable feeling indeed.
"What a horrid night I've had!" she snapped. "Once I have put myself together, I will take great pleasure in taking you apart."
The children watched with fascinated expressions as the Huntress first fixed the thief's hand into place, followed by the mouse's heart and finally the hag's teeth, and so foul was the witch's temper that morning that she did not realise her great folly until she picked up the kitchen cleaver and found her heart was too timid to chop off the children's heads. Furious, she took down her bow and arrow from the wall and aimed it at the little maid's heart, but in that moment the arrow disappeared, the thief's hand having stolen it away from under her nose. Now, Baba Yaga's temper was so incensed that she ran at the cage and clamped her teeth around the bars in order to rip them off so that she could wrap her fingers around the children's necks, but Jasdevi Greenteeth's teeth were only made for ripping flesh and nibbling bones, and so shattered instantly.
"Little wretches, little sluts!" the Huntress screamed. "I know your trick! But if you think you can outwit me, you are very much mistaken! A demon's heart is easy enough to come by in these woods and I will find a smithy to make me a new set of teeth, and a cleverer archer still whose hand I will make mine, and then you will never be safe from me."
And she tore out her heart and threw away the thief's hand, just as the door to the cabin was flung open. The thief came rushing in, followed closely by the black cat, and with one swipe of his knife, he broke the lock of the cage and freed the children from their trapping. And as they escaped, the cunning black cat stole away the Millennium Earl's salve from the witch's clutch.
"Don't desert me!" cried the Huntress, and there was fear in her voice, for now she was defenceless and the wolves were howling close at the door. "I cannot survive without a heart!"
"You never had one," said Lenalee, and with her brother and her friends, fled away into the forest, leaving the Huntress to the wolves (who had waited many years to take revenge on the witch, for she had hunted many of their kind). And by the little bridge, the children built their own cabin and the thief and the cat came to live with them, and all were happy as could be and happier still when the little maid married the thief, who had loved her from the moment they met.
"Brava! The end! So," said Lavi, crossing his arms behind his head and leaning backwards with a confident smile, "what did you think? Liked it, didn't you. Go on, you can say it."
"I've heard better stories from a mute."
"Pah! Come off it, Kanda-chi," Lavi grinned, slapping his comrade hard on the back. "You've gotta do better than that if you want to offend me."
Kanda let a low sound of disgust rise from his throat. "Fine. Your lack of storytelling ability would offend a deaf nun, you horrendous scrap of humanity."
There was a pregnant pause; a silent battle of wills clashing across the fire lit room. Lavi glowered.
"Your face offends me."
First D.Gray-Man fic, so I'd really appreciate any comments! Also, if you have a fairytale in mind for Lavi's next story, please let me know : )