Little Red, Riding Wood Ch. 03byRob_mDear©
Celia sat, feeling dejected. She'd barely even looked for the journal today. As she walked, she always kept her eyes down now, always trying to retrace her steps from that day, looking in new places that maybe she hadn't searched before or probably had many times.
As time wore on, she tried less and less. Instead of feeling anxiety, she felt sorrow at all of the marvelous words, ideas, memories and fantasies that she'd lost. The journal was irreplaceable.
She consoled herself with the thought that no one else had it, either. If they had, she would know about it by now, she was sure. They would have brought it to her attention, or much worse, to everyone's. Someone would have approached her, laughing at and mocking her. Even if they weren't so cruel, she would have seen it in their eyes, she was sure.
No one had, and that fact let her rest assured that she was safe. It was a terrible loss, but as soon as she could Father would buy her a new one, and perhaps this time she'd be a little more careful not only about where she put it, but also what she put into it.
* * *
They sat together, father and daughter, in their common room, each reading from a favorite book by lamp light. Hers was a book of fictional tales of adventure in vast cities and wide oceans and foreign lands. His was a rather dry but informative catalog of flowering forest plants and their various uses and dangers.
"Celia, darling, I have a favor to ask you."
Sinclaire smiled at her. She didn't call him Papa often anymore, and it warmed his heart when she did. Calling him "Father" always reminded him that she'd grown into a wonderful, mature woman, while calling him "Papa" made him feel needed and loved.
"Your grandmother's house is almost ready. There are still two holes in the roof to fix, and some creaky floorboards that need nailing down. After that a fresh coat of paint, inside and out, will brighten everything up and make it almost as good as new."
"It sounds wonderful, Papa. I thought it would never be finished. You've been working at it for years, now. How can I help?"
She moved rose from her chair to come to him and sit on his lap. He had always loved when she did so, but it had become uncomfortable of late. It wasn't her fault, he knew. But she was so mature now, and so beautiful to him, no longer his little girl but instead an inviting woman.
And she was right, he had been insane to try to live for so many long years without the touch of a woman. He'd denied himself those pleasures for so long by pushing such desires deep down, to focus solely and completely on raising Celia. But she didn't need raising anymore. She needed love, from a man.
Without that distraction his mind wandered now where it maybe should not. Like her, he needed love, too, the physical, pleasurable love of a woman. Like her, there was no one here for him in this dreary forest village, but Celia was so close to what he himself desired, and so close in proximity to him, and so very young and beautiful, that it was becoming a horrid distraction.
He'd never, ever have considered it, but she just exuded a raw sexuality that he'd never experienced before. It was no surprise that every man in the village was clamoring and fighting for her hand. Even he had a hard time fighting back a growing desire. Her effect on him, especially of late, was becoming difficult to hide.
She sat now on his lap. She was so soft, and warm. The curve of her rounded breast was just visible, pushing out against her dress, while the other could be felt, firmly pressing into his own chest. She wore one of his damned shirts again, tied too loosely and too low, so that her bare, smooth skin peeked out offering glimpses in places where he could never allow his eyes to stray, even though they furtively did so seemingly on their own, when they could.
"Yes, Papa?" she asked, eyes wide and innocent, blinking like a flirtatious maiden.
He buried that thought. She had no interest in any man in this village, and certainly not her own father. She was a good girl, and he'd raised her to do the right things. Yet when she kissed him these days...
"Yes, well," he started, trying to gather himself and retreat from his other, improper thoughts. "I'm so close, that I want to finish it, all at once."
"Do think you you can in a day? Oh, Papa, that's marvelous!"
She hugged him tightly then, with warm, soft hands gripping his neck, and both of her bosoms pressing all too obviously into him. He let his hands hold her to him until she ceased the unexpected and quite unnecessary hug.
"No, Dear, no, not in a day. It will take at least three days, I think, but I want to get it done. The weekend is almost here. I'll head out tomorrow, then sleep overnight until the job is done."
"But who will teach school tomorrow?"
"I think you should give it a try."
"By myself this time?"
"Certainly. You're more than old enough. I should have thought of this long ago."
She chewed her lip in that sweet, sexy way she had. As he thought it, Sinclaire scowled at himself for that train of thought.
He needed a few days to fix up the cabin, and he needed a few days away from Celia, to regroup, and to think. His own feelings and desires were growing out of control, he felt, and they were wholly and completely inappropriate. Something was going to have to be done, before he found himself seriously considering something he shouldn't.
* * *
Her father was away in the south forest, the dangerous Wolf Forest. Her grandmother's cabin had been left unattended for so long after her passing that it had fallen into disrepair. He had been going there once each week for a year now to mend and patch it as best he could. He was close to finished and making it habitable, not that anyone was actually going to live there, but it would be nice to have a second home for them both to escape from all of the pressures of village life, and the nosy intrusions of the townspeople.
He meant to to spend the next few days sprucing the place up, as he put it. To save time he was going to sleep overnight there. It fell to Celia to take his place at the school, to try her hand at teaching for the day. She'd done so every now and then, and liked it.
So here she was. A sea of small, happy, expectant faces were gathered around her on the floor, all eager to be taught by pretty, kind Mademoiselle Celia for a change. Her red cloak hung at the door on a peg. She sat with them on the floor, her legs curled under her, together and to the side, with her skirts flowing around her like a small, patterned cloud. In her hands she held her favorite book of childhood stories, as she prepared to read to her eager and plaint audience her favorite story from that book.
"Once upon a time," she began, and told the tale.
Trolls are great villains. They're big, ugly, smelly, unlikeable, and they eat people. How can anyone go wrong with a troll?
Kids eat trolls for breakfast. Nothing stirs up a kid's imagination like a hungry, vomit green troll with a hairy-wart covered nose.
Celia loved this story, troll and all. It was a childhood favorite of hers, a parable about making moral and ethical decisions and taking action. Like so many fairy tales, some people get eaten, and some people don't, and just like real life it's not always the right people who get to see the inside of a troll's belly.
The title of this particular story was "Could, Should, Would." It didn't really bother with those who couldn't, because all in all those people aren't very interesting and there's little to be learned from them.
There were, however, four brothers who could, and they made up the heart of the story. Celia read to the children about how the troll lived in a cave in a mountain pass, and no one could get by him without being eaten, or else by gaining his favor by fulfilling some onerous task that he assigned to them.
"So the first brother approached the troll," Celia recited, not even needing to read the words from the book. "He needed to cross the mountains to find his fortune in the great, gleaming city beyond. Knowing that this would take courage as well as strength, he listened resolutely as the troll set out his assigned task."
The first brother would be asked to go back and bring the troll his younger brother's finger, with which the troll would season and flavor that evening's dinner.
"Do you think he should?" she asked the children.
They all clamored their replies, while Celia thought about fat, old Hugues. He didn't really need a wife at all, he just liked the idea. His wild brood would be a drain on her, and she knew that once they were married then Hugues would always go to her father for money and aid. Worst of all she'd never, ever get to write another word.
She knew instinctively that she shouldn't even consider marrying him. To marry him, or the many other men in the village like him, would just be wrong.
"No, no, of course he shouldn't, and he wouldn't," she told the children, dragging her mind back to the story. "So the first brother immediately gave up and went back down the mountain, resigned to living a simple but good life in the forest, without ever even seeing the wealth and wonder the city might have brought to him."
Then she told of the second brother.
"For me, you worthless bag of mealy bones," the troll said, in Celia's gruffest, cruelest, gravelly troll voice, "you must find and kiss the oldest, foulest crone in your village. Bring her here, before me, and kiss her with all of the passion of a newlywed, and I will let you pass."
The children all squealed and pretended to wretch in disgust, some at the thought of kissing such an old woman, and others just at the thought of kissing anyone. They would have been mortified to know of the version of this tale that adults used when the children weren't present.
"Now, of course this brother knew that he should. It would be hard, but the riches and fame that awaited him, and all of the marvelous, beautiful women he might meet and court would more than make up for such a horrible but brief experience."
The children continued to rowdily express their displeasure and horror. That was what marrying Gautier would be like, she thought. The other women thought him handsome, but she saw through to what he really was. KIssing a foul old crone would be preferable to a kiss with Gautier, let alone a lifetime in his bed, subject to his repulsive demands.
He had money, and an eminent standing in the town. He'd be a good, solid provider. She'd never want for anything but affection. Everyone thought he'd make a wonderful catch, and Father would be freed of the burden of caring for her. Celia should marry Gautier, but she never would.
"Well, children, you and the second brother were of like minds, because while he knew that he should, just like you, he never, ever would. So like the first brother before him, he turned and went back down the mountain, with the troll cackling loudly and derisively behind him, to live a simple but poor life in the village with a beautiful girl he met there and with the many, many, many children she bore for him."
Celia surveyed their faces, all showing relief that he hadn't kissed an ugly hag, but now wondering apprehensively what disgusting task the troll held in store for the next brother.
"The third brother had far less compunction — moral restraint — than any of his brothers. He was a go-getter, and not a man to be trifled with. He strode right on up to the troll's lair and bellowed for the troll to come out and deal with him.
"The troll was more than ready for him. He told that brother that he must go to the orphanage in the village to find the fattest, dumbest, most angry bully of a child there was. He was to find this child, and steal him, and tie him up and bring him to the troll to be his breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
The children sat, with eyes wide in wonder and fear, at what this might mean. She could see that they, like all children before them, secretly hoped that the brother would do as he was ordered. Everyone, deep down, got a sinful thrill from doing something they shouldn't, or at least from hearing about someone else who had.
"Now," she continued, "even this brother, as arrogant and greedy and ambitious as he was, was taken aback by the prospect of such a heinous deed. But he did go down to the orphanage, and there he watched the children. He spied one roly-poly child in particular, a truly nasty bully who picked on all of the smaller, younger children, beating them and stealing their food, which was how he became so fat even while living in an orphanage. All in all, he behaved in the most frightful manner with everyone, even the headmistress herself, Miss Farmoth, whom he called old Miss Fart-mouth, especially when she could hear him."
The children laughed aloud, and now were completely engaged. One could always trust the horrific, impending and just fate of an evil, fat, deserving bully to grab their attention. Sure, it would be wrong, but it would be wrong in such a right and deserving way that one had difficulty separating the two.
"This bully, in fact, was very much like the brother himself when he was young, even though he never noticed the resemblance. The brother knew in his heart that this was something he never, ever should even consider, but he did. He knew the boy had no parents or siblings to miss him. He knew, in fact, that the rest of the children would be better off without him. And who knew what sort of criminal the boy might become, or what terrible, hurtful crimes he might commit, after growing up fatherless and motherless with a lifelong habit of tormenting the weak and innocent?"
The children all sat frozen, wanting to nod in agreement, she could tell, but afraid to express their deepest, darkest ill-wishes for the bully or, more likely, for whom ever they viewed right now as a great torment in their own lives.
Celia herself thought of the things that she knew she shouldn't do, but wanted to. She wanted to convince herself that it wasn't wrong, and that she should, even though she knew better. She fought back the burn of a rising blush as she succumbed to an image of herself with her father in a most inappropriate of circumstances.
She fought away the too enticing thought by continuing the story.
"Of course, this brother convinced himself that what he was doing was for the best. He shouldn't have, but he would, and he did. He kidnapped the boy, and tied him up like a Winter Feast hog and gave him, although with some hesitation, to the troll. And so this brother was the first to be allowed to cross the mountains to find his fortune."
Celia surveyed their faces, each a little gleeful at the justice served to the bully, but mostly horrified at the truth of the matter, and the fact that any grown man might do such a thing to any child.
"It did him little good, however. He did earn some wealth, but he could never be happy, because for the rest of his life his dreams were haunted by the screams of the little boy as the troll drooled all over his arm before crunching his bones to powder with his teeth."
Celia hated that part. Certainly the little boy did not deserve to pay any price for the brother's ambitions, but it wasn't always as simple as that. Stories always made things so obvious and clear when most of the time they just weren't.
"Finally, the last, youngest brother came to take his turn. This brother wasn't the strongest or the fastest, or the most ambitious, but he was both the bravest and the wisest. He didn't even wait to hear the troll's demands. He knew that what he should do was to fight the troll, and to defeat him if he could. And he had the courage to try just that. He knew what he should do, and that he would, even if he couldn't succeed."
The children looked at her, eyes wide, awaiting that wonderful part of the tale where the brother would do noisy, bloody battle with the troll. Through courage and ingenuity the evil troll would be defeated and from that time forward everyone could travel to and fro through the pass without any need to kiss old crones or kidnap fat orphans as a terrible price for a simple journey.
"The end," Celia announced, with a wry grin.
The children broke into a raucous clamor.
"That's not the end!"
"But what happened to the last brother?"
"You have to tell how the troll died!"
"Did the troll die? Or did the brother die?"
"Children! Children! Hush!"
It took a while, and in the end, the only thing that silenced them was the fact that Celia sealed her own mouth shut, refusing to speak or even move until they had all settled down, and some of the older children among them, having heard the story before, actually started working to hush the younger ones up so they could all hear what Celia had to say.
When they were finally quiet, she surveyed the sea of faces again, from left to right, and back again, looking meaningfully into each of their eyes.
"No one knows what happened to the last brother or to the troll, because when you are willing to do what you should do, it still doesn't always turn out for the best. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. The best that you can hope for is to know that you tried, and to know that in the end you did the right thing. It doesn't matter if he killed the troll or not. What matters is that of all of the brothers, he could, he should, and he would. It doesn't really matter what he actually did."
Of course, this was wholly unacceptable to the children. They were still erupting in a violent cacophony, like a chickens with a fox in the coop, when she reached the front of the room and bellowed out for them to take out their numbers sheets and to be ready to recite. They didn't quiet down until she began to call on them, while telling them meaningfully that Monsieur Couerduloup had been spending his evenings carving a new and very flexible switch, which was a silly lie, because her father could and sometimes maybe should, but never, ever would.
* * *
Sinclaire worked on his hands and knees, hammering extra nails into the loose floor boards. A few would need to be replaced. He pulled the nails up, to inspect both sides of the planks, hoping to perhaps simply turn them over and nail them down again, but they were hopeless. The leaks and dampness had rotted them to the point of near uselessness. He left them in place, but knew he'd need to go back to town to get more wood, and cut it to fit.
He thought idly about replacing the entire floor, and might some day, but it wasn't necessary. This was good enough. He left the loose boards in place, putting two small chairs atop them, so he wouldn't forget and take an unfortunate misstep.
The two chairs, and two others that matched, had ornately carved arms sculpted like wolf heads, and legs that ended with carved wolf paws. The four posts at the corners of the bed were also carved, but like howling wolf heads baying up at the moon, while a large, wide relief depicting a pack of wolves on the hunt was engraved into the headboard. There were assorted vases and pictures and such scattered about as well, all decorated with wolves. Mother had amassed quite a collection of wolfish decorations over the long years there. Living peacefully hear among them, it had become something of a hobby for her.
Sinclaire returned to his chore, soon losing himself in other thoughts, as he worked on the rather mindless task of testing boards, and occasionally hammering in more nails. Among other things, he replayed a nagging conversation with Gautier in his head. Some if it had rankled him, perhaps mostly because too much of it struck him as true, at least in part.
"You just want her to cook and clean for you, that's all Couerduloup. Monsieur Couerduloup."