The dark king’s palace was a direct contrast to the royal palace. While it did have high towers and a drawbridge, it did not have any bright qualities. The sun didn’t dare shine down on this place void of goodness. The water in the moat was almost completely dried up; the liquid that was present was murky at best. Within the walls resided the dark king and his trusted subjects -- those he had converted with the aid of his crystal orb.
"Your majesty," a large brown wolf addressed a stout man before bowing.
Candles cast shadows on the only other occupant of the room, a heavy figure sitting on the throne. He wore a long black robe and a crown of dark jewels. He smirked as he boasted, "I am in such a good mood, for I have the princess as my prisoner. Please tell me you have even more good news, Big Bad Wolf."
The wolf crouched down before replying uneasily, "I’m sorry your highness, but you will not like what I have to say. There are two witches who were sent to rescue the princess."
The dark king’s expression changed instantly. Frowning, the dark king roared, "No! I will not have it! They must be destroyed. Big Bad Wolf, inform my subjects that they must kill the witches. Failure to do so will result in imprisonment."
"As you wish," the wolf obeyed. He promptly left to carry out the dark king’s orders.
"I-I’m glad we’re doing this together," Tara stammered.
Noticing Tara’s stutter, Willow asked, "Oh honey, are you still nervous?" Tara nodded uneasily as Willow continued, "You were the one who had an idea on how to defeat the dark king. And we have these pouches…whatever they are."
Tara’s face relaxed slightly. "I hope we don’t have to find out."
Willow agreed and then they both focused their attention ahead. They cautiously walked forward, hoping that they were going in the correct direction.
In the distance, there was a slight glow. Tara noticed it first and caught Willow’s attention. "Willow, do you see that?" Tara pointed. "What do you think it is?"
As they crept forward, the source of the light became clearer. A small cottage sat on a yard full of green grass. Willow squinted as she tried to look at the details on the home. "Are those…what is that stuff…hey, that house looks like it’s made of gingerbread!" Willow realized. "Let’s get a closer look!"
Tara felt very hesitant about walking towards the small house. "Willow, I don’t know why, but I have a bad feeling about this. That place makes me feel like we’re Hansel and Gretal. You know, we are in the land of fairy tales."
"No silly, that can’t be it. The house is actually lit compared to everything else around here; it can’t be bad. Besides, if there is any trouble, we are skilled witches," Willow argued.
Before Tara could object again, Willow pulled her toward the door. "Maybe there’s someone nice inside who can tell us how to get to the dark king’s castle," she offered.
Willow held onto one of Tara’s hands and knocked on the door with the other. No one came after 10 seconds, so Willow knocked again.
"Maybe no one’s home," Tara suggested. All of a sudden, a sound of shuffling feet came from behind the door. The door slowly opened to reveal a short old woman. She was wearing a faded flower-print dress and mismatched slippers. Her hair was a bit messy; she looked like she just woke up. By the wrinkles deeply set in her face, she seemed to be at least 70 years old.
"May I help you?" the old woman asked in a tiny, hoarse voice.
"Yes, we’re trying to find our way to the dark king’s castle," Willow replied. "Can you help us?"
"Why on earth would two nice girls like yourselves want to go there?" the old lady inquired.
Willow answered, "Well, we’re sort of on a mission. Do you think you can help us out?"
The elderly woman thought for a moment before smiling. "I think I can be of service," she said, changing the pitch of her voice, "Please come in."
"Oh n-no thank you miss," Tara politely refused, "W-we’re actually in a rush..."
"Oh please?" the woman begged, "I never get any visitors, and I’m so lonely. Won’t you just come in for a short visit? You look hungry; I’ll make you a snack."
Willow and Tara exchanged glances. They both sympathized with the woman and decided to go in. Besides, they were getting a little hungry.
As soon as Tara and Willow walked inside, they noticed how cozy the house felt. On one side was a small sofa with an empty wooden table. There was a fireplace situated beyond the table, and a small fire kept the room warm. The other end of the room led to both a kitchen and what appeared to be a bedroom. There weren’t too many items adorning the walls of the cottage, save for a few paintings of woodland animals.
"Would you like some tea and cookies my dears?" the old woman offered.
"Sure," Willow answered, "We haven’t eaten anything for a while."
"Good. I’ll go get you girls a snack," the woman said before she turned to head towards the kitchen with an evil grin forming on her face.
When the elder left the room, Tara admitted to Willow that she must have been wrong about this place, because the woman seemed nice. Not one to gloat, Willow smiled and led Tara to the couch. Once they were seated, both pairs of eyes looked around the room. Willow noted that the house and the whole situation seemed surreal. Tara was about to open her mouth to agree until she was greeted with a pleasant surprise. Willow had placed her hand on Tara’s knee and lightly squeezed it.
Tara turned to Willow and grinned. "I wanted to make sure that you were real," Willow insisted.
Tara placed her hand over Willow’s and replied, "Sweetie, I’m as real as our love, and that’s forever."
Willow placed her free hand on Tara’s cheek and smiled.
A throaty, but cheerful, voice interrupted the moment. "Here you go dears," the old woman said as she placed a tray on the table. "Two cups of tea and my special gingerbread cookies."
The woman turned to return to the kitchen when Willow looked at her and asked, "Aren’t you going to eat anything?"
"I’ll eat in a little while; I need to clean up a bit in the kitchen first," she replied, "Enjoy the food in the meantime."
The old woman shuffled back to the kitchen as Willow picked up a cookie for her and Tara while her girlfriend filled their cups with piping-hot tea.
"So, these are special cookies?" Willow wondered as she handed Tara one.
"Let’s see what is so special about them…" Tara added as she and Willow each sampled the treat.
"Mmm...tasty!" Willow exclaimed in between bites.
"Mmmhmm..." Tara agreed.
They both finished eating their cookies and were about to reach for another when Tara felt like the room was spinning.
"Willow, I feel dizzy..." Tara mumbled.
Tara tried to concentrate on any object in front of her, but she couldn't focus. Even the tray of cookies seemed to be moving farther away from her.
"Me...too..." Willow replied as she shut her eyes. She hoped that closing her eyes would help, but her head still swayed and she started to feel nauseous.
Tara reached for Willow’s hand as she sensed that something was definitely wrong. Moments later, Willow and Tara were unconscious on the couch.
Willow slowly woke up from her cookie-induced nap. She impulsively reached her arm out for Tara, but when she didn’t feel her, she snapped her eyes open.
That turned out to be a bad decision, as dizziness hit Willow instantly. She fought feelings of nausea as she sat up and looked around.
"Tara? Tara?" Willow cried out. She noticed that there were metal bars in front of her, and Tara was not in sight.
"What’s going on?" Willow shouted, "Why am I in here?"
To Willow’s surprise, the old woman stepped right in front of her and started to speak. "My dear," she started with her raspy voice, "you are a threat to the dark king, and for that, you must be destroyed."
Willow’s eyes widened as the elderly woman shot her a wicked smile before retreating from the room. Willow tried to take in this new information, but was interrupted by a weak voice.
"Willow?" Tara whispered nervously, "Where are you? We have to get out of here."
Willow realized that Tara was in a cage next to her when she saw her lover’s hand sticking out between bars. She reached her left arm out as far as she could and slipped her fingers between Tara’s. The blonde squeezed the familiar hand with comfort before asking, "Do you have any ideas?"
Willow was silent until she remembered seeing a small shiny object hanging from the aged woman’s waist. "Wait, I think that lady had a key thingy tied onto her waist. When she comes back, we could do a spell to get it."
Tara agreed. All of a sudden, there were noises of pots and pans being dropped in another room.
"I’m not eating anything else that witch cooks up for us," Willow asserted.
The commotion in the kitchen subsided and the sound of shuffling feet took its place. Willow and Tara let go of the other’s hand just before the woman entered the room.
"It’s almost lunchtime," she excitedly announced.
"W-we’re not going to eat anything," Tara declared.
The old woman flashed her evil grin again. "Oh, you aren’t going to be eating…I am. You two are the main course!"
With that declaration, the woman turned to leave. Willow and Tara grabbed for the other’s hand and spoke a spell in Latin. Slowly, the metal key lifted off of the woman’s waist and floated to Willow’s hand. The duo smiled triumphantly as they waited to hear noises in the kitchen again.
When Willow was confident that the elder was back to preparing her meal, she unlocked the door on her cage and climbed out. She quickly freed Tara as well. The women shared a brief embrace and then realized that they had to figure out a way to get out of the house.
"We can throw that witch into one of her cages," Willow stated with her resolve face. Tara nodded in agreement and they decided to wait by the door before executing their attack.
After what seemed like hours, the sounds from the kitchen stopped. The old woman took her time coming through the door, but Willow and Tara were ready. As soon as the woman saw the empty cages, Tara and Willow pushed her into one of them and locked it.
"Ha, look who’s locked up like a caged cannibal," Willow confidently joked.
"Do you think she’ll be alright in there?" Tara wondered.
"Tara, she was going to eat us! Who cares...." Willow stopped when she saw Tara’s eyes pleading for sympathy. "You’re too nice Tara, but I’ll leave the key here for someone else to find so they can let her out."
Willow placed the key in the middle of the floor before taking Tara’s hand and walking out. When they got outside, they continued to walk in the direction they were heading in before with a heightened sense of confidence. Willow and Tara felt that they could face anything that attacked them after their encounter with the woman in the gingerbread house.
Back to Chapter 4 :: On to Chapter 6