Andrew’s alarm grew as Tristan’s expression morphed from concerned to terrified. Tristan fumbled in his pockets as he asked Hansel. “How long do we have?”
“Gretel’s clearing the woods now; the mistress is behind her.”
“Shit,” said Tristan as he rushed over to his desk and started sifting through the piles of paper fragments there. Andrew joined him.
“I thought you were ready,” he said. His fingers itched to gather the papers together into tidy little piles, so he took a half step back. Tristan wouldn’t thank him for destroying whatever system he had any more than Andrew would tolerate anyone reordering his spices.
“I am,” insisted Tristan as he fumbled his fingers through the mounds of papers. He tossed another scrap aside, paused, grabbed it up again. “I am ready.” He held the scrap up triumphantly the strode back to the table and placed all his pieces of paper together, like a jigsaw puzzle.
“Hello boys. I’m back!” Gretel’s sing-songy voice floated inside.
Andrew shivered. “That doesn’t sound good.” He looked around, unsure what he was supposed to do. He sidled closer to the Aga, needing the warmth and comfort.
Tristan paused in his rearranging of the papers, then continued again, mumbling to himself as he worked.
Hansel’s brows furrowed and he shifted restlessly on his mound of blankets. One hand snaked out from under the blankets and he popped a sliver of gingerbread into his mouth.
A shadow fell through the door, swallowing the bright morning sun that had been streaming in. Andrew shivered in the dim, cool air remaining. As the shadow shrank, Gretel’s voice grew louder.
“Mistress Osborne has come to get you out of that cage, Hansel.” As Gretel stepped through the doorway, Tristan straightened, the papers clutched tightly as he shoved his hand in his pocket. The mumbling had stopped although his lips still moved; tiny movements like little air kisses.
Gretel strode in, tossed her long, golden hair over her shoulder, grinned, and winked at Hansel.
On her heels came what Andrew assumed was Mistress Osborne.
Mistress Osborne was the singularly least attractive person Andrew had ever seen. She stood easily at six and a half feet, had broad shoulders, narrow hips and spindly legs sticking out from her green and black ¾ length gathered skirt. Shiny black boots with thick red laces and two-inch platforms adorned her feet. The upper part of her body—the broad shoulders, huge, bulbous breasts and prominent collar bone—was barely constrained by a dirty white peasant blouse printed with small red skulls. Her face was a mix of reasonably attractive features: straight Romanesque nose, large almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, square jaw, wide mouth. Unfortunately, the features sat on a long, skinny face with a high sloping forehead, giving the appearance of peering at Mistress Osborne through a fish-eye lens. Her best feature could have been her hair: long, dark and curly, but it was so sparse around her face that, at first glance, it looked like her hairline began on the top of her head.
She took in the scene at a glance: Hansel incarcerated in a hovel, bereft of even basic comforts; Tristan hovering near the table, hands shoved into his pockets, an air of trembling submission about him; Andrew, standing tall and straight near the Aga, hoping his fear wasn’t showing on his face.
Mistress Osborne raised her arm and pointed at Andrew. “It was you! You’re the one who’s done all this. I could feel your power as I walked inside.”