Chapter 16: In Which the Knight Likes Cheese

As the old woman spoke, Madison scrambled to remember the riddle. When the witch finished, she smiled a toothy grin. The pleasant face of an old peasant was replaced by a mouthful of rotten teeth. A gnat burrowed its way into the witch’s gums, gnawing on some rancid meat stuck between her teeth.

Madison pulled her mind away from the revolting dental hygiene of the evil riddler and concentrated on the puzzle.

“I think the answer is ‘cheese,’” Westley said.

“Cheese? Really?” Madison asked. “Why?”

“Well, I like cheese a lot, so I grab as much as I can to fill my pockets with it.”


“Sure, there’s some in my pocket now.”

“Do you dream of it?” Madison asked.

“Some nights,” Westley answered, looking a little embarrassed. Then he added, “Not every night,” trying to cover up the silliness of dreaming of cheese.

“Okay, but does it turn your face green?”

“Not usually, but I once had blue cheese that was a little past its best-before date. I spent the evening in the outhouse, I’m afraid.”

Madison looked at her traveling partner strangely. She wondered to herself how she came to be standing in a wood with a useless hero.

“Does it leave your heart empty?” she asked him.

“Oh, no. I love cheese. It fills my stomach and my heart.”

“Well, that can’t be it then, can it?”

Westley thought long and hard, scratching his masked chin like an invisible beard.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

The Princess crinkled her brow in furious thought. As the minutes ticked by, the witches grew more and more excited, but Madison concentrated on the riddle. Finally she spoke quietly to her partner.

“Westley, I need to talk this through.” It was a phrase she had heard her parents use. Her parents seemed a long way away. She ignored a tear and tried hard to work it out.

“I’m going to ignore the green face thing, for now. This is something that we need, but don’t really need. It talks about dreams, which are usually things we want, rather than things we need, I think. That’s what ‘pretend’ means.”

“Good, good!” he encouraged her on.

“I think the key is the end, ‘your heart is empty, when you hold me dear.’ Whatever it is makes us think we are really happy, but we aren’t. And then…” Madison broke off, trying to put another part of the puzzle together. Then she cried out in frustration.

“I’ll never get this!”

Sir Westley Cummerbund, III had been excitedly nodding while she thought through the puzzle. Madison found it very childlike, and very much like the silly pretend knight that he seemed to be. But when Madison felt like she was about to give up, he grew very serious.

“My dear Princess. You are one of the most intelligent children I have ever met. You will solve the riddle.”

As he spoke the reassuring words, Madison looked up at him hopefully. She caught his serious eyes behind his mask. In this light, the darkening light of a fading magical clearing in the wood, she thought his eyes burned bright blue just then. They seemed warm and fierce at the same time. And unlike his ridiculous bravado, the eyes looked intelligent—almost dangerous. She thought about his eyes for a moment—how they seemed so familiar—but also because she had thought they were green.

Then a thought struck her suddenly.

“Is it envy?” she asked him. “Green with envy?”

Westley’s eyes changed from bright and challenging to soft and proud, the brightness fading away a little.

“Let’s test it,” he said.

“Well, we talk about being ‘green with envy,’ so that fits. And envy is about things we want but don’t get. And I think envy will disappoint.”

“But what about the ‘pockets thick’ thing?”

“That’s the part that is close, but not quite. I think it is like envy, but more than that.” Madison concentrated hard, running ideas through her head.

“What else is green?” Westley asked.

“Well, you said sick green, but is that it?”

“It might be. What else?”

Madison began trying out different ideas as the witches danced and taunted them.

“Grass is green. Vegetables. Trees. Money.”

“Money?” Westley asked, interrupting her.

“Could that be it?” Madison asked. “It’s green, and people’s hands move quickly to it.”

“It fills pockets,” Westley added.

“And it doesn’t satisfy,” Madison said. “I think we have it. But it’s so tough Westley! It could be money, or it could be envy.”

“Or even greed,” he added.

“Well, we have to try,” Madison said, her tummy lurching in hunger and fear and desperation.

“Have you given up yet my darling?” the old man cackled, his voice like an old metal chair being dragged across a stone floor.

“How many guesses do we get?” the Princess asked.

“Oh my, she doesn’t know the answer!” the woman gargled to her partner. They screeched and cackled at one another before answering. “Well my dear, you can have as many guesses as you want.”

Madison breathed out a deep sigh. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath. She looked up at Westley to smile, but he was not smiling back at her. Then the witch added something.

“But for every guess you take, you must give us one as well.”

Madison became quite frightened and could hardly breathe. She felt dizzy, and thought she was going to fall down in the middle of the clearing, but her Knight put his hand on her shoulder to steady her.

“It’s okay, Little One. You can do this.”

Madison took a deep breath and faced her challengers.

“I think the answer…” she began in a whisper, then took a breath and started again, speaking louder and trying to sound confident. “The answer is ‘money.’”

The old woman’s face turned pale green—even paler and greener than it already was—and she shouted out. The old man began to bang his fist against his head, causing moths to fly frantically from his ears. He screeched in anger, and she gargled in rage.

“You are right,” the woman spoke, her voice laced with seething anger. “But we can answer your riddle and you will not yet have won.”

Despite her fear and uncertainty, Madison smiled proudly and took Westley’s hand.

more is coming soon!

Published on August 18, 2010 at 8:09 am  Leave a Comment  

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