These Wide, Wide Woods
She stands in the doorway of the shambled cottage, clutching the shawl tightly around her shoulders. The baby sits in the dirt, a line of drool crawling out of his smiling mouth, leaning forward, his little fingers wrapped around his tiny toes. She watches the red sun stoop into its hiding place, like she does every night, and two tears run parallel courses down her cheeks.
His fingers dig into the warm, fresh bread - the heat burns a bit, but not enough to cause concern over. He contemplates standing from his stool and walking over to her, almost dares himself to stroll over casually and wrap his arms around her, the way he longs to every night. He stands up – then sits back down.
The wind picks up, tugging at her apron strings, pulling her hair across her face.
He tells himself it is too soon.
She tells herself it is too late.
He never thought the destruction would hurt him so deeply. Even as he feels her cold hand in his, it does little to comfort him as he gazes across the ruins that used to be his home. A layer of dust has settled over everything and even that which remains is crumbling… a tower stands here, a grand staircase there, and the nursery –
Without warning, he takes off running toward the nursery, leaving her to pick her way through the fallen castle behind him. He trips twice but ignores the scrapes and bruises, thinking only of his children…
He hears crying before he has even neared the broken room.
And there is the cradle, two legs broken and lying lopsided, double wide to accommodate twins; but only one baby has her mouth wide open, newly-grown teeth showing as she wails hysterically. His little girl screams, hungry and frightened… his little boy lies pale and limp, lifeless…
Seizing the boy, he falls to his knees, sobbing. He lets his new wife pick up his daughter and cuddle and comfort her, but he holds his son's small body to his chest and mourns over his losses and the fallen kingdom.
Once white as milk, now brown with dirt, the cow wanders through the woods, desperately searching for a lad with carrot-top hair.
He still doesn't understand.
He doesn't understand himself and he doesn't understand women.
He is supposed to understand them. That's half of his job: seducing women. But his experiences with them have left him only more confused – he was brought up understanding that women desire him and many wish little more than to be his wife. And yet when he finally found one he wanted… she ran away. Not once, but thrice, she ran away.
He caught her though. Like a butterfly in a trap, he caught her.
But one wasn't enough. He chased a second butterfly, one he hadn't even seen. This one was already trapped and he simply had to find a way into the trap.
Meanwhile, he occupied himself with other butterflies. The woman in the woods, for one.
And then his first butterfly escaped. She found out about the other women, figured out how to lift the latch, and flew away as quickly as she could.
He released the butterfly in the tower and for a single day they lived happily… The tower maiden flew away as well.
And only now does he suddenly realize that they weren't the butterflies trying to escape – rather, it is him. Oddly enough, he is the butterfly. He has been locked up all his life and he tried different means of escape until finally he found one that worked…
The royal prince's body is discovered days later, and his suicide is tallied as just another giant-induced death.
They never realized before what it took to run a household. They never appreciated their mothers as much as they do now, now that they have got to do it all on their own.
At first, he does the hunting and she does the sewing. Before long, though, they realize they are starving and about to freeze from lack of proper clothing and they switch jobs.
She's not as strong as she was before. The things she has seen have broken her, put out the happy little lights that used to dance in her eyes. She's tougher now, but also wiser and less optimistic and less arrogant. She lost the fur cloak sometime ago, and the absence of a cloak of any kind seems to represent her acceptance of reality.
He also has come to terms with reality. He's not daydreaming anymore. He darns the socks and patches their other clothing.
If she's not home, he'll wander off into the woods and look for her, counting one hundred paces as they always have.