Once Upon a Time – Chap. 34.4

Hooray and we’re back! Hope everyone had a merry holiday season (can’t believe New Year’s is just around the corner)! Since it’s been a while since we took the break and we stopped in the middle of things again, I’m placing the new post after the one we left of with and have illustrations at the end. As usual, we’re sort of in the middle of things regardless but these two bits sort of need to go together. So without further waiting around, here we go:

Wymer snatched the goblet closest to him and peered into the bottom. He snorted, giving Gwendolena a zealous roll of his eyes and twirling the goblet like an ornate baton. “And what exactly are you up to now, queenie? Do you expect us to drink air?”

The vampire offered him a look of surprise in response. “Dear friend, do you truly presume me so foolish or rude? What you have in fact is a very special cup, one which knows its holder’s palate quite well.” She nodded toward his hand. “And I would ask you to be so kind as to cease that needless spinning before you spill something.”

Spill something? But I just looked in the blasted thing, there’s nothing”—Wymer stopped twirling and stared at the goblet, now right side up and filled to its brim with a golden brown liquid—“say, is that mead?”

Gwendolena leaned forward just enough to examine the goblet’s contents. “Why yes, I believe it is.”

The Keepers never let us have any, that lot keeps all the good stuff they steal for themselves,” Wymer whispered to the mead as though it were his liquid counselor. “I’ve only had water and wine more fit to be vinegar for the longest time. I’d almost forgotten what a real drink to drunken smelled like.” And on that note, he closed his eyes and brought the goblet up to his nose.

Seth rose a brow, sharing the queen’s amusement as his traveling companion continued sniffing in the beverage like a flower. “Like mead I take it, Nancy?”

My name’s Wymer, you walking sack of maggots,” he snapped before tilting his head back to guzzle down the goblet’s contents.

Seth, you have a goblet as well.”

The queen’s reminder forced Seth to jerk his head toward the empty goblet remaining in front of him. He reluctantly reached out with shut eyes and grasped the stem, already knowing what his would show. Sure enough, when he cracked his lids open again, the goblet in his hand now held exactly what any zombie would most desire.

He had a goblet full of brains.

Seth's_goblet_coloredWymer cast a curious glance toward Seth, causing his gulps of mead to transform into a series of coughs as he made hasty side steps from the zombie. “Is that brains in your cup?” he wheezed out.

Seth continued staring at the delicacy before him with a shrug. “Looks that way, doesn’t it?” He looked back up at Gwendoloena. “When you said these cups knew their holder’s, you weren’t kidding. I don’t really understand why you’ve given these to us though.” The zombie shook his head. “Wymer’s mead couldn’t have been much more of a surprise than what mine ended up with. Forgive me for being bold, dear queen, but what did you expect?”

“More than either of you perhaps.” Gwendoloena delivered another of her amused yet amiable smiles. “I told you these particular vessels know the palate of their holders well and you can see that is true. But they also know the one who holds them better than the holders themselves.”

In confusion, Seth looked back at his goblet of brains – except there were none. A thick greenish-brown broth now filled the cup. First impressions caused the new contents to appear as repugnant as the previous but he immediately recognized it.

“Pea soup?” Seth swirled the concoction around. “When I was a child this was my favorite, mother always made a huge pot at the end of the month and it fed our family for days.” He raised the goblet and inspected it further. “This is mother’s pea soup, even has the little pieces of carrot. Can I actually eat this, Gwendoloena?”

“No Seth, I’m sorry but it will be as bitter as anything else not suited toward your zombie tastes. I can’t remove that part of the curse, this was only a test.”

“A test?” He raised his brow at her. “But how, I don’t understand. Why did it change from brains to something I loved during childhood?”

“If I were to hand this to one of your zombie brethren roaming the countryside,” Gwendoloena nodded toward Seth’s goblet while speaking to him, “I would expect to find it remain only filled to the brim with brains. The goblet initially perceived you as a monster because this is what you are at first glance.”

“But it’s an unfortunately true perception,” argued Seth. “I am a monster, of the lowest kind. Just because I can speak and decide for myself which direction to walk doesn’t change the fact I’d gladly go in the direction of anything living to devour it. I didn’t just return here.” He cast a threatening glare at Wymer as the henchman began sputtering for him to keep quiet. “You’re right about the man next to me. Simone is just an innocent woman who joined us along the way but he is in fact one of the Keepers minions.” Seth returned his eyes to her. “And they removed the spell that kept me from being able to harm anything living. I was sent here, by the Keepers, to murder Sylvia.”

Gwendoloena nodded in agreement. “A monstrous deed for anyone to be appointed and quite fitting for your zombie nature. And yet just a short while ago, you stood in a room with five members of the living and you attacked none. Before that, you traveled with the nearly the same number both from here and back. You have one standing near you now whom I don’t believe you even care for the company of,” she paused to dart her eyes at Wymer who let out an audible gulp at the reminder, “who remains alive.” Gwendoloena shook her head at the zombie. “If Sylvia were still in a position to be killed, Seth, I don’t truly believe you would cause her harm. You may be aware of what you are but you also remember who you were. And that person was an honorable man.” She turned her head to regard Wymer’s goblet with less pride. “Your traveling companion, however, appears to have water.”

Wymer made a face at no longer having his bounty of mead as he poured a small puddle of water on the floor. “But why, I hate water. It has no flavor!”

“Precisely.” Gwendoloena spoke in a near scolding tone this time. “Water has no real flavor of its own. Lemons and sugar, for example, can turn it into an entirely different beverage. Its flavor, it’s character in this sense, easily changes with circumstance.” She crossed her arms, seeming to size him up. “You are like your former associate Trevor when he first joined us. You are on the side of the Keepers when odds appear in their favor but are just as likely to call us friends if it suites your interests. You are a shallow liar whose word is only good so long as the wind doesn’t change direction. But,” the queen eased back into her typical sweet motherly voice while nodding at Wymer’s goblet again, “it is at least only water. This means that you too are not truly evil at heart.”

“I am too!” Wymer slammed his goblet down on the table, causing a fountain of its remaining contents to spill out. “I’m one of the Keepers henchmen, I’m a vicious killer!”

Seth quickly thought back to the two times he’d seen Wymer in action – both of those times resulting in the man becoming a crying ball huddled on the ground. “Um, no. I don’t think so.”

Wymer glared at the now empty goblet. “That test was wrong! I’m not intending to switch sides and I’m a trained assassin—”

“Only if the term assassin includes crushing bugs while walking across the floor,” interrupted Seth.

“Shut your trap!” Wymer stamped his foot. “I’ve gone through training and everything. I am to be feared! There should be something horrible and vile in that goblet, like blood, or some kind of black goo or root beer!”

“No Wymer,” Gwendoloena smiled apologetically, “my test was correct. I can’t truly speak for whether you’ll be wise enough to side with us but in your heart, you’re a good person. A bit pompous and a liar, but otherwise good.”

“You see?” Wymer flopped his arms up. “There you go calling me a liar again. I’m not a liar.”

“Why don’t you tell me about the Keepers’ birds then,” suggested the queen.

“Birds?” Wymer made the same arm motion again, almost giving the appearance that he was trying to fly away himself. “What birds? There’s no birds. Certainly none that used to be villagers.”

Very well.” Gwendoloena sighed and turned to the zombie. “Seth, tell me about the birds.”



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