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Read the First Few Chapters of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ by Guillermo del Toro

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Read the First Few Chapters of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ by Guillermo del Toro

Read the First Few Chapters of 'Pan’s Labyrinth' by Guillermo del Toro

We’re just going to say it. Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke teaming up to give us an adaptation of the acclaimed director’s Oscar winning movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, is gift we

1. Don’t deserve but,

2. Are so very happy we got.

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun is wonderfully atmospheric, dark, and magical, and we’re all about it. New fairy-tales provide a deeper look into the story of evil men, a trickster faun, and a long-lost princess. It’s a stunningly packaged novelization of an *epic* movie, with black and white illustrations of scenes in the story woven throughout. Basically? We’re obsessed, and we think you will be, too. The good news? You can start reading the first few chapters of Pan’s Labyrinth right now!

 

PROLOGUE

It is said that long, long ago, there lived a princess in an underground realm, where neither lies nor pain exist, who dreamt of the human world. Princess Moanna dreamt of a perfect blue sky and an infinite sea of clouds; she dreamt of the sun and the grass and the taste of rain. . . . So, one day the princess escaped her guards and came to our world. Soon the sun erased all her memories and she forgot who she was or where she came from. She wandered the earth, suffering cold, sickness, and pain. And finally, she died.

Her father, the king, would not give up searching for her. For he knew Moanna’s spirit to be immortal and hoped that it one day would come back to him.

In another body, at another time. Perhaps in another place.

He would wait.

Down to his last breath.

Until the end of time.

 

The Forest and the Fairy

There once was a forest in the north of Spain, so old that it could tell stories long past and forgotten by men. The trees anchored so deeply in the moss-covered soil they laced the bones of the dead with their roots while their branches reached for the stars.

So many things lost, the leaves were murmuring as three black cars came driving down the unpaved road that cut through fern and moss.

But all things lost can be found again, the trees whispered.

It was the year 1944 and the girl sitting in one of the cars, next to her pregnant mother, didn’t understand what the trees whispered. Her name was Ofelia and she knew everything about the pain of loss, although she was only thirteen years old. Her father had died just a year ago and Ofelia missed him so terribly that at times her heart felt like an empty box with nothing but the echo of her pain in it. She often wondered whether her mother felt the same, but she couldn’t find the answer in her pale face.

“As white as snow, as red as blood, as black as coal,” Ofelia’s father used to say when he looked at her mother, his voice soft with tenderness. “You look so much like her, Ofelia.” Lost.

They had been driving for hours, farther and farther away from everything Ofelia knew, deeper and deeper into this never-ending forest, to meet the man her mother had chosen to be Ofelia’s new father. Ofelia called him the Wolf, and she didn’t want to think about him. But even the trees seemed to whisper his name.

The only piece of home Ofelia had been able to take with her were some of her books. She closed her fingers firmly around the one on her lap, caressing the cover. When she opened the book, the white pages were so bright against the shadows that filled the forest and the words they offered granted shelter and comfort. The letters were like footprints in the snow, a wide white landscape untouched by pain, unharmed by memories too dark to keep, too sweet to let go of.

“Why did you bring all these books, Ofelia? We’ll be in the country!” The car ride had paled her mother’s face even more. The car ride and the baby she was carrying. She grabbed the book from Ofelia’s hands and all the comforting words fell silent.

“You are too old for fairy tales, Ofelia! You need to start looking at the world!”

Her mother’s voice was like a broken bell. Ofelia couldn’t remember her ever sounding like that when her father was still alive.

“Oh, we’ll be late!” Her mother sighed, pressing her handkerchief to her lips. “He will not like that.”

He . . .

She moaned and Ofelia leaned forward to grab the driver’s shoulder.

“Stop!” she called. “Stop the car. Don’t you see? My mother is sick.”

The driver throttled the engine with a grunt. Wolves—that’s what they were, these soldiers accompanying them. Man-eating wolves. Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it.

She climbed out of the car while her mother stumbled to the side of the road and vomited into the ferns. They grew as densely between the trees as an ocean of feathery fronds, from which gray-barked trunks emerged like creatures reaching up from a sunken world below.

The two other cars had stopped as well and the forest was swarming with gray uniforms. The trees didn’t like them. Ofelia could sense it. Serrano, the commanding officer, came to check on her mother. He was a tall, bulky man who talked too loudly and wore his uniform like a theater costume. Her mother asked him for water in her broken-bell voice, and Ofelia walked a little way down the unpaved road.

Water, the trees whispered. Earth. Sun.

The fern fronds brushed Ofelia’s dress like green fingers, and she lowered her gaze when she stepped on a stone. It was gray like the soldiers’ uniforms, placed in the middle of the road as if someone had lost it there. Her mother was once again vomiting behind her. Why does it make women sick to bring children into the world?

Ofelia bent down and closed her fingers around the stone. Time had covered it in moss, but when Ofelia brushed it off, she saw it was flat and smooth and that someone had carved an eye on it.

A human eye.

Ofelia looked around.

All she could see were three withered stone columns, almost invisible among the high ferns. The gray rock from which they were carved was covered with strange concentric patterns and the central column had an ancient corroded stone face gazing out into the forest. Ofelia couldn’t resist. She stepped off the road and walked toward it, although her shoes were wet with dew after just a few steps and thistles clung to her dress.

The face was missing an eye. Just like a puzzle missing a piece—waiting to be solved.

Ofelia gripped the eye-stone and stepped closer.

Underneath the nose chiseled with straight lines into the gray surface, a gaping mouth showed withered teeth. Ofelia stumbled back, when between them a winged body as thin as a twig stirred, pointing its long, quivering tentacles at her. Insect legs emerged from the mouth and the creature, bigger than Ofelia’s hand, hastily scuttled up the column. Once it reached the top, it raised its spindly front legs and started gesturing at her. It made Ofelia smile. It seemed like such a long time since she’d last smiled. Her lips weren’t used to it anymore.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

The creature waved its front legs once more and uttered a few melodic clicking sounds. Maybe it was a cricket. Did crickets look like this? Or was it a dragonfly? Ofelia wasn’t sure. She had been raised in a city, between walls built from stones that had neither eyes nor faces. Nor gaping mouths.

“Ofelia!”

The creature spread its wings. Ofelia followed it with her eyes as it flew away. Her mother was standing just a few steps down the road, Officer Serrano by her side.

“Look at your shoes!” her mother chided with that soft resignation her voice held so often now.

Ofelia looked down. Her damp shoes were covered with mud, but she still felt the smile on her lips.

“I think I saw a Fairy!” she said. Yes. That’s what the creature was. Ofelia was sure.

But her mother wouldn’t listen. Her name was Carmen Cardoso, she was thirty-two years old and already a widow and she didn’t remember how it felt to look at anything without despising it, without being afraid of it. All she saw was a world that took what she loved and ground it to dust between its teeth. So as Carmen Cardoso loved her daughter, loved her very much, she had married again. This world was ruled by men—her child didn’t understand that yet—and only a man would be able to keep them both safe. Ofelia’s mother didn’t know it, but she also believed in a fairy tale. Carmen Cardoso believed the most dangerous tale of all: the one of the prince who would save her.

The winged creature that had been waiting for Ofelia in the column’s gaping mouth knew all of this. She knew many things, but she was not a Fairy—at least not in the sense we like to think of them. Only her master knew her true name, for in the Magic Kingdom to know a name was to own the being that carried it.

From the branch of a fir tree, she watched Ofelia and her mother get back into the car to continue their journey. She’d waited for this girl for a long time: this girl who had lost so much and would have to lose so much more to find what was rightfully hers. It wouldn’t be easy to help her, but that was the task her master had given her, and he didn’t take it lightly when his orders weren’t followed. Oh no, he didn’t.

Deeper and deeper into the forest the cars drove, with the girl and the mother and the unborn child. And the creature Ofelia had named a Fairy spread her insect wings, folded her six spindly legs, and followed the caravan.

 

All the Shapes Evil Takes

Evil seldom takes shape immediately. It is often little more than a whisper at first. A glance. A betrayal. But then it grows and takes root, still invisible, unnoticed. Only fairy tales give evil a proper shape. The big bad wolves, the evil kings, the demons, and devils . . .

Ofelia knew that the man she would soon have to call “Father” was evil. He had the smile of the cyclops Ojancanu and the cruelty of the monsters Cuegle and Nuberu nesting in his dark eyes, creatures she had met in her fairy-tale books. But her mother didn’t see his true shape. People often grow blind when they get older and maybe Carmen Cardoso didn’t notice the wolfish smile because Capitán Vidal was handsome and always impeccably dressed in his gala uniform, boots, and gloves. Because she wished so badly for protection, maybe her mother mistook his bloodlust for power and his brutality for strength.

 

Capitán Vidal looked at his pocket watch. The glass face was marred by a crack, but the hands underneath still told the time and they indicated that the caravan was late.

“Fifteen minutes,” muttered Vidal, who, like all monsters—like Death—was always punctual.

 

Yes, they were late, just as Carmen had feared, when they finally arrived at the old mill Vidal had chosen to serve as his headquarters. Vidal hated the forest. He hated everything that didn’t keep a proper order, and the trees were far too willing to hide the men he had come here to hunt. They fought the very darkness Vidal served and admired, and he had come to the old forest to break them. Oh yes, Ofelia’s new father loved to break the bones of all those he considered weak, to spill their blood, and give new order to their messy, miserable world.

He greeted the caravan. Smiling.

But Ofelia saw the contempt in his eyes as he welcomed them in the dusty yard where once upon a time, peasants of the surrounding villages had delivered their grain to the miller. Her mother, though, smiled at him and allowed the Wolf to touch her belly swollen with his child. She even gave in when he told her to sit in a wheelchair like a broken doll. Ofelia watched it all from the backseat of the car, despising the prospect of offering the Wolf her hand as her mother had told her to. But finally she climbed out, to not leave her mother alone with him, pressing her books against her chest like a shield made from paper and words.

“Ofelia.” The Wolf crunched her name between his thin lips into something as broken as her mother, and stared at her extended left hand.

“It’s the other hand, Ofelia,” he said softly. “Remember.”

He was wearing black leather gloves that creaked when he enclosed Ofelia’s hand in a grip as fierce as a poacher’s trap. Then he turned his back on her, as if he’d already forgotten about her.

“Mercedes!” he called out to a woman who was helping the soldiers unload the cars. “Get their luggage!”

Mercedes was slim and pale. She had raven-black hair and dark liquid eyes. Ofelia thought she looked like a princess pretending to be a peasant’s daughter. Or perhaps an enchantress, though Ofelia wasn’t sure which kind, good or evil.

Mercedes and the men carried her mother’s suitcases to the mill house. Ofelia thought it looked lost and sad, as if it missed being a mill grinding fresh grain. Now it was overrun with soldiers, swarming around its withered stone walls like locusts. Their tents and trucks were everywhere, filling the wide yard surrounded by stables, a barn, and the mill itself.

Gray uniforms, a sad, old house, and a forest filled with shadows . . . Ofelia yearned to go home so badly she could barely breathe. But there was no home without her father. She felt tears welling up behind her eyes, when she suddenly noticed between sacks stacked a few feet away a pair of wings catching the sunlight as though made of paper-thin glass.

It was the Fairy.

Forgetting her sadness, Ofelia ran after her, when she made a beeline for the trees behind the mill. The little creature was so fast that Ofelia soon stumbled over her own feet as she chased her, dropping all her books. But when Ofelia picked them up, wiping the dirt from their covers, she saw the Fairy clinging to the bark of a nearby tree, waiting for her.

 

She was. Oh yes. She had to make sure the girl followed her.

But wait. No! She had halted her steps again.

 

Ofelia was staring at a huge arch that had appeared between the trees, spanning the gap between two ancient walls. A horned head stared down from the arch with empty eyes and an open mouth, as if it were trying to swallow the world. The gaze of those eyes seemed to make everything vanish: the mill, the soldiers, the Wolf, even Ofelia’s mother. Come in! the crumbling walls seemed to say. Ofelia could see faded engraved letters below the head but she didn’t know their meaning.

In consiliis nostris fatum nostrum est, the words read.

“In our choices lie our fate.”

The Fairy had disappeared, and when Ofelia stepped through the arch, it cast a cold shadow on her skin. Turn around! something in her warned. But she didn’t. Sometimes it is good to listen, sometimes it is not. Ofelia wasn’t sure she had a choice anyway. Her feet did the walking all by themselves. The corridor that opened behind the arch narrowed after just a few steps until Ofelia could touch the walls on either side simply by stretching out her arms. She dragged her hands over the withered stones while she kept walking. They were so cold despite the heat of the day. A few more steps and she reached a corner. Another corridor opened in front of her, leading left and then right toward another corner.

“It is a labyrinth.”

Ofelia spun around.

Mercedes was standing behind her. The shawl draped across her shoulders looked as if she had woven it from woolen leaves. If she was an enchantress, she was a beautiful one, not old and withered as they mostly looked in Ofelia’s books. But she knew from the tales that enchantresses often didn’t wear their true faces.

“It’s just a pile of old stones,” Mercedes said. “Very old. Older than the mill. These walls have been here forever—long before the mill was built. You shouldn’t come in here. You could get lost. It has happened before. I’ll tell you the story one day if you want to hear it.”

“Mercedes! The capitán needs you!” a soldier’s harsh voice ordered from behind the mill.

“I’m coming!” Mercedes called back.

She smiled at Ofelia. There were secrets in her smile, but Ofelia liked her. She liked her very much.

“You heard that. Your father needs me.” Mercedes started walking back to the arch.

“He is not my father!” Ofelia called after her. “He is not!”

Mercedes slowed.

Ofelia ran to her side and they walked through the arch, leaving the cold stones and the horned face with the empty eyes behind.

“My father was a tailor,” Ofelia said. “He was killed in the war.”

There were the tears again. They always came when Ofelia talked about him. She couldn’t help it.

“He made my dress and the blouse my mother wears. He made the most beautiful clothes. More beautiful than the princesses wear in my books! Capitán Vidal is not my father.”

“You’ve made that very clear,” Mercedes said gently, putting her arm around Ofelia’s shoulders. “But come now. I’ll take you to your mother. I’m sure she’s already looking for you.”

Her arm felt warm. And strong.

“Isn’t my mother beautiful?” Ofelia asked. “It is the baby who makes her sick. Do you have a brother?”

“I do,” Mercedes replied. “You’ll see, you will love your little brother. Very much. You won’t be able to help it.”

She smiled once again. There was sadness in her eyes. Ofelia saw it. Mercedes seemed to know about losing things too.

Sitting atop the stone arch, the Fairy watched them walk back to the mill: the woman and the girl, spring and summer, side by side.

The girl would come back.

The Fairy would make sure of that.

Very soon.

As soon as her master wished.

 

Just a Mouse

Yes, Mercedes had a brother. Pedro was one of the men hiding in the forest, a Maqui, as they called themselves, a resistance fighter, hiding from the very soldiers Mercedes cooked and cleaned for.

Capitán Vidal and his officers were planning the hunt for those men when Mercedes walked in with the bread, cheese, and wine he had ordered. At one time the table on which they’d spread their map used to serve meals to the miller and his family. Now all it served was death. Death and fear.

The flames dancing in the fireplace painted shadows of knifes and rifles onto the whitewashed walls and the faces bending over the map. Mercedes put her tray down and cast an unsuspicious glance at the marked army positions.

“The guerrillas stick to the forest because it’s hard to track them there.” Vidal’s voice was as expressionless as his face. “The scum knows the terrain much better than we do. We’ll therefore block all access to the woods. Here. And here.” He brought his black-gloved finger down on the map like a missile.

Pay attention, Mercedes. And tell your brother what they are planning, or he’ll be dead in a week.

“Food, medicine, we’ll store it all. Right here.” Vidal pointed at the spot that marked the mill. “We need to force them down from the hills. That way they’ll come to us.”

Here, Mercedes. They’ll store it all here!

She took her time laying the food out on the table, glad that she was completely invisible to them, just a maid, just part of the room like the chairs and the firewood.

“We’ll set up three new command posts. Here, here, and here.”

Vidal placed bronze markers on the map. Mercedes didn’t take her eyes off his gloved fingers. That’s what she was: the eyes and ears of the rabbits they hunted, as silent and invisible as a mouse.

“Mercedes!”

She forgot to breathe when the black glove grabbed her shoulder.

Vidal’s eyes were narrow with suspicion. He is always suspicious, Mercedes, she thought, calming her racing heart. He liked to watch his gaze spread fear on a face, but she’d played this game often enough to not give herself away. Just a mouse. Invisible. She’d be done for if he ever came to believe that she was a cat or a vixen.

“Ask Dr. Ferreira to come down.”

“Yes, señor.”

She bent her head to make herself small. Most men didn’t want a woman to be tall. Vidal was no exception.

Three command posts. And food and medicine stored at the mill.

Now that would come in handy.

 

A Rose on a Dark Mountain

Dr. Ferreira was a good man, a gentle soul. That much was apparent to Ofelia the moment he walked into her mother’s room. One can spot kindness as clearly as cruelty. It spreads light and warmth and the doctor seemed filled with both.

“This will help you sleep,” he told her mother as he added a few drops of amber liquid to a glass of water.

Her mother hadn’t argued with him when he advised her to stay in bed for a few days. It was a huge wooden bed, with plenty of room for her and Ofelia to share. Her mother hadn’t been well at all since they’d come to this miserable place. Her forehead was wet with sweat, and pain etched fine lines into her beautiful face. Ofelia was worried, but it comforted her to watch the doctor’s calm hands prepare the draught.

“Just two drops,” he said, handing Ofelia the small brown bottle so she could close it. “You’ll see it will help her.”

Her mother could barely swallow the water without gagging.

“You need to drink all of it,” Dr. Ferreira softly urged. “Very good.”

His voice was as warm as the blankets on the bed and Ofelia wondered why her mother hadn’t fallen in love with a man like the doctor. He reminded her of her late father. Just a little bit.

Ofelia had just sat down on the side of the bed, when Mercedes came into the room.

“He wants you downstairs,” she said to Dr. Ferreira.

He. Nobody spoke his name. Vidal. It sounded like a stone thrown through a window, each letter a piece of broken glass. Capitán. That’s what most of them called him. But Ofelia still thought Wolf fit him much better.

“Don’t hesitate to call me,” the doctor said to her mother as he closed his bag. “Day or night. You or your young nurse,” he added, smiling at Ofelia.

Then he left with Mercedes, and Ofelia was alone for the first time with her mother in this old house smelling of cold winters and the sadness of people from ages past. She liked to be alone with her mother. She always had, but then the Wolf had come.

Her mother drew her closer.

“My young nurse.” She pushed her hand under Ofelia’s arm with a tired but happy smile. “Close the doors and turn off the light, cariño.”

Even though she’d be at her mother’s side, Ofelia dreaded the prospect of sleeping in this strange room, but she did as she was told. She was reaching for the door latch, when she saw the doctor standing on the landing with Mercedes. They didn’t notice her and Ofelia didn’t want to eavesdrop, but she couldn’t help listening. To listen . . . after all, that’s what being a child is about. Learning about adults’ secrets means learning to understand their world—and how to survive it.

“You have to help us, Doctor!” Mercedes was whispering. “Come with me and see him. The wound’s not healing. His leg is getting worse.”

“This is all I could get,” the doctor said quietly, handing Mercedes a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. “I am sorry.”

Mercedes took the parcel, but the despair on her face frightened Ofelia. Mercedes seemed so strong, like someone who would protect her in this house filled with loneliness and the ghosts of the past.

“The capitán is waiting for you in his office.” Mercedes straightened her back and didn’t look at Dr. Ferreira as he descended the stairs. His steps were heavy, as if he felt guilty walking away from Mercedes’s desperate face.

Ofelia couldn’t move.

Secrets. They add to the darkness of the world but they also make you want to find out more. . . .

Ofelia was still standing by the open door when Mercedes turned. Her eyes widened with fear the moment she saw Ofelia and she hastily hid the parcel under her shawl, while Ofelia’s feet finally obeyed and she stepped back to latch the door, wishing Mercedes would just forget she had seen her.

“Ofelia! Come here!” her mother called from the bed.

At least the fire spread some light in the dark room, along with two flickering candles on the mantelpiece. Ofelia crawled into the bed and wrapped her arms around her mother.

Just the two of them. Why hadn’t that been enough? But her baby brother was already kicking in her mother’s belly. What if he was like his father? Go away! Ofelia thought. Leave us alone. We don’t need you. For she has me and I take care of her.

“Heavens, your feet . . . they’re frozen!” her mother said.

Her body felt so warm. Maybe a bit too warm, but the doctor hadn’t seemed too worried about the fever.

Around them the mill was moaning and creaking. It didn’t want them. It wanted the miller back. Or maybe it wished to be alone with the forest, tree roots breaking through its walls, leaves covering its roof, until its stones and beams became part of the forest again.

“Are you afraid?” her mother whispered.

“A little,” Ofelia whispered back.

Another moan rose from the old walls, and the beams above them sighed as if someone was bending them. Ofelia pressed closer against her mother. She kissed Ofelia’s hair, as black as her own.

“It’s nothing, cariño. It’s nothing, just the wind. Nights are very different here. In the city you hear cars, the tramway. Here the houses are so much older. They creak. . . .”

Yes, they did. This time they both listened.

“It sounds as if the walls are speaking, doesn’t it?” Her mother hadn’t held Ofelia like this since she had learned she was pregnant. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m giving you a surprise.”

“A surprise?” Ofelia looked up at her mother’s pale face.

“Yes.”

Ofelia felt so safe in her embrace. For the first time since . . . since when? Since her father died. Since her mother met the Wolf.

“Is it a book?” she asked. Her father had often given her books. Sometimes he had even tailored clothes for them. Linen. To protect the binding, Ofelia, he would say. They bind them in very cheap fabric nowadays. This is better. Ofelia missed him so much. Sometimes it felt as if her heart were bleeding and it wouldn’t heal until she saw him again.

“A book?” Her mother laughed softly. “No! Not a book! Something much better.”

Ofelia didn’t remind her mother that for her, there was nothing better than a book. Her mother wouldn’t understand. She didn’t make books her shelter or allow them to take her to another world. She could only see this world, and then, Ofelia thought, only sometimes. It was part of her mother’s sadness to be earthbound. Books could have told her so much about this world and about places far away, about animals and plants, about the stars! They could be windows and doors, paper wings to help her fly away. Maybe her mother had just forgotten how to fly. Or maybe she’d never learned.

Carmen had closed her eyes. At least when she was dreaming she saw more than this world, didn’t she? Ofelia wondered, pressing her cheek against her mother’s chest. So close, their bodies fusing into one, as they had been before she was born. Ofelia could hear the tide of her mother’s breath, the soft thumping of her heart beating so regularly, like a metronome against bone.

“Why did you have to get married?” Ofelia whispered.

As the words escaped her lips, part of her hoped that her mother was already asleep. But then the answer came—

“I was alone for too long, my love,” her mother said, staring at the ceiling above them. The whitewash was cracked and lined with spiderwebs.

“But I was with you!” Ofelia said. “You were not alone. I was always with you.”

Her mother continued to stare at the ceiling, suddenly seeming so far away. “When you’re older you’ll understand. It wasn’t easy for me, either, when your father—”

She drew in her breath sharply and pressed her hand on her swollen belly. “Your brother is acting up again.”

Her mother’s hand felt so hot when Ofelia covered it with her own. Yes, she could feel her brother too. And no, he wouldn’t go away. He wanted to come out.

“Tell him one of your stories!” her mother gasped. “I am sure that’ll calm him down.”

Ofelia felt reluctant to share her stories with him, but finally she sat up. Under the white sheets her mother’s body looked like a mountain covered in snow, her brother sleeping in its deepest cave. Ofelia put her head on the bump in the blanket, caressing it where her brother was moving, deep under her mother’s skin.

“Brother!” she whispered. “Brother of mine.”

Her mother hadn’t given him a name yet. He would need one soon to get ready for this world.

“Many, many years ago . . . in a sad, faraway land . . .” Ofelia spoke in a soft, low voice, but she was sure he could hear her. “There was an enormous mountain made of black flint . . .”

Behind the mill, in the forest as dark and silent as the night, the creature Ofelia called the Fairy spread her wings and followed the sound of the girl’s voice, the words building a path of bread crumbs through the night.

“And atop that mountain,” Ofelia continued, “a magic rose blossomed every dawn. People said whoever plucked it would become immortal. But no one dared to go near it because its thorns were filled with poison.”

Oh yes, there are many roses like that, the Fairy thought as she flew toward the window behind which the girl was telling her story. When she slipped into the room, her wings fluttering as softly as Ofelia’s voice, she saw them: the girl and her mother, holding each other against the darkness of the night outside. But the darkness inside the house was far more frightening, and the girl knew that it was fed by the man who’d brought them here.

“People talked about all the pain the thorns of the rose could cause,” Ofelia whispered to her unborn brother. “They warned each other that whoever climbed the mountain would die. It was so easy for them to believe in the pain and the thorns. Fear helped them believe that. But none of them dared to hope that in the end the rose would reward them with eternal life. They couldn’t hope—they could not. And so, the rose would wilt away, night after night, unable to bequeath its gift to anyone. . . .”

The Fairy sat on the windowsill to listen. She was glad the girl knew about the thorns, as she and her mother had come to a very dark mountain. The man who ruled this mountain—oh yes, the Fairy knew all about him—was sitting downstairs in his office, the room behind the mill’s wheel, polishing the pocket watch of his father, another father who had died in another war.

“The rose was forgotten and lost,” Ofelia said, pressing her cheek to her mother’s belly. “At the top of that cold, dark mountain, forever alone until the end of time.”

She didn’t know it, but she was telling her brother about his father.

 

Fathers and Sons

Vidal cleaned his father’s pocket watch every night, the only time when he took off his gloves. The room Vidal had made his office was the one right behind the huge wheel that had once helped grind the miller’s corn. Its massive spokes covered most of the back wall and at times gave him the feeling of living inside the watch, which was strangely comforting. He polished the richly engraved silver casing and brushed the dust off the gearwheels as tenderly as if he were caring for a living thing.

Sometimes the objects we hold dear give away who we are even more than the people we love. The glass of the watch had cracked in the hand of Vidal’s father at the very moment he died, which his son took as proof that things could survive death if only one kept them clean and in perfect order.

His father was a hero. Vidal had grown up with that thought. He had built himself around it. A true man. And that thought brought a memory, almost invariably, of the day when he and his father had visited the cliffs of Villanueva. The rugged seascape on the horizon, the jagged rocks beneath—a hundred-foot drop. His father had gently guided him to the edge and then held him fast. He had grabbed his son when he recoiled, forcing him to look down into the abyss. “Feel that fear?” his father asked. “You must never forget it. That is what you must feel every time you grow weak—when you try to forget that you serve your fatherland and your station in life. When you are faced with death or honor. If you betray your country, your name, or your heritage, it will be as if you take a step forward to take a plunge. The abyss is invisible to you, but it is no less real. Never forget it, my son. . . .”

A knock on the door made the present delete the past. It was a knock so soft that it betrayed who was asking for permission to enter.

Vidal frowned. He hated anything interrupting his nightly ritual. “Come in!” he called, keeping his attention on the shiny workings of the watch.

“Capitán.”

Dr. Ferreira’s steps were as soft and careful as his voice. He stopped a short distance from the table.

“How is she?” Vidal asked.

The wheels of the pocket watch began to move in their perfect rhythm, confirming once again that there was no end to well-kept order. Immortality was clean and precise. For sure it didn’t need a heart. A heartbeat became irregular so easily and at the end it stopped, however carefully one treated it.

“She is very weak,” Dr. Ferreira said.

Yes, soft. That’s what the good doctor was. Soft clothes, soft voice, soft eyes. Vidal was sure, he could have broken him as effortlessly as he could a rabbit’s neck.

“She’ll get as much rest as she needs,” he said. “I’ll sleep down here.”

That would make things easier anyway. He had grown tired of Carmen. He grew tired of every woman quite easily. They usually tried to get too close. Vidal didn’t want anyone to get close. It made him vulnerable. All order was lost when love moved in. Even desire could be confusing unless one fed it and moved on. Women didn’t understand that.

“And what about my son?” he asked. The child was all he cared about. A man was mortal without a son.

The doctor looked at him in surprise. His eyes always looked slightly surprised behind those silver-rimmed glasses. He opened his soft mouth to answer when Garces and Serrano appeared in the doorway.

“Capitán!”

Vidal silenced his officers with a wave of his hand. The fear on their faces never ceased to please him. It even made him forget what a miserable place this was, so far away from the cities and battlefields where history was written. Being stationed in this dirty, rebel-infested forest—he would make it count. He would plant fear and death with such precision that the generals who had sent him here would hear about it. Some of them had fought with his father.

“My son!” he repeated, impatience cutting like a razor in his voice. “How is he?”

Ferreira still looked at him with bewilderment. Did I ever meet a man like you? his eyes seemed to ask. “For the moment,” he replied, “there is no reason to be alarmed.”

Vidal reached for a cigarette and his cap. “Very good,” he said, pushing his chair back. Which meant: Go.

But the doctor was still standing in front of the table.

“Your wife shouldn’t have traveled, Capitán. Not at such a late state of pregnancy.”

What a fool. A sheep shouldn’t talk like that to a wolf.

“Is that your opinion?”

“My professional opinion. Yes, Capitán, it is.”

Vidal slowly walked around the table, his uniform cap under his arm. He was taller than Ferreira. Of course. Ferreira was a small man. He was losing his hair and his scraggly beard made him look old and pathetic. Vidal loved the clean-shaven chin a sharp razor delivered. He felt nothing but contempt for men like Ferreira. Who wants to heal in a world that is all about killing?

“A son,” he stated calmly, “should be born wherever his father is.”

Fool. Vidal walked toward the door, the smoke of his cigarette following him through the sparsely lit room. Vidal didn’t like lights. He liked to see his own darkness. He was almost at the door when Ferreira once again raised his annoyingly gentle voice.

“What makes you so sure the baby is male, Capitán?”

Vidal turned with a smile, his eyes as black as soot. He could make men feel his knife between their ribs just by looking at them.

“You should leave,” he said.

He could see that Ferreira felt the blade.

 

The soldiers on guard duty had captured two rabbit hunters poaching past the curfew. Vidal was surprised that Garces had found that worth calling him, although all his officers knew how much he hated to be disturbed at such a late hour.

The moon was a starved sickle in the sky when they stepped out of the mill.

“At eight we detected movement in the northwest sector,” Garces reported as they crossed the yard. “Gunfire. Sergeant Bayona searched the area and captured the suspects.” Garces always talked as if he were dictating his words.

The captives, one old and one much younger, were as pale as the sickly moon. Their clothes were filthy from the woods and their eyes were dim with guilt and fear.

“Capitán,” the younger one said as Vidal scrutinized them wordlessly, “this is my father.” He gestured to the older man. “He is an honorable man.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Although Vidal enjoyed fear in a man’s face, it made him angry at the same time.

“And uncover your head in front of an officer.”

The son removed his worn-out cap. Vidal knew why the boy was avoiding his eyes. Dirty peasant! He was proud—one could hear it in his voice—and clever enough to know that his captors wouldn’t like that.

“We found this on them.” Serrano handed Vidal an old rifle. “It’s been fired.”

“We were hunting for rabbits!” The boy was proud and without respect.

“Did I say you could talk?”

The old man was so scared that his knees almost gave way. Scared for his son. One of the soldiers holding him yanked the rucksack from his bent shoulders and handed it to Vidal. He pulled out a pocket almanac issued by the Republican government to all farmers—it looked like it had been read many times. The back cover showed the Republican flag and Vidal read the slogan aloud with a sneer:

“‘No god, no country, no master.’ I see.”

“Red propaganda, Capitán!” Serrano looked proud and relieved that he hadn’t just disturbed his capitán for two dirty peasants. Maybe these two even belonged to the resistance fighters against General Franco, who they had come to hunt in this accursed forest.

“It’s not propaganda!” the son protested.

“Shhh.”

The soldiers heard the threat in Vidal’s hissed warning, but the stupid young peacock was too eager to protect his father. Love kills in many ways.

“It’s just an old almanac, Capitán!”

No, the boy wouldn’t shut up.

“We are just farmers,” his father said, trying to draw Vidal’s gaze from his son.

“Go on.” Vidal liked it when they started pleading for their lives.

“I went up into the woods to hunt rabbits. For my daughters. They are both sick.”

Vidal sniffed at a bottle he drew out of the old man’s rucksack. Water. One had to do these things calmly to enjoy them.

Order. Even in these things.

“Rabbits . . . ,” he said. “Really?”

He knew the son would step into the trap. Oh yes, he knew how to do this. The generals shouldn’t have wasted his talents in this forest. He could have done great things.

“Capitán, respectfully,” the son said, “if my father says he was hunting rabbits, he was hunting rabbits.” He hid his pride under his lowered lids, but his lips betrayed him.

Calmly. That’s how it had to be done.

Vidal took the bottle of water and slammed it into the young peacock’s face. Then he drove the shattered glass into his eye. Again and again. Let the rage have its way or it will consume you. The glass cut and smashed, turning skin and flesh into bloody pulp.

The father screamed louder than the son, tears painting smears onto his dirty cheeks.

“You killed him! You killed him! Murderer!”

Vidal shot him in the chest. It was not much of a chest. The bullets found his heart easily. Two bullets through his dirty, ragged clothes and cardboard bones.

The son was still moving, his hands red with his own blood as he pressed them against the gaping wounds on his face. What a mess. Vidal shot him, too. Under the pale sickle of the moon.

The forest was watching as silently as his soldiers.

Vidal wiped his gloved hands clean on the rucksack, then upended it onto the ground. Papers. More papers. And two dead rabbits. He held them up. They were scrawny little things, mere bones and fur. Maybe a stew would have come out of them.

“Maybe next time you’ll learn to search these assholes properly,” he said to Serrano, “before you come knocking at my door.”

“Yes, Capitán.”

How stiffly they all stood there.

What? Vidal challenged them with his eyes. He had a temper. Yes. What were they thinking now, staring at the two dead men at their feet? That some of their fathers and brothers were peasants too? That they also loved their daughters and their sons? That one day he would do the same to them?

Maybe.

We are all wolves, he wanted to say to them. Learn from me.

 

The Sculptor’s Promise

Their only daughter, the princess Moanna, loved to watch the sculptor work, but Cintolo never managed to sculpt her form. “I can’t sit still for that long, Cintolo,” she said. “There’s too much to do and too much to see.”nce upon a time, there was a young sculptor named Cintolo. He served a king in a realm so far underground that neither the sun’s beams nor the moonlight could find it. He filled the royal gardens with flowers sculpted from rubies and fountains sculpted from malachite. He carved busts of the king and queen that were so lifelike, everyone believed they could hear them breathe.

Then one day Moanna was gone. And Cintolo remembered how often she’d asked him about the sun and the moon and whether he knew what the trees, whose roots laced the ceiling of her bedroom, looked like above the ground.

The king and queen were so heartbroken that the Underground Kingdom echoed with their sighs, and their tears covered the sculptor’s flowers like dew. The Faun, who advised them on all affairs of beasts and the sacred things breathing underground, sent out his messengers—bats and fairies, rabbits and ravens—to bring Moanna back, but all those eyes were unable to find her.

The princess had been gone for 330 years when one night the Faun walked into Cintolo’s workshop, where the sculptor had fallen asleep amid his tools. He longed to comfort Their Majesties by chiseling Moanna’s countenance from a beautiful moonstone, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t remember the princess’s face.

“I have a task for you, Cintolo,” said the Faun, “and you won’t be allowed to fail. I want numerous sculptures of the king and queen—as numerous as the uncurling fronds of ferns—to grow from the soil in the Upper Kingdom. Can you make them?”

Cintolo wasn’t sure, but no one dared to say no to the Faun, as he was known for his temper and his influence on the king. So Cintolo went to work. One year later, hundreds of stone columns grew out of the Upper Kingdom’s soil, wearing the sad faces of Moanna’s parents, carrying the Faun’s hope that the lost princess might one day walk past them and be reminded of who she was. But once again, many years passed and there was no news of Moanna. Hope died in the Underground Kingdom like a flower bereft of rain.

Cintolo grew old, but he couldn’t bear the thought that he might die before his skills had helped to bring his royal masters’ lost child back. So he asked for an audience with the Faun.

The Faun was feeding the swarm of fairies that served him, when the sculptor walked in. The Faun fed them with his tears to remind them of Moanna, as fairies tend to be quite forgetful creatures.

“Your Horned Highness,” the sculptor said, “may I offer my humble skills one more time to find our lost princess?”

“And how do you intend to do that?” the Faun asked as the fairies licked another tear from his clawed fingers.

“Please allow me not to answer your question,” Cintolo said. “I don’t know yet whether my hands will be able to create what I see in my mind. I hope, though, that despite my silence you will agree to sit for me so I may sculpt you.”

“Me?” The Faun was surprised by Cintolo’s request. But in the old man’s face he saw passion, patience, and the most valuable virtue of all in desperate times: hope. So he dismissed all other duties—of which the Faun had many—to sit patiently for the sculptor.

Cintolo didn’t use stone for this sculpture. He carved the Faun’s likeness from wood, for wood always remembers it was once a living tree, alive and breathing in both kingdoms, the one above and the one below.

It took Cintolo three days and three nights to finish the sculpture and, when he told the Faun to rise from his chair, so did his wooden image.

“Tell it to find her, Your Horned Highness,” the sculptor said. “I promise it will neither rest nor die before he does.”

The Faun smiled, for he noticed another rare quality in the old man’s face: faith. Faith in his art and in what it could do. And for the first time in many years the Faun dared to hope again.

But there are many roads in the Upper Kingdom and, although the sculptor’s creature walked through forests and deserts and crossed plains and mountains, it couldn’t find the lost princess and fulfill its creator’s promise. Cintolo was devastated, and when Death knocked at his workshop door, he didn’t send Her away, but followed Her, hoping to forget his failure in the land of oblivion.

Cintolo’s creature felt his death like a sharp pain. Its wooden body, aged and weathered by wind and rain and all the miles it had traveled in its search, stiffened with sadness and its feet wouldn’t take another step. Two columns rose from the ferns lining the path it had followed. They wore the sad faces of the king and queen, for whose daughter it had searched in vain for so long. Determined to fulfill its quest, the creature plucked out its right eye and laid it on the forest path. Then it walked stiffly into the ferns and turned to stone next to the king and queen it had failed, its mouth open in a last petrified sigh.

The eye, forever bearing witness to the old sculptor’s skills, lay on the wet ground for countless days and nights. Until one afternoon three black cars came driving through the forest. They stopped under the old trees and a girl climbed out. She walked down the path until she stepped on the eye Cintolo had carved. She picked it up and looked around to see from where it might have come. She saw the three weathered columns, but didn’t recognize the faces they wore. Too many years had passed.

But she did notice one of the columns was missing an eye. So she walked through the ferns until she was standing in front of the column that had once been Cintolo’s wooden faun. The eye from the path fit perfectly into the hole that gaped in the weather-beaten face and at that moment, in a chamber so deep underneath the girl’s feet only the tallest trees could reach it with their roots, the Faun raised his head.

“Finally!” he whispered.

He picked a ruby flower from the royal gardens to lay on Cintolo’s grave and sent one of his fairies up to find the girl.


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