There was once an old castle, that stood in the middle of a deep gloomy wood, and in the castle lived an old fairy. Now this fairy could take any shape she pleased. All the day long she flew about in the form of an owl, or crept about the country like a cat; but at night she always became an old woman again. When any young man came within a hundred paces of her castle, he became quite fixed, and could not move a step till she came and set him free; which she would not do till he had given her his word never to come there again: but when any pretty maiden came within that space she was changed into a bird, and the fairy put her into a cage, and hung her up in a chamber in the castle. There were seven hundred of these cages hanging in the castle, and all with beautiful birds in them.
Jorinda and Jorindel by the Brothers Grimm
Briony stood at the mouth of the cave and took a deep breath, knowing it was either now or never. She visibly shook with nerves and the beat of her heart grew ever more erratic as she prepared for what was to come. The cave looked dark inside and the wretched smell of damp and mould drifted out from its putrid depths and pervaded her nostrils.
"Gross," she whispered; wishing that her sense of smell wasn't so good.
Briony took one last deep breath and scuttled forwards into the bowels of the cave, carefully manoeuvring around the single file of guards who marched in the opposite direction. They were heading for the exit, towards the light and fresh clean air.
Briony envied them; the cave was unfathomably dark and claustrophobic.
She ran in and out of marching feet, her breathing hard and laboured as she tried her best not to get caught underfoot by their metal boots.
Briony had a mission to focus on, a goal.
Her beady eyes made out a few rays of light in the distance and with a squeak of excitement raced towards it. But the closer she became the more she realised that this was no artificial illumination but the sharp white bite of hundreds of frosty icicles. The light from within was unnaturally bright and painful to the eyes. It was so mesmerising that Briony almost forgot to stop running and she halted abruptly at the mouth of the round cave. But the icy floor carried her in further than she would have liked and she slid wildly across it on her front, desperately clawing at the ground. Her back legs weren't as co-operative as her front two and she rolled over several times before her thick pink tail hit her sharply on the head.
She rubbed her head gingerly as she scanned the cave. Then upon spying a small hole in the ice, not far from herself, she scuttled up to it. Squeezing through two blue icicles Briony then turned her brown body around and folded her tiny hands around the cold spikes so that she could watch.
"Did you hear that noise?" said a young man with his back to Briony.
"It was probably a guard." Replied a sweet feminine voice as she waved a dismissive hand in the air and spun around on a white leather chair. Her bare feet kicking the air as she twirled around.
The obtrusive sound of scraping metal rallied from the darkness of the tunnel, and a tall tin plated man entered the white cave. He bent over and rested his hands on his knees
"You called Milady?" he wheezed as oily sweat poured down his silver forehead.
Briony watched as the lady in the chair stood up and turned around. She was short, very short and her long curling blonde hair fell in graceful waves to her back. In a stark contrast to her hair a ruby red cloak settled on her shoulders. If it weren't for her shortness Briony would have sworn she was Repunzelle. But that would be impossible because the Princess was gone. They were all gone.
The tall dark man whipped around and put a hand on his companion's shoulder. "Kneel before your mistress, you imbecile!" he shouted at the poor soldier, flicking his dark green cloak over one shoulder.
As the soldier complied with the demand the woman reached into the pocket of her gown and withdrew a piece of paper. Then took a small step forward and smiled coldly at the man's bowed form before she threw it at him.
"I want her brought back to me!"
He caught the picture as it fluttered towards him and studied it. His face paled to a ghostly silver and he looked back to the golden haired lady with dread lining his features.
Briony knew her best chance for action was now whilst the trio were distracted. She jumped out of her hiding place and scurried quickly behind the tin man.
"But…but…how will we get there?" stammered the solider.
"That is your problem, not mine," said the golden beauty in a frosty voice. "I want her brought here to this very cave in one piece. But if I find one incey winsey, teeny weeny scratch on her you'll lose your head tin man. Now find her!"
Briony used her tail to swing from icicle to icicle until she was almost perched on the soldier's shoulder. From her precarious position she looked down at the piece of paper and saw a sketch of a young woman.
The soldier nodded his head and stood up. "I am most obliged that you would trust me with this important mission My Lady."
"Oh get out!" She screeched, her blue eyes spitting daggers.
The soldier ran out as fast as he could, shouting out commands to the marching men as he went.
The man with the dark hair massaged her shoulders. "There, there my sweet, don't drain yourself. The captain of the guard will carry out your commands impeccably as he always does. Then once we have found her the final task will be complete."
The woman reached up and squeezed his hand. "You are such a comfort to me."
"And you two Goldi." He swung her around and she giggled in delight like a young girl.
Briony carefully climbed back down. All was suddenly starting to make sense as she pieced together all of the information she possessed. After months and months of secret missions and meetings she had found out everything she needed to know in the space of two minutes.
I must tell the others. They must know.
Without thought or heed to her surroundings she ran out towards the tunnel.
"Aahhh! A rat! Catch it! Destroy it!" The woman screamed as she clambered onto her leather chair, pointing a well manicured finger at the offending creature.
"I will get it my sweet!"
Briony raced through the tunnel, thankful for its dark cover as she towards the exit. Her heart pounded as she scampered over rocks, heading closer and closer to freedom and the undiluted air of the outside world.
Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the end of the tunnel was in sight up ahead. But her joy was premature. Briony felt something stab her tail and she cried out in pain.
No, I've got to get back. I've got to tell them that…
And all went dark for Briony, Cinderella's little Rat.