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After earning a lunch from a mother who was grateful for Pandora's care of her colic child, she made her way down a clear path toward the base of the mountains. The dwarven homes weren't hidden, but they were built into the rock, so one had to look carefully to see them. The magic she had sensed didn't come from any one of them, but all. Counting doors, she found seven dwellings, and nearly twice that number of dwarves. They weren't inside, but rather gathered around a grave.
A lovely young woman, no older than Pandora, lay atop the chiseled stones. She couldn't have been dead long; there was still pink in her cheeks.
And she was the source of the magic. She practically pulsed with it, although it was subdued. Continuing her examination, she also found the girl wasn't dead. It seemed another victim had fallen to the Death-sleep.
“What are you doing here? Stay away from Bianca.” The little man wasn't quite a head shorter than Pandora and was at least twice as wide with thick arms and chest that had seen hard labour.
“Who is she?” Pandora asked, not moving a hair closer.
One of the others said, “And we couldn't protect her.”
They all bowed their heads and murmured apologies to the not-dead girl.
“So...she's a princess?” Pandora asked.
“Yes, daughter of King Martin of the Plain.”
Could it be a coincidence? Another princess cursed with the death-sleep?
“Evil queen? She doesn't have a pointed chin, warts?” No one could forget Tabitha's face.
“No!” the dwarf argued. “She is beautiful, with golden hair and fair skin. Almost as fair as Bianca's. She was jealous. That's why she had her killed.”
Pandora's brow furrowed. “So she came here and killed her?”
“No, no.” Another interjected. This one seeming much friendlier than any other. “The Queen hired an assassin to kill her, but Bianca got away.”
“But she killed her anyway,” Pandora surmised.
Again they all apologized to the princess.
“She was disguised,” one of the few females said. “She had to have been, or Bianca would have called for us. She certainly wouldn't have eaten her poison.”
Eaten? That didn't sound like the death-sleep, but that was the spell. “What kind of poison? I know a little magic. I might be able to cure it.” She couldn't, of course. She didn't have a cocoa bean, but they didn't know that.
“Could you?” the youngest of their community asked. He proffered an apple with a single bite out of it. It practically glowed to Pandora, it was so heavily spelled. She only needed to hold it to know how Bianca had inhaled the powder. The skin of the apple, shattering, would send the dust on it straight into her face. Pandora made a big show of examining the apple and finally handed it back to the dwarf. The truth wouldn't hurt and might make it easier for her to leave.
“I do know this poison, but I can't cure it. It is well you haven't buried her because she isn't dead. This is the death-sleep. As long as she sleeps, she will not hunger, nor age. She is perfectly preserved.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
Pandora shrugged. “Perhaps the Queen thought this was a fate worse than death.”
“No,” one the dwarves argued. “As long as she lives, there is hope.”
She had hoped they'd think that. “Tell me, how do I find King Martin's castle? I'm travelling and that seems a fit place to go. I could bring him the sad news.” She hung her head as the dwarves did.
“East,” one answered gruffly. “Go east until the hills end and the land becomes flat. You will be able to see the castle then.”