“Lizzie! The knife!” Fabiana reached out. She trembled where she stood, but it wasn’t out of fear. Her face was ablaze.
Lizzie scrambled and felt for the dagger on the floor. The women parted and she searched frantically between their bare feet and legs until her hands closed on the hilt.
“Here— Fabiana!” She threw it, regretted it instantly for it had no sheath, but its handle landed squarely in the waiting hand as if the dark-eyed woman controlled gravity.
Bluebeard rumbled. He heaved and was standing faster than any of them expected, any of them except for Fabiana. She plunged the dagger into his chest so hard that her body ricocheted off him and she toppled into the women nearest her before springing back solidly to her feet.
“That,” she spat, “was for Isabella. And this,” she yanked the dagger out with both hands and drove it in again, “is for Camila, and this,” she pulled the dagger out again with a thwok, “is for me. You sick son of a bitch. You killed my whole family!”
Her naked chest heaved. Her olive skin was spattered with blood, her hair was matted, her eyes were wild, but Lizzie had never seen anyone look so powerful, so large. The corners of her lips twitched. Her shoulders, which she had not realized had been pressed nearly to her ears, dropped. She smiled. This was it. It was over. Done.
Bluebeard swayed on his feet. His face was blank, surprised. Fabiana cocked an eyebrow at him. “Now die, you sorry bastard.” She spat on his chest: white foam on the sodden black velvet. Then she reached for the dagger’s hilt.
His hand shot up in a flash and clamped over hers. She cried out in surprise, in rage. All the women surged forward then swayed back.
He glowered at her, and then he smiled, showed his teeth. Then he started to pull and the dagger slid out. He straightened, rolled his shoulders back, shook his head in one slow circle. Fabiana cried out again, this time from pain. Bluebeard was bending her arm back, crushing her hand against the dagger’s handle.
“Wife,” he growled. “Wife.”
“I am not your—“
He spoke over her. “How dare you? You disobeyed me and you paid with blood. But my dagger is sharp and ready to take its payment again.” He stopped his horrible backward bend and snatched up Fabiana’s free hand by the wrist. Though she struggled against him he brought the dagger down easily and held it, pressed against Fabiana’s wrist.
“What trouble wives are.” He spoke to all of them, though he did not look up; he had no reason to doubt they were all listening, all watching, all spellbound by their husband who could not be killed; and they were. “You will long for the day when you were mute and mindless ghosts. You will soon see how merciful I was. How generous.” He tipped his head to the side and pressed harder so that the blade drew blood: three drops that ran down the handle and over his knuckles.
“I will take your hands and your tongues. I will send them to the Yaga.” He leaned forward, whispered against Fabiana’s ear so that she trembled; they all heard. “I will keep you all, and you will wish you had stayed out of the tower. You will wish you had stayed dead. You will learn to do as you are told, as wives should.”
He brought the dagger up and swung it down.
“Stop!” Lizzie dashed forward and caught his fist with both hands. He looked surprised for a moment and then his eyes flashed dark. This close, he reeked of blood and sweat and something sour.
He dropped Fabiana’s wrist and grabbed Lizzie’s, both of them at once.
“You will do it to each other. I will not be the only enemy.” He forced the dagger, still in Fabiana’s hand, to Lizzie’s skin. “You will destroy each other. And then no sister magic will save you.”
Lizzie struggled, she squirmed, she lifted her feet from the floor and tried to wrench her arms away, but the big man didn’t move any more than an oak moves when a fly buzzes at it. Fabiana looked at her and shook her head, eyes full of fear.
Her fingers tingled from the squeeze. Then she felt the hot-cold shock of the blade on her skin, the pressure of it, the jarring of metal suddenly on bone.
“Help,” she whispered. She wished she hadn’t; it made Bluebeard laugh. He laughed and laughed. The blade jiggled at her skin, at arms and wrists and hands that seemed so far away; she could feel the blue part of herself, the ghostly part pulling back, retreating. It’s too much.
Bluebeard’s laugh cut short into a gurgle and he lurched forward, his grip loosened and she pulled her hands free. They blazed with pain.
Fabiana pulled, too, and when she stumbled back the dagger was in her hand.
Bluebeard was reeling. He swung his fists wildly. And then Lizzie saw her: Bri with her skillet, eyes wide as a fawn’s. He saw her, too and he lunged. She grabbed the back of his hair and pulled so that his head yanked sharply up. And then the rest of them were on him, an orgy of bodies all pinning and pulling and pressing him down to the stones until at last he could not move an inch and there was quiet once more.
Lizzie breathed hard and stared at them all. She started to smile. She laughed, stopped, retched. She pushed the heel of her hand against the loose and sticky hair on her forehead. “I think we might kill him with suffocation.”
“We cannot kill this man,” said Fabiana. A murmur went through the women.
“But we have to!” said Lizzie. “You told me to!”
“He is not a human. Or he is not mortal. A poison to stop his heart. A dagger to the chest— I felt his bones break beneath it, but he is not dead.” She hung her head.
Lizzie looked at the women. They all looked back. No one had an answer.
“I know a story.” The voice was quiet, but there was no tremor to it. Lizzie lifted her head and looked around. A blonde girl with large eyes and a fine, china-doll chin looked steadily at her. Her voice was thick with the accent of the East. Lizzie nodded.
“My grandmother told it to me. Mother said it was too frightening for a child, but she told me. Once there was a giant who had no heart in his body, and so he could not be killed.”
The women looked at one another and back to Lizzie.
“But that is a story— how could he have no heart and still be alive.”
“How is it that we are alive after being cut into pieces?” asked Joanna.
Lizzie turned to the blonde girl. “What’s your name?”
“Taisia, did this story of your grandmother’s say how to kill such a giant?”
The girl nodded. “He hid his heart somewhere far away, for safekeeping. In the story the hero only had to find the heart, and the giant could die like any man.”
“But where did he hide his heart?” A panic was rising in Lizzie’s throat. “I’ve looked all over this castle and never seen anything—“
Taisia shook her head. “It won’t be here.”
“What? How do you know? Then it could be anywhere!”
Taisia smiled. “He told us. He told the stupid wives. Do you remember? His heart must be with the Yaga.”
Leave a comment and tell me what you like, what images stand out, or your curious questions. (No suggestions/grammar critiques, please). Thanks for supporting my work-in-progress! -Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux