"Why don't you ask her to sit?" a voice purred behind the Princess.
The Princess turned, completely expecting a cat to slink in the cottage, sleek and black. Instead, a floppy eared, white and chocolate spotted rabbit hopped inside.
"A talking rabbit?"
"I WAS a cat, but Velda has particularly bad aim in her old age."
"Hey! One misstep, Kitty, and you're toast!"
"I don't doubt that!" the rabbit smartly rebutted.
"Pish!" the witch wrinkled her nose and turned her back on the fluffy creature now hopping toward a bowl of veggies on the floor beside one of the beds. "Ignore her, Princess, she's bitter and please, sit down!" Velda waved at one of the chairs. The Princess chose the end of the cot where the rabbit crouched.
"So, I'm on my way to the swamp lands, and was wondering if you knew of any place for me to stay around there?"
"Swamp lands? With the Ogres? Ha! The closest dwelling to there is ours!"
"It's true," said the rabbit, between bites.
"So..this is it?"
"This is it!" Griselda finally spoke up, but she wasn't talking about the cottage. She was referring to the potion brewing in the pot.
"Duck!" said the rabbit and hopped quickly toward the door. The three witches gathered around the pot and leaned close, smelling the fumes and giggling, cackling, or otherwise making noises of amusement. The Princess shrank back closer to the wall.
The witches ladeled some potion into three bowls. They each then chanted some magic words in unison and drank the potion.
"Mmm." said Griselda. "That's the best!"
"Yes, Griselda, you certainly have outdone yourself!" Nelda smiled.
"Where are our manners?!" Velda seemed to come to her senses, "Come have some lunch, Princess! Best stew ever!"
"Yes, what did you think she was cooking? Love potion?!" Velda cackled.
"I couldn't tell.. the rabbit said..."
"I told you to ignore her!" Velda chastised.
"Oh." The Princess flushed. She was quite unnerved, never had she been lied to before, or tricked. She wasn't sure who to believe now, her heart, which told her to flee from this place; it was scary, or her brain, which told her these witches meant no harm; they had only been cooking dinner.
A bowl of the stew was brought to her and she looked at it. It actually looked rather common, vegetables, cubed, floated in a brown broth. It smelled divine as well! She took a sip. It was the most wonderful thing she had ever tasted! But that might have been due to the fact that she was hungrier than she had ever been in her life!
"Now Missie, about payment for lunch.." Griselda crooned, her tone going from sweet to venom in a few syllables.
"I'll have to get my pouch from the saddlebag, I didn't know, I.."
"No need! We just want that pretty bauble around your neck!"
"My.. my pendant? I can't give that away! That was givento me by my mother, who recieved it from her mother. It has been handed down for generations!"
"Yes, and do you know why?"
"It's an heirloom? Tradition?"
"No. It's powerful! If that fell into the wrong hands...well, the effect would be disastrous!" Griselda continued. She also joined her two witchy housemates and the three of them slowly advanced on teh cowering Princess, her back pressed to the wall.
"No! I cannot give it up! It's mine!"
"We just want to keep it safe!" Nelda sweetly responded. "If you're going to be traveling out here, all alone, some bandits might one day catch you and steal it! And they might take it to the wrong people and devastation would occur!" Nelda threw her arms up in a demonstration of the widespread devastation that would occur.
"I can keep it safe." The Princess peeped.
"Please, Dearie, hand it over to us. We can keep it safer than you can!" Velda begged.
"No!" The Princess then let out a sharp whistle and much to the witches' surprise, her mare kicked in the door and whinnied.
The Princess then took that moment to shove past the three and hop onto her mount. The mare didn't need any coaxing to leave this crazy cottage. They trotted westward along the edge of the marsh. As the sun set, a glow illuminated the low grasses ahead. The Princess made for it, no matter what kind of inhabitants it may hold. She wasn't about to sleep outside!
The glow turned out to be many small fires lit between a city of tents. Soldiers! The Princess dismounted far away from the camp. What were soldiers doing here?
If it were her father's soldiers, they would take her back to her home, where she did not want to be. If it was Dunmarr soldiers, they might also escort her back, but if she had offended the Prince as much as her mother said she did, they might just take her prisoner and force her to marry Prince Rantoule anyway!
She squinted into the fading light. She soon made out the flag of Dunmarr. Darn the luck! She thought abotu pretending to be a soldier, but dismissed the idea. What she needed was food, and if she waited until nightfall, perhaps she could sneak in and steal some while they slept.
Stealing! She never imagined she'd ever have to do that!
"What are we slinking around her for?" A voice startled her.
"Rabbit?!" The white and choclate speckled rabbit had poked its head out of one of the saddle bags. "What are you doing there?!"
"I had to get away! You saw how those women were! YOU got away! Can you blame me?"
"No. And we are slinking around because those are soldiers from a rival Kingdom. If they catch me, they might take me home. Or worse, they might take me to their castle and make me wed the Prince."
"And that's bad because...?"
"I don't love him!"
"Who do you love?"
"Well then you could grow to love him.."
"No! He's too perfect!"
"He's TOO perfect? How is that a bad thing?"
"I bet the witches are glad to be rid of you!" The Princess shoved the rabbit down into the pack. "And stay quiet!"
"Fine, but I could help you, you know," came the muffled plea. "I can get in there and steal food."
"You don't have pockets, you can't carry enough." The Princess fell for the rabbit's trick.
"I could bring you foods one at a time from the back of the cooking tent. You could wait there."
The Princess considered this and decided it was a decent plan. She undid the pack and pulled the rabbit out. "Not until the camp sleeps."
"Watch the guard, the cooking tent is the long one on the side facing us."
"How do you know?!"
"I can smell it from here. Believe me, a rabbit knows food."
The odd group settled down to wait for the camp to get quiet.