Authors: K. M. Shea
Puss in Boots
A Timeless Fairy Tale
By: K. M. Shea
a Take Out The Trash! Publication
Copyright © K.M. Shea 2015
PUSS IN BOOTS
Copyright © 2015 by K. M. Shea
Cover design by Myrrhlynn
Edited by Jeri Larsen and Bethany Kaczmarek
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any number whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historic events is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Physical beauty, as far as Gabrielle was concerned, was a curse. It was a pest that nipped at her heels and a nuisance that had plagued her since she was a child. It made girls hate her and boys like her for all the wrong reasons. Instead of befriending her for her disposition or wit—Gabrielle
to believe she was witty; she needed at least one redeeming quality to counter the curse of her beauty—she was valued for her porcelain skin, her glossy, blonde hair, her near-perfect face, and her eyes that glinted like dark amber.
Nothing about her beauty made Gabrielle’s life easier, only more difficult. That was never more apparent than the summer day her father assembled her and her brothers.
Gregor, her oldest brother, beat flour from his clothes as he popped around a mill wall. “Gabi, when you finish, Father wishes to speak to us.”
“I understand.” Gabrielle grit her teeth in a painful-looking smile. She was in the process of weighing flour for Ewald, the oldest son of the tinsmith. “Do you think you could help me weigh this final sack of flour, brother?”
Ewald, who was standing closer to her than necessary—and
closer than propriety demanded—scowled.
Gregor raised his eyebrows, which were white with flour. “You’re capable of managing it on your own.” He slouched back around the wall.
Gabrielle drew her shoulders up like a hissing cat. “Gregor!”
“He’s a good sort of man.” Ewald reached for her again, now that the audience—and potential savior—had left. His fingers brushed her waist before she slipped around the pulley system, putting it between them.
“If you touch me again, I will scream.” Gabrielle clenched her jaw.
“That’s all? No threats of taking a millstone to my head? You’re losing your edge, Gabi,” Ewald said. He pushed his way around the weighing system, his tiny, rat-like eyes locked on her.
“Gregor will hear. He’ll return.”
“That doesn’t bother me. I bet he would push your father to accept my offer of marriage. No sense dishonoring your family; it’s about time you married.” Ewald lunged for Gabi, who darted backwards with the dexterity of a mouse used to being cornered.
“Stop it,” Gabrielle snapped.
“Or what?” Ewald asked, his plump lips bunched in a smirk. “Come now, all I want is one kiss.”
Gabrielle looked up at the elaborate pulley system Rupert—her other brother—had rigged up for her so she could weigh the flour in spite of her slight figure.
When Ewald lunged, his meaty fists grasping at her, Gabrielle scurried under the pulley system and released one of the ties.
“Hold still,” Ewald said, wading into the forest of ropes after her. He took two steps before a giant sack of flour plummeted from the pulley system, cracking him in the head. Ewald dropped to the floor with a horrifically loud thud. The flour sack ripped, spilling the ground grain all over the tinsmith’s son and casting it into the air in a mushroom-shaped cloud.
Gabrielle sneezed, and Ewald groaned in pain.
“Gabi? Is everything alright?” Rupert called, thumping into the room with his heavy work boots. He took in the spilled flour and the addled Ewald and sighed, his shoulders drooping. “Again, Gabi? Was this really necessary?”
“You don’t understand! He was—”
Rupert held up a hand. “Later. I’ll handle this. Go to the garden. Father and Mother wish to speak with us,” He said, rubbing his eyes.
Gabrielle glared at Ewald. “I should have dropped the weighing stone on him,” she muttered as Ewald started to move.
“Gabi!” Rupert’s voice was as harsh as a goose wing slapping her face. “Go!”
Gabrielle followed the instructions and ducked out of the mill, using a side door that took her to the hitching post where the family mules were tied, their grain bags attached to their long faces. She took a moment to shake flour dust from her glossy hair. She had sawn off half of it not two weeks ago, purposely leaving her locks jagged and uneven in an attempt to balance a bit of her looks. Judging by Ewald’s actions today, it hadn’t been a successful endeavor.
She wiped her face with her apron (further smearing the smudges of ash she colored her skin with every day) before she picked her way around the mules and meandered in the direction of her family’s cottage.
The garden was attached to the cottage—stuffed to the rafters as it housed Gabrielle, her parents, her brothers, both of their wives, and her niece who was a year old and had a well-exercised set of lungs. The garden was a hodgepodge of plants, sprouting everywhere there was room. It was the pet project of her mother’s, but it had flourished since Rupert’s wife—a sweet girl named Marta—joined the venture.
Gregor and his wife Jana were already in the garden—sitting on a rickety, wooden bench. Gregor held his daughter, Trudi, and winced when she grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled. Jana—who was ready to pop with their second child—had her arms tucked around her protruding belly. When she spied Gabrielle—still coated in flour—she groaned.
“What did you do
“Nothing Ewald didn’t deserve.” Gabi shook out her thick hair again. Some of the flour had sunk to her scalp, and it was getting itchy.
“If you were my daughter, I would paddle you for your impertinence,” Jana said.
Gabi snorted. “If I was your daughter, I would have run away by now.”
“Gabrielle,” Gregor’s low voice held a warning.
Gabi ignored him and plopped down on the ground, the soil warming her through the cotton material of her dress. “Good morning, Marta,” she said, smiling up at her sweet sister-in-law, who was watering a few of her plants.
“Hello, Gabi.” Marta spared her a smile before she moved to her next plant.
Gabi dug out a kerchief from a pocket of her apron and tied it over her hair, shielding it from sight. A handsome black and white cat—a stray from the village that had, in the past few weeks, taken to hanging about their cottage as Marta had a soft spot for animals as well as plants—uttered a loud meow as it pushed its way through a patch of raspberry canes.
When it popped out next to Gabrielle, she scratched the cat under its chin and stroked its glossy black fur. Although the cat didn’t belong to anyone from the village, its fur was pristine; it looked well fed; and it had a black, leather collar encrusted with an aqua-colored jewel the size of her thumbnail. She was surprised no one had snagged the collar, but as the cat dug its claws into the material of her dress, revealing the spatters of red on his claws, she decided only a fool would attempt it.
Gabrielle petted the cat and yawned, enjoying the bright sun, even as Trudi started to test her lung capacity with ear-stabbing shrieks.
“Ahh, to be home,” Gabrielle said, her words rendered inaudible by the baby’s screams. She loved her family, but she would trade her quaint life—complete with the loving but rage-inducing family, the picturesque but stuffed cottage, and the prosperous mill—in a heartbeat if she could experience a day or two of life
the village of Ilz.
Gabrielle’s mother and father bustled out of the cottage. Her mother wore her semi-permanent smile—a stark contrast to her father’s continuously blank face.
“Are we all here?” her mother asked.
“Where is Rupert?” her father asked, his voice low like the rumblings of the millstone.
“He’s finishing up Ewald’s order at the mill,” Gabrielle said. “He’ll be along in a minute.”
“Wonderful.” Her mother knitted her fingers together.
Her father frowned—which meant the only change in his expression was that the corners of his mouth turned down a hair’s width. If she hadn’t been raised by the man, she would have thought his expressions never changed.
Within minutes, Rupert was walking the distance between the mill and the cottage, taking long, loping strides. “I closed up the mill, so no one will expect us while we talk.” He wiped his forehead on the sleeve of his cotton shirt.
“Good,” Gabrielle’s father said.
“What is this about?” Gregor’s forehead wrinkled as he bounced Trudi on his knees.
“Indeed, why have you called us together, Mother and Father?” Jana’s tone was as sugary as plum dumplings and as true as fool’s gold.
The silence was heavy until Gabrielle’s mother nudged her husband. “I’m retiring,” he said.
Gabrielle blinked, surprised but not shocked. For at least a year, Gregor and Rupert had done most of the work in the mill. Her father managed it behind the scenes, teaching Gregor how to order supplies and figure out the tax and helping Rupert in his quest to make the grinding process more efficient. Her mother hadn’t been involved ever since Gabrielle took over her role—finalizing orders and dealing with customers—when she turned fifteen over three years earlier.
Gregor and Jana exchanged glances over their red-faced baby. Rupert didn’t turn to look at Marta, but his petite wife placed her head on his shoulder.
“We will live with your Aunt Tofa in Loire.” Gabrielle’s mother bestowed a warm smile on her children.
Rupert rubbed his jaw. “Surely not in the capital. Noyers has been in upheaval ever since Prince Severin was cursed.”
“No. She and Uncle Dorian have moved not far from the border, into a farming village. Dorian just bought a mill and needs help running it. I miss my sister, and your father can be a great help to them.”
“So, you’re not retiring, then. Just moving,” Gabrielle said, sniffing when the stray cat flicked his black tail under her nose.
“I suppose so, yes,” her mother said.
“We hope to return to Ilz in a few years.” Her father tucked his thumbs in his belt. “’Twould be folly to remain the owners of the mill, so we’ll divide out your inheritance now. Gregor will inherit the mill.”
Gregor nodded, and Jana’s face almost split in her smug satisfaction. Gabrielle longed to smack the look off her face on behalf of her next older brother and his wife.
“Rupert will receive the mules,” her father said, in a surprising stroke of genius. The smirk dropped from Jana’s face.
The family mill was animal-powered. Without the mules, it would be impossible to turn the cranks that moved the stone that ground the flour.
Marta’s shoulders stooped in relief, and Rupert patted her back.
“Both of you will be required to work together to keep the mill running. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Father,” Gregor and Rupert chorused.
Gabrielle’s father nodded. That was all he had to say.
“I’m coming with you, then?” Gabrielle asked, brushing black cat fur from her dress. It would explain her lack of inheritance—not that she expected much of anything. But if her parents were divvying out inheritances and meant for her to stay behind, they would give her
. Still, it wasn’t a bad trade. It would be worth it to see Loire, even if it meant forfeiting an inheritance. “Rupert, could you draw out sketches of your pulley system? I bet they’ll want to integrate it at—”
“No,” her father said.
Gabrielle blinked. “No pulley system? But it’s brilliant.”
“No, you aren’t coming with us, my sweet,” her mother said.
All the air in Gabrielle’s body abandoned her in one big whoosh. Her head spun. “What?”
“You will stay behind in Ilz.” Her mother’s smile dimmed.
“The move will be just for a few years. We would like to see you settled in Ilz,” her mother said.
“I don’t understand. Then what is my inheritance?” Gabrielle tried to make sense of the situation.
Gabrielle snapped her eyes to her father at his rather dooming response. “
“What your father means to say, my sweet, is that you’re different from Gregor and Rupert. You won’t need help to make your fortune.”
Gabrielle scrambled to her feet, her breakfast of potato cakes rolling in her stomach. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means you don’t need a dowry,” Gregor said, losing patience with his parents’ half-baked explanations.
She gaped at her older brother.
“He’s right, love.” Her mother crossed the garden to clasp Gabrielle’s hands. “You are exquisite, as if you were blessed by a fairy godmother. You are a swan in a family of ducks, I’m afraid to say. But many will value you in spite of your humble birth.”
.” Gabrielle spit out the word.
“Yes.” Her mother’s voice was soft in spite of the ruthlessness of her words. “Where you inherited your beauty from is a mystery to us, but you have it. Adding a few coins to your name will not make you any more desirable. You already drive droves of men mad. Our money would be better spent on your brothers.”
She looked from one side of the garden to the other, feeling it close in on her like a leafy cage. “So you expect me to work at the mill while you are gone?”
“No. We expect you to marry,” her mother said, her chin trembling for a moment.