Thursday, January 31, 2019

Enjoy the Conclusion of "N.V.": A Fan-Fiction Tribute to Zelena from ABC's Once Upon a Time!

Time is powerful, but true love always wins.

His name is Nathan Vach, and he's having terrifying dreams. Left alone after his father and brothers die in the Second Ogres war, and after his mother perishes from illness, he retreats into his family's big home far from anywhere. But the dreams continue to plague him, so he decides to visit a metaphysician in Munchkinland. There he learns startling news: that he has a gift for someone--a Soul Gift. It's a Gift that will be a great blessing to he or she destined to receive it. Walking home, he has no idea just how powerful that Gift is--or the individual who, unbeknownst to him, will soon try to claim it. Read on!


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven





“I was getting worried! I couldn’t even use the crystal ball to watch you!”

   I heard her voice before I saw her. The green-white smoke was still clearing. She rushed into my arms. I held her and wished there was no such thing as death.

   I released her and held up her pendant.

   “Thank you,” she breathed. “Thank you so much, Nathan.”

   I went behind her and clasped it around her neck. Too tempting. I bent and softly kissed where gold touched skin. She leaned against me, closed her eyes, and sighed.

   I wrapped my arms around her as our mouths met and the smoke surrounded us. Moments later we were in my bedroom.

We made love with the other’s heart beating madly in our chests. I will take it to my grave as the single most intense and erotic experience of my life. I could feel her in a way that transcended the very notion of intimacy, and she me. I could feel what she wanted and passionately gave it to her, and she reciprocated in turn. We became in those almost unbearable moments a single living organism with two hearts working in perfect concert. As the constraints of lust pushed me beyond all self-control, I flipped her onto her back and worked furiously over and inside her, kissing her like a man dying of thirst. We came together with only the noise of our mouths and flesh furiously meeting; and it was at that very moment that I felt something leave me. Something poignant and breathtakingly beautiful. My Soul Gift.

   What was it? I was never sure. I only learned of one of its consequences that moment, which was that it would gift her someday with the tremendous strength necessary to make a momentous decision that would help her overcome a terrible obstacle. (Kill the Evil Queen, perhaps? It seemed likely; but then I simply didn’t know.) I believe it was only by virtue of her heart being in my chest that I learned even that much. It felt like I had by way of her ingenuity gotten a glimpse behind the curtains, so to speak, one that in any other circumstance would never have happened.

   At that moment it did not matter. At that moment we had each other. That moment ... which bounded ever closer to when we wouldn’t have each other, and for a very long time. I knew that, too. Just a few hours away.

   Holding each other in the bittersweet silence afterward, she whispered, “I love you.”

   “I love you, my wicked one.”

Using magic, I made her a late-night dinner fit for a queen. It was well after midnight, so it was more like a very sumptuous early breakfast. We drank brandy. We clinked glasses, sipped, then kissed. The liquor on her lips tasted heavenly. We kissed again. She laid her head on my shoulder and breathed deeply.

   “I felt it.”

   “I did too.”

   “I’m so scared, Nathan.”

   “I’m scared too.” I pulled back and looked into her glistening eyes. “Do you feel anything new? Anything at all?”

   She nodded. I waited expectantly. I’d wondered so much what this Soul Gift I “grew” inside my spirit was all about that I couldn’t help but be acutely interested.

   She closed her eyes instead, dropped her head against my shoulder once more, and began sobbing in earnest.

   I didn’t know what to say. There truly was nothing to say.

   “I can feel it, Nathan. I can feel your loss ... your mom, your dad, Jesse, Dasciv ... Oh, Nathan ... how can you stand this? How do you live with it? You are so strong ... I’ve been with this with less than a day and it’s already enough to make me want to jump off that troll bridge! How can you stand this?”

   “Look what it made of me,” I answered quietly. “A shut-in. A recluse. Until you, I had no friends. I taught myself. I fended for myself. Until you, I was just as much a casualty as they were. I could ask the same question of you, my love. I can feel the pain of abandonment in you. I can feel anger burning in the bottom of your heart for Regina, and for your mother. The envy. The rage. I have never felt anything like it. I have never felt such pain. How can you stand it?”

   She stroked my cheek. I lifted her chin and kissed those amazing lips. They tasted not like brandy now, but salt.

   “I ... I must leave you,” she wept. “I ... it’s part of the Gift. I’ve long suspected I must—a feeling, an instinct—ever since we met, but now ... now I know it. I must abandon you, my sweet Nathan. I must abandon you! You!

   My own eyes burned. “I know.”

   I glanced at the clock on the hearth. It was just after four-thirty. We still had five hours.

   Even in this state, her face red with tears, her hair mussed from passion, she was the most beautiful sight I had ever beheld. She was clad only in one of my quilts. Her perfume, mixed with her own scent, made concentrating almost impossible. But I had to.

   “I have an idea.”

   She waited for me to go on. “What? What’s your idea?”

   “You must leave me. But not my heart. Let me use your magic to give you half of my heart. I will take half of yours. We will always have each other. You will have my light. I will have your darkness. We will learn from each other forever. We will struggle and fight with those halves, and because of that we will grow in strength and love for each other and for those around us, and for those we have yet to meet. Together we will become powerful and wicked, and good and true, no matter how far apart we may be. Maybe the Soul Gift needs half of my heart in your chest in order for it to gift itself to you fully. Like you, I have a feeling, an instinct, that it does. I really do.”

   As she stared, I suddenly figured out what that yellow potion was back in the castle in the Emerald City—the potion we didn’t drink. Nathan Vach would never have thought of it. But Nathan Vach with this wondrous sorceress’ dark heart in his chest was not so naive.

   Tears streaming down her cheeks, she kissed me.

   I heard the now-familiar sound. She moaned in my mouth and thrust her tongue more deeply inside it. I broke the kiss and pulled back.

   In her hand was my heart.

   I brought her mouth back to mine. With my free hand I reached inside my chest and pulled out her heart. We parted so that she could look at it.

   “I want you to have it. All of it, Nathan. I don’t care anymore about magic. I don’t want it anymore! Magic always comes with a price, and I have paid it all my life!”

   I held her and let her cry, our hearts held closely together between us.

   “You do care, my wicked one. If magic always comes with a price, then let me pay it with you. Let it be something else we can share. You need your magic for what’s coming. You know it, and with your heart in my chest I know it, too. Even with only half your heart, you will still be very powerful. Maybe even more so. Let the outrage you feel over my sad little life and losing my family darken my half. It will be very powerful fuel, even if ...” I thought of the yellow potion again “... even if you don’t know what that outrage is about. You know it will be.”

   She sniffled. “What about you, my love?”

   I kissed her and smiled. “If I want to be truly good, I’ve gotta be a little bad.”

   She sniffled again and laughed.

   We held each other as the moment bounded for the vast desert of our separation.

We stood at the potion table back in the castle. The yellow potion waited.

   She was dressed in a purple gown. Her pendant was off. There are moments in life that etch themselves forever upon one’s heart. For me, the vivid spectacle of her beauty just then was one of them. I knew that etching would stay with me even though it was her heart in my chest. It was then, with great sadness, that I understood just how much greater the human soul was than the mere shell of a human body.

   At the same time, we reached inside our chests one more time and pulled the other’s heart out.

   “Are you ready?” she asked, her voice breaking.

   A tear streaked down my cheek. “I am.”

   “We must do this together, at the same time. On three. One ... two ... three.”

   Together, with the other’s heart in our hands, we gently twisted the hearts. At the same time, they split in two. It hurt. But most of the pain was simple sorrow. I stared at my heart in her hands, broken in two. Hers waited in the same state in mine.

   We put a half on the table. She handed me the other half of mine. I took it and with the half of her heart still in my grip brought the two together. As we both watched, the heart-halves melded into a single whole. The new heart glowed on one half, and was dark on the other.

   Zelena blinked more tears out of her eyes. “It still feels broken.”

   I nodded. I could scarcely see anything through my own watery vision. I handed her the newly formed heart. She took it and thrust it into her chest.

   “Oh, Nathan ...” she wept.

   I took the halves on the table next to the yellow potion and brought them together, then put the new heart, which looked just like the other one, into my chest.

   Heartbreak. Abandonment. Loss. Rage. Anger. Envy.

   But also: Passion. Joy. Connection. Hope. And—dare I say it? The chance for redemption. Our happy endings. Even if it meant we would have to wait years for it.

   That was what the yellow potion was for.

   It was time. We were just ahead of the clock. Our new hearts would protect us from any ill effects from the magic used to exchange them. Our souls were safe. Safer, in fact, than they had ever been. They were healing each other, each half to and with the other.

   She took the beaker with the yellow liquid and poured it into two glasses. It was a very powerful forgetting potion. She handed me a glass.

   I studied the liquid inside it. These unforgettable months would soon be utterly and completely forgotten. In this liquid a new story would insinuate itself in place of my true memories. She did not rescue me, no. Somehow I rescued myself. Or someone else rescued me. I regained my health. The magic would fill in the details and plot holes perfectly. I knew that. Zelena was a first-rate sorceress. She’d leave nothing to chance, including my Cruxx, still free from my person, still waiting for me to find and reclaim it. With half of her heart in my chest, I didn’t need her to be with me once I did.

   All that passion and love. Her kisses. Her body. Her wit and intelligence. Her radiance. Her wickedness and darkness, both infinitely more precious to me now than my light. The feel of her. Her scent.

   I took a deep breath and readied myself. “Okay. I’m ready.”

   She took the single step that separated us and kissed me one last time.

   Etched. Forever.

   Her lips pulled free.

   The horizon was years and years away.

   One more look into those sapphire eyes.

   “I love you.”

   Before she could respond, I closed my eyes, lifted the glass, and downed the forgetting potion in two gulps. I felt motion upward, and lost consciousness.

You might be wondering how, if I took a forgetting potion, I have recalled everything that happened.

   Allow me to tell you.

   I woke in my own bed, stretched as I sat up, and stood. All those false memories were waiting for me—ones that I would base the next sixty-six years of my life on.

   That’s right. I’m writing this tale as an eighty-six-year-old man.

   Zelena had been thorough in her potion-making. She had indeed covered all the bases. The troll bridge was empty, just as I hoped it would be. I got home safe and sound and hoping to see Brynn again, to maybe give her my Soul Gift. The plot hole of my recovery time was filled by doing what I always had: by simply living my sad, lonely life. Nothing really memorable had occurred during that time; nothing worth fretting over or getting excited about. It all added up perfectly.

   She had tweaked the potion. I became restless in a way I had never experienced before. I wasn’t interested in holing up anymore. Eventually I packed my bedroll (she had even replaced the stolen one, along with my shirt) and trekked to Lageb, where I met an elder councilwoman who was involved in a fight against the mayor to keep taxes from being raised. Somehow that interested me when in the past I wouldn’t have cared less. I promised her that on my way home to my ultimate destination, which was to see Brynn again, that I’d help her. I left Lageb feeling something very like dawn rising in my chest after a long, melancholy night.

   Outside of Echeld, the Munchkin village where Brynn lived, I had a sudden compulsion to walk up a trail I knew led to a lovely lookout. It was still early in the day, and I was in grand spirits, so I shrugged and ambled up the trail.

   At the top were a cluster of boulders. One of them had ornate six-inch initials engraved on it:


   My initials!

   Another compulsion overcame me, this one the urge to touch the stone. I did. The stone cracked. I backed up a quick step.

   From it issued a beautiful, almost solid red glow. It focused like a lighthouse beam on my chest, and I felt a wonderful warmth radiate to my fingertips, and this incredible sense of being found, and tremendous joy. And then I fainted.

   When I woke, I sat up and shook myself off (I was covered in leaves and pine needles) and glanced with amazement at the stone.

   The initials—were gone! The stone was whole again! It was like I had hallucinated the entire thing!

   I scrambled to my feet and glanced around. Was this a trap? Had I been robbed?

   I rifled through my belongings. Everything was there, including my money. Judging by the daylight, I had spent most of the afternoon unconscious. Sunset was maybe an hour off.

   What the hell happened?

   I went to the rock and cautiously touched it. Nothing happened. Bewildered, I turned to collect my things, and that’s when I saw it—a note half-buried by the leaves where I had been lying. I stooped, picked it up, and unfolded it. It was on fine white linen. I brought it to my nose. It was odorless. The loopy cursive suggested that a woman had written it. It said:

It’s not such a laugh
A moment in the sun
Lost kisses won
She’s waiting for you
And to her you must be true
While always forgetting ...
that I love you

   I was certain that it was a note that a heartbroken Munchkin had written to her lover, who for some reason had forgotten about their love and had gotten himself involved with another. I went to put it back, thinking that I had no business keeping it, but again I felt a strong compulsion. This one urged me to keep it. It was even stronger than the compulsion that led me to the magical cracking boulder, so I put the note in my pack and got on my way. I was very excited to see Brynn again, and maybe, if things were going well, to share the unsettling events of the day.

   She greeted me at the door with a brilliant and disarming smile. A hint of her perfume greeted my nose. It was like smelling heaven after a sunshower. It mixed with my spinal fluid and lodged in my soul. I knew I’d never forget it, that it was hers and hers alone.

We married a year later. We would spend the next fifty-eight years together. We made my lonely home one of joy and community and children—three to be exact, who grew up, got married, and gave us grandkids, eleven at last count, and two great-grandchildren.

   Brynn was everything to me. I loved her, and will forever. She helped me heal from the loss of my family. And she gave me a new one.

   With her father’s help and connections, I soon became a very involved member of not only Echeld, but Lageb, too. Five years after I watched my bride walk up the aisle towards me, I ran for and became mayor of Lageb.

   (Oz was a constitutional monarchy that, in its less authoritarian eras, actually strived for something that appeared democratic.)

   A couple of weeks after I woke from the forgetting potion, I found something remarkable in a forgotten corner of the cold shed. It was a wand! It looked like it had been fashioned from one of the local trees. When I picked it up an overwhelming warmth issued from it into my hand. Magic! Somehow it gifted me with a message, which, extraordinarily, sounded like me whispering:

I’m yours. Learn to use me.

   So I did. Over the next six and a half decades I learned the ways of magic. I learned, as I had after my family died, by teaching myself. I spoke to wizards and witches. I traveled widely in pursuit of knowledge whenever I got the chance.

   Most of them tried to tell me that magic was “light” or “dark.” They tried to tell me I had to choose one. But every time I hefted my wand I could tell—I could feel—that it wanted me to learn both, that both were far more related and mixed than those purists could possibly imagine.

   So I learned both. I became powerful. Over time I became very powerful.

   Zelena’s “stuffed hat” sister witches turned out to be magical fascists who eventually tried to outlaw all magic and magical creatures save themselves, convinced, as all fascists are, that only they can handle the responsibility brought by power, be it magical or political.

   Zelena, who I became distantly familiar with as a regular citizen does of its leaders and utterly unaware so much more had occurred with her, had already banned one of them, Glinda; but the other two, upon Zelena’s departure to another Realm, formed a joint dictatorship and began actively persecuting the citizenry. Lageb and Echeld’s locals came to me and urged me to confront them. Two years later I did. On the Dragon Piss Road outside the Emerald City, we did battle. They were no match for my combination of light and dark magic, and both fell. Oz, delivered from their totalitarian clutches, rejoiced.

   I went home feeling extraordinarily humbled and proud, thinking that my days as a hero were now comfortably over, and that I could relax and be with Brynn and my children and continue being of service to Lageb and Echeld. But a knock on my door half a year later ended that wish for the next thirty-four years. At the door was Mr. Dinys, my father-in-law, with about a hundred Munchkins and maybe twice that of humans, all bearing torches. They had a massive petition. They wanted me to be the next king of Oz, and weren’t going to take no for an answer.

   A year later I sat for the first time on Oz’s throne not as a young man in love waiting for his wicked one (not knowing I had done so, of course), but as the ruler of the entire land.

   I’d like to think I was a good ruler. Always uppermost were the wishes of the people, especially concern for those least fortunate among us. With that in mind I formed a cabinet of advisors that included mostly Munchkins and women. Of Munchkinland, since they were a province of Oz and one I cared about dearly, but one that had been entirely neglected by countless royals in the past, I worked very hard to “bring them into the fold,” as it were. That work paid off handsomely for everyone in countless ways.

   I ramped up Zelena’s program to clean up the Dragon Piss Road and the villages along it. By doing so I created lots of well-paying jobs. Unemployment fell to almost zero. I empowered local constables to be much stronger in protecting their citizens from bandits and trolls. With Xenophon Dunk’s help as one of my chief advisors, we found a way to fund free medical care for all citizens. No one would ever have to suffer the grief I did when Mom died. “Vach-care” was immediately very popular.

   As for the trolls, I tried working with them. I really did. But they had no interest in peace, having for some reason decided that I was a serious threat, and so Oz, for three awful years, went to war within our own borders. Trolls, it turned out, were much better at organizing and banding together for a cause than I ever thought possible. Outrageously, many men joined them. Even more outrageously, many wizards and witches banded together to prevent me from using my powers to bring a swift and decisive end to the conflict.

   The Troll War was bloody and tragic, and finally ended when I and my own special unit of wizards and witches found and exterminated the last traitorous mage and thereby released the curse they had cast upon my powers.

   I sat imperiously on Oz’s throne and watched the bloated, narcissistic, orange-tinted “King” Pūtrump, who managed to bring together thousands of his kind and men into an astonishingly tough and formidable fighting force, grovel on his knees three steps below.

   I didn’t sit often in that chair. When I did, the citizenry knew I was royally pissed off. I had taken more than a month to consider a punishment, one worthy of the crimes the trolls and their men, wizards, and witches perpetrated upon Oz’s citizens. The one I came up with Zelena would have been very proud of.

   I stood and waved my wand, and “King” Pūtrump’s heart of hearts, along with the heart of hearts of every single troll in Oz, and the men who joined them, burst out of his, and their, chests. No one saw it coming.

   Tens of thousands of blackened heart of hearts gathered like a vile, swirling cloud above the Emerald City. I crossed the main moat and with a brilliant flash from my wand destroyed it. I flourished my wand again and the hearts descended to form what became known as the Troll Bridge—an arching, high bridge into the Emerald City made of the heart of hearts of every troll in Oz, and the men who took up arms in their cause.

   Since I possessed them all, I could command them to do anything, and they would be compelled to obey me—forever. So I commanded:

   “Until you die, every one of you, should you be seen by any human or Munchkin after three days hence within the borders of Oz, you will happily and faithfully serve them at their pleasure for a period not to exceed ten years.”

   I knelt and jammed the tip of my wand into the earth. A bright yellow circle of light expanded rapidly from it and disappeared in all directions out of sight.

   “As for all adult trolls who did not fight, they shall lose their heart of hearts for every moment they are in Oz. If they choose to leave Oz, they can retrieve them. These hearts will be located in a special treasury built just for this purpose. If these trolls choose to make trouble of any kind on their way out, we will hunt them down and leave their bodies where they fall. The same curse applies to all trolls visiting us from other lands. SO BE IT!”

   I stood. The large crowd surrounding me stared both at me and the quickly forming Troll Bridge in awed silence. “King” Pūtrump and his lieutenants looked small and feeble.

   “As for the men who took up arms against Oz,” I roared, “I say today: you behaved as trolls, so you will join them as trolls yourselves!”

   Another flourish of my wand, and every man who took up arms in the trolls’ evil cause, or collaborated with them in any way, no matter where they were, seen or unseen, turned into trolls.

   There hasn’t been a single sighting of a troll within the borders of Oz in almost twenty-seven years. The Troll Bridge, though it started with a faint red, disparately pulsing glow, became more and more like any stonework bridge as the trolls died off. It is almost entirely stone today. Just a few heart of hearts remain.

   Shortly after that I offered to resign as king. I felt it only right. Under my watch many of Oz’s sons and daughters had died in battle, and many fields had been blackened by the violence of war and soil wet by spilled blood. I decreed the citizens should vote on it.

   They did. By an overwhelming margin of twenty-six percent, the citizens of Oz declared they wanted me to stay as their monarch. And so, for the same number of years as my margin of victory, I continued to sit on Oz’s throne.

   When it came time for me to step down, I could have chosen one of my kids to take the throne, and thought I might choose one of them. But none of them were interested. So I picked my closest advisor, a wise and eminently qualified Munchkin named Hilari. She was best friends with Cheräs Dinys, my father-in-law, who had recently passed away. Her ascension to the throne as the Queen of Oz will stand in my mind as one of my greatest joys, for never before had a Munchkin been ruler of the land that they had shared with humans for thousands of years. I went back to Lageb, to our home, and there I lived in peace and joy with my Brynn for the next twenty-one years.

   An interesting aside. When I handed the Royal Scepter to Hilari, a wondrous warmth issued from my hand, quite unbidden, into the Scepter and into her hand. I could tell she felt it too. I had felt similar moments during my life with others. It seemed every time it happened that the person who experienced it with me went on to do great things. I never knew what that thing could be except a Soul Gift.

   Notably, I didn’t experience any more visions. At least, nothing you would call visions. Nothing that I was sure were visions.

   Hilari indeed turned out to be a great queen. I’d say as far as rulers go, she was, in my opinion, better than all of them, including me. She sits on the throne to this day.

   As far as Brynn went, I never felt such a sensation with her. It never occurred. I reasoned that the Gift I had to give her was of a different nature, perhaps, and so was much more subtle, and convinced myself that I had indeed given her one. She spoke many times of how blessed she was, how fortunate, and how happy. That was good enough to convince me.

The illness that took her was sudden and, for a time, excruciatingly painful. The kingdom’s finest healers couldn’t touch it. Neither could I. They guessed that it was some form of consumption.

   Desperate for help, I decided to summon help from Misthaven—the Enchanted Forest. I remembered the stories of Rumpelstiltskin, the wizard who finally ended the Third Ogres War.

   His power was legendary. If anyone could save my Brynn, it was he. I needed only go to one of the old portals, crumbling and no longer functional, and utter his name three times. Rumpelstiltskin was rumored to be so powerful that he could breach the barrier between our Realms and provide assistance.

   I was warned that he was a trickster and would do nothing without getting something very valuable in return. As a former monarch, I didn’t worry about it. I had access to more wealth than any man or woman should ever have.

   I materialized next to the first portal from the Emerald City (about ten miles away from it) and pulled my wand from my pocket and held it up.

   “Rumpelstiltskin,” I intoned as I was told was needed. “Rumpelstiltskin. Rumpelstiltskin.”

   I stepped back and waited.

   He materialized out of a cloud of swirling red smoke fifteen minutes later. We gazed at each other silently, sizing each other up.

   I had been told he looked like an imp, with scaly gray skin and wild eyes and long nails. He was known as “The Dark One” for his endlessly nasty deeds. But the wizard standing before me didn’t have wild eyes or weird skin or unnatural nails. He had short parted gray hair and an impatient smile, and wore a tasteful crimson coat.

   “Yes? Can I help you?”

   I pocketed my wand and approached and held out my hand in greeting. He took it.

   “I’m sorry, Rumpelstiltskin,” I began, eager to get right to the point. “Forgive me for taking you away from your life. My wife is very ill and I am desperate for help. I thought you might be able to help her.”

   He studied me with interest. “You must be very powerful to get my attention across shuttered Realms. What is your name?”

   “Nathan Vach, sir,” I said, releasing his hand and bowing. He continued to watch me with interest. “Retired King of Oz.”

   “May I see the wand you were just holding, sire?”

   “Of course.”

   I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it to him. He studied it with fascination for a long time. “This is a married wand,” he observed as though unable to believe it.

   I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked. He studied it for some time longer, then handed it back. “A married wand is a wand that has married both light and dark magics and integrated their power. Such a thing has been theorized for thousands of years but never achieved, not even by me.”

   He stepped closer. “Would you mind if I checked your heart?”

   I wasn’t afraid of him. I wasn’t afraid of anything but losing my beautiful wife.

   “Sure. Go ahead.”

   He thrust his hand into my chest and yanked my heart of hearts out. I unbent from the pain and looked.

   My heart of hearts was a beautiful, swirling, dynamic mix of dark and light. They danced like lovers, twisting and twirling around one another mesmerizingly. The Dark One was fascinated.

   “In centuries of magic, I have never seen this before,” he whispered. “It’s almost as if ... as if ... this heart is a fusion of ... two hearts, not one.”

   He brought his stare to me. “Nathan Vach, you say?”

   “Yes, sir.”

   I thought at that point that he might try to control or manipulate me, or attempt to strike a deal. But he didn’t. Entirely reasonably, he thrust my heart of hearts back into my chest, wiped his hands, and said, “Shall we see what we can do for your bride, Your Majesty?”

   “Yes,” I returned, flummoxed, “let’s. Please.”

   I flourished my hand and we disappeared in a cloud of green-white smoke for my home.

   But there was nothing Rumpelstiltskin could do except fashion a potion to lessen Brynn’s pain. No healer had been able to do even that much. It required, coincidentally, a portion of my heart of hearts magically dissolved into brandy. He handed the potion to me. “This will last a month.” He gave me a look that told me a month was more than enough. Brynn reached up from bed and shook his hand and thanked him.

   “You are more than welcome, Your Majesty,” he said, grasping her hand in both of his with great grace.

   We magicked back to the portal.

   “Forgive me, sir,” I said once the smoke cleared, “but I was told that you did nothing without a deal.”

   His smile was one of regret and hard-won wisdom. “I’m happy to say that those days are long since over. Your bride is very ill, sire. I am glad to be of whatever service I can render.”

   He glanced down at the Dragon Piss Road. “You know, I’ve got no use for all the gold I’ve created over the centuries. There are mountains of it. So I think I’ll leave Oz with a little gift.”

   He withdrew from his cloak a fabulous dagger that bore his name and waved it over the road.

   The tired yellow of the piss colored over in all directions with a sheen of brilliant, actual gold. I gawked down at it and started laughing.

   “My God! You’ll have the entire population out here trying to chip it up!”

   “It’s enchanted. They won’t be able to do any harm to it. Besides, I’ve learned to the chagrin of my ex-wife that if you want to be truly good—” he grinned and crinkled his nose—“you’ve gotta be a little bad.”

   I laughed again. We shook hands. He inclined his head. “I hope to meet you again, sire.”

   “And I you, Rumpelstiltskin. And please. Just Nathan to my friends.”

   “Will do. Just Rumpel for me, Nathan. Someday I may have need of your remarkable powers. If I call for you, would you be willing?”

   “To the degree my advanced age allows and won’t slow you down in your mission, of course,” I said. “I am forever grateful for your help, Rumpel.”

   He smiled sadly. “Best be off to your wife.”

   “Thanks again.”

   He bowed and disappeared in swirling red smoke back to Misthaven.

   I went back to Brynn.

   She died twenty-two days later. They were, thanks to Rumpelstiltskin, painless days. She died surrounded by me, our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. The day after we buried her in the field behind the house, I mixed the remaining potion with more brandy and downed it. But I knew even as I did that nothing would take away the pain of my Brynn’s passing.

   Once the funeral was over, once the kids had gone back to their lives, I sat in this big house alone. Just like I did all those years ago.

Eight years passed.

I hadn’t seen it in decades. I’d forgotten entirely about it. I’d kept it on the hearth in a small jeweled case I believe once belonged to Mom, and which Brynn kept her most treasured knickknacks. I opened the lockbox one day on a lark, something different to do, and there it was, yellow with age. I dug it up and read it again.

It’s not such a laugh
A moment in the sun
Lost kisses won
She’s waiting for you
And to her you must be true
While always forgetting ...
that I love you

   At first I didn’t recognize it. And then the memories returned: my initials on the boulder. The boulder cracked open when I touched it and issued red light into my chest. I fainted. When I woke, I found this note under the leaves where I had lain.

   As I stood there, gazing at this lovely bit of verse, the words floated off the page and melted into green smoke that surrounded my face. I inhaled, and the smoke went into my lungs.

   And just like that, the true memories of my time with Zelena returned, slowly at first, then with more and more force. I leaned against the hearth, clutching my heart, overwhelmed, breathless.

   She had enchanted that path and had taken my Cruxx to the outskirts of Echeld, where she had protected it and hidden it inside an enchanted boulder. She knew I would visit Brynn again. It’s entirely possible that she had seen to it that the forgetting potion compelled me to go.


   My sweet Zelena!

   The troll attack. She rescued me. She nursed me back to health. I fell in love with her. Desperately in love. And she had fallen in love with me.

   We exchanged hearts. I rescued her pendant and destroyed the troll encampment.

   We made love. I gave her half my heart, and she gave half of hers to me.

   I drank the forgetting potion.

   I had to sit down. I was certain I was going to have a heart attack.

   Brynn’s perfume ... was Zelena’s. She must have somehow given it to Brynn! In all the time my sweet bride and I were together, I never smelled its like on anyone else!

   How had Zelena known of Brynn? I never told her! But then, while healing, I had gibbered! Zelena told me I had! Was that how she learned of her?

   I don’t know how long I sat there staring at nothing at all and sipping air like I’d never get to again, but it must have been hours, because when I came to myself, it was the middle of the night. Twelve hours had passed just like that.

   Without Zelena’s heart, I never could have ruled Oz. I never could have done a thousand things without that darkness. That necessary darkness.

   I wondered what she did with my light. With my Soul Gift. Did she use them to make for herself an amazing life? Was she even alive? I prayed she was, and that her life had been beautiful and epic, that my Gift had helped her. I prayed that prayer and didn’t stop through the night. I wasn’t tired; I had no desire to sleep.

   I somehow knew that the forgetting potion lost its force with her the exact moment it did with me. Wherever she was—please let her be alive!—she too was remembering everything. I didn’t know how I knew that; I just did. Zelena, if she lived, was remembering our time together too.

   I studied my wand. Before I went back to her with her pendant, I had gone to the forest where she had been searching for a very special wood for wands, had found that wood, and had fashioned this very instrument. I came back to this house and there, with the whole of Zelena’s awesome magical skills and power focused intensely by the pendant, had worked furiously to prepare it for the future. I knew she had to leave me.

   This wand had the answer should she ever return. I had put that answer in it and locked it magically away, only to be unlocked when it came time to remember our incredible time together. I called upon it, and the answer came immediately to me. When it did I sat in my lonely house and wept for fear and joy.

   Was she still alive?

Morning dawned. I was sitting on the porch. From the forest a lone figure emerged from the shadows. Fifty feet away she pulled her cloak off her head and smiled, tears bright in her eyes.

   The dying embers of a god’s campfire that was her hair was now colored with plentiful gray the same color as ash. But the sapphire in her eyes hadn’t dimmed even a little. And though she walked slightly stooped from advanced age, she still strode towards me like she owned the whole of Oz. It was a stride that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s.

  “Hello, Nathan.”

   I stood and went to her. I cupped her face. We kissed. We hugged. We cried.

   The perfume she wore was new. It lodged itself in my heart—the heart that was once half hers, half mine, now a married, integrated mix of both—and into my spinal fluid. It would remain with me for all time. I took a deep, deep breath and prayed that when it came time for me to die, that I would do so in her embrace.

   When I could see again, when the tears had subsided a little, I gazed down at her pendant. It was white and empty of magic.

   She had no magic either. I knew then what the light in my heart, and my Soul Gift, did for her. She had given up her magic so that she could find her happy ending. So that she could, whether or not she knew it at the time, return to me.

   My wand was ready. I held it up between us.


   She grasped my hand and nodded with happy expectation.

A new day. A new life. And a magic bean, one of two Zelena had used to return to Oz.

   I gazed at the home I’d spent my entire life in. I’d like to return to it someday. But not for a while, I think.

   The kids will understand. They’ll find the note I left them. This lovely home is theirs now to use as they see fit.

   Zelena, unstooped now by age, her pendant green and potent once more, kissed my cheek. Her hair blazed red in the sun. I exulted once more in the feel of those wondrous lips against my flesh and gazed down upon myself. Having a twenty-year-old body once more was phenomenal, truly something to envy.

   No. Something to N.V.

   With her arm in mine, I threw the bean and watched as a portal opened next to my lifelong home.

   We walked through it, and it closed behind us.