"The Ogress and the Orphans" by Kelly Barnhill, Chapters 17–24

October 24, 2022
After an ogress is accused of abducting the children of Stone-in-the-Glen, a group of orphans try to save her and convince the townspeople of her good nature.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–8, Chapters 9–16, Chapters 17–24, Chapters 25–36, Chapters 37–54
The Mayor arrived midafternoon and took up his place on the dais to give his Market Day address.
"Hurry up, will you?” she chided.
“I think the Ogress sets them on us,” said a third vendor, from across the way, his face folded into a sneer. “Out of spite. Typical ogres.”
He spent the next few days helping Dierdre mind and milk the goats, but she told him that his incessant chatter was making them moody and less productive, and then he spent the next week with the twins and Matron, making several extra vats of soap, which Matron was planning to sell on the sly at a makeshift booth in the Center Square.
She journeyed for a long time, exploring forests and fens and even the whole ocean until one day she came upon a tumbledown castle, with a magnificent laboratory.
She had several stacks of books strewn about the floor.
The house grew quiet. Elijah listened to his breath go in and out, in and out. Then: Once upon a time, sighed the trusses.
Once upon a time, whispered the wainscoting.
They stood in front of the charred facade and partial shell of a building that had burned long ago.
“You know,” she said, her face suddenly wistful, “our Myron, after he spent two seasons at the house, and after my father found a family to love and raise him, still came by whenever he could. Almost every day. To pay his respects. To spend time with his friends. And he was sweet on me even then.”
It was an excellent-sounding voice. It had resonance and gravitas.
Several statues of the Mayor loomed about—one with a crown and another looking piously at the sky and another where he was petting a bear with one hand and creating a perch for a bird with the other.
He had burnished skin and a bunch of diamonds at his throat, and a watch with a clockwork dragon that curled its way through the hours, scale by shining scale.
I sell what I can, and make adjustments where I must, and I teach the orphans how to stretch, repurpose, and fix, and the value of thrift.
He gestured magnanimously and patted Cass on the head.
The Mayor blanched, but it only lasted a second.
She watched Matron’s face go from adoration, to awe, to introspection, to confusion, to worry, to resignation.
Back at home, the rest of the family remained ensconced in their sickbeds, sleeping deeply.
Matron and Myron slept in a small bedroom just off the kitchen, separated from the pantry by an alcove with a desk and a chest of drawers for documents and ledgers and a shelf for important things.
It doesn’t do to simply sew the edges of the hole together in a rigid seam, because it will render the sock uncomfortable and unusable from that day forward—it will always feel as though there is a stick inside the sock, which is a terrible way to walk through the world.
Through their time in the skins of other creatures, entire generations of large and mighty dragons had learned what it could feel like to be as cunning and nimble as a small rabbit.
They learned what it felt like to be forgotten, like a rabbit trapped in a doomed warren after the farmer blocks every exit.
Another time, he made himself king of a colony of rats, and convinced his subjects to sneak into bedrooms and lockboxes and come back with coins or rings or diamond bracelets. These he collected in a brand-new lair, where he grew sleek and indolent on the work of his subjects, the most dragonish rat that ever was.
Across the globe, whenever he was caught using one of the Blessed Skins for a selfish or duplicitous purpose, the Dragon would be chastised by his dragon relatives, and punished with stern words and exasperated expressions.
Misuse of any animal skin was a grave offense. A sacrilege, some dragons said.
The Council confirmed that the duplicitous way in which the Dragon had used the Blessed Skins was a disgrace to the memory of the First Antelope.
He yawned dramatically, pretending he couldn’t care less, even as he trembled with indignation and sorrow. He thought of the pile of gold left behind in his lair. His pile. His gold. Mine, he thought. How dare they!
“You can go to the mountains and cavort with ogres for all we care.”
The ogre was dressed beautifully—in fine silks and gold brocades and silver jewelry.
She traced the footpath as it snaked past decrepit buildings and abandoned farms.
She set her chin forward and began walking anyway and very quickly became turned around, discombobulated, and utterly lost.
She looked up, hoping to get a sense of direction from the sky, but the roof of the forest obscured her view.
“There could be several explanations,” the cobbler’s wife said, her voice brisk and pragmatic. “It doesn’t do to jump to wild speculations. Fear won’t find the child, but cool heads and keen eyes will.”
Can we really trust the testimony of a very old woman who may or may not have all of her faculties intact? How is her eyesight? Can she see into the corners? Has she actually counted all the children?
“Well, I’m off to the Mayor right now,” the cobbler said. “He needs to be apprised of the situation. But more importantly, we need to create a delegation, organize a community response and a search team to find the child.”
“Patience,” came the sonorous voice of the Mayor from inside. The cobbler felt the voice everywhere—in his feet, on his skin, even in his hair.
There was a great sound of rattling and shuffling inside—a tinkling, jangling cacophony of chimes, followed by the sound of something heavy moving across the floor.
The Mayor heaved a petulant sigh.
Are there interlopers and saboteurs, thieves and miscreants, wandering our streets as we speak?
“We have a constable?” the Mayor said, slightly bemused.

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