“Um, Darling? What are you doing out this late?”
Darling’s shoulders were tense as she heard a voice ring through her ears. She had thought that she had cleared the entire building and managed to get out without not a single prince, princess, or mythical beast catching a single glimpse of her. She had been doing this for quite some time now and it had almost become a second nature for her to slip in and out of places throughout Ever After without being noticed. However, it seemed as though tonight was the night for her to be caught by somebody.
She lifted her head and looked back through the brushwork and noted that it was Rosabella Beauty looking right in her direction. She may have gotten out of Ever After High, but she should have remembered that she needed to be careful when walking through the enchanted forest.
Students didn’t always come to this section of the forest but she should have known that someone like Rosabella would probably be out this far. It seemed as though that she had been tending to some of the furry creatures, again, as was typical of her mornings, afternoon, and evenings when students weren’t required to be in their classes on their fairy best behavior.
She pursed her lips and wracked her mind for an excuse that she could use to hide what she was really doing out here but for some reason, she could find none.
“I was… going to explore some of the more less known parts of the Enchanted Forest,” Darling trailed, off.
It wasn’t a lie. She technically was exploring the forest for the best places to train and hone her fighting skills and endurance. There weren’t a lot of places that she could practice in Ever After, so finding spots that were mostly desolate was great. She spent a lot of time in Wonderland working on practicing her sword skills with some of the locals, but when she was in Wonderland she had to stay in disguise.
It was great to be able to be fully functional in the suit of the White Knight but at the same time, she had to be strong enough to handle the mechanism. So training her body outside of the armor was almost absolutely required through and through! She took a lot of cues and tips from Maid Marian whenever she had the chance to speak to the woman, as she had spent quite a lot of time with Robin Hood and helping his merry men after the end of their story.
Marian didn’t know about Darling masquerading as the White Knight, as far as the woman knew, Darling was just working out and getting stronger to feel empowered and in control of herself in spite of destined fates dictated by the Storybook of Legends. She didn’t breathe a word of that to anyone else because Maid Marian knew very well about the stigma against princesses.
It was preferred to be prim, proper, dainty, poised, and well, in distress.
Rosabella pressed a finger to the edge of her glasses and returned them back to their rightful position against her nose and took those words in. She smiled and nodded her head. “That’s interesting, I’ve never ventured too far out into the forest since there are so fairy many creatures in Ever After that need a helping hand that I never find the time to see if there are others in need out there that I don’t yet know about.”
Rosabella was a giving person.
Her mother was, after all, Beauty of Beauty and the Beast, a person with unwavering kindness in their heart that extended to the meanest looking, to the slimiest, to the biggest, to the smallest, to the happiest, to the saddest, or even those that the rest of the world had seemingly given up on. Her heart was compassionate and relentlessly pure in affection for others.
Rosabella was very much like her story had dictated, but at the same time, she was even more dedicated to her passion and her empathy was far more than most of the Beauty’s that had come before she did. She was understanding, and for that, Darling considered Rosabella a very close person that she could talk to about a lot of things.
However, Darling had one big secret that she was keeping from everyone, even her own family, and friends. It wasn’t that she thought some of her fairy closest friends would abandon her because she was going against her destiny. She simply believed that if the secret got out to people, even the ones that she held dearly, it may put them in a position that could force them to choose between their friendship with Darling or someone else.
Darling didn’t want to get in the way of that.
She had long accepted that she would eventually have to follow the path of a Charming princess even though she was internally kicking and screaming in protest. It had been that way her entire life and no matter how much she tried to fight it, there seemed to be no other choice but that. But when Raven Queen stood up in front of the entire school, in front of the entirety of Ever After, Darling felt the fire and passion to do something, to do what she wanted and not what the book said.
It wasn’t long after that that she stumbled into a strange part of the Enchanted Forest one afternoon after class and found herself tumbling… tumbling down… and down… until she found herself in Wonderland and not long after that, taking the helm from the White Knight as they had grown far too old to continue the upkeep of their title.
The spell that the Evil Queen had placed over Wonderland had done a number on a lot of fairy tale creatures and it included not only the animals, but so many of the people of Wonderland were also suffering from the curse and it had twisted a lot of them into what they weren’t. It was strange how the curse affected people, for some, they didn’t feel it, but for others, they slowly lost their identities to the madness.
Wonderland was in need of a hero.
The White Knight took one look at Darling after she had helped him and the rest was, as they say, history.
“Well,” Darling said, eyes flickering in the direction to her right where she had not yet gone. “There is a lot of interesting stuff out there to find. The forest is always changing, at least that’s what Headmaster Grimm and his brother say. There are certain places that never quite the same as they were on another day. I’ve come across a couple of interesting places out here.”
Rosabella now seemed even more intrigued by this. “Really? I’ve never been past the gazebo, how far have you gone?”
Darling’s cheeks began to burn a bit in embarrassment. She had not been much of an outdoorsy person as far as anyone knew, and for a long time, she had been forced to stay indoors by others just so she wouldn’t go out and get messy as her brothers did. But she had grown to love and appreciation the beauty that was in nature and how it could help her in her time of need. The very thing that she once loved from afar was all around her now, and she gladly looked forward to being outside.
However, her fascination was a bit of a hidden one. She wanted to keep that squeaky image that others had of her as long as she could.
“I’ve sort of been all over the place lately. I’ve been from here to Book End on the off-beaten path.”
Rosabella found that interesting. “Well, would you mind I joined you today? I’m interested in seeing if there’s anyone out there that needs my help!”
Darling pursed her lips. “From the smallest creature to the biggest damsel?”
“Fairy yes!” Rosabella nodded her head. “That’s what I’m about! Making sure that everyone is treated fairy well when nobody else is looking out for them. I can’t imagine what kind of creatures may be in need out there that need a helping hand. All the places that I haven’t yet been able to visit… it sounds really fun.”
Darling couldn’t exactly tell her no.
There was no good excuse that she could use to keep doing what she was doing. She could always separate Rosabella and try to get back on track with her training at some point, though. Now, there was no guarantee that she could shake Rosabella off and venture out on her own, so, it would be alright if she took an afternoon off just to relax with a friend… right?
She had been working really hard lately.
“Well, alright, let’s go!”
Taking Rosabella’s hand into her own, the two princesses set out to adventure that afternoon. She took the time to show the Beauty a few of the more interesting things that she had come across, like a meadow of enchanted flowers, a burrow of wild rabbits that were just the teeniest bit friendly, a seemingly endless waterfall that dropped off at the edge of the forest, a variety of mystical berries strewn about the forest floor, and anything else that came to mind as they walked.
She recounted some of her mishaps as well. Darling had mistakenly wandered into the three bear’s cottage, of course, she apologized profusely. There had been another time that she walked right into a thicket of brambles and thorns! It was like she walked into a porcupine. Then, there was this other time she got lost in the deepest part of the woods and some kind fairies helped her out by pointing out some of the illuminated flowers that covered the path that showed the way out of there.
It was easy to talk to Rosabella. She was so down to earth and natural.
“I can’t believe that you’ve done all that. Is this where you’ve been off to so much lately?”
“Y-Yeah, you could say that. I’ve really picked up um, nature. I’ve been really enjoying learning and sightseeing whatever after I can find.”
“I never would have expected it. But I really think it’s fableous! Princesses should be able to pick up whatever hobbies that they want in Ever After.”
“I wish everyone else thought that way.”
The two of them spent so much time talking to one another that neither of them realized that they were walking straight into magic quicksand. By the time that Darling noticed, Rosabella was already ankled deep in the sludge. No matter how hard she tried to pull she couldn’t quite get a good enough grip on the princess to pull her out.
She grimaced. “Hold on, Rosabella! I’ll go and get help!”
“A-Alright, I’ll be here! ...Well, not like I can go to anyplace else.”
Rosabella did her best to hang on and wait by gripping the edge of the section where the grass meets the porous sands. She had heard about the stuff being located in the forest but it had been such a rare thing to run into that they hadn’t really trained them on what to do when you found it. All she knew was that it was better not to struggle against the stuff, otherwise, it might swallow her whole and nobody knew where these things led.
There was a rumor that it could suck you into other dimensions or time periods if you sank in too deep.
Rosabella didn’t want to find out firsthand.
She started to think that they might not show up in time but she heard the sound of armor clanking against the ground and when she looked in the direction of the sound she realized that it was a knight. She wasn’t sure which kingdom they belong to but it was very much someone who had come to help her in her time of need so she wasn’t picky!
“Oh thank goodness, a knight!” she breathed, ”Could you help me?!”
“Hang on,” the knight told her as they surveyed the scene. They first offered his hand to the maiden but when pulling from their end didn’t seem to make much of a budge against the magic sand, they paused and looked around for something that could help. There were a lot of sightings of magic sand in Wonderland because of the Evil Queen’s curse and the topsy turvy curse meant that the only way to get out of the stuff was to do something wonderlandish.
But, what exactly would do it?
The White Knight had mentioned before how to combat this stuff to save those in need but the lesson had been such a long time ago that Darling wasn’t sure what to do.
“This is magic quicksand,” the knight explained to Rosabella. “It’s been tainted by the spell that Evil Queen cast many years ago. A few of these slip into Ever After every once and a while and the only way to get out of them is to do what a Wonderlander would do. However, it never quite works the same every single time so to beat this menacing monster sand we have to figure out which trick will work!”
“Oh, I see,” Rosabella mused. “Man, it’s a shame that Maddie, Kitty, or Lizzie aren’t here. Those three could really sort this out.”
“That’s it!” The knight suddenly said.
“What? That this is hard without those three?”
The knight shook their head. “No, my dear, we just need to think like those three girls! Just do what Maddie would do at a time like this!”
Rosabella blanked for a moment as she thought about what that girl would do if she was trapped like this. “So… we should have tea? What do you think? Aren’t you from Wonderland too?”
“Hm,” the knight stalled for a minute as they mused what would be just right. “Well, if you’re already stuck someplace and you need to get out of a jam, it might be the perfect time for the fairy mash.”
“You want me to dance? I’m kind of stuck here though,” Rosabella was a bit incredulous at the notion. “Well, if you think that’s best. I’ll give it a shot. But how does the fairy mash work in Wonderland?” All she had ever been told was that she shouldn’t struggle against the magic but the knight seemed to think that was the best course of action. Well, it was worth a shot, especially if these things had originated from Wonderland.
“Why, I’ll show you!”
Rosabella watched the knight began to crack some fairy wicked dance moves that little pretty familiar to her for some reason. Perhaps she had seen one of the girls doing that during one of Melody Piper’s concerts, or maybe it had been at one of Briar’s study parties. There was just something about that made her think for a minute about who this knight could be.
They really had a way with moves so, she did her best to copy every one of those beats until her body began to lift out of the sands.
She was delighted with it!
Rosabella let out a laugh as soon as her feet were back on solid ground. “ I can’t believe that that worked! You rock, knight! You really know how to sweep a damsel off her feet.”
The knight waved their hand as if to say that it had been nothing. “Yes, well, that’s the duty of a knight. We do everything we can to ensure the safety of even the smallest creature to the biggest damsel in need.”
Hadn’t Darling said something like that earlier?
“...Darling, is that you?”
“Pardon? You must be mistaken, princess. I’m not Darling, I’m the White Knight! Miss Charming found me on her way back to Ever After High, I rushed here while she went to gather some more of your friends from school!” From inside her suit, Darling out a nervous laugh. How had she known? What had tipped her off? She could lie and say that it wasn’t her, but, Rosabella had a way to sniff out lies.
Rosabella looked at the knight, unamused. “I would recognize those charming dance moves from a mile away. You’re the only one of your siblings that knows how to throw a wicked fairy mash. Dexter falls on his face and Daring can’t quite understand rythym..”
Darling removed her helmet from her head and smiled nervously. “Um, hi.”
Rosabella let out a gasp as if she was a little surprised by her own deducing. “Wow, it really is you! I never would have expected you to be masquerading as the white knight. I’ve heard people talk about the valiant efforts of the white knight recently but I never realized that it could be you. A lot of people just thought that man got his second wind.”
“Well… you see, it hasn’t always been me,” Darling rubbed the back of her head and began to recount her story. How she had stumbled into wonderland on accident one afternoon and impressed the old man in the suit and how she had been spending her time in his stead and taking over his job for him while he recovered from years of holding his own against the curse.
Rosabella was quiet the entire time but she took in the details with a small nod of her head and a smile. “I won’t tell a soul. Fairy promise.”
“Thank you, Rosabella. That really means a lot to me.” Darling said. “I was really worried that not everyone out there would be accepting.
“I think it’s spellbinding that you’re doing something like this! You’re out here making sure that people are saved from whatever troubles them. That’s really on the front lines, and that’s where I would want to be to make a real difference. I support you, Darling, you should really keep this up ever after, no matter what anyone says when you tell them.”
Rosabella reacted as well as anyone would expect.
It was very reassuring.
Darling felt fairly happy that she could get this weight off of her chest if only just a little bit. “As long as there are people like you that understand, I’ll put on a brave face when I’m honest with everyone. But, it just isn’t quite time yet for me to do that. Still, I’m happy that I was able to tell someone about it.”