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To Be Proper

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It had been several days since Georgie had ventured into the woods on her latest supply trip, and even longer since they’d seen Chapman. He hadn’t been back since Georgie had had her well-deserved breakdown in his direction.

 

Georgie had checked to make sure they had enough to last til she got back, but it had definitely been longer than intended. Antigone had taken to hiding away in dark corners even more than usual, and when she did appear she seemed distinctly mopey. The food had very nearly disappeared, but even more concerning was that they had finished the last of the water that morning. Rudyard stood in the tower looking at their depleted supplies, then out into the forest. There was nothing to be done for it. He would have to try and find the stream Georgie used to supply their water. 

 

Which was how Rudyard found himself hanging perilously from a vine partway down the tower, trying desperately not to look down.

 

This had been a terrible idea. He was going to die, and Georgie would find his body lying at the body of the tower, useless as ever. And for what? Given his current state, it’s not like he would even have been able to get any water back with him anyway. 

 

“Prince Rudyard?” 

 

Oh no.  

 

No, no, no no no no no. That was worse. Infinitely worse. Now not only was he going to die, he would do so in front of Chapman ! Determined not to give the perfect bastard the satisfaction, he managed to make it down a few more feet. 

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m climbing down the tower!”

 

“Can I help you?”

 

“No!” Rudyard snapped, risking a glare down at him. This proved to be a mistake, as the moment he took his attention from the vines, he felt his hand slip. Whipping his head back towards the tower, he only just had enough time to mutter a panicked, “No-” 

 

Before he was falling. He squeezed his eyes shut as he fell, preparing to hit the ground. 

 

But no impact came. Instead he found himself caught in a strong pair of arms. Unfortunately metal-clad arms. He forced himself to open his eyes, only to find Chapman staring back at him, concern clearly written on his face. It took Rudyard a moment to properly process all this, at which point he pushed himself violently away from him, landing with a thud in the dirt. 

 

“Get away!” Chapman looked miffed.

 

“Well then, excuse me for trying to help.”

 

“I would have been perfectly fine, thank you. Now could you please leave me alone, or are you going to try and kidnap me too?”

 

“Wait, who else has kidnapped you? Is that why you all stay here, you’ve been kidnapped? It would require a lot of powerful magic to keep you here, it must be someone you don’t want to risk angering. No wonder they didn’t want to come back with me!” Rudyard was getting more and more incredulous with every word out of his mouth. 

 

“No, you absolute idiot. We’ve not been kidnapped by anyone!” Chapman's face fell.

 

“Oh. Well, what did you mean about kidnapping you then?” Rudyard gaped at him. 

 

“You’ve been trying to kidnap my sister for the past two months, you moron!” 

 

“I have not! I have been trying to rescue her. And you too, I might add!”  Rudyard scoffed.

 

“She's told you several times that she doesn’t want to be rescued. If you’re trying to ‘rescue’ someone who doesn’t want you to and take them away from their home, that’s kidnapping!”

 

“I’m trying to take you back to your home! You know, Piffling Vale?”

 

“They never wanted us anyway, why the hell should we go back?!” Chapman stopped still as if slapped.

 

“That’s not true, I’m sure.” Rudyard looked at him with disbelief.

 

“You’re sure ? What do you know? You haven’t even been there that long. Why do you think we’re even in this tower in the first place? They’re the ones that put us here! They needed a way to get rid of us, and this was the best available option.” Chapman blinked at him.

 

“But, then why send me to rescue you?” 

 

“Propriety. They have to tell the story of the Princess in the Tower, otherwise it’s just child abandonment. And I highly doubt they actually want you to rescue either of us. Did they even seem enthusiastic when they gave you this quest?” Chapman looked a bit shifty.

 

“I mean, they didn’t give it to me exactly, but I overheard the story once or twice, and it seemed the sort of thing I-” Rudyard laughed bitterly.

 

“Of course! Of course you just inserted yourself into the narrative!”

 

“Hey now-”

 

“No! You’re the only one that wants you to do this, so just. Stop. Trying.” And with that Rudyard turned back towards the tower.

 

And stared at it. He still had no way back up, which meant he would either have to keep engaging with Chapman, or ignore him til Georgie came back. 

 

Oh, no... Georgie. She shouldn’t have to deal with this twit again. Rudyard sagged. He was just going to have to make sure Chapman was gone before she got back. Pulling himself up, he was about to turn back to the irritating knight, when his voice sounded from much closer than expected.

 

“Can I help you back up?” Rudyard jumped and spun. Really, no one wearing armor had any business sneaking about almost as well as Antigone. He stepped back before looking up at Chapman, who was looking rather sheepish.

 

“What?”

 

“I said can I help you back up the tower?” Rudyard’s eyes narrowed.

 

“Why? So you can just come in and take Antigone? Or, or, are you a vampire! Do you need to be invited in, and then you’ll be able to just come back and take her away any time you like, no questions asked? Well I won’t let you-”

 

“I am not a vampire, Rudyard, what?!? I’m just trying to help , hard as that might be for you to believe.” Rudyard glared up at him. 

 

“I’ve seen your attempts at help , thank you.” His words dripped with venom.

 

“Look,” Even he could see the look of frustration on Chapman’s face. “I know we... disagree about my reasons for being here, but regardless I don’t actually want you to get hurt. I swear, I just want to help you back home. May I?”

 

“Your idea of my home, or mine?”

 

“Sorry?” 

 

“My idea of home,” he gestured up at the tower. “Or yours?” Here he waved a hand to where he assumed lay Piffling Vale.

 

Chapman sighed, and when he next spoke he seemed to be addressing his feet.

 

“Yours.”

 

“You swear?” Chapman made eye contact with him, uncharacteristically solemn.

 

“I swear, by my Oath of Knighthood, that I will only help you back up to your chosen home.”

 

“And you won’t try and kidnap Antigone?” Here he looked distinctly pained, but continued.

 

“And I swear that I will make no attempts to do anything other than return you home. I will not use this opportunity to attempt to rescue your sister.” Rudyard shrugged.

 

“Alright then.”

 

“Really? Just like that? All that arguing and now you say ‘alright!?’”

 

“Well you swore on your ‘Oath,’ or whatever, and that seems to mean something to you. So yes, alright.” Chapman blinked at him, opened his mouth, then seemed to think the better of arguing after getting his way, and closed it again.

 

After a few moments of awkwardness they both turned to stare back up at the tower. It seemed to Rudyard, having just fallen from it, an insurmountable distance, and even Chapman looked to be having his reservations. 

 

“What were you trying to do, anyway?”

 

“That’s none of your business.”

 

“Oh come on, I’m helping! And besides, I’ve already promised not to take advantage.”

 

“...We ran out of water. Georgie went out for supplies, and she’s not back yet.” Rudyard forced himself to stop. Yes, he was worried about Georgie, but he didn’t need to talk to Chapman about it, he’d just decide she needed rescuing or some other nonsense.

 

“You ran out of… but Georgie can’t have been there that long, how were you getting food and water before then?” 

 

“There was a spell.”

 

“Well whatever happened to it?”

 

“It stopped working.” Chapman looked over at him, and seemed to be on the verge of more questions, so Rudyard hurried to continue. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter, shouldn’t you be trying to figure out a way up the tower?”

 

Chapman sighed, and turned to contemplate the tower once more. He seemed to be gauging something, before apparently coming to some conclusion and setting his shoulders. 

 

“Well there’s really only one option, isn’t there?” And before Rudyard could even react he was being scooped up off his feet. By the time he had the presence of mind to protest, Chapman had begun climbing.

 

“CHAPMAN! What are you doing?!?!?!”

 

“Returning you home. I should think that was obvious. Now shush, I don’t want to lose my concentration. And hang on.” Rudyard reluctantly closed his mouth, focusing all of his energy into clinging to Chapman and very deliberately not looking down.

 

Finally Chapman reached the window and helped him through. He remained hanging in the vines outside, breathing heavily, and casting clearly curious looks into the tower. Rudyard felt the distinct temptation to slam the shutters closed in his face, but his Comportment teachers had actually managed to teach him something, despite all proof to the contrary. So instead he sighed, and turned back to the window.

 

“Thank you very much for your help.” Chapman looked somewhat stunned.

 

“I.. well, I mean of course, it was no hardship.”

 

“We both know that's a lie, and it would be foolish to act otherwise. So, l oathe as I am to offer you any kidnapping opportunities, would you like to come in and rest before you start back down?” If he was shocked before, now he looked positively gobsmacked.

 

“I, er… a rest would be lovely, thank you.” Rudyard shuffled back, giving the knight space to sprawl gracelessly on the floor. He failed to turn away fast enough to hide his laughter, and Chapman sat up quickly, quite red in the face.

 

“Ah, yes, well.” He stared up at Rudyard for a few moments.

 

Rudyard stared back, the silence stretching awkwardly, until,

 

“Is that… a dollhouse?”

 

“What? No! It’s Madeline’s office!”

 

“Madeline?” Rudyard sighed and pointed down into the miniature scene towards the desk, where a small mouse sat wearing wire rimmed spectacles. 

 

“Yes, Madeline. She needed somewhere to work on her book.” Chapman blinked at him.

 

“Sorry… her book?”

 

“Yes, she’s working on a compendium of bedtime stories with actionable lessons for children. They’re quite good I must say, if a bit grim.”

 

“Is she cursed?” Rudyard looked quite thoroughly offended, and Madeline squeaked peevishly at him from her desk.

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“I, the mouse... Madeline, is she cursed? Or transformed? Ensorcelled?”

 

“What is it with you and thinking everyone’s been charmed? No, there’s nothing wrong with Madeline. And don’t start trying to ‘save’ her either!”

 

“But she can write...?”

 

“Yes, it’s not as unique a skill as humans seem to think. Not all mice are illiterate, you know!” 

 

Chapman looked thoroughly chagrined, if confused.

 

“I just thought, she has glasses-”

 

“Yes, I made them for her. She’d been squinting at the pages in a way that frankly couldn’t be comfortable.”

 

“You made them? Really?” Rudyard bristled.

 

“Yes, I did." 

 

“That’s quite impressive, they’re very delicate.” 

 

“Oh, um, well yes, I suppose-” Chapman had begun to look amazed, and Rudyard shrank a bit under the unexpected praise.

 

“And they actually function as glasses?” 

 

“Yes, obviously, there wouldn’t be much point otherwise, would there?"

 

"That's amazing!" 

 

"I guess, but honestly the miniature desk set was much trickier.”

 

“You made all the furniture too?”

 

“Well yes, of course, where else would it have come from?” Chapman shrugged. 

 

“I just assumed Georgie picked up some doll furniture for you.” Rudyard looked offended at the mere thought.

 

“Absolutely not, the common sort never takes into account actual functionality!” And with that he was off, explaining in detail the intricacies of building a fully functioning miniature home. Chapman chimed in occasionally with suggestions based on various decorative styles he’d seen on his travels, but for the most part just listened quietly with a small smile on his face.

 

Most of the afternoon passed this way without Rudyard realizing, until Chapman looked out the window at the lengthening shadows and said with a note of regret that he should probably be going if he was to make it back before nightfall. 

 

He hesitated for a moment as he started to make his way out the window, hands clinging to the sturdy vines there.

 

“Could I maybe come back?” Rudyard drew a breath, but Chapman cut him off before he could speak, “Not as- I don’t mean that as a threat! I mean, not to take Antigone or Georgie anywhere against their wishes. Just to… chat.”

 

Rudyard blinked at him. Chapman began to fidget, face a bit red from hanging off the tower.

 

“I mean, you needn’t-”

 

“You promise you’ll leave Georgie and Antigone alone?” Chapman nodded vigorously, helmet clanking a bit with the motion.

 

“Yes, by my Oath, they will have nothing to fear from me.” Rudyard considered it for another long moment, before nodding once.

 

“Yes, alright then. If you’d like.”

 

Chapman’s answering smile left Rudyard a bit blinded, even long after he’d ridden away.