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To Be Proper

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In the deepest, darkest part of the Piffling Forest lay a tower built of cracked and faded stone, wrapped in a thick layer of dark, woody vines. It rose high above the forest floor, up into the trees, and always looked one stiff wind away from collapsing entirely. And yet, it had stood, for years it had stood, and kept our heroes safe within. Rudyard and Antigone, erstwhile children of the former King and Queen of Piffling Vale, spent their days within contemplating their fate and trying not to go completely spare.

 

Ever since they had taken up residence in the tower there had been the occasional handsome prince, knight, or other hero who found his way there and declared his intentions to rescue "the most beauteous Princess Antigone, cruelly trapped in this dark place by dark magics." 

 

Each and every one, however, upon catching sight of the princess he had supposedly come to rescue, suddenly developed a large quantity of stuttered explanations as to the other places he had to be right that second, immediately. 

 

Each and every one then rode swiftly away, as Rudyard screamed profanities and castigations after them about all the ways in which they were a disappointment and failure.

 

So it was that the twins were left mostly to their own devices. That is, until the fateful day when one Georgie Crusoe entered their woods.

 

-

 

Antigone was staring listlessly out the window, as she was wont to do when she felt, deep down, that if she didn’t look somewhere without Rudyard, she would scream. He was, of course, still prattling on, but his words were addressed more to Madeleine, and she could tune him out with relative ease. The forest stretched out in front of her, dark and comforting. Nothing could reach her through those trees, she could be left in peace. Or, at least she could if Rudyard would simply Shut. Up. Just as she was about to turn to snap at him she spotted a flicker of color at the edge of the trees. Color? In the forest? Antigone stared with fascination at the spot where she swore she’d seen- Yes! There it was again! A flicker of orange, right at the edge of the trees. She leaned further out the window, straining to make out the shape. 

 

A young woman cautiously made her way out of the trees, clearly looking around, almost as if she was scared to be followed. When she saw nothing, she let out a sigh, and glanced towards the tower. When her eyes fell upon it, however, she stopped dead and stared. Her eyes made their way up the tower, before finally landing on Antigone. 

 

“Hey! Can I come in?” 

 

The young woman tilted her head up towards Antigone, and she was caught again by how lovely she was, with fiery red hair, brown skin, and the sort of easy presence that had always eluded Antigone.

 

“Well, can I come up?”

 

“Oh! Well, oh, um, yes, very much so! But, I don’t know how you’re going to get up here. It’s rather high, you can see, and I refuse to let my hair get that long, regardless of how much it may be the done thing.”

 

“Nah, don’t need it. I’m great at climbing towers.”

 

And indeed she was, quickly scaling the tower with the sort of casual grace and skill that gave Antigone just a bit of trouble breathing. 

 

Probably a sympathy reaction from how close she is to all that nature.

 

The woman at last pulled herself through the window, and grinned at Antigone. This much closer, Antigone realised she was about her age, with a spattering of freckles across her nose, and eyes as bright as her smile.

 

“Thanks for letting me up, you wouldn’t believe how stubborn knights can be. When they get an idea in their heads it's near impossible to get them to let it go without a firm kicking. I’m Georgie, by the way.”

 

“Uh, Antigone. That is, I’m Antigone, Princess Antigone of Piffling Vale.”

 

“Antigone, are you listening to me- Ahh!! A person, there’s a person, why is there a person here!?! Antigone?!?”

 

Antigone heaved a put upon sigh.

 

“-and this is my brother, Rudyard. And if you yourself had been listening, brother dear, you’d have heard her calling out down there. And coming up. And introducing herself.”

 

“Hey,” Georgie nodded at them both “Sorry to barge in on you, but there’s this knight who just won’t leave me alone. He’s got in his head to rescue me, even though I’ve told him that I don’t like him, and he really shouldn’t bother.”

 

“What does that have to do with us,” Rudyard burst out “Can’t he just climb right up here after you and start bothering us too?!?”

 

“Nah, he shouldn’t. I’m pretty sure I lost him, I just wanted somewhere to hide and make sure. Is it alright if I stay here? Just for a little while? I swear, I’m dead helpful.”

 

Antigone rushed to answer before Rudyard had the chance to speak.

 

“Of course. I mean, yes, certainly, you can absolutely stay here, happy to have you, in fact!” 

 

Rudyard opened his mouth to protest, but Antigone shot him a dark look, and he resignedly shut it again.

 

“Here, we’ve got a spare room, always meant to use it for something, never got around to it, too much light in there for me, you know! Let me show you.” Antigone turned and walked quickly towards the room they mostly used for storage. Given they hadn’t brought much with them to store, there was actually plenty of room for her.

 

“Uh, here you are. There’s, um, not much in here, let me know if you need something, move anything around you’d like.”

 

“Nah, this should be great.” Georgie looked around, spotting a branch of candles on the wall. She headed over to them, raising her hand and summoning a small fire in her palm. Antigone started.

 

“You can do magic?” Georgie looked back at her. 

 

“Yeah, I’m a fire witch. The hair didn’t give it away?” Antigone shook her head, bemused.

 

“No. Why, should it?”

 

“I mean, do you know what a fire witch is?” Antigone shook her head again. “Oh, well basically you’re born a fire witch or you’re not, it gives you natural immunity to fire, most magics, and gives you an easier time with magic in general, especially ones that have to do with fire.”

 

“Really? That’s fascinating! I never had the opportunity to learn much about magic.” Georgie smiled turning, back to light the candles and continue looking around the room.

 

“Well I can try and teach you some of what I know, if you like.”

 

“That would be amazing!” Antigone moved closer in an attempt to help go through the slight clutter.

 

Upon nearing Georgie, Antigone realised that her jacket and trousers were oddly fancy. In fact, her shirt almost appeared to be made from… no… it couldn’t be. Georgie noticed her gaze and grinned. 

 

“I needed something that was actually functional to travel in a hurry, so I took apart a gown. The shirt’s from one of the petticoats. I’m great at tailoring.”

 

Antigone nodded, dumbfounded. 

 

“Let me know if you need something fixed, it’s the least I can do as thanks for letting me stay.” Antigone glanced down at her worn black dress. All of her clothes had been quite loose on her when they’d first come here. By now they were not only rather snug, but threadbare from years of wear. 

 

“Do you… do you think if we could find you some fabric or other you might be able to make- um, you don’t have to, of course...” Antigone looked away, words trailing off. Georgie smiled at her softly. 

 

“Make what? You want a new dress?” Antigone hesitantly nodded, something like hope in her eyes. “I can do that. Do you have any spare sheets?”

 

“Yes! I mean, yes, we do, actually, plenty. But I was never any good in my sewing lessons, and Rudyard’s best at crafting furniture for mice,” Georgie looked slightly bemused, heading over to where Antigone had gestured to the spare linens. “I’ll, I’ll just leave you alone to get settled in then. Come find me if you need anything. Goodbye!”

 

Antigone rushed out of the room, closing the door quickly behind her before heading back to the central room. Rudyard stood there glaring at her.

 

“Now see here, what do you think you’re doing, who said she can stay here?”

 

“Me! I say so, Rudyard! I want her here.”

 

“You only just met her, what can you know?”

 

“Rudyard, I know that she is the only person who’s shown up here in 18 years that hasn’t run away at first sight of me, we are letting. Her. Stay.” And with that, he deflated. 

 

“Yes, alright, that’s fine then.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes, really. I’m not just going to send her away if you like her. And this is your home too, I suppose,” Antigone hugged him then, shocking them both. After a moment Rudyard patted her awkwardly on the shoulder “Ah, yes, um, you’re welcome, Antigone.”

Chapter Text

Dinner was provided that night, as it was every night, by a small garden and pool of water that had been magicked to replenish. The meal was somewhat strained until Georgie started telling stories that had even Rudyard smiling and trying not to laugh. Once it was done, however, Rudyard coughed slightly, and looked over at their guest. 

 

“Um, why exactly did you come here?” Antigone shot Rudyard a glare. He rolled his eyes and gestured her off. “I just meant, I was wondering if you could tell us more about how exactly you ended up at our tower. You mentioned a knight?”

 

Georgie nodded and tilted back in her chair. 

 

“Yeah, seems fair. I am staying in your home, after all.” And with that she began her tale.

 

Georgie, it seemed, had grown up with her grandmother in a cottage at the edge of a different enchanted forest. The old woman had also been a fire witch, and had taught her everything she knew. It was clear from the way she talked about her that Georgie loved and missed her fiercely. 

 

Unfortunately, as she got older, the people of the nearby village began to take more and more notice of the tiny cottage by the woods. Specifically the young men started getting underfoot, showing up to try and woo her in whatever ways they could. They got in the way of her chores, sang ballads outside her window at all times of night, and made general nuisances of themselves, no matter how many times she made it clear she wasn’t interested. 

 

The last straw was when rumors began to circulate that she was being ‘held captive by a hideous old witch at the edge of the woods’ and she started worrying something would happen to her grandmother if she stayed. So she decided to try her luck as an adventurer, hoping things might die down and she could return. She left her Nana with some money, and instructions to leave the area and come find her if the village didn’t calm down, and headed off to see the world. 

 

This had been going quite well for some years, she had ranged throughout the countryside, taking odd jobs and performing goods deeds. Occasionally a prince or hero would take a shine to her and make life difficult for a while, but that could usually be dealt with if she just ran far enough away. Eventually she came to Piffling Vale, and had been picking up work there for quite some time. 

 

One day a new knight came to the village, and though she was initially hesitant, he seemed more reasonable than the others she had met in the past. Because of this she accepted a few of his offers to spend time together. That was, until she found herself facing off against the giant who had come to sack the village. Partway through her attempt to explain that they weren’t scheduled for a pillaging for another month, at least, the knight attacked, not listening to her protests until he’d defeated the poor, confused giant. 

 

This turned out to be just the beginning. Any time she was called upon to defend herself or those around her, the knight would jump in, ruining everything, but increasingly winning the favor of the townspeople. Georgie, however, got increasingly frustrated as her protestations that she was great at rescuing herself, thanks, were firmly ignored. 

 

It all became too much when the town held it’s yearly ball, at which her ‘rescuer’ proposed to her in front of everyone. She had given him a firm dressing down, but when even this had no effect she fled, barely pausing to grab any of her things before escaping into the forest. It was comfortingly similar to the woods she’d grown up by, following the same rules and logic she’d known since she was a child. She was able to pass a good amount of time exploring the magical corners of the forest and helping any travellers she found lost in the woods. 

 

Eventually, though, the knight appeared, convinced that he had to rescue her from the forest so they could be properly married. She escaped him, but a few weeks later he found her again. This continued until she realized that she either needed to leave the forest and run, or find somewhere to hide until the stubborn git gave up. She had been heading for the far edge of the forest when she’d stumbled across the tower.

 

“I’d never seen it before, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to this area a bunch of times, so I figure that must mean the Forest wanted me to find you.” Rudyard and Antigone shared a look.

 

“If the forest can control who shows up here, I’m a bit concerned with its taste,” Georgie looked offended and Rudyard actually hurried to correct himself. “I wasn’t referring to you, I meant all the useless knights that have shown up over the years.” Georgie seemed mollified, and turned curiously to Antigone.

 

“So, can I ask how you two even ended up here?” Antigone looked over to Rudyard, who sighed, and shrugged as if to say Go on. 

 

“It was the only option they had left, I think. We’d mucked up every other way they tried to teach us to be proper. I was too unsettling, and he was far too...Rudyard. So one night they told us to pack, and the next day we woke up here. This way we can be kept out of the way until I can be fobbed off on a suitable prince or hero.” Georgie blinked at her.

 

“What, just like that? No warning, no nothing, just off to a tower in the woods?” Antigone looked down at her hands, twisting them slightly in her lap. Rudyard shrugged.

 

“Well, yes. It was a suitable solution for Antigone, getting locked up in towers is a common enough predicament for princesses, and one that almost guarantees a decent match. I just got roped into it because they hated me.”

 

“Well, I’m sorry I got you trapped here with me!”

 

“Piss off, you know that’s not what I meant. It’s not as if I liked them either.”

 

“Who’s they?” Georgie interrupted. The twins looked at each other, then back to her and began listing.

 

“Mother”

 

“Father”

 

“The castle”

 

“The village”

 

“Most everyone who knew us, really” Georgie’s face had grown more and more thunderous as they spoke.

 

“Everyone? Your parents ?” The siblings shrugged.

 

“...Yes?”

 

“What the hell?” Antigone looked at her sagely.

 

“Don’t worry, you haven’t been here long. Once you spend more time with us, you’ll understand, I’m sure.”

 

“No, I bloody well won’t!” The looks on their faces made it clear they didn’t believe her. After that, Rudyard excused himself to bed, and Georgie and Antigone soon followed. They all lay awake for some time. This, it seemed, would take some adjustment.

Chapter Text

Life in the tower settled into a new routine with the latest addition, it’s three occupants learning how to comfortably cohabitate. The quiet existence they fell into was occasionally broken up by the twins convincing Georgie to share stories of her adventures in the wider world. They had mostly accepted their lot in life, but that didn’t stop them from listening in awe to her tales of travel and daring-do.

 

One day a few weeks after her arrival, she stuck her head into the central room, where Antigone sat staring out the window. 

 

“Hey, Antigone.”

 

“Oh! Hello, Georgie.”

 

“Wanna see something cool?” Antigone glanced down at the book she had intended to reread. She had found it in the tower shortly after being brought there, an innocuous romance thriller presumably dropped by one of the villagers. By this point the binding barely held together and the pages were always on the verge of falling out, but it was a comfort nonetheless, the words well worn friends. Today, however, she wasn’t making much progress and the comforting story failed to grab her.

 

“I.. um, do I have to go outside?”

 

“Oh no, no. Don’t worry, it’s dead easy.”

 

“Ah. Well, then alright, yes, certainly.” Antigone stood up from her seat, gladly abandoning her attempts.

 

Georgie gestured her over to a dark corner she’d never paid much attention to, other than to melt into it. Then she looked back to Antigone, grinned, and reached forward to yank at a sconce on the wall. The fixture pulled forward, and Antigone had barely a moment to worry about the tower breaking apart more than usual before the wall followed it, swinging open to reveal a darkened stairway. She gasped, peering into the dim space with astonishment.

 

“What is this? How did you know this was here?” Georgie moved forward, conjuring a small ball of fire in her hand to illuminate the dark space. 

 

“Okay, so, I’ve been exploring the tower when I’m bored. I was actually looking for a way up to the roof, but I wasn’t having any luck, so I started thinking, you two said you didn’t know how you got up here, and I kind of doubted anybody hoisted you all the way up to the window, so I figured, there must have been a staircase or something. So, I started poking around lower, and boom! Secret staircase. It goes all the way to the ground which’ll come in handy, but I also found this!” Georgie had been leading her down the staircase, and with that, she pushed open a small door on the landing. 

 

Antigone peered in, and there, by the light of Georgie’s magic, was the most wonderful room she’d ever seen. It had no windows, but a series of nooks and alcoves ringing a small central table and a few chairs. There was an occasional shelf built into the walls, and she could spy a few books strewn haphazardly about. She spun slowly to take in the entire dingy space. 

 

“This is… amazing. Georgie, this is absolutely incredible!” 

 

“Yeah, dead cool, right?” Antigone nodded, breathless, as she moved over to look at the books. They were more romance novels, but most importantly, they were new. New words she hadn’t read hundreds of times, new stories to experience. And in here, she could be well and truly alone. No one would be able to find her except perhaps Georgie, but she found herself not minding that all too much. 

 

“I can’t believe this has been here all this time and we had no idea. You said a staircase? And we never even thought to look.” Antigone shook her head, mouth twisting at the thought of their foolishness. Really it should have been obvious that the tower had to have had a staircase at some point. 

 

Georgie moved over to her, and gently rested a hand on her arm.

 

“Hey, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes things need a new pair of eyes, and there’s no shame in that. Nothing to be done about it now.” She felt her expression softening, as she gazed into Georgie’s eyes. They were now a deep brown, lit only by the flickering of the conjured flame.

 

“Thank you Georgie. Truly, thank you. For everything.” Gerogie laughed, eyes crinkling up at the edges.

 

“I didn't even really do much, just found a door.”

 

“No, not for that, although, yes, for that. But for all of it. For coming here, and for not running away the moment you saw me, and for staying, and-” Georgie stopped her.

 

“You don’t have to thank me for any of that. You shouldn’t have to thank me for any of that. I’m just glad you let me stay here when I asked. Dunno what I’d have done if you said no.” Antigone huffed a laugh, and glanced down before meeting her eyes, and smiling softly.

 

“I never would have said no. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to us. So even if you don’t want to hear it, really, Georgie, thank you. For everything.”

Chapter Text

Georgie had been living with them for several months when they started to notice the magic garden that had previously grown food with regularity beginning to slow. The replenishing pool of water, too, was filling less quickly after use. The twins had begun to share dark looks and Georgie was looking at them more and more with poorly hidden concern.

 

Finally, after a few weeks of steadily decreasing supplies she sat down to a disappointing breakfast of wizened carrots and announced.

 

“Alright, this is getting ridiculous. I’m gonna head out tomorrow morning” Antigone’s heart sank. Of course, why should she stay? There was no food, and surely that knight had given up on her by now, what was there to keep her here? But Georgie went on. “I’m sure I can scavenge something, there’s plenty of game in the woods, and if all else fails, I’ll just go to the market. I’m great at disguises, and I had some money with me when I came. I should be able to get enough to last all of us for awhile.”

 

Antigone and Rudyard both looked up in shock

 

“All of us?”

 

“You’re coming back?”

 

“What?” Georgie looked shocked “Yeah, of course I’m coming back. You thought I was just going to leave you here to starve?”

 

The twins both looked away, but not before it became clear that, yes, that was exactly what they’d thought. Georgie sighed. 

 

“Look, I’m not leaving you like that. You’re my friends, and even if you weren’t, that would be a real dick move. But someone’s got to get us some food, and I’m the best one to do that. There should be enough to last another couple days, but I don’t trust this place not to run completely out of food soon. I’ll be back in  a few days, I swear.”

 

And so it was that the next day, the twins watched Georgie climb down the tower and walk off into the woods, pausing at the edge of their clearing to wave back at them before disappearing into the trees. They both stared out at where she’d stood for a few moments before turning back in. Silence settled over them as they stared around their home. Somehow with the loss of one person, it felt smaller than it ever had before. They caught each other's eyes for a moment, then both turned away to their own private corners of the place.

 

Time passed slowly with Georgie gone, quiet and fraught with worry. Despite her reassurances, neither of them could quite believe that they’d ever see her again.

 

So it was that when Antigone spied Georgie making her way out of the woods carrying several loaded packs, she very nearly broke down into tears.

 

“Rudyard. Rudyard! She’s back!!”

 

“Well of course she is.” Despite his casual assurance, they could both hear the relief in his voice.

 

Georgie pulled herself through the window, grinning.

 

“Miss me?”

 

“Yes, I suppose.”

 

“Oh shut up, Rudyard, of course you did. We both did,” Rudyard looked sheepish. “We’re so glad you’re back.”

 

-

 

Along with the food and supplies she’d brought in her packs, Georgie pulled out a few books. Antigone looked at them with interest, as Rudyard went through the food, holding out some cheese to Madeleine. 

 

“What are these?”

 

“Oh,” Georgie glanced over at what Antigone was holding “They’re books on magic. I stopped by a bookstore in town and saw they had a small magic section. When I started flipping through them I saw some stuff that looks like theory I can turn into a spell to fix the pantry.”

 

“Really?” Antigone looked back at the books she was holding. She’d never had the opportunity to study much magic, spending most of her time in either lessons or trying to find out more information about anatomy. “You think you could?” 

 

Georgie grinned, “Oh yeah, I’m great at practical applications of magical theory.” 

 

-

 

Georgie was indeed great at practical application of magical theory, but even she needed time and more information to work out such a finicky spell. Another few months passed, with Georgie regularly setting out to fetch more food, and locate increasingly obscure books on sorcery. It became a common sight to find her sitting on Rudyard’s favorite floor, books and papers covered in notes scattered around her.

 

It was one such day, Georgie on the floor, Rudyard over in a corner talking to Madeleine, and Antigone down in her new rooms, flipping through the new books on anatomy she had gotten from the last trip. It was shaping up to be a wonderfully peaceful day, at least until a shout from outside shattered the calm silence. 

 

“What ho! Fair Princess, I come to rescue you from your internment in this most horrid place!” Rudyard and Georgie started, then looked at each other. 

 

“Damn. It’s been ages since a hero’s come by. I’d rather hoped we were done with them.” Rudyard looked darkly towards the window. 

 

“There haven’t been any since I’ve been here, how often do you usually get them?”

 

“One a month at the beginning, then it settled into every couple of months. For the past couple of years, though, there’s only been two all told.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be a little bit more bummed that no one’s trying to rescue either of you any more?” Georgie had to raise her voice a little, to speak over the continued heroic waffling coming from outside the tower.

 

“No, they just make things worse,” Rudyard glowered, remembering. “All of them just get one look at Antigone and leave, the shallow bastards. And none of them ever even know I’m here. We don’t need them, we’re better off up here anyway.”

 

“Oh. Pricks. I’ll tell this one to fuck off, then, shall I?”

 

“What’s going on?” Antigone appeared directly next to Rudyard, making him jump and whirl.

 

“There’s a hero outside.” Georgie answered before Rudyard could get started about having been frightened. Antigone’s shoulders sank 

 

“Oh. I’ll just go look at him, then.” With that, she started to the window, the others hurrying to follow right behind her. 

 

“You don’t have to if you don’t want,” Georgie said quickly. “I can just tell him to piss off, whoever he is.”

 

Antigone looked over at her with a small smile. 

 

“Thank you, Georgie. I appreciate the offer, but honestly if you go to the window, he’ll just end up sticking around for longer.” Georgie shrugged, and started trying to crane her neck to get a look of the knight without him seeing her.

 

Antigone stepped up to the window.

 

“Hello, Sir Knight, I thank you for coming, but…” she trailed off. After a few moments the knight’s voice sounded again from down below. 

 

“But’ what, Princess?” she looked back into the tower with a panicked expression.

 

“What’s wrong?” Georgie asked. Antigone just looked even more spooked.

 

“He’s still there! None of them have ever stuck around for this long, I never need more of a script than that. What do I say?” Georgie frowned at her

 

“Right, we’re gonna come back round to that, but for now, uh, I guess just tell him to fuck off?” 

 

“Right! Right , yes, I can do that,” She turned back to the window and the knight below. “But I really think you should just please leave, thank you. My brother and I are perfectly content here, we don’t want to go with you.”

 

The knight looked confused. But before he could say something else, Georgie finally got a good look at him and startled backwards. 

 

“Shut the window. Don’t bother arguing with that one, just close the window and ignore him.” Rudyard didn’t need to be told twice. He reached over and slammed the window shut, before turning away and dusting his hands. 

 

“Not that I don’t approve, but why the sudden heel turn?” Georgie huffed and glared towards the window, through which the knight’s yells could still somewhat be heard.

 

“Remember that knight that proposed to me, followed me into the forest, and won’t leave me alone?” A look of comprehension dawned on the twins’ faces.

 

That’s the knight?”

 

Him ?”

 

“The very same.” Antigone glared at the window, then nodded. 

 

“Well then, I certainly don’t want him rescuing me.” 

 

“If that’s solved then I’m going to go back and continue my discussion with Madeleine.” Rudyard started back towards his hastily abandoned corner.

 

Once he had gone Antigone lightly touched Georgie’s elbow, drawing her attention.

 

“Are you alright?” Georgie thought for a moment, then nodded.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. He doesn’t seem to know I’m here, so I should be fine long as I stay out of view. I should be checking in with you .” Antigone shrugged, looking quickly away.

 

“I’m fine, of course I’m fine.”

 

“Are you sure? You seem a bit off.” Antigone nodded quickly. 

 

“Yes, no, shut up, I’m perfectly alright. Now I’ll just be going back to my study, thank you.” She rushed back towards the stairs, leaving Georgie standing in the central room with the knight's faint shouts still echoing from outside.

Chapter Text

Rudyard awoke before the others in the tower the next day, and started to their small kitchen to try and pull together some breakfast from the supplies Georgie had brought on her last run. He was fairly well along in the process when he thought to open the shutters for a bit more light, and suddenly remembered why they were closed in the first place. 

 

Surely the knight couldn’t still be there? Few could stay safely overnight in the Piffling Forest. It was a testament to Georgie’s magical skill and general level of competence that she’d survived for as long as she had. 

 

Rudyard peered down to the base of the tower where, lo and behold, the knight still sat, leaning against the base of the tower. He spotted Rudyard and beamed. 

 

“Good morning! How was your night? Sleep well? You must be Princess Antigone’s brother! She mentioned-”

 

“How are you not dead?” Rudyard scowled down at the blond nuisance.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“I said, how are you not dead?! You spent the night, alone, unsheltered in Piffling Forest,” he sputtered “You should at least be a little bit maimed!”

 

He laughed, causing Rudyard to bristle. Clearly this knight was an idiot who couldn’t take a hint or recognize danger when it was staring him in the face.

 

“I do know how to use my sword, you know. It’s not as if I was completely undefended. And besides, most everything in the forest just comes down to knowing the proper rules to follow.”

 

Rudyard’s scowl grew darker still, and he had just opened his mouth to reply, when a scathing voice came from behind him.

 

“Oh, for pity's sake, is he still out there? Persistent bastard, you’d think having one girl run away from him into the woods would have given him a clue.” Georgie walked up beside him, and carefully peered down to where the knight appeared to still be talking.

 

“-And in all honesty, I didn’t even see anything particularly threatening. Certainly nothing like what I’ve come to expect in this forest, especially given how deep in it we are. I theorize that they might avoid this tower for some reason. You wouldn’t happen to know, would you?” 

 

Georgie pulled back as Chapman looked up, keeping out of his line of sight. Unfortunately, Antigone chose that moment to walk in and join them at the window, staring down at their unwanted guest. The knight caught sight of her and his face pulled unnaturally quickly into the wide, charming smile he’d sported the day before.

 

“Fair Princess Antigone! You have graced me with your beautiful presence, and for this I am most deeply honored!”

 

Rudyard rolled his eyes, and leaned against the windowsill. If the knight maintained the level of stubbornness Georgie had described, they were in for a long day, and he might as well get comfortable.

 

“I- oh, yes, hello again, I- I- please could you just go away?” Antigone flushed, and glanced back at Georgie, who was standing just out of view glaring daggers down at the knight. The knight’s brow wrinkled in confusion, before clearing.

 

“But I can’t leave without you, Princess! It just wouldn’t be proper. Will you throw down your hair so that I might rescue you?” He paused for a moment, adding seemingly as an afterthought “And your brother too, of course.” 

 

Rudyard snorted as Antigone looked skeptically down at her hair. It fell barely halfway down her back. The moment their hair had started to become a nuisance, the twins had looked at each other, looked out of the tower, and gone to find some scissors. Proper or not, there was no reason to let things get that far. Since then they’d kept their hair religiously trimmed. 

 

“No, I don’t think that will be possible. Thank you, but you had better just leave, goodbye.” With that Antigone turned away from the window and started back into the depths of the tower. Rudyard found himself laughing at the put out expression on the knight’s face as he stared at where Antigone had just disappeared. 

 

“Oh well, you tried, thank you very much, sir knight-”

 

“Chapman. I am Sir Eric Chapman of-”

 

“Yes, thank you ever so, Sir Chapman, you’ve done your best, looks like you’d better head back to the village and let them know they can leave us alone for the next 20 years. Goodbye!” Rudyard gave a brusque wave to the blond annoyance, before turning slightly to the woman next to him. “Georgie?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“If he keeps hanging around, feel free to throw whatever spells you like at him.” She turned back towards the window with an evil grin, hands already raised.

 

“With pleasure.” Chapman’s loud declarations started back up, until Georgie made a complicated gesture and he was cut off by a loud splash as a gallon of water appeared just above his head. Rudyard snorted at the sight of Chapman, shocked and dripping at the base of the tower. 

 

“Better get going before you rust, Chapman.” Rudyard called.

 

 Georgie gestured once more and another splash could be heard as he pulled the shutters closed. They shared a look before bursting into laughter.

 

Chapman did eventually clank away, dripping. But he was back later the same week, yelling at the bottom of the tower. Nothing any of them did seemed to have any effect on the ceaselessly optimistic knight, and life in the tower was getting increasingly strained.

 

-

 

Ever since Chapman had started coming around, Georgie had been spending more and more time out of sight. Antigone was getting a bit concerned. Not that Georgie couldn’t go wherever she wanted to, of course! It was just that she didn’t want her to have to hide away just so some stupid knight wouldn’t realize she was there. And maybe she missed Georgie a bit. She’d gotten used to the other woman being around, and appreciated having someone other than Rudyard to talk for the first time in years.

 

And yes, she supposed now there was Chapman, but he didn’t really count. Talking to him was nothing like a conversation and everything like yelling down at a brick that refused to leave you alone. 

 

Finally she decided that something simply must be done. The next time Chapman came around, she would be waiting for him. That way she could properly explain to him that he needed to leave them alone, and everyone could just move on with their lives.

 

-

 

Sir Eric Chapman, currently of Piffling Vale, was on his way back to the hidden tower in the depths of Piffling Forest. He could admit that his previous attempts to help the poor lonely Princess trapped there (and her brother too) had not yet gone to plan, but he was sure that this time he would prevail!

 

Yes, this would be the time that he could finally rescue the fair maiden and return to the village for good. His stomach sank a bit as he grew closer to his destination, and he prepared himself for his heroic entrance.

 

He approached the clearing, resplendent on his steed, only to pull up short. For there, waiting demurely at the base of the fearsome tower was the object of his intentions.

 

“Princess! What a lovely surprise! You’re ready to go, then?” But the Princess was already shaking her head. 

 

“Look, you need to leave. As in, you need to please stop coming back here. I don’t want to be rescued, and you’re wasting everyone’s time by trying. So if you could just go back and leave us alone, that would be perfect! Oh, and tell anyone else who might get it in their head to try that they really shouldn’t bother!” Eric blinked at her, shocked.

 

“But.. I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be at all proper.” Something bitter passed across her face. 

 

“I don’t care if it’s proper ,” she wailed “that doesn't matter! I just want you to go away, you're making everything worse.” Well now he was even more confused.

 

“What do you mean worse , I’m trying to rescue you!”

 

“Yes, I know, and I don’t want you to! So please .” Maybe he wasn’t expressing himself properly. He slowed his words and enunciated them more clearly. 

 

“I have come here to rescue you. I can’t just leave without you, Princess.” 

 

“But why not?!” 

 

“Well that’s just not how things are done.” The Princess’ face twisted with rage.

 

“I don’t care! I don’t care if it’s not how things are done! Why can’t you just get it through your thick head to leave me and my family alone!!” 

 

“I’ve said before we can take your brother with us-”

 

“Oi! Piss off Eric!” He started and spun towards the source of the new voice. It couldn’t be... 

 

“Georgie?!”

Chapter Text

Georgie had been working in one of the hidden rooms when she heard someone making their way cautiously down the stairs. Curious, she waited a moment before peering out and carefully following after who she realized was Antigone. 

 

What was she doing going down here? Antigone usually only went as far as her small workshop, never venturing any further than necessary. But now she was heading right towards...the door? 

 

What was she doing? It was too close to the time Eric usually showed up for her to go wandering about outside. Was she planning to leave with him? Finally take him up on his offer of rescue?

 

Her heart clenched in her chest and she shook her head to rid herself of such thoughts. She reached the door a few moments after Antigone had ventured outside, where Georgie watched her sit down on a rock and proceed to wait there patiently. It seemed like she was looking to talk to Eric.

 

But before she could act on her conclusion, burst from the stairway and demand answers, lo and behold, up rode the stubborn git in question. She hung back in the stairway, trapped in the hidden doorway lest she give away its presence. From there, she heard Antigone’s futile attempts to convince him to leave them alone. 

 

Her heart sank. It wasn’t going to work. Eric was far too convinced of his heroics to ever see the damage he was doing. If Antigone wasn’t careful, he might very well resort to ‘rescuing’ her against her will. But it was when she screamed at him to leave her and Rudyard alone that Georgie finally couldn’t take it anymore.

 

“Oi! Piss off, Eric!” He turned to her, bafflement clear on his face.

 

“Georgie?!”

 

“She told you she’s not interested in you, so for once in your life could you just take the hint!!!” He was still gaping at her, clearly not registering anything she’d said. Finally he seemed to gather together enough thoughts to speak.

 

“Is this where you’ve been all this time? I’ve been worried sick! I thought you were dead, what the hell are you playing at? The Piffling Forest is no place to mess about.” Georgie felt her rage building and her hair burst into flames, but at this point she was past caring

 

“What am I playing at? What the hell are you playing at? I wouldn’t even be out here if you hadn’t chased me out of town, and now you’re here harassing someone else!” Chapman rocked back as though he’d been hit.

 

“Chased you out of- What on Earth are you even talking about?!”

 

“You wouldn’t leave me be. You never left me alone! I didn’t need your help, Eric! I still don’t, but you’re so wrapped up in yourself that you never, not for one second, thought to consider that maybe some people won’t fit perfectly into the story you’re forcing them into. I don’t want or need you, and neither does she!!” Georgie stood there, chest heaving, hair crackling around her face as she glared at him.

 

“I… what?” And just like that, all her anger, her frustration, drained out of her and she was just…empty. She could feel her hair returning to normal, curls hitting her shoulders. Chapman looked so shocked and lost and... small, as though he had never once had cause to think about his actions before. Just then all she wanted was to collapse somewhere and forget the world.

 

“Just... go, would you?” She turned towards Antigone and slumped against the other woman’s shoulder, exhausted beyond words. She didn’t see the concern in her eyes as she looked down at her or the fierce glare she leveled at Chapman, but she did hear the clinking of his armor a few minutes later as he rode away. She sighed, turning her head slightly to speak.

 

“Can we just go back in, please?” She looked up to see Antigone nodding quickly.

 

“Yes, yes of course we can. Are you alright?”  Georgie sighed.

 

“I don’t know. I’ve been wanting to say that for... awhile, but I can’t even tell if it’ll even do anything. I just… I... I want to be able to live without always looking over my shoulder for the next person who just wants me without actually caring about me , or what I want.” 

 

-

 

Antigone paused in guiding them back to the hidden staircase and hesitated for a moment before wrapping her in a tentative hug. She responded quickly, arms tightening around her waist. Her mind snagged for a moment on the comforting feeling of Georgie in her arms, but she quickly shook it off. This was about Georgie, not the fluttering in her stomach.

 

“I’m sorry, I wish this wasn’t happening to you. You should feel safe here. I thought maybe if I just talked to him I could convince him I didn’t want to be rescued. Then he’d leave, and you wouldn’t have to hide all the time.” Georgie sighed and shook her head slightly. 

 

“I haven’t been hiding from Eric. Or, I mean, I have, but that’s not the whole reason I’ve not been around much lately. Can I show you something?” 

 

“Yes, of course.” Georgie hesitated for a moment before pulling her up the stairs, heading for the hallway across from her room.

 

“I don’t know why it took me so long to find, it was way more obvious than the other one but, here.”  She ran her fingers deftly along the joint of the ceiling as she spoke, pressing down when she found what she was looking for then moving aside as a trapdoor swung downward to reveal a bright square of sunlight. She hoisted herself up, then turned around to offer Antigone a hand. 

 

“Come up? I wanna show you what I’ve been doing lately.” Antigone nodded, having trouble forming words. The sunlight was shining through Georgie’s hair as she stood silhouetted in the gap, and when she grasped her hand it was warm and calloused. She felt her stomach swoop as Georgie effortlessly pulled her up. She steadied her briefly, hand firm on her shoulder, before letting go and gesturing around them. 

 

Antigone reluctantly pushed away the stuttering in her chest before looking around. She expected a steep shod roof, ill-used and in disrepair. Instead, beneath her feet there was a flat wooden structure supported by the roof and several of the sturdier vines.

 

“I wanted to actually be able to spend time out here without worrying about anyone breaking their necks. And I’m great at carpentry, but it still took a bit of time to get everything together. So I’ve been doing this whenever Chapman shows up, yeah, but also just when it’s nice enough out. It’s a good place to tinker with spells.” 

 

“Georgie, this is incredible! I can’t believe you did all this, where did you get the supplies?

 

“Eh, found some trees in decent shape, bit of unused furniture. Wasn’t too hard.” Antigone was still in awe, spinning slowly to take in the view of it all. Sure, she’d known these woods for the majority of her life now, but to see them from the open air was something new. 

 

Georgie headed over to the edge and sat, legs dangling into the air. She beckoned for Antigone, and it only took a few moments of apprehension before she made her way cautiously over.

 

They sat for a few minutes, staring out over the forest. Antigone had spent years looking at these trees, but somehow they seemed lovelier than ever before. She somewhat suspected it had more to do with the woman next to her than any noticeable change in height.

 

At last, Georgie broke the silence between them.

 

“I’m sorry he won’t leave you and Rudyard alone.” Antigone’s face scrunched up in confusion.

 

“And you as well, whyever just me and Rudyard?” 

 

“Well you were telling him to leave you both alone when I came out.” She blinked at Georgie in shock.

 

“No, I told him to leave my family alone, and that obviously includes you. I mean, it wasn’t as if I was going to let him know you were there, but Georgie. Of course that means you! I don’t know what we would have done without you, what I would have done. You’ve changed my life. Whatever else happens, you’re one of us now, and you’ll always have a place with us. We love you.” Georgie looked at her strangely for several moments, to the point where Antigone began to fidget with nerves. Had she said too much? 

 

Finally Georgie moved, the odd look still on her face. She looked almost, hopeful, but there was something else there too, Antigone just couldn’t quite place it. 

 

“Can I?” One of Georgie’s hands came up to gently cup her face and she felt her breath catch in her throat. She nodded slightly, heart racing as she met her eyes, unable to speak. Georgie moved closer slowly, so slowly, until she was mere inches away. Antigone felt her thumb lightly stroking her cheekbone and let her eyes fall closed. She could feel breath on her lips, and only moments must have passed, but it felt like an eternity before she murmured,

 

“Please.” 

 

The word was barely out of her mouth, practically inaudible, before Georgie’s lips were on hers, gentle and sweet. She melted into the kiss, hands fluttering  around Georgie’s waist before lightly settling there. She felt her other hand coming up to cradle her face, and sighed into her mouth. After a few moments Georgie pulled back slowly, and though she longed to chase her mouth, kiss her for hours, days, weeks , she forced herself to stay in place. 

 

Fortunately Georgie didn’t go far, seeming perfectly content to remain in the circle of her arms, though her hands moved from her face to rest gently at the base of her neck. She seemed to put herself together for a moment, before meeting Antigone’s gaze head on.

 

“I love you.” Antigone’s heart caught in her throat, and she felt a strange new warmth rush through her entire body. “I just thought you should know that before you say I’ll always have a place with you.”

 

Antigone gazed at her, frozen and unable to form words. She stood there so long that Georgie seemed about to pull away, but she tightened her arms around her waist.

 

“Please give me just a moment.” Her voice came out quiet, but strong, and Georgie settled back into her embrace. After another minute or so, she gathered herself and spoke.

 

“I love you too.” Georgie gazed up at her, joy on her face.

 

“Really?” Antigone blushed, but forced herself to keep eye contact. It wasn’t as hard as it might have been, her eyes truly were lovely.

 

“Yes, really. I love you. You should also know that, you will always have a place with us, yes, but if you ever do wish to leave, I’ll follow you wherever. My loving you isn’t contingent on you staying here.” Georgie seemed shocked for a few beats, before surging up in her arms, and capturing her mouth in another kiss. Antigone responded as enthusiastically as she could, using her firmer grip on the other woman to pull her closer and kiss her more deeply. Georgie responded in kind, wrapping her arms around her neck, and pulling her in. They stayed there on the roof for the rest of the day, and for that moment, it was as if all their problems, Piffling Vale, even Chapman, ceased to exist. They were happy, together, and in love.

Chapter Text

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.