Her Divine Highness Gideon Nav swept her blade through a line of vines.
They fell to the floor with a satisfying thlump. Behind them lay a heavy wood door with a shiny golden keyhole. Gideon pulled out a chain from under her shirt and held up the silver key that hung from it.
“I hope this fucking works.” She muttered under her breath, and slipped it into the lock. The door made a click noise and opened. She grinned to herself, wiped the blood off of her face, and stepped inside the tower room.
The room was untouched by the explosion of nature that had taken over the rest of the tower. It was small, with stone floors and walls, and a single window. There was an eternally burning fire and a light breeze that made the curtains flutter.
Most importantly, there was a large canopy bed that held a still figure.
Gideon swished the liquid around in her mouth, a sort of, squelch squish squash, and moved to kneel next to the unliving girl.
She was lying on her back, her hands folded on her stomach. Someone had arranged her hair to float above her head and had put tiny rosebuds in it. She was wearing a black, high necked gown and lacy black gloves. She was beautiful, in an unreal sort of way.
“Alrighty.” Gideon said, cracking her knuckles, then neck. “Here goes nothing.”
She had been born with the necromantic ability to wake people from the dead with a kiss. In all honesty, it was nothing compared to what her dick father could do. But it was enough to save an occasional princess in distress.
She wasn’t the biggest fan of her job, but at least it kept her busy.
“Get ready for my smoochers.” She told the dead princess.
This was always the moment she feared the most. What if her necromantic abilities failed her? Or what if when the princess woke up, she started lamenting about how her fiancé really should have been there to save her.
But no, her kisses so far had been pretty successful. Ranging from “this girl is alive now” to “this girl is now in love with me, fuck what am i supposed to do about that?”
She just had to kiss the princess and then she could move on from the tower. It had been a long day’s worth of work to get up it and all she wanted now was a hot bath.
She closed her eyes and leaned in.
Except, she did not feel soft lips against her own. Instead she felt a fucking hard punch to the face.
Gideon Nav had been punched in the face multiple times.
When she was a rebellious teen, she used to sneak out to the local tavern almost every night. She would nurse an ale and watch the others talk and laugh. She almost never engaged with someone unless they engaged with her first.
Until one day, she watched a man push a woman to tears. She had decided to intervene. As a reward, she got punched in the face.
Her father’s right hand and her namesake, Sir Gideon of Dominicus, had taught her how to punch after that. He told her that in the future she’d be able to protect herself, and others, better.
The next time she got punched in the face, it was her fault for instigating it. And the time after that. And the time after that.
This time though, she was sure she hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, she hadn’t even resurrected the princess yet.
Maybe some of her spit had fallen into her lips and done the job for her? That would make future assignments simpler, if not a bit weirder.
“What the fuck was that for?” She cried, falling backwards.
The princess sat up and crossed her arms. “You were going to kiss me without my consent, dimwit.” She said, her voice shrill. “Hasn’t anyone taught you that’s rude?”
Gideon rubbed her eye. She had brought up the very issue to her father before. He had said that the girls would prefer to be alive then kissed without their consent once. That had been it. There was no arguing with him.
And for the most part? Yeah, they had been okay with it. Only one had put up a fight and she had shut up the second she realized that she had not, in fact, just been asleep.
“Well… you were supposed to be dead.” Gideon said and immediately regretted it. Curse her stupid mouth that said whatever it wanted to in front of pretty girls.
The girl scowled. “Who told you that?”
She picked herself up off the floor and pulled out her father’s seal. She didn’t exactly look like him, except for maybe her skin color. Most people hadn’t even heard that his Divine Highness had a daughter.
That was fine with her.
“I’m Gideon Nav,” She said, using the surname she reserved for undercover work. “Working under orders by his Divine Highness John Gaius to resurrect any dead princess I come across.” She showed the seal and everything.
The princess did not look convinced. “I wasn’t even dead.”
Gideon felt herself getting annoyed. “Well I know that now!” She shoved the letter and seal back into her pocket and glared at the girl. “The locals reported that you were put under a witch’s spell. That you had passed into an eternal sleep. Plus you looked pretty fucking dead to me.”
The girl huffed and pushed her black hair out of her face. “There was no witch. I just wanted to be left alone.”
Gideon couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “So you covered the tower with vines and faked your own death?”
“What did you expect was going to happen? You were just going to be undisturbed until you starved to death?”
The princess looked affronted. “I wasn’t going to starve to death. I put myself in a coma and pumped nutrients into my body.” She gestured to an IV next to her bed. Funny, Gideon had completely missed it before.
“Okay so,” Gideon said, running her hand through her untamed red hair. “Let me get this straight. You didn’t want the locals to bother you so you put yourself into a coma?? Why the fuck would you do that?”
The princess opened, then closed her mouth. “Look, Griddle,” She said.
“Gideon,” Gideon corrected automatically.
“I wasn’t planning to be in a coma for long. I just wanted… to be gone long enough for some people to die. I planned to wake myself up in forty years, unaged and free from them.”
Gideon had seen a lot of wild things on her journeys. She had seen dragons with ten heads. She had seen streams that flowed upwards. She had once seen a live pornography about her father and some of his knights. She had been incredibly scarred after that one.
But never in her days had she seen someone willingly put themself in a coma to avoid people.
“You could have just moved!” She cried, like this princess was going to see to reason.
The girl rolled her eyes. “That’s incredibly uncreative, Griddle, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from someone like you.” This was followed up with a judgmental sweep of her body.
Gideon ignored this. This idiot princess could think whatever she wanted.
“Whatever.” She said. “You’re awake now and I’ll get my reward. Have a nice life putting yourself in a coma anytime someone annoys you.”
Then she walked out of the room and started down the stairs.
Sir Pyrrha would get a kick out of this one, at least.
“Wait!” Yelled a voice behind her, when she was halfway down the tower. Normally she would stop and wait like a gentlewoman, but she honestly had no patience for the batshittery this girl was putting out into the world.
So instead she called over her shoulder, “Fuck off!”
In hindsight this was not the best idea. Gideon knew, deep inside her, that it was never a good idea to piss off people with magic. And this girl obviously had enough magic to fill a tower with vines and put herself into a coma. If she was to be believed, she could even stop herself from aging.
That was a trick that only her father had mastered.
“You idiot, you blundering buffoon, you-” Cried the girl behind her, cutting off only when she slammed into Gideon’s now still body.
“You don’t have to insult me to get my attention, sweetheart.” Gideon said, turning just in time to catch the girl.
She was even smaller than she had seemed on the bed. She made it up to Gideon’s shoulder and was built like a twig. A very angry, clothed in black, twig.
“Hello.” Gideon said, straightening the girl up. She pulled away angrily and brushed her dress off. “What’s got your panties in a twist?”
The princess scowled at her, then growled out, “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to tell anyone about this.”
Gideon frowned. “Uhhh I kinda have to. That’s my whole job, you know?”
That was not the right answer. “I forbid you from telling anyone!” The girl said forcefully. “Or I’ll claim your bones as mine and leave your body a pile of flesh.”
“Sexy.” Gideon responded. Almost automatically. “Look, I have to tell the Emperor, okay? But I won’t tell any of your townsfolk.”
The princess creased her eyebrows and frowned. It made her look like a very angry raisin. “I said. I forbid you from telling anyone.”
Gideon chuckled. “Okayy. And I said I have to tell the Emperor. I get it, this is pretty embarrassing, but I can’t slink back to dear old dad and tell him I’ve failed. It’ll make me look bad.”
“Dad?” The girl asked.
Gideon realized her mistake. “Uhh my dad is the Emperor’s secretary. Look, this has been fun Princess Goth, but I gotta skedaddle.”
The girl was now dangerously calm. Gideon did not like that one bit. The princess’s expression mirrored the look of a dozen others, right before they kicked her ass.
“No.” The girl said and everything went dark.
Gideon really fucking hated getting kidnapped.
Unfortunately, it had happened an embarrassing amount of times.
Sure, she had mostly been a child, but that didn’t stop her father’s knights from joking about it.
“Haha, remember that time we had to save Little from that goblin’s cave?” Sir Pyrrha had said, just that morning. To which Sir Augustine replied, “Sometimes I wonder if we didn’t accidentally bring home a goblin instead.”
It hadn’t happened in awhile (except for that incident three months ago. But really that had mostly been an accident) and Gideon hadn’t missed it.
Waking up in a dark room, her body tied to a chair, sucked almost as bad as realizing what had happened.
“Are you for real?!” She called out. “Black Hag Lady, release me at once!”
The princess did not release her.
Instead she lit a lamp and said, “Oh good, you’re awake.”
“How long have I been out?” Gideon asked because Sir Cassiopeia was supposed to make trifle for dessert and she had a bet with Pyrrha about how Sir Nigella would react to it.
“Two hundred years.” The princess deadpanned.
“Ha. Ha.” Gideon replied. “Seriously though.”
“Two hours.” Said the girl. Gideon could barely see her in the dim light, but it almost looked like she was stroking Gideon’s sword.
“Can I get a name?” Gideon asked, squinting. If the princess even touched her sword, she was going to fuck some shit up. Maybe she’d write up a ticket for wasting her time. Get the girl stuck in the process of bureaucracy or worse, have to give her case in front of her dad.
“Why?” The girl asked, stopping whatever she had been doing.
Gideon rolled her eyes. She hoped the princess could see that. “It’s polite to introduce yourself before you kidnap a girl. Or did your parents never teach you manners?”
“My parents are dead.” Said the girl. “And you can call me Harrow.”
“Alright then.” Gideon said. “So. You gonna release me or something?”
There was silence and if she didn’t know better, she might have thought the girl was going to ignore her. Then there was more silence and she was just kinda pissed off now.
“Hey. Hey Harrow. Untie me.”
The girl hummed and didn’t respond.
If that’s how it was going to be.
Gideon wiggled around, trying to find the dagger she hid in her sleeve.
“If you’re looking for the dagger you store in your sleeve, I took it.” Said Harrow, all too calmly. Gideon took a deep breath in and out.
“O-kay.” She said. “Seems kinda weird to search an unconscious girl though.”
“You were very close to endangering my life.” Harrow said with a shrug. “I did what I had to.”
Gideon suddenly felt very bad. It wasn’t often that she misjudged shit like this, but when she did, she felt fucking guilty. If only she read the case file more closely. If only she asked Harrow who she was hiding from.
“Oh fuck I’m so sorry.” She said. “Do you want me to bash some brains in? Because I can do that for you. You just have to untie me.”
Harrow scoffed. “Nice try.”
“Really. I can save your life, you can let me free, we all win.”
The girl was silent for a second then, “There’s nothing you can do with that nasty sword of yours, unless you want to assassinate Princess Ianthe of Ida.”
It was Gideon’s turn to be silent. She knew Princess Ianthe, of course she did. She knew almost every royal family and almost every city state under her father’s rule. The only reason she didn’t know Drearburh and Princess Harrow was because it was tiny and inconsequential. The same could not be said of Ida. Ianthe and her twin sister were the princesses of one of the largest and richest city states. While Corona was set to inherit the throne, it was said that Ianthe could have her pick of any royal in all of the Dominicus Empire.
“So uh,” Gideon said. “Has Princess Ianthe threatened you in any way? Cuz I could get the Emperor to look into that.” She hastily added. “Through my secretary father connections.”
Harrow said, with deep unhappiness. “She has threatened me with a marriage proposal. Well, with an engagement. And a wedding.” She made a disgruntled noise. “We are to be wed in three days.”
Gideon could honestly not imagine anything worse. Nothing against Princess Ianthe except… well everything against the princess. She sucked ass. She was the grossest type of necromancer, looked like an old boot and had the personality of a poisonous scorpion. Gideon couldn’t stand being in the room with her.
“Right.” She said, in lieu of anything else to say. “What if I, uh, stopped that?”
She could almost hear Harrow’s scowl. “And how would you do that? You, the lowly daughter of a secretary, who is sent out to kiss dead girls.”
Gideon cringed. “Right.” She said again. “Well I might have lied. I’m kinda… Her Divine Highness Gideon of Dominicus. You can check my left boot for my signet ring.”
With that Harrow let out a little squeal and the light went out.
Gideon hated that she was divinity.
It meant being related to John Gaius who, in her opinion, was a real son of a bitch. She had no nice words for her father. He was an asshole and a half, and she was lucky he hadn’t had any involvement in her upbringing, or she might have been an asshole as well.
Nah, she probably would have turned out fine. She was cool like that.
Anyways, he made her his heir and then abandoned her to his knights. All 16 of them.
She grew up being passed around from one pair to another. Cytherea would spend ten days teaching her how to paint in the castle’s greenhouse, then give her to Augustine, who would forget she was there half the time and she’d have to find food for herself. Her best memories, though, were of her time with Sir Gideon and Sir Pyrrha. For reasons she never understood, each knight was paired with another. This could mean anything from Sir Alfred complaining about not being able to visit a woman he was courting without Augustine noticing or the codependency of the knights Mercy and Cristabel. Gideon and Pyrrha though, had partnership down to an art.
They were also excellent teachers.
Every knight pair taught her something different. Augustine and Alfred taught her to advocate for herself. Cristabel and Mercy taught her to mistrust anyone claiming to be part of a higher power (This was probably the opposite of what they wanted to teach her though). Cassiopeia and Nigella taught her how to investigate and how to learn. Cyrus and Valancy taught her how to relax and make friends. Cytherea and Loveday taught her how to appreciate beauty and art (She could even draw a decent portrait from a summer traveling with Cyth). Anastasia and Samael taught her to question everything and strive for the best. But Gideon and Pyrrha? They taught her how to fight.
And that was the most important thing she could have learned.
When Harrow turned the light back on, Gideon was ready. She had slipped her hands out of the ropes (the girl was a princess, she hardly knew how to tie a knot) and grabbed her sword, where it was thankfully not being touched by a stranger.
When the lamp illuminated her holding it to Harrow’s face, the princess paled and froze.
Gideon had been feeling out of her depths, trying to persuade the princess. She didn’t seem like the type of person you reasoned with anyways. She was fucking glad the night had turned into a battle of something she was good at.
Because she was fucking brilliant at the sword.
“Griddle.” Harrow said, with such contempt that Gideon almost forgot it was her holding the sword to Harrow’s neck. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Coulda fooled me.” She growled. She had most definitely missed dessert by now.
The princess sounded strained. “I was going to release you, but if this is what you want to do…” Something zipped past her ear. “That was a warning shot.” Harrow said with self satisfaction. “There’s more of those if you want to keep testing me.”
It turns out it hadn’t been her sword that Harrow had been stroking. It was a very pointy bone, that was now growing into a very pointy skeleton.
Gideon hated necromancers sometimes.
“Look, Obsidian Mistress, I don’t want to fight you.” That was a lie. “But I will if you don’t get out of my way and let me fucking leave this place. I won’t tell my father,” Lie. “Nor your fiancé. You can go back to faking your own death and I can forget you ever existed,” Probably a lie. “Does that sound good?”
The princess took a step forward. Gideon did not like that. “Oh Griddle.” She said, condescendingly. “You really think I would fall for that?”
And then she was attacked by skeletons.
Gideon didn’t even need to think to fight them off. Swordplay came so naturally to her, she barely even noticed she was doing it. Bam, went a skeleton. Skachpow, went another. Until she was standing in a room full of bone fragments and had barely broken a sweat.
“I can do this all day, Kidnapper of Divinity.” She smirked.
That made Harrow pale again.
“How about this,” Gideon said, twirling her sword. “We come to an agreement like adults.”
The princess considered it, then her mouth turned into a straight line. “Fine.”
Gideon followed Harrow up to her bedroom (“Rude to negotiate in a murder basement.” She had said when the girl seemed content to stay there) and immediately sat down on her plump bed. Fucking hell that felt nice on her sore ass.
“Aight.” She said, crossing her legs and putting her hands behind her head. “You want to get out of marrying Ianthe, can’t say I blame you, and I don’t want my pa to think I’m useless. So, here’s what we do.” She paused. Did she really want to suggest this? “You come back with me to Canaan Palace and I say I saved you from death’s embrace. Then you say you fell in love with me and we must be engaged at once. Boom! No wifing up Ianthe, no disappointed fathers. Everyone wins.”
Harrow looked at her with disbelief. “You cannot think that would work.”
Gideon shrugged, which was awkward when her hands were behind her head. “Man, I am just trying my best out here…” She muttered under her breath. Then, “It’s happened before.”
Harrow’s eye twitched. “You’ve gotten engaged to a dead girl?”
“Nah. A previously dead girl falling in love with me. It’s happened three times now, to be precise.”
The princess rubbed at her brow, eyes closed. She looked thoroughly done. Gideon had that effect on some people. “What about my imminent marriage to Ianthe?”
“You’re engaged to me now and I rank higher than Princess Ianthe. It’s a so-called love marriage, too, which John will eat up. He can nullify your engagement and we can pretend to be finances for a couple of weeks.”
“Then we part ways amicably and you put yourself in another coma or something. Or you assume another identity. Could not care less what you do, baby face, as long as it doesn’t fuck up my perfect record.”
Harrow was silent. Gideon could see the gears working in her brain. “Fine.” She said, eventually. “But we need to set some rules.”
Gideon gestured for her to go on. The princess took that as permission to pull out a whiteboard from her closet. “One,” She said, writing a crisp 1) on the board. “There will be no kissing.”
Gideon sat up, a frown playing across her face. “Uh, sorry babes, but don’t you think that’ll sell us out? No one in love with me could get their hands off of all this,” She gestured to her body.
“It’s improper to kiss before marriage.” Harrow said. “If you knew anything about me, you’d know I’m very proper.”
“Two, we need to get our story straight. Again, I would never fall in love with someone that quickly. You had been secretly courting me this entire time, but I only truly fell in love with you when you saved my life.”
Gideon made a face. “That makes it sound like I made you cheat on Ianthe.”
Harrow shrugged, but her eyes were malicious. “If you insist, your Divine Highness.”
“Don’t call me that.” She said immediately, her tone cold. Harrow stiffened. “Anything else?”
Harrow looked at her board. “Three, you may kiss my hand or cheek and you may hold my hand, after asking for my permission.”
Okay that wasn’t too bad, Gideon thought. Harrow was right anyways. Most royal engagements were very chaste.
“Four, you cannot tell anyone of our arrangement.”
“No one?” Gideon asked.
Harrow gave her a pointed look. “Not a single soul.”
That sucked, but whatever. It wasn’t like she was dying to tell Pyrrha about her mistake.
“Anything else, sugar dove?”
Harrow ignored this. “Five, you must send resources to Drearburh.”
“We are having a particularly hard harvest this year. My people are going hungry. Is it not in your power to help them?”
Again, Gideon felt like a fool. “No, of course it is. I can do that. Sorry, next time you should just send a request to my dad, instead of faking your death, kidnapping me, ambushing me with skeletons and starting a fake engagement. Might be a bit quicker.”
Harrow’s mouth was a fraught line. “I already asked him for help. I got no response.”
Oof that was embarrassing. Also, what the fuck John, what was the point of being Emperor if not to help people?
“Well then.” She said. “I will fix that as soon as I get home. Is that all?”
Harrow sighed. “You should probably get me a ring.” She said, sounding unhappy about it. “One that beats Ianthe’s.” She opened the drawer of her bedside table and showed off a glittering diamond.
Gideon nodded, pulled out her signet ring from her boot, and handed it to Harrow. “Doesn't get much fancier than that, I would say.”
The girl was, once again, a paler shade of brown. “Oh.” She said, then slipped it on. It adjusted to her finger. “Thank you.”
Gideon gave her a loose grin. “Don’t mention it, fiancé.”
Harrow rolled her eyes. “Does that mean you are in agreement?”
“Huh? Yeah, I am. Can we go now? It’s a three hour ride and I want trifle.”
Harrow sighed. “Yes. Let’s go.”
They arrived at the dead of night so unfortunately, no trifle.
Maybe Cassiopeia would make some for her engagement ball. She’d have to place Nigella close to her so she could really savor her reaction. That would be worth all of this fuss.
Harrow looked uneasy as Gideon led her to her bedchamber. “Why can’t I stay in the town?”
Gideon gave her a look over her shoulder. “We have to sell it. Besides, the bed is big enough for the both of us.”
That did nothing to dispel the look on Harrow’s face, but at least she shut up.
When they got to Gideon’s room, she put a finger over her lip just in case. Cytherea sometimes stayed there when she had a fight with Loveday about her medications. Or Samuel waited for her when she didn’t come back, to make sure she made it home safely. Once she had found Mercy, Augustine, Cristabel and Alfred all asleep on her bed. She hadn’t asked what that was about.
Her room was thankfully empty. She closed the door behind Harrow and lit all of her lamps.
“Home sweet home.” She intoned, though she really didn’t mind the room. Honestly, the whole palace was okay in small doses. If she got stuck there for more than a week though, she went mad.
Harrow eyed the room dubiously. Gideon tried to imagine it through her eyes.
It was large, with a four poster bed. There were four windows that looked over the cliff on the far side of the castle. That meant a view of an unending ocean and a sliver of beach. The room was pretty neat, if you ignored the pile of weapons, the occasional dirty outfit, and the stack of books people kept telling her to read. Besides that, it was decorated with a tasteful wall of portraits she had done of women she met on her travels. These were incredibly chaste. She mostly gave away the scandalous ones.
“It’ll do.” Harrow said finally. Then, “Can I have something to sleep in?”
Gideon looked at her outfit. Black, lacy, stiff as fuck. She had no clue why the princess had planned to be comatose in it for forty years, but she understood the urge to change out of it now.
“Sure thing, honey.” She said and riffled through her clothes. She came out with a large and loose tunic that was incredibly soft. “You can get changed in the bathroom.”
Harrow nodded and left to visit the conjoining room. Gideon took the opportunity to shove her dirty clothes under her bed and strip off her armor. She was lying in bed, reading a filthy novel that Cytherea loved when Harrow stepped out of the bathroom.
She looked, well. She had looked beautiful before, in a modest and princess-y way. Now she looked adorable.
“Hey.” Gideon said, her voice a little too gravelly for her liking. “Find everything okay in there?”
Harrow gave her a look, then stared at the bed as if it was an enemy to conquer.
“Are you alright?” Gideon asked, because really, she was a gentlewoman.
“No. Yes.” Harrow pulled herself onto the bed (she was a bit too short for it) and wriggled under the covers. “Go back to your book.” She said, then turned on her side.
Well okay then.
Gideon closed her book, blew out her lamps and tried to fall asleep.
“Harrow?” She said, maybe an hour later. “Are you asleep?”
The princess huffed. “I would be, if you stopped moving around so much.”
“Sorry I just, I’ve never shared a bed before.”
That gave her a second of quiet. “Really?” Said the princess.
“Is that so hard to believe?” Gideon said, turning so she was facing Harrow. She found, to her surprise, that Harrow had already been facing towards her. There really was a lot of space between them.
“I just thought,” She could have sworn Harrow blushed, but it was too dark to tell for certain. “It sounded like you have had a lot of… trysts with women.”
Gideon snorted. “Nah. I haven’t even,” She paused. Was she really going to tell this stranger this? “I haven’t even kissed anyone before. For real I mean.”
Harrow was silent. “Neither have I.”
Oh. She supposed she shouldn’t have been shocked but… well Harrow was engaged to Ianthe. She had kinda assumed they had done something of the sort.
“What about those girls who fell in love with you?” Harrow said after a moment.
Gideon laughed. “They didn’t fall in love with the real me. All they saw was divinity and a savior. They didn’t care about who I really am.” She paused. “Besides, the whole dynamic is fucked. For one, I really hate kissing people who can’t consent. I only do it because it’s my duty and my father makes me. I also feel like those girls thought they owed me for saving their lives. I want someone to want to be with me because I’m me, you know? Not because I’m their savior, their divinity, their dreamed up person.”
Harrow hummed. “Ianthe thinks I can give her power.”
“Through Drearburh? No offense but that place is a shitshow.”
“No.” Harrow said, her voice solemn. “I’m the most powerful necromancer in Dominicus, besides your father. She wants my magical capabilities. She views me as a prize to be won.”
“That’s fucked up.”
They lay in silence for a couple minutes before Gideon said, “I wish I could have redone today, knowing what I know now. I could have sent funds to Drearburh, maybe talked some sense into Ianthe and left you alone. I’m sorry for fucking up your plans.”
Harrow didn’t answer. Gideon half wondered if she was asleep.
“I’m sorry for kidnapping you.” The princess said with a yawn.
“That’s okay. Sleep well, Harrow.”
She was met with light snores. She turned onto her back and shortly drifted off herself.
“Gideon fucking Nav!” Exclaimed a voice. “Look at you rascal!”
Gideon rubbed her eyes and groaned. “Not now Pyrrha.”
“I have to say,” Pyrrha continued. “I’m surprised this is the first time I caught you with a girl in your bed.”
Girl? For a second Gideon had no clue what the knight meant. Then the previous day came back to her.
“Oh shit.” She said, sitting up. “This isn’t how I wanted you to learn.”
Besides her, Harrow slept peacefully, her hair fanned around her head. She almost looked like the girl Gideon had found in that tower. Except, she seemed more real now and like Gideon had known her for years.
Pyrrha’s grinning face came into view. “Sooo who’s the lucky lady?”
“Her name’s Harrow. I’ve been courting her for a couple months now.”
Pyrrha’s eyebrows went up at that. “And you didn’t think to tell me?!”
Gideon shrugged. “She wanted to keep it a secret.” She leaned in. “It’s kinda scandalous. She was engaged to Princess Ianthe. But she was deeply unhappy.” She couldn’t help the smile that came onto her face. “I’m glad she finally agreed to marry me. She thought it was rushing things, but I figured, better to be married to someone you like then someone you don’t, you know?”
Pyrrha looked at her with a newfound appreciation. “Gideon Nav.” She said, using Gideon’s fake name again. “How did you grow up to be so good?”
Gideon let the compliment rush over her. Then Pyrrha ruined it by ruffling Gideon’s hair.
“Stop it.” She laughed. “It’s your fault anyways. You raised me to be like this.”
Pyrrha grinned. “That’s very true. Now, I’ll leave you be, but you should get up soon and tell everyone.” Her face neutralized. “Even John.”
“He’s here?” Gideon asked, annoyed at how her heart sped up. She hadn’t seen her father in two years, only communicating with him through carrier pigeon. She hated that some small part of her wanted him to be proud of her. To ruffle her hair like Pyrrha, to hug her like Cristabel, to even give her a good, hearty slap on the back like Cyrus.
But no, her father had never wanted a daughter. The best she was going to get was a nod in greeting.
When Pyrrha left, Harrow sat up. “That wasn’t what we agreed on.” She grumbled.
Gideon held in a snort, taking in her bed head. Definitely different from the fake dead girl she had met. “It sells better. Besides, the basic story is still intact. I courted you, you refused, then you got desperate and I saved you.” She gave Harrow her lopsided grin. “It just paints me in a better light.”
The girl rolled her eyes, which wasn’t very threatening since she looked like a puppy had licked her head, and yawned. “What time is it?”
Gideon glanced at her bedside clock. “Almost nine. You ready to meet the family?”
Harrow rubbed her eyes. “Let me get dressed first.”
Gideon put on her cleanest trousers, a gold silk tunic and her favorite boots. She tried (and failed) to tame her hair, put on her sword and leaned outside the bathroom door.
“Harrow, my dear, it’s been half an hour.”
She got no response.
“If you don’t respond, I’m afraid I’m going to have to break down the door.”
She sighed and tried the doorknob. It opened easily.
Inside, Harrow was applying eyeliner.
Gideon felt her mouth dry up at the sight.
So yeah, she had been attracted to Harrow before. She was just her type. Tiny, angry, dressed in black clothing, mean. She had seen her in her coma outfit and thought, that girl looks pretty. She had seen her in her own tunic and thought, wow she’s adorable. Now she thought, holy fuck what have I gotten myself into. And, this girl is fucking hot, what the fuck.
Harrow was wearing a deep blue tunic with tight black pants. She had tucked them into shiny black boots with silver buttons. She had pulled her hair up into a tight ponytail, revealing a slender neck. Worst of all (best of all), she had applied eyeliner around her eyes and a faint dusting of gold on her eyelids.
Fuck, was all Gideon could think. Fuck fuck fuck.
“Are you, uh, ready to go?” She asked, trying desperately to fill her mouth with saliva. Not for necromantic purposes, but so she could actually talk.
Harrow turned and gave her a small smile. “Lead me there, fiancé.”
Gideon hated what that word did to her.
She led Harrow to the banquet hall where the knights ate breakfast most mornings. Almost everyone was there, save for Anastasia and Samuel. Last she heard they were on some quest to find a locked tomb or something.
Everyone turned to look at them, including her father. John Gaius, emperor of Dominicus, ruler of all city states.
“Heyo.” She said awkwardly. “This is my fiancé, Princess Harrow of Drearburh.” As she said it, she looked each person in the eye. There was an arrangement of surprise, shock, joy, and…
“Absolutely not.” Emperor John Dad said. “I forbid you to marry that girl.”
Gideon sighed. Of course he did.
“John…” Rumbled Gideon Senior. “Your daughter just told us she’s engaged. You should be happy for her.”
Something inside of her warmed up. She knew Gideon loved her, but he didn’t show it as outwardly as Pyrrha. He was also her father’s right hand man. Before today she would have never guessed he’d take her side over his.
“This isn’t up for debate.” Said John Dad, from the head of the table. He was worrying his fingers between his brow, looking like a man about to fight with a toddler. Which was pretty ironic since he had barely talked to her when she was that young.
“Gideon’s right.” Said Cristabel, from Mercymorn’s side. They were pressed shoulder to shoulder. Gideon tried to ignore everyone’s various hook ups, and God, were there a lot, but she did appreciate the romantic duo that was Mercy and Cris. “We should be proud of our little baby for growing up so quickly. Don’t squash her dreams, John, my dear.”
“Besides,” Drawled Mercymorn. “Look at what you are doing to her teenage fiancé.”
Gideon glanced at Harrow, she had almost forgotten she was there. Just like yesterday, she was as pale and still as an ice statue. Gideon nudged her and whispered, “Can I hold your hand?”
Harrow nodded and they slipped their hands together
“I can’t have this argument right now.” John sighed. “It’s not about Gideon or Harrow. It’s about the symbolic nature. I can’t have my daughter marry into the poorest city state. It’s a waste of an opportunity.”
Now Gideon spoke up. “Are you serious?” She yelled. Well, he was far away, she had justification. He winced. Okay, not that far away. “I always knew you didn’t give a shit about me, but I never expected you to straight out say it. Am I not a person to you? A person with a life and wants? No, I guess not.” She said bitterly. “I guess I’m just a pawn piece.”
The room was quiet. This wasn’t their first fight, not by a long shot. It also wasn’t their first fight in front of his knights.
It was definitely their most truthful one though.
“Gideon.” He said quietly, turning to her finally. “You are my daughter. You have to serve your kingdom.”
Gideon consolidated as much spit as she could into her mouth and then spit it at him. She wished in that moment, that it could do the opposite of what it normally did.
Instead it just fell a couple feet away from her, on the floor.
“You’re the worst!” She yelled and pulled Harrow out of the room.
In hindsight, that was a little bit dramatic.
When they got far enough away from the banquet hall, Harrow looked her up and down.
“Are you okay?” She asked urgently.
Gideon laughed. “Never felt better, babe. How about you? I bet that freaked you out a bit.”
Harrow stared at the ground. “I’m sorry.”
Gideon frowned. “For what?” She loved getting the chance to yell at her father. Sure, he made her incredibly angry in the moment, but the second she was out of his eyesight? She felt giddy from telling him off. She was practically the only person who did it, anyways. He deserved to know what it felt like once and awhile.
“I made things bad between you and your father.” Harrow said and fuck, there were tears in her eyes. “I’ll go.”
Gideon grabbed her hand. “Hey. It’s okay. That happens every time he comes here. Truth be told, he can’t do shit about us. I’m a grown woman and he didn’t ever bother to change my diapers. He has no sway over me.”
Harrow looked doubtful. “Okay… I just… don’t want to make things bad for you.”
Gideon gave her a soft smile, while simultaneously stroking her palm with her finger. “You didn’t. If anything, you just helped speed up the inevitable. He’s going to apologize later today and then everything will be back to tense and weird with him. Or, God willing, he’ll apologize and then say, ‘sorry, couldn’t stay long, gots to go byeee.’ Either way, everything will work itself out.”
Harrow nodded, but still looked doubtful. “If you say so.”
“I do. Now, let’s introduce you to my father’s knights.”
As Gideon suspected, John had vacated the banquet hall. Everyone else had remained and were happy to see her in good spirits.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Asked Cytherea. She was always the kindest of them all. “That was very unkind of him.”
Gideon shrugged her off. “It’s fine! I have my fiancé and my favorite knights. Sorry Stasia and Sam. What else could I need in the world?”
Cytherea gave her a sweet smile and then turned to Harrow. “So! I heard you are a necromancer!”
After a while, Gideon found herself shoveling food in her mouth, as Harrow showed the necromantic knights her bone constructs.
“She’s a special one, that girl.” Said Pyrrha, sitting next to her.
Gideon didn’t look away from her fake fiancé. “She really is.”
“You know, John put a ban on romantic relationships between his knights when we first started.”
Gideon startled. She hadn’t heard that one before.
Pyrrha nodded. “We ignored him, of course. He even broke his own rule later with-”
“Nope! Don’t wanna know!”
She grinned. “Anyways, the old man has stupid ideas sometimes. You just gotta ignore them.”
Gideon knew this already, but she was thankful for Pyrrha reiterating it. “Thanks.” She said. “So, do you think you could do me a favor?”
The woman eyed her. “Last time I did you a favor, I ended up carting a mermaid halfway across the empire.”
Gideon breathed out a laugh. That was one of her favorite stories to tell. Pyrrha always complained about her part in it, but in reality she had had just as much fun as Gideon.
“Nothing like that. I just need you to tell Princess Ianthe that her engagement to Harrow is null.”
Pyrrha snorted. “This might be worse than the mermaid.”
“But you’ll do it?”
“Anything for you, dumbass.” Then her hair was ruffled, and all of her hard work was thrown down the drain.
The week passed by easily. John apologized, then made up an excuse to go to the far end of Dominicus. He still said he didn’t approve of the marriage, but Gideon didn’t care. Besides, they weren’t actually going to get married.
Pyrrha returned from her mission and said that, while the princess had been disappointed, she had gotten the message in the end. Gideon knew the knight well enough to know that some shit had gone down. But no matter how hard she begged, Pyrrha refused to tell her.
Harrow adjusted to palace life better than Gideon ever had. She spent half of her day browsing the extensive library, the other half going with Gideon to various towns to help people. She didn’t have to resurrect anyone, thank God, but she managed to save a couple of cats and helped a worker’s union get better wages. Harrow, for her part, helped when she could, but mostly just watched Gideon work.
They even visited Drearburh to see how her assistance was going. Cassiopeia and Nigella had camped out in the tower to oversee everything, so Gideon knew it would be handled capably.
“What are you going to do when you are free of me?” Gideon asked one night, lying upside down on her bed. Harrow was sitting in an armchair Gideon had nabbed for her, a book open on her lap.
“I don’t know.” She said, then blushed. “I suppose now that my people will be taken care of, I don’t have much to do.”
Gideon’s brain was whirling. “What if you stayed here?”
“Wha-what?” Harrow said.
“Not as my wife, obviously, but as my partner. Saving people has been a lot more fun with you around. We could do it together, maybe figure out a way to get my spit inside dead people without kissing them.”
Harrow was silent. Then, “Do you really mean that?”
Gideon sat up. All the blood rushed out of her head. “Of course. It was fucking lonely traveling before. Now I can say stupid jokes and have someone not laugh at them.” In her head she said, now I understand why all of my father’s knights are paired up.
“I’ll think about it.” Harrow said. “Thank you for offering.”
That was another thing. Things between them were going really well. Harrow turned out to be sweet and funny when she wasn’t in danger of being engaged to the worst person in Dominicus. Gideon thought they were becoming friends.
She sometimes wished that they could be more.
“Are you excited for our engagement ball?” She asked. “Cassiopeia is gonna make her famous trifle. Apparently last time, Nigella cried in disgust.”
Harrow’s mouth quirked. “What’s so special about this trifle?”
Gideon gave her a lopsided grin. “Oh man, it’s the best. Cassiopeia makes it with whatever is in the kitchen, which means it’s different every time. It’s mostly custards and creams and jellies but sometimes she puts meat and other weird stuff in it. My favorite trifle had a layer of pizza in it. The one she made the night we met? Chicken tenders, butternut squash soup, custard, gravy, vanilla wafers, mint ice cream and blackberries.”
Harrow’s eyes were wide and her mouth twisted up. Gideon thought it was the cutest expression the girl had ever made. She thought that a lot, though.
“That’s awful!” Harrow said. “I would puke!”
Gideon laughed. “Oh Nigella has. Pyrrha and I have a running bet.”
“Hmph.” Was all her fake fiancé had to say.
Gideon took that as a sign to turn back to her book.
“Valancy offered to make me a dress.” Harrow said.
Gideon looked up from her romance novel. “I hope you took her up on her offer. She’s brilliant.”
Harrow nodded. “I think… I hope you like it.” Her cheeks turned red at that.
Gideon felt her own cheeks do the same. What was she supposed to take from that? Was Harrow actually interested in her, or did she just want her new friend to see her dress?
She wished she could ask someone for advice, but they all thought Harrow already reciprocated her love.
Not that she was in love with her.
Well…? No. She had only known her for a week. But… Well, she felt more strongly about Harrow than anyone else she had ever crushed on. If it wasn’t love now, she figured it would become love soon.
That was fine. Totally fine.
“I’m wearing something cool too.” Gideon said, in a rush of words. “I’m going to look very hot. Super hot. Hopefully all the girls find me really hot.”
Harrow’s face closed off. “Yes.” She said, with false positivity. “Hopefully.”
Gideon rubbed her eyes. “No, sorry, that was my brain being stupid. I’m not going to dance with anyone but you. It’s our engagement ball, after all.”
She glanced at Harrow. The girl was staring at her book. “That’s good.” She said. “It’ll really sell the lie.”
Yup. That’s all Gideon wanted to do.
Gideon stared at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a deep green suit with a gold button up and black tie. She had stolen some product from Cyrus and was fucking with her hair. Except it wasn’t doing what she wanted at all.
“Hey,” Said Harrow from outside the bathroom. “Are you okay in there?”
She loved this side of Harrow. The soft girl who wanted to make sure she was okay. Even when they ‘broke up’ in two weeks, she hoped Harrow would continue to show this side of herself.
“I’m fine… no I’m not. I can’t figure out my hair.”
Harrow was quiet then, “Can I come in?”
Gideon opened the door.
Harrow had delicately piled up her hair on top of her head, leaving only two ringlets falling out of it. She had laced it with gold thread and green buds. She had delicately drawn swirls of green eyeliner around her eyes, with little leaves and tiny white roses. Her lips were a ruby red, so tantalizing that Gideon had to suck on the inside of her cheeks to keep herself from saying anything.
Then there was her dress.
Princess Harrow of Drearburh was wearing a soft, thin, gold dress that clung to her like cobwebs. It was modest enough that she looked comfortable, but showed just enough skin to make Gideon’s mouth dry.
“You look great.” She said, unable to think of anything else to say.
Harrow blushed. “So do you.”
Then they stood there for an awkward minute and a half.
“Your hair!” Harrow said quickly. “Do you need help with your hair?”
Gideon nodded and sat down on the toilet so Harrow could mess with it. The necromancer slathered her hand with the product and then stood before Gideon with a thoughtful look in her eyes. Then she put her hands in Gideon’s hair.
Fuck was this a mistake. It was all she could do to not make an embarrassing noise. She closed her eyes and let herself fall into the sensation. She wondered how she could get Harrow to do this in the future. Not through trickery, she thought. Harrow hated being manipulated. She would have to, sigh, tell Harrow she liked it.
“There.” Harrow said softly. “You look like less of an idiot.” Her voice was soft enough that Gideon knew it was a joke. It only made her heart yearn for the girl even more.
She was very screwed, wasn’t she?
Gideon opened her eyes and stood up to look in the mirror. Her hair looked good. Really good.
“Damn girl.” She said appraisingly. “You made me look like a snack.”
Harrow opened and closed her mouth. “You’re a doofus.” She said eventually.
Gideon offered her arm. “And you love it.”
They went arm and arm to the ball. It was being held in the rarely used ballroom of Canaan Palace. It made Gideon’s heart swell to see everyone inside it.
There was Princess Dulcinea, who she had saved from cancer. There was Sir Camilla Hect, who had slain a giant squid with her, and her Prince Palamedes who had helped Gideon solve a temple’s riddles. There was the royal couple of Koniortos, who had nursed her back from an illness once. There were the union workers she had fought for and the young royals of Tisis who she had rescued the cats of. There was the pretty Princess Coronabeth and her sister Ianthe-
“Oh fuck.” Gideon said, as Ianthe stalked up to them.
“Oh fuck.” Harrow agreed.
“Oh look.” Drawled the princess. “It’s the cheater and the bastard. Did you know,” She said, projecting to the crowd. “That Harrow was engaged to me first? She only left me because she managed to ensnare someone richer.”
Gideon eyed Pyrrha. I thought you dealt with her, she said with her eyes. Pyrrha shrugged and put her hand on her sword.
“Ianthe.” Harrow said, her gaze strong. If not for how tightly she clutched Gideon’s hand, she would have thought the princess was fearless. “I broke up with you. I’m engaged to the love of my life now. You should move on.”
The princess gave them a poisonous smile. “Is that so? When did you do that, before or after you promised to get married to me, in exchange for Ida’s help?”
Harrow didn’t falter. “After. I wanted to save my city state. I was willing to do anything for it. But then I fell in love with Gideon,” She looked up at her with large, warm eyes. “And I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life being unhappy with you.”
Ianthe rolled her eyes. “She’s using you.” She said to Gideon. “She doesn’t love you, she can’t.”
“Alright then.” Said Pyrrha behind her. “Let’s have a conversation somewhere else.” Then she dragged the princess away.
“Sorry you all had to see that.” Gideon said to her guests, rubbing the back of her neck.
The crowd, who had gathered to watch, dispersed. The band started playing again. Gideon turned to Harrow.
“May I have this dance?”
The rest of the night passed by in a blur of happiness and laughter. They danced until their feet hurt. They talked to all of the royals, from the frowning Prince Silas to the beaming Princess Dulcinea. Gideon kept giving Harrow new foods to try and Harrow dutifully nibbled at them. They even sang a bit, when Cyrus pulled out a karaoke machine. They were all terrible and Gideon loved it.
At midnight, Cassiopeia revealed her trifle.
It was a cake base with yogurt, spaghetti, chocolate chips, whipped cream, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a large layer of pistachio custard.
Nigella ate a single bite. Gideon paid Pyrrha ten gold coins.
Harrow, to her surprise, tried some as well. “This is terrible.” She said. “But thank you for sharing it with me.”
Gideon felt her heart ache for a future that would never exist.
She’s not leaving you. Her inner voice said. You’ll stay partners in crime.
She knew that, but God did she want to wife Harrow up.
When the ball ended, they stumbled to her room, their shoes in hand. When they got inside, Harrow eyed the bed.
“I have to say something.” She whispered. “You might hate me afterwards.”
Gideon brushed a stray lock of hair out of Harrow’s face. “I could never hate you.” She whispered back.
Harrow looked doubtful, then said. “I think I love you.”
Gideon’s heart stopped. Her eyes widened and she tried to form words but she couldn’t.
Harrow buried her face in her hands. “This was a mistake.” She whispered.
Gideon pulled her into her arms, then kissed her forehead. “No, Harrow of my heart, it wasn’t. I love you too.”
There was silence. Then Harrow tilted her head up so they made eye contact. “You do?”
Gideon nodded. “Yup. Can I kiss you?”
Harrow swallowed but murmured her assent. “I would like nothing more.”
So Gideon kissed her.
And fuck, was she glad that it was their first kiss.