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This War Cannot Be Won

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The sun is just rising when they come.

Misty’s feeding the gators when Zoe had calls out to her, and in a mixture of confusion and shock she almost falls into the water. The sound of hooves on the ground echoes unusually around her head, and the sheer shock of knowing someone is coming here, since no one ever comes this far out into the swamps from the city, sparks her curiosity.

She comes to the front of the modest little shack she lives in with her older brother, Kyle, and Zoe, his girlfriend. The pair are already standing there stiff and worried when she steps over to them barefooted, observing a man in black who jumps down from a horse in front of his entourage.

“Is this the Spencer residence?” He asks, tall and strong like gods in story books. Misty gulps and looks to her brother.

“Yeah.” He nods with surprising confidence. “Wha-what are you here for?”

The man thrusts a letter into Kyle’s arms and frowns. “We expect to see you soon, Mr Spencer.”

They ride away as quickly as they came, and Zoe looks to Misty’s brother nervously. “What does it say?”

Kyle bites his lip, ripping it open and slowly skimming the elegantly scrawled note. “It’s about...recruitment.” He pulls Zoe against him, and kisses her forehead. “One man from each family under the Queen’s rule must serve her and report to one of her war camps in four days or face castration.”

“No!” Misty rips the letter from his hands and reads it herself. “Ya can’t go—your injured.”

It’s true. A few years ago there was an incident with machinery which lead to Kyle’s body being almost completely paralysed and heavily scarred. If it wasn’t for Misty’s extensive knowledge in the department of natural healing and medicine, he probably wouldn’t have survived—you don’t get real doctors this far away from the city.

She’d tried her absolute best to fix him up...but his limbs are still weak from the experience, and the chances are that he won’t ever be able to properly run again. He has Zoe and Misty to help him in the swamp, at home, so his disability has never been a problem—without aid in a war camp he’d be crushed like a brown leaf underfoot.

“I don’t have a choice, Mist.” He sighs. “I got no choice.”

Zoe pulls him closer. “Bullshit! There must be something else we can do, you’re an exception.” Neither Zoe nor Misty voice the fact that Kyle is too weak to fight anyone for fear of offending him, but they all know it’s true.

He looks at her kindly. “Zoe...this isn’t something I can just get out of. They could take everything away from us if we don’t try—me and Misty are the only ones in my family left, and she don’t even have the same Pa as me.”

Misty doesn’t say anything else on the subject at all that night—but she does think about it when she’s out watering the plants late like she always does. When she goes back inside, she sees Kyle try to pick up a pan full of soup and cry out from the weight. Zoe rushes over to help him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he can’t even carry a pot with some soup in it.

He can’t go to war. They’ll kill him.

Misty Day is a lot of things, but unfortunately, a man isn’t one of them. The letter specifically asked for a male warrior.

It’s not like they’ll be lookin’ down my pants to check.

Their shack is small but Misty still has her own room, mostly because she has absolutely no desire to try and sleep to the sounds of her brother kissing and getting all lovey-dovey with Zoe. Her room is plain with not much in it decoration wise except for her indoor plants—the little colourful flowers that are her favourites, but too soft and gentle to be kept outside for when the rain falls hard and the wind blows strong.

They make her happy.

“I could go.” She says it aloud so it seems more real—and the more she thinks on it, the more she likes the idea. “I could go.”

It’s not like anyone really needs her here anymore except the alligators, and they really just see her as company. Zoe is perfectly capable of taking care of Kyle by herself, they’ll have a life together, a family. Misty’s just dead weight here at the end of the day, spending all her time talking to plants and animals who won’t talk back.

She has Kyle and Zoe, and she loves them, but she’s lonely.

So maybe she’s not a man, but Misty’s arms are stronger than any man she’s ever met—she can carry Kyle with one arm after years of pushing him around in a wheelchair, and she can hold her own against a couple angry gators when they’re in a mood. She thinks about telling Kyle about all of this and listening to his refusal (for a last conversation if nothing else), but if she goes now—gets to camp a day or so early—then he won’t be able to stop her and she’ll have saved him.

Sitting up, she pulls her blanket close to her chest and looks out of her window to the swamp. It’s the middle of the night but the moon is bright and there are thousands upon thousands of stars in the sky shining back down at her. Misty wonders if she’ll still be able to see them in the camp.

Taking a deep breath, she gently places her hand on the glass. It’s deceptively cool considering how hot and humid the swamp always is, and Misty acknowledges that she can’t just leave. She loves Kyle and Zoe a lot...and the swamp is everything to her. Every creature from the size of an eyelash to great big predators, every herb, flower and tree, it’s all part of her very soul.

You won’t be gone forever if you really try—but Kyle would be.

Tearing her hand away, Misty throws her blanket off and picks pull a strand of her hair out in front of her. Both her and Kyle got their curly blond masses from their late mother, and they have a slight sibling resemblance if you really look. Misty pulls her hair up in a tight pony tail and holds it, seeing what it looks like in the windows faint reflection.

She could pass as a guy if she kept it like that every day and strapped her admittedly small chest down—couldn’t she?

Maybe. Some guys just look feminine, she supposes, and it’s not like anyone would know any different is she tried to pass for her brother. They’re a private tribe, all their neighbours are either above the age of eighty since some people like to be ‘with nature’ towards the end of their life or not human. No one would know any wiser.

“Hi, I’m Kyle.” Misty offers her hand to the thick air in front of her, lowering her voice to make it sound like her brother’s. “Kyle Spencer.”

Decision essentially made, she grabs a bag a stuffs some of her more boyish clothes in it with some money and a poncho in case it rains. Using the glass for her mirror, Misty pulls her hair back tight into a bun and ties it with a red piece of ribbon, squinting at her attempt at a masculine appearance.

Close enough.

Leaving without even a little goodbye will break her heart, and Kyle’s even more, so she scribbles a quick something down and leaves it on her bed with the hopes that he won’t be too mad about it. Maybe he’ll be proud of her, one day.

The door opens and closes behind her, and Misty Day leaves her life behind in pursuit of the training camp.

 


 

“What do you want me to say?” Cordelia Goode snarls at her mother in a fit of previously compressed rage. “I can’t do anything about it—it isn’t my fault! I’ve tried everything! Do I have to just say it—I’m messed up, ruined , broken.

Her mother, Fiona Goode, the ruling Queen since the recent death of her late husband, slaps her daughter across the face to which Cordelia cannot help but whimper. It’s stupid, she knows, to be almost thirty years of age and still get upset when your mother scolds you but she can never seem to help it. “If people knew about your failures, then we’d be on spikes!” She roars. “Try harder!”

Since her failure is certainly not for lack of trying, Cordelia cannot help the twinge of tears that claw up her throat. Don’t you dare start crying, Cordelia Goode. “I’m sorry.

“Sorry is not fucking good enough, Delia.” The Queen snarls. “’Sorry’ doesn’t stop our line from ending, ‘sorry’ doesn’t stop that army of men rising up—it doesn’t change the fact that Harrison Renard’s army is getting closer to us every day, doesn’t stop him breaking down our gates and tearing our throats out, does it?”

That break her admittedly weak resolve, and Cordelia chokes out a sob. “It isn’t like I chose to be i-infertile—I want a baby even more than you want an heir...that’s all I ever wanted, mother.”

“Boo fucking hoo Delia.” What Fiona says is true—to an extent. Cordelia is the only heir to her father’s throne (though it’s always really been Fiona’s) and if she can’t have a baby, then they die out. The lack of patriarchy has led to one of her father’s greatest supporters rising up to claim the throne from himself, but if she can’t have a baby, there needn’t be a battle.

They have no other relatives. It’s a waiting game—but the way things are looking now, they won’t have much more time when Renard’s army comes with their knives and swords to tear their hearts out.

She’s tried everything she can think of. Her and Hank have seen any Doctor that Fiona can swear to secrecy, and no one has come to any conclusion other than ‘that’s just how things are, sometimes.’ In truth, Cordelia mostly wants a child for her own selfish reasons rather than the more pressing political issues—because she’s trapped in a marriage with a man she doesn’t love, with a man who was rich and horny and her father was easily convinced to sell her off.

“I’ll try harder.” She swallows and bites her lip.

“I don’t see you trying!” Fiona yells with finesse. “What are you doing here, talking to me, when he could be pumping you up with our fucking heir right now?”

You say ‘our’ heir like I’d ever let you lay a single finger on a single hair on any child of mine’s head.

Cordelia bows her head in shame she can’t help feeling. “I’ll...I’ll go find him.”

She runs out of the room before her mother can reply like the pathetic, weak leader she is. She isn’t even a proper leader, not really, just the future face of her mother’s rule. All she wants to do since she was a child is make her mother happy—all she wants is to be a good daughter, a good princess and future queen, but her body keeps failing her and if she can’t even have a baby then she’s useless.

Her husband would normally have been fucking the scullery maid—a red haired girl called Kaylee—around this time, but Cordelia isn’t the only person her mother’s knuckled down on. Everyone but her is off limits to him, which should make her happy, she supposes. A wife should want her husband to be loyal but Cordelia doesn’t give a flying fuck who he sleeps with as long as she can have a child, as long as she can finally have someone to pour all the love she has to give into.

“Spalding?” She calls to the servant who passes her by. “You haven’t seen Hank, have you?”

The man without a tongue shakes his head, so Cordelia keeps walking down to the maids quarters. Kaylee—as off limits as she has become—might know where he is since her husband has a reputation for disobeying her mother, no matter how many times Cordelia begs him otherwise.

The maids all live together in a couple of rooms underground that have 36 beds all crammed in together since Fiona doesn’t believe in giving the help any benefits that aren’t strictly required. Personally, Cordelia finds that philosophy ridiculous. There are more than 200 big bedrooms with enormous beds and old wooden furniture in the palace they live in, and literally two of them are occupied in total.

She goes down the spiral staircase that leads to the maids quarters in her black corseted dress that has white flowers sown into the bodice and skirts, to find three of the maids in conversation about something that clearly isn’t work related. At the sight of her they bow their heads and keep their silence.

Cordelia forces a smile and rushes past them, turning into a room to her left where, to her relief, Kaylee is sat with one of the cooks playing a card game. “Kaylee?” Cordelia calls.

The girl stands up and bows. “Your grace,” She says. “How may I be of service?”

“Have you seen my husband today?” She asks, self consciously wrapping an arm around her stomach that should have a baby in it but doesn’t. This girl is younger than her, prettier than her...of course Hank likes her. Hell, even Cordelia likes her, but not like that.

“No, your grace, but I think someone saw him in the library earlier.”

“Thank you. As you were.”

 When she’d been younger, Cordelia had been under the delusion that her mother might take her own wishes into account once and again. And in fairness, it hadn’t been her mother’s plot to marry her off to Hank—the Queen had even tried to stop it—but only because she’d claimed he reeked of a wet dog (spiritually and physically).  It isn’t like her own ideas for Cordelia’s marriage had been any nicer; they were all tall muscle men with thick biceps and even thicker minds.

She hates to think it, but Cordelia knows that’s exactly how her father was.

The library is on the third floor up, next to a few empty bedrooms that are never used. Not really a reader herself, Cordelia never really goes in there and keeps the few books she does look at in her greenhouse—her sanctuary. No one else can abide her plants and her chemical experiments, and she likes that.

I can’t believe I’m going to have sex because my mother told me too. I don’t even want to. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning, for God’s sake.

As Kaylee told her, Hank is in the library sitting on a purple sofa, back hunched over a large leather bound book. If he notices her entering the room, he doesn’t show it and keeps his eyes trained on the parchment.

“Hey,” Cordelia says almost timidly. Three years married and she still finds herself uncomfortable around him. “What are you reading?”

The look he gives her is blatantly fake, but she returns the smile. “History. Nothing interesting. Are you here to try again?” The book slams shut with a big slap and he’s unzipping his pants before she can answer the question.

I don’t want to have sex with you.

“No! No. I mean, that’s why my mother let me go but it can wait.” He looks mildly disappointed. “I’m just...I’m not ready to give up, but I wanted to talk to you about why we’re doing this.”

“I’m doing it because you’re mother blackmailed me, Delia.”

She sighs. “I know. But if we did manage to have a baby, do you think you could love it? Maybe not even that—spend time with him, or her, at least, help raise your child.”

The fact that Hank gives her a blank look tells Cordelia everything she needs to know, so she leaves the library with a sigh and heads for her greenhouse where no one will disturb her. Plants aren’t rude and don’t talk back or scream at you—she likes that about plants.

 


 

Misty Day doesn’t know a lot, but she does know that she probably shouldn’t be crying about the worm she just stepped on. Crying about Kyle and Zoe—that’d be reasonable—but for whatever reason it’s this still, pink little legless creature that’s lying on the floor that’s really set her off.

Wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her baggy blue t-shirt, she scoops it up and wraps her hands around it gently in some sort of apology, some sort of deep rooted regret that she knows is probably silly and immature but she can’t help it.

It’s takes ten minutes before she forces herself to move on from the lonely little worm and she gently lays it down by a tree and sends it a mental goodbye. Misty doesn’t see it, but a few minutes after she leaves that little worm wriggles back to life.

The watercress she pulls from the creeks have been her most stable source of nourishment in her trip so far, and she quite likes that, though is secretly craving some variation. There were directions to the camp in the note that Kyle was given and so Misty does have a rough idea of where she’s going, though is simply enjoying the simple pleasures of the nature around her while her journey goes on.

When she looks at herself in the admittedly murky water, she looks like a man. Not a very manly man—in truth, she could really pass for either sex—but there are surely some more feminine men out there. She’s also been practicing her man voice too; that’s something that’s more amusing to her that she likes to admit.

The camp is around the border between the swamps and the city—but still about two days from the palace and high command. When Misty comes across a trail in the swamp she realises that she’s never been so close to mainstream civilisation before, at least not that she can remember. There aren’t even any people here, but the path shows evidence of ghosts who’ve walked on it before her.

It’s only on the second day of her walk that she meets another person—as shocking as that is to her. They’re sitting on the front of a carriage with a horse plodding slowly onwards in front. The person notices her and smiles.

“Hey!” Misty says, excited. She’s barely ever met anyone that didn’t live in the swamp, and ever then they’d just been representatives of the Queen for a couple minutes.

The person, female, seems bemused. “Hey.” She says, stopping the carriage. “Can I assume you’re heading for the camp?”

She nods, remembering to use her low voice. “Yeah. I’m Kyle.” She says.

“Queenie.” The girl replies. “I’m just dropping off some supplies for the soldiers. Do you want a lift?”

Boy do I!

“That sounds great.” Misty smiles, having never been on a carriage before. This idea keeps getting better and better—she can’t believe she never left home sooner.

Chapter Text

Misty arrives at the camp late that afternoon—Queenie’s carriage cutting a day off her planned travel time. She realises that she quite likes the girl she’s travelling with, and she likes the horse—a mare called Winny—even more.

“I wasn’t even supposed to do this fuckin’ drop off.” Queenie tells her as they roll into the camp where Misty sees hundreds of men already drifting around everywhere. “But this ass wipe volunteered me so I didn’t have any say in it. Still, I guess it’s been cool meeting you Kyle.”

Misty nods, and in her deep voice asks, “Are ya staying around?”

“Nope. But I’ll be back in a couple weeks with more food from the fields.” She grins. “I guess I’ll see you then.”

“I’ll look forward to it. And thanks for lettin’ me sit on ya carriage.”

Queenie gives her a salute. “No problem. Now scram, I gotta give this stuff to command.”

Misty hops off the carriage with all her belongings and looks around. There are hundreds of small red tents lined up as far as she can see, as well as group of big white ones standing in a circle in the middle. Deciding that a congregation of men to her left are probably her best bet to knowing where she should go, Misty approaches them with confidence.

“Do ya know where I’m supposed ta go? I’ve just arrived.”

They tell her to head for the big white tent that has a big ‘administration’ sign on the front, which Misty feels a little stupid for not noticing before. There’s already a queue when she gets there, albeit a small one, and so she lets herself look around the big yet sparse tent a little more.

There is a woman with bright orange hair sitting at a desk with a pot of ink and pen talking to the man at the front of the line and writing some stuff down about him in a ledger. They have to keep track of everyone that arrives, Misty supposes, and that’s reasonable enough. What isn’t reasonable—or at least, not natural—is the state of this woman’s hair. Misty’s hair is curly and big in its own right, but the orange (not ginger, orange) mass on her head is big and bizarre paired with her cream cat eye glasses.

She’s third in the queue now. The two men in front of her are talking, she assumes their friends since they’re evidently familiar with each other. Misty hopes that she’ll manage to make some friends here but so far she’s felt ever so far out of her element.

There’s always someone else out there like ya. Don’t worry about it.

Queenie’s coming back in three weeks. If nothing else, she’ll get to talk to a familiar then. And maybe she’ll bring the same horse back with her, and Misty will be able to pet it. That isn’t too long, is it?

Second in the line. One of the men who were in front of her is waiting by the side for the other, and they’ve both given the same surname to the orange woman. They’re probably brothers, or maybe cousins, since Misty doesn’t think they look anything alike other than both being significantly shorter than her. Her superior height—5’10—makes her feel a little more masculine, if nothing else.

“Come forward, my dear.” The woman says, pen poised to write. The two men walk away. “Tell me your name.”

“Kyle Spencer.” Misty says, with a nervous smile. “What’s your name?”

The woman chuckles at that, and Misty can’t fathom why. “That’s never happened before, Mr Spencer.”

She frowns. “What’s never happened?”

“Anyone in this camp taking the slightest interest in who I am, my darling.” This woman speaks in way Misty can only describe as regal; it’s as interesting as it is alien. “My name is Myrtle Snow. I’m in charge of you all until General Foxx arrives to begin your training.”

Misty has never heard of General Foxx, but assumes he’s someone important, so simply nods. “That’s cool. I’m surprised they let a woman in charge. Not that I think they’re shouldn’t be a woman in charge—women are, well, great. Aren’t they, Mrs Snow?”

“It’s Miss, my dear. I don’t need a man to rule my life—we have a female ruler now, do we not? It is the age of the woman, Mr Spencer.” Myrtle Snow smiles at her. “How old are you?”

“I’m 22.” Misty supplies. “But my birthday’s only in a month.”

Myrtle notes her age and name down, and asks for her address—to which Misty can only say ‘the swamp’—and then tells her where she can get her tent. She walks away from Miss Snow with a smile on her face, wondering when she’ll make her next friend.

There are exactly seven big tents in a circle, Misty counts slowly. One is the administrations tent, three have food in them, another two are communal bathroom spaces (that Misty isn’t looking forward to figuring out) and the last is tent labelled ‘tents’. Opting for that one, Misty goes in to see several workers standing behind a long wooden table in front of rows and rows of numbered shelves with red fabric and poles lined up along them.

Misty approaches one of the workers with a smile. “Hey, I was hoping I could grab a tent.”

The worker stares at her blankly. “One person?”

She nods.

Next thing she knows it’s been half an hour and she’s still trying to figure out how to piece together this jumble of poles and red sheet. There aren’t any instructions or guidelines—you’d need some sort of training in engineering to work this out, surely.

Hundreds of other men walk past and stare at her, but not one offers to help. Eventually Misty is approached by a very bored looking woman wearing a black uniform with the queen’s sigil sown into it. “Hello, I’m Madison. May I be of service.” She doesn’t pose it as a question as she stands with her arms crossed and her eyes rolled.

“Uh, I can’t really figure this out.” Misty reddens sheepishly.

Madison looks down at the mess in front of her and sighs. “You’ve got to move the orange poles into one pile and the blue ones into another. Right now you’re just mixing them together like a bad salad.” She sniffs and doesn’t lift a finger help Misty as she sorts out the poles. “Now stick the orange ones together in a triangle—not, not like that!—do you even know what a fucking triangle is?”

She snatches the poles from Misty and sets them together with ease, evidently having done this before. For her part, Misty decides then and there that she doesn’t like this girl from her demeanour to her language. It’s rude.

“Have I done something to offend ya?” Misty asks her.

Madison barks a laughs. “Your voice is funny. No wonder you don’t know what a triangle is. You sound like an uneducated incest hillbillies.”

Don’t get mad. She’s just tryna piss you off.

With a glare, Misty takes the pole triangle—yes, she does know what a triangle is—and grips it. “What do I do now?”

“Stick the two blue ones in the holes there, and voila you’ve reached average human intelligence.” She drones. “Do you think you can do that?”

Don’t punch her. It’ll only make it worse, and ya need to put this tent up.

She successfully sets up the rest of the framework, and proceeds to drape the cover over it, clipping it up in the necessary places. She won’t admit it, but Misty cannot help being immensely proud of herself even if she was told what to do. Madison forces a smile at her and spins around, walking away.

“Thanks!” Misty calls, and just gets a waved hand in response.

After dumping her stuff inside and labelling her tent clearly, Misty heads off to grab some food from one of the big tents. There’s a queue with a few dozen people waiting to get some soup and bread from the looks of it, and about six long tables in the centre of the room lined up with hundreds of seemingly shouting in a cacophony of laughter and shouting and talking.

She doesn’t like it.

So, after grabbing her food and evacuating as soon as possible, she returns to her tent with the intention of eating alone this night. When she gets there, however, a boy who looks like he’s a little younger than her seems to be having similar tent struggles to her own.

“You’ve got to put the orange ones in a triangle.” Misty says in her man voice, putting her bowl down through her tent flaps. “Here.” She grabs two poles and throws one to him, helping him put them together.

He reddens but smiles at her. “Thanks. I’ve never put a tent up before—evidently.”

“I had the same problem.” Misty grins at him. “I’ll help you finish it, if ya want.”

“My manly instincts are telling me to sort it out by myself, but if I do I’ll be here all night. I’d appreciate some help, please, if it’s no trouble.”

Maybe he’ll be my friend.

“It ain’t any trouble. Now pass me one of those blue poles.”

 


 

 Cordelia cannot help but grin ecstatically as she sees her husband ride off from the palace. She tries to hide it, of course, but when her mother isn’t looking the sneaky little smile slips back on her face from the balcony they’re cordially waving from.

It’s not like Fiona really cares about him anyway.

Once her husband is out of sight, Cordelia turns to leave but is apprehended when her mother grabs her arm. “Why wouldn’t you go out with him, Delia?” The Queen says deceptively calmly.

She turns back around, meeting her eyes. “Because I hate the outdoors, and I’d have to stay in a tent. It’s not like you’d ever stay in a tent yourself.”

Fiona forces a respective smile. “You’re going out to see him in a week, Delia. I don’t give two shits whether you like the outdoors or not.”

The prospect of fighting back is almost appealing, but Cordelia holds her tongue. The whole concept of staying and sleeping outside makes her feel a little ill—sure, she loves nature, but she likes it contained in her little kingdom here at the palace. Out there, everything is uncontrolled and unrefined—not to mention cold, muddy and damp.

She leaves the balcony and through the glass doors and heads off with the intention of going to her greenhouse. Per her mother’s request, she’s been working on everything that can promote fertility from tea blends to nasty pastes that she has to spread down there. Her attempts at using thistles and nettles have been thus far unsuccessful, so she’s starting to move onto raspberry plants that, according to her botany books, promote conception and fertility.

Whether it works or not she is yet to find out, but she avidly prays that it will.

The greenhouse is neat and organised—the one realm in which no one questions Cordelia’s rule, the one place where she has any real authority. Her subjects are flowers and plants, her currency soil and sunlight, her armies fight with spades and watering cans. It is the only place she has left that makes her feel safe and happy.

It’s sunny so Cordelia walks over to the glass house without any extra layers. Today her mother has her in an expensive red gown with a tight corset that accentuates her waist, and a skirt large wide enough that it’s difficult to walk in. Her delicate silver tiara is poised perfectly on her head only because Hank’s departure was a public affair, and her mother wants her to look beautiful.

Maybe she does look it, but she sure doesn’t feel beautiful.

Beauty is subjective.

Cordelia enters her greenhouse and closes the door behind her, sliding her gloves on and going straight to her red raspberry plant that’s growing well. She spins the clay pot around to regard it at all angles and smiles, taking out a little glass and filling it up with water from the bucket of rain water she keeps in the corner of her space. It had all been her idea—the string that connects to one of the glass panes of the ceiling and stays open so that the bucket can fill with rainwater, and tugs closed when it’s full.

It dawns upon her that when her mother sends her away to be with Hank, she won’t be able to take care of her plants. As much as it pains her to do so, she’ll probably have to have one of the maids come in and water them every day and rotate them in the sun so that they grow evenly.

I don’t want to go.

If Cordelia could keep a bed and bathroom out here, then she’d stay in her little haven always. Her mother would never approve of that, of course; if Fiona had her say over everything in Cordelia’s life—and she almost does—then she’d spend all her time trying to knock herself up, eating minimally and sleeping with her husband inside her.

“Oh!” She notices a wilting belladonna plant in the corner with its purple flowers closed, and brings it out next to her raspberry one. In truth, she doesn’t know why she keeps a belladonna since most of her plants have some sort of use. It isn’t even that pretty. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that she could poison her mother or husband whenever and they’d never know, as morbid as that sounds, that gives her a strange sense of comfort.

Could they blame me, if I was the one to kill them?

No, she’s no murderer. Not even for lack of intent, she simply doesn’t have the stomach for violence and the effects of deadly nightshade are terrifying to say the least—attacking the nervous system like a tiger in its prey.

Setting the plant back by the glass, Cordelia goes back to her raspberry plant and plucks off one of the ripened berries to eat. It isn’t the berries themselves that promote fertility, but the leaves, when boiled and made into tea— so she proceeds to pluck some of them off for her to use later. Whether it’ll have any effect or not she doesn’t know, but can only pray to whatever God may be listening that the tea will help.

A week later, she sets off with a modest party to the camp where her husband awaits her with a pouch of raspberry leaves and, for reasons she can’t quite explain to herself, a handful of glistening, black belladonna berries tucked neatly into her case.

One other plus of going to the camp, she supposes, is that her Auntie Myrtle—the woman who really raised her—will be there too. The extravagantly dressed woman has been gallivanting all over Fiona’s kingdom for months bringing more soldiers to the cause, and for good reason. Cordelia’s problems are petty compared to the grand scale war that’s starting to rise up—Harrison Renard is a very dangerous man, and her mother is almost justified in her urgency to have an heir.

Almost. Cordelia isn’t prepared to name her mother correct in any form of the word.

“Do you know how long this trip’ll take, your grace?” Nan, her handmaiden, asks. She’s a sweet girl that Cordelia trusts, and is happy to be with in close quarters for a couple days.

“It should be about two days. Three if we stop to spend the nights somewhere with beds.” Cordelia tells her. She doesn’t know whether she’s going to do that or not yet—part of her wants to delay this trip as long as possible so she doesn’t have to see Hank, and the other wants to speed it up so she can be reunited with her Auntie Myrtle.

Nan, innocent as she is, smiles. “Are you excited to see your husband again?”

The princess sighs, and looks out the window of her carriage. It’s started raining and her guards are riding beside her soaking wet. “Of course I am.”

Chapter Text

Misty is utterly delighted with herself for becoming friends with the boy she helped on the first day, and also for becoming quite the pro at tent construction. His name is Luke, he’s from the city, and—as it turns out—is about as useless with this whole war soldier thing as she is (which is something that Misty takes great comfort in).

The first three days she spends at the camp are mostly about familiarising herself with the environment since General Foxx hasn’t arrived to orchestrate the training yet. All the men get split into squadrons and assigned a commander, Luke and Misty are fortunate enough to be put together under the command of General Foxx himself, something that will begin in a couple days.

“You know,” Misty says the morning before his arrival with a mouth full of porridge. “I bet this general guy isn’t as scary as everyone is makin’ out. I bet he’s short or somethin’.”

Luke laughs. “I saw him once before. He isn’t that short.”

“If you had to guess, though?” She can’t help but imagine a 4 foot man in camo gear.

“I don’t know.” He shrugs and smiles. “You’ll see him later on anyways. I heard he’s arriving today.”

The bratty girl that helped Misty with her tent, Madison, is serving food to the soldiers in her uniform with a scowl. After inquiring about why she was here, another worker had said that some low level prisoners and homeless women were sent here to work and try to achieve some sort of honour. Misty wondered what that bitter girl has done to end up here, but really doesn’t want to associate with her again so just quietly observes from a distance.

Misty and Luke keep mostly to themselves—a lot of the men here are older and the stereotypical ‘manly man’, the kind of people that Misty worries might see through her guise. Luke is a religious boy, honest and kind and unlikely to ever question her, so she is completely content staying with him exclusively.

A mass of orange hair appears at the entrance of the tent with a spoon and a champagne glass. Miss Snow taps the glass with the flat end of the utensil and waits as the chatter dissipates throughout the clusters of men.

Miss Snow waits until the only sound is everyone’s breathing before she speaks. “General Foxx will be arriving in approximately half an hour. All of you are required to line up in an orderly fashion so that we can greet the general with the respect and honour he deserves.”

There is an underlying groan that acts as the reply from the men.

“I expect everyone to be sharp and ready in five minutes.” She says, glancing around through thick-rimmed spectacles, and then exiting the tent.

Luke rolls his eyes. “This’ll be fun.”

Misty just bites her lip. “If he’s arriving, it means that training will start soon.”

“I’m sure it won’t be too bad.”

Men slowly start to filter out of the tent, Misty and Luke somewhere in the middle, while Miss Snow and the workers organise people into rows. Some of the men evidently are having trouble with the female authority to the point where some other lesser commanders, all men, have to come to settle things down.

What is their problem?

They stand for about ten minutes in mild temperatures before the rumbling of the carriage becomes audible and the general rolls in with his less than modest part all geared up for, as far as Misty can, absolutely no reason. Even the horses have red coats to match the generals, they seem to be made of leather, with the Queen’s sigil sown into them.

“Highest honours and respect to Henry Foxx, High General of the Queen’s army!”

He’s gonna get that pretty red shit all muddy.

Everyone bows when he reveals himself so Misty and Luke follow suit. She looks to her companion with a frown. “If he’s married to tha princess, why is he just a general? Shouldn’t he be a prince?”

Luke shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess he’s not got any royal blood so he doesn’t get the title.”

The orange haired woman approaches him and he kisses her hand. She looks disappointed but Misty can’t tell why. Soon enough all the men are allowed to get back to their own devices before a midday gathering where they’ll be formally briefed regarding their training.

Luke goes to the bathroom (something that Misty hasn’t been able to use for obvious reasons) so Misty sets out to wait for him, but finds herself wandering off through the sea of tents. Sometimes she finds herself regretting her brash decision to come to this place a little—sure, it’s been okay so far but she hasn’t even started training yet. She misses Kyle and Zoe—she misses the swamp and all her creatures that would come see her every day, the gators she would swim with and wouldn’t ever hurt her.

People here aren’t half as sweet.

She gets to the back row of tents which are lined up by the edge of the forest and approaches the trees. The unspoken rule is that all soldiers are supposed to stay on the enormous field that acts as their training ground which is lined with forest at all angles. To the south are more forests and then the swamp—to the north are finer trees and then the big city. This field is like a midpoint, and Misty would be lying if she said she wouldn’t rather be out with nature.

The trees seem to speak to her on a spiritual level she can’t quite understand, so Misty steps past the tree barrier and feels mildly guilty for leaving Luke to fend for himself. She’ll be back soon anyways—he’ll be fine.

It isn’t long before she hears someone else’s voice close by, and sees a cluster of shadows behind a tree. There’s a group of people so she shields herself behind an old oak to avoid being spotted—it’s only been a few days, she really doesn’t want anyone to already have it out for her.

“Get the fuck off me!” She hears a familiar female voice seethe. “I was wasted one time, okay? Get over it. You’re too ugly to look at without me wanting to chuck my guts up.”

There isn’t a verbal response from whoever she’s talking too, but after a yelp and the distinct sound of kicking and scratching Misty would have been a fool not to understand what’s going on. She also comes to realise that voice belongs to the rude girl with the tents, Madison.

I could help her, Misty thinks. These men are going to violate her. I could help her.

Whether she’d be successful in her aid or not, Misty isn’t sure—there are two, maybe three men there and, from what their shadows would suggest, they aren’t weedy little boys. On a good day Misty could probably fight one man assuming he was slow and a little stupid—this seems just foolhardy and unrealistic.

But the thought of someone violating a woman, whether she be angel or devil, makes Misty feel so sick to her stomach that she cannot hold her legs back as they approach the scene in which Madison’s clothes have been partially ripped away and one man is holding her against a tree trunk.

“Let her go.” Misty intends for it to sound strong and scary but it comes out a little feeble.

“Get lost.” A different man says, sizing her up. Misty tries not to gulp. “You didn’t see anything here.”

She shakes her head, and momentarily wonders if she has any real self preservation instincts buried beneath good morals and biceps. “You’re going to hurt her. That ain’t right. Let her go.”

The man shoves her to the ground and Misty lands against her hip, feeling her teeth clash at the contact. “Don’t make me fuck you up.”

She looks up at him and sees an opportunity—Misty swings her leg round and trips him up where he stands, jumping back to her feet and using all her force to punch the guy holding Madison between the legs. “Run!” She yelps to the girl, and the worker takes no time doing just that, Misty right on her tail.

Once over their dazed state and back on their feet the men begin to chase them down, and it is in this moment that the Cajun realises she is fucked.

 


 

“And then I said ‘well, that was totally uncalled for’ and she said that she didn’t mean it, but I know she did.” Nan says in conclusion to yet another tale of drama in the servants quarters. “I just know these things. It’s like a sixth sense of something.”

Cordelia nods along staring out of the window. They’re in rural territory at this point, but still have a way to go before they reach the camp—before her break from her husband ends. She’s enjoyed her short period of celibacy more than she can say.

“I’m sure you’re right.” Cordelia says as not to be rude.

Nan nods. “Yeah. I know. I feel like I’m talking a ton. Maybe you could tell me a story, your grace?”

With a laugh Cordelia shakes her head. “Nothing I have to say could possibly interest you. If I’m honest, I really don’t do very much.”

“You’re the only princess! Surely you must have something to say.” It is entirely possible that Nan has crossed the informality boundary since slipping in a ‘your grace’ every now and then doesn’t account for sulking, but Cordelia isn’t prepared to do anything about it.

“Well...” She falters, trying to think of something to appease the maid. “What would you like to hear?”

Nan grins. “Won’t you tell me about your wedding day, my lady?”

Ah. To be honest, Cordelia isn’t sure what else she could have expected. Every girl, herself included, dreams of falling in love, having the perfect wedding and pretty little babies—sometimes she forgets that she’s been married for five years and Nan is still only 17.

“Do you remember it? You must have been only 11 or 12 at the time.”

“I remember standing in a crowd and not being able to see anything. There were hundreds and thousands of people.” She says.

“Yes.” She internally grimaces at the thought. While a dream for some, her wedding had been quite the horrendous affair—and while her dress had been so intricate and beautiful, the city streamed with white ribbons and banners and everything made so perfectly she’d cried the entire morning until he mother had slapped her and told her to suck it up. “It was...a big day.”

“I wish I could have a wedding like that. I haven’t met the right guy yet, but I know I will soon.” Nan looks up dreamily. “Being a princess must be so great.”

She bites her lip. “I didn’t get to choose my husband. I guess that’s a not-so-good part of being a princess. You’ve got all this freedom—you can be anything you want!”

Nan laughs. “I can be a handmaiden, or a school teacher or a nurse. Only you are going to rule an empire someday.”

“I suppose.”

I’m not a ruler—I’m more of a pawn that anyone knows.

They stop after another hour or so for the horses, and Cordelia takes the opportunity to stretch her legs. Something about the wilderness has always been intimidating to her, the sheer size and strength of the trees are out of her control, she misses her little kingdom back home. Still, it is preferable to the stuffy carriage she’s been sitting in for what feels like decades with all the recirculation of air.

She likes Nan well enough, but in short bursts. Perhaps she should have chosen another maid to accompany her.

It’s too late for that now. It suddenly occurs to Cordelia that she’s never been this far out of the city for simple lack of desire—her mother has been all over their land from the swamps to the snowy mountains up north but she’s always managed to wriggle out of such trips.

Never the adventurer, the rest of the world has always lacked any sort of appeal to Cordelia. She likes order and familiarity and the sheer irregular thing that is nature that is everywhere outside of the city walls scares her more than it excites her. An alchemist, she realises she should probably be taking at interest to all that plant life around but she cannot help feeling repelled as her feet pass over the crunching leaves and little beasts scuttle around beside, underneath and next to her.

One of the guards calls her back, and Cordelia is happy to be back on their way—and dreading their arrival simultaneously.

 


 

“Hurry up!” Misty pants as she keeps running, literally having to drag Madison behind her since the girls short legs can’t seem to manage to keep up. They swerve between the tents in attempts to lose the men behind her—never turning back since the fear of encountering one of them is almost crippling.

She passes behind the bathroom tent and sees a confused Luke who proceeds to run up beside her with a worried glance, not even noticing her assailants.

“Kyle, what are you doing? And who is she?”

“Don’t ask fuckin’ questions—“She pants and shoots a look behind her.

Spotting the two men behind her she picks up the pace and turns back around, but not before she runs strait into someone and topples over face-first into the muddy ground. “Oh, I’m so sorry—“ She jumps back up to her feet immediately and almost faints when she realises she just came crashing at full speed into General Foxx.

The General looks unimpressed. “What on earth were you doing?”

She spares no time in pointing the finger. “They were chasin’ us.”

“They tried to assault me. That’s a crime with the punishment of castration.” Madison sniffs, hugging herself since a lot of her clothes as missing. “Please, General Foxx, arrest them.”

Misty offers Madison her jacket shyly, something that the girl gladly takes and shoots a slightly thankful look in response. The two guys run off in the other direction and, as any honest man would, the general sends a couple of his guards after them.

“What is your name?” He raises an eyebrow to Misty and she gulps.

“Kyle Spencer, sir.” She looks at her feet like a child being told off.

“I could get you arrested too for careless misconduct.” He states, and she bites into her lip so hard it starts bleeding.

Madison looks up. “He’s pretty stupid but he did help me, General. Please don’t punish him.” It actually physically hurts for her to say that, but it appears she has some form of a moral code, at least.

He sighs and looks oddly bored. “I shall let you go this once. But I’ve got my eye on you, Spencer.”It still feels strange to Misty responding to the name ‘Kyle Spencer’ and not hearing ‘Misty Day’ at all. She wonders how long it’ll be before she hears her real name again.

“I’m so sorry, sir.” Misty looks up into his eyes pleading. “And you won’t regret this; I’ll be as good as gold, I promise.”

With a condescending look and twist of his heel, the general walks off in the direction he came from with quite excellent posture. Misty releases a breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding, and receives an incredulous look from Luke. “What the hell was that, Kyle?”

She shakes her head and sighs deeply. “I...I think it’s safe to say I let my morals get the better of my judgement on this one. But I still think I did the right thing.”

“What you did was cool,” Madison’s looking at the floor. “...thanks.”             

That does make the swamp girl smile. “No problem. Take care of yourself.” She turns back to Luke. “I’ll tell ya later. Is there any food left in the tent? I’m starvin’—“

“Wait!” Madison runs in front of the pair. “Could I maybe...come with you?”

“Sure.” Misty smiles at her. “Madison, this is Luke. Luke, Madison.”

The worker girl looks Luke up and down like a piece of meat, something that Misty doesn’t fail to notice.

He offers her his hand to which she takes to shake eagerly. “Hey. Madison Montgomery. If you’re from the city you might have heard of me—I was in plays the got quite popular. An actress. I work here now though, it sucks ass. Everyone else on the staff is a bitch. I’ll probably just hang around you guys from now on.”

If all the other members of staff are bitches—what does that make you?

Luke remarks that her name rings a bell—he’s from the city, after all—but has never frequented the theatre. Misty thinks that he’s probably just being polite, as is his nature.

 Misty doesn’t really mind the prospect of having Madison Montgomery around, she decides. She’s abrasive and rude but evidently has a softer side, and everyone deserves a chance. In truth, she’s really just delighted to have another friend who’s genuinely interested in spending time with her (even if her reasons are initially selfish), and her little group is shaping up to be something quite special.

“Anyway, about the food—“

Chapter Text

Cordelia is completely unsurprised to discover that the camp is indeed as filthy and oestrogen starved as she expected—and she’s taken maybe two steps out of her carriage when she finds herself wishing for her greenhouse even if she has to suffer her mother’s presence to get there.

Even that seems better than this.

To his credit, Hank does attempt to make her arrival slightly pleasant. He has a bouquet of red roses that she’s certain someone else must have had shipped in for her, and walks her into the overly large tent that they are supposed to share. Fortunately for the princess, considering how big of a project this all is—and the fact that her husband is ‘leading’ it—after the arrival he doesn’t actually have any time for her, so she is spared of his dull personality until late in the evening.

Nan is set up with a small tent just off to the side if Cordelia’s and for that the princess is more grateful that she’ll admit. The presence of the maid is an excuse for Cordelia, an alibi should she ever wish to escape her husband once the project is underway and less hectic. If it was her choice to make, she’d probably have Nan in her own tent if only to stop her husband touching her.

The maid stays with her making one-sided conversation until the sun sets and she heads off to one of the food tents. Being strictly speaking the most highly ranked person in the camp (not that Hank would ever acknowledge that particular fact) she gets her own dinner brought to her on a tray with napkins and a bottle of rosé. The food is plain and Cordelia finds herself almost forcing it down, but figures they can’t really keep much else in a war camp.

Wine gets stashed in one of her cases, she hates to drink alone, and instead she pulls out her raspberry tea leaves. Really, she should call for someone and have then go boil them but in a sudden wave of uncertainty she decides to leave it.

After about 15 minutes of laying around doing nothing, Cordelia decides that she may as well get up on her feet and take a walk instead of killing her brain cells with boredom in solitude. She is unsurprised and yet still disappointed to find a group of guards outside waiting to escort her. The men at this camp are, as far as she’s seen, lively and happy people—but all the excitement dies down as soon as she walks past. It’s probably not even her who has the effect; her guards carry heavy duty weapons that they will not hesitate to use should anyone approach, but it still makes her feel melancholy. Had she been born to almost anyone else Cordelia does not doubt she would be able to make a friend at least.

Suck it up and smile, she hears Fiona’s phantom voice at the back of her head.

 


 

Misty, Luke and Madison have taken to eating outside by their tents rather than keeping in the hall since it’s always loud and claustrophobic in there, plus (even though she won’t admit it) it scares Madison to be so close to hundreds of men just like those who assaulted her just a few days before. Herself, Misty is actually very happy with this arrangement since it’s midsummer and the sun goes up really early around this time of year.

It’s breakfast, and Misty has butterflies in her stomach as she wolfs down her foor in anticipation of her first real day of training with General Foxx.

“You’re both gonna be totally crushed.” Madison comments, something that doesn’t help Misty’s confidence in the slightest.

Luke rolls his eyes and flexes his biceps. “Haven’t you seen me? I’m practically a God here. If anyone’s getting crushed its Kyle.”

“And why is that?” Misty asks through a mouthful of porridge.

“Well, I’m not the one who pissed off the General, am I?” Misty cringes thinking back on that unfortunate encounter. She desperately hopes that the General has forgotten about her literally running right into him.

“Look over there.” Madison points to a brunette girl who isn’t wearing worker uniform like Madison does—Misty is very grateful for the change of topic. “She’s new.”

“She looks lost.” Misty sighs. The girl is clutching a bowl of porridge and seems to be at a loss amidst the sea of identical tents. Standing, Misty catches her eye and gestures for her to approach—something that the girl does quickly. Ever a compassionate soul, Misty smiles at her. “You alright there?”

“Yeah. Everyone was so loud in the tent...I was just going to go back to my lady’s tent but I can’t find it. Everything here just looks the same.” Her face softens as soon as her eyes meet Luke’s. “Hi.”

“Hi.” He smiles back.

“Your lady’s?” Madison buts in. “What are you, Snow’s toilet scrubber or something?”

In an unprecedented display of confidence, the girl rolls her eyes. “I’m Princess Cordelia’s handmaiden. I arrived with her yesterday afternoon.”

“Really? That’s so cool.” Luke gives her a childlike grin. “You can sit with us, if you like. We aren’t as scary as you think.”

Madison snorts. “Speak for yourself.”

“Maddi, you’re literally 5’2”.” Misty grins.

Madison gives her the middle finger and rolls her eyes. “What’s your name, new girl?”

“Nan.” She says.

“I’m Luke, this is Kyle and Madison.” Luke tells her as she sits down beside them. “We’re all new here, so you really aren’t that different. What’s it like working for the princess?”

Nan shrugs. “She’s nice enough. A bit boring, to be honest. She doesn’t really do anything.”

Misty, perhaps the one person on the earth who knows little to nothing about the royal family finds herself unsurprised to hear that a princess does nothing. What’s in that job description, anyways? Look pretty, marry? When one is born into money and stability, is there really anything in life to aim for?

“Well she’s doesn’t need to be interesting, I guess. She’s been loaded since she left the womb.” Madison says. “And isn’t too hard to look at like some of the girls I know.”

No one validates that with a response, and it goes ignored. “So are you staying here long?” Luke asks.

“As long as Princess Cordelia does, I guess.” Nan tells him. “I’m not sure exactly. Her mother wanted her close to her husband so I’m not sure she’ll be allowed back any time soon, and I have to be here to dress her and be her companion most of the day and night.”

“That doesn’t sound half bad. My mornings are spent washing fucking bowls.” Madison hands her half empty bowl to Misty for her to finish.

Suddenly a whistle blows and Misty finds her attention drawn to a tall man standing in authoritative clothing. Once the noise dies down enough that he can be heard, he sends out the warning that everyone is expected with the rest of their groups with their assigned mentor to start their work in half an hour. Misty finds herself feeling very mixed about the entire situation, though doesn’t say anything about it out loud.

Half an hour later, when the groups all meet up at different places across the field, she is dressed normally. Her hair is up in a topknot as it is everyday and she’s wearing a pair of baggy trousers and a loose t-shirt—the majority of the people in her squadron have similar attire, it seems, save for a few men who flock to the front in evidently more expensive and more practical gear. From first glance they seem like city men, the kind who are rich from family money and have no idea what they’re getting themselves into.

In fairness to them, Misty doesn’t really know what she’s getting herself into either.

Don’t start doubting yourself now.

Groups assemble all across the field all looking up to their assigned leader, anxious and curious to begin. Misty finds herself unsurprised and almost a little disappointed when General Foxx declares; “Run six laps of the field quickly, just to warm up.”

Now Misty isn’t a runner—something that has become apparent to her when running away from three bigger, stronger men a few days ago—and even then she was full of adrenaline. And this is a big field, it has hundreds, maybe thousands of people living here in a maze of tents that stretch out far and wide plus a perimeter around it with is another thirty feet or so. In other words, the field is fucking enormous, and after a quarter of a lap a good half the squadron has given up and Misty and Luke are prepared to collapse.

They stop half of the way, not the furthest but my no means the shortest distance anyone in the group obtains. Misty’s chest is burning as she pants heavily, phlegm builds up in her throat and she has to lean over and spit it out. Her legs are an awful mixture of frozen stiff and burning hot—Luke, who’s lying panting on the floor beside her, is doing no better.

 The longest distance anyone makes is 2 laps, and that poor man throws up afterwards.

Foxx is unimpressed with all of them. “I asked for soldiers, not little boys playing war!” He snarls and Misty finds herself disliking him more by the minute.

Maybe you try running six laps, and then come back to me.

Her legs are extremely painful from overexertion but she manages to stand and walk over to the General anyway, her and Luke using each other as rests. The men who don’t get up immediately are hauled up and dragged along to the General, and for the first of many times that day Misty finds herself thanking God that she has some form of physical fitness from her upbringing.

“I want you all up at dawn, attempting the six laps every day.” He says in a commanding tone. “By the time you’re through with training, every single one of you will be hardened soldiers unless you prove yourselves weak, in which case you shall go running home with your tail between your legs.”

Then and there, Misty Day promises herself that she won’t be one of those people.

If anyone had been under the impression that they were getting some sort of rest break, they are proven surely wrong when the General has a man pull out a large trunk of wooden swords. With a gulp Misty receives the play weapon, its hilt is foreign to her, and it suddenly dawns upon her that the thought of harming another living creature truly horrifies her.

They pair up and start some basic manoeuvres, hitting at each other and blocking like children playing with sticks. Misty tries to copy everyone else who seems to know a little of what to do—hold it with one hand, or two? Swipe first, or block? Luke is gentle with her, which she appreciates, and in return she only taps him gently when her wood makes contact with his arm. Their ‘fight’ is a kitten compared to some of the predatory brawls going on beside them from all different angles that the General seemingly has no interest in sorting out.

It takes about half an hour before the General calls for them to stop, and the rest is Misty’s morning is spent in intense cardio and limb workouts. Half the squadron aren’t able to participate in all of this, and while admittedly a rest would have been properly appreciated, she almost has too much pride to just give in already.

When she relays all this to Madison and Nan later on (the latter finding herself sticking around in Misty’s little group) both of them can’t quite seem to be able to stop laughing.

“It really isn’t funny.” Luke groans, massaging his shoulder. “It’s been one day and my legs are already ready for amputation. None of the other groups are working anywhere near as hard as us, at least not to start with.”

“I’m not sure what you were expecting.” All of them had received a plate of questionable grey meat and vegetables as a lunch though, taking pity on the soldiers, Madison and Nan had given over most of theirs. “This is a war training camp, not some sort of school sports lesson.”

In truth, Misty isn’t quite as shattered as Luke, but that in no way means she can keep up with Foxx’s ridiculous expectations. This, she assumes, comes from far more exposure to the outdoors and the heavy lifting of her brother that she’s done for years—and for that, she finds herself grateful, else wise she’d be right at the bottom of her squadron right now. Luke’s a city boy who really hasn’t done that much hard work in his life, the fact that he’s close to keeping up to her at this point probably suggests that he’s got a natural aptitude for it. He’ll do well here, and will most definitely get through the training.

“Princess Cordelia came out for a few minutes to watch you while you were running,” Nan says. It’s directed at the group but she’s looking at Luke with a wide smile. “She seemed to feel sorry for you, actually. It was about the time when she first few guys collapsed.”

Misty winces. “I’m just happy we weren’t first.”

“Yeah,” Luke says. “I think it’s best if we stay somewhere in the middle of the group. Try not to attract any more attention to ourselves, Kyle.

“It was an accident!” She throws her hands up in defence, which triggers a giggle from the group. “It’s like I went about it thinking—Oh hey, you know what be fun today, I’m gonna run into the General!”

Misty isn’t sure why but she feels almost bad for the General, at least from what she’s seen—especially if Nan’s rather bland description of his wife it in fact correct. The physical labour of the lower classes is difficult and rough but Misty far prefers it to all the complex political games that go on with Kings and Queens and Generals and all the other rich people.

Besides, he’s a totally asshole, and that’s got to come from somewhere.

This is something that Misty will continue to relay to herself no matter how hard the next six weeks or training proves to be.

 


 

One thing that does become apparent by the third day of her stay at this war camp, Cordelia realises, is that Nan is taking progressively longer and longer to return from meals. The girl has the option to stay with Cordelia for meals but in truth the princess was initially grateful for a break from the same face all day, every day.

But now she’s curious. Nan left more than an hour ago for dinner, and normally she’s back by now. It’s starting to get dark and Hank will be back in a couple hours for their dreaded daily rendezvous, and after boiling some tea, updating her daily journal and laying around for what feels like an eternity Cordelia finds herself simply too bored to remain static for much longer.

Fortunately, the moment of these thoughts is also when Nan helpfully decides to reappear—running into her tent panting like she’s just run a marathon. “Sorry I’m late my lady—I’m really sorry, oh my lord—I lost track of the time—“

“Where were you?” Cordelia asks, standing up in a light blue, relatively subtle dress.

Nan blushes. “I was with...some new friends. I know I’m here to just serve you, my lady, I’m very sorry—“

“Don’t be sorry.” She struggles not to roll her eyes at the obligatory grovelling. “Tell me about them. Your new friends.”

“I met them when we arrived, Kyle called me over to eat with them...they’re actually fun to hang out with.” Nan smiles at the topic, which is all it takes to lighten Cordelia’s own mood. “Madison is one of the worker girls here, Kyle and Luke are both soldiers. I’ve been hanging out with them ever since, and...”

“And?”

“Luke is so attractive. I could just eat him up.” Cordelia finds herself unexpectedly laughing at that and the handmaiden brightens even more. “He’s tall and he’s got this really sweet, kind face—but then he takes off his shirt and it’s like uh, hello! I mean Madison totally likes him too but I don’t think he likes her at all—I’ve just always been good at reading people, you know?”

The princess smiles at her, not quite melancholy. “He sounds wonderful.”

“Oh, he is!” She exclaims. “I know I’m supposed to stay with you all night, but do you think it would be okay if I snuck out for a couple hours to go see him?”

Cordelia frowns, thinking on it. She isn’t a selfish person but, at the end of the day, she isn’t sure she’s willing to stomach another few hours of lonely boredom until Hank comes back. Nan should be here, with her, keeping her moderately entertained before she is required for something else—not for the first time, Cordelia wonders if this sense of self-entitlement is something that she has for getting everything she wanted as a child.

After a long moment, she looks up. “Okay. But don’t be gone too long, I want you up early as normal tomorrow morning.”

“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!” Nan beams at her. “You’re the best, Miss Cordelia!”

I’m sure.

As soon as Nan is gone, Cordelia instantly regrets her decision but hasn’t the effort to go asking for her back, nor the cruelty in her. There’s a long enough period in which she falls asleep, but is quickly awakened in the dead of night when her husband stalks back into their tent and pumps into her while she lays, motionless, beneath him wishing to be literally anywhere else.

I don’t want you anymore.

Let me go.

Chapter Text

It’s been a week, and Misty is very happy to say that despite her newly found ridiculous appetite and gruelling daily physical routine, she’s starting to get abs.

Her stomach’s always been flat but most of the physical work she’s done before had been on her arms, but now the rest of her is beginning to follow suit. In truth, she’s quite delighted about it, and if she didn’t have two breasts then she’d walk around with her shirt off showing it off to everyone.

She’s not going to, though. It’s not like she’s stupid.

One thing that did also happen in the past week, to no one’s surprise but Madison’s annoyance, is that Nan has become Luke’s official girlfriend. They kiss sometimes at meals and cuddle and spend every free second possible together which Misty finds sweet. Part of her wishes she could have something that with someone—not now, but at some point in her life—since they both seem so much happier for it.

“It’s his birthday next week,” Nan tells her, Misty is accompanying her to go and get some water for the princess while Madison and Luke put dog shit in the General’s chocolate desert. “And I know he’s not supposed to celebrate anything like that while he’s here, but I really wanna do something for him.”

Misty nods. “Well you could get him some flowers, since there aren’t any shops round here. There’s a spot round the lake that has lots of really beautiful water lilies.”

“I don’t think he’s like that.” Nan shakes her head. “I was going to give him my own flower, if you get what a mean.”

“Uh...” Misty has no idea what she’s talking about. “Do you like plants?”

She frowns. “Why’d you ask?”

“Cause you just said...oh, you know what, never mind.” Misty says. “I had my own garden back home and grew all kinds of stuff—food, flowers, healing stuff, everything. I ain’t ever found anyone who connects with plants like I do. I really miss it.”

Nan looks at her. “That’s funny. Back at the palace the princess has her own greenhouse. That’s where she spends like her entire life.”

“It must be amazing.” Misty says. “Her greenhouse, I mean.”

“It’s okay.” The handmaid shrugs. “Just a glass house with a lot of green stuff in it.”

They stop by the lake and Misty helps Nan fill a large pail full of water for the princess’ bath. Most of the men bathe in the lake itself every couple of weeks, this particular issue is something Misty has solved by coming out every couple of days when it’s dark so that no one sees her. Realistically, she could just bathe every couple of weeks as it the status quo but there’s something about stinking that makes it hard for her to sleep.

They’re about halfway back to the camp when Nan drops the pail. “Shit!”

“It’s okay!” Misty says, picking it back up even though most of the waters run out of it. “There’s still some left.”

Nan groans. “It’s just so heavy! We have to go back.”

“I can take it for you, of you like.” Misty says. “I got biceps. It ain’t too heavy for me.”

“Are you sure?”

She nods. “Yeah. You go see your princess—it’s the big white tent, right?”

“Right.” Nan gives her a hug. “You’re a lifesaver, Kyle. Seriously.”

Misty jogs back to the lake and fills the pail back up, lifting it onto her head and balancing it there. She used to do this a lot for Kyle back when he couldn’t even bathe himself, though admittedly the walk from the swamps to the tub wasn’t anywhere near as long as this one is going to be. It’s not the weight she’s worried about but the time it’ll take for her to get there—she can see the royal tent but right now it’s just a little speck in the distance.

She picks up the pace but doesn’t dare start running for fear of spilling any of the water. It gets slightly more difficult when she gets deeper into the camp since there are people running all around from every direction not looking where they’re going; Misty finds she has a new found appreciation for Nan’s job which she had previously considered simple.

As she finally approaches the tent she sees a set of fully armoured guards standing outside, still as stone and stern as a corpse. To her great relief they part to let her in—Nan must have forewarned them of her pending arrival—and Misty steps through the thick white fabric of the tent to see Nan and the Princess inside.

The Princess has been at the camp for a little while now so of course Misty’s seen her around before but never very close, and never with any purpose. But now, as the golden haired women spins around in a powder blue robe with embroidered white roses she almost drops the pail.

“Kyle?” Nan prompts, and Misty shakes her head and looks towards a large wooden tub to her left that’s set over a fire.

“D-do you want me to, uh...”

“Put the water just in there, if you please.” The Princess says in a voice so regal and delicately beautiful that Misty could just cry right there on the spot.

“Of course, your grace.” She replies, making her way over to the tub and pouring the water as gently as she can as to not spill it everywhere—unaware that the Princess’ eyes haven’t left her for a second.

At the feel of a hand on her back Misty jumps up and almost drops the now empty pail, blushing burgundy when she realises that it was in fact the Princess’ hand, and that she is now laughing a little with her petite hand gently placed over her plump rosy lips. “I’m so sorry to startle you, Mr...?”

“M-Kyle Spencer.” She manages. “Call me Kyle—unless you aren’t supposed to?” She laughs a little harder. “Sorry, sorry. I really don’t know how to act ‘round someone who’s royal...I should get going.”

“Wait,” The Princess says, and Misty is simultaneously delighted and horrified at the prospect of being around such an exquisite person for longer. “Let me at least thank you for your trouble, Mr Spencer. You didn’t have to help my dear Nan like you did. It was very kind and shows great chivalry on your part.”

She comes up to Misty and takes her rough, calloused in her own and kisses it gently, smiling so genuinely that the soldier’s heart skips a beat. “I...thank you, your grace. I’m honoured.”

“Go, now. I’m sure you have more important things to do that I’m keeping you from.” The Princess says, and Misty obliges—she has never felt as bizarre and conflicted as she had done in that very moment.

 


 

 

“Is he...one of your friends?” Cordelia asks her handmaid as she slips out of her robe a dips a toe into the water, completely naked. Part of her regrets waiting until he—this Kyle Spencer—had left before stripping down to her bare skin, but another larger part realises just how completely and utterly inappropriate and below her station that would have been.

But he was just so sweet.

Nan nods, and lets Cordelia ease herself into the water. “Yeah. He’s really nice.”

She had wanted more information than that.  “Tell me about him, if you would?”

The maid grabs a block of soap, slowing getting it to lather and then resting on the side while she takes a small silver jug full of water and pours it into Cordelia’s hair. “He’s from the swamps, he told me.” She says. “He’ll do anything for anyone, really. Kind like that. Never asks for anything back—though to be honest he’s probably a bit too innocent to be a soldier. I mean, the guy gets excited about flowers and plants.”

Cordelia frowns. “Is there something wrong with that?”

Nan blushes, remembering her mistress’ own taste in botany. “Of course not, my lady! I only meant that it’s a little...unusual. Especially for a young soldier like Kyle.”

There is a moment of silence while Nan takes some of the pre-frothed soap and starts to massage it into Cordelia’s scalp. Back at the palace her soap is scented like lavender and her tub is lined with silver (Fiona has some rather extravagant tastes) but here, she realises, much of what she has is the same as everyone else.

At least, to an extent—most people don’t have maids to clean them. But for her that’s entirely necessary; Cordelia may be in the countryside but that doesn’t make her a savage.

This man that brought her water to her confuses her very much, and she isn’t sure why. He’s tall and lean and strong, and while his jaw is sharp and face almost a little hollowed there’s a certain soft femininity to him that is bizarrely attractive. From Nan’s brief but informative description of him he sounds like the perfect blueprint of an ideal friend for Cordelia, and she makes a mental note to find some way to speak to the young man again.

(She’s not thinking that because of his strong, toned arms and kinds azure eyes. Not at all! She is a married woman after all.)

“Maybe...” She hesitates, biting her lip. “Maybe this Mr Spencer could do my water each time I need it now, if it causes you trouble. He’s certainly bound to be quicker about it, and it might save you a lot of time.”

Nan shrugs, slightly nodding. “Sure, okay. It really isn’t too much trouble, but I guess I’d appreciate it, and I’m sure Kyle wouldn’t mind.”

“Good.” Cordelia smiles and is inexplicably very excited.

 


 

 

Fiona Goode isn’t a patient woman.

But, that said, in this particular situation she has made every effort to delay the inevitable—since the army lead by angry, petty, stupid men is on the march and there is absolutely nothing else she can do about it.

It’s been a month since she sent Hank off to the camp—a man she still believes reeks of wet dog—and her last reports would suggest that his troops weren’t ready. The enemy (which is admittedly still quite far off) is heading directly for the city, and while there is certainly enough time for her own army to intercept them she worries that they aren’t trained enough, aren’t seasoned enough to be effective.

You don’t have another alternative.

All she has done has been in effort to support her cause to this point has been unsuccessful; all the omens she’s gotten have been bad. If Cordelia could only have a son, then all their problems would be over—the people would flock to royal cause, this would all be over, but of course her stupid daughter has to go and mess everything up.

It’s time I got out the big guns.

Chapter Text

“You’re terrible at this.” Luke grins at Misty as he takes another shot at the target that’s fifty feet away from them. It’s not a particularly close target—fifty feet is a fair distance—but at this point it’s not like any of the distances they’ve tried have made any difference to Misty’s ability in this area.

And it’s true. Swords Misty can do—knives are great, and hand-to-hand to combat is Misty’s absolute favourite—but there is something about the bow and arrow that throws her off every time. Luke seems to find it easy enough but Misty just cannot seem to get the arrow to go anywhere near where she wants it to.

“You don’t need to remind me.” She sighs, pulling out a green-feathered arrow and loading it carefully like the others do. Squinting, she focuses on the target—she isn’t even trying for the bulls eye, just hitting the target would be an achievement at this point—and pulls the string back as far as she can. The arrow flies right over the target and lands firmly in the grass.

Luke fails to suppress his chuckle, and Misty shoots him a half-hearted glare. So she can’t do it; no one is good at everything! It’s like the arrows are just out to get her or something. Every time General Foxx walks past her she pretends to be setting up the arrow, or stretching her arms or anything that isn’t actually shooting since it’d be absolutely mortifying to get reprimanded by him for her lack of aptitude for this. Right now, three weeks into training, she hasn’t actually been the target of his temper but she’s seen some of the other poor victims and has no wish to get on the wrong side of the general again (she would like to believe he’s forgotten that particular incident where she ran into him, but doubts it).

Foxx is currently at the other end of the chain of recruits in Misty’s group so she allows herself to try again—setting up the arrow in place, pulling back, focussing and loosening the arrow to land somewhere short in the grass. She groans and resists the very strong urge just to throw the bow onto the ground and go do literally anything else.

“Hey, don’t despair Kyle.” Luke smiles at her. “Try again.”

“I am tryin’! I’ve been tryin’ for the past hour and a half and have done jackshit!” Her fingers clench around the bow and she sighs deeply, blowing hard air from her nose in exasperation.

“Just try again.” Luke says, spying the general getting closer in the corner of his eye.

Albeit reluctantly, Misty stands up with her bow and selects another arrow from the sheath next to her. Taking a deep breath, and trying to drag out the process of aiming as much as she possibly can so that Foxx will pass her before she’s done, she pulls her hand back and looks at the target, trying to block out the world around her and just focus on hitting it.

That is, until the general barks ‘Spencer!’ and in her shock she releases the arrow losing all track of her aim completely. She stands straight up as her eyes go wide, looking at the shorter commanding officer nervously.

“Yes sir?” She manages, making her voice much lower like a man’s.

He looks at her for a long moment and then gently inclines his head. “Good shoot, Day.”

Misty turns around and sees that her arrow’s lodged itself right in the bulls eye, and a sense of relief and pride washes over her. “Thank you sir.” She smiles, and the general starts walking back down.

When he’s out of hearing range, Luke starts laughing rather hard. “Stop!” Misty bats him with her bow on the side but he can’t seem to stop himself, doubling over. “Stop laughin’, it ain’t funny!”

Luke shakes his head and continues. “I have no idea how you pulled that one off, but it was pretty freaking brilliant.”

With a sigh, Misty picks up another arrow and looks at the bow in her hand. “Me neither. Not so bad of an archer after all, maybe.”

“It was luck.

“Luck, or undiscovered talent?” A smirk emerges on her face.

“Well, I think—“

“Bows down!” The general shouts, and the pair stop their conversations immediately and look towards their boss. There is complete silence in their group. “That is enough for today. You are free to get your food now and do as you wish until training begins again tomorrow morning.”

It takes about 2 seconds for a stampede of men to charge towards the food tents and so, deciding to avoid getting trampled, Misty and Luke take a more leisurely pace behind the crowd. Madison’s on duty today so she’ll be serving food to the onslaught of hungry soldiers—which is most certainly one of the things the young girl resents the most about her job—and Nan probably will be with the Princess for a little while longer.

Just thinking about the Princess makes Misty feel slightly uneasy. She’s just...so weird for Misty to think about—perhaps it’s because she’s literally one of the most powerful people in the world which is always bound to be intimidating, or that she got those big guards that stand outside her tent all the time. Whatever it is, it makes Misty uncomfortable, but there’s something about the Princess that seems to draw her in.

Continuing their attempt to avoid getting crushed, Misty and Luke take a slight detour—passing the large white tents for the rich or commanding people on the campsite. Normally it’s full of guards but tonight, Misty notes, there isn’t a single person on this particular isle—not even outside the Princess’s tent.

Maybe there’s a meeting or something, Misty thinks and shrugs it off. “What do you thinks for dinner today?” Luke asks her absently.

“Stew, probably. The nicer kind, not that beef crap they served last week.”

He nods, looking up at the sky. “Looks like it’s gonna rain.”

Misty frowns, looking up. “Ugh. I don’t even wanna imagine what trainings gonna be like all wet.”

Suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, a cry rings out in the air—coming straight from the Princess’s unmanned tent. Luke and Misty shoot each others worried glances and look around. That’s something that her guards should respond to, isn’t it? But there aren’t any guards in sight.

There’s a second scream and Misty feels herself grow very uneasy. “Do we...go in there?” Luke asks, voicing her thoughts. She nods and runs towards the Princess’s tent, bursting in to see the Princess collapsed in a heap of satin and silks on the floor, violently spasming on the floor and frothing at the mouth. Misty gasps and runs towards her, taking her onto her lap and lifting her head up to stop her choking.

“Luke, quick, run to the lake and get me some of those waterlilies!”

“What, why?”

“Just do it!” Misty cries, using her sleeve to wipe the Princess’s mouth and trying to keep her from moving too much. Back home in the swamp, Misty’s brother had been prone to this kind of fits as a young child and she’d watched her guardians at the time sort it out with the juice of a waterlily on the eyelids, and a little down the throat. She doesn’t know exactly why it works, but it does—she’d always been told that it has healing properties that soothe the mind and body. She doesn’t know how it works, but knows that it does, and hopes that is enough for this particular situation.

“Help! Please!” She shouts, hoping that someone—anyone—might be walking past. It doesn’t make any sense that there aren’t guards outside the tent, there are always guards here, Misty feels ever so helpless and the Princess writhes and coughs up more foam from her mouth—eyes open and rolled to the back of her head, so it’s just veins and eerie white that Misty can see.

Luke takes a couple minutes to sprint to the lake and back, but it feels like hours as Misty waits, powerless to help her. When he finally gets back she snatches the flowers from his hands and squeezes them with all the force she can until the juices spill out of the plant and drop from Misty’s palm onto the Princess’s eyelids and into her mouth. Misty pulls the Princess up into a sitting position and rubs circles into her back, praying that the remedy takes effect quickly.

Slowly enough, the Princess stops shaking and manages tocatch her breath, clutching Misty like she’s life itself and clearly slightly oblivious to her surroundings.

“Are you alright, your grace?” Through deep, laboured breaths the Princess turns to meet the eyes of this person she’s sitting on and her eyes go wide.

 


 

 

Had she the strength, Cordelia probably would have screamed.

The last thing she remembers is just brushing her hair and preparing to do some reading before settling in for the night, and now she feels like shit sitting in the lap of that soldier who brought her water a few days ago, that soldier that she really quite liked to look at. She wills her limbs to move out of this improper position she seems to have found herself in—sitting in his (Kyle Spencer, she remembers his name is) lap—but her body seems frozen in place.

“W-What—“ She gasps out, panting deeply like she’s just run 1000 miles.

“You had a fit.” The soldier, Kyle, tells her. “There wasn’t anyone here and we heard you cry out...I know my way around plants and managed to help ya. I hope I haven’t offended ya, your highness.”

She shakes her head and manages to find the strength to pull herself to her feet, only to then lose all that energy again and fall. Fortunately—or unfortunately, she isn’t sure yet—the pretty blue-eyed soldier catches her. “Woah—take it easy there, your grace.” He says, and then helps her to her bed and lays her down. “You ain’t gonna have your strength for a while. But I’d suggest you get some more waterlilys and have someone boil ‘em into tea to make sure your totally safe from this for a while. D’you get ‘em often, fits I mean, your highness?”

Still a little frazzled, Cordelia tries to calm her breathing down and shakes her head. “I...no. Never before. W-Why are you here, Mr...” She recalls his name again. “Spencer.”

Despite everything, in an almost endearing way, this soldier seems quite happy that Cordelia’s managed to remember his name. “I told ya. You had a f—“

“I know, I know that.” She shakes her head, finally reaching a more settled breath pace. “What I mean is why are you here, rather than a doctor, or at least my guards.”

“There was no one here, your highness.” Another man says, Cordelia has only just realises that it’s not just her and the blue-eyed soldier she seems to like. He, unlike Mr Spencer, is completely new and alien to her. “This whole row was completely abandoned—there was no one close except me and Kyle.”

That’s bizarre. It isn’t that Cordelia likes having guards outside her tent 24/7, in fact she doesn’t really like it at all, it’s unnerving to the point of discomfort. But with that also comes certainty of safety which is a little reassuring, every whim can be fulfilled by simply asking one of the guards to fetch this, do that, talk to whoever. It’s such an unusual and unfortunate coincidence that the one single time something goes quite wrong in Cordelia’s health, the guards have mysteriously disappeared.

The fact in itself that she even had a fit is completely surreal to Cordelia. She’s never really had anything go wrong with her health before—save for the infertility that she curses every day—and that is one of the few things that previously she had liked herself for. She’s a botanist but knows so little about the art of healing in general—she knows nothing about curing (is that even the right word for it?) a fit would entail, whether it’s chronic or a one off or something else entirely.

All too quickly Hank bursts into the tent with about six guards on his back, and before Cordelia can even say anything they seize Mr Spencer and his companion less that gently. Cordelia screams as she sees the guards hit and beat them with the pommels of guard’s swords—the companion is knocked out almost straight away while Mr Spencer coils around his stomach as it’s struck and cries out.

“Stop!” Cordelia cries, waving her hands about to try and get some attention. “Let them go!”

Hank, in a false show of affection—much to Cordelia’s chagrin—does not command his men to stand down, rushing up to Cordelia and taking her hand in his. “I’m so sorry, my dear—we didn’t realise these two criminals has snuck into your tent to accost you. I only wish I could have spared you this trauma.”

It starts raining, heavy droplets pounding out of nowhere on the tent.

“Trauma?” She snatches her hand out of his. “What—look, Hank, they didn’t do anything wrong let them go!”

“My sweet wife, you are entirely too trusting. If two young men sneak into your tent it is with vile intention...I know your heart is soft and too kind to believe the hard truth.” That statement actually pisses Cordelia off, and she resists the urge to slap him.

“I-I just wanted to h-help...” Spencer chokes, and Cordelia winces when one of the guards punches him square in the jaw.

“Stop! Stop that this instant!” Cordelia sits up straighter and glares at the guard who did that. “As Princess of this kingdom and heir to the throne I command you to stop!” At that, the guards seem to be visibly unsure of what to do next. “Now take these good soldiers to a medic and make sure they are properly cared for.”

Don’t.” Hank growls it out. “These men are criminals! It has never been allowed to enter the Princess’s tent without proper permission, or at least an escort! It is a crime! Cordelia, you are in no position to command my men here.”

In a spur of anger, Cordelia slaps him across the face and in the corner of her eye can see the bruised and battered face of Kyle Spencer lift ever so slightly at that. “I outrank you.” She seethes.

Hank’s face goes red. “You are my wife!”

“I am your Princess!” She fire back. “You may be the high general here but there is royal blood running through my veins, and none in yours. I’m sure the Queen would be delighted to hear of this bad judgement on your part—how you’ve been beating innocent soldiers without question—and I’m absolutely sure she might need to rethink the chain of command here.”

In all their years if marriage, Cordelia doesn’t think she’s ever seen Hank look this angry. “I will not be subject to a woman’s—“

“You will.” She shouts, and looks to the guards. “Take these men to a medic this instant; do not waste any more time dawdling here!” Her attention turns back to Hank. “You will make the arrangements for another tent to be put up for you tonight, and make sure that once his training is complete Mr Spencer and his companion are put on my personal guard.”

“You can’t—“

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” Her strength is beginning to wane, but she can’t let him see that. “Leave, and send Nan to me. Now.

It is evident that all Hank wants in that moment is to slap Cordelia right back around the face as she did to him but it is treason punishable by death to raise a hand to her, so he resists the urge and leaves her tent with his tail between his legs. Once he’s out, Cordelia collapses down on her bed and exhales deeply, all the anger flowing out of her and being replaced with a deep, guttural sadness that she can’t quite understand.

She’s never gotten angry at Hank like that before, never ever. But the sight of him letting—making—those brutes hit poor Mr Spencer when his intentions were as pure and kind as could be just angered her to the point where her mouth just ran away from her.

The worst part is that Fiona would probably be proud of Cordelia’s display, and for all her attempts to be as opposite to her mother as possible it seems that she’s falling right in the same boat. If nothing else, that just thought makes the princess feel very depressed.

With a groan, she pulls her sheets up around her trying to cocoon slightly, and closes her eyes. Nan will arrive soon enough, and then she’ll have someone to take her mind off it, but for now Cordelia wallows in annoyance and remnants of anger in her bed.

 


 

 

Madison can’t help finding this all so fucking hilarious.

She’d just gotten off her serving duty when she went to her groups usual spot on the grass, only to find Nan sitting on her own nibbling on the crusts of some bread. Confused, Madison had asked her why she was by herself, and the maid had simply said that Kyle and Luke had just never shown up.

That was weird in itself since those two have never even been late once, and when some guards soon after came over requesting Nan’s presence for the princess Madison decided to do a little bit of searching. Some gossip from the other worker led her to run under the rain to the blue medical tent, and there she spies the pair of them sitting up on those portable beds getting cuts and bruises cleaned.

“Pick a fight with the wrong person?” She smirks, walking up to them.

Kyle rolls his eyes. “Don’t even. I was trashed by 6 guards.”

Madison frowns. “What the fuck did you do?”

“Saved the princess from choking on her own spit.” He sighs, wincing as the doctor looking at a big bruise on his jaw touches a sensitive spot. “I have some regrets.”

“I can see your regrets on your face.” Madison says sitting next to him. “And I’m not even gonna ask why your having anything to do with royal spit. But your one of the only people I can tolerate around here, so don’t get yourself killed, yeah?”

That brings out a small smile on his face. “Yeah, alright. I’ll do my best.”

“You did a good thing, Kyle.” Luke says after being uncharacteristically silent. “They were total asses for punishing us for it. You did a good thing.”

Kyle nods, his little smile remaining fixed on his face. It is in this moment that Madison realises that Kyle Spencer never really does look complete without a smile on his face—he smiles more that is probably natural (something that really does lift Madison’s mood, not that she’d ever admit that) but that’s part of his character. She’s had a soft spot for him ever since he saved her from those awful men who tried to take advantage of her a little while ago, and is much more friendly with him than he probably knows.

How anyone could really dislike Kyle Spencer is beyond her.

Interrupting her train of thought, another carrier is rushed into the tent carrying a girl that Madison hasn’t seen before who’s got an arrow sticking out of her shoulder—it looks rather painful. “What’s going on?” She asks, standing, but receives no reply.

Kyle stands next to her despite his Doctor’s protests not to.

“I recognise her.” He says and then calls a little louder, “Queenie?”

Chapter Text

Some deep, dark part of Fiona does acknowledge that what she’s done is cruel on many levels, but it’s so deep and so dark that she finds herself unable to care about it—what matters is her survival, at this point, and with that comes many sacrifices.

In a society like the one she rules, witchcraft has always been a very taboo subject. It is fear of the unknown—fear of what can’t be controlled or detected or chained. For Fiona, it is truly the greatest gift in the world.

Before her marriage to the late king, Fiona had been a farmer’s daughter blessed with a hereditary gift of witchcraft. She learned, from her mother, that all their powers are bound to the supreme witch—every drop of magic in every witch’s veins stems from their one true ruler—and that is better to hide power than unleash it, for even the most powerful witch cannot fight off an army of normal people. Her mother had been a simple farmer’s wife, lacking ambition and vision, so Fiona has disregarded her advice and set out to make a life of her own.

In youth, her beauty had been natural and charisma came to her naturally; it took a while to rise up, but once she was prominent enough to get herself invited to a royal ball (a feat which she achieved using many of the powers God blessed her with) the king was already trapped in her claws. From there, it was only a matter of time before she realised that she must be the next supreme (her magic was, at the time, bubbling and boiling inside her, almost spilling out like a volcano) so once she found and murdered the old one, her power became unlimited.

(Or so she thought, until Cordelia came along).

Before long Fiona came to the realisation that for all her power and strength she could not fight off the true demon in her life: time. The previous supreme, and much less high profile witch named Anna-Lee, had been so close to a natural death herself with her magic waning, just waiting for another to steal her power and become what she once could have been.

That fate is something that Fiona cannot bear to have inflicted upon herself, so years ago she used all the power within her one night to bind the magic of every witch, warlock and magical being under her power so magic would be out of reach, out of touch, unusable to all except for herself.

It worked, that is something that now Fiona still takes a little pride in. But in the process she deeply weakened her own power—which is why she cannot not fix Cordelia’s infertile nature, and why she now finds herself sitting in a ring of her maidservant’s blood chanting in Latin at midday, about twenty minutes before, miles away, her daughter has a fit.

Within her grasp is the magic of hundreds and hundreds of witches who have never known power all across her kingdom—women that Renard would overlook and ignore—that will be the key to her victory, she is sure of it.

It has to be, or we are doomed.

With a surge of darkness, the magic that she has keep imprisoned for so long flies out into the day and finds its carriers, wherever they may be.

 


 

 

All the soldiers can hear is a cacophony of cries and orders as the men slide on their armour and sharpen their blades, fill their quivers with arrows and string their bows tight. Horses whinny in confusion and are mounted quickly—Cordelia, not at all a soldier, seems to be the only one in the camp who has no idea what on earth all the sudden movement is about.

After some brief questioning earlier, the injured Queenie reveals to Hank that she’d been riding down with food for the soldiers when she was shot by a scout wearing the Renard crest—she’d been so close to camp at the time that she’s managed to ride away quickly but not before sustaining a bad, possibly grave, injury.

“Bullshit.” Hank seethes in the main strategy tent with several other of his high commanders. “There is another fully trained army stationed between us and Renard’s forces. There’s no way he has scouts this far out already.”

“Someone must have shot her, General.” A commander says. “If not Renard, who? It must be them.”

At that, Princess Cordelia rushes into the tent looking severely pissed off.  “Hank, what on earth is happening? Why is everyone rushing about so frantically?”

“Delia.” He gives her a dangerous look. “Go back to your tent and await my instructions.”

“These are my men more than they are yours.” She says calmly, looking right back at him. “Now tell me what’s going on.”

There’s a look on his face which tells her that he isn’t about to say anything, but fortunately another commander chimes in to save any more confrontation. “It seems that somehow scouts have gotten through only half a mile from the camp, your highness.” He says. “And would suggest that the Renard forces are much closer than anticipated. Perhaps just a day away.”

The princess is silent, in shock, for a moment. “How did this happen? Where is the rest of my army?” It does not escape her husband’s notice, Cordelia is sure, that she says my army not our army. Hank grits his teeth but holds his tongue this time.

“I could not say.” The commander replies. “But we will march out with the men we have here to meet the army as soon as possible.”

At that Cordelia gasps. “Are you mad? If his army truly is as close as you say then the men will be massacred! Their training isn’t even finished yet, they’re just boys!” She spins and glares at her husband. “How could you authorise this?”

“It is my strategy.” He says. “You may be a princess, but you know nothing of war. Do not even attempt to undermine me again.”

“You can’t do this. Surely you cannot be this foolish!” She cries.

“Escort the princess back to her carriage and arrange a party for her to travel back into the city with.” Hank instructs, ignoring her.

Tears glisten in Cordelia’s eyes as she looks helplessly between commanders. “Someone tell him. Please. You’re all going to die—those men are all going to die!”

No one says anything, resigned to their fate and their general’s plan, and for the thousandth time Cordelia curses her husband’s name. Acknowledging that she can do nothing to prevent this, she grips her skirts and storms out the tent with her guards trailing behind her. “Bring me Kyle Spencer, he’s from my husband’s vanguard.” She barks at one of her guards. “He will be part of my escort back to the city.”

“Yes, m’lady.” One man rushes off and Cordelia holds her skirts up and hurries back to her tent where Nan is waiting for her.

“Pack my things into that trunk, Nan.” Cordelia says. “Is there anything urgent you need to do, or anyone important you need to see?”

“Why, your highness?” The look on her face tells Cordelia that Nan already knows what she’s going to say before she says it.

“We’re leaving.”

“Oh.” Nan looks solemn at that and Cordelia pities her—it’s always upsetting to leave a loved one she’s sure, like the boy Nan’s been fooling around with (not that Cordelia really knows what it is to be loved, not since her father died). Something softens in her at the sight of the maid she’s grown to be very fond of, and Cordelia gently places a hand on her shoulder. “Go, he won’t be around much longer. I can pack myself.”

With a nod, the girl runs out of the tent to wherever her boy may be and Cordelia puts away all her things in the trunk. She takes her unsuccessful raspberry plants and slides them back into the pouch the brought them in, only then remembering the belladonna she brought with her.

I could save all these men, she thinks. I could kill Hank. I could save them all.

Her gut twists at the thought of Hank, gasping for breath while blood runs from his body, painfully writhing through a harsh and cruel death. Cordelia has never had any taste for violence and isn’t sure that she has the spine to ever do something like that, as much as it may be for a greater good—and even then, it may be too late.

She sighs, and slides the black berries into her trunk feeling defeated and dismayed at her own weakness. That, she supposes, is one thing she almost wishes she inherited from Fiona—some, any, sort of backbone.

Collecting up the rest of her belongings, Cordelia stuffs it all into the trunk and smoothes out her skirts. The dress she’s wearing today is a light, summer green with a tightly strapped corset that shows off her slim waist. Putting a hand on her stomach, Cordelia takes a deep breath in through her nose and exhales, closing her eyes just for a moment to absorb her surroundings and situation. It is bizarre that for all her reluctance to come here in the first place, she is disheartened to leave—for watching the friendships and relationships grow and blossom between all these young boys has been so surprisingly refreshing and invigorating for the princess in contrast to her normal solitude back home.

And, she remembers, compared to her these people are boys—she is nearer to thirty than twenty, and men like Mr Spencer are, what, twenty three at most?

“M’lady.” A guard with a stout figure and a closely cropped yellow beard enters the tent. “We need to leave.”

She nods. “Of course.”

The guards take her trunk for her and lead her to a carriage that’s been stocked hastily with supplies for the journey ahead, and once Nan returns and Mr Spencer is brought to her they can head off, no matter how guilty Cordelia feels about it.

 


 

 

This isn’t what Misty had expected.

It’s so much worse.

But even for all the wealth in the world Misty will not trade her position, here, preparing to march with sword in hand next to the thousands of men marching with her, fighting the oppressors who would seek to usurp the rightful monarchy. Or, at least, that’s what she’s telling herself.

Misty doesn’t give two shits about the monarchy in reality, as fond as she’s become of the pretty princess, she’s doing this for Kyle and for Zoe, for Luke and Madison and Nan because they are her family and she loves them. Ever a pacifist, Misty has never believed in violence but understands that the only way forward here is simply to beat the enemy. Their odds aren’t great, no, but Misty has God on her side and hopes that he’ll see her and Luke through.

Her position is in the vanguard five rows back, three men from the left end of her row. Luke is just to her right, biting his lip nervously, but all the same holding his head up high in pride. Nan has just left them after hurrying to send him off, kissing him senseless and making him promise to return to her. As sweet as that promise is, it is so melancholy in Misty’s mind since it surely isn’t a promise that he can keep.

“You look after him Kyle.” Nan says to him before she goes. “Don’t let him do anything stupid.”

Despite everything, Misty does smile at that. “I’ll do my best.”

But Nan’s gone now and Misty’s going headfirst into warfare—that is, until she hears her, or Kyle’s, name being called by an unfamiliar voice.

“Mr Spencer!”A voice calls from the distance, and startled Misty turns. “Mr Spencer! You must come with me, Mr Spencer!”

What?” Misty asks incredulously. She can’t imagine what on earth she could be needed for right now as she stands moments from doing what she’s been training for.

“It’s a matter of urgency, sir.” The man says. Misty looks to Luke who smiles (albeit weakly) at her, so she shimmies out of her row to the man waiting for her on the side. Upon closer inspection, Misty recognises him as one of the princess’ guards. “Follow me.”

“Where are we going?” Misty asks, starting to walk after him.

“The princess’ carriage. You’ve been appointed to her personal guard.” The man tells her.

“Wait...what?” Misty frowns. “I’m not a guard. I’m a soldier; I need to be with the other men.”

“I’ve been instructed to bring you with me, sir.” There’s an almost pleading look on the man’s face, and knowing that he’ll probably be punished if he doesn’t bring her to the princess makes Misty pity him a bit. All the pity disappears when she realises that he was one of the men who beat her and Luke up the day before.

“I belong with the troops.” She reiterates. Sure, she’s scared for the battle like any sane person would be but her honour dictates that she must ride out to war, and her honour is of great importance at this point. It’s all she has to call her own—she can’t just run away from the battle like a coward in the princess’ carriage.

“You belong wherever you are commanded to be.” The guard tells her.

With a scowl, Misty continues to follow him.

They arrive at the carriage which is already prepared for travel—two horses are set to pull it and there are eight more, six with riders, to protect the ‘precious cargo’ the carriage carries.

“You can ride?” The guard asks her, and Misty nods slowly.

“I can get by.”

“Good. That white one is yours.”

Misty wants to question the princess but she’s already in the carriage and ready to go, everyone else is ready and apparently waiting for Misty—not that she can quite imagine why. Carefully, she hops up onto the white horse that’s standing still for her when the leader of the group shouts a command and everyone sets off. There is a terrible guilt inside Misty as she rides away from the fight, looking back to Luke who she’s leaving behind.

Don’t die on me now, Luke.

She wonders what will happen to Madison and all the other workers at the camp. There aren’t nearly enough carriages at the camp to take all the women back to the capital, so it would be a miracle if she makes it out of the camp and survives long after. Misty sends up another prayer for her slightly abrasive friend.

“You’re mad.”

Startled, Misty is pulled out of her thoughts to see the rider that’s trotting next to her own horse, staring at her.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re mad if you want to be back there. They’re going to get slaughtered.” The man repeats.

“It would have been the honourable thing to do.” Misty frowns, eyes trained on the ground. She has a sword sheathed in her belt and notices that this man doesn’t have one, just an axe resting in his left hand. “Who are you, anyway?”

He gives her a weird sort of smile. “They call me the Axeman.”

“Is that because you have an axe?”

“There’s no fooling you, is there?” He snorts and spins the axe in his hands. Misty feels slightly insulted and decides that she isn’t too fond of this Axeman, or his axe, but if she’s going to be riding next to him for the entire trip back to the capital she should probably not cause any sort of riff between them.

“Your horse,” She says in an attempt to lead conversation onto a safe subject. “What’s its name?”

The axeman looks confused. “Why would I give it a name?”

“Because...” Misty frowns. “It’s your horse?”

“Horses die.” He says. “If you get too attached then it’s only cause problems for you.”

“Does my horse have a name?”

“You don’t have one speck of intelligence, do you?” He sighs. “No, it doesn’t have a name.”

“I think you’re quite rude, sir.” Misty glares at him.

“And I think you’re simple. What of it?”

Misty doesn’t deem that worthy of a reply and rides in silence for the rest of the day until it gets dark and the small party sets up camp. It is then that Nan and Misty see each other, and the maid runs into her arms looking like she could almost cry. “Kyle!” She cries.

The sight of her friend does bring a little more joy to Misty, if only a little.

Looking up, she notices the princess has also gotten out of the carriage and is talking to one of the other guards. Seeing an opportunity, Misty looks to Nan. “I need to talk to the princess. Do you mind awfully if I just leave ya for just a minute?”

“I’ll help them with the food, it’s alright.” Nan nods and leaves Misty to approach the princess. She walks over to the heir to the throne with a scowl on her face.

“And then by tomorrow I think we can...” The princess trails off when she sees Misty approach, and clears her throat, most likely reading the kind of conversation she’s about to have from the look on Misty’s face. “Would you mind if I spoke to Mr Spencer for a moment, sir?” She asks the other guard, who nod and leaves them. The princess’ attention is solely on Misty now. “Is there something you desire to speak about, Mr Spencer?”

The sheer indifference of her demeanour aggravates Misty. “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Tear me away from the other men like I’m some maiden to be protected!”

“I needed an extra guard.” She says noncommittally.

Misty frowns, not believing that for a second. “There are hundreds of stronger, smarter and more able soldiers than me. Why protect me?

“Because you are worth protecting, Mr Spencer.” She tells Misty coolly, after a moment of thought. “And because if I cannot save the thousands of men my husband is sending to death, I thought it best to save one.”

Misty’s fist clenches, and she can see the princess visibly wince. “Why me? Why not Luke, Luke was so much better than me—why not anyone else?”

“Because you are the one who saved me, only yesterday.” She says. “Consider me returning a favour.” Her eyes narrow and seem to go right through Misty. “Perhaps, one day, you will thank me.”

I doubt it, Misty thinks but doesn’t say.

She cannot quite figure out what to make of this strange princess, not anymore.

Chapter Text

It’s been three days on the road, and Cordelia still hasn’t worked up the courage to go speak to Kyle.

He has made absolutely no effort to approach her since his first confrontation, choosing to spend his time either completely alone or in the company of Nan. When they stop to rest each night he disappears into the trees for a while, Cordelia supposes that he does it for peace of mind but cannot be sure, and returns rather promptly to rest and start over the next day.

One thing that has been made exceedingly clear to her is that this young, curly-haired man is quite angry with her—something that, sadly enough, Cordelia is used to. Someone’s always mad at her whether it be her mother or her husband, and over time the princess has grown so used to this that it no longer bothers her (or at least she tries to let it not bother her to the best of her ability) but there’s something about this soldier’s anger that really, truly upsets her.

Perhaps that is because she is without a doubt the source of his anger, and he feels that she has wronged him. She could apologise but the truth is that she is not sorry—by giving the order to have him on her guard she has saved him from the butchery that her husband has led all the other troops into. He had friends with those men, she’s sure, and will be sad to lose them; but surely it is more important to save him than some men he knew for a few weeks?

It has also come to Cordelia’s attention that her particular philosophy when it comes to survival may very well come from her mother, and since she has never had anyone that she’d place before her own survival she cannot quite understand why Kyle Spencer is so upset. Sure, Cordelia had been devastated when her father died about four years ago—but she would have never taken a knife for him, or hurt herself for his sake. Another thing that has not quite gone under her radar is that Kyle is quite possibly the most beautiful creature she’s ever seen.

And she doesn’t even think that for his appearance, though it must be said that—to Cordelia at least—he looks like a fallen angel of some sort. The way his golden curls sit so messily at the top of head just so, complimenting the deep blue pools that are his eyes—his tall, slim and slightly lanky physique is everything that Cordelia never knew she liked. In a dream world, perhaps her children share his eyes.

But it is what she’s witnessed of him that makes her admire him so much. The way he cares for everything; from the smallest little insects to the massive oaks that tower around the road in this area. His purity, perhaps, it what draws her to him since she’s never seen anything like it before.

In all her years of life, Cordelia has never once had what one might call a ‘crush’ as fucking rough and deep as this one. She’s a princess, she’s had voice lessons since she was little to give her the confidence to speak before the thousands and has done so before on many occasions—and when Spencer approaches her she always manages to present herself just fine, albeit a little coldly sometimes, but just the thought of her going up to him makes her insides feel all mushy and her cheeks go a burning red.

The worst part is about the whole thing is that he’s angry with her, for saving him. Surely he should be thanking her—she didn’t have to bring him with her, she has absolutely no obligation to do anything for anyone. Her act of kindness has been scorned and yet she cannot find it within herself to be angry about it herself because he’s just so goddamn sweet to look at.

“Are you alright, your highness?” Nan asks her with a bowl of rice in hand, snapping Cordelia out of her daydream. “I brought you some rice, if you’re hungry.”

“Oh, thank you.” She takes the bowl but doesn’t touch the rice, looking around. “Do you know where Mr Spencer is, by any chance?”

The handmaid gives Cordelia a knowing smile with is almost aggravating—as if the girl could read her thoughts. “He just went into the forest, my lady. You should go after him.” Even for Nan that’s a bit forward, so Cordelia gives her a look. “There’s too much tension in this camp. Everyone knows it. And Kyle’s a good man, if you talk to him honestly then he’s bound to forgive you, your grace.”

“I have!” She pouts. “I haven’t once lied to the man—we’ve barely spoken enough to give me the opportunity to in the first place!”

“Saying that you haven’t lied doesn’t mean you’ve been honest, either.” Nan tells her. “It is possible to be neither honest nor lying and I believe that’s what you’ve done.”

Heat rises in Cordelia’s cheeks. “Do you mean to insult me?”

“No.” Nan shakes her head. “I mean for you to go find Mr Spencer. He’s gone that way,” She points into the trees, “Towards a little river that’s about twenty minutes walk away.”

“How do you know—“

“I just do.” Nan interrupts her. “Please, your highness. Just go.”

With a deep sigh, Cordelia stands up and reluctantly starts off in the direction Nan pointed her in (looking back about every ten seconds only to get warning looks from her handmaiden as if to say ‘hurry up’ each time). She doesn’t know why she’s doing this, it’s not like she even wants to and it’s getting her delicate lacy slippers all muddy but her feet keep walking deeper into the trees for no explainable reason.

It is then that she realises that she’s still holding the bowl of rice and curses silently. It could be my excuse, I suppose, she thinks after a moment. ‘Sorry to bother you Mr Spencer, I was just bringing you some food’. That might work; seems harmless enough.

One thing that is beginning to alarm her slightly is that she can no longer see when she came in from. Her surroundings are a tangled mess of winding branches, protruding roots that threaten to trip her up at every turn and smaller shrubs and mushrooms that are all foreign. Cordelia imagines that this is what her greenhouse might look like if she allowed it to grow out and go wild, and decides right then and there that she needs to make sure her greenhouse is kept in good order once she gets home.

It’s only been about fifteen minutes but Cordelia feels like she’s been walking for hours without the river that Nan told her about in sight. She considers turning back around but then realises that she well and truly has lost herself in the trees. With a huff, she slumps back against a sturdy trunk and closes her eyes, trying to catch her bearings and keep herself calm.

With her moment of calmness comes silence—she, for the first time, hear the gentle buzzing of insects on the forest floor, squawking of birds from their nests high up in the canopies and the gentle rustle of the green spring leaves blowing in the wind. It’s all so peaceful, she realises, and understands for the first time why one might prefer the untamed wilderness of the outdoors to her quiet, controlled little kingdom.

Amidst her realisation, she suddenly hears a gentle stream of water flowing over to her left somewhere. That must be what Nan was talking about, right? Deciding to trust her instincts, Cordelia follows her ears until the noise of the stream gets louder and louder (now ignorant of her ruined slippers and muddied gown).

Finally, in perhaps the biggest personal victory of her life, Cordelia finds the river which is rather bigger than she expected—more like a big swell of water flowing from a waterfall and falling back south again the opposite way Cordelia is travelling. One thing she does fail to notice for a second, for all her triumph, is Kyle Spencer sitting with his legs dangling in the water looking at her incredulously.

“What are you doing here?” He asks, his tone more bewildered than anything else.

“Ah...”Cordelia for a moment is lost for words, but then remembers the rice and thrusts it out in front of her. “I came to give you this!”

He looks unconvinced, and Cordelia doesn’t really blame him, but takes the bowl anyway. “Thanks, I guess. You should head back to the camp before it gets dark.”

Oh. She’d been expecting more than that. Cordelia did not trek all the way through this wilderness only to be met with a ‘thanks’ and then being told to bugger right off again. Instead of leaving as might be the right way to go about things, she bites her lip. “Why are you here?”

At that he looks annoyed. “Because you forced me away from the other men.”

“No...” She sighs. “Well yes but I meant here, here—by the water, not back with the others.”

Kyle shrugs and looks into the water, it’s a little murky and if you look close enough you can see little red fish swimming by Kyle’s toes while his big boots and muddy socks sit happily at the bank. “Nature’s a healer, I guess. Keeps me calm and makes me feel better.”

Cautiously, very aware that she’s wearing silks, Cordelia crouches down to get more at his level. “Could you perhaps elaborate?”

“You wouldn’t get it.” Kyle tells her, the look on his face is more sad than annoyed now. “You grew up in a city—I don’t imagine there are many trees or bushes or bugs down there. Humans do an awful good job of forgetting that this is our true home, we’re just as much part of nature as every frog or bug or fish if not greedier. What right do we have to chop down the trees and burn ‘em to make house and keeps and castles if we don’t give nothing back to the creatures and plants of the kingdom of nature that we seem to forget we’re part of?”

Cordelia thinks on his words for a moment. “I suppose it’s about control.” She says. “A mother bird builds a nest for her chicks to help them survive, does all she can to control its surroundings in the hopes that the chick’s future will be as bright as she can make it. Humans are the same, I suppose, building bigger nests of wood and stone that’ll last for their children, and their children’s children.”

Kyle looks at her for a moment, and frowns. “That’s an interesting philosophy, coming from someone like you.”

Curious to hear more but tired of crouching, Cordelia carefully sits down in a cross legged position next to Kyle on the ground, hoping her silks aren’t too ruined by it. “What do you mean, ‘someone like me’?”

“Someone who already has everything.”

“I don’t have everything.” Cordelia frowns. “Just because I’m a princess doesn’t mean I’m that blessed.”

“Forgive me if I disagree.” He replies, the formality of the statement obviously sarcastic. “You’ve been born into palaces and riches beyond the likes I can imagine—you’ve got servants attending your every whim, a rich husband who has legions of men that’ll die at his command; your mother is probably the most powerful person in the world! Tell me one thing, just one, that you don’t have.”

That speech hits Cordelia far harder than she’s anticipating, partly because he’s right, but also because he’s wrong, more wrong than anyone could know. “Tell me,” She says, eyes trained on the water. “Do you have a family?”

“Yes.” He says. “But that does answer my question.”

Cordelia ignores that. “Tell me about them.”

“My parents died when I was young.” He says. “Before I left I lived with my brother and his partner.”

“Did you love them?” Cordelia asks.

He nods. “They’re my everything. They’re the reason why I’m here in the first place.”

“Maybe it is arrogant and self-absorbed to say this, considering my position,” Cordelia says. “But I think that I might trade every piece of gold, silk and power I have just to have one person in the world who loved me like you love your brother.”

At that he looks confused. “What about your mother, your husband?”

Cordelia sighs deeply. “My mother cares about two things—power and herself. The only reason I’m even alive is because she needs someone to continue her line, and since I can’t have children I’m perhaps the biggest regret of her life. My husband is reckless and stupid, and he has absolutely no respect for me.”

The soldier looks like he doesn’t quite know what to say. “I’m sorry.”

“About what? It’s not your fault.”

“That you can’t have children.” He says.

Cordelia finds it in herself to smile weakly. “I’ve tried everything I can think off, botanically. But there isn’t a cure for infertility.”

“I disagree.” He says, and Cordelia raises an eyebrow. “Babies are a God given gift. If you want them, then Gods got to bless the union, and if your union ain’t blessed then nothing’s going to come out of it.”

At that the princess snorts. “I didn’t take you as religious.”

“I didn’t take you for an atheist.”

“I’m not.” Cordelia says. “I just think the Gods are too cruel to be relied on.”

“I won’t try and convert you, then.” He takes a mouthful of the rice Cordelia brought. The suns beginning to set, there is gold and red and pink and purple in the sky, and it only occurs to her then that they really should be heading back to the campsite.

“We should go.” She says.

“Do you want to?” He replies.

“Not really.”

“Then stay.”

Cordelia looks at him then, his soft, kind face but angular jaw line, his beautiful eyes and wispy curls of blonde hair, just a few shades lighter than her own. There is a long moment of silence between them, the only sound being the gentle chirping of birds settling down for the night. “Would you mind awfully if I asked you a favour, Mr Spencer.”

“Depends what it is.” He says.

“You know how you’re a man?” She says carefully.

For some reason, he looks slightly alarmed by that statement. “Yes?”

“And how I’m a woman.” She goes on, and he nods. “Well, perhaps, if you weren’t totally opposed, I was hoping that maybe you’d like to put a baby in me.”

At that Kyle Spencer chokes on his rice.

 


 

 

Of all the things Misty thought she might say, that was the last thing she expects.

“I’m sorry?” She croaks, after successfully clearing her throat.

The princess blushes a deep scarlet. “I only ask because it’s not long since my husband and I last...you know, and maybe trying with someone else might make it work. Perhaps the gods will be kinder and bless our union more than me husband and I’s. You probably don’t even like me but you can get something out of it too—”

“Your highness...” Misty sets the rice down. “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. And not because you’re unattractive, you’re beautiful, but you’re married and a princess and I’m just some swamp rat you’ve randomly run into.”

She sighs. “That’s okay, I suppose. I’m sorry. I’m just desperate at this point—willing to try most things.”

“We should head back to camp and forget about this, yeah?” Misty says standing up and helping her to her feet before putting her shoes and socks back on. The princess seems almost reluctant to stand after her and Misty doesn’t blame her—the sky is like a painting in all its colourful beauty and the scenery is wonderful in itself but before long it’ll be too dark to navigate back to the camp effectively (not to mention the way their conversation is turning).

“You don’t have to call me ‘your highness’ all the time, you know.” The princess tells her as they start to walk back. “I have a name.”

It occurs to Misty that she has never once thought of the princess as anything other than ‘the princess’, and for all her power and wealth she remains as human as anyone else, and she has name. “What would you like me to call you?”

“My family call me Cordelia, but you’re my friend, if that’s alright.” Cordelia says, and Misty is mildly amused at the prospect of being perhaps the first ‘friend’ of the princess. “Call me what you’d like.”

“You mean a nickname?”

She shrugs. “If you’d like. I don’t really mind as long as you don’t call me anything rude in front of my mother.”

Misty laughs at that. “How about Dee?”

The princess—no, Cordelia—smiles at that. “I like that a lot.”

As the sun sets further, the pair walks back to the camp in amicable silence. There is a sense of relief and slight happiness in the air, something that’s most definitely apparent to Misty. This princess is selfish, Misty decides, and self-entitled but intelligent, and kind, and maybe cut out for the whole monarch thing, one day.

They’re a couple minutes from the campsite when a loud crashing sound startles both of them. The assumption that someone’s just dropped a pan or tripped quickly disappears when it happens again—the unmistakable sound of metal clashing with metal—and awfully cries are heard from where the campsite should be.

Renard’s men? Is Misty’s immediate thought. How could they have gotten here so fast—that’s impossible!

Misty looks at Cordelia who’s face has turned white. She pulls a dagger out from her belt and hands it to the princess. “Stay here. Don’t make a sound, I’ll be right back.”

“What?! You can’t leave me!”

“I’ll be right back before you know it; I just need to see what’s going on.” Misty says putting her hands on Cordelia’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, please, just keep safe.”

Reluctantly, Cordelia nods and stays put while Misty takes a deep breath, moving forward carefully. Rather than just walking in on scene like an idiot, Misty climbs up a tree to get a good vantage point and proceeds to observe—in all her time, she has never been so horrified as she is by the scene before her.

There are no Renard men like Misty had thought. Nan is pushed back against a tree with the Axeman fighting off the other six guards single-handily, but he’s slipping. Misty can’t begin to understand what on earth’s going on—this is a training routine, isn’t it? It has to be? These are all the Queen’s men, surely they wouldn’t fight each other, unless...

While fighting off a man from the other side, the Axeman doesn’t notice one of the other guards plunge his blade into his stomach. Misty feels like she could be sick at the sight—it’s awful, his body freezes and recoils around the blade momentarily before swinging back around and swiping the head of said guard off with one clean blow crying ‘FOR THE QUEEN’ at the top of his voice.

For all the horror in front of her, Nan doesn’t wince or cry at all. She has no weapon so can’t begin to defend herself from these fully armoured and trained men, but remains stoic and strong.

Finally the Axeman falls after taking out another of the guards despite his serious stab wound and Misty feels like she’s going to be sick. She’d thought the rigorous training had prepared her for violence, for suffering, for pain but, oh, she couldn’t have been more wrong.

Maybe it was a good thing Princess Cordelia took me out.

Part of Misty wishes she could have just run away or at least tried to help Nan—anything to avoid watching what happens next. But her limbs are stuck in place in the tree the watches from, and try as she might she cannot move.

One of the guards—it’s difficult to tell which one since they all wear helmets—steps closer to the unflinching Nan. “Where is she?” He growls, but Nan just looks at him defiantly.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

His iron fist meets her cheek hard and, after stumbling back Nan looks up with steel in her eyes and spits in his face. “Fuck you!”

This continues for a few more minutes until the guards realise that they aren’t going to get anything from Nan. She looks the man who does it right in his eyes as he plunges his sword deep into her stomach.

Nan does not cry out.

Misty has to shove her hand over her mouth in order not to scream—the sheer monstrosity of what she’s just witness makes her eyes spill fountains in a way she’d never imagined. She isn’t angry, though imagines that will come later, as much as she is shell-shocked and horrified and petrified as the loyal handmaiden collapses to the ground with blood spilling from her cold, still lips.

And as if she Gods hadn’t already given Misty enough pain today, the branch she’s perched on chooses this exact moment to break under her weight and draws all the armed guard’s attention to her.

There is inexplicably a moment of complete stillness in both parties, both in shock, before Misty bolts back into the forest and they come after her. It might have be easier to just dissipate into the nature and stay that way until the coast is clear, but she has a duty to poor, defenceless Cordelia who is surely anxiously waiting her return not so far from here—Misty doesn’t even want to know what these guards—these traitors—will do if they get their hands on her.

Misty could not her do her duty on the battlefield, but maybe she can prove her honour here, even if it means her death, by getting the princess somehow to safety.

She almost crashes straight into Cordelia, hopping and sprinting over roots and branches like the prey she is, and continues to run, dragging the princess along with her.

“Kyle!” The princess cries—Misty picks up the pace when she sees one of the guards at her left flank. “Kyle, what are we running from—Kyle?!”

“Nan’s dead.” Misty says to her perhaps a little too harshly, and Cordelia cries out shock and stops running.

“What are you doing?!” Misty cries. “We need to move, they’re going to kill us—they’re going to kill you.”

The princess begins to sob, hands uselessly wiping away the tears from her eyes. The guards circle the pair of them with swords raised, and Cordelia pulls Misty into a tight hug for comfort—to have one last moment together before they are killed.

Chapter Text

Misty believes in God—always has done, it’s how she was raised—but cannot quite comprehend what great evil she must have done to end up in this position. She’s just a girl, a girl who’s gotten muddled up in some sort of barbaric game that’s far beyond her understanding—after she’s tried so hard to be good, to protect the animals in the swamp, to keep her brother safe from harm. The princess holds onto her tight as if she can somehow go back in time, go back to the water when it was just her, Misty and a bowl of rice—when Nan was sitting back at camp happily, and the Axeman was still swinging his axe.

Is this a panic attack? A hot flush? Her breathing quickens and she closes her eyes since the guards aren’t taking any time to slow down and let her dwell in her last moments. Her instincts force her eyes open at the last second as a blade comes down centimetres from Cordelia’s back, so Misty thrusts out her arm as a form of shield which is far more excruciatingly painful that she’d been anticipating.

The princess’ tears are fresh and she pulls away from Misty, ducking under the blade at the cry that escapes the soldiers mouth. The soldier pulls his sword out of Misty’s arm and she winces and tries not to crumple as the blade comes down on her neck. Before the blade can hit its target, however, perhaps in a hysteric act of repayment, the princess sticks her hand out to catch the steel. Blood drips from her hand as Cordelia screams, eyes boring into the blade as she pushes it up and away from Misty. Misty looks in awe as a mixture of blood and molten metal drips to the ground out of the princess’ palm, only a couple inches away from Misty’s face.

Without warning that soldier completely combusts encased in his metal armour, Misty can do naught but watch in horror as he desperately tries to bat out the fire which is slowly eating away at his skin—cooking him like a boar inside his metal casing. It’s awful, everything’s awful; Cordelia’s eyes are distant, vacant, like she isn’t really inside there as she turns around and faces the other soldiers as they run at her in a fit of fear and panic that they believe can be combated with sheer physical strength.

The princess’ hand suddenly cracks to the side and, as if my magic, the soldier to her left’s neck twists, a sickening crunch snaps it fatally—another on the right stops running at Cordelia to suddenly stabs his counterpart in the back before slitting his own throat. The remaining three, seeing that any further attempt at assault will be, inexplicably, the cause their own death try to run away but the bloody blade of their fallen counterpart rises and chases them like a snake on a rodent, ending their escape rather prematurely.

Misty might have made some sort of incredulous exclamation, maybe make her own escape attempt since she’s positively terrified, but the loss of blood from her shoulder sends her crashing the ground before she can formulate any sort of response.

When she awakens it’s much later—the sun appears high in the sky, and from her knowledge of sun patterns Misty would say it’s about midday but, all things considered, it is hard to tell since the dense canopy of trees blocks a lot of the sky from Misty’s eyeline. It takes about thirty seconds for her attention to go to her arm which feels tingly and sore and delicate.

She shoots up into a sitting position and instantly regrets it since her head seems to suddently lose all its weight, so she begrudgingly lays back properly. Give it another few minutes and she’ll be fine, but such a sudden change in altitude makes her feel more than slightly uncomfortable. Looking down, she notices that the sleeve of her shirt has been rolled up over her shoulder and her wound is packed with yarrow. The rate of Misty’s heartbeat doubles in a second. It’s an arm injury—Cordelia wouldn’t have reason to remove anything else and notice that she’s not, in fact, a boy while she was out—would she? The fight was rough but not so rough that Misty sustained any injuries other than her arm slice. What even happened during that fight—did the loss of blood cause Misty to hallucinate or something? If so, how did they get out alive?

The confused soldier shakes her head, trying to clear her mind and be rational. She’ll ask Cordelia how they got out when she next sees her, and then will be able to dispel all of this crazy, delirious fantasy she’s somehow come up with.

Blinking heavily, she sees Cordelia walk into view with a small bag slung over her back. If memory serves, she recalls the princess wearing green silk last time she saw her. Now she adorns a dress of a very similar cut and style except this one is in a dark mauve—this tells Misty that’s she’s been back to camp.

“You’re awake!” Cordelia smiles, on sight of the soldier she picks up her pace. “For a while I was worried that you might not pull through—you lost an awful lot of blood and your poor muscles are ripped quite badly—but I think now that you’re arm will heal well enough if you keep it in place.”

Misty blinks at her. “You put yarrow on my shoulder?”

“Of course I did.” Cordelia frowns, squatting down to Misty’s level. “It’s the best disinfectant that promotes blood clotting that I could find in this forest. Took me a while to find, mind you...plants in the wild like this confuse me.”

“How did you know to use yarrow?” Misty asks.

“Books.” The princess replies.

It’s bizarre to Misty that Cordelia knows her way around plants the way that she does, but reminds herself that the princess is just as much a person as anyone else; of course she must have interests outside of her courtly duties and her husband who, apparently, is not at all in her favour at the moment. Botany is, after all, a great love of Misty’s also—it really should not be as continuous surprise to Misty that someone like Cordelia is capable of loving something as simple as plants.

“I’ve been giving you water as much as a can without choking you, and I got some things back from the camp. There’s a couple horses left too, I’ve tied them up nearby, thought it best to stay away from the road now that...well. While you were unconscious, at least.” The princess sighs. “Do you think you’re strong enough to stand?”

Misty shakes her leg gently and bites her lip. “I should be, in a bit. Do you have anything I can eat? I’m starvin’.”

The princess nods and hands her a piece of fruit with a chunk of dried beef—must have been part of the soldier’s rations for the journey. Misty tries to be hesitant as she takes the first few slow bites of the meat, but her hunger soon takes a hold and she downs all the food in a couple minutes. Cordelia, for her part, seems unbothered by this lack of decorum and slinks back into the trees, presumably to take care of the horses since Misty can hear the distinct whinnying of them a hidden by thick trunks and wide-spanned leaves a few metres away.

Taking a deep breath, the soldier pushes herself up into a sitting position again. Her arm, as it slowly starts to get feeling back to it, is aching but much better than she remembers it being when she received the injury.

At that thought Misty shivers.

She remembers what happened but only in dangerous flashes—it’s surely a dream, a delusion she’s come up with to explain the improbable. She could ask Cordelia about it, but claps of fire, screams and bones snapping make her hold her tongue. Rationally she knows that surely that can’t have actually happened, but there’s something at the back of her head that keeps stopping her from asking about it to disprove her delusions completely.

That, in itself, is rather scary.

Her legs feel mostly fine so Misty uses her undamaged arm to push herself up onto her feet, wandering slowly in the direction of the horses. Really, all she needs is some sort of fabric to sling her arm up and then she should be fine to ride. She walks to see Cordelia feeding a dark brown horse an apple.

“What’s your plan from here, your highness?” Misty asks quietly.

Cordelia shoots her a look that’s more disappointed than annoyed at the use of her title. “We need to go back to the city. It’s where my mother is, she’ll know what to do.”

“If you were attacked once,” Misty says. “Do you think people will hesitate to attack you again?”

“We don’t know why they attacked me, or who sent the order.” The princess counters. “It’s probably just some traitors looking for praise from our enemies. I don’t think we have anything to be worried about on that front.”

“Then you’re naive.” Misty sighs. “The city is exactly where all your enemies are expecting you to go—and if you truly believe that you have none here, then clearly experience is not a teacher you heed. I don’t know much about strategy but I like to think my training’s prepared me at least for the basics.”

Cordelia shoots her a glare. “I’m not a little girl. I know what I’m doing.”

“Really?” Misty raises an eyebrow. “Tell me, how many days from here to the city? What direction do we start on?”

“Follow the road.” Cordelia says, turning back around.

“It’s like you’re asking to get killed.”

The princess spins on her heel and slaps Misty across the cheek, her cheeks flushed in annoyance. “You may be a soldier, Mr Spencer, but I am still your monarch and you answer to me. I don’t know when you got the idea in your head that you’re in some position in which you can tell me what to do, but you are not, and I suggest you keep that in your head before you let your mouth run again. We are going to the city because that is where my people are and that is where I need to be.”

Misty sighs, and looks down. “I didn’t mean to disrespect you.”

“Good.”

“But that doesn’t make me wrong.”

Cordelia’s stare at this point is nothing but scary and Misty gulps as she thinks of the inferno that the other bodyguards went out in. It’s not real. You’ve got nothing to be scared of. “Think very carefully about what you say next before you say it, Mr Spencer.

“I come from the swamps—the population is maybe about 20 people overall, it’s scarce and no one ever bothers to go through it ‘cause of the gators and snakes and birds of prey. I think it’s the safest place to be right now—“

“Do you hear yourself? You tell be about alligators and snakes and then tell me it’s safe—“

“It’s safe because you’d have me with you!” Misty raises her voice slightly, and instantly regrets it afterwards. Still, she keeps talking. “I know the animals better than I know myself. I can keep you safe there if you want, give you the time to re-evaluate and plan. Because even if the roads are completely safe, even if there will be absolutely no attempts on your life from here to the city and you get there safe and sound, there will be an enormous army waiting at your doorstep before long and everyone inside will be slaughtered. Do you want to die?”

“If it’s for my people, then I’ll gladly throw my life away.”

Her message clearly isn’t getting across, Misty sighs. “What can you do for these people you love so much sitting in a gilded cage? What will your presence there do for them than your mother can’t already? You tell me she has all the power there, in the city you can’t do anything.

Her face is getting progressively redder and the princess clearly wants to retaliate but can’t think of anything. She exhales deeply and closes her eyes, tilting her head towards the ground in defeat. Perhaps this is a woman who wants to be a leader, should be a leader but isn’t cut out for it—or maybe it’s someone who’s been pushed down for so long that her backbone’s been crushed, and it’s only just coming back. Either way, Misty is relived that she seems to be accepting her ideas but still very cautious. Should it not be a positive quality to have a ruler who listens to her advisors?

“I...” The princess sighs. “Alright. But once we’re there I need you to know that I can’t just abandon my people; I can’t stay away forever, no matter how dangerous you think it is.”

“I understand that.” Misty nods. “And agree. I swore myself to your cause when I joined the army, and will not abandon you. I’m trying to help you.”

“Good. And...I think that I know that.” Cordelia smiles at her very weakly, it doesn’t reach her eyes. “I’ll rip some fabric of one of my spare dresses for your shoulder and we’ll get going.”

Misty nods, taking a deep breath to prepare for the journey ahead.

 


 

 

“What happened, Kaylee?” Fiona asks from her ruby encrusted throne, legs crossed and expression knowing. In truth, she’s a little surprised that powers were manifesting and revealing themselves so quickly but that’s far from a disappointment—the sooner, the better. 

The maid is crying. “I don’t know, your majesty, I swear!” The girl cries, dropping to her knees with her head in her hands.

“Are you suggesting that the kitchens just caught on fire by themselves?” Fiona presses, leaning forward. The fire took out about a quarter of the kitchens on the lower floor—not that the queen is overly bothered by this since it’s easily replaceable, with the amount of builders she’s got working on it should be complete and fully functioning again within a few weeks. The girl remains silent, sobbing too hard to form any real response, so Fiona looks to the guards that are manned systematically around the throne room squints.

“You.” Fiona points to a guard to her left. “Take Miss Kaylee to my war chamber. We shall talk more there, in private.”

If the guard is at all surprised by this request he doesn’t show it and does as he is bid. Fiona can barely hide her excitement at her first discovery being a pyrokinetic since that is by far one of the most practical powers in regards to warfare, and could be a devastating weapon if used correctly. Fiona goes to the chamber before dismissing all her guards, sitting across from Kaylee by a small round table.

“I think you started the fire.” She says to the girl once they are alone, who whimpers and recoils at the statement.

Lying to the Queen is, after all, punishable by death if Fiona’s in a bad mood. “I didn’t mean to my lady, I really just—“

Fiona ignores her. “I think that someone frustrated you. And I don’t think the fire came from the ovens or a match.” She reaches over the table and takes Kaylee’s hand, gently running her perfectly sculpted fingernail across the girl’s palm. “I think it came from you.

She’s hit the nail right on the head since the girl makes no response other than biting her lip really hard while tears flow from her eyes like waterfalls.

“Why are you crying, Kaylee?” Fiona asks, her question veiled with soft empathy.

“I-I just feel so g-guilty, and I n-never meant to—“

“The kitchen will be fine.” Fiona interrupts, not actually interested in anything the girl has to say. “But in return for your mistake I need you to do something for me—something that, I promise, will be much to your benefit in the future.”

The girl looks mildly hopeful. “Yes, your grace?”

“I need you to be honest with me about the fire—and I need you to show me how you did it.” Fiona says, not without a small smirk. “Because I want to teach you how to get better at it.”

A candle sits by the window sill and the queen looks over to it, knowing that Kaylee will follow her eye line. She turns back and the candle spurts a flame, and Kaylee looks at the queen with evident surprise but a new kind of understanding in her eyes. “Y-Yes, your grace. Of course. T-Thank you.”

“Come and see me tomorrow, and we’ll talk more. For now, it’s late, get to bed.”

With a nod and a ‘thank you, your grace’ the girl scuttles out of the room like the little church mouse she is. It doesn’t take long, as Fiona expects, for her presence to be replaced with that of Myrtle Snow—the famous spinster who the queen has kept as staff around the palace for decades now without any real idea to why.

They’d met when they were children, they were not friends but hardly enemies either—Fiona thought her hair was silly and that she was awfully well spoken for someone just as common as she, but never thought much of it. She’d always known from her own mother that Myrtle’s family had the same magical affliction as her own, but simultaneously understood that she was far more powerful than Myrtle Snow would ever be, so never really paid her any attention. Myrtle had then applied for a role as nanny for Cordelia when the little girl was born, and Fiona had not thought much of it and hired her—it’s not like she herself would be tending to the baby after all.

Myrtle has no children herself and has genuine, clear distaste for them so why she became a nanny still confuses Fiona to this day, but she evidently loves Cordelia and as a result spent the entirety of the princess’ childhood at the palace. When Cordelia came of age there was no need for Myrtle anymore but Fiona kept her around, mostly because she had gotten used to the old tittering presence of her and, well, old habits die hard.

Fiona doesn’t like Myrtle. But she tolerates her in a bizarre yet refreshing manor.

(It also helps that, in a bitter, distasteful way that often annoys her more than it helps, Myrtle understands her better than anyone else due to her own exposure to magic—magic that Fiona herself stripped away from the red haired woman).

“If you think that this is going to work,” Myrtle says, inspecting a single strand of her hair absently. “Then you are very mistaken.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

Myrtle raises an eyebrow. “The next supreme will rise, you don’t have long left.”

Since Fiona let all the magic back out, Myrtle hasn’t shown any signs of harnessing any of her old powers as weak as she still was back then. She has always been, however, a scholar of sorts of witchcraft and all other matter supernatural and has an understanding and knowledge on par with Fiona’s of magic. Myrtle knows what Fiona’s done, knows what she intends to do, and actively denounces her intentions knowing that it will have absolutely no difference to any outcome.

It would be extremely frustrating and, if it were anyone else, Fiona would probably break their necks but it’s Myrtle—this particular niche type of verbal sparring is rather enjoyable from time to time. It’s...refreshingly nostalgic.

“You’d think after all these years of your uselessness, you might have finally realised that I’m the one who knows what she’s doing.” Fiona brings her legs up and puts them on the table, reclining with a smirk.

Myrtle smiles weakly, shaking her head. “Fiona, when have you actually ever achieved anything?”

“I’m the Queen.” She retorts. “If that’s not an achievement, I don’t know what is.”

“You became Queen more than thirty years ago.” Myrtle sighs. “Since then all you’ve done is spent money, take consorts and insult your poor daughter. You brought this rebellion upon yourself, and it will be your downfall.”

Fiona snorts. “If you think Renard will be the death of me then you clearly don’t know me half as well as you think you do.”

A look of foreboding suddenly blossoms on Myrtle’s face, and she frowns deeply, the harsh lines on her face like ravines—something that Fiona can proudly say she doesn’t have. “Do you know what Renard means in French?”

“Renard? As in fox?” Fiona squints. “What tree are you barking up this time?”

“In literature, the fox is always portrayed as a cunning creature,” Myrtle says, sitting on the table. Her expression is filling slowly with more and more dread and this worries Fiona ever so slightly. “They’re quick and quite small; often outwitting the rabbit they’re chasing or escaping their predator. I’ve always been wary of foxes, I suppose, but never dared to imagine the extent to which a fox might go to eliminate the rabbits completely and take over the forest.”

The Queen honestly cannot fathom what on earth she’s taking about. “What are you getting at? Enough of these riddles. I’m not in the mood.”

“I left the camp too soon.” Myrtle sighs, biting her lip. “Because as the sweet, tender creature that is your daughter lies unaware, the fox that’s she married to has his already opened his jaws wide—I was just too lost in what I believed the right course of action to see it.”

Fiona is silent for a moment as she absorbs and decodes what Myrtle’s trying to say to her. She then shakes her head. Hank Foxx hasn’t got half of the brain needed to pull something like this. She’s talking shite. “I don’t believe you.” She says haughtily. “Hank’s too stupid to ever think of something like that—if he was connected to Renard, I would know about it.”

Myrtle shakes her head, and takes a few steps towards the door—holding it open just a crack. “This is one war that, I fear, cannot be won.”

Chapter Text

It’s early in the morning that wakes Misty up from her deep slumber, three days after setting off for the swamps with the princess, because of a rattling scream that’s so loud she worries that perhaps God has heard them up in the heavens—but the swamp is as humid as it is void of people for the most part, so she soon comes to the realisation that it must be Cordelia in distress.

Shooting up from the spot by a tree where she’s been resting, Misty dashes towards the sound and finds Cordelia stood with an empty pail by a small creek staring at the water like it’s about to snap up and pull her under.

“What happened?” Misty asks, wiping her eyes and trying not to yawn.

Cordelia lifts her slightly trembling arm and points towards the water, and Misty squints before noticing the pair of reptilian eyes that are focused on the princess like a predator stares at prey. Her eyes widen in understanding and relief.

“That’s just a gator, don’t worry about it.” Misty says feeling her shoulders slump. “He ain’t gonna hurt you with me here.”

“It’s staring at me.” Cordelia doesn’t dare to take her eyes of the alligator that’s mostly concealed underneath some algae. Misty takes the opportunity to show the princess just how friendly the reptilian predators can be by kneeling and sticking her hand straight into the water and creating a few ripples to catch the alligator’s attention. Cordelia screeches at the sight.

“What are you doing!” She cries, dropping her pail, heart pounding at a pace she hadn’t thought possible when the beast sets its sights on Misty and starts to paddle over. The soldier maintains complete eye contact with the beast while it swims closer and a grin slips onto her face. “Take your hand out! It’s going to eat you for god’s sake! KYLE!”

To the princess’ horror the alligator comes just a few centimetres from her counterpart’s hand and stops, almost expectantly, as if testing to see if Misty will retract her hand. When Misty doesn’t, it swims to the edge of the bank and opens his jaw wide like a giant, horrifying smile as the soldier gives the underside of his jaw a hearty scratch. “I’ve known this fella since he was a tiny thing.” Misty explains as she keeps scratching despite the aura of sheer terror Cordelia is emitting. “Named him Johnny.” She looks directly at the creature, and in a voice that one might use around a small child adds: “Hey Johnny, it’s been a minute little guy!”

The alligator makes a somewhat happy noise and shifts his head further against Misty like an excited puppy.

“He won’t attack, will he?” Cordelia asks very hesitantly.

“Nope. Johnny’s good as gold.” Misty says with a smile. Her return to the swamp has given her a real sense of relief—a sense of peace despite all the horror that’s gone on around her. Just the sight of a familiar face, reptilian or not, can almost purge the image of Nan’s brutal murder out of her head; the image that’s caused her so much pain and turmoil ever since it happened. It can almost make her forget the terrifying display that Cordelia presented when they were trapped—the display that Misty still can’t quite decipher if it was real or not. All of that is still fresh, but the soothing balm that is the swamp helps to make her feel better about it.

“We can’t be far now. The hut’s downriver, no more than a day I’d bet.” Misty says. “The gator’s never go too far from home.”

The princess makes absolutely no move to get any closer to the animal but does stand her ground, tensed muscles relaxing ever so slightly. “Did you grow up here?” She asks.

Misty nods. “Born and raised.”

“And…and your parents, they—they let you, a child, around these predators?” Misty imagines, from what Cordelia has said, that the closest thing to a predator the princess got to as a child was Queen Fiona. The image of the queen with talons and a set of sharpened teeth makes her snort, though does absently note that’s likely an accurate metaphor for how a young Cordelia saw her mother.

“It wasn’t so much ‘let’ as it was acknowledged.” Misty explains, eyes trained on the alligator. “I mean, they both died when I was relatively young. I can barely remember my mother’s face, but she used to draw—keep journals full of sketches of the alligators, she was fascinated by them too. I guess it’s genetic.”

Misty realises that no one’s ever asked about her parents before, and she doesn’t think about them often. That is probably for the best—her memories of her real father are essentially non-existent, and those of her mother would probably be blurry too if she didn’t have a portrait of her back at the hut to picture her by. “I’m sorry. That they died.” Cordelia says.

“It’s not your fault. Besides, no offense, but even with them dead I wouldn’t trade them for your mother.”

To the soldier’s surprise Cordelia laughs at that and takes a step closer to Misty and the alligator, still apprehensive but building confidence. “I wish she was dead sometimes, if only so she’d leave me alone. When I was a kid, she barely paid attention to me but as soon as I got to my childrearing years, I was suddenly a brand new, shiny chess piece for her to add to her game. Looking back, I wish I’d had a bit more backbone…but even now, I’m not sure I could properly stand up to her so that’s likely naïve of me.”

Misty shakes her head. “That’s awful. I can’t imagine it. And I don’t think you’re being naïve; we can’t all be perfect.”

“In that sense, I suppose it’s a good thing I’m barren.” Cordelia says. “No child of mine can be roped into this political nightmare.”

“There aren’t any politics out here.” Misty replies. “Just nature. You need time to sort your head out and regroup before you march back into the city, and then you’ll build up the confidence you need. You’ll see.”

There’s a still silence and, in an exhibition of courage, the princess sits on her knees next to Misty. She seems to me contemplating the danger of the docile alligator lolling on Misty’s lap, calculating the risk before allowing herself to settle more. She looks to Misty, eyes wide with curiosity. “This place, it’s not like the forests or the city or the mountains up north. I suppose, because so few people live here, I always imagined it would be undesirable and riddled with unpleasant creatures but...” Cordelia bites her lip, looking unsure.

“But what?” Misty asks. It occurs to her that they’re sitting very, very close.

“But it’s beautiful.” Cordelia says it like she’s releasing a long-held breath. “Sure, it’s hot and humid and some of the things here scare me a little, but that’s all part of the charm. It’s all so unusual and well intertwined, everything just fits together. And your right, there are no politics here, just life up every tree, under each patch of moss, all along the creeks. It’s like everything that ever came from here must be a beautiful creature, from the smallest beetle to the biggest alligator.” She gestures, with a small, sweet smile to the beast on Misty’s lap.

Slowly, aware yet unaware of what she is doing, the soldier feels the princess lean closer to her, breath ghosting against her lips. There’s something very inherently wrong about this but she can’t quite find it within her to protest, can’t quite find the words or the strength to push away when her peachy, plump lips settle against her owns. Before she can even figure out what on earth she’s doing Misty’s kissing the princess back, settling into a rhythm—she’s been kissed before but never quite like this, never in a way that made her feel quite like whatever this is.

Johnny, the alligator, makes a noise of annoyance at being neglected and Misty snaps out of her daze, pulling away from a Cordelia with a face that is surely crimson. Her eyes are wide and any words that try and emerge are stuck to her tongue, useless in the face of her shock.

Cordelia, at least, has the decency to look a little embarrassed too. “You’re the best, kindest man I’ve ever met, Kyle. I hope I’m not being forward when I say—”

Her head shakes with a sudden ferocity. “No—no no no! No I’m not.”

The princess frowns, appearing hurt at what seems to be a vehement rejection. “What?”

“I’m not the best man you’ve ever met.” A dilemma is presented to here that Misty can’t quite figure out how to override—if they’re going to meet her family then she’ll probably get an inkling that not everything is as it seems but if Misty asks her brother to lie and say she’s a man then he’d happily do so. But how can she, with a clear conscience, lie to this poor princess about something as primal as her sex and expect it to end even moderately well?

Not to mention the fact that Cordelia is a princess, a married princess who’s currently in the middle of a war. Adultery is a bad enough crime, and while homosexuality isn’t technically a crime, it is frowned upon and if someone found out that the princess was intermingling both then…Misty doesn’t even want to think about what might happen to her.

She doesn’t dare to allow the fact that she really, really loved that kiss to enter her thought process because surely that will sway all her decisions here on out and make everything just so much more difficult.

“I don’t understand.” Cordelia says softly, her confusion growing with each second that passes.

Misty takes a deep breath and shuts her eyes. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

 


 

 

Fiona watched from a balcony as her witches stand in an outward facing circle, waiting patiently.

After Kaylee, the queen had had agents on high alert for even the slightest disturbances throughout the city and over the past week her ranks have slowly been filling. Some are, regretfully, rather useless—Fiona has little use for divination and descending into hell during a war—but the pyrokinetics and telekinetics have been a real asset, and those who can transmute have their uses too. Myrtle has stood steadily by her side throughout this entire process (they don’t have long to whip these girls into shape, so Fiona’s got them on a strict regimen; they are her secret weapons, her last resorts, and she’s confident that with them she’ll be able to protect the city no matter what).

One thing that is slightly worrying, not that she’s about to admit that, is the loss of communication she’s had with her stupid son-in-law’s war camp. Normally she’s sent updates at least three times a week but they haven’t received anything in a while. Whether it’s a matter of them being compromised or simply lazy Fiona isn’t sure, but it’s unlike her Generals not to be regular and responsive. Not to mention Cordelia is also there, and while her daughter never writes to her—probably still angry about being sent there like a naughty child—surely if something turned out wrong she would have said something, at least to Myrtle if not to Fiona.

Another thing that isn’t so reassuring is that Fiona is starting to cough up blood.

She had known this would happen, somewhere in the back of her mind, but hadn’t dared to think it might happen so quickly. It’s almost as if her magic is trying to claw its way out of her, looking for a new, younger vessel to bestow its power upon after being contained in Fiona’s body, chained and stuck, for so long. She had thought that this problem might have been stopped by finding her successor and putting them to a swift end, but none of the witches that she’s found have the amount of power required to be a rising supreme or, at least, they’re not showing it.

All these things together have led Fiona to think back on what Myrtle said to her, just over a week ago, about the nature of the fox. She’ll admit that it’s a little weird, that Hank’s surname just so happens to be Foxx, but surely if he was related to Renard, she would have figured that out by now. Sure, it’s not like Fiona ever set up the match between him and her daughter—in fact, she had fervently protested against the match on the grounds that he’s an absolute dipshit—but her husband had won that round and Cordelia didn’t seem to hate Foxx at the time so she’d begrudgingly let it slide.

Before he died, Renard and her husband were rather close, she supposes—so, hypothetically, it wouldn’t be out of the question that they match maybe a son and her daughter together. But Renard had been a notified misogynist and had never taken a wife, nor does he have any siblings that might indicate that Hank’s his nephew, so if Hank is his then he’s a bastard. Surely her husband would never have agreed to marry the heir to all their lands and titles to an illegitimate dog, would he? He had never been a clever man, but he had, somewhere deep inside, cared for Cordelia; she meant more to him than that, surely?

A sense of foreboding washes over the queen and she leans down on the balcony a bit deeper, squinting. The attack begins. Her witches are enthusiastic enough but far from useful in terms of a fight thus far, she’ll need to work them harder.

The sound of a deep voice snaps her out of her head and Fiona spins, seeing one of her helmeted guards standing before her. “We’ve found another one, your majesty.” He says, and Fiona finds her lips curl up into a smirk.

“Good, bring her to me.”

“There’s more, your majesty.” He says and Fiona taps her foot impatiently on the floor to continue. “She claims to have come from General Foxx’s camp, as carrying some other girls with her half dead, they came from the forests into the city. She pushed open the gates with her mind, that’s when the guards brought her in.  She also claims to be a citizen, under the name Madison Montgomery.”

Fiona frowns. “Thank you, sir. Take me to her, I wish to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”  

The guard nods and leads her away from the training room.

 


 

 

Misty takes a deep breath, not able to look at Cordelia.

“I never told you much about my brother.” Misty says. “When we were kids, he got really hurt in a machinery accident and, well, he hasn’t been able to move easily ever since. He can walk, for a bit, but he gets tired and sore so quick—if it wasn’t for Zoe, his fiancé now, and me then he would have died. As it is, I’m not sure how I saved him when it happened, but…well, my point is, he never would have made it in the army.

Cordelia is listening attentively, sensitively.

“My mother had just died, and my stepfather left as soon as he could. He’s my little brother, and Zoe at the time was an orphan who my mother adopted, so we raised ourselves. It was all fine, until we got the summons for the army. He was going to go…but he’d never make it, he’s too weak even if he’d never admit it. He would have died.” Misty looks to the ground, biting her lip, and the princess looks confused.

“It’s an admirable thing to do, to join to that your brother doesn’t have to.” Cordelia says slowly, not quite sure what Misty’s trying to get at.

“You don’t understand.” Misty says. “My brother’s name is Kyle Spencer.”

At that her confusion deepens on her face, brows furrowing together. “You have the same name as your brother? That’s odd.”

In a spur of last-minute confidence, Misty yanks the tie out from her hair and for the first time in what feels like an eternity lets her blonde curls fall down. She shakes her head to let them out, sighs, closing her eyes, still completely unable to look at the princess. “Kyle’s my brother, and I’m his sister. I pretended to be him so he wouldn’t get hurt. I’m sorry that I’ve lied to you and everyone else; but I didn’t have another choice. I couldn’t let him throw his life away.”

Had she opened her eyes, she would have seen the princess sitting wide eyed and frozen in her spot. The silence is agony and runs for about thirty seconds before Misty, eyes still firmly shut, clenches her fists. “Please say something. Anything.”

She hears Cordelia swallow loudly and inhale deeply. “What’s your name?”

Whatever she’s been expecting, it isn’t that. Her eyes crack open and she looks to the bewildered princess. “I-I’m sorry?”

“Your name.” Cordelia repeats, clearly getting a better grip on the situation the more time spent. It’s stupid but her eyes begin to feel watery—there’s not even a real reason why but it’s all rather overwhelming. “I’d like to know you’re real name, if it’s not Kyle.”

“Oh.” Misty blinks. “My name’s Misty Day. Misty.”

Another silence hangs between them for a long moment, as if Cordelia is trying to rack her mind for the proper response. She’s kissed this woman, she likes this woman like she’s never liked someone before but that was when she thought she was a man, when she was Kyle. Kyle is charming and strong and protective and friendly and Cordelia loves to be around Kyle. She wants Kyle to hug her and kiss her and make up for all that love that she’s been missing out on her entire life, she did not care that he’s just a soldier, that he’s poor and has no money to speak of.

And she still feels this way about Kyle, even though Kyle is a woman. Surely this means the whole time she’s been enticed by Misty, not Kyle, and they’re still the same person just with a different name. The idea of being with a woman, or lusting after one, has never really occurred to her but does not repel her like she imagines it might have, had she been seeing this from an outside perspective.

It does scare her, though.

It scares her that in a society and place where her role is to marry a man and have children that she is slowly falling for a woman and can’t quite find away to stop it, so much so that she doesn’t care what Kyle—Misty—has in their pants as long as she can be close to him—her.

“I—” She realises that she’s not quite sure what to say, not quite sure how she’s going to convey this mess of emotions. Words have never quite been her strong suit, perhaps that comes from years of being dominated by her mother in all arguments; words have always seemed to fail her as a mechanism of communication. Instead of continuing, Cordelia steps forward closer to Kyle—Misty—and wraps her arms around his—her—shoulder, leaning up and kissing his—her—soft lips one more time. It is gentler, delicate, a simple gesture that hopefully shows how she feels. She then steps back, apprehensive, looking into her companions lost eyes.

“A-Are you sure?” Misty asks, cheeks blushed and blue eyes wide.

“It should matter, and yet it does not.” Cordelia says, brown eyes pouring into blue. “I have not changed my mind about anything. I’m just surprised, is all.”

Misty doesn’t expect the sense of overwhelming happiness that washes over her.