The sun breaks into the room, golden rays spilling out over the floor. Emma feels its heat on her face and the corners of her mouth curl up in pleasure as her eyes immediately fly open. She can never help waking up with the sun, but she learnt long ago that her parents feel very differently. They tell her that 'the crack of dawn is no reasonable time to be up and about'. But she won't listen to them. They're missing out anyway, she thinks, as she carefully pads across the room to grab her boots. They were new – for her birthday, a few weeks ago, and they're already scuffed beyond the point of repair. Emma doesn't care. She likes them better like that. Bit by bit, she eases the door open, so as not to wake anyone up. She's come to realise that doesn't go down very well.
The light is just beginning to creep in to the rest of the castle, sneaking up on is inhabitants. If she listens carefully, Emma can hear the servants moaning and cursing as they rise to start work for the day. She's picked up so many curse words from this habit, which her parents would scold her for if they knew. And she'd cross her arms and give them a knowing look, because she's heard them curse too, when they think that she can't hear them.
Emma goes slowly on the stairs, with the memory of her fall last month still fresh in her mind. But as soon as she's hopped off the last step, she's bolting off to the door, and taking out the key from behind the statue where she knows her parents hide it. She can only reach the keyhole if she stands on the edge of the statue, and it always wobbles, but she's not worried. It's an ugly statue anyway.
She unlocks the door, and makes sure to store the key in her robe so she can get back in if any of the servants lock her out by accident. That had happened before, and she was lucky that someone had realised before her parents had noticed and started to worry. They did that a lot.
The garden always looks beautiful in the morning, and today is no exception. The sun filters through the trees and sprawls across the grass, inviting Emma to go and fall back asleep there in the middle of the shrubbery. But she doesn't come here to rest, she comes here to run and play and climb, when no one else is around to do it with her.
She already picked a tree out yesterday, and she feels like she's never wanted anything more in life than to reach the top today. She was excited all of yesterday, telling her parents 'tomorrow is a big day'. They asked why, and she told them she'd tell them why tomorrow. They'd be proud of her, she knew it. They were always proud of her, they said, especially when she climbed all the way to the top of trees. And then they burst out laughing, and Emma didn't understand why, but she copied them anyway.
To start her climb, she uses the surprisingly strong topiary beneath the tree to stand on. It holds her weight rather effectively, even if it sags a bit. It's permanently misshaped now, but no one seems to have noticed yet. No one was ever sure what it was supposed to be anyway.
Emma pulls herself into the tree and takes a brief moment to look down from her vantage point. When she sits up in her trees, she thinks it must feel like how her parents feel when they sit in the throne room. Not that they sit there very much. They probably spend more time in trees, trying to get her down for dinner. It's quite funny when they do that to Emma, because neither of them fit between the branches in the slightest, and it's one of the times they swear not-so-quietly under their breath.
She only looks for a few seconds before she resumes her climb, pulling herself up, branch by branch. All her concentration is on her balance and where her hands and feet should go next, so almost doesn't hear her Daddy's voice from beneath her.
"Have I ruined today's big surprise?" He asks, arms crossed, an amused smile on his face.
"Yes." Emma says crossly, without bothering to turn around. "I was going to tell you after I got to the top."
He chuckles lightly and looks at her choice of tree. "Picked a big one day, have we? Very ambitious."
"I'm going to get to the top!" Emma insists, even though she doesn't know what ambitious means.
"I know you are sweetie. You always do." Emma knows she always does, and she prides herself on that, and climbs even faster to show off.
"Daddy?" She asks suddenly, as a thought comes to mind. "Why are you not asleep? You and Mommy told me you were asleep when the sun comes in."
"We normally are." He pulls a face, jokingly exasperated. "Mommy woke up and wanted a snack, so I went to get it for her."
"Oh." Emma says, thinking. She screws her nose up thoughtfully as she tries to think of why her Mommy might need a snack at this time of morning. "Is it because of the baby?" She asks excitedly, when she comes to a conclusion. "Is the baby hungry?"
Her Daddy laughs. "I guess so, kid. Hey, watch where you're grabbing there, that branch is thinner than your little finger."
"It might snap." She adds helpfully.
"Yes. And then you'd fall."
"Ow indeed." He agrees. "Listen Emma, I'm going to head back inside and grab your Mommy a snack alright? Just don't… fall, while I'm gone." Emma promises she won't, that she never does, and he goes back inside looking satisfied enough. Emma's proud that her parents don't mind her climbing unsupervised. All her friends have to have their parents watch them when they climb trees. Her parents know she won't fall (the Blue Fairy is just around the corner for any cuts and bruises and there isn't any trees taller than three metres in the garden, but that seems huge to Emma).
True to her word, she reaches the top before her Daddy even gets back, and triumphantly scrabbles back down to run and tell him. She'll bring her Mommy out later too, to show her the tree and brag about how easy it was to climb.
She can't find him in the kitchens though, so she runs back upstairs to see if he's there, bursting into his room. "Mommy!" She exclaims, as that's who she finds in the room. She jumps on the bed excitedly. "Guess what I just did?"
Her Mommy smiles at her, and plays along, even though Emma knows she isn't feeling very well. Her friend Tom says 'it's the baby that does, it does' and Emma said she wouldn't really like a baby who made her Mommy sick and Thomas said that all babies did, so she had forgiven it. "Did you…" Her Mommy pretends to consider. "Leapfrog all the stones in the hallway?"
"No!" Emma shakes her head triumphantly. "Guess again!"
"Slide all the way down the bannister?"
"Steal all the chocolate cake?"
"Ooh… this is a hard one… did you possibly… climb all the way to the top of a huge tree?"
"Yes!" Emma cries, and leaps on her Mommy, momentarily forgetting about the baby bump. But her Mommy doesn't seem to mind, and with a wicked grin, starts to tickle her. "No… Mommy… stop… please!" Emma gasps between squeals. "It tickles!"
"That's the point!" Her Mommy laughs, but relents slightly. "Now where's your Daddy with my breakfast, huh? I sent him off ages ago!"
"He's useless isn't he?" Emma laments, in a solemn tone that makes her sound momentarily more mature than her five years. Her Mommy bursts out laughing though, and Emma breaks into giggles in seconds because she's made her Mommy laugh.
The door swings open and her Daddy comes in, breakfast in hand. "Useless Daddy is right here." He pretends to be offended, and Emma feels bad for a second before she realises he's laughing.
"I got to the top Daddy!" She tells him proudly.
"That's great sweetheart!" He tells her, and scoops her off the bed to swing her round. "That must be the biggest one you've climbed yet!"
Emma is about to tell him that it is, that it's the biggest in the garden but three, she counted, when her Mommy gasps. "Ella's coming over today! And I'm not even up yet!" She sits bolt upright and swings her legs out of the bed. "I need to get ready, prepare…" She more mutters that, as she starts to look for her things.
"Oh I'm so sorry Emma," she says, pausing for a second. "We won't be able to do archery after all. I totally forgot about Ella coming over! We can do it tomorrow, I promise."
"It's okay." Emma doesn't mind. She's been excited to try archery since her Mommy first promised it, but it's clearly not possible. She gets excited again quickly. "Me and Daddy will go out for a picnic!"
"We will?" Her Daddy asks, eyebrows raised.
"Yes!" Her Mommy cuts in quickly. "You two go have fun, Ella's my friend really."
"Please Daddy!" Emma begs. "We can take iced buns!"
"Let's do it." He agrees, grinning. "Just us girls, ey?" He shifts her on the hip she's perched on.
"You're not a girl, Daddy!"
"I'm not?" He pretends to be surprised. "Well that certainly explains a lot doesn't it?" He pinches Emma's nose gently. "Thank you Princess Emma!" She giggles and shoves his hand away, as her Mommy smiles contentedly at them.
"Well you go get ready kid." He sets her down on the bed. "I'll go grab us some food."
"Can we have chocolate cake?"
"No." Her Mommy calls from the washroom. "That's mine." She's been very possessive over her craved delicacies, Emma has noticed. She'd very much like some chocolate cake too.
"We won't touch it!" Emma's Daddy shouts back, and then mouths to her 'we'll get two slices'. She grins and runs out of the room to get ready, already planning out their day in her head. They can play tig, and hide and seek, and if she's sneaky she can smash an iced bun on his face. But only if she can get two, because if there's one rule Emma has, it's that iced buns are primarily for hoarding and eating.
She pulls on a pair of breeches and the first tunic she can find quickly. She had to take her boots off to get them on though, and she falls over when she tries to get them back on because she tries to do it on one leg. But she picks herself up and keeps going because her friends and she are always competing over the amount of bruises obtained (she's reigning champion and won't let Alfie overtake her).
It's only seconds before she's crashed down the stairs and is impatiently waiting. "Daddy, hurry up!" She shouts up the stairs, and a second later, he appears from the other stairs, that lead down to the kitchens. He's holding a basket in one hand, and a bag with two slices of chocolate cake in the other, a finger held to his lips. Emma copies him. "Shhh." She giggles.
"You ready to go kid?"
"I was ready ages ago!" She moans. "Let's go!"
And so they do, down the stairs, all the way to the bottom, to the huge doors she's always excited to go through. The guards wave them goodbye, telling Emma sternly (but not really) not to fall in any rivers. They pick up her Daddy's horse from the stables, and head through the village, to many smiled greetings, bows and curtsies. Emma's a little shy, and hides behind her Daddy, which only makes the townspeople smile more.
It's market day, and scents waft across the courtyard where Emma inhales deeply to try and differentiate every individual smell. She picks up rather a lot of horse excrement in the process, so wrinkles her nose instead. The square is alive with people, and all of them want to see her and her Daddy, who smiles and waves and tosses coppers. She's no idea how he's not scared, and the thought that one day this will be her absolutely terrifies her. But it's not like her to be scared, and if her Daddy can be this brave when she knows he hates talking to lots of people and everyone looking at him (he's always leaving those parts to Snow, which she constantly teases him about), she can too. So she gives a few tentative waves as well, and the crowd are delighted, which draws a nervous laugh from her, and prompts her to wave more.
It takes them a long time to make their way across the village, but they make it eventually, make it to the even huger gates that lead out of the castle. Privately, Emma thinks of them as the gateway to freedom. She's not often allowed to leave the castle, and dreams of the day when that choice will be up to her. Of course, she's no problem with her life in the castle, and she's no shortage of friends, but she has something of an adventurous spirit in her, and when her parents tell her their stories of elsewhere in the forest, she wants nothing more than to leave. To see the site where they first met, visit Lake Nostos, and where Frederick's statue used to stand. To re-enact how her Daddy slayed the dragon up in the mountains, and to understand the life her Mommy had lived in the wild, in her tree stump. She wanted to see everything.
Lost in happy thought, Emma almost misses the drawbridge lowering, which she's always loved. But the creaking must wake everyone in a five mile radius, so she notices when it's about halfway down. The time it takes to descend seems like hours when pitted against how giddy she is with excitement. This might even be better than archery practice.
Her Daddy urges his horse on, and the distinct clip clop her hooves make on the wood riles Emma up even more. Soon, they're off the drawbridge and descending down the main bridge to the path, and she can hear the drawbridge creaking back up behind her. If any of the townspeople wish to leave or anyone wishes to enter, the little footbridge will be perfectly adequate, and, as an added bonus, isn't the most practical for invading armies.
Emma watches the birds and the squirrels and whatever manner of woodland creature she can find as they ride into the trees, drinking in the sound of the forest. The journey doesn't last long though, before her Daddy has slipped off the horse and is lifting her off in turn. As always, he pretends she's too heavy for him, and she hits him, albeit softly, and he laughs and murmurs, "just like your Mother".
He ties the horse to the tree and goes to grab the picnic basket, but Emma has other ideas. She taps him on the leg, which has him confused for a second, before she runs away and yells, "tig!"
He grins and calls back: "Right! If that's how it is!" And then he charges after her, and she's giggling as she runs, which slows her down, but he's still miles behind (like most parents, he's pretending to go slow for her benefit, but she doesn't know that). She spots a suitable rock, and dives behind it, in the hope that he'll charge right past her. But he stops, pretending to ponder. "Where on earth could Emma be?" He frowns. "Not possibly… behind this tree?!" He checks (and looks genuinely surprised because he could've sworn that was where he'd seen her hide). "Ooh, someone's good at hiding!" He whistles. "I'll find you Emma… I will always find you!" He laughs, checking a few more trees (and faster now because this is getting embarrassing). But then he hears a little giggle from a rock a few metres away that was probably for his catchphrase, and knows exactly where his daughter is.
"Or maybe… behind these rocks?!" He swings his head round from above and Emma dissolves into giggles at his upside down head. "Gotcha!" He reaches in to pick her up and spin her around. "I told you! I will always find you." He sets her down and then grins wickedly before tapping her shoulder and starting to sprint away. "TIG!" He yells, over his shoulder.
Emma makes him play for a while (hours by his estimation), but he doesn't complain once because she's having fun (and so is he really). When they finally settle down to eat, she's completely worn out, and will definitely be sleeping in later the next day. Of course, she dives for the chocolate cake first, only checking his expression afterwards, looking at him as if she's daring him to tell her off. But he only rolls his eyes and reaches for his own slice.
They're halfway through 'who can fit the most crackers in their mouth' when they hear the hooves, and for a moment, Emma assumes she just bit a really hard cracker. She looks up at her Daddy, who is frowning, and has swallowed all his crackers, so she follows suit. "Horses?" She asks him.
"Yeah kid. The problem is whose." He stands up suddenly and goes to grab his sword from his horse, which he belts on. "Just in case." He answers Emma's unasked question. "Probably just going past." Despite his reassurances, Emma is nervous all the same, and leaps up to run over to him. She holds up her arms, and he cooperates immediately, lifting her into the air. "Don't worry sweetie." He soothes. "Most likely, it's some of our own guards! Returning from the docks, I bet you, with many a story to tell you." She smiles, comforted, because she likes hearing stories from the guards, and decides that her Daddy is right and there is nothing to worry about. She's just about to slip to the floor when the hooves get louder, and it's obvious they're coming towards them.
Her Daddy holds her closer then (because now he is worried, they haven't exactly been being quiet), whispering, "it's alright," in her ear. Emma squirms into the familiar smelling leather of his doublet, hiding her face as the hooves draw nearer and nearer. It doesn't sound like there are more than four, five at the most, and she knows her Daddy will protect her, but still.
She looks for a split second, and catches sight of a horse appearing through the trees, and the man riding it dressed in black. She can feel her Daddy's breath catch in his throat, and the quickening beat of his heart against her arm. She feels herself being set down, still gently, even though she knows he is scared as well. And when he puts his hands on his shoulders and looks straight at her, she can see the fear in his eyes, something she's never seen there before. 'My Daddy is the bravest man in the Enchanted Forest' she'd often boast to her friends. But now, he was absolutely terrified.
"Emma you have to run." His voice is low, and she understands he needs her to be quiet, so the man in the black on a horse won't hear. "You have to run, now."
"I'm too scared." She tells him. "I don't want to leave you Daddy."
"I know. I know sweetheart." He tells her in return, his voice cracking. "But you have to do it Emma, you have to be brave Emma. You can do that can't you?"
And she wants so desperately to say yes, but she can't, because at that moment, she doesn't feel all that brave. "I don't know." She whispers. "Can't you come with me?"
"No." He looks a way for a second, his voice hoarse. "I have to stay here. But you have to run. Run as fast as you can, and then hide, until I come and find you."
"Like in tig?" She whispers, lib wobbling.
He tries to smile at her (and tries to stop his eyes watering, because if there's any time he needs to be strong, it's right now). "Yeah, like in tig."
"And you'll find me after?"
"I'll find you. I will always find you." He promises her. Emma knows he doesn't break promises. She can do this. She can be brave. Like Daddy, and like Mommy, and like Red and Grumpy and all the rest.
"Okay." She whispers.
"Go now." He tells her. And then he pulls her back. "And Emma… don't… look back." She nods, biting her lip and he gives her a little shove as the hooves grind to a halt behind him (he doesn't want her to see this, doesn't want her to see him kill these men, doesn't want her to view him in that way).
So Emma turns and runs.
"Where's your crown, your Majesty?" One of the men on the horses jeers, and Emma turns around. She's breaking her promise, but they're shouting at her Daddy, and she wants to help, wants so badly to go and stand beside him, but he told her to run and she said she would. So she stands at the edge of the clearing, open mouthed, unsure whether to stay or go, watching the events unfold before her.
Her Daddy doesn't reply, only draws his sword, and all the men copy him. And so it begins. Emma's fought with wooden swords a thousand times, especially with her Daddy, and she knows he's the best in the Kingdom. But there are four of them, and only one of him, and… her Daddy's sword glides straight through a man's chest and out through the back, now glistening red, and Emma can only stand there, horrified.
He turns around for a second, and sees that she's not gone yet. "Emma, you have to run!" He calls desperately, elbowing a knight that tries to get around him in the face and slamming another with the butt of his sword. "Run!" But she is still dumbstruck, and only hears him as if he were very faraway, because she's still staring at the man on the ground, with the red coming out of him. So much red…
And then there's more, when her Daddy sticks his sword through another man, and looks over his shoulder again, absolute desolation in his eyes. "EMMA!" He yells. "RUN!"
And she hears then, because he never shouts at her, absolutely never, apart from when she's done something really bad, like when she jumped in the river and nearly drowned. And even then he'd come and apologise to her afterwards, saying he had just been scared. And he's scared now, she knows it, so he will come and apologise after for the shouting, when he finds her, because he will always find her. She takes a deep breath and one last look.
And then runs.
She sprints through the trees at a speed she's never felt before, her heart pumping what feels like a million times a minute. Just like tig, just like tig, just like tig, she repeats to herself, like a mantra. She's good at tig. She's barely ever it when she and Alexander play, even when Alfie joins in, and he's much bigger than both of them. She could do this. All she needs is a good hiding place.
And they're everywhere, and suddenly Emma knows what she has to do, and stops at the closest tree with a branch she can reach. She can't see the clearing anymore, which means she probably can't be seen from the clearing either. So she starts to climb, hand over hand, foot over foot, not looking down, not even once, because this is at least five times bigger than anything else she's ever climbed. But she's good at climbing; she knows that, it's something she can just do. So she doesn't look down, and tells herself it's exactly the same as the tree she climbed that morning, and pretends that her Daddy is right beneath her, laughing and smiling.
When she reaches the last branch she deems thick enough to sit on, she can see over the trees, to the clearing. She hides herself behind a particularly thick patch of leaves and looks through a tiny little hole. She can see them now, her Daddy and the two men, still fighting with their swords. They're trying to close in on him from both sides, but he's too fast for them, blocking every swing and dodging every blow. He parries and ducks and twists and turns, and Emma starts to believe it's going to be alright. Her Daddy will win and make the red go away and then he'll find her and it will be a story to tell all of her friends. They'll all be jealous that she had such an adventure.
But then it all goes wrong.
Her Daddy knocks one swordsman to the ground, and turns for a second to parry a strike from the other. He's quick to turn his attention back to the fallen one again, to stop him from standing up, but the man has other ideas. He stays exactly where he's lying on the floor, and waits until her Daddy is fully turned around. And then he strikes, throwing a handful of dirt into her Daddy's face. That allows the other man to gain the upper hand and disarm her Daddy as he tries to rub the dirt out of his eyes. The man swings his sword and Emma almost screams, 'look out!' But the other man shouts for her: "No! She'll want him alive!" So the man lowers his sword, and for a second Emma thinks her Daddy might get away.
But the man only flips his sword and whacks her Daddy with the hilt, throwing him off balance. Then the other man gets up, pulling his belt from around his tunic and wrapping it around her Daddy's hands as the man with the sword holds him down. Emma's breath catches in her throat; she's scared, even more scared now. How can he fight with his hands behind his back like that? She soon realises the answer is as simple as this: he won't.
One of the men spits on her Daddy, and she expects him to shout at them, to do something, but he doesn't, he only stands there, silent and unmoving. "Best swordsmen in the kingdom, eh?" The man hisses. "Could've fooled me, your highness." Emma doesn't like the way they're talking to her Daddy, but there's nothing she can do about it, she can only watch in mounting fear. She knows her Daddy must have some trick up his sleeve, because in the stories, he always does. He'll be fine, she knows it, but she can't shake that feeling of impending danger, and it's making her scared.
And then she hears more hooves, and more men ride towards the clearing, shouting out to their friends. "We heard swords! You killed any of Snow White's pretty little army?"
"Oh, much better." One of the two men says, as the men ride into the clearing. "Look who we've caught!" The other men stop, all shocked, gazing at Emma's Daddy in a sort of mocking disbelief. She doesn't like that expression either, but there's still nothing she can do, because when you're hiding you have to be quiet, so that's what she'll do. It's a game Mommy and Daddy set up, she decides. Daddy would never lose a fight like that. And on that reasoning, she begins to relax, determined to keep to her excellent hiding place and stay quiet and win the game.
"The King himself!" One of the other men dismounts and crosses over to her Daddy. "Oh, her Majesty will be very pleased with this."
"The daughter was here too." One of the original men cuts in. "He told her to run whilst we were preoccupied with her. She'll want her even more, so you take him back with you and we'll go get her. She's only a kid, it'll be easy." He looks down at one of the other knights on the floor, with the red, and his eyes narrow. "Don't be too nice to him." He tells the other knight who has begun to lead her Daddy away. The other man grins maliciously, and shoves her Daddy on.
For a second, he turns around, and she thinks that maybe he is trying to look for her, to give her a smile to let her know she's doing well, or to give her a clue about the game. But he doesn't see her. She only sees him, and the sunlight glinting off his cheek where tear tracks mark his face. And the fear rises again then, because Mommy's and Daddy's aren't supposed to cry. They're supposed to make tears better for their children, not the other way around. But those are definitely tears. Before he can be dragged away, her Daddy forces a smile. "She got away." His smile widens. "You'll never find her."
"We'll see about that." One of the knights retorts, and then smashes the flat of his sword into her Daddy's face, and he goes limp, and then they carry him out of view, taking some of Emma's bravado with him. Her heart has started to beat fast again, as she watches the four newcomer knights ride away and the two original ones move towards her.
"We'll find you, kid!" One of them yells, and she tenses, because that's what her Daddy calls her, and they have no right to it. And if they can do one thing her Daddy does, who says they can't do others? Who says they can't find her? The tree suddenly seems to sway beneath her as she tries to control her breathing and stop herself from hyperventilating.
The men search for her for hours. She spends the whole time in a terrified silence, trying to comfort herself with her Daddy's words. I will always find you. He always found her Mommy in the stories. He always found her when they were playing tig or hide and seek. He would find her. He would always find her. They pass beneath her, and her heart jumps into her mouth, and she thinks she is going to fall, that they are going to get her, that they are going to… I will always find you. I will always find you. I will always find you. I will find you. Always. Always.
The threat passes, and so does time, the sky starting to grow dark and the silver crescent moon casts a pale glow across the lengthening shadows of the forest. The men grumble, and start to head back, and Emma doesn't know if she's more scared of them or of what's in the forest. They arrive back in the clearing, and on picks up her Daddy's sword and laughs, an unpleasant, croaking sound.
"Best swordsman in the kingdom.." The man repeats to himself, and then to his friend. "Fuck, we did well today didn't we? The fucking King. I think a celebration is in order." Emma winces at the curse word, because it sounds so harsh coming from this man, so different to how she's heard it before.
"Excellent." The other man replies, greedily rubbing his hands together. "Forget the little brat, her Majesty never need know she was here. She'll be pleased enough with the god damn fucking King, she wasn't even expecting us to kill a few white knights."
"Aye." The other man agrees. "Let's go, while we still have the whole night ahead of us!" He whoops, and takes her Daddy's sword. On the way to his own stallion, he sticks it through her Daddy's horse, and Emma wants to shout, to tell him to stop, but she can't and he doesn't, and the terrible red comes spilling out, and the horse falls with a huge resounding thud (looking back in years to come, Emma will say that is the moment when she stopped feebly hoping it was a game, the moment when her innocent hopefulness deserted her). The man laughs and wipes the sword clean on his doublet.
Then they both climb onto their own horses and ride away, laughing and cursing into the night. And then they are gone and Emma can't hear them anymore, and she is left alone with only the sounds of her own thumping heart and whispers of the trees.
It's all over.
She's still terrified, and so full of increasing despair, she's not sure how she survives the climb down without falling. But she does, and she runs into the clearing to kneel beside the horse with all the red marring its white mane. "I'm sorry." She whispers, and though she expects them too, the tears don't come. "I'm sorry Frosty (because that's the horse's name, and her parents always laugh about it, and Emma always feeds her sugar cubes, but no one's laughing now and there's no sugar cubes and all there is is the red and the tears that won't come)."
Emma gets up and she runs. Runs away from the clearing, away from the horse and away from the red, and wonders why she can't cry.
So, ik I have a lot of other stories in progress but I just HAD to start writing this straight away.
I know Emma seems hugely naïve and everything, but she's only five years old, and I want a huge contrast to later chapters.
I hope you liked it, anyway!