"The kingdom searched and searched but they could not find the princess. For deep within the forest, in a hidden tower, Bellwether raised the child as her own-"
"That sounds biologically impossible."
"Well, for your information-"
"Did you actually believe that you — a bunny — were the biological offspring of a sheep for eighteen years?"
"It's not like I'd ever had contact with anyone other than her-"
"But didn't you read books?"
"Hey! None of them covered biology!"
"Did they not cover common sense either, Fluff?"
"Awww, come on. Don't pull that sad face. You know I was just joking, right?"
"Do I know that?"
"Yes, yes you do."
"Alright." Bellwether places her hoof on Judy's head, soothingly petting her. "Repeat it just like I taught you."
"Yes, 'Wether," Judy responds, squeezing her eyes shut; the light always did hurt her eyes. With a light breath, she begins. "Carrot, heal what has been hurt." She gently places a paw on a carrot. "Change the fate's design." Even with her eyes closed, a brilliant gold permeates her vision like watercolor. "Save what has been lost; bring back what once was mine..." Squinting her eyes open, Judy offers the carrot to Bellwether. "What once was mine."
Bellwether takes the carrot, the sun lighting in the pastures of her eyes. She takes a bite, and in a moment, she can feel her heavy wool lighten and the luster restoring in her curls.
Turns out, the golden carrots are a golden dream, with the power to heal anything.
Okay, age isn't something you can heal. Maybe. Sort of. Just a little...maybe. See, little Judy here can fix Bellwether's fading eyesight and shedding with a simple wave of a magic carrot.
It's been seven long years dealing with this bunny child and she hasn't gotten used to the phrase "Magic Carrot."
She probably never will, either.
Suddenly, Judy chirps, "'Wether, when can I go outside?"
Bellwether's eyes widen, and she stops chewing. The carrot almost falls from her grasp but she manages to barely catch it by the leaves.
A part of her wants to tell the bunny a firm, "No. You're never leaving this tower," but another side of her knows that she has to be a mother-
She's too young to be a mother.
Well, actually, no she's not anymore, but considering her physical looks thanks to the...carrots, she can sure pretend she is.
"'Wether?" the child repeats.
See, she's even conditioned the child not to call her mother but to consider her a mother figure. Like a friend who simply raises a child, teaches the child morals — except maybe not "Don't steal" since that would make her quite the hypocrite — feeds the child, dresses the child, takes care of the child...
Basically a mother.
She refuses that title; she's never wanted kids. The only thing she wants to raise is a kingdom.
She'd rather take care of a crown than a child.
Because for starters, crowns don't breathe, or eat, or fart.
Oh, can Judy fart sometimes.
"Oh, Judy..." What reason could she satisfactorily bull-toot today? "The...the..." Well, here's a somewhat satisfactory and semi-truthful answer. "The outside world is a dangerous place, filled with predators that'll eat you up. So shush with that thought."
"No, carrot. Predators. Animals that feed on other animals. Especially smaller ones. Especially especially bunnies."
"Yes, carrot, you're a bunny."
"Yes, a bunny."
"But...you like to call me a carrot."
"No, that's just an affectionate nickname-"
"Am I a carrot or a bunny, 'Wether?"
"Carrot, you're a bunny."
"Then why do you call me a carrot?"
"Oh my blueberries...why do you do this to me?"
"So are you a carrot?"
"No, of course-"
"I think you've committed some kind of identity fraud there. Always telling me that you were a bunny, when really you were a...a c-carrot."
"I'm not a carrot."
"And I'm not a fox."
"Yeah. You're annoying."
"Sweetheart, that's pretty harsh."
"Hey, don't sulk."
"H-hey, I'm sorry-"
"Oh, woe is me. I could never possibly accept your apology until you utter the magic words!"
"Don't you dare."
"Oh! What's that sound? Just my heart shattering into pieces!"
"If only you would just say-"
"...I'm a carrot..."
"I'm a carrot."
"Speak up, sweetheart. I can't hear you."
"I'm a carrot."
"Ahh, much better. Now, please continue with your story."
"...So...even though Bellwether had tried her best to hide the princess' identity, the walls of the tower could not hide everything. Each year, on her birthday, the King and Queen released thousands of floating lanterns into the sky, in hopes that one day, their lost princess would return."
"But there are so many bunnies, Fluff. How would they know which one is her?"
"Good question, actually. When Bellwether stole her, the princess had actually been holding onto a doll. It had been a small doll specially presented to the Princess by a fairy at her birth, and the King and Queen never told the kingdom what the doll looked like, ensuring that it would be one of a kind."
She twirls the doll around by its paws, watching delightedly as the pink gingham dress of the stuffed rabbit flutters in the breeze.
"Tomorrow's a big day!" she squeals.
"Tomorrow's a big day!" the petite doll excitedly repeats.
Holding the doll to her chest, she asks it, "Do you want to play cop or robber?"
"...robber?" it perfectly mimics.
"Yes! Then I'm cop again!" She jumps around in excitement, even though in full knowledge that she has perfect control over when the doll records her words.
Spinning it around, she scurries to grab her other dolls — ones that 'Wether had so kindly gifted her from the outside world.
"7 a.m. the usual morning lineup." Tongue sticking out, a pen and notepad in hand, she takes a sketch of her first suspect. "Start on the rabbit..." She looks at the rabbit doll, doing her best to imitate an intimidating police glare.
Unfortunately, she has no way to judge how she's doing, considering she's never seen a policeanimal outside of that one book before.
"...and ask 'til the alibi's clean." As she points at the doll, her tone becomes increasingly lyrical. "Investigate evidence, and press, say 'fess up; ask again, and by then it's like..." She glances at the clock. Ears drooping a little, she looks back at the rabbit plush and mumbles, "...7:15."
Looking towards her other dolls, she attempts to renew her will to interestingly spend her endless time in the tower. "And so I'll ask a witness, or maybe two or three. I'll add a few new sketches in case they flee." With an iron grip on her notepad, she takes her sweet time on the sketch of the suspect, making sure that every stroke is absolutely perfect.
Otherwise, there would really be nothing to do.
In fact, she decides to draw another sketch...and maybe two or three more.
Too bad it's only, like, 9:00 a.m. by the time she's done with all her extremely detailed sketches.
"I'll play good cop-" Judy flashes a bright smile at the robber. "-and then bad cop-" She turns her smile upside down now, attempting to snarl. "-and basically-" If possible, her lips drop even more, matching the drooped angle of her ears. She shuffles slowly towards the window. Every day since she can remember, she has stood in front of that window, paw reaching towards the light of the sun but never being able to attain it. "-just wonder: when will my life begin?"
Suddenly swiveling, now with her back against the light, she plasters a new smile on her face. "Then after questioning, it's shaking and pressing. Cross examination, a bit more 'til they confess. Forensic analysis-" She whips out a magnifying glass, inspecting her suspect. "-and staking a crime setting. Clues, I'll fetch! They may be sketch..." Judy suspiciously eyes the doll. "Take a hike, maybe confess!" Arms crossed, she finally lays her paw down.
The suspect blankly gazes at her.
"Did you or did you not commit the crime?" she asks.
Again, the suspect says and does nothing.
So she glares at them, as the singular ray of sunlight begins to wane.
Then, after a good five minutes, it finally dawns on her: she's pressing a doll.
See, sometimes she gets so into her roleplaying that she forgets that the other party isn't animate.
Sighing, she decides to just continue her silly ditty, "And I'll ask some more; there's a quota, can't spare. I'll sketch suspects some more, I'm sure-" She flips desperately through her notepad, frown growing deeper at each page when she realizes that there's more pen then there is blank space. "-I'm sure there's room somewhere," she whispers, more as an idealistic self-reassurance than actual belief in her words.
Traipsing lightly and slowly back towards the narrow window, she sighs again. Somewhat indignant, she crosses her arms and mimics 'Wether. "Oh Judy, shush and shush, and shush about going out there...stay stuck in this same place you've always been." One paw on the windowsill, she reaches her other paw out, hoping that just one drop of sunlight would fall onto her, would bless her.
As if she were confiding to the sun, she whispers, "And I'll keep wonderin' and wonderin' and wonderin' and wonderin'...when will my life begin?"
Maybe the sunlight would momentarily blot out her vision and her fear, and she would finally gain the courage to leave here on her own.
Hugging the rabbit to her chest, she tells it, "Tomorrow night, the carrots will appear, just like they do on my birthday each year." Turning the doll around, she asks it, "What is it like out there where they glow? Now that I'm older, 'Wether might just let me go..."
As if in response to her wishes, the sunlight gleams brilliantly in the beads of her doll's eyes, matching the familiar glint returning into hers.
"Okay." Unable to contain her excitement, Judy begins nervously hopping around her small room. "Today's the big day. I'm going to do it. I'm finally going to ask 'Wether if I can go outside and see the floating carrots!"
"Judy!" She coincidentally hears a muffled voice call. Hoofsteps clop awkwardly up two dozen more flights of stairs. Hearing the familiar sound of the door unlocking from the other side, Judy excitedly skips up to greet Bellwether.
The door flings open, revealing a tired Bellwether with ruffled wool and a basket full of forest grub in hoof.
"'Wether!" Judy exclaims, instinctively reaching out to receive Bellwether's cloak.
"Ah, Judy!" Bellwether wipes the sweat from her brows. "How I manage to do that every single day without fail...it's absolutely exhausting, carrot."
"Oh..." Judy awkwardly giggles, not knowing what to say. "It can't be that bad, can it?"
Bellwether stares at her, a grimace on her face. "Does it look like I'm getting any younger to you?"
Judy has to suppress an obligatory but probably undesired: Well, it's not like I've ever seen you age since I've been born.
"Oh, carrot, I'm just teasing." Bellwether laughs, voice cracking as usual. Tossing her cloak unceremoniously onto the floor — instead of Judy's arms, for once — Bellwether walks towards the kitchen area.
Following hurriedly behind Bellwether, Judy tries to pipe up, "Well, 'Wether, you know, tomorrow's a very big day."
"Hmmm?" Bellwether begins to stack the apples on the table. "What do you mean by that?"
This is it. Judy tells herself. All her life has led up to this one moment. She has to make this good.
"Tomorrow's my birthday!"
Bellwether pauses for a moment, as if contemplating for a second the apple she's holding. Then, she laughs. "No, no, no, carrot. I distinctly remember: your birthday was last year."
"Well, 'Wether, that's the thing about birthdays...they're kind of an annual thing." Judy nervously begins playing with one of her ears. Taking a deep breath and shutting her eyes as tightly as she can, she hurriedly blurts out, "I want to see the floating carrots!"
With her heightened sense of hearing, she can hear an apple plummet to the ground. When she opens her eyes, she swears that for a second, Bellwether had been glaring at her.
"Floating carrots?" Bellwether chortles, brushing the air just as how she's trying to brush off the topic. "There's no such thing."
"No, 'Wether." Judy shakes her head. "I see them every year, and only on my birthday."
"You know what else you do every year and only on your birthday?"
"I pick mushrooms up from the forest and you eat them for dinner."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"It means I should start consulting the Forest's Almanac of Dangerous Greenery before I feed you mushrooms."
"...I don't get it."
"It's better that you don't."
Taking Judy by the paws, Bellwether stares deeply into her eyes. "Look. Judy, just listen to me."
The second she clears her throat, Judy bites her lips.
Not another song.
She literally just sang the obligatory fairy tale song this morning, and now Bellwether's about to sing one too.
All in the same chapter.
Bellwether opens her mouth and Judy knows there's no stopping her now.
Acquiesce everything, she tells herself.
"You want to go outside?" Bellwether asks, clopping against the stone floor to don her cloak again, her eyes never leaving Judy's. "Oh, why, Judy? Look at you; you look at me, you cower."
Judy can't help but look away.
Well, Bellwether's not wrong. In fact, Judy's shaking a little.
Petting Judy's head, Bellwether continues singing. "Still a little kitten, just a sprout." Suddenly, her voice is softer, tone more interrogative. "Judy, you know why we stay in this tower?"
"I know, but-"
"That's right. To keep you safe and sound, carrot."
That's not what I wanted to say. Judy has to fight herself to hide her grimace.
Bellwether turns around on her hoof, and gives a solemn shrug. "Guess I always knew this day was coming," she mopes. "Knew that soon, you'd want to leave the herd."
Judy opens her mouth to say something, but Bellwether immediately swivels back around to face her. "Soon, but not yet!" the sheep exclaims.
"Shh...trust me, bird; 'Wether knows best!" Bellwether grins excitedly, indicating something very drastic to Judy:
She's about to hit the chorus.
"'Wether knows best, 'Wether knows best-"
Is it just Judy, or did all the one ray of sunlight immediately disappear in her tower?
"-Listen to the 'Wether. It's a raining world out there!" Judy is suddenly forcefully spun around to face the window just as a crack of lightning breaks the sky.
Wasn't it sunny just one song ago?
She knows that the weather often changes in accordance to the present mood of the fairy tale, but no one told her that it changed that quickly.
"'Wether knows best; one way or another, something will go wrong, I swear!" Grabbing Judy's notepad, Bellwether flips vigorously through it, showing Judy her choice of Judy's most exaggeratedly terrifying sketches.
Is it sad to say that this is the most interest Bellwether has ever shown in her artistic pursuits?
Judy tries to tip-paw away, but every direction she walks, she's somehow cut off by Bellwether and her psychic ability to sense where Judy desires to go.
"-poison ivy, tundras! Predators and foxes, the plague~"
"No," Judy bluntly replies to that last one.
"Also large bugs! Beasts with pointy teeth and...stop!" Bellwether holds out a hoof, dramatically placing the other one on her forehead. "No more...you'll just upset me."
At this point, Judy's so confused by the rapid fluctuation of moods in this song that she can't even feign emotion anymore; she's just become an emotionless lump.
Unfortunately for her, Bellwether's somehow lost all shame in these last few minutes, because she's somehow more than willing to sing a song.
"'Wether's right here." Bellwether strokes Judy's ears. "'Wether will protect you. Bunny, here's what I suggest: bunch together, stay with 'Wether...'Wether knows best!"
At the rate of this song, Judy wouldn't be surprised if Bellwether suddenly broke down into dancing the can-can to emphasize her point.
And also to be done with the musical-and-dance-number quota required within every fairy tale contract.
"'Wether knows best, take it from this sheep. On your own, you won't survive!"
Judy would like to contest that point. If she's learned anything from her books (an unreliable source), then she should know at least some things about forest survival (an arguable point since of her two books, one of them is a decades old dictionary and the other a picture book about occupations).
"Sloppy, idealistic, immature, clumsy...please, they'll eat you up alive!" Hooves behind her back, Bellwether walks around her in a circle, so tightly that Judy couldn't escape even if she wanted to.
Which, trust her, she really, really does.
"Gullible, naive...positively positive. And a little too, well, hmm...cute."
Okay, sure, those past insults to her character might have stung just a little, but calling her cute was going too far.
Judy bites her lips.
She's not just a cute mammal. She's not. And if only she could prove that to everyone, but especially herself by just leaving this tower...
"Plus-" Bellwether chimes, interrupting her thoughts. "-I believe, too demanding." Pinching Judy's cheek, Bellwether hesitantly laughs off that last comment. "I'm just saying 'cause I...l-love you..." She quickly retracts her hoof off of Judy's cheek, turning around again so that she doesn't have to face Judy. "'Wether understands. 'Wether's here to help you. All I have is one request!"
Suddenly, it's sunny again. Yet, Judy is barely able to tell, because Bellwether's body blocks the ray of light, placing Judy deep in the shadows.
"Judy?" Bellwether innocently asks.
"Don't ever ask to leave this tower again."
Again, Bellwether turns around to face Judy. "Oh, Judy, I l-lo..." The rest of the word she's trying to say parts from her lips silently, and Judy can only faintly make it out as having been "love."
With a faint smile, Bellwether shakes her head. "Don't forget it; you'll regret it...'Wether knows best."
With that last line, Bellwether stands in the middle of the room, shaking her jazz hooves.
Well, jazz hasn't been invented yet, but that doesn't stop Bellwether from doing something cheesy anyway.
"Now, I understand that tomorrow is your birthday, Judy."
"Then I'll go back to the forest and grab some of your favorite: hay."
"Well then, goodbye, carrot."
As Bellwether heads back to the door, Judy waves to her. When she hears the crack of the door closing, and the clicking of it locking, Judy's head instinctively swerves back to face the window, back towards the radiating warmth of sunlight.
Honestly, Bellwether can sing all she wants, but unfortunately for her, Judy doesn't know how to quit.
"I can't believe you just subjected me to two songs in one sitting."
"Hey, I had to deal with that too, at one point."
"Okay, but it's not the same for you because you had been singing one of them."
"Well, I'm sorry. There's only so much you can do when you're stuck in a tower for 365 days a year for seventeen years."
"Oh...well, you have a point there."
"Anyway, I thought you said that if I hustled, I would appear soon."
"Soon isn't the same as immediately."
"Then when is soon?"
"Hmm...I don't know...soon."
A/N: I'm really sorry for the long wait! I've been busy with various things for the past two months, so if this chapter sounds rushed to you, that's because I literally just wrote 2K words of it within the last five hours. Even so, I hope you enjoyed it! If there's anything you would like to share with me about this story, please feel free to! W(h)ether you liked or disliked it, laughed or didn't, I'm happy to hear anything you have to say about this chapter! Thank you! (And yes, Nick will definitely appear in the next chapter.)