AN~ Well, didn't get it done QUITE as fast as I wanted to. I wanted it finished by last night but that didn't work out and instead of a Thursday night update I'm giving you all a Friday morning one. Good enough? I think so.
QotU: What do you really really want to be illegal? Or just think would be funny to have be a law or something. Points for creativity!
Old QotU Winner: emowriter and naptime. Because NAP TIME.
The steward of the Wrong Side of the Tracks was a fat man with thinning dark hair and a ruddy complexion. He was drinking from a goblet when Sabrina entered the main hall, and slurring his words as he looked suggestively at a nearby girl approximately half his age. Sabrina knew nothing about him, and felt this hole in her knowledge dramatically as she tried to gauge why this man would want to talk to her.
She curtsied to the man, not very deeply, she was a queen, after all, as someone announced her and the others. She held herself up tall, covering for her appearance with her bearing, a trick she had learned from her rather short but still very regal grandmother.
"Ah," the steward said, looking away from the girl, who snuck away, relief in her eyes, and turning to Sabrina and the others. "Welcome, welcome! I hope you had a nice trip?"
Sabrina smiled back, a false smile that said nothing to this man, and said, "Yes. A bit of excitement near the end, but otherwise good."
"Ah, yes," the steward chuckled. "I heard about that. No permanent damage, though, I see."
"No," Sabrina agreed, just my pride.
She didn't realize that she'd said the last bit out loud until everyone began laughing, the steward longest and loudest of all. He slapped his knee a few times and, calming himself down a bit, said, "Ah, no need to worry about that, my girl. Happens to the best of us."
Sabrina smiled tightly, uncomfortable, and said, "Yes, well, it's still embarrassing."
"Ah, but we're all about embarrassment here!" the steward roared. He grinned at her and said, "But you're not, are you? And that's why I asked to see you right away."
"Oh?" Sabrina asked, slightly interested.
"Yes," the steward said, nodding at her with a broad smile. "You're doing that training thing, yes? With our alliance? Turning us into better soldiers?"
"Umm... well, that is the plan," Sabrina agreed. "We're going on this tour partially to look for people who are interested..."
"Yes yes yes, I know all that," the steward said, "But the thing is, I don't want to wait that long. Your country's going to send us people to train us after you go home and give them all orders, and that's wonderful, but I'm in a rather precarious position, you see. The Wrong Side of the Tracks is in a bad position. Artisa has wanted it for ages, and now, with Magica- if they take us here, then they'll have a direct route into Artisa to take that as well."
This was the single most serious speech Sabrina had ever heard out of a Trickster, despite the fact that the whole thing was said with a smile on the large man's face, and she was thrown off balance for a minute before she replied, "I'm not sure what you want me to do about it, exactly."
"Why, train my men, of course!" the steward roared. "And the monkeys, too," he added as an afterthought. "They're quite talented little buggers. You'll be here for a good two weeks, and you can get a good start right now. So. Whadday say?"
"Uh... well, I suppose I could-" Sabrina said, still off-balance.
"Excellent!" the steward cried loudly. "You'll begin in the morning."
"Oh... all right..." Sabrina said, stunned.
"Good," the large man said, grinning even more broadly at her. "Now, if you'll excuse me, the room has to be set up for dinner tonight. We'll all have to clear out."
The audience apparently abruptly ended, Sabrina followed Titania back out of the room, blinking and trying to wrap her brain around what had just happened. Outside the grand hall in the sun again, she leaned towards Puck and asked quietly, "Who was that?"
He gave her an incredulous look, but thankfully didn't make any snide remarks about the great and all-knowing Sneak not knowing everything about a person, and simply said, "That's Arthenius the World Smasher! He took on a hundred men at once one time and beat them all! He started out a Sea Raider from the regular world and he came here and married a Trickster 'cause he liked it so much." He gave a small sigh and said, "He's my hero."
Sabrina rolled her eyes, unsurprised, and said nothing.
Several hours later, Sabrina reentered the grand hall, through the inside entrance this time. She was better dressed, in the pink monstrosity yet again (it was actually quite a comfortable dress, despite its hideous design, and she enjoyed the looks on people's faces when they saw her- a Sneak, supposedly the queen of practicality- wearing such an enormous piece of clothing), cleaner after her first real bath in a good month, and far calmer and more in control of herself.
A good part of this control came from the fact that she had spent her afternoon learning as much as she could about this Arthenius World-Smasher and his son- she hadn't even known he had a son, upon arrival- and her internal list ran through her head as she walked towards her seat- between Puck and Mustardseed at the high table, on Arthenius' right- Titania, Arthenius' son, and another pretty girl, this one a bit older than Sabrina, sat on his left. This wasn't exactly typical seating arrangements, but Sabrina wasn't going to force the man out of his head seat. She doubted she could, even if she'd been so inclined.
Her list went something like this: 1) Born to two fierce Sea Raiders on one of their longboats in the high raiding season. Mother allegedly fought with sword in one hand and nursing baby in the other. 2) Given title 'World-Smasher' after a fight in which he hit the ground so hard it caused a cave-in, killing between twenty and five hundred enemies singlehandedly (reports vary. Most likely exaggerated). 3) Weapon of choice: war hammer. 4) Came to Trickster with boat full of comrades, intent to raid, instead, all settled here. 5) Married only child of previous Wrong Side of the Tracks steward. 6) Wife (small woman) died in childbirth of excessively large twin babies, girl twin died. 7) One son, fifteen: Jonas. 8) Excessively fond of all life's pleasures, particularly a good joke, a good meal, and a good girl (most likely trying to fill hole in life left by much mourned wife, chasing of young ladies began soon after). 9) A fierce fighter despite age, regularly returns to raiding habits, leaving son (steward in training) in charge under advisers.
Sabrina had distanced herself from this story, because it was rather sad, and made her slightly less disgusted by the fact that the poor, excited-looking girl in the tawdry dress who'd been given the honor of sitting at the high table would most likely end up in the World-Smasher's bed that night. And it was unacceptable that she allow behavior like that to become acceptable.
She shook her head, clearing it out because she sounded like Daphne, which was a sign that she was thinking too hard. Sitting down, she tried hard to only think of what would be for dinner. She hoped there was plenty (likely, with this host), because she was incredibly hungry for some reason.
"Hello," Mustardseed said, smiling at her from his adjacent seat. "I trust you feel much better now?"
"Oh yes," Sabrina agreed. "I'm completely recovered- though I don't think I want to go near any cliffs for a few days."
Mustardseed chuckled quietly. "Understandable."
He was going to say more, but then Arthenius banged his knife on the table and roared, "It's time for some food! Bring out the first course!"
It turned out to be an excellent turn of events that Sabrina's stress had caused her to be ravenous instead of feeling ill at the sight of food, because there was nothing at this meal for anyone who was faint of stomach. The first course was a thick, meaty stew- an odd choice for summer, even as far north as they were, instead of a salad or a cold soup- and this was followed by so many different kinds of meat, usually mixed with potatoes or a fried vegetable, that Sabrina lost track, simply taking a slice of each food the gorillas serving offered her. The final course was heavy slabs of a thick chocolate cheesecake.
By this point, most of the people in the grand hall, several of whom seemed to be just as large and exuberant as their host, were roaring drunk on the mead and beginning to make fools of themselves and each other, either by staying in their seats or by putting on impromptu jester acts and trying to outdo each other and not fall over. Sabrina was incredibly glad that she'd opted for water. Even Titania was giggling her head off, and she'd only had wine- Sabrina would have liked to know where she got that. Mustardseed had only had one mug of the mead, to be polite, he'd said, and it had become apparent that the boy couldn't hold his liquor as he laughed raucously at the failure of one of the other Tricksters to juggle.
Puck, on her other side, had been fawning over Arthenius in a rather ga-ga-eyed fashion the whole evening, and had gotten louder and more obnoxious the more he had to drink, effectively, along with his brother, canceling out any chance of conversation for Sabrina at the whole table. In fact, in the whole room, Sabrina saw only two other sober people. One was Cobweb, who sat running his finger around the rim of his own glass of water as he watched the spectacle, and the other was Arthenius's son Jonas, who must favor his mother, with his unfamiliar small, dark build and incredibly bored expression.
She wished she was close enough to talk to him, but unfortunately she wasn't. He was across the table from her, between Titania's giggles and the young girl's flirtations.
She sat back to watch drunken Tricksters act like they were excellent jesters (one of the only careers these people aspired to), and wondered how many of them actually were entertaining when they weren't tripping over their own feet and slurring their words.
Eventually, it was late enough that she wouldn't be considered rude if she headed off to bed, and she excused herself to Mustardseed and Puck, the former of whom gave her a somewhat less cordial than usual goodnight with a lazy smile, and the latter off whom barely acknowledged her.
"What?" Arthenius boomed- his main sign of drunkenness seemed to be that his voice got even louder and his motions got bigger (he'd almost backhanded Puck a few times), "Leaving already? But the party's just begun!"
As it was nearing one in the morning, Sabrina simply smiled apologetically, and said in her best diplomat fashion, "Well, I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow, and since I had that incident earlier today..."
"Bosh!" Arthenius roared, tugging on her arm, "Have some mead. Good for the nerves, settle you right down. Stay!"
Sabrina disentangled herself with some effort and said, "No, I really think I'd better go. Maybe next time."
She walked towards the door she'd entered by, and as she went, Arthenius's son pointed (not particularly surreptitiously) at a door on the other side of the hall, presumably leading to a servant's entrance, judging from the monkeys passing through it with even more mead. This door would effectively let her leave without passing Arthenius, possibly saving her time and the effort of having to tell him she was leaving. She'd honestly seen the entrance and thought about using it earlier, but decided that she didn't particularly feel like wandering about the stronghold in search of her bedrooms tonight. But she nodded gratefully to the boy, giving him the tiniest of smiles, before heading for the door she was already aiming for- no sense in passing the steward twice.
She headed for her room, checked all the hiding places she'd discovered earlier- just in case- locked all the doors and windows, changed into breeches and a blouse, and collapsed into bed, exhausted.
She didn't remember her dreams, and when she awoke, sun from her east-facing windows in her eyes, she felt a good deal more refreshed than she ought to, all things considered, and was quite cheerful. She climbed out of her small but comfortable bed and splashed some water on her face before dressing in a bluish gray gown embroidered with far too many roses to be considered necessary. The dress was frilly, feminine, and impractical looking- just the right thing to throw off the people she'd be training this morning.
She'd learned from one of the few human servants where and when she was expected to meet these people (and apes), so she wasn't as lost as she ought to be in this place as she headed for the rose garden- the stronghold was right on the edge of Trickster, which didn't have much land on this side of the Tracks, and the rose garden was simply the area between the castle and the border, with thick walls of roses on all sides to keep invaders from Artisa out.
She walked the path she'd walked yesterday, and on her way, passed the girl from the high table the night before. Technically, this girl was older than Sabrina, but watching her scurry, giggling, down the stairs in the opposite direction, Sabrina felt a good deal older and more jaded than this silly chit with her incredible lack of foresight. She shook her head sadly and walked on. How could a woman do that to herself?
She shook the thoughts out of her head, planning a beginning for her teaching as she walked. She hadn't wanted to teach, really. She'd never taught anything before, and she was nervous. But the idea was oddly appealing, and she'd decided to put her whole self into it... though she still had her doubts about whether these people would learn very well. At least the monkeys would pick something up.
Pushing open a small door, Sabrina entered the rose garden, across the palace from her bedroom, and found that she had it to herself. She smiled a little and, getting an idea, worked her way into some of the free-standing rose bushes, avoiding almost all of the thorns- one caught on her dress. She would wait and see who showed up, if anyone, and surprise them. She was early, after all. Might as well have some fun.
She'd been sitting there for a while when she heard the rustling in the bushes behind her. She didn't even have to look to know who it was, but she glanced at the shadows nearby (rosebushes weren't very thick growth, really, even this many of them), and she knew. "Hello, Puck," she said.
"Lucky guess," Puck said, his rustling getting louder.
"No," Sabrina corrected irritably, "Deduction. And the fact that you're a horrible sneak. I could hear you from a mile off. Add that to the fact that you're the only one who'd be creeping through the bushes that incompetently behind me, and..."
"Well whoopty-doo for you," Puck muttered. "What are you doing in the bushes at seven in the morning, anyway?"
"Waiting to see if anyone shows up for our host's 'training session'," Sabrina said.
"In the bushes?" Puck asked incredulously.
"What's wrong with bushes?" Sabrina asked, trying not to sound defensive. "I'm a Sneak. I like to hide. And there were bushes. So I hid."
"Yeah, but... rosebushes!" Puck said. "They have thorns and flowers and stuff! Besides, I could see you."
She knew she should have worn green. But still. "Well, people who can actually move quietly can avoid the thorns. And some people like flowers."
She could hear the smirk in his voice as Puck said, "Well, I see at least five rips in your dress, miss Avoids the Thorns. And I know you don't like flowers."
Sabrina refused to give him the satisfaction of turning to glare at him as she said, "At least I didn't stick myself. And how do you know I don't like flowers?"
"There's no way you like flowers," Puck said with a snort.
"For your information, I'm very fond of flowers," Sabrina said, drawing herself up tall- she was still several inches shorter than Puck, but it was the image, even if she wasn't facing him.
Puck chuckled. "Yeah, right."
The truth was that Sabrina wasn't overly fond of flowers- she like them well enough, but she didn't go out of her way to have any around, and she knew no more about them than which ones were medicinal or poisonous and the meanings they held (the code of flowers had fascinated both her and Daphne)- but she wasn't about to back down now, not that she'd told Puck that she liked them. To prove it, she picked a rose and brandished it at him.
He plucked it from her fingers with a smirk and said, "Why, thank you. A lover's token."
Sabrina snorted. "Yeah. Totally."
He picked his own rose- stabbing his finger in the process and wincing dramatically- and handed it to her with a flourishing bow. "I knew you couldn't resist me. And since you "love flowers" so much... Here you are, my lady."
"Gee... thank you," Sabrina said, looking doubtfully at the bloodstained stem.
"Listen, princess," Puck snapped, when she didn't take the flower. "I have been through enormous amounts of pain to get you this flower as a sign of esteem from the remarkable Trickster King. And you had darn well better appreciate that! So take the dang flower!"
Sabrina glared at him and plucked the rose from between his fingers, carefully avoiding the thorns, and turned away to wait for anyone to come out the door.
"Much better," Puck said, and she could hear him smiling yet again.
She fumed silently, trying her hardest to ignore his smugness and failing. Her temper had always been her weak point, and he brought out her temper incredibly.
"You know," he said after it had become apparent that she was at least acting like she could ignore him, "there's not going to be anyone out for a while."
"And why is that?" she asked, her tone icy as she enunciated every word incredibly clearly.
"They're all eating breakfast," he said. "You know... in the banquet hall? Arthenius invited everyone who wanted to get trained to have breakfast first."
"No, I didn't know, actually," Sabrina snapped. "He didn't tell me anything! He just expected I'd figure it out!"
"What, you didn't eavesdrop your way into knowing everything?" Puck asked. "You did back at my palace!"
"You know what?" Sabrina snapped. "Just... stop talking, okay? Just stop. I don't have to explain myself to you, and you don't need to know."
"Well if that's the way you're going to be," Puck muttered, and she heard snaps, rustles, and mutters of "ouch!' and it became clear that he was leaving.
She breathed a sigh of relief and crouched back down to wait for someone else to arrive. It was a long wait, and she spent most of it thinking and trying to calm her temper, wishing she was less impulsive and didn't rise to his attacks as easily. It made her a walking target for someone like him, and other less well-meaning (ha!) adversaries.
After a while, people began to come out of the door, led by apes, monkeys, and small animals like raccoons. There were more than she'd expected- she'd thought there would be a smattering, but no more than fifteen- almost thirty had showed up, and that wasn't counting the little creatures. She'd have to rethink her plan of action. She began doing so as she stood up in the bushes, performing the dramatic entrance that she'd wanted and surprising them all- that would show Puck!
She tucked the rose into her dress as she worked her way out of the bushes, securing it carefully with the thorn, even though she already had a rose in her hair- a blue one disguising a razor-sharp hair clip that she'd had designed after seeing Moth's comb.
Because the funny thing is, he gave her a hundred leaved rose, and even as it's a rose and means love, that one meant pride.
AN~ Gee, that matches the cover remarkably conveniently, doesn't it? I decided that, to celebrate our achievement of getting a new awesome cover, I would write a scene to fit it. And I think it's a pretty good scene, all things considered. Tiny bit of Puckabrina there for you. The wind is shifting! Ooh!
Feature: The Sisters Grimm: Sleeping Beauty, by Demigod536
A completed oneshot, so you don't have to wait for updates. It's a fairly straightforward retelling of Sleeping Beauty with Sabrina and Puck as the main characters. Nothing too spectacular, but not too short and pretty sweet, with a good command over the English language, with some nice touches otherwise.
Guest 1: Thanks! ^.^ I'm glad it's appreciated! That would be an interesting class.
Guest 2: :)
Guest 3:Whoops. Missed that. I'll fix it, thanks for pointing it out! The falling bit was spur of the moment and entirely too fun to write. ...Are you Epiphany on Toast? I think you are because cummerbund. QotU: Underwater Basket Weaving. That would be kind of really neat.
Guest 4: Well, since you're on chapter ONE... I don't think I have to be too worried about updating fast enough for you (this is why copy and paste reviews are BAD).