AN~ Gee, lots of homework really does make me write faster. I mean, look at that! A whole day ahead! But now I have no excuse, I must to essaying. :(
QotU: Graffiti time! You can paint anything you want on any wall or ceiling anywhere without getting in trouble. What do you paint where?
Old QotU Winner: LeeAndAnna want a velociraptor. That's just cool, man.
Puck watched Sabrina finally enter the room, hoping that her grandmother would give her a stern lecture about making people wait and being responsible. See how she liked it!
The lecture never came.
Sabrina looked at her grandmother with a bit of remorse in her face and said, "I know I was late." She offered no apology.
The regent of Sneak, instead of saying something stern, grinned broadly at the young queen and wrapped her in a hug that even Puck could tell was far too tight, and he was standing ten feet away. "I've missed you, liebling," she said softly, though loud enough that Puck could hear her.
"I missed you, too," Sabrina said, quieter- Puck had to strain to pick it up. And... were those tears in her eyes? The oh-so-tough Queen of the Sneaks was crying?
Puck had to fight to keep his expression neutral as Sabrina and her grandmother released each other, and Relda turned to the small crowd in the room and called, "My granddaughter is home. Now, let's go eat. Finally."
Sabrina flushed a little, smiled at those below her in the entry hall, and led the way through what looked like a solid wall on the side of the room. Puck stared. If all the doors in Sneak were like this, he'd be lost in no time. It was kind of neat, actually, and he'd like a few more doors that people couldn't find in Trickster, to watch people try to escape a room with no door... and maybe a few fake doors that were really walls, but he felt like this would be a problem for him here.
The next room over was way more comfortable than the last one, a big, drafty, echoey hall with not enough torches. This was a well-lit medium-big dark brown room with several long tables running down its length. He blinked as a series of humans dressed in black trousers or skirts under white aprons walked in, placing food on the tables as everyone else sat down, somehow reaching their chairs as the servants (human servants!) made their way away from the tables, without running into anybody.
Puck waited and sat down once everyone else had, taking an empty chair next to Sabrina, grateful that Jonas, too, looked overwhelmed. At least the squirt was just as confused as he was. Small comfort, but he'd take what he could get.
He went to eat his food, then stopped. "What is this?" he demanded.
Sabrina leaned over a little and looked down at his plate, then said, "Eel stewed in kelp. It's actually not that bad- better than most things the kitchens come up with."
Puck poked it with his fork. It jiggled.
Sabrina and the others had all begun eating at the same time, as if there was some secret signal that it was time to begin, so Puck picked up a piece of eel and put it gingerly in his mouth.
It was delicious.
His eyes opened wide at the creamy texture of the eel, which he'd expected to be rubbery, the mix of salt and the strange taste of kelp with a few other spices, and the delicious white sauce it was all floating in. He took another bite, and another, gulping down his food as fast as he possibly could.
"You know, it tastes better if you chew it," Sabrina said dryly, "I mean, then you can actually tell what it tastes like."
"Shut up," Puck mumbled around a mouthful of food, "Lemme eat."
Sabrina rolled her eyes and turned away from Puck to talk to her grandmother. Puck ignored her, returning his concentration to his food. He'd never had anything that tasted like this. It was excellent! His mother liked light, fluffy, tasteless or sugary dishes that made him feel like he wasn't eating anything, and the ape servants... well, chimpanzees were good at a lot of stuff, but they weren't exactly picky about their food, and they didn't see why people would be. So since they couldn't read... chances were that a recipe would never come out the same twice, and chances were even slimmer that it would come out tasty one time, let alone both.
Jonas, on the other hand, poked at his dish, his nose wrinkling.
"You gonna eat that?" Puck said around a mouthful of food, pointing his fork at Jonas' food.
Jonas took a doubtful bite of his food, glaring at Puck, then his mouth bulged out, and he pushed his plate towards Puck, who grinned and, finished with his own food, began on the other boy's.
Jonas' stomach rumbled loud enough that Puck could hear it over the sound of his chewing. He snorted, spewing no food out of his mouth (quite an accomplishment), laughing at the kid. After all, it was his own fault for giving up his food.
Sabrina, though, slid a folded napkin around Puck onto Jonas' lap, almost well enough that he didn't notice. He probably wouldn't have noticed at all, actually, if it hadn't been for the fact that her arm came between him and his food.
He read the note- because that's what the folded napkin turned out to be, a note written in ink on the cloth (not very nice to the servants, madame hypocritical, he thought)- over Jonas' shoulder. It said Follow me after dinner, I'll show you where to get normal food. Puck fumed. So Sabrina gave Jonas normal food? And he was her fiance! Her unwilling fiance, but still. There were things someone didn't do, and favoring some other boy over the one who was going to be your husband was one of them!
He determined, right then, to follow them after dinner. Show her! And maybe this time he'd be able to actually sneak up on her for once.
But after dinner he and Jonas (small consolation) were both bundled off by a servant to the rooms that would be his while he was in Sneak, a biggish series of chambers that still paled in comparison to his courtyard at home, although it looked a bit warmer. The place was dark blue and boring-looking, aside from the walls with their many niches and protrusions. There were no decorations on any of the walls, other than a painting of a boat, and only one wall had windows, deep-set things in the wood paneling of the stone walls, with cushioned seats in them all. He sat on one, looking out at the docks, his feet on one of his trunks. This was entirely disappointing. He'd been hoping he could have fun in Sneak. Instead it was just like Sabrina- boring and difficult.
There was a knock at his door. He got up and opened it, blinking at yet another one of those strange human servants. Why on earth would anyone want to work when they could get something else to do it for them?
"Um... your majesty?" the servant, a very large man, said, looking down at Puck in a bewildered sort of way.
"What?" Puck asked, still looking at the man. Why would someone so huge be a servant? Shouldn't he be a warrior? Sneaks were warriors as well as spies. Even people as preoccupied with work as the ones here were needed to see that this man ought to be a bodyguard.
"You're wanted in the... you know what, just... would you come with me, please? There's a meeting about how things are going to go here that the Queen Regent and Her Majesty want you at."
Puck shrugged and followed him, saying, "Sure."
He had to trot to keep up with the big man, whose steps were about twice as long as Puck's. As they wound their way through the halls of this incredibly mazelike castle, Puck realized something. "They told you that? What the meeting was about?" That seemed incredibly out of character for a secretive Sneak.
"Of course not," the man said, blinking down at Puck. "I overheard it."
"Oh," Puck said softly. Was that how everything was going to be here? Him overhearing everything if he wanted to know it? He hoped not.
By the time they'd reached their destination, though, Puck's outlook had changed, and he'd decided that he wouldn't let the weirdness of this place get him down. He would have fun, and he would drive these stupid Sneaks crazy with how awesome he was.
"We're here," the big man said, stopping outside a blank wall.
Puck looked at the man, who looked back at him, confused. "Listen, Mr... what did you say your name was?" Puck said.
"I didn't," the man said, "But it's John. Little John."
Puck snickered but didn't comment, saying instead, "Right, well, little John, this is a wall. And I don't know exactly how you people do stuff here, but where I'm from we can't walk through walls."
"Oh, right!" Little John said, and he tapped his toe on the floor.
The wall slid sideways, revealing a small study, full of books and lit with a fireplace in one corner. There were five cushy burgundy chairs situated around a circular table in the center of the room. Puck walked across the thick carpet patterned with vines to one of the empty chairs, and the door slid closed behind him. Sabrina, Jonas, and the old woman who was Sabrina's grandmother were all already in the room. The fifth chair was empty.
"There you are, Puck," the old lady said, smiling at him in a more friendly way than he'd been expecting. The woman didn't seem to be very much like Sabrina.
"What'd I miss?" Puck asked, leaning back in his chosen chair and plopping his feet on the table.
Sabrina glared at him, and he grinned back at her. He just wished his boots were muddy. That would really have shown her how unintimidated he was by this place.
"Nothing," Jonas said, "You didn't miss anything. We've been waiting for you." The other boy's stomach growled again and he muttered, "And I can't get food until we're done here."
"Hey, you had food," Puck pointed out. "You gave it to me."
"I don't blame him," Sabrina said. "Granny, don't you think we should have had something a bit more... normal, for their first night here?"
"What are you talking about?" the old lady asked. "We have that all the time. It's perfectly normal."
"I meant like normal for other people," Sabrina muttered, then sighed. "Never mind. Just... let's get this over with, and I'll show Jonas where to find something less... exotic to eat."
"Oh, didn't you like that, liebling?" the old lady asked. "I'm sorry. I'll tell the cooks not to make it again while you're here."
"Hey!" Puck complained. "I loved that!"
"Well, perhaps we can make Jonas something different on nights we have that dish," the old woman said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, great," Sabrina said, "but on to the meeting and all please?"
"Ah, yes," the old lady said with a smile. "Sorry." She gave Sabrina a stern-but-not-really look and said, "Though it would do you good to have some patience, young lady."
Sabrina rolled her eyes. Puck blinked. Dis-re-spect-ful!
The old lady chuckled- she'd caught the look, Puck noticed. Sharper than she looked- and said "Now, Sabrina, you missed your tour this year, being in Trickster and all. I didn't leave the city this summer, and I'm sure you and the kingdom both would like-"
"We're touring this winter?" Sabrina asked suddenly. "But I just got back!"
"Not for a month or so, Sabrina, relax," the old lady said with a smile. "But yes, at the beginning of March we were thinking that you would go on your tour. It's more like an early-next year tour, but-"
"Okay," Sabrina said, nodding.
"Puck will go, of course," Relda said, nodding at Puck, who accepted this information a bit more readily than he would normally, "And perhaps Jonas, if he's interested. The tour will be a bit longer than usual- maybe four months, so that Puck can see things in a bit more detail. You'll take the usual route. Puck, Jonas? Would either of you like to see a map? You don't know the route the way Sabrina does."
Puck shook his head- he didn't really care unless he could see it for real- but Jonas nodded, and Relda handed him a paper, drawing a squiggly line with her finger.
"Granny, did you want to tell me some more details about what's been going on here?" Sabrina asked.
"Yes," Relda said, and she began speaking, but Puck tuned her out. It sounded boring and political, and in this kingdom he didn't have to care about politics. He watched Sabrina's face as she listened, studying her facial expressions in the way she probably studied everyone's, looking at the color of her skin in the firelight. This all seemed incredibly fascinating to him suddenly, admiring her fine-
He shook himself and turned to Jonas' suddenly interesting map, reminding himself how annoying Sabrina was as he looked at Sneak. It wasn't a very big kingdom, really. It could fit in Trickster twenty times over, almost, that fat little crescent between cliffs and the ocean on the map before him.
After the old lady had finished speaking, Jonas piped up, saying, "I was actually hoping that I could learn some things, while I'm here. A tour would be wonderful, but I want to study, here."
"Well- I-" the old lady began, looking a bit surprised.
"I've been teaching him," Sabrina piped up. "He's quite good for someone who started this late, actually. Mostly I've taught him fighting, but a bit of disguise, too. I think he'd be a good fit."
The old lady chuckled. "It's certainly unconventional, but I'm sure the masters would be willing," she said. "And that brings me to another thing I wanted to discuss- Titania sent you with a letter?"
Sabrina nodded and pulled the letter out of the side of her dress- someday Puck would figure out how she pulled stuff out of nowhere like that- and handed it to her grandmother, saying, "It's the particulars about how many she wants sent where."
"You read it?" the old lady asked, looking at the seal. "Very neat work. I'd barely be able to tell."
Sabrina flushed with pride, then sobered and said, "Granny- listen. About the training-"
"What is it?" Relda asked, looking up from her letter.
Sabrina's face worked. Puck held in a sigh. Here it went. She was going to tell her grandmother that it was no good, they were worthless and hopeless- a completely Sneak mindset.
But she surprised him. She said, "You should send the least uptight people we have- younger ones, who like a challenge and are good at challenging other people. These people... they don't learn the way we do. They pick things up fast, but someone like Miss White isn't going to work over there. Insulting them will just make them angry. You need someone who can make the training fun."
The old lady gave Sabrina a thoughtful, gauging look. "All right, I'll take your word for it. I wasn't aware that you'd been training them."
Sabrina shrugged, looking at the table, and said, "I wasn't planning on it. But one thing led to another, and..."
The old lady smiled and said, "I'm sure you were an excellent teacher."
Sabrina flushed again, grinning.
Puck yawned loudly, interrupting that disgustingly sticky-sweet moment to say, "Great. Is that it?"
Sabrina glowered at him. He winked at her.
"I'm sorry," the old lady said, smiling at him. "I'd forgotten you must be tired after your trip. Of course you can go to bed."
"Granny, before we go- what's planned for tomorrow?" Sabrina asked, jumping up from her chair and landing soundlessly on the plush carpet.
"Some more catch-up for you on what you've missed, and a good deal of paperwork, and a tour of the castle for Puck and Jonas, so that they can learn how to navigate the place. In the evening we'll have a welcome-back ball," the old lady said with a smile at Puck. "I'll lead the tour myself, if I can. I remember when I first moved here, and I know having who understands the strangeness is a big help."
Sabrina sighed and sank down in her chair. "I was hoping I could visit the city tomorrow."
The old lady, who was also standing now, put a sympathetic hand on Sabrina's shoulder and said, "You have an obligation to your people, Sabrina. You know that. Take care of them, and then you can have fun- in fact, once you're finished with your queen duties, perhaps you can take Puck and Jonas on a tour of your city, show them all your favorite spots. Won't that be fun?" She smiled at them both.
Sabrina and Puck both groaned quietly, glaring at each other, but both recognized the tone in that voice. Puck had heard it in his mother's speech, and it meant that, though it was phrased as a suggestion, there was no getting out of this. Jonas, now also standing, though, smiled and looked excited. Puck switched his glare to the other boy.
"Goodnight, lieblings," the old lady said, smiling at them all as the three teenagers left the study, Sabrina in the lead because nobody else knew how to open the door.
The three chorused 'goodnight' as the door closed again.
Sabrina led Jonas- and Puck, though she didn't know he was following, he made sure of that- down another winding hall, presumably towards the kitchen.
"What does that mean?" Jonas asked, walking a little bit behind Sabrina.
"What?" Sabrina asked.
"That thing she called us," Jonas responded, "Lee-blings or something."
"Lieblings?" Sabrina suggested, and Puck saw Jonas nod, barely, before he ducked behind another statue in the hall- convenient, the way they had big statues all over the place. "It's her native language. It means 'sweethearts.' It's her favorite term of endearment."
"She's not from here?" Jonas asked.
Sabrina shook her head, turning casually a little too far as she did so, and making Puck duck behind another statue. "She's from the outside world, the traditional countries. My grandfather was on a mission, and he met here there. She went along on the rest of the mission with him, and had my father and my uncle while they were away. When he came back because my great-grandfather died... well, she decided she liked sneaking well enough to be the queen."
"You have an uncle?" Jonas asked. It was news to Puck, too.
"Yeah," Sabrina said, "But he's in exile. We don't talk about it."
"Oh," Jonas said quietly. Puck willed him to ask anyway, but there was silence other than the sound of footsteps. Puck pouted. Stupid Jonas and his stupid good manners.
Suddenly, Sabrina snapped, "Puck, if you wanted to see the kitchen, you could have just asked."
Puck trotted to catch up to them, disappointed but not enough that he was really angry. He was getting used to this. "How'd you know I was there?" he asked.
Sabrina rolled her eyes and said, "I could hear your footsteps. You're the only one in the whole kingdom other than Jonas who would walk that loud."
By all things disgusting, she was gorgeous when she was disdainful.
Puck shook himself. Where had that come from? Yes, he'd established she was good looking back when he first met her. It was one of the few perks to the marriage. But he thought he'd gotten used to it, and the novelty should have worn off by now enough that he didn't openly admire her anymore. That was just stupid!
"We're here," Sabrina said, ducking under a particularly large tapestry of a wedding cake.
Puck and Jonas followed her into a kitchen that struck Puck as more beautiful than Sabrina- or anything he'd ever seen before. It was mostly empty of people, but the large room with several stoves, cabinets, and cupboards, was full to bursting with food. He immediately forgot that he'd eaten only a few hours ago, salivating over the edibles before him.
Sabrina rolled her eyes and pushed Puck and Jonas both forward. "Hurry up," she told them. "I want to get to bed soon, and I'll bet you whatever normal food you can find that you'd be wandering around the castle for hours if I left you here."
AN~ Ah, I've missed Puck's POV. It's so much fun. He's snarkier than Sabrina, and it's a happy snark.
Feature: "A Spy's Secret" by Gothic-Emo-Bunny
Three chapters of fic remarkably like this- very different writing style (that could use some work in some spots), but a similar world and plot. Not identical, of course, but very alike. And I think hers is actually older, but I'm not sure and I swear I didn't read this before I wrote mine.
Some Review Replies:
Guest 1: Thanks!
Guest 2: I guess you saw. :)
Guest 3: Was that quickly enough? Thanks, btw. :)
LeeAndAnna: Glad you're liking it. :) We shall see how Puck's pranks work. It shall be interesting. QotU: Can you train a Velociraptor?