Disclaimer: I do not own Fable or the characters contained in this universe.
Warning: AU with spoilers ahead
Chapter 1: I'll make a man out of you
"Walter…How can you possibly think that this is a good idea?" Princess Celeste eyed her gruff old mentor warily, disbelief clearly written on her face. She, Walter and Jasper were all standing in the Sanctuary as they discussed Walter's latest idea to hide the Princess's identity. "This is absolutely insane!"
"It worked with the mercenaries, at least until they realised that you weren't Jimmy," Walter argued. "This way the chances of Logan and his men finding you and dragging you back to the castle are lowered dramatically."
Celeste sighed in exasperated and turned to look at Jasper. "Jasper, do you agree with Walter?"
"As much as I'm appalled by the idea of our young princess cross-dressing for the foreseeable future, I see Walter's point," the butler replied slowly.
"Celeste, the entirety of king's men is looking for you. We only have so many places that we can hide you before they find us," Walter continued. "Of course, I still want you to lead this revolution during all of this and this way, you'll be safe."
"How is anyone going to follow the princess if they haven't even seen her?" Jasper argued.
"Jasper's right. I doubt that anyone will join our cause if they don't know who I really am," Celeste added.
Walter seemed to consider this for a moment before his face lit up with an idea. "We tell everyone that the princess is hiding for her own safety, but is still heading the revolution. We'll reveal you to the people we're trying to convince once in a while to prove that you're really a part of everything and for the rest of the time, you'll wear your disguise as you help the people."
Celeste, for her part, still wasn't convinced. "I still think is a stupid idea. How am I even going to pass as a man?!"
She regretted her words immediately as she felt Jasper's gaze on her as he studied her intently. "Highness, if we have to be completely honest, you do have a certain…boyish…figure. You're quite thin and slightly shorter than the other ladies of the court, your hips are more narrow than usual for a woman of your age and your bosom is not particularly voluptuous. In truth, if you had short hair, maybe some facial hair…you could pass for a boy quite easily," he said finally.
"Jasper!" she cried in disbelief and embarrassment as she crossed her arms in sudden self-awareness. Even at two-and-twenty, she was aware that she lacked the curvaceous figures and full bosoms of the other ladies of the court that men so seemed to desire and she was quite self-conscious about it without having her butler point it out.
"I'm just being truthful, Highness. Besides, I know that many find your boyish figure appealing in some ways, including your Elliot," Jasper suddenly placated.
She heaved another sigh of desperation. "Very well, enough about my boyish figure…Let's say that I agree to your spiel…Who am I going to pose as? Who will follow a boy barely out of swaddling clothes, who would be the only person that I can pose as, who hasn't even proved himself in battle? I don't even know how to fire a rifle properly for goodness sake!"
"You'll pose as my long-lost son that was sent away to Samarkand to train as a scholar. You're love books enough and you're smart enough to play that role. As for the rifles, we'll deal with that later, Celeste."
"Walter, you are being truly and completely insane…but you have to agree to a few terms as well. I'll wear the disguise when out in the open, but as soon as I go out alone to do something for someone, I'll dress normally. And at the first sign of this failing, I go back to dressing as a woman," she conceded finally, dropping her head into her hands. "I can't believe I've agreed to this."
Walter looked absolutely delighted at her acceptance and immediately started rambling about the things that they would have to do before leaving for the monorail. "First, we'll need to cut and dye your hair."
"No! There is no way!" she cried, clutching her long braid of hair. She'd been growing her dark red hair out and it was one of the things that she loved most about herself. To cut it…The mere idea was appalling! "I'll wear a wig," she suggested.
His weathered face looked confused at her breakdown. "It's just hair, Celeste. You'll grow it again and dye it back."
"It's not just hair, Walter! It is so much more than that!" she argued. "Long hair is a symbol of a well-cared for and groomed lady." Jasper had nodded in agreement with everything she'd said up to that point and looked about ready to fight with Walter if he disagreed further.
It was Walter's turn to sigh with defeat. "Very well. But you have to at least cut it so that it reaches your shoulders. You'll wear a wig…And a beard," he bartered.
She considered this for a moment. It would still be shorter, but it wouldn't be as bad as cutting it in a boy's style. "Fine. And I'll agree to a small amount of facial hair."
"What about clothes? Aside from the mercenary outfit, her Highness only has female clothes, as is appropriate," Jasper remarked, his tone suggesting that he was not at all satisfied with the idea.
"I'll go to the Brightwall tailor later today." As they started to discuss what she would need to complete her transformation into a man, Celeste couldn't help but wonder how she managed to get roped into her current situation.
"Alright, Celeste. Sit down so that Jasper can cut your hair," Walter said after they finished their conversation.
Suddenly, she felt very apprehensive about what was about to happen. "Walter, maybe this isn't-"
"Nonsense, Princess. Now sit down," he said more gruffly and led her firmly to the dressing room. "Jasper, bring a pair of scissors."
Celeste sat down onto one of the stools, her heart pounding in her chest. She hadn't so much as touched her hair with a pair of scissors to do more than snip the ends since her mother died more than ten years ago. It was her way of paying homage to the old Hero Queen whose mass of flaming red curls had been one of her most iconic features.
She could sense Jasper's hesitation as well as he lifted the first strand. "I'm sorry, Highness," he whispered almost mournfully as he snipped her hair. It wasn't until he had cut half of her hair that she realised the gravity of what was happening. An involuntary tear ran down her cheek as another strand fluttered to the ground and she sniffled ever so slightly.
"Celeste, it's just hair," Walter said, his expression one of confusion mixed with concern. "It's no need to cry!"
"I'm…sorry," she managed, drying her eyes. "I…know it's…silly." Apollo, her border collie, came to rest at her feet and placed his muzzle on her knees. He whined softly as he looked up at her, clearly confused as to why his mistress was in tears.
Finally, the last few pieces were cut. Jasper sighed heavily as he went to put the scissors away and Celeste hesitantly went over to the mirror. Her head felt significantly lighter, but she couldn't help but feel that the look didn't suit her.
"It looks good," Walter said weakly behind her. Apollo gave a sharp bark at him and came to stand protectively by her side. She smiled at his reaction and petted his furry head.
"Now even the dog is cross," she heard Walter mutter and she felt an involuntary bout of laughter bubble up in her throat at the absurdity of the situation and what she was about to do.
"Come on, Walter. Let's go make a man out of me," she giggled as she headed back to the map room.
"So remember, Celeste, you're Thomas, your mother took you to Samarkand, without me knowing that she was pregnant, where you lived with the monks to learn more about their literature and such. You found out about me-"
"I got it, Walter," she interrupted as she scratched absentmindedly at the light-brown mop that she was wearing as a wig. "But one question…Isn't there anyone who knows you well enough to find this whole story implausible?"
"Well, there probably is one, but if he starts to suspect something, I'll tell him."
"This is still a horribly ill thought-out plan," she muttered as they entered the monorail station to travel to Millfields. "Why are you so insistent about this, Walter? Just out of curiosity."
"I love you as a daughter, Celeste. I want to keep you safe," he said simply, his gaze traveling around the rather crowded station.
She couldn't help but feel a surge of comforting warmth at his words. "I love you too, Walter," she said warmly, but before she could get too emotional, Walter interrupted her quickly.
"Remember, Thomas, you're supposed to act like a man. No hugs," he said strictly, but his eyes shone with a silent pride.
"Right. No hugs," she nodded, smiling brightly in reply. She gazed around the station for herself. "So, Walter, you have no qualms about getting into one of those cars? Will you be able to handle it with your claustrophobia?"
His voice broke slightly when he spoke next. "How bad can it be?" As soon as the words left his lips, a flaming tram hurtled into view and the sounds of the screaming passengers echoed throughout the cave. They watched in horror as the tram suddenly started rocking before it dropped into the dark abyss below.
Everyone on the platform started crying out in terror as they ran out of the station as quickly as they could. Through all the chaos, Celeste started in the direction of the elevators. "There might be survivors!" she called over her shoulder, promptly forgetting that she was supposed to be lowering her voice. Luckily no one noticed.
Apollo and Walter were quick to follow on her heels. While they waited for the elevator to lower them into the deeper reaches of the cave, Celeste couldn't help but take a jab at Walter. "How bad can it be?" she asked as she quirked her eyebrow in amusement.
"Did you see that flaming mess as a possible outcome?" he replied gruffly. "I'm just glad we didn't get into one of those things and I never will after witnessing that."
Her amusement turned into concern for the people who were in the monorail tram. "Do you think they're still…alive?"
Walter's expression deepened into a serious frown. "I honestly can't say, Celeste. All we can do is hope for the best."
Finally, the elevator door opened and they hurried deeper into the cave. To her horror, the tram was already engulfed in flames by the time that they reached it and it was overrun with rotund, filthy creatures.
"Hobbes. Be careful. Celeste," Walter warned her as they hid in the shadows and waited for a chance to attack them.
"Those are Hobbes? The illustrations in the books I've read made them seem less…repulsive," she whispered in reply, wrinkling her nose in disgust at their vile smell wafting towards her.
Walter harrumphed loudly at her words. "Clearly done by scholars who have never seen them themselves. Now, they're pretty simple beings, but don't let them overwhelm you."
Celeste couldn't help but feel a twitter of nervousness as she unsheathed her sword. She was still very new to combat and she had to take a deep breathe to steel her nerves before lunging out of cover to attack.
Luckily, they proved to be easy enough to defeat despite their rather fierce appearance. After a second glance and a few stabs later, Celeste thought them quite comical.
"What are those things, Walter? I know the stories that they kidnap children and turn them, but what are they really?" she asked after a while of wandering through the tunnels.
"Well, honestly, I don't know. I don't think that anyone really knows. Maybe you should ask Samuel when we get back to Brightwall," he replied. "And pay attention to your voice, Celeste. You're not deepening it enough."
"But it's just you and me down here." Apollo gave a loud bark at her voice and she gave his ears an affectionate pat as she giggled. "And Apollo, of course."
"Avoid giggling. It's too womanly," Walter continued. "As for it being only us down here, I want you to practice."
"Anything else that I'm doing wrong?" Celeste asked as she scratched at the slightly itchy stick-on beard.
"I'll be sure to tell you when you do something wrong." The continued on in silence, pausing only to kill a few hobbes now and again.
"Remind me why we're heading into Mourningwood again?" she asked when they neared the entrance of the marsh. She was covered with Hobbe blood and their putrid stench that permeated the cave refused to leave her nostrils.
"We have to get to Bowerstone. Besides, good friends of mine is posted at the fort and I don't want to go into a fight without them at my back. I have to warn you, the fort is filled with men, so you'll have to be careful about keeping them from finding out who you really are."
"Won't it just be easier to show up as the princess?" she moaned, running her fingers through her short hair.
Walter fixed her with a stern gaze as they took a short break. "Celeste, we've been over this. Just pay attention to what you're doing and you'll do fine."
Apollo nudged her leg and looked up at her with a strange expression. She sighed and knelt down to look her dog in the eye.
"What is it, boy?" she whispered, ruffling his ears. He placed his paws on her knee and pressed his nose against her hair, whining again. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Walter rolling his eyes and she couldn't help but smile. "It's still me, boy." She turned her attention back to her mentor who was taking a sip from his water skin. "Speaking of whom…You know Apollo won't leave my side. How can he be Thomas and Celeste's dog?"
"He can be mine, but let's go with the story that he's not too crazy about me," he added as an afterthought when Apollo barked sharply at him.
"Yes, that's perfectly believable," she mumbled when they finally exited the cave, Celeste took a grateful gulp of semi-clean air. The swamp smelled of damp sunlight and rotting wood, but it was better than the rancid stench of the Hobbes in the cave.
After a few more dead hobbes and more murky water than she ever wanted to see in her lifetime, they approached a rather large stone structure.
"Mourningwood Fort, I presume?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow. The fort looked sturdy enough, but from the scorch marks and the few crumbling stones, it was clear that it had seen plenty of battles.
Walter looked concerned as he took in the battlements. "It looks worse than I thought. They've been stationed here for far too long. Let us go see how we can help."
"Oh, this is going to be so much fun," she muttered sarcastically as they headed to the huge wooden door.
AN: It feels like forever since I last posted anything and I finally got around to writing again! This has easily been the craziest year of my life.
I've had this idea for a while now and I'm excited to see where I'll end up. As you can probably guess from the title of this chapter, this story is inspired by Mulan, one of my all-time favourite films. I also got a few ideas after watching Shakespeare in the Love (for about the sixth time!), She's the Man and reading the Twelfth Night. Fair warning, this is going to be another long story as I have too many ideas just for a few chapters. I'm also not going to give away any pairings. You'll just have to wait and see!
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter! Please let me know what you think!