Again, sorry for the long wait! Onto the show!
In this chapter, we enter the Sub-World, one of my favorite subjects in this story!
When Rapunzel opened her eyes to the waking world once more, it was like she hadn't breathed in years.
Her muscles were stiff and chilled, the blanket having slipped down to cover more of the floor than her lap. The cracked window, originally meant to clear her head after a nightmare, had flooded her lavish room with winter morning air. The sky had that strange pre-blue look to it, the faded baby blue of the sky when awaiting the sun. Still too early for her to be up, too late to hope for the company of even any of the castle's faculty.
Even freezing, she could feel the leftover panicked sweat pooling on the back of her neck and between her legs, on her lower back. She massaged her wrist with one hand in an attempt to regather the feeling in it. Her fingers felt like they hadn't moved in ages, refusing to bend to her will. Carefully, she closed the window up, picked her blanket off the floor, and made her way back towards her bed. Even the sheets seemed to have frozen over. With a shiver that wasn't entirely due to the temperature, Rapunzel pulled her blanket over her head and curled into a ball.
In this position, rebreathing her own air and as small as she could possibly be, Rapunzel fell back into a fitful sleep.
Pitch watched her do all of these things from the shadows with a small, pensive frown.
Perhaps he had gone too far with that one.
Rare was it ever that Pitch actually inserted himself into a dream. Tainted them? Well that was his job. But actually physically implanted himself, entering the caged mind that was the Sub-World. The Sandman was of the opinion that such intrusion was a moral violation, but while Pitch hardly took his thoughts into consideration, even Pitch had boundaries. People often revealed far too much in their dreams, more than he wanted to know, more than he cared to consider. The Sandman and his little cronies could marvel at the dancing golden figures that emerged from his magical dirt, but none of them would ever truly comprehend the inner working of the Sub-World. Dreams were so much more than a leaping dolphin our a dinosaur, no, that was simply a subject, one single element of the story. It revealed nothing. It meant nothing. Happiness, nor Night Mares, could be sustained off of a single image, no matter how powerful. Only memories had that kind of singular energy. Memories could control with the kind of raw energy he and the Sandman could only hope to manipulate. It was the true nature of the Tooth Fairy's job to protect and maintain the integrity of those memories, unhealthy fascination with children's teeth aside. That natural gift of inciting nostalgic goodness was the real reason the Man in the Moon had chosen her as a Guardian, no matter what the foolish Earth-dwellers thought. The Guardians- Jack Frost especially, the little brat- knew not what power they played with.
He was digressing. The point was, he shouldn't have done what he'd done. He'd frightened the silly thing into a fit, far beyond any state of usefulness for the night. He couldn't drain her if she kept waking up screaming and alerting the whole damned castle. She wasn't the only one who slept fitfully because of her night terrors, and Pitch was loathe to wake up so many sources of energy just for a quick moment of ecstasy. No, he had to be more careful.
She really was a beautiful thing, once upon a time, he added with a regretful smirk. He would've liked to have seen her in her emotional prime, she must've been radiant. But now her hair-and who had cut that, a blind man? Sheep could've chewed off a more attractive style than that!-frayed around her neck, dry, obviously used to different conditions than these. Pitch also noticed that the more tortured the soul, the more the body suffered as well. Humans were simply too frail to be restless. It caused complications. Her eyelids were puffy from lack of sleep, shadows not caused just by the lighting hanging in the contours of her eyes. Her skin was a little ashen, still gleaming with a drying sweat. Clamminess was not an attractive shade on anyone.
Regardless of these slights, in sleep, some of the panic on her conscious face eased to reveal an overall pleasing portrait. Her cheekbones were full, her waist slim, eyes wide and lashes thick. Pitch remembered a time eons ago, before any of . . . this happened, when he might've married a woman like that.
He shook the thought away. He'd been thinking long enough already, standing here looming over this girl while she was already well enough into her sleeping world for him to start draining.
He sat down on the edge of her bed, hovered his hand over her forehead, and hummed quietly to himself as he worked.
It was the first night in ages that he didn't slip into the morning exhausted.
Rapunzel woke the next day with a curiously crisp awareness of her surroundings.
For a moment, she thought she'd left the window open. Then with a shudder, she recalled Death's haggard face and liquid voice making an appearance in her dreams and knew that she had definitely shut it. Her feet swung out of the bed automatically, dullness around the edges of her mind as she slipped off her nightgown and dug through some of the lighter fabrics. She eventually found a gray one that seemed . . . nice? She wasn't sure. Fashion made little sense to her. Her mother always looked impeccable, but she was beautiful. She didn't know what it was like to be plain and un-extraordinary, like Rapunzel. Aside from vehemently abstaining from cranberry-red dresses, Rapunzel really didn't have an opinion on color or style. And that was simply on principle, because Gothel had loved the color, and because it reminded Rapunzel too much of blood.
Blood on a mirror.
Blood on a white shirt and staining through a blue vest-
She tossed the dress away and began looking through others. Eventually she dug up a shirt, a white one, that was puffy and looked like it would be cool against her skin. Rapunzel's fingers dug into the gold roping that made up the back-lacing before she could finish her thoughts, working with such haste her neck began to clam up again, until the thing was done and she could slip it over her head. When she'd managed to worm everything into its proper place, she jerked the strings downwards until it was comfortably tight against her and tied it off in a bow. A glance in the mirror proved the large, bulky bow looked a little silly, and there was probably some special fashionable knot that she didn't know about that made it look better, but she quite liked bows and looking silly had never worried her before. So she might as well.
Rapunzel realized the shirt only skimmed to about her thighs, and she was probably going to have to locate some pants or something. A thorough inspection of her drawers eventually found her with a pair of royal blue, snug-fitting pants that ended at her hips and then branched off into some type of elastic band that extended all the way to her waist. It was both good and disappointing, because it hid the large bow and half of her lacing work but also covered all the necessary bits. More than a bit worn out by the ordeal of getting dressed, but still extremely satisfied that she had done the deed on her own, Rapunzel took a moment to examine herself in the mirror and bask in the glow of a task succeeded on her own when there was a gentle knock on the door. Rapunzel remained silent, stunned at the realization of things.
She was up before the maids.
She hadn't woken anyone up again last night.
She'd slept through half a night, completely on her own.
And now she was up and dressed before anyone could try and coax her into just getting out of bed.
Evidently the maids, completely expecting her unconsciousness, were as equally stunned to find the princess up and dressed-albeit completely ridiculously; was that her riding pants with a night-shirt she was wearing? And where had she gotten that rope that was up the back there, wasn't that from the winter gray cloak? Her room was also a complete disaster. Evidently while Rapunzel understood the concept of 'decent', 'cleanliness' or 'organized' were but casualties when she had set herself to a task. They were going to have to refold everything, likely iron half of it, wrinkles and all that. It was going to take ages and their hands would be cramped something awful at the end of it.
They had never been so happy to see such an awful mess in their lives.
One woman put her hands to her mouth and quietly inhaled, tears brimming on the eyes of all three of them. Rapunzel visibly shrunk away from them.
"I . . ." she began. She chewed her lip and restarted, realizing just how long and baggy her sleeves were when they bunched around the tips of her fingers. ". . . Do I look okay?"
She really didn't. Half of a horseback-riding outfit, a pajama top, and a cloak tie didn't exactly make an impressive sight of a princess. But she'd done it by herself. She'd never done it by herself, hadn't since her first week in the castle, before her first breakdown. And even then, she had asked for help, mainly allowing the dressing to happen with various expression dictating her approval or lack thereof. She had a vehement hatred for all things candy-apple red, which was fine, because her complexion didn't do well with such a severe color anyways. Peaches and creams, those were what she belonged in. Fine, feminine colors only for such a fair child.
Regardless, one of them beamed at her, "You look lovely, m'lady." She said, with the tact of a woman who had been working here her whole life.
The younger of them nodded enthusiastically, "I'd no idea you favored pants, Miss! We could have some ordered in for you if ya'd like. Shame on us for not noticing, really, putting you in things you weren't comfortable with."
"It was the dress ya came in what threw us off. Our deepest apologies, m'lday, truly." the second said, beginning to pick up items from the floor. She held it up for display, frowning. Perhaps the princess wasn't entirely off in her distaste towards her clothing. The girl was skinny, aye, but even she might have some trouble breathing in this frilly mess. "Although per'aps we should rethink some of these more . . . eccentric styles, yes?"
Rapunzel wasn't quite sure what to say. The initial fear of a scolding was gone, replaced instead by these maids that she was actually looking at as people for once. For some reason Rapunzel had mentally placed them on the same hierarchy as a particularly sassy chicken, just a few shades below Pascal and a few above a rather friendly dog. Although Rapunzel had met some of the royal hounds, once, initially. Those hadn't been particularly friendly, even growling a bit at her presence (a quick slap from the owner had ceased that soon enough, which made Rapunzel extremely uncomfortable in spite of the man's misguided apologies; the trip had ended quickly after that). Some other dogs then.
But now, in spite of their clucking, Rapunzel could hear them for once. The dullness in her head got a tad sharper and she sat down, suddenly exhausted. All the women turned towards her as if by gravitational force, sharing wary looks. They would be testing their luck. They really were. But . . .
"Are you hungry, miss?" The youngest asked, folding a nightgown over her arm. "The cooks just made a lovely set of cucumber sandwiches for tea. It's a bit early, but I'm sure nobody would mind if a went missing." Her eyes sparkled with just enough friendly mischief for the offer to be enticing, but left plenty of room for the flat rejection that they'd grown accustomed to.
Rapunzel looked around the messy room. It was hurting her head to look at it, to think in such a cluttered space. Her breath came a little short on that breath. The women held their breath, legs poised to flee at the tell-tale inclination of an onset of panic.
She breathed out slowly, eying the room, carelessly saying, "Mhmm." Immediately the youngest slipped soundlessly from the room, shutting the door behind her. Little did Rapunzel know that graceful exit turned into an all-out sprint with her shrieking, "YOUR MAJESTY!" as soon as she was out of the hallway.
"This one is a bit much, isn't it, Mary?" The first and obvious eldest said, holding up a eggshell-yellow dress with a high coned collar reminiscent of a book about a Snow White girl Rapunzel had memorized as a child. It had golden buttons trailing down from the squared neck to the waistline, where the buttons plunged away to reveal a silk white under-sheath. The bloated, short sleeves were as big as Pascal. "I can't say I blame you for throwing this one on the floor, Your Majesty-."
Both women stopped, sharing confused a look between them.
"Bless you, Ma'am," Mary said slowly.
"No," Rapunzel said, looking up with a strange sort of blank frankness that unnerved them. Perhaps they should be taking things a bit slower today. "My name is Rapunzel."
Liar be the man who said Mary Hennigan had no tact, "If you'd like, Miss- Rapunzel."
A small smile appeared on her face, lighting it up and taking the breath out of the women. As if the sun rose with that smile, a bit of winter white sheen poured through the window and caught her skin. Truly an angel, she looked in that light, even if she was dressed like a fool with haircut fit for a knave.
"I've an idea," the first clapped her hands together. "What say we sit in today ladies, mm? None of this running about in the chill where colds are caught. Today we can go through this mess," she gestured to the piles of clothes and accessories scattered about the room, and Rapunzel had the shame to blush with embarrassment at what she was only now realizing these women would have to clean up. "And decide what exactly Miss Rapunzel would like to wear, and what can take a trip to the incinerator."
"I think that's a splendid idea, Ida. I, for one, will surely not be going to any balls if I'm to be made to wear this," she held up an orange gown that had an absurd amount of feathers woven into the skirt. "Honestly. It's like they skinned a chicken and slapped it on fine linen. What a waste of good cloth!"
Rapunzel, having just been making a similar, if not less-witty comparison in her head, began to laugh. It was such a small titter that the women could not help but laugh, making Rapunzel's cheeks burn as she giggled a bit more confidently.
"So what say you, Rapunzel?" Ida questioned. "A day tucked into bed in your nice clothes, good food, and mocking our tailors? I expect your mother will be along shortly as well."
Rapunzel considered this, wrinkling her nose at another vibrant piece of clothing buried at the bottom of a pile. Well, if she knew where everything was, and all the funny things got thrown out, dressing herself every day probably wouldn't be such an ordeal. And if she was too exhausted, she could always kick everyone out and have a nap. Her pants were surprisingly comfortable, insulating her own body heat in the slightly chilly room. It wasn't cold, per se, but it was like there was a draft somewhere. As this was the royal castle, Rapunzel was probably just having some leftover chill from her cold, but nothing that couldn't be solve by her comforter. The outside didn't have comforters. Outside had crowds of people who only reminded her of him. He had never come here. He had never talked to her about her clothes. He probably thought she was beautiful just the way she was and-.
The Queen did arrive, eventually. And like her maids, she gawked discretely at the gentle sleepiness of her daughter, the most active she had been in a while, as she leaned on her mother or on her pillows or laid on her stomach with her chin on a pillow as she dictated her opinion of outfits. It was apparently not that Rapunzel disliked dresses, rather, they were difficult to put on by herself. It was a revealing statement that spoke of an unvoiced desire for a bit of independence, likely a subtext Rapunzel didn't even notice, but the women in the room shared a distressed look and thus began teaching the girl all the merits of dressing oneself. Lacing was only made up of ribbons, not rope; but it was perfectly fine that she'd done it thus! Gold looked lovely on her, and against white as well! But embarrassed at her mistake, Rapunzel had insisted on removing her shirt (the Queen's eyes rolled to the ceiling fondly, silently thankful her father wasn't around to watch this display of naivety) and redoing it properly. The Queen had quietly draped an afghan around her bony shoulders, earning a grateful smile from Rapunzel as she stuck her tongue out and carefully sewed up the back with a silk pink ribbon.
Mary assured her that she'd soon have a gold one sent to her room for this very purpose when the third maid-whose name was apparently Lucy-returned with the sandwiches and a look of shock at the princess's state of undress, hastily slamming the door on the face of the accompanying male servant and shooing him off to take the tray in himself. The Queen gave her a grateful look as Rapunzel shimmied properly back into her pajama, tying it off. And it was much easier to tie tiny bows this way, much easier to hide beneath the pants. And it didn't bulge them like the rope had. But then Rapunzel noticed with distress that the pants didn't match and wriggled those off hastily, kicking her legs free and handing them off to a diligently waiting Mary. Eventually she wrestled back into a much more reasonable brown pair which were equally as comfortable, although she missed the freedom of a skirt. She found pants offered less flexibility when it came to separating her thighs, though not enough to be a hinderance. She wasn't going on any adventures again anytime soon, after all . . .
Orange was not a color she was fond of, at least, not in the queer periwinkle sort of way. Greens, naturally, did wonderful things for Rapunzel's eyes and she adored the soft, earthy colors. Pinks were a yes, save for the 'hot pink'; all agreed it was a far too outrageous color in general. The Queen admitted to avoiding it herself when she was younger, in spite of what her mother wanted. Creams did lovely thing for Rapunzel, as did gold and this ice-blue. Rapunzel went as far as to try that one on, spinning around in the heavy gown embroidered with silver tracings. The sight of her excited wide eyes brought tears to the Queen's; she'd never seen her this simply content. Distressed to the point of being ill was common enough not to be strange, however worrying it always was, but her daughter's moods normally ranged somewhere between bedridden and sullen. Peaceful was . . . an odd relief.
The author is inclined to believe in the decency of the Queen's heart, and would like to think that should she know the reasons behind Rapunzel's strange bought of normalcy, she would have traded it away for an eternity of sickening sadness should it have saved her.
So this chapter was mainly about clothes and for that I apologize, but I'm creating a pattern here for you all to see that needs to happen in order to progress in the story. But the next one is already underway, but my birthday is next weekend (14th!), so if its not up by Sunday, it'll probably not be up till Sunday the 16th or the week after.