Once Upon a Nightmare
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Erestel stood in the middle of the castle kitchen at three in the morning and tried to reassure herself for the thousandth time she would not get caught. She took a quick survey of the dimly lit room, and got her bearings. It was the lap of luxury compared to the rain outside. There would be no going home, not for a while, though she quickly realized the term was relative. Home would have to mean she belonged, and she certainly didn’t feel like that tonight. Not that it mattered.
There was a large fireplace against one wall, and though the embers had all died out, the smell of its frequent use lingered in the room. It brought the comfortable ambiance of the place together. Erestel always loved a good fireplace, especially when she was soaked to the bone. The wet didn’t bother her most days, and compared to recent events, it was certainly a footnote now. Erestel filed the argument she had with the Druids to one corner of her mind too, not ignoring it, but also indignant to it. For now, she was pleased to feel emancipated from their rules.
Erestel went about the routine tasks of wringing her hair and clothes out, and finding a towel to dry her exposed skin. She briefly considered stoking a fire to chase the impending cold away, but decided it would draw too much attention. Much of the kitchen was in the same place as she remembered it, including a spare few bottles of wine. Erestel pulled a single red bottle from a cabinet to settle down with, and laid her wet cloak out in front of the cold fireplace neatly. Her tunic, boots, and her jaguar skin were equally soaked, and she pulled those off as well and laid them out. It was a strange sensation to be apart from her skin, as if she were more exposed, more vulnerable. It made her feel naked, with an uncomfortable awareness of her surroundings. All that was left was a white undershirt and dark breeches. As soon as the storm broke again, she would leave. But not before she had pie.
Her stomach grumbled, and she took one off the nearby counter and settled on the floor against the brick of the fireplace. Erestel didn’t discriminate against type, especially if it was on the house. Just as she was about to take her first bite, she heard a shuffling and footsteps outside the main entryway leading back into the castle, and she froze. Her heart started to pound at the thought of no easy escape. At least, not with all her belongings in tow. So she went for the two things that mattered: her skin, and the pie. Erestel moved and crouched behind a section of the fireplace that jutted out from the wall, thankful she was tiny. The whole castle should have been asleep, but it wasn't a curiosity she had time to dwell on. Before the door could open she scrambled to force as much pie in her mouth and into her stomach as possible, because she was still determined not to leave without pie in her belly. The door creaked open, and she half thought about throwing the pie to create a distraction, but decided against it. If it came down to it, she could certainly blind whoever it was with a pie to the face, but it was still an awful waste of good pie. Acutely aware of the latched window across the room, she ultimately decided to stay as still as a statue until she could make a break for it. Erestel did not dare swallow, her face stuffed like a chipmunk.
As the person rounded the corner and began to investigate her belongings, she gathered the courage to swallow, and silently wiped her face free of filling and crumbs, feet readied for the confrontation. As she was discovered, she threw the pie, and recognized their face simultaneously.
Erestel held her breath and watched in horror as it made a direct hit.
It was too late to undo what she did, and running would prove useless. Not against the King of Caerleon, anyway. So she stood there, frozen by dread, a million thoughts racing through her mind. She clutched her skin tightly and shivered half an instant, but ignored her body in the midst of it all. As the pie was removed from his face, she was hesitant, almost speechless. “I…” she started, but didn’t even know how to begin. “I...shouldn’t you be asleep?” That was a dumb misdirection, she immediately thought in hindsight. She shouldn’t even be here. Arthur wasn’t the intruder, she was. Her fear of displeasing him was coming out, and she hurried to cover it up. That was a vulnerability she wasn’t ready to show, and so she mustered an apologetic half-smile. “Sorry,” she corrected genuinely. It was a painful thing to be so aware of every movement, every word that exposed her vulnerabilities, and even more painful to be aware Arthur might pick up on it. He was so used to the sarcasm and wit she used as a defense to mask her emotions, but she was too weary to pretend tonight. Erestel was sure the sorry state she appeared in wouldn’t help either, and her expression wilted a little. A weight washed over her, like a bird without the wings to fly. There was an awkward pause before she picked herself up. "So...I'm going to go now..."
...we're a little ashamed of being caught.
Music: Carry You - Ruelle, The Last Goodbye - Billy Boyd
Arthur’s eyes snapped open. His heart was pounding, faces swimming in his head, lingering from the awful dream he could not remember. He heard a muffled sound from beside him as Gwen shifted, mumbling something and giving his hand a squeeze before rolling over again. She’d gotten used to him startling awake by now; it had been a week and a half since they’d brought Alex home, and while the baby was (from what he had heard) “quiet” he still woke up crying in the night. Wanting to be fed, needing to be held, there was always something. Combined with the dreams Arthur was having almost nightly, he couldn’t seem to stay asleep for more than an hour at a time, and that was generous.
Sometimes Gwen would sit up and talk with him, but this was not one of those times, and for that he was glad. After lying still for a few minutes, his heart continued to behave as though they were under attack, so he decided to just get up and be done with it. He slipped off the bed, careful not to disturb Gwen, and padded barefoot across the room, grabbing a robe and slipping through the little door that connected the two rooms. The other room had once been Gwen’s, and for now, it was Alex’s. There was a nursery, but he and Gwen found they wanted him as close as possible for a while, at least until he could sleep through the night.
Yawning, he confirmed that the boy was indeed still asleep, and that it had really just been the nightmare that had woken him, and without further ado slipped out the door and into the hallway, grabbing Excalibur absentmindedly as he did. It was muscle memory at this point. Strapping it under his robe, he let his mind wander. He’d given up trying to control it at this point; it did what it wanted as soon as he fell asleep anyways. He saw the ghostly faces that plagued his dreams, the decapitated guard’s head roasting over a fire in their cottage. Then, he flitted to Alex, Gwen, his still aching leg. Then back to the dream again. Over and over the thoughts rolled until Arthur realized with a start, that he’d found the kitchen. Really? That was his solution? Yet he was well aware of the four apple pies that had been baked fresh that evening, and deciding that was a nice way to quell his anxieties, he went for his keys, then realized…he didn’t have them.
Resisting the urge to swear, Arthur searched the pockets of his robes. Nothing. Glancing around, his eyes found a small pile of furniture ten paces or so from the door. He knew they’d been cleaning out the kitchen cellar. This was his chance. Sure enough, he found an old whicker chair strapped together with some wire, and drawing Excalibur, he cut off a nice long piece with ease. He could have found a guard…but he didn’t feel like walking around the corner. And talking, that he really wasn’t in the mood for. So, he folded the wire in half several times, twisted it so that it became a more robust point, and then set about breaking in. It took him all of five seconds – it helped that he knew Caerleon’s locks quite well – and he couldn’t help but be pleased that the thrill of breaking into a room still existed. Even if he was breaking into his own room.
However, his success was not at all greeted with the satisfaction that he hoped, because as he opened the door he was immediately aware of a pile of things, and a half eaten pie on the floor. His hand went for Excalibur immediately, the other hand still clutching the wire he’d used to break in, and as he caught sight of movement, he whirled around, saw a glimpse of the intruder, and then…
He froze. For a moment, he thought she’d killed him. Then, he realized that there was a thick, goopy substance on his face. And it was sweet. It was a solid ten seconds of attempting to replay what had just happened before he heard her voice and began to wipe the pie filling from his face. Erestel? What the…what the ever-loving-fuck was she doing here?! He raised his eyebrows at her question, pushing the pie out of his eyes so he could see her. Should he? Yes. Was he? No. He decided not to answer such a stupid question, but he gave her a look with such a dead-eyed expression that he might have been Blighted. He continued to say nothing, slowly wiping the pie from his face and staring at her as she attempted to apologize and was faintly amused by this side of the trickster Skinwalker. It was only her last words that prompted Arthur to say anything at all, and as she started to move towards the door, h threw a chunk of pie crust at her.
“The fuck you are,” He said flatly. “Sit down you thieving ass down you impulsive little imp.”[
Maybe it was the fact he cursed, or maybe it was his tone of voice. Erestel wilted, and was positive it was in her best interest to sit down immediately to avoid further punishment, so she found the nearest chair and sat without a peep, ignoring the pie in her hair. She lowered her head meekly for an instant, and then raised it and opened her mouth to say something, but then quickly shut it, wondering if she should tempt fate by saying anything at all. How mad was Arthur? At the same time, being scolded wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to her tonight. So she sat there, placated with whatever punishment he chose. Erestel had been through this once tonight already, she knew the routine. She'd fought it before, and it made it worse.
At the same time, she knew she should probably explain herself in case his capacity for patience in the middle of the night was thinner. The unfortunate part was, she didn't know where to start, and she didn't really want to either. It was a rare thing for words to fall short for the skinwalker, and she was sure Arthur would undoubtedly notice. There was a quietness to her attitude, as if she were a little ashamed of being caught. This wasn’t supposed to happen. After a prolonged, agonizing half a moment that seemed like eternity, she tried to disarm Arthur with a sheepish smile.
“I’ve been stealing pies from the kitchen for months. Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t notice sooner,” she explained. From the lack of effort she put into her words, despite it being true, she surrendered the real reason an instant later with an exasperated sigh. “Fine,” her tone turned indignant and her expression flat. “I had nowhere else to go. There. Are you happy?” Erestel said sourly, but she shot him a glimmer of a mischievous smile. “But I really have been stealing pies for months. I even tried to keep a routine in hopes someone would catch me. It got boring.” This she seemed proud about, and hoped by confessing it would distract from the matter at hand. “The peach ones are delicious, but blueberry is equally good. Really, I won’t discriminate. They’re on you,” she flashed him an impish grin this time. Her cold, wet body betrayed her situation as she felt a shiver run down her spine. Erestel folded her arms over her chest and forcibly relaxed back into the chair, but she knew it would not be enough to dissuade his attention. There was something about kindness that crippled the walls of her fortress. He cared, and that meant she couldn’t go down without a decent defense.
Erestel didn’t wait for his reply to her situation, because she didn’t want to hear it. Instead, she misdirected the attention off her presence. “You broke into your own kitchen, didn’t you? Leave it to you to take all the thrill out of breaking and entering.” A sparkle began to brighten her eyes. “You could not be less sneaky if you tried. I heard you coming from a mile off. You’re clamor could have roused the dead.”
In case her wit and charm was not enough, she played one final misdirect. “So, why are you out of bed? And where in the world did you ever learn to pick a lock?” Her questions weren’t insincere, but she hoped he would be more inclined to talk about himself. Erestel was trying her hardest not to act how she felt. An apple appeared on her person seemingly out of thin air, and she took a bite of it. Pies weren’t the only thing she’d taken from his kitchen.
...misdirection for the win?
Music: The Greatest Showman
Arthur was impressed by the speed at which her poker face seemed to dissolve under the weight of her own uncertainty, or perhaps it was guilt. Maybe both. In any case, this was not the cheeky, walls up jaguar he’d met a couple months ago, and for a moment she seemed utterly lost for words. This gave Arthur a measure of satisfaction, but his expression remained neutral. He waited quietly for her to explain herself and wondered what she might conjure for him. He didn’t doubt that she would tell him the truth; Erestel, while a tricky little beast, wasn’t much for lying it seemed. She was more the type to tell you the truth and then kill you for knowing it – at least, that was his impression.
When she spoke up, he couldn’t help it; he raised an eyebrow. That was how she was going to take off? Not exactly her best move, but she appeared to be trying to gauge him. Arthur was decent at not giving himself away when it counted, but it was easy this time because the truth was that he wasn’t really mad. He was annoyed that he was not completely awake, whereas before he’d been in a bit of a stupor with hopes of lulling himself to sleep with pie. However, the missing pies was a mystery he hadn’t really put much thought to in the last couple months. Nothing in the kitchen had turned up poisoned, so he’d figured one of the servants was just getting a bit hungry, and honestly…he couldn’t fault anyone for that. So he’d kept it between him and the chefs.
Fine? Arthur stared, narrowing his eyes slightly. Nowhere to go? That was interesting, and it certainly piqued his curiosity as well as tugged at his heart a little. He doubted she wanted his pity, but Arthur had spent the first twelve years of his life feeling like he had nowhere to go, and he hated for anyone else to feel that way. However, no sooner had she dropped that little puddle of hot oil she was going back to the pies thing again, and Arthur didn’t have the heart to tell her he’d known from the beginning. Besides, it wasn’t the important part of the conversation, as much as she was trying to steer him towards it. However he was about to interrupt her when she hit him with the last comment, that impish little grin on her face and his expression turned stony. Really? Seriously, that was where she was going with this? If she had been trying to deflect, it certainly worked for a full minute as Arthur thought of all the ways he could punish her horribly for such an awful pun. Throwing her out the window was one of them…but perhaps it wasn’t painful enough.
He tuned back in as she was critiquing his break in tactics, and he had to work hard not to roll his eyes. When she had fired off her last couple of questions, Arthur waited a moment, and then when she did not fill it with words he took his chance. “First of all,” He said, crossing his arms. “That was a lot of answers to questions I hadn’t even…asked. But thank you, none the less. I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them when you aren’t throwing them at my face.” Still wiping it off, he finally found a washcloth (thank goodness they were in a kitchen) and began wiping his face while he spoke. “Second of all, I’m trying to come up with some gruesome punishment for that truly insidious pun, but I’ll have to get back to you on that one later.” As much as he wanted to share with her ideas, he also knew that he had to get past it so that the root issue could be reached. “Third, I left my keys in my room and I didn’t feel like going back for them. Fourth, I had no reason to be quiet while breaking into my own kitchen, plus I had no reason to believe anybody was inside. Fifth, I am a new father, and I’ve been suffering from insomnia badly anyways so here I am. Sixth, I used to steal crackers out of my adoptive brother’s locked cupboard when I was six.”
Arthur cleared his throat, then felt goose bumps on his neck; even that wash cloth was making him cold, he couldn’t imagine how she was feeling. “Finally, I want you to make a fire because clearly my bath robe is no match for a pie in the face, and now that I’m fully awake, I might as well hang out here and since you’re here too and looking guilty, you can do it.” He hoped she would go for it. It wasn’t an outright lie on his part; his face was cold, and he certainly wouldn’t say no to fire, but she was the one who really needed it. Rubbing his hands together, he grabbed a peach pie, a fork, and a chair, plunking himself down, and then said casually. “So why did you have nowhere else to go? My pies haven’t been missing all that long. Or perhaps I’m just your latest target. Though something tells me that you haven’t been breaking into my kitchen to steal pies simply because you’ve run out of bakeries.”
Erestel continued to wilt slightly in her chair, as though she hadn’t meant to answer so many questions. At the idea of punishment however, the tug of a smirk lit up her expression before she managed to suppress it. A wave of cold sent another small shudder up her spine, but she sat quietly in place while Arthur spoke until he was finished. His order to make a fire sparked uncertainty in her at first, and her ears perked back, a pensive expression lining her features. Mentally, she questioned whether to break under the gentle pressure. Erestel wanted to compromise, but it drove a defensive chord in the pit of her stomach.
“I’m not cold,” she suddenly found the will to strike back, indignant. Erestel held her place in her chair and kept her arms crossed defensively, holding his gaze without fail for an instant before narrowing it in return. The hardness melted away moments later and the twitch of a tiny, knowing smile of satisfaction replaced it. “I don’t think you are either,” she stated and took another bite out of her apple. Her smile grew by leaps and bounds as the seconds passed, and she bit down on her bottom lip to hold back on the delight she saw right through the King of Caerleon. “You are one of the worst liars I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting,” she mocked affably and admired him for an instant, appreciative of the flaw. The irony was, neither was she tonight. Erestel stretched and loosened her weary, sore limbs before she relinquished to the fireplace in surrender. If there was a punishment for calling royalty a liar, she certainly didn’t plan to remind him. It was as close to a compliment as he might ever get.
“I didn't know you had a brother,” she commented idly, not really expecting much of an answer. Arthur did not have to explain himself if he didn't want to, he was King. Erestel never expected anything from him either, never asked him for favors, and never made herself an unnecessary burden if she could help it. It made her shift uncomfortably she was obligated to fulfill his expectations if he requested it. There were other questions she had about his comment, but she put them aside to feign disinterest.
In the starlight, her wet clothes hung about every curve of her body like a second skin as she crouched in front of the fireplace. There were a few superficial snags and tears in the backside of her shirt, and if she noticed them, she didn't seem to care. Her hair was twisted back into an intricate set of braids in attempt to keep it from her eyes, but there were several wet strands that hung loosely around the frame of her face. Erestel tucked a few behind one ear before she started in on the fire. Her stomach still burned with hunger, and rumbled in betrayal, but she made no mention of it, or the goosebumps lining her arms from the cold.
“You know, I don’t plan on staying,” she added calmly. “As soon as the rain quits, I’ll be long gone again,” she finished as though it might bring comfort. As if the sky disapproved, thunder rumbled outside.
Throughout the early evening, the drizzle outside had turned to a slow, steady pouring rain. While she had been on the move she remained warm enough because of her exertion, but now that she had stopped for the night the inescapable embrace of the cold had begun. An eternity seemed to pass and she had no success starting a fire, but her stubbornness and pride was showing its colors again. No, she’d much rather freeze to death than give in and admit she might need help. Erestel rubbed her hands together to fend of the cold before determinedly going back to trying to start it. After a few more minutes of utter failure, the first flames blossomed.
They didn’t look like they’d survive long. Erestel rolled her eyes in mild exasperation, and she reluctantly sat, leaning her weight against the brick of the fireplace as if slightly pained by this request to make a fire. Her eyes fixed on Arthur, as if to silence any commentary at the disaster. “I started a fire like you asked. I never promised it would be a good fire,” she smirked.
There was a minute of silence as she frowned, disappointment lining her features that Arthur still hadn’t been waylaid from his original question, and that he didn’t plan to give it up either. Erestel sighed after another moment, and wrinkled her nose up in disapproval as she saw her tired distractions were nothing short of absolutely futile. The uncertainty returned, and it was difficult to squelch her reluctance.
“You're not going to let this go, are you?” she resisted, and swallowed. Her shoulders slumped a little in defeat. Arthur didn’t have to speak for her to know his answer. That didn't stop her from still fighting the inevitable. “Can't we just aggressively ignore the problem until it goes away? Maybe I forgot money for a tavern and just wanted out of the rain,” she tried to offer. Well, it was technically true, but she was far from a forgetful person. There were always exceptions, of course, but she knew Arthur wouldn’t buy it because her excuse was paper thin.
“Fine,” she protested, vexed, but surrendered in defeat. “I got into an argument,” she gave up in a cavalier tone, as if this was nothing worth concern. Erestel folded her arms neatly across her chest in defense again.
“You know that thing inside that keeps people from saying they shouldn’t? Mine’s broken,” she flashed him a charismatic grin, and her eyes brightened with soft amusement. “I’m not sure if you noticed, but I have some pretty fantastic bad ideas from time to time,” her tone full of mirth.
“I might have heavily insulted a certain High Priest. I told him to take care of his eyes, they’re clearly the only balls he has,” she answered. Her eyes settled on Arthur, and a wicked, satisfied smile flooded her expression. “It’d be funnier if you knew the man. He doesn’t see all that well,” she added boldly, unapologetic. “I mean, I could try to apologize...for all the mean, accurate things I said, but I don’t think it would do much good,” she added with merriment.
Notes: Now she's just evading him until the end, then we have all the sass again. We'll get there. I mean, she's kind of being honest? lol... I REALLY hope Arthur chokes a little on his pie when he hears the last bit of the post. -is evil-
Music: Lots of things..