baloonworld: (bird)
[personal profile] baloonworld





Princesses get kidnapped, rescued and stolen. It's what you do.

Sometimes it is not a dashing prince or a charming rouge pulling you or your sisters out of eternal slumber, or even a pink-haired prince levering back the lid of the rose casket. Sometimes, if the prince is late or the kingdom is more than usually lost, then, as the chance of the world allows, a different person will do the rescuing.

They are shorter than they look and wild-grinned, with hair that clamors like faded rainbows. The runes on their face say, to those who can read them, "Change" and "Lost". The casket lid does not lever back, letting light flood the chamber; no hopeful, pained face smiles down and says that they are glad to meet you for the first time.

The walls around you vaporise or shatter and a toothy visage intrudes on your dreams. They make you an offer:
"Come with me if you want cake." or "Would you like a balloon?" or "Do you want to see the world?"

They lead you, if you are willing to be led, by routes you can't remember through places you can't imagine. Perhaps if you could have turned into a car, you could have travelled these paths on your own. As it is, your guide skips ahead of you jingling cheerfully.
"If you step from the path," they say, "there is a probability that zany hijinks will ensue."
It sounds like a fairy-tale prohibition, and you follow it or ignore it as your desire for hijinks and you tendency towards obedience dictates. When the hijinks are complete and most of the fires have gone out, you are back on the path, smudged with soot and giggling breathlessly.
If their friend, the one with the crap dye-job, is there, they will explain that all space is one, and then, hastily, explain that they are only wearing their legs ironically; it would be embarrassingly goofy to have legs in the absence of anywhere to walk to.

Eventually you will arrive at Sideways House.
You will be able to name it on sight, although you have never heard of it. Not from the sign, which reads "Finishing and circus skills school for Young Ladies of Quality and freaks", but from the fact that it is a house, and it is sideways. Entrance is obtained by ducking through one of the ground-floor windows.

The inside is cosy and full of little adaptations to account for the unfortunate orientation of gravity - hand-holds and cunningly wrought hooks and a top-mesh on the fire to keep the wood "down".

The other denizens of the house wear hoop skirts covered in pockets or elegant gowns with practical boots and have fantastical hairstyles* or floral bonnets; they bob politely in greeting and offer you hot chocolate or bubble tea, and inquire about your name and history. You do not quite trust them: they are demure and polite and behind their eyes is a steely will. They tell you what they know about your rescuer.
"That is Professor Fotheringill-Smythe", says one. You are not sure what the look in her eyes means, and you resolve to treat the information cautiously**.
"The one with the dye-job is Professor Smythe-Fotheringill", says another.
"The invisible one is the Other Professor", whispers a voice from no one at all.
"I had it from one of the older girls when I started here that they are married", adds the young lady drinking tea, "Miss Penelope Awesome-Weave said that Miss Mirrium Glossop was rescued at her wedding, and that Professor Fotheringill and Professor Smythe selflessly threw themselves on the priest and stole the rings, thus marrying each other and saving her from marriage to a most disagreeable rake."
"That", you may argue, "is not how marriage works." If you do so, you will be asked to write a short monograph entitled "How marriage works" for inclusion in the school library***.


After lights-out, which happens when the lights go out, they share rumours less substantiated,
"It's Drow," says a voice from where you had not previously observed anyone.
"What?" you might ask.
"Making the lights go out."
"I heard that there would be a class tomorrow. Effective Communications Strategies. Its a follow-on from Special Truth."
"I heard that Professor Fotheringill-Smythe is a delusion brought on my eating too much cheese."
You think about this. There is not enough cheese in the world.



You learn many things in the school. Doors. Climbing. Climbing through doors. These were foundational skills for someone who wanted to move around Sidewasy house. Etiquette, and when and where you can stuff it. Self defense. Enough of the etiquette of formal dueling that you can get close enough to use your self-defense skills unexpectedly. Murder-based problem-solving. Apples. This last one was apparently more due to a blind spot in Professor Fotheringill-Smythe's knowledge than anything that you hadn't mastered before the age of four. Death-Lacrosse. Princess and Bride-theft; this last was presented as a way of paying forward any debt you felt you had vis-a-vis your own rescue.

You learn the other lessons too - that houses are really more convenient when right-way up, but that the current arrangement contains more opportunities for learning. From the other young ladies you learn "outwardly obeying restrictive social mores while still doing whatever you damn well pleased" .

Life at Sideways house is different from what you are used to, and spiked with wonders and horrors, but there is always this: whatever you were rescued from is not here. It takes your subconscious some time to adjust; you may awaken from uneasy slumber, panting or silent in sweat-soaked sheets. The other denizens offer you tea or sympathy or solitude or silence or cheerful babble or a stern injunction to jolly well buck up or invite you to join them on a fantastical adventure.
"There may be magic, but there will most certainly be cow-tipping" or "last time we saw foxes" or "the fairies dance around the mushroom rings this time of year, and not just for people who eat the mushrooms" or "the goblin-king gets really angry when you steal his hat, but he never locks it away" or "There will be dancing with persons of quality. I'm going to take notes. I believe that Miss Harriet is intent on breaking her engagement to a disagreeable cad."




*"Oh you have to have a fantastical hair style. Optio Kronenberg said it's a school rule."

**Some months later, you will work it out. You are inducting a new person to the school, and telling them about their rescuer.
"That is Professor Fotheringill-Smythe", you say. A complex expression flitters across your face. It means this: "Names are just names, as long as we agree on them it doesn't matter what they are. I've said that it's their name, and I'm the authority, so it's true. Miss Wentworth-Farlington must have thought exactly the same thing when she told me their name. I wonder who made it up the first time. I wonder if Elizabeth knew."

*** A detailed reading of the school library reveals that at least one prior student had taken requests like this very literally. Miss Harriet Worthington had seventeen identical essays (the actual subject and title of the first one was "opening doors") with titles ranging from "Bakers: a field guide" through to "Why I should not interrupt the Professors during inadvisable research theology".



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