A/N: Written for Bekuh. =) Remember, this is a slightly medieval-ish multi-chaptered AU. Each part will be 1,000 words exactly.
Read the prologue to this story here.
TOWER, TOWER – [Part I]
“Your Majesty,” her attendant tries. He falters. His voice sticks in his throat and Princess Bubblegum turns from her bedchamber’s window to look at him, the glare of the dawn sharp at her eye’s corner. She’s in her nightgown still. The floorboards are cold underfoot, and if she squints she can see the dim steam of her breath in the air.
Her butler is trembling too. She doesn’t need to squint to see that.
“Peppermint?” Bubblegum acknowledges gently.
The servant wrings his hands. For a moment he is quiet, looking out the same window Bubblegum was before his arrival. The sun rises there in a riot of orange, bringing with it a chilly whisper of the coming season and the scutter of dead leaves on the sill. The panes tinge tangerine.
“It’s happened again, Majesty,” the butler says at last. “We received the news mere minutes ago. The runner was practically foaming—he’s fatigued beyond measure. But he’s waiting for you if you want to speak with him—”
It’s too early for the feeling of dread—for the feeling of fear—that loops its coils fast about Bubblegum’s middle. “Later,” she declines. “Let him rest.” And then, “Who this time, Peppermint?”
“The Duke and Duchess of Nuts.” Gnawing his lip, her attendant cries, “Princess, they were mutilated! Their shells were nothing short of pulverized, the runner said—”
“Their children?” Nails biting into her palms, she demands, “Are their children alive?”
His one-word reply is hissed and horrified: “C-cracked.”
Daybreak’s first questing rays on the back of Bubblegum’s neck are like knives, and suddenly the room is too hot despite it being November. She closes her eyes—folds a hand over her mouth, taking a seat on her bed’s edge. Too many mornings lately have started like this, slow candleflame daylight in the window and the news of another ally’s death smoldering down the sun’s wick.
“Something must be done.” She blinks her eyes open again and looks over at Peppermint Butler, who repeats urgently, “Princess, something must be done. The carnage creeps closer to us with every slaying. You are surely a target as well—your life is in jeopardy—”
“Do you have a suggestion?”
“We’ll hide you until this catastrophe has passed,” the butler affirms at once. “We’ll—we’ll secret you away! Perhaps in the Licorice Forest—it’s dense, Princess, and remote. No one would think to look for you there. Lemongrab would be honored to hold the crown in your absence.”
Smiling despite herself at the attendant’s vigor, Bubblegum demurs, “And that target you mentioned earlier, Peppermint… would he be honored to hold that for me too?”
After a moment of strangled quiet, the butler speaks again. “I beg you, Princess, don’t be noble. He is your subject, bound to serve you—”
“But not bound to give his life for me.”
“He would do it! I’ll do it, if I must.” The butler straightens, bristling. “Or please, let someone else stand for the throne. Anyone would volunteer, I know.” He reaches to touch her knee. “We can’t afford to lose you. You ended the Gumdrop Conflict—you’ve kept our kingdom at peace for years, ensuring our citizens go uneaten…” Trailing off, he waves to the window and finishes, “We are nothing without you.”
Bubblegum shifts her gaze to the sprawl of her kingdom beyond the window’s panes. Already the streets are bustling—if she strains her ears she can hear the clatter of the carts there, the faint calls of the breakfast vendors. She brushes her fingers over her friend’s small striped hand. “You give yourselves too little credit,” she murmurs, and continues despite his mutinous face, “something has determined to kill off the royalty in Ooo. We must face that fact—turning from it will do us no good. We must mobilize, Peppermint. We must prepare to fight it.”
Her audience blanches. “This threat has slipped unseen past the finest militaries in existence, Majesty, and our own militia is marshmallow-based at best.” Clutching at her nightgown’s hem, the servant ventures, “Knowing that, how are we supposed to fight it?”
“Bananas.” Smiling weakly, Bubblegum squeezes Peppermint Butler’s hand and professes, “I wish I knew.”
Later, alone, Bubblegum paces the length of her bedroom. She neglects her breakfast tray, lost in thought—devotes herself to the challenge at hand. This is the way she resolves problems: by mulling them over, by picking them apart piecemeal until their solutions are just as clear as ink in a water glass. She has before evolved treaties standing in her slippers thus—has negotiated strategies, planned speeches, crafted the cores of amity between her citizens and the peoples of the surrounding kingdoms.
This time, though, despite hours of pondering, she comes up empty.
Folding herself down before the bookcase at her bed’s edge, Bubblegum gazes ceilingward and asks the yellow noontime quiet of the chamber, “What am I going to do?”
She knocks her head back against the bookcase.
From one of the higher shelves something falls: lands hard with an explosion of dust on the floor nearby Bubblegum’s hip. She jerks and stares at it, startled. It’s a tome nigh grimy from disuse, nevertheless bright as a coin in the room’s sunshine: great, golden, leatherbound. A moment later she recognizes it and, with a small smile, shifts to touch it. Her childhood storybook, yes: it’s been years since she gave it so much as a thought.
Dragging it close, Bubblegum hefts the book and hugs it to her chest. “Would that I had a Marceline to protect my kingdom now,” she mumbles into its spine.
In another moment’s flicker she blinks: lifts her head again, eyes wide.
“Peppermint!” she cries. Staggering to her feet, she rushes across the bedchamber—throws open the door. Her servant comes dashing down the hall at her herald and Bubblegum, still in her nightdress, rushes to meet him, brandishing high the storybook in one hand. “Peppermint,” she insists, “I need a knight!”
Read the next part here.