Swap straightened his back for the umpteenth time. He was not used to not be slouched and the position was uncomfortable. But Toriel was standing behind him, watching him carefully and ready to smack him again if he dared to go back to his favorite drooped stance. And besides, he had promised his Father he would make an effort today.
He didn't even have time to think about slouching again before the huge doors of the throne room opened before him, revealing the crowd of nobles, aristocrats and rich bourgeois who had been invited to his princely coronation. Swap wasn't usually the center of this much attention, and he felt overwhelmed when the gaze of every monster in the grandiose hall turned to him expectantly. His soul beat frantically in his ribcage and it took Swap every inch of self control he had to not take a run away and escape from the overcrowded hall. Thankfully, his governess Toriel had drilled the ceremony proceedings into him so many times that his body began moving on its own. He walked with all the dignity he could muster, knowing his first official appearance as the Prince of Underland was crucial.
One step at a time, he muttered to himself. Right foot, left foot. You can do it.
A quiet cough from Toriel behind him made him aware his gaze had dropped to the floor. Quickly lifting his head up, he forced himself not to look to the side, where he could feel the burning gazes of the crowd on him. Being in the center of the hall made him realize just how many monsters had come to see the coronation. It made him feel small, so small.
As he walked in the most dignified way he could, he lifted his head to the three thrones at the other side of the endless hall. In the middle one sat his Father, King Gaster II of Underland. He was a wise skeleton monster, albeit not very loquacious. He was always busy and didn't spend much time with his children, but Swap knew he could count on his Father's advice when he truly needed them. If only said advice weren't whispered in mysterious and unintelligible prophecies...
On the smaller throne to the King's right was Swap's brother, Prince Blue. Although he was two years older than Swap, Blue was quite shorter than his younger brother. Or maybe Swap was just unnecessarily tall? Despite his young appearance and childish face, the first Prince to the Crown was a capable adult monster and was an honorable member of the Council of the Wise, which helped the King in his daily affairs and political matters. Swap had often wondered if he would one day be part of the Council, like his brother. He was a Prince, so it was kind of expected of him to have such a high position but... He wasn't...
A discreet wave of Blue's hand broke him out of his thoughts and made him realise he had walked too far in front of the stairs leading to the thrones. He had to recite an oath first and get a blessing from the high priest, then listen to the King's speech... He turned around, walked a few steps forward and stood still, his mind racing at light-speed to recall the words of the oath. He had recited the stupid speech so many times he couldn't for the life of him remember it now. His hands were shaking on his sides and he began to sweat. He could hear the loud thrum of his magic pulsing in his chest. Could he do it?
Behind him, he heard his brother inhale quietly and after a while, he exhaled slowly and as long as he could. Swap instantly knew what Blue was doing. He started imitating the other Prince's breathing pattern and soon he could hear himself reciting the oath solemnly. Swap could almost feel his brother's encouraging smile in his back.
Now that he had calmed down, Swap didn't even notice time flowing by and before he could realize it, the ceremony was over and he was sat on the last throne with a crown on his head and a scepter in his hand. Now all he had to do was smile and not fall asleep while the guests presented their gifts to the newly crowned Prince. Given the number of monsters who had come to the ceremony, it would probably last for a solid three hours, but at least Swap could shut off his brain since he wasn't allowed to speak to the guests, so as not to show favoritism by talking to one more than another. To make it simple, Toriel had kindly told him to not open his mouth. And that he could do.
After the gifts giving, a large part of the crowd had to leave the castle, and only the higher ranked guests could stay for the celebration. There were still way too many monsters for Swap's liking, but from now on, he was free to go and didn't need to be stuck on the throne. A great relief since the damn chair wasn't even cushioned. Theoretically, he was now supposed to mingle with the other monsters and enjoy the food and the music, dance for awhile, play games and the like, but all he wanted right now was to just get out of there. Find a quiet and calm and definitely not crowded place. Be by himself.
Sneaking out was easier than he thought and soon, he found himself walking alone through the long and empty hallways of the castle. Everything was quiet, and Swap felt much more at ease. He could faintly hear a couple of probably bored guards chatting somewhere nearby. While he wasn't enjoying the party himself, he felt sorry for them that they couldn't go and indulge themselves. He knew it was their duty to stay in the hallways all day and keep watch, but still...
No, the problem wasn't the guards' bad adjusted schedule. It was just that he was too soft.
He hadn't told anyone except his brother, but he had feared coronation day for a long time. He didn't want to be Prince. He didn't want to comply with the obligations and duties such a title implied, he didn't care one bit for politics and wasn't the most skilled monster when it came to speaking in front of a crowd. He knew he'd be bad at prince stuff, and he knew everyone in the castle thought so, and yet there he was, wearing his new crown like he deserved it. He didn't feel ready, he wasn't... He couldn't...
Feeling the anxiety from before coming back, he tried to calm down his breathing and inhaled deeply. He put a hand on his sternum to help in controling the air flow and rubbed his chest in synchronization with his breathing. It helped but he still had to sit down. He tried to find a less open space than the middle of the hallway but suddenly his legs gave under him and he all but fell on his bottom. Now that he was on the ground, he figured he might as well just lay down for awhile.
He didn't know how much time had passed but at some point, he heard footsteps coming towards him. He half considered getting up and not be confronted to the humiliation of being seen in such a position by a guest, but he threw the idea away when he saw the silhouette of a boy maid coming his way. He could always pretend he was drunk and get some help to go to his room. He wasn't sure he could do it on his own, now that he thought about it.
"mah prince? are ya okay? shoulda call som'one?" the deep, raspy voice of the maid asked. Strange accent.
"No. Can you bring me some water and bring me back to my room?" Swap asked. Shucks, it was the perfect occasion to try commanding instead of asking. Oh well, it never hurt to be polite. Even as a prince.
"yeah 'f course," and with that the maid was gone. He came back within a few minutes with a bottle of water and a glass. He helped Swap sit up a bit and held the glass for him.
The fresh water felt nice and helped Swap calm down completely. After drinking some more, he felt better and even tried standing up. Thanks to the maid holding his arm, it wasn't too difficult. He was still a bit wobbly though, and didn't let go of the maid's supporting hand.
"mah prince, are ya... drunk?" the maid dared, a snicker badly-hidden under the thick accent. He clearly wasn't from the country.
"Just... get me to my room, will you?" Swap huffed. It didn't bother him the other thought he was drunk. Maybe it was even better than a maid knowing Swap had had a panic attack on the day of his coronation? At least the inebriation could be explained and forgiven.
When they finally arrived in front of his room, Swap let out a relieved sigh. He was already feeling much better and could stand on his own without too much problem. He was about to enter the room and dismiss the maid when it occurred to him he should find a way to express his thanks to the other for helping him. He told the maid to wait and grabbed a stray piece of parchment on his desk. He took his quill and quickly wrote a note for the guards in charge of watching the drawbridge, telling them to let the maid out. He folded the parchment and put his seal on it. He then turned around and handed the missive to the maid, taking his time to really look at him while he was at it.
To his surprise, the maid was a skeleton monster, just like him. He was short but bulky, which was surprising for someone who worked as a maid. Usually, the beefier monsters were sent to the fields for manual labor and harvest. Then again, the monster was not very tall, something that would maybe be incapacitating when working in the fields. Though to be fair, everyone looked small to Swap and his useless height.
Swap must've stared for too long, because the maid began looking right and left uncomfortably.
"errr mah prince? iz there som'thin on mah face?"
"Uh, oh sorry, sorry. Ahem. As a personal thanks for helping me earlier, I allow you to take the rest of the evening off. Just show this missive to the guards at the main gate and they should let you out."
"wha- really?" The other seemed dubious. "i mean im really grat'ful an' all but, i really need th' money and errr..." He looked embarrassed.
Swap could understand, it wouldn't be fair. He made a small note in his head to tell Toriel to ensure the maid would get paid for the full night, and maybe an extra silver coin or two as a reward.
"Don't worry about that. I'll make sure you receive what you deserve for having helped me," Swap tried to sound reassuring. He must've succeeded somehow, if the relieved look on the other's face was anything to go by.
"iz that mah prince's name on th' paper?" the maid asked after a while.
"What?" Swap got closer to see what the small monster was pointing at. "Ah, no, it's just a note that says it's for the guards. My name is on the seal itself so I don't have to write it," he explained.
"hmmm..." the maid hummed pensively.
"Do you... not know how to read?" Swap realised.
"not underlandish. haven't been taught since i've com' here." So he really wasn't from here.
"Don't they teach maids how to read? I thought..."
"'m not high enough in th' ranks."
Swap almost wanted to offer to teach him himself.
"Do you want me to t-"
The door of his room suddenly opened, revealing a breathless Blue. Swap barely had the time to prepare for the inevitable hug before he was all but crushed in his brother's arms. He never minded Blue's powerful hugs, but he couldn't deny he would have better chances at not falling if only Blue would warn him.
"SWAPY! I WAS LOOKING FOR YOU! I KNEW YOU WOULDN'T STAY AT THE PARTY FOR LONG, BUT YOU COULD HAVE AT LEAST DANCED TO ONE OR TWO SONGS and... maid, what are you doing in my brother's room?" Blue asked when he noticed they weren't alone.
"it's... i'm... uhhh..." the maid stammered while sending a silent 'help me' look at Swap.
"It's okay Blue, he helped me getting here earlier because I wasn't feeling well," Swap said while disentangling himself from Blue's arms. "I told him to take the night off."
"Oh no, you're not feeling well? Are you tired? Have you eaten something? You know how eating is important!" Swap knew when Blue's mother hen mode was activated, there was no stopping him.
"That will be all, you can leave now," he spared the poor maid who looked like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world. The monster then bowed and didn't linger any longer in the presence of the two princes. "I'm okay Blue, I feel better now," he then said as he faced his brother and went to sit on a richly decorated settle. "Wow, today was... ugh," he could only say as he bent to rub his eyesockets with his hands.
Blue put an understanding hand on his back and began rubbing.
"I know it was a very demanding day, but you did an incredible job and I'm very proud of you. I can't believe my little baby brother is already a grown adult. I'm so happy, it seems just yesterday you were still just a bundle of baby bones" Blue dramatically said.
"Ah, stop it, you're only two years older than me," Swap couldn't help chuckling.
Blue always knew how to cheer him up. It was conforting to know he woudn't be alone when learning how to be a good Prince...
Stars, Swap was Prince. He had known all his life this day would come, but it had then seemed more like a goal, the end of his childhood. Swap only now realised how wrong he had been. The coronation marked not the end, but the beginning of a new life to which he wasn't prepared at all and that frightened him.
Not wanting to have another panic attack, he let out a long sigh.
"I can't believe I almost forgot the oath."
"Ha ha, don't worry about that. You did a fantastic job, and the pause before reciting it was barely noticeable! I'm sure no one even noticed you had trouble with the words. And it's a boring oath, full of old words that don't even make sense anymore! Nobody really cares about it, you know? You did your best, and that's what people are going to remember!" Blue encouragingly said while hugging him less tightly than before. "Father was very proud of you, you know that right?"
"Father is too forgiving."
"Well, he didn't say anything when I tripped during my own coronation, so I doubt he'll make a comment about you almost forgetting the oath."
Blue's eyesockets opened wide and his eyelights turned into tiny stars.
"DON'T TELL ME I HAVEN'T TOLD YOU! Okay, okay so. During my coronation ceremony, when I was walking to the altar to recite the oath, my left shoe suddenly began to feel loose. Maybe the shoelaces were untied, I don't know, but as I was doing my best to keep walking normally, the shoe just came off! I was thrown off balance and I tripped on my other feet!"
Swap's snicker turned into loud laughter, and he had to clutch his stomach. He couldn't stop imagining Blue's little body spread on the red carpet in front of all the attendance. It must've been humiliating at the time, but seeing Blue reenact the scene now, it was hilarious and Swap just couldn't stop laughing.
"AND YOU KNOW WHAT WAS THE WORST? SEEING FATHER UNABLE TO HIDE HIS SMILE!!! I COULD CLEARLY SEE HIM LAUGHING BEHIND HIS HAND! HA HA HA!!"
Blue continued talking about how his coronation ceremony had gone. Swap hadn't been allowed to the ceremony at the time since he wasn't 18 and wasn't officially considered an adult. He could only participate to the party afterwards, but even then he had spent most of the evening by himself in the garden.
"Hey Blue," Swap began after their laughter had subsided a bit, "would you mind covering for me tonight? I want to go to town for a drink."
"I don't mind but are you sure it's a good idea? If you're tired, you should probably rest," Blue said, used covering for his brother's escapades.
"I'm good now," Swap reassured his brother.
"If you say so... Just be sure to come back BEFORE sunrise. You know how Toriel will be tomorrow if you don't show up in time for the parade's preparations," Blue sighed.
"I'll be careful. Thanks bro!" Swap smiled.
"Wait, before you go, there's something I wanted to give you!" Blue caught his arm before he could go change into something more appropriate for an incognito outing in town. The smaller prince reached into his velvet tabard and held out a thin necklace. Swap took it in his hand to examine it closer.
It was a simple but beautiful pendant. A bright reddish orange cabochon was embedded into an intricate golden mount. Tiny yellow gemstones surrounded the cabochon, adding to the overall elegance of the jewel.
"I found it several years ago and was waiting for your 18th birthday to give it to you. I know the gift giving ceremony is over, but I hope you'll accept it," Blue said as he removed the pendant from his neck and motioned for Swap to bend over a little. He put the necklace around Swap's neck and put it under his shirt. "It's made of chrysoberyl and changes colors between night and day. Right now it's red because it's the night, but tomorrow, in the daylight, it'll be a bright yellow. Try not to lose it."
"Thank you Blue," Swap smiled as he hugged his favorite brother.
"HE HE, YOU'RE WELCOME!" Blue cheerfully said while hugging Swap back.
Swap dropped a tiny kiss on the top of his brother's skull and went to his personal closet to change into less fancy clothes. A worn-out tunic and a pair of wool pants after, and no one could suspect he was actually the newly crowned Prince of Underland. He now looked like any commoner in town. Satisfied with himself, he went to the window and carefully hopped over the balcony with the view on the garden, while Blue closed the window behind him. He was used to sneak out of the castle to go to town, and by now, he didn't have any trouble being completely silent and going out unnoticed.
Tonight was probably the last night he'd get to enjoy going into town incognito to drink and have real fun. Nobody in town knew his face yet, but that would change the very next day, during the parade, where he was to go around town on a horse, to show what the new Prince looked like to commoners who weren't allowed to the coronation ceremony. He didn't want to think about it yet, for now he just wanted to enjoy his last night of freedom.
A jump over the castle's outer walls after, and he was in the middle of the lively streets of the capital. The city was rarely so crowded, but tonight, everyone wanted to celebrate the coming of age of their Prince and all the taverns and inns Swap regularly went to were full to breaking point. He had no choice but to venture to less frequented streets. After going around in circles for awhile, Swap had to face reality: he was lost. In his own city...
He was alone in a narrow alley but could faintly hear voices from further away. He let himself be guided by the sounds and even rushed a bit when he began smelling terribly delicious scents coming from the same direction. He soon found what appeared to be the front door to an inn he didn't know. He carefully pushed the door open and entered. The atmosphere inside contrasted radically from the outside. The tavern was packed with all kinds of monsters, some of them of foreign breeds Swap hadn't even ever seen. He spotted an empty seat at the counter next to a massive (and honestly intimidating) dog monster and had to slalom between tipsy customers and heavily drunk ones to get there.
He finally sat down and tried to identify a waiter in the mess. Strangely, he felt comfortable here, as crowded as it was. Here he wasn't the center of attention, he was just a not yet drunk nobody in a sea of definitely drunk nobodies. That felt reassuring and he was perfectly at ease. Now if he could just get himself a pint of weed mead, that would just be the icing on the cake.
"HEY YOU, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DRINK?" An almost angry voice almost shouted at him.
Swap whipped around and his voice caught up in his throat. In front of him stood a tall skeleton monster with a tray in a hand and several empty pints in the other. He was wearing a stained apron, and damp dusters hung at his belt. He was a waiter alright, nothing out of the ordinary.
Except the fact that he looked exactly like Swap.
The waiter seemed as surprised as Swap by their resemblance and for a moment, neither could speak, too busy staring at each other. It really was astonishing, how similar their faces were, and yet there was something else in the waiter's face that set them apart that Swap couldn't seem to pinpoint. From the general oval shape of their skull to the prominent cheekbones, everything was so similar...
"WELL, THAT'S WEIRD..." the waiter frowned.
Ah, the frown. It was the frown.
"Heh, tell me about it," Swap chuckled, but quickly remembered why he was here in the first place. "Uh, can I have a pint of weed mead?"
"SURE," the waiter barely had the time to say before vanishing behind the counter.
Two hours later, and countless empty pints in front of him, Swap was enjoying a piece of pie with his good doggy buddy when he heard the stool on his left make noise. Wait, how could a stool make noise? He turned around and saw himself.
"Oh it's you," he very eloquently observed.
"YES IT'S ME," the waiter from before answered. After eyeing the empty pints on the counter, he calmly said, "maybe you should stop drinking for the night, don't you think?"
"Heh, why do you care? I'm paying so it's gotta be good for your business, right?" Swap more hiccupped than said.
"It's not -my- business, I just work here. And I'm in charge of cleaning, and I'd rather you not throwing up," he said as he began cleaning the counter.
"Don't worry, I'm not -that- drunk. Yet," Swap attempted a chuckle, but it sounded more like a cough. Okay, maybe he was more tipsy than he thought.
The other let out a tired sigh.
"It's the first time I've come to this inn," Swap casually said. "I've been to many in the city but I didn't know this one. Have you been working here for a long time?"
"Hmm, not really. Not even for three months," the other replied after a side look at Swap. "The real question is why is a wealthy monster like you drinking his ass off in a shitty inn like this one?"
"Me? Wealthy?" Swap asked causiously. "What makes you say that?" Even in his drunken state, Swap knew it would be bad if a commoner monster discovered his true identity. The second Prince of Underland wasn't really supposed to be found 'drinking his ass of in a shitty inn'...
"Just look at you. You're clearly out of place with your clean and holeless clothes," the waiter said as he showed his own dirty shirt and the state of his pants to prove his point. "Not that I'm complaining. The more money you spend here, the higher my own pay will be."
"I'll be sure to drink more then, so that you can buy new clothes. I'm sure that you'd look as good as me in clean clothes," Swap mused.
An equally brilliant and awful idea crossed Swap's drunk mind.
The monster looked like him. He looked -a lot- like him. Swap himself probably wouldn't be able to tell them appart if they were to wear the same clothes.
And people who didn't know his face would be even easier to fool...
"W-what? Why are you looking at me like this?" The waiter asked as Swap realised he had been staring at the monster.
"I have a job offer for you. It will pay well," he said bluntly.
"You're awfully suspicious and what you're saying is fishy as hell," the monster warily answered as he tensed up. It was clear he was preparing himself to leave at a moment's notice. Was Swap that scary when he was drunk?
"No, no, no, it's really simple! All you'll have to do is- wait! At least hear me 'till the end!" Swap grabbed the other's arm before he could leave.
"Sorry, I'm not interested!" The waiter growled as he tried to snatch his arm free, to no avail. Ha! Years of tickle fights with Blue had made Swap know how to be very clingy.
Swap then had the presence of mind to pull out two golden coins from his purse and put them in the waiter's hands, to prove his point.
"It'll pay you well, I promise! I can give you that for the moment, and you'll have plenty more when-"
"ARE YOU CRAZY?! THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO SHOW OFF SUCH WEALTH! ARE YOU PLANNING TO GET ROBBED? OR KILLED?!" The monster all but shouted at his face, drawing the attention of all the remaining and awake monsters in the inn, which thankfully was not a lot. The waiter then took his hand and dragged him to a more private place in the back of the tavern. He looked at him seriously for a moment before speaking up.
"So, who are you? And what do you want me to do?"
Swap gasped in delight.
"So you accept to-" he didn't have the time to finish his sentence before being angrily interrupted but the waiter.
"NO I'M NOT! I'll just listen to your story and THEN, choose if I accept or not. But I want you to answer honestly to any question I might have."
Swap could tell the other was more wary than interested in the offer, but he still had to try. If he played it right, he could escape the horrible hell that the parade would be tomorrow. If he could just convince the other to take his place for one day, one measly day...
"I'm Prince Swap of Underland, and I want you to become prince in my stead."
...so much for 'one measly day'.
An eerie silent came over before the waiter bursted out laughing.
"HA HA HA, WHAT, I CAN'T EVEN... YOU'RE THE PRINCE! AND YOU WANT ME TO TRADE PLACE WITH YOU! HA HA HA HA, WHAT THE... Oh stars, I hadn't laughed so much in a long time..." He was clutching his sides and took a moment to catch his breath before walking away slowly. "Okay that was nice, thanks for the good laugh, now you should go home and sleep it off. Bye."
"What? No, I'm... I'm serious! I'm the prince!" Swap insisted, though he clearly felt how unconvincing he was.
"Yeah and I'm the King of the Fellnor Kingdom. Go home dude."
"Come on, just hear me out! Think about it, if I'm lying, you'll have lost what, 10 minutes of your time listening to me. But. If I'm telling the truth, you can have more money than you've ever earned in your entire life!" Swap said more confidently. He opened his purse and got 3 more coins out, to show how serious he was. That did catch the other's attention at least.
"I doubt that but you're not completely wrong. So go ahead and tell me your story, mister Swap, Prince of Underland."
Swap then told him about his status, and how today marked the end of his freedom as a royal child. From tomorrow, after the parade, he'd have to undergo a painful and difficult training to become worthy of his title. He spoke about how he wasn't in any way able to complete the training on his own, he just knew he would fail, and while he didn't want to become King, his smarter Brother being a much wiser choice, it would pain him and his most direct family if he couldn't at least be a decent prince. The fact that he was half drunk in a shabby inn instead of talking to higher company at the party in the castle was a clear indicator he wasn't made for being prince...
He had started confidently, but the more he talked, the more he felt bad about it. At the end of his speech, he felt very small.
"And then I saw you, and we look like each other, and so I thought... maybe... you could help me?" He finally said.
The waiter was now deep in his thoughts. Swap had no idea if he was considering the offer, or simply looking for the best way to get rid of him without making a scene.
Breaking the silence that had come upon the two monsters, another short skeleton came shouting to the stock room they were in.
"bro, ya here? th' boss is lookin' for ya, says ya an't cleanin' up and..." he stopped mid-sentence when he saw the two skeletons. "bro? who's this?"
"The Prince. He wants me to swap places with him," the waiter said bluntly. It wasn't wrong, but Swap was sure he could have phrased it more convincingly...
The shorter skeleton, apparently the waiter's brother, turned to look at Swap up and down. His eyes opened wide and he crossed his arms in front of him, a cocky smile forming on his face.
"so yah're the prince, eh? and ya want mah little bro here to take yar place in th' castle? An' what do ya hav' to offer in exchange for mah most precious treasure in th' world?" The monster said in a raspy voice, making said treasure look away embarrassingly.
"Uuuh... Money," Swap could only say.
"ya're gonna hav' to do better than' that buddy," the short monster huffed.
"A lot of money?" Swap suggested.
"ill tell ya what. i agree to let mah little bro help ya out, if you follow mah terms. first, i want twenty golden coins for each day ya borrow him. payed in advance, given directly to me. second, ya still have to train on yah're own to become a prince. mah bro ain't doin' this shit all his life, so ya still hav' to learn to be a gud prince. third, he doesn't work more than 5 days straight. so at least 2 days off per week. and lastly, ya let' him live in th' castle. even when he's not pretentin' to be ya. ya let him eat gud food, sleep in clean sheets n' do stuff rich people do."
Swap thought about the short skeleton's proposition for a moment. He considered how doable it was and didn't find any reason to disagree to any of the other's requests. Maybe giving the 20 coins in advance everyday would be the most difficult part of it, if he had to come into town himself each time. But it wasn't impossible by no means. Better that than the training he guessed.
He looked at the waiter one more time.
It could work. It could totally work.
"I agree," he said solemnly.
"i wanna written proof," the other quickly added.
The short skeleton then turned around to his brother and began speaking with him in a strange language Swap didn't recognize. No wonder he had an accent, the words sounded very different from Underlandish. He was still surprised though when he heard the waiter speak, he wouldn't have suspected anything as the other had spoken in a perfectly clear and fluent Underlandish.
"i want what money ya're carrin' with' ya right now, an' the written proof tomorrow morning before the parade begins," the short skeleton said, holding out his hand. Despite the raspy voice, it wasn't said in a commanding tone, and Swap put his purse in his hand. "i also want something of value while mah bro isn't with me," he unexpectedly added.
"Something of value? Have you looked at me? I'm not carrying anything like that, I'm supposed to be incognito..." Swap replied.
"ya're a prince no? don't chu have rings or jewels or whatever? or else, a finger or 2 will do..."
"What!? No, no no!" Swap exclaimed as he took a step back. What the heck?!
"ha ha ha, don't worry, im kiddin'! pfff!" The skeleton snickered inelegantly. "but seriously tho, if i let ya go with mah bro, i want somethin' valuable too. jus' in case somethin' happens y'know?"
Swap didn't like the idea, he didn't fully trusted these two, but to be honest, it was only fair. If someone were to need Blue for something similar, he'd want some kind of guarantee nothing would happen to him. Thinking of Blue reminded him he actually had something of value on him. He reluctantly reached into his tunic and got his necklace out. The stone shone brightly in the dim light of the stock room.
"Would this fit the bill?" He asked.
The short skeleton took the pendant while his brother whistled impressedly and examined it for a moment.
"that's a fine alexandrite necklace ya hav' here. don't chu worry, im gonna take gud care of it," he said as he put it around his neck and hid it under his own shirt.
"Thanks. I'll take care of your brother too, I promise," Swap swore.
"Bro..." The waiter, who had mostly been silent began to say.
The short skeleton smiled at his brother and reached his hand to grab at the back of the other's skull, making him bend down until their forehead touched. He whispered something else in their mother tongue and then drew away. Before disappearing by the same door he had come, he turned around and looked at Swap.
"by the way, mah name is Red. nice to meet' ya, mah prince."
And before Swap could even answer, he was gone.
He then turned towards the waiter and motioned for them to get going. It was now quite late and Swap knew they both needed some sleep, especially his counter part, if he was to get up early tomorrow for the preparations of the parade. He waited for the other to change into more comfortable clothes, and after checking if he didn't want to bring anything with him to the castle, they both went out of the inn into the now silent and barren streets. The other monster knew the way to the castle better than Swap, so he let himself be guided. They walked in silence for a moment before Swap suddenly realised he hadn't even asked the other's name. How rude of him. Should he ask now?
Before he could make up his mind, they arrived in front of the castle. There was no way they were passing through the main gate, the guards would never let two commoners in and Swap wasn't about to blow his cover. Especially now that he knew there was a chance for him to continue enjoying his little escapades.
He guided them to a secret entrance he regularly used that led to the dungeon. During daytime, it was full of guards, but Swap knew the guards' rounds schedule, and with the right timing, they avoided being noticed by anyone. Once they were in the more private wing of the castle, Swap allowed himself a sigh of relief. It took no time to arrive to his room, and as Swap closed the door behind them, the other monster let out an impressed gasp. He was watching the whole room with wide and sparkly eyes.
"Wow," he whispered in awe, "it's the first time I've seen such a beautiful room. Stars, everything is so shiny, how do you even sleep here?"
"Don't worry it'll be darker when we blow the candles out," Swap chuckled quietly as he went to his closet to find a nightgown for the other and himself. Once they were changed, he sat on the bed and yawned. "Now come to bed and let's sleep, tomorrow is a big day-"
"WHAT?! I'M NOT SLEEPING WITH YOU, ARE YOU CRAZY?!" He shouted, and then growled lowly, "I knew there was something fishy... Let me tell you that my brother will not-"
"Relax dude. This bed is big enough for at least 5 people to sleep. I'm not gonna do anything. Oh, you know what? Do what you want, I'm sleeping," Swap said tiredly.
"But... Where do I sleep then?" The other whispered.
Swap closed his eyes and waited. After a while, he heard fabric being shuffled and felt the bed dip as the other monster finally settled in bed. He could feel the tension coming off from the other, and he knew why, he wasn't particularly fond of sleeping next to a stranger either. He would do something about it tomorrow.
"By the way..." He whispered in an almost inaudible voice.
"WHAT?" The other angrily whispered back.
"You can call me Swap. No need for 'prince' or 'your majesty' or stuff like that."
After a moment, when Swap was sure the other was asleep, he heard a soft voice whisper back.
Morning came way too early for Swap's taste.
His head was throbbing from the hangover and he had a hard time remembering what had happened last night. Even though he still felt very tired, he knew he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, not with such a headache. And there was an extremely annoying sound of papers being ruffled together. Since Toriel hadn't come to wake him up yet, he figured it was still quite early so he didn't know what could be causing such a sound... And now that he was focused on it, he noticed it seemed to come from his own room.
He slowly sat up, fighting against his spinning head and located the source of that horrible sound. Sat at the other end of his room, his back up against the wall, was a skeleton that looked strangely familiar. He was deep in a book and hadn't noticed Swap waking up.
Everything came back to Swap in a painful wave and he called out the other's name.
The monster jerked up at his name, a wary look in his eyes. Thankfully, when he saw Swap's state, he seemed to understand that it would be nice of him not to speak too loudly.
"Ah finally, you're awake," he whispered.
"Yeah, more or less... Did you sleep well? For how long have you been awake?"
Fell strangely look to the side, as if he was embarrassed.
"I... didn't sleep. At all," he admitted. "The bed is too soft. I'm not used to sleep in something like that."
Swap didn't know what to say. It made him sad learning Fell didn't even sleep in a proper bed.
"Don't pity me," Fell sensed what was on Swap's mind.
Swap wanted to protest and say something, but honestly what could he say? He just remained silent.
"What are you reading?" he ended up asking instead.
"Just a book I found on a shelf. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all."
Swap got up completely, fighting against his hungover and went to the closet to get dressed and find clothes for Fell. He didn't have to put too much thought into the outfit since he knew Toriel had picked one for the parade. It was just for Fell not to be naked when the governess would come to get him ready.
He then quickly explained how today would go and what he had to do. So basically he told Fell not to say anything and just follow whatever Toriel told him to do. He made him practice impersonating him a bit, and was pleasantly surprised to see how fast Fell learnt and how attentive he was. In just 20 minutes, Fell could perfectly impersonate him. Everything from his stance to his speech mannerism, Fell had it all down. Now all Fell had to do was wait for Toriel to come.
Swap had to leave before the governess came, so he wished Fell good luck and promptly left him in his room. He went as discreetly as possible to the maids' quarter to find a uniform. Even though he trusted Fell in this, he decided it wouldn't hurt to observe him first, just in case something went wrong. He would feel guilty if something were to happen to Fell and he wasn't there to take the blame on. It was his stupid idea after all.
He found what he was looking for and changed into the compulsory male maid uniform. It was a simple linen tunic with a greyish blue sleeveless vest, a pair of dark shorts and of course, an apron. It was comfortable yet practical, but Swap had trouble finding shorts his size. Or more like his giraffe's legs size.
He was about to leave the changing room when he heard several voices coming towards the room. It was the maids coming to change before the start of their day. Crap.
He quickly grabbed a bonnet hat and went discreetly into a corner. The door opened and a good 20 monsters of different species entered the room. They chatted about anything, some complaining about how much work they had, others saying how they wished they could see the parade. Swap stayed as silent as possible, in hopes they wouldn't notice him-
"Hey, who are you?" A dog monster asked as he turned around and saw Swap in the corner of the room.
"I'm... uhh... I'm new and uhhh..." Swap muttered. He didn't know what to say that wouldn't be suspicious and decided it was safer to just shut up.
"Oh you're a new guy? We're going to be very busy so it's good to know. Have you seen Miss Toriel? She should've told you what your duties for today are," the dog said as he finished changing.
"Uhhh," what should he say, what should he say? "She's... too busy! With getting the Prince ready for the parade! She told me to come here and ask you guys!" Phew...
"Oh okay. Well then we'll begin by cleaning the throne room, where the opening ceremony for the parade will be held. It's on the other side of the castle, so don't dwadle, new boy," another monster said and everyone left.
Swap followed them for a moment and quickly hid behind a wall as the group left the private wing for the main part of the castle. He made sure no one noticed him disappearing and went back to just outside of his room. Was Fell still in there?
"What are you doing here, young one?" said a very familiar voice.
He whipped around to face Toriel, the very monster he didn't want to cross path with today. Thankfully, the bonnet hat covered his face as long as he was facing down.
"I'm new and don't really know where to go. I got kinda lost..." He tried and hoped it would go as smoothely as with the group of maids from earlier.
"Hmm, I don't recall hiring new maids. I usually personally supervise such-"
"miss toriel, ya're asked in th' royal changin' room," another maid came running to them and interrupted her. "som'thin' wrong with th' prince's outfit."
"What? That can't be, we had a fitting only 2 days ago and everything was fine! You!" She pointed at the newcomer. "Show this new maid to the throne room to have him help with the cleaning!" Toriel commanded before hurrying to other places, muttering to herself how she was going to fire someone if there was any damage on the Prince's outfit.
When she was completely out of sight, Swap let out a long relieved sigh.
"wher're mah twenty coins?" The maid suddenly said, breaking the silence.
"Your what-?" Swap was about to say when his voice caught up in his throat. His eyes opened wide.
In front of him stood Red, a hand opened towards him and a cocky grin on his face.
"i told ya. twenty coins, paid in advance."