Tea entailed a generous spread of seeded breads and soft cheese, fruit crackers and tangy preserves. Marmalade poured herself a measure of whiskey before taking a seat by the fire. Penelope declined the offer of one for herself, and Marmalade set the crystal decanter of amber liquid on the table. 

Marmot sat in front of the fire encircled by crumbs, his tail tucked neatly about his feet. He pushed a ready-made cup of tea towards Penelope as she sat in a stuffed velvet chair.

“Thank you, Marmot,” Penelope said, though she ignored the teacup in favour of the stacked breads. Penelope loaded a piece of fried toast with some cheese, nuts, and caramelised mushrooms, taking a ravenous bite before remembering her tea manners. Chewing as delicately as she could behind her raised hand, Penelope eyed a stack of papers laid out on the small table beside her chair. The papers rustled as though eager to take flight.

“Messenger papers.” Ladening her own piece of toast with a heavy spreading of fruit paste, Marmalade gestured to the stack and a glimmering feather quill set beside it. “After you’ve had a proper meal and can think more clearly, you’re welcome to write home.”

“Oh, thank you,” Penelope mumbled around her food, swallowing painfully. “I really appreciate it,” Penelope choked out as a seed lodged on the back of her tongue.

Rather forcefully, Marmot again pushed the teacup towards her across the lacquered redwood table. He watched, unblinking, as Penelope inclined her head in thanks and downed the contents in one.

“Oh that’s better, thank you, Marmot.” Penelope took another, more measured bite of her toast and realised she had never eaten anything quite so delicious in her entire life.

“Now, where is that token of yours? I’d rather deal with it sooner rather than later after tea, and…” Marmalade continued talking but the words began to blur in Penelope’s mind. How could a voice be so melodious? So rich and warm?

Though words had lost all meaning, Penelope embraced the lilting cadence of Marmalade’s voice, even as it became louder, sharper, closer… as if trying to call attention to something.

The wood witch moved to kneel in front of Penelope’s chair. Marmalade cradled Penelope’s face in her hands, which were warm and soft. Her skin smelled of flowers and citrus. Up close, Penelope realised the witch’s eyes were enchanting, their colour in constant shift between floral blues and icey greys and stormy greens.

While the colours were beautiful in and of themselves, Penelope found herself utterly captivated by the depth of feeling in them. The intelligence and curiosity. The knowing and the kindness. 

But something was wrong.

Penelope reached up to brush her thumb along the crease between Marmalade’s furrowed brows, frowning herself. Such a beautiful creature shouldn’t be so concerned. It didn’t seem fair.

Penelope traced her fingers down the soft skin of Marmalade’s cheek, running the back of her hand across the witch’s sharp jaw. Much too tense. Marmalade’s worry was making Penelope sad. Marmalade shouldn’t be worried, not when Penelope herself felt so warm and wonderfully liquid. The firelight caught the gold and copper glints of Marmalade’s short hair. Penelope could barely breathe for the beauty of it. Penelope ran her hands through Marmalade’s locks, still a little damp from the bath.

Marmalade’s mouth was moving. She was speaking again. Nonsensical, beautiful music. Penelope grinned, sighing at the giddy joy spreading molten through her chest.

Leaning forward, Penelope pressed her lips to Marmalade’s. The witch’s mouth stopped moving as Penelope kissed her. Penelope poured all that she was feeling into that kiss. All of the melting warmth, all the happiness, all the beauty. 

Penelope could sense Marmalade moving, shifting her arm as though reaching for something. Penelope wound her hand through Marmalade’s hair, pulling her closer, deepening the kiss. Didn’t she understand? All the beauty in the world was right here, in this moment. And Penelope was sharing it with her. Showing her that each and every little thing was connected to all others. Couldn’t she feel it, how the universe breathed as they did? Loved as they did? Each divine thread of the whole tilting cosmos wove through this very moment, this kiss. This feeling was the only thing in the world that mattered. This feeling was eternity…

Marmalade pulled away and Penelope recoiled as a smoky, astringent scent filled her nose.

“What—?” Penelope coughed, her nose burning as her mind began to clear. Marmalade was crouched in front of her, holding the open decanter of whiskey.

“Penelope, can you hear me?”


Marmalade’s voice still resonated with something ancient and beautiful, a tantalising power that thrummed within Penelope’s bones. But her words were once again making sense.

“You’ve been dosed with a love potion,” Marmalade said, her words slow and clear, as she scowled at Marmot huddled by the fire. “Rather too much potion.” 

Following the witch’s gaze, Penelope had never seen anything so adorable as Marmot, crouched in a ball and hiding behind the bush of his tail clutched in tiny paws. Her chest ached with an intensity of affection that brought tears to her eyes.

“Pretty puppy!” Penelope squealed, tipping from her chair to scoop up Marmot’s struggling form, burying her face in the soft yellow fur of his underbelly.

“And serve you right, Marmot,” Marmalade muttered, the small creature squeaking as Penelope blew raspberries against his tummy.

“Alright, enough of that now.” Marmalade plucked Marmot from Penelope’s adoring grasp.

A glint of faceted glass caught Penelope’s eye, and she picked up a small empty vial that had fallen under the table. Sunset dregs of glittering smoke swirled at the bottom of the heart-shaped bottle. Penelope tilted the glass to and fro, utterly mesmerised by the gleam of firelight and magic.

“What were you thinking? Three drops, Marmot! Three drops would have been more than sufficient, but you shouldn’t even have— yes, I understand it was an accident, but— startled by the token? What about the token?”

Penelope largely ignored Marmalade’s scolding words, far more content to peer into the depths of the mystical treasure in her palm. At the mention of her token, however, Penelope retrieved the offending coin from where she had earlier placed it on the table. 

It seemed… dull. No longer a shining obsidian, the token was now grey and stippled, like a river stone. The fine linework of the token’s symbol had faded from bright copper to a ghostly white.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Marmalade sang, gently prying the token from Penelope’s fingers and inspecting it in the firelight. “It appears… spent.” Marmalade sighed in relief as a thought occurred to Penelope.

Still holding the empty potion bottle, the princess began laughing. And laughing, and laughing, until she was positively wheezing, tears tracking down her cheeks.

The brutal symphony of fate which had brought her here, to this very moment, to stand in a witch’s tree, dosed to the nose with love potion, was just too farcically elegant.

“The Enchantress… of Daisy Lane,” Penelope began to explain between snorting giggles, “she… she first gave me a token for inner love… but I traded it… for Fate… and now, now—” Penelope couldn’t continue for howling mirth.

Marmalade’s mouth quirked. “And now the joke is on you, so it seems.”

Penelope nodded as she fell back into her chair, still chuckling and wiping tears from her chin.

“Well, if it’s inner love that was needed all along, I have an idea. Come with me.” 

Marmalade took Penelope’s hand, the warmth of her skin once again filling Penelope with heady delight, and lead the teetering princess up the main staircase to the floor above.

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