They had been enjoying a quiet evening in the Bog King's castle when an arrow whizzed past them and nearly took out Marianne’s eye. It embedded itself in the backrest of the throne that they had been – for a lack of a better word – cuddling in, thoroughly interrupting all activities.
Marianne had let out a girlish shriek she knew Bog would never let her live down and jumped off the throne, sword already in hand.
She tensed, readying for a fierce battle cry to make up for the shriek, but the Bog King remained on the throne, rubbing his forehead. He flicked his hand casually, and suddenly the throne room was a blur of motion, guards and servants jumping up from corridors and the stairs to the dungeon like they were all lying in wait. Which was kinda creepy, she had to admit.
Before Marianne could even begin to form a question, Stuff and Thang were in front of them, issuing slightly nervous salutes.
“We’ll have him caught within the hour, sire,” said Thang, hands twitching together.
“Yeah, we got it, BK!” Stuff added.
“Good,” he said, cracking his neck and looking irritated. “This security is a disgrace," he barked. "That arrow nearly took Marianne’s –“ his voice faltered, and he cleared his throat. “That’s fourth one this week,” he murmured to himself. “This is getting out of hand.”
Marianne spun to face Bog. “The fourth? You were expecting this?”
He winched slightly at her tone. “Well. Uh. … Yes,” he said, ducking his head slightly.
Marianne dropped her sword with a loud clatter, and Stuff and Thang flinched. Her wings released, and she began to pace. Bog shifted back slightly on his throne, knowing what was coming.
“How are you all so calm about it? Someone tried to kill you! They tried to shoot you in the head! And all you care about is finding him? What are you going to do when you do? Torture him?” She stopped pacing, turning. “Are you going to torture him?”
“No, dear,” Bog said mildly, and Marianne pursed her lips. "Oh,” she said, feeling somewhat disappointed. “Okay. So how are we going to find out why he did it?”
“Oh, we already know,” Stuff said, and then covered her mouth, as if she shouldn’t have spoken.
Marianne eyes widened, and the Bog King sighed.
“… We can assume,” Bog corrected, aiming at glare at Stuff. “Unlike your kingdom, princess, the Dark Forest does not pass its throne through a family line. It’s for the best – I mean, really, could you imagine my mother on the throne?”
“I heard that,” came a voice from deeper in the castle, and Bog flinched. Marianne stifled a laugh.
“… As I was saying,” he said, recovering. “The title of king or queen is a title of notoriety. It goes to the biggest, baddest, nastiest creature of the forest. In the midst of the … incident, with the sugar plum fairy, the previous King had died, and I found myself on the throne. … Imprisoning her had been my first act as king.”
Marianne didn’t respond, her mind reeling. She had spent her entire life preparing for the throne – she remembered being three years old, learning about diplomacy. She couldn’t imagine that being thrust upon her one day out of the blue.
She looked at him, feeling a strange surge of sympathy for him. There was so much about him she didn’t know yet – they had only met two months ago – and it seemed that the more she learned, the more tragic his life seemed. “But that’s so … sudden. Did you even want the throne?”
Bog hesitated, not meeting her gaze. “Eventually,” he said, after a few moments.
Her brow furrowed. “But I don’t get why this is happening. You said the last king died of old age – and you’re, well – you’re not sprightly-”
He shot her a hurt look, but she waved him off. “But you’re not old. The title is yours until you die, isn’t it?”
Bog didn’t answer, and she turned her gaze to Stuff and Thang. They both quailed.
“According to our laws, if – if the current King isn’t up to, um, standards, someone could … eliminate him, and they take the throne in his stead,” Stuff said, her voice low. “And they’d be recognized as the new King or Queen immediately.”
“Some people – not any of us, your highness, of course – some, um, some of the other goblins haven’t – don’t necessarily – uh–“ Thang’s face started to go a peculiar shade of blue.
The Bog King stood, retrieving his staff from beside the throne. “Not everyone has approved of me taking a fairy princess for my … paramour. They find it … unfitting, for my title.”
Marianne could feel her face getting hot, and her hands twitching at her sides. Stuff, Thang, and the other residents inside the throne room immediately covered their ears, while Bog just waited it out patiently.
She screamed so loudly and angrily that she hoped that whoever had the bright idea that someone her presence meant they had the right to kill the king would hear it and think twice.
“You are very yell-y, do y’know that?” Bog said, when she was done. “I can only imagine your tantrums as a child.”
“I went through six nursemaids a week,” she said, and just then, a blur of blue flew in through the entrance, almost colliding with one of the recently rebuilt columns.
The blur dropped, and rushed at Marianne, and it wasn’t until it had wrapped her in a very tight hug that she realized it was her sister. She had brought Marianne’s pixies with her – which was a surprise, they usually hated the Dark Forest – and they nestled into Marianne’s hair, twittering and chirping.
“What happened?” Dawn said, brow crumpled. “I was flying, and then I saw all these guards around the dark forest, and then I heard screaming, and – is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine,” Bog said, hands up, voice reassuring.
“Someone tried to kill him,” Marianne said, still in her sister’s arms, and Dawn choked out a gasp.
“What? Are you okay?” She let go of Marianne and flew over to Bog, flittering around in a low hover. “Did they hurt you?”
“I was there too,” Marianne said a little offended her sister had brushed her off so quickly, and Dawn rolled her eyes at her.
“I know you’re fine,” Dawn said. “But Boggy is delicate.”
“I am not.”
“Am not – y’know, this is exactly why this is happening.” He exhaled slowly. “I’ll have to – to rebuild my reputation.”
“Kill someone?” Thang suggested. Dawn gasped in horror. Marianne did not.
“Perhaps,” Bog said, considering it. “In the mean time – you two will have to stay away from the forest. It’s not safe.”
“Are you kidding?” Marianne spat. Her pixies mirrored her with tiny squeaks of protest.
“No way,” Dawn exclaimed.
“I don’t care what it does to your reputation,” Marianne says. “I’m not leaving.”
“That’s not – that’s not what I meant,” he said, sharp hands up defensively. “I could lose the throne. But if – if anything happened to you, Marianne…”
He met her gaze at last, and she felt her anger extinguish. Her expression softened, and she took a step forward, placing her palm flat on his chest. “I can take care of myself,” she said. “And I want to protect you.”
“Me too,” Dawn said. “We’ll keep you safe.”
Bog looked between them, struggling to think of a response. “That’s not necessary – I have guards, and an army, and-”
Marianne tilted her head. “And how many of them can you say with complete and total conviction are loyal to you?”
He couldn’t answer that one.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. “From now on, I’m officially your body guard. Look,” she said, lowering her voice. “This is my fault.”
“It is not-” he started, and she cut him off.
“If you never met me, it wouldn’t be a problem. So I’m taking responsibility. Anyone who tries to hurt you is going to have to go through me first.”
His hand cupped her face, and she leaned into his touch, and they smiled softly at each other.
Dawn cleared her throat loudly, and they snapped to attention.
“I'm going to protect you, too,” she said. “Princess Dawn, at your service.” She saluted. Stuff and Thang looked impressed.
“Dawn, maybe you should – maybe you should go home. I mean, you can’t exactly fight...” Marianne hesitated, knowing how stubborn her sister could be.
“No, I cant,” Dawn agreed. “But I can sing.”
They all considered this. Thang shuddered.
“Point taken,” Bog said, and Dawn grinned.
The Dark Forest had been abuzz with whispers the past few months, but that night, no one was plotting, no one was scheming.
Mostly, they were trying to help each other shove mud into their ears.
“Really,” whispered a goblin to another, from quite a distance outside the castle entrance. “I think we’ve had it all wrong about them fairies.”
The other goblin nodded deeply, aiming a look of horror at the castle. “Whatever kind of creature can produce that kind of noise is more horrifying than anything in this forest.”
“Maybe she should be our ruler,” said the first, and they both considered it, shivering. The thought was almost too horrifying.
No, no, the Bog King should remain on the throne, everyone agreed. Even if he maybe should tone it down with all the cuddling.
Better the devil you know, after all.