"You're not an innocent, princess. You're not even close."
Marle didn't quite glare at Magus, but she was pretty sure that the look that she was giving him came close, the dark stare from beneath her heavy, concealing hood. She hoped it did, anyway. "What does that mean?" she asked, voice as cold as ice, except for the slight waver that gave away the reason for her question, a sense of confusion rather than of irritation. She couldn't help but notice that Glenn was standing up beside her as she spoke, that he was changing his stance slightly, ready to attack.
Magus shrugged, his face no more unfriendly than it had ever been. He didn't seem to be angry with her for questioning him, just blank. "Innocents don't fight. Like her." Then he seemed to sigh. "She never fought. She didn't have to. But you do, and that means that you aren't innocent. You're something else."
Glenn snorted with laughter and disbelief. "You'd choose for her to be a helpless waif?" he said, and she couldn't help but feel gratified at the disbelief and the mockery in his voice. The thick accent and the overt ostentation of that queer way of speaking were both were gone, but Glenn was still a gentleman, and spoke like a gentleman. "Surely you jest."
"That isn't what I said." Magus, on the other hand, was anything but a gentleman. Marle could not understand it, not for anything. How could someone who'd been raised as a prince have forgotten himself so completely? Those Mystics who had raised him must have really done a number on him, she thought as she looked at him, at the sneer on his lips and the dark menace in his eyes. Even she had never forgotten herself that completely. "Simply that she pretends to be innocent, and claims to need to be protected, when there's no need for it at all. She's not an innocent. She knows what it means to have blood on her hands."
"You foolish -"
"It's all right, Glenn," she said, looking at him briefly before brushing a loose lock of hair from her face. "Don't be angry. Magus is... well, he isn't really wrong."
And she found herself thinking of the first time she'd killed an attacking monster by casting her magic, thinking of the chill that had run through her veins as she'd called the ancient power forth. She remembered watching it strike and shatter, leaving the poor hapless beast lying in a twisted bleeding heap. It had taken every ounce of willpower she'd had not to run to a dark corner of the forest and throw up in reaction to it. Sure, she'd hunted before - her father had insisted on teaching her, one of the many times she'd suspected that he had wished she'd been her son instead of her daughter. But shooting a rabbit or a deer with a crossbow hadn't been anything like that, even when there had been blood. Crossbows were simple devices, mechanical things. They weren't ancient powers that humans had forgotten about long, long ago. And maybe, just maybe, they'd forgotten about them for perfectly good reasons. She thought about that sometimes.
Not that she would choose to forget about her magic. Not in a thousand years. She could help people with it. She had to keep it a secret - she was pretty sure that the people of Guardia wouldn't really want to have a witch for a future Queen, anyway. Only a few people actually knew about her magic, had actually seen her cast it; she had always been very, very careful. They'd all been careful, but Marle more than most. She had always known in the back of her mind that she had a responsibility; her father had never understood that her knowing that was the reason that she'd wanted a chance to run from it for a little while.
If she'd ever been innocent, though, it had ended before she'd ever met either of them. So Magus wasn't wrong, not really. But there was one other burning question. "You mind telling me why you've gone out of your way to tell me this?" she asked, this time getting the note of irritation right. It wasn't that difficult, really. She didn't mind visitors, but Magus showing up on her doorstep to criticize her was something entirely different, especially since he'd somehow known that he'd find her hundreds of years before she was even supposed to be alive.
Or had he been looking for Glenn? They'd all figured that Magus was dead, when the curse had been broken. One minute he'd been Frog, slimy and glassy-eyed and talking in thees and thous as usual. They'd finally managed to track down Luca's mother, and Marle had been estatic, hugging everyone, passing out kisses on the cheek. The next minute, the air shimmered as if something fundamental had changed around him, and the handsome young knight had been slumped senseless in his chair in the Epoch, muttering something unintelligible over and over again. Marle had been staying with him for a while since then. He'd had some problems with his memory, hadn't quite managed to believe that he'd spent years as a frog, and she hadn't been entirely willing to let him go...
"You're assuming that I've gone out of my way," he said, deflating somewhat and sitting down, cross-legged, in front of a nearby tree. "Or that I was looking for you."
Glenn didn't relax, to his credit. "Come to see what went wrong with your curse, Magus?" he asked quietly.
"I know what went wrong." Then he sighed. "Curses all have counters. And that one is one of the oldest ones of all."
"What?" Marle asked, puzzled. Then she paused. "Oh. Oh."
"Exactly." He shook his head. "I must've gotten something wrong, though."
"You hate to admit that, don't you?" Glenn asked, but there wasn't any real malice in it.
"You talk as if I'm the only one who's doing something odd here." He stared up at Glenn. "Who's the one meeting a woman in secret under your Queen's nose, Sir Glenn?"
"Stop it!" Marle said hotly, and she must've gotten the right note of command, because Glenn stopped what she was sure had been an impending challenge as soon as she said it. Even Magus looked startled for a moment, although his surprise quickly turned to amusement.
"As I was about to say before I was interrupted," he continued, after a moment of silence, "I must have made a mistake. The counter to the curse was supposed to be the kiss of an innocent princess. And as I've said, Marle is hardly innocent."
Marle shrugged. "Maybe I just had it fooled."
"Hmph." Magus shook his head. "Not my business anymore. You two want to sneak around, pretending you're people you're not? Not my problem. I have more important things to do." He turned away. "I'm leaving now."
She could have just watched him leave. It would have been easy. Instead... "Magus?" she called hesitantly after him. He didn't stop, but he slowed just enough to prove that he was listening. "I'm glad you're not dead," she said, and it wasn't the warmest and sweetest thing she'd ever said, but she didn't think Magus really deserved any of that anyway. "I hope that you find her someday. And, um, if you ever want to actually stop by -"
"Perhaps," he said. "But not today."
It was weird watching Magus open his portals. Like watching someone use his own shadow as a knife to rip a hole in the world. One second he was there, next second he was all dark, and then it seemed to fix it self and was gone.
Glenn finally relaxed fully, and she felt his hand on her shoulder through her heavy cloak. "Don't let him disturb you, Lady Marle," Glenn said, but his tone of voice betrayed his own sense of guilt. "I am grateful that you have stayed here. And if it was indeed you who broke this curse, then I am eternally grateful for that."
Privately, Marle doubted it had just been her. That would've been way too easy. Still... she wasn't innocent, and she kind of liked the idea of Glenn being eternally grateful.
"Thank you," she said instead, and put her hand over his, just long enough to make him blush before she pulled away.