Sometimes, Marianne really hated her father’s easy-going nature. As a parent, it made him patient and affectionate, which was greatly appreciated by herself and Dawn; but as a king, it often led to last-minute business that always had to be addressed at the worst of times.
And, as the adult heir to the throne, she was saddled with the responsibility of accompanying him until the matter was settled; to bear witness. Good practice for her future rule, she supposed.
Still, it was teeth-grindingly frustrating that such an annoyance had to occur tonight of all nights. This evening marked the first time the goblins and the fairies and elves were to hold a mixed ball!
Marianne had been looking forward to it all week. She’d been a whirlwind of bubbly excitement that would’ve given her little sister a run for her money, if Dawn hadn’t been equally as giddy about spending the whole night proudly dancing and singing with Sunny.
Missing Bog’s arrival with his entourage, just so she and her father could finalize plans for an expansion team to start cultivating new farm lands in the west, caused her a monumental amount of irritation. She’d promised Bog that she would meet him at the door.
Her prickly suitor had been a nervous wreck about this whole thing ever since she first mentioned it a month ago, so she had been determined to stay on his arm the second he set foot in the Fairy Castle. It was amazing how her brave, grumpy Bog King, a stern, snarling ruler of a wilderness, could be reduced to a shaking leaf in the wind at the prospect of being surrounded by formally dressed fairies and elves at a lavish ball.
And now I’m late. Thanks a lot, Dad!
At least Dawn had been available to properly receive the guests. She only hoped Bog had been able to relax and entertain himself in her absence.
Bunching her sparkling, midnight blue skirt in her hands, Marianne raced down the hallway leading to the grand ballroom, ignoring her father’s warning calls behind her to be careful and how running was not dignified and other things she wasn’t listening to.
Still, she didn’t want to barrel into the party and risk looking like an idiot if, skies forbid, she lost her balance and fell on her face. So she came to a halt, just outside the open double doors, adjusted her silver-star tiara, took a quick, calming breath and steadily walked into the crowded ballroom.
Ever since she was a child, she’d loved every ball held in her kingdom; a love that had nearly died out for good because of Roland. She’d met the creep at a ball, he’d proposed to her at a ball, tried to pathetically win her back at a ball. The power of association was a force to be reckoned with.
Thankfully, this past year with Bog had helped her rediscover her love for many things she’d turned her back on because they reminded her of her cheating ex. She’d learned not to let his memory control her preferences and/or opinions as much as it had in the past.
And tonight, for the first time in forever, she was going to have a wonderful time at a festive, social gathering because the real love of her life was with her.
Of course, she had no intention of wasting all of her time on the dancefloor, nor talking to a bunch of uppity fairy social elite; her empty stomach was already gurgling for the buffet table and she had fantasized all last night about sneaking away with Bog to the shadowy terrace for a few passionate moments of privacy.
Regardless, tonight, everyone would see her in the arms of her heart’s choice. Everyone would see her smiling brighter than the harvest moon and hear her laughing louder than a whippoorwill. Same would go for her sister.
Everyone would understand once and for all.
Marianne waved the announcer silent before he could belt her name to the masses (she’d always hated that) as she descended the stone steps into the main part of the ballroom. She smiled and nodded to everyone that addressed her, but kept the pleasantries short and simple as she passed through the throng of fairies, goblins and elves. Since flying up into the air to search for Bog would’ve been quite awkward while wearing a dress, she kept swiveling her head around and occasionally rose on her tip toes to get a better view.
She was certainly pleased with the merriment she saw around her. Although there were pockets of resistors she saw represented in some of the older generations of every species present: the snobby fairies, the fearful elves, and the suspicious goblins, the eager mingling far outweighed the segregation, and Sunny and Dawn were leading the charge.
Her little sister and her beau had formed a massive line dance for everyone and Marianne had to stifle a bark of laughter when she saw her father get snatched by the wrist and pulled into an enthusiastic jig with Griselda.
Shaking her head with amusement, she turned and resumed her quest to find Bog.
Barely a few seconds later, she spotted his towering form standing across the bustling room. His head was titled down and his lips were moving, apparently speaking to someone she couldn’t see. He hadn’t noticed her yet.
A tingling filled her chest and her mouth spread into a radiant beam as she immediately made a beeline in his direction, probably shouldering a few people out of her way with a bit more force than necessary.
Finally, she got close enough to see him fully, but her feet stopped dead when she saw who he was talking to…
She felt something ice cold drip into her stomach at the sight. Early springtime memories of a bright, would-be wedding day flashed in her mind’s eye. It was silly really. They were obviously not kissing, or even touching at all, but they were standing awfully close together…and they were whispering intently to one another.
It wasn’t the same ‘sweet, young thing’ Plum had shown her that night in the Dark Forest, but what struck Marianne regardless, was the fact that this new girl had the same long-limbed, frog-like body. Really the only difference was her browner skin tone and lighter make-up.
Without warning, both goblins suddenly looked towards her and Marianne felt her cheeks flush as she tried to school her expression to appear nonchalant as she forced her feet to move forward again. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to see if her projected air of calm was effective, for the gobliness and the king quickly and urgently exchanged a final brief collection of hushed words, and the former tittered as she cast one last glance at Marianne before scampering off elsewhere.
Despite the clear awe in Bog’s gaze as he watched Marianne come closer, for he had not taken his eyes off of her once he’d seen her, the princess still winced at the painful lump growing in her throat. She’d recognized the social cues. Whatever the two had been discussing, they did not want her to hear it.
Admittedly though, she was having a hard time focusing on her sudden onset disquiet, thanks to the utterly enamored look Bog was giving her.
“My god,” Bog breathed as he took her hands in his own trembling claws, “yer so beautiful. Ye look like the night sky.”
Not wanting this evening to turn sour, she offered a small, flattered smile and let him lead her to the dance floor for a goblin reel, but from the dark corner of her mind came a cruel, cold voice that whispered to her periodically as the festivities wore on:
My little buttercup.
Despite the several hours of lost sleep, Marianne managed to wake up the following morning feeling rested, but detached. Too lazy to dress, she slipped on her silk, shamrock colored bathrobe and drifted down the castle hall to the guest wing to see if Bog was awake yet.
The goblins had been invited to spend the evening in the Fairy Castle after the ball so they would not have to make the exhausting journey back home so late in the night.
As she climbed the stairs, she thought she heard a faint rumbling ahead. Was it going to rain today? When she reached the landing and turned to look down the short guest wing corridor for the source of the muted noise, she felt her stomach drop. It wasn’t thunder she was hearing.
At the far end of the hallway was an open window, and standing in front of that window, slightly obscured by the curtains and speaking as lowly and urgently as last night, was Bog and that same goblin girl.
Something akin to terror spread through Marianne’s veins and her knees buckled. It was a miracle she didn’t collapse to the floor. Though she still couldn’t make out clear words, the conversation was brief and the distinct whir of a dragonfly’s wings approached the window. The goblin girl curtsied to her king, hopped off the sill onto her awaiting steed, and took off west for the Dark Forest.
Heart and mind racing, Marianne spun around and flew back down the stairs before Bog could catch her. What was happening? Why was Bog talking so secretively to that girl…again? And why did she leave so early for the Dark Forest all by herself? What were they hiding?!
She didn’t stop asking herself frantic questions until she reached the dining hall.
Breakfast was a quiet affair. Only the two fairy princesses, Sunny, the Bog King, Griselda, Stuff and Thang were present. King Dagda hadn’t come down, not that anyone was surprised by the fact, considering how many glasses of wine he’d consumed to steady his nerves last night. The rest of the goblin entourage must’ve decided to sleep in. Everyone else was either just too exhausted or content for small talk, so they simply worked at their meals in peace. Nothing but the soft, clinking sound of forks and knives filled the air in the dining hall.
Marianne wished it was as quiet in her head. She’d only managed three bites of her omelet, the rest she just kept pushing around on her plate while her mind continued to assault her with questions and images of Bog and that girl. She couldn’t even appreciate how well things had gone between the three cultures last night.
Though she hadn’t been able to totally banish the nagging voice in her head, she did have a nice time. There were no fights, no gossip, and no messes. Everyone had gotten along splendidly. She’d even seen her father politely dance a few numbers with some elf and goblin females!
Unfortunately, when she thought about the goblin females that were there, her thoughts would automatically zero in on one in particular. Try as she might, she just couldn’t shake the memory of Bog and that girl standing way too close together in the shadows. Every time she saw it, her skin prickled and she felt that tell-tale watering in her mouth that typically preceded nausea. So much for breakfast. It was a wonder that she’d even managed to muster up a smile when Bog kissed her cheek at the table after he came downstairs.
The frantic questions were still running through her head like an irritating army of ants.
Who was that girl?
What was she doing with Bog?
What was Bog doing with her?
Why did she leave alone this morning?
What were they talking about?
Why are they keeping it a secret?
What’s going on?
She almost did vomit when the Bog in her mind grabbed the mysterious gobliness around the waist and tossed Marianne a haunting leer.
Say you can understand , my Marianne.
“Huh?” She flinched.
“I said, are ye still up fer one more spar fer the road?” Bog asked as he stood up from his seat, having finished his meal.
She pushed away from the table as if it was on fire and followed the goblin king down the hall to the courtyard. She let him take her hand during the short walk, but couldn’t bring herself to curl her fingers around his own. If he noticed, he made no comment.
It didn’t take too long for them to reach their favorite training spot on the Fairy Castle grounds, but when they stepped out into the open, Bog pulled up short.
“Hey, um, are ye sure ye wanna spar right now, Tough Girl?” His eyes held pure concern. “Ye barely ate any breakfast this mornin’.”
“I-I’m alright, really! I…guess I’m just still full from last night. Too many crepe suzettes.”
“Heh, I hear ye. That Elf stew’s still sittin’ like a rock in my stomach. How about we just spar on foot today?” He stepped away and readied his staff. “If I fly around too much right now, I’ll definitely throw up.”
“Well then, bring it on, Tough Girl!”
Come on, Marianne.
The princess bristled and shook the offending phantom voice away as she drew her sword and took her stance.
“You’re toast, you old cockroach!”
She began with a lunge, which Bog easily dodged, deflecting every swing of her blade with ease.
“Oh, pokin’ fun at my age today, huh?” He chuckled, swiping at her ankles with his right leg, making her jump at the last second. “That’s a low blow, little fairy.”
“No, this is!”
Marianne dropped into a crouch and twisted, driving the pommel of her sword at Bog’s groin. He flipped out of the way and narrowed his eyes with a smirk.
“So ye wanna play dirty? As ye wish, yer highness!”
He spun towards her like a cyclone of all scales, claws, and staff.
She danced around him with practiced finesse, batting away each and every strike of his staff with her sword, almost beginning to snicker at the familiarity in their preferred form of flirting.
Just as she was starting to feel significantly better, for her evasions were flawless, Bog managed to land a hit across her left shoulder. It was only a graze, and she swooped out of the way of his following movements, but something dark began to slither to the surface since she made her mistake.
Though Bog’s lips remained closed in a smile of concentration, she began to hear laughter.
And then a horrible, sarcastic voice.
Who’s the big girl? You’ve got a sword.
Her grip on the handle of her weapon went knuckle-white and she saw red as she lunged forward with an angry shout.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy, luv!”
A flash, and Marianne was back to the present, watching Bog step away from her with a wince of pain in his eyes. His left hand was pressed against the side of his neck.
“Ye almost got me, there.” Bog observed, brushing his thankfully, bloodless fingers over the small chip in his left collar scale.
“I-I’m sorry, Bog! I’m so sorry!”
“It’s alright. I’m fine, but I do think that’s enough fer today.”
Marianne didn’t even try to contest the decision. Despite her shaking hands, she managed to sheath her sword without another word and walk with him towards the entrance hall.
“My father always said it’s never a good idea to spar when yer not entirely focused. Is there…somethin’ on yer mind?”
“No…not really. I’m just tired, that’s all.”
He examined her for a moment, obviously worried and it took everything Marianne had to save face.
“Well, if yer sure......are ye still comin’ tah see me in three days?” He asked, stopping by the open castle doors; the rest of his goblin entourage were out on the lawn, mounting their dragonfly steeds. “There’s somethin’ I wanna show ye.”
“Uh…y-yeah……yeah, we’re still on for my visit.”
He leaned in close and Marianne thanked the sun that he only pressed another innocent peck to her cheek. She felt like she might have a nervous breakdown if he held her and kissed her lips right now.
“Take care o’ yerself, luv.” He said, taking flight. “I’ll see ye in a few days!”
She waved a weak goodbye as Bog and his goblins flew off, and she stepped onto the palace veranda to watch them until they were well out of sight, her mind in turmoil.
“So he’s been talking to some goblin girl. What’s the big deal? Is talking a crime all of the sudden?”
Dawn closed her diary and peered up at Marianne as she paced the floor, apparently determined to wear a rut into her little sister’s bedroom rug.
“Of course it’s not a crime, Dawn! Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Then what’s with you?”
“I’m just trying to figure it out! What could they be up to?”
“Is it really important? Or…any of your business? How would you like it if Bog wanted to know about every single person you ever talked to? And what you talked about?”
She wouldn’t like it at all, that was for sure. Still, Marianne couldn’t quell her torturous curiosity and dread.
“You know he is a king, and kings have female subjects.” Dawn needlessly reminded her. “Since she was at the ball, I’ll bet she’s part of his castle staff and he was probably just discussing some…I don’t know, political stuff.”
“Then how come I’ve never seen her before?”
“Maybe she’s new!”
“Why would he invite someone brand new to a ball in a neighboring kingdom?”
“Um, duh. Because he’s a nice guy? Probably wanted her to feel welcome.”
“I don’t know.” Marianne shook her head. “I don’t think it has anything to do with politics.”
“What else could it be? Maybe they’re planning something special! Like a ball in their kingdom for us to attend. Maybe it’s somebody’s birthday or there’s a festival coming up.”
“No, goblins don’t celebrate birthdays, they celebrate seasons and we're in the middle of spring. Your birthday’s already passed and mine’s not for another six months. Their next festival is the Dance of the Fireflies, but that’s weeks from now, and all they do is eat food and watch! So…what is he doing with her?”
“I don’t know…but what I really don’t understand is why you’re getting so worked up about this one girl! Stuff’s a girl, and you don’t act weird about Bog being around her! What’s so special about this girl?”
Because she looks a lot like……the most beautiful creature he ever saw.
“Well, I don’t know what you expect me to say!” Dawn sighed, when she received no verbal answer. “You already seem to have considered several logical explanations, so why are you still upset?”
“…Wait……Marianne, you……you don’t seriously think that Bog is chea-?”
“NO! No, absolutely not! Bog would never do something like that to me; or to anyone. He’s not capable of that. Bog is not Roland.”
“You’re darn right, he’s not! So why don’t you just ask him about her?”
“Oh, I……no……no, I couldn’t do that.”
“Um, why not?”
“Because he’ll think I’m suspicious of him.”
“But you are!”
“I am not! I’m just concerned and I…I…I gotta go!”
Unable to face her sister’s doubtful eye any longer, Marianne fled from the room, clenching her fists and teeth and doing everything in her power to keep the faith in her words.
No. It’s not true. Bog is not Roland. He’s not capable of doing something like that to me. To anyone. He’s the king, he’s got subjects. Male and female; he has to interact with them.
Well, he WAS capable of using a love potion on one of his female subjects!
That stopped her dead in her tracks.
That’s…not fair. He was young and he didn’t know what he was doing. He regretted it, and he banned love in the Dark Forest for years so no one else could feel the pain he felt.
Regardless, the fact that he did do it means he’s more capable of doing terrible things than you think!
Stop it! Shut up! Bog is NOT Roland!
Bog is not Roland.
Bog is not Roland.
That's what I wanna hear.
Searing bile rose in her throat and she sprinted to the lavatory.
Later that night, Bog stepped towards her from a void of darkness. Expression hesitant, but daring to hope, he held out a clawed hand to her. A spark of apprehension hit her when she found that her body couldn’t move, nor would her voice pass her lips.
The spark escalated to a flood of panic as Bog suddenly underwent a fleeting, but horrifying transformation:
His whole body shrunk and thickened. Every last sharp feature receded, except for the ears, which stretched and thinned with a slight upward sweep. The grayish-brown scales contorted and melted into a metallic, emerald fairy armor. The skin of his face darkened from milky pale to a sun-kissed peach. Curly, golden locks sprouted from his once leafy scalp.
Tender blues eyes flashed to a poisonous green and the sickening apparition grinned.
Hey, one little mistake.
She woke up screaming.
Two days later, Marianne glided through the Dark Forest trees on her way to Bog’s new castle. She waved half-heartedly at the mushrooms and goblins below, only to let out a yawn nearly every few seconds. Sleep had been close to impossible for her for the last two nights in a row and it was taking practically all of her strength to stay airborne.
When she reached the entrance, she stumbled a bit as she touched down. Funnily enough, that skull hadn’t been too damaged when the old fortress fell, so Bog had insisted it be reinstalled despite Marianne’s arguments that the damn thing had nearly killed him. Well, in all fairness, it did look pretty badass.
She’d barely walked a few feet inside when a squat, goblin body came barreling towards her with arms open wide.
“Marianne!” Griselda cried, glowing with joy. “There’s my little dew drop! How are you, honey?”
“Hi, Griselda.” She greeted, accepting the hug. “I’m good. And you?”
“Just dandy, darling! We had such a wonderful time at the ball, I’ve been talking to Bog about possibly holding one here for everyone in your-!”
The old queen cut herself off when she pulled back and got a good look at Marianne’s face.
“Why what’s wrong, Marianne? You seem a little down.”
“Nothing’s wrong.” The princess said, trying to perk up, though her shoulders remained slumped.
Griselda peered hard at her, and Marianne tried her damnedest not to squirm. She should’ve known better than to lie to a loving mother. They had a sixth sense for detecting distress in their children, and Griselda had practically adopted her as her own.
“You know, you can tell me anything, sweetheart.”
Anything but this.
“I’m okay, Griselda!” She insisted, mustering up a smile that hurt her cheeks with how fake it was. “Really! I’m just tired, that’s all; late night. How’s Bog?”
Marianne silently thanked the heavens that Griselda decided to drop the subject at the mention of her son.
“Oh, he’s just been as excited as a leap frog in the spring! He can’t wait to see you!”
“Where is he?”
“In his study. Do you want me to run get him while you sit and rest?”
“No…no I’ll be fine, thanks.”
For a moment, Griselda looked like she was going to protest, but ultimately decided against trying to sway someone who was just as stubborn as her boy.
“Go on ahead, dear! He’s expecting you.” She instructed, ushering Marianne to the stairs. “Have fun and behave, but if you can’t behave, then just be careful!”
By the time Marianne reached the top of the stairs, she was just starting to feel her mood lift from Griselda’s light teasing; she didn’t seem to have any doubts about Bog’s devotion. Sadly, it was shattered when, to her horror, she nearly crashed into that same goblin girl ducking out of Bog’s study.
“Oh!” The girl cried, startled at Marianne’s appearance.
She recovered quickly though, and gave the fairy a secretive, blushing grin.
She was a passin’ fling.
“Excuse me, your highness.” She giggled as she shuffled past Marianne and headed swiftly down the hall. “The king is waiting for you! Have a wonderful afternoon!”
And not a permanent thing .
It took every last ounce of Marianne’s fortitude to open the door, but somehow, she did, and found herself face to face with her goblin suitor.
“Hey, Tough Girl!” Bog greeted happily, slinging a satchel over his shoulder. “Ye ready to go?”
His open enthusiasm and steady eye-contact were not the signs of a guilty party, but it did little to cheer the princess.
“…Marianne, are ye alright?” He asked, face clouding with worry as he moved forward and gently brushed his claws against her cheek. “Ye look a wee pale.”
God, even when she felt like she was falling apart, his touch still thrilled her to the soul. She stepped away from him to clear her head.
“…I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
“Oh. In that case, do ye wanna stay in today instead? We dorn’t have to go out.”
“No. No, I’ll be fine. Let’s do this.”
I don’t want to stay here while……she’s here.
“…Are ye really sure? I mean it’s-”
“Yes, let’s go.” And she took off out the window before he could object any further.
Twenty minutes later, and Marianne was amazed at how much her tension had lightened. Next to sparring, there was nothing more therapeutic than flying; especially with Bog. Even if they seemed to be taking dozens of random turns, the exploration was doing a wonderful job distracting her mind and dispelling her nerves. Still, she was getting more and more curious the longer they flew and by now, was pretty impatient to see what he’d been wanting to show her.
“How much longer, Bog?”
He was scanning a map he’d pulled from his satchel with a puzzled frown. Finally, he held it out to her with a sheepish look.
“Heh, heh…uh, how about…you navigate now, Tough Girl?”
“Lost in your own kingdom, almighty Bog King?” She teased with a laugh, swiping the map away with a flourish. “Why do you even need a map anyway?”
“The Dark Forest is much bigger than ye think it is. It’s a good safety precaution to bring a map when yer tryin’ to find somethin’.”
“What are we looking for?” She asked, scanning the detailed geographical drawings of the Dark Forest in vain for some kind of circle or cross sign to mark their destination.
“This.” Bog said, tapping a claw against a sketch of a thick tree grove just a little ways northeast of the lake.
Marianne quirked an eyebrow. Seriously? It didn’t look the least bit complicated. How could he not find it? They’d passed the lake only a few moments ago. All they needed to do was keep heading straight and then turn right when they reached the Gnome Warren beside Cloven Rock.
She led the way, despite her wonderment.
Eventually, they glided over Cloven Rock without incident, and made a beeline for the grove…
…which seemed like it was taking much longer than it should, if that mile scale stamp on the bottom right corner was accurate.
Plus, they were passing by a lot of foliage that wasn’t marked on the map. The Dark Forest seemed to be getting thicker and more clustered by the second. It wasn’t until she’d actually caught the scent of cedar that she realized they’d made it to the grove. Everything was so overgrown she couldn’t fly anymore, and she didn’t need to. She could walk further into the grove on the branches! It was so congested, she couldn’t even see a light ahead.
“Bog, ah!” She flinched as a twig slapped her cheek. “Are you sure this is the right grove?”
“Well then, ouch, what the hell is so special about…”
A branch gave way to Bog’s staff and a flash of light blinded Marianne for a quick moment. As her eyes cleared, the scent of clean, open air wafted around her and a clearing came into view.
Not just a clearing.
It was a meadow.
The most stunning meadow she had ever seen. Lush, jade green grass, dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers, carpeted the ground. The lofty cedars and tightly crowded briar bushes and rocks served as a nearly impenetrable wall of privacy, allowing only a crystal clear stream to wind straight through. In the center, was a sparkling pond with lily pads and lotus blossoms floating on the surface. Golden sun rays poured in through the eastern side of the tree line. Combined with the fresh aroma of pure, wooded nature, it gave the entire area an ethereal aura.
Marianne felt tears spring into her eyes from all the natural beauty around her as she and Bog stood on a sturdy bough. She was far too awestruck to inspect it further; at the moment, she could do nothing but gaze upon all the wonder before her. Not even in the Fairy Kingdom was there a place this gorgeous!
“I had it named fer ye.”
Slowly, she turned around to face her goblin consort, half-convinced she’d just misheard him.
Bog reached into his satchel and withdrew a second rolled up parchment; another map.
“See?” He said with a shy grin as he held it out for her to take. “It’s official; royal seal an’ everythin’.”
With a trembling hand, Marianne reached out and traded maps. She unfurled the new one to see that it was an exact duplicate, including the seal (which was an impression of the crown of Bog’s staff, except the amber stone was surrounded by twisted, thorny vines).
The only difference on this map, was that the sketch of the tree grove had a label.
It took several blinks for her to believe her eyes, but there it was, in elegant cursive, on a certified Dark Forest map. Her name!
Overwhelmed by such thoughtfulness and love, her vision blurred and her quivering fingers made the images on the parchment dance. She had to bring one hand up to her lips to stifle a sob.
“M-Marianne?!” Bog asked, alarmed by the sight of tears.
“Heh, you jerk!” She sniffed, lamely punching him in the chest and rubbing her wet eyes. “Making me cry like this…”
“Oh…I……I’m sorry, I…I just…hoped…”
“Bog! I’m crying because I’m happy!”
“Y-Ye are? Ye can do that?”
“Yes! Haven’t you ever heard of happy tears?”
“Um……no? So…does that mean…ye…ye do like it?”
Like it? She’d only dreamed of exploring this vast, mysterious realm all her life, and now a part of it was named after her?!
“I love it, Bog! I love it! I-I…” she fanned herself like Dawn did sometimes when she was trying not to cry…and failing, “…this is just…the sweetest thing…anyone’s ever done for me!"
“W-Well……I thought ye’d…appreciate this m-more than……an engagement…r-ring?”
Shoulder plates shaking, Bog pursed his lips, propped his staff against the tree trunk, and bent to one knee.
“Marianne, I…*gulp*…I love ye……an’ I…I want…I want to spend…the rest of my life with ye. I kn-know I’m a…a goblin……an’…an’ I……rule another ki-kingdom, but…if ye can……if yer willin'……I’m sure we can work somethin' out. I also…kn-know that this isn’t the first time ye’ve……been asked this question...an’ I know that ye’ve been hurt an’ lied to, but…but I’m not him, Marianne! Yer everythin’ to me, an’ I swear on every life in my kingdom, includin’ my own, tha’ I do love ye, at least as much as ye luv me! I want yer face to be the last thing I see when I fall asleep, an’ the first one I see when I wake up. I wanna have children with ye, grow old with ye, die with ye. So…if-if it’s still at all possible fer ye to at least consider m-marriage again, I-I hope ye-”
He couldn’t finish, for Marianne sank to her knees with her face in her hands, sobbing her eyes out.
“Ma-Marianne?!” Bog cried out in obvious fright as he crouched over her with his hands hovering around, not knowing what to do.
“Wh-What’s the matter now?! Is...Is this that happy cryin’ or the sad cryin’? ‘Cuz it sounds more like the sad cryin’! Y-Yer wailin' a lot! We-We dorn’t have to get married right away! We can wait as long as ye want! I dorn’t care! No! Wait, that’s not what I meant! I mean, I just want ye to be happy an’…an’…ah, fuck! I knew I’d screw this up! I knew it! Marianne, please, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please, luv, please stop cryin’!”
“Do ye…wanna leave now?”
Marianne’s brunette head shook in a negative.
“Please, Tough Girl, I didn’t mean to upset ye! Hey! Y-Ye can punch me in the face, if it’ll make ye feel better! Come on!” He stuck his chin out for her. “Go for it! Right in the jaw! Yer best shot!”
“No, I don’t wanna hit you!” The princess whimpered.
“W-W-Well, then just tell me what to do to make this better! What can I do?!”
“Nothing, nothing! I’m just an idiot!”
“What? No, yer not!”
“Yes, I am! You wanna marry me, but I’m a stupid, stupid, IDIOT!”
“I...I dorn’t understand!”
“OF COURSE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE SMART, AND I’M AN IDIOT!”
“YER NOT MAKING ANY SENSE!”
“WHY ARE WE YELLING?!”
“I DORN’T KNOW!”
A brief, silent pause befell the couple as Marianne tried to control herself enough to articulate the reason behind her sudden onslaught of sad tears and stop Bog’s freak out.
“Huh?” Bog squinted at her, thrown by the random question. “What girl? What are ye talkin’ about?”
She tapped the map with one weak finger. There was a tiny signature at the bottom, just below the seal:
It was on the other map too.
Everything made sense now. The talking, the secrecy…
…and her stupidity.
“Oh, ye mean Lyra? She’s my-”
“Yeah.” He continued to stare at her dubiously. “She took over the position after her father died. She helped me plan this whole thing. Ye’ve already met her husband.”
“Yeah, it’s Gus.”
“Gus is her husband?!”
“Tha’s right. They’ve got three little ones. She’s been on maternity leave for the past month. Why? What has she got to do with-?”
“I saw you with her, the other night at the ball.”
“I know ye did, that’s why I sent her home early so ye wouldn’t overhear us and spoil yer surprise. So?”
A fresh wave of tears rolled down Marianne’s cheeks at the pure perplexity in his voice and expression. He truly had no idea; he was so innocent. And it just made her feel all the worse.
“Oh, Bog!” She croaked, clutching her head in her hands. “I’m so ashamed!”
“A-Ashamed?” Bog stammered. “Of what? Marianne, please tell me!”
Not trusting her knees, Marianne reached for the crooks of Bog’s elbows and was thankful that he took the hint and helped her to stand, though she felt guilty for touching him. Every day, after the night they met, whenever she felt upset or scared, it was Bog’s arms she longed for. He was able to comfort her more than anyone else ever had in her whole life. Even with all her doubts and fear for the past few days, ironically, deep down underneath it all, the only thing she wanted was for him to hold her and make it all okay.
But she didn’t deserve to be held by him now, probably not ever again. Not after what she’d dared to think. How could she have suspected, for even one second? So, despite every cell in her body, shrieking for her to throw herself against his chest, she resisted the urge and tucked her wringing hands against her ribs. Her heart pounded against her fingers.
“You’re right, Bog. You’re absolutely right. I have been hurt and lied to, and you’re not Roland…and I knew that. I always knew that! But…w-when I saw you with th-that girl, I…I…I thought y-you and h-her were......oh God!”
Bog flinched as Marianne broke down again. She stepped back when he automatically tried to reach for her, but he persisted and scooped both her, his staff, and the maps into his arms, so he could fly everything down to the edge of the meadow’s stream.
“Here.” He said, cupping his large hand in the water and bringing it to Marianne’s lips to drink.
Of course, the crystal clear water would taste like heaven in this place!
She accepted three mouthfuls and took twice as many deep breaths to calm herself. Selfishly, she didn’t try to leave Bog’s embrace, but she did turn her head to face him with a tearful, helpless expression.
“Bog, I’m so-”
“Shh, it’s okay.” He soothed, tightening his hold around her. “I get what yer tryin’ to tell me.”
A numbing sliver of anguish settled in Marianne stomach, but instead of Bog pulling away, as she fully expected him to do, he tucked her head under his chin and gently rocked her back and forth.
“Aren’t you-?” She started, in a tiny, contrite voice. “Aren’t you m-mad at me?”
“No.” He responded as if it was painfully obvious. “Why would I be?”
“After what ye’ve been through, it’s an understandable conclusion.”
She pulled back to stare at him and opened her mouth to further her protest.
“Okay, maybe I am a wee bit offended,” he shrugged, “but to be fair, I should’ve been more conscientious about sneakin’ around an’ talkin’ to a strange girl ye’d never met.”
“No!” Marianne stubbornly shook her head. “No, you did nothing wrong! It was all me! You have a right to talk to whoever you please! I was just being a paranoid moron!”
“The worst part of it was that she just looked so much like…”
The sentence trailed off in the breeze and she felt Bog stiffen slightly against her, though he kept stroking her back with his claws.
“Well…yes, I suppose she does,” he said after a minute, “…but ye already know that’s hardly uncommon. There are lots of female an’ male goblins out there that resemble her.”
She did indeed know that. Bog had taught her everything about the goblin race and its different classes.
“I know; again, I’m a stupid idiot.”
“Stop that.” Bog chided softly, before squeezing her even tighter as his voice lowered with emotion. “After how long it took me to find ye, especially when I wasn’t even lookin', an’ how happy ye make me, I’d be a damn fool to throw that all away. Plus, ye’d murder me.”
She smiled and traced a finger over his collar plate, blinking away more tears.
“You know,” he added, “call me selfish, but other than bein’ completely in love with ye, I also wanna marry ye because goblins mate fer life; so ye’ll never get rid o’ me.”
His words formed a bubble of joy in her gut, which coaxed her to chuckle.
“Now that’s my kind of incentive.” She snuggled impossibly closer. “Why would I ever wanna get rid of you?”
“Sometimes, I still think that one day, ye’ll wake up an’ realize ye can do better than a hideous, old beast like me.”
“What?!” She jerked up to look him in the eye. “Bog, that’s ridicu-!”
“Ye see? Yer right, it is ridiculous…but old habits just die hard.”
Marianne’s plum mouth closed slowly as she mulled over his point. They were both still guilty of occasional insecurity.
“The good news is that it’s gettin’ better.” Bog said drawing her attention yet again. “Every day I spend with ye, I feel that way less an’ less; an’ someday, I’ll never feel that way ever again.”
He cradled her face in one hand, and she was soon drowning in the ocean blue of his eyes.
“Everyone has their issues, luv. Yers is trust, mine’s self-esteem. But, I’m willin’ to help us work all the way through it, if you are.”
Her smile held more warmth than the sun could share. Mr. and Mrs. Stupid-Idiots; she liked the sound of that.
Here come the waterworks again.
“Oh! Oh, no! No-no-no-no-no!” Bog babbled as his hands fluttered around the fairy princess while she bawled all over again. “Marianne, I’m-I’m sorry! L-Look, it’s fine! We can forget about the whole thing! Aw, come on, Tough Girl, please! Please dorn’t cry anymore, I can’t stand it!”
“Happy tears, Bog!” Marianne reminded him, finally managing to chortle through her cries. “Happy tears!”
Bog stilled and gaped at her as if she were going to explode, but eventually deflated with a long, worn out sigh.
“Happy tears, sad tears.” He muttered. “Bloody hell, ye fairies are confusin’!”
“And I certainly see what you mean about your self-esteem.” She joked, brushing away the wetness on her face. “Looks like we both have our work cut out for us, and we’re not forgetting about a damn thing.”
It took a second for Bog to pick up on her implication, and even when he did, he tensed and his voice came out stuttering and shaky.
“…Y-Ye mean-? Um, s-s-so, i-is……is th-that a……a y-yes, or a n-n-?”
“Of course the answer’s ‘yes’, Bog!” Marianne exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck with a near squeal of glee.
“Oof!” He huffed, falling back on his elbows, but hugging her in return as best he could. “It is? Oh, thank the Moon! Ye really know how to scare the hell outta me!”
“Sorry.” She leaned back and beamed at him. “And by the way, yes, I would like a long engagement.”
“That’s sounds perfect……an’…Marianne, I want ye to know that…ye can always talk to me whenever yer feelin’ uncomfortable. I realize ye’ll need time to learn to trust me one hundred percent, so I dorn’t have a problem tellin’ ye what I’m doin’, or who I’m with.”
“Believe it or not, Dawn suggested that, and I feel like such a dope for not listening to her. I should never have doubted you, Bog, but I have to mind my own business. It’s wrong of me to pry.”
“To a certain degree, perhaps, but unless I’m tryin’ to surprise ye again, ye do have a right to know what’s goin’ on. Especially now that yer gonna be my wife.”
She kissed his chin.
“I do trust you, Bog, we just both have some tiny demons to keep fighting, but they’ll soon be dead and gone.”
Bog didn’t answer her. Instead, he’d grown instantly silent and immobile; like a statue.
“Bog?” She nudged his shoulder. “Hey, are you alright?”
“I-I’m uh……I’m fine. Um, I-I-I think…it’s just……all startin’ to…sink in.”
Marianne peered at him as his breath grew more bated and he blinked rapidly.
“Yer…gonna be my…my wife.”
“Uh, yeah. Yes, Bog, I am.”
A clumsy, but nonetheless ecstatic smile pulled at his mouth.
“Ye said ‘yes’!”
“That I did.”
Three breathless laughs puffed past his lips, and Marianne was shocked to see something shiny brimming over in his eyes.
“Look who’s got happy tears now!”
Bog carefully wiped at the droplets and inspected them for about half a second, before seizing Marianne around the waist and shooting straight up into the air, whooping and cheering at the top of his lungs.
“WHOOOO!!! WE’RE GETTIN’ MARRIED!!!”
And as he flew her in fast, ardent circles over her lovely meadow, Marianne gladly interrupted her fiancé’s hollering with a hungry and rapturous kiss.