"Corcoran’s fantasy debut is equal parts thrilling and ridiculous. [...] Readers will look forward to the sequel."

March 1, 2017

Love and Chaos: The First Duel to the Death


“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.”
 G.K. Chesterton




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♠♦♣♥♣♦♠


“I’ve done it! I’ve finally done it!” Bedlam cried, jumping out of his seat and hitting his head on the ceiling. “Ow. Well, I’ve almost done it. I’ll save my victory dance for a larger room. Now…”
He looked up from his table of notes and diagrams and examined his shelves, which contained glowing green mushrooms, shards of smoking crystals, and jars and cages housing a numbers of animals—all the specimens needed for mechano-magical invention. While most Lessarians settled for sealing magic from the plants growing around the moor into their inventions, Bedlam had hunted through the alleys of Catawampus and the caves of the Gammon Coast for rare and interesting finds in the hopes of pushing the limits of his powers, like the once-great General Duplicity Jinx. 
He’d collected what he needed, studied up on each creature or object’s magic, and was now ready to start his most ambitious experiment. Running his finger along the shelf, he stopped at a slot marked Phantasmal Jellyfish, which housed a clear glass jar with several holes punched in the lid.
“Come on now,” Bedlam said, carrying the jar to his table. “You and I are about to make history.”
Just as he was unscrewing the lid, careful to keep his hand over the opening, his brother burst into the room.
“Bedlam, stop whatever you’re doing and come talk to Father.”
“Sorry, Mayhem, I’m in the middle of something.”
Mayhem glanced around the room with a smirk.
“Oh, clearly. A new ‘invention’?”
“Yes.”
“You know, inventions usually involve creating a tool for use, not fiddling with various plants, animals, and… empty jars.”
“It’s a phantasmal jellyfish,” Bedlam said, removing his hand over the mouth of the jar to point into it. “They’re invisible.”
“Mmm.”
“And soon they won’t be the only ones. I’m going to use this jellyfish’s magic to turn an ordinary and otherwise unremarkable watch completely invisible!”
He thrust his hand into the jar to demonstrate, only to find it empty, with nothing but a sticky film and the bottom.
“Gone?” Mayhem asked. “Pity. So can we get a move on now?”
“Not to worry. I’ve prepared for this eventuality.” He seized a bowl of orange powder from his desk and began to throw handfuls of it around the room.
“Brilliant,” Mayhem said sarcastically. “Anyway, if you’re not going to come, then I’ll just tell you here. You know that Styxian girl?”
“Your fiancé?” Bedlam said, throwing another handful of powder, which stopped in midair and seemed to float there, drifting up and down. “See, it caught on the miasma,” he continued, waving his hands in the air above the floating powder until he felt something cold and solidly gelatinous.
Mayhem watched as Bedlam cupped the invisible creature in his hands and brought it over to the waiting metal pocket watch, which seemed to soak up the creature’s invisibility as Bedlam touched the two together. He released the jellyfish and held up his thumb and ring finger with the newly invisible watch between them.
“I’ve finally done it!”
“I guess you could say that. And what exactly it the point of an invisible watch?”
Bedlam deflated slightly, unable to answer this obvious question, but slipped the watch onto a string for safe keeping, just in case.
“Anyway, what were you saying about your fiancé?”
“That’s what I came to talk about. It turns out that she’s actually your fiancé.”
“What!” Bedlam jumped, hitting his head on the ceiling again. “Mine? But didn’t you get engaged to her over a year ago? I picked up the marriage contract from the Catawampian bureaucrats myself.”
“Yes, well… I’ve had ample time to think it over, and I’ve decided against it.”
“But we need Styx’s resources. The moor’s all but depleted.”
“Which is why you still need to marry her.”
“But you’re the oldest.”
“Exactly, so what I say goes.”
“But… but I mean…you can’t just decide…”
“No, you’re going to decide, and tell Father that that’s what you want, and that will be that. Or else.”
He swept his arm across one pf the specimen shelves, sending a bowl of birds eggs and a cage of glowing tarantulas to the floor.
“But I don’t even know her,” Bedlam said, kneeling down to make sure the spiders were all right; the eggs were obviously done for.  
“If that’s you’re only hang up…” Mayhem dropped a bundle of envelopes that were tied together with twine. “Her letters. She’s been writing incessantly. Every week it seems.”
“Oh…” Bedlam pulled the stack towards him, extracting one of the envelopes from its fellows. “W-wait a minute! These aren’t even opened! You haven’t read them?”
“Why would I read them. It’s not like I’m marrying the girl.”
Bedlam was too horrified to even rebuke him and instead ripped the envelope open and extracted a letter covered in swirled green ink.

My Dearest Mayhem,

I hope this letter finds you well. Since you haven’t written back to my previous thirteen epistles, I shall assume that you are ill. I myself have come down with a bit of a cough. Worry not, though, as Auntie Giselle is whipping up a concoction in our laboratory that she assures me will have me sorted out with the barest number of side effects.
The weather here has been balmy, and the Forest of Infinite Horrors has just begun to turn yellow and orange. It is truly a sight to behold. How is everything on the moor? I like to imagine that it gets rainy this time of year, but of course I don’t know.
I hope that you are keeping warm in the scarf I knit you—I hope you like orange and brown. Of course you like stripes, I assume?
Please write me back.

Love and Chaos,
Raina

Bedlam selected another letter at random, which read:

Dearest Mayhem

I am sending you a bit of scale-molt from my pet Wyrm, Sedgely (he has left sloughed-off scales all over the palace!). I have read that Lessarian goblins can extract magic from all sorts of things, and though I’m not sure if wyrms are magical, I thought you might like to try.
Do please write me back and tell me if you find the scales useful.

Love and Chaos,
Raina

“She sounds… nice,” Bedlam said noncommittally.
“She sounds human.”
“If you’ve never read her letters, how do you know what she sounds like?”
“I read her first one, and that was enough for me. ‘How are you?’ ‘I read about such and such a Catawampian custom’ ‘I asked a magician friend of mine how Lesserian magic works…’ Can you believe that? A magician friend? After they kicked us out of the Empire by stealing our magic?”
Bedlam was fairly certain that the historical facts were somewhat different than that, but didn’t think it would help Raina’s case to say so.
“Do you know that if I moved to Styx,” Mayhem went on, “I would be living only a few miles from the human capital? And I’ve heard that Styxians actually look like humans.”
“Well, everyone says we look like humans too…”
“I’ve heard they have tiny little nubbins for ears, and their teeth are barely sharp at all. And ‘Raina’? What kind of a name is that? A human one. And of course I’m the one saddled with her.”
Bedlam wanted to point out that Mayhem was in many respects less-than-goblinical himself. Even if he was a shining example of Lessarian beauty physically, no amount of piercings on his large batty ears nor spiky magenta hair upon his head could make up for the fact that he was not curious, not imaginative, and had stopped even trying to perform mechano-magical invention because he found it boring. It was true that once Mayhem had created some of Lesse’s Moor’s most innovative technology, but he had slipped into a creative slump for years, and found insulting or breaking Bedlam’s attempts to reinvigorate their family’s creative genius to be much more to his liking.
But Bedlam said none of this, because he knew that Mayhem would ignore him at best and ruin his specimens at worst. Mayhem had always been a bully, throwing his weight around, smashing inventions that didn’t turn out how he wanted, and generally going out of his way to be as unpleasant as possible. Bedlam himself had been eagerly awaiting his departure to Styx, when he could finally move out of this tiny low-ceilinged room and into Mayhem’s state-of-the-art, yet long underutilized workshop, where he could invent to his heart’s content. The moor had seen dwindling resources in recent years, due to several droughts and Catawampus’s overextending its industry, but Mayhem’s marriage to a Styxian was supposed to guarantee them raw materials for years to come. It would solve all of Bedlam’s problems at once.
But his eyes drifted from Mayhem’s sneer to Raina’s letters. There were so many of them. And she had sent that wyrm scale, and apparently knitted a scarf, though Bedlam had never seen Mayhem wearing one.
“What happened to the scarf?”
“What?”
“The scarf she knit you.”
“Ugh, did she? Well it’s probably in my room with the rest of the things she sent. I suppose you can have them, if you agree to marry her.”
Bedlam plucked a final letter from the pile, ripped it open.

Dear Mayhem,

Please write back. I’m starting to get ever so worried.

Love and Chaos,
Raina

The simplest thing would be to call the wedding off, spare Raina the headache of, as Mayhem himself put it, “being saddled” with such an awful husband. But then what would happen to the Moor? And besides that, what would happen to him, Bedlam, forced to scrounge in back alleys for the miniscule hope of finding a truly invention-worthy specimen and perhaps bring pride to the Lessarians once again… if he was even up to the task… if Mayhem didn’t break it once invented. In all likelihood, he would die before ever succeeding his father as potentate, obscure and unmissed, after hitting his head one too many times on the ceiling of his inadequately small workshop.
He crushed Raina’s letter in his hand.
“Well I… I can still invent things in Styx, I suppose.”
“Excellent!” his brother said, turning to leave. “She’ll be arriving any minute.”
“What?”
“The wedding is scheduled for this evening.”
“WHAT!”
“If you weren’t so focused on collecting mold spores or whatever it is you do all day, maybe you would have heard everyone talking about it. Hurry up. You’ve got to tell father that we’ve changed the plans.”

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠

“Do you suppose we’re getting close, Sedgely?” Raina asked, leaning out the window of her carriage. She was met with no reply. “I suppose we must be. That dark spot on the horizon looks promising.”
She squinted at the spot, which seemed vaguely rectangular, a good sign on the otherwise desolate and uncultivated moor. She and Sedgely, her pet wyrm, had been traveling for weeks, from Styx through Stuff, Nonsense, Rigmarole, and finally here, to Catawampus, in an effort to make it to the wedding on time. They were cutting it close, for Sedgely had had to carry the carriage across the bridge-less Babble River on his back, and had caught a cold, but after resting a few days, they were making good time.
Perhaps too good. Raina couldn’t stop her heart from fluttering, in nervous anticipation of meeting her betrothed. She hoped that at their meeting, their eyes would lock and she would forget to breathe, or that the world would shift ever so slightly, or that, upon grasping his hands, she would feel a sort of electric zap, all of which—if her human-penned novels concerning romance were any indication—would be very good signs. After that, however, she didn’t know what to expect, as her knowledge of marriage itself was largely theoretical, if not completely academic. Her mother had died laying her egg, leaving her father a life-long widower, and her self-professed Maiden Aunt was no help either. Thus she had resorted to studying books lent to her from her human friends that she had met when giving a lecture at the Academy, but they all focused on the meeting and courtship, and had shortsightedly forgotten the actual marriage part of the relationship, occasionally jotting it in as a footnote at the end.
The courtship, for her part, was all taken care of, handled largely by Aunt Giselle and Mayhem’s father. The meeting part was soon to take place, so she brushed her hair up into a bun, leaving just enough sticking out to look alluringly spiky, then donned her best dress—her wedding gown, she thought with a flutter—in the hopes of making a good first impression. For the marriage part, well, she would just have to wait and see.
Finished with her appearance, Raina sat back, opened her journal, and gazed out the window, contemplating what she might tell her aunt about Catawampus. Since Giselle was tied up with military matters and could not attend the wedding, Raina had promised to keep a detailed log of the journey, arrival, and ceremony so that her aunt would not feel left out. Unfortunately, due to severe near-sightedness, most of her notes thus far consisted of vague, largely color-focused descriptions about the blurry landscapes she had traveled through.
Catawampus is much greyer and wetter than Rigmarole, she wrote. I noticed several large, brown objects as we entered the country, and as they bounded away at Sedgely’s approach, I can only assume they were the famed spade-nosed hogs that inhabit the region… though they might have been very large tumbleweeds. The bushes here are also rather large and brown… and prone to looking from afar like spade-nosed hogs.
“Hmm…” she said, tapping her pencil on her chin. There wasn’t much else to say about their surroundings. It was all rather bleak, but that seemed impolite to say about one’s future spouse’s homeland, and she thought it might be nice to show Mayhem the notes about her journey.
I think we are just coming to the settlement now. I can see what are likely little wooden huts, and colorful things in the air. Flags? They’re flags! They must have strung them up for the wedding!
With that, she closed her journal and leaned out the window, causing the carriage to wobble dangerously. They were now in the village proper, with bleached grey buildings on both sides, all seeming to hover just above the ground, though when Raina squinted, she saw they were on stilts. Overhead there hung rows of square, colorful flags and a number of glass lanterns, giving the otherwise grungy village an air of festivity.
As Sedgely came to a halt, Raina opened the door and stepped out onto the packed dirt street. Several dark skinned, large-eared goblins sat on a nearby porch, knitting together a fishing net.
“Hello,” Raina called. “Could you direct me to the home of the Potentate and his son?”
One of them jutted her chin across the street, and she turned to see a wide plaza, on the other side of which was a larger, two-storied hut.
“Thank you,” she said, and proceeded towards the place. Like all the other structures, it was encircled by a covered porch hung with lanterns and nets. Beside the open door leaned a tall goblin in red leather, who was whittling a block of wood. He didn’t seem to notice her for a moment—though it was hard to tell, as his face was not much more than a blur—but then muttered something that sounded curiously like, “dodged a bullet.”
“I’m sorry?” Raina said.
“You’re Raina,” he said, not clarifying his last comment. “Go on in. They’re expecting you.”
“Ah, um, right. Thank you.”
She gave him a nod and entered the house, but was fairly sure she heard the man snort as she walked by.

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠

“And you are absolutely positive this is what you want?” Bedlam’s father, Racket, asked. “As the oldest, it is Mayhem’s responsibility…”
“And since when has Mayhem ever been responsible?”
“So he is forcing you into this?”
“I didn’t say that… I’ve made my decision.”
“It’s most peculiar. I don’t know what Raina will say about it.”
“Oh… Right. What are we going to tell her, anyway?”
“Hmm, well now, we could go the honest route, but she may take Mayhem’s rejection of her as a mighty insult and want nothing more to do with us, leaving the entire moor in a lurch. On the other much more duplicitous but reasonable hand, we could just say that you were the one she was supposed to marry all along. She has not met a single one of us, her aunt and I having arranged the whole affair via correspondence, so it’s not as if she’s formed much of an attachment to Mayhem rather than you. She needs a willing and eligible bachelor of somewhat noble rank, and we need someone with connections to minerals, animals, and other necessary materials. That’s how these royal weddings occur.”
“But didn’t you and mother grow up next to each other, and hunt eels together, and play house together as children?”
“That was an anomaly.”
“But didn’t grandmother—.”
“The moor was much more full of natural resources then, and we were not in such dire straits. This is a wedding of convenience no matter how you slice it, and you and Mayhem are equally convenient to Raina. Still, if your heart’s not in it, there’s time to back out and make Mayhem do his primogenitive duty.”
“No. Getting resources isn’t worth doing that to some unsuspecting girl.”
It was with a strange feeling that Bedlam awaited the arrival of his bride. He was staring into a gaping unknown: marriage to a woman he had never met, life in Styx, and leaving his father to contend with Mayhem on his own. Yet his decision also meant freedom, not just for him, but also for the unfortunate Raina, who had, through some awful twist of fate, narrowly missed marrying one of the worst goblins since Havoc the Slayer.
He and his father got into position in the audience chamber, which consisted of a polished wooden floor with a raised platform for the potentate—Racket—to sit on. Due to the auspicious occasion of the wedding, Bedlam sat on this platform beside his father, then started to count the minutes until Raina showed up. He hadn’t had time to dress particularly formally and still wore the somewhat tattered leather coat he’d thrown on that morning. At least he had seen fit to remove his mud-caked boots before entering the audience chamber, but since one of his striped socks had a large hole in the toe, he still felt underdressed for the occasion. To try and take his mind off this, and the ticking of the clock, and his father’s increasingly furrowed brow, he started to consider what Raina might be like. Would she have small nubbin-y ears like a human? Would she have an accent? Did he have an accent but never realized it? What if she asked about her scarf, and her letters (only a few of which he had read, given the time allotment), and discovered Mayhem’s betrayal? He went back to contemplating the ticking of the clock.
Seven minutes and twenty-three seconds passed before a figure appeared silhouetted in the doorframe. It stopped for a moment, said something, then walked to the foot of the platform and bowed.
“I’m Raina Cacoethes of Styx.”
The woman certainly looked different from the vast majority of Catawampians he had seen, but she had at least a slight resemblance in physique to his fellow Lessarian goblins, even if her short stature and milky pale skin reminded him somewhat of a sickly child. Her ears, though certainly tiny in comparison to his own, were still long and pointed, and he was pleased to see that her hair was a healthy green.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mayhem,” she said, straightening up and smiling so much that her eyes looked like two crescent moons.
Racket cleared his throat and Bedlam skooched forward on the platform.
“Ah,” Bedlam began, “Well, you see, Mayhem is my brother. I’m actually, er… the one you’re going to be marrying.”
Raina squinted hard, as if she were trying to see right through him, until her eyes and mouth flew open at once—revealing them to be yellow and slitted as a moor snake’s and endowed with fang-like canines, respectively.
“I’m so sorry!” she cried, holding a hand over her mouth. “No wonder you never wrote back. I’ve been writing to your brother the whole time.”
“On the contrary, the fault is entirely Mayhem’s. He should have written and told you as soon as receiving the first letter.”
“Yes,” she agreed, then twiddled her thumbs, looked left and right, and finally said, “So, you’re…”
“Bedlam.”
“I’m so sorry, Bedlam.”
“It’s our fault.”
“Still…”
“Not at all…”
“Right.”
She went back to squinting at him and Bedlam went back to focusing on the ticking of the clock and thankfully Racket stepped in to save them both, though it was only a temporary reprieve.
“Why don’t you get Raina something to eat and show her your workshop,” he suggested. “Everyone has been preparing for the wedding all day, so neither of you have to worry about anything… but each other. Getting to know each other.”
“I am famished,” Raina said, and followed Bedlam first to the kitchen, which was small, smoky, and filled with pots and pans, where he grabbed a skewered eel for each of them, and then out over a rope bridge that hung just over the muddy ground, and into the Potentate’s residence, which was full of springs, gears, bird’s feathers, and other sundries. Raina only got a passing glance of these before Bedlam led her up a narrow flight of stairs and into his low-ceilinged workshop.
“It’s lovely,” Raina said quietly, between bites of eel. “It reminds me of my dear late father’s laboratory. He liked to tinker a bit, but with chemicals, not machines. He died as he lived… blowing things up.”
“We should all be so lucky,” Bedlam said earnestly.
“Yes,” Raina said, then nodded and glanced around the room.
The silence was filled up by a few skitters from the lizards and insects in the cages on the specimen wall, and the distant sound of people talking outside.
“Um, I got your wyrm scale-molt,” he said.”
“Oh, good. Did you use it on anything?”
“No. Er, b-because wyrm scales aren’t magical, so…”
“Oh.”
“But even if they were, I would need to know how it works. The magic, that is”
“Ah.”
This “ah” sounded very slightly intrigued, so he continued.
“Magical plants or animals, and even some minerals with magical properties… we sort of take those, and… well… imbue their magic into our inventions. I’ve been trying it with these weirder specimens, since we lack so many resources…”
Raina looked down at her intertwined fingers. “Since they lacked resources” was the only reason that he was marrying her, and the stigma of being Styxian was likely why she had agreed to it. Still, he wondered how she felt about coming all this way, after months of silence, only to discover that she was not, in fact, marrying her own fiancé, but his at-this-moment-seemingly-uninteresting brother.
“So…” he said. “That’s mechano-magical invention in a nutshell. What about you?”
“Me?”
“What sort of things are you interested in.”
“Oh, well, a bit of everything I suppose. Cooking, music, geopolitics… At the moment I’m quite taken with portmanteaus.”
“Portmanteaus?”
“You know, when you smoosh two words together, like how chuckle and snort would become snuckle.”
“Or chortle.”
“I suppose,” she said, sounding politely patronizing and not at all as if she thought this were a proper portmanteau. “Smoke and fog would be smog, mechanical and magical would be mechagical, and I suppose ‘Bedlam Less’ would become ‘Bless’.” She glanced up at him for one second before returning her eyes to her hands. “I’ve taken to doing it to all sorts of words.”
“Ah.”
“Hmm.”
Their conversation had come to another dead end. If Mayhem had given him any sort of heads up, he at least would have been able to read her letters and have some concept of what she might like to talk about. He tried to recall some minute detail from the few he had actually seen, and vaguely recalled something about an aunt
“Um, is your aunt coming?” he said, hoping that the “something” in the letter was not news of her early death.
“I’m afraid she’s tied up with legal matters at the moment. She wanted to accompany me, of course, and seemed quite worried about me going alone, especially given the lack of letters from your brother.”
“Right.”
“But I’m sure we’ll have a laugh over that when we return to Styx, though Auntie may declare war on the moor for a little while until we talk her out of it.”
“Is she prone to declaring war due to, uh, that sort of thing?”
“Oh, yes. That’s actually what’s keeping her so busy at present. We’d contacted one of the princes of Bombast about, well, something or other last year and he hadn’t replied, but it turns out that he had actually been passing our letter around as something of a joke. When Auntie got wind of it, she declared war on Bombast and has been plotting an invasion. I like to think that it was Auntie whom they were thinking of when the term ‘battle-axe’ was coined, though in recent years, she has begun favoring the sword… Why, Bedlam, you’re looking a bit pale.”
“I’ve just been a bit under the weather,” he said, envisioning his own demise at the hands of his soon-to-be Aunt Giselle.
“Have you been wearing my scarf? They say a scarf can stave off any illness, if it’s knitted by someone you… l-l-lo—”
“I think it’s around here somewhere,” he said, coming to her rescue. “But the place is a bit of a mess.”
Raina nodded earnestly, looking relieved that she didn’t need to say that she actually loved him. So she was nervous about all this too, Bedlam thought. That somehow made things easier, and his frantic thoughts cleared slightly.
“Ah, you made that for me, or well, Mayhem, but… you made it for us, so I have something for you, too,” he said, removing the string around his neck.
Raina narrowed her eyes at it, for it seemed to be weighted down with nothing.
“It’s an invisible pocket watch” he explained proudly. “The first of its kind. I made it using a phantasmal jellyfish.”
She slipped it around her own neck, then followed the string to the watch itself, running her fingers over it. She seemed enchanted by it, but then asked the question that Bedlam had heard all too often.
“What does it do?”
“Uh, at the moment? Not much.”
Raina pursed her lips as a trumpet sounded from outside, signaling that they should prepare for the ceremony.
“We better get going,” he said, gesturing for her to follow. She lightly touched his hand as she followed him out, whispering.
“I shall treasure it always.”
Bedlam grimaced.

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠

Before Raina knew it, she and Bedlam sat two feet apart, facing each other on a raised platform in a plaza outside the potentate’s residence. It seemed the entire moor had shown up for the momentous occasion, for there was a blur of orange and brown faces all around them, lit by the glow of the lanterns overhead. A shaman from Mount Rigmarole sat beside them, waiting to preside over the ceremony as Racket and Mayhem looked on from either side.
“Let’s see,” the shaman said, adjusting his spectacles with nubby, scaly fingers. “Water has been boiled. Have you brought the tea?”
“It’s in the chest on top of my carriage,” Raina said, turning to Racket, who gestured for someone in the crowd to go fetch it.
“And as for the scarf, is there one you had in mind?”
Scarf-binding was an important wedding tradition, and Raina knew many families that passed down their wedding scarf from generation to generation, so she expected that Bedlam might want to use his familial scarf. Still, her secret hope was fulfilled when Bedlam told Mayhem to go find the one she had knitted for him.
“Oh my, that old thing,” Raina said, hoping that she was blushing prettily, though that was harder to do on cue than she had bargained for.
“Then that settles just about everything,” the shaman said. “As soon as your brother returns, we shall begin.”
“Let’s start without him,” Bedlam said eagerly.
The Shaman looked to Racket to double check, shrugged, and cleared his throat.
“Then let us begin. First, the traditional juggling of tea pots.”
Bedlam hopped off the platform to receive two pots from someone in the crowd, which he began juggling with some amount of skill. Raina was quite pleased by this, as dropping the pots right off the bat was considered a bad omen for the marriage. Another person in the crowd handed Bedlam a pot, then another, until he had five going at once. The beginning of this tradition was lost to the ages, as was the reason for the bride’s not taking part in it—Giselle had theorized that over the years, female goblins had simply refused to be bothered—but it was still everyone’s favorite part of the ceremony, due to the traditions that had grown out of it.
It was said that the number of tea pots one could keep aloft represented the number of children the couple would have, though several famous goblin statisticians had endeavored to prove otherwise. Another tradition held that the pattern on the final pot kept aloft meant something about what sort of marriage the couple would have, though no one could ever quite agree on how to interpret this sign.
Either way, Raina looked on with pride as her groom continued to juggle the now seven pots in the air.
“Look on these pots,” the shaman said, “pots of clay, able to withstand great temperatures, but also fragile. Such is marriage to those who come to it with selfish desires, flighty spirits, or divided heart. I now ask thee, Bedlam Less and Raina Cacoethes of Styx, are you prepared to accept any children hatched under your roof, and raise them with the love they deserve?”
“I-I am,” they stuttered in unison, Bedlam dropping two of the pots and Raina bringing her hand bashfully to her mouth.
“And are you prepared, as you follow the often-time chaotic path of marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?”
“I am.”
“And,” the shaman said, pushing his spectacles up his snout, “have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?”
“I do,” Raina said, as the remaining five pots smashed on the ground.
Every eye was on Bedlam, who cringed before the crowd. The shaman cleared his throat as someone in the crowd handed Bedlam the traditional replacement tea pot that was ready for all potentially clumsy grooms. Still, he was silent, staring at the shards of pottery around his feet.
“Don’t worry, dear,” Raina said, “my father dropped his very first tea pot, and his marriage turned out all right.”
Bedlam returned to the platform and faced her, tea pot in hand. It was hard to tell his expression, given her near-sightedness, but she thought he looked mortified by what had happened.
“Please go on,” Raina said to the shaman, hoping that would help get Bedlam over his embarrassment.
“R-right, well, er… the tea.”
Racket slid forward a tin which had on it a seven-petalled flower. Raina had actually brought an entire chest of tea, which had been added to large pots throughout the crowd during the tea pot juggling. Though the bride and groom would share a cup of covenantal tea, the rest of the crowd had their own cups, as a way of sharing in the couple’s happiness.
Raina opened the tin and added a generous amount of leaves to the pot, to which Bedlam added boiling water from a kettle that had been prepared for him. She noticed that his hands were shaking, and she suddenly felt a surge of affection for him. Even though she had experienced none of the love-at-first sight signs described in her human romances—though that was likely due to her poor eyesight—and knew that this was a political marriage, she felt sure that it could grow to be something more.
Just as this tea has been boiled, steaming hot,” the shaman said, “let this couple’s love for each other grow stronger over time.”
And never bitter, Raina thought to herself, knowing that unlike the herbal or fungal tea that most goblins were accustomed to, certain varieties of human tea turned nigh unpalatable if steeped too long. She had chosen this variety specifically because it retained its strong flavor without the bitter side-effects of other varieties.
“Let their marriage bind them together and surround them with happiness, just as this scarf shall bind and encircle them.”
Bedlam reached for her right hand with his left and the Shaman began wrapping her scarf—which Mayhem must have returned with without her noticing—around their hands and forearms, finally tying it into a tight knot that would not be undone until after the marriage dinner.
The shaman poured a single cup of tea and handed it to her.
“Raina Cacoethes of Styx, do you take Bedlam Lesse to be your husband, to have and to hold, to love and to honor, in order and chaos, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” she said, taking a sip, then handed the cup to Bedlam.
“Bedlam Lesse, do you take Raina Cacoethes of Styx to be your wife, to have and to hold, to love and to honor, in order and chaos, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, as long as you both shall live?”
After a few seconds, Bedlam cleared his throat and declared, “I do,” and took a sip, as did everyone else in attendance.
“It’s good!” Bedlam exclaimed in shock. Others murmured in agreement, their surprise stemming from the fact that most goblin teas were so foul that they were only consumed for ceremonial purposes (and were then often quickly spit out).
“It’s from Camelia,” Raina said proudly, “a human principality famous for their fine teas.”
From behind Bedlam, Raina heard what could only be described as a snuckle… or perhaps a chortle, she thought, as a concession to her new husband.
“I shall have to look into ordering some for future ceremonies,” the Shaman said, draining his own cup. “Ah, but where were we. You do, and you do.” He nodded to each of them. “In which case, I now pronounce you goblin and wife. Let’s eat!”
Everyone cheered, for all goblin weddings were immediately followed by a feast, and people throughout the crowd produced baskets full of fried fish, cooked mushrooms, seaweed-filled breads, braised cactus, and a number of cakes, which were all passed around with gusto. Raina and Bedlam, who were still tied together with the scarf, sat and waited as people piled food on a plate that sat between them.
The two of them ate quietly, each casting a glance at each other from time to time, until the shaman, who had helped himself to another cup of tea said, “No need to be so quiet. This is your wedding, after all. No need to act like perfect strangers.”
“Right,” Bedlam said, sounding dazed.
“That’s right,” Mayhem said from over his shoulder. “Maybe you should kiss the bride? I hear that’s traditional at human ceremonies.”
“Not at all of them,” Raina said lightly, waiving a hand in the air. “Humans do lots of different things. Exchanging rings, dancing, throwing each other about on chairs—it’s quite fun.”
“You’d know,” Mayhem mumbled, and Raina wasn’t sure what he meant, though she had a sneaking suspicion, but now hardly seemed like the time to confront him about it.
“One more boring order of business,” Racket said, laying a piece of paper before the newlyweds. “Just the marriage contract. Oh, Bandersnatch!”
He knocked the half-full covenantal tea cup over and onto the contract, soaking half of it, then tried to dab it with his sleeve, only to tear the paper.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said. “Well, it’s not like we need to be able to read Bedlam’s printed name, as his signature will do. Once it’s dry, of course. But it looks like your portion made it out unscathed. If you would…?”
“Of course,” Raina said, taking the pen that he offered her in her free hand and scrawling a messy signature on the line under her name.
Mayhem chortled once more, and Raina lost her polite, high-pitched tone of voice, speaking in a much lower, flatter, and altogether more hostile tone.
“Something you wanna say?”
“You’re right-handed.”
“Yeah… Yes,” she said, trying to be polite again. “I realize that the idea of binding the bride’s right hand to the grooms left is to give her an advantage when signing the contract, but, yes, I am right-handed. I suppose that makes Bedlam and I equally disadvantaged. I don’t see why it’s something to laugh about.”
“Sorry, it’s just that I heard that most humans are right handed, unlike goblins, and, well, you know what they say about Styxians.”
“I do know what they say, and it isn’t true. We have never intermarried with humans. I don’t think we even could. And anyway… well… I don’t think that my being right-handed has anything to do with how goblinical I am, if that’s what you’re implying.”
He said nothing, but she was fairly sure that a sneer had come over his face, so she continued.
“Look, Mayhem, I think we’re getting off on the wrong foot. I can understand why you might be upset by my misunderstanding about you and Bedlam, but it was just that: a misunderstanding. Can’t we put it behind us, as siblings-in-law?”
“I’m not upset by it.”
“Oh, well… I mean, you aren’t, um, disappointed then, are you? If that’s what you’re angry about, well… There are plenty of fish in the sea.”
With this, Mayhem let out a guffaw, or a bellow, or perhaps a guffellow, but whatever it was was loud and unpleasant and brought every eye in the crowd to the main platform.
“You think I’m jealous of Bedlam, especially for marrying a you? Man, you must really be delusional. I. Dodged. A. Bullet.”
“What do you mean?” Raina said, glancing from Mayhem to Bedlam for moral support, and found her husband slicing his hand across his neck in a would-you-please-cut-it-out-now-before-you-ruin-everything gesture—directed at Mayhem.
“What’s he talking about, dear? What’s going on?”
“Don’t mind Mayhem,” Racket said, sliding his hand towards the marriage contract. “He’s just the black dodo of the family, always taking nonsense.”
His fingers reached the paper just as Raina snatched it up, glared at him, and carefully straightened out the soggy, ripped portion to see what it was he didn’t want her to.
“M-Mayhem? Mayhem’s name is printed here. Bedlam?” He had become consumed in the buckles of one of his boots. “Racket?” The potentate winced and shrugged. Finally, she looked back at Mayhem, and crushed the contract in her hand.
You.”

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠

Before Bedlam knew what was happening, Raina had leapt up, wrenching his still-scarf-bound arm up painfully, and was pointing an accusatory finger at his brother.
“What is the meaning of this, Mayhem.” she said. “Were you my actual betrothed?”
“Why do you care? You’re married now, aren’t you?”
“Yes, well… you didn’t answer my question!”
“Sure, I was betrothed to you. So what? I don’t think Styx goblins can afford to be picky when it comes to choosing nobles to marry. The way I heard it, I was the twenty-second person you contacted, begging for an alliance marriage.”
Whether that was true or not, Bedlam didn’t know, but the words had the effect that he was sure Mayhem intended. Raina’s face sank, so that her expression was obscured by her long green bangs; all he could see was one of her sharp canines biting into her lip.
“Raina,” he began, reaching his free hand toward her. Then Mayhem went in for the kill.
“When you’ve got that many rejections, I don’t think it makes a difference if you marry number twenty-two or twenty-three.”
With a snarl and a sound like electricity, Raina seemed to unsheathe a glowing yellow blade from the air in front of her. Holding this energy spell out before her, so that her furious glare was illuminated by the glow, she spoke in a low, flat voice.
“Mayhem Lesse, you have impugned my honor. I challenge you to a duel to the death.”
“For real?” he smirked.
“TO THE DEATH!” she cried, leaping at Mayhem and landing a strike on his ear. She had been aiming for his face, but dragging Bedlam along the table, upending the plate of food as they went had slowed her down enough for Mayhem to dodge.
“Hold on!” Bedlam cried, managing to stand while dodging Raina’s backswings—she was still aiming for Mayhem, who had fallen over and was crawling backwards across the platform, clutching his ear.
“Stay out of it or you’re next,” she growled, landing a hit on Mayhem’s ankle as he fell off the platform.
“I can’t!” He yanked on the scarf to emphasize this fact, causing Raina to fall backwards. “Listen, we can talk about this,” he said, hastily untying them.
“Never!” she cried, grabbing a handful of cutlery.
She jumped to the ground before Bedlam could stop her, and was already throwing spoons and forks at his brother as he tried to make it to the edge of the plaza, where the Lesserian goblins looked on in horror and amazement. By the time Bedlam was close enough to grab her, she had already leapt on Mayhem and held her final piece of cutlery, a knife, to his throat. Bedlam stopped in his tracks.
“I could kill you right now,” she said. “A duel to the death is a duel to the death.”
Mayhem carefully nodded, swallowed, and cringed as his Adam’s apple moved across the blade.
“However,” Raina said, “I do not wish to have fratr-in-law-icide on my conscience. Thus, I will spare your life. But!” She added when he started to stand, “I claim Lesse’s Moor as my prize, as the entire potentifical family was complicit in this duplicity. However, I shall return to Styx and inform the queen what has occurred here. Perhaps I shall stay in Styx, perhaps I shall return to rule over the Moor. Either way, know that you live and die at my pleasure. Bedlam!”
“Yes?” He said, snapping to attention.
“Fetch my wyrm and carriage. We leave tonight.”
“We… er… you mean…?”
“I mean we! Never mind what else. Let’s just get out of here,” she said, letting Mayhem stand, grasping Bedlam by the arm, and marching out of the lantern-lit plaza and away from the awe-struck crowd.




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