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

January 4, 2018

Love and Chaos: The Third Duel to the Death


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





Part 1

Part 2

Read on Wattpad
or under the break




♠♦♣♥♣♦♠



Raina and Bedlam had spent the first part of their journey in silence, each listening for the flap of bat wings or the motors of Gremlin ships or the buzz of their boat’s small propeller. After the better part of an hour, they came to the conclusion that that their plan had worked and they were not being followed and each took a breath.
“So,” Bedlam asked, feeling around in in the basket of invisible food. “How long do you think it will take us to get to Styx?”
“Hmm…” Raina took a bite of the invisapple Bedlam handed her (she was pleased to note that its taste was unaffected by its lack of appearance) and squinted out across the water. “It would normally take a few days to sail between Greml and Styx, but that’s in a normal ship. It’s a bit hard to tell how fast we’re going without any point of reference. Can you see a shoreline or anything?”
“It’s too dark,” Bedlam said, then pulled a flat brown object from the floor of the boat. “But, um, well… maybe you’d want to take a look?”
“Oh, not glasses again.”
“Just… try them on. Just once.”
“Well, I suppose there’s no one around for miles…”
“And I promise, they won’t make you look like a bureaucrat.”
Or a human, she wished he had added, but she supposed there was no helping that. She took the glasses, which had a folded cloth around them, and unwrapped them, uttering an involuntary, “Oh!”
“So… what do you think?”
“Where in the world did you get them?” She ran her fingers across the edge of each of the green lenses, which were fashioned to look like narrow scalene triangles.
“I had one of the Gremlin glassblowers make them. I wasn’t sure how thick they should be, but we could always make another pair in Styx… I mean, if you like them.”
Raina did like them, so much so that she was rendered momentarily speechless. They were so sharp and peculiar and, more than anything, had been made just for her. She put them on, not even caring if she looked human or not, and saw a crystal clear, green-tinted Bedlam running his hand nervously over his hair.
“Don’t look at me,” he said with a shrug, pointing up. “That’s much more impressive.”
Raina tilted her head up and saw, for the first time in years, stars. From horizon to horizon, the sky was filled with pinpricks of chartreuse light, and a green crescent moon.
For several minutes, she sat in silence, staring up as the sea gently rocked their boat back and forth.
“It’s lovely,” she finally said.
“So you’ll wear them?”
“Of course I will, Bedlam. They’re wonderful!”
“Well, I… I hadn’t really given you anything before, and, well, you know…”
“What about the invisiwatch?”
“I meant, anything that does something.”
“It doesn’t need to do anything.” She rubbed her thumb across the surface of the watch, feeling the soft tick it gave off. “I like it because you made it.”
It was Bedlam’s turn to be speechless. He seemed to have a slightly dazed expression, but since Raina wasn’t used to seeing people clearly, she wasn’t quite sure. After a moment, he instead donned a lopsided grin.
“Well, I… I can make a lot more things when we get to Styx.”
“Quite,” she said, readjusting her glasses.
“Assuming your Aunt Giselle will, uh, let me stay.”
“After rescuing me from Greml? I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t.”

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠


“Do you accept the terms of this arrangement?” Giselle said, peering down the black blade of her sword to where its tip rested, just under the chin of one of Bombast’s princes.
“Do I have a choice?” he said, begrudgingly scratching his name onto the peace treaty.
Satisfied, Giselle moved onto the next prince and repositioned her sword.
“You all have a choice,” she said, airily. “You can accept the terms of this arrangement… or die.”
“And let our country burn,” said the Bombastian as he placed his signature under those of his four brothers.
“Don’t be so dramatic. Nothing was burning. Crumbling, perhaps. Washing away, surely. But we don’t have the power to conjure fire from nowhere.” She rolled up the treaty and tapped it against her chin. “Although I suppose Weatherby could draw a volcano in the middle of your capital city. Hmm…”
The five Bombastians cringed at the thought of what Styx’s mapmaker, Weatherby Monsters, could do simply by sketching it on the page. They had firsthand knowledge of his ability to change the tides and the weather by redirecting rivers, moving mountains, and literally giving Styx the high ground. None of them shared Giselle’s uncertainty about the ability to add volcanoes to the mix.
“Ah, well,” she finally said, waving her hand at them. “You may all depart my presence, as I have other matters to attend to.”
“Probably making war on someone else,” one of them muttered.
“Why, yes, actually. But I doubt they’ll be given the opportunity to repent.”
When the Bombastians had taken their leave and begun the march back to the border—Giselle had insisted they make the journey out to the middle of the Wastes on foot—she pushed the papers on her war table around until she found the two letters. Both smelled strongly of bat, gunpowder, and sea air, so that part, at least, was authentic, but the rest was an absolute load of hogwash.
The first letter had been found in Raina’s wyrm drawn carriage, which had arrived out of nowhere one morning at Styx Castle. The worm showed signs of having been caught in a net, and the carriage itself was empty, save for some unfinished knitting and the letter, from one Gutlap Bleggart, who claimed to be holding Raina and her newlywed husband on Greml for an obscenely large ransom. This was already suspicious enough, as Raina and Mayhem’s path was nowhere near the coast, but what destroyed any chance of this story’s credibility was the other letter.
This had actually arrived slightly earlier than the one brought by the wyrm, in the regular post, but it was brought out to her war tent in the Wastes along with the other.
The writer of this letter claimed to be named Bedlam Lesse, claimed to have been kidnapped by Gremlins, and claimed to be trying to rescue Raina from a similar fate. The writer specifically asked that Giselle not come help them. Giselle had no clue who Bedlam was—if that name was even real—but she highly suspected that both letters were a ploy to buy time when Raina did not arrive as planned. This of course meant that something terrible had happened to her darling niece—likely at the hands of the Lesserians, but for what purpose, she knew not—and they were attempting to cover it up, apparently thinking that she, Giselle Logorrhea of Styx, had been hatched yesterday.
She crushed the letters in her fist before turning to see Weatherby running towards her through the row of interlinked tents that made up her encampment.
“Ah, Weatherby, just the man I wanted to see.”
“Your Majesty, about the Lesserians—”
“Now, I know you said you can only control the geography within Styx itself…” She smirked; the Bombastian’s didn’t know that, and had completely fallen for her volcano story. “…but surely we can give ourselves some advantage. Mines full of steel for tanks? Bigger trees in the forest, with which to fashion catapults?”
“Who would make them, Your Majesty?” Weatherby asked, exasperated. He had sworn off any more drastic, climate-altering changes once the Bombastians had called for surrender, saying it was far too precarious a thing for a mapmaker to toy with. “The weird weather patterns have addled the brains of everyone in Styx, never mind scaring away all the fish and bats. A populace reduced to subsisting on mushrooms and roots isn’t likely to want to build a bunch of war machines and then traipse halfway across Ataxia on the off chance the heir is in danger.”
“Well, you’re no fun at all.”
And anyway, they’re already here.”
“Who?”
“The Lesserian Potentate and his son. They’re waiting in the entrance tent. That’s what I came to tell you.”
“And Raina?” Gizelle asked quietly.
“She’s not with them.”
“I see.”
She stuffed the crumpled letters into her shirt, grabbed her black-bladed sword, and swept past Weatherby and out of the war tent.

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠


When Raina had attacked Mayhem and then dragged Bedlam away, there had been a general confusion amongst the Lesserians about what to do next. The first order of business was to explain the entire situation to the wedding guests and the bewildered shaman. After allowing everyone to have their say—which included a great many epithets, vulgarities, and threats (especially from the shaman!)—they finally asked everyone in attendance for advice. The general consensus was that, having buttered their bread, they could sleep in it, and that whatever happened to the Potentate’s family was brought onto their own heads. Still, the Lesserians generally liked Bedlam—and those that didn’t, liked his inventions, superfluous as they were—and so, after several days of turning their nose up whenever Mayhem or Racket walked by, there were mutterings of maybe trying to go rescue Bedlam and beg forgiveness. Racket agreed, and, after tiring of the dirty looks he kept getting, Mayhem did too.
Thus, they took the waterways in an attempt to catch up to Raina’s wyrm-drawn carriage, but saw no sign of it all the way to Styx. It was when they crossed the border into Stuff that they first started to have misgivings about their plan. The news in every inn and tavern was that Styx had made war on Bombast, and was winning handily. What was the reason for the war, the Lesserians asked. To defend the honor of the Styxian queen’s most adored niece.
It was with increasingly heavy hearts that they took the ferry from Nonsense over into Styx. They asked the ferryman where they might find the Queen and her niece, and were directed from there to head to the Wastes, where the queen had set up her “War Tent”.
Thus, they found themselves under a violently purple canopy, awaiting an audience with the queen.
“If Bedlam’s in there, he can give us an indication of the queen’s feelings,” Racket said, sitting stoically in the center of the tent, trying to picture it as his own meeting chamber (though it was quite a bit more dusty).
“Assuming they haven’t locked him away in Styx Castle’s dungeon,” Mayhem said, pulling at a loose thread of the tent. “Or murdered him on the side of the road. I wouldn’t put it past that Styxian.”
He rubbed his ear, which still had a mark on it from where Raina had walloped him, as five goblins walked past them, shaggy heads hung low.
“Is the, er, queen ready for another audience?” Racket asked.
“Audience?” one of the goblins said, a crazed look in his eye. “You can’t have an audience with a monster like that. It’s like asking for a meeting with a earthquake. And she sent one, too! And a rockslide! I saw it! She changed the Styxian peaks of the Rodomontade Mountains on the Styxian border so they were upside down, and they fell into our peaks, and blocked the roads to our factories. And the next day, they just redrew the mountains, and did it again!”
One of his fellows laid a paw on his shoulder, trying to calm him, and led him away, leaving Racket and Mayhem to contemplate his words.
“He’s just off his rocker,” Mayhem said, fidgeting with the tread more vehemently.
“I don’t know… I have heard rumors about the Styxian queen’s bellicosity.”
“She can’t change mountains, though.”
“Maybe...” Racket sighed. “Though I don’t recall there being a canal between Styx and Nonsense. And there is supposedly some sort of mask they have with strange powers. You shouldn’t have tangled with such a dangerous family, Mayhem.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know their family had all these powers?”
“Because you were marrying into it!"
“Well, if you’re so smart, then why didn’t you make me?
“I tried! That was the whole point of the alliance marriage. You were the one who wanted to call it off!”
“And you were the one who let me, and who let Bedlam trick the girl."
"Only because I thought we could get away with it!”
“Well, well, well,” the Styxian queen said, walking into the tent at the most inopportune time.
Mayhem and Racket vaguely registered that she looked like Raina, though was much taller and had dark blue hair, but they noticed little else as all their attention was on the hilt of the sword that she was drawing as she walked toward them.

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠


Raina and Bedlam managed to get a few hours of sleep due to the calm water between Styx and Greml, but the light of the morning sun woke them too early for either of their liking. Thankfully, by the time they had finished their invisible breakfast, they could see a thin line of grey on the horizon: land.
A few hours later and they could clearly make out a solid, thirty-foot-tall wall that spread out across most of the shoreline.
“I didn’t know Styx had a wall.”
“It doesn’t. What has Auntie been getting up to?”
“Is there a way around it?” Bedlam asked, eager to stretch his legs.
“Hmm… it looks like there might be something over there. Point us that way, if you would.”
Bedlam readjusted the propeller and they sped to an enormous metal grate that seemed to be the only point of entry.
“Who goes there?” someone called down at them. Looking up, they saw the flat, fleshy face and two squinty eyes of a bugbear.
“A policebug!” Raina said, though Bedlam wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. “Hello, there! It’s me, Raina Cacoethes of Styx!”
“Your Highness?” the bugbear said. “We’ve been on high alert for you for days! But how—Ah, never mind. Open the gates!” he called, and the grate slowly rose enough to let their boat through into a narrow paved aqueduct, where they were met by several more bugbears, each with his segmented shell covered in spiked armor.
“What’s going on?” Raina asked.
“We’re at war, your Highness, with Bombast. Your aunt ordered all law enforcement to wear this studded armor so we would look a bit more imposing.”
“Law enforcement?” Bedlam asked, fearing that the bureaucrats might have infiltrated Styxian culture.
“They’re like city guards or watchmen,” Raina explained, then turned back to the bugbear. “I’m not talking about your armor—though I must admit, it’s quite fetching—I mean this wall. Did Weatherby draw it?”
“Your aunt made him, your Highness, lest Bombast try to attack by sea. But never mind all that. Her Majesty has been worried sick about you; she’ll want to see you right away.”
“So she will. To Styx Castle, then?”
“She’s not at the castle. She’s set a sort of base of operations in the Wastes, since it’s easier to view the Rodomontade Mountain Range from there and assess how much damage is being done. I’ve heard that we expect a surrender within the week.”
“Mmm…”
“What’s wrong?” Bedlam asked, understanding little of the discussion, but getting the general idea that, hopefully, Aunt Giselle would have her hands too busy to care much about him.
“Well, the Wastes are ever so much farther than the castle, and I really wanted Auntie to mee—well, that is, I wanted to be able to explain everything properly to her.
“Say no more, your Highness,” the policebug said. “The queen has asked that we begin instituting wyrm travel in the case of invasion. I have one tied up and ready to fly.”
“Wonderful!” Raina said. “Ready to meet my dear aunt, Bedlam?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he said, brushing his hand through his hair.

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠


Mayhem and Racket stood facing Giselle in the open air; the queen had demanded they speak to each other outside the tent, and they—persuaded by her black bladed sword at their backs—were happy to comply. Yet as they walked further from the tent, their surrounding became bleaker—and with the Wastes of Styx, that was saying something. When Raina finally demanded they stop and face her, they found themselves in an open area between huge hills of garbage, unremarkable except for a post with four signs saying That WayThis WayWhich Way?and Here! Eddies of red dust flew in the air between them, and the queen’s eyes narrowed.
“So…” she said, “what did you do to my darling niece?”
They both assumed that Raina had already told Giselle all about the debacle at the wedding, but the fact that she was now offering them a chance to tell their side of the story seemed to be a good omen. Perhaps the humans had had a calming influence on the Styxian Queen after all.
“It’s a bit complicated,” Racket began, but stopped when Giselle raised her sword. She stood ten feet way from him, but he was sure she could close the distance if provoked.
“Let me simplify it,” Mayhem said, stepping forward. “Upon reading your niece’s letters, Bedlam decided that he would like to marry her instead of me. That’s all.”
“Mhmm.” The queen sounded unconvinced, but lowered her sword a bit. “And who, exactly, is this Bedlam?”
Mayhem sneered, but Racket pushed past him.
“You mean you… Didn’t he come back with Raina? Great chaos! She really did murder him!”
“Who?”
“Raina.”
“Someone murdered Raina?” The queen hissed, and for a moment, they saw her hands crackle with the light of the Styxian energy spell before she canceled it.
“No, Raina murdered Bedlam.”
“Who the deuce is Bedlam!”
“My son!”
“Mayhem’s your son.”
“My other son, the one your daughter left for dead on the side of the road somewhere.”
“And how exactly would you know about that?” Giselle asked. “Have you been in contact with Raina?”
“No, not since the wedding, where, I’ll have you know, she attacked Mayhem.”
“And why would she do that? What contemptable behavior did he exhibit that would provoke my darling niece into violence?”
Racket and Mayhem glanced at each other. Could it be that Raina had not told the queen about their scheme? Had she perhaps returned to her aunt saying simply that the marriage was off, in order to save face. It might even be that she had spared Bedlam’s life in exchange for his silence on the matter. Perhaps they could salvage this situation after all.
“Forgive me, your Majesty,” Racket said, rubbing his hands together. “I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot. If we could just, er, speak with Raina for a moment.”
“Would that you could.” She turned her back to them, giving a momentary reprieve from her glare. The sword, also, was hidden from view. “What was it you were saying to each other back in my war tent? Something about getting away with tricking Raina?”
Racket “erred” and “ummed” for a moment, but Mayhem, once again, stepped in—what he lacked in tact and manners, he at least made up for in confidence.
“Nothing important. It was some stupid practical joke or something.”
“Mhmm… And that joke is the reason why Raina has not returned to Styx?”
“Not returned?” Racket asked. “Then you haven’t heard from either of them? But why?”
“Maybe thy eloped,” Mayhem offered.
“But they were already married.”
“Or maybe they are being held for ransom,” Giselle said with a dismissive “hmph”. “Or maybe they aren’t. Each story your family tells becomes more and more ridiculous than the last. All I know is, I sent my darling niece to your moor so that she could marry your son, Mayhem, and that now, her wyrm has returned with an empty carriage. It shows signs of having been caught in a net, you know?”
“The carriage?”
“The wyrm. Don’t Lesserians use nets?”
“For fish, but not… Wait, you don’t think we had anything to do with their disappearance?”
“Disappearance?” They caught sight of the queen’s slit-pupil eye as she glanced over her shoulder at them. “Not ‘delay’? Why is it you think they aren’t coming back?”
“Well, I mean… we don’t know where they are, so…”
“So I am left to assume that your family has done something awful to my niece.”
“No!” Racket said, but Mayhem cried, “It’s Bedlam’s fault!”
“That it may be.” Giselle turned to face them, sword before her, with eyes full of murderous intent. “Or perhaps there is no such person as Bedlam. The only sure thing is that my darling niece was in your care for the wedding—you said as much—and that she has not been seen since. Your family—Mayhem, Racket, or even this Bedlam—are responsible, and I demand satisfaction. In blood!”
She dashed at Mayhem, who tripped backwards, saving him from being skewered but costing him a slice to his ear.
     “What is wrong with this family?” he whimpered, pressing his hand to his wound.
Giselle went for another attack, but Racket threw himself around, managing to pin her arms so Mayhem could run for cover, which unfortunately, given their surroundings, amounted to the wooden signpost.
“I don’t care about you, old man,” she cried, throwing Racket off, “but if you keep me from my quarry, you’ll be next.”
 “Try to be rational!” he cried, falling to the ground and grabbing at her ankles, but she floated out of his grasp. For a moment she hovered in the air, steadying her blade in Mayhem’s direction, then gave a roar and charged. Her attack was only stopped by the sudden appearance of a great blue wyrm that stomped down into her path.
“Auntie, stop!” Raina called, hopping from the creature’s back.
“Raina!”
Giselle ran to her niece, throwing her arms around her and pulling her into a rib crushing hug before releasing her with a gasp.
“Raina, dear, that’s not your blood, is it?”
“No, Auntie, I’m fine,” Raina wheezed.
“There, see,” Mayhem said from behind the signpost. “She’s alive. Satisfied?”
Giselle released Raina and focused her sights on Bedlam, who had dismounted the worm and was attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible by standing perfectly still.
“I didn’t say I thought she was dead. I said I hold your family responsible for her late return. And you are the one responsible, are you not, Bedlam? Or should I say ‘Gutlap Bleggart’?”
“I, er… eh?” Bedlam stuttered out.
“My sweet Raina has been missing for weeks, and yet your name keeps appearing here and there, in conversation, in your family’s lies, and on suspicious letters. And I. Demand. Satisfaction.”

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠


The next thing Bedlam knew, black steel was swinging toward his face. He just had time to duck and see it rake across the wyrm’s scales above his head. The offended creature gave a shriek and flew away, leaving Bedlam at the mercy of Raina’s maiden aunt.
“Auntie! Bedlam is the one who rescued me! Don’t hurt him.”
“He’s the one who tricked you, you mean. They all admitted it, Raina.” She gestured at each of the Lesserians with her weapon, and Bedlam took the opportunity to scuttle backwards away from her.
“No! Well, yes, I suppose, at first, but Bedlam was just trying to protect me from his wretched brother.”
“Hey!” Mayhem protested.
“And anyway, I already bested him in a duel to the death and claimed Lesse’s Moor as my prize.”
“And yet he lives,” she said, advancing on Bedlam.
“I meant I bested Mayhem in the duel. Bedlam is the one who rescued me from Gremlins. That’s where all this blood came from.”
“You killed Gremlins?”
“They killed us,” Bedlam said. By this point, he had reached his brother’s hiding spot, but Mayhem ran away, assuming that it was safer to stay as far from Giselle’s new target as possible.
“More lies!” Giselle yelled, but Raina grabbed her hand.
“Auntie, listen. We faked our own deaths so the Gremlins wouldn’t follow us, and then Bedlam used my magic to build a propelboat to get us here as soon as possible. He’s been a perfect gentleman this whole time and, unlike Mayhem, is undeserving of your wrath.”
“That may well be true,” Giselle said, though she sounded skeptical, “but what no one has yet been able to explain, is why on earth you and Bedlam were together in the first place.”
“I already told you,” Mayhem said, “Bedlam decided to marry Raina instead.”
“But only because Mayhem wouldn’t,” Bedlam said, stepping out from behind the signpost. Despite the danger of it all, it seemed that there were several dozen misunderstandings flying about, and the more they could clear up, the less bloodthirsty Giselle might become. “But one of us had to, because we needed resources, and well… I had rather it be me than Mayhem.”
This did nothing to assuage Giselle’s wrath, as Bedlam had hoped, but instead made her tighten her grip on her hilt.
“So you think you can just switch around alliance marriages like seats at a tea party? You can just cast my niece off to the lowest bidder?”
“He was forced into it,” Raina said.
“A fine story that will be. That on their wedding day, grooms refuse to wed their Styxian brides. That the Styxian royal family can only obtain spouses by force. We’ll be the laughingstock of Ataxia unless we make an example of all of them.”
“But Auntie!”
“This is a matter of Styxian honor. They tricked you and toyed with you and got you kidnapped—”
“That’s not fair.”
“—and I demand the satisfaction of knowing that all people will remember the Lesserian potentifical family for is their messy end brought on by trying to pull one over on the royal family.”
“But…”
“Styx’s honor is at stake, Raina. Never forget what our family has given up in the name of Styx’s honor.”
For a moment, something passed across Raina’s face that Bedlam could barely understand. Styxians had endured centuries of ridicule and blame, and though his own family was now on the outs in Catawampus, Duplicity Jinx had once been a national hero. The Styxians had never been respected by anyone but the humans, and even there, Bedlam knew there must be some small seed of resentment in Raina’s heart. But maybe, here and now, things could start to change.
“Rai—” he began to say, but then noticed that she had taken the sword from her aunt and was walking toward him.
“Let me be the one to do it, Auntie. It’s my honor at stake.”
“R-Raina?”
“I challenge you, Bedlam Lesse, to a duel to the death!”
“Raina!”
She ran at him, and before he could think of how to react, had slashed across the front of his coat, splattering the leftover bat blood everywhere. Racket screamed, Mayhem gasped, and Giselle merely raised an eyebrow.
Bedlam stood there, stunned, and Raina glanced from him to the ground several times in an obvious effort to get him to play dead.
“I’m fine,” he called to his father, then slipped out of his coat and dropped it on the ground.
“Not for long!”
She stabbed his chest, but, he noticed, was careful to hit just to the left of where Gutlap’s bullet had hit.
“This isn’t a real duel,” he said, taking a step back and addressing Giselle. “She’s trying to trick you.”
“Bedlam!”
“Why hide it, Raina? You don’t want to kill me, and I don’t want to just slink back to Lesse’s Moor and forget about you.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Raina said, shaking her fist in the air. “We don’t care about each other in the slightest. The only thing between us was our not-short-lived-enough sharriage.”
“That’s not true and you portmantknow it.”
She blushed, but her eyes flicked back to her aunt, who appeared unmoved by this revelation. She took a breath, smiled sadly at Bedlam, and shook her head, then delivered a series of attacks that Bedlam had to almost dance to avoid.
“Concede defeat, you bandersnatch.”
“Never! Because we’re not really dueling!”
“Liar!” she screamed, conjuring her energy spell and hitting it into Bedlam’s stomach.
He went sprawling onto his back, and she placed one foot on his chest, holding the tip of her sword over his throat.
“Concede!” she said again, then whispered, “Please concede… Auntie will never forgive a slight on Styx’s honor.”
He gazed into her eyes and saw misery magnified by the green lenses he’d made for her. He took a breath.
“I concede.”
“Then I shall spare your miserable life, though it’s more than you deserve. Let no one say Styxians aren’t merciful!”
She shouted it loud enough for her aunt to hear, then sheathed her blade, allowed him to sit up, and offered him her hand up. He took it, but rather than standing, adjusted so that he was down on one knee.
“Raina Cacoethes of Styx, I challenge you to a marriage to the death.”
“A marriage…”
“To the death.”
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Giselle said, marching towards them.
“Listen, Raina, if Styx’s honor is at stake, why can’t we preserve it together? Let the world know that a descendant of Duplicity Jinx freely chose to marry the heir of Styx.”
“But…” Raina said, glancing around. “But…”
“I love Styx! I don’t care what anyone else says. The forest, and the animals, and your magical inventiveness: it all sounds amazing. And most of all, I love Styx… because you’re in it.”
By this time, Giselle had reached them, but rather than grabbing her sword and finishing Bedlam off or simply stomping him to death—both equally realistic scenarios, in Bedlam’s opinion—she laid a hand on her niece’s shoulder and studied her face, and her tear-brimmed eyes, and her smile.
“Your terms?” Giselle said, peering down at Bedlam.
“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 we both shall live.”
“Well, Raina? Do you accept?”
“I do, Auntie.”
“Hmm… Well, then, I suppose I shall have to allow it. Can’t have it getting out that we’re the cowardly sort who refuse such things. We have a reputation to uphold. But you” she said, walking over to Mayhem and Racket as Raina helped Bedlam up, “still owe us the moor, if what Raina said earlier was to be believed.”
“O-of course,” Racket said. “Not that there’s much there, but…”
“Then we shall send some resources,” Raina said, as Bedlam slipped his hand around her waist, “so long as they are used in mechanomagical invention. I can’t have the place falling into stagnation before I start ruling it.”
“And when will that be?” Mayhem asked, his sneer back in place now that he was unlikely to be murdered.
“Whenever I get tired of ruling Styx after Auntie.”
“So not for a good long while,” Giselle said, taking her sword from Raina and finally sheathing it. “In the meantime, we must have a wedding ceremony in Styx Castle, the likes of which Ataxia has never seen.”
“We should invite Pilganton,” Raina said.
“Who?”
“This guard who was so supportive of us in Greml. I’m sure he’ll be happy to know we weren’t really blown up.”
“Yeah,” Bedlam said, “but the foremen won’t be.”
“Auntie can just go to war with them if they try anything. But enough about that. I can’t wait to show you the castle.”
“And your father’s laboratory, and the forest, and—”
“There will be plenty of time to see all of it. We’ll have our entire legitarried lives, after all.”
“Legitarried?” Giselle asked.
“Legitimately married,” Bedlam explained, pulling Raina in for a kiss.

♠♦♣♥♣♦♠

 Thend

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