“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.”
The wheels of the wyrm-drawn carriage crunched over the gravel path, drawing Bedlam further and further toward an unknown future.
It had been an hour since they had left his hometown, Raina practically dragging him to the carriage, and so far they had not said one word to each other. Raina lay sideways on the seat across from him, facing into the back cushion, so that he could not tell if she was crying, fuming, or plotting his death in the most painful manner, all of which seemed equally likely, given what had transpired at their wedding feast. Bedlam, for his part, had decided not to try striking up a conversation, because any topics worth discussing seemed likely to result in injury.
When Bedlam had previously thought about Styxians—which was a rare phenomenon on the moor—he had assumed that living next to a continent of weak and pacifistic humans would have dampened any goblins natural bellicose tendencies, but in Raina’s case, it appeared to have instead given her an Empire-sized chip on her shoulder that manifested in unbridled rage. Ordinarily, any goblin would be honored to marry such a woman, but sitting across from her, after she had nearly dispatched his brother, was nerve-racking, especially now, as she sat up, turned, and glared at Bedlam as if he were next on her hit list.
“I have been contemplating your family’s act of duplicity,” she said evenly. “It seems like a rather ill-thought-out plan on all your parts, but if I’m to explain things properly to my Maiden Aunt, I must understand how it all came about. Explain.”
Bedlam weighed what to say next. Lies may have worked during their brief, hour long engagement, but now that she knew the truth about the situation, he’d have to come clean.
“We needed resources.”
“Well,” she scoffed, “you’re out of luck there. We won’t be giving you so much as a rusty can from the Wastes.”
“But… but the whole point of getting married—”
“We did not get married, Bedlam. I went to the moor to marry my agreed-upon betrothed, not some… interloper who couldn’t be bothered to at least change the marriage contract so as not to give away his deception. That whole ceremony was a sham. A sham ceremony for a sham marriage… a sheremony for what I am certain is an invalid non-union. And this nonion of ours—if we can even call anything ‘ours’—will be declared invalid when we get to Styx. Auntie has studied up on marriage law, you know? When you—or your brother, rather—never wrote me back, she was convinced something was amiss with the engagement. And to think, I thought she was being silly.”
Having spent the first part of their journey in silence, it seemed that Raina was now making up for lost time, which spared Bedlam the trouble of trying to find the least dangerous reply to what she was saying.
“I’ve been thinking it all over,” she continued, “and there’s no way it will hold up. First, there is the matter of the marriage contract itself. One cannot just cross off one name and write another, nor sign for a name which isn’t theirs. The very idea is laughable. Secondly, as far as our countries are concerned, the arrangement was resources in exchange for the hand of the first born son, not the second. I was just going to waive that fact when I thought the error was on our end, but now it shall become one more arrow in my quiver of invalidating evidence. So there’s the contract and your non-primogeniture, and… hmm…”
She counted on her index and ring fingers just to be sure, but had clearly run out of reasons.
“I’m sure Auntie will be able to come up with more. It’s totally invalid. I’m ninety percent sure. And even if it isn’t, it’s surely dissolvable, all things considered. I mean, it’s not as if we’ve… you know… done anything… un-take-backable,” she mumbled, then snapped, “and we aren’t going to!”
She glared at him as if he had been about to suggest that they should. He felt it was wiser—not to mention safer—at this juncture to stay silent instead of informing her that that particular aspect of married bliss had been the farthest from his mind.
“Once we get to Styx, you shall explain your role in your family’s plot and Auntie shall take the proper legal channels, but first you’re going to explain it to me. I think I deserve that much.”
She crossed her arms, squinting down her nose at him.
She did, indeed, deserve an explanation, but Bedlam was sure that anything he said would be useless. She’d understandably made up her mind to hate him, which meant—if her assessment of the legal matters was correct—that the marriage was off, and that the moor would be left destitute. Even through the gloom of the night outside, Bedlam could see the flat, grassy expanse of Catawampus rolling past them, devoid of almost any magical flora or fauna thanks to the straits the moor found itself in.
“We… really did need resources,” he said lamely, turning back to Raina.
“So you have said, but that explains nothing. If you were so hard up, Mayhem simply could have married me as he had promised.”
“Right… Well, Mayhem backed out of it because… um… well, you’re Styxian, so…”
She balled her hand into a fist, and said, through gritted teeth, “So?”
“So he thought—I mean I don’t agree with him or anything—but he thought that meant you wouldn’t make a very good wife, since you… you know, live so close… to the…”
He trailed off, as her other hand had also transformed into a fist, doubling the likelihood of his being punched.
“Well,” Raina said, “I’m sorry you all find us Styxians so terribly humane. I shall endeavor in the future to prove otherwise. But getting back to the matter at hand, Bedlam, what exactly was in it for you?”
“Yes, you. Your wretched moor would have gotten what you wanted whether I married you or your brother, and yet you were the one who did the deed. What did you get out of this exchange? Prestige? Prowess? Some dark deal struck between you and Mayhem in the shadows of twilight?”
“Uh… I don’t really…”
“What I am asking is, why did you want to marry me?”
“I… I… didn’t,” he admitted, and certain that she really was gearing up to do him bodily harm, added, “Mayhem made me!”
Raina sat back, genuinely shocked. She even unballed her fists a little.
“Made you? How?”
“He started by ruining some of my specimens, and he probably would have moved on to my inventions from there. He’s always been like that. He just showed up this morning, telling me I had to switch places with him.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry for lying to you, but you really have to understand that by not marrying Mayhem, you’re the one who dodged a bullet. After spending my whole life with him, I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone else.”
“Still, I’m sorry… about all of this.”
Raina opened her mouth to say something else, but took a deep breath and closed it, then proceeded to stare out the window, her snake-pupil eyes wide, her green eyebrows furrowed. She absent-mindedly fiddled with the invisible watch between her fingers for a moment, then finally said, “Um, I, uh, I really ought to let Sedgely rest for the night, so…”
“Right! There should be some boulders up ahead that we can camp next to.”
She nodded, opened the carriage door, and floated out to direct her wyrm. It was not until the carriage came to a halt ten minutes later that she returned, looking into the window, upside-down, from the top of the carriage.
“I think this will do. Have a look.”
Bedlam stepped out onto the ground as Raina floated down next to him, trunk in hand. She had already loosed Sedgely from his harness, and he had curled up against some of the round, mossy boulders that surrounded them, thin streams of smoke coming from his snout.
“Um, Bedlam…” Raina said, setting her trunk on the ground. “I… I’m sorry.”
“For your having to marry me.”
“Oh… well… I’m sorry you had to marry me.”
“And… sorry about accusing you of all those things.”
“At least some of them were true, so…”
“True. Hmm… I suppose we’ve just had the first fight of our sharriage.”
This was an especially weak portmanteau, but as there was no real point to bringing that to her attention, Bedlam let it slide. Raina had unpacked a sleeping bag and pillow from her trunk and already snuggled down into it before lurching back up.
“Oh, my! We didn’t bring your luggage!”
“I didn’t have any packed,” Bedlm said, removing his leather coat and throwing it over himself, “but it’s all right for now. I’m used to sleeping out here like this from my specimen hunts. Plus, it’s pretty warm next to Sedgely.”
“But don’t you want a pillow?”
“I still have this,” he said, pulling out her scarf from one of his pockets; he had managed to untie it and shove it in there while being dragged away from the reception. “If it’s all right with you?”
Raina seemed shocked to see it again, but nodded her approval. He wadded it up under his head while Raina cocooned herself in her sleeping bag once more.
Aside from Sedgely’s body heat and Raina’s soft breathing nearby, Bedlam felt just as he had when scrounging up magical creatures and minerals. The starry sky above was endless, and the winds of the moor seemed to sing of possibilities and untapped potential. Though he had no idea what was going to happen in Styx, especially if the queen was as dangerous as Raina described her, Bedlam was at least free from Mayhem for as many weeks as it would take to sort everything out. Maybe even longer…
“Bedlam?” Raina said suddenly.
“If you really didn’t want to marry me… if you were forced into it, why didn’t you say something when the shaman asked if you had reservations? If you were coming at it wholeheartedly and such?”
“I did… or I didn’t… I just panicked and dropped all those tea pots.”
“Well, that settles it, doesn’t it? If you didn’t actually agree to it, then it’s certainly not a valid union. Just a sharriage.”
“Anyway, goodnight, Bedlam.”
“Goodnight, Raina,” he said, and stared up at the stars.
The next morning was filled with somewhat stilted pleasantries, as Raina started a fire to brew some Camellia tea, Sedgely wandered off to hunt, and Bedlam offered to go scrounge up something to eat, returning shortly with an armful of mushrooms and a large, dead lizard.
“That was fast,” Raina said, pouring him a cup of tea as he skewered his findings and stuck them over the fire.
“I’ve been here dozens of times. It’s easier to live off the land than bring a lot of stuff with you, especially when you’re trying to collect a lot more stuff as you go.”
“Hmm,” she said, taking a sip. “Magical stuff?”
“How can you tell if something is magical or not?”
“You can’t; not until you try to do something with it. It takes a lot of experimentation with unknown materials, but with common things—singing crystals, curse mushrooms, things like that—everyone knows how their magic works so it’s easier to imbue it into objects.”
“Hmm. So all those specimens in your room…?”
“I wasn’t sure what was magical and what wasn’t. It’s fairly easy to tell if something is glowing bright orange in the middle of the night, but with other things, it might just be a matter of poking and prodding and coaxing something magical out. You never know when the next great discovery might happen. After all, it was centuries before anyone knew that humans were magical, and when they finally discovered it, it ended up changing everything between the Empire and Ataxia.”
“True, though they of course had help,” Raina said proudly. She knew that other goblins viewed Styx’s hand in training humans in the magical arts as a great insult, but she, for one, felt pride in being part of the family that had unlocked such a vast amount of magic. Not only had the alliance with the Empire proved to be a huge boon for their country economically, it also prevented other goblins from constantly traipsing across their border, willy-nilly, in order to play tricks on the humans, since most goblins wanted nothing to do with the now magic-wielding Empire.
“So you’ve actually seen one, right, a human?” Bedlam asked.
“I’ve seen hundreds. I’ve even been to the Empire.”
Bedlam made an impressed noise, which pleased her. Apparently, he did not share his wretched brother’s misplaced disgust at her southern neighbors.
“That’s across the Forest of Infinite Horrors, right?” he asked, getting an excited glint in his eye. “I’ve heard about that place. It’s crawling with magical creatures! Wil-o-wisps, grudges, screaming serpents—with animals like that, I could bring the moor back to its Golden Age of mechano-magical invention!”
He grinned widely at her, then ran his hand through his spiky pink hair.
“Or, well, I mean…”
“I suppose I could let you have a couple of creatures,” she said, “once we sort all this out.”
“Why not? It’s not as if you were completely committed to your family’s plot, and the forest really is brimming with the things. That’s where I found Sedgely, you know?”
She jutted her chin at the wyrm, who had made his return and stood obediently in front of the carriage, waiting to be hooked up to his harness.
“He’d been in a fight with something or other and had a badly tattered wing. I nursed him back to health, but he still can’t fly, poor thing. Speaking of which…” She floated up to the wyrm’s long neck and fastened the harness around it. “You know your way around this place. Is there any bridge across the Babble River? Sedgely almost drowned trying to cross it; he was laid up in bed for a week.”
“If we head east of here, to where the Hubbub, Babble, and Hogwash meet, at Caterwaul Junction, there’s a whole slew of bridges. It’s a little out of our way, though.”
“Well, then, we’d best get going. I’m all packed, and you, well…”
“All packed,” he said, looping the scarf around his neck and tossing the end over his shoulder.
The journey to Caterwaul Junction became less and less awkward as the days passed. Nights were spent camping outside or lodging at one of the rickety inns scattered across Catawampus’s stark landscape (the term “roughing it” applied more to these establishments than the evenings under the stars), and days were spent cooped up in the carriage, where there was not much to do besides talk.
Raina had plenty to say about her upbringing in Styx, from her childhood spent playing beside her father as he worked in his laboratory to meeting her first magician to attempting to study politics alongside her maiden aunt. Bedlam regaled her with explanations of mechano-magical theory, which she found quite fascinating, as it reminded her not only of her father’s experiments, but of the trial and error method with which the human students at Melieh’s Academy went about learning the ways of magic. In the midst of these forays into magic and science, Bedlam seemed to forget the disadvantage brought on by his family situation and their own ersatz marriage and became swept up in the moment, leaning forward in in his seat to explain something to her while punctuating his statements with animated movements of his hands. Raina had read human novels about mad scientists, but they never captured quite how endearing such madness could be.
Along with their own experiences, they swapped stories about the larger world of their respective countries. Bedlam brought up peculiarities of Catawampian living that boggled Raina’s mind—the terrifying, rule-obsessed, bureaucrats with whom he had had to contend when filing for mechanical patents, or the Labyrinth of Infinite Knowledge, a huge library wherein he had studied the clockwork mechanisms of Din and the combustible formulas of Greml—while seeming impressed by the most ordinary aspects of Styx: the hedge maze in the garden that had been bred, rather than enchanted, to respond to the royal family’s commands; the network of kitchens, catacombs, and dungeons that lay under the castle; and the mountains of discarded rubbish that Styxians dumped into the Wastes. According to Bedlam, Lesserians used and reused items until they virtually disintegrated, then burned the remnants for warmth on winter nights.
By the time they arrived at Caterwaul Junction—called such because of the roar of the three rivers which met there—they had become friendly enough to again broach the subject of their sharriage (as Raina insisted on calling it).
“So were you really rejected twenty-two times?” Bedlam asked, as they crossed one of several stone bridges stretching between the tower-like islands that had been carved by the rushing Hogwash and Hubbub Rivers.
“Twenty-one, before Mayhem,” Raina admitted. “The Bombastian Prince even made a national joke of our letter to him, passing it around all their towns for a bit of a laugh. That’s why Auntie was so adamant about going to war with them. Most of the other countries simply ignored us, and Din and the K’nic-k’nack tribe were at least polite enough to write back and refuse.”
“Sorry,” Bedlam said, as he often did when they discussed anything concerning marriage.
“I should have expected as much. My father faced dozens of rejections in his youth. Luckily, he eventually discovered a very distant cousin living in the Forest of Infinite Horrors—the last of the Styxian Forest Clan—and married her.”
“What I want to know,” Bedlam said, “is why you were so set on marrying royalty. My family’s never cared about that.”
“At any other time period, I wouldn’t, but Auntie Giselle and I are the last of the Styx royal family, at least with any connection to the country—everyone else moved away generations ago. And though my aunt is in perfect health, she won’t be around forever, and I… Well, I’m not sure I can run the country all by myself.”
“But you’ve studied politics.”
“Studying and real life are not always the same, Bedlam. What if I have to wage war? Or if there were a rebellion, or an earthquake? I need someone by my side who has experience in such things, who has my back.”
“I don’t think a Lesserian could help you there,” Bedlam said, scratching his head. “We’ve managed to squander what little political power we had, and it’s been hundreds of years since any of us fought in battle. And anyway, I think you’ll do fine on your own, if that spell you used on Mayhem is any indication.”
“You mean this?” she said, summoning a small glowing ball of energy between her hands. It hummed softly, occasionally giving off a crackle. “Despite its looks, it’s really not that dangerous.”
“But you cut Mayhem’s ear with it at the reception.”
“No, I smacked his ear with it. This spell can bludgeon well enough, but not slice. It makes a handy shield…” She pulled her hands apart, making her spell into a wide yellow disk, before letting it fizzle out and disappear. “…but that’s about it. Not to mention that it’s incredibly draining, like taking all of the magic inside you and pulling it out.”
“Even so, given your performance at the reception, I think any country would be crazy to try and attack you.”
“Why, thank you, Bedlam!” she said, blushing at the compliment.
The bridges of Caterwaul Junction led gradually down into a sandy canyon through which the Babble River flowed. Raina had become absorbed in knitting a pair of wing-warmers for Sedgely, while Bedlam eagerly leaned out the carriage window, as this was the farthest south he had ever been.
“Nothing much yet,” he said, disappointed.
He had taken to insisting that they stop whenever they passed something with even the remotest magical potential, and had amassed a pile of oddities on the seat beside him. Raina was grateful that the sparse canyon had put a few hour’s end to their stop-and-start journey.
“Why don’t you try eking out some magic from the things you’ve already collected, dear?”
He leaned back into the body of the carriage and appeared to be looking at her, though it was hard to tell, as his face was mostly just a blur of orange and pink above his brown coat.
“Uh… nothing,” he said, and leaned back out the window.
She wondered what had gotten into him, if it perhaps was something she said. After a moment’s thought, she dropped her knitting needles in embarrassment, but hoped he hadn’t noticed.
“I, uh, I call everyone dear, after a while,” she explained. “And since we’re friends now, I just thought… I mean, we are friends, right Bedlam? Bedlam?”
“Stop the carriage!”
She called for Sedgely to do so, sighing in relief and exasperation as Bedlam hopped out the door.
“What is it this time?” she called.
“I don’t know. A new species? Some kind of gem? Maybe a… oh. It’s just money.”
“Ooh! Where from?” She joined him, bending over to inspect the pile of coins gathered on the sand. “I’ve taken up coin collecting in my free time, you know?”
“It has gears on it. Must be from Greml.”
“Greml? This far north?”
No sooner had she spoken these words than an orange flare soared over their heads, and twenty real live Gremlins rappelled down from the canyon walls above them; one actually popped up from the ground below their feet and grabbed hold of Bedlam’s legs. He kicked him off—Gremlins were only a few feet tall, and this one had the disadvantage of spitting sand out of his bulldog-like mouth—but was then jumped on by two more.
Raina summoned her energy spell and began swinging left and right to keep the wave of Gremlins at bay, but then something shot past her face. She turned to see a short blurry object get jumped on by Bedlam’s mass of brown and pink. Something rolled toward her, and she reached down to find it was a gun.
“Oh dear, I hope none of the rest of them have firearms!” She looked around, but couldn’t tell much except that they were surrounded. At least Sedgely seemed to be putting up a good fight, blasting flames at their attackers, several of whom were racing around on fire.
“Use your tail, dear,” she called to the wyrm.
“Use the gun!” Bedlam said.
He was grappling with at least three Gremlins, but was too far away to tell for sure. Raina aimed at the lot of them.
“Um, if you could just hold still for a bit,” she said, smacking another Gremlin away with her spell while trying to decide which brown shapes were part of Bedlam and which weren’t.
“Just shoot at the ones coming toward me!”
Sure enough, several other blurs were heading in his direction. One was at least standing still, so she fired directly at it, hearing a metallic ping as her bullet hit rock.
“Sorry, sorry,” she said, shooting a moving target this time, and was briefly horrified to see its head fly free while its body kept running before hearing Bedlam cry, “Why are you aiming for his hat? Aim for the head!”
“I thought I was,” she mumbled, trying to take aim once more before hearing a screech from her wyrm, who was flailing on the ground.
She ran to him, finding that he was encased in a net, his snout tied shut with a bola. “Hold on, I’ll get you out of there.”
She dropped the gun and placed her spell into an opening in the net and tried to widen it as much as possible, but rather than breaking at the strain, the rest of the net tightened around the wyrm, causing him to whimper in pain. Thinking that perhaps she could blow a hole in it instead, she reached toward her gun only to have it blasted away from her by someone else’s bullet.
“If you value your life,” a Gremiln said from atop Sedlegy’s back, “you better stop what you’re doing. Anti-dragon nets were specially designed by Gremlin technicians not to allow any escape.”
“He can’t fly,” Bedlam said from under a pile of Gremlins. “He’s no use to you.”
“No use? We’ll see about that. I think he might be able to deliver a message for us, if he knows his way home.”
“You leave him out of this,” Raina said. “Whatever this is, you… you… Who exactly are you, anyway?”
“Gutlap Bleggart,” the Gremlin said, hopping to the ground in front of her. He was the tallest of his band, but was still only three feet high. “Captain of the Greml Air Pirates.”
“Well… we don’t have any valuables, so if you’ll untie my wyrm and unhand Bedlam, we’ll just be on our way.”
“Oh, you’ve got valuables,” he said, pointing his blunderbuss into her face. “I’ll bet the Styxian heir will fetch a high ransom, as will her newly-wed husband.”
“Air pirates, my foot,” Raina huffed.
She and Bedlam had been tied up, back to back, and placed in a circular basket full of other loot that the Gremlins had stashed in the canyon. This basket was then attached via a network of harnesses to twenty giant bats, upon which the Gremlins rode to make the journey over the sea to Greml.
“Just because they happen to fly to and from their raids hardly makes them ‘air’ anything, or pirates, for that matter,” she continued. “Pirates attack ships, and we are not a ship. They’re nothing but common land bandits, or if you wanna get technical, landits.”
“True, but Gremlins have always aspired to build flying machines, so I suppose they just wanted to corner the market on the name and get ahead of the game, should they ever end up inventing a flying machine.”
“Well, that’s just stupid.”
“Hmm… On the bright side,” Bedlam mused, “I’ve always wanted to see Gremlin technology. I wouldn’t have chosen this particular means of getting there, but…”
“Technology? More like torture devices that tighten around defenseless wyrms, or broken guns that can’t shoot straight. If they had worked properly, we’d be riddled with bullets by now.”
“Speaking of which...,” Bedlam said, choosing his words carefully. “Might it be possible that you are, maybe, just the slightest, slightest bit near-sighted?”
He felt Raina go rigid behind him, but she did not reply.
“I ask because you actually hit a rock dead on, and you seemed to be aiming at it… though I was facing an onslaught of Gremlins at the time, so maybe I saw wrong… but then you took off that other gremlin’s hat like a pro…”
“I can see perfectly well, thank you. It was just their wretched guns that misfired, was all.”
“Hmm… So then, you can tell how many buckles that Gremlin riding on the gray bat—my right, your left—is wearing?”
After a moment, in which he felt certain that she was squinting with all her might, she said, “I suppose that really depends on how we define a buckle.”
“It doesn’t really matter, since he’s bare-foot.”
“Ohhhh, well if you meant that Gremlin you should have specified.”
“Okay, we’ll try something easier. How many piercings do I have?”
“You must be flattering yourself to think I would have noticed such an inconsequential detail about someone I barely know.”
“This morning you said we were friends, and anyway, we’ve been staring at each other for weeks in that carriage.”
“Hmph. I don’t recall how many piercings you have. Around five, I suppose.”
“Thirteen. What color are my eyes?”
“I—well that’s… What color are my eyes, if you’re so smart?”
“Yours are yellow. Wow, you really are blind.”
“I am not,” she said, bashing the back of her head into his.
“Ow! It’s not an insult. I’m just wondering why you don’t do something about it. Wear glasses or something.”
“I would sooner die.”
He heard nothing but the constant whir of bat wings around them for a moment, until Raina finally sighed, slumping over.
“They make me look very civilized and demure and, well…”
“Mmm…You won’t tell anyone will you?”
“Of course not,” he said, fairly certain that no one else would care.
They reached Greml by the dawn of the next day (the bats took a brief rest on a wooded island off the coast of Poppycock). Assuming that Raina couldn’t see a thing, and letting his enthusiasm get the better of him, Bedlam took to narrating their journey over the increasingly industrialized rock spires that made up the islands of Greml.
“There’re smoke stacks everywhere! And gears just sticking out from all over. I wonder if they do anything, like maybe keep the island from sinking? And is that—chaos’ sake! It’s a dragon furnace! They have an actual dragon-fire furnace for smelting!!”
“Do you think that’s a portmanteau, Bedlam? ‘Smelting’?”
“Well, it does involve melting, but I don’t know about… Agh!” he cried, as a propeller loosed itself from a contraption below—probably a failed prototype for a flying machine, for which Greml was famous—and careened past them, sending the bats into a panic that would have dumped them out of the basket if they hadn’t been tied down. The air pirates yelled at the Gremlins below to be more careful, and were met with much fist shaking and cursing and admonishments to not get in the way of progress.
Finally, Gutlap let off a flare from his blunderbuss and they began to descend into a large damp cavern, where the bats allowed themselves to be unharnessed—a long, cumbersome process performed by a crew of two-dozen Gremlins on walkways along the ceiling—before flying off to underground roosts. Bedlam and Raina where untied from each other, though their hands where still bound, and marched to a stone stairway spiraling up along the cavern wall.
Gutlap and several other pirates kept their guns trained on the captives the whole time, even when they entered an arena-like room surrounded by low metal walls, behind which were several rows of benches. The domed roof, like the walls, was made of riveted-together panels of brassy metal, with a single hole at the top letting in a cone of sunlight. The rest of the room was lit only by gas lamps and lanterns, so that it was difficult to see whether anyone was sitting in the bleachers, save for two Gremlins standing on a low balcony overlooking the arena.
“Foreman Snittany, Foreman Gull,” Gutlap said, addressing them with a salute, “I have brought you the spoils of my piratical ventures.”
“Let’s hope it’s better than last time,” Snittany said. She wore dozens of shining nuts, bolts, and gears on chains around her neck, and sported not one, but two pairs of goggles on her hat.
“Doesn’t look like loot,” said Gull, who was dressed similarly to Snittany, though he wore a single goggle—Bedlam supposed Raina would call it a monoggle—over one eye.
“The loot’s still in the cave below. These are prisoners, to be ransomed for a hefty sum from Styx.”
“But that one’s not Styxian.”
“He’s her husband. Should fetch the same ransom as her.”
“Excuse me,” Raina said, stepping forward to address the Gremlins on the balcony. “First of all, don’t talk about us like we aren’t even here. Secondly, Bedlam is not my husband— ”
“He’s not my fiancé, either. He’s nobody who will fetch any sort of ransom at all.”
“Hey!” Bedlam said, slightly offended, even though it was true. Raina raised an eyebrow at him, glanced briefly at her bound-together hands, then looked back to him. True, if he was worthless to them, they might just let him go.
“If the rumors flying around Poppycock and Catawampus are to be believed,” Gutlap said, scratching his chin with his trotter-like hand, “you’re the Lesserian potentate’s first son. Even if you aren’t married to this Styxian, surely your father will pay to get your freedom.”
“He would, if we had anything worth paying with. The moor has never been rich, and there’s been this drought recently, so even most of our mud has dried up…”
“I’ve heard they even live in wooden huts,” Gull said in a loud whisper to the other foreman, “and only build two stories high. Poor benighted savages.”
“In that case,” said the other, “you won’t be worth the food it would take to keep you. You’re free to go. Just don’t expect any help getting to the mainland.”
Looking disappointed, Gutlap cut Bedlam’s bonds and thrust his hand out to the side, gesturing towards the exit. Bedlam looked back at Raina, who was still bound. Even if she wanted him to leave, maybe to try and get help, it seemed like an especially raw deal, after being lied to and married to the wrong person and kidnapped, that she should also then be abandoned by her one companion.
“I’m not leaving without her,” he said, causing looks of wide-eyed surprise from both Raina and Gutlap.
“Then pay her ransom,” Snittany said, twirling one of her necklaces in her hand.
“I… uh, I only meant, I’ll stay here, in Greml, until her aunt pays the ransom. I’ve always wanted to visit your island, so…”
The foremen looked at each other and shrugged their stocky shoulders, but Gutlap was having none of it.
“Distinguished Foremen, are you seriously going to let him have free rein of the island? What if he tries to help her escape?”
“What? I would never! I couldn’t! There’s nothing magical here I could use for inventions.”
“Then there’s no point in you staying.”
“B-but Raina and I, I mean… we aren’t married but… but… we were trying to elope.”
The foremen leaned forward, clearly interested by this development, but, again, Gutlap was unimpressed. Raina was completely dumbfounded, so Bedlam continued.
“See, the rumors were true. Raina was supposed to marry the potentate’s first son, my brother, but when she came to the moor… we instantly fell in love and decided to run away together.” He tried to give her a reassuring grin, but was fairly sure it came across as more of a nervous grimace. “And that’s why Raina’s aunt will only pay for her ransom and not mine. We were on our way to Styx to plead our case when you all captured us. So even if you won’t let Raina go, I’m going to stay here with her.
The foremen beckoned Gutlap forward and leaned over the railing of their balcony to converse with him. There was much sneering, scoffing, and side-long glances from the pirate and intrigued glances from the other two, but since they had shifted into speaking the local language of Greml, Bedlam couldn’t tell what they had decided on until Gull straightened up.
“We may be piratically minded mechanical geniuses,” he said, “but even we are not so unfeeling as to get in the way of true love. You may stay here and visit the Styxian in her cell, but must provide for your own food and lodging. Should we find that you are trying to help her escape, you will be immediately executed.”
“Sounds good,” Bedlam said, giving them a thumbs up.
They were led up yet another stairway, this one made of iron, that led out of the arena and wrapped around the exterior of a large tower from which many large cages hung. Raina was relieved to find that she was not going to be kept in one of these—they appeared to already be inhabited by a number of halcyon birds—but instead in a cell inside one of the rooms of the tower. Though Gutlap had given strict orders to the Gremlin guarding them not to take his eyes off them, they begged him to have just one short moment alone.
“All right,” he grumbled, “just don’t get up to any funny business.”
He shut the door with a wink, and Raina could feel herself go scarlet.
“That was quite the story, Bedlam,” she said, sitting demurely on the floor of her cell and looking down her nose at him through the bars.
“Well, I didn’t want to leave you here to wait all alone.”
“Wait? Whatever for?”
“Your aunt to pay the ransom.”
“There will be no ransom! Styx does not negotiate with landits, and while I’m sure Auntie would spring into action at a moment’s notice to retrieve me and rain down death on this island, she’s likely still tied up with the war in Bombast. No, you are going to rescue me.”
“What? But they said if I try, I’ll be executed.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s your duty as my… shusband to protect my honor, especially after claiming that we were eloping! You will write to my auntie and tell her to delay payment at all costs, no matter what Greml says, and that you have the situation firmly in hand.”
“But I don’t!”
“We’ll worry about that later. Besides, aren’t Lesserians supposed to be mechanical geniuses? Surely you can find something on this island to devise some sort of—”
The guard knocked and she fell silent, hoping that Bedlam would not let her down.
The following day, Raina requested that the Gremlins bring her yarn so that she could start Sedley’s wing-warmers once again, as her first attempt had been left in the carriage along with a ransom note, which was on its way to Styx to be delivered by the wyrm. They gave her some yarn, but no needles, so she made do with her fingers and passed the hours knitting and contemplating ways to make the Gremlins pay for the indignity they had foisted upon her.
Around sunset, Bedlam finally showed back up at the prison door and was let in by the guard, who this time stayed in the room to keep an eye on them.
“It’s amazing, Raina! The best place in the world. I’ve visited the mechanical quarter of Catawampus, but it has nothing on Greml.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, dear.” She would have asked about any progress towards their escape attempt, but couldn’t risk the guard hearing.
“I visited the forge and they let me pet the dragon. And I got to see them melt down a whole flying machine—or an unsuccessful attempt at flying machine, but they’re the same thing in Greml—and then I got to visit a glass-blower who makes the lenses for goggles. I bought a pair, look…”
He dropped two large parcels on the floor and untied them. One was full of springs, screws, plates of metal, gears, and other sundries, while the other held the afore-mentioned goggles, some sort of gage, and a large, leathery umbrella.
“And I also borrowed these,” he said, holding up an object so thin and delicate that Raina had to lean forward and squint to see it. It turned out to be a pair of spectacles.
“Those better not be for me.”
“Not permanently. They’re reading glasses from one of the Gremlins who draws blueprints. I just wanna see if you really look as…” He held up his hand and whispered “‘human’ as you think you do.”
“You wouldn’t know anyway, never having seen one.”
“Come on. I said I won’t tell anyone. Here, I’ll even block his view.”
He opened the umbrella so the guard couldn’t see, and fearing he might get suspicious if they kept arguing, Raina hastily shoved the spectacles on, stared at the still-blurry Bedlam, then whipped them off. Bedlam closed the umbrella and the guard coughed and turned around, seemingly to give them some measure of apparently-much-needed privacy.
“Well?” Raina asked.
“I… I don’t know what humans look like, but you’re right. You should never wear those again. You looked like… a bureaucrat,” he said, with a tremor in his voice.
“Those horrid goblins who actually like rule-keeping?”
“I’ve seen enough of them for one lifetime. No, glasses definitely aren’t for you. But what about goggles?”
“I tried some for a few months, but they were so dreadfully stuffy, and I had no peripheral vision to speak of.”
“Hmm…” he said, clearly trying to think up some other solution to her problem. She, for her part, had given up on finding one long ago, and decided to change the subject.
“So what about that other thing? And that umbrella?”
“This thing is an altimeter. It measures altitude. And as for the umbrella, I was walking through the market and saw the sign for them and thought of you.”
“Or your portmanteaus. The sign said ‘genuine bat-wing umbrella’, so I thought of bat umbrella, which you would call…?”
“A bumbrellat!” she said proudly.
“Orrr… a batbrella?”
“Oh. I suppose so. A batbrella then. Quite. Speaking of, how did you manage to afford all this? Aren’t they making you pay for your own lodgings and such?”
“I got a job! Several, actually. Doing manual labor in some of the workshops. Literally.” He wiggled his fingers in front of her. “Having thumbs is a major advantage here, so I’ve been making money dexterous-hand over fist. I’ve already found an inn that overlooks the lagoon, and a great restaurant that serves bat potpie! I can bring you one sometime… or we could go after your aunt pays the ransom.”
He leaned very far forward so that she could see him winking—it turned out his eyes were magenta, like his hair—and pointed down at the pile of machine parts lying on the ground. So he had remembered to work on the escape plan, she thought, feeling slightly disappointed when he leaned back and started gathering up his things to go.
In the coming weeks, Bedlam continued working in Greml. He had hired himself out to half a dozen workshops, tightening screws, threading wire through miniscule openings, and doing anything else for which thumbs offered an advantage. He had never in his life had so much money to his name, and never had so much to spend it on. Greml’s markets were brimming with more scrap metal than he had ever laid eyes on, and its food stalls were bursting with delicacies from the sea: pickled sea cucumber, fur-bearing trout roe, seared sea-eel fillet (not to be confused with eared-seal cheese soufflé, which he also encountered but was hesitant to try). Bedlam was sure he would have gained twenty pounds if he allowed himself to eat to his heart’s content, but he had a job to do and was attempting to save money for it.
Despite having plenty of funds, he had a dearth of inspiration. He’d filled his room at the inn with piles of rubber hoses and gaskets and springs, but had thus far only been able to create a handful of useless gadgets. If he was being honest with himself—and the long hours when he wasn’t allowed to visit Raina afforded him much time to do so—he had always been like this, even on the moor. Back then, he collected everything that might possibly be magical, done years of research, and what did he have to show for it? Several clocks that emitted a low hum on the hour—the product of experiments with crystals; Some anti-vermin food jars coated in tongue’s bane extract, and the invisible watch (or invisiwatch). He had always been better at gathering materials than doing anything worthwhile with them, and now that supplies were plentiful, at least in the mechanical area of mechano-magical invention, he still could not come up with anything that might be remotely helpful to their situation.
Raina was incredibly patient with him, all things considered, and didn't seem at all bothered by his lack of progress, although she may not have understood how little he was actually getting done, since they could not speak openly about their plan in front of the guard. She often asked how his inventions were going, and he told her about those that he had managed to rig together, while trying to convey his overall lack of progress.
"I made a new kind of propeller today," he told her. "Sort of like an egg-beater; hand operated. It won't spin fast enough to do much in terms of flight, but if I could just find something to use as a motor."
"Perhaps one of the halcyons?" Raina asked, referring to the ever present birds that kept the seas around Greml as calm as an inland lake.
"Tried it. Turns out that halcyon magic has he opposite effect, and ends up slowing machinery down."
"Ooh! That might be useful. For impressing Auntie, you know?”
They had begun using references to her aunt or paying the ransom as a means of covertly discussing their escape. This had become especially important now, because Gutlap seemed to suspect that they were up to something. Bedlam had seen the air pirate skulking around several of the workshops where he was employed, and Raina had received a few visits from him as well.
“Maybe… I don’t know.” He ran his fingers through his now goggle-adorned hair. “It feels like I’m in a rut.”
“That’s just because this grubby little island has nothing to work with. No offense,” she said to the guard.
“None taken,” he replied through a mouthful of bat potpie.
“After we get to Styx, you'll have access to all kinds of magic. Just the snakes in the forest alone could probably provide you with years of study. That is… if we manage to convince auntie to let you stay…”
“True,” he said, then thought about what she said for a moment longer. “Wait, you mean I can really stay there, Raina?”
“What an absurd question, dear!” she said, somehow managing to gesture towards the guard with only her mouth and one squinty eye.
“Oh, uh, I meant, you think that your aunt will really let me—let us stay together?”
“I would sooner die that live without you. Plus, auntie will have to accept you when she sees all the lovely things you’ve invented here. Just keep doing what you do best,” she said, running her fingers over the invisiwatch, “and we’ll be in Styx, together, in no time.”
They heard a grunt from behind them, and the guard announced that visiting hours were over and escorted Bedlam out the door. As Bedlam started down the stairs, the guard caught him by the sleeve, and he jumped, sure they had been found out.
“Don’t give up,” the Gremlin said. “I’m rooting for you two.”
“Oh, h-heh. Thanks,” Bedlam said, and ran down the stairs.
Keep doing what you do best. In the following days, Bedlam continued to roll these words over in his head like a mantra to bring him luck. She really believed that he could do it: invent something worthy of an escape. And though it may have been sweet nothings meant to convince the guard of their love for each other, he still held out hope that maybe Raina really would let him stay in Styx to experiment with their magical flora and fauna. She even said that he might have years of study, which meant years away from Mayhem.
And, though he knew it was probably not worth thinking about, after everything that had happened, he also had to admit that the prospect of becoming Raina’s actual husband was growing on him. The first time she called him dear, he was touched, even if it was only meant as a platonic gesture. And hadn’t his parent’s marriage started out as friendship, and his grandparents before that? He liked spending time with her, and talking with her, and plotting together about escape right under the nose of their Gremlin guard. He liked Raina, and he was becoming more and more convinced that he could probably love her, if she would have it.
Romantically or otherwise, Bedlam wanted to show her how much he cared about her. While he still had the scarf she had made—she’d said he might as well keep it—he had never given her anything but the invisiwatch, which was a pretty sorry present. Though he had found nothing magical in Greml except for the halcyons, some florescent mold, and an old factory full of phantasmal jellyfish, this was one invention for which he needed no magic, but rather the artistic skills of a glassblower.
The present was ready in no time, and it was with a spring in his step that Bedlam walked home with it carefully folded in a bundle of cloth. He just needed to drop a few pieces of scrap metal in his room before visiting Raina, and would have been on his way, but for the fact that as soon as he pushed the door open and stepped inside, he found the muzzle of a blunderbuss in his face.
“Not a word,” Gutlap said, gesturing for him to close the door and then sit on the bed.
From the look of things, the pirate had already rifled through his things, or at least through half of them; his few inventions were dumped off the table and onto the floor, and a few of his clothes had been picked up and tossed aside.
“What’s in the package?” Gutlap asked.
“A present.” Bedlam carefully opened it—he wouldn’t risk the pirate manhandling it—and handed it to Gutlap, who inspected it for a minute, then handed it back.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here,” the Gremlin said, returning to the work of looking through Bedlam’s things.
“I figured you were burglarizing the place, and I walked in on you.”
“Pfff, pirates don’t burgle, and even if we did, your paltry belongings wouldn’t be worth it anyway. No, I’m onto you.”
“Don’t play dumb. I know you’re planning to escape with that Styxian. You have been ever since the foremen let you go. You were probably blissfully unaware of it, but I’ve been dogging your steps—”
“No, I was pretty aware of it.”
“—and I saw how desperate you were for supplies, buying every bit of scrap you could get your hands on. I wasn’t too worried, because, as you said, Lesserians need magic to make proper inventions, unlike Gremlins, who fashion mechanical wonders without even the use of thumbs. But where was I? Ah, yes, you were having a tough time until a few days ago, when everything changed. Like a Malarkeyan fox hunting an arctic jackalope, I have become aware of your slightest changes in mood and manner, and this one was hardly slight. You seemed downright giddy, which could only mean a major breakthrough in your escape plan.”
By the end of this monologue, Gutlap had finished his search through the room and faced Bedlam once again, as if expecting a reply.
“Well, where is it?”
“Your invention. The thing you’re going to use to escape. Is it a bomb? A rope ladder? Some kind of robot?”
“I haven’t made anything like that. Honest.” This was met with another shove of the blunderbuss into his face. “If I had, you would have found it by now.”
Admittedly, Bedlam could turn machines invisible, but that would hardly help the situation at hand. And Gutlap would probably have tripped over them anyway.
“Oh, I don’t think so. Maybe you have some sort of tiny lock pick for the prison break, but you and I both know that you’ll need some means of escape to get off the island. Something big! A weather balloon. A mechanical bat.” He glared at Bedlam’s thumbs, as if certain that they had been used to create all manner of working flying machines hidden around the city. “But I’ll be watching the skies, waiting for you to slip up, and when you do, I’ll send my entire crew after you.”
“Seems like a lot of trouble to go through just for a little money.”
“Don’t be stupid, Lesserian. This is all about piratical honor. When the Styxian queen pays the ransom I asked for, that will be the greatest haul ever pulled off by a single band of pirates. As captain, my cut of the pie will be huge, enough for an early retirement, maybe even enough to make me a foreman.”
“You can just buy a spot in the government here?”
“Don’t be daft. We’re a meritocracy. Foreman Snittany perfected the bat harness, bringing Greml closer to our dreams of flight than ever before, and Foreman Gull tamed the dragon we use for our furnace. When the queen pays off the ransom, it could usher in a new era of riches for Greml, and a whole new brand of piracy: the kidnapping variety.”
“And the foremen are all right with that?”
“They have had their misgivings,” Gutlap said, examining his stubby fingers, “particularly concerning the expense of feeding the Styxian heir, but I’ve assured them it will all pay off. Staked everything I have on this. And I’m not going to let some mud-grubbing Lesserian ruin it all.”
“But I really, really, really haven’t made anything escape worthy. Really.”
“We’ll see about that,” Gutlap said, backing to the door while keeping his gun trained on Bedlam. “Or rather, I’ll see. Don’t forget that I’m watching you. You can’t keep this up forever, and when you’re finally found out, well, let’s say I’ll be looking forward to your execution.”
He closed the door and Bedlam felt a wave of relief. Who knew that failing utterly in his efforts at an escape attempt would actually pay off? He was tempted to give them up entirely, tell Raina that they would need to write back to her aunt and ask her to pay the ransom after all. That was the safest thing to do, since the alternative would most likely result in Bedlam’s death.
And yet, what Gutlap had said had triggered a something in Bedlam’s brain.
When he was a child, Bedlam's father had once taken him to the city of Catawampus to see a Dinnian clockmaker at work. They watched as each spring and gear and cog was added, layer by layer and bit by bit. It looked like a mechanical mess to Bedlam’s young eyes, until he started to see connections, how one gear turned another, how winding the key sent the pendulum swinging. Everything he had seen and experienced since the wedding, everything Raina and Gutlap had said to him, fit together: the Styxian heir, piratical honor, the cave full of phantasmal jellyfish, I would sooner die, his execution, watching the skies, his propeller, Raina’s energy spell—
Keep doing what you do best.
It all fit. For the first time in his life, he could see it all laid out like clockwork. Not just a plan, but a scheme, not just inventions, but contraptions worthy of a descendent of Duplicity Jinx.
Keep doing what you do best.
No, he was going to start doing his best.
He let out a maniacal laugh, then stifled it, peering out the door way to make sure Gutlap wasn't still around. It didn't look like it, but just to be safe, he allowed himself only a maniacal chuckle and then ran off to tell Raina, allowing his plan to percolate through his mind on the way. He'd have to hide most of the materials in the shops where he worked so that Gutlap wouldn't stumble across them if he searched his room again. That would be easy enough. Then they would need supplies, and blood. A lot of blood. That could be obtained from some of the butcheries, surely. And then bait, but that was easy. The only thing left was to tell Raina all about it.
He pounded on the door to her prison and burst through as soon as it was unlocked, oblivious to the guard he bowled over
"Raina!" he cried, running to her cell, thrusting his arms through the bars and grabbing her by the shoulders. "What are your measurements?"
Raina froze, gape mouthed, holding a cat's cradle of yarn between her fingers. The guard came to her rescue, oddly enough.
"You can't ask a lady that, even if you are in love with her!"
"Oh, you're still here. Right." He fiddled with his goggles, thinking about how to get around this obstacle. "I… need them for a wedding dress."
“I… oh, um… well…” Raina said, shaking like a leaf, “i-i-is this about… my aunt?”
“I don’t care about your aunt! I love you, and I can’t stand being apart from you any longer!” he cried, pulling her to him, then whispered as quietly as he could into her ear, “I have a scheme.”
Raina nodded, then wrapped her arms around him to throw off the guard, as if that were even necessary at this point.
“We're going to get married,” Bedlam continued.
“And then, we're going die."
He’d told her as much as could before the guard cleared his throat with more and more gusto until they really had to let go so as not to embarrass the poor fellow any further. Bedlam vowed that they would be married before the week was out, and the guard even said he would put a good word for them with the foremen, leaving Raina to wonder if this insane scheme might have any chance of success.
As the week went on, Bedlam managed to leak more and more of it to her, bit by bit, embrace by embrace. Raina had to admit, he really had thought of everything. The only obstacle in their way was the actual marriage, which everything hinged on, but by the fifth day after Bedlam’s declaration of love, the guard proudly informed them that the foremen had granted their request. Now they just had to wait for their wedding garments.
On the day that the foremen had set aside for the ceremony, Raina still had misgivings, the largest of which was what would happen if the guard refused to step out of the room for an extended period of time to let her change, but like a true gentleman, he acquiesced. Raina reached into the bundle Bedlam had brought earlier that day—which had of course been inspected, lest it contain weapons of any sort—and pulled out the dress. Bedlam had commissioned it, and it showed, from the multiple rows of buttons running down to the skirt to the crisscrossing buckles keeping the back together. It was a peculiar color of gray, and had a sandpapery feel; sharkskin was what Bedlam had called it. She set this aside, along with a pair of button-up fingerless gloves and some similarly buttoned leggings, and focused instead on the pieces of armor that Bedlam had been smuggling to her each day before the dress was ready, all of which had been turned invisible like her watch. It was lucky that Lesserian garments were so tight fitting, as it had allowed her to give Bedlam the exact measurements for the length and width of her torso and limbs, which he needed in order to create shin guards, braces, and back and breast plates. Her helmet would of course cause her hair to look flattened, but Bedlam had though to disguise this by ordering an extravagantly spiky headdress, which he had already attached to the invisi-helmet... invishelmet? She'd have to ask his opinion on that one later. For now, she had to squeeze into her dragon-molt long johns, which were fashioned so that they wouldn't cause a single bulge in her visible dress.
The entire suiting-up process took quite a long time, especially because of the difficulty of identifying left from right pieces of invisible armor, but she was ready by the time the guard knocked back on the door and allowed Bedlam to step into the room. He was wearing a fancier coat than normal—made so by numerous panels and seams in different shades of grey—and a so-called ‘aviator’ hat to hide the fact that he wore a sturdier metal helmet underneath.
“You look great!” he said.
“You sound surprised.”
“Heh, well… I designed that dress myself. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out.”
“Hmm, well, I’m sure you look fetching as well,” she said, taking his arm.
Their guard led them back down to the arena where they had stood when they first arrived in Greml, which was darker than it had been before, since the marriage was set to happen at night. Unlike the pomp and circumstance of their original sheremony, this one was only going to be attended by the foremen, several guards, and a Gremlin shaman. Unfortunately, Raina only now realized, this meant that it was to be a modest ceremony, with only one tea pot and no juggling, which would not be a problem, except that one vital piece of the plan had not arrived yet, and they would need the ceremony to last until it did. With only the vows and scarf-binding, they would need to stall for time.
“It’s very sweet of you to arrange this just for us,” Raina said to the foremen, hoping to make small talk.
“Think nothing of it,” said Snittany. “Once you’re married, your aunt will have no choice but to pay a ransom for both of you, thus doubling our earnings.”
That didn’t explain the formality of it all, but Raina supposed that their guard’s influence might have had something to do with that, even though, as he explained earlier, he was on patrol duty that night and couldn’t stay for the festivities. Considering some of the stickier aspects of Bedlam’s plan, that was probably for the best.
“As we said earlier, we’re not ones to stand in the way of true love,” Gull said.
“Right,” Bedlam said, giving Raina’s hand a nervous squeeze. Perhaps he could set the plan in motion anyway, she thought, though it would certainly look suspicious if it happened out of the blue.
“Shall we begin?” the shaman said, adjusting his goggles and examining an official looking document.
“W-what about the banns?” Raina asked.
“Not bands. Banns. You know, asking if anyone objects to the marriage for any reason, to make sure everything is above board.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Oh, well it’s a… a… a human tradition.” She flushed in embarrassment, but it was all she could think of to stretch things out. Granted, proper banns were meant to be posted weeks in advance, but several of her human romances crammed them right onto the front of the ceremony, so she didn’t see why she couldn’t do the same.
“Right,” Bedlam said again. “A human tradition, and one I completely support. If it’s important to Raina, then it’s important to me.”
This came dangerously close to suggesting that she was the human in question, but she could not worry about that now.
The shaman’s lip curled. “Well, I suppose we can try it. Does anyone have any objections?”
“Not like that,” Raina said. “You have to say the formal speech, and then pause for dramatic effect.”
“And what is the formal speech?”
“Ahem: ‘Should anyone know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in matrimony, speak now, or forever hold your peace’.”
Everyone present looked around at each other, curious to see if this bann would produce any effect. It obviously didn’t, but just to make sure Raina was thoroughly satisfied, the shaman, somewhat sarcastically, said, “Any objections?”
“Just one!” cried a familiar voice, as a coil of rope fell from the hole in the roof and Gutlap Bleggart propelled down it. “You can’t marry a corpse, and the groom is a dead man walking.”
“You’ve already told us of your misgivings, Gutlap, to no avail,” Snittany said dismissively.
“And I suppose that my misgivings are responsible for that flying machine up there on the roof? Or maybe you didn’t see it because you’re all down here throwing a party for prisoners.”
“Evidence needs no explanation. Up on the roof, there are two sets of artificial wings, far too big to fit a Gremlin’s body. They look pretty complicated too. That kind of articulation would take at least twenty of us to hold onto all the parts—or just one goblin with thumbs.”
“Lies,” Bedlam said, though the guards had already run off to go see if what the landit said was true. “He’s just trying to keep us apart—”
“I couldn’t care less abou—”
“—because he wants to take Raina for himself!”
His words had the desired effect. Gutlap sputtered something unintelligible in Gremlin while the foremen turned to each other to discuss this latest news.
“It’s true,” Bedlam continued. “He’s visited her in her room too many times to count, trying to win her away from me.”
“You say one more word…” Gutlap growled, pulling his blunderbuss from the holster on his back.
“But you’re too late. She loves me, and the only way for you to win her hand is to defeat me in a duel to the—”
Gutlap fired, and Raina let out a scream as the bullet hit Bedlam square in the chest, splattering blood everywhere.
She thought the landit might at least have waited for a proper duel-to-the-death declaration…deathclaration… since Bedlam had prepared a speech and everything, but it seemed the prospect of being in love with a Styxian was simply too much to bear. She had been the one to suggest the love triangle bit as a means of goading Gutlap into violence if the shoddy winged-backpacks didn’t do the job, but even so, she couldn’t help being offended.
Now was not the time to worry about slights against her heritage, however, for she had to see if Bedlam’s armor had held. Blood still erupted everywhere—he had filled the squibs along the seams of his coat with a truly excessive amount—and Raina made sure to get some on her hands so she could hold them up in the most melodramatic fashion after making sure he was all right.
“Raina.” He coughed, popping another squib in his mouth as he did so, braving the taste of raw bat blood for the sake of the show. At least he was all right; they had agreed ahead of time that his saying her name would mean everything was working. If not, he would just scream in agony.
“What have you done?” Raina said, hoping she was the picture of heartbroken despair. “What have you done!”
“What have you done, Gutlap,” Snittany snapped. “You may have just cost us half our ransom money!”
“You would have lost all of it if it hadn’t been for me,” he said. “He was planning to escape with that disgusting Styxian after the wedding.”
“He couldn’t when we’d locked them up, you twit! That was the agreement. They got to be married, but he would lose his running-around-Greml privileges. Even if he had invented flying wings, he couldn’t have got to them.”
“Someone check if he’s alive,” Gull said. He alone sounded slightly concerned about Bedlam’s fate, but Raina couldn’t risk any of them feeling his invisible armor, or his pulse, for that matter.
“Don’t you touch him!” she screeched, throwing herself over him. The fun of overacting almost made up for the vile smell. “He was my happiness, and you took him from me!”
“Get a grip.” Gutlap leveled his gun at her. “And get back to your cell.”
But Raina had already summoned her energy spell. She had originally planned to simply beat the Gremlins to a pulp once they had let her out of the cell, but Bedlam wisely pointed out that even if she managed to do so, they would have the rest of the island’s population to contend with while trying to make their escape. This was the only way to distract everyone long enough to allow them a decent head start at their getaway.
“The world would be my cell without him!”
Shoving her spell into her chest, while shortening it so as not to hurt herself, she doubled over, producing what she hoped sounded like a death rattle.
“What in the bloody blue blazes is that!” Snittany asked, too shocked to complain about their shrinking ransom payments.
Now would come the most difficult part of the plan, the part that would make or break everything. Raina widened her spell into a shield, blocking her and Bedlam from view, then enlarged it even further to surround them. While this would give them the cover they needed, it also meant that, beyond the humming, crackling dome of light, the Gremlins might have them surrounded.
“Amazing!” Bedlam said, sitting up.
“Quite,” Raina said, taking a shallow breath. She had never made her spell this large before, and it took an exhausting amount of energy.
Thankfully, Bedlam had already set to work, pulling off her elaborate headdress and breaking open six of the spikes, which were full of glowing goo that he had concocted out of seal fat, blood, and singed hide and the luminescence from some of Greml’s mold. He splattered this around at random, then pulled his goggles over his eyes, took the remaining spike, and swiped its tip across the floor, igniting the tip.
“Flash grenade. I could only smuggle enough powder out for one, but it’ll do. Close your eyes and cancel your spell on three. One, Two, Three!”
She did so, hearing a loud bang as Bedlam threw his arm around her and half carried her out of the room. They could just hear Gutlap yell “Chaos! They exploded!” before Snittany took to berating him in Gremlin.
They continued up the exterior staircase that led up to the prison, and Bedlam stopped in a nook against the wall, giving Raina a chance to breath.
“You all right?”
“Mmhmm. That spell took a bit out of me, but I’ll be fine.”
“Good, because we’re gonna have to jump.”
“Jump! From here?”
“Just hold onto to me and don’t let go,” he said, moving his hands as if he were drawing an arrow.
“Is that the bumbrellat? That’ll never hold our weight!”
“Trust me. We’ll be fine.”
Figuring that he wouldn’t try such a dangerous stunt without having tested it first, she threw her arms around him, he grabbed her with one arm, and they leapt into the open air together—and fell.
The batbrella did nothing to slow their speed and Raina just had time to see Bedlam’s manic expression turn to one of wild panic before she decided to take matters into her own hands. She attempted to float, which was second nature to a Styxian, and thankfully found that it worked much the same when hurtling through the air as when starting from the ground. They slowed to a halt mere inches from the ground, and Bedlam, who had thrown his legs around her in the course of their fall, untangled himself from her.
“S-s-see,” he said, drawing the batbrella closed with trembling hands. “N-nothing to it.”
“You know we would be stone dead right now if not for me.” Raina brushed an imaginary piece of dust off her dress, is if their brush with death hadn’t rattled her in the slightest. “It would have been quite a shame, what with all that scheming.”
He nodded, took a breath, then grabbed her hand. “It still will be, if we don’t get out of here.”
They ran to a wharf where dozens of ships, submarines, and sailboats were docked close together. Hardly noticeable among these was a small lifeboat that looked as if it had fallen loose from some larger vessel. Bedlam climbed into this while Raina floated down, accidentally upending an invisible basket full pastries and fruit.
“All right Raina, it’s now or never.”
“It won’t hurt, will it?”
“It shouldn’t. All the animals I’ve extracted magic from seemed all right. And they never lose their magic abilities.”
She was still unsure, but reminded herself that not only would Bedlam be executed if he were captured again, but Styx would be humiliated twice over. Her ancestors had made sacrifices to preserve their country’s honor, so she could do the same... maybe.
She held out her hand, still nervous, and Bedlam gently took it in his.
He touched her hand to the cold steel surface of his egg-beater propeller, and she felt just a modicum of power leave her, almost as if she were casting her energy spell, but not quite. Just as she was about to ask if it worked, she heard a buzz as the machine sprang to life, blowing air into their faces.
“We did it!” he said. “We really pulled it off!”
Raina was struck by a sudden desire to lean forward and kiss him, but she refrained. They weren’t really a “we”, after all. They were not eloping, and they weren’t really married. All the things they had said to each other in Greml were elaborate lies meant to fool the Gremlins. And even if her heart had pounded whenever he embraced her in the cell, and even if she felt a twinge of longing when he let go of her hand to deal with the propeller, she knew that it was one-sided. Bedlam loved magic and inventing, but he didn’t love her. Everything between them was a sham, and she had to remember that.
Bedlam stuck the propeller halfway in the water, and their boat surged to life, bumping its way through the other watercraft. When they got onto the open ocean, he lowered the device deeper and they picked up speed.
Soon, they would be in Styx, and the sham would have to come to an end.
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