Marianne felt a pair of thin lips press a kiss to her forehead. They lingered there for a moment, pulling away before they could cause her to stir from where she slept. Even though she remained still upon the moss-covered bed, Marianne felt wide awake.
Today marked the first time, since the beginning of her courtship with him, that the Bog King would have to leave the castle by himself. Despite the king’s strength, and the respect he had among the creatures of the Dark Forest, he typically brought along two or three goblin escorts in case a threat surfaced. On some occasions, Marianne would join him. Not only would it give him better company than the stoic and often half-witted creatures he was dragging along, but it gave the crown princess a chance to explore the land she’d always wanted to. It also helped that Marianne was a strong warrior that could hold her own should something go awry.
Unfortunately for the both of them, it was imperative that Bog go alone on this trip. He was summoned to meet with the elders of the Goblin Council, a group of varying goblins that had held power in the Dark Forest long before a monarchy was instated. Although the council met multiple times each year, they rarely asked the Bog King to be present at them – mainly because a few of the council members continued to hold onto their fears of him.
They would request the king’s presence once a season to review every proposal made during the qualifying months. Because goblin law had to account for every creature of the Dark Forest, the remainder of each season would be spent researching and reviewing each and every detail the proposals described. Once the elders were fully informed on the content of each proposal, the current king would be summoned to lead the council in the approval or rejection of the prospective laws.
Marianne remembered the exasperated exhale that Bog emitted upon reading his summons the previous week. Although the Goblin Council allowed for the subjects of the Dark Forest to voice their concerns about their kingdom, the meetings took hours – sometimes days if the elders of the council took their time in preparing their presentations. Bog would be locked inside a large vine-covered room with sixteen other goblins, completely silent until the elders were ready to vote. He would be miserable.
The quiet thud of Bog’s feet against the chamber’s floor broke Marianne from her thoughts as he rose from their shared bed. His claws reflexively tapped against his staff as took it from its place upon the adjacent wall. He was trying to be quiet, Marianne knew he was, but the slight scrape of his scales moving against each other only made her want to bring him back to the moss. She opened her eyes slowly, not wanting to flood them with the early morning light. As she did, she quickly realized the sun hadn’t even greeted the horizon yet. Soft beams of moonlight shone into the room from the window along the eastern wall. The chill from the early autumn air slowly creeped into the room. It was still night!
“Bog?” She called out in a groggy voice. He froze, turning towards her after a moment.
“I didn’t wake you did I?” His voice was quiet, hinting at his hidden frustration, as he made his way over her side. He placed his staff beside the bed and sat down on the moss.
“No, I was awake.” She yawned, stretching out her arms above her head before sitting up to face him. Her wings pooled behind her back. “What time is it? I thought you didn’t have to leave until after daybreak?”
Bog brushed the back of his claws along her arm as he exhaled softly. “Just after you fell asleep last night, a messenger came to the castle to warn us of a snake in the area surrounding the council hall.”
Marianne inhaled sharply. “A snake? What about the elders?”
Bog held up his hand to stop her. “The meeting has been moved deeper into the forest to allow for a safer travel. It’ll take me longer to get there, but I’d rather ensure the safety of the council than get a few extra hours of rest.”
“But if you’re going deeper in, shouldn’t you have an escort?” Marianne’s voice was dripping with apprehension. “Or at least have someone with you should the snake get close?”
Bog shook his head. “Unfortunately no. Even in a situation like this, no creatures outside of the royal family or the Goblin Council can be there. We’re discussing confidential information that cannot leave that room. Along with that…”
He grumbled. “…this will be the first council gathering since we began courting. I expect they’ll have questions that will relate to the nature of our relationship. You shouldn’t have to endure their interrogations until after we marry.”
He chuckled, glancing down at Marianne’s face, expecting his jab at the elders to bring her a slight bit of relief. Instead, she sighed and wrapped her arms around her legs, placing her head upon Bog’s shoulder. A moment passed before he spoke again.
“I understand your concern, Tough Girl, but I’ll be okay. This isn’t the first time a snake has changed our plans, and it certainly won’t be the last time either.”
She lifted her head and nodded. “When will you be back? I know you said it could be days before you even get a chance to begin the approval process.”
“I’m not sure.” He rose from the bed, taking his staff in his hand. “I imagine that because the meeting location had changed, the elders will be more likely to act quickly in order to get back to their homes early. Given the situation we’re in, they don’t want to be out late, especially because of the lack of escorts.” He cleared his throat before speaking in a deeper, gruff voice – incredibly similar to that of the eldest of the council-members, Elder Thistle. “The Dark Forest isn’t just a name – the deeper you go, the darker it gets.”
Marianne let out a quiet laugh. “Still though, you could give me an estimate…” She eyed him in a teasing sort-of way, smiling slightly before flashing a mischievous grin at him.
Bog smiled and leaned down, placing his hand on Marianne’s cheek before capturing her lips in a quick, but meaningful kiss. She leaned into him before he pulled away.
“At earliest, tomorrow morning. You’ll wake to find me here, in bed, where we can sleep until the sun is high in the sky.”
“Sounds perfect to me.” She smiled as he gave her a short nod, reaching for the door and turning the handle. The door creaked as he opened it. Marianne felt a pang of worry hit her.
“Bog?” He stopped before turning back at her. “Please be safe.”
He smiled softly. “I will, Tough Girl.”
His wings buzzed behind him as he closed the door of the room. Marianne stared at it, listening to the sound they made as it echoed down the hall. It died out after a moment, leaving Marianne in silence. She took in a breath, exhaling deeply before laying back on the moss.
It wasn’t like she and Bog had been together every moment since their courtship began. At the same time though, she worried about him. A lot. She worried every time he went on a hunt for the castle inhabitants. She worried every time he went to train on his own. She even worried when he was in the Light Fields!
She took another deep breath. It was just her nerves talking to her. Bog would be fine. Sure, he may be annoyed while in the company of old goblins, but he’d be safe. Someday, she’d be able to join him at the gatherings. After all, only council members and the royal family could be present at them. Imagine them together, the king and queen, sitting at the head of the council table while the council members argued over future heirs.
It would be miserable.
But they’d be together.
Marianne smiled before sleep washed over her, her deep breaths slowly shifting to quiet ones as the sky was greeted by the first rays of sunlight.
Or, at least, try to.
After rolling over a few times, Marianne rose from the moss-covered bed, her hair sticking out in every direction as she dressed. She pulled on a long dark purple tunic, cut similarly to her favorite reddish-pink one. Despite the slight chill of early autumn, she preferred to go sleeveless for as long as she could – in favor of the increased mobility it gave her sword-wielding arm. Pulling on a pair of almost-black leggings and her boots, she made her way out of the king’s chambers, slipping her sword into its frog on her hip.
On a morning such as this, the castle of the Dark Forest would be stirring with activity. The first month of Autumn marked the beginnings of hibernation preparations, as Bog mentioned during dinner one night. There were only a few subspecies of goblin that truly needed to hibernate over the colder months, but many of them resided in dens close to the castle. For them to be ready for the sudden lack of hands and willpower, the inhabitants of the Dark Forest had to store as much food and supplies as possible.
Marianne hummed to herself as she walked through the halls of the castle, greeting the goblins that ran by her. They were all so busy – some clutching sacks or baskets filled with various foods, some keeping count of each item that went to the storerooms, and some waiting in a rather askew line to state their families’ needs. Said line led up to a meeting hall where a large wooden desk and chair sat beside an open window. The chair held a very aggravated Griselda, who was currently arguing with a large amphibious goblin.
“Oscar, I’m not telling you again! Your hibernation rations are determined by the amount of creatures in your den. Just because your wife eats like three goblins, doesn’t mean you get three rations! Now sign here before you cause a riot!”
She held out a reed pen firmly at him, pushing a sheet of parchment closer to him on the desk. The male goblin grunted in response, taking the pen and marking an ‘X’ along a blank slot on the document. He bowed his head at her before walking out of the room.
Marianne’s eyes bulged at this display, realizing how scary Griselda could be. She was the Queen of the Dark Forest after all. Marianne let out a breath as she quickly moved towards the gobliness, landing just at her left side as she spoke.
“Good morning, Griselda!” She waved her hand as she touched down.
“Why, good morning, sweetheart! How’d ya sleep?” Griselda turned to her in the chair she sat in, propping her elbow on the desk. “I hope all my barkin’ didn’t wake you up.”
Marianne paused before laughing breathily. “No, no, I didn’t hear a thing. I slept very well thanks to that moss bed. Although I couldn’t say the same for Bog…”
“You caught him before he left this morning?” Griselda asked.
Marianne nodded. “Yeah, I wasn’t expecting him to leave that early, but I understand the concerns.”
“Yeah, it isn’t every day that a snake pops up out of nowhere and coils itself on the front stoop of the council hall!” Griselda added with a tap of the reed pen on the desk.
“Hmmm…” Marianne turned her head to look out the window, watching the blades of grass sway in the wind. She couldn’t even imagine how terrifying it must have been to discover the snake’s presence. Someone could’ve been killed! It could’ve been Bog!
“Sweetheart, are you alright? You look awful pensive about somethin’ there.” Griselda placed a hand on Marianne’s, almost spooking the fairy from her thoughts.
“Yes!” She tried to fake a smile, but she felt Griselda’s maternal gaze see right through it. “Well, no… I’m worried about Bog. He seemed fine when he left, but I can’t help but fear for his safety. Especially when something so dangerous is out there!”
“Marianne, listen. My son may be a big softie when he’s with you, but you gotta remember he’s a king. An incredibly strong one at that. He’s plenty capable of handling himself even when he’s more concerned with the safety of others. It’s just his nature.”
Griselda squeezed the fairy’s hand, prompting a real smile from her. “Thank you, Griselda.”
“Anytime, honey.” She dropped her hand and turned back in chair, adjusting the stack of parchment on the desk. From the looks of it, there were over fifty sheets strewn about, all in different piles. It looked terribly disorganized. Maybe Marianne could help make the process easier! It would definitely distract her from thinking about Bog…
“Would you like for me to join you today, Griselda? I could grab something from the kitchens and we could have breakfast in here.” Marianne motioned to the empty chairs about the hall.
“Oh no, don’t be silly. You go get some food and enjoy your day. I don’t mind being cooped up in here by myself.” Griselda shooed her away from the desk. “I think there are still some scones from yesterday morning.”
Marianne nodded before moving back to the entrance. “Thanks, Griselda!”
The gobliness waved at her before turning her attention to a mumbling brownish goblin. He was barely tall enough to see over the desk, prompting Griselda to stand on her chair. “I can’t give ya anything if ya don’t speak up!”
Her stomach growled. Well, maybe she needed breakfast. After entering the kitchen, she eyed the plate of scones sitting on the polished counter. Plucking one from the top of the pile, she took a large bite, humming contentedly as she chewed. If helping the goblins with their hibernation preparation wasn’t an option, then what could she do? She took another bite.
Maybe the elves needed an extra pair of hands for the Fall Festival next month!
Marianne pulled a cloth out from under the counter, placing two scones within it before wrapping the fabric around them. Perhaps she could meet up with Dawn and Sunny before they began their day.
She smiled, running out of the kitchens and into the morning, wings out and scones in hand.