A Garden of Flowers and Bones - Chapter 18 - Blood_On_Marble (Me0) (2024)

Chapter Text

It would probably be weird for a woman, of all people, to say something so philosophical (she still didn't know how to spell that word): but something Y/N had learned was that the sky was sort of like water.

Y/N was not an ambitious woman. Because she had little reason to look only ahead of her and chase a singular goal (at least in the grand scheme of things), she was more of the type to look at everything around her. Sure, when she became focused on a task, she saw only what was in front of her. But when such things faded away, she was able to examine the full extent of the world that the Goddess had placed them in.

And when she looked up to the sky, lying side by side with her sister, she could see the way the clouds blanketed the heavens. Some were higher up, fluffier and white, long and wispy in the periwinkle blue. Others were lower down- and she could tell by the way the shadows danced over their curves, how they passed seamlessly beneath those large and languid ones at higher levels. They were smaller and faster, oftentimes heavier and grey like they were filled with rain and waiting to pop.

She noticed that the clouds that were cascading higher seemed move slower and in one direction, yet clouds that were lower seemed to float by quicker and in another direction. And it reminded her of a deep river that whisked by on the surface, yet once you dropped beneath, a whole separate current that was faster than you could imagine would sweep you up and drown you.

Someone had died that way. In the creek on the outskirts of Redkeep, when the children would sneak out of the way of adults. Stupidly and recklessly, with no care for the Fey threat lurking around every corner, or even the other dangers of the forest that would not accept them, they boldly stormed into the forest in high spirits. They laughed at Y/N when she stumbled over tree roots and her own feet, still unbalanced like a newborn deer. As if the forest itself was rejecting her and telling her to return to where she belonged.

She did not listen. She followed because she was young and stupid and easily pushed to do things she didn't want to do. After being dragged with the group, she could only chase after them as they rushed away, giggling about her strife. Her shoes were heavy with the mud, and the difficult terrain and humidity made the trek nigh torturous.

Still, she walked.

By the time she had reached the river, he was already on the bank. And when a friend jokingly pushed him forth, he slipped in the mud and went tumbling down into the shallows. But even the shallows were deeper. Down south, the rain was much more prominent. Every second day brought rain, whether it be drizzle or down pour. And it had been raining on and off for the prior week. The murky, freezing river in fall was overwhelming. The water had risen and soaked into the dirt. As if it had sought him out and reached it's limits just to pull him under.

The kids had screamed. Two girls ran back to the village together, and though Y/N wanted to run away, she couldn't when she saw one boy trying to get into the water after him.

These days, she could no longer remember their names. But she remembered the way they screamed and cried. The second boy had clambered in, knocked off his feet in an instant. Beneath the surface was a current strong enough to sweep him under. It was deceiving and deeper than he had thought- and it was determined to claim a young and ignorant life.

The first boy was already gone before his friend had even thought to wade in after him.

Their friends, scared by the sudden turn of events, had frozen up nearby. They were not as familiar with death as Y/N was. They hadn't seen it up close- watched as someone withered away right in front of them, as if the life was seeping out of their body. That's why Y/N was the one to yell at them to take action, as she put her right foot forward it sunk into the earth and she wrapped her arm around his, fighting desperately to pull him out just as a wave washed over him and pulled his head under water.

Three others took action and helped Y/N pull him out.

The parents had screamed at all of them. Her mother had spanked her. Y/N was supposed to have known better. It was Celine's memory that tormented her mother every day, and yet Y/N had wandered into the depths of the woods as if those trees had not been the very cause of her death.

The first boy was found down the river five days later. His bloated corpse was already being picked apart by crows. He had landed, lifeless, in a rocky bed where the river waned into a stream.

The second boy died a few days after the first boy was found. He got sick and his condition worsened by the fourth day of the search. Then, he was just hanging onto his last threads of life until he faded out entirely. Pneumonia.

It felt as if the firmament above was constantly extending upwards to an infinite length. Stretching up higher and higher still, to a point that she would never be able to graze with her fingers. Just as the river had been deceptive in looks, sometimes Y/N could trick herself into believing that if she reached high enough, she would be able to scoop her fingers into the never-ending blue of the sky, and her skin would disappear into it like an opaque fog.

... all this to say that disease was an imminent threat at all times. These were just the deaths beyond what had happened within the family that Y/N had been directly involved in.

The large town remained large because women had so many children and people also migrated there for work. It was a town that had been small at first, but when a factory had been built, it became the place where everyone worked and so, the town grew and more families joined the community and so on and so forth. So even though children were dying left right and centre for any number of reasons, the mothers would always have more.

In a place where smog was more familiar than clean, countryside air; where human waste was thrown out into the streets; where rats thrived; where nobody bathed; where doctors were rare, disease spread like wildfire. That's how they were hit with the plague at full-force. That's how their well was dirtied with sickness.

Summerville was a lot better with that. Less people, less pollution, less vermin, and more availability when it came to people who specialised in medicine. But you can't save them all.

"I wish I could offer my condolences somehow... I don't think it'd be welcomed, though," Y/N chuckled nervously, wiping the sweat off her brow and pulling her wrist back and forth as dull cracks echoed from the joint.

Beathán stood before her, holding both of their swords after another gruelling match. As always, Y/N was left aching in some manner. Often, it was her scraped knees or bruised butt from falling. Sometimes it was her shoulders, arms, or legs from rigorous movement.

Today, it was her wrist. His hits had been unforgiving and relentless. For a moment, she'd been so sure that he'd sprained her wrist. She'd even noticed how worn down the blade of his sword was getting- catching sight of the uneven surface that which hers scraped along his. It was frayed and chipped from overuse. If they actually cared about quality, perhaps they'd get it sharpened and smoothed out.

"I'm afraid not. Margot has already begun a slandering campaign... it would be in your best interest to avoid that section of the village all together, in my professional opinion."

"When did you become a professional, like?"

He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"It matters not. You'll listen to my advice if you know what's best for you."

"Okay, thinly-veiled threat..." She murmured, a bit too sassy to be considered as taking it seriously, "Got it."

"I wasn't threatening you-" He cut himself off, seeming to realise that the more he talked, the more things would just go down hill, "In other news, Satsue has taken to nursing the baby. Apparently, this may be a long-term arrangement. The midwife has been staying in her house to educate her."

Carol had died. Puerperal fever. It wasn't uncommon in mothers, but it wasn't common, either. Within three days of childbirth, she was dead.

"Sue? For real?" Y/N jolted, surprised, "What about the dad??"

"He..." Beathán sighed again, seemingly aggravated, "... is not expected to care for the child."

"Ah. Right..." Y/N glared to the side but didn't say anything more... it was best not to dwell on these matters, "Sue's only fourteen, like... I know she's old enough to take care of herself, but a whole child?? Especially without her dad..."

"She won't be on her own. Regardless of the father's... hands-off approach... I'm sure he will assist if necessary, and the village would lend a helping hand when called upon, as well."

"But, like... why hasn't another adult taken the kid in?"

"It was argued that in her father's absence, she ought to learn responsibility. She volunteered herself for the task."


Well, it wasn't any of Y/N's business. She didn't know Sue personally, neither did she know Carol. It was best to leave the baby's care in someone else's hands. If Sue needed help, she'd offer help, but with a midwife on site, she should've been fine and dandy without her help.

"Ay, can I ask you a question, mate?"

"... I worry what question would require such fanfare, but go ahead..."


"Important nobility will often have a marching band or orchestra prepared before their arrival- that's what fanfare is, although it is used in contexts like this to say that there is much anticipation before something."

"Ah... alright, well, why did you get divorced?"

The way he paused was visible, growing rigid for a moment before raising a bushy brow and regarding her over again. That uncertain gaze made her hesitant to speak.

"It seems my concern was warranted."

She awkwardly shuffled from one foot to another.

"Sorry, was that too personal? You don't have to tell me, like, I was just wonderin..."

"Certainly. The truth is, it's not an interesting story. In the first place, we were married only for status; a marriage of convenience with no mutual feelings. That was understood by both of us when we made our vows. After all, divorce proceedings can be extremely difficult."

"Riiight. Isn't it- um... the one where you can uhh, erase marriage because it doesn't meet the requirements... that's easier, right?"

"'Erasure of marriage status'... do you mean annulment?" He snickered, bemused.

"Yeah..." She quirked a brow, narrowing her gaze at him, "So you didn't get an annulment... does that mean your marriage fit the requirements?"

"The requirements differ depending on the place in which you settle..." He opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it with a grimace, contemplating how to reword it, "... we had to get a divorce."

It seemed like a bitter topic...?

"Did... you have kids together?" That was the only thing she could think of.

In most countries- as far as she'd heard from Gayle- the main requirement of solidifying a marriage was consummation. So, naturally, she thought they must've had kids together as a result, or maybe there was an issue with fertility or something- or even adultery(??)- that caused the marriage to break down.

He looked as if he'd been stabbed with a needle or swallowed a lemon when he spoke of it... she thought something that would evoke such emotion could be that.

"No, no... it wasn't anything as serious as that," He dispelled the notion, hesitating before speaking again, "Our amicable partnership broke down after a while."

"You guys didn't get along?"

"Initially, we did. There was an argument that we couldn't recover from. That is why you ought to get married to someone you can communicate well with, Gloria. Someone formidable, strong and agreeable who you won't want nor need to divorce."

He wasn't wrong. In a place like Opia, where only men could request divorce, it was even more crucial. She hadn't even thought of divorce as a possibility. Especially not in Summerville. Now that they were talking about it, though, it made her nervous.

Regardless, Y/N decided not to pry further on this topic. The argument between him and his previous wife was clearly more sensitive than she'd thought. He didn't outwardly show it- he spoke very matter-of-factly with no clear emotion- but she got the feeling that even if he was happy to tell her some of it, pushing him wouldn't be good.

So, she lightened the mood.

"Well... no wonder you have no idea how to talk to women...!" She joked, shoving her nervousness beneath the surface, "It looks like my guess wasn't far off, right? I said before that you couldn't talk to your wife."

Beathán chuckled a little. It was airy, soft, and undeniably welcoming. She felt a little more at ease after hearing it.

"You are truly something, Gloria."

"Thank you. More than one other person has said that after meetin me."

"It is likely not the compliment you think it to be."

"Okay, poshy swot," Y/N rolled her eyes.

There was a brief moment of silence between the two. Then, Beathán cautiously raised his training sword and tapped the side against Y/N's chest. Confused, she glanced up at him, and he was smiling wryly.


She groaned, shoving the blade away with her palm.

"You're terrible."

"What's this? A lover's squabble?"

"Pardon?" Beathán questioned at the same time as Y/N exclaimed: "What?!"

The duo turned, Beathán looking over Y/N's shoulder and Y/N turning around entirely to face the newcomer to their conversation. A familiar head of coppery brown hair, and blue eyes. As well as an obnoxious voice and detestable, snooty look. Yep. That was Laurence, alright. Y/N felt her annoyance growing justfrom hearing the drag of his voice.

"You were arguing like a married couple, yeah?" He folded his arms, muscles flexing (somehow it seemed very purposeful- like his face exuded the effort into straining his muscles).

"Umm... no??"

"We were hardly arguing."

"It was friendly arguing," He shrugged, showing teeth, "A bit too friendly if you ask me."

"But we didn't ask you, though."

"You should have," That shocked Y/N speechless, although he didn't seem to care or even notice, "If you're in a relationship then you shouldn't be seeking attention from other males."

'There... there really is nothing like a man's audacity, is there...?'

Once the surprise had started to fade, all she was left with was the compulsion yo throw a fist at his face and crack his jaw. Again, either he was stupid or he simply didn't care about her obvious annoyance and discomfort. If they got married, would it always be like this...?

But she'd heard of the 'fiery and passionate love' of couples cooling down after marriage, though. If this was just his way of expressing love (as mentally taxing and mortifying as it was), then perhaps after marriage he'd just stop. Just give him what he wants and he'll lose interest: wasn't that the standard mentality?

She didn't know why she was being so sensitive about this...

"I don't recall Gloria ever 'seeking attention from others'."

"What are others supposed to think if you're so close with another man? You're both unmarried."

"You're looking at our relationship in bad faith."

"But you admit that there is a relationship, yeah?"

"Not of the variety that you're implying," Her mentor's jaw was set, his hands clenched firm at his sides- he was genuinely getting irritated.

Y/N felt the same. It wasn't fair for him to be making baseless accusations like that. For what purpose would he even have to do so? It wasn't like they were harming anyone by just hanging out!

"Yeah, that's not the case! We're just friends!" Feeling the need to defend herself rather than letBeathán do all the talking for her, she stepped in, "And actually- when- when the hell did I ever say we were in a relationship, mate!?"

She gestured between herself and Laurence frantically, a sneer forming on her face before she had the chance to school it away. She hated the fact that he seemed to revel in it. She seriously wanted to knee him in the groin!

Just one punch and she'd be satisfied! She took everything she said about not condoning violence back!! Violence was definitely the answer, here!!!

"You're so pure, Gloria. That's what I like about you," Laurence chuckled (it didn't feel like a compliment... not like this), outright ignoring her last question, "Men and women can't be friends. There are too many feelings involved. I'm sure even he can agree, yeah?"

He eyed her mentor with clear suspicion- to the point that Y/N actually shuffled in front of him to act as a barrier between them, as if she could protect Beathán from Laurence's glare.

"That's a baseless claim."

"Whatever helps you sleep at night," Without giving Beathán anymore of his attention, he fully turned to Y/N, "You should be careful who you trust, Glory. Men like him always have ulterior motives. You never know what someone could be hiding."

Y/N didn't notice the way Beathán stiffened behind her. All she saw was the way Laurence's gaze flashed over her shoulder, a smirk on his lips, as if he'd already won. She hated that self-satisfied grin. She hated letting him feel like he'd won! She hated it. She hated him. And she hated when he talked bad about the people she cared about! She trusted Beathán, he was her mentor, someone she deeply cared about. Like hell she was just going to let Laurence throw crap his way!

"Are you-!?"

"We'll be going on a date later this week."

But she didn't get a chance to even argue before Laurence cut her off. It was as if she'd just received a punch to the face and was left reeling from the whiplash.

Honestly, there was no direct word to describe what she was feeling in that moment. It was a mix of a lot of different emotions being thrown in all at once. The only ones she could process were aggravation, with her clenched fists shaking at her sides and the gritting of her teeth and the pulsing of the sides of her head... and, of course, confusion. She was still reeling from entitlement.

"Um?? The hell did I say that!?"

"I did. Think about it, what reason do you have to refuse?" At her lack of coherent response and helpless stammering, Laurence cut her off, "You should stop talking to other single men casually like that. I don't think that you mean anything by it, but other people might get the wrong idea."

Well... he wasn't wrong. And that's what made her anger falter. Because she couldn't deny the odd looks she noticed that they got sometimes. It made sense if Laurence was trying to 'protect' her in his own weird way. But this was just going too far.

He started walking towards her. For a moment, all Y/N could do was sort of stare in wide-eyed horror before coming to her senses and taking a step back. But by then he was already within arms reach. Her lungs clogged with some unbearable feeling as his arm plunged forth and caressed a strand of her hair.

Blondie had done something similar before, back when they didn't know each other well. But that was prefaced by some light ribbing and a clear sense of innocence about the gesture. This was-

This was weird. Uncalled for. It felt like harassment, even, if she'd dare go so far as to say. Like- what possessed him to do that? Especially after all the presumptuous crap he'd been spewing moments prior- did he think that this was okay??

Her fist was shaking, as she dug crescents into her palm with the force of her nails. She wanted nothing more than to swap places with some other woman or disappear from reality entirely just so she didn't have to endure the sensation of spider-like skittering under her skin and the repulsion threatening to turn her insides into outsides.

She wanted so badly to slam him in the gut with her knee until he was vomiting from the force. Her white-knuckles fingers twitched with the incessant urge to backhand him.

As if sensing her attitude shift with the vicious intent of a feral animal, a sturdy hand rested dropped against her shoulder from behind, bringing her back to awareness.


She'd recognise the size, warmth, and feeling any day. Calloused and worn and yet smooth with a gentleness to it, as if he was communicating the depths of his support through one mere touch. Laurence pulled back, stepping away from the older man's shadow, and her taut muscles relaxed a little.

"With all due respect, Mr. Noonan... I implore you to rethink your approach. Gloria isn't someone you should treat carelessly-"

"I don't remember hearing that you were her father. You can't order me around, Mr. Beathán."


The glare Laurence gave her mentor was actually a little frightening. Don't get her wrong, Y/N considered herself to be have a strong backbone, but she still got a shock when people looked so genuinely angry at her (people who weren't Margot, specifically, since she was always angry so she was just used to that terrible face).

Imagining that deadly glare directed at her was disconcerting. If she got married to him and he gave her that sharp stare, like he wanted to kill her with his gaze... would she even be able to withstand it?

Again, she was being too sensitive. This was a fight between two men, and since he fancied himself an 'alpha', he was just beefing with another guy to show dominance. Even if he was imposing, there's no way he'd turn that on her. These kinds of men preferred to protect their families. In fact, Laurence had already spoken about how he put such value into family. There's no way he'd ever treat her like this. He was abrasive and unbearable and downright narcissistic, but he wasn't like that... he'd never treat her like that...



"I don't remember asking your 'advice'," He spat the word like it tasted sour in his mouth, "I know women better than you do. At least I can keep mine, yeah? What happened to yours, again?"

"Ay!" Y/N snapped, taking a step forward as her face scrunched with rage, "You don't-! Don't you DARE say that, okay!? You don't get to say that!"

It was fine when she and Beathán's friends made jokes like that, because they were always lighthearted and Beathán had never indicated any discomfort. But when Laurence had spoken with such careless hostility, it made her blood boil.

"You're so cute when you get mad for others. I can tell you're a loyal and generous person, Gloria. That's another thing I like about you! But you're giving that loyalty to the wrong person."


"I understand that you're just unaware of your surroundings, but you guys look way too close to be friends on the outside."


"You don't want rumours to spin out of control. I know you're smarter than that," His hand reached forward and though Y/N flinched, she still allowed him to get a grip on her arm.

His hold was neither comforting nor warm. His hand had been cooled by the cold air. Y/N had discarded her coat during training for better mobility and because the exercise alongside the extra layer was making her overheat, so her skin was hot under his chilling palm.

He didn't squeeze her arm too hard, nor did he dig his nails in or anything. Perhaps, if this were a gesture from someone she trusted closely, it would've been reassuring and stabilising. However, it left her feeling sick to her stomach. Her insides turned and something within wiggled- it was a nauseating sensation, as if his touch had burrowed into her innards in the form of a parasite that didn't belong.

She opened her mouth to say something- anything- but there wasn't even given a gap to do so, let alone to think about what she wanted to voice. His overpowered hers.

"I'm fine with you being friends with another man, just as long as you consult me before meeting him- or better yet, do it while I'm also there. That'll settle people's useless blabber, yeah?"

"I don't need your permission for anythin," Y/N yanked her arm out of his grip- the fact the gesture came as a surprise was probably the only reason he didn't tighten his hold to keep her there, "And we aren't in a relationship. You can't suddenly decide who I can and can't talk to!"

"We might as well be- I'm trying to court you, but you're being stubborn," He wasn't annoyed or even angered- but it was a patronising fondness that he looked down on her with, as if her attempts were cute at best but not enough to deter him, "You don't need to pretend like you don't want me anymore. I'm all yours, if you'll have me."

"Stop it- stop with that!" She fought down her genuine anger, stomping the burning flame into smouldering annoyance.

If she were allowed, she would've spewed countless insults at him. She would've punched him and told him that he was the worst person she'd ever met! She would've told him that she'd never let him have her, that she'd never be with him, and that the world would celebrate his passing!

"You aren't denying it."

She wasn't allowed to deny it. Not really.

She wasn't allowed to do anything she wanted. So she kept her mouth shut, only said the bare minimum of what was allowed. And when he provoked her, and pushed her, she dug her nails into her palms to remind her that she couldn't say that. To ground herself.

"Is it that you like older men?"


"Is it the... appearance?" He couldn't find anything noteworthy about said appearance to pick out.


"What about the experience?"

"Just what are you tryna say!?"

"I meant swordplay, of course," But Laurence's wry smile whisper-screamed a lie behind it, "What else would I mean?"

"Just stop! It's not like that!! He's just my teacher! Don't say things like that!!"

"I can't think of any other reason you'd waste time here doing a male sport unless it was to see him. Doesn't he tell you to give up on it all the time? He's the expert. But, y'see... you keep coming back. What other reason is there?"

"I- I'm learnin!" She insisted, but with everything she had to show for it, it just sounded extremely pathetic.

"Pathetic..." that word echoed through her mind, and she felt herself visibly droop, as if Odette was right in front of her then and there, uttering that. And all she could do was sit there and take it. Because she was pathetic, then and now.

Laurence didn't even bother dignifying her lie with a response, instead moving on to explain himself, because that was more important than her words with nothing to back them up.

"Anyhow, everyone else already thinks we have something going on... in reality, it isn't me who decided who you can talk to, but everyone else, yeah?" His innocent tone wasn't enough for Beathán, however.

"You're unfairly imposing that on her."

"I'm just trying to save her reputation!"

"I don't care about th-"

"That's another thing I like about you! You don't care about what other people think, you just do what you want. That's really admirable. I like that you don't care. But that doesn't change the way you're looked at and the way you'll be treated if I don't save you. That's why I'm the only one who will ever understand you, Gloria. I want to be the reason you can be yourself."

"You what-??"

"I said it before and I'll say it again: you're unaware of your surroundings- an innocent dandelion being swayed left and right..."

'The bed-wetting flower??' Poor choice of metaphor, in her opinion...

"That's why a real man has to stand up for you. You don't understand the world like us."


"I'm what you need. I'll prove it, too!"


"I'll fix everything. I'll lift your reputation from the gutters and help you finish what you started!" He grinned, and it was wide and imposing, like the teeth of a predator.

It was strange how she used to look upon Blondie with the same sort of distress, and yet she'd grown to like him and cherish him and trust him as much as she did. She didn't even trust the village with Dwyn, but with more excitement than apprehension, she'd introduced her own sister to the Fae that was trying to kidnap her.

"What?? The hell did I start, like?!"

Perhaps she was just being paranoid, and that was it. Maybe this was a similar situation as with Blondie? She first looked at him with fear and uncertainty, but had grown closer with him than with anyone else. Maybe most relationships were prefaced with these sorts of conditions, and the fear she felt in that moment was just the prelude to a deep connection... it had happened before. It was possible...

That's what she told herself in order to help her steel her resolve.

"It's inappropriate to lead everyone on like that and then pretend like you have no clue what I'm talking about," She opened her mouth to retort, but was quickly cut off again, "It's your fault I fell in love with you. You should take responsibility!"

"I don't thi-"

"Let's meet here again, yeah? We'll go on a date."

"You're n-"

"I'll show you exactly what you're missing!"

She couldn't even refuse or agree. He took off without another word, leaving the once-duelling-pair in stunned silence. When Beathán glanced to the side, he saw people whispering in the shade of the trees, looking between one another and then at them, or turning away entirely and heading off.

Their eyes lingered on Y/N, his lacklustre apprentice. She didn't notice. And there was a reluctant truth that weighed heavy in his chest. From her side, he watched her facial expression harden as she shuffled from one foot to another, chewing the insides of her cheek.

In truth, she knew for certain he wasn't in love with her. He didn't know anything about her. She'd expect such a misunderstanding to arise from someone like Malik, but a grown man...? It was just too much. What Thazar and Juliette had was actual love. One could even argue that what Odette and Cedric had was love. But whatever Laurence felt for her certainly wasn't anything close to that.

He was just fascinated with her- in a way that was nothing innocent. Blondie had looked on her as something he didn't understand. He never had the intention of keeping her as a mindless puppet- that much she trusted now. He just cared for her in the only way a Fae knew how.

"I wish I was missin..."

"You're exaggerating."

"No, really. I'd rather die than go on a date with him."

"You ought not to say such things."

"Such things have already been said, though, that's the thing about that."

"Then refrain in the future."


"I hope you understand that this is why others find you frustrating to deal with. If you knew what was best for you, you'd surely heed my advice."

But Laurence was a human. He didn't have the benefit of not understanding how humans worked to excuse his misdemeanours. His fascination didn't feel innocent, like a child learning how a whole new world worked and becoming interested in a particular hobby, nurturing it into a passion. This was more like a man looking at a woman like... like...

She frowned deeply, pressing her teeth into the chapped skin of her lip and taking off the dry upper layer.

"... what if I became so unlikable after marriage that-"


"But, like- think about it!"

"I refuse."

"But for real, though! If I'm divorced then we can just say I'm so unbearable that I can't get married! It's not that I don't want to, it's that nobody else wants to! Bam!"

"It's not an impossible rumour..."

"Yeah, right?! Then, the other rumours would stop and we get to continue-! AY, WAIT A MINUTE! Don't call me unbearable! The hell!?"

"I never said that."


"It's possible."

"Okay, fine, Be-a-than! That just means we've already got a foot in the door! So, what could I do to be unbearable...?" She was thinking about this far too seriously to be a joke- in fact, Beathán knew for a fact she was being completely serious, "I guess I could cook bad food on purpose... and shirk my chores-"

"Don't be ridiculous, Glory," He rubbed down his face that seemed to warp slightly with the movement of his hand, "Truthfully, I'd prefer if you chose someone other than that boy, but don't ruin all possible marriage prospects just because of..."

He didn't finish his sentence, but his detestable look spoke volumes that which couldn't be conveyed through words.

"What marriage prospects?? He's the only one who would marry someone like me- the only one crazy enough, like! In just two years my prime'll be over! I don't even know what he wants, for real! Makin long-term plans when he's actin shallow..."

"I think you have plenty of good qualities, Gloria. Mr. Noonan surely wouldn't be the only one willing to marry you. O'Doyle- Noonan's young friend who attended the academy- was said to be only three years older than you. He exudes an aura of maturity, he may be a good match."

"Nahh... Gayle said earlier that Jane- Jane Abbott- had good chances with him. I don't wanna interrupt their thing."

Jane Abbott was younger than Y/N by two years. The age gap between her and O'Doyle made her a little uncomfortable, but Jane surely had a better future wherever they were going. Besides, she was surrounded by a big support system of women that could coach her through it. She doubted any of her close friends who were married would allow their relationship to continue if O'Doyle displayed signs of being a bad match for her.

Miss Abbott was different to Y/N in that regard. She was surrounded by friends with experience. Y/N had purposefully isolated herself- she didn't like people, anyway. But people certainly didn't try to bridge that gap so the distance between them became wider and wider...

It wasn't like it was their responsibility to do so. If Y/N had reached out early on, someone would've probably taken her hand. But she chose not to, so she was only close to those in the Bakery and Beathán and that was it. She didn't regret it or anything. But the consequences of her choice started hitting her at full force once she reached adulthood and were even clearer now.

The pressure to be married was heavy, and nobody was letting up, because nobody cared to know why she didn't want to be married.

She was glad she wasn't being forced to interact to people. She was glad she wasn't swarmed by others. But the quiet scorn, the slagging off behind her back, the dirty looks, and outright avoidance and accusations were hard to bare sometimes. If only she could live comfortably while also doing what she wanted. If only outside judgment didn't actually have any real impact on her life.

But it wasn't just the confidence in her decisions that was taking full hits. Her actual way of life was being threatened by it. So, no, she didn't regret her choice, but she didn't like the negative aspects of the outcome, either. Even if time could be turned back, she'd still make the same choices, that much was true.

She sighed and gazed up towards the sky.

"For real... Luke was right, I guess. I hate sayin that, 'n all... I hate that he was right, so don't you dare tell him that I said that."

"I don't even know who you're referring to."

Ah. Since Luke Cunningham avoided Y/N, it made sense that he'd avoid the people she was close to, as well. Although he had no qualms chatting it up with Laurence... well, boys will be boys.

"He's just some guy I don't get on with... anyways he sucks..."

"What was he right about?"

She huffed a small, humourless laugh.

"I should've just gone with Kevin..."

Yeah, Chamille seemed happy enough with him...

"You would have settled for the boy with that stench?"

Of course, Y/N had already told her mentor all about her dislike for the boy who wouldn't stop talking. Back then, he had already left Summerville with a group of other upstarts in search of greener pastures and better work in... some place else. She didn't know where for sure.

Either way, she had mainly spoken about it in passing when she'd been asked why she wasn't already married. "Oh, Kevin was someone people thought I'd be gettin married to, but he would not stop talkin and was so loud and he overreacted to every little thing. Plus, I like lookin at light-haired men rather than the 'tall, dark and-...' well, he had black hair and was tall... um- anyways, he always smelled like glue. I don't know what he even saw in me to be as persistent as he was back then..."... she said something along those lines. It was impressive how Beathán recalled even the little details.

"I'd consider him to be the lesser of two evils, like."

"Could someone whose crime was carrying a foul odour and being hyperbolic be considered evil in the first place?"

"High... puh-bolic?"

"Hyperbolic," Beathán elaborated, "Exaggerated. A hyperbole is an exaggeration."

"Ah..." She noted that down for future reference, "Well, that's why I said he was the lesser of two of them."

"That's not..."

But Beathán didn't even try to argue further, realising he probably wasn't going to get anywhere.

"...- I dunno..." She sighed after a bit of a rant, weary as she weaved the stems of the white flowers together- cautious about brushing her fingers against the undersides of the petals.

They were the same as the red ones she couldn't place the name of that day he'd brought her to the clearing and apologised for the first time. Rather than that deep, crimson colour that seemed like blood sunk into the evergreen leaves beneath it, these flowers were a soft white. She had watched closely as he'd grown them, his eyes drifting between the clear blue sky and her face.

The velvety and pristine petals gathered in whorls like a rose. When they had sprouted between his fingers in the grass, she watched the way they had been arranged like stars, the bottom layers distantly spaced and swirled into lines like a frogs hand. As they unfurled, it was as though they fanned out, the petals lightly curved on the sides. As the centre puckered out, there was a yellow berry in the very centre, sticky to the touch. The fragrance that wafted from it was strong.

("I saw these in the clearin you showed me. What're they called, like?"

"Gardenias," He had grinned, softly, as if it were a secret shared between the two of them, "They're everywhere in my realm. The fruit in the pistil is very bitter, though."

He had lightly reached his finger between the tubular centre and pressed it against the top of the berry. In the back of her mind, Y/N made a note on what the flower middle was called.

"Be careful when touching the petals, by the way. They turn brown if you're too rough with them."

"Right, I got it," She'd smiled.)

Once they had sat down in the grass just off the path, engaging in menial conversation, he had begun absentmindedly growing a handful of flowers. Y/N had then began picking them and tying them together. Daisies and fern-like, light pink astilbe ("it means 'I will be waiting for you'," Blondie had explained, offhandedly, and Y/N thought that was just lovely).

He also grew Milkweed, thick, dusty pink flowers surrounded by waxy leaves. Y/N had grinned at the sight of them and told him the myth that had been relayed to her; filling one's pillows with the cotton of these flowers would bring dreams of the Fae. He'd grinned at that, but said nothing in reply, as if he were leaving the truth to mystery.

"Why is there so much pressure for you to get married? Let's say I understood the need for you to have children- I don't, for the record- you'll still be fine for at least seven more years. They shouldn't rush you."

Y/N hadn't given Blondie the full details of her situation. Mainly because she didn't fancy talking about Laurence- nor did she even want to think about him. But she had expressed that the village was putting pressure on her for choose a man and stick to him closely until a proposal came.

She'd vented- sort of- about Catherine's attempt at reeling her in to that deadbeat son of hers. She'd ranted- a bit- about Luke's comments on Kevin and her likeability that had stuck with her for years. And she'd touched on- briefly- the encouragement of her well-meaning co-workers and mentor to get married to a specific someone who she showed no interest in, without mentioning his advances to her.

"I wish they wouldn't," She lamented, "But it's not just about my capability of havin children. It's also about another person's willin'ness to marry me."

"They wouldn't marry you just because you're a little bit older?"

"Well, older men prefer marryin younger women most the time," She shrugged with her hands, "Me, specifically... you'd call someone like me damaged goods, I guess."

"Huh!? Why would anyone call you that!? You're not damaged goods! You're not 'goods' to begin with! You're a person!" He shot upright, and she could only chuckle a bit at how earnest he sounded.

He had said that before, too. But this was the way things were.

"Ummm... mainly cuz'a the fact that I've never had marriage prospects until recently. Not litchrally damaged, but I have baggage, and I'm not very... um... submissive...? But, it's whatever, though. I'm just not interested in that kinda thing."

"Humans are ridiculous," He scoffed.

"I know, right?? I can't seem to find any motivation to pursue the guy everyone expects me to pursue- and everyone seems convinced that this is my last chance or somethin, so I really have to at least pretend to put the effort in, right?"

"I don't want you to," There was a bitterness to his voice that made her smile.

Someone did care about her to that extent... it was a nice feeling.

"I don't want to, either! But we're still goin on a... 'date', I guess. I even tried to reject it, but there's no backin out now..."


"I dunno," She replied, blandly, "He didn't give any details. Just said we were doin it. Not when, not where. Just that it was happenin."

"Is this how human courting works?" His hand clamped around some grass and he tore it out with little effort- the sound of the blades breaking was like the snapping of threads, "He doesn't even have the decency to tell you anything?"

"Some women like spontaneo... spon- spontaneity..."

Blondie pouted, averting his gaze with an oddly coy look on his face. Beneath his hand, a flower began to raise, and she watched it take shape as he pulled his palm up, as if magically lifting it right from the ground. A familiar bundle of blossoms- yellow rather than the violet of her back garden. Hyacinth.

"Do you?"

"Uuumm... sometimes? Not in this case. He doesn't even know if I'll be free the day he decides to 'whisk me away'. I guess that means he'll just be yankin me on whatever day he wants even if I'm busy," She rolled her eyes, "But I can let it slide, I guess..."

Because she had to. Not because she wanted to.

"What... do you like about him?"

Dumbfounded, Y/N stared at him for a moment. But this was a serious thing. She was supposed to know this. If someone else had asked her in the village, she would've been absolutely screwed.

"I like the fact that he is...??" Floundering, she looked around the clearing for some form of inspiration.

What did she like about him?

He was good looking when they first met, but now that she knew him personally, he wasn't even that anymore. She'd be lying if she said she thought he was eye-catching in her opinion, but obviously, she could pick out what other people thought was attractive about him.

His personality was also... decidedly not good. She narrowed her eyes as they darted back and forth, putting her brain to the test.

"... um........"

To her, he was bossy and annoying. He talked over her and interrupted her whenever possible. He was patronising and thought he was better than everyone around him. He'd even spoken badly about her dad and her mentor right in front of her, and all his attempts at impressing her had just made him look like an oaf.

... She shut her eyes from the effort.

"... breathin???"

Blondie's expression was almost laughable. But it was actually important that she got her story straight. She needed to come up with something. She imagined Gayle was in front of her, glaring at her as she urged Y/N to think about all the good things he'd done for her.

He hadn't really... done anything. All his offers had been a thinly-veiled attempts to show off how impressive he was. There was no actual concern about whether she could improve her swordplay, and there was no true interest in Summerville and being shown around.

"My favourite thing about him is that......................."

... well, there was nothing.

Her lips pressed in a thin line as she glared at the unfinished flower crown in her lap. The concentration was enough to melt her mind from the sheer effort.

"... he drinks water?????"

No matter how hard she ran things over in her pesky little thoughts, there seemed to be no end to the amount of things she disliked about him. At the very least, she figured that she could tolerate him, even if he was annoying. But she'd never truly like him.

"I am pleased that he..........




eats food...???"

"Pffftt- but what- what about his qualities?" Blondie suggested within a bout of laughter.

She liked the fact that he didn't want many kids and that he was willing to accept Dwyn, she supposed. Such thoughts came too late. That wasn't really a quality, was it? Qualities were, like, leadership skills, affectionate-ness, determination. Perhaps if these qualities belonged to someone else, she'd like it, but in Laurence, they were the worst.

"......... I," She started, eloquently, "...............his greatest quality is.............

... bein ...............


.... alive...?"


His hard snickering swiftly turned into full-blown laughter within seconds. And soon, they were both laughing. With her heart a little lighter, she went back to threading the flowers once more.

"It doesn't sound like you like him at all!"

"Well- I do. I do like him, like, as a person-"


Oh, right. He could tell when she lied. Because he was a Fae. She forgot about that (how did she even forget that when he was growing flowers from his hands RIGHT in front of her??). The ridiculousness made her crack a grin and chuckle along.

"From the sounds of it, there's no way he'll win you over... that's good! He's not allowed to Take you away from me."

"I'm not goin anywhere even if I get married, that's the thing about that."

He shook his head.

"I still don't want you to get married."

"I'll have to, though."

He pursed his lips.

"If you were Mine, you wouldn't have to get married."

"Here we go..." She couldn't be mad about it though- she was smiling, amused.

"I'm serious!" He exclaimed, "You'd never have to get married. You could come With Me to My Realm- with Marzipan. You should reject him and come with me, instead!"

"You sound like a scorned ex-lover objectin at a weddin."

His face became one of mild disgust and contempt.

"You won't have a wedding with him. Not on my watch."

"Bloody hell," She rolled her eyes, playfully, laughing through puffs of air from her nose, "There's just no pleasin you, is there?"

"I'll be pleased when you're Mine."

"That's not gunna happen, mate."

"It will!" His smile was innocent and almost childish.

"You're scarin me with that."





"Yeah, unfortunately," She shrugged with her hands, the flower crown resting on her skirt, "I wish I was jokin. I was talkin to my mentor earlier about it... but honestly, even if I could get a divorce in general, it prolly wouldn't be a good option for me, anyways. How're the villagers gunna treat an isolated divorcee, right?"

Since they were on the topic, they talked on pretty much everything there was to know about human and Fae marriage, which resulted in Blondie freaking out a bit over the fact women weren't allowed to file for divorce in Opia (although the bride's family was allowed to appeal for divorce together, but the wife on her own was not permitted to do so).

"That's so unfair," He clenched his fists, glaring at the open space on the path laid out before them.

"You're tellin me," She snickered, "I'm livin it."

"You wouldn't have to," His voice took on a sing-songy tone as he knocked his side with hers ever so slightly.

She fought off the warmth gathering in her chest, electing to pay attention to the flower crown instead. It was bad for her to get feelings like this. As if it had been embroidered into her being, guilt sunk through her. She needed to distract herself from these terrible thoughts she was having about her Fae friend.

She was a bad person for it. She was wrong.

"Shurrup, mate," She smiled a little, trying to play off her doubt with a lighthearted attitude.

"Your marriage would be null and void in the Summer Court..."

"Nice baitin, dunderhead. That's why they call you the master baiter- HAHAHAHAHA!!" She was laughing at her own joke... like a loser, but it was pretty funny in her opinion.

Blondie didn't even try to pretend like he understood. He just gave her that enigmatic grin and a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. It seemed subliminally smug, somehow, as he leaned back and looked at her from his periphery.

"It's not my fault if it's appealing to you, Gloria."

"I'm not goin to the Fairie Realm, so..." Nice avoidance, Y/N.

"When you're Mine, you'll want to go with me."

"Uhh, because you'll mind control my arse??"

"No!" He exclaimed, and he looked? offended?? "You'll want to because you'll know it's the better option! I'll be able to keep you by my side, and you'll never lack for anything there."

Except her life when another Fae inevitably got their hands on her.

"Y'know, we keep loopin back to this..."

"Because it's the truth."

"If you say so, like."

He grumbled under his breath. He sounded like the villains in the stories she'd tell her sister at night. 'Curses! Foiled again!'. How could she take his offers as something serious or even threatening when he had such a childish attitude?

"Fine. If you won't run away with me to get out of marriage, then there are other ways to circumvent the divorce laws in the Mortal Realm."

"What if I wanna stay married to him, though?" The mirth she felt was plastered all over her face as she deflected.

"Pffft- I don't believe that for a second," He shook his hair, grinning ear to ear, "I'll just force his hand."

To divorce her?

"Uh? How??"


She laughed. Even if he was genuinely serious, she didn't mind so much. He wasn't threatening to kill anyone, after all. Intimidation wasn't that bad.

"Otherwise, you could give me his name."

"Uh...? How would that work??"

"If the name is given to me, then it's mine."

"What if you overhear it in passin?"

He paused as if considering the pros and cons of telling her the truth. Eventually, he sighed in a way that said that: 'he might as well, since she'd find out about it one way or another'. She tried not to think of the implications such a thought would have if she were accurate.

"If a Fae heard you call Marzipan by her real name, they wouldn't own it. But... they would know what it is and be able to manipulate a conversation to mistakenly get you or her to give it to them. I wouldn't do that, but it's good practice to never mention real names in front of any Fae. If you give me a name, as long as it belongs to someone, I can take it."

"So... if I told you 'Marzipan's real name is Henrietta' or somethin..."

"Then as long as I know who you're referring to, the name now belongs to me. But unless it's directly spoken to me, I can't take it."

It wasn't lost on her that he said 'spoken' rather than 'offered'. So, even if he didn't directly say it, it could be inferred that as long as someone mentioned a name directly to a Fae, even if they didn't 'hand it over', so to speak, it counted as being given. Whereas if it was overheard, that was different.

Though, 'different' didn't mean 'better'. If the name was overheard, that would probably open up the opportunity for a Fae to ask: "is your name xyz?" and then you'd be trapped in a corner. Because lying and saying 'no' would confirm it anyway, and would trap you with the whole 'don't be rude to the Fae' thing, and saying 'yes' could count as you giving your name.

Fae trickery was such BS...

"What about your marriage thingy?" She asked, with the intention of evading any further conversation about her world's marriage system, "If my marriage wouldn't be valid in your realm- well, why wouldn't it be?"

"Because human marriages are confirmed through written contract. Fae marriages are magically bound. Humans are just expected not to break their word, but Fae can't. It's a more reliable system."

"If they can't, then... how does that-? Would divorce even be possible?? What if they fall out of love?"

That seemed a little scary of a commitment to make... damn, Fae were on a whole other level to be taking risks like that.

It probably came with the territory of being immortal beings made of magic and all.

"Marriages are always built on bonds. If those bonds weaken, breaking the marriage is easy," He replied, flippant.

"I'm assumin bonds don't just mean, like, a good relationship..."

Blondie thought about it for a moment, like he was trying to come up with a way to explain it. So that she could also understand.

"Since we're made of magic, forming relationships with Fae who are also made of magic... sort of... connects us. Our magic resonates with each other based on how close we are and creates a bond. For example, if you make a friend, then a platonic bond is formed, however small it is," Between his pinched fingers, a small sprout grew- bright green and tinted white as if it had just emerged from a seed, "The closer you become, the stronger the bond is, the further you grow apart, the weaker it is. Bonds without a binding aren't permanent."

As he spoke, that sprout grew longer and taller, and then wilted. Y/N watched it with keen awareness.

"Before you can get married, the bond between the marriage partners has to be nurtured. That's why if there's a betrothal, then there are a lot of dates and courting rituals that they go through. The stronger the foundation, the stronger the marriage contract."

The sprout became something of a long rope of flowers. Small green branches budding in a deep and rich indigo. Belatedly, she recognised it as delf-in-ium... or it was called something like that in Redkeep- or the forests around Redkeep, actually.

Wasn't the meaning of those dignity and grace or something? But that was for the bright blue colour she'd seen. This was far more purple than that lighter and dreamier blue. It was closer to the colour of a cornflower, whereas this was more vivid.

They were also extremely poisonous.

"Ahhh," Y/N tilted her head thoughtfully, "Okay, I think I get it. So if you fall out of love with each other, then the marriage contract becomes less effective. Like a frayin rope! It would be easy to snap it all together if it was barely hangin on, like."

"Pfft- yeah," He clasped his fingers around the delicate, velvety petalled stem of the flower and turned towards her.

Gingerly, he leaned in, and it was as if she were suspended in the air. Her heart leapt as her eyes met his, viridescent and lively. Green, like fresh cut limes- and then like the peas beneath a vibrant coloured sweet pea flower. The hue shifted in the light as the tree tops wavered above them. Those eyes, bitter to sweet- somehow both coalescing into one palette.

With baited breath, she watched as he tucked the flower behind her ear. His fingers brushed against her skin, and through loose strands of her hair, the small flowers were slightly ticklish like a fleeting breath against her temple. The contact was like butterfly wings caressing the side of her face. As if a colony of them had taken flight inside of her, her insides turned and wiggled, jubilant.

For some reason, she felt far too embarrassed to continue looking at his face.

As if he were made of sunlight, the moment his hand pulled away- the touch lingering- the small blooms opened, and the bold colour was like ink sinking through the delicate petals. When the blossoms were closed, the flower was still an impressive image, but when opened, the hues were striking and deep from the centre, lightening out to the edges of the petals.

Blondie sat upright again in his previous spot, his arms around his knees as he pulled them up to his chest. He rested his cheek against them, the green of his baggy shorts matching his spring-like gaze. His irises were mesmerising, with that effect as the light refracted through them like glass.

She sucked a breath in through her teeth, trying to regain composure.

Under his breath, he spoke again. His voice was tender and melodic, nestling into the depths of her soul.

"Purple suits you."

Heat swirled through her, and she made an effort to look away, even if her gaze was drawn to him over and over again from the corner of her periphery as if he were magnetic.

She had the impulse to break the atmosphere with a quip of some kind. She didn't.

"Green suits you," She countered instead.

His cheeks darkened in colour, overpowering those light freckles that adorned his gorgeous face. With that comment, he straightened and looked ahead.

"It's a lark's heel, lark's claw and knight's spur... the leaves, seeds, and new growths are irritants, so I grew it with that in mind..." He trailed off as he rubbed the back of his neck.

How thoughtful... she stifled an endeared giggle.

"I thought you might've, like," She smiled a little, enndeared by his thoughtfulness and the pink inching along his cheeks, "I thought it was a delfinium at first."

"They're in the same flower family, and they're practically interchangeable. Some larkspur are delphinium, but not all of them... these are just larkspur."

The differences were apparently so minute that they were basically the same thing, but he knew and went through the effort of choosing one of them just for her.

"I appreciate it. My mother and her friends used to take delfiniums apart and throw them in the bath water to protect us from magic... we used to be so superstitious back then," She chuckled, "I've heard of tales about them keepin away witches- or that they grew from the blood of a dragon... I always thought flowers were so interestin cuz'a stories like that. So much can come from one single plant."

"You don't have any in your garden, though."

Of course, he'd already seen her garden, even though she'd never actually shown it to him...

"There are a lot of flowers I can't get my hands on. As far as I've seen, there are more of them in the south, and we're up in the north of Opia, so they aren't in the area," She shrugged with her hands.

"I see..."

She just grinned pleasantly and ran a finger over one of the small flowers. When she looked at him, she caught his eyes and watched as they darted away. Apparently, he had been watching her for a while. She couldn't even guess what was going on in his head as he cleared his throat.

"A-As I was saying... marriage contracts in my realm are impossible to build unless there's a bond there first, so courting activities and blind dates are done as they grow up and see each other as often as possible. Breaking a strong marriage bond is basically impossible most of the time."

"So, it's impossible for someone on the outside to try 'n force them apart?"

"They can try," Blondie snorted at the thought, "The Previous King tried. That's why my- My Court had a new ruler take over."

Ah. A story was being painted here. She dared not ask, though. There was something to be done to a human who knew too much from a reliable source... learning about the Fae was one thing. But the inner workings of a Fae Court? From a government shill who had probably seen it all go down himself?

Nah, that was a recipe for some undue silencing.

"A third party would find it difficult to cut off- regardless of whether their bonds were breaking down- unless it was agreed to by the spouses. That's without considering a mate bond."

"Okay, well, now you hafta tell me what a one of them things is, like."

As if struck by something, his face was immediately enveloped in red. He covered his face with both hands as if hiding himself away from the world and from her eyes. Although she was initially confused by this, it only took her a few seconds for her to figure it out.

'Ah,' She mercifully withdrew her stare, looking anywhere else, 'Consummation. Okay, that reaction makes sense, then.'

She just pretended she'd never had such a thought in the first place. It had nothing to do with her, what was there to be embarrassed about? Calm down, Y/N. CALM DOWN, Y/N. CALM DOWN.

"Yeah, that all makes sense," She changed the topic- if only to spare them both the further humiliation of him trying to go through the whole 'birds and the bees' thing, "I mean, if you're gunna spend eternity with each other, then you have to be sure you're willin to commit. What's the point in gettin married if it's just gunna be broken apart like nout all?"

Thankfully, he emerged from his hands, rubbing the back of his neck, sheepishly. He still didn't look her in the face, eyes somewhat quilted by his long, fluffy lashes. But he looked significantly less troubled, and his cheeks had evened out in colour.

"Yeah, that's... one way of looking at it."

But there was a burning question on her mind. Something she couldn't help but be curious about. Was it right for her to ask it, though?

She was going to.

"What about you? Are you betrothed to someone? You're in a government position, right?"

If he had been eating or drinking something, she was certain he would've choked on it from the shock. She figured she had to be close...

"Or maybe you have several candidates? Crown Prince Kalmaar- ah... I guess he's king now... King Kalmaar had somethin called the crown princess-... somethin-rather... like a list of high rankin noble ladies or somethin, where there were multiple options- y'know, since pickin the mother of the nation is a very complicated process..."

"What happened to the women who didn't become Queen? Were they placed in the Concubine Selection?"

"Con... con-cube... what...??"

"Concubine," Blondie repeated, somehow feeling a bit awkward, "Before the new Summer Court Queen took the throne, the Summer Court used to have that system. Zane said that the human country Insignia also has it..."

"What system, like? What's a 'concubine'?"

"Er-... a... second wife."

"Like..." She tilted her head, "After a divorce...?"

He winced, and she got the feeling she wouldn't like what he was about to say.

"No. The King would be married to the Queen Consort. Then, the King would have more wives who... rank below her in a 'harem'..."

... Is that where the term 'harem' came from? She believed she'd heard Margot mention it but hadn't ever thought it was anything but a work of fantasy.

She'd been told/read a few fictional, romantic stories of women being sought after by many men, or men being chased by lots of women- those were harems, but in the end the main character always ended up with one person. So she'd only ever thought it was the idea of being pursued by many, not that it was a literal marriage system.

"I-It's so that there's more chance of having a son and continuing the bloodline... or to serve as entertainment..." He trailed off at the sight of her face, which had lost all colour.

Y/N's eyes widened to the size of saucers as she stared at him. For a moment, she stammered over her words. To say she was bewildered would be an understatement. Absolute crisis was occurring behind those blank eyes. She'd never heard of a person being married to multiple people...

"But... the sanctity of marriage?? A-And they're just used for..." She covered her mouth with her hand, a nausea creeping over her.

It wasn't just the thought of having multiple wives. It was the inequality. It was the horror of being reduced to just a means for a man to have 'fun'. Perhaps it was different in the Fae version of the system, since they didn't reproduce the same way humans did (that explained the lack of belly button, by the way, since there was no umbilical chord). But women serving as mere entertainment with basically no rights, being ranked and only living to give birth or whatever...

That wasn't fair. Why weren't things ever fair for people like them!? The thought of existing in a group of women all tasked with having the same man's child was just sickening. She felt bile crawl up her throat and had to swallow it down, leaving a bitter aftertaste.

It was probably seen entirely differently in their cultures, though. Something like that could only be described as pure and absolute indoctrination.

That wasn't even touching on the fact that it would never be the opposite way around, would it? A woman would always be below the man, so there would only ever exist a system where the man was on top, and he had the top wife and then several other wives chasing after her coattails. A system that forced women to fight over the attention of one man because it was the only way for them to survive.

A system that placed their worth in the hands of whether or not they could have children. It was almost ten times worse than the hell she was already experiencing. So far, the worst that could happen was divorce... or violence from the husband/in-laws if she failed to produce children... or being looked down on by villagers.

But what would happen to a low-ranking concubine who couldn't have children? Discarded with no power to change their situation. Surrounded by competitive women on the battlegrounds of a shared marriage with only one man who could offer salvation.

It would be like being thrown into leech infested waters. Not to mention, if they could produce a child, that may be dangerous as well. It would instantly elevate your status in the ranking system, right? Other concubines may hate that and try to ruin it. The thought was horrible. Terrible. Disturbing beyond belief. She couldn't fathom it.

"We don't have that system anymore!" Blondie quickly explained, lurching forward as if to catch her from falling into her own thoughts, "My... it was abolished in My Court after the Previous King was overthrown. None of the other Courts have ever used that system, either. The closest thing to it is polygamy, and that's not the same."

Y/N felt some ease at that, and the tension in her shoulders evaporated.

"... Polygamy?"

"It's where more than two people start courting. They're all part of a relationship together. My uncle was in one before, with this woman called Faith, and her partner Jack! It wasn't bad..."

Y/N wasn't sure how to feel about that. She'd never heard of such a concept before. Tilting her head, she turned the idea over in her mind multiple times.

Two men and a woman? Or did they both love the woman but not each other? How would that work? How could they agree to that? Wouldn't they feel the jealousy and possessiveness people are supposed to feel when they love someone and see them be with someone else?

Or did the men also love each other and the woman? Was it all equal? How would two men love each other? Wasn't the purpose of love so that they could eventually procreate? Was it possible to love someone else without that desire to have children? Because two men couldn't exactly birth a baby, right? Was it possible to love someone even knowing you couldn't impregnate them/be impregnated by them?

"They... all love each other?"

Sharing a lover. Loving someone of the same gender... these weren't things she had been taught about. She didn't know anything about all this stuff. Y/N couldn't imagine loving one person romantically, let alone two or more. Or another woman. Or a man! It sounded like a lot of work and social exhaustion.

"Something like that."

"Oh..." She nodded, taking the information in and simply deciding that she'd revisit it when she had the mental capacity to try to understand it, "A-... Anyways, no. We don't have that... I dunno what happened to the women who weren't chosen, but I doubt anythin bad since the act of bein considered is already extremely honourable... and he's gunna have to start lookin through those options again now that he's king, since the foreign princess he was gunna marry disappeared."


"Yeah, don't ask me how," She shrugged with her hands, "Ga-... my co-worker's story changes every time she's bloody well asked. 'She ran away', 'she was kidnapped by pirates', 'she went into hidin and became the bandit queen'. I dunno, it gets more dramatic every time."

"I see..."

"And I don't see a proper answer from you."


"I asked before if you had some kinda betrothal thing goin on, but if you can't talk about it or don't wanna, that's fine, too."

At the sight of her hand-based shrug, he hesitated. It seemed as if he wanted to tell her but couldn't. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, they sat in silence for a while as she finished weaving the flower crown together. Tying the end off made the back look a bit sloppy. Not her best work.

"There was one person, but..." He shook his head as if trying to throw the thoughts out of his mind, "I can't stand them anymore. I thought they were someone else, but I found out that they were a liar. I hate that I still have to see them. I can't change that or my situation. I won't ever marry them, though."

So the marriage talks were over, but he still had to see them, huh? How unfortunate. To feel as if he were trapped in that situation, helpless to the whims of other people more powerful than him- it just wasn't fair! But what was she supposed to say? How was she supposed to comfort him?

In reality, she faced similar circ*mstances. With Laurence, in reference to the marriage aspect and really growing to dislike a person she was supposed to care about, with pressure from outside forces to conform with an outcome she didn't want. With Malik, in reference to the feeling of being trapped, unable to change their situations, unable to trust him again.

But she didn't even know how to comfort herself in that sense. She patted him on the shoulder, a little socially awkward.

"S-Sorry to hear that... it's really not fair at all, and you deserve better than that, like."

Her words just felt useless- like they were falling short of what was truly needed. But she didn't know what to say. She wanted to support him fully, and to express her concern to the best of her abilities. However, it seemed this was where her abilities capped off.

Time and time again, she was reminded of why she hated social interaction. She was just plain bad at it. Even so, Blondie's lips quirked up in a smile- showing that her intentions had reached him- before falling again with the dampening of the mood.

"You're really kind, Gloria... I'm happy I met you. If I hadn't, I'd still be in the dark. Seriously..." He looked as if he were about to tear his hair right from the scalp, teeth gritting with a wet glare in his eyes, "I trusted her. I didn't think twice about how she was spinning her words. My friends saw the best in her, too- some of them still do and want me to make amends..."

"It's not your fault, though, like...! Why should you hafta make amends?"

"That's what I've been saying... sometimes I wonder if I'm just being stubborn, though. I don't hate her, but I won't ever see her in the same way I used to... I don't think she even feels sorry."

"Well, you can't forgive someone who won't apologise."

"Is that so...?" His smile was weak, and his eyes felt weaker despite the electric colour like crackling lightning, "I want to agree. I don't think she believes she did anything wrong. We used to talk a lot when we were younger, and back then I didn't think there was anything weird going on... but now I feel like I never really knew her. She was talking around the truth instead of being honest with me... what do I believe? How much do I actually know about her? Did she ever really care about me, or was she just using me?"

"Why would she use you at all, like...?" Confused, she tilted her head, her tone tinged with sympathy.

As a woman, she couldn't help but want to see the best in another woman just trying to get by, but... she couldn't make any judgments like that when someone was hurting because of this fellow woman. Especially when that someone was also someone Y/N treasured and cared about. Her Fae. Not just anyone, but Blondie.

"I'm not sure... but I know she only got close to me so she could use my position..."

"Uhhh... isn't that kinda tyrannical??"

"You know what the word 'tyrannical' means, but not 'Concubine'?" And there went his signature eyebrow jerk that which she'd become so fond of.

"Ay. Only the Goddess can judge..." She glared, and he just laughed, tucking some of his hair behind his pointed ear.

She wanted to run her fingers along the shell of it, to feel his skin beneath her hand. She did no such thing. In fact, she forced herself to look away. Was she crazy? That kind of thing wasn't allowed. They weren't even married. Even if they were friends, these sort of thoughts were entirely unacceptable between a man and a woman.

"For real, um... some of it had to be genuine, right? Even if she was lyin to do some evil deed or somethin, the fact she was able to... like, um... get by without you figurin it out was prolly because she wasn't lyin all the time. So all the times she said you were good friends 'n any advice she gave and any effort she put into strengthenin your bond was prolly, for the most part, like, proper... right?"

"I guess so..." He didn't sound very convinced, but at the very least took her word to heart, "I don't think she was planning anything evil. She isn't a bad person. I've seen her do plenty of good things and I've known her for a long time. It's like you said, if she was completely evil, then I would've noticed something."

"Then the same thing can be said of the fact she must've liked you to some extent."

His smile was soft and a little sombre.

"You're right... I know you're right... but I don't forgive her."

"You don't have to. She hasn't even apologised, like. What's there to forgive? She hasn't even recognised her wrongs yet. But even if she did, you wouldn't hafta forgive her even then- I'm just sayin..."

With dampened levity, he pressed his chin to his knees and let his gaze sweep away from her. It was wistful and foreign. Not for the first time, Y/N was met with the sobering realisation that this man had a life outside of her, in a whole other realm, with a job and friends she'd never met... even a previous betrothal that had fallen through... all of which she hadn't known until now. She didn't know anything about that part of his life.

It was times like this that made her feel so alien to... everyone. Not just him. But if she wasn't even close enough to know these details about him, and he was her best friend... then what did that say about her relationships with everyone else in her life?

The one she knew the most about was Dwyn. Because she'd seen her grow up from that fragile little thing that nearly died too early- drowned in a horse trough like some kind of insect. Her dad was already long gone. Her brother, who she thought she knew like the back of her hand, had changed in the blink of an eye and abandoned her.

She knew nothing about anyone in her life. It had always been just her and Dwyn. Bea would leave, and Blondie would lose interest, surely. They didn't even know each other that well. Why the hell was she getting so attached to him?

"She betrayed my trust... and some of the people I really care about believe that I should just let it go. But I feel like an idiot. I don't know how I didn't catch on sooner. In hindsight, it seems so obvious that she was fooling me. You're the one who helped me realise that something was off. If it wasn't for you, I would've stayed blind to her schemes."

'Ah, so this is the person he kept having to see who he complained about before...? The description kinda matches, right? I think he even mentioned a 'she' back then... I dunno, though...'

"The worst part is that even though I feel this way, I know some of my inner circle want to keep the peace or want me to simply get over it. Kai and Cole think we can still fix things and Pix is more on the political side, since it was an important connection for me to make. It's only Nya who is actually mad about the situation, and she has sympathy for their situation. She was also their friend, so they don't see things the way you do because they care about both of us. It's like the only ones who are fully on my side are... you and Zane."

His smile was weak as he turned to look at her. Y/N's heart sunk.

It sounded like such a tricky situation- even she wasn't sure what she would do if she was in his inner circle. If she knew this other person enough to call them a 'friend', if she had to choose between one friend and another... she was sure that she'd also try to see both sides and have sympathy for both perspectives.

In the end, his inner circle was likely still loyal to him and willing to accept whatever decision he made, but it would make sense that seeing a relationship between two people you value a lot would make you hesitant to pick sides. Especially with a background of politics and government positions and whatnot.

"I'm sure as soon as she got what she wanted, she'd divorce me. That wouldn't be a big deal if it was easy and painless. But for someone with a strong connection to a bond, it's isn't that simple."

So, there were probably physical consequences. That definitely made sense for a magic contract between two magic beings. Like an invisible sixth limb of some kind. And such a complicated process would definitely encourage people to reconcile and/or think through their decision, since it would be extremely counterproductive to be unsure, step into that kind of commitment, and then be stuck and have to tear yourself apart just to leave.

At the very least, it was a much better idea than Opia's policy of refusing to let women divorce just because they were 'emotional' and 'shouldn't be making rash decisions on their own'.

On a side note, it felt weirdly messed up for this faceless ex-betrothed of Blondie's to continue to deceive him, inadvertently letting him grow more attached and connected to her. Y/N doubted she had intentions to make the divorce process even more painful for him or something like that. Perhaps she just didn't think things through? Or did she not trust Blondie?

... did that even make sense? Weren't they supposed to be growing closer, strengthening their relationship over a long period of time? For the Fae, she guessed that courting would take decades- that was a long time to spend together, right? Why wouldn't she trust him by then?

Something about the situation felt odd. As if Y/N was missing an important piece of the puzzle... but then, of course she was. She didn't know anything except what Blondie had told her. She hadn't witnessed any of this, she didn't even know his ex-betrothed's alias, or what she looked like. And it wasn't Y/N's place to ask such questions. She just had to listen to what he was comfortable with sharing and give as much reassurance as she could.

Because it wasn't his fault that things had turned out this way. And he deserved better.

"I don't know what she wanted from me. I would've tried to help her if she had only been honest. She didn't need to deceive me. We could've still been friends. Ugh... I know we grew apart from when we were younger... and I know I shouldn't whine about it, but-..."

"You're not whinin. You have every right to be upset, mate," She placed a hand on his shoulder, hoping to offer some form of measly comfort.

But something had lodged itself in her mind like an icicle dropping from a droopy rooftop and stabbing into the snow below. A consistent thought that gnawed on her. If they knew each other from when they were 'younger' then what could possibly be the betrothed reason's for destroying Blondie's trust in the first place? That didn't make any sense.

Something negligible and embarrassingly warm and thick had settled in the bottom of her gut. It felt like jealousy for some reason that Y/N couldn't place. She elected to ignore it.

"Wait a sec, you guys were like... childhood friends...?" Her heart felt heavy and saturated, like a sponge left in water.

"No... our betrothal went through later than others because... our circ*mstances are different."


But... Y/N didn't feel relieved at all. In fact, it was like she was bouncing from one negative feeling to the next as doubt crept in, dragging her down into the pits of despair.

She didn't want to live without her Fae. But, eventually, she'd have to. Everyone was bound to leave her in the end. How many times had it already happened before?

What did it matter what was whispered in the night? What was said now was the bare minimum facts that he could give her. What was his job that he was put into a political marriage? And his ex-betrothed's circ*mstances which were different from his- what were they? He didn't even give them a cheeky mention.

"I met her ten years ago... although our meetings have been more frequently recently..." There was a tightness around his eyes that screamed of splenetic feelings- as if their current meetings left a bad taste in his mouth and he didn't want to see her.

Objectively, it was none of her business. She knew that, and that's why she didn't press it. But on a personal level, why were these things he was missing out? She didn't need to know every last inch of his life. She wasn't asking to know his deepest, darkest secrets or even everything he knew about his friends, family, and the girl he was mentioning. But it kind of sucked to know he was making a conscious effort to leave her out of a big part of his life.

It wasn't her business. But as friends, shouldn't he want to make some of it her business?

... she was overthinking things as usual. Pathetic.

"God, you're pathetic."

Her words rang through Y/N's head, like a vicious haunting from the past. What she would give to forget...

"There's no substantial bond between us anymore."

At the very least, Blondie's conclusion made her heart feel a little lighter. As if that sponge from earlier had been grabbed and squeezed and rung out. Looking at her hand, she counted on her fingers how many times they would've met up in that case...

'Ten years... there's... twelve months in ten years, right...? So that's... twelve, plus twelve, plus twelve...'

She'd never counted such big numbers before (but it was a good distraction from the festering negativity in her core). Frowning to herself a little, she was taken off guard when the conversation carried on sweeping her up in its jaws.

"I don't care... she can do whatever she wants- I don't want to talk to her, I don't want to be around her..."

"You're in a high position, right? Can't you say you don't want to, like?"

"There are... people in higher positions who won't allow that..." He grimaced, "They don't see it the way I do."

"Why don't you talk to them about this, like? Tell them what you told me... maybe even talk to her, too...? For closure's sake, I mean," Her heart clenched painfully at the thought of him returning to this unknown person's side, so she quickly tacked on: "You won't ever hafta get with her, though."

"... Maybe I'll give it a try," He offered, glumly.

There was a long stretch of silence between them. He seemed deep in thought and sullen. Without further ado, she lifted the finished flower crown. Even if it wasn't a permanent fix to his dip in mood, nor a tangible solution to his problems, she hoped that it would at least serve as some comfort for him. It's the simple pleasures in life that people live for, after all.

"Here, for you. A consolation prize."

"Pfft- a consolation prize?" He lifted it, delicately, "I'll treasure it."

"It's not that great," She huffed a laugh as he carefully placed it on his head.

"No, it's perfect. I'm keeping it," His words were quick and defensive.

Those sandy blonde curls caught the light and traced along the edges of the flowers in his hair. A white and pink crown made purely of the flowers he created himself. He could've made the flower crown himself, too, and it probably would've looked much better and neater. Even so, her heart soared at the sight of his hair falling beneath its delightful hues.

It looked absolutely wonderful on him. He always looked absolutely wonderful. And he chose to wear it.

"You do look good in it..." She commented, smiling lightly.

He always looked good, though. No matter what he wore. He was gorgeous beyond belief in a way that had scared her not long ago. In fact, they'd known each other for a longer time than she'd thought, looking back on it. It still didn't feel that long ago that she'd found that horrifying giant looming over her in the woods.

His cheeks warmed with a red flush as he rubbed the back of his neck. It captivated her heart and ripped the soul right from her body, only to cradle it in soft hands.

"We should just get married, like."

"H-HUH!?" He yelped.

In an instant, his demeanour shifted from shy to embarrassed- that light red slipped to something deep and bright, climbing up his cheeks, across his nose and over the tips of his ears. He sat up straight, hair standing on end as his shaking vision outlined the oh-so-casual girl sitting beside him.

She chuckled good-naturedly. Her hands were fragrant and smelled floral. Her eyes twinkled with delight.

"Of course, I'm just havin a laugh, mate. I'd love it if it was so easy, though."

"Er... right..." He replied, dumbly, still reeling from the overwhelming emotion crashing through him at full force.

He watched as she stared ahead, something soft and yet sullen in the eyes. As if she had just given up on fighting all together, simply enjoying the last ounces of freedom she had left. But even then, Gloria looked absolutely stunning. Tresses of her hair slid over the row of flowers he'd left behind her ear. Vibrant and complimenting the blue-tinted violet of her thick, long-sleeved dress. It was clearly cheaper and washing out in some places, in comparison to human nobles and their purple and blue clothes. Apparently, such colours were a luxury for the human common folk. He never understood that.

She was undeniably mortal. Even if she would outlive the colours of her dress, or the flowers in her hair, she would one day wither and decay.

It was odd. He hadn't always thought of her as beautiful. Her face was foreign and malleable, a reflection of her ephemeral existence. Different, like a vegetable grown from the ground and coming out slightly misshapen, rather than something carved from stone and shaped by a long passage of time.

Her appearance was negligible- unimportant. It wasn't that she was unbearably ugly or stunningly beautiful or even somewhere in the middle, and he just ignored it. It was that he didn't think about it at all, having no strong opinions either way.

Being a Fae, he had grown to look past the facades of one's face. He was neither charmed nor disgusted by appearances. Considering his job, it was important for him to be just and fair no matter what he was faced with.

As a result, Gloria's mien was nothing to him. He saw her face for what it was, and so she just... was. And that was it. She had always been interesting, though, which was why he stuck around. That was more important to him.

Over time, things changed and he started noticing the way she looked more- the way she dressed (sometimes she wore the same dresses she'd already worn before), the curve of her smile (she rarely smiled with teeth, and if she did it was a quick flash when she was feeling awkward- more of a wince), all the marks and blemishes on her exposed skin, the occasional limp in her gait, and he wondered how he'd never noticed how perfectly imperfect she was before.

An incredible contradiction. Splendid beyond words. She was a marvellous sight. He just hadn't thought too hard on it before. But now, she was everything. He would never lose her.

He had vowed it, then, as Gloria prepared to head right home, and he prepared to split ways with her (regrettably). She would definitely become his. She'd do it willingly. He'd win her over somehow. They'd stay together.

A Garden of Flowers and Bones - Chapter 18 - Blood_On_Marble (Me0) (2024)


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