A Game of Hoops
Greta held the small copper hoop in her hands and concentrated. The post was several feet in front of her. All she would have to do is toss it and, if lucky, it would land in the middle with a lovely ringing sound that signaled victory.
Murata, standing at her elbow, smiled mysteriously and pushed his glasses up on his nose with a finger. He had only one hoop left in his grasp. Greta, on the other hand, had three.
As she studied the task ahead of her, Murata glanced at Greta again out of the corner of his eye. She had grown up fairly quickly. She was twenty years old, as of yesterday, with an elaborate celebratory ball thrown in her honor by her fathers. Murata's lazy gaze wandered to the field to their left. Yuuri was showing Dominic and baby Kent how to make a daisy chain while Wolfram looked on in mild amusement. Both children, with lilac hair and honey colored eyes, had been rescued from a raided village in the von Christ territory by the blond soldier. Murata could still see the day in his mind when Wolfram came back with them—the squirmy toddler being held by Conrad, and the baby, with thumb firmly planted in mouth, in Wolfram's arms.
"It's been awhile since you've been to the castle," Greta said casually and tossed her ring. It smacked against the pole with a dull thunk. She frowned deeply at that, but then forced herself to brighten a little. "So…um…been busy?"
"Yes," Murata said, "but it's mostly some research that Günter asked me to help out with. It's really no bother, though…"
When Greta's eyes seemed to pierce through him, he glanced down at the copper ring he was holding. He dangled it a little to give himself something to do.
"Oh, that's good," she said pleasantly. "I was afraid that we'd said or done something to drive you away. You know how we can be…sometimes."
Over to her left, she could hear the dim sound of Papa Wolf saying "Wimp!" She sighed inwardly and wondered how her parents ever stayed together.
Guessing her feelings, Murata said, "They need each other, deep down, and they understand each other because, in many unseen ways, they're very much alike." It was followed by a modest shrug. Murata did his best, in that moment, to block out from his mind his previous lives and his previous marriages. Some were good and some were not. But, to a degree, he loved them all and still mourned them being gone from his life. And being alone again was becoming…tiresome. But that was the price he paid for being the sage and for being reincarnated so many times.
There was movement before his eyes and he blinked. Greta was standing right in front of him, looking into his eyes.
"Eh?" he said.
"You looked sad there…for a minute…"
Not wanting to get into it further, Murata did his best to appear cheerful for her sake. Then, upon closer inspection, he realized he had a lot more to feel cheerful about.
Greta had grown up to become a very lovely young woman. She was slim and slightly taller than he was. She had wide, fat breasts. And while they weren't as big as Lady Cheri's, she could certainly give the ex-demon queen a run for her money in the "perky" department. Greta's new green dress had a scoop neckline to it. And her leaning over and down a bit to see into his eyes gave him quite "an eye-full."
"I suppose you should go next," she said, head bowed a little.
Murata grinned at her. "But, then the game would be over. What fun would there be in that?"
"Can I try again?" she said with a hand on his arm. She pulled in a happy, teasing way.
"Of course." He gave a polite nod.
"Daddy Yuuri says that 'If at first you don't succeed…'" She tossed the hoop and it smacked against the pole again. She tilted her head back in frustration.
"Try, try again," Murata finished in her ear.
"Yes, well, you're good at this." She motioned to the pole that was sporting the rings that Murata had tossed earlier when it was his turn.
"Oh, I give up," she said, half turning to Murata. She flung the last ring haphazardly. It spun off into a direction she never intended.
"Oi!" Wolfram shouted as he ducked. His angry voice echoed.
"Sorry!" Greta said, hands over her mouth.
"Just be more careful!" Yuuri said while being tackled by a lilac toddler with an impish grin. They fell on the grass, much to Wolfram's disapproval. They really needed to keep the roughhousing to a minimum. It wasn't kingly. The blond offered his older son a cup of juice to distract him.
Greta sighed with a shake of her head. "Well, now, I suppose you win by default."
Murata shook his head "no" and handed the ring to her. "One last time, right?"
Greta smiled at him with her head tilted prettily to one side. She took the ring in both hands and turned back.
"Let's make a bet," she said with a little determination in her voice.
"Oh?" Murata said, arms crossed against his chest, intrigued.
"Yes," Greta chuckled. She turned to look at him. "If I can make this, then you have to give me anything that I want."
Murata smirked at that. "You just had your birthday. You have tons of presents. Why ask for one more?"
She grasped the copper ring in her hands tightly. "It's my prize. Come on!" she pleaded. "Make this worth it for me."
"Victory is not enough?"
She shook her head. She wanted more, apparently. Her face was so sincere, so desperate. It was almost impossible to refuse the eyes that were soft as a puppy's.
"Really?" she squealed.
"Yes," he said with a grin following it.
"Anything? And you won't take back your word?"
Murata nodded and noticed how she was gripping onto the circular hoop.
Greta turned back with purpose. Her heart was beating hard and Murata chuckled at that. It was just like her to take something as simple as a game so seriously. It was actually quite sweet.
She kissed the copper ring as the wind pushed against her. The princess waited for the wind to die down and it did. Her eyes took on a determined glow and she released it.
…in the center…
"I did it!" Greta shouted, getting Yuuri and Wolfram's attention.
Her fathers glanced at each other and exchanged confused shrugs.
"Yes!" She danced all around Murata Ken with a twirl that brought her dress above her knees.
Murata shook his head at that and held back a laugh. Yes, she did it. With enough determination, that she probably got from her fathers long ago, she managed the feat.
"So, princess, what is the prize that you want for your win?" Murata asked.
"But, you'll keep your word?" Greta asked with a finger pointing at him.
She clasped her hands together. "You really will?"
"I've already said 'yes' to you."
Greta squealed with excitement. And then she slapped him on the cheek.
Murata's eyes widened as Greta grabbed the sage's coat, pulled him against her, and kissed him with a hunger he didn't think was possible. The sage was gaping like a goldfish as she said, "I want you. You're my fiancé now and no one else can ever have you."
"But…but…!" Murata stammered as she hugged him with a soft "I've loved you all along."
"I'm going to be married to Ken! Yes!"
Onyx eyes were still staring at her in amazement as she ran off for the castle shouting, "Anissina! Anissina! You're right! Women can propose!"
Murata had his head in his hands. "Wait! How did this happen?"
"How did 'what' happen?"
The sage raised his head. The voice belonged to Wolfram. Yuuri was only a few steps behind with the children in tow.
"I…uh…well…ummm…" Murata muttered. He didn't know what to say to them—his soon-to-be…in-laws? "You see, Greta and I were playing a game of hoops and she was having a difficult time with it…and..."
"Oh, that's not possible," Yuuri said with pride in his voice.
"I'm with Yuuri," Wolfram agreed. "You see, Greta has been a master of that game since she was twelve. No one can beat her—not even you."