Amalthea could no longer remember why she had always dodged his touch, save perhaps because it didn't seem like it could be a good thing, to be the only person that she'd ever seen him willingly reach out towards. The scattered dream-memories, so hard to make any sense out of, made her feel as if she would lose something important if he ever laid so much as a fingertip on her. Or maybe that he would, which was in a way worse; the king was a horrible man, but he was so empty that it could only be more horrible to steal away anything that remained alive within him.

It shouldn't matter anymore, now that Lir had touched her--now that even the king himself had, when she was startled into stillness by a glimpse of something human within him as he'd spoken of mythical creatures--and neither of them had been left lacking anything when he pulled back. Even so, she couldn't keep herself from whipping around and preparing to dodge away when she sensed Haggard coming around into the room behind her, her entire body trembling from awareness of him the way it always somehow did when he was near, even when, perhaps especially when, she couldn't see him.

She would have expected him to be angry that she was still so wary of him, but instead he looked pleased when she flinched away from a hand he began to raise, his lips curving into a lash-thin imitation of a smile when he peered into her eyes the way he so often did. "I'm pleased to see that you seem more yourself today, My Lady," he said.

"Do you mock me, Your Majesty?" she asked, shying away from him a step. "You know that I never understand what you mean when you speak this way."

"I have been considering a solution to the problems you cause with your existence here," he said, no answer at all. "As you should know by now, I am not a cruel man. There is no reason why we shouldn't all receive what we desire."

Amalthea almost thought that he must be making a joke, if it wouldn't be so against his nature. Haggard, not a cruel man? She only needed to look down from the window she stood beside, to where she could see her--uncle? Magician? Friend? Another thing which her mind could never quite keep straight--where she could see Schmendrick shivering in the sun as he tried to draw warmth into a body that she knew never entirely escaped from the chill of the nights he was forced to work through to know the lie of that statement. It was so absurd that she could think of no response that she didn't suspect would make him angry, and so made no response at all.

Thankfully, he didn't wait for one. "You may marry Lir," he said, and the sudden rise of hope in her heart was almost painful. "You may become a dull, vacant-eyed fool, you may let the glory and wilderness which should live within you die as all things tainted by humanity must. You may do all of these things, after I have died." And perhaps it was true that love was making her slow, because when he suddenly reached out again to clutch her arm in a bruisingly-tight grip her mind was too full of Lir to even think of dodging before it was too late. "Until then, you will wed me instead."

Suddenly her joy was overwhelmed by horror, and she struggled to pull away from him. "No, no!" she cried out, her mind reeling too much to even think that she should refuse politely to try avoiding his ire. "I could never marry you. Never!"

Lost within some private world in his own mind, the same place that he went when speaking of unicorns or the sea, he hardly even seemed aware of her disgust. "I will need to send Lir away for the remainder of my life, of course, before his love can destroy you further. Your cook and magician may stay; it is right for a queen to have her servants, and they wish for you to remain unchanged as much as I do."

"Listen to me! I will not marry you," she insisted again, but she had the hopeless feeling that nothing she could say would make him listen. Giving up on trying she instead twisted towards the window, and shouted out of it, "Schmendrick, help!"

Three stories below her he turned slowly at the call, and even from that distance she almost thought that she could see his eyes widening when he spotted the king looming over her. He wasted no time then in leaping to his feet and running into the castle, and she was almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

Until she heard Haggard laugh behind her, a dry rustling sound like wind tattering the pages of a book. "What good do you think his parlor tricks will do you?" he asked, then yanked her around to face him once more, his face suddenly so close to hers that she couldn't escape his eyes. "Think, My Lady. Use the wisdom that comes with age, not that weak and foolish human heart you've been given. The Red Bull will never again hunt you if he knows that you're in my hands, and you alone, if any others have yet stayed hidden in all the world, will never need to fear being driven to the rest. And perhaps we may even be granted some measure of... happiness," he said the word as if it were in some foreign tongue he wasn't quite familiar with. "I, in no longer needing to turn to the tide to find that which brings be joy, and you in... I would never claim to have a heart that could make a young girl swoon, but there was a time in my youth when I was fool enough to believe those who claimed bliss could be found in the pleasures of the flesh. From the lessons of that time, I can promise at least that you would find more pleasure in my hand than Lir's, if you insist on being defiled."

His body shifted the tiniest bit, the grip on her arm changing, his other hand landing lightly on her side, the tilt of his head moving so slightly that it was hardly noticeable. It didn't seem as though he'd repositioned himself enough to make any difference in the way she was looking at him, yet somehow she was suddenly entirely aware of his breath puffing against her face, of how hot his body felt when he was standing so close, of the way the fierce look in his eyes was not quite the anger she'd taken it for at first glance although she was not exactly sure what it was. For some reason this new awareness terrified her in a way that Haggard hadn't before even when threatening to throw her off the castle walls, but Amalthea was sense that deep inside of herself there was something that was curious about what it could mean.

And when he lowered his face towards hers a little bit more, saying in a low voice, "Shall I give you a demonstration, My Lady?" she could feel her own face tilting up a hair's-breadth towards him entirely of her own free will.

Then the door behind them clattered open. "Unhand her, Your Majesty!" Schmendrick said, his voice for once brave and strong, or at least a believable imitation of such, in the presence of the king, although he was so winded that it was obvious he must have run all the way there after her yell. But it only lasted for a moment before his usual nervousness returned, and he quickly added, "Please, my... my niece is a very delicate girl, and I can tell that you're frightening her."

For a moment Amalthea was afraid that Haggard was going to ignore Schmendrick's interruption entirely, then he stepped away with another of his thin, tight-lipped not-smiles. "Very well. I'll let you consider my offer, Lady Amalthea. Remember, I am only asking you to sacrifice five, perhaps ten, years, and then all that you wish for shall be yours. Hardly the span of a heartbeat, in your life."

The moment Haggard left the room Amalthea rushed to Schmendrick's side, trembling like a butterfly fresh from its cocoon. "We can't stay here much longer," she said, staring at him wide-eyed. "We can't! I don't know what he'll do next, or if I'll be strong enough to escape him."

"It's all right," he said soothingly. "You don't need to be afraid. I've asked Molly to find the wine we need tonight, and I promise that tomorrow we'll fix all this at last."

Amalthea could only hope that he was right.