Chapter 4; My kingdom for… fortune
The ceiling was made of wood panels, hand crafted by the looks of it, but not in bad shape. It gave way to a what appeared to be a small, one-room cottage, with two beds, a dresser, a table, and a fireplace. The bed she was lying on had a thick, fur pelt covering it like a blanket and a thin cloth sheet beneath it.
On the other bed rested a dark-haired form, sweat glistening on his forehead and a look of pain on his unconscious face. A girl was seated at his bedside, wiping at his face with a wet cloth gently, a sad expression on her face. She had blonde hair that was pulled up into a white cap and soft blue eyes that turned to glance at the other bed.
"Oh!" She called, smiling warmly and placing the cloth back into a bowl in her lap. "You're awake."
Marceline sat up quickly, only to lay back down as her head began to spin. She tried desperately to remember what happened and vague images came to her, but nothing she could really make sense of.
"My brother found you and this boy in the forest," The girl explained, coming over to her bedside, a sad expression on her face. "He claims you fell from the sky, but he has a big imagination. You had several wounds that I've treated, but I'm afraid your friend has caught a fever. I've been trying my best to treat him."
That was right… as she'd flown from the palace, the guards had released arrows, hitting her in several places. She'd made is as far as the snow-covered mountains near the palace before losing consciousness.
Eyeing the girl nervously, Marceline slowly sat up and pulled herself from the bed, taking note of the stiff soreness in her limbs and the bandages wrapped around them. She was dressed in what looked to be light blue sleeping robes, no doubt belonging to the blonde, and had bandages wrapped around her center as well. Her long hair had been lazily braided, likely to keep it away from her wounds.
The blonde didn't move to stop her as she approached the other bed and took the now vacant seat, looking down at Marshall Lee with a sad expression.
"He's been mumbling in his sleep, but he has yet to awaken," The other girl informed, sadly. "You've been out for the night. It's midday, now. Oh, where are my manners!" Reaching up, she slapped a hand against her cheek, as if to snap herself out of a daydream. "My name is Fionna. Fionna Mertens. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The dark-haired woman turned to glance at her, as if sizing her up. She could definitely take this girl, if it came to it, so she supposed there was no harm in letting her know who she was. "I'm Marceline Abadeer." She motioned gently to the boy on the bed. "This is Marshall Lee, my little brother."
Fionna smiled widely, setting the bowl on a table by the bed. "I have a little brother, too. His name is Finn. Right now he's off hunting. Are you hungry? I've got a whole mess of raspberries that I just picked, they are plenty fresh."
"I appreciate the help, but we can't stay," Marceline explained as the other woman crossed over to what looked like a kitchen area.
The blonde turned to look at her in surprise. She quickly held up her hands and explained, "I won't stop you, of course… but personally, I think it would be wise to stay at least until his fever breaks. But I'm honestly not sure how long that will be, since his chest wound appears to be infected."
Alarmed, the dark-haired woman turned to her brother and pulled down the blankets, only to see a clean bandage across the boy's chest.
"I was going to have Finn watch over you while I go down to the nearest town and buy him some medicine," Fionna explained, taking a bowl from the counter and bringing it over, offering it to her guest. "It's quite a walk, however, so I may be gone some time."
"How far is it?" Marceline inquired, glancing down at the raspberries. They did look good. Slowly, she reached out and took one, lifting it to her lips.
The taste was amazing. She hadn't had fresh food since before she'd been captured and forced into slavery.
"Almost a day's walk, to and from," Fionna explained. She took a seat on the bed opposite Marshall's, a smile on her face that did not reach her eyes. "Our parents did not like the way King Leimon ruled, with slavery and greed… so they built this cabin high up in the mountains and we've lived here ever since."
The room's front door came open suddenly an a young boy stepped in, pulling his jacket's hood off to reveal a white cap, similar to his sister's, over a head of blonde hair. He seemed to realize what was going on and his eyes lit up in excitement.
"You're awake!" He cried, pulling the door closed after a large yellow dog had stepped in. "Jake, look! How cool, huh!?" The dog let out a loud bark, but the boy (Finn, she presumed) was already halfway across the room, rushing up to Marceline. "You're a nymph, right!?"
Instantly the girl's eyes narrowed and she stood up, standing in front of her brother, crouched in a defensive position.
"Woah!" Fionna cried, standing as well and moving to her own brother's side.
"I saw your bat form!" Finn continued, seeming unaware of the tension in the room. "It was exactly like dad described! Look!"
The two girls watched him stiffly as he moved over his bed and pulled a large book which was in terrible shape, with pages sticking out. On the cover was a skull with a sword and what looked like a batch of grapes, as well as a circle of gems. He flipped it open to a certain page and brought it over, holding it up for the girl to see.
Her eyes went wide and she relaxed, reaching out to take the object in her hands.
Underworld Nymphs, the page read. It had drawings of the various types of creatures she was able to sift into, as well as a long explanation about her kind. At the very end it read, Do not mistake them for demons, for these Nymphs are very kind.
"Perhaps I should explain," Fionna stated, drawing the dark-haired girl's eyes to her. "Our parents were adventurers. They wrote down everything they saw on their adventures in that book, which they called the Enchiridion."
"Our dad was very good friends with an Underworld Nymph in his youth!" Finn declared, grinning widely, revealing a few missing teeth. "He told us all about them! Oh man, you're so cool!"
"Finn, please, calm down," Fionna laughed, placing a hand on his shoulder. "She's just woken up, you don't want to overwhelm her."
As the girl steered her brother away, Marceline fell back into the chair beside her own sibling's bed.
They'd known what she was, but they still took her in without fear? They hadn't even questioned where her gashes had come from or why her brother had such a badly infected wound. Furthermore, they claimed that their father had known (past tense, she noted) a nymph like her…
Kind people. These were kind people.
The thought was foreign to her. She'd grown up partly in the underworld, where demons cruelly treated her family and slaughtered her parents. On the surface, they'd been homeless and the city folk would often throw rocks at them when they attempted to find food. Then they'd been captured by the king's men and well… the rest was history.
She lifted her eyes and watched as Finn spoke excitedly to his sister, petting his large yellow dog, while she held a spotted white cat and smiled, nodding every so often.
These two people, barely even teenagers, had shown her more kindness then nearly everyone she'd met in her life. And they didn't even know her.
"Marceline, right?" Finn called, catching her attention. "Fionna can go into town now and get that medicine. It will work, won't it? On your brother?"
"It should," She replied, remembering Bonnibel giving her medicine at one point when she'd come down with a fever. "I can give you a ride, though. It will go faster."
Fionna's eyebrows shot up. "I think a large bat would catch attention, though."
The dark-haired woman grinned widely. "That's not all I can turn into, remember?"
Bonnibel stared down at her lap, ignoring her mother as she paced back and forth in front of the door.
Her brother was in another room, trying to make things right with the flame kingdom's lord. She had tried for some time to care about the outcome, but it had given way to worry and left her heartbroken and numb.
Was Marceline alright? She'd seen the guards shooting arrows at the woman, but then she'd disappeared from view somewhere over in the mountains. Her brother had ceased their call for retrieval, but some of the capitol city's inhabitants had seen Marceline flying by and were banging down the castle doors, crying for protection.
Her brother was extremely overwhelmed, but her mother had refused to step in. He was to be king in only a few days, so he had to learn to deal with many things happening at once.
Eventually the door came open and she stood as Bubba entered, an unreadable expression on his face.
"Well?" Their mother prompted, worry evident on her aging features.
"We will not go to war," The Prince informed and instantly the two women let out sighs of relief. "However-" He began and the Princess could have sworn her mother looked ready to faint. "The wedding is off."
"What!?" The Queen cried, her eyebrows shooting up in surprise. "But-! That was going to boost our economy! The trading routes… the treaty!"
"I'm afraid there was nothing more I could do," Bubba informed her, rather sadly. "It was hard enough to get him to cease his claim of war. I had to explain to him that we had no power over Marceline's actions and I apologize, Bonnie, for some of the words he used to describe her." His sister gave a sad nod, inwardly not wanting to know what those words were. "He said that he would not let his son marry into a country that allows a demon," he spat the word like a bad taste. "Into their palace walls."
"But she wasn't a demon," Honey cut in and both of her children turned to look at her in shock. Slowly, the woman frowned. "But of course, you must have known that…"
"You knew what she was!?" Bonnibel snapped, approaching the woman with a furious expression. "All this time!?"
"Which means you knew what Marshall was, too," Bubba breathed, before his eyes went wide. "So when you told me that he wasn't just a normal boy…!"
She gave a heavy sigh and took a seat, motioning for her children to do the same. "When you two were very small," The woman began and they settled in for what appeared to be a long story, hoping that some of their questions would be answered. "A farmer came to your father and explained that he had seen two demons in his field only nights before. Demon wolves, he said, that were stealing his crops.
"Your father was a smart man, however… He realized that, if these were really demon wolves, they would have been hunting the cattle or sheep, not the crops. So whatever these were, they were something very different. So he set out with some men the next night and went to the farmer's land, trying to see if he could spot the creatures in question.
"They came again that night, but what he saw was not two demons… but two small children with extraordinary abilities. Somehow, they had the ability to shape themselves into creatures. He had two of his men follow the children while he returned to the castle to try and figure out exactly what they were.
"Your father set out in search of answers and came across a young researcher named Doctor Mertens. Mertens told your father that these children were Underworld Nymphs and that they were harmless... then he showed your father a book that changed everything."
Bonnibel let out a slow breath and looked toward her brother, whose expression was cold. If he was feeling the same as her, it was no doubt that the distain for their father had grown.
"In the book," Their mother went on, staring out the window at the cloudy sky. "It stated that to drink the blood of an underworld nymph would bring you great fortune. Mertens went on to explain that he'd done it only once, when he and his wife were unable to conceive a child due to her being wounded when she was younger, and that it had cured her. Your father became… very, very greedy, when he learned that.
"He had his men capture the children separately, so that they did not know the other one had been caught. He wanted nothing to do with the girl, so he had her sent with the other slaves, but the boy… well." She pulled her lips tight, her eyes narrowed. "He chained him in his room and told him that if he fought, his sister would be killed."
"Marceline…" Bonnibel gasped, lifting a hand to her mouth as her eyes began to fill with tears.
"The boy cooperated," The Queen informed, sadly. "And for eleven years your father drank his blood daily, showering him with fortune and favor. That is why, for the past eleven years, we have not had a declaration of war or even a single protest amongst the kingdom. But… Mertens failed to inform your father that if you drink too much at once, the blood of a Nymph becomes poisonous."
Bubba's eyes went wide and his sister's mouth fell open. "You mean father died… because…?"
"He died because of his greed and his greed alone," She informed. "No blame falls on that boy and I should hope you are kind enough to recognize that, Burton."
"Of course, mother," The Prince whispered, before he fell silent.
The three of them sat there quietly for some time, before the guards came to retrieve Bubba in order to deal with the frightened people of the kingdom.
Fionna let out one last excited yell before Marceline came to a stop and she slid off of her back. Cake, her ever-faithful companion, jumped off of the wolf's rear with a heavy huff, shaking the fallen snow from her fur and reaching one paw up to lick at it.
The dark-haired woman shifted herself back into her human form and grinned, before turning to glance through the trees at the village, only about fifty yards away.
"See?" She inquired with a smirk. "Much faster."
"And much more exciting!" The blonde-haired girl exclaimed, before sending a smile down to her companion. "Right, Cake?"
The cat gave another huff before she leapt up and gracefully landed atop Fionna's shoulders, wrapping her long body around the girl's neck like a scarf.
"I'll be here waiting for you," Marceline informed and her companion gave a short nod, before starting off for the village. She watched the other walk away for a few moments, then began to look around.
It was a tiny little city, so it was a wonder they even carried medicine at all. Most of the people were dressed in heavy furs, since they were still on the mountain and the snow clung to the city streets. Children were laughing and running around in a nearby field and a woman with redish brown hair was watching them with a smile on her face.
"You're friends with Fionna, right?"
Marceline jumped, her body going stiff as her eyes fell upon a olive-skinned man with dark hair. He looked at her in surprise from behind his round glasses, holding up his hands.
"My name is Simon!" He cried, trying to show that he meant no harm. "Simon Petrikov. I saw her ride up with you." Instantly the girl's brown eyes went wide, before she bared her fangs, her nails beginning to shape into claws. "Oh no, no! I'm not going to harm you!" The man slowly reached out a hand, palm up, a fearful smile on his face. "I was a friend of Fionna's father and also of his Nmyph friend, Hunson Abadeer. You don't need to fear me."
Marceline's defensiveness was gone in an instant, giving way to shock. "Hunson Abadeer? You knew Hunson Abadeer!?"
"Not as well as Fionna's father, but yes, I'd met him a few times," Simon informed in surprise, reaching up to fix his glasses.
"Hunson was my father!" The dark-haired woman explained, her mouth agape. "He never told me that he had human friends…!"
"I suspect living in the underworld, he wouldn't have wanted it to get around," Simon replied gently, a sad smile on his face. "You came here with Fionna, correct?" At the girl's nod, he continued. "May I ask why?"
"She came to get medicine," Marceline informed, not sure if she should reveal the whole story. There was no way this human man could have known her father's name, but she wasn't completely sure she could trust him.
"Oh my, then I'd better get back to my place!" He cried, reaching out to take Marceline's hand before starting toward the village. "Betty, dear! I'll be at the office!"
"Alright!" The redheaded woman called after him.
"I was just out gathering herbs to make more medicine," He explained to the dark-haired woman as he pulled her along, her shoulders tense. "We get some imported from the big city, but it's not enough to sustain us, especially with how sick we get from his weather. So I research and find other ways to cure illnesses. I've been treating Fionna and her brother for years."
A frown crossed the other's face and she lowered her eyes for just a moment. That was exactly what Bonnibel had wanted to do with her life, before she'd been swept up into the politics of being a Princess. Would she have been able to do it? Perhaps even by this man's side, they could have found cures for the unthinkable.
The two of them came up to an office with a sign outside that read, Medic. A few people around them stopped to look, only to smile when they saw that it was Simon. They did not even question Marceline's appearance.
Fionna was inside as they entered, looking a little bit lost. Her face lit up, however, when she saw the man. "Simon, there you are!" Surprise washed over the excitement after a moment when she spotted the dark-haired woman behind him. "Oh, Marceline!"
"Oh, so that's your name," Simon informed, coming around to a large cabinet stuffed full of glass vials. "We met while I was out gathering herbs. Marceline explained to me that you are looking for some medicine?"
"It's her brother," The blonde-haired girl explained, missing the sour look on her dark-haired companion's face. "He has an infected wound and he's all feverish."
"What kind of wound?" The man inquired, turning to look at them in surprise.
They both turned to look toward the older girl, who puffed up her cheeks in frustration for a moment. Then, slowly, she let out a breath. They would probably find out one way or another, so it was better to just come out with it. "He was stabbed through the shoulder with a royal guard's spear."
Simon's eyebrows immediately shot up and he turned toward a locked cabinet, reaching into his pocket and grabbing a key, before pulling it open. "That's quite serious," He explained. "The royal guards poison the tips of their spears so that their enemies do not get away. I've had this antidote for some time, but I've never before had to use it… You are very lucky that I even have it at all."
"Thank god for small miracles, then," Marceline replied with a deep frown as he began gathering up some things. She hadn't known about the poison tips… Would it have been better to leave Marshall at the palace? No, she decided with a quick shake of her head. They would have killed him.
"We'll take my carriage. I need to go up there with you," Simon informed as he finished packing his things in his bag. "This is very serious and we need to hurry."
With a quick nod, Fionna turned and left, the tall man on her heels. Marceline remained in her spot for a few moments, before seeming to snap out of her daze and following after them.
Marshall was still very much in danger… all she'd wanted was to keep her brother safe, but now there was a real chance that she would lose him.
Finn lifted his eyes from the book in his lap, a frown on his features. The dark-haired boy on the bed was turning his head back and forth, a look of despair on his unconscious face.
"No more…" The other whispered, before his eyes came open halfway, his vision clouded.
"You okay?" The blonde haired boy inquired, moving over to the chair his sister had put beside the bed. "Hey, man… it's alright. You're safe."
"Huh…?" The other inquired. Marshall Lee, that's what Fionna had said his name was. "W-w…"
"My name's Finn," The blonde explained, reaching out to put a hand on top of Jake's head as the large dog climbed onto the bed, beside the sickly boy. "And this is Jake. We're protecting you, man! No one's gonna get you."
The boy's hazy eyes were a very bright blue and they almost seemed to glow in the dim light of the room. It was obvious just by looking in them that he didn't really see Finn, however, as he stared off into the distance.
Still, the boy kept trying. "Your sister went with mine to get you some medicine. It'll probably taste bad, but it will make you feel better, okay? So you gotta take it and stuff. Oh! I think it's really cool, what you are. Don't worry, Fionna and I are down with that whole nymph thing. I've even got a book on you! See!" He held up the large book, a grin on his face. "Says right here that you're kind and stuff."
Marshall Lee's eyes shifted toward Jake, who rested his large head on the boy's upper leg. One shaky hand slowly reached out and touched the yellow fur and for a moment, it seemed like the dark-haired boy knew what was going on.
Then his eyes rolled back and he lost consciousness again.
Frowning, Finn turned to look at Jake and noticed that the dark-haired boy's hand was still resting on the dog's head.
"We gotta protect him, boy," He told the canine, softly. The response was a sigh, which the blonde could have sworn sounded sad.
"It's simply disgusting," The flame kingdom's lord stated as he climbed into his carriage and settled in for a long ride. "Letting a demon into their palace… and then claiming not to know. I knew that girl was wrong from the first time I saw her."
He turned, pulling one red silken curtain back to look across the land, over at a mountain piled high with snow. He'd seen the demon fly off that direction and then drop, no doubt she was somewhere within the forest.
"If they won't bother hunting her," He hissed, copper eyes aflame with rage. "Then I will."
Silently, the young man across from him narrowed his own golden eyes and prepared himself for the long journey to come.