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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Welcome to the Moon: Roses Optional

A BIG thank you to Shannon for giving me the unique title for this once when I was stuck, lol!

I choked on the dust and the smoke from the small explosion, and tried not to inhale any of it. Looking around the room, I saw Annissina standing on the other side, a maniacal gleam in her eyes. I stood, and tried to wipe the grime off my clothes, and searched for some relatively clean air.
“Never again!” I vowed. “I thought I was actually going to die that time!”
“Aww Gwendol, I haven’t killed you yet,” Annissina smirked, as if killing me was her secret goal.
“I’m serious, never again. I am one of the 10 great Lords that govern this Kingdom and I cannot die before I have someone to walk in my footsteps when I’m gone!” I hoped she would see reason. If I died without an Heir, my Kingdom would fall into a civil war over who got my region.
“So, what you are really saying is that you’ll let me experiment on you again after you’ve had an heir? Well then, you’d better hop to it!”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not that easy. I can’t marry just anyone, and besides, I don’t want a wife yet.”
She sniffed haughtily. “Well, I don’t want a husband ever! Can you imagine? Me with a dominating husband to interfere with my experiments, and a half dozen brats clinging to my skirts? No thank you! I have dedicated my life to science.”
“Yeah, yeah!” I muttered. I had heard that speech before.
Annissina and I had strangely become friends around age 15 when her parents had sent her to the place to learn proper etiquette from the ladies of the court, and mine had sent me to train as an officer in the King’s army. We had come across each other one day, and both bemoaned our fate. Knowing that the other was just as unhappy made us both cheer up, and we have been friends ever since.
Though I still wonder why I let her experiment on me every chance she got. No, strike that, I know exactly why. Her experiments started off fascinating and completely safe. I had no interest at all in science when she first came across this abandoned dungeon and converted it into her own personal lab, but then I watched her do something magical.
When I say magical, I mean that literally. She had funneled the light and heat from a candle into a crystal. Then she had tossed it to me. I caught it, and stared at it in awe. It glowed brightly and was warm to the touch.
“Hang on to that for me, and give it back when it goes out. That’ll let me know how long it lasts, and then I’ll know an approximate expiration date if I ever try to sell them,” she’d told me.
I still had the crystal, and often used it as a lamp to read by at night and a way to warm my hands in the cold. But getting back to her experiments. They had gotten more and more dangerous over the years, often resulting in explosions.
I watched her eyes gleam as she examined the mess on the floor. “I see, so that was a bad combination. Too much salt peter, I think.”
Why do I let her try to blow me up on a regular basis? I shook my head and stalked out of the dungeon. I managed to reach the main palace corridors before I remembered. Oh yeah, because every time she experiments on me, I learn something I would never have known otherwise. Take her many explosions, I know knew several ways to blow something up using common everyday items should I ever need to during battle.
Currently, the Kingdom was experiencing peace, but we all knew it was only temporary. It was only a matter of time before the neighboring Kingdom re-gathered its strength and came after us again. This was the same pattern we have experience for the last hundred years or so, and neither Kingdom ever seemed to get ahead in the war.
Except my division… I often applied the knowledge I learned from Annissina to turn the battles I commanded to my favor. As a result, I was regarded as a tactical genius. I was willing to give the credit to Annissina, but she waved my offer aside, insisting that she did not want any word of her experiments to reach her parents – who might then remember that their 25 year old daughter existed and make life difficult for her.
In a way, she had been lucky. Our Kingdom has been so busy with war for the last 10 years that her parents – her father was another of the 10 great Lords, and her mother always accompanied him onto the battlefield to nurse their wounded soldiers back to health – honestly had no time to think about her. As a result, they assumed that she was safely and meekly playing the role of a proper lady here in the palace.
Annissina was in her laboratory so often that I honestly don’t think many people here in the palace even remembered that she existed. Therefore, it seems that her only friend in the world was me. This actually made me a bit sad since – when she wasn’t trying to blow me up – she was funny and vibrant. I’m sure everyone would want to be her friend if she stopped playing around down here long enough to talk to someone else for a change.
“Lord Gwendol!” The Queen exclaimed, which was a subtle royal command for me to stop and pay her a little attention. I turned to look at her, and bowed to pay my respect. “Why is it that every time I see you, you seem to have just come from the battlefield? You are positively covered in soot!”
“Just a minor miscalculation, My Queen,” I demurred.
The Queen smirked at me. “Oh yes, I had almost forgotten that you have made it your goal to come up with the most explosive device ever created in order to defeat our enemies once and for all.”
I paled. That was not true in the slightest, but my men were often so impressed by my knowledge of explosives that they spread that rumor as a way to psychologically damage our opponents, and make them quake with fear. I bowed to the Queen again to avoid commenting.
“Keep up the good work,” she bade me and then moved on. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then continued on my way to the healers’ quarters.
“Lord Gwendol, again?!” The head healer asked me incredulously. I said nothing as I sat on the nearest cot. “I swear you are the only person I know who manages to come in with serious wounds when we are not at war!”
I gritted my teeth, and took off my shirt. As I suspected, there was already a violently purple bruise where I had hit the corner of the table in the explosion. My ribs felt cracked, and I really did feel like I might die this time.
The healer put her hands on my chest, and paled. “You punctured a lung!” She whispered urgently. “However did you manage to walk all the way here in that condition?”
“Practice,” I grunted.
She sighed in obvious aggravation, and closed her eyes to concentrate. After a moment, her eyes flew open, and she turned to look at her assistants that had gathered around curiously.
“You! Lay your hands on his back! You, go get some food and water, and you!” She directed this last bit to me. “If you ever do something to cause this bad of a wound again, don’t count on me to heal you from it, you stupid fool! How many times now have I had to knit you back together?! What the hell are you doing? You seem to be closer to death every time I see you!”
I tried to suppress a groan, but failed. There wasn’t really anything I could say, other than, “I’m an idiot that is so fascinated with science that I allow myself to be blown up on a regular basis just to see what I can learn.” Honestly, I could not admit that to anyone! They all thought I was so smart that by now… having to admit I wasn’t the genius behind it would hurt far more than my pride. I managed to suppress a depressed sigh.
The healer working on my back signaled for another to take over for her, and after I was healed, I was so tired that I could barely eat the food they gave me. I soon slumped onto the cot, and allowed sleep to drift over me. I only vaguely heard the assistants fuss over the head healer. Some part of me knew that she had worked herself to the brink of exhaustion in order to save my life, but I was too asleep to care at that point.
A full week passed before I saw Annissina again. I purposely kept far away from her lab knowing that if she truly needed my assistance, she would come drag me down there anyway. Therefore, I was hiding in my study.
My study was more of an official office than a private area. It was not located anywhere near my apartment, and I was pretty sure Annissina had no idea where it was. It was where I conducted my official business as one of the 10 great Lords.
“Come in,” I granted entrance to whomever had just knocked on the door.
“Do you have a few moments, Gwendol?” Annissina asked. So much for my theory that she didn’t know where it was located!
“I already told you, I am not going to let you experiment on me anymore,” I insisted.
“I’m not here about that,” she stated as she closed the door behind her. “I’ve come to say goodbye.”
“What?” I wondered, a frown crinkling my brow as I tried to concentrate on the document I was reviewing.
“It seems that we have been at peace long enough this time that my parents remembered I exist,” Annissina informed me. “As a result, they have arranged a marriage for me. I am to meet with him tomorrow, and we are to be married in a private ceremony in the evening before the King.”
I stared at her in shock. “I don’t know what to say; congratulations, I guess.”
A tiny smile shadowed her lips.
I scratched my head. “I thought you didn’t want to get married?” I muttered stupidly. I realized it was stupid the moment I said it. Her parents had arranged it; enough said.
“What choice do I have? My parents have decided. I tried to talk them out of it, but they are adamant,” Annissina said dispassionately. She had an extremely good poker face. I seriously doubted anyone could decipher when she was bluffing during a card game.
I nodded. “True.” In our Kingdom, people often arranged marriages in times of peace to ensure that there would be a new generation to take over in the future.
“Anyway, I won’t be able to see you anymore, so I just came to say goodbye. I hope you have a good life,” she wished with a genuine smile.
“Thanks, you too,” I returned the wish. She left, and I found I couldn’t concentrate. Something about what she said kept tugging at the back of my mind. I couldn’t think about anything else as I picked her every word apart to look for clues as to what made me so uneasy.
I eventually went to sleep. My dreams were peaceful – well, sort of. I dreamt that I led my men to the ultimate victory in battle, and ended the war for good. This made me smile in my sleep, I’m sure.
I nearly jumped out of bed the next morning as it finally occurred to me what it was that had me so uneasy the day before. “She wouldn’t!”
It was the sentence that she wouldn’t be seeing me anymore. It was true that as a married woman, she would probably be required to live in her husband’s estate, but she would be allowed to come to the palace anytime she wanted. Presumably – unless I was off in battle – she would see me then. Perhaps she wouldn’t be able to conduct experiments on me anymore, but there was no rule against married women spending time with men who were not their husbands.
In fact, it was the time we had spent together up until now that would be frowned upon. Even though I had never once touched her like that, it would be assumed that I had, and that would ruin her reputation if anyone found out about how much time we had spent alone. After she was married, it would be assumed that she would be faithful to her husband, and so no one would question if we had lunch alone together. So… why had she said she wouldn’t be seeing me anymore?
Deep down, I knew the answer. She would rather die than get married, and she knew plenty of ways to kill herself. What kind of friend would I be if I just let her waste her life like that?!
I threw my clothes on, and rushed to the palace tea room. It was a risky gamble, but I figured that if she was meeting her new husband today, her parents would want it to be in public with the illusion of privacy. I had no idea when the meeting was supposed to take place, but it was not unusual for Lords and Ladies to use the private alcoves along the wall as a place to read. I picked up the book laying on the bay seat, and got as comfortable as I could.
About two hours later, I heard Annissina talk to her parents. “When is he supposed to get here?”
“Anytime now,” her mother replied happily. In a stroke of sheer luck, her father guided her to the table closest to my alcove. There was a privacy screen surrounding the alcove, so they couldn’t see me here, though I could vaguely see them.
 I didn’t want to interrupt them unless my suspicion turned out to be true. If I was right, then I would do whatever I could to stop her from killing herself, but if I was wrong, then I would just let fate run its course. I didn’t have long to wait.
Close to 15 minutes later, another of the 10 great Lords approached the table Annissina sat at. “My Lady, I am honored to meet you. Your parents said you were beautiful, but they neglected to tell me that you have such glorious red hair.”
I pictured the two looks that Annissina was likely giving him. The more likely look was her poker face, but she could be smiling at him innocently. I knew that the innocent smile was a portent of devious things to come, but there was no way that he could know that.
“Lord Randal, is there any way that you would consider calling this marriage off?” Annissina asked.
I could tell the Lord Randal and her parents were flabbergasted by her blunt question. “W-w-why?” The Lord asked.
“Because I have no desire to be married. Ever,” Annissina stated.
“I see,” Lord Randal laughed. “You are nervous. You don’t know me, and you have no idea how I will treat you once you are my wife. I promise that I will be a gentle husband.”
Annissina sighed. “You don’t understand, I do not want to be married. Ever. I would rather die.” I vaguely watched her outline through the screen. She pulled something from her pocket, and prepared to drink it.
I stepped out from behind the screen, and slapped the small bottle from her hands. The bottle was open, and its contents splashed across the floor. “I will not let you poison yourself!”
Gwendol?!” Annissina gasped incredulously. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I realized that you intended to kill yourself, and I decided to stop you,” I stated.
“I will not be married off like some sheep!” She declared.
“Then why not run away instead? Live somewhere where you can do whatever you want?” I suggested.
She gaped at me, and I could tell she was kicking herself for not thinking of that first. “Runaway!” She finally responded joyously.
“Now see here!” Her father finally managed to respond. He took a deep breath, and I knew that he was about to demand an explanation followed by a demand for his daughter to obey his wishes.
“Run,” I suggested urgently.
Annissina hesitated, like she doubted her ability to escape. I grabbed her by the hand, and repeated my suggestion. “Run!”
She followed me as I ran from the room, and we both knew exactly how to escape without being caught; all it took was for us to run past her dungeon to the secret emergency exit from the palace. I don’t think anyone else knew about it, but we did because Annissina had come across it while searching for a suitable spot for her laboratory.
Even better, the exit brought us directly to the docks. The capitol was located on a river, and there was always some boats leaving to do business with other cities. We stopped running and panted as we watched the various crew members prepared their assigned ships.
“Pick one; go wherever you want,” I ordered her.
“Thank you Gwendol,” Annissina grinned at me happily.
“Here, I’m almost certain that you don’t have any money on you, so take this. It should be enough to live comfortably off of for at least a year.”
She was speechless for a moment as she accepted my proffered coin purse. Despite the name, it was full of paper money. I was one of the 10 great Lords after all; this amount of money was but a drop in the bucket to me.
“Also, take this. It’s some of your explosive powder, and it may come in handy if you need to protect yourself.”
She grinned at that. “Anyone who tries to mess with me shall be in for quite a nasty surprise!”
I nodded, knowing exactly what they were in for. “I’m going to return to the palace now. If I leave before you depart, then I can’t be persuaded to tell them where you went.”
“Thank you!” Annissina gushed once more, hugging me. It was the first time either of us had done more than touch hands, and I was suddenly saddened by the thought that I might never see my best friend again. I held her tight for a moment, and then pushed her away.
“Be safe, and promise me you will never try to kill yourself again,” I begged.
“I promise,” she vowed.
I nodded, and then raced back to the palace. I nearly collided with her father and his men who were preparing to ride out, presumably to find Annissina. Damn! I was hoping to avoid him just a bit longer.
“Lord Gwendol! Where is my daughter?” He demanded.
“I do not know, My Lord. I smuggled her out of the palace, and then left her in the city. We agreed that it would be better if I didn’t know where she went, that way, I could not tell you.” I replied, mostly honestly.
“Lord Gwendol!” An assistant healer boomed across the courtyard. “The maid that cleaned up the poison you slapped to the ground is dying! We have no idea how to save her, and our magic isn’t working!”
“What do you expect me to do about it?” I wondered, baffled.
“You alone knew that the Lady Annissina might try to poison herself, mightn’t you also know where she obtained the poison?” The assistant asked, much closer to me now.
“I would like to know that myself,” Annissina’s father responded.
I shrugged. “More than likely, she made it herself.”
What?!” Lord Peter demanded in disbelief.
I cast him a serious look. “Annissina has spent the last 10 years experimenting in a secret laboratory. She has invented tons of things; if I recall correctly, the poison was something she formulated in an attempt to put the enemy army to sleep by slipping it in their food, but no matter how small an amount she added to food or drink, whatever animal she fed it to died. Neither one of us relished the idea of killing an entire army in such a dishonorable way, and so the poison was shelved with the other failed experiments.”
“Do you know if she formulated an antidote?” The assistant asked fervently.
I paled, and wiped away a sheen of sweat that suddenly covered my brow. “Yes, but…”
“But what?!”  The assistant demanded.
“Remember when I spent a week in the infirmary suffering terrible cramps that no amount of magic could cure?” I mumbled as I looked at the ground.
“Yes…” The assistant replied slowly, obviously confused.
“That was the after effects of the antidote,” I informed her.
“Wait! You let her poison you so that she could test the antidote?”
“No!!! Who would agree to that?! She slipped it in my tea!” I exclaimed.
But the antidote worked,” the assistant half asked half stated.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“No matter how bad the aftereffects, we need that antidote!”
I nodded, and raced off. Even with all of my grueling military training, the sheer amount of running I had done so far was starting to take its toll.
“You men, search the city!” Lord Peter commanded, and then rushed after me. I was betraying Annissina by revealing the location of her sanctuary, but I didn’t have time to argue with or lose her father.
After arriving in Annissina’s lab, I panted heavily as I studied the numerous shelves on the walls. The poison was so deadly that I knew I didn’t have much time to locate the antidote, but the problem was I had no idea which of the many vials was the right one. I grabbed the closest one, and read the label. Annissina was meticulous in her record keeping, and each label clearly stated what was in the vial, what it was for, and when it was created. Even so, reading them all would take forever!
“I had no idea my daughter was so interested in science! No wonder no one ever recalled seeing her around the palace!” Lord Peter was looking around in astonishment, and I warned him not to touch anything.
I spotted an open journal on the table, and gave a small cheer of triumph. If I was lucky… I scanned it, and exhaled in relief. As I suspected, she had needed to look through her old journals in order to locate the poison, and so the page with it was open for me to read.
The next page detailed the antidote, including where it was sitting on her shelves. I quickly located it, and prepared myself to sprint to the infirmary as quickly as I possibly could. Lord Peter followed me, and I had no time to prevent him from bringing Annissina’s open journal with him.
The healer’s assistant was waiting for me in the hall outside the infirmary, and shouted, “He’s finally here!”
I handed the antidote to the head healer, and then flopped onto an empty cot to rest from the exertion of running all over the city and palace that day. Lord Peter silently watched the healers go about their business for a while, and I think he was thinking about what would have happened if I had not been there to stop Annissina from drinking the poison herself. He eventually settled into a chair by the patient’s bedside, and proceeded to read his daughter’s journal from cover to cover.
Word spread that the maid was doing better, and that two of the great Lords were anxiously awaiting her recovery. This news brought Annissina’s mother to the infirmary to see if her missing husband was one of the Lords. She placed a hand on his shoulder, horrified that it could have been her daughter near death on the cot.
 I didn’t have the heart to tell her that had Annissina actually consumed the poison, there was only about 2 minutes in which the antidote could have been successfully administered. The only reason the maid had a chance was that she had only touched it. I felt horrible that I was responsible for it splashing onto the floor like that, but of all the poisons Annissina had made over the years, I really hadn’t expected her to choose this one. I figured she would choose something pain-free…
I gradually became aware that Annissina’s parents were staring at me with open-mouthed shock. I cast a curious glance at them, and then studied the floor. The Journal was open about half way, and I shuddered to think what they might have just read – since Annissina’s mother had obviously been reading it over her husband’s shoulder.
Lord Peter slowly closed his mouth, but not before the head healer saw him gaping. “What’s wrong?” She wondered.
He cleared his throat, and read from the journal. “Today I have decided that since Gwendol has returned from the war for a couple of days, I will use him in another of my brilliant experiments. He has proven himself an excellent test subject, and is surprisingly durable. I have created an explosive powder, and I need to see how effective it would be on the battlefield.
“To that end, I asked Gwendol to pour a small pile of the powder in front of a water barrel located in the test area of my lab. Then, once the pile was ready, he was to light it on fire, and then run for cover. I watched from the relative safety of the other side of my lab as he poured out almost twice as much powder than I had instructed him to, and then dropped a match onto it.
“The blast was magnificent! I swear that Gwendol flew clear across the lab! Water from the barrel sprayed everywhere, extinguishing the flames that would otherwise have burned down my entire lab. I quickly wrote the result on a scrap of paper so that I would remember it when I sat to write in my journal. ‘I want you to do the experiment again, and this time, use the exact amount I told you too!’ I berated.
“Gwendol carefully picked himself off the ground, and coughed. ‘I thought you were exaggerating when you told me to use less than a spoonful. How in the world did you manage to get this powder so, well, powerful?’ He asked me, and I explained everything I have already written here. He nodded in actual understanding, and then sprinkled a miniscule amount of powder in front of a new water barrel. This time, he stood a few feet away from the blast area, and tossed a match onto the explosive powder. I watched him dive for cover, but the blast still managed to throw him across the room.
“’Again!’ I commanded excitedly. I wanted to know what was the absolute smallest amount we could use, and how big an explosion it would create. My goal was to blow the barrel up without damaging anything else around it.
“Gwendol was breathing hard, as if he had just run across the city, and I wondered if he needed to take a break. He didn’t appear to have any bumps or bruises, but I imagine that his body must still ache a bit from the impact. ‘Last time,’ he stated in between breaths, and I nodded. I watched him place the barest pinch of powder in front of a new barrel, and tapped my foot as he stared at it apprehensively.
“’What the hell is taking you so long?’ I demanded. ‘Ignite it already!’ He nodded, and took a few more steps back before tossing the match onto the pile. I watched the barrel go flying in all directions, but nothing else was affected by the blast. I squealed happily, and jumped for joy. My experiment was a success!
“Gwendol wiped some blood from his forehead, and grinned at me. ‘It worked,’ he stated. I realized that a part of the barrel must have hit him, but he didn’t show the slightest hint of pain. ‘Hey, you should go have the healers look at that wound on your head.’ I suggested. ‘We can’t have the formidable Lord Gwendol suffering from brain damage the next time he steps foot on the battlefield.’ He nodded, and quietly left my lab.
“I realized that with him gone, I couldn’t conduct my next test, which was to see how big of an explosion I could create without destroying the palace, and so I shelved the rest of the powder and decided to work on something else until Gwendol came back. Knowing him, he won’t find any time to return before he leaves for the battlefield in two days, so, I must remember to slip some of this powder into his supplies. I sincerely hope that it makes a difference in fighting the enemy.”
Lord Peter stopped reading, and I silently tried to figure out if he was mad at me for claiming Annissina’s invention as my own, but I honestly hadn’t. My men assumed that it was my own invention, and I let them think whatever they wanted for morale’s sake.
“Of all the stupid idiotic, inconceivable,” the head healer ranted. “No wonder you come crawling to me at death’s door practically every other day! I never could figure out what the hell you were doing! I should have you classified as mentally incompetent, and restrained before you manage to kill yourself!”
“That won’t be necessary,” I informed her calmly. “Lady Annissina ran away so that she could not be forced into an unwanted marriage, so she won’t be here to experiment on me anymore.”
I watched her mutter to herself as she stalked away, and was wise enough not to say anything. The way she tossed things around clearly indicated that she was irate over my senseless lack of concern for my own safety. I knew she would never understand that I felt it was worth it if something Annissina invented managed to win the war.
“Will you join us for dinner?” Lady Karbel – Annissina’s mother – asked. I shrugged, and meekly followed them back to their apartment.
“After reading through my daughter’s journal,” Lord Peter began the moment the three of us were alone, “it has become obvious that you’ve been close to my daughter for a long time. Have the two of you conducted any other… experiments?”
I wanted to claim ignorance as to what he was inferring, but I was too honest for that. “No sir,” I shook my head for emphasis.
“The thing that is driving me batty is that I just can’t figure something out,” Lord Peter informed me. “Why didn’t you stay with my daughter when you absconded with her earlier?”
“My Lord?” I wondered, confused.
“It’s obvious that you two have worked together in secret for years. You must feel something for her…” He was trying to delicately lead me in the right direction, and again I could not feign ignorance.
“I consider her to be my very good friend. It’s thanks to her that I am considered such an exalted war hero. The moment I realized that she actually would kill herself rather than be forced into marriage, I knew I would do anything to stop her, and help her escape. I would rather – if I truly never saw her again – that the reason not be because she killed herself.”
Lord Peter still looked concerned. “And it never occurred to you to marry her yourself?”
“What?!” I was entirely confused myself now. “You thought I ran away with her so that I could marry her?!” I couldn’t stop myself from shuddering at the thought. If we were married, there would be nothing to stop Annissina from experimenting on me until she succeeded in killing me!
“Are you… Do you, perhaps, prefer… men?” Lady Karbel asked as politely as possible.
“What?!” I roared in outrage. “Why would you even think that?!”
They exchanged a look that plainly stated it should be obvious that most men cannot spend so much time alone with a woman without trying something ulterior. I rolled my eyes. They didn’t understand.
“Every single time I ever saw your daughter, I almost died, and don’t you dare ever tell her I admitted that. How can you possibly think that I would feel amorous about that?” I asked seriously. I wanted to know what kind of man could get blown up, and then want to jump in bed with the woman responsible.
“Um… son? Most men wouldn’t continually let anyone nearly kill them on a regular basis unless they were in love with that person,” Lord Peter informed me.
“Love?!” I scoffed. Love huh? That was an amusing thought, enough to make me laugh out loud.
They exchanged another – this time worried – look. “So, there really is no chance that you would consider marrying Annissina?”
My blood ran cold, and I stood in an attempt to escape the mild panic. “Oh no! No no no no no! Haven’t you been paying attention? Annissina would rather die than get married, and I… I do not want to die! Marriage to her would kill me for sure!”
To my utter shock, Annissina strode into the room from a dark hallway, and then slapped my face. “How dare you!” She demanded.
“How dare I what?” I wondered. I was baffled again, and honestly couldn’t figure out what she was doing here. I could see her parents were just as surprised as I was.
“I got on the boat, and just as they were ready to set sail, I realized that I couldn’t leave. Without you to experiment on, there’s nothing I can do! You helped me escape so that I would live, but I can’t imagine that I would survive an explosion like you can. When I realized that, I instantly knew that if I was going to keep my promise not to kill myself, I could never experiment again! I don’t know who I am without my experiments!” She shouted.
I sent her a confused expression. Seriously, I was lost. Did she mean that she came back here to get married after all? It seemed her choices were marriage, death, or running away, and standing here meant that she hadn’t run away. Also she never broke a promise, so marriage was the only choice left to her.
Her eyes drilled into me, and I think my expression changed to show how nauseous I was. I looked to her parents only to discover that they were both staring at me again. I backed away from all three of them as it dawned on me that they wanted me to sacrifice my life for the so-called greater good of social expectations.
I started shaking my head, and backed a few steps father away. I held up my hands in the universal “can’t we talk about this?” gesture.
“Fine!” Annissina ground out in determination.
 If there was any blood left in my face, in drained away as I watched her pull out a small handheld device she had invented not too long ago. It was forged from iron – she had smithed it herself – and when loaded with explosive powder and small pointed iron cylinders, it could be quite deadly. We had been forced to shelf it with the other failed experiments when it proved too difficult to control the device without danger to the wielder. It exploded in my face just as often as it worked properly.
I was certain that she was going to shoot me for some reason, but she pointed it at her own head. My first response was to clutch my chest. My heart seemed to have stopped, and I growled with anger.
“You promised that you wouldn’t try to kill yourself anymore!”
“What choice do I have?! If I can’t be me, then I don’t want to go on living!” She wailed. She was always so cold and emotionless that I was honestly surprised that she was capable of such melodrama.
She pulled the activator, and I leapt into action. It took every ounce of training I possessed to wrestle the loaded weapon away from her, and point it in a relatively safe direction as it discharged. We both stared at the hole in the wall for a moment before glaring at each other.
“Stop interfering!” She screamed at me.
At the exact same time, I shouted, “Fine! I’ll marry you!”
We both fell silent in shock at that, and I abruptly let her go. I backed away from her to the other side of the room, and since I had kept hold of the invention, I checked it to see if it was still loaded. It was, so I unloaded it.
She was pacing her side of the room like a caged tigress, and I was trying my best not to watch her. I finally looked at her parents to see what they were thinking, but they were both staring at the device in my hands. I can’t imagine how it felt to learn that their innocent daughter had created such a deadly thing.
I took the time to think things through a bit more carefully. “Wait a minute!” I blurted out. “Did you admit earlier that you didn’t want to run away because of me?”
“Yes,” Annissina mumbled, not hesitating in her pacing for a moment.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“What do you think it means? You idiot! It means that all I want to do with my life is invent new things, and I can’t do that without you!”
“You mean because no one else is crazy enough to let you blow them up?” I asked for clarification.
“Exactly!” She stated emphatically as if I finally comprehended her. She stopped pacing to look at me. “Plus, no one else understands what I am talking about. If I were to tell anyone else, ‘so then I mixed 3 parts flour to 1 part salt peter,’ they would have no idea what I was talking about.”
I saw her parents exchange a confused look that turned to enlightenment as they remembered some of the journal they had read. She had just listed two ingredients of her explosive powder, and the thought that she might actually tell someone her deadly formula in casual conversation gave me horrified shivers again. It slowly occurred to me that she was right…
I had always assumed that she was the brilliant one and I was the idiot that just went along with her, but it was true that I could understand what she was talking about. When I was on the battlefield, I often lay awake at night thinking about her inventions. I didn’t just think of ways to use them, I constantly thought of ways to improve them, and that meant that I understood the mechanics of them well enough to make adjustments. I almost always came back with useful feedback.
Like I said, I let her experiment on me because her science fascinated me. It always had. Why had it taken me this long to realize that it fascinated me because I had a mind capable of understanding it?
“So… what now?” Lady Karbel wondered. It occurred to me that they completely understood that there was no way they could force their daughter to get married if she really would rather die. I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to go through with it after all.
Annissina smirked. “Well, you heard him. He said he would marry me. You already have all the preparations set for the ceremony to be held tonight, so we may as well not let it go to waste.”
I wanted to vomit, my stomach churned so suddenly at her statement. “I said that, but… but… that was…” I stammered. The look on Annissina’s face was so hopeful that I suddenly understood that she actually wanted this. No matter what she had said, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to get married, it was that she didn’t want to marry anyone other than me.
I sighed in defeat, and then smiled. “If that’s what you really want, I am at your service,” I said with a formal bow.
She frowned, and glared at me again. What now? Her parents were just as confused as I was judging by the looks on their faces.
“If that’s what I want…” she murmured. She took a deep breath, preparing herself to make a huge confession. “It is, but… what about what you want?”
I was pretty darn stoic by nature. In her journal, she had admitted that I never showed signs of pain - even when I knew I was badly injured. Well… the same was true for all of my other feelings as well. I couldn’t just admit that the thought of marrying her – after I got past the terrifying aspects of it – made me happy.
I looked away from them all, and focused on the floor. “I want… … … …”
She was infuriated by my hesitation, and proved it by grabbing me by my collar. She shook me forcefully, the only person I had ever allowed to do so, by the way. “What?! What do you want?!”
Her mother was obviously scandalized over her behavior, but I think her father was covering the urge to laugh. Having them there made the task of admitting what I wanted all the harder. I grabbed her hands in mine, forced her to stop shaking me, and stepped back.
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “To marry you.”
She slapped me across the face with all her strength once more. I may not have made this clear earlier, but her experiments often required physical strength – such as blacksmithing. Therefore, saying that she slapped me with all her strength was no light matter.
“Then why didn’t you say so earlier?” She demanded, and resumed shaking me by the collar. I think her parents were relieved that I didn’t physically hurt her in return.
“I didn’t know!” I finally admitted. Truth be told, I hadn’t realized it at all until I saw her try to blast a hole through her skull.
She sighed in acceptance, nodded, and let me go.
Two hours later, we were married in a small ceremony in front of the King, Queen, and everyone other noble who happened to be in the palace at the time. I still can’t figure out how Lady Karbel could call this ceremony small or private, but it didn’t matter; the result was the same.
In our ten years as friends, Annissina and I had hugged exactly once, and had never kissed. When the time came to kiss at the end of the ceremony, I sincerely wished that our first kiss was not about to occur in public for all to see, but she solved the problem for me. She threw her arms around me, and kissed me until I couldn’t remember what we were doing.
Oh! …Right; we were sealing our vows with a kiss. I cleared my throat to interrupt her after the priest tapped my shoulder. She stepped back with a lovely blush, and I swear I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
We sat down to a feast – Lord Randal assuring me that there was no hard feelings - and I had time to absorb the events of the day. So much had occurred that my head was spinning. I watched Annissina, and realized that the day wasn’t over yet. That thought made me panic again.
Between leading my men in battle, getting blown up when I was on leave, and then lying in the infirmary to recover – well, I’m sure you can imagine that I rarely found time to bed a woman. I had, of course, but I was not at all confident in my ability to please my new wife.
Far too soon, it was time to bring her back to my apartment. We were both so nervous that our hands shook. I did my best to be gentle, and then it was irreversibly official. We were married! I held her to me in awe.
“Tomorrow, when you leave… Will you bring me with you?” She asked, reminding me that I was assigned to lead my men in a training exercise on the battlefield, and needed to leave first thing in the morning.
“Why?” I wondered.
“I have something I want to test in real field conditions,” she informed me honestly. I laughed. “Plus, I don’t want to be parted from you so soon.”
I pulled her closer to me, and then nodded. I could never admit this out loud, but I didn’t want to let her go either. Her father had always brought her mother with him, and so I saw no reason why I couldn’t bring her with me.
Besides, I was certain that testing her inventions out in the field would help her help us win the war once and for all. That thought made me smile. Yep, the future looked bright indeed.

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