by Sauron Gorthaur
"Even with a love potion, I'm too hideous to love."
It was true – she had thought him hideous at first, when he had swept into her life like a nightmare, all sharp edges and snarls and terrifying predatorial strength and poise. She would never have admitted it, but she had been frightened, for Dawn, for Sunny, for herself. He was a raging thing of murk and shadows, her fear of the Dark Forest made grotesquely incarnate.
It had taken all her courage to face him again, to fly into the forest he ruled, knowing she would have to fight him to rescue her sister. She had steeled herself for it throughout the entire flight: his blazing eyes, his cruel thorn-bramble of a voice, his intimidating size and strength, the threatening buzz of his tattered wings. Everything about him filled her with a primal horror that clung like spider webs in her soul.
Yet, as she fought him, adrenaline turning her veins to exuberant fire, the fear she had anticipated slipped subtly into something unexpected. She had found herself enjoying their fight, reveling in this thrill she'd never been given the chance to experience before. Roland had always scoffed condescendingly when she suggested that he teach her to fight, and no proper fairy gentleman would have been caught dead encouraging his princess in her unconventional hobby, leaving her with no choice but to parry and thrust at imaginary foes. She had not even realized until now how much she'd hungered for an equal, a partner who could match her for speed and grace and skill.
There had been moments when she could have killed him. But she hadn't. And there had been moments when he could have killed her. But he hadn't.
At the edge of her mind, she grew dimly aware that her perspective had somehow changed, as if the shadows of her fear and prejudice had shifted, illuminating what had been simply disguised before. She had seen him smile for the first time, heard the warm laugh on the edge of his voice as he matched her banter for banter, seen a playful light enter the eyes which had been consumed by rage. In the air, his twisted, skeletal frame morphed into something graceful: not lovely, but something she could respect and admire, as elegant and powerful as a hunting dragonfly. At some point, her goal had gone from beating him to testing out her own limits, and his, with an eagerness that surprised her.
After their fight, she didn't know if she could honestly consider him truly hideous any longer.
But it was not until she had seen him in all his misery, a hunched, broken creature wracked with self-loathing, his wings hanging limp like withered stalks of grass, the light of his eyes extinguished, his voice grey with despair, that she had realized: underneath the thorny armor and the cruel scowls, he was the same as her. She had masked her heartbreak with aloof anger and a tough girl act; he had covered his with resentful fury and the monstrous exterior he had allowed to consume him. He had let himself become the very thing he falsely believed himself to be, let his own nightmare become his reality, when it had never been true.
For it wasn't.
Marianne knew what true hideousness looked like, and sometimes it had perfect white teeth and gorgeous golden curls. This man sitting next to her, his face averted in shame, his shoulders hunched miserably with the weight of the burden he believed he was carrying, was so far from hideous that she could scarcely believe she'd ever thought it an appropriate word for him.
He was wonderfully, uniquely himself – intelligent, surprisingly funny, even courtly in his own individual way, graceful and strong – and it was that which made him far more attractive to her than any man she'd ever found herself drawn towards before. In that moment, she'd wanted nothing more than to reach out to a fellow hurting heart and give him the strength to stand straight and dignified once again, to lift the mask from his own eyes so he could see how beautiful he was in his own right.
Years later, she stirs in their velvety bed of moss and turns in the soft glow of amber lanterns to glance at the man she now has the joy to call husband. He is sound asleep, relaxed and serene, wearing a content expression that transforms his whole visage into a mirror of the courageous, sweet spirit she now understands he has within. She knows how hard it has been for him to trust her sincerity: just as hard as it has been for her to let down her guard for him. There are still times when the shame creeps back into his face and the doubt slips back into his hunched shoulders, but it is her happy duty to kiss it away and see how his scowls melt when he realizes that he is not unlovable after all and never has been.
Smiling fondly, she strokes the intricate, patterned crest on his forehead then leans in to kiss him gently. His wings buzz lightly and he hugs her closer in his sleep, his woody, earthy scent wrapping around her. With a happy sigh, she snuggles back into him, her cheek finding the perfect spot between his shoulder and his neck.
She knows with every fiber of her being that she would not want her Bog King any other way than exactly how he is.