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In the short time that Miranda had been in the kingdom, Marak had kept his ward very much to himself, determined that Catspaw would hold her the thrill of the unknown. Miranda had lived quietly in an apartment on the elves' floor, content with her ongoing studies and Marak's daily visits. If she had seen almost nothing of Catspaw, she had seen very little else of goblin life, either.
Now the girl found herself propelled to the very center of goblin society. The new King kept her by his side at every social occasion, and the fascinated monsters thronged around her. Miranda played her part to perfection, exhibiting the fine manners and graciousness that Marak had drilled into her. She hid her true feelings from everyoneincluding, at first, from herself.
Because the fact of the matter was that many goblins were hideous. They didn't just look funny, as Marak had always said. There were deformities among them that sent a chill down Miranda's spine, a shock such as she might have felt at the sight of a corpse. She could barely swallow food in their company.
There was the goblin, for instance, with the huge flat head, burly arms, and tiny body. His doll's legs dangled uselessly a foot above the ground as he swung himself from place to place on his hands. There was the genial little goblin with the common abnormality, eyes of two different colors. One of his eyes was dark brown, twinkling with good humor. The other eye was huge and blood-red. And there was an entire family of goblins who were the color of dark gray earth, with the impression of things too long underground. Their hairless heads were round and bulbous, like soft rubber balls. Their pale eyes bulged alarmingly, as if they were being strangled.
Seen in the light of an honest day, these forms would have been frightful enough, but far worse was their appearance in the thick shadows of the kingdom. At any moment, Miranda might turn a corner in the dim hallways and find herself face to face with a horror she had never even imagined. And when she met it, she had to remember to smile.
It didn't occur to the girl that Marak's death had left her overwrought and that her repugnance was compounded by her grief. All Miranda knew was that she was acting the one part she had never known she would have to act. She had looked forward all her life to coming to Marak's kingdom and being a King's Wife. She had never once considered that it might be difficult.
Catspaw leaned toward her as she glanced up and held her gaze with his own. "My spells keep the lamps lit, Miranda," he said quietly. "I won't ever leave you in the dark."
Miranda was touched by his consideration. She hadn't imagined the goblin King like this. She saw her royal suitor as someone to charm and impress, but she hadn't realized that she would have to trust him. Maybe he wouldn't always seem like such a stranger, she thought with relief. She remembered Marak's last talk with her: Catspaw will be all that to you.
"That night when I was frightened, Marak told me about my future," she recalled. "It was the first time that he said I would be a King's Wife."
"Then I remember that night as well," said Marak Catspaw. "It's one of the only times I saw Father worried. I was up late studying political economy or some such when he came into my room. 'You've got to marry that girl,' he said, shaking his head. 'I just promised her that you would.'"
Miranda felt startled. "I thought he knew my future, he sounded so sure of it," she protested. "I thought he could see it in my face."
Catspaw smiled at her. "He was just being a King," he said. "Kings are never supposed to seem uncertain. I don't see anything about your future in your face. I only see the character from the Door Spell."
"You can see that?" wondered Miranda, rubbing her forehead. "I didn't know it left a mark."
"It's gold, and it shines a little," said the goblin, tracing over the script character with his fingertip. "I think it looks attractive."
Miranda pondered that, unsure how she felt about displaying a symbol that she herself couldn't see. She wondered how many other goblins could read it, and whether it really was attractive. Catspaw continued to study her, hesitating over something. If Kings weren't supposed to seem uncertain, he was breaking his own rule.
Then he leaned down and kissed her.
It was a nice kiss, Miranda decided. It made her feel appreciated, and she felt affectionate in return. For once, the smile that she gave her fiancé wasn't a charming mask but an honest feeling instead.
The goblin seemed to have enjoyed the kiss, too. He looked excited and resolute. "Only two more months until our wedding," he remarked. "Then I'll erase this" He touched the Door symbol "and write the King's Wife character there."
"Will I notice any difference?" she asked.
"Yes and no," admitted Marak Catspaw. "The doors still won't let you go outside, but they'll treat you with more respect." A little uncertain, Miranda thought about being his wife, living in luxury locked in by those iron doors. There certainly wasn't much left to worry about, was there? What a tidy future.
It was Sable who pieced together the clues and saw through Miranda's pretense. The elf woman listened to her son Tattoo's descriptions of the erratic behavior of the King's Bride and felt wholeheartedly sorry for the girl. It was clear to her that Miranda was struggling to find her place in the kingdom, and this was something Sable could understand. She herself had not had an easy time finding her place in life.
The black-haired woman combined in one person the sensitivity of an elf and the frankness of a goblin. Polite and distrustful, Miranda never mentioned her problems, so Sable did it for her. "Goblins take getting used to," she told Miranda matter-of-factly, and the girl felt as if a weight had dropped from her shoulders. Miranda was too reserved to come by for a visit, so the elf kept inviting her over until the visits became routine.
"You're losing weight," Sable remarked one morning as she opened her door for the girl. "I have bread and cheese for you on the table. Tattoo," she added crisply, leaning out in the hallway to speak to the young man posted at Miranda's door, "I've mended your Guard cloakagain. Come by for it once you're off duty, and be more careful next time."
Miranda walked into Sable's forest room and looked around with pleasure. The illusion of a stretch of shadowy woodland worked particularly well for her because she couldn't distinguish much in the dim light. She sat down on a cushion at the strange low table that was only a few inches from the ground.
"One week left until your wedding," noted the elf woman. "It's a shame that it won't be held at the full moon. Weddings and full moons belong together."
Miranda gave a grimace and rubbed her palms where the knives would cut them. "I'll be glad when it's over. Catspaw says he will be, too."
"He's Marak now," Sable observed. "You should call him that." Miranda just frowned by way of an answer. She hadn't yet promoted him into that exalted position, as the elf woman knew perfectly well.
A small silence fell over the room as Miranda pulled food from the basket and Sable began working on one of her math problems. She sketched it out rapidly in three dimensions a few inches above the table, silvery lines and circles appearing as she drew. Then she set it all into motion. Miranda watched the silver figure spin in the air, wobbling slightly as it turned.
"Sable, did you always like it here?" she asked.
"I was frantic when I first came," answered the woman absently, jotting down numbers. She paused and gazed off into space. "I remember how hard it was to get used to the bright light. My eyes would start stinging after a few hours."
"Bright!" murmured Miranda. She could barely distinguish colors in the gloom. "Did you ever try to escape?"
"No," answered Sable. "I couldn't go back. My people would have hunted me down. You don't know what elf men are like, Miranda: horrible brutes. I don't think they're born with a heart in their bodies."
Miranda pondered this interesting disclosure. "Isn't Seylin an elf man?" she asked. "He's not a brute. Marak never said that elf men were horrible, just that they were pretty and silly."
"Of course Seylin isn't an elf," replied the woman. "He's a goblin; he just looks like an elf. And Marak never had to live with them like I did."
All in all, it was a strange coincidence that Miranda learned what elf men were like that day. That very night, an elf man returned to his ancestral home, and Miranda's tidy future began to crumble.
Copyright © 2005 Clare B. Dunkle
This text is from an uncorrected proof.