The story so far:
Everyone else had forgotten about the fortune-telling parrot, but Miranda simply could not get it out of her mind. She kept thinking about the voice’s last words, that she would fall in love. She had never experienced love in her sixteen years, never saw it as anything more than silliness.
Who would she fall in love with, she wondered. Ben walked beside her, finding her silence strange and awkward. She was usually so vibrant, so loud, demanding that they spar. The parrot’s words haunted him too, but it was the part about the search being successful.
He had imagined something different. King Kyran’s rotting skull would be found at the base of the mountain. They would all breathe out a sigh of relief and head on home. He and Miranda would remain friends.
But if King Kyran was alive, then everything would be different. She would go off to his kingdom, and be queen there. It was something he knew she would hate. And he would be in the army, perhaps get a promotion for bringing back the princess’s fiancée.
They finally got to the edge of the forest a day later, safe and sound and without missing any of their party. Miranda shot the head guard a triumphant look of “I told you so”. He did nothing but turn red.
The town of Old Marsh greeted them warmly, everyone except for a certain duo that had gone for firewood. Miranda accepted their gifts of hospitality and a warm bath with gratitude. After resting for the night, and not venturing out of the inn, they headed out into the forest bright and early, before many of the villagers had even woken up.
Berta was sweeping the ground in front of her house when she saw them pass by, and she gave Miranda a fleeting look. No one knew why the princess was visiting them all of a sudden, and not one of the country people had the courage to ask.
KK/Joseph woke up after they were gone, and set to work on his quickly improving embroidery. Berta patted him on the head and brought him his breakfast. He was confused by the new compassion that she was showing towards him, the way she constantly smiled and gave him little things. It was nice, he thought, but it would’ve been nicer if he understood why.
Miranda searched through the small woods surrounding the mountain. There was no hint of bones, or dried blood or the chain mail he’d been wearing. Nothing was there. She looked up at the nest, willing her eyes to see something that they couldn’t. She was missing something, there was supposed to be a corpse!
Ben was equally frustrated and started hacking away at the bushes trying to find something while simultaneously acting out his impatience. The rest of the soldiers stayed away from the crazed duo and searched on their own. But nothing was found.
“Berta?” KK/Joseph asked.
“Do you think that I’ll ever remember who I am entirely?” he asked.
“Frankly, I don’t care if you do or don’t.”
He looked at her in shock. A few days before, she had been furious at his amnesia, and now she seemed thankful for it. He thought over the last few days? What had changed?
He had changed, and so had she. She had accepted him into her life, and he had become part of hers. They belonged together, and they were right for each other.
With a confident grin, he commented, “I hope I don’t remember.”
But all good things must come to an end, and they did come to an end. KK/Joseph was back from delivering a dress when the exhausted party re-entered the town. The head guard saw him first. Miranda saw him too, and her face went white with shock.
The head guard ran to him and said, “Your majesty! You’re alive!”
King Kyran didn’t remember yet, and he asked, “Who are you?”
“Your majesty, we’re the party come to rescue you from the dragon. Princess Miranda is your betrothed.”
That word, ‘betrothed’, made both of the royals cringe. King Kyran looked back at the humble cottage where Berta sat sewing.
He looked at the guard and said, “I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong man.”
“But, your majesty!” the guard protested. “Your kingdom will be overjoyed to have you back! Relmar will be at peace again!”
It was a blatant lie. Relmar was at peace only after he had left. And it would again be in turmoil if he returned. King Kyran didn’t know that. He only remembered the smiling faces of his ministers, getting rich off his high taxes, he only remembered his cheery servants, always happy at their exorbitant salaries.
He honestly believed that he had been a good king. He thought for a moment. And then Berta called out, “Joseph!”
“I’m not the man you’re looking for,” he said. With that he turned around and marched into the cottage.
Berta was sitting at the dining table, and she had made him a cake. She smiled as he walked through the door. But he didn’t look twice at the food. Instead he walked over to her and lifted her up by her shoulders roughly.
“Berta,” he said, looking into her eyes with an intensity and a seriousness that he had never possessed before in his life.
“What?” she asked, frightened out of her wits.
“Berta,” he repeated. “I love you.”
Miranda was shocked at her good luck. Ben was grinning from ear to ear, and she couldn’t help but smile herself. Her head guard wouldn’t let the happiness last. He hurried over to her.
“Princess!” he begged. “We must take him back home! Your father will be furious if he finds out!”
She felt pity for the man at once. He could lose his job, or if her father was in a particularly bad mood, he could lose his life. Grudgingly, she walked towards the cottage and knocked on the door. When no one answered, she nudged it open.
Her fiancée, King Kyron, was kissing a woman, and surprisingly, she was kissing him back. Miranda wanted to turn around and walk away, but she had the jobs and maybe lives of a couple of soldiers resting on her shoulders, so she cleared her throat.
They broke apart immediately. The woman was pretty, she was out of his league. Her face was red, blushing crimson. He was no different.
“Kyran,” Miranda addressed him. “It’s your duty to rule your country.”
Berta’s blush ebbed away and she frowned. “You found out who you are.”
“Yes,” he admitted.
“That’s wonderful,” she lied, smiling through her teeth. He knew she was acting. Her eyes were welling up with tears, he would be taken from her just like her father had been.
Kyran couldn’t bear to see her cry. It felt like his heart was being pulled in all directions at the same time, and he couldn’t bear the pain. He took her hands in his and announced to her, “You’re coming with me.”
Miranda was in utter confusion as the scene folded out. Her fiancée, the man that just a few weeks before, read aloud to her the most repulsive love poem on the planet, had somehow morphed into a sweet, innocent man. She felt for him and the woman.
Berta wiped away her tears and for the first time paid attention to Miranda. She asked, “So, who is he, you majesty?”
“He’s my betrothed,” Miranda said. The girl’s temporarily happy face seemed to breaking down again into a volley of tears.
Outside, Ben was wondering about his future. Would it be the comfy, enjoyable one where Miranda would be at his side? Or would it be the one where he would be promoted and alone? As the time passed, he started to worry that the latter was going to be true.
And the thought scared him. He walked towards the hut, with the strong will that if King Kyran had decided to come back, he would push him into the ocean during the journey back. He found Miranda at the entrance, trying to explain something to a crying girl.
“But, you see, I don’t want to marry him!” Miranda explained. “It was arranged. But he’s in love with you now. All he has to say is ‘no’!”
Berta calmed down. She hadn’t cried so much in ten years, and she had a headache. Kyran fetched her some water and she drank quietly.
“What happened?” Ben asked Miranda as she wiped some sweat off her forehead and looked the couple before her.
“He has amnesia. He can’t remember everything about his past. And of course, he’s in love with her,” she said, motioning towards Berta.
Ben wanted to announce his joy to the world. But he kept quiet, following Miranda’s lead. He asked her, “That’s good, right?”
“It’s good for me. But for them it might not be so.”
Ben looked at her. He didn’t understand the logic. Seeing his raised eyebrow, she explained.
“She’s a peasant first of all. Second of all, my father will not take his refusal to marry me lightly, not after he announced our engagement to every kingdom known. Third, what happens when he remembers? He loses this sweet personality that he’s acquired and turns into that pig once more. Then, what will that girl do?”
“You’ve thought about this a lot,” Ben commented.
“I have to. It’ll be hard to make this work. I think they’ll need my help,” she said. “I have to convince my father that the marriage is not that important, that he’s not worth it. And more seriously, I’ll have to convince my mother to let it go.”
“Sounds like a big job.”
“You have no idea,” she said with a tired sigh. She knew the rhythm that her life would fall into once she got home. Her father would regret his decision to raise her for a couple of months, and mope around the corridors of the castle with a melancholy face when she was sure that no one was looking.
Her mother would show her hell. No, her mother would show her the exaggerated portraits of every king and prince from newborn to ninety years old in the hopes of finding a match. Her sister would lord it over her about her new life as a queen.
At least she had a friend she could turn to, Ben would be by her side, like he was then. She smiled a little, thinking of that.
They reached the coast of Isle Loret, and Captain Krill was faithfully waiting for them with the ship. Jordan waved them off with promises to come visit them at the capital. Berta and Kyran didn’t spend a moment apart, and Miranda didn’t know whether to rejoice that she had kept together a couple in true love, or mourn the fact that she had to witness their affection for each day and night.
Ben observed them too, but not with the combination that Miranda did. There was a sort of happiness that he felt, seeing two people so happy in each other’s presence. And then there was the jealousy. Kyran hadn’t tried. Love had landed on him unexpectedly.
And although Ben tried to see if Miranda loved him every single day, he kept getting disappointed. She wasn’t the most emotional girl, and he worried that she never would be. Their relationship would always be “it would’ve been great”, just friendship that never became anything else.
Miranda saw him moping around the boat, not enjoying his talks with Captain Krill as he had before. Even the songs that he whistled grew sad in nature. Her curiosity was aroused. She wanted to find out the reason behind his sudden depression. If anything, it would provide her with something to stay away from the lovebirds.