Mareen’s Heart Song
Mareen first heard the story of The Princess and her Heart Song a few years after her parents died. It was a fairy tale practically every child on Ludus was exposed to while growing up. Mareen loved the story and dreamed of one day meeting a boy who could awaken her heart song. When she was an adolescent, only 12 years old her magic manifested. Her years of hard work reaching for a magical affinity had paid off. She admitted to herself she was probably a little lucky too. Then she trained hard so that one day, if her heart ever did sing, she’d be a strong enough person that fate wouldn’t pass her by.
It was hard to find mirrors, but Mareen tried to keep her appearance up as much as possible despite being poor. She never avoided hard work and she learned basic self-defense. Mareen didn’t know exactly what she wanted in life, but she knew she’d know it when it came. She wanted to be ready for that day. She tried to improve herself in every way she could.
From the time she started developing into a woman, she knew she attracted the eyes of men. Sometimes it made her uncomfortable, especially when she had to pretend she didn’t understand a love confession or she had to outright reject a boy who didn’t leave himself any way to save face. Luckily, she’d only lived in farming communities her whole life so there were never too many people around. As a result, by the time she was in her teens, it was common knowledge that Mareen was not interested in courting.
She didn’t care what anyone thought as long as they left her alone. It did make her sad when she found out what some of them said, though. They said, “Mareen is so pretty, it’s too bad she isn’t interested in love. She should be engaged already.” Others said, “She will probably die alone, her standards are probably too high.” Or some even said in whispers, “She thinks she is better than anyone else. Just because she has a nice face and can use magic… someone should teach her a lesson. What a bitch.”
Mareen didn’t really have any friends. She was too busy most of the time and she didn’t dislike her peers, but she couldn’t relate to them very well. While other girls her age mooned after boys in the village or talked about rich ladies in the cities, Mareen dreamed of adventure. Luckily for her, in addition to being her only family, her grandfather was also her best friend. He never talked down her, never asked when she was going to think about starting a family, and he always quietly supported her. He seemed to understand that Mareen wanted more than a simple farming life could offer.
George used what little money he had to buy math and language books for her so she could learn her letters and numbers. He told her stories of faraway lands he’d seen during his adventuring days and even described his time on Earth, the mysterious place he originally came from. Mareen dreamed of one day seeing the countries George talked about and Earth technology that ran on electricity (small lightning was how she understood it). But most of all, Mareen wanted to find someone to have adventures with.
Sure, when she was younger she imagined finding her heart song, but as she got older she realized it probably wouldn’t happen. The odds were very low, it was a rare thing. Deep down, she still wanted to believe heart songs were real, though. One day she when she was 14 she asked her Grandfather if they knew about heart songs on Earth.
Mareen remembered George frowning and saying, “Well, I do know what the concept of ‘heart song’ means; it’s a cross between ‘one true love’, ‘love at first sight’, and something to do with someone being strong enough to protect someone loved and able to teach them how to be strong too. To be honest, the whole thing is a little confusing and strange from an Earthling’s perspective. You used to love The Princess and her Heart Song, didn’t you?”
Mareen nodded shyly and George chuckled, “Don’t ever been ashamed of what you expect for yourself in your own life. The only person who controls your destiny is you. If you ever decide to change what you are looking for in the future, that will be your choice as well. Never let other people tell you what your heart is saying or should be saying.”
Mareen was taken aback by the seriousness of her Grandfather’s answer. “Do you believe in heart songs?” she’d asked.
George got a distant look in his eyes and his tone was wistful when he answered, “Before I came to Ludus, I would have thought the concept was silly. But the way your mother met your father and the way they fit together… I can’t say it’s impossible. I guess anything is possible, especially when it comes to love. Maybe there is such a thing as destiny.”
Mareen’s heart soared after that conversation and she no longer felt as foolish for believing in heart songs. She still didn’t know what kind of man was out there for her. She didn’t really believe he’d be a prince; she was a farm girl after all. But she yearned for someone to expand her horizons and make her believe that the impossible was possible.
Shortly after she turned 16 she went with her grandfather as he led a group of people who didn’t want to rent land anymore, who wanted to own their own homes and farms. The only realistic way for farmers to own land in Tolstey was to claim ownerless land in the wilderness. The concept was simple in theory but a bit more difficult to actually do.
Still, with high hopes, the group hired some adventurers and found the spot of land that eventually became their village just past the range of the demon wolves. Mareen worked hard and she took pride in being valuable to the village with her healing magic. Everything was going fine until Jeth’s advances started.
It began slowly at first; Jeth would follow her around and stare. But no matter how much she ignored him, no matter how often she asked him to stop he just got creepier. When she left the outhouse one day and Jeth was waiting for her, she had enough and told George. George talked to Yelm about it, but since Jeth hadn’t actually done anything physically, he wasn’t disciplined. George was livid; he couldn’t believe Yelm had taken Jeth’s side when his son was acting like a stalker.
After that the problems grew worse. Jeth knew Mareen had tried to get him in trouble.
Jeth stopped following her as much as he used to, but he always just happened to be where she was. He still stared; his eyes made it clear that he somehow believed she belonged to him. When their gazes met, he snarled and made suggestive motions at her. When Mareen thought about it, Jeth used to stare at her when he was younger too.
There weren’t that many teens in their group to make a new village. Deep in her heart, Mareen wondered if Jeth had anything to do with Yelm coming with the group. From a certain point of view, if he had designs on Mareen, it would be easier for him if he was the only boy around. The thought always made her shiver.
She endured this constant worry for years, always wondering if Jeth would be staring at her when she worked, touching himself when she walked by, scratching the wall of the cabin outside her room, or leering at her and licking the back of his hand. She couldn’t get away from him since the village was so small. She was always nervous to take baths and made George stand guard every time.
Luckily she was a mage so she didn’t have to fear for her safety as she would if she were a normal girl. Even though her magic wasn’t well suited to combat, she did have limited control over the school of Water so she wasn’t completely defenseless. She still hated the tension, though. She hated being constantly on edge and part of her wondered if her magic was the reason Jeth never tried to get physical with her. She didn’t want to think about how bad things could be otherwise.
By the time she turned 19, she’d given up on ever finding her heart song. Granted, she knew that living in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere wasn’t exactly the best way to find opportunities for adventure or love, but she still hadn’t even decided what she wanted to do in life. She was an adult now, several years older than the minimum marrying age. She’d all but given up on her dreams and was willing to just find meaningful work or a chance to see more of the world.
Maybe heart songs were just stories for little girls after all.
She decided to tell her grandfather that she was going to leave the village. She had no money and it was dangerous to travel, but she was a Life mage. She could contact nearby settlements and cities with magic messenger birds to look for a sponsor. She was certain she’d be able to find someone willing to send a party to retrieve her. Life mages who were willing to work for rich households or noble Families were in high demand.
Her grandfather would take it hard. He wanted what was best for her, but he would also be all alone when she left. Still, she knew George sometimes glanced at her sadly when he thought she wasn’t paying attention. She knew he wouldn’t argue with her or try to make her stay. She was already 2 years older than her parents were when they got married. It was time for her to start her own life.
Mareen agonized over how to tell George she was going to leave the village, but never got the chance. She’d almost made up her mind when the goblins captured them. The rest of that day was a nightmare of disjointed memories. She remembered trying to fight back with water magic but she missed with the single attack she had energy for. After that the goblins kept her restrained and helpless. She knew she was going to die in terror and agony. There was no hope.
As Mareen screamed on the ground in that nasty cave, she’d prayed to the Creator that someone, anyone would save her—and someone had. A force of nature entered her life, a force of nature named Henry Sato.
He’d come into the cave out of nowhere, killing the goblin on top of her and going on to fight another two at once. Jason screamed in defiance while fighting the goblin leader. Both men were utterly insane. With no special powers, no armor other than the thick jackets they were wearing, they picked a fight with a cave full of goblins. The two of them were only armed with sharp sticks! It was madness!
And they won! The two strange men had actually beaten the goblins! Mareen was shocked right out of her terror. Her amazement increased when neither man spoke Luda. In fact, she could understand some of the English they spoke. They were from Earth! They were also flabbergasted when she healed her grandfather with magic, so she knew they were probably new to Ludus too. The idea that two people would go straight from being transported to Ludus to jumping into a battle with goblins was ludicrous, yet there Mareen stood, alive and rescued.
It frustrated her that her English was so bad, but she felt fortunate she knew any at all.
After they escaped and made it back to the village, everyone was able to pass out after a long, exhausting, terrifying day. When she saw the two the next day, she was relieved that both men were alright. She stared at Henry, she couldn’t help it. He wasn’t what she would normally call handsome, in fact he was a bit shorter than any man she thought she’d be interested in. He smirked and frowned a lot too. But there was just something about him…
Mareen wished she spoke better English or Henry could somehow be fluent in Luda. Henry and Jason were different than anyone she’d ever met before. In some ways they reminded her of her grandfather but they were completely different too. She wanted to talk to them, she wanted to learn more about Henry. She knew she was falling but she couldn’t help herself. She was fascinated.
Then the men had their conversation with George where they asked about magic, the races on Ludus, all sorts of subjects. During that conversation, Maren was shocked to her core. She had a hard time following most of what was said, but she was able to understand that Henry and Jason met Dolos. She saw they possessed a couple Dolos orbs.
Around this time was when she got her first suspicion that she’d met two legends in the making, heroes in the flesh. She felt a bit of awe, and her interest in Henry made her chest feel tight.
She didn’t understand it. Henry was grumpy, and cursed a lot, and he obviously vexed Jason at times. In fact, she had a hard time understanding the friendship between the two in the first place. They were both so different. How did they operate so well as a team? Who was in charge? Leadership seemed to switch every other minute between the two of them. Mareen had never even had a close friend. She was intensely jealous and the more she learned about the two men the more she wanted to be friends with them.
In her mind she said, Just friends with Henry. Yeah. Just friends would be fine.
The next day came and she discovered Henry and Jason used their orbs. Now they could both speak Luda. All of Mareen’s carefully planned scenarios to reintroduce herself and befriend Henry evaporated. She finally got her wish, they could all speak the same language and she was… petrified. She couldn’t bear to just walk up and talk to them! It was ridiculous and she hated herself for it, but she’d turned shy! The blunt, outspoken Mareen couldn’t talk to a boy!? What was wrong with her?
It didn’t help that Henry wouldn’t even look at her, even more so after she started followed Jason around. Her cheeks felt like they were constantly on fire. Henry intimidated her as much as he fascinated her. For the life of her she couldn’t bring herself to do anything more direct than follow around the man who made her less nervous. She was grateful that Jason took pity and began talking to her, slowly building at least one of the friendships she sought.
It didn’t take long for her to admit her interest in Henry. Her openness with Jason surprised her but she couldn’t deny that she trusted him even after such a short time. She could just somehow feel
the goodness in Jason’s heart and when she stuttered out questions about Henry, he regarded her with compassion. She hated her body for betraying her, but she could feel unshed tears in her eyes when she admitted she worried Henry thought she was ugly. He wouldn’t look at her after all.
Jason shook his head and said, “No, you don’t understand. Henry is a complicated person and he has a lot of emotional scars. He used to be married and he sacrificed a lot for his wife. She repaid him by sleeping with another man behind his back after he his mother got sick and he began taking care of her. What’s even worse, she planned the divorce in advance and got advice from a lawyer. Then she cleaned out their bank accounts before demanding a divorce. Everything was done in a way that Henry couldn’t fight back. He was completely blindsided. They were together for a total of …5 years I think? He was devoted to her and she ripped his heart out.”
“What’s a lawyer?” Mareen blinked, “And you said Henry was a soldier before too. Just how old is he?”
Jason sighed, “A lawyer is someone who studies the law where I’m from to better understand how to bend or evade it. They’re kind of like police officers in some ways. It’s great when they’re on your side but not so great when they are trying to ruin your life. As for Henry’s age, he’s 29 years old, almost 30.”
“Yeah, he looks a lot younger than his age, I know. Everyone thinks I’m older. The lucky bastard is a military veteran and Asian. He’ll probably look young for his age for a long time.”
Mareen didn’t completely understand so she moved on to her next question, “He was married? So his wife chose to spend the rest of her life with him and then betrayed and stole from him?”
“Pretty much, yes.”
“What a terrible person,” Mareen’s lip curled in disgust.
“Again, pretty much, yes.”
She paused for a minute and found a handy tree to examine before timidly asking, “Does he hate me?”
Jason sighed again, “No, I actually believe he respects you and thinks you’re attractive. But like I said, he has a lot of scars and I think he’s keeping distant from women on purpose. Even if he did luck out with his orb… fuck why did I have to get a cartoon cat?” Jason snarled.
“Are you angry with me?” Mareen asked timidly.
Jason immediately held his hands up in a placating gesture, “No, no you’re fine. It’s something Henry needs to get punched for. Anyway, I think Henry thinks that you’re into me.”
“WHAT!? You mean like courting? That’s ridiculous!”
“You don’t have to say it like that,” Jason grumbled. “But yeah, you’ve been talking to me a lot lately and you act weird around him, probably because you’re feeling shy. I think he’s decided that you’re into me. In his mind, he probably placed you as off limits, that way he won’t have to deal with his attraction to you either.”
“But that… that’s stupid!” said Mareen. “Anyone with eyes could see how I feel. It’s shameful to admit, but I’m not exactly good at hiding this sort of thing.”
“Well, it is what it is. Henry is a great guy, he is one of the most honorable people I’ve met in my life but he’s not the greatest at recognizing feelings or understanding women.”
“Well,” Mareen chewed her lower lip, “could you talk to him for me?”
Jason smiled without humor and said, “Absolutely not! I am way too old for this sort of thing. You and Henry are adults. You can work it out between yourselves. I’m getting stressed out just listening to this and I have enough to deal with these days. You know, with the monsters occasionally trying to eat my face and all?”
Mareen couldn’t believe what she was hearing. These two selfless, heroic, interesting men had the emotional maturity of children!
That night, she softly cried herself to sleep. In only a few short days, her whole body ached with unhappiness that Henry might not talk to her. She had to face facts. She couldn’t deny anymore that she’d fallen in love. What’s worse, she’d found her heart song. It was real, and she was powerless against it. She knew she was getting swept up in the wake of people who were destined for greatness and she didn’t know whether she was content to follow the current of fate or establish her own, unique path alongside them.
She wanted so badly just to talk to Henry, but she felt like she was making a fool of herself. She was not some weak girl, she’d been a mage since she was 12! It was maddening that she had finally found her adventure but she didn’t know how to fit into it yet. What’s more, the man she couldn’t stop thinking about wouldn’t even look at her!
Years after she stopped believing that a heart song was even possible for her, her traitorous heart began singing in a goblin cave. What’s more, she couldn’t do anything about it! She was completely helpless against the feelings suffusing her body and soul. The ultimate cruelty, though, the icing on the cake was that in a sadistic twist of fate, the man who’d done the impossible, making a fairy tale real for her… was a complete IDIOT! And so was his infuriating friend!