Author's Note: This little one-shot is based on my favorite poem, “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Look it up, it's absolutely excellent. I only found out about it because I'm studying it for my GCSEs. Super important exams, in other words. Anyway, on with the show!
As I approached the gates of Castle Koopa in “scenic” Dark Land, I couldn't help but feel a smidge uneasy. Perhaps that was due to the lava pits, or maybe the foul stench of the sulfur, or the hideous black sky that hung overhead. Whatever it was, I didn't like it one bit. As the drawbridge lowered and I entered the main keep, I was greeted by a large, gruff, booming voice.
“Welcome, welcome!” At the top of a long, plush staircase stood King Bowser Koopa, royal crown atop his head.
“Good... Actually, I don't know what time it is,” I said meekly.
“It's evening,” stated Bowser, descending the staircase. He was a full two feet taller than me, and more than that wider. The large, heavy shell on his back was a testament to his massive strength.
“You're The King's messenger? That interview guy?” asked a confused Bowser. I coughed. I am not just “that interview guy”. I also write Fun Fiction. I'm not very good, but, I do.
“Please, call me Joshua,” I said wearily. It had been a long trip. Warp pipes aren't as fast as they used to be, or maybe I'm just bigger. I'm sixteen now, and it's been at least half a year since I visited Plit. I've been busy. Why did The King choose me as his messenger? Because I was available for once. His Toads are busy serving the princess. Ah yes. I'm afraid Mario found out that I had the Shadow Queen possess Peach again, and he sealed her away. Again. I'll get around to releasing her... eventually. I want to try dating a human girl first. Being half-demon and half-human has its advantages, y'know.
Anyway, the story so far: Bowser had grown tired of just kidnapping Princess Peach. He'd decided to do things legally, and had asked The King for her hand in marriage. The only reason he could do this, apparently, is that Clawdia had passed away. Strangely, he didn't seem too broken up about it. Maybe that's because now he can marry his dream girl.
“I'm here to help negotiate your request for dowry. The King himself will be along shortly,” I explained. Dowry. Money, or gifts the bride's father gives as part of a wedding contract. I thought it was a thing of the past, but apparently, when it comes to the aristocracy, it's very much the thing to do.
Bowser placed a claw around my shoulder and led me upstairs, into a gallery of beautiful art. At the end of the gallery was something hidden behind a curtain. I raised an eyebrow, and Bowser led me along to it. He took a fine golden cord that hung from the curtain, and pulled it, drawing the curtain aside and revealing a portrait of the late Queen Clawdia. And yet, she had an odd look on her face, a blush as it were. The red spots on her cheeks and neck were captured perfectly.
“That's my last queen hanging on the wall. Looking as if she were alive...” sighed Bowser. “I call that piece a wonder now. Art T's hands worked busily for days on end. And there she stands, as if alive,” he continued.
Art T, as you might have worked out, is a famous artist in Toad Town. He's legendary for his portraits. I wondered how Bowser had got him to paint it. Then again, with muscles like that and the ability to breathe fire, it probably wasn't hard. “Have a seat, and look at her,” he said, pushing me down onto a chair.
“I said Art T. on purpose, as most people who see this wonder who did it. To me they turn, (for none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you but I.)” He mumbled that last part, and I wondered what he meant. Presumably, no one in the castle could draw the curtain except him, but why? Not even the Koopalings, or Bowser Jr.? This was getting odder by the moment. “... And asked me, how did the artist capture such an expression? You're not the first to wonder, Joshua.” He read my mind. I was curious about that blush.
“Joshua, my boy... It wasn't just my presence that called that spot of joy into my Queen's cheek; perhaps Art T. complimented her, or ‘Paint must never hope to reproduce the faint half-flush that dies upon your throat’,” he said bitterly. He seemed jealous that it wasn't just him who made Clawdia blush. She was quite a beautiful reptile. “Such things were courtesy, she thought, and cause enough for calling up that spot,” he continued, sighing, “She had a heart – how can I put this - too easily impressed. She liked whatever she saw, and she saw everywhere. Joshua, it was all the same! My favor at her hand, the sunset in the west, the basket of cherries some idiot fool brought her, even the white Yoshi she rode around the bailey with!” I could sense his blood boiling. And since reptiles are cold-blooded creatures, I knew he really was mad.
“Everything would draw from her alike the approving speech, or blush at least. She thanked people – good! - but thanked somehow... I dunno how… as though she ranked my gift of the crown with anybody's gift! Who would stoop to blame this sort of trifling? Even if you were a great speaker, which I am not, to make such a Koopa see what you wanted, and say What you're doing disgusts me, or You're going too far, and if she argued against you and explained herself, and made excuse...” He paused, perhaps regretting that he hadn’t talked to Clawdia about this. I was beginning to see just what kind of character Bowser Koopa really was. He was jealous, paranoid, and so proud, it was arrogant. I found myself beginning to loathe him, though I tried not to show it.
“... Even then, I'd be stooping to her, and I choose never to stoop. Oh, Joshua, she smiled, of course, whenever I passed her, but the same thing happened whenever anyone passed! This grew,” he said, and I didn't know if he was referring to his jealousy, obsession, or Clawdia's behavior. “I gave commands, and then all smiles stopped together. And there she stands, as if alive,” he finished.
All smiles stopped together... I felt a chill go down my spine, and my blood froze. Could it be... he had her killed? If so, would the same fate await Princess Peach if she didn't obey Bowser's commands? I felt a sick feeling in my stomach, and as I stood up, I felt nervous. I need Peach. I need her body for the Shadow Queen.
A Koopatrol entered the gallery, as Bowser drew the curtain back, hiding Clawdia's portrait from Plit once again. “Sir, The King of the Mushroom Kingdom has arrived. He's waiting for you downstairs.”
“Thank you, Johnson. Dismissed.” Bowser turned to me, and we began to walk out of the gallery. “The King's generosity is ample warrant that my dowry request will be accepted,” he smiled, baring his fangs, but he caught himself on. “Though his fair daughter, ah, that is the object of my affection. Come, let's go down together...”
I was beginning to wonder if Bowser really loved Peach, or just the wealth associated with her. Or, maybe it was both. As we began to descend the plush staircase, Bowser pointed out a bronze sculpture to me. It was a merman, taming a Big Bertha.
“Notice Neptune here, taming a Big Bertha, supposedly powerful and rare, which Claus of Koopa Village cast in bronze, for me!” Claus was a legendary sculptor, as well-known and talented as Art T. It seemed that Bowser liked the idea of domination. I bit my lip, realizing that Princess Peach would be in terrible danger here as Bowser's wife. But, considering the vast amount of gold Bowser had showered The King with, it was unlikely I'd be able to do anything about it.
As we descended the staircase to meet The King, I desperately tried to plan. Like I said, I need that body. However, nothing. Fighting Bowser would be stupid, given the ridiculous amount of guards around the place. Kidnapping Peach? Mario would be after me like she was a bowl of pasta, and he hadn't eaten in three days. Expose Bowser as a murderer? I had no proof. So, I continued biting my lip, and did what I was told. I helped in the dowry negotiations, and received a considerable fee for my efforts. It felt like blood money. Princess Peach was with The King, and she looked to me for help. I didn't meet her gaze. How could I? I’d sold her out, and now, she was engaged to a murdering dictator.
I'm sorry, Princess. There was nothing I could do. What could I have done?
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