Tanya carries the water from the well to her house the next morning with her friends, Stacy and Lennie beside her. They chat and laugh about what they plan to do now that she has been set free from her home. They would go on that hike through the woods that sits to the west of the town like they had planned a month ago. They would go swimming at the pool under the waterfall as the winter turns warmer to spring and on into summer. Tanya couldn’t wait for the day she would hopefully be asked to marry Mark and she would, of course, say yes. Her friends teased her about Mark and how she has told them time and time again how she wants a Spring wedding in the meadow with flower petals falling around them or a winter wedding by the waterfall with snow falling around them. She shoves them gently on the arms as she balances the well water in her bucket and tells them that she will see them later after she finishes her other chores and after she goes to talk to Morlock. They warn her again to be careful around the wizard before they walk away to buy a few things for their families in the market.
Tanya walks to her front door and is about to put the bucket down when a tall man appears beside her, taking the bucket from her hands with a grin on his chiseled face. “Let me help you, my sweetheart,” a low gruff voice says as the bucket is lifted from her hands.
Tanya turns to see Mark standing there with the bucket now in his hands and she can’t help but smile at him, “My knight in shining armor. Thank you for your help, Mark.” She opens the door and steps inside with Mark at her heel, carrying in the bucket.
He sets it down in the kitchen and looks to see Mrs. Torrance walking out of the bedroom, drying her hair. He smiles and walks over, giving Tanya’s mother a hug and a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Mrs. Torrance, looking lovely as always. I hope that you don’t mind my being here. I just saw a striking young woman carrying a bucket to the house and thought she might like some help.”
“You know that you are always welcomed here, Mark. And you are of course always allowed to help our daughter,” Mrs. Torrance says, with a small chuckle in her voice, always having liked Mark.
Mark nods and turns back to helping Tanya pour the water into another bucket, then takes that bucket back outside where it sits off by the side of the house so it is easy to grab on the way out when needed to be filled with well water. Mark returns inside and hugs Tanya, giving her a small bouquet of flowers that he had purchased the day before and had hidden before he helped Tanya. Tanya smiles and smells the fresh flowers before she hugs him close, giving him a grateful kiss on the cheek.
He grins at her, “Tanya, I have to go but I will return later to take you on a walk through the meadow.”
“I will prepare us dinner so that we can stay longer in the meadow in each other’s company and maybe watch the stars,” she tells him, looking at her mother for approval.
Her mother nods and leaves to go retrieve the basket so Tanya may pack it with food for later. Tanya walks Mark to the door where he glances around to see where her mother is then steals a passionate kiss from Tanya before he leaves to finish his own chores before work. Tanya finishes her chores then goes to her room in order to change out of her work clothes and puts on another dress to meet with Morlock in the meadow. She picks a simple orange dress that her mother had made and dyed for her a few years back, pulls on some sensible shoes, and heads into the kitchen where her mother has placed the basket on the table for later.
Tanya packs a few sweet cakes that she had made earlier that morning for Morlock, not having been able to sleep much longer after the nightmare, inside the basket with a smile still on her face. Tanya kisses her mother’s cheek before she walks out of the house, the handle of the basket resting on her forearm and lightly swinging back and forth with each step. She hopes that she made the cakes right and that Morlock enjoys them. Her mother stops her just outside and hands her a blanket so that she can sit in the meadow while she talks with Morlock. She thanks her mother then takes off running to the meadow, feeling like a kid again about to see her best friend like she had done when she was 5 years old.
Morlock walks into the meadow, the drink in his hand as he heads to where there are a few boulders set together, a place where he, Tanya, and their other friends would go to play and tell stories. He walks over to the first boulder and leaps up on top of it, making sure to not spill a drop of the drink, and sits down, waiting. A few minutes later, he sees Tanya enter the meadow, wearing an orange dress, one of his favorite colors, and carrying a basket on her right arm. He stands up, again being careful of the drink, and waving at her to show her where he is standing. Tanya sees him and waves back, almost dropping the blanket, laughing as she catches it. Morlock sits back down and slides off the boulder, having decided to not wear his wizard cloak or robe, and didn’t care if his pants got dirty. He hurries over to Tanya to help her with the basket and blanket, almost tripping and spilling the potion.
Tanya laughs and stops beside Morlock, “Morlock, I read your letter and I am so happy that you wish to be friends again. I have missed you so much.” She puts the basket and blanket down on the tall grass, throwing her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
Morlock hugs her back as well, breathing in deep and smelling her sweet scent, closing his eyes. He breaks the hug and hands her the cup, “I made you a special drink as a peace offering.”
She takes the cup and smiles, “Oh Morlock, thank you. That was very sweet of you.” She sets it down and opens the blanket, setting the basket down on top of it and then the cup beside the basket. “I didn’t sleep well this morning so I made you some little cakes. And don’t worry I didn’t make them out of mud like I did as a kid.” She laughs and sits down, Morlock sitting in front of her. “I made them with real ingredients but I am still far from a good cook or baker like my mother but she is teaching me. I am going to work in the bakery soon so I need all the practice I can get. And you just happen to be one of my many guinea pigs.” She crinkles her nose and laughs as she teases him about being her guinea pig.
Morlock raises his eyebrows, “Guinea pig? Oh, joy, from wizard to guinea pig just by moving back here.”
Tanya gasps, pretending to be offended and smacks his shoulder, “Hey watch it, pal.”
They both laugh together and talk about what they had been up to besides everything they had once told each other in letters. Tanya tells Morlock how she wishes to one day have her own bakery as it always brought her true happiness whenever she was baking in the kitchen. She also tells him how she wants two or three kids since she had always been an only child and had wished to have siblings. She tells him how she doesn’t want to leave her parents but that she still wishes to travel and see more of the world before having her children. She also thinks she may wish to live in a new town, somewhere to the East where no one knows her. Tanya talks about Stacy and Lennie and how Stacy is engaged to be married to their old childhood friend, Daniel, which made Morlock laugh since Stacy had sworn Daniel was icky as a little girl.
Morlock tells Tanya about his parents and how they were doing when he last saw them. He tells her about his travels and going to school in order to become a wizard. He tells her about his classes, his spells, and how he nearly burnt the hair off of one of his professors because he said a word with the wrong accent. She laughs at his stories and pushes the basket over to him so that he can try the cakes she made for him as they talk. He opens to see four small cakes waiting for him to eat and he plucks out one that has a dark brown fudge-like frosting with a fresh strawberry resting on top. He bites into it and gasps as it nearly melts in his mouth with a single bite.
“Wow, Tanya, this is delicious. I hope you make me these all the time,” Morlock says as he finishes the rest of the cake and grabs a second that has a white frosting on top.
Tanya laughs and shakes her head, “They aren’t that great and how could I make these for you all the time if I am off traveling?”
Morlock puts the cake down, having almost forgotten why he was there and about the potion he had made her. They were having such a great time, he forgot that she isn’t his yet and that he has to curse her in order to make her his. He shrugs and jokes, “I guess I will just have to travel with you so I can get my hands on these cakes whenever I am craving for them.”
Tanya laughs again, reaching over and patting his hand, “Oh I can see it now, you, me, and Mark traveling around, seeing new sights. And then you stop us every couple of days because you want cakes.”
Morlock forces himself to laugh this time, shuddering inside when he hears Mark’s name. “Well, maybe Mark will want them too. Has he tried these yet? It’s no wonder he would want you, the most beautiful woman in town, as his wife. You have the looks, love, and cooking skills. You are the ultimate partner to have for life.”
Tanya blushes at his response but then freezes, hoping that Morlock doesn’t start going on again about how he wants her as his bride but he just eats the cakes she made. “You are very sweet, Morlock. Thank you for those kind words.”
Morlock bows his head then points to the drink, “Hey don’t forget my peace offering.” He winks at her then a grin spreads across his face. “Better drink it quickly or the meadow critters will steal it from under your nose.”
She laughs and picks up the cup, smelling the contents, “Oh wow it smells wonderful. Does it have some lavender? I love drinks that have a hint of lavender in it.” She lowers the cup, “Have you had any drinks or sweets with lavender in them? Apparently, it’s healthy too. I have had it a few times in tea that Stacy made. I’ll have to get her to make some again and you can try it. She puts a bit of mint too so I hope you like mint.” She thinks for a moment, “That gave me an idea for a new cake to bake. Something with lavender in it. And you will have to be the first to try it.”
Morlock chuckles, “I actually don’t mind mint but no I have never had lavender before. But yes, lavender is in the drink.”
“Oh, would you like some of my drink then? That way you can say you’ve had lavender.” She holds the cup out for Morlock to take but he just shakes his head.
“Thanks, but like I said I made it as a peace offering to you and I made it especially for you.” He resists the urge to take the drink away from her and pouring it out to save her from the curse. He had enjoyed their talk, just like old times in their letters, but he still loves her and doesn’t want Mark to get to be the one to marry his Tanya. So, he takes the cake into his hand and bites into it to keep his hand away from the cup.
Tanya shrugs, “Okay then Stacy will make the tea for you, soon.” She takes a sip of the drink, her eyes widening. “Oh, wow this is delicious, Morlock, are you sure you don’t want to try any?” She takes another sip, this time being a bigger sip when she sees Morlock shake his head again. She smiles at him, still holding the cup, “I am really glad that we got to talk and moved past what happened yesterday. I really never meant to hurt you, Morlock. You were my best friend and I really want our friendship back.” She drinks more of the drink, blinking a few times as she suddenly feels dizzy and puts the cup down. “Morlock?”
Morlock stands up and sighs, dropping the cake back into the basket and brushes his hands together in order to remove the crumbs, “Your cake is amazing and I can’t wait for you to cook me more cakes, loaves of bread, whatever I want but not as my friend. I love that you want us to be friends but I still want you to be my wife and there is only one way to make you my wife.” He points to the drink that she has just set down, “I have made you a very special drink. You have to perform 7 tasks in order to stop the curse from killing you. I already have the 7 tasks in mind and you have to perform them in a month or you will die. The month, of course, starts today since you drank the potion today. Originally it said 2 weeks in the spellbook but I found another spell that would lengthen this curse to give you more time if you need it.” He sits down beside her, brushing a few strands behind her ear, “I will have you one way or another. You can do the 7 tasks to stop the curse but they will not be easy and there is a chance of death in them or you can tell me that you will be married to me and only me and I will lift the curse immediately.”
Tanya looks at him confused, still feeling strange, and not completely understanding what is happening to her. She feels warm yet cold at the same time, her sight wavering and the colors around her becoming brighter. She shakes her head and looks up at him, wondering when he sat beside her, the words running together until she can hear him say that she has to do 7 tasks or marry him for him to stop the curse. “Curse? You have cursed me?” She shakes her head again, trying to clear the fog from her mind so that she can hear him better. “Tasks?”
Morlock nods, “Yes, 7 tasks that can kill you or tell me that you will marry me now and I will lift the curse that I have placed on you and have placed on your family.”
“My family?!?” she shrieks, rising up to her feet, Morlock following suit. “You cursed my family? Just because I told you that I won’t be your wife?”
He nods, looking at her as if placing curses on people is normal for him to do especially then in that situation. “I have thought all night about the 7 tasks I want you to perform and I have a map of where you must go in order to do the tasks. The first task is the easiest as it is to lie to your family and friends about everything that has happened. You cannot tell them that you are cursed and you cannot tell them that you are going to be leaving in order to complete tasks to stop the curse that I have placed on you. But like I said, I can stop it all now with a simple promise from you.”
Tanya covers her mouth, feeling sick and she runs away from Morlock, collapsing on the ground not far from the boulders, throwing up her breakfast. She heaves until everything is out of her system, then dry-heaves more, as if it will help stop the curse that has been placed on her. She looks up at him, anger flashing in her watery eyes as she wipes her mouth. She stands and storms back over to him on shaking legs, her hands balled into tight fists by her side. She wants to hit him, she wants to scream at him, she wants to destroy him for what he has done to her but as soon as she is in front of him, everything vanishes. All feelings slip away from her and she becomes numb, almost an empty shell, as she stares into Morlock’s eyes.
Morlock tilts his head down to look into her eyes, raising an eyebrow and waiting for her to tell him that she will marry him and to lift the curse. He has the spell in his pocket in order to reverse it if she promises herself to him. He slips his hands into his pockets, the left pocket holding the box with the ring and the parchment that has the reverse spell written on it while his right pocket holds the parchment with the list of tasks and the map of where she will have to go. But he feels confident that he won’t be handing the contents of his right pocket to her.
His excitement grows as his finger gently caresses the box that holds the ring he bought in a town he passed through on his way to his village. A beautiful blue stone sitting on a gold band, the man who sold it to him saying that it is a stone called a sapphire. He knew that Tanya would love it because it is her favorite color.
Tanya looks down, ready to say goodbye to Mark but when she looks up at Morlock, she starts to feel again and she didn’t want to say goodbye to anyone. She knew that she has to fight back in order to show Morlock that she isn’t his and never will be his. She has to show him that she loves Mark and will be his wife. She will fight him by playing his game and she will win. “I will play your stupid game. Give me the map and the tasks and I will do it in a month. I will survive the tasks and I will show you that I won’t be yours but I will be Mark’s wife.” She glares into his eyes, “I will lie to my family and friends and I will do your tasks.” She holds out her hand for the list of tasks that she will have to do and for the map that will show her where she has to go in order to fulfill the tasks.
Morlock’s jaw and heart drop when he hears that she has decided to do the 7 tasks that he has prepared for her. He blinks a few times, collecting himself, unable to grasp any words in his mind to say to her. Finally, the words appear in his head and he finds his voice, “You really want to do the tasks? But…I thought…” He clenches his teeth when he sees the determination in her eyes and he drops the box back into the bottom of his pocket. He can’t give up hope on that ring being placed on her finger and her saying yes I will marry you. Maybe after the first two tasks, she will crack and come back to him, begging for him to take her as his. He pulls free the map and the parchment from his right pocket, now confident that she will do the first two tasks and then come back to him, begging for him to lift the curse. “Here is your map and the tasks. You already know what your first task is, and it is a task that you will have to keep doing throughout the other tasks so good luck. I will be waiting at my home for the items or other proof that you have done the tasks I have asked you to do. And I will be waiting for you to come back to me and tell me that you will marry me so I may lift the curse before they get even harder.” He taps his finger on the parchments, “Just remember, you even breathe this to your parents and their curse will come to be and they will die. Same goes for anyone in the village since they are all like family to you.”
Tanya snatches the items from his hand and turns on her heel. She kicks the cup off of the blanket, spilling the rest of the potion into the grass where it becomes neutralized and does no harm, and quickly picks up the basket and blanket. She clenches her jaw and narrows her eyes at Morlock as she begins to walk back towards the village, having to get home in order to study the tasks that she will have to perform. She calls back over her shoulder, “I won’t be begging you for anything, Morlock, I promise you that.”
She storms off into the village without a single glance back, the map and parchment now hiding inside the basket. She will have to act as if nothing has happened and she will have to cancel her dinner night date with Mark even though it pains her to do so but what will she tell him? She hated the idea of having to lie to Mark, let alone lie to her parents and to Stacy and Lennie, but in order to complete these tasks, she will have to lie. She isn’t that great at lying but in order to save her family and friends, she will make sure to make them believe her lies.
Morlock watches as she walks away, not sure how to react to her actually wanting to do the tasks. He walks to where his cup lays empty on its side and picks it up, cradling it as he heads back to his house. Once inside, he locks the door behind him, wondering how she will get the tasks done in time before the curse kills her. He sits down at the table and unrolls the parchment that he has waiting for him, having made two copies of the tasks she wants her to perform. He sets the box that contains the engagement ring beside the list and taps his finger on the table, staring down at the list.