A long time ago in a moor far far away, Princess Wren was in a pickle. That was what she'd say if she knew what a pickle was. Since the staple food for her people were berries and mushrooms that grew on her native lands, Princess Wren would say that she was in as much trouble as a youngling that snacked on a fool's webcap. She had just dropped her crown into the lovely black water of the Northern Moor, and watched it float outside of her reach, as if taunting her. The worst was that the crown was her least favourite, made of crowberry twigs that had a nasty habit of poking her ears, making her scratch her head in a very unfitting manner. No one would believe that she dropped it in by accident. So, now she was dangerously kneeling on the edge of the water, stretching her hand, her fingers wiggling in the air. The crown bobbed and moved an inch away from her.
There was some noise behind her, and she rolled her eyes. It was Tern, of course, her lady-in-waiting.
"Give me a hand, Tern. The daft crown is going to bloody sink any moment!" Wren stretched even more; and then her knee slid, and she was keeling.
And then a hand firmly grasped the collar of her canary grass dress, pulling her back from the dark water. Wren looked around, and froze.
The man in front of her was a puck. As in bearded, horned, long-eared, half fey, half goat. As in the enemy. One of them, the hobgoblin, the evil one. He looked young, the wavy hair and the thick beard were dark, almost black, and the braids on two sides of his face and at the end of the beard were decorated with wooden beads.
His eyes were cold blue, and Wren just couldn't stop staring into them. The old tales always assured that the pucks had black eyes, with red glowing in them. His were of the colour of spring gentian.
"Are you alright?" he asked, and Wren gulped loudly.
Firstly, his teeth were not like a pike's, according to the legends, made to shred her helpless pixie self into little pieces. They were of normal fey shape; white and even, in a pleasant contrast to the dark beard.
Secondly, did she just think of a 'beard' in a complimentary way?! Fey were not supposed to have beards! Those were reserved for the Big Folk, ibexes, catfish, and those lovely highland cattle, of the most beautiful colour, just like the hair should be! Wren reminded herself that dark and curly was bad, and copper and wavy was good!
"Um… Crown..." she mumbled, and pointed at the cursed accessory.
The mangoat - or was it goatman? - shifted, still holding the back of her collar, and stretched the second hand by her.
Several things became obvious, neither of which was beneficial for Wren's bedraggled nerves. Firstly, the puck wasn't dressed. At all. As if through some strange mist she watched muscles move under even tanned skin on a wide shoulder, and then she was forced - she swore by her best menhir, she wasn't looking voluntarily! - to observe the thick black chest hair, going down, from the valley between pectoral muscles, in a thick strip, down to where Wren didn't risk looking.
There were no trousers either. Just as Wren was always told, the lower half was all goat. Maybe. She didn't dare peek. But there were hooves. One of them made a soft noise on the mud, making Wren nervously twitch her nose.
And then a long arm - the same black hair on the forearm - stretched, and he picked up Wren's crown.
She opened her mouth to thank him - or maybe, squeak incoherently - when he dove in and pressed his mouth to hers.
If Wren's pointy ears could acquire a sharper cusp, they would. Her whole body went rigid, but at the same time it started buzzing like a wasp nest. Wren was hot in some parts - ears and neck mostly; but her spine felt like an icicle.
And then he moved away, and she gawked at the soft lips, now curled up in a lopsided smirk.
"Not a frog, then," he commented, and Wren finally blinked. It had been rather overdue - she'd been staring at him with widened eyes through the whole time.
"Frog?" She did sound like one, with all this croaking.
"They say pixies are like frogs, cold and slimy." That was when Wren realised that, firstly, it spoke. And secondly, the voice was amazing: low, velvet; and the slight accent was only adding to the charm. Perhaps, it was true that the evil ones sang to lure their unsuspecting victims into the woods. This one would have no trouble!
"I'm… not slimy," Wren muttered, still not able to tear her eyes off his lips.
He plopped her crown onto her head, askew, and chuckled. Wren's usual mettle was waking up - it's not like it was her first kiss! And it wasn't even that good! - only to be stomped down by the second kiss. This time he'd released her collar, and his strangely scorching hand cupped her jaw. And this time she closed her eyes - and participated.
She realised what proper being in a pickle was when she felt something rough but surprisingly pleasant under her palm, and Princess Wren became aware that she was patting the goatman's knee. Furry, goaty knee. Her fingers were threaded into the thick dark swirls, and, Danu help her, she enjoyed it!
"Wren!" Tern's voice came from behind the nearest hillock, and Wren jerked in the goatman's hands. "Wren, where are you?!"
"Wren..." the man whispered into her lips, and their eyes met.
"You need to go," Wren whispered back, and he quickly leaned in, snatched another kiss - still not asking for consent, by the way! - and then he rose. Wren's jaw slacked. He was huge! She knew her kind were the short ones among the fey - in the full form, that was - but he would be taller than a redcap or a bugbear!
"Go!" Wren hissed at him. Tern wouldn't be alone, and although later Wren would ask whether there was something irreparably wrong with her noggin, but at the moment she was terrified for her goatman!
He gave her another of his small smirks, and dashed away, towards the line of woods darkening at the South. And Wren just had to accept it. Firstly, the furry backside, muscular thighs, and confident fast pace shouldn't have looked so attractive, but they did. And secondly, aye, there was a tail.
236 Years Later
Tern carefully placed the crown on Wren's head.
"Are you sure that's the one you're wearing?" Tern eyed Wren's accessory in doubt. "It's a bit dull for the dress, and it's not like you're meeting your future husband every day..."
Wren looked herself over in the mirror. The dress with an elegant bodice of golden samphire, and a full, wonderfully delicate skirt of bogbean flowers, was - put simply - delish! She then looked at the reflection of her head, and grinned.
"You know that I love this crown, Tern." Wren gently brushed her fingers to the crowberry twigs. "And it's special."
Tern - the fittest pixie in the Kingdom - checked out her own reflection, and pouted her full, bright pink lips.
"Still don't know the significance, but you're the Princess here." She threw her dark auburn curls over her shoulder. "And I still think it's a pity to waste such an ace dress on those goatmen."
"Concentrate, Tern," Wren tsk-tsked with a chuckle. "It's not about pleasing goatmen. It's about ensuring the peace between our peoples. And it's time to give up the ridiculous old bigotry. You saw the emissaries. They aren't so bad!"
"Not so bad?" Tern scrunched her nose. "I can tolerate all this fur, and even the tails, but the horns? No, thank you."
"I kind of like the horns," Wren giggled.
All those years ago, she hadn't had time - and frankly speaking, courage - to touch the horns. The knee, and the hot skin of his shoulder had been all she'd managed to sample.
Wren looked at herself and noted how flushed her cheeks were. Whether it were the jitters before meeting King Puck for the first time, or the memories of her teenage years dalliance - she clearly didn't need any cranberry juice to rouge her cheeks and lips today.
Wren sighed. She probably should now give up the habit of sometimes daydreaming about that incident from her youth, considering she was getting herself a living breathing puck to live with.
She was worried, of course. She was the first pixie to marry a puck, and since she'd never met her future husband until today, she could hardly judge what he was like, but since the King was the main initiator of peace talks - after three millennia of war, no less - and in general Wren seemed to be among those fey women who were surprisingly fine with fur, tails, and even horns - Wren was feeling rather optimistic today. A wee bit panicky and fighting the desire to nibble at her freshly polished nails, but optimistic.
The revels were to take place in the Big Barrow, decorated with ling heather and meadowsweet for the special occasion, making the usually solemn room look jolly, with gentle fragrance filling the air, and fireflies dancing under the ceiling.
Wren's grandmother, Pixie Queen Regnant, stood by the table, food and drink crowding it. She was conversing with two pucks, one white-haired, with a funny forked beard, and another one, large, bold, and threatening looking. At the moment, though, no threat was visible, since he had his head pressed down into his shoulders, under Queen Grandmother's cold stare. Wren giggled. Elderberry wine turned to vinegar under the Queen's gaze. The puck stood no chance.
Wren took a deep breath in and stepped forward, Tern following behind her.
"Princess Caiwrenna, the Heir to the Pixie Throne, The Flower of the Moorlands, the Protector of Ferns," a courtier announced, and everyone's eyes fell on Wren. She was used to the attention, and the calm regal smile grazed her lips...
...only to drop, together with Wren's jaw.
Her goatman, from all those years ago, stood by a large barrel by the wall, a goblet of rowan mead in his hand, surrounded by a small company of pucks, and a few of the high pixie lords. His eyes were widened in shock, and Wren saw one of his eyebrows crawl up. He was older now, of course. There were silver streaks on his temples, and in his beard. And instead of pondering how awkward her engagement do had just become, Wren busied herself with the thought of how he was aging just as the best mulberry wine - more flavour, more zest, and, in the name of sacred lingonberry, he was now even more intoxicating, even from across the room! And Wren wondered whether any of her fond memories of his lips were at all true, or just the rosy youngling's fantasies.
He took a step towards her, and she heard the hooves clack on the red sandstone paved floor.
"His Highness, King Thorncliff, the Ruler of the Puck Woodlands," the courtier introduced Wren to her future husband, and she closed her mouth sharply, hoping no one could hear how her teeth clanked from the effort.
"You..." she whispered, and then she finally remembered years of strict upbringing and endless droning about decorum she had had to endure from her nanny, and curtsied. "It's an honour to finally meet you, my lord."
"The honour - and the pleasure - are all mine," he answered. Aye, she remembered the voice right. More so, it had either grown even lower and more smoky; or Wren was too young then to appreciate the majesticness of it.
He stepped even closer, and she saw his large hand open before her. The palm that she hesitantly placed her fingers in was warm and firm, and then the long fingers closed around hers.
Wren lifted her face, trying not to stare at the bare chest, and met the blue eyes she remembered so well. And then he looked at her head, and she saw his lips twitch in a suppressed smile. Wren's left hand unconsciously flew up to the crown.
He held her hand, and they slowly walked towards her Grandmother. The top of her head hardly reached his sternum, and she now knew that he was taller than most of his people. The horns were also bigger and longer than on the most, and Wren could just hear Tern's cheeky voice in her head, 'You know what they say about horns...'
They would reach the Queen in a moment, and Wren had enough time only for one question.
"Did you know it was me then?" she asked in a hissy whisper, and heard a warm rumble of a chuckle deep in his chest.
"No. I just needed to know..." he whispered in return, and she shot him a glance from the corner of her eye.
"Whether pixies were the frog creatures from the scary tales."
"And are we?" Wren asked, and felt him gently give her fingers a squeeze.
"Not even remotely," he whispered, leaning to her ear. "If not for that day, there wouldn't have been peace."
"Well, then it is only appropriate we seal the treaty in the same manner." Wren threw him an impish look, and he gave her a wink.
Wren giggled, and together they faced Queen Grandmother.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the peoples of Puck and Pixie..." the Queen started, but Wren didn't hear.
All she could concentrate on were his warm hand, the spicy smell of juniper that came from his skin, and the vague, but exhilarating anticipation of something new and exciting, buzzing through her veins.