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A Fractured Fairy Tale

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"Once upon a time, there was a handsome young man, who was unfortunately a right bastard and thus caused no end of trouble, though his mother loved him dearly. His mother, however, was of failing health, and one day when she feeling was particularly sick she asked him to take a basket of baked goods for her to a cottage at the center of the forest, where his grandmother lived."

"This young man, who was used to carousing with other fellows and drinking to the good health of the young ladies in town -- to the detriment of other people's pocketbooks, of course -- didn't question his mother at all -- what was her business was her business, and none of his own. If he had a relative living alone in the forest that he'd never known about... well, he had an absent father that he didn't know any good of as well."

"So he took her at her word, put on his best and brightest red hunting cloak of a deepest blood-colour, and marched right off into the woods with a basket filled with what he assumed were all sorts of goodies, as it was certainly heavy enough for it. If he was quick enough, he supposed, he might be able to be over and back for the drinking games later that night."

"So he walked, and walked, and didn't stray from the path in the slightest, not wanting to be late in his return, and by midday he reached an old run-down-looking, one-room cottage at the center of the forest."

"He knocked carefully and entered, and was astounded at the state of the interior."

"Frankly, it was a wreck."

"'--Small wonder that my grandmother has taken ill, with all this dust about, and my mother after her in turn, in visiting her here,' the young man muttered to himself, as he set down his burden of a basket by the doorway -- so as not to get dust in the contents -- and held an arm over his face as he threw open the curtains to let some proper light in. 'I shan't be seeing the inside of a tavern tonight, with the state of affairs around here. This place needs a good scrubbing.'"

"For, as was said before, he was a right bastard, not one dispossessed of all family concerns, and while he tended to avoid good, honest work as though it was the Black Plague, it was not as though he was incapable of the effort. Far from it, rather -- his aversion was because he was no stranger to it."

"'--CLOSE THE DRAPES!!' came a yell from the lump of bed clothes, and, startled, the young man turned to face his complaintant, pulling closed the dust-laden drapes again."

"The young man stared for awhile at his grandmama, sitting under multitudinous blankets and sheets, and had a good bit of difficulty making out exactly what she looked like in the gloom of the cottage."

"But..."

"'Grandmother,' said the young man, 'you must be very sick indeed, for your voice to be so... hoarse. And low.'"

"After much coughing and sputtering, his grandmama replied, 'Ah, well, that's how it is. And... where is my... daughter?'"

"'Sick,' the young man informed him. 'She sent me in her stead today.'"

"'Oh, did she,' replied his grandmama. 'Well, let's have a look at you, then.'"

"The young man slowly walked towards the open door until he was just off to the side of it."

"'How do I look, then?' he asked with a smirk."

"'Oh, you'll do, I think.'"

"'Do?' he asked, as though he had not a care in the world. 'Do for what?'"

"His grandmama sat up in bed slowly and said, 'Why, for... bringing me that basket of goodies from your mother, I think.'"

"The young man turned slightly and hefted the basket easily enough. 'What sort of things does my mother usually bring you?' he asked."

"'Oh, this and that,' came the reply, and when he made no move to approach, his grandmama added, 'Come closer, come closer!'"

"The young man, dutiful enough to family, approached the foot of the bed slowly, and stopped not two steps in."

"'Why, grandmother,' he said. 'In the light of the door, your eyes look quite large.'"

"'Do they?' said his grandmama dryly."

"'Oh yes,' he said, and took another two steps, before stopping again. 'And, why, grandmother, now that you're sitting up, why, you look like you have quite a lot of hair on your head.'"

"'I should certainly hope so!' came the affronted reply."

"'Yes, of course.' And the young man took another two steps, then paused at the edge of the bedside. 'But... I am not quite used to seeing so much on a grandmother's face, you see.'"

"'Of course not, you dimwitted fool!' his 'grandmama' growled out. 'For I am not your grandmother at all!'"

"'Didn't think so,' the young man muttered, and swung the heavy basket of goodies right at the imposter's head.But the imposter simply tossed it aside side with a swipe of his arm, and the young man found himself having to jump back out of the way as the grizzlied man in the bed pounced at him."

"The basket fell to the floor with a clatter, and a goodly number of coins flew out of it and rolled across the floor."

"And as the young man backed up towards the wall, he realized the truth of it all."

"He recognized the man as the duke-his-father, who stayed in the castle-fort nearby. The castle was at the other side of the woods, the center of which was the boundary between the town and the royal forest -- a perfect place for meetings of a clandestine nature."

"His mother, who the-duke-his-father had banished from his presence, though she had been married to him in a good Catholic ceremony and was married to him still, had chosen to live in town than be subject to the daily shame and whispers of living on in the castle tower, while his father bedded lowly wenches who had once been his nursemaids."

"For the young man might be a right bastard, but not quite that sort of bastard. He had a reputation to uphold as a duke's firstborn son in wedlock, after all."

"His saintly mother had been meeting the-duke-his-father clandestinely once a month -- to pay him for the privilege of not disinheriting his son, in money and... possibly other less savoury ways and means -- to protect the dubious honor of the young man he was currently trying to rend in two, or possibly eat first."

"With the state of their finances, and the last of his mother's inheritance having nearly run out, he had likely been planning to kill his mother that afternoon, with no witnesses about, and leave himself free to marry again to a new heiress, who could bear him a son to supercede the young man's inheritance of that which was rightfully his."

"It also occurred to the young man that killing him directly and waiting for his mother to die of illness, unable to support herself without his small wages and help about their own home, would probably do just as nicely for the duke-his-father."

"And his duke-the-father had pounced in such a way that he was now between the young man and the door, barring the way."

"The young man took action quickly, and shoved open the curtains."

"He was thusly confronted with the full sight of his duke-the-father, who was not, as he had first thought, a vampire at all, or a werewolf, for he was neither susceptible to sunlight, nor clothing the bright red of moon's blood."

"He was a werelion, and as everyone knows, a werelion rather likes the sight of blood."

"'Well, damn,' the young man said, then jumped out of the open window."

---

"Seriously?" Clark asked.

---

"It was a very poor cottage, after all, and no glass or even wood for shutters, just a hole in the stonework."

---

"That's not what I meant, Lex," Clark said with an eyeroll.

---

"His father howled and gave chase."

---

Clark sighed.

---

"The young man ran as though the devil himself were on his heels."

"'And here I'd thought that a vampire might explain my mother's wasting illness,' he thought to himself. 'Instead, I find myself running from my father, who has turned out to be a beast after all, in not only form, but also deed.'"

"These thoughts that flashed through his mind were only one thing however, for he was a practical vagabond. Rather another thing entirely left his mouth."

"Out loud, he screamed for help."

---

"Of course he did," Clark sighed.

---

"And it came in the form of a passing fair woodcutter."

---

"Fairy tales have female woodcutters?" Clark asked rhetorically. "Since when?"

---

"He was a tall, strapping young man--"

---

"...Okaaaaay."

---

"--with chestnut tresses and deep hazel eyes."

---

Clark snorted. "Does the duke's son have curly red hair and bright blue eyes?" he said with a knowing look.

---

"And the young man being pursued saw him emerge from the forest as if out of a dream, and cried, 'Help! Save me!!'"

"And as the young man dashed towards him, and the were-duke-lion pounced, the woodcutter stepped forward and slammed the flat of his axe into the side of the man-beast, tossing him across the road, nearly to the treeline."

"The young man dashed behind the woodcutter's broad frame and said, 'Please, he'll not stop until I'm dead. You must kill him!'"

"'Oh, must I?' said the woodcutter."

"'Yes!' said the young man."

"'Well, all right,' said the woodcutter, and he chopped off the duke's head and split open his belly right-quick."

---

"...And did the young man's grandmother come tumbling out?" Clark asked sarcastically.

---

"And quite a lot of blood and gore spilled out of the late-duke's steaming bile-ridden corpse as he died quite horribly."

---

"Ew."

---

"'Thank you,' said the young man to the woodcutter. 'You saved my life.'"

"'Oh, that's nothing,' said the woodcutter, wiping down his axe."

"'But it was!' the young man insisted. 'I am-- ...well, who I am isn't really all that important,' he said. 'But I must give you some reward.'"

"'No. You owe me nothing for that,' the woodcutter added, setting his axe to the side."

"The young man was about to protest, then looked slightly taken aback."

"'For that?' he asked carefully. 'Then what do I owe you for?'"

"The young woodcutter grinned at his suddenly, and the duke's son rocked back on his heels."

"'My,' he said. 'What sharp canines you have.'"

---

"Hey!"

---

"'Well, I would like to think so,' the woodcutter said in return, grinning widely. 'I wouldn't be a proper fairy if I didn't."

---

"Wait, what?"

---

"'Ah,' said the young man nervously. 'I don't suppose I could get your name?'"

"'Tam Lin,' said the woodcutter."

"'Tam Lin,' the young man repeated. Then he said, '...Knowing your name won't help me at all, will it.'"

"'Merely an old wives' tale,' Tam Lin informed him happily enough. 'Might I have yours in return?'"

"'Thomas,' the young man told him. 'Sometimes Thomas the Rhymer, sometimes Thomas the Fiddler, though I've never met a fairy before.'"

"'Hm,' said Tam Lin. 'Well, now you have.' He grinned. 'Never heard of you before myself, though you seem a pleasant enough fellow.'"

"'Ah, thank you,' said Thomas, as he began edging away."

"'Not so fast,' said the fairy-woodcutter. '''You still owe me.'"

"Ah, for what exactly?'"

"'Why, for trespassing in my woods!' the fairy told him."

"The young duke's son could not help but gape."

"'These are not your woods!' the young man told him. 'These woods belong to the townsfolk, of which I am one,' he informed the fairy."

"'Ah, and do you see any townsfolk here to claim them?' said the fairy, spreading his arms wide. 'What do the townsfolk have to do with my wood?'"

"At that, the young man could do naught but grimace. It was true enough that the townsfolk avoided the woods, as they did the royal forest. But, as he was the son of the duke, so they doubly belonged to him, and while it was on the tip of his tongue to inform the fairy of this, and rightly so, he kept his tongue and the thought merely to himself. For somehow, he got the feeling that such an argument would be held in just as much esteem as the first -- which was to say, not much very."

"'So, you will pay me for your trespass,' said the fairy, crossing his arms."

"The young man grimaced again but, thinking on how this fairy had saved him from murder, he felt that he did owe the man something. If he wouldn't take reward for one thing, what matter was it that he took it as 'payment' for another?"

"'How much?' the young man said, thinking of the basket of coins he'd left in the old run-down-looking cottage."

"'Oh, quite a lot,' said the fairy with a grin, and, quicksilver-fast, he reached forward and grabbed young Thomas, and took from him a kiss."

---

"Uh, what?"

---

"And, with that deed done, he strode back into the forest and vanished."

---

"Hey, no, wait-wait-wait, none of this Alexander and Hephastion stuff!" Clark complained. "You're doing it again!"

Lex sighed. "Doing what again?"

"You're doing weird, not-fairytale things!" Clark huffed out.

"I'll have you know that after you disparaged my fairytale-telling before, I took the liberty of reading up on quite a lot of fairy tales, and this is, in fact, very fairytale-like."

"That was three nights ago!" Clark said. "And I was just bored and I thought you might know a bedtime story and that it would be fun--"

"Well, I'm telling you now, aren't I?" Lex said stormily.

"But it's not even night right now, it's the middle of the day and--" Clark took in a breath to complain again, then just let it out in a sigh at Lex's expression.

"--Fine," he grumbled. "What happens next?"

---

"Well, as one can imagine, this left young Thomas in quite a state."

---

"Uh huh."

---

"He was, after all, a duke's son. He'd never been kissed by a fairy before."

---

Clark sighed and rolled his eyes.

---

"He stomped through the underbrush, demanding an explanation, an apology, if nothing else, for taking such liberties with his person without even a by-your-leave, but of the young and daring fairy there was no sign."

"Unfortunately, it was going to be dark soon, and while the young man's blood-red hunting cloak was proof against werewolves at any hour, at night it would draw vampires like moths to a flame."

"So Thomas took it upon himself to dash back to the run-down old cottage, retrieve the basket full of coins, and return to the town limits with due haste."

"He made it back before nightfall, and strode into his mother's home with pride, for he had removed a dire threat to both of their health and well-being, even if he had had some good help doing it."

"But to his dismay, he found his mother lying in bed, dead with her throat cut cleanly."

"'Assassins and thieves!' he shouted, dropping the basket at his feet, and ere he left her side the town had picked up his hue and cry."

"There was much ado in the days to come. With his mother's death he inherited her estate, which was mostly bills and debts owed. The money in the basket was nearly all gone by the time he was through with them."

"His father's death was another matter. What had not occurred to him in the forest in the heat of the moment was that with his-father-the-duke's death, he was now the duke as his rightful heir."

"With the power and influence he was now given, he stormed the castle, tore through his late father's things, and found her death warrant in his papers. He ordered his mother's killer found, and had him executed by the dawn of the next day."

"His life changed dramatically after that. Living in the late duke's castle-fort, however, awarded him little pleasure. He had become used to living in the town, and he found he had little liking for the politics of his father's court, and the company of his bastard siblings and their mothers even less."

"He thereupon decided that, while he was not quite old enough to be a good duke, and perhaps now too full of responsibility to be any sort of bastard, right or not, that he was in fact perhaps just the right age to go on and seek his fortune."

"And, with the pitiful state of affairs of the castle, a fortune was just what was needed."

"So, Thomas the Duke settled his affairs as best he could."

"He gave his old nursemaids and their bastards a more than reasonable sum of money for them to settle and live comfortably on, and banished them from his lands -- he didn't want false claimants to his title in his absence, and, quite frankly, neither his bastard-brother nor his bastard-sister were the sort of people one would want in their kingdom, let alone he in his."

"He put the estate in as much proper order as could be managed with such meager funds ashe had available to him."

"And he found a good man whom he trusted to see to the estate and collect a reasonable percentage of taxes from the townsfolk in his lands in his absence."

"With this, he left the castle-fort in good standing and headed out."

"He first stopped in town at his mother's old home. He hadn't had a chance to really visit the homestead since his installment as the new, rather un-were-like duke."

"He cleaned up a bit, and changed into his old familiar clothing. He tucked his good red cloak into a satchel, along with a few other trinkets with sentimental value, and shouldered his pack."

"Then he picked up his fiddle and strode out of the house, Thomas the Fiddler once more."

"He went to the old inn and played as he always had before, played for his drink and his dinner. He got few coins, their knowing he was a duke, and he one who was supposed to be dining on their taxes. They seemed to get little enjoyment from his music that night, no longer able to forget that he was a duke's son, nor remember that he had once been a right bastard who had lazed the days away and at night sung for his supper, and he in turn dined poorly that night, though dine he did."

"He slept in a cold corner by the unlit fireplace with only his blood-red cloak to warm him, and at dawn's first light he slipped out before the innkeep's daughters woke."

"He left and traveled, and decided that he would start where he'd first begun -- in the woods that one fateful afternoon."

"He strode down the path, tuning his fiddle as he went, and struck a light chord or two in passing."

"When he realized that there were eyes staring at him from the woods, he stopped his strings from humming, for none of them looked to be the sorts of eyes that he was seeking."

"He walked along in oppressive silence, which eventually became less-so, until he came to the place where the duke had been slain at his command --no, entreaty."

"And there, leaning against the side of the tree where he'd last seen it placed, was the fairy-woodcutter's axe."

"'Hah,' said Thomas the Fiddler, with much satisfaction. 'I'll have you now.'"

"And with that quiet pronouncement, he put his fiddle to his chin and began to play."

"He played and played. He played for hours. He played 'til nightfall, and into the late hours of twilight, regardless of the danger of the forest-at-night."

"And after the moon had risen, and after the nightingale had accompanied him with her own song, and then settled for the night, out of the darkness he saw the woodcutter, as if his eyes had suddenly been opened."

"The fairy was leaning against a tree, listening to him -- the very same tree he'd left his axe leaning against."

"Thomas the Fiddler smiled and straightened, and began to play anew, a rousing jig, a waltz, a toe-tapper, a floor-stomper, and more besides. He played his best, his worst, and his all, all for the chestnut-haired, hazel-eyed fairy by the tree."

"But at no point did the fairy dance to his music. He stood so still, in fact, that he might well have been a statue of burnished copper and silver, lit in the muted glow of the moonlight."

"Finally, the fiddler had to admit defeat. He lowered his fiddle and tried not to groan at the ache in his arms."

"'I had hoped to make you dance and demand recompense in return,' he admitted, stymied at his inability to cause his intended effect. For had it been a lack of skill his part, or just another old wives' tale?"

"'Why?' asked the fairy."

"'For you cursed me with your kiss,' the fiddler told him hotly, 'and put upon me a most unwanted state of affairs with your interference.'"

"'Did I?' said the fairy."

"'You did,' said the fiddler. 'I was left, friendless and alone, to try and birth a new kingdom all upon my own, lacking the experience to know any better, act any wiser, and on your own head be it if I fail at it and suffering come to all my lands upon its end.'"

"'Oh? And who are you, that a kindgom shall rise and fall on you?'"

"With that, Thomas had no choice but to reveal himself as the new duke, and exactly who the were-lion was that the fairy had killed for him."

"'Ah,' said the fairy. 'But I cannot see how this is an affair of mine. You asked for help, and I gave it, seeking no reward,' he pointed out."

"'And yet you called it nothing,' the fiddler-duke told him. 'If it was nothing to see an old kingdom fall, then it should be nothing to you to help it rise up again once more,' he pressed."

"'I am sorry,' the fairy told him, and he even seemed to mean it, 'but I cannot help you.'"

"'Whyever not?'"

"With that, the fairy smiled at him, as though he rued the question, but had no way of concealing the answer. 'It is rather simple, actually,' he told the young fiddler. 'For I was and am charged by my Queen to stand here waiting for her, until she returns.' And with that, he straightened and picked up his axe."

"The young fiddler frowned at the sight of this, and then heard the soft blow of a horse's nose behind him."

"He slowly turned, and what did he see but the most beautiful woman imaginable."

---

Clark rolled his eyes.

---

"'Ah, and what do we have here, Tam Lin?' the woman asked as Thomas the Fiddling Duke hastily bowed to her. 'Is this the musician I heard uon my approach to retrieve you?' she asked."

"'It is,' said the fairy-woodcutter -- or, rather, woodcutter no more, for as he strode towards his Queen, his raiment changed to something quite fine, a glowing black armor, silver-edged and dangerous-looking indeed. He shook out his axe as a goodwife might a rug, and it lengthened and grew to be a sword of edged and dangerous proportions."

"'So, not a fairy-woodcutter, but a fairy-knight,' thought the fiddler."

"'And who is he?' the fairy-Queen asked of her subject."

"'Thomas, the duke of this land,' the fairy-knight replied quietly."

"'Well, well,' said the fairy-Queen. 'Is that so?' She seemed thoroughly amused by this. 'Come here now,' she demanded of the duke."

"And with that, the fiddler found his legs and arms quite beyond his control."

"'Quite a pretty young thing, aren't you?' she said, and with that she leaned down and stole a kiss from him as well."

---

"Geez," said Clark.

---

"The young duke found that he'd rather preferred to have his kisses stolen by the fairy-knight."

---

Clark rolled his eyes.

---

"And with that deed done, the fairy-Queen vanished into the night on horseback, with the fairy-knight keeping pace, running by her side."

---

"Uh huh."

---

"The young duke also found that he preferred the fairy-knight's method of vanishing, because the fairy-Queen's method involved pulling him up into the saddle and vanishing him, too."

---

"..."

---

"The fairy-Queen's purpose soon became clear, as they crossed the ocean waves and fast-approached her island home. She explained her need for entertainment and cheer, and good company for her courtiers besides, and had decided that she would steal herself a flame-haired, sky-eyed fiddler for a night's entertainment, one who was a duke besides."

---

"Hah! I knew it!" Clark exclaimed with a grin, punching the air. "Red hair and blue eyes!"

---

"The fiddler-duke could hardly disagree, given his position, at the mercy of her and her fairy court. He tried to beg off music-making due to his fatigue, but she merely shrugged and handed him a glass of some strange potion."

"'I would rather not take a drink and be stuck here forever,' the fiddler duke said carefully, eyeing the glass as though it were a snake with venom. 'I do have my own realm to which I must attend.'"

"But the fairy Queen simply laughed at his pronouncement."

"'I don't know where you humans get these silly ideas from,' she said. 'I control all in this realm, and the comings and goings of all within. You will suffer no harm here, and shall leave upon the sun's rise as you see it come,' she promised him. 'I shall take you back myself.'"

"With that, Thomas the Fiddler had no protest that he could make. And so he ate, and drank, and made merry with her court as a good guest should, and, rejuvenated by the fine fare, took up his fiddle again and played music for them as they liked."

"It pleased him to note that, without his Queen's geas upon him, the fairy-woodcutter-turned-knight was just as little inclined to dance at his pleasure as he had been when he'd played for him in the forest. He seemed to merely go through the motions of the other dances to which it seemed he was obliged to dance in, as well, once Thomas had ceded to the demands of his fatigued arms and stopped in his own tune-making."

"Thomas had expected to find himself rather at loose ends, but he soon found that the fairy-Queen truly had not wanted him only for his playing. From conversation with the others in her court, he soon realized that she had not chanced upon him by happenstance, but had been looking for him. She had wanted the Duke, the Fiddler, and the Rhymer -- all three."

"And for her and her court, all three did he provide."

"The night wound on, and soon it passed on close to morning."

"Rather abruptly, the duke found himself caught up in a dance with the fairy-knight."

"And, oddly enough, the fairy-knight Tam Lin seemed to be enjoying the dance for the first time that night."

"They twirled about the floor in all manner of steps, twirls, and leaps, neither ever once letting go of the other."

"'Are you really a fairy?' Thomas asked him as the dance came to an end. 'Your heart doesn't seem quite in it.'"

"'Ah, you have the right of it,' he heard, and they both turned towards the fairy-Queen, who approached them. 'He is indeed a fairy and one of mine, sure enough, but his heart,' she pursued her lips, 'why, it might as well be human! --Though it be not so,' she added."

"'Well, then,' said Thomas, as the first light crept across the lightening sky. 'It seems the night is about over.'"

"'That it is,' said the Queen. 'And now it is time to go.' She motioned for him."

"But Thomas took one step back, and caused the fairy-Queen to frown."

"'Have I not performed to your liking this night, my lady?' he asked."

"'You have,' she told him."

"'Then might I ask for a token of your esteem, to remember you by?' he asked."

"The fairy-Queen's lips twitched upwards."

"'You may,' she said. And then she considered him."

"'You seem to dislike your duties as a duke,' she said, and he had to stifle alarm -- the thought that she had heard his unwise and open complaints to her fairy-knight unnerved him. 'Perhaps you would rather another profession? A harpist, or a prophet, mayhaps?'"

"'Actually, I was thinking of something more immediate,' he replied."

"'Oh?' she replied, thoroughly amused. 'What do you wish to have, then?'"

"The duke did not reply directly. Instead he glanced to his side at Tam Lin, whose hand he had not yet surrendered from the dance."

"She followed his look, and was not pleased."

"'You wish to take from me my best knight in service?' she asked of him."

"'I do,' the duke said simply. 'I wish to have him.'"

"'You shall not,' the fairy-Queen replied, cold as any human, and with that she swept him up and had him back to his forest in his lands before he could barely take a breath."

"'This is hardly the behavior of a good host,' the duke managed to say, as he shoved himself to his feet from where she'd pushed his out of her saddle."

"'And neither is it the behavior of a good guest to make unreasonable demands!' the fairy-queen scoffed."

"'I should have something for my attendance at your pleasure,' he protested boldly. 'A question answered, and a chance!'"

"The fairy-Queen looked down upon him coldly, but she nodded her head once in acquiescence."

"Thomas drew in a deep breath and took his due."

"The fairy-Queen was quite surprised, but she grudgingly agreed that, this time, he had not asked too much."

"And her eyes were twinkling in amusement as she left him standing there."

---

"That doesn't sound good..."

---

"Thomas, the Duke once more, was not thoroughly tired of adventure, but was quite tired enough to want a bed and a good meal before dealing with the state of affairs as they still stood."

"But as he trudged into town, he slowly began to realize that things in his kindgom were not as he'd left them."

"In fact, as he was quick to discover, the one night he'd spent in the fairy-Queen's realm, at her castle across the sea, had in fact been seven years worth of time."

"He cursed his ill luck, until his subjects once-neighbors spoke up and he heard tales of those who had left, only to come back hundreds of years later, and become dust upon touching the ground or attending church to be properly shriven at Mass."

"So instead he shuddered, and drew himself up in his kingdom's affairs, which he had found had not suffered too horribly in his absence due to the lowered taxes that had not been needed for his own comfort and affairs. He worked himself hard during the long, relentless days."

"And he plotted and planned during his nights."

---

"Were they dastardly, villanous plots?"

---

"The seasons passed, and the harvest came more quickly than most would have liked."

"But the Hallowe'en night came none-too-quickly for the Duke's liking."

"When the night's festivities were done, he slipped into his mother old home once again, dressed himself in his old clothes, once again, and headed down the path of the forest."

"But being no longer a young Duke, but a proven Duke-in-full with a working estate, he did not slip out unnoticed."

---

"Not more assassins!" Clark said dourly.

---

"Now that he had good prospects, a number of eligible ladies of marrying age had been paying very close attention to him."

---

"Great," Clark groaned, flopping back on the couch. "Something even worse."

Lex smiled.

---

"Thomas was, of course, aware of this, and so he had carefully formulated a plan."

---

"Oh, yeah, this is gonna go well."

---

"He had made mention in passing to the worst gossip in his court that he wanted so very badly someone who was interested in him for him, for the right bastard he'd been before he'd become the duke, someone who could appreciate his music and his mastery of it. And given how his story of having waited on the fairy-Queen in her own court had become not only common, but widespread knowledge, he had gained quite a bit of fame and notoriety from it, and people had assumed all sorts of quite funny things as a result, or so his master of whispers told him."

"And so, as he walked along the forest path in oppressive silence, he began to play almost straightaway, despite his discomfort and all the multitudinous eyes."

"It wasn't long before one set of disturbing eyes separated themselves from the forest surroundings and approached him."

"'Good evening, master fiddler,' said the woman in white wolf furs, and he shuddered at her presence, glad for his blood-red coat, for she was quite wolf-like indeed. All knew that the womenfolk who were cursed with the wolf-change were masters of the were-form as the men never were, and could ensnare men's minds ere they find themselves without protection."

"'Good evening,' he said in return, for courtesy dictated it."

"'I do so adore your music,' she simpered, and he could feel her mind-clouding enchantments almost tugging at the edges of his cloak. 'It is so beautiful. Perhaps you would like to come with me and play some more of it?'"

"'Ah,' said he. 'But would you not wish to learn to play this yourself, and thus always be surrounded by beauty?' he said. 'I could teach it to you, if you promise to follow my direction faithfully.'"

"'Oh!' she said. 'I would like that very much!'"

"And as she drew towards him he grew alarmed, for if she could approach him in his blood-cloak then she must be very strong indeed."

"'Wait!' he told her hurriedly. 'I cannot teach you like this!'"

"'No?' the wolf-woman said, licking her lips and staring at him through lowered lids."

"'Oh, no,' he told her, regaining some small composure. 'First, you must have an instrument.' And then he described to her what she would need."

"It was no understatement to say that he was quite happy, if not relieved, to see her go."

"With his first suitor neatly disposed of, he struck up a lively tune and began to make his way forward through the forest, once again."

"And, again, he was accosted once more by a woman from the trees, this time a firey lady in fox furs."

---

Clark muttered a little to himself at that.

---

"And while she seemed a decent sort, and fiddler and fox-lady walked together for a time, the duke could not help but notice that the woman couldstep no closer than a few feet from his person. Or, rather, from his cloak."

"And so he was reminded of why he was making this journey, and he tricked her and sent her on her way, much as he did with the first."

"He began his walk with music as his sole companion once more, and was close to his destination when he quite surprisingly came upon a young woman -- barely more than a slip of a girl, really -- dressed in the softest rabbit furs, sitting in the middle of the road."

"Worried as to the state of her person, he hurried over and took stock of the situation. Soon enough, he realized that she had sprained her ankle and could not walk on her own."

"At that, he almost stopped and helped her to return to the town. But though he was torn in his decision, in the end he wrapped up her ankle in his handkerchief and gave her the protection of his blood-red coat.

"As he walked away from her, her cries grew louder and more desperate, though he had promised that he would return soon enough, in luck with help, no less."

"He found it difficult to harden his ears to her cries, but he knew he must. He gritted his teeth and played even more loudly to try and drown her out, for surely she had almost begun to sound as if she meant to play at dying, and bring the whole forest of predators down on her, if he would not turn back and quiet her directly."

"The last, if nothing else, left him finally able to let go of his role in her fate. If she should continue in her screaming and caterwauling, her death would be on her own hands; he had warned her of the necessity of quiet before he had gone. He could not help her if she would not listen; he could not fix what was broken all by himself."

"The woods became quiet once more but for his playing, and none-too-soon for his comfort."

"Finally, he reached the stretch of woods where he had once fled, where a duke had once died, where an axe had once lay not-quite-forgotten."

"Here was a place he could not forget, and here he played a tune that he not only remembered, but had self-taught."

"He played the music of the dance he'd taken with the fairy-knight, and on the third repetition he appeared."

"He appeared not from the wood, but from the road, from the direction of the old abandoned run-down cottage, where a ravenous beast in bedclothes had once made play at being something that he was not: a wolf, a old woman, a human being."

"The duke-fiddler-bastard's fairy-knight-woodcutter stood still as stone in the middle of the path, and the duke began to smile, finally seeing his reaction for what it truly was: he stood transfixed, as if bewitched by the sound of his playing. And in so seeing him thusly, openly, out in the moonlight, dressed in his old woodcutter's clothes, the duke and the fiddler and the bastard could not help but think, 'Ah, here is the companion that I desire! This is the partner that is right for me!'"

---

Clark stifled a smile, but gave a very teenaged eyeroll.

---

"He played the music of the dance three times more to completion, slowly advancing as he did so, and when he finally finished, he lowered his fiddle and bow and stood right in front of the fairy, as straight and tall and proud as any man who had ever walked the earth."

"And as the fairy slowly roused from the music's pull, he smiled down at the fair fiddler in front of him, hazel eyes twinkling."

"'Hello, Thomas,' said the fairy."

"'Hello, Tam Lin,' said the duke."

"'And a fine hello to you, too,' came a snarl at his back, and the duke turned in alarm."

"Behind him on the path were the wolf-woman, the fox-lady, and the rabbit-girl, the girl supported between them, and they were looking upon him as if to murder him by their glares alone."

"'A fine and merry chase you've led us on, sir duke,' said the wolf-woman, 'but you'll be choosing at least one of us tonight!' and they advanced all three, with wicked intentions in their eyes."

"'Stop!' cried out the fairy, brandishing his axe. 'If you attempt to harm him--! Well, you'll have to deal with me, now!' he proclaimed."

---

Clark blushed a little red.

---

"And though the weres tried their wiles, and the girl her piteous cries, the fairy was a fairy and immune to all."

"He stood like unmoveable granite, listened with all the remorse of a wall, and in the end brandished his axe at them with much anger."

"And at the last the three beastly woman turned and ran away, finally realizing that they would be unable to sway him, and cleared afeared that he might give them chase."

"Once the echoes of footfalls died out, the fairy sighed and lost his hard composure as he turned to face the duke."

"'You seem to find yourself in singular cases of trouble whenever you venture into these fine woods of mine,' he said."

"'Mm,' the duke agreed. 'Perhaps you'd best keep a closer eye on me, then, to prevent such happenstances.'"

"'I cannot,' said the fairy-knight. 'I am sworn to my Queen's service; I cannot act so freely as my heart desires.'"

---

Clark brought his knees up, and slowly let his head drop down to knock against them with a soft thud.

He did this twice.

---

"'And this is truth,' said the Queen of the Fairies, appraoching them from out of the gloom of the night."

"'Ah,' said the duke. 'Not so fast. You gave me a chance, and I have taken it,' the duke declared with a smile."

"'What?' said Tam Lin."

"'I asked of her a question and a chance, upon my return to this very spot,' said the duke. 'I asked her how I might have you for myself, and she told me it were impossible as you were to be the fairy tithe to Hell, come Hallowe'en night, tonight, this seventh year,' he said."

"At the way the fairy-knight dropped his gaze, the duke knew in that moment that it was true -- the fairy's recalcitrance had been because he had known his fate. He had been trying to save him from the pain of his passing, in a way."

"'And so I insisted she tell me how I could save you from the tithe, then.'"

"At this pronouncement, Tam Lin looked up at him in surprise."

"'I submit this to your majesty,' said the duke, bowing to the fairy-Queen. 'I did, in fact, keep hold of your good knight from dusk 'til dawn, by sight and sound and then hand -- for seven years, in fact,' he said with a smile. 'Further, he has been plainly hidden from your sight these past few months, staying in a cottage that is known to be mine, in the center of a wood that is known to be his.' He took a deep breath. 'And so I say that all conditions for his release from bondage, from yours to mine, are well met, beyond that which you admit have been called for in the past.'"

"'Pretty words will not get you so far,' the fairy-Queen sighed. 'You think I wish to have my best knight sacrificed? I do not,' she said. 'And while you may have held his gaze and his heart, and danced with him through a wilder abandon than I could ever devise,' she admitted, 'and coaxed him to hide from my sight and my orders for so long,' she said, with a dour glare at her errant knight, 'this is naught but elegant sophistry. He is still mine, even as he is yours.'"

"'He will not be sacrified this night,' said the duke."

"'Nor any other night hence,' said the fairy-Queen. 'That, at leats, I can give you, though it pains me to think of another who must take his place. But,' she said, 'he is still mine as much as yours, and he will be mine long after you are no longer a duke of a kingdom of man.'"

"'--Agreed,' said the duke with a smile, and at the surprised looks he gathered, his delight only grew."

"And by the time he finished carefully explaining, the forest was filled with the fairy-Queen's laughter."

"'Ah, you are a bold one!' she exclaimed. 'Bold, daring -- well, why not?' she said. 'I'll have you, then.'"

---

Clark gave him a slight frown.

---

"And so, as the Hallowe'en night ended, Tam Lin and Thomas walked hand-in-hand back to their small cottage, not quite in the royal forest, not quite in the town's woods, but most definitely in the fairy's domain, which they had rebuilt with their own four hands over the last several months."

"There they rested for a spell, content in each other's company, and on the morrow they returned to the castle-fort, now a true fortress with all the comforts of a mansion, and there they reigned together for many years, having many wonderful adventures together."

"And one day, when their heirs were ready to rule, the duke gave up his title, and was no longer a duke of a kingdom of man."

---

Clark perked up slightly.

---

"And on that day, Thomas and Tam Lin were well-met at the gates of their home in the wild, wicked woods by the fairy-Queen, who came for them on her white horse. And by her leave, they returned to Fairyland, to live out the rest of their days in happiness and contentment."

---

Clark was silent for awhile after Lex finished his story.

"You know," he said after a long while, "it's kinda, um, nice? That you're still worried and all about how maybe I might feel weird about... well, finally figuring out that I'm not totally straight? But, uh, you don't have to try and make me feel better about it or anything," Clark ended almost kindly.

Lex felt a little foolish upon hearing this pronouncement.

"I totally had along talk with mom and everything about it," Clark told him, sliding up next to him on the couch comfortably, "and she kinda had a talk with Lionel about it after."

Lex winced.

"I hear that it kind of didn't go so badly," Clark continued, "'cause he's already had a lot of time to try and get used to the idea of the whole gay-bisexual-pansexual not-at-all-completely-straight thing because there are, y'know, other people he knows who are like that," he said, gently nudging Lex with a shoulder.

Lex looked down at his hands and didn't say anything.

"So, um, he may not be all that comfortable talking about it still? But mom says that sometimes guys get weird about finding things out about their kids sex lives. Like, anything," Clark said, with great significance. "Like, they just don't cope well, period," he offered, which just made Lex blush horribly.

"What, like deciding to sleep with their sex partners after they do? That kind of 'not cope well'?" Lex said darkly, looking away.

"Pretty easy way to figure out if they had STD's," Clark said seriously, and Lex choked.

"Could we, maybe, never talk about this again? Ever?!?" Lex said, thoroughly embarassed, because he might be a Metropolis boy, but even he had limits, and because-- god... no way, no way no way was that the reason why his dad had--

"--Sure," Clark said immediately. "'Cause if I ever want to start talking about what Lionel... does with, y'know, anybody I might know...?" he trailed off, looking the kind of disgusted only a kid thinking about one or more of their parents having sex gets.

Lex shuddered in complete mututal agreement.

"So," Clark said brightly, totally getting that now was a really excellent time for a subject change, in that knowing brotherly-understanding way of his, "What's up with that latest Warrior Angel comic?"