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Stanley and the Faun

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Once upon a time there lived a faun named Kyle. He was a rusty-haired faun with two dainty hooves and a soft belly. He lived by a river in the mountains, deep in a shady pine forest. He lived there with his sheep. Kyle was not welcome to live in the village because the local elector, Prince Eric, did not like fauns. He had banished Kyle for being greedy, for hoarding his faun gold under a rock, for having more fur than Eric was comfortable with, and for having the gall not to wear pants — among other reasons. Kyle was extremely bitter about this. He loved living in town where he could chase boys around the well and borrow books from the local library. “Everyone knows fauns can't read, Kyle,” Prince Eric decreed.

“Fauns can so read!” was Kyle's sterling defense. His father had been the greatest faun lawyer of all time. Unfortunately Kyle was not a very good lawyer, even for a faun. As there were no other fauns around this was difficult for Kyle to substantiate. He had read part of a book, his favorite book, The Tale of the Snake and the Rabbit Hole, aloud during his trial.

“That's not really reading, Kyle,” Prince Eric had said. “You're just making it up.”

“You can look right here and see that I'm not,” said Kyle, holding the book up for everyone to see.

“Um, how do I know you didn't curse that book with some, like, faun magic?”

“Fauns don't have magic!”

“They do so.”

“No, I don't! If I had magic, why wouldn't I do something to remove myself from this humiliating situation?” It was true, it was a humiliating situation. Kyle's hooves hurt terribly, weighed down by the heavy iron chains around his ankles. His wrists were chafing.

“Duh, because if you did then you'd prove me right about fauns having magic.”

“So? Magic's not inherently evil.”

“Is so,” said Prince Eric.

“Nuh-uh.”

“Uh-huh.”

Unfortunately Prince Eric was the only member of the jury and he ruled that Kyle was guilty and banished him.

Now Kyle spent his days trying to herd his sheep. He wasn't so great at this. The sheep did not really listen to Kyle. He took them to the meadow to graze, and they lay down on the path through the forest and wouldn't budge. When Kyle managed to get them to the meadow they would wander to the edges and it would take Kyle hours to round them back up. Once he had all his sheep together, they’d lay down in the field and refuse to go back to the forest.

Kyle would plead with them, try to lure them with brightly colored flowers, try to get them to follow him with promises of treats back at the riverbank. The sheep were disobedient and refused to listen.

Kyle felt such shame about his inability to herd his sheep. They were his only companions. What's more, he was a faun! It was his life's purpose to communicate with nature. Well, Kyle despised nature. At night he was cold. He'd had to build his little cottage all by himself, from tall reeds he'd dried out in the sun, and a frame of sticks he'd gathered. He sheared his sheep with a sharp stone he'd found, and did a poor job spinning himself a bit of yarn, which he'd knitted into a quilt like his mother had taught him. He pulled it over his shivering body and tried to sleep, but the hooting of the owls and the rustling of the leaves kept him awake. On his bed of moss he shook as the winds jostled his little hut. Kyle was afraid to keep a fire over night, so he let his skin prick, from the hairline two inches below his navel to the tips of his fingers.

Kyle had dark dreams. It was his fondest wish for Prince Eric to die, and to have a new elector come into power and let Kyle return to the village. He missed his cozy cottage with a hot stove, where he heated water for his baths. Kyle missed scrubbing his fur with goosefat soap, which he bought from the soapmaker's daughter. She had the shiniest black hair in the village. She scented her soap with rosehips and lavender, and Kyle had loved it so much he'd taken a chunk and wrapped it in a kerchief, and tucked it into his sack when he was banished. But now his soap was all used up and Kyle's fur was knotted and tangled. All night long Kyle dreamed of taking a warm, soapy bath while Prince Eric choked to death on a chicken bone. When Kyle had these dreams he woke up smiling, with a sticky mess between his legs.

The gravest charge against Kyle when he was banished was that fauns were hyper-sexual. It was true that Kyle was hyper-sexual, but he hadn't done most of the things Prince Eric accused him of doing. He had never chased the soapmaker's daughter around the well, because Kyle only chased boys. Kyle suspected that Prince Eric was paranoid, because he wanted the soapmaker's daughter for himself. Of course, when Kyle explained that he didn't chase girls, Prince Eric had accused him of buggery. Now, Kyle was only 11 at the time and had never committed buggery, but he'd certainly thought about it — although he wasn’t entirely sure what buggery consisted of. And he didn't think the town boys much minded being chased around the well. Kyle was sure they understood that he couldn't help it. It was Kyle's nature. He was a normal, healthy young faun.

In the mornings, Kyle would make himself some treebark tea over a fire outside of his hut. He had brought a pan in his sack and would drink the tea straight from it. Sometimes he burned his lips, but he didn't mind. Afterward he would crack eggs over the pan, if he'd found some wild hen eggs that week, and would cook a bit of rabbit or pheasant, if he'd been lucky enough to catch one. This morning was no different. Kyle steeped his tea and drank it under the dappled light, using a dried leaf to comb the wetness from his fur. In the village Kyle had drunk his tea sweet, with four lumps of sugar. In the forest Kyle had no sugar, so he drank his tea bitter. He had always been proud of being a healthy, hearty faun, but as he sipped from his pan he mourned his skinny legs. Kyle did not know if he would ever catch a boy if his legs were too skinny to run around the well. He supposed there was no well in the forest and no boys to chase around it anyhow, but it made Kyle sad all the same.

After his burnt leg of pheasant, Kyle got his sheep in a row and led them to the meadow. The sheep were unusually cooperative that day, bleating along as they followed Kyle to the meadow. As they walked he hoped some silly old rabbit would fall into his clever trap and make a nice juicy dinner. Kyle licked his lips at the thought of dinner. He had just eaten breakfast but he was still so hungry. He dared not eat any of his beloved sheep. Some days he caught no rabbit and ate no dinner at all. Some days Kyle would pick mushrooms and dandelion greens and gnaw on this bitter salad until his eyes watered. There was fresh cool water in the stream, and in the summer months Kyle loved to float in the river and let the currents take him down to the road. He'd then climb up the bank and shake himself off, leaving wet splatters on the sand. As Kyle walked to the meadow with his sheep he thought about the water he'd cup in his hands and drink with his rabbit, if he caught one. He rubbed the light fur on his belly, hoping for a big fat rabbit that had run away from the village. Those were always the juiciest.

It was a sunny day, the meadow in full bloom. Kyle sneezed at the pollen in the air, wiping the snot from his nose. Sure enough, when he looked up, his sheep were all scattered, wandering off. “Come back!” Kyle demanded. He covered his mouth in shock. It was the first time he had spoken aloud in weeks. He was surprised to hear how high and small his voice sounded, as if it were shrinking away from disuse.

Just then, Kyle's sheep began to run, bleating madly. “Where are you going?” he asked. Then he smacked himself in the head for asking such a silly question. He tried to run to them, but they were too far spread. Kyle's skinny legs grew tired quickly, and he bent over, huffing and panting. His sheep were mad, running to and fro. In the distance, he saw what was driving them crazy: a great dog, barking and gnashing its teeth, running after the flock, its long hair flying in the wind as it chased them.

Kyle was livid. He chased after the dog as best he could, but he just wound up tripping on a root. He fell face-first to the ground, skinning his belly and his chin, and bruising his elbows and cheek. Kyle groaned into the mud and pushed himself up. He looked around. There was no sign of the dog, and no sign of the sheep. Those sheep were Kyle's only companions. Sadness set over him.

Just then, he heard a man's voice call out, “Sparky!” Kyle pushed himself up off the ground and turned.

There was indeed a man, and he had apparently caught sight of Kyle, as he was jogging over. Kyle froze, unable to move. Part of his banishment was that he could not interact with the villagers. If this man was coming to taunt him, it wouldn't be long before Prince Eric found out, and made good on his promise to hunt Kyle down and put a quiver of arrows in his gut.

As the man charged toward Kyle, something kicked in, some instinct. He knew, rationally, that he should turn and flee. As a faun, however, we knew what he had to do. He got into a crouching position and shouted, “I've got you!” Then Kyle charged toward the man.

The man stopped in his tracks. It was as if he had never gotten a good look at Kyle until just now. He saw the sharp horns on Kyle's head, and the untrimmed talons on Kyle's hands. A look of terror filled his eyes. The man gasped, turned, and bolted.

Well, this didn't slow Kyle down one bit. With renewed vigor, he pumped his skinny legs, hopping over the tree roots and the mud patches in the dewy grass. He could feel his wounds bleeding, stinging in the wind as he ran, and Kyle didn't care. The quicker Kyle ran, the quicker the man sped, around and around the field. In the distance, Kyle was certain he could hear his sheep bleating, and Sparky barking, but Kyle barely heard. All he heard was the rushing of air between his legs as he bolted after his conquest, the pounding of his heart, and the blood thrumming in his ears. Around and around the clearing they ran, until Kyle saw the man stop in his tracks.

“Stop!” the man cried. “I surrender.”

Kyle barely heard the words. He kept running, and leapt into the man, throwing his arms around his neck. “I've got you!” Kyle shouted, and they both fell to the ground with a thud.

The man was the first to sit up, picking grass from his cheeks. He seemed dazed at first, till he narrowed his eyes at Kyle. “Oh,” he said. Then his voice became very soft and he said, “Oh. You're hurt.” 

“Nah, I'm fine.” Kyle could not sit up.

“Oh no, did I hurt you?”

“How could you have hurt me?” Kyle asked. “I jumped on you.”

“Well, you're bleeding!” The man pulled his kerchief from his pocket and blotted it against Kyle's bleeding belly. “Aw, shh, it's okay.” The man looked up and locked eyes with Kyle. Immediately, Kyle noticed that his eyes were the rich blue of parchment ink. He had long dark lashes and thick dark hair. It fell into his eyes roguishly, and he swept it away. He blinked. “Oh, man,” he said. “You're that faun.”

“That's right.” Kyle was aware that he was still lying on the ground, while the man was kneeling above him.

“You're that faun who used to chase us around the well when we were boys.”

“I suppose,” said Kyle. “Do you remember me?”

“Of course,” said the man. His voice was deep, but so soft. “We banished you.”

“I suppose,” Kyle repeated. He waited for the man to say something else. “Well,” he spat. “Are you just going to sit there all day, or are you going to help me up?”

~

Six years had passed since Kyle's banishment, the man told him. He carried Kyle in his arms like a bride. “I'm fine, I'm fine,” Kyle kept saying, but when the man put him on the ground, he hobbled.

“Easy,” the man said, scooping Kyle back up. “You're hurt.”

“I'm fine,” Kyle repeated. “I make do all by myself, thanks, you can put me down now.”

“No,” said the man. “You're not fine, you're hurt. You twisted your, uh, hoof.” It was true, Kyle's left hoof was swelling up something awful.

“I'm fine,” Kyle repeated, though he was suddenly embarrassed by his skinny legs. 

“Tell me where you live.”

“No.”

“Tell me where you live or I'll never let you go.”

Kyle thought about it. “No.”

“Then I'll just wander around the woods with you in my arms until I find your house.”

“What makes you think I have a house?”

“I thought fauns lived in houses.” The man tightened his grip. “Didn't you live in a house?”

Now Kyle was embarrassed by his tangled, matted fur. “I don't live anywhere,” he said.

“Then we'll just wander a bit.”

“What about my sheep?” Kyle demanded. “Your dog scared my sheep!”

“Your sheep will return. Sheep always do.”

“What could you possibly know about sheep?”

“My uncle has 10 flocks,” the man said.

“Oh, you're just bragging.”

“Hardly,” said the man. “Why would I brag about sheep? I help him herd sometimes. Didn't you notice my sheepdog?”

“I noticed that it spooked my sheep!”

“Oh, Kyle.”

Kyle froze in the man's arms. “How do you know my name?” he asked.

“Well, I'm pretty sure everyone's familiar with the banished faun,” said the man. “It was, you know, pretty big news.”

“I'm big news?”

“Well, no,” the man admitted. “Not, anymore. Now the big news is the school mistress who died. She just died one day! They said they found seeds in her stomach. To be honest, I'm kind of out here because they were my seeds. Well, me and my friends. We put them in her mead.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Kind of as a joke,” said the man.

“That's not funny!”

“Trust me,” said the man, “it was hilarious at the time.”

“Well, now that I've caught you, I'm going to put my seed in your belly,” said Kyle. “It won't be so funny then, will it?”

“What kind of seeds?” the man asked. “We put sunflower seeds in her flagon.”

“Oh, lord,” said Kyle. As they walked, Kyle grew anxious. He'd never caught a boy before and was very excited, and very scared, to do the raping. Of course, usually he would be responsible for carrying his victim back to his lair, but he just had so much on his mind, what with the missing sheep, and his horrible hunger, his bleeding wounds and twisted ankle. Still, he was growing hard, thinking about the raping. He remembered his father telling him as a little boy that just because he was a faun didn't mean he had to chase boys and rape them.

It was true that Kyle had many un-faunlike habits. He loved to read and knit, he hated playing the pipes and most especially, he preferred to chase boys, not girls. His instincts couldn't be overruled, though, he'd decided a long time ago. He'd never really understood why the villagers feared him so much. Yet this man was carrying him back to the river, ostensibly well aware of the raping he would subsequently be subjected to. Kyle found it unusually endearing. “Human,” he said, trying to be as faunish and intimidating as possible. “What's your name?”

“I'm Stan,” said the human. “Stan Marsh. My father is the stonemason.”

“And what are you?”

“Me?”

“Yes, what do you do, what's your vocation?”

“Well, I'm not sure that I have one.”

“Oh, you're a lazy human, eh?”

“No,” said Stan. “Of course not. I just don't know what I want to do yet.”

“What do you mean, what you want to do?”

“Well, I don't know what I want to be. My father is a stonemason and my uncle is a hunter. My mother is a seamstress and my sister is a seamstress. But I don't find any of these things interesting. I don't know what I want to do.”

“Your vocation should be instinctual,” said Kyle. “For example I am a faun.”

“Yes, I know,” said Stan.

“Well, then you can see that as a faun my vocation is chasing. I was born this way and I haven't got much choice in the matter. Of course, it's hard to chase boys around the well when I'm out here in this wood with no boys and no well, but I chase the sheep just fine, and in fact I chased you sufficiently as I caught you. And here we are.”

“Yes, here we are,” said Stan. “With me carrying you in my arms like a docile housecat.”

“Yes, like a — no! Not like that.” Kyle's penis became harder, if that were possible. The rushing of the stream was audible in the distance. Kyle's heart sank.

“I think we're close,” Stan mused.

“How do you know?”

Stan smirked. “Instinct.” They headed to the bank of the river, and Stan sniffed at the air.

“What?” Kyle asked. “What are you doing?”

“Well, I think the wind is blowing upriver today. So if I smell the slightest hint of ashes, it must be coming from...” Stan took another sniff, and turned to walk along the river bank. Sure enough, it was only another few minutes to Kyle's abode. “You live here?” Stan asked. He glanced at the smoldering file and the reed lean-to.

“Yes, this is my home, and I'll thank you not to make fun of it. Now put me down!”

Finally, Stan obliged. He set Kyle on the sandy riverbank and knelt at the water's edge, his knees licked with wetness. “Do you piss in this water?”

“What?” Kyle gasped. “No!”

This seemed to satisfy Stan, and he bent over the river to drink.

“Why would you ask such a thing? Who would piss in the river? That's disgusting.”

Stan wiped the water from his lips. “It's a stream. Who wouldn't piss into it?”

“This is where I drink from! It's where I bathe!”

“Suit yourself.”

“You're disgusting!” Kyle managed to hobble up on his hooves and limp to his lean-to. He collapsed onto his quilt and rubbed his eyes.

At the riverbank Stan gulped mouthfuls of clear water. Carrying Kyle to and fro had been hard work. When he was sated, Stan pulled his soiled kerchief from his pocket and washed the blood out in the stream. It left a brownish stain, but he didn't mind. He wrung the kerchief out over the water and walked back to the lean-to.

“How do you feel?” Stan asked, folding his kerchief in half, then quarters.

“Fine, fine,” Kyle said. “I am fine. Just let me catch my breath and I'll have my way with you.”

“Hm?” Stan knelt beside Kyle and took his chin in hand. “You're hurt.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Kyle. “Just wait until I catch my breath.”

“You've caught it already.” Stan pressed the cool cloth to Kyle's face. “Let's clean this up. A dirty wound can fester.”

“That's cold,” Kyle said, pushing Stan's hand away.

Stan was not deterred. “Shhh,” he said. “Just a sec. How does your head feel?”

“Fine!”

“I don't know much about fauns,” Stan said, trying to make small talk while he cleaned the dirt and drying blood from the scrape on Kyle's chin. “What's your favorite thing to do?”

“Chase boys around the well,” said Kyle, “and rape them if I catch them.”

“Oh? Have you caught and raped many boys?”

“Well, no,” Kyle huffed. “You'd be my first. But it's only because I was banished and haven't had any boys to chase!”

Stan sighed. “This thing you keep saying, about raping me?”

“Yeah?”

“I don't think I'm going to let you do that.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Stan, but I chased you and caught you so now I get to rape you. It's just how it works.”

“I think the 'catching' aspect is subjective, seeing as you didn't really subdue me. See, I don't know much about fauns, but the thing with society is, we do things not because we follow some blindly instinctual set of rules, but because people have wants and needs and they determine which of those to indulge. And, frankly, this rape situation sounds rather unappealing, and I won't just go along with it because you say I must.”

“Then I'll gore you with my horns.” Atop his head, like all fauns, Kyle had a pointy set of horns. They were straight and sharp, each five inches high, in sharp contrast to the gnarled mess of hair Kyle sported.

“Sure,” said Stan. He stuffed his damp, bloody kerchief back in his pocket. “Go ahead and try.”

“Gladly.” Kyle reared back and lunged forward.

Stan fell back and hopped to his feet, stepping back. 

Kyle toppled onto his face.

“You're hurt,” said Stan. “You're in no shape to gore me, let alone rape me.”

“I caught you and I demand to rape you!” Kyle insisted, but even as he said this he felt his hardness receding. The premise of raping this man was wearying.

Stan crouched back down and helped Kyle up. “Let's get you some food,” he said. “What do you eat?”

“Mushrooms and dandelions,” said Kyle.

This didn't much appeal to Stan. “Do you have anything else?”

“Maybe a rabbit in the trap, if I'm lucky.”

Stan headed outside and hunted, but found no rabbit. Instead he found a stash of three wild hen eggs. He also found Kyle's pan where Kyle had left is that morning over the simmering embers of his breakfast fire. Stan tended to the fire, and filled the pan with stream water. He carefully laid the three eggs in the basin of the pan, and went back inside, if the lean-to was in or outside at all. Kyle was curled back up under his wool quilt. He sat up when Stan came in.

“Rabbit?” he asked.

“There's eggs.”

Pouting, Kyle rolled over. “I wanted rabbit.”

“I'm making some nice eggs,” said Stan. “So hush.”

Stan took the boiled eggs off the fire and peeled them, mashing the egg shells in his palm and leaving them on the ground. He brought the three peeled eggs to Kyle, who ate one, and Stan ate another. When there was one left, Kyle said, “Who's that one for?”

With his nails, Stan dug into the boiled egg and tore it apart. “We're sharing it,” he said.

That night, Kyle was not so cold as he had been, with Stan curled around him for warmth. They fell asleep to the sound of the rushing stream, and the rustling leaves did not bother Kyle so much. In the morning, he awoke just after dawn to the sound of bleating.

“My sheep!” Kyle cried, pushing himself up. As he jerked his skinned belly ached. He climbed over Stan and out of the lean-to, where he found his flock, and with them, Sparky. In Sparky's mouth was a rabbit.

“I told you.” Kyle turned to see Stan standing behind him, arms crossed. “I told you the sheep would come back. Sheep always do. Especially when you have a good herding dog. Isn't that right, boy?”

Sparky seemed to agree, bounding toward Stan, and dropping the rabbit at Stan's feet.

“And a good herding dog will bring you breakfast, to boot.”

Kyle sat down on the ground with his sharp flint and began to skin his rabbit. He turned when Stan cleared his throat.

“I have to head back now.”

“But!” Kyle was unsure of what his protest was. His hands were bloody with rabbit pelt. “But, I haven't raped you yet!”

Stan just laughed. He shook his head. “I have to be going if I want to be back by nightfall.”

With that, Stan turned and walked down the bank of the stream, retracing his steps from the day before. Kyle sat there with his half-skinned rabbit in his hands, stunned. It took a moment for Sparky to go; he crept up to Kyle, and sniffed the dead rabbit in his hands.

“That's mine,” Kyle said, lifting it over his head. The kill was fresh and warm blood dripped slowly onto Kyle's shoulders.

Sparky barked once, turned, and bounded after Stan.

~

The next morning, Kyle woke thinking he'd had the most marvelous dream. He had not had human company for the longest time. He woke hard, with his belly full, the dappled light shining through the pine forest in his eyes. It took Kyle little time to realize that it had not been a dream, it had been real, and beautiful. The very thought of Stan, with his hair the color of wet bark after a rain (1), made Kyle turn under his quilt and press his hips to the ground. Stan's hands were so big, his nails not jagged like Kyle's but trimmed short, with only the barest hint of dirt caked under them. Kyle thought about how he had been so close to raping Stan, so close, but Stan appeared to be ... unrapeable. Well, Kyle was just going to have to try harder, harder ... if he ever got another chance. Kyle could never go back to the village, so he'd very likely never see Stan again. The thought was enough to make Kyle mourn, and dampen his joy as he spilled against the pine needles he'd slept on. 

Panting, Kyle got up and brushed himself off. He made his pan of hot water and steeped his tea, just like he did every morning. There were no eggs left, but Kyle ate some of the leftover burnt rabbit leg, gnawing the flesh off the bone. Afterward, he led his sheep to the meadow so they could graze. He would have to shear them, if possible, so he could continue crocheting himself a scarf. Winter was coming, and Kyle knew he would shiver through it.

In the meadow that day, Kyle's flock was most compliant. They didn’t stray far, and they came back when Kyle called for them. They followed Kyle back down the riverbank single-file, bleating happily, their breath stinking of clipped crab grass. Kyle hoped there would be a pheasant in his trap when he returned to his camp. He was sick of rabbit.

Sure enough, there was a surprise waiting for Kyle, but it wasn't pheasant.

It was Stan, sitting by the stream, playing a lute.

“What are you doing here!” Kyle exclaimed.

“I brought you a gift,” said Stan.

“The gift of song? Sorry, I think you'll find I'm not interested.”

Stan set the lute aside. “No.”

“Are ... you the gift? Because you know your rightful place is beneath me, since I caught you?”

“No,” said Stan. “Here I've walked willingly into your abode. You haven't caught me. I've brought myself to you.” Stan stood up, leaving his lute by the embers of Kyle's morning fire.

“What?” Kyle asked, following Stan up the hill. “I don't need your gifts, human, I need your body.”

At the base of the reed mat under which Kyle slept, there was a large stone brick, roughly hewn by larger than anything Stan could have carried himself. It was then that Kyle noticed the ass tied up on a distant tree, with a pack on his back. 

“This,” said Stan, kicking the stone. “Your sleeping arrangements are pathetic. No offense. You cannot sleep under a reed mat through winter.”

“I have done through six winters.”

“That's foolish. My father is a stonemason. He has plenty to spare. Enough to build you a small cottage. A real cottage. And I've brought a pack, too, with more supplies.” Stan gestured to his burro. 

“Thanks,” said Kyle. “I guess. ... But how am I supposed to build a cottage from one stone?”

“Tomorrow I'll bring a second stone,” said Stan.

“That's very generous of you. But how am I to build a cottage from two stones?”

“I'll bring stones enough for you to build your cottage, one a day.”

“That will take years!”

“Then you'll be patient,” said Stan, “and when you see the cottage I've built you you'll know that there are more important things in life than raping. And perhaps once Prince Eric sees this cottage, he'll know that there are people in his village who care for you, and that you're one of us, and we haven't forgotten you.”

“Well, fat chance, and I do mean fat, that'll he'll ever drag his cushy ass out here to see this cottage.”\

“He doesn't need to see it, and if he did, he might not believe his own eyes. But people will speak of this, Kyle, and that will be worth more to him than seeing 20 cottages.”

“Great,” said Kyle. He had glanced over at his trap and seen that there was no pheasant. He had no pheasant and one stone, lot of good it did him.

“Would you like to see what's in my pack?” Stan asked.

Kyle was intrigued. “Sure.”

Stan untied his pack and removed it from the ass, who heaved and gnawed at the bark of the tree he was tied to. Stan set the pack near the fire, and showed Kyle what he had brought: Clean linens, a pad for sleeping, a pillow, and a laundry line; five soft apples, a head of butter lettuce, a brick of hard cheese and a skein of salted elk meat; two hammered tin goblets, a ceramic plate and bowl; a sea sponge and goosefat soap. When Kyle counted, he saw that there were five bars.

“Where'd you get this?” Kyle asked. He had tears in his eyes.

“I told the soapmaker's daughter I was bringing you a pack of supplies, and she gave this to me,” said Stan. “She said you loved the kind with rosehips.”

“I do!” Kyle kissed a bar of soap as if it where a beloved pet. “But, wait. If you told the soapmaker's daughter—”

“She's my friend,” said Stan. “She's not cruel. She won't tell.”

“I hope you're right,” said Stan.

“I am,” he said.

For dinner Stan made a plate of lettuce with one wild hen egg, a hunk of the hard cheese and some of the salted elk meat. They ate it together by the fire, and Kyle was content until he remembered he had not sheared his sheep.

“Don't worry,” said Stan, “you can shear them tomorrow.”

“But I'm making a scarf!”

“Then I'll bring you a scarf,” said Stan.

When Stan got up to walk back to the village with his ass, Kyle followed him down the river. “Won't you camp here tonight?” he asked.

“That pad's not big enough for two,” said Stan.

“Yes it is!” Kyle protested, though he hadn't unrolled it and didn't know how large or small it was.

“I have to be going,” Stan said. “My place is in the village, with my mother and father, and my sister. But I'll return. I'll always return. Don't worry.” Then Stan leaned in, and he pressed a kiss to Kyle's cheek.

Fauns were very sexual, perhaps even hyper-sexual as some claimed. But they were not overly romantic. As Stan left, Kyle stared at him, feeling deeply confused. He had not lived among humans for six years, and he had almost forgotten what a kiss meant. Kyle was not certain if it meant that Stan wanted to marry him, or rape him. All of the housewares he'd brought in his pack suggested he wanted to literally build a house with Kyle, to make a life. But if Stan wanted to marry him, why was he leaving? But if he wanted to rape Kyle, why hadn't he done it? Kyle went to sleep that night on his new bed roll, a clean white sheet between his quilt and his furry legs.

~

The next day brought Stan again. Kyle had taken his flock to the meadow early, and when he returned, Kyle was somewhat shocked to find a second brick beside the first one, and another large pack awaiting him. Stan sat at the river playing his lute, with his dog and, to Kyle's amazement, a sheep.

“What is this?” Kyle asked.

“I've brought you the second stone, as I promised, plus more dry goods: a quilted overcoat, rags to wipe the mud from your hooves—”

Kyle grabbed the lute from Stan's hands and almost smashed it on the ground. At the last minute he halted himself, and dropped it instead. “I like mud on my hooves!” Kyle barked.

“Of course. But this way you won't track mud on your sheets, and you won't have to wash them that often.”

“I already have a sheep!” Kyle roared. “A whole flock of sheep!” As Kyle yelled, Stan gazed up at his pointy horns.

“This isn't a sheep for shearing,” Stan explained. “Or, well, it would make sense to shear him. But he's for eating. You see, this sheep will make plenty of good meat.” Stan smacked the sheep on the rump, and he bleated. “You can shear him, too. You won't have to kill one of your own flock, and you can salt this meat and keep it all winter. You can also breed your flock and make more sheep, see? More sheep means more salt meat you can stock up, more milk to drink, more wool to shear. You can spin the wool into yarn and I can take it into town for you and trade it for things you need.”

“I don't need anything,” Kyle said. “I was doing fine on my own before you trotted out here to criticize my lifestyle, human.”

“You wanted to rape me,” said Stan, “but I'm giving you a much more valuable gift than that. If you make enough wool, I can get you a cart. If I get a cart, I can bring more bricks. The more bricks I bring, the sooner you will have a real cottage, with a real stove, and Prince Eric will see that you belong among us. Weren't you happy chasing us around the well?”

“I suppose.”

“And would you like me to bring you anything else from the village? A book, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Kyle picked up Stan's lute and handed it back to him.

Stan, it turned out, did not want to kill the sheep himself. He watched Kyle shear it, then helped him bag the wool up. He then sat by the stream and played with lute, Sparky at his feet, while Kyle led the sheep up to a clearing nearby and cut the sheep's throat with the new dagger Stan had brought in his pack that day. When the sheep was dead, Stan helped Kyle slice off the tastiest piece, the rump, for dinner that night. They let this simmer on the fire while together, they skinned the sheep and used the salt and parchment in Stan's pack to make small parcels of salt meat.

“There,” said Stan, when they were finished. It was night, and the sheep rump was hissing in Kyle's pan over the flames. “All done. Won't this be tasty in the middle of winter?” 

Kyle was too captivated by the smell of the cooking flesh to answer.

They ate their dinner together, sheep rump with lettuce leaves and mashed rutabagas Stan had brought that day, by the fire.

“It's too late to head back,” Stan said, brushing his hands off when he was finished eating. “May I stay with you tonight?”

Kyle wanted that more than anything, but as a jaded, grumpy faun, he wanted to bark, “No!” and send Stan back to town so tired that tears stung his eyes. Unfortunately, a full belly made Kyle sleepy and unquarrelsome. With a yawn, he said, “Sure,” and let Stan carry him up to bed.

It was a clear night and through the branches of the pines, they could see the tiny stars above them. Kyle's hand rested on his belly, and he thought of his arousal between his legs, primed for raping. Unfortunately, he was too sleepy to roll on top of Stan and extract his price for having caught the foolish human.

“You know,” Stan said softly, brushing his thumb against Kyle's cheek. “When we were boys, and you'd chase us around the well, I always through you were the strangest and most beautiful creature.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, yes.”

Kyle cleared his throat. “Are you going to rape me?” he asked.

Stan sat up. “I am not entirely sure you know what raping is.”

“I’m a faun, Stan, duh. I know what raping is.”

“Because it’s when you, ah … take someone, against their will.”

“I know!”

“Well, if we did do … that, and you were, you know, receptive to it, it wouldn’t really be a rape.”

“Well,” said Kyle. “What would you call it, in that case?”

Stan shrugged. “Making love?”

Kyle burst out laughing. “You humans are so stupid! If you think I’m strange and beautiful, well, you don’t know the half of it. Here.” Kyle put his hands on Stan’s chest and kissed him on the lips, dryly. Stan’s arms were around him, clasped at Kyle’s back. “You’ve caught me, human. Do what you will.”

~

Day by day, Stan brought stone bricks, and Kyle spun skeins of wool into thick yarn. Some he kept for himself, to knit his scarves, and some he dyed with the end of the autumn wild berries, a rich royal color. Soon there were enough bricks to build the perimeter of the house.

“What will you do for the floor?” Kyle asked, standing back as Stan placed the stones in a square, leaving a gap in one size where the door could go.

“Oh? Is the self-sufficient faun too good for a dirt floor?”

“Well, it just seems that if you’ve promised me a proper cottage, I ought to have a proper floor.”

Dragging his last stone into place, Stan stood up, panting. “I can cut wood, if you like. You can have a floor of wooden slats. Perhaps if you trap an elk or a mountain goat you can skin the beast and put its pelt on the floor.”

“If I do it?” Kyle asked. “I’m a simple faun! How would I trap an elk or a mountain goat? They are fleeter than I, with longer horns, and bigger, too. To face such a creature would be folly.”

“If I brought you a bow and quiver full of arrows—”

“I’ve got a quiver full of something!” Kyle said. “It’s better than arrows! Want to know what?”

Stan smiled, as if he already knew. “Yes,” he said, wiping the dust and grime from his hands. “I’ll bet you do.”

It was growing colder, and Kyle had finished making his scarf. He also wore his quilt around his shoulders, and bundled up on a log by the stream as Stan played his lute. Stan had a lovely voice and he sang short verses about the rusty-haired faun who chased boys around the well, and one boy growing up and falling in love with the faun and the boy and the faun living happily ever after. Kyle thought these songs were obvious and banal but he didn’t say anything, because he had learned that it bothered him immensely when Stan sulked.

By the first snow, Kyle had made enough yarn for Stan to acquire a cart. One cold afternoon he wheeled it up, the ass tugging it along, leaving tracks behind them in the crisp layer of light snow. Stan brought a jar of mortar as well and he was able to build up the cottage to knee-height. When he was done placing the bricks, he was exhausted, and he lay under Kyle’s quilt by the fire while Kyle inspected the structure. “It seems short,” Kyle said, kicking the little wall with his hoof.

“It’ll grow,” said Stan. He could smell the stew of salted elk meat, leek, and potato that Kyle was cooking over the fire in his knew copper kettle, which Stan had brought him, explaining that his mother had grown tried of it and his father had recently bought her a new, larger kettle.

“I have bad news,” Stan said when Kyle sat next to him.

“What?”

“My sister needs my help.”

“With what?” As Kyle drew closer to Stan his little tail was wagging.

“Well,” said Stan, “a while back she was spending time with this wandering minstrel, and long story short minstrels kind of — well, they wander, I guess, so basically she's going to have a baby and I can't come see you for a while.”

Kyle's tail stopped wagging. “What?”

“I man, I'll come back,” said Stan. “I just need a month or two—”

“A month or two? You're going to leave me out in the cold in the middle of the forest with a half-built cottage so you can hang out with your sister?”

“Well, my family needs me,” said Stan.

“But I need you!” This was an unusual thing for Kyle to admit, and he covered his mouth and got up and went back to his lean-to, where he climbed under his quilt and buried his head under his pillow.

Stan got up to follow. “It's only for a while,” he said, kneeling at the side of Kyle's bed roll. “Until she's on her feet. Just a month or two. I'll take the cart back, and when I return, I'll bring lots of stones.”

“Just go,” said Kyle. “You belong in the village with your human family.”

“That's not true,” said Stan. “Well, no, it's true, but — someday I will bring you back with me and I'll never have to leave you all alone in the woods again.” Stan bent over to kiss Kyle's cheek. “I'll be back,” he said. “You just see. I'll be back.”

“Just go,” Kyle repeated. “I'll be fine here. I'm an independent adult faun, I'll be okay. I'm strong.”

“I promise I won't forget you.” Stan stooped in to give Kyle a second kiss.

“You're just making it worse!”

Stan sighed, and rose to his feet. He wanted to stay the night with Kyle, but he knew he had to get back. He untied the burro from the tree, and re-hitched the cart. They left through the darkness, the sound of their footsteps and the cartwheels crunching on the frost.

Kyle didn't need Stan, or his lousy bricks. He had root vegetables galore, hard cheese, a growing flock of sheep, a soft bed, and finely scented soap. He had lived alone in the woods for six years. Surely he could handle two months.

~

It came to pass that the afternoon when Stan returned to Kyle’s dwelling, he found Kyle stretched out on his bed, crocheting a pair of booties.

“Who’re those for?” Stan asked, stretching out beside Kyle. “They’re too small for you. They wouldn’t fit over your hooves.”

“Of course not,” said Kyle. The spool of yarn was balancing on his belly. 

“They can’t be for me,” said Stan. “My feet are too large.”

“They’re for the baby,” Kyle said. “Of course.”

“What baby? My sister's baby?”

Kyle seemed rather annoyed. “The little faunlet you put in me,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Although little may be an understatement. Sometimes it feels like I’m carrying a full-grown faun.” He patted his belly, and went back to his knitting.

“Excuse me,” said Stan. “What?”

“Men can be so stupid.” Kyle looped his yarn around his thumb. “You can have a feel, if you like. It must be three or four months now. Little faunlets kick hard. Soft hooves.” Kyle had a dopey smile on his face. “I don’t know what a human/faun baby is going to look like. My mother always told me that faunlets come out hooves-first, but that’s not what I hear about babies. I worry about it sometimes. I worry the horns might tear me up if the faunlet comes out the wrong way.”

“This is the first I’m hearing about it!” Stan felt sick.

“It’s kicking now if you want to feel.”

Stan’s touch was tentative; he was afraid to find out if Kyle was pulling a prank on him or not. Sure enough, though, there it was, a soft hoof slamming against Stan’s palm. “How’d this happen?” he asked. There were tears in his words.

“Fauns are hermaphroditic,” Kyle said. He had grown much calmer lately, letting his nesting instincts dictate his needs. Now he kissed Stan’s cheek. “Don’t worry, we were just fine without you. This happens all the time with fauns.”

“You know what’s odd,” said Stan, “is that I heard a rumor once. About Eric’s mother.”

“Oh?”

“I heard she — she was a hermaphrodite. That she was Eric’s father, in actual fact.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Hm.” Kyle looped the yarn and threaded the needle through. “Well, I don’t care about that.”

“I’m so sorry,” Stan wept. “If I knew I could have come back sooner.”

“It’s okay, I know. Well, you can just stay with me now.”

Stan looked around the hut. It was really not big enough for two people, let alone three people, two of whom were fauns. Stan did not know what it was like to be a faun, but he knew that fauns needed people to chase and there were none of those out in the forest. He certainly did not know what faunlets ate and drank. He felt very scared and clung to Kyle.

“You’re making it difficult for me to crochet,” Kyle said.

“Sorry.” Stan let go. “It’s just, this is a big deal.”

“Nah, fauns are very fertile. Lots of little ones.”

“Lots?”

“Oh, sure, girl fauns get a little faunlet every year, sometimes two. That’s what my mother used to tell me. But the older I get the increasingly I suspect we weren’t like normal fauns.”

“How are normal fauns?”

“Well, I don’t think they like to live in huts and practice law. I think fauns just hide in wells and chase girls. Well, boy fauns are meant to chase girls, and girl fauns are meant to chase boys, but see here, I’ve done everything backward.” Kyle dropped the bootie he was crocheting and started crying. “I wish I’d never been banished. I don’t want to have a faunlet in the forest. Will you pull the faunlet out when it’s time? The father is supposed to pull the faunlet out by its haunches.”

“Well, sure, if you want me to.”

“Good.” Kyle wiped his nose and went back to work on his bootie.

This was all a lot for Stan to take in. He knew that girls could get in trouble, as his sister had with the minstrel, but he did not know that male fauns could get in trouble. Moreover, he was immensely bothered by the idea of his baby being reared in the forest. Plus, what had Kyle meant by ‘you can stay with me now,’ did he mean that Stan should live in the forest with him, in that tiny dwelling? Stan didn’t want to leave his father’s house. He loved the village, loved his parents, loved helping his uncle with the flocks. But Stan also knew he loved Kyle, and that something kept bringing him back to the forest. Stan knelt by the stream and drank a handful of water, then another. It was mid-winter, and the stream water was very cold, just shy of freezing. Stan's hands were red when he wiped them off on his coat.

When Stan returned to Kyle’s hut, Kyle had put on his apron and was making some porridge over the fire. “You must be hungry,” he said, stirring the pot. Stan saw how high the apron was tied, above Kyle’s belly. Stan felt stupid for not noticing this earlier, and he felt awful for having stayed away.

“Yes, I’m a bit hungry,” Stan said.

Kyle made two bowls of porridge and they ate them silently. When Stan was done, he said, “I don’t want you living in the forest anymore. I want you to come with me back to the village and live in my house.”

“Well that’s great, Stan, I’d love to, except, oh yeah, Prince Eric will kill me if he sees me in the village.”

“He won’t kill a pregnant faun,” Stan said.

“Sure he will,” said Kyle. “He’ll be especially keen to kill a pregnant faun, since he hates fauns and certainly doesn’t want any more in his village.”

The idea of Kyle and the faunlet being killed was so upsetting for Stan that he wept.

“Stop crying!” said Kyle, hitting Stan on the head. “Take some responsibility for your situation.”

Fauns were prone to mood swings.

But Stan couldn’t stop crying. “I'll do the right thing,” he said. “I won't be like the minstrel. I'll raise it as my own.”

“That's great,” said Kyle. “Since it is your own. Anyway, it won't be long now.”

“How do you mean?”

“I think it won't be long, is what I mean,” said Kyle. “A month, two months?” Kyle glanced at the cart of bricks Stan had brought up from the village. “So if you're planning on finishing that cottage, now's the best time.”

“I can bring up more bricks,” Stan said. “Do you have more wool for me?”

“Oh, yes,” said Kyle. “Tons.” He got up and waddled over to the giant pile of wool in the corner of his lean-to, which he'd covered up with one of the sheets Stan had brought. “See, it gets kind of boring up here. I've been crocheting, though! I did make you something. I made you a sweater.” Now Kyle waddled over to the bed, where he pulled, sure enough, a plain white unadorned sweater from the nest of sheets and quilts. “I was sleeping with this between my legs. But, it's for you.”

Stan clutched it to his breast. It wasn't very soft, and it did faintly smell like Kyle's crotch. To Stan, though, this was incredibly endearing. Tears began to well in his eyes again. “Oh, thank you—”

“Enough!” said Kyle. “You're back and I'm starving.”

“We just had porridge.”

“I'm eating for two. Well, two fauns. Which is more like eating for 12. What else did you bring me?”

“Uh.” Stan went to his pack. “Here's some bread—”

Stan had barely pulled it from his bag before Kyle snatched it up and crammed a hunk of bread in his mouth. “Uh huh, this is good,” he said, mouth full. “What else?”

“Er, cheese ... this pot of shrimps ... pickled herring ... farm cheese.”

“No vegetables?” Kyle asked.

“I planted root vegetables before I left,” said Stan.

“I ate through all the beets,” said Kyle, “and potatoes and parsnips put me off. I don't think the little faunlet likes them.”

“You mean you don't like them.”

“Faunlet doesn't want any parsnips,” said Kyle. “We need meat.”

“Okay.” Stan was still feeling weepy, his tears falling on the dry goods in his pack as he dug them out for Kyle. “I can't believe this is happening,” he said. “I can't believe this happened.”

“Well, believe it! I'm a very hungry faun. I said I needed you!”

“You were very vague, though. If you'd said why you needed me I'd—”

“You'd what?”

“Well, I guess — I don't know, I would have done something!”

“Well,” said Kyle. “I'm hungry. So bring me something to eat and we'll talk about it.”

Stan brought Kyle three dried figs tied in a kerchief, a handful of walnuts, a hunk of cheese, and some bucklings. Kyle chewed the fish warily, handing Stan each miniscule bone he pulled from his teeth. “I'm a very picky faun,” he said. “Again, I don't think fauns are supposed to be picky.”

“It's very human to be picky,” Stan said. “But you were raised among humans and among humans you should return. Your faunlet is half-human and I can't think of any place you belong by my side.”

“I would be honored if you moved to the forest with me.”

“Well, I can't abandon my family,” said Stan. “You should move back to the village.”

“How many times do we have to go over this? I can't! So either bring me some more figs or get out of my sight.” Kyle handed Stan the empty kerchief and turned away.

“I will get you more figs.” Stan took the kerchief and stood up. “I will bring you figs every day until we can return to the village and live among people openly as husband and, uh, faun.”

“I don't believe in marriage,” Kyle said. “Fauns don't really do that. But, listen, did you ever wonder what happened to my family?”

“I suppose,” said Stan. “I thought you were all banished.”

“Well go fetch me some figs and I'll tell you.”

When Stan returned the pockets of his coat were full of sticky figs. He sat under the quilt with Kyle and fed him figs from the palm of his hand. Kyle was a very independent faun, but he was feeling drowsy and lazy, and he didn't mind eating from Stan's hand. They sat and talked into the night, listening to the burro snoring and the owls hooting and the gentle rushing of the stream, lapping at the stony bank. 

Finally, when it was so dark out that Stan could only make out the barest outline of Kyle's horns, Kyle said, “My brother wasn't a faun; he was a foundling. I don't know what happened to him. Perhaps he lives in the village still. Perhaps he was found by some other family. I do not know. I've never heard from him. He was only five when I was banished. Perhaps he doesn't remember me.”

“I'm sure that's not true,” said Stan. “His memories of you may be dull but I'm sure he knows you're out here.”

“Perhaps he thinks I'm dead,” said Kyle.

“Why would he think such a thing?”

“Because my parents are. Even 11 is quite young and I don't remember everything. Perhaps it was a kindness that they would not let me watch. But he killed them, Stan, that's your elector's justice. So don't tell me to bring my faunlet to your father's house. We'd be in too much danger there.”

“I'm so sorry,” said Stan. He kept himself from crying, knowing it would annoy Kyle. Kyle shed no tears at his sad tale, just pulled the quilt tighter around his stomach and slowly gnawed a particularly chewy fig. “But Eric is older now. When he was a young boy he was lonely and isolated. Now he has the soapmaker's daughter. And the faunlet will be half-human! Surely I think you overestimate the danger.”

“I fear for my life and the faunlet's,” said Kyle. “Either come be with me in the forest and finish building out cottage, or leave me and live your human life without us.”

“Neither is acceptable,” said Stan. “I'll make things right. On my life, I'll swear it.”

“I cannot stop you from trying,” said Kyle.

“No,” Stan agreed. “You cannot.”

They fell asleep together under the heavy quilts, surrounded by the silence and darkness of the forest.

~

Stan thought long and hard about how to take Kyle home to his father's house. His favorite idea was to dress Kyle up as a human female and hide him in plain sight. Kyle found this idea unappealing.

“What about my hooves?” Kyle asked.

“We can hide them under your thick skirts,” said Stan. “And with a belly everyone will believe you're some whore I got in trouble. It's genius!”

Kyle didn't find this convincingly genius. “I'm a whore no matter what I wear, in the eyes of Prince Eric,” he said. “Besides, what about my horns?”

“We can give you a bonnet,” said Stan.

“Whores don't wear bonnets! And besides, I have a tall set of horns. What if they ripped through the bonnet?”

“We can saw them off,” said Stan. “I'll be easy, I'll just bring a blade-”

“No!” said Kyle. “My horns are who I am. You can't saw them off. Besides, they'd grow back! I don't think your whore idea is going to work.” Kyle at least sounded disappointed about this, sitting on a tuffet that balanced on a snow bank, eating a pheasant leg and drinking a pint of warm sheep's milk.

“Perhaps it only needs to work for a bit. Perhaps once people get to know you, they'll realize you are a wonderful faun and a wonderful person, and allow you to live with me.”

“I don't think it's likely.” Kyle ripped some crisp skin off the pheasant leg and ate it, then licked the grease from his hands.

“I'm going to keep thinking,” Stan said.

Now, Stan was a good worker, a good builder, a good son, and (Kyle swore) a good lover. He was even a decent lute-player. However, he was a horrible thinker. As the days went by, Kyle warned Stan that they were running out of time. All Stan could say was, “I'm thinking, I'm thinking.” Stan was still thinking when, in late winter, the baby came. In fact, two babies came, two chubby half-baby half-faunlets. As he had promised, Stan pulled each of them out by their haunches, one boy and one girl. They came out hooves-first as Kyle had hoped, and they each had two soft, short horns. While Kyle nursed them Stan went to the stream with a kettle and filled it, then put it over the fire. He was then able to give each of the faunlets a warm bath.

Next, Stan brought a wet rag to Kyle and tried to clean some of the mess out of his fur. Kyle was very content, with the faunlets nursing. Like Kyle, they were very fussy and very hungry, but Stan they were the most beautiful things he had ever seen in his life. They had very sparse hair, their legs very faunish. Stan could not imagine that he had two little faunlets, but there they were, their black fuzzy hair just like his.

“They're so beautiful,” said Stan, his eyes watering. This time, Kyle didn't admonish him for crying. “What should we call them?”

“Fauns don't name their young until they're much older,” said Kyle. “We call them faunlets.”

“I'm so glad I was here when they came.”

“You should always be here. I need you. We need you.”

“Then I'm going to go to Eric and ask for permission to bring you to the village with me.”

Kyle would have been stunned if he thought Prince Eric would give Stan the time of day. “Sure Stan, whatever, you do that.” Not long after, Kyle fell asleep, a faunlet on each breast.

“I will,” said Stan. He curled up behind Kyle and the four of them dozed off together.

~

Kyle was sure that Stan would never get a chance to have an audience with Prince Eric. So long as Stan was with him, Kyle did not worry about what the future would bring. As spring came, Stan planted some dewberry bushes, and a tomato stalk. Kyle barely paid the planting any attention. He nursed morning, noon, and night and when he was not nursing, he sheared the sheep and spun his wool and knitted things for the faunlets, little caps and mitts, matching blankets, and creepers. Kyle was too tired to take the sheep to meadow. Stan herded the sheep, slaughtered the sheep, salted the meat, milked the sheep, and did all the cooking. By the time the frost was thawing, he announced that it was time for him to go back to the village and seek his audience with Prince Eric.

“I think it's insulting that you'd chase this delusion instead of staying here with your family!” Kyle chided.

Stan just shrugged and said he'd be back in a fortnight. It broke his heart to leave the suckling faunlets, and he shed tears as he thought of Kyle all alone, with no one to hold him at night. Stan left Sparky with Kyle and the faunlets for protection. He also left his lute, figuring such a gesture indicated that he intended to return. He kissed Kyle on the lips, picked up his dagger, and headed back to town.

There was of course something Kyle did not know about Stan. Kyle was right that Stan could never get an audience with Eric. Stan was not delusional in that retard. However, he knew he could get an audience with Eric's princess, the soapmaker's daughter. As children she had loved him, and Stan suspected she did still, just as Stan never quite stopped sighing when he thought about the faun who used to chase boys around the well. There was something, he thought, about one's first love. As he marched toward the village, he wished he hadn't left his lute. This was something he so believed in that he would have liked to sing about it.

Stan's family was relieved to see him, although they'd grown used to his disappearing and reappearing with some unpredictable frequency. Stan was overjoyed and heartbroken at once to see how big his nephew had grown. His nephew seemed to be taking after Stan's sister, however; when Stan picked him up and tried to sing to him, the baby vomited on his pants. “He takes after you,” Stan said to his sister.

“Really? I think he takes after you. I'd prefer that over his father, anyway.”

“So long as people don't think I'm the father,” said Stan. “Because I have something to tell you all.”

Nobody in Stan's family was terribly surprised to hear that he planned to bring home two faunlets.

“I hear fauns eat a lot,” said Stan's father. “I don't want to pay for all these fauns to empty out my cupboards.”

“You will love it if they empty your cupboards,” said Stan. “They are they most adorable little things, with great big eyes and short horns and the most precious hooves. I've never been so proud of anything in my life.”

“If they eat too much they're going to have to reimburse me,” Stan father repeated. Stan's mother took the trouble to conk him in the head with a wooden spoon.

“Any children of yours are of course welcome in our home,” she said. “When can we meet them?”

“I have some business in town,” said Stan. “I hope within a fortnight.”

That night, Stan slept fitfully in his bed. It had been weeks since he had slept without Kyle by his side. Although the room he shared with his sister had a stove and he slept with a hot water bottle under several quilts in the warm house, Stan was chilly and couldn't get comfortable.

In the morning Stan went to court. The elector lived in a big castle on the far end of the village, at the base of the mountain and over a stream. The castle was tall with crenellations and high turrets, a drawbridge over a stream with swans gliding through it, and vines creeping up the white stone façade. On weekday mornings the prince and princess each held court, and villagers could come and petition if they were admitted by the lord chancellor. The lord chancellor had wheat-colored hair and he shook most terribly when asked a difficult question. He often seemed to be twiddling his thumbs, though Stan had grown up with him and knew that the lord chancellor actually had the awful habit of worrying his cuticles.

“Hey Stan!” the lord chancellor said, when Stan appeared before him. “What can I do for you today?”

“Hey Butters,” said Stan. He remembered himself and added a brief bow.

“Aw, you don’t have to bow for me,” said Butters.

“It’s okay, Butters. I’m here for an audience.”

“With Eric? Oh, Stan, you know he doesn’t see hardly anyone. He only wants to hear from the tax collectors today.”

“No, no,” said Stan, as if the idea that he’d like to see Eric was insane. “I’m here to see her royal highness.”

Because the princess did not wield the same political power as her husband, she often had a much shorter queue of petitioners outside her chambers. Stan was able to see her quickly.

Her chambers smelled familiar, like rosehips. Her hair was dark as coal and her skin was the color of the purest goosefat, blanched white. He lips were like rose petals, pink and just as soft, and when she blushed men’s hearts melted, although Stan was immune to her charms. She did not wear gold but an enchanted crown of pink rose blooms in her hair, which never wilted and died. Stan liked her because she was clever and generous, and a just ruler. She was the most beautiful maiden in the village, and there had never been any doubt that Eric would choose her to wed. When villagers had particular needs they knew to see the princess, who rose from her seat to embrace Stan.

“It’s been so long!” she said, stepping back to take in the sight of him. “Where were you?”

“I was in the woods,” said Stan. “Tending my herd.”

“It’s so good to see you. Come, it’s almost spring. Let’s promenade through the garden.”

Stan let her take his arm and they went out into the garden, where she held her private conversations. There was a labyrinth of 12-foot rosebush hedges that sheltered any discussion from eavesdroppers, and this was her favored spot to conduct real business. Stan admired that she was canny and just as shrewd at court as he was with selling soap.

“I need a favor,” Stan said, as she led him through the maze. Only she knew the path. “I need an audience with the elector.”

“Oh, Stan,” she said, patting his arm. “If it’s to cancel your father’s debts, I have coin enough for that. No need to bother Eric.”

“I’m grateful, Wendy, but this is a political issue and I must see him. It’s a matter of life and death.”

“Surely it’s nothing I can’t fix!”

“Would that you could, but I’m afraid it’s Eric’s word I need.”

“Then you’d better tell me what it is,” she said. “Don’t be shy, no one will hear you. We’re quite alone.”

So Stan explained to her the tale of his meeting with the banished faun, and all that followed. When it was done, she was speechless, her cheeks like the rose blossoms in her hair. “I didn’t know you felt that way about fauns,” she said quietly. “Either generally or toward that faun in particular.”

“Wendy,” he said, “please tell me you can help me get an audience with the elector. I’m sorry to shock you but this is my home. Our home!”

“Stan, everyone is forbidden from seeing the banished faun! I of course never told him I gave you soap for the faun, but if Eric knew you’d spoken with him, let alone taken him to bed, you’d be hanged! … Of course, this makes perfect sense and explains why you were never moved by my charms.”

“I was always moved by your charms, and you’re still the loveliest maiden I’ve known.”

“I’m no maiden anymore,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “But even when you were, you were Eric’s. It’s a great boon to the village that he’s taken you to court. You can give the townsfolk what his heart is too hard to grant them. Perhaps with your influence his hatred has softened. Perhaps he’ll allow me to bring Kyle home for the sake of the faunlets. He belongs here with me, not in some cottage in the woods.”

“Hmm. You know flattery works on me. I suppose I can get you an audience! But Stan, you must be careful. If Eric isn’t well-swayed by the sincerity of your request, your head my end up on a spike over the drawbridge! Not to mention if you are successful, a faun will eat you out of house and home, let alone three!”

“Fauns don't eat as much as everyone says.” Stan felt this wasn't a lie because actually, it was true, fauns did not eat as much as everyone said. They ate a lot more. “But in any case, they can't just live in the forest without me!”

“You'll have your audience, Stan, don't worry.” She pecked him on the cheek. “I just hope you know what you're doing.”

“Me too,” he said. “Me too.”

~

Stan had never been to court, because he had never had direct business with the elector before. He dressed in his finest garb and washed his hair with a pot of lukewarm water his mother had heated for him. After spending weeks in the woods with Kyle, bathing felt luxurious. Stan shined his boots and headed up to the castle, wishing he had his lute with him. If all else failed, perhaps he could have melted Eric's icy heart with a warm song.

As with the day before, Stan was greeted by the lord chancellor. This time, however, he said, “Hey Stan! Eric's expecting you!”

Stan thanked him and waited to be admitted to the reception hall. What Stan saw there blew his mind. To think of Kyle sleeping on a pile of leaves next to a stream, in contrast with this marble chamber lit by 10 thousand candles and four-storey windows, taller than the pines under which Kyle nursed their faunlets. When Stan looked out the window he saw the entire town spread out before him in the valley, the snowcaps of the mountains trickling down into a stream that bordered the town on the far side. From the great windows of the reception hall, the little mountain town had never looked both so large and so small.

Petitioners knelt before their elector, and Stan did as he was told, falling to his knees and looking up at Prince Eric. He was a man of immense size but indeterminate shape, his robes billowing out in silken folds that masked the true proportions of his body. It was only upon look up at him that Stan feared for his life. 

“Well well well,” said Eric, beckoning Stan to rise. “Her royal highness says you've a little favor to ask me?”

“Yes sir,” said Stan.

“Then come forth and kiss my ring.” Eric stuck out his fist, a ruby gleaming on his ring ringer. “Go ahead, Stanley,” he said. “Kiss it.”

“What?”

“This is what you do for your prince-elector,” Eric said. “Kiss my ring. If you want a favor from me you have to kiss my ring.”

“Okay.” Stan shrugged and did as Prince Eric demanded.

“Excellent,” he said, clasping his hands. His robe was lined with ermine, Stan noticed when he shifted upon the throne. “Now, what little favor do you need from me? I can't legitimize your sister's bastard, sorry. But I can bring him to court as a squire when he's old enough—”

“If it please your highness,” said Stan, “I'd like to petition on behalf of Kyle, the faun who once lived in our village, the lawyer's son. He's a good faun, and—”

“What! The faun? Pfffft. You needed an audience with me to talk about that faun?”

“Well, yeah,” said Stan. “I did.”

“Why? I banished Kyle years ago, he won't chase anyone around the well anymore. We're all free of his, um, well-chasing. It's better this way!”

“But he lived here among us! He may be different, but he's one of us, and I think it would be fitting for our magnanimous elector, splendid is his name, to allow the faun to return.”

“He's not one of us, okay, he's a faun. Do you know what fauns are like Stan, do you? They chase boys around the well! They have horns, Stan! Horns! Their top half is like a person but their bottom half is like a goat! That's just not right, Stan. It's just not right. It's wrong! And I for one will not stand to have any fauns in my town. The people don't need that!”

“The people don't need it? Or you don't want it?”

“Silence! If this is the extent of your request, then consider it denied.”

“No. No, that's not the extent of my request. If it please your highness, I request that Kyle be allowed to return to Sudgarten once and for all, for he is my intended, and our children should be here with me. My family has lived here for generations, and I claim his children as my own, and it is my right as a burger of this village to bring them to my father's house.”

What did you say?”

“I said I want Kyle to come home because I love him and we have children together, weird as that sounds,” Stan repeated. “Please, your highness.”

Prince Eric's mouth tightened, and he narrowed his eyes at Stan. “Did you say that you actually had sex with a faun?”

“Well, yeah.”

“And that he — he had baby fauns? Sorry, I'm just — I'm just trying to make sure you're not completely fucking insane.”

“I'm not,” said Stan. “I mean, yeah.”

“Okay then.”

Uncomfortable silence filled the reception hall.

Finally, Eric cleared his throat. “All right, Stan. Well, I always liked you, and Wendy always seemed to like you, so...” Eric clapped his hands. “Guards!”

Two armored knights marched forward, and seized Stanley by his shoulders. “Hey!” he shouted.

“I think, instead of killing you, I'll just toss you in the dungeons while I think about what to do. This was a lot more interesting than the usual petitions I have to deal with, though, so — thanks!” Eric waved as Stan was dragged away.

~

The dungeons were low-ceilinged and damp, and Stan surely would have broken his neck if he hadn't landed on a soft pile of rags and hay. In the corner of the cell lay what Stan assumed in the darkness was his bed, but when he tried to climb onto it, it turned out not to be a bed but rather, a man. At first Stan was sure the man was dead, but after a moment the would-be bed sort of sank, and Stan realized his cell mate was just sleeping. Despairing at the thought of never seeing Kyle and their faunlets again, Stan curled up on a pile of straw in the opposite corner, directly under the narrow slit that was their window. It must have taken several hours for Stan to fall asleep, for he watched the strip of daylight travel across his cell. When he woke, it was pitch black, but something was rattling the bars.

“Stan!” someone was saying. “Stan, wake up! I have to talk to you!”

Stan roused, hoping it was Wendy, come to get him out of here. Unfortunately, when he crept to the front of the cell, he realized it was only the lord chancellor.

“Are you come to free me?” Stan asked.

“Sorry,” the lord chancellor said, and he sounded like he really meant it. “That was a real brave thing you did, Stan. Real brave and real foolish. Eric's awfully sore at you!”

“I'm sure.”

“I really admire your courage. But Stan! He wants to go hunt down those faunlets and — and I don't even want to say. That was a real foolish thing you did, asking to bring a bunch of fauns to town!”

“What? Oh my god, Butters. You have to help me!”

“Well, what am I gonna do? He's saying half-faun half-human babies are half-breeds and it's unnatural, and I mean, I guess he's not wrong—”

“Yes he is! How could a baby be unnatural, Butters, okay? Just — just, can you tell him that? Tell him they are babies and that makes no fucking sense!”

“I tried! But you know Eric, he's not gonna listen to me! He thinks he knows better than everyone! And sometimes, I dunno. Maybe he does! It doesn't seem very Christ-like, does it, mating with a faun? I wonder how that works?”

“I don't care if you know how that works! Just — just go! I'll think of a way out of this myself!”

“Aw, Stan, I'm awful sorry,” said the lord chancellor. “Here, I brought you some fresh water and gruel!”

But Stan was too agitated to eat his gruel. He sat moping, and eventually, fretting. Soon his fretting turned to tears. He did not know how to help Kyle and at the same time he despaired to think of how Kyle had been right. Kyle loved being right; after humping it was probably his favorite pastime. But if Kyle was in danger he probably wouldn't take much joy from his rightness. Stan cried and cried until he heard his cellmate say, “Pssst!”

“What?” Stan asked, wiping his eyes. “Go back to sleep, I'm not in the mood.”

“I wasn't sleeping,” said his cellmate. “I was eavesdropping.”

“Great. So now I bet you want to tell me where to stick my dick, too?”

“No, heavens no,” said Stan's cellmate. “Unless...” he winked and gestured at his own behind. “Hmm?”

“No! I mean, no, sorry, I'm sure you ass is great and all, and I know what they say about dungeons, but I'm just not in the mood.”

“Ah, that's all right. Here.” Stan's cellmate crawled over, and Stan realized that though the man smelled like the ale-soaked sawdust floor of a tavern, he was not un-comely, though he was rail-thin. “They call me Kenneth.”

“That's nice,” said Stan, not really giving a crap. “Nice to meet you.”

“Well, no, I can't imagine it is, this cell reeks of piss and you're clearly distressed. Did I overhear you saying you boned that faun who used to chase us around the well? Because I have to say, sir, well done. If I had a pfennig for every time I creamed the bed thinking about that hot goat ass—”

“Oh my god,” said Stan. “Please, shut up.”

“Shh, no, it's okay,” said Kenneth, patting Stan on the shoulder. “I'm just trying to say I sympathize.”

“Oh, okay.” Stan looked up, and realized he was being perfectly rude, and that though Kyle wasn't present, he would have admonished Stan for crying. “Sorry, what did you say you were in for?”

“I didn't,” said Kenneth. “But, public drunkenness. And maniacal delusions. Well, drunken delusions, really. And prostitution, of course. Or was that last time? Can't keep track! Basically, I found myself at the tavern bragging to some black-cloaked mystics that I couldn't die. Then I ended up stabbed! Then I woke up here accused of initiating a bar fight. I mean, whatever, just because I couldn't remember what I was doing the whole day before doesn't mean I was drunk! I mean, although I was. But, they hardly had enough evidence to convict me! Anyway, what I guess I'm saying is, it sucks that you're in here, and there's nothing I'd like to see more than teaching that fat ass a lesson. So, I'm going to help you get out.”

“That's great of you,” said Stan. “But how will you get out?”

“Oh,” said Kenneth. “I have my ways.” He mimed something that Stan recognized as tying a noose.

“That seems awfully drastic!”

“I said I can't die! How's that for Christ-like? Anyway, do you want my help or not?”

Stan thought for a moment. He did want Kenneth's help. But Kenneth also seemed crazy. But Stan also knew he had to do anything to help Kyle, and that that most people on the outside of Stan’s situation looking in would judge him immediately crazy so, well, Stan figured, it was worth a shot. “Okay,” he said, “thanks. I’m game. How do we do this?”

“Well, it’s very simple. What’s the one thing Eric loves more than anything?”

“Food?” Stan guessed right away.

“No.”

“The soapmaker’s daughter?”

Kenneth shook his head.

“Well, I don’t know. What does Eric love more than anything?”

Kenneth shrugged. “Himself, duh.”

“Oh.”

“Oh! Well, yes, see, that is how you outwit him. You appeal to the thing he loves most, himself. Or rather, his sense of vanity. The next time the lord chancellor returns with gruel and water, tell him you wish to speak to him, to offer your apologies and to recant your crimes. He’ll be amenable to that. Then, when you’re kneeling before him, you challenge him to a duel of sorts, and the stakes are thus: If you win, he lets you go and you can bring your precious faun to town. If he wins, he can do as he will. He’ll decline, because he’s the elector and he can do whatever he wants with you. But that is when you get him, see, you have to imply that you would win.”

“What does he care if I win?” Stan asked.

“Well, he won’t agree with you.”

“What if he doesn’t care?”

“Then you needle him. The trick is to keep needling until he submits. Call him fat, and he’ll say he’s not fat, he’s big-boned. Call him slow with a spear, and he’ll say he’s not slow with a spear, he’s deliberative with his strikes. But whatever you say to him, you mustn’t stop needling, for he’ll needle right back. Eric loves a good argument. So long as you argue you can goad him into a fight.”

“Well, but how do I defeat him when we’re fighting?”

“I told you I knew how to get you out of this cell, not how to beat Eric in a fight! As far as that goes, you’re on your own.”

~

Sure enough, Kenneth’s plan worked. Eric agreed to fight, red-faced and fuming. “Oh, you’ll see, stonemason’s son, you’ll see how gravely you’ve erred! And when I’ve got your head on a pike over my drawbridge, I’ll go into the forest and rid this town of fauns once and for all! All will remember me as the elector who solved the local faun problem!”

“Gosh, Eric,” said the lord chancellor, bashing his fists together, “don’t you think maybe you’d rather be known as the elector who clothed the needy, or fed the hungry, or—”

“Shut up, Butters! No one remembers people for doing stuff like that.”

“Yeah, but it’s the right thing to do—”

“Ugh, then I can do that and solve the local faun problem, okay? I can solve more than one problem all right? That’s why I’m the elector, and I command you to return this sniveling wretch back to the dungeons.”

“Okay, Eric, whatever you say.” The lord chancellor did as he was told, and led Stan back to his cell. As he was locking it he seemed as if he were going to say something to Stan, but after a moment he simply heaved a sigh and left.

Stan felt his cellmate grab him by the shoulder.

“Worked, didn’t it?” Kenneth asked. His speech was garbled by a mouthful of gruel.

“Yes, it worked. Kenneth, you’re a genius! I’m to fight him tomorrow afternoon, and — is that my gruel?”

“My gruel now.” Kenneth swallowed a mouthful of water. “Since I got you temporarily freed and all, I figured it was the least you owed me. Anyway, this gruel is not that good, so. Trust me.” He took another palm of gruel and tipped it into his mouth. “It’s really better this way.”

Stan felt relief at having a chance to fight for Kyle and the faunlets, and so he slept peacefully that night. He was awoken in the morning by two guards he didn’t recognize, who said little to him until he was in the armory. “His royal highness our most noble elector bids you select one helm, one sword, and one shield,” one of the two guards, the fatter one, informed Stan.

Stan inspected the swords lining the walls, and he weighed several of them in his hands, finally selecting the lightest. Stan has been instructed in sword fighting as a boy by his uncle, but he had always felt it was a bit overrated as a pastime and unlikely he should ever want to enter the battlefield or go crusading. It was only now, with a sword in his hand, that he felt anxious about his chance of defeating Eric in combat.

Sword in a scabbard slung across his hip, shield in his hand, and helm under his arm, Stan was led out to a clearing in the castle gardens, behind the labyrinth. When he saw the size of the crowd that had come to cheer on the elector, Stan thought back to the favor he’d asked of Wendy, and to how wrong he had been to leave Kyle. Here he was, planning to fight a man three times his size, on the advice of a drunkard in a dungeon cell? How Stan longed to be back in the forest with Kyle, watching him knit booties for their little faunlets. Even herding sheep was an improvement over this.

“Well well well!” Eric barked. He was clad in black armor etched with gold vines, with a breastplate so large Stan could have taken a bath in it. “If it isn’t the faun-lover.” As Eric said this, the audience jeered — all but the soapmaker’s daughter, who sat in the prince-elector’s box, roses in her hair. She was just as fair as always, and she seemed neither pleased nor distraught, just pensive, a glass of wine in her hand.

“We don’t have to do this,” said Stan. “I hesitate to humiliate your highness in combat. The people love their elector, and I love my faun, and I am sure the elector loves his dignity. It seems everyone could have what they loved if we simply set our arms down and agreed to walk away.”

“Ha! I don’t think so! How could you humiliate me in combat? My armor is the strongest and my sword is the longest and heaviest in all of the kingdom. My lady has my favor, but all you have is your faun. And where is he? Not here. So submit, Stan. Submit or I will destroy you.”

“I won’t submit,” said Stan. He pulled his sword from his scabbard.

“So be it!” The elector raised his blade. It was as heavy as he said and it fell to the ground with a thud when Stan ducked from its reach. “A lucky dodge,” the elector said, drawing his sword again. “Now stand here and fight me.”

Stan raised his sword against the elector’s, but before Prince Eric could swing, Stan hopped back.

“Come back here!” Eric shouted, lunging forward. He lumbered when he walked, and it seemed that the cheers of the crowd only slowed him more. “Shut up!” He shouted. “Shut up, shut up! I cannot concentrate on killing this loser!” But the louder the crowd roared, the more agitated Eric seemed. Stan used this to his advantage to continue to hop and dodge, his puny wooden shield and light sword no hindrance. Stan knew if that heavy sword hit him, it would crack his skull. So he continued to run from Eric’s sword.

“Come and get me, fat ass!” he cried, his nimble feet moving quickly in the wet grass.

“I’m trying!” Eric continued to surge forward, though Stan was sure than under his armor he was red and sweating. He lifted the grill on his helm. “You’re not fighting fair!”

“So hit me,” said Stan. “Come and strike me. Your blade is much heavier than mine.”

Eric swung, and he missed. And he swung again, and he missed again. Stan leapt to the elector’s box as Eric charged at him. “So, he said, looking up at Wendy. “How am I doing?”

“Well,” she said, “I certainly don’t think you’re endearing yourself to him.”

“Good!” Then as Eric headed toward Stan with a roar, Stan sprinted off to the other side of the arena. “This is ridiculous!” he panted to Wendy. “Why won’t he fight fair?”

“I’m not sure he isn’t,” said the soapmaker’s daughter. “After all, you’ve given him practically no armor and a limpid little sword and wooden shield. Perhaps his swiftness is his advantage.”

“Well, great, bitch! Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

She shrugged. “You didn’t ask me.”

Eric determined to make a final charge against Stan. He mustered all of his will, hoisting his sword at his side like a lance. He rushed at Stan, intending to splinter Stan’s shield and, with luck, pin him to ground through his side. But as Eric ran, Stan turned to the right, so Eric shifted his course. Then after running 10 feet to the right, Stan turned and headed left. Again, Eric changed directions. When Stan began to circle the combat grounds, Eric attempted to bisect the circle and catch Stan in the middle of his path. When Stan saw this he turned on his heel and headed the other way. For a moment Eric lost track of him, then Stan charged from behind and caught Eric unawares.

“Ha!” Stan wedged the flat side of his blade against the exposed folds of Eric’s neck between his armor and his helm. “One false move, your highness, and I’ll end your reign forever.”

“Godammit!” Eric screeched. “You don’t fight fair!”

“Maybe not, but you were fighting for your honor. I have no honor. All I have is Kyle. So allow him to return to the village with our faunlets and I’ll take this blade from your neck.”

“And if I don’t?” Eric asked.

Stan’s breath hitched. He did not want to kill anyone, especially not the elector. He had not considered before he attempted to fight Eric that he might have to actually kill him, “Then I’ll slit your throat,” he bluffed.

“Then fine! Go get your fucking faun! Bring him to your father’s house and fuck his brains out, see if I care! Just whatever you do, don’t kill me!”

Flinging his sword to the ground, Stan backed away. “Thank you, your highness.”

Eric turned to Stan with tears in his eyes. “Just go! Get out of here!”

Stan looked around to see the speechless crowd. He looked to the lord chancellor, who seemed very distressed by this turn of events, and to the princess, who was grinning as a page filled her wine glass. Stan did not have time for the frivolity of basking in this glory. He turned and fled.

~

Stan ran along the stream until he was too tired to run, and then he walked as quickly as his legs would carry him. Then, when he felt rested, he paused to drink from the stream and ran again until he reached Kyle’s lean-to. There Stan found Kyle crocheting and nursing the faunlets under the pines. 

“Kyle!” Stan cried, racing toward them. He felt as though he had been on a thousand journeys, although he had been gone for a brief time.

“What took you so long?” Kyle demanded. “I've been sitting here starving! All I've had to eat today is a handful of dried figs and some clumpy dry oats. It wasn't a particularly tasty breakfast!”

Stan was so touched by Kyle's demands that he rushed to Kyle's side and knelt by him, kissing their faunlets on the backs of their heads and Kyle on his cheeks. “I've missed you so much,” Stan wept, embracing all of them at once. “If you're hungry I'll get you anything you like. You can have anything you want. Come back with me to my father's house and I'll give you all the bloody steaks and hunks of ripe cheese you can imagine.”

“I don't think you know how vividly and extensively I've been imagining cheese, Stan,” Kyle warned.

Stan just laughed, and stood up. “I'll pack the cart up. I did it, Kyle, I got Eric to agree to let you return to the village.”

“How'd you do that?”

“It's a long story.”

“How long?” Kyle asked, his eyes wide.

“About 15,000 words,” said Stan, “though the part with Eric is blessedly truncated. Come on, I'll tell you on the ride back, when we hitch the burro up to the cart and get out of the forest forever.”

~

Stan's family was overjoyed, if confused, to realize that three fauns were coming to live with them. Or rather, one faun, and two half-human half-faunlets. They were all nonplussed to learn soon after that Kyle was expecting another faunlet. “Fauns are very fertile,” Kyle said, nursing in the kitchen while he ate a bowl of soft bland farmer's cheese with honey and dried figs with his legs on the kitchen table. From time to time Stan's mother would use her broom to try to get his hooves back on the floor, and to no one's surprise Kyle did not feel obligated to keep them there. Stan's father was wont to complain about all of these fauns eating his food and shedding on his good dirt floor, but ultimately he loved all of the faunlets and would run with them in the yard when they grew older. Kyle and Stan went on to have 23 faunlets, all of whom they adored and all of whom grew up to chase boys and girls around the well.

Prince Eric and Princess Wendy went on to have a son who was, eventually, so well-regarded that he was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Then it was revealed that he had committed voter fraud to get the position. The dowager empress was incredibly proud.

Butters was like, I dunno, him and Kenny had gay dungeon sex.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Except for Clyde because he died of the bubonic plague.