Perchance to Scream
Normally, having Kenny's breath tight against my ears is a thing I enjoy. Usually because it means we're in the midst of enjoying something else. Just that moment, it had me fit to be tied.
Then again, I guess being stuffed into a huge leather sack was the next best thing to being tied up.
We had been taken completely by surprise and trussed into the bag before either Kenny or myself could fight back. I had Sky Fire in my hand, ready to ignite the blade of starlight and lightning, but for Kenny asking me to stay my hand. He felt something, something intangible that Eshu only can sense but can't really know. It was enough, though. I trusted Kenny implicitly. If he thought we should hold off, then we would.
From the way we were being bounced around and the solid surface under us, I assumed we were on some sort of wagon or cart, possibly even a truck bed, although the texture I was feeling through the leather of the bag was more like wood than steel or that black plastic bed liner thing that everyone seems to have these days. Someone was set to watch us, and occasionally a knee or a hand would brush against either Kenny or myself. I felt sorely tempted to simply pop my blade and deal out some pain. Whoever these jokers were, they had best prepare themselves for one really pissed off Satyr when we got where ever we were going.
Not that I wasn't already rippin' pissed as it was. Kenny noticed my growing resentment and tried to calm me, placing one of my hands over the Tear of Cerulean, mixing his fingers with mine around the faceted blue icicle of crystal that hung at my throat. I nodded slightly to him, knowing that the subtle motion would carry across my message. I'll be okay, beloved. I'm mad, but I'll be cool when we figure out what's what.
Snippets of conversation drifted near us as the cart slowed down, but it was all too distant and too muddled to make out. My hand tightened around Sky Fire and I let go of the Tear. Kenny also moved his hand back, probably preparing to draw forth Kay Neth's short spear weapon. Suddenly there was a rumble through the ground, and I actually heard Kay Neth gulp by my side. The rumble was also a sound, like a huge object being dropped, all around us. The cart came to a stop and there was the sound of music all about. Not the kind of music I normally listen to, though. Something far older. The sound of strings and horns and flutes, the savage beat of drums, and the sound of dancing, lots of people dancing. The best way to describe it is techno played by an orchestra, only with wild abandon instead of precision.
One voice shouted loudly and the music fell off, the din of voices and feet changed to a chorus of boos and rather colorful remarks. Hands fell on the bag again as the speaker began, standing Kenny and I up in the huge sack. I risked a glance over and saw that Kenny had enacted the Wyrd and stood as Kay Neth. I promptly followed, although not entirely sure what was going on. I'd only resumed my changeling life a scant three days past. It was all still on the new side for me.
"So kithain, you have long waited for a chance to resume our ancestral home, eh? To see the heroes of old and cast off the shackles of these Sidhe bastards that impose their laws on us without our consent? You hear tales that the old legends are coming around again?" The crowd seemed to exhort the speaker, cheering at points, screaming in unison. "Well, my tragos, I bid you welcome to one such legend now reborn, back with us again. Should we welcome him properly?" Again the crowd went a bit crazy, screaming and laughing, one person shouting something that caused a ripple in the crowd, but I had already had enough.
Sky Fire lit off, and I ripped up quickly as the blade sprang forward. The leather peeled back before the bright edge of my sword and revealed me to the crowd that now was hushed by my sudden and dramatic emergence from the bag. There were about seven or eight armed adults near me, mostly with pole arms or spears of some kind, but all wore swords and daggers as well. That was enough incentive for me to be worried. One of those who was holding Kay's part of the bag fell back and drew a sword. He cleared his blade from leather and I hacked it off of his hilt with a single cut. Two others moved near me, as Kay cleared the bag from his shoulders. I leapt at the nearest of these and with a swishing, Zorro-esque move slashed his spear into four parts in his hand.
The others backed up rapidly, save the other one that had reacted to my attack. He stood his ground, point of the spear aimed right at my throat. He's guarding the leader, I thought, a savage snarl erupting on my face. Time to put my powers to use. I concentrated and felt the Glamour flow. The guardsman looked on me in awe as the fairy lights of Glamour burned all around me. I suddenly shouted some inane phrase that suddenly came to mind. Something from Alice in Wonderland. "Ah, so you're a fishmonger!" and I purposely crossed my eyes. The Glamour leapt from me and slipped around his spear. He was apparently well versed in cantrips, though, for he held tightly to the spear as it tried to jump skywards. Unfortunately, my cantrip was infused with a little tiny bit of rage (okay, a lot of rage), and both spear and bearer went soaring a good eight meters or so, straight up into a gnarled ancient oak. Stuck in the branches, the poor guard could only shout a warning to his master before I was on him, whirling like a dervish.
I turned to where the speaker was and swung the blade in a tight arc, aiming neck high. I stopped the thrust just in front of the chin of the speaker, dropping half his beard from the same chin.
"Hello stranger," I said, feeling a need for words. "Did it ever occur to you to ask me if I wanted to come here?"
"Mercy! You're forgiveness, milord, I beg you." the speaker, a fellow Satyr I noticed, said quickly, eyes quivering. "I thought to make the trip a surprise fer yehs. I mean you and yer companion no 'arm." Slightly fazed by nearly being suddenly headless, the Satyr looked sideways at the gathering below and then lifted an arm in my direction. "Kithain, I give ye Lord Robyn the Blue, knight of a thousand years and rightful heir to the throne of Cerulean! An' a wicked swordsman he is, eh?"
A cheer went up from the assemblage below and I felt Kay's hand on my shoulder as he came to my side. All below us were perhaps one hundred fifty Satyrs of various ages. Goats and Ewes were present, and many Kids. I stared at the group, more than half of them wearing only loin cloths (yes, even the females) and far more than that with some sort of large beverage in their hands, mostly raised in my direction. Every skin tone and hair color in the normal spectrum of humanity, and a few hair colors that were plainly not of natural origin, was present in that sea of faces.
"Well, you wanted to get the Satyrs' support, beloved," Kay whispered to me. We were standing on top of a massive tree stump, easily fifteen feet across. All around us were trees, thick stands of bushes and stone walls, enclosing a space big enough for a dance at my middle school. There was no apparent entrance, but I was beginning to learn that changelings didn't often need to make them part of the architecture.
"Speech!" a few in the crowd began and the chant started to grow.
"Uh, milord, if it's not an inconvenience ta yas, if ya don't mind, uh, um," the speaker said, his eyes flicking to Sky Fire's blade, still hovering at his throat. I didn't smile, but I let the blade slip back into its crystal housing, a dancing firefly of raw lightning. He relaxed a great deal, blowing out. "Many thanks, Your Highness."
I flicked my eyes to Kay and he nodded. This Satyr before me was from Cerulean as well, and knew who I truly was. Sky Fire remained in my hand, but unlit. I turned to the crowd as they continued to demand words. I lifted my hand to quiet them, hoping something of my Dad's speech writing ability was innate, because I was about to try and pull a hat out of a rabbit (since doing it the other way around is far too easy).
"Hello and hiya! I see you've started the party without me!" A smattering of laughter flittered across the crowd. "Hope you saved a few barrels of the good stuff!" Again some laughter. "Because I propose a toast, everyone gather a cup!" Kay pressed an ornately carve horn into my hand. I peered into the horn and saw that it had been hollowed out and made into a serviceable cup, with some sort of iridescent blue potion inside. I raised the horn high and glanced out over the gathering.
Here goes nuthin', I thought.
"May your blades never break, may your stride never slip, may your cup never dry and you throat never rip. Take a cup and crush it down, bring on the music! Let's party down! To US!"
"To Us!" the crowd shouted in reply, a few members of the group shouting loud war whoops as everyone tipped the drink down. The concoction in my cup was like swallowing ice on fire. I didn't stop until I had drained the cup, and tossed it out into the crowd as I brought my hands down. I suddenly had to belch like never before and let it fly. To my amazement, and that of the crowd, flame shot out of my mouth, some twenty meters out over the crowd. They were stunned to a gasping silence for a moment and then screamed in delight, cheering. The music started up again and everyone who wasn't sitting down or busy with their nose in a cup started dancing again, a huge bonfire roaring in the middle of the group.
"What the hell did I just drink?" I asked Kay.
"Blueberry meade, milord," he replied mischeiviously. "A local delicacy, I'm told."
"I must apologize fer takin' ye offa the beach like that, sire," the speaker spoke, bowing before me. "I though in'erductions should be best handled in the safety of the glade."
"I have questions for you," I said, pointing a finger up at his chest. I suddenly realized that I was still my normal height and he was a full grown adult. But was I gonna let him get away with height envy intimidation? You obviously haven't read that part about how my family never backs down, especially from each other. Just because he had goat legs didn't mean he was getting off the hook so easily.
"I am at yer service, milord."
"Then let's start with a name."
"Ye already have one. And quite a nice one too, if I may be s'bold as to…."
"Not my name, yours!"
"Oh, yeah. Right. My apologies, milord. I am Capricus." And I should note that he said it CAP ricus, not caPRIcus. Pronunciation can be an important thing among beings as elemental and unearthly as we changelings. Sometimes a name is the only power you can gain over something.
I leaned back and Kay whispered in my ear. "Capricus of Seaborne, he was your father's chief naval officer."
"Some accused him of piracy, although your father was one that might condone such efforts if done properly."
"He have any rank?"
"Usually he was addressed as commodore, although on land he probably could be safely addressed as chancellor of waves."
"I'm beginning to see a pattern here," I whispered back with a conspiratorial air.
"Best to just go with it, milord."
"Capricus," I said, sweeping out an arm to indicate that we move off of the tree stump. He led the way down, his men handing us back the sabers. Kenny mounted his own saber on his belt and held the double-blader in one hand like a spear. I slid my own saber across my back, a perfect sheath for it seeming to form out of bare air.
"It is good for my eyes to be seein' you again, Your Highness. Perhaps this time we'll be getting' it right."
"Getting what right?"
"The water route back to Arcadia," he said as if it ought to be perfectly logical. "All the land based trods is dried up. So that only leaves the ones across the Ocean of Dreams."
"Or the Nightmare Seas, or the River of Despair, or any of a thousand other chimerical waterways in the Dreaming," Kay said, suddenly indignant. "No one has ever been able to prove that such passages exist, and even those who have tried rarely come back. The few that do tell hideous tales of chimerical beasts capable of ripping castles in two with but the force of their breath, and swarms of void spirits that suck the Glamour right off a changeling." He shuddered beside me.
"Aye, there be tell of such things, but most of it be pub tales. Meant to frighten timid fae inta stayin' where the shallows meet the shore."
"Nevertheless, you think there is merit to this story?"
"Indeed, milord. With all my heart."
"I'd like to hear what plans you have to seek this path out one day. But for the moment, there's some other things I need to know."
"Well, while you're askin', would you care for a bit of the drop. Finest stuff, this! Imported from the Kingdom of Pacifica, straight from the wine holds of Caer Redwood and His Majesty the king's own brand still on the cask."
I looked to Kay. He shrugged and held out his cup. A fresh cup was pressed into my hands and loaded with a sweet smelling burgundy colored liqueur.
Okay, I know that in reality I'm all of 13 and barely that. I know that I'm not supposed to be drinking alcohol until I'm 21. And I also know that no one I ever met over the age of 13 hadn't at least tried a sip of something at some time or other. Besides, that curious streak in the back of my mind was itching to see what was going on. Beside it, that stubborn streak was telling me that if I didn't drink with him, he'd think me weak or that he just might take it as some kind of offense. I needed the Satyr's behind me, and if this seafaring Satyr was their apparent leader, then I needed him firmly in my hip pocket.
So I took a full cup of the stuff, waited for Capricus to give a simple "To yer lordship's noble health, cheers!" and downed the flagon in one, long, continuous gulp. I looked up from draining the vessel to find that Capricus and Kay had only taken meager sips of their brew. A moment later I found out why.
The wine was so heavily laced with both potent spirits and even more potent Glamour that I almost immediately went stupid. Totally on my ass drunk. I nearly fell out of the chair, and had Kay not steadied me, I likely would have.
"Ha! He's his father's son a'righty!" Capricus barked amidst his laughter. "Not a one of us would have the stomach to take a whole cup of Golden Gate Nectar in one swig." This followed by his booming laughter. Now if a Satyr could have a Troll's height, Capricus would easily have that sort of build. Toughened by the sea. I could see beneath his fae mein to his mortal seeming, and he looked every bit the Glousterman. He was a sailor to the hilt, no matter the form he chose, and the only things dry land had to tempt him were wine, women and song.
And apparently wine and song were things he could easily carry where ever he went.
"So, milord, you were saying?"
"Yes, well, Robyn would like to ask for your support in something, and we'd like to ask your opinion before we ask you to stand with us."
"Right," I burped, this time without pyrotechnics.
"I sees. And what might this be?"
"Were you at court night before last?"
"Indeed! And I saw Sir Robyn," he said with obvious pride, "beat the tar out of a gutless, Iron carrying Redcap in fair combat."
"Tha's muh friend yuir talkin' 'bout like dat," I said, reaching back for my lightsaber, three times, failing each time.
"Uh, what his lordship means is that we've made peace with the Redcap, Croaker." Kay took my sword hand in his own and prevented me from trying to draw the lightsaber. I was really toasted. "He was not wholly at fault. His mentor had ordered Croaker to use Iron as a means of defeating Robyn, with the hopes of claiming the Tear of Cerulean if he could. When Croaker failed and was humiliated, his motley and his mentor expurgated him."
Capricus gasped in surprise at hearing this. "They did not!" he exclaimed. To be cast out, even when you attempted what was asked of you, and to have your mentor order you to perform such villainy and then deny you was a betrayal most foul. Obviously, Capricus was a man of honor.
"Apparently so. He came to us seeking help and has pledged his allegiance to our lord." Kay saved the last bit for after a pause. "He will swear so in an oath at court."
"Who be's this poor devil's former mentor?"
"A fellow Redcap named Sir Korbesh."
"Who now has our eternal hatred," I asserted, letting Capricus know that Kay spoke for me as well.
"I am not familiar with who thy companion is, my lord."
"This is my herald," I managed to remember. "And my eternal betrothed and beloved Kay Neth the Steel Eyed."
"Indeed? Why the last time I saw ye, Kay Neth, ye were all of this high," he said, indicating his wide, flat gut with his free hand, "and the prettiest thing. Ye and Robyn were so in love… still are, I fathom."
"Yup!" I answered, smiling. Kay stood behind me, hands on my shoulders.
"Then ye both are under my protection and me crew be yuirs ta command." He said it simply, but with deep respect. Cut from the same cloth as Caspian, this one. Speaking of whom…
"Do you know thane Caspian, my reeve?"
"I would know him again upon sight, my lord. And I'd welcome him as a brother in arms."
"See, I told you that your army was near at hand. This may be the strongest our loyal forces have been in millennia."
"Okay. So you'll back us when we go to court under the Slivered Moon?"
"My lord," he said, pulling his sword out and presenting it to me, bowing over it. "My blade and my life, to your service have always been pledged. Ask of me and I shall accomplish any task, in thy name and in that of thy beloved, and in memory of the foul deeds done to thy family." Kay looked down on me and smiled. I nodded. There was a deep communication going on between me and Kay/Kenny. It reminded me of my parents, and for a second I wished that Kenny and I could have a kid that was the best of the both of us.
See, I shouldn't get drunk too often, it makes me dream of the impossible. Even makes me think of ways to make it so.
Let me describe a Satyr rave to you. Imagine a Renaissance fair, only furry. There was even one guy doing those fire-eating stunts. Now add in a fair amount of full or partial nudity, the scent of applejack and berry wines, meat roasting on the spit, the occasional bout of hearty laughter and all around a sense of very healthy sensuality. People were embracing and stroking each others skin without any fear, although I did see quite a few that were startled by a touch they hadn't expected. Even the kids (yes, I know, I fit that group too) were engaging in it. Nothing seemed taboo, but any serious sex acts were reserved for more private places, which Kay pointed out, were behind bushes, in small copses of trees and in secret passages behind the boulders. Flowers and wreaths were everywhere, including tangled into the thick manes of hair among this crowd, and even woven into the beards of the older males.
I imagine this was like how festivals in Tahiti and Hawaii were before we enforced "civilization" on them. Got to admit, that kind of freedom seems awfully tempting. No wonder the early sailors thought of those islands as paradise. To say the least, the atmosphere was very heady for me. I definitely shouldn't have drank that Nectar so fast.
The party went on for hours, with Capricus introducing us around to as many Satyrs as he could lay a name to. I tried to remember them all, but my brain was so grog soaked at that point in time I'd be lucky if I could remember my own name. But more than the names, I got a sense of community, here. These were my people because I was a Satyr. But they were my family because they welcomed Kay as my equal, as my love. But they were also my subjects, because, as I was to find out during the night, everyone there was from Cerulean. This was the largest gathering of the expatriots since we were exiled. We were almost a nation again. Loyal thanes came up to me and pledged their swords and bows to my service once again. We were a nation with a growing army.
Perhaps that was something that could possibly be of use when it came time to plead for Croaker's life before Donna Trag. I didn't realize how much of a power base I had, simply by right of my name. Doubtless the countess took that into account. I had the feeling that the Black Dragon didn't want me as an enemy, but she didn't completely trust me as an ally as of yet. And that, too, was something I needed to worry about.
But not just now.
Kay and I got invited to a dance, and a lively tune was put to the air. We started just dancing with the crowd, whirling and stomping away as Satyrs are wont to do when the alcohol flows like water and the night air is warm and clear. The tune switched to a martial beat after a time and several of the more aggressive warrior types drew swords and went through a fast but highly ordered war dance, their blades always seeming to strike flat against each other as they turned and clashed. It was all so tribal and primitive, but a lot of fun too.
Kay and I joined in, both drawing our lightsabers and going at it as though we were back in the lower gym at the Y. The beat took on a more modern flavor as we traded blows, the crowd ooohing and aaahing as we darted about, parry, thrust, spin, slash.
We came right in at each other, blades overhead, corps a corps, bound in the inner third each as the music switched a third time, this time a more sensuous rhythm, heavy on the strings and deep toned woodwinds. With that beat change, the other Satyrs and a few of other kiths invited to the party found places in the dancing area and partnered up. Kay and I both sheathed our weapons, Kay starting to head for the sidelines.
But I had other plans. I reached out quickly and took his hand. "Turn around, Bright Eyes," I sang in time with the music, and strangely enough it didn't sound out of place in the song, although something else entirely was being sung. He turned and looked at me, his face beaming with pride and joy. A gentle tug of my hand was all the invitation my Kay needed, and we were together on the dance floor once again, holding each other tight, chins on each others shoulders, one body with four feet, just swaying in place.
By twos, and sometimes threes, the couples left the dance area as the song went into a third instrumental section, the party-goers seeming to realize that the sun was due soon and they had other things to take care of. A few Satyrs were lying about where they had fallen asleep, their cups still suspiciously full. Soon, it was just Kay and me and the band, still slow dancing. When the music ended, Kay and I applauded, and looked around for Capricus. He was waiting by the stump, looking at the double ended saber with intense interest.
"Like what you see?"
"Tis a well crafted practice implement. Would that such a weapon could be constructed for regular combat."
"Perhaps that dream may come to pass," I said, winking at Kay. At my earliest opportunity, I'd have to try the Tear on Capricus' dreams.
"We should be getting back to camp, Robby," Kenny said, letting Kay submerge. We still held hands as we stood side by side. I also let my fae nature retreat, grasping my lightsaber before it dropped to the ground. My head was still buzzing, fuzzy almost. But my body felt fluid, loose. I was likely gonna have one hell of a headache once we woke up.
"It occurs to me," Capricus said, his fae mein also surrendering to his mortal seeming. He was strong, with the almond eyes of someone who's spent their whole life squinting against the sun's reflection on the water. Deep as the sea, and cloudy, his eyes were, and his hair and beard were the same red shot through with gray as his fae form's hair, beard and body fur. The sense that he was still as strong, as tough wore through his mortal shell. "That Donna Trag will be somewhat cautious as regards you having so much popular support. Not only the Satyrs were loyalists in Cerulean. Other kith were represented as well, although not as fully. Having you show up with all of the rest of us moving here," he eyed me with some wily concern, "well, if I were her I might feel threatened as well."
"I'll keep that in mind. By the way, I think an introduction is in order. I'm Robby French, and this is Kenny Tannagord."
"Glad to meet the other half of you. Daniel Danvers," he said, taking our hands in turn. His grip was powerful and encasing, his hands huge compared to ours. "Tannagord? Your father wouldn't happen to be Mitch Tannagord, would he?"
"That he is, and reeve Caspian as well, of the Trollish folk."
"Then I do know him. Tell the old rascal he still owes me a chess match."
"When next I see him," Kenny smiled up. "We really need to be getting back to camp, Robby. Sun will be up before long."
"Let me assist you then," Daniel said, handing the double-blader to me. He brought the three of us close together and then he slapped his forehead and shouted "D'Oh!" just like on the Simpsons. And suddenly, the rush of Glamour around us was thick, oily almost. When it thinned, we were back before the seawall!
"Whoa!" Kenny and I exclaimed as one, overcome with what had just happened.
"You know Flicker Flash?" Kenny exclaimed, then noticed my bewildered look and answered my silent question, "one of the highest cantrips in Wayfare, the Nightcrawler power."
"D'uh! That was mad awesome, Daniel. You'll have to teach us how to do it sometime."
"I'll save it for a less hectic moment, my lords. Let me just look on you now before I go, so I know it isn't just some Glamour dream. That we finally have some hope of returning home again." His face was as sincere as any I've ever seen, nearing the verge of tears, but his macho self image wouldn't allow that, I'm certain. I was the embodiment of his hopes and dreams. It was a heavy burden that they all placed on me, and now I see where the lot of them were so careful with me. I was more than just their rightful ruler. I was their ticket from the slow death of banality, their return to where they truly belonged. I suddenly felt the awesome responsibility inherent in that.
At any rate, Daniel took us both in his arms at once, kissed us on the forehead, right between the horns for me, and then stood up. He waved good-bye without saying another word and again the Glamour flickered about him. And between the space of my eyes blinking once, he was gone.
"I have got to learn that," I heard Kenny say to me, smiling.
"Yeah. Mad awesome!"
"Come on, let's go."
"Uh, can we stop at the bathroom along the way? My bladder is telling me things."
"Yours too, huh?"
"We did drink an awful lot last night."
"You more than me," Kenny said, tossing the double-blader up onto the sea wall. I hopped up there and gave Kenny an arm up. We collected our bikes, wiping the dew off the seats and pedaled to the bathroom. It was still nearly an hour before dawn, and only the barest sliver of a moon showed high in the western sky. The ocean was purpling with red clouds far out to sea reflecting sunlight our way.
Now to be perfectly honest, I don't remember getting back to the tent, crawling in beside my Kenny and the two of us just passing out. In fact, I don't remember anything until my mother stuck her head in the tent and shook my leg to wake me up. At first I panicked, because I thought that she'd see me and Kenny snuggled up together. There were secrets in my life now that I wasn't ready for Mom and Dad to know about. They had secrets I wasn't supposed to know yet either, but for now, I just didn't know how, when or even if I could tell them. Unless you live the changeling way, you often don't believe that it even exists in anything more real than the pages of a bedtime story book.
However, I was spared that shock, of Mom seeing Kenny and me in bed together, intimate. He had gotten up hours before. A brief consultation with my watch showed that the day was nearing the height of the sun. I had slept from before dawn until just shy of noon.
I sat up and my head was rocked two ways at once. One way was from the sudden motion, a dull throbbing behind my eyes reminding me of exactly how much fairy spirits I'd consumed the night before. The other way was far worse though. Far, far worse.
Think back to the last dream you remember before waking. I'll bet that most of you can't. Don't be too upset by that, most of us can't. It's the elusive nature of dreams that those which come to you just before you wake are chaotic, slippery devils that just don't make any sense at all. And normally, I'd say that happens to me all the time. The details slip away, you get left with vague feelings, half remembered impressions, images that don't fit together like they should.
Just that moment, I'd have hacked off my own right arm and handed to you to forget my last dream. As Mom backed her head and arm out of the tent to let me up, the whole parade of my last life, including my last death came to me. And the sense of pain, of horror, of raw mental anguish soared through me. You want to know what happened?
See, that's just the thing. My last life was a tragedy in one part. One part where my fae soul never got a chance to express itself, even though Kay and I had known each other. He was still the most gorgeous male creature you'd ever care to meet, but he was far younger than my self at that time. And I was a girl. He was fully aware of who he was, even at the precocious age of 8. I listened to his fanciful stories as I was baby sitting him, listening to him "making up" fantastical images of the far off land of Cerulean.
I must have been at least 16 because I was driving. We must have been some time in the late 60's or early 70's based on the styling inside the car and the way the stereo looked (my god, AM only?). And I realize that we weren't simply the victims of fate or some bizarre accident.
We were murdered.
Something chimerical enacted the Wyrd while we were on the highway. I can't remember what sort of chimerical beast it was, but it was something that could only have come out of the Dreaming, for nothing in history or animal books looked anything like it. All I remember about it was its shear size and that it frightened the piss out of me, literally.
I swerved the car, smashing through a guard rail, flying high over an embankment and plowing the car into a lake. I had smacked my forehead into the steering wheel, and was knocked unconscious for a moment. Kay (although he was called Kerry in this life) tried to free me, but in his panic, he couldn't get me out of the seat belt, and the car was sinking fast. He finally managed to get me awake, having enacted the Wyrd himself to use his fae strength to aid him. But he was low on Glamour, and his cantrips weren't working. Finally, he kissed me on the forehead and held on to me as the water rose around the car. My spine had been broken in the crash and I couldn't move. He held me and said words that I should never have forgotten but to my shame I had.
He said to me, "Fear not, beloved. We leave this life together so that we enter the next one together. I'll find you again, Robyn. I swear it."
And just as he said it, the water pressure on the outside of the car was enough to smash in the windows, flooding us, crushing bits of glass against our faces, forcing the air from our lungs. The last memory I have is of his young body limp in my arms, his awesome eyes glassy in the shock of death. That sense of utter loneliness, utter loss, of such profound agony was the last impression I remember of that life. I turned back to the sleeping bag and cried silently, just letting tears roll down my face, roll into my pillow.
The zipper on the tent came down again, and I decided not to turn around yet. I couldn't explain this burst of emotion to Mom or Dad, and if it was Kenny coming into the tent, he'd understand only too well. Knowing what I know now, I understand a fragment of what Kay went through, all those lifetimes the two of us being separated by one accident of fate, timing or distance. The pain was almost as much as if Croaker had pierced me with Iron that night so long and so short ago.
"Rob," Kenny asked, his hand coming down on the small of my back. I turned up suddenly and embraced him. He held me back, uncertain at first at my reaction but not holding back. I inhaled loudly against his shoulder and began sobbing. Thankfully, he still had his wits about him and used a subtle cantrip to click the CD player on, to make some noise and cover the sounds of my tears.
"Oh Kay… I remember the last time. I remembered it in a dream."
"Shhhh! Shhhh! Easy, beloved," he whispered to me. "I understand. I remembered that one a while back as well."
"It must have been hideous for you," I said, still eyes streaming. "To have been so close yet…"
"Now you see why I'm so jealous about sharing you. I didn't lie to you before, Robyn. I've waited forever for you, and I'll do it again if I have to." He leaned me back from me, and wiped the tears from my eyes with his thumbs. "You've got to pull yourself together, okay? Mom and Dad are cooking lunch and you've had enough time in the sack, sleepy-head," he smiled. He stroked his fingers through my hair and I nearly shuddered from how good it felt. "We'll talk about this when we're alone. Okay?"
"Okay, Kay." I fought back the tears and pulled myself back into his embrace. "Just promise me one thing?"
"Only one thing?" he asked, that curious and amused sound in his voice.
"That if one of us goes… if one of us dies this time, that the other will follow right behind. No more of this waiting around and being reborn at different times bullshit."
"You just try and stop me from following you anywhere!" He said, a smile on his voice as well as his face. This was my fierce Kay. My proud and wise lover, my counterpoint, my harmony, my all. And in his arms, I felt there wasn't a frickin' thing we couldn't tackle and win. Not one fuckin' thing.
"Cheese?" he asked.
"On your burger, do you want cheese?"
"Yeah, you know that."
"Just checking, Robby," he said, rubbing his thumb over the end of my nose as he stood up, stooped over, to leave the tent. "Get some swim trunks on. Mom says we're going down to the beach after lunch." And he was outside telling my father that I wanted cheese, no, two pieces, crossed, on my burger. See, he did know how I liked it. God, how I love him!
I quickly scrambled into a pair of baggies, pulled one of my slacker nation T's over my head and stepped outside, my Red Sox hat whipping up to cover my head as I stepped out into the sunlight.
Dad was hard at work over a tiny Coleman stove, turning former cows into a parrot head's version of paradise, even as one of my favorite old songs was playing on the RV's stereo, an old clapping song by a band called Steeler's Wheel, "Stuck in the Middle With You." Mom and Kenny were sitting side by side singing in on the chorus, clapping and giving thumb motions at the appropriate parts. Kenny kneeled down and pantomimed during the part where the singer goes "ple-ee-ee-ee-eese!" Perfect timing on his part, hamming it up and getting a laugh from all of us.
See there's just something about old music, it hits you at times. This one was totally appropriate. Just one of those songs that makes a lot of sense for being at the beach for some reason. And the one that came on next was too, although for different reasons. "Oh ha! I just died in your arms tonight!" the radio started and Kenny was standing up by me a moment later, whisking my hat off and darting away. I immediately gave chase. He headed in a straight line for the bathroom where he handed it out to me, smiling. "Had to get you down here to wash up."
"I'd have come anyways."
"I also didn't want Mom to see that you've been crying."
"Good call," I replied, grateful that he was still looking out for me. See, there he goes again, putting my needs ahead of his own. I'm gonna marry that boy some day, no matter if I have to fly to the south pole and set up my own country there to make it legal. And between his smile and the things we'd do at night, we'd have the average mean temperature there warm enough to grow coconut trees in no time.
Hey, I can dream!
After washing up and making sure I was presentable to the parentals, we started the walk back. We weren't thinking about my sudden memory returning, or about the events of the last night, or even about fencing, strangely enough. We were just silent and giggling and pushing each other back and forth as we walked back to the campsite.
That is, we were, until three large kids stood in our path. We made to walk around them, and they moved to intercept. Well, thinking that at first it might be that awkward moment when two parties try to give each other room and move to the same side of the road, we shifted sides again. That was when they moved to block and surround us, and I noticed the look in their eyes. No mistaking that look. I've seen it a million times in both boys, girls, men, women, beasts and my fellow changelings alike. This was a challenge.
And you already know about what a challenge means to me.
"You got a problem?" I asked, thinking that I needed to speak first, try to gain an advantage early, seek to dominate him with my gregarious presence and commanding nature (well, it sounds good, at least).
"Yeah, I got a problem. You, cocksucker!" the largest of the boys said. He was easily at least 15 or 16, had about ten or fifteen kilos (about 20 or 30 pounds, geeze, get with the program here, people!) on me, weight wise, and looked like that weight was part fat, part muscle; and enough of it was muscle that the fat was just armor. He also moved well, which meant he probably played some kind of sport. I immediately discounted Soccer and Basketball. He was more the Football or Hockey type. Rough and tough.
"Robby?" Kenny said, his voice rising. His back was to mine, and he was obviously getting crowded by the other two kids in this little attack pack.
"Ooooh, his name's Robby!" the big one said, his voice mocking Kenny's. My anger notched up two places.
"Why don't you three just leave us alone before you open up something you can't possibly close."
"Ooooh, and he makes threats, too! Robby!" one of those behind me said. I felt Kenny's shoulder get pushed back, our shoulder blades rubbing. It wasn't looking good for getting out of this situation unscathed.
"Why don't you just get down on your knees right here, right now, and blow me, Faggot!"
"Because that's your mother's job, asshole!" I shot back. His face flushed red and I knew in an instant that my big mouth had just gotten us in over our heads. I prepared myself to fight.
"Boys!" My father's voice sounded very close, and sure enough, he was right behind the bigger boy, looking down on us. I might have forgotten to mention that my Dad is quite tall. Lanky, but intimidating enough when that kind of height is right behind you, suddenly talking with the assuredness of adulthood. "Best get back before the bugs fly off with your lunch. You can talk to these fellas later."
"Yeah, later, Robby!" the older one said, moving off with his escort. He made a show of digging into me with his shoulder as he passed. I was so tempted to just raise a knee to his nuts and then turn around and nail him solid on the chin with my right.
"Friends of yours?" Dad asked as the three of us returned to the camper.
"Something like that."
"Yeah, Mr. French. Robby seems to make friends where ever we go," he said, giving me a quick dig in the ribs. I gave him my patented caustic stare, the one that never seems to work and just makes people laugh. We dug into the food and quickly had polished off a plate of burgers and a big bag of potato chips, draining two drink pouches each before the pits were temporarily full. I was suddenly content to just sit in that camp chair and let sleep claim me again.
Mom had other ideas. We grabbed up our towels, loaded the cooler with the wheels and made for the beach. Kenny picked up the sabers as we went, suddenly feeling that we needed to have the best protection we could at close reach. Three on two, whether we were both changelings or not wasn't fair odds, especially since they were so much bigger than we were. And let's face it, Kenny and I were fencing gods. Put a blade in either of our hands and whatever numerical advantage those bullies might call on would vanish against raw skill and wicked deadly speed.
And no, I'm not bragging, it's just the way it is. Unless of course we're facing off against an unarmed Steven Segal or Jackie Chan or someone like that.
Anyways, the beach was fun. For those of you who don't understand how we Yankees can just charge into the lowest end of the North Atlantic without freezing solid, well, you've obviously never gone through a New England winter. Just the same, the hot sun, the heavy onshore breezes and the raw cooling power of the Atlantic iceberg (ocean for those who don't speak in metaphor) were refreshing. It's a local cultural thing, I guess. You have to live it in order to love it.
Kenny and I spent a lot of time wrestling in the water, as you pervs might imagine. And for just the reasons you are imagining. Hey, I'm not as dumb as I seem at times. And I take whatever society and their prying eyes will give me in public. Kenny and I were cautious, but we were also frisky. Fortunately, my headache was gone by then, and I had let the confrontation with the bullies totally slip from my mind.
See, I didn't care about them. I didn't know if they had seen Kenny and me doing things, or if they just said cocksucker because it's the only other word longer than five letters that they can read on the bathroom walls. They were looking for a fight, why I don't know, and to be honest I didn't care.
Kenny and I were drying off up at our spot (another beach euphemism, it's just the place we dumped our shirts, shoes, towels and cooler before charging down to the sand). Mom and Dad were walking along the shore. For those of you that know Salisbury Beach State Reservation, we were within spitting distance of the huge boulders, slabs and cast aside granite blocks that make up Black Rock Jetty, right where the Merrimack and the Atlantic bump noses. The sun was starting to head over our backs, down its westward slide. Musta been about three o'clock or so.
That's when we got jumped.
The same three bruisers from before and two more just like them, all big kids. The first one kicked me in the head from behind, knocking me my whole body length across the sand. Kenny got kicked in the ribs of his back and as he arched backwards in pain, two of the kids, who had obviously not missed many meals, got busy trying to kick the snot out of my Kenny.
I rolled over in time to avoid getting one of the biggest of the kids from landing both feet in the center of my back. He was in the perfect position for me and I didn't need to think about it to let my right leg snake forward and kick squarely into this fat boy's groin. He bent double and my left leg speared out, catching up under his chin and knocking the kid back to the sand on his own ass. I pulled a back somersault and got my feet under me as the next kid came down, a rod of what at first looked like rebar in his hand…..and then I saw what it really was.
These kids weren't here to just beat us up, they were here to kill us!
I dodged the kid with the Iron in his hand and took a huge leap up the sand slope to near Kenny's side. I didn't even try to use a bunk for the next move, either. I just pushed my own Glamour into a fast hopscotch cantrip and the double-blader flew across the open air to my hand. As I landed by Kenny's side I was armed and the two that were pummeling my Kenny were my first targets. They retreated quickly when I started raining blows down on their heads and shoulders, and I stood over my boy, spinning the double-blader, creating an area of protection around us. The bullies stayed back, afraid to feel the double-blader's blunt bite.
"Kay, you okay in there?"
"Yup!" he said, weakly but with anger in his voice. He enacted a fast cantrip as well, and the other two blades slid across the sand to his hands, again moving like they had barely visible fishing line attached to them.
"They're carrying," I said, knowing that he knew what I meant. The one with the Iron was obviously the leader, the same boy I had traded words with before. I stared him down, seeking to see who this person might be, to see if he was a changeling. But his dull eyes hid no fae soul. None of these boys did. "And they're not like us," I finished, stepping to one side of Kenny so he could stand up.
"You got your side?" he asked me.
"Yeah, I'm looking at three, one already down."
"I got two. How come you get all the fun?"
"Just lucky I guess," I said. The back of my head was really starting to hurt now. That kick hadn't rung my bell at first, but it was now starting to catch up to me. I had to shake my head to clear the cobwebs that were growing there.
"Should we give them a chance to run now, since we have them surrounded?" Kenny joked.
"Naw, let's just make 'em eat dirt!" I replied and I jumped at the first boy on my side.
He was slow, but he was heavily padded with muscle and fat. I hit him a solid blow aside the neck, hoping he'd go down. It wasn't to be. I hit him with my full changeling strength and he barely flinched. Not a good sign. But, with the double-blader, speed was more a factor than strength, so I immediately reversed my stroke and hooked behind his knees. He fell over backwards, hard. Which was good, because the joker with the Cold Iron was heading my way. I speared up at him as he came in, and he met my stroke with one of his own. I hadn't seen how long that Cold Iron bar was when he came up, now I could see that it was sword length.
That changed my whole outlook on how to deal with him. He was obviously skilled enough at fencing to parry my attacks. And as brittle and soft as Cold Iron is compared to the real deal, it's still stronger and harder than wooden dowels. The same advantage that Sky Fire usually gave me over lesser blades was working against me here.
I reversed my spin, hoping to start fooling him into thinking that I was going to try a spearing hit with my left hand blade. He fell for it straight out and as he moved to parry the thrust, I spun the blade handle hand over hand and struck an underside shot at his weapon hand. Unfortunately, I hit his elbow instead of his wrist like I had intended. Unfortunate because he had moved in while I was pulling fancy moves, stepping close enough to lay the end of the rod across my left shoulder.
Now, how can I adequately describe the pain of Cold Iron to you? Let's see. First, peel off a layer of skin so that you're down to the soft red layer, the one that's always getting exposed if you get a really deep cut. Then take a liter of hydrochloric acid and spray that all around the wound, so that it seeps into the red layer as well as burns straight through all the dermis above. Now, just after doing that, while it's still burning a new direct water route to China, flash freeze the wound, and top it all off by soaking it in salt. No, not salt water, salt. Crystal form, with its sixteen cutting edges. Now rub the salt in.
That comes fairly close to the agony of that Iron bar across my shoulder. It's like the absolute inverse of a Glamour high, since it simultaneously leaves a smoking wound and sucks the Glamour right out of you. If you ever have had someone just walk into a room and you've felt all the joy in your body (or in the room, or life in general) just gets sucked out, that's what Cold Iron feels like. My agony was so intense that I reacted blindly, smashing into the kid's face with the center of the double saber's handle, breaking his nose. I backed away, knowing that I hadn't put him away yet, but unable to just cut and run either. Kay was in as much danger from this beast as I was. Thankfully I didn't sense anymore Cold Iron anywhere near by.
He came at me in a rush, the hit to his face barely slowing him down, even though the blood poured like spring rain from his nose. This kid was clearly either extremely mental or just highly dedicated to plunging that bar into my heart. Either way, I was done playing nice changeling. This was kill or be killed time, and it was time I made use of my full advantages.
Without even thinking twice, I invoked the Dragon's Ire. My body reacted instantly, sand blasting away from my feet by the phantom wind, my skin glowing in pale fire. Raw Glamour flowed into me, infusing me with strength and stamina to match my already preternatural agility. And even that was augmented. Truly, I was now a god of battle, and this poor joker was about to snuff it, the hard way.
He came at me, the Iron bar held out in front of himself, seeking to spear me on its blunt end. Would have been a nice opening move against any other kid on the beach. But not this kid, fella!
I launched into the air, twisting my body around so that I'd land facing his back even as he reached where I should have been. To his credit, the kid took a blind strike at me, as if I were a Satyr piñata. I sailed over his head, bashing into his shoulder with one of the sabers, breaking it off where it entered the handle from the force of the blow alone. The kid stopped where he was hit and fell over, springing up almost at once, but finding that his left arm was now useless. Seemed only fair, since everything from my left arm down felt pins and needles at best. That arm was rapidly going numb, and the only chance I had was to turn the double saber into just a really long handled single blade.
He sneered at me and took a menacing step forward, advancing with the bar held out in front of himself. He was waiting and I knew what for. He knew that the hit to my shoulder was getting more and more difficult for me to ignore. It's a burning pain, you know, and it takes your attention as the fire gets more intense.
Behind him, I could see that Kay had already dealt with one opponent, and was busy smacking his way past the other one's upraised arms. If I could hold this bruiser off for a few moments more, I might be able to keep him distracted long enough for Kay to finish him. At least, that was the plan.
But he wasn't going to let me have that much time. Even though I was weakening fast, he sought to do me in on his own terms, not the Iron's. He swung in, keeping his injured arm back. That was another advantage he had. That arm would recover from the force of my hit in a short time. Cold Iron burns into the soul, and that takes more time to heal. I parried the bar with the back end of what was now the tube steal handled single blade. Where I picked up that trick I'll never know, but while the rod was there, I spun under, came around behind him and stroked the remaining blade across the backs of his knees so fast I barely felt the stick strike. He dropped to his knees and cried out, leaning forward in the sand on his good arm, the Cold Iron bar temporarily forgotten.
End it quickly, something in me was screaming, and I was already into the tight vertical spin that would gather speed and strength and energy for my almost automatic next move, a decapitation blow across the back of the neck. My injured fae soul was already gathering all of the Dragon's Ire to concentrate on the blade, to make it practically indestructible, as Croaker had done, but also to give the blade a true vorpal edge. Harder than diamond, stronger than steel, sharper than a pinhole laser, and as irresistible as the pull of the Earth itself. I was ready to kill.
And I brought that blade down directly on the center of his neck, striking between two knobs of neck vertebrae, the weak spot. In any other situation, that move would have sliced through the neck so fast that the body wouldn't even bleed for a good three seconds, muscles clenching against the sting of my edge. Countless times in the past I've done it (well, Robyn has, at any rate). It was almost as automatic a killing stroke as reaching for your zipper when you get near a urinal in a bathroom.
Yet I stayed the blow. Just as the dowel touched his neck, I retracted the Dragon's Ire. The blow was just hardwood against flesh. The kid crumpled to the sand anyways, knocked out cold. Kenny had just polished off the last on his side and rushed to me. The smoking wound was obvious to those with the eyes to see. He came over and pushed my blue blade into my hand, which let me drop the heavy remains of the double-ender. Without both blades it was unwieldy anyways, off balance.
"Robby!" he said, glancing around. "Who?"
"Big boy there. He had a sword sized chunk of Cold Iron. Got in a lucky hit."
"Let's get you down to the water."
"We have to wash the Iron out of the wound, and the salt will help heal you."
I really wasn't in much of a position or a mood to argue with him. He took me down to the water's edge and peeled my T-shirt off. The burning around the wound seemed to dissipate and he had me lay down in the shallows with him. I got to admit, the cold water felt good on the burn, even if it stung a little. Kenny just held my shoulder under the waves, my head against his tight belly, his knees supporting me.
"You see, sometimes, when the smith makes Cold Iron, they make it a certain way. Something in how it's tempered, I guess, that makes the outer surface powdery when not sealed."
"So?" I whimpered.
"So the wounds always get some Iron powder in them, making them burn for far longer than they should after a hit. Fortunately, your shirt absorbed a lot of the powder, kept it off your skin."
"Guess this means I'll need to find some elective other than industrial arts next year."
"Guess so. Okay, lemme see how bad it is," he ordered. I sat up and couldn't see his face. But Kenny and me, we communicate on a whole different level. I heard his sharp intake of breath and the slight shudder that ran through his hands as he touched me. That was all I needed to know to understand that the wound was bad.
"Will I need a doctor?"
"I don't know. I've never seen Iron damage like this before. I've heard about some of the gruesome wounds it makes, but… Robby, I'm almost afraid to say you don't need a doctor, but I'm not even sure they'd know what to do."
"Well, that's enough for me. How can we get the wound treated?"
"Caspian would know."
"He's back in Canterbury, though."
"Yeah, I know. You'll heal faster if we go into the Dreaming."
"I dunno how, it just works faster there."
"No, how do we get into the Dreaming?"
"Outside a freehold, or on an established trod, I don't know."
"Then we have to get to Canterbury and the freehold there."
"Robby, I don't know if we can do that without your parents knowing. There's no other way to explain."
"There is another way, young changeling." We both turned our heads to the sound of this new comer, totally unprepared to fight again. Our blades were up above the tide line, and we were both sitting down hip deep in the ocean. The new speaker was tall and lean, with the dark skin and facial features of a North African Arab. He had an expression that said he knew exactly what we were and what agony I was in. "If you but trust me for a moment, we can get that shoulder fixed."
"How?" we asked as one.
"Go into the Men's bathroom. Third stall. All will be answered there."
"Look, pal," Kenny said, standing up. He still wasn't anywhere near a physical match for the Arab. "We don't fall for the dirty old man in the bathroom routine. And if you think you can prey on innocent kids on this beach now that we know…"
"Oh, you think I mean to seduce you, to trap you?" He seemed to get a laughing expression to his eyes but held his laughter inside. "Oh Gaia, you are very charming, Eshu. But I am not the kind to molest children. Even children that aren't of this Earth."
Kenny and I exchanged glances. I nodded, letting Kenny know that it was his call. I was in too much agony to be in control right now. Besides, this person knew we were changelings. That had to be a good thing, I hoped.
"Third stall," the tall, skinny Arab said, walking off. Kenny scooped me up under my right arm and helped me to my feet.
"We may regret this, but this is the right path, Robby. We've got nothing to lose."
"Just everything," I managed to croak out. My shoulder was still swimming in acid as far as I was concerned. A long, burn mark pierced the flesh there. Thankfully the smoking had stopped.
"Sometimes, beloved, you gottah take a chance."
"I know. Let's make it quick then, before Mom and Dad get back."