One Last Tale
Not too many years ago there was a young man who had the world at his fingertips and he knew it. He was the eldest son of a wealthy merchant, pampered and catered to his entire life. Now, this was not an evil young man, not really, but he was a generally selfish and uncaring lad, blind to the needs of others in favor of his own comfort.
He was set to marry the daughter of an influential farmer, a sweet and pretty young thing, but that did not stop him from chasing the skirts of any maiden who wandered too close to his snatching hands. He knew being the eldest meant he would inherit his father’s lands and stores, and by rights of marriage he would be given plenty of farming land to call his own—all in all, the life laid out for him was such an easy one he never thought to learn how to live it. He dictated servants to complete his chores in secret, swindled tutors into completing assignments for him, and honed no skills but the one of his silvered lying tongue.
Like most of his peers the young man wiled away his youth gambling, drinking, and whoring. He never learned to fight with his fists, always able to talk his way out of this brawl or that. Often when he finished courting Lady Luck he would seek out some unlucky lady; he would charm her with a pretty word or two and after a passionate tumble would steal away before she could wake in the morning, leaving behind nothing more than a wistful memory and a false name (and surely more than one little bastard, but that was never really his problem, now was it). One such night, after sneaking from the bedroom of a lovely girl from the next town over, the youth lost his way in the woods, his mind full of his latest lover’s cherry lips and ample bosom rather than the dark and twisted trees before him.
Now, this thick headed young man was not completely without sense and knew if he found the river he could follow it to his home. Deeper into the woods he ventured, giving no heed to the darkness that blanketed his path seeming to almost choke the moonlight from his eyes. Still, this cocksure fool was unconcerned, too arrogant to be afraid of the darkness that would send any sensible person searching for a torch and the way out.
Finally, after what impossibly seemed like hours in what he was so sure was only a small forest before his lover’s jaunt, he caught the scent of water logged weeds and followed it until he spied a small open lake. The area was alien to him, but he knew he didn’t travel that far for his dalliance (lazy as he was), so shrugging and hoping a closer look would point him in the right direction he pushed his way through the brambles, earning himself a deep X shaped slash below his right eye.
(What? Yes, very much like the scar I have myself. In fact, quite identical.)
As he neared the water’s edge he finally became aware of a prickling down his spine, a chill in his bones…and a golden voice singing the most beautiful song he ever heard. Seated on a mossy log with her toes dipped in the water was a young woman with long honey hair and wide innocent eyes. She paused in her tune and trembled as the young man approached her, obviously lost in the woods herself. The young man thought himself lucky that he could be her hero, and imagined what tasty rewards she would so gratefully yield to him when he brought them both out of the woods.
He smiled and slowly approached, hands open to show no weapons and no ill intents (that she could see anyway). “Hello, are you lost as well? I was bringing my dear old granny some dinner and seem to have lost my way. May I sit with you?” The young woman nodded and smiled shyly. “I hope I didn’t frighten you,” he went on, “but I heard your singing and I just had to see what kind of a creature possessed such a lovely voice.” His words oozed tenderness and affection, his smile radiated a wholesomeness he no longer possessed. He sat on the log, far enough to seem unthreatening, but close enough to encourage her to lean into him once his words had worked their magic. “What’s your name?” he inquired, a pseudonym on his own lips in case she asked for the same. She smiled again, and shook her head softly.
Ah. Strangers in the dark, then—this was turning out to be a fortuitous night for our rake.
The young man began to unleash his silver tongue of compliments and false tales of home; his made up ailing father and mother, his simple minded but sweet hearted brother and crippled sister—all dependent on him, of course. He spoke of all the chores he had to do to keep everyone healthy and happy as could be, all the backbreaking hard work he endured, all the woman he bedded while his virtuous fiancée waited for him in her own home, all the times he cheated at cards and swindled poorer men from their hard earned money.
The young man shook his head and laughed—he tried to tell the young woman he was mixed up from spending the night telling his granny fantastic tales of heroes past, but instead of his pretty lies only more ugly truths continued to fall from his lips.
The time he pissed in his father’s ale for selling a dog he liked; the time he dared his youngest sister to climb the highest tree so she broke her collarbone when she fell and blamed it on one of the unfortunate servant boys; the time when he made little Johnny—
He clapped his hands over his treacherous mouth and stared at the being in front of him, realizing far too late that this was no mortal woman. She smiled wider and wider until the man was sure she was going to rip through his throat with her glittering teeth. The young man was frozen, staring into the face of his doom and cursing his weak willed mind for suddenly up and forgetting every last prayer he ever lazily memorized at church.
A quiet polite cough from behind him was enough of a shock in the face of certain death that he, foolish foolish thing, tore his eyes from the woman in front of him and whipped around to see another fairy creature, this one a petite horned woman, lounging against the trunk of an old oak tree.
(Of course it was Rue, clever clogs, who else would dare enter my story right now?)
“Karina,” the horned lady addressed the creature next to the young man, “I want this one, thank you.”
The Rusalka, for the man finally could see the being for what it was, objected to having her prey taken from her. “But my Lady,” she whined “he is mine by your rights! I didn’t magic him here, I didn’t do anything but sit and sing and he came to me with lies and impure intentions.”
The fairy stared hard at the Rusalka for a moment, then stood up. And up. And UP, until she seemed to tower among the very tree tops herself—looking impossibly taller than she had just a moment ago nestled among the great tree roots. “I never said you did anything wrong, I never said you were in trouble, I only said I wanted him. And if I want him, I will take him, and you will thank me for it.”
The Rusalka stared defiantly at the fairy before her, obviously torn between keeping her prize and obeying the imposing figure. Well she must have hesitated just a moment too long as the horned fairy, in turn, answered the Rusalka’s stare with a tight smile and snapped her fingers. The young man backed away horrified as he watched the beautiful young woman in front of him twist and contort and fade before his eyes. The lovely creature was no longer there, before him now was the ghost of a woman formed of water and weeds, looking ashamed and frightened.
The water spirit sadly reached a hand out to the young man, who recoiled in horror, then turned to the horned fairy ( who was now just barely as tall as he) and bowed low before diving into the black waters, disappearing into the night.
“Well. That was stupid of her.” The young fairy turned a fanged grin to the young man “Are you stupid, too?”
The young man fell to his knees to say he most certainly was not stupid, but found instead his traitor tongue wailing that he was the most foolish, the most thoughtless rascal, the worst scum to walk Oerth, a shame to the name his father bestowed on him, and a pestilence to his beloved. The youth slammed his mouth shut with a click that nearly lacerated half his tongue and felt his cheeks flame with shame as the fairy laughed at his pained expression. “Get up, and go sit on that log,” was her command and the youth hurried to obey. “You will not move an inch until I come back, I will know if you do.” With that she vanished.
The man sat on that chilly log, half of his instincts screaming at him to spring up and run far from the lake, the other half keeping him firmly rooted to the spot because where could he run to for safety? After what seemed an age and a day the fairy popped back in front of him, munching on a shiny red apple. “Your sweetheart has a very nice orchard,” her words were muffled by the juicy fruit, “shame you’ll never get to see it again.”
The man, oh the fool the fool, sprang up and wildly began to threaten the fairy—if she hurt one hair on his sweetheart’s fair head he would—
“Ha! Would do what?” the fairy taunted him, staring him down as she took another bite of her apple. “You have no iron, and don’t think your pretty lies work on me. Besides, why would I hurt her—she didn’t do anything wrong.” The youth’s head spun. But, then , why would he never see her again?
“Because you’re awful.” The fairy continued to eat while the youth looked at her in puzzlement. “What?” she asked his confusion, “You think you can just toy with anyone you wish and get away with it? You had one chance, why should you get two? There is a very nice carpenter who has loved her from afar, his trade is growing and I made sure she and her family noticed it. He’s very sweet, I like him. He’ll make a much better husband and father than you ever will.” The fairy chucked her finished core into the woods, “I’m sure you thought you would settle down once you wed, but we both know you would start up your old ways soon enough. I’ve seen plenty like you, but you’re at least not completely hopeless. Would you like to belong to me, instead?”
“Yes, my Lady, “ the youth answered before he could think, surprised at the offer and beyond thankful to escape a treacherous end this night.
The fairy smiled, “You’ll do my bidding and serve me as I please?”
“Yes, my Lady,” the young man answered again, feeling himself puff up with pride if such an important creature wanted him for her own. He had heard tales of what fairies wanted from mortals, and truthfully could think of worse ways to spend his life. In fact, even if she grew tired of him in decades and discarded him back to this realm he would still have his youth and charm.
The smile grew wider, and fangs glinted in the moonlight, “So you are mine now?”
“Yes, my Lady,” he answer a third and final time, sealing his fate. If only he had the sense of the blacksmith but his thoughts were clouded with imagined luxuries he knew would shame the ones he found in his father’s house.
“Good. Now go away and tell everyone you meet what happened tonight.” The fairy turned as if to walk away.
“I…what? I don’t understand.”
“Go. Away. And. Tell. Everyone. About. This. Night.” The fairy spoke slowly and loudly, while gesturing, as if speaking to a particularly dense child. “Whatever else would I want you for?”
“Well…” the embarrassed youth trailed off as the fairy erupted into peals of laughter.
“What? You thought I’d take you on as a lover and play thing? I doubt very much my husband would allow you two steps through the door! True I want you for your silvery tongue, but not for pillow talk! Go and tell this story and when I give you more tales tell them far and wide.”
“But, why, my Lady?” The youth sagged, the puffed up peacock reduced to a lowly cockerel, and resigned himself to his fate; he knew for once there was no getting himself out of the mess he had created.
A hardened look came over the fairy’s face, and just briefly the youth considered biting off his own tongue to save him from more trouble. “Because I said so. Now go.” With those final words the fairy vanished and left the youth alone in the night. She was not wholly unkind—he found next to him a large rucksack filled with provisions and some money, enough to get him from one inn to the next (although as he never cared to budget before he was ignorant to just how generous she was).
The youth followed the river upstream and before he knew it he was out of the dark woods and in the bright morning light, striding across the green common of a village he had never seen before. He wandered to the nearest inn and bought himself breakfast where the barkeeper noticed his thoughtful silence and asked him about his troubles. Before he could stop himself the events from last evening came pouring out of him, and soon enough he had a sizable audience coaxing him to tell more. Well, the youth was surprised to hear himself tell story after story of the Fairy Queen he met the previous night, until finally the last words faded and he admitted that was all he knew. More than a few kind souls placed coins next to his plate, and more so offered to pay for his room for the coming evening if he could think up anything more by then.
And so the feckless young man finally learned to keep his word, and traveled near and far to spread tales of Rue and other such sagas he picked up along the way.
And that, I am sad to say my friends, is the end for the fire is gone and my tongue is as empty of adventures as my cup is of wine. Oh, don’t cry my little ones—just keep one ear to the winds because you never know when I’ll blow into town again with a new tale to tell.