A/N: I wrote this story for my English class, and I thought I might as well post it up here too. :) So here it is. I hope you like it. I went over the page limit for the actual assignment, but at least here there's no limit. *winks* Thank goodness.
Grumbling to himself, Dinadan hitched his hood up over his head again. Despite that the rain soaked right through it, it gave him a small measure of comfort. Not that there was much to be had in the first place. He was plodding along on one of the worst nags that Camelot had to offer, in the rain, in armor that seemed to be getting heavier and heavier with each rattling step the horse took, in his second-best cloak. Dinadan had long ago stopped trying to get the horse to even out its gait. The bloody thing stubbornly refused to listen to him. Its mother must have been a donkey, he thought sourly. No wonder Arthur had given it to him—he probably thought that they would be well matched. Arthur thought Dinadan was an ass too.
Dinadan sighed heavily and slumped down into his saddle as far as his stiff armor would allow. Just one little joke, he thought mutinously. And it hadn't even been that important either. Who could have known that the Queen would get so upset about seeing Dinadan on his knees, fluttering his eyelashes at Lancelot to tease him and asking him to marry him. The Queen had barged into their garden area just as Lancelot had laughed and pulled him to his feet, slapping him on the back and chuckling. He knew it was a joke, Dinadan thought grumpily. And shouldn't his Queen have too? She knew that that was what he did—he was a prankster, much like Dagonet, the king's fool. She usually laughed at his jokes and pranks. But she had been deadly serious when she had told him never to approach Lancelot again, or even to come back to Camelot.
He had refused the urge to go tell Arthur about her unreasonable behavior. She had been vibrating with anger, and he hadn't wanted to risk the thought of getting near her. She could leave the marks of her hands on a person's cheeks for hours. Dinadan had no desire to have his queen smack him silly. But obviously Dinadan's restraint in not going to the king hadn't pertained to the king's lady. Guinevere had immediately rushed off to her husband and with fluttering lashes and women's guile she had persuaded Arthur to expel Dinadan from the court.
It was bad enough that Dinadan had been expelled from court. The one bright part of the whole debacle was that Arthur had only sent him on a "quest". Arthur had told him privately that it was only an excuse to let Guinevere have time to calm down. Which didn't make him any warmer, or drier, at the moment. But he would eventually be allowed to return to court, once he had something to show from his quest. Gloomily, he wondered what he could possibly return to Camelot with. Galahad had already brought back the Grail, but Dinadan wasn't aiming to be anything like Galahad. He might have been Lancelot's son, but he was a frightful bore, in Dinadan's opinion. He might have been able to sit in the Siege Perilous, but that didn't make him any more capable of taking a joke. And someone who couldn't laugh or take a joke in Dinadan's opinion wasn't worth paying any attention to.
Dinadan was jarred from his thoughts when his horse abruptly broke into a loping canter. Since he hadn't particularly been hanging on—the horse hadn't moved at more than walk for hours—he promptly tumbled backwards over the horse's rump and into a puddle of mud. He grunted as the masses of armor that he wore clanked around him and banged painfully against his chilled skin. He considered his options for a moment. He could remain lying here face-down in the mud, and hope that maybe he could come up with a better plan later. Lying in the mud did have its good points—he wasn't bouncing everywhere from that bloody horse. On the other side, he could get up and actually find the bloody horse so he wouldn't have to walk home. Or wherever he was going, for that matter.
Dinadan sighed heavily and started muttering curses as he tried to lever himself to his feet. "Stupid nag," he snarled to himself, his arms straining as he tried to get to his feet. But the pounds of armor were too hard to move from a lying position, and he slumped back into the mud. This time he didn't move, just closed his eyes. Well, this isn't the most dignified position I've ever been in, he thought with a sigh. But at least it's comfortable. After a fashion.
He didn't know how long he lay there before he felt something nudge his shoulder. Assuming that it was his horse, come back to check on its fallen rider, he merely grumbled at it. "Go away," he muttered. "Don't want to see you, stupid horse."
There was a moment of silence, then a masculine voice drawled, "Well there. Don't look like you'll be seeing much there, laddie, with that mop of mud in your face."
Dinadan's head snapped up so hard he could have sworn he heard a bone pop. He craned his neck around to try to look at the person who was standing beside him. But he didn't see a pair of feet anywhere.
"Looking for me?" The voice called again cheerfully, but this time from a different position.
Dinadan scowled. He felt like a turtle trapped on its back. He was lying half on his sword—it was an impossibility to draw it and ably defend himself from his position. Instead he carefully rolled to his back and stared up at the sky. It was still drizzling slightly, although most of the rain had gone now. He wondered absently how long he had been lying in the road. Then he twisted his head around, looking for the mysterious speaker.
"Right here, I am," the voice called again, and his head whipped around. This time he actually saw the person, and his eyes widened in surprise. It was a man of exceptional height, but without the bulkiness that Dinadan associated with very tall men. This man was slight and wiry, and his clothes were impeccable. He had silvery blond hair, and merry sapphire eyes that seemed to glint down at Dinadan with mischief. He was sitting on a branch in a tree beside Dinadan, swinging his legs idly as he waited for Dinadan to find him with his eyes. For a moment Dinadan frowned, trying to think why the man's features looked so familiar. But it was the ears that told Dinadan who he was speaking to.
"You're an elf," he blurted out before he could curb his tongue.
Instead of looking insulted, the man merely looked amused, as if Dinadan were a small child who had said something particularly amusing to an adult. He swung his legs again, then drifted lightly to the ground and strolled over to where Dinadan was still sprawled in the mud, his hands shoved into his pockets. "Aye, I guess you could call me that. But mostly we're called the Daoine Sidhe. Sounds a bit prettier that way."
"You're not from around here." Dinadan narrowed his eyes. "You have an accent."
The man winked broadly. "Aye, that I do, laddie. So it's the accent that truly upsets you, not the fact that I'm a supernatural creature?"
"Of course not," Dinadan muttered, feeling an unaccountable flutter in his chest. He knew that the Daoine Sidhe were pranksters, much as he himself was. Only the consequences of the Daoine Sidhe's pranks were much more serious than his. He struggled again, trying to get off his back, as the sidhe lord watched him in a mixture of amusement and blatant fascination.
"And why is it that you wear those ugly pieces of metal?" The lord asked him curiously. "Surely not for protection."
"Of course that's why we wear it." Dinadan had to force himself not to be curt. Annoying one of the sidhe was never a good idea. Especially when you were flat on your back in mud that sucked you back down every time you tried to get up. Doggedly, he continued to struggle before the sidhe lord sighed in exasperation. "Ye gods, lad. Here. Let me help you." He held out his hand, and Dinadan eyed it with misgiving. No sidhe gift was without a price. But he didn't see any other way to get up, and he hated seeing the sidhe lord loom over him the way that he was. But considering that he was flat on his back, pretty much everyone would loom over him. That didn't make it any less palatable. Reluctantly, he reached out and let the sidhe lord haul him to his feet.
Dinadan's feel scrabbled in the mud, looking for purchase. A moment later, he steadied himself, then looked up at the sidhe lord, feeling like his breath was sawing in and out of his lungs. But the sidhe lord looked completely unruffled, as if he had merely picked up a daisy instead of man swathed in iron.
"What's your name?" Dinadan asked suspiciously.
The lord smiled condescendingly at him. "There's power in a name, lad. And what things I should give such a gift to you? Seems like you owe me your name now."
Dinadan narrowed his eyes. "There's power in a name," he retorted. "And you are—as you said—a magical creature. God knows what you could do with my name."
The creature laughed delightedly. "What a quick wit you have, young lad! I think I'm beginning to be quite fond of you."
Dinadan grumbled. "Likewise, I'm sure." But his voice was irritated, rather than pleased, as the lord's was.
The lord chuckled to himself for another moment. "Very well then. I shall give you mine if you give me yours. Is this a fair proposal to you?"
Dinadan sighed and rolled his eyes. "It's fair."
The lord smiled and nodded. "Very well then. My name is Finvarra. And yours, lad?"
"I'm not a lad," Dinadan muttered rebelliously, then answered, "My name is Dinadan."
Finvarra looked pleased. "Well then, Master Dinadan. Looks like you're in the way of being indebted to me."
Dinadan blinked, then opened his mouth in protest. "For what?You pulled me out of the mud! That's not anything!"
Finvarra merely smiled mischievously and wagged a finger at Dinadan. "Now now. No one ever said it had to be a great favor—merely a favor. I require one in return, young master."
Dinadan set his jaw stubbornly. "I don't think this is particularly fair," he grumped to no one in particular.
Finvarra smiled, but there was something predatory about his smile now. "No one ever said that the Daoine Sidhe were fair, young master Dinadan. In fact, we take great pride in doing the opposite."
"Having dishonor?" Dinadan retorted, the remark slipping out before he could censor it. To his relief, the creature didn't seem offended, nearly smiled indulgently.
"Honor is something that humans concern themselves with. It fills up your short days with something to worry about. We immortals are not touched by such petty concerns."
Dinadan frowned, then realized abruptly that he was sounding much too like Galahad to suit him. When he considered the thought, he found it to be true. If Galahad were here, he would probably be whining and spouting off that fairies were creatures of the devil. And Dinadan wasn't far of that mark. Only he was just complaining about having to do something in return for the fairy's assistance. Even though the fairy was probably the one who had spooked his horse in the first place. Fairies had always been a strange lot.
"What is it that you want me to do?" Dinadan asked, his voice resigned. He adjusted one of his shoulder plates that had slid down toward his elbow, then glanced back up at the sidhe lord again.
Finvarra looked pleasantly surprised. "Well, well, Master Dinadan. It seems there are depths to you that I did not see before."
"Yeah right," Dinadan muttered. "I'm a regular wishing well. What was it that you needed?"
Finvarra laughed, his laughter making a chill run up Dinadan's spine. Despite the physical beauty of the creature, he was still a creature of magic—one who loved mischief and all the problems it caused. It wasn't wise to tamper with such creatures. And as Finvarra had said himself, fairies did not concern themselves with such mortal ideas as honor or fairness. "Very well, little master. I wished that you would retrieve for me a chess set."
Dinadan blinked at him. "A chess set?" he echoed blankly.
Finvarra smiled at him again. "Yes," he said calmly. "I am quite fond of it. Keeps my ladies quite entertained."
"A chess set," Dinadan repeated again, his voice carefully blank.
Finvarra arched one perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "Yes, young master. Would there be some difficulty in retrieving me a chess set?"
"Any particular one?" Dinadan asked, wondering if it could be so easy.
"No," Finvarra said cheerfully. "Any will do."
Dinadan eyed him suspiciously, then shrugged. "If that's the way that you want me to return your favor, then I will. Where should I meet you to give you the chess set?"
"Here," Finvarra said promptly. "Three days hence."
Dinadan snorted. "I don't think it will take me three days to find a chess set."
Finvarra just smiled secretively. "We shall see, young master." Then he waggled his fingers at Dinadan and blew him a teasing kiss. "Until the next three moons rise, young master Dinadan." Then he was simply gone. No flash of light, no burst of thunder. He was simply gone.
Dinadan stared at the place where he had stood for a moment, then shook himself. "Damned interfering fairies," he muttered rebelliously under his breath, looking around. He immediately saw that at some point when he was still on the horse that they had entered a forest, and that there was a tiny cave off to his left, nearly hidden by a thicket. He sighed. He should have remembered his mother's stories about the Daoine Sidhe. Otherwise he might not be in this mess. He looked around for his horse again, hoping that somehow the stupid animal had chosen to stay around. Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be seen.
Grumbling beneath his breath, Dinadan started trudging back the way he had come, towards the closest village, hoping that someone had a bloody chess set they were willing to part with.
Three days later, Dinadan was sitting slumped against a tree trunk, half falling asleep. He had long since discarded his armor—it had gone to pay for Finvarra's chess set, in fact. Once he had found a chess set, he had reached into his cloak for his money only to find that the interfering fairy had actually pinched Dinadan's money while he was helping him up. Then it had taken him several more hours, whilst trudging around in his heavy, damp armor, to find someone who would actually buy his armor. Considering that there wasn't a high demand for armor like his, it had taken quite a while to persuade the blacksmith to actually buy his armor. Then when he had come back to the family selling the chess set, they had abruptly decided that he looked like an easy mark and tried to weasel more money out of him.
When he had flatly refused to pay them more, they had flatly refused to give him the set. They had abruptly found their scruples and had told him in piteous voices that the chess set had belonged to some doddering old grandfather that had recently gone on "to a better place". It was quite a feat that they hadn't remembered that when he had first come around. It had taken almost all of his three days to finally wear down their resistance, and then he had had to walk back to the clearing where he had met Finvarra three days ago. He had barely had any sleep, and less food, and he didn't want to have this meeting with the irritating fairy. He wanted to go to sleep, and eat. Not in that particular order.
He had just fallen into a light doze when someone tapped him politely on the shoulder. He jerked, his eyes flying open to see Finvarra leaning over him and smiling down at him. "Well well, Master Dinadan. Tired, are we?"
"Exhausted," Dinadan growled, withdrawing the battered chess set from his cloak and shoving it towards Finvarra. "Here's your set."
Finvarra took it in his hands as if it were made of gold. He reverently turned the battered, nearly colorless board over in his hands, plainly admiring it. Then he glanced back towards Dinadan, who had almost fallen asleep again while Finvarra inspected the board and pieces. "You did very well, Master Dinadan. Much better than I had expected you to."
"Why?" Dinadan grumbled. "It's just a beat-up old board that belonged to some stodgy old guy."
Finvarra smiled secretively. "But that is its power, Master Dinadan. The power of age is a great one. Gold is just the blood of the earth—knowledge comes from sentient beings. . .like me, or yourself."
Dinadan blinked sleepily up at him through a mop of his hair. "So you'd rather have that shoddy old board that say, a board and set made of gold."
Finvarra smiled. "You are a quick one, Master Dinadan. Gold glitters and is pleasant to the eye, but the man with knowledge in his hands and mind will win every time. I should know—I have never lost a match."
"Bully for you," Dinadan mumbled, his eyes drifting closed again.
Sighing with impatience, Finvarra nudged Dinadan with his toe. "Wake up, lazy human."
"Not lazy," Dinadan muttered. "Tired."
"Yes well. You may sleep later. I have another offer for you."
"Can't trust the fairies," Dinadan mumbled. "Mum said so."
Finvarra looked amused. "Yes, well obviously your mother is a wise woman. However, I think you will be interested in my proposal."
"Go ahead and talk," Dinadan murmured. "Listening. Honest."
Finvarra rolled his eyes. "How I ever got stuck with you is a mystery," he muttered to himself.
Dinadan smiled. "Just lucky, I guess," he answered dreamily, and Finvarra rolled his eyes.
"Listen, you lumbering mortal. I will give you something that will make your king open his court to you again with open arms."
Dinadan's eyes flew open. "Catch?" he asked suspiciously.
Finvarra smiled charmingly. "Why should there be a catch?"
Dinadan just stared levelly at him until Finvarra sighed. "Oh, very well. I would like for you to buy me chess pieces whenever I ask you to."
"That's it?" Dinadan asked dubiously, then remembered his trouble with finding this board. But when weighed against the chance of going home—back to his warm bed and a warm woman—it wasn't a hard choice to make. "Very well," he sighed. "I'll be your chess boy."
Finvarra smiled. "Excellent." He offered Dinadan a hand to rise, and Dinadan glared at him.
"Don't think so," he muttered, and Finvarra laughed.
"There's no price attached to it, Master Dinadan. Our business is concluded—for now."
Dinadan sighed and allowed Finvarra to pull him to his feet. Finvarra smiled at him, then Dinadan's nag came lumbering out of the woods to stop in front of Finvarra. He stroked its nose and murmured softly in a language that Dinadan neither heard nor understood, and the nag settled. Finvarra clapped Dinadan warmly on the shoulder. "Go well with you, Master Dinadan."
"Where's this thing that will get me back to court?" Dinadan asked suspiciously, and Finvarra smiled.
"Check your pockets when you are away," he said simply, and Dinadan nodded shortly, wanting nothing more than to leave. He swung up onto the nag and urged it forward, wincing at the jostle he had almost forgotten was associated with the horse. He barely waited until they had cleared the forest's edge before he rummaged through his pockets. He felt the smooth edge of something that felt like metal, then slid it out of his pocket and gaped. It was a large round disk, made completely of gold. Etched into the gold were various figures and flowers. And emblazoned upon it were the words Scire est triumphare.
Grinning broadly—Arthur would definitely let him back into court since he was carrying fairy gold—Dinadan spurred his mount forward then had to submit as the nag merely plodded forward at the same pace. From a hill above him, Finvarra smiled mockingly and saluted the boy, then disappeared, leaving only the lonely wind on the hill.