Written for Wobblygoblin on her birthday.
The Lad of the Lake
Scowling, Alairn hiked up the stupid ass sword the captain of Behr's guard had foisted on him the same day Behr had insisted that questing was just the thing that Alairn needed to get over their parents' death.
Of course, Alarin wasn't stupid, questing was also a good way to get rid of a tiresome younger brother who might prove a threat to the throne Behr was trying to inherit. No one would get too suspicious over an 'accident' that befell Alairn while questing.
In fact, Alairn was pretty sure that not a soul in the kingdom would be overly surprised or shocked to discover that a dragon had stepped on him or that he'd been squashed by an ogre or something. He wasn't exactly wowing the populace with his princely stature or broad bulking chest.
Shifting the too big armor that his uncle Rhaki insisted he take with him, Alairn deliberately stepped off the beaten path that led down the middle of the forest. Staying on the beaten path was going to get him killed.
Behr wanted him dead. Not, of course, that it was anything personal. Alairn snorted. There was a ten year age gap between them, and he'd never been particularly close to Behr because of it. However, Behr probably would have been content to leave him to his own devices if it weren't for Uncle Rhaki.
Rhaki wanted to drug him and make him a semi-conscious puppet to the state. He wasn't the only one, but he was the one with the most strategies in play and the closest connection to the throne. That Alairn really wanted to have nothing to do with him or Behr or the bloody throne was a moot point. Puppet kings weren't really all that valued for being able to express their own opinions.
Really? All Alairn wanted was to live with his faculties intact to see his next birthday.
A nasty patch of nettles, three hidden mud puddles and a particularly vicious looking ground squirrel, however, eventually coaxed him back onto the well worn path. He just hoped the detour was enough to have thrown the somewhat inept assassins and clumsy kidnappers behind him off his trail.
Of course, that would have meant that his luck would have changed, and really, why should the world be working in his favor like that when it hadn't the other eighteen years of his life? Taking a quick glance behind him, Alairn spotted the clumsy kidnapper that Rhaki had hired. That an arrow landed on tree twenty feet from him confirmed that the inept assassins weren't too far behind. On one hand, he was thankful that both Behr and Rhaki were so incredibly cheap that they'd hired the lousiest examples the Assassin's Guild and the Mercenary Guild had to offer up. On the other hand, he was vaguely insulted that they thought him such a small threat that a couple of twitterpatted Neanderthals would be able to take him out with ease.
Hauling the sword up so that he wouldn't trip himself with it again, Alairn ran. Maybe whatever traps and tricks were on this Questor Path would take down his enemies before it did him. Although, after about ten minutes of running, he was out of breath, had a blister on his shoulder from where the too bulky armor had rubbed it wrong, and he'd run straight into a pond without realizing it.
Marshy grasses had covered up the water's edge, and Alairn found himself stuck in mud as he tried to backtrack his way out. The stupid ornamental boots that were about two sizes too big for his feet were lodged solidly in the muck. And the visor on his helmet refused to stay up long enough for him to juggle the sword around so he could attempt to pull each boot up at a time.
Lovely. Just lovely. Maybe Behr and Rhaki hadn't been all that unjustified in thinking him an easy prey not worth the gold it would take to hire first rate lackeys. At this point, he might as well serve himself up on a platter for all the good running away was doing him.
"Looks like you're a bit stuck there."
Jerking at the voice in his ear, Alairn lost his balance and tumbled the rest of the way into the shin deep water. "Who the hell are you?" he snapped, not feeling particularly personable given the circumstances as he wiped the water and weeds out of his eyes.
"Tioth. And this is my lake that you're mutilating here with all that armor." Tioth grinned and Alairn contemplated briefly on using the sword on him. Seeing as how Tioth was taller than him (and really, who wasn't?) he doubted it would be a good idea as he still couldn't move. In fact, Tioth was built much like the typical Questor. He had the muscular build, the trim waist. Blond hair, blue eyes. Honestly, slap a crown on the man and he would have made a much better prince than Alairn.
Of course, there were one or two things that contradicted that image. Alairn could see the pointy ears peeking out from behind blond curls that were actually a sort of blondish green as opposed to pure blond. His clothes were an elaborate costume of blue-green silk that vaguely resembled exotic seaweed as it draped over Tioth's shoulders. Pearls dotted his collar and shells decorated the long cape he was wearing. Given the mischievousness in Tioth's eyes as well, Alairn suspected he'd just stumbled upon one of the Questor's Tests. Joy.
Just what he needed, of course. A fairy that was manlier than him. Scowling all the more, he pulled the helmet off his head and deliberately dropped it in the pond. It was a family heirloom. His father had worn it when he'd been Alairn's age, which was the only reason that it hadn't been shucked and left behind long before now. But Alairn had had enough. "You gotta problem with my armor?"
Tioth raised an eyebrow. "Only so much as it's metal and it's in my lake. Not to mention you're in my lake, and it's bad manners not to introduce yourself when you enter someone's home."
"Oh your home," Alairn mocked, "I'm so sorry. I don't know how I could have possibly mistaken this muck for something else." He undid the laces to the boots. If he was going to ditch the helmet, there was no reason to go halfway. He'd loved his father, but he doubted that even his father would have trudged this far with it like this.
"You know, maybe you should trek your spoiled butt back home and wait until you're old enough to actually be questing for real, kiddie." Tioth crossed his arms over his chest and smirked, obviously amused by Alairn's predicament.
And that pissed Alairn off. "My name is Alairn. I'm eighteen and I'm certainly old enough to be questing, you smart mouthed butch fairy." Dimly, in the back of his mind, he knew his temper was getting the best of him. Really, in all things questing, the best course of action was to be the most mild, meek and kind soul out there to all creatures. One had to be clever so as not to get trapped by the ne'er-do-well tricksters on the path, but being polite and kind was essential to not spending the rest of one's life as a skunk or something.
But right now, Alairn couldn't be arsed to actually be nice.
"I'm sure you've gotten real far in life with that kind of attitude." Tioth quirked an unimpressed eyebrow.
"Hey, I got here, didn't I?" Up until this point, Alairn figured he'd been pretty damn patient with the entirety of the situation. But getting lessons in etiquette from a smarmy fairy was simply too much. "And while we're on the subject of manners, yours are pretty lousy. Here I am, a guest in your home, and all you've done so far is laugh at me. Out of all the ponds I've ever visited, the hospitality of yours is by far the poorest."
Not that he'd visited many ponds that came with fairies. Or really, any ponds that came with fairies, but Tioth didn't have to know that. He opened his mouth to add to it, but an arrow landed with a kerplunk about five feet from him.
The inept assassins were actually improving their aim. Of course, given all the practice they'd had in trying to kill Alairn, he sure as hell hoped they would have gotten better. Still, this called for drastic measures.
"Looks like your manners have already gotten you into some trouble," Tioth commented with a snicker as another arrow landed with a thunk in the middle of the pond.
"Shut up," Alairn grumbled. "Look, you're the fairy of this pond, right? You're part of the Questor's Path. So, what is it that you do? Grant wishes?"
Rolling his eyes, Tioth sighed. "Yes, one wish per Questor."
"Lovely," Alairn growled, "Then, I wish for sanctuary from those pursuing me."
Tioth shot him a toothy grin. There was a big puff of green smoke. And Alairn knew no more.
Alairn woke to more than a few things that he found profoundly worrisome.
To begin with, the sun was just beginning to rise, and he couldn't remember it having set the night before. He was in a cabin with no recollection of how he'd ended up there. His clothes—not to mention his armor—were missing and he was sitting completely bare ass naked on the cabin's plank floors in confusion as he stared at a glass bowl that was stuck on his foot. Inside the glass bowl was water, sand and a few pebbles, and he couldn't even begin to imagine why he would have thought it necessary for anything, let alone why he'd put his foot in it.
"Ah, back to normal, I see."
"Ahh!" Alairn started violently as a familiar voice chuckled in his ear. Whipping around, he found himself staring back at…Tioth? Yes, Tioth, that was his name. The wiseacre fairy of the pond. Currently said fairy was only wearing a pair of rolled up trousers as he walked around barefoot like he owned the place.
Blushing a deep red, Alairn scowled at him. He tried to tell himself that it was only out of envy that his eyes followed the well toned chest and stared at the fairy's butt, however, it didn't seem to work. Tioth moved with easy grace as he grabbed a tea cup on the counter and took a sip.
Alairn on the other hand, scrambled madly to try and cover himself only to accidentally smack himself with the heel of his hand and break the bowl on his foot in his haste. That Tioth laughed only made the heat rush to his face faster. "What the hell am I doing here?" he snapped, his embarrassment making his temper short.
Predictably, the damned fairy laughed. "Well, I thought that the spell would only last a couple of hours, or a day at most. You must really not have wanted to face reality for it to have lasted a week. On the bright side, though, the people who were after you were appropriately confused when they stumbled on the pond and discovered that you were no longer here."
"You asked for sanctuary. I granted it," Tioth grinned happily.
"How exactly did you grant it?" Alairn managed suspiciously.
"I turned you into a newt." Tioth shrugged. "It seemed the best way to go," he explained as if the decision made perfectly logical sense.
"A newt?" Alairn reminded himself to stay calm. "You turned me into a newt?" His nostrils flared. "And then what? You kept me here as your glorified pet? You perverted freak!" Well, so much for staying calm.
"I couldn't very well leave you in the lake. There are a lot of natural born predators out there who would have eaten you in a heartbeat. So I fixed up a lovely little bowl, which I might add you seemed to like just fine until you accidentally broke it. And okay, so maybe you lived like a pet for a couple of days. You were my pet newt, no biggie." Tioth leaned easily back against the kitchen counter, dragging another sip of tea before grinning into it. "My newt! Haha!" His face broke out in a huge smile. "Get it? You were my newt! Minute! I kill me."
"Oh if only," Alairn grumbled. "Who ever told you that you were funny lied." He glared as Tioth made a point to look him up and down and then raise an eyebrow. Alairn knew he was short. He knew he wasn't impressive in either musculature or stature. In fact, he was pretty forgettable in the looks arena when it came right down to it. But that was no reason for him to simply sit there and take it as Tioth openly mocked. "Where the hell are my clothes?"
"They were covered in mud so I threw them out."
"You threw out my clothes?! What the hell am I supposed to wear?" He yelled, feeling alarmingly exposed as Tioth calmly set down his tea cup and crouched down to Alairn's point of view.
"You know, you're a really loud spoiled brat."
"I'm sitting naked on your kitchen floor, I think I'm allowed to be a little snippy about that," Alairn shot back, angrily.
"Fine, fine. Don't get all bent out of shape. I'll go get you something to wear," Tioth rolled his eyes and got back up, heading towards the bedroom.
"Good. Thank you," Alairn hollered back, sounding entirely ungrateful.
It felt so much better to be clothed. Alairn grinned as he stretched. Both tunic and trousers were too big, so both were rolled up to accommodate his smaller body. On the other hand, they were absolutely nothing like his stuffy prince clothes, and maybe, if he were feeling particularly kind, he'd admit that maybe Tioth had done him a favor in throwing out his old clothes.
Sure the princely garb had looked impressive, but given how unprincely he was, it really hadn't been worth the itchy irritation and stuffiness of wearing them. Hell, he hadn't even brushed his unruly brown hair, trying to tame it into submission. Why bother when he wasn't going to dress up? For that matter, if he wasn't going to put on shoes, then there just wasn't a point in caring overly much about the rest of his appearance.
The only problem with all this was that by the time he'd walked back out of the bedroom he'd marched into, buck naked and red faced, Tioth was nowhere to be found. The broken bowl was cleaned up, and the tea cup was sitting neatly washed on the sink.
But no fairy.
The cabin itself wasn't terribly large. It only consisted of two rooms: the bedroom, which wasn't all that inordinately huge in spite of the size of the bed in it, and the kitchen-slash-living room. The kitchen was clean and well organized. The living room, however, was a vast disarray of paper, half burnt candles and a messy assortment of books that littered every available space. What few titles he could see peaking out from under the mountains of paper looked interesting, and Alairn made a mental note to check it out later.
For now, however, the first order of business was to figure where Tioth had wandered off to as they still had some unfinished business to discuss.
Determined, he marched to the front door, threw it open and then almost fell face first into the pond. As it was, he barely caught himself on the door frame. The whole cabin itself seemed to be afloat in the middle of the water as it surrounded all four sides and lapped gently against the log walls. How the hell the whole building hadn't sunk to the bottom of the pond was a mystery. Then again, Tioth was the fairy of this particular pond, and Alairn supposed that he had to have some sort of magic at his disposal.
"Well, I'm not magic," he muttered to himself, scowling at the water. "How exactly am I supposed to get to dry land?"
A bridge of water appeared.
Alairn tested the stability of it gingerly with a foot. It was a little wet, but it seemed firm enough. A couple more steps and he'd gained some confidence in it, particularly since the end was in sight.
"Hey! You figured out the bridge. Way to go," Tioth called, startling him. Of course, it was at that point that Alairn lost his balance, had his legs fly out from under him and ended up sliding down the rest of the bridge, landing with a slightly squishy plop on ground that was about half a step up from mud. "Nice," Tioth whistled.
"That bridge is a menace," he declared, already knowing that his face was turning red. How could it not? Maybe if he stuck around, he'd eventually lose the ability to turn red, what with the number of times he was sure to humiliate himself, but for now his face felt as if it were on fire.
"Works fine for me," Tioth smirked as he sauntered over and bent down to Alairn's level.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Constantly humiliating me. I mean, let's be honest, I have to be the most entertainment you've had in a while. Questors usually show up late spring or early summer, you're probably starved for a little excitement by now." Alairn scowled at him. The bright side of the whole thing being that he was probably blushing so hard it blocked out his freckles so there was no way Tioth could notice how unsightly they were, the downside being that he was yet again in an embarrassing position in front of Tioth which kind of negated the whole positive aspect of the freckles being obscured.
Not that Alairn cared if he looked like a moron in front of the fairy of the pond. Because he didn't.
"You're awfully cute when you're flustered," Tioth snickered, gaining himself another glare from Alairn. He opened his mouth to deliver a blistering reply to Tioth only to have Tioth cut him off. "I finally got your armor out of the lake. It's drying off right now, but it should be ready for you to strap back on by tomorrow morning. Of course, that's only if we don't get rain. Still, like you pointed out, it's early spring. There's a very long questing season ahead of you, so you're free to take your time."
And wasn't that just what Alairn wanted? More time to get himself killed or maimed. What a wonderful life he led. "Wait, why's my armor still wet?"
"So, I'm a fairy," Tioth said slowly. "We're allergic to metal. I just got it completely out of the lake this morning."
Dammit, that was right. That had been in the briefing that Behr's captain of the guard had given Alairn on questing. It was supposed to be a good way to get around dealing with them as they couldn't touch it without bursting into flames or something. It was supposed to take them a long time to get over it. "You just pulled it out? Shouldn't you be like writhing in pain or something?"
"You'd enjoy that, wouldn't you," Tioth laughed. "Actually, I'm only half fairy, so while I broke out in hives this morning, I'm cool now."
"How does one become half a fairy? And then how do you become a fairy of a pond if you're only half a fairy?" Alairn reluctantly accepted Tioth's offer of assistance off the ground. And he in no way enjoyed the way Tioth grabbed his forearm or the way he grabbed Tioth's bare forearm back as Tioth hauled him to his feet. Really.
For a split second Tioth almost looked serious. Of course, Alairn blinked and it was gone. "It's a long story. One that's much too long to be telling a grand Questor such as yourself. Why don't you fill me in since we're killing time. What princess are you aiming for? Maybe I can give you some hints, tricks even, to make your journey a little easier."
"Oh gee, where to start," Alairn muttered with little enthusiasm as he followed Tioth like a puppy. "I really don't have a princess in mind. The whole questing thing? Not my idea."
Tioth came to a halt at what looked like a vegetable patch hidden behind a patch of cattails. "You don't have a princess in mind?"
"No. Actually, I'm just hoping to make it through the whole questing experience without getting killed or without becoming a vegetable. What are you doing?" He bent down as Tioth pulled out a wooden hoe and started playing in the dirt with it.
"Turning the soil over a bit. Would you mind doing some weeding while you're here? I've been busy fixing up the gardening shed that I haven't had time to start in on the patch here." Tioth was hiding a snicker, Alairn just knew it.
And all right, so he was a little bit of a spoiled prince. That didn't mean he didn't know his way around vegetables. His nurse had been madly in love with the gardener his entire childhood, so he'd spent some time playing in the dirt as a kid. Of course, the other three nurses watching over him had blistered his ears every time he'd come in with palms and fingernails caked with dirt.
"You're an unwilling Questor, huh? We get a few of those types. They usually end up with the best princesses. Something about not wanting the most beautiful royal and loads of riches makes the Questor's Path particularly easy." The hoe went over Tioth's head and he brought it down with a hard thunk. Alairn watched him repeat the action two more times before realizing that he was staring and that for there to be conversation, his input was required.
Plus, princes did not drool over half-fairies.
"The only reason I'm questing is because my older brother Behr wants me out of his hair. Our parents died in that horrible snowstorm two years ago, and it was going fine until I reached the age of majority. Then my Uncle Rhaki decides that I'd make a wonderful king. Particularly if he gets to have his hand up my ass making my mouth move. Behr, of course, thinks this is a horrible idea and decides that what I really need is some soppy, whiny faced princess occupying my time and gets it in his head to pester me about questing. Or, at least, that's what I think for the first five steps on the Questor's Path before I realize that he's hired the worst assassins to actually kill me on the off chance that the Path doesn't do a good enough job on getting me lost or turned into a goose or something."
"Wow." Tioth whistled.
"Er, so yes, not much of a Questor." Alairn ducked his head, thankful that his unbrushed hair was hanging down in his face and thus hiding some of the blush.
"So those people asking after you and the reason you asked for sanctuary?"
"Yup. A couple of assassins and a very, very bad kidnapper. Uncle Rhaki was against the questing from the beginning." Alairn sighed as he dug his toes in the dirt. A part of him worried for half a second about the state of the trousers he was wearing, but he figured that if the half mud at the end of the bridge hadn't already left a stain, then the fact that he'd been sitting in the dirt for five minutes had. No point in worrying over trousers that were already dirty. Plus, who was here to impress?
All right, so Tioth was here. Tioth had seen him as a newt for an entire week. Not to mention the various times he'd landed on his ass in front of the man. Any chance he would have had at grabbing the man's attention and wowing Tioth with his social skills and appearance had long since passed.
"You just pulled up my bean sprouts."
Alairn looked down at the green plants in his hand. They were indeed bean sprouts. "Damn."
Tioth laughed, leaning over his hoe for a second and wiping blond-green hair out of his face.
It wasn't fair that someone so beautiful was wasted on the stupid Questor's Path, Alairn decided with a grumpy sigh.
"Don't worry. I just planted them about a week and a half ago. There's still time to plant some new ones."
An arrow whizzed past Tioth's head and landed harmlessly on the other side of the patch. Alairn blinked. He rubbed his eyes and then looked again.
The arrow was still there. "Dammit! They're still after me!"
"Huh. Maybe they're better at this than you think," Tioth offered, crouching down beside Alairn as three more arrows landed about fifty feet from them. Alairn shot him a pointed look. "Okay, yeah, they're not the best marks ever."
"They're not going to give up. I could find the richest princess alive and they'll still come after me. The only way they'll stop is if I'm dead, and at the rate they're going, I could be fifty before they actually accidentally make a decent shot."
Tioth frowned in thought and Alairn nudged him with an elbow because the act itself seemed so out of place. "There's a way to make them think you're dead. In fact, there's a way to make everyone in all the close kingdoms think you dead."
"I don't actually have to die, do I? Cause I read that story about the girl who swallowed the apple. I'm not big into living in a glass coffin for a couple of years. Plus, I doubt you see that many female Questors."
"You'd be surprised. They're actually a great deal more enterprising than the princes," Tioth shrugged, barely holding back his laughter. "They'd all tower over you though. I don't know if you noticed, but you're a bit short."
Alairn bristled and jabbed Tioth hard with an elbow before wandering into the cattails and heading back to the bridge.
"Okay, so let me get this straight. Questors come by, you write up this part of their story and then send it down the road to the tester that they encountered next and then all of this ends up recorded in the annuls of each kingdom?" Alairn asked doubtfully as he watched Tioth trying to sort through the mountains of paperwork lying about the living room.
"That's about the size of it. I'm, er, a little behind, but yes."
Looking at the room, Alairn quickly decided that 'a little' was the understatement of the century. Bending over, he picked up a random sheet. The penmanship was pretty, and skimming the first sentence or two, it seemed cohesive. It was just that the paper was in the form of a letter and it was addressed to Tioth from someone named Egan. Grabbing a second sheet, Alairn had to cross his eyes to make out the first three words, and even then they didn't make sense in the sentence they were in.
"Did you write this?" He held up the illegible piece. Tioth leaned over to grab it, looked and then handed it back with a shrug. "Yeah. That was about a Questor from three summers ago. Shelia, I think her name was? She was cool. She wished for a talking horse. And let me tell you, it was a pretty kick ass stallion if I do say so myself."
"Was it just your notes that you were using to compose your part of the story?" How the hell Tioth kept anything straight in this mess was beyond Alairn.
"Oh no, that was the actual story. I haven't gotten too far on it yet."
"Too far? Tioth, it's barely in English."
"I told you I'm a little behind in the paper work. All I have to do is catch up, and then I'll write about you and say you died. You'll be set."
Catch up? At the rate Tioth was going, it was going to take him the same fifty years to finish up as it was going to take the assassins to finally improve their aim. He watched for a minute as Tioth dumped a whole pile of papers in search of a book. If anything, Tioth's efforts were only increasing the chaos that was the living room, instead of making it better. "Oh, for the love of, sit down," he snapped, grabbing the back of Tioth's pants and bodily pulling him back. "Why aren't you wearing a tunic or something?"
"They're constrictive. I only wear a lot of clothes when I have to. Like winter. Or when Questors come by," Tioth grinned, sitting cross-legged as Alairn rolled his sleeves up. Well, it explained the get up Tioth had been in, he supposed.
"Fine. Sit there. Touch nothing. We're organizing this." If left to his own devices, Alairn was sure that Tioth would only make more of a disaster out of the records than he already had.
"You're really bossy, you know that, right?"
"I'm a prince. We're supposed to be," he grumbled back, making a pile for books, one for letters of correspondence and then a last for the 'stories' Tioth was supposed to be writing.
"No," Tioth said, "I think they're supposed to be more leader-like. A little bit less fishmonger-y wife-ish."
"Those aren't even words," Alairn pointed out, pained. "I live in mortal fear of what your stories actually end up sounding like."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I haven't finished any of them yet. I've gotten quite close on a couple, but something always comes up. I find a good book to read, or the back porch needs fixing," Tioth shrugged and reached over to grab a piece of paper sitting on one of the piles that Alairn was creating. Irritated, Alairn slapped the back of his hand before he could actually grab it. He was trying to organize, and given Tioth's propensity for chaos, he didn't need Tioth touching anything.
The majority of the day later, Alairn had managed to make some headway in the vast sea of paper and books. He'd reached a couple of important conclusions as well.
The first being that waiting for Tioth to write his 'story' and declare him dead was like waiting for the world to end shortly after it had been created. Not to mention that if, by some obscurely slim chance, Tioth actually sat down with pen and paper in hand long enough to write it, the story was going to be so illegible and so disjointed, he'd be lucky if anyone could glean from it that he was supposed to be dead.
He'd have better luck writing his own death. Plus, it would be less likely to involve him getting swallowed by a fish, skewered by a unicorn or maimed to death by a wild chipmunk as those seemed to be favorite plot devices of Tioth's.
The second was that there wasn't a shred of parchment or paper to be had in this place that wasn't already scrawled on in incomprehensible hieroglyphics. Short of writing on lily pads, Alairn was going to have to find a way to scare up some materials.
As it was, Tioth was asleep, curled up on the floor and snoring slightly. Crouching down, Alairn frowned as he watched him.
This whole dying business would tie up a lot of loose ends neatly. No more stupid assassins. No more Uncle Rhaki and his demented plans of kingdom takeovers. But the problem with dying was that he had no idea what he was supposed to do after word got around that he was dead. What kinds of jobs were out there anyway for has been princes?
He wasn't magical like Tioth, and he certainly wasn't strong enough or burly enough to think about becoming a part of the Questor's Path. He had no peasant-like skills to speak of and if he tried farming, he'd probably starve.
Sighing heavily, he reached over and pinched Tioth hard on the side. Those were worries for another day. For now, he was sleepy. That Tioth yelped and glared at him as he woke, was only an added bonus.
"What was that for?"
"Time for bed. The floor isn't a good place to sleep." He stood and brushed the dust bunnies off of his borrowed trousers.
"I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there's only the one bed. And no couches," Tioth grumbled, rubbing his side. The big baby. Alairn hadn't pinched him that hard.
"Fine, I'll sleep on the bed with you. It's certainly big enough." The words left his mouth before he could stop to think about what he was saying. Predictably, he felt the blood rush to his face as Tioth snickered.
"Oh, I dunno. I'm not that kind of fairy." Then the bastard had the gall to wink at him.
Muttering a couple choice words about exactly what kind of fairy he thought him, Alairn stomped into the bedroom. If Tioth wanted to follow, that was his business. But he was sleeping, and he sure as hell wasn't going to do it on the floor.
Unfortunately, Tioth also seemed to delight in teasing him, and landed with a flying leap on the bed shortly after Alairn had sat down. In fact, he would have been bounced off of it completely if it weren't for the fact that Tioth had managed to half land on him, pinning him to the bedspread.
"Get off me!"
"No way. We're sleeping together. Plus, I'm cold," Tioth mock pouted. "You let me sleep on the floor."
Alairn tried to shove Tioth off him, as well as shove him off the bed, but Tioth far out weighed him and it was an effort in futility. "Stop touching me," he grunted, finally managing to get a good elbow jab in and smirking at Tioth's pained 'oomph'.
"Why? You don't like it when I touch you?" Tioth practically leered, and Alairn's face felt as if it was going to spontaneously combust. What was it about the damned man that made Alairn say the stupidest things imaginable?
"Get away from me, you pervert."
"You're the one who wanted to sleep in my bed."
"Yes," Alairn snarled, more out of embarrassment than any real anger. "Sleep. Not sleep with. Even I'm not that desperate." Of course, the moment the words left his mouth, he wanted to take them back. Tioth, while not exactly being the most conventional fairy ever, was in all ways desirable. That Alairn wanted him more than he should was the problem.
Tioth, however, stilled at the words and then stiffly pulled himself away from Alairn and rolled over so that he wasn't facing Alairn anymore. Feeling bereft at the loss of Tioth's embrace, and feeling angry that he was feeling bereft, Alairn huffed noisily and rolled over too so that his back was to Tioth.
The silence dragged on between them and it was a long time before Alairn actually fell asleep.
Alairn hiked the sack Tioth had reluctantly given him higher up on his shoulder as he approached the cave. Things were…incredibly awkward between him and Tioth. It wasn't the way he wanted it, but he was at a loss on how to fix it.
He'd tried apologizing, he really had. But then Tioth had looked at him with unsmiling eyes and commented that the trousers Alairn had been wearing looked a little shabby, and Alairn had lost his temper and snapped at him. That Tioth had refused to go with him to get paper from the other testers had come as a godsend. Although it was a bit strange, someone as naturally personable as Tioth should have jumped at the chance to see other people.
"Hello?" he called into the cave a little uncertainly, tapping on the wall to announce his presence.
"What? Who's there?" A deep voice bellowed. Alairn paused and briefly considered turning around right there and heading back to the cabin.
"Can't be a Questor," a tiny voice squeaked. "He didn't set off any of the booby traps."
"That's the problem with Questors, they're always mucking about. Good thing only a third of them actually make it to the end of the Path. Otherwise the kingdoms would be ruled by mealy mouthed idiots," yet another voice snarked.
Taking a rather courageous step into the cave, Alairn rounded the corner, following the glow of candlelight.
"Well, of course he's not a Questor. Look at him," the deep voice bellowed again, and Alairn reminded himself to keep his eyeballs in his head as he stared up at what was a huge talking dragon.
"He is a bit short," a talking mouse on the dragon's knee added. Personally, coming from a freaking mouse, Alairn thought that was a bit much and he scowled at the creature.
"Bah, it's too early yet for Questors," the old crone cackled. "Whatcha here for, laddie?"
Where to start? Alairn regarded them all for a moment in a surreal confusion before snapping himself out of it. "I need paper. Tioth said that you all were his suppliers," he said cautiously. However, given their reactions, he might as well have shouted that cannibalistic raccoons were rampaging this way.
"Tioth? The lad of the lake? That Tioth?" The old crone demanded.
"You know another Tioth?" he arched an eyebrow.
"And you're alive to tell the tale?" The mouse looked up at him with big, horrified eyes.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"He can kill you with one look!" The crone butted in.
"And his eyes glow red and he spits fire when he's mad!" The talking mouse cowered fearfully.
Alairn could not believe his ears. "Tioth? The fairy of that tiny little pond over there. You're actually scared of him?"
"He's a halfer," the dragon butted in indignantly. "Everyone knows that they delight in ripping magical beings limb from limb and gutting out the eyes of mortal men. Beware! Beware the fairy of the lake!" the dragon cried melodramatically.
Alairn couldn't help it. Honestly, who wouldn't laugh? The three, in turn, looked at him as if he'd completely lost his mind. "Oh, good one," he finally managed, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. "I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot. I'm Alairn, I've been staying with Tioth for the last week or so, and you are?"
"Pete," the dragon admitted, blowing a small puff of smoke in Alairn's direction that ruffled his hair. Coughing, he looked expectantly at the mouse.
"Fine, Stuart," the mouse chuffed some what indignantly. "I still don't believe you though. No one's spent any great amount of time with the Lake Fairy and lived to tell the tale."
"He's got a point there," the crone piped in, offering a hand. "Glinda, by the way."
"Nice to meet you," Alairn returned cordially. See? He could be polite when the occasion called for it. And Tioth thought he needed manners. He snorted to himself, earning weird looks from all three of the testers. "Really, Tioth's a push over. You're not going to convince me that he's dangerous."
"He's a halfer," Peter returned adamantly. "They can't be trusted."
"Halfer? You mean, because he's a half a fairy? So what? And how the hell does someone become half a fairy, anyway?" Alairn demanded, pulling up a rock and sitting down. "Tioth wouldn't tell me."
"Well, I should think not," Glinda huffed. "I imagine he'd be a mite sensitive about it. What with his father being a Questor and his mom the old fairy of the lake." She sniffed.
"Huh," Alairn frowned. "And why's that a big deal?"
"Being mixed blood makes you a bit of a freak," Stuart piped in. The other two, however, gave him dirty looks for saying so. "What? It's true! You know as well as I that their magic's unpredictable. Add to the fact that Tioth's got a mean personality, and there you go." Stuart shrugged delicately.
"It's only because his father's King Edgar that he's even a part of the Path," Pete explained to Alairn who was growing increasingly confused by the whole conversation. "And with Queen Lenore's history as the previous Lady of the Lake, they didn't bother considering anyone else for the position."
"Tioth's about as mean as a cute fluffy chick," Alairn informed them dryly. "And who cares how he got the position? He's lord of a glorified pond."
"I've politely written him six times for his portions of the Questors' tales. Not once has he sent them back. The one time I ventured close, he spit fire at me," Stuart said haughtily.
"Okay, yeah. I'm sure." Alairn snorted, unable to keep his amusement to himself. "Have you seen his writing? The only reason you haven't gotten your tales yet is because he writes like a backwards two year old and loves to procrastinate. That you're scared of him and don't demand that he get a move on it only enables his bad behavior." He rolled his eyes.
"Ooh, look at him. Fancies himself an authority on Tioth," Glinda snickered, and much to his frustration, Pete and Stuart joined in.
"Look, can I just have the paper?" he ground out.
"Of course, wouldn't dream of stopping someone who can face Tioth's wrath." Pete gave him a toothy grin before turning slightly and grabbing a couple reams of clean paper. Alairn staggered slightly under the weight of it and decided it was best to cut his losses and leave.
"Well, it was nice to have met you all," he lied between his teeth. "Stop by some time and we'll have tea." Which he may or may not poison.
"Ah, farewell valiant Alairn of the Lake," Glinda giggled. Alairn shot her a dirty look before he walked out of the cave.
Testers. They were all cracked.
"They're scared," Alairn hooted. "Of you!" Yeah, it was still funny. Even more so since Tioth didn't seem overly surprised by the announcement. And okay, so he was more than a little happy to be back on speaking terms with Tioth. Whatever awkwardness there had been between them seemed to have dissipated during his trek to see the other testers. In fact, Tioth had seemed downright relieved to see Alairn walk through the door.
"Hey, I'll have you know I'm downright terrifying," Tioth grumbled sullenly.
"Oh right, sorry. It's all in the way that flames sprout out of your nose and you spit icicles into the wind." Alairn wiped the tears of mirth out of his eyes. "You're a regular minotaur on the loose."
"Look, just because I'm not terrifying to you, doesn't mean that I can't be terrifying to other people," Tioth enunciated slowly, as if Alairn were too stupid to understand.
"Right. You look much more likely to save the princess than hold her for ransom, okay?" Alairn snickered as he grabbed a pen and some paper. It was pouring outside, which made it the perfect opportunity to get started on the tales—and on his tale in particular. The pathetic assassins had trailed him all the way back from the cave, stopping only when they'd run out of arrows a couple hundred yards from the pond. "Now lets get started on my tale of deathly woe here, shall we?"
"Ugh. Why? There's so many other more interesting things we could be doing," Tioth pulled a face as he stuck out his tongue in disgust.
"Like what?" Alairn demanded.
Well, at least he had him stumped there. "Okay, look. You don't even have to write or anything. Just help me think of some of these things out loud and I'll write it myself."
"Hey, I'm the Tester. I should be the one writing it," Tioth grumbled.
"One: you don't want to," Alairn reminded him. "Two: I'm not doing death by squirrel maiming. This way it's all in my control. Now quit stalling."
Hours later, Alairn had finished up his tale of woe and gotten through three of the unwritten Questors Tioth had been putting off. All in all, it wasn't a bad day's work. Grinning, he stretched, popping a particularly stiff back muscle and glancing over towards Tioth.
Tioth's eyes were already at half mast and he looked three steps away from falling asleep were he sat.
"C'mon, Idiot. Bedtime," he grabbed Tioth's hands, pulling him to his feet. Fortunately, Tioth was just enough out of it that he didn't bring up the events of the night before and he didn't get all prickly as Alairn led him towards the bedroom and shoved him onto the bed.
"Sleepy," Tioth mumbled, burrowing his head into the pillow Alairn had used the night before. Rolling his eyes, Alairn walked around to the other side of the bed and elbowed Tioth over enough to give him some space. Crawling under the blankets, he settled in for a nice night's sleep, only to be startled just about out of his skin as Tioth's arms wrapped around him.
Blushing and laying stock still, Alairn barely dared to breathe as Tioth mumbled something sleepily and rested his chin on the top of Alairn's head.
Only when Tioth started to snore slightly, did Alairn relax into the comfort of Tioth's inadvertent embrace. To be honest, it wasn't all that bad. In fact, there were a great many things that Alairn liked about the cabin, about the work he'd done to day, and even about the blasted pond.
And all right, so Tioth wasn't hard on the eyes. Or the heart.
Still, the tale of his deathly adventure was written, and he'd be a free man in a couple of days when the news reached his brother and his uncle's ears. From there he could go anywhere. Do anything. Plus, he doubted that Tioth would want his scrawny ass hanging around and causing trouble.
It was a nice dream though, imagining that Tioth wanted him here. That Tioth found him appealing in some small way that gave Alairn a chance at him. Sleepily, he smiled and cuddled into Tioth.
The bed was empty when Alairn woke up, which was only a huge disappointment. But, he was a prince, and princes didn't let such pithy things get in the way or world domination. Or some such nonsense. So Alairn, ran a hand through his hair in a vain attempt to straighten it out somewhat and then got up to face the day.
He searched the cabin, he searched the lake, and he even ventured half way to the cave before turning back to the cabin. All searches led directly to no sign of Tioth. Wherever the fairy had gotten to, it was clear that he hadn't wanted Alairn following him.
It was hard not to feel slighted by it. Sighing heavily, Alairn plopped down with the parchments. Maybe Tioth did this sort of thing all the time. Taking in Questors and housing them while they got their acts together and sending them on their merry way. Alairn was probably just a forgettable face among many.
And wasn't that a depressing thought. He already knew he wasn't all that impressive. Still, it would have been nice if Tioth had seen in him what no one else up to this point had been able to. He wasn't just a prince or a pawn or a pipsqueak with a too big attitude.
Dammit all, he liked it here. Alairn scowled. He liked Tioth. There, he could even admit it to himself. He thought the big idiot fairy quite the catch. He was handsome and funny and…
Who the hell was he kidding? No way Tioth was going to go for a scrawny twerp like him.
Angry at himself, he grabbed a pen and paper. Maybe it was best that Tioth wasn't here. He'd just take out his frustration on some of the particularly stupid Questors that Tioth had encountered in the last couple of years.
It was the sounds of a very drunk someone singing mostly off key outside that pulled Alairn away from writing. Frowning, he opened the front door, and on the other side of the lake, spotted someone who looked an awful lot like Tioth, trying not to fall face first into the pond.
Shoving the pen behind his ear, Alairn activated the bridge and jogged over to find that it was indeed Tioth. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Alairn!" Tioth grinned dopily, before breathing on Alairn as he slung an arm around Alairn's shoulders.
Coughing, Alairn tried to get oxygen to his lungs that wasn't contaminated with alcohol. "You're drunk, aren't you. What did you bathe in the stuff?"
"No! Did you?" Tioth slurred pleasantly.
"No," Alairn deadpanned. "Okay, back to the cabin with you."
"No!" What was that Tioth's new favorite word or something? Alairn frowned.
"No! I haven't made my whish yet!" He seemed adamant about it.
"What wish?" Not to mention how. He was the fairy of the lake, so unless he was going to wish on a frog, there wasn't much of a point in making a wish. Particularly when he seemed barely capable of standing.
Staring down at the glassy surface of the pond, Tioth's brow knotted in concentration. "I whish," he started, slurring yet again. "I wish for Alairn to stay here."
"I'm already here, moron." And his shoulders were starting to ache from holding Tioth up.
"No, I wish for Alairn to stay here, always," Tioth restated adamantly, looking at his reflection.
"Are you okay?"
"Nothing changed." Tioth looked at him forlornly.
"Well, of course nothing changed, idiot." Alairn rolled his eyes. "You're making a wish on your reflection."
"My reflection? No, no that's me. I get to make a wish from the Fairy of the Lake, too, sometimes." Tioth glared at him, almost daring him to object.
"Are you trying to actually trick yourself into giving yourself your own wish?" Under any other circumstance, that might have actually been funny. But this wasn't a joking matter, and Alairn wasn't in the mood to be played with.
"Huh?" Tioth frowned in inebriated confusion.
"Nevermind. C'mon. We're leaving." Jerking Tioth, he half pulled, half drug the man back to the bridge.
"No!" Tioth dug in his heels as Alairn tried to force him on the bridge.
"Yes, you need to sleep some of this off." So that Alairn could kill him or really, really blister his ears later for this.
"C'mon, Tioth. We'll discuss it in the morning. Hopefully when you're sober."
Thankfully, Tioth went.
Alairn woke much as he'd wanted to the previous morning. Tioth's arms were around him, he was warm, and he was pretty sure he was dreaming. Which was fine, as long as he got to dream about it, that was all right.
"You awake?" Tioth's fingers were playing in his hair and Alairn smiled to himself, snuggling into the warmth. "Hey you, I need to talk to you, wake up." Tioth jostled him, and Alairn groggily opened his eyes.
And it wasn't a dream. Tioth's arms were around him, there was a hand in his hair, and Tioth was smiling uncertainly down at him. "What?" he mumbled, confused before yesterday came back to him. "What?!" he screeched, scrambling up and out of Tioth's embrace. "You!" he glared.
If anything, Tioth looked completely crestfallen. But no, no it wasn't going to work on Alairn. "Sorry. I know. I was out of line."
"You got drunk!"
"Yes, and I tried to do something stupid. I know, and I'm sorry. Please accept my apology," Tioth said stiffly, sitting up himself.
"Why?" Alairn sputtered. "Why did you try to make a wish on yourself. Why?"
"Because I wanted you to stay," Tioth snarled. "Because you're cute and you make me laugh and you're fun to be around. I don't know if you noticed, but I'm not really good at relationships. And I doubted you'd want to stay with a Halfling freak like me of your own free will."
"You could have at least asked," Alairn snapped back. "You ever think that maybe I want some choice in how my life works? Nobody asked me if I wanted to be a prince. No one asked me if I wanted to go questing. No one asked me if I had aspirations of becoming a king."
"Like you would have stayed if I'd asked," Tioth snorted. "What do you take me for? An idiot? Even I'm not that stupid. Look, I realize it was wrong of me to try and make you stay. I've made my peace with it. You're free to go. The sooner the better." Tioth swung his legs over the side of the bed and started to get up.
Alairn wasn't going to have any of it, though. First the idiot tried to take away his choice by making a wish. Then, he tried to take it away by forcing Alairn out. Well, he wasn't putting up with it. Not for a second. He grabbed the back of Tioth's trousers and pulled the man back onto the bed.
"Ask me if I want to stay," he ground out darkly, practically shoving his face in Tioth's.
"No," Tioth glared right back. "I already know the answer."
"Fine," Tioth huffed in exasperation. "Would you stay here and live with me? I want you to. Really," he ground out without actually sounding like he wanted Alairn to stay and live with him at that particular moment.
It was a good thing that Alairn didn't particularly care what Tioth wanted at the moment. "Yes, I do believe I will. I like you. Might even love you, big stupid oaf. And if you pull something like that again, I'll gut you and hang you out to dry."
The threat seemed to be lost on Tioth though, who was gaping at Alairn with his mouth open and his eyes wide.
For a second, Alairn couldn't imagine why. Playing back the conversation in his head though, he quickly came to the realization. And of course, his face turned bright red in response, which infuriated him. Damn the man for continually putting him in these embarrassing situations! Determined, he grabbed the sides of Tioth's face and mashed his lips against Tioth's, kissing him for all he was worth.
"You love me," he gasped out when he broke the kiss.
"I do," Tioth managed, somewhat dazed.
"And I'm going to live here with you and we're going to have our happily ever after because I freaking say so," Alairn snarled.
"Sure." Tioth was grinning, his fingers finding their way back into Alairn's hair. "We'll have that and a hell of a lot more," he promised, kissing Alairn's forehead and then bending down to slip his lips over Alairn's.
"Good," Alairn breathed with a red-faced grin when they finally broke apart.