AN: Well, here's another one. Three in one week, that's more than I've written in a year! Wow! I don't know about you, but I'm impressed! Part of the Faerietayl Universe. Occurs somewhere between Frog Prince Lukus and Lady Monette. No slash, unfortunately. Enjoy!
Keyl shrunk back against the wall of the stall as the barn door was thrown open.
Keyl peeled himself off of the wall and shuffled forward, eyes not leaving the ground. "Yes, sir?"
The farmer, his master for the past two years, gave a sniff. "You stink."
"I'm sorry, sir." Keyl gave a mental kick the farmer, cursing his bad luck to be enslaved to the cruel man.
"You're to re-thatch the cottage roof, weed the garden, chop wood for the woodpile, and clean the pond."
"Yes, Master." Keyl slipped past the farmer and over to the woodpile, tail flicking angrily. Picking up the axe, he once more started to berate himself for letting the farmer bridle him, the lecture continuing through out the day. Unfortunately for his back, by the time the sun set, Keyl had finished all but cleaning the pond.
"Freak!" Keyl winced at the yell, knowing what was to come. "Barn! Now!" Keyl quickly darted into the barn, passing the farmer's wife, who was coming out. Standing in the middle of the barn, head bowed, he waited for the farmer. "Good for nothing, useless sack of flesh!" The farmer cracked the familiar whip, smiling joyfully at the sound of it hitting flesh. As usual, within 10 minutes, he exited the barn, leaving a bleeding and unconscious Keyl on the floor.
Keyl opened his eyes with a soft groan, and met the bright blue ones of the farmer's wife. "I'm sorry."
Keyl struggled to sit up. "What for?"
"For letting him treat you like this." Saem sniffed tearily, dabbing with a bloody cloth at the wounds on the being's back.
"Don't cry." Keyl smiled slightly. "You know I hate it when you do. Besides, he'll hear you."
Saem sat back on her heels. "He's out cold." She hesitated, then reached out to touch the leather contraption wrapped around his face and head. "Quickly, she unbuckled it.
"Saem, what – " Keyl cut off as the woman shushed him.
"Go. Get out of here."
"But he'll know that you set me free."
Saem scowled. "And you'll still be free. Run to the Grimm forest. It's not man's land and he's terrified of it. He won't look for you there." She brushed a kiss over his forehead then left in a flurry of skirt, leaving behind a bundle of food and water.
Keyl clambered to his feet and with one last look around the barn that had been his prison for two years, he left for the Grimm Forest.
For three days, Keyl had been wandering the forest, without seeing another being. So it was quite a shock for him to stumble on an unconscious dog-human hybrid at the base of a large oak. Quietly, he crouched down and shook the man's shoulder. After several tries, he managed to get a groggy response. "Peace, friend." Keyl hurriedly reassured the man. "I have food and water."
The man sat up with difficulty, and lean against the tree. "My thanks, friend."
"I'm Keyl." He passed the waterskin over before handing the man a chunk of smoked meat.
"Haldi." The man blinked black eyes. "You have a tail and an ass' ears."
Keyl chuckled. "That I do, my friend. It was a curse gone wrong when I was but a babe. And yourself?"
"My father was a dog-spirit." Haldi's ears flicked curiously. "Mama was human."
"Ahhh." Keyl studied the battered man. "You look…"
"Like shit?" Haldi snorted. "Got ran out of my village."
"I was going to way exhausted, but yours works just as well." Keyl grinned. "I somehow got myself bridled by a cruel farmer." His face grew pensive. "His wife managed to get me out."
"Now that you've exchanged sob stories, could I possibly have some drink myself?" The soft purr from above them made them jump. Glowing eyes laughed down at them, and a woman climbed down the trunk. Seeing their curious looks, she explained her part-cat appearance. "Wrong end of a duel between warlocks. I'm on my way to see if the Sorceress can break it."
Keyl blinked as he passed her the waterskin. "Sorceress?"
"The one that lives in the middle of the forest." The woman licked her whiskers. "I'm Felere."
"The Sorceress might be able to break that curse of yours, friend Keyl." Felere flicked her tail absently. "After all, there's no harm in trying."
"We'll see." Keyl looked over at Haldi. "How're you doing?"
"Better. The food and water's sped up my natural healing magik. Thank you."
Keyl shrugged. "It was no problem. Felere, how far is it to the Sorceress?"
"Day and a half's walk." Felere stood and stretched. "If we head off now, we can get there tomorrow night."
Keyl helped Haldi to his feet. "Let's go, then."
Keyl raised a brow as the three peered past the trees and at the castle in the darkening clearing. "It's awfully quiet."
Haldi sniffed. "I smell six humans, a magik user and…" He paused, sniffing again. "A human-bird mix?" He frowned. "That's odd."
"I smell it too." Felere gave a small growl. "The six humans smell of drink."
"Shall we go up and investigate?" Keyl stepped into the clearing as the sun finally vanished.
"I smell blood." Haldi murmured, joining Keyl on the path. "And no, it's not yours, Keyl."
"Where's it coming from?" Keyl cocked his head curiously.
"That way." Felere pointed off to their right. "It's merged with the human-bird mix." She started to pick her way through the gloom.
"I've never come across a mixed smell like this human-bird one." Haldi mused as he and Keyl followed their friend.
Coming around the woodpile, all three stopped and stared at the man that had glowing red and orange feathers for hair, and wings the same colour. He was chained to a stake with his wings and hands bound.
"Okay, that I've never seen before." Keyl muttered, stepping forward. "Hello?" The man stirred and opened bruised eyes. "I'm Keyl. This is Felere and Haldi."
The man licked his lips and gave a croak. Frowning, he went to talk again but found a waterskin pressed against his lips. A moment later, he smiled gratefully as he returned it. "Thanks. I'm Phoen."
"No problem." Felere crouched beside Phoen. "Why are you chained up?"
"I was a slave to the evil sorceress that lived here." Phoen replied, flexing his hands as Felere unbound them.
"Evil?" Haldi glared at Felere. "You never said she was evil."
Felere shrugged. "I figured a Sorceress is a Sorceress. You said lived?"
Phoen nodded, wincing as Keyl tugged at the bindings on his wings. "An Enchantress was passing by last week, and the Sorceress challenged her." He chuckled. "The Sorceress Laurel was soundly defeated and the Enchantress moved in, setting me free."
"You don't look very free, my friend." Haldi pointed out dryly.
"Bandits attacked yesterday when we were re-doing the protective wards." Phoen sighed in relief as he stretched his mottled wings. "Thanks."
"What happened to the Enchantress?" Felere asked curiously as Phoen plucked two feathers from his head and started to pick the lock on his ankle.
"In the castle." Phoen gave a soft crow of triumph as the manacle fell off. "I'd like to save her." He glanced at them nervously. "Do you mind helping?"
"Of course we'll help." Keyl snorted. "It shouldn't be too hard. These two say that the bandits stink of drink."
"Lots of it." Haldi added in disgust.
Phoen climbed to his feet, absently scratching at the dried blood on his arms. "We can go in through the kitchen door."
Felere held out a hand. "We smelt blood on you."
Phoen blinked. "Oh, sorry. I heal really fast, so it's all fine. Come on." He led them further around the castle and into the kitchen. "When Vintia, the Enchantress, defeated Laurel, she gave us all a choice of staying or going. I chose to stay and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't mind if you did too. She seems to be someone who picks up strays, if you know what I mean." Harry smiled at them before slinking into the darkened corridor.
Quietly, the four made their way through the castle, pausing outside the door that obviously held the bandits, due not only to the noise, but also the smell.
"How many can you smell?" Phoen murmured to Felere.
"Six." Felere replied after a moment. "As well as the Enchantress."
Keyl gently gripped Phoen's shoulder to gain his attention. "What are we going to do?"
"They think the castle is haunted." Phoen grinned mischievously, gesturing for them to follow him further down the corridor and into an alcove. "I heard them talking earlier. Why don't we make it seem like it is haunted?"
"What do you mean?" Haldi frowned, ears drooping slightly.
"Howls are rather convincing, don't you think? Particularly if you're drunk. Barks, moans, brays and shrieks would also help." Phoen's golden eyes glittered happily.
Keyl grinned. "On the count of three?" Within moments, they started to create the racket. Stifling their laughter, they watched as the drunk bandits ran out of the room and down the corridor, the door leading outside slamming shut on their screams.
Phoen peered around the room the bandits had vacated carefully. "Enchantress?"
"For magik's sake, Phoen, it's Vintia!" A croaky voice replied form a corner. "Now, can you or one of your companions please untie me?"
Keyl rushed around the couch and paused before continuing, awe plastered over his face. The Enchantress had short, spiky red hair, and a slender build that was barely covered by the rags that had once been a dress.
"What did they do to you?" Phoen moaned low in horror as he helped Keyl with the ropes that bound Vintia's arms and legs.
"Took advantage of me, is what they did." Vintia snarled, reaching up to remove the blindfold, revealing shocking green eyes. "Bloody bastards were prepared. They had magik binding ropes." She stood, gratefully accepting the coat Felere held out. "Thank you, my intriguing friend." Vintia studied the three. "Hmmm. A half-breed, a curse and an accident. My, you have made some interesting friends during our brief capture, Phoen."
Phoen chuckled. "I wouldn't mind keeping them, either. I'm pretty sure they're house-broken."
Vintia patted the bird being's cheek. "Well, dear, it's completely up to them whether they stay or go." She smiled at them. "Just remember that the door's always open."
"Yes, because you forget to close it." Phoen muttered, ducking her swipe.
"Shut it, you. Let's get these wards up before those bastards come back for seconds." Vintia closed her eyes, muttering under her breath. A moment later, she swayed on her feet and grinned delightfully at the others. "Well, that's that. I hope you don't mind me having a rest before having a proper conversation." She fainted with Keyl catching her just before she hit the ground
Phoen sighed. "Well, let's go find you some rooms. She'll be right as rain in the morning." He raised a brow. "I hope you do decide to stay. Not very many people come into the forest, you know."
The three shared a look. "You know," Keyl smiled brightly. "I think we just might."