The Hunt for the Golden Bird

Our tale begins, as all tales do, in a land far, far away, forgotten by time and history and as is cursory with these tales we shall begin with…

Once upon a time there was a King who had a beautiful garden behind his palace. This garden was precious to the King for within it grew a tree that bore golden apples, a symbol of the King's true wealth and prosperity. This King was blessed with three sons.

Giles, the eldest was a rather studious sort. He spent his whole life being the figurative golden apple of his father's eye. First in line to the throne, he studied politics and tactics with great eagerness and skill, his sharp mind easily finding ways in which to take advantage of the law. Travers, the middle child, was far less studious. He, being the second in line, was expected to take over the military and so was given a far more physical education, one he delighted in. The power of mere physical intimidation was a lure that had him firmly within its grasp. Both Giles and Travers were loved by their father, their accomplishments and prowess giving a parent much to be proud of, a fact which, unfortunately left Destin, the third born, out in the cold.

For Destin was a dreamer. Being the youngest of three, there was no place for him in the structure of the royal house hold, no position to which he should aspire, so he had been left to his own devices, his very existence a bitter disappointment to his father. It is this young dreamer that is the hero of our tale, for often greatness is found in the most unexpected of places.

Destin was absently reading a book when a great ruckus in the palace caught his attention. "Guards!" His father's voice could be heard, echoing through the great empty halls. "Guards! Who has stolen my apple?" The King's words piqued Destin's curiosity. He carefully placed the book he was reading down and tiptoed to the door peering out. Three guards were rushing to his father's side, soon joined by his elder brothers, ever ready to please him.

"What is the matter father?" Travers enquired, glaring at the guards that had approached the King. The guards, wary of the second Prince, winced and took a step back.

"Someone has stolen one of my golden apples off of my tree and I demand the culprit be found." The King roared, anger radiating off of him. "This is the third day in a row. I will not be made a fool of by incompetent guards. If the culprit is not found soon I will have you all executed."

'Come now, father." Giles interceded, slipping between Travers and the King. Destin smiled at the scowl on Travers' face. There was an unspoken rivalry between Travers and Giles, each constantly trying to outdo the other in their bid to get their father's approval. "I will take care of this." Giles smoothly gave the King a promise. "Tonight, I will stand sentry by your tree and will catch the thief."

"Very well." The King agreed and so it was that Giles stood guard, awaiting the thief. As with all tales, an unfortunate event must occur in order for the hero to progress, so it was that, in his arrogance, Giles fell fast asleep exactly at the stroke of midnight.

The next morning, Destin was once more disturbed, the sound of his father's displeasure tearing him from his sleep. Running to the window, he peered out once more, keeping out of sight lest his father decide to take this misfortune out on him. "What?!" The King hollered. "Another apple has been stolen? But you were meant to be on guard!" The King was yelling at his eldest.

Travers stood on his right, gloating, rubbing his hands in glee. "Looks like brother has failed you father." Travers leapt at the opportunity to bring his older brother down, not even pausing to consider prudence or respect. "It was to be expected. Let me show him how it is done. Tonight I will stand guard and tomorrow you shall have your thief." He promised, malice shining in his eyes. The King spared Giles a moment of silence before turning to Travers, accepting his middle child's proposal.

Unfortunately, the middle born fared no better than the eldest and the next morning was once again shattered with anger and rage, yet another apple gone. Hope flared in Destin's heart with the realization that both his older brothers had failed. He was finally being given the opportunity to prove himself and decided to grab hold of it with both hands. Grabbing his crossbow and quiver, he ran down the hallway slipping into the garden, heading straight for the King. "Father!" He called out, skidding to a halt. "Please, father, let me try."

"You?" Travers sneered, features twisting into a grimace. "What can you do when we have failed? This tree is bewitched. There is a curse here and someone like you will never be able to break it."

"Your brother is right." The King agreed. "I do not see what you can do that your brothers have not already tried. Giles is by far a better tactician than you and Travers a better soldier. What can you do that they cannot?"

His father's words cut Destin to the core, but he ignored their sharp edge, desperate to prove his worth. He could catch the thief and thus gain the chance to be one of his father's beloved sons. All he needed was the opportunity. "Please, father." He repeated, pleading. "Let me try. What do you have to lose?" His question silenced the refusal on the King's lips. He considered his son's words, finally relenting. He did, after all, have nothing to lose by giving his youngest a chance. The guards and his two eldest had already failed.

And so it was that our hero was finally given the chance planned for him by fate itself. Destin threw himself to the ground and watched, refusing to let sleep become his master. Upon the stroke of midnight something rustled the air, drawing Destin's attention. Pale moonlight illuminated a shadow of a bird, reflecting off of feathers made from the purest of gold.

Gracefully, flying through the air, the bird alighted upon on the tree and was just about to pick one of the golden apples when Destin took aim and loosed a bolt at it. Alerted to the danger by a soft whisper a movement, the bird took to the sky. Destin's bolt, though flying true, was now off aim. It knocked but a single feather off the bird before the bird flew away.

The next morning, Destin ran to his father's room, eager to share the good news. "Father, father, look what I have found!" He exclaimed, holding out the precious golden feather. "It was a bird, father. A miraculous golden bird flew through the night sky and tried to steal your golden apple. I loosed a bolt at it but it got away. Look, I managed to get a feather."

The King reached for the feather and ran his hands over the fine threads of gold that shifted and sparkled in the early morning light and so it was that the King assembled his council. He displayed the treasure his youngest son had managed to obtain, asking for their opinion. Each and every one declared the feather of greater value than the whole Kingdom. As usual with a greedy heart, a single feather was not enough. "However valuable this feather may be," said the King, "one will not be of much use to me.I must have the whole bird."

So it was that Giles went forth on a quest, certain he would obtain the precious bird for his father. He had travelled but a short distance when he came upon a fox hiding in the woods. Drawing his bow, he prepared to shoot but the fox cried out, "Do not shoot me, and I will give you a piece of good advice! You are now on the road to the golden bird, and this evening you will come to a village where two inns stand opposite to each will be brilliantly lit, and great merriment will be going on inside; do not, however, go in, but rather enter the other, even though it appears but a poor place to you."

Giles did not even pause to consider the fox's advice, thinking the animal foolish. He shot at the fox, but missed as it ran away with its tail in the air. Giles then walked on. As evening arrived, he came to a village where two inns stood. In one there was dancing and singing while the other was shrouded in silence, its windows dark and foreboding. He remembered the fox's warning, but ignored the wise words, of the opinion that it foolish to choose the ugly ragged building over the warm cheerful one. So it was that he went into the inn and forgot about the golden bird, his father and glory.

When Giles did not return, Travers took it upon himself to take up his older brother's failed quest. Setting out on his journey, he too met with the fox and did not follow its wise advice. He too arrived at the two inns. Spotting Giles within, he gave in to Giles' enticement and chose the bright merry one, like Giles before him forgetting the golden bird and his father, losing himself in debauchery and loose living.

And so we return to the hero in our tale. Upon realizing that Travers too was missing, Destin pleaded with his father to let him try. With his two eldest missing, the King was reluctant to let his youngest go, fearing being left with no heir, but Destin gave his father no peace, begging and pleading every day for the chance to find the golden bird and perhaps along the way, his wayward older siblings. Worn down by Destin's pleading, the King finally consented.

Eager to be on his way, Destin waited not a moment more, slipping out in the early afternoon. Along the way, he too encountered the fox. Drawing his crossbow, he prepared to shoot, fearing the animal to be wild and dangerous ,but the fox cried out, speaking the same words he had spoken to Destin's older brothers.

The fox's words startled Destin and he lowered his crossbow, scrutinizing the animal before him. The fox was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, silky russet coat shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, green eyes watching him with strange almost human intelligence. Seeing no reason to harm the animal, he nodded putting his weapon away. "Have no fear, little fox. I will not harm you."

The fox returned Destin's scrutiny, noting the young Prince's ash blond locks, amber eyes and slim figure in interest. Cocking his head to the side, he considered Destin's words and actions and decided that he liked the young man before him. "Do not ever repent of your good nature." He replied, his warm baritone washing over our hero, "and in order to travel more quickly, get up behind on my tail."

Confused by the unexpected offer of assistance, Destin wordlessly obeyed. He barely managed to seat himself before they were off, running through the woods so fast the wind whistled in his hair. When they arrived at the village, he dismounted turning to thank the fox, but before he got the chance to speak, the fox winked a bright emerald eye at him, and disappeared back into the woods, seeming to smile in amusement.

Turning towards the two inns, he contemplated his next action, the fox's advice echoing in his mind. Glancing to the right he noted the light, the merriment and dancing coming from the cheerful inn before turning and walking towards the somber building on his left. That night was spent lost in dreams of bright intelligent eyes, watching him, amusement sparkling deep within them.

The next morning, Destin got up bright and early, heading to the fields, thoughts still preoccupied with visions of bright green eyes. So it was that he nearly tumbled over the small russet form patiently waiting for him to arrive. "Good morning." The fox greeted him cheerfully, humor once more sparkling in his bright green eyes. "Keep this up and I will more than have my work cut out for me. It is dangerous to wander around distracted."

Destin gaped at the russet creature before him in shock, surprised by the light teasing in its tone, those eyes from his dreams once more a strange enigma before him. Noticing the dumbstruck look within our hero's eyes, the fox spoke again. "I will tell you what you should do next. Go straight on and you will come to a castle. You will find a whole troop of soldiers, lying fast asleep. Go right through them and you will come to a chamber. In this chamber you will find the golden bird you seek, sitting in a wooden cage. You will also find an empty gold cage, but be careful, do not take the bird out of the ugly cage and put it into the beautiful one. It will be unlucky for you." With these words he once more stretched out his tail, silently offering Destin another ride.

Still baffled by the assistance the fox so freely offered, Destin wordlessly mounted the tail, breath escaping him in a soft hiss, when once more they set off upon their journey. It would have been an uneventful journey, over the hill and dale, if not for a wayward hunter, spotting the brilliant russet shine upon the fox's coat. Taking aim, he shot an arrow at the pair. Steel soared through the air, ruffling Destin's hair when it flew past, barely missing its target.

The first arrow had barely managed to embed itself into the ground when a second was fired at them, the hunter's intent to kill clear. Sensing the danger, the fox deviated from his initial intended course and fled towards the woods on his right, looking to lose the hunter among the foliage. The hunter was persistent and followed them into the woods. Consequently, it took some time to lose him completely. So it was that as the sun set, our hero found himself deep within the woods, with only a russet fox for company

"Why are you helping me?" Destin enquired, absently shifting the leaves around in an attempt to find a comfortable spot on which to sit.

The fox tilted his head to the side, Destin's question not entirely unexpected. "You intrigue me." He replied, that all too human amusement back upon his face. "You didn't try to shoot me."

"I had no reason to. You were not going to hurt me." Destin fell to the ground, too tired to care about comfort. The leaves he had tried to rearrange flew up, disturbed by Destin's rather abrupt landing, throwing dust up into the air that set Destin sneezing.

The fox released a joyful yip, laughing at Destin's dilemma. After all, it is not every day that one gets the chance to see a sneezing Prince covered in dusty autumn leaves. Usually, a Prince is expected to be far more regal.

"Are you," Destin's protest was interrupted by another sneeze. A stray leaf that had settled in his hair, slid down his face thus making the situation even more comical, "laughing at me?" He reached up to dust the leaves from his hair. Gathering them, Destin threw them at the fox when all he received in response was another yip. The fox danced out the way, easily dodging the debris before seating himself regally down.

Destin rolled his eyes and settled for resting his chin on his knees, watching the fox carefully. The human like intelligence disconcerted him and he yearned to know more about this stray creature that seemed to have attached itself to his cause. "So, do you have a name I can use?" He enquired.

The fox actually managed to smirk at him. "I have a name, but whether you can use it or not is debatable." The fox responded, turning to preen his fur in order to hide the playful mirth in his eyes. He watched Destin from the corner of his eye, carefully gauging our young hero's reaction. To say that he was pleased with the incredulous expression that crossed Destin's face is an understatement. The fox absolutely reveled in it, letting the moment draw out a little longer while he pretended to meticulously clean his right paw. Dropping the paw, he turned back to Destin, once more cocking his head to the side, waiting.

It was then that realization hit Destin with the force of a proverbial a sledge hammer. He had forgotten the most basic protocol expected of one when seeking another's name. "Please forgive me. I am being rude. I am Destin Leroy, third son of Etienne Leroy."

The fox remained silent, expectantly waiting for Destin to push for his name. When he did not, a reluctant thread of respect woke within the fox's heart. "Ruelle." He stated simply.

"Ruelle." Destin repeated, a smile brightening his features. "Suits you." And so our young hero finally discovered the name bourn by the intriguing creature helping him. The rest of the evening was rather uneventful. Destin drifted off to sleep, curled up upon the leaves onto which he had settled. Upon noticing the shivers that coursed through Destin's body, due to the cool evening air, Ruelle curled up against him, sharing his warmth.

The next morning dawned bright and early and with no sign of the hunter to be seen, the two set off once more, resuming their interrupted journey. When they arrived at the castle, the Prince found everything as the fox had said and soon found the golden bird sitting in its wooden cage. Nearby lay a golden cage, surrounded by three golden apples plucked from his father's tree. Overjoyed with his discovery, he hastened to the cage only to pause when he pictured his father's displeasure should he bring back such a magnificent bird in such a mundane cage. Yearning for his father's approval and willing to do anything to get it, he disregarded the fox's warning and reached for the golden cage. The moment he placed the bird into the cage it let out a piercing shriek, waking the soldiershe had slipped past earlier. They rushed in, captured him and imprisoned him.

Destin spent the night shivering in a cold dungeon, part of him longing for the shared warmth of another body beside his, russet fur, soft as silk as it brushed against his skin providing comfort. The next morning he was taken to court where a judge sentenced him to death. The King of the area, was, however, feeling merciful for a change and agreed to spare his life on one condition: Destin was to bring him the golden horse that ran faster than the wind. If he succeeded, he would receive the golden bird as a reward. Despondent and fearful for his life, Destin once more set out on his journey stumbling upon Ruelle by the wayside.

"See what has happened because you did not listen to me," Ruelle exclaimed, an undertone of reprimand clear in his tone, "but do not worry. I will look after you." The fox was willing to help Destin once more for, unbeknownst to our hero, he had somehow managed to fall in love with the young man. Destin had been the first to show him any true kindness and he wished that no harm should befall him. "I know where you may find the horse. Travel straight along this road until you reach a castle. The horse is there in one of the stables. You will find a stable boy lying before the stall. He will be fast asleep and snoring, so you will be able to lead the horse out quietly, but beware, put on the old shabby saddle of wood and leather and not the one of gold that hangs beside it."

Urged on by desperation and fear for his life, Destin once more accepted Ruelle's assistance. He mounted the fox's tail and they were off once more, over yet another dale and hill, all the way to yet another Kingdom. This time the journey was uneventful. Ruelle dropped Destin just before the stable, disappearing before Destin could even think of something to say. Slipping into the stable, he found everything as Ruelle had said. He was just about to put the old shabby saddle onto the horse when he spotted the golden one beside it. The King that had requested the horse reminded him of his father. He too would probably be displeased with the ugly saddle should he suspect a better one had been available. Fearing the King's wrath, he reached for the golden saddle and placed it upon the horse's back. The moment the saddle touched the horse's back the horse began to neigh, waking the stable boy who then proceeded to wake the grooms. The grooms captured Destin and consequently, he once again found himself a prisoner.

He spent the evening wide awake, thinking back to Ruelle's warnings. He realized that each time he strayed from the fox's advice, he found himself deeper in misfortune. This time, he feared, he would not be so fortunate as to escape. Aggrieved at the thought of never seeing the fox again, he spent the evening staring out the tiny window in longing, hoping to spot the creature he was beginning to value more than anyone he had ever known.

The following morning, he was brought to trial and once again condemned to death. The King, deciding to be gracious, spared Destin's life on the condition that he find the beautiful daughter born to the King of the golden castle and bring her to him. The golden horse would be his reward. Heart heavy, he set out, stumbling upon his faithful friend just as he left the castle.

"I really should have left you to face the consequences of your foolishness," The fox reprimanded him, traces of disappointment in his eyes, "but I feel compassion for you. I will help you out with your new misfortune. This path leads to the castle and you will reach it before evening. At night, when everything is quiet, the lovely Princess will go to the bath-house. As soon as she enters, you must spring forwards and give her a kiss. She will follow wherever you may wish to lead her, but do not let her say farewell to her parents." Then the fox stretched out his tail, silently offering assistance once more.

Destin wavered, unsure if he should accept the silent offer. He felt undeserving. Thrice had the fox offered him good advice and twice had he ignored it, leading to this mess to begin with. Ruelle noticed his reluctance, silently raising a brow in question, the action so human it pulled at the desire for companionship and acceptance in Destin's heart. Giving in to that desire, he mounted the fox once more, savoring the heat of his body and the silky texture of his fur.

The journey was once again silent, Destin's heart aching for some unknown reason. When they arrived at the Golden Kingdom, Destin dismounted reluctance in every move. Expecting the fox to leave him, without another word, he turned, readying himself for the wait. His retreat was interrupted by Ruelle's deep rich voice, the sound of it so human, Destin could almost picture a man behind him instead of a fox. "Take care." With that, the fox was once more gone, leaving Destin alone in silence.

Sneaking into the bathhouse he waited patiently. At exactly the stroke of midnight, a beautiful Princess slipped into the bath house, pale moonlight reflecting off of her blond hair, and pale blue eyes. She was the most beautiful woman Destin had ever seen and literally left him breathless. He leapt forward and kissed her, the soft warmth of her lips parting beneath his. It was meant to be a pleasing experience but somehow it felt wrong. His heart was not in it and all the beauty in the world could not compare to what he really wanted, true companionship.

He withdrew from her embrace, the adoration in her eyes as she looked up at him leaving him cold. She did not know him, yet already she adored him without so much as even asking for his name. Grabbing her hand he moved to leave, intending to take her with him, only she resisted, pulling back. "Please," She whispered, the tears in her eyes reflecting the pale moonlight, "I would love to go with you. I love you, but please, first let me take leave of my parents. They will worry if I simply vanish without a trace."

The easy manner in which she declared her love for him brought the core of his loneliness to the fore. His whole life he had been surrounded by people that loved him because they had to, servants hired to take care of him because his father wanted nothing from him. His mother had died during childbirth and his father had spent all of Destin's life blaming him for her death. Even his brothers enjoyed belittling him, perceiving his very existence to be an abomination. So it was that false love was all he had to hold onto, forever dreaming of making it into his father's good graces. However, it was no longer enough and if he really thought about it, it never had been. He was tired of being loved for his station, for what he was meant to be, instead of whom he was and the Princess' adoration for the hero that had come to sweep her away only served to emphasize the fact.

"No. We must leave now." He whispered urgently, tugging on her hand, desperate to be gone so that he may be rid of her sooner rather than later.

"Please," A sob escaped her, her body trembling. "I must take leave of my parents." She begged, falling at his feet, the tears now pouring freely down her face. "It will take but a moment and will mean the world to them. They have lost my brother, some time back and their grief is deep. It will break them if I too disappear without a trace. Mama will likely die of heartbreak." Her words cut him to the core, visions of what his life might have been, if his mother had not died giving birth to him, drifting through his mind. And so it was that Destin once again did not heed Ruelle's advice, his soft hearted nature the cause of his downfall.

When the Princess woke her father, everyone else woke with him and Destin was once more captured and imprisoned. For the first time since meeting the Ruelle, his thoughts through the night were not filled with visions of the fox, but instead were occupied with visions of the mother he never got the chance to know, his very existence the reason for her demise. It was that deep rooted thought in his mind that broke him, leaving him with the conviction that perhaps he deserved the death that seemed to inevitably draw him closer.

The next morning he was unsurprised when yet again he found himself faced with death. The King called him to his chambers and dealt him his sentence. "You are condemned to die but I find it in my heart to be merciful. Abrial, my daughter has pled for your life and I have agreed to give you one chance to redeem yourself. You can have my daughter if you can clear away the mountain that lies before my window. I wish to see over it. You have eight days in which to complete this task."

So it was that, no longer hopeful for his own life, Destin began to shovel away, using the monotonous motion to lose himself in his own mind and despair. On the seventh day, when he realized how little he accomplished, he dropped the shovel and fell to the ground, giving in to the grief and depression that threatened to take possession of his very soul, the last thread of hope sitting desperately in the back of his mind, withering completely away.

About to give up on life completely, he was startled out of his despondency by a cool moist touch upon his skin. Glancing up, he spotted bright intelligent green eyes watching him. "You do not deserve my help or my friendship but go, lie down and sleep, and I will do the work for you." Ruelle stated softly, an incomprehensible expression upon his face.

Destin silently obeyed Ruelle's command, but could not sleep, watching Ruelle as the fox began to work. An hour into his digging Ruelle turned to Destin, catching the Prince's gaze. "Why did you not listen to my advice?" He asked annoyed.

"She was crying." Destin responded softly.

"All women cry." Ruelle huffed, turned away and resumed his work. "It is what they do. I never pegged you for a complete fool that would let himself be drawn in by a woman's tricks." His digging became jagged, his agitation showing in every move he made.

"She said her mother would die of heartbreak." Something in Destin's tone struck a chord within Ruelle, drawing his attention back to Destin. It was obvious there was more to Destin's statement than there appeared to be and Ruelle could not help but pry. After all, he was a fox. "Why did that give you pause?" He inquired.

Ruelle waited in silence when Destin shrugged and curled in on himself, his very posture defensive and filled with deep seated grief. His patience was rewarded when Destin began to speak. "My mother is dead." His voice hitched. "It was my fault. She died giving birth to me. I never got the chance to know her and my father… well… he… hate hates me. He wishes I died instead. I… I tried everything to make him happy. I studied all the books in the library and learnt how to use the crossbow. I thought if I could be both a good fighter and scholar he might notice me, but he did not care. No matter what I tried it was never good enough. Giles and Travers were always better. When the golden bird stole his apples and my brothers failed to catch it I thought I could finally prove myself but I…" He paused looking up at the mountain still blocking Abrial's father's view. "I guess he was right." He finished filled with despondency. "My existence is useless. I guess it is only fitting that I die."

Ruelle scowled at the admission that passed Destin's lips, rage coursing through him. It was directed at the family that had hurt Destin so and not Destin himself. "You will not die." He snapped turning back to the mountain. "I will not allow it."

"But…" Destin attempted to protest only to be interrupted by Ruelle. "No. Your existence is not useless and I refuse to let you give up and die. Now go to sleep and let me work." With that said, his dismissed Destin, focusing entirely on the task at hand.

Half way through the night, sheer exhaustion finally laid claim to Destin, pulling him into strange erotic dreams. Once again he dreamt of bright intelligent green eyes and red hair, only this time they were not on a fox, but instead were on a man, the expression in the eyes watching him, identical to the unfathomable expression the fox had used to scrutinize him mere hours earlier, the true emotion behind it unrecognizable to Destin. The man's features were sharp, fox like in appearance and his red hair was the exact same shade as Ruelle's fur, seeming to possess the same silky quality.

However, it was not the man and his resemblance to Ruelle that made Destin's dreams so strange; it was what he was doing. He was touching Destin, running his hands over Destin's naked skin. Desire coursed through him, waking within Destin a hunger so deep and raw it threatened to take his very sanity along with it. The man's hands drifted down his body, drifting towards Destin's manhood and when they wrapped around him, they pulled a cry of agony from him. Wanting more, he aggressively thrust into the heated silky touch. Emotion, desire and heat coursed through him, building up with strength and speed he did not believe possible taking him on a journey of pure heated silky pleasure and just as he was about to reach its peak he woke, the early morning sunlight bright and sharp in his eyes, his body still throbbing and aching for release.

Desperately, he turned towards the mountain and found it gone, along with Ruelle. Ignoring the pang of regret deep within his heart, he gathered himself and hastened to the King, announcing that the King's conditions had been met. Obliged to stay true to his word, the King gave him his daughter, Abrial.

Abrial and Destin set off on their return journey and were soon joined by the fox. "You have indeed gained the best prize." Ruelle declared, glancing at Abrial as he spoke. Something in the way Ruelle looked at Abrial tugged at Destin's senses and he was just about to enquire about it when he was distracted by Ruelle's next words. "The golden horse belongs to her. Take the Princess to the King that sent you to the golden palace. He will be overjoyed and will gladly let you have the golden horse. Mount it immediately. Give your hand in parting to each one gathered there and reach for Abrial last. Pull her onto the horse and ride away. They will not be able to catch you, for the golden horse can run faster than the wind." With that said, Ruelle disappeared, leaving Destin alone with a rather flighty Princess.

Destin took heed of Ruelle's advice and everything went as planned. As he fled the second castle, he was once more joined by Ruelle. "Now I will help you get the golden bird as well." Ruelle called up, still running. "When you are near the castle with the golden bird, stop and let the Princess dismount. Leave her behind. I will look after her, I promise." Yet again, something in Ruelle's manner towards the Abrial niggled at Destin's senses. "Ride towards the palace courtyard. They will fetch the golden bird for you. The moment you have the cage in your grasp, ride away and come fetch Abrial."

This time Ruelle did not leave, easily keeping pace with the golden horse. Destin watched him, wondering why the fox seemed to know so much about the Abrial, the horse and the bird. Arriving near the castle of the golden bird, Destin reined the horse in and allowed Abrial to dismount. He moved to speak, only to be interrupted once more. "Go, before it gets dark. We will need to cover some ground in order to avoid capture." Ruelle warned him.

Nodding in understanding, Destin spurred the horse into motion and headed towards the castle where once more, everything went smoothly, according to plan. Bird in hand Destin arrived back at their meeting place, finding both Abrial and Ruelle safe and sound. Reaching down, he pulled Abrial up onto the horse and was just about to head back home when the fox spoke. "Now you must reward me for all my services." He declared.

Destin hesitated, watching Ruelle carefully. "What is it you desire?" He enquired softly, more than willing to reward the creature he had come to regard as a close friend.

"When we arrive at the woods, you must kill me and cut off my head and paws."

A shocked hiss escaped Destin's lips. Ruelle's words hurt him more than he ever thought possible. He fought the tears in his eyes, his mind screaming in agony, the thought of killing the only true friend he ever had, tearing him apart inside. "No." He shook his head in denial. "I cannot."

"Then," Ruelle replied, "if you will not kill me, I must go, but before I do let me leave you with one last piece of advice. Beware of two things. Do not buy gallows' flesh and make sure you do not sit on the edge of a well." With this the fox ran off into the forest, leaving our hero filled with loneliness and grief.

And so our hero set off once more, his journey taking him back to the village his brothers has stayed in. The moment he arrived he was met with a great uproar. Enquiring as to the cause of all the chaos he discovered that there was to be a hanging. Following the crowd, he came to the courtyard where the gallows stood his eyes immediately drawn to the two men that were about to be hung. Shock coursed through him and his breathe escaped him in a hiss, for before him stood his brothers, about to lose their lives.

"Wait!" He cried out, unable to bear the thought of his brothers' death. Despite the grief and disregard they had given him during the course of his life, they were still his flesh and blood and, along with his father, the only family he really had. "Can they not be freed?" He pleaded desperately.

"Only if you are willing to pay for them," the people answered, "but what is the point of wasting your money on criminals such as these?"

He didn't even notice the echo of Ruelle' warning in his mind and agreed to the villager's terms without a moment's hesitation. He paid for his brothers' freedom and off they went. When they arrived at the woods, Destin's brothers suggested that they stop and rest in order to take advantage of the cool shade surrounding the well situated there. Ruelle's warning forgotten, Destin agreed, sitting down on the edge of the well. Barely had he managed to seat himself when he was pushed right in. His brothers stole the horse and bird and kidnapped Abrial, leaving Destin to his assumed death.

And so it is that by ignoring Ruelle's advice our hero once again found himself in a most unfortunate situation. Fortunately, he did not fall to his death as the well was dry and filled with moss. Unfortunately, he was now trapped inside, the walls too steep to climb without assistance.

Despondent and hopeless once more, Destin was surprised when, just as the sun began to set, a russet face peered down at him, Ruelle looking, for all the world, as if he were silently reprimanding him for his foolishness. "Do you never learn?"

Shamed by the fox's question, Destin dropped his gaze, avoiding the censure he could clearly see on Ruelle's face. "They are my brothers." He replied. The explanation was more than enough for him, for if given the chance to do it all over again, he would still choose to spare their lives.

"They are fools." Ruelle scoffed, blatant disregard thick in his tone.

"They are my flesh and blood." Destin retorted looking up once more, anger in his eyes. "Foolish they may be, but they are the only family I have and my father loves them very much!"

Ruelle nodded in acceptance of the explanation, repentance upon his face. "Very well. I will not forsake you. I will show you daylight once more." With that he lowered his tail and pulled Destin up into the air when he grabbed hold of it. Walking before him, Ruelle led him a hollow in the ground. Turning, he nuzzled some leaves into it with his snout before stepping back, watching Destin expectantly.

Ruelle's silent message clear, Destin sunk down onto the makeshift bed, lying on his side. Not waiting for an invitation, Ruelle joined him, curling into Destin's side, silently offering to share his body heat. When they were both comfortably settled, Ruelle spoke once more. "You are not out of danger yet. Your brothers are not sure you died and have hired spies to kill you should you return. I will not prevent you from going home, but please promise me you will disguise yourself so that you may not be recognized."

Hearing the desperate plea in Ruelle's tone, Destin nodded in agreement. "I promise." He stated softly, blinking in surprise when Ruelle licked his face in response, his tongue drifting over Destin's mouth. Impromptu kiss over, Ruelle tucked his face into Destin's shoulder and drifted off to sleep. Destin followed not too long thereafter. That night, Destin once again dreamt of Ruelle in human form, only this time he was simply cradled in Ruelle's arms, safe, protected, cared for and warm. And so it was that our hero completely lost his heart to a dream.

The next morning, Destin was reluctant to part with Ruelle, part of him still yearning for the human man in his dreams. However, realizing that such flights of fancy were a far cry from reality, he turned away from Ruelle and his too human mannerisms in the hopes of at least finding acceptance and love in his father's heart.

Stumbling upon an old man along the way, he recalled Ruelle's desperate plea. He exchanged clothes with the old man, disguising himself as a beggar, before heading back towards his beloved home. No one recognized him as he snuck onto the palace grounds, slipping into the stable to hide. It was then that he discovered his brothers' true nature, for in the stable he stumbled upon Travers and Abrial.

Travers and Abrial were sneaking around, Travers trying to shush her as she giggled. "Keep it down, Abri. Someone might hear us." He reprimanded her, grabbing her arm.

"Why does it matter?" Abrial replied with another giggle, escaping his grasp to playfully run away. Destin tensed, slipping into darker shadow, fearing discovery. Abrial ran right past him, not even sparing him a glance. After all, why would one of noble birth bother to notice those beneath their station?

"You are wed to my brother." Travers retorted chasing her into a stall.

"So?" She giggled once again. "I see no harm in having you both. After all it is my horse and bird that you presented to your father. The only reason I wed Giles was because he is next in line to the throne."

"The horse refuses to eat and the bird refuses to sing. What worth do they hold when the horse will soon die and the bird fails to bring joy to the land?" Travers pointed out.

"I guess you cannot expect to have your cake and eat it too." Abrial teased lightly. "Not all has gone badly, though. Your father remains rather pleased with the outcome of your quest."

"True." Travers agreed. "He is glad to finally be rid of our youngest brother. He always did hate him. He killed out mother, you know." And so it is that Destin's heart was wounded, those he cared for the most betraying him in the deepest of ways. Slipping out of the stable, he left the palace grounds, bitter disappointment clouding his heart.

Running into the wood, he once again stumbled upon the fox only this time it was not a joyous occasion, for Ruelle was caught in a trap. A snare cut into his neck and his paws were trapped in the jaws of a bear trap. Crying out in grief, he rushed to Ruelle's side, the last few pieces of his wounded heart shattering into a million pieces. He fought with the traps, desperate to free his only friend, only did not make it in time, for just as he released Ruelle, the fox released his last breath.

"No!" Destin's cry of grief and despair rose up into the air, shattering the false serenity in the woods. "Please do not die. Please Ruelle, I love you." And so our hero declared his love for a creature he had come to see as a precious companion, Ruelle's intelligence and emotion wining his heart completely.

It was then that the figure in his arms began to shift, the fox blurring and fading before his very eyes. Hating the disorientation, Destin clenched his eyes shut, forcing the tears that blurred his sight, out. The sight that met him upon opening them once more pulled a shocked hiss from his lips, for in his arms lay a familiar red-haired man. He watched in disbelief when a second pair of eyes opened, this pair bright green, belonging to Ruelle who was very much alive and naked.

Upon spotting Destin, Ruelle smiled, reaching up to brush a stray blond lock of hair away from Destin's face. "Hello, love." He greeted the Prince, trailing his hand over Destin's damp skin, catching a stray tear. "Why did you come back? You could have had everything, my sister, the horse and the bird. You did not show yourself to them, did you?" He asked before answering his own question, giving Destin no time to speak. "No, you cannot have, for if you had you would not be here."

Destin shook his head, still unable to believe what was right before him. "No, I… Your sister?" Reaching up he brushed the stray tears that he could not contain away, loathe to let Ruelle see him cry. "So you be the missing brother?"

Ruelle brushed more tears away with the pad of his thumb, still touching Destin's skin. "Yes, I am he. I was cursed to wander as a fox for all my days least someone loves me enough to break the spell. The alternative was to have someone kill me, cutting off my head and my paws. Seems I got something in between instead. You still have not answered my question."

"I…" Destin sniffed, trying to wipe his face again only to have his hand caught in Ruelle's grasp. And so, our hero recounted his tale, baring his heart to the man before him. He told Ruelle of his loneliness, his longing to win his father's love, his reason for his quest and of the bitter betrayal dealt to him through Abrial and Travers.

"I'm sorry." Ruelle apologized, running his hand through Destin's hair. "I did not realize my sister was capable of such treachery. You did not deserve it, any of it." With that said he caught the back of Destin's head and drew him down, catching Destin's lips in that proverbial kiss that is usually the beginning of happily ever after.

Destin's surprise escaped in a soft sigh, his breath mingling with Ruelle's. Taking advantage of Destin's parted lips Ruelle proceeded to plunder his mouth, truly tasting him for the first time. Weaving his hands through Destin's hair, he shifted, rolling in order to lie atop Destin, effectively trapping him between his naked body and the ground. Realizing that he was the only naked party, he rather effectively and efficiently discarded Destin's clothes, hovering over his naked skin as he revealed it to his touch.

"I have waited so long for this." Ruelle whispered, leaning down to lap at Destin's skin. He then proceeded to run his tongue over every single tantalizing inch. Destin gasped, crying out in pleasure at the slick, moist, heated touch upon his skin, his fantasy brought to life in this all too real man. Desire spiraled through him, threatening to drown him in hunger so intense it threatened to consume him. Every nerve in his body was afire, begging, aching for Ruelle's heated touch.

Destin nearly came undone when Ruelle wrapped his lips around his penis and drew it into his mouth, sucking hard. Arching his back as far as it would go, he thrust deep into that slick moist heat, eager to be possessed completely. Ruelle withdrew, rolling his tongue over the tip, the slightly salty flavour of Destin's pre-come bursting over his taste buds. He savored it, eager for more. He took a moment to swirl his tongue over the head before going down once more, thrusting Destin's penis deep into his throat, at the same time pushing two fingers into Destin's mouth.

Ruelle then proceeded to thrust his fingers between Destin's lips, echoing the movement with his own mouth upon Destin's thick, hot, heated flesh. When Destin began to thrash, he deemed him ready. He withdrew his slick fingers from between Destin's now swollen lips and thrust them deep into his body. Destin cried out once more, the sound a mixture of pleasure and pain as he arched both into and away from Ruelle's touch, uncertain as to which he wanted more.

Continuing his ministrations, Ruelle stretched Destin, slowly getting him accustomed to being penetrated, withdrawing only when all traces of pain were gone from Destin's face. Pulling his fingers out, he lined himself up with Destin's hole before both literally and figuratively taking the plunge, thrusting deep into Destin's welcoming heat as a whispered confession left his lips. "I love you."

Torn between the shock of suddenly being filled, and the softly whispered words, Destin's heart soared, the single moment seeming to stretch between the two lovers. And then it was over, Destin's mind pulled away from his shock and surprise by the sheer pleasure of Ruelle filling him, rubbing over a spot that sent molten lava through his veins with each thrust deep into his body. It raised his pleasure to new heights and just when he expected to wake from but a dream, the pleasure exploded, taking him along for the ride. Lost in his own bliss, he barely registered the heated liquid, filling him in tandem to his own release. Ruelle's cry of sheer ecstasy registered only minutes later when both regained their breath, their sweaty limbs entangled with one another.

It was only as Destin came down from his high that he noticed the soft silky touch of fur upon his skin, glancing down to see a tail wrapped around protectively around him. For a moment he feared it was a delusion, his desperate mind playing tricks on him. Glancing immediately up, a sigh of relief escaped his lips when he realized the tail was attached to a man, stray fox ears peering out at him from beneath soft silky red hair. "What now?" Destin whispered, mind still reeling from all that had occurred.

"Now," Ruelle dropped a kiss onto Destin's parted lips as he spoke, unable to resist temptation, "we steal the horse and bird and ride back to the Golden Kingdom. Once there, we take a moment to greet my parents and get married, after which we proceed to live happily ever after."

And that, my dear friends, is exactly what they did. Ruelle discovered he had the power to shift between his human and fox form at will, the horse began to eat, the bird began to sing and the Golden Kingdom flourished beneath their rule.

What happened to Destin's original home, you may ask?

It withered away beneath the rule of two foolish brothers and one equally foolish Princess, its very existence forgotten by times itself.