|To Run and Play
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
He heard his mother's call echoing from the fields. Instead of answering, he crept deeper into the underbrush - she probably wanted him to come and weed the vegetable garden, or gather some firewood, or something else.
Why did he have to do all the work? She was always loafing around, occasionally cooking a quick meal. His father was always in the main fields talking and yakking with the others.
They didn't have to work, so why did he?
By the Gods, it wasn't fair!
Well, he wouldn't work today. It was too nice and lazy a day to be spoiled by working, instead he would run and be free. He turned and ran deeper into the Whisperwood. Here he wouldn't have to work and could nap and enjoy the day.
"Leonulf! Where are you?" His mother's voice was fading, being drowned out by the whisper of the wind through the trees, and the occasional caw of a crow.
Finally it was silent except for the rustle of the leaves in the wind. Ahead he could see a clearing, lit brightly by Vashigan's radiance, the daylight making the light in the clearing almost blinding compared to the dimness of the woods. And, nearby, he could hear the rumble and rattle of water over rocks.
And then he realized that he was thirsty.
He walked into the clearing and stopped for a moment, blinking his eyes as he got use to the bright daylight. Around him a few butterflies were drifting up into the sky, and he could see the glitter of light off the brook.
A few steps and he was there. A moment later he was crouching down and holding cool, clear water in his two hands. He sipped the water down and got another handful and swallowed it too - it was exactly what was needed.
Finally satisfied, he lay back on the bank, letting his bare feet dangle in the cool water.
This was the life.
He sighed, closed his eyes, and eventually fell asleep.
He awoke a while later, the clearing dimmer now as the light of Vashigan was almost below the horizon. Soon his wife Luani would shine in the heavens.
It was time to go back. Time to be yelled at for not doing the work. Time to be cursed. Time to be beaten for his laziness.
He didn't want to go back. He never wanted to go back.
He shouted the last out loud.
That sounded good. "You hear me!" he shouted into the sky. "I never want to go home! I want to run and play and never work!"
He sighed. It could never be. But it would be worth almost anything...
"Anything?" The voice was soft, almost a song. Almost too quiet to hear, but no trouble at all to understand.
He spun around and saw the speaker. There, standing before him, naked as Kor and Gaenan were when they birthed The World, was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She was beautiful, so beautiful she took his breath away. And she was small, in fact just a little taller than he was. Her skin was a dark brown, almost a black - he'd never seen skin of that colour, but somehow it seemed just right. And her hair! It was a billowing field of midnight black that flowed from her head and down her back and across her tail and faded into the grass behind her.
And then he noticed other things. The huge, black eyes. The tall, pointed ears.
She was one of the Faerie.
He watched, unable to move, as she flicked her tail. And then he started to back away. The priest had warned him about the Faerie, those who'd betrayed the Gods and had been cursed. They would steal his soul...
"Why would I want to steal your soul?"
His mouth fell open, and hung there.
"I have no need for anything like that. But I could use a friend."
"A companion. To be with me as I need him."
He took a step backward and she took a step to follow him. "No!" His voice squeaked.
She laughed, her voice the sound of bells in a temple, or water from a brook tinkling over rocks. Then she smiled. "I don't make my friends work."
Her voice, even though it remained quiet and wonderful, made work seem like the most hideous curse imaginable.
He took another step backward and tripped, landing on his bottom. He expected her to laugh, like the other youths did, but she was silent.
Then she was right above him and offering him a hand up.
She wasn't dangerous. She was kind and helpful. He grasped her hand.
It was warm and soft, and, maybe, a little bit furry. Then she pulled and he was up on his feet.
"What else would a friend do?" She smiled, and her tail waved back and forth. And then she clasped him, and wrapped her arms around him, and pulled him against her.
And kissed him.
The warm grip, the dance of her lips, they were like nothing he'd ever experienced before. Sure, he'd kissed some of the girls during the Cernetamiol festival. But that had been rough, and quick, and somehow dirty.
This, this was like a fire bursting from his lips and flowing down his back and into his manhood. It made him quiver. The quivering was followed by waves of cold and warmth that raced along his body.
He almost fell down again but she held him tight and leaned forward, letting her hair enfold him. Her hair was warm and soft and cozy.
Finally, after an endless time, she slowly released his lips and backed away from him, her hair flowing across his shoulders, and then tickling down his chest, as she stepped backwards.
He was still warm and cold and it took all of his will just to stand there.
"Do you want to be my friend?"
Ye...ye..." He swallowed. "Yes." Somehow he managed to keep his voice from squeaking.
"Then let us dance together. Then we can go far, far away from here where you'll be able to run all day and never have to work again."
He swallowed and turned away from her. He'd never danced, he'd always been clumsy.
He couldn't tell her that!
Somehow he felt her smile. "I'll teach you. I'll teach you the dance so that we can always be together."
She knew! And she didn't mind! He turned to look up at her. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Then tell me you name so that we can always be together." The light of Luani in the night sky glittered from her black eyes.
"Leonulf," he whispered.
"Leonulf," she said, the word flowing from her lips and spinning around his spine. "Leonulf," she whispered, almost too quiet to hear, but the sound filled his manhood with warmth. She smiled. "Leonulf!" she screamed, and her voice wrapped about his soul and claimed it for her own.
And he didn't mind, for she loved him. And through his name, and her saying of it, he suddenly knew that she had taught him how to dance.
He took a step back from her, for the first time in his life not feeling at all clumsy, and began to dance using the knowledge she'd gifted him. He started slow, first just kicking backward with his legs. Then he threw his arms forward and looked into the heavens and screamed his love and joy.
And then he began the dance in earnest. He pawed at the earth with his legs, and pawed in the air with his hands. Then he spun and ran and pranced and trotted. He was free! Free to run and walk and dance and jump.
He leapt across the brook, bending his knees to absorb the impact, and knew that she was smiling at him.
He ran further into the field, and then spun around and galloped back.
And he could feel her love, her need for him, flow from her into him.
And he couldn't stop.
He ran and pranced as his leggings and shirt were somehow torn from him.
He ran and pranced as a black horse's tail grew behind him. The growth filled him with pain, and he couldn't help but scream. And this, too, was part of the dance. This, too, showed his love for her, for this was what she wanted.
He stopped and tore the ground as his ankles and feet stretched, and his toes clenched into hard hoofs. His bones cracked and broke and reformed in incredible agony, but he never missed a step.
And then she was with him. Her tail brushed against his tail, and he heard her hoofs thudding on the dirt as a counterpoint to his hoofs.
But the dance wasn't done with him yet.
Pain filled his chest and his arms and he raised his head to squeal his pain, and she joined him, but silently. Together their chests stretched and barreled out. Together their arms stretched and straightened and their fingers clenched into more hoofs.
By now he was screaming and moaning, his mind begging the Gods to make it stop.
But he knew they weren't listening. And he knew that he couldn't stop because she wouldn't let him.
And then came the worse pain of all. Together they danced, and together their necks stretched and widened, and their skulls split and grew. His skin danced with stabs of pain, far worse then any of the beatings from his father, and black hair sprang from his body and neck and face. His head stretched and broke and bled, and for an instant he had to bear his agony in silence, but then he could again scream, screaming his pain and agony out into the world from deep in his chest.
Then, finally, it was over.
He stood there on all four hoofs, his head hanging low, his body covered with drying sweat, and took deep gulps of air. His tail hung loosely behind him for he lacked the energy to raise it.
And then, as he'd first seen her, so she stood in front of him again. She clasped the sides of his head and raised it until his nose was just touching her chin.
He couldn't help but suck in her sickly scent.
"Do you like my gift?"
He tried to pull his head up and away from her, but her dainty hands held him in a grip of bronze.
"You're mine now. I need a mount, for I have a war to fight. Ilisri is trying to usurp me again."
His breathing was calmer now and he could move his tail. The night air was cold on his body and he could feel his sweat painfully drying. Somewhere off in the distance he heard a single caw of a crow or raven. Somehow it sounded mournful.
She let go and he stood, unable to move, as she slowly walked around him, running her hand along his neck and sides. And as she walked something brushed his hide, brushing out the sweat and the tangles, and filling him with warmth and tingles of pleasure.
Finally she was beside him again, and he was able to move. He lifted his head and gently lipped her on her ear.
She frowned and slapped his head away.
What? He nickered in shock.
"You will not touch me again!"
He flattened his ears against his head. What was wrong? Was it something he'd done?
Suddenly there was a weight on his back, and straps around his chest and all around his head. The straps were cruel and tight, digging deep into his flesh.
He felt her hair brushing his ear. "You are mine now," her voice whispered. "Mine to ride, mine to play with, and mine to use as I see fit." He watched her with one eye as she took a step back and then, with a crop that suddenly appeared in her hand, she whipped his flank. "You belong to Calynisha now." He shivered, but couldn't otherwise move as she whipped him again, and again, drawing blood he could feel soaking into his hide and slowly flowing down his leg. He couldn't even turn his head away. "And mine to punish as I want."
She stopped and he couldn't help but sigh in relief. "You gave yourself to me, and now you are mine." Her voice was like ice, the sound of it scraping along his nerves. "Serve me and well and I will let you run, a little. Otherwise..."
He swallowed and lowered his head.
Then, she leapt up onto his back, and he staggered under her sudden weight and felt her crop beating into his side as he struggled to steady himself.
Finally he did, and the beating stopped.
"Now we ride!" she screamed, and pulled on his reigns cruelly and dug her heals into his side.
Obeying his mistress, he leapt forward and out of the World and into the realm of Faerie.
He galloped and ran, ridden by his mistress, carrying her off to war.