The Fairy King -10- Vows and Promises

Megan gets a phone call. And the King of Morning Mountains and Evening Seas makes her a promise.

Part 10 - Vows and Promises

by Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 20

Promises to Keep

"We've spent more than enough money and it's a good thing we started at Sears or it would have been more," Mom said as we headed out to the car. "We'd better go home now if we're going to get back in time for you to have lunch with Dolly and Molly at four."

I only half heard her as I followed her on out to the car, still worrying about what Clementine had said about the Fairy King; as if my life were not complicated enough. One more elfin monarch I needed like another hole in my head but I couldn't tell Mom about this stuff, she'd think I did have holes in my head.

But maybe the time to tell someone had finally come.

We put all our purchases into the car while I thought about that. Mom had written stories about fairies and magic; more than one in fact, though most of her romances had been firmly anchored in some sort of reality.

If anyone might believe me, my own mother might. I opened my mouth to say something and every thought I had about what I might have meant to say vanished.

Mom glanced at me as she wheeled out of the driveway of the mall. "For goodness sake, Megan, close your mouth."

I closed my mouth, feeling a bit frustrated that I couldn't remember what I wanted to talk about. That worried me, too. I wasn't sure what had just happened but I didn't like it.

Somehow I did such a good job of forgetting about the talking cat and the Fairy King that I didn't think of them again, at all, until later. Dealing with magic and fairies can be a very unreal experience and it's easy to convince yourself that some part of it never happened. But I don't think I just forgot. Some sort of fairy magic must have been at work.

Mom smiled at me and I smiled back at her. All I could think about right then was how much fun we'd had together, almost more fun than I could ever remember us having. Being Megan with Mom was different than being Ethan with her. She seemed to be the same person she'd always been but somehow, things were different now.

Mom and I talked about the shopping we'd done and other things I might need. We talked about Daddy and Phoebe, and my brothers Adam and Sean. We talked about a lot of things and did a lot of laughing on the way home. Mom said just before we started up the mountain road, "You know, hon, you're the same person you were before but somehow things are different?"

She'd had almost the same thought I'd had. "Yeah," I said. "I guess I always felt a little uncomfortable and never quite knew why?" We stopped talking so Mom could concentrate on her driving and I had plenty of time to think about what I had said.

It seemed to be true, as if a great load of expectation and obligation had been lifted off of me. I didn't really have to consider what I should do, I could just act and be myself. If I got things wrong, well it didn't seem to matter as much now. It was as if I had made a promise to be Ethan all the time but now I didn't have to keep that promise. "I'm Megan," I said outloud.

Mom laughed as she steered us around a wide curve with a view of the valley far below. "Yes, you are. It's like magic."

I nodded. It was definitely like magic. And of course, that should have reminded me that the Fairy King might be waiting for me somewhere. But it didn't, it just made me feel a little uneasy. Tintabelle and the Fairy Court I'd already met were quite enough to worry about.

When we got home, Daddy wanted to insist that I try everything on again and show him how I looked but I told him I didn't have time if I were going to walk across the fields to see Molly and Dolly by four.

"I can drive you over," he offered "It's just down the hill and around the corner by the road."

"Let her walk it, Alec," said Mom, smiling. "She's hoping to meet Phillip on the way so they can talk and she will have a good excuse to leave before things get embarrassing."

"Mom!" I shouted as I ran upstairs to put things away. "Don't tell Daddy that!"

I heard them laughing but I ignored it and hurried to my room. I hadn't been thinking that exactly but it did hit a little close.

A few minutes later, I came back downstairs, wearing the green and yellow sundress and carrying one of Phoebe's neutral-colored sweaters in case it got cold. I had on my new sneakers, too; they looked fine with the sundress I decided.

Daddy whistled at me from his office door, but I ignored him until he called me over. "Megan, Phoebe's on the phone, she wants to talk to you." He grinned at my expression.

Yikes. I took the phone and just stared at it for a moment until I heard Phoebe's voice say, "Is anybody there?"

I put the phone to my ear. "Hi. It's--uh- it's me, Megan."

Now I listened to silence for a moment. "That's really you?" Phoebe said.

Like every other idiot talking on a phone, I nodded then remembered to say, "Yes. It's me. Your new sister, Megan." I couldn't suppress an embarrassed giggle, which sounded very Phoebe-like I realized.

She laughed, too. I didn't know whether to be annoyed or hurt so I giggled again. "You actually sound different," she finally said. "This isn't some gag? Daddy said you...probably had some medical problems all along just no one knew it?"

"Um, something like that?" I couldn't tell her about the nine wishes. "They're going to do some testing?"

I heard another girl's voice in the background ask who she was talking to. "My kid sister, she's done something really annoying this time," Phoebe said and I grinned. "My roommate just came in," she said to me.

"The poor thing," I said.

She got it and laughed. "It's you all right. Are you wearing any of my clothes?"

"Uh, no? Mom and I went shopping. I've got that camel sweater of yours, though?"

"I've got some other stuff would probably fit you..." she trailed off for a moment. "Weird thought, that. Borrowing my clothes may have been the only thing you never did to annoy me."

"Well," I said, not sure how to reply to that.

"You mean you did borrow my clothes? Before?"

"No, I didn't! Look, this is way bigger a surprise to me than it is to you."

She gave me an embarrassed giggle back. "I guess it might be. You always were a bit of a fruitcake, though."

"No, I wasn't! You're the fruitcake!" We both giggled.

"Wish I could see you," she said.

"Look in a mirror," I suggested.

She laughed. "Yeah, I guess we both look more like Aunt Maggie than we do like Mom or Daddy?"

"Uh huh." I noticed the clock. "I gotta go, sis? You going to come out here tomorrow?"

"Hadn't planned to," she said. "Maybe I will now? My classes started last week and I've been so busy." Then she whispered. "I think I kinda like the idea of having a sister."

"Me, too." I giggled.

"You've always had a sister, Tinkerbell."

For a moment, I thought she'd said 'Tintabelle' and I made a noise. "You haven't called me that since I was five!" I said when I realized what she'd actually said.

"Daddy made me stop," she said. "You were the cutest little kid. Looks like I was right, huh?" She giggled and we matched.

"I really gotta go," I said.

"Daddy says you've got a boyfriend?"

"Uh. Well, Daddy likes to tease me as much as he ever did you?" Daddy made a face at me and I giggled again.

"Thought so, good grief, you're only twelve!"

"I'll be fourteen next month!"

She laughed. "Oh, yeah, you're starting high school. You sound just like I did then. So, are you going somewhere to meet this boy Daddy says asked you for a date?"

"He told you that? Good grief. Uh, no, I'm going to go have late lunch with a couple of the girls in the neighborhood."

"Uh huh," she said like she didn't believe me. "And if you just happen to see this boy? What's his name?"

"Like I'm going to tell you? Feeblewit." I used one of the old names I'd annoyed her with.

She laughed again. "Okay, I can still call you 'Piglet'."

"But not 'Eddie Munster', please," I said. She'd usually shortened that to just Eddie.

"Okay. I still love you, little sis," she said.

"Me too, you," I said and sniffed a bit.

"'Me-too'! That's what Sean and Adam used to call you when you begged to go with them," she laughed.

I grinned. They'd called her that, too; she'd been as bad about wanting to go places with our big brothers as I had. "I've gotta go, sis," I said. Daddy signaled me that I should hand the phone to him.

He winked at me as he took it. "God is punishing me with another teenage daughter after I just got rid of the last one," he said into the phone.

I giggled; I could just hear Phoebe giggling and saying, "Daddy!" at him, like she always did when he teased her. And now he teased me the same way. So I stuck my tongue out at him as I headed for the kitchen.

"Bye, Mom, bye, Daddy," I called as I started out the back door.

But Mom stopped me. "You're wearing a dress to hike over there, honey?" she asked from her desk in the dining room.

I blushed. "I just don't want anyone to think I'm a boy this time?" I said. I had on my earrings and charm bracelet, too, and just a touch of makeup, pink lipstick and a bit of blush. I'd felt very bold putting it on myself but it looked fine. I was sure Mom noticed that, too, but she just smiled and nodded. "Have fun, honey, and don't walk home in the dark. You call if you need a ride back."

"I will!" I promised and out I went, through the glass enclosed part of the patio and into the already autumn-like air of the mid-afternoon in the almost-September mountains.

Once out on the path behind the houses, though. I slowed down to a walk. I wondered if I would meet Phillip, or possibly the Fairy Queen. I didn't really know what I would say to either of them, but it should be obvious to Tintabelle the way I was dressed that I couldn't marry her. At least, I'd never heard of two girls marrying each other.

I worried a little about that, these were fairies and maybe their rules were different. But they had seemed concerned with human laws, too. And I felt certain that California, at least, didn't allow people of the same sex to get married. This was 1998, but things hadn't gone that far yet.

Again, I didn't have a thought about a Fairy King.

While worrying about Tintabelle, I passed Phillip's back fence and that got me to wondering where he might be. I stopped and listened for a moment but I didn't hear anyone or even any hoofbeats anywhere. I didn't want to just walk up to his back door and knock, so I kept going downhill.

I stayed on the path a bit past the spot where I had run down the steep bank and into the middle of the Fairy Court the first time. A little further down, an easier slope made crossing the wash simple and I didn't want to risk falling in my new dress.

It seemed the most natural thing in the world to be outside, dressed as a girl. I felt the wind press my skirt against my legs when I left the trail to walk carefully down the slightly steeper, rocky slope to the sandy wash. I glanced uphill toward the rocks where I had first met Dolly and Molly--and the Fairy Queen. No one in sight except a few sparrows.

"Hi, guys," I said experimentally to the sparrows.

"She talks!" said one of them in a birdlike voice; well, what else?

"You're the one!" said the other. "You're the one who tricked the Fairy Queen!"

"I did not!" I protested.

One of them flew over and tried to land on my shoulder. "Don't you dare!" I said and waved him off. Aunt Margie had a pet budgie once and I knew what birds could do to nice clothes.

"Trickster!" the bird accused, hovering awkwardly. But he laughed. Now he sounded a bit like Bart Simpson.

"It's not wise to mess with the Fair Ones," said the other, eerily like Lisa. They landed, briefly, in the limbs of a small pine sapling.

"I didn't do anything on purpose," I said.

"You used your wishes to change yourself," said Bart.

"You're trying to break your engagement. The Queen is really mad," warned Lisa.

They flew around me, amused at my predicament perhaps.

"You'd better not let her catch you," warned the male.

"Or him. He's even worse," said the female.

"Him? Who's he?" I asked, thinking they might mean Duke Leandro who seemed to have conceived a real hatred of me.

They laughed, a treble titter. "The Fairy King!" said the male. And then they flew away.

The Fairy King? Did they mean that the ghost of King Fritharic sought me out? I tried to imagine being afraid of the ghost of a frog but it seemed even more absurd than everything else that had happened so far. "Leave me alone!" I shouted, angry now.

But I had heard of the Fairy King. There had been a leprecaun that had turned into a cat named Clementine. "You're the one," she'd said, "who's going to marry the Fairy King." The memory came back sharp and in focus.

By escaping Tintabelle's plans had I left myself vulnerable to someone more sinister? The sudden recall of a memory I hadn't had a moment ago scared me.

I didn't know whether I should go forward or back. The fairies were playing tricks with my mind now and that worried me a lot. I decided to stick to my plan of having lunch with Molly and Dolly, out of pure Bartlett cussedness, I suppose.

The forest and wash got very quiet then. I could hear the distant sound of traffic and the rustle of leaves when the wind wrapped my dress around me. But no sound of a living thing.

The silence spooked me more than a little but I took my time and picked a route up the other slope out of the wash and into the wide meadow. I didn't want to fall down in my dress or get my nice new sneakers too dusty. It felt a little odd to have become so careful in such a situation and I snickered at myself a little.

Out of the wash at the high end of the meadow, I could see the back fence of the trailer park where Dolly and Molly lived. Back the other way, the houses on Pine Ridge Road were now hidden by trees and the curve of the slope.

A sudden noise attracted my attention. A blue jay flew up from rocks along the wash, a familiar looking blue jay. Not a scrub jay with no topknot, or a mountain jay with a gray topknot, but a true blue jay with a pointy cap of bluest blue. There wasn't another such bird within a thousand miles, most likely.

"King Belcanto comes!" the jay screamed. "King Belcanto comes with justice for the oathbreaker!"

I stared at him as he flew back toward the mountain, still screeching, "The King of Faerie comes to hold a Fairy Court!"

Then I turned and ran toward the gap in the fence at the back. Somehow I knew that if I could get back around people, the fairies couldn't touch me.

The oddity of running in a skirt and feeling it flap around my calves and cling to my legs caused me to slow down after a bit. Wonder of wonders, though, I felt no hint of the wheezing that running usually caused me. I stopped and stood, partly bent over with my feet together and my hands on my hips.

Running wasn't very ladylike, I decided, and since I didn't know where the fairies might be, I might be running right toward them.

I looked around but the bird who had frightened me with talk of a Fairy King had disappeared. King Belcanto? Had that blue jay just been trying to scare me? Who would King Belcanto be? Wasn't Tintabelle a queen, she wouldn't have a king that ruled over her would she? A brother maybe? A shout brought me out of my attempt to puzzle out the identity of the Fairy King.

I turned to look back and saw Phillip astride Roland following the path from the little store up toward where I had first met him on the path behind the houses of Pine Ridge Road. Phillip waved and I waved back. I couldn't help it, I felt I must be grinning like an idiot.

While I pinched myself to keep from looking too foolish, Phillip and Roland picked a careful way across the widest, shallowest part of the wash, further down than where I had crossed. When I felt like I might be in control of my face, I started toward them, angling back toward the meadow edge of the wash.

People, well Roland wasn't exactly people but Phillip was. I should be safe from the fairies with people in sight.

Almost a hundred yards away, they came out onto the firmer, smoother ground of the meadow and Roland immediately broke into a trot. Phillip waved again and shouted, "Wait there!"

I did, wondering if it were safe to ride in the meadow. I knew there were gopher and mouse holes and other hazards for horses that didn't exist on the firmer ground of the path behind our houses. "Be careful," I called.

I heard Phillip laugh in that quiet way he had, as if amused at my worrying about him. But Tintabelle had tried to kill him once already. And what about this new Fairy King?

Chapter 21

Morning Mountains, Evening Sea

The fairies appeared around me while Phillip was still a hundred yards away. Down among the grasses and low brush where only I could see them, the tiny men and girls, in gowns and chitons, with their tiny bows were mixed in with the almost-human animals in their anachronistic garb. The mix seemed as unreal as ever, a mental schock. I gasped and stepped back.

Duke Leandro, his weaselly form in top hat and frock coat still only about eight inches tall, stepped forward and gestured back toward Phillip with his short little weasel arm. "Your lover?" he sneered the question.

I shook my head, angry but afraid. "He's just a friend," I said. The fairies tittered, like leaves in the wind.

"'Just a friend,'" said Leandro, still sneering. He looked me up and down, taking in the details of the dress I wore, my new hair-do, my jewelry and shoes. "A very clever way of nullifying your betrothal to Queen Tintabelle. I wouldn't have thought you would have the intellect to conceive such a plan. but it won't work, you know!"

I blinked. "I didn't..." I started to deny it but on one level it might be true. I hadn't been struggling against my transformation into a girl the way I had struggled against a wedding with Tintabelle. A wedding that had become even more unthinkable now. "It wasn't really a plan," I said weakly.

He snorted, his whiskers blowing out from his tiny weasel muzzle. "Not much of a plan. And it won't work. A fairy betrothal is forever unless erased by death!"

"What?" I didn't think I'd heard him correctly.

I looked up, suddenly aware of something else. Except in the area immediately around me, the bit of grass and scrub inhabited by fairies, time seemed to have stopped. Nothing moved except myself and the fairies. Less than fifty yards away, Roland and Phillip were stopped in mid-canter, like a video on pause. I gasped. Was this the spell Queen Tintabelle had referred to as an "Elfhill"?

Leandro had continued speaking during my confusion, I wrenched my attention away from the impossible scene around me and tried to concentrate on what he said.

"You can't escape your fate, Lady Pincerrie. You will either wed the monarch of faerie or someone will die," said the weasel. "I would prefer the wedding not happen; and your death would satisfy the alternate condition." He sneered at me again. Weasel faces are built for sneering.

I glanced around at a hundred fairy bows. I already knew they could take me down before I could act and if the magic on their arrows could make me unconscious it could probably also kill. Or once I was helpless, someone could just cut my throat with one of the fairy swords I'd seen. Leandro wore one now, a five inch blade with a long grip, looking like nothing so much as a miniature samurai sword. "I can't marry the queen," I said desperately. "The magic wish curse is turning me into a woman!"

"'Tis evident. But your treachery will not succeed. The Fairy King comes to wed you in Tintabelle's stead. His Majesty, Belcanto, King of the Morning Mountains and the Evening Sea, will fulfill the betrothal vows and save your worthless mortal life." He looked disgusted.

"No!" I said. "I don't want to marry anyone! And not someone I've never met!"

The voice caught me by surprise. "Now you have met me, lady." A deep, mellow voice, like that of Dr. Estevez but with a flavor of wind in the mountains and sunlight on the sea, came from behind me.

I turned quickly. A tall man, taller than Phillip, not a miniature fairy, stood within reach. His hair shone golden and his eyes were the blue that summer skies are supposed to be. He smiled and perfect teeth gleamed in a perfect mouth. He wore a midnight blue tunic, belted and trimmed with gold. Azure leggings and golden sandals adorned his beautiful long legs. He had jeweled rings on his fingers and a golden torque around his neck. I gaped.

"Your Majesty," said the weasel and all the fairies bowed. I stepped back then tried to bow also; but knowing I should curtsy, I almost stumbled when I realized I didn't know how. The fairies tittered their musical laughs and Belcanto's smile widened, his eyes twinkling. He seemed pleasantly amused and very likeable in a scary way. I think the word I want is charming, in more than one sense.

Faerie charms certainly abounded. All around us the world remained in its arrested state, except that I saw now that things were not completely frozen because Roland's forelegs had moved several inches. Phillip had changed position, too, I thought but I couldn't be sure of that. Time had not stopped outside our circle apparently, but only slowed.

While I dithered, trying to look in two directions at once, Belcanto took my hand. I wanted to snatch it back but his gaze met mine and stopped me. He kissed my fingertips. His lips felt soft as a butterfly landing. "I knew you would be beautiful," he said. Electric sensations left all my limbs tingling and I almost stumbled again.

"Your Majesty," I managed to gasp. "I don't want to marry you, either!"

He frowned at me and even his frown was beautiful. "A miscast spell has changed your sex but it hasn't released you from your promise to marry the Monarch of the Sidhe."

"But I didn't," I said. "I never promised that."

"By our laws you did; and since Tintabelle cannot marry another lady, she has yielded her claim to me." He hadn't released my hand yet and his fingers did something wonderful in my palm and to my brain.

It made it very hard to think and I still couldn't pull my hand back so I clasped his fingers to make him stop. Something about his scent made me dizzy, it seemed to be made of pines and sage and the sea and an odor I couldn't identify but was definitely male.

"Lady Pincerrie, would it be so terrible to marry me and be my queen?" he asked. The tenderness in his voice made me want to weep but the title the fairies had given me sounded so odd, I felt the courage to respond.

"I'm not a lady, sire," I said. "I'm not really a boy but I'm not a girl either."

"In only a few days you will be," said Belcanto. "The magic will continue its work, transforming you into my future fairy queen."

I took the opportunity, I had to ask. "Can the magic be undone?"

He shook his golden head. "Only the ninth wish if made by Tintabelle can undo this magic. And she has gone away from here, yielding her place to me."

I felt a thrill of relief and a pang of regret. I'd been happy enough being a boy; but being all one thing would be better and being a girl wasn't bad at all.

Belcanto pulled me to him, I could not resist him physically so I said, "I still can't marry you, I won't marry you." It sounded weak and irresolute, even to me. He held me against him and I felt his strength and his purity of purpose.

"There's a cost to every decision," he murmured. "When her magic went awry changing you into an unsuitable candidate to be her groom, Tintabelle realized that by fairy law only a death could dissolve the betrothal she had proclaimed. She still felt a weakness for you so she tried to kill your lover of horses instead but he was saved." He gestured toward where Phillip and Roland still approached so slowly. Belcanto's musical voice rang like funeral bells. "Tis easy to kill a mortal, though, I've done it many times."

I gasped and struggled against his hold. He let me go as far as the length of both our arms, tethering me by my wrist. "Don't kill him! You can't kill him!"

The warmth I had felt had left his voice. "A wedding or a death, Lady Pincerrie. 'Tis your choice, and if you will not marry the only way you may save your lover from me is to be willing to die yourself."

"You can't," I whimpered. "Phillip has not harmed you. He's innocent." I shook my hand but I could not free myself from the grip of the Fairy King.

His voice had winter in it now, glaciers and icebergs. "Only your vows or the offer of your life for his can save him, Lady." Belcanto seemed bigger than ever; his strength like a mountain, his will like the waves that pound the shore into sand.

"No, no," I sobbed and I would have fallen to my knees but he stepped closer and caught me up close again. I turned my face up to him and looked into his summer eyes through the tears that had filled my own.

"Marry me then, Megan of Pincerrie," he said. "Save him and yourself. Marry me and be the Queen of the Evening Mountains and the Sunset Sea. Be my fairy bride and you can have all the mortal lovers you desire, as well. I promise."

"I don't want to do that," I sobbed again. "I'm too young. I haven't had a chance to find out who I am yet!"

His beautiful fairy face only inches from mine, he spoke softly; gentle as the snow that covers a climber dying of exposure on a mountain, soft as the tide that pulls a swimmer to a drowning death. "This boy, Phillip. His horse can stumble again, a rathole, a patch of deep sand. Many things can happen. Phillip can fall and break his neck or his head. Choose, Megan. Phillip dies unless you save him. Offer me your life in his stead or marry me and both of you shall live."

I looked up toward Phillip and while time still seemed frozen, it began to move again as well. Time split in two. One Roland stayed frozen in midstride with Phillip safe on his back. But I saw the other Roland take two stides and stumble, he went up to his fetlocks in soft sand. I saw the other Phillip fall from the saddle. I heard the sound of his head hitting the ground.

My heart pounded,I gasped and strained to start toward them but the Fairy King held me back easily. He pulled me to him again. "'Tis only a vision I'm showing you of what might be," he said. "All you may do now is watch."

I watched, not breathing. Phillip lay unmoving and a red stain flowed from his head onto the withered green of the grass. "Save us, Lady Eden," begged Roland. He still struggled to free himself from the sand, in danger of snapping one of his fragile legs with his great strength.

The vision of what might be faded. Phillip and Roland stood like statues, caught in midstride by fairy magic but still alive. Phillip still in the saddle, Roland still with all four feet above the sand. Things were as they had been before. What I'd just seen hadn't happened -- yet.

Again I struggled to free myself. "Let me go," I pleaded.

"Choose," said Belcanto, pulling me back into his embrace. "Marriage vows or a funeral march." His voice and face were beautiful and terrible and I knew he could snuff out Phillip's life without a qualm.

I didn't seem to have any air. "I will marry you, then," I whispered to the Fairy King.

Belcanto smiled and all the warmth and wonder flowed back into his eyes and voice. He stepped back and I saw him in his majesty and beauty, The King of Morning Mountains and Evening Sea. His hair like sunlight, his eyes warm as summer skies, his lips....

He spoke. "Lady of the Daisies, Megan Pincerrie, I will marry you. The betrothal is renewed." He bowed to me without letting go of my hand, and somehow I fumbled a curtsy. Then he drew me within his arms again.

I felt lighter than foam on a breaking wave, insubstantial as mist as his arms closed around me. I made a faint noise, so frightened and baffled and charmed at the same time that I had no thought at all.

"Sealed with a kiss," he said and pressed his lips to mine. This was not a butterfly landing, this was a brand, hot as ice, cold as flame. It seared my lips and singed my soul, lifting me higher than mountains and piercing me deeper than the sea.

And with that touch of his burning cold fairy lips, King Belcanto and all the Fairy Court disappeared more quickly than it can be said.

Next - [Guardian at the Gate]

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