Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2001 03:33:23 From: Guy Trache <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: East of the Sun, West of the Moon Rainbow Fairy Book - East of the Sun, West of the Moon By Pfantazm ~~~ Author's Note: If I need to say this story isn't based on real people, living or dead, or true events, you really should cut back on the medication. What it is based on is the story of the same name from the Blue Fairy Book, (not the Red one, whatever you may have heard) edited by Andrew Lang, but significantly rewritten (though I'm amazed at how much I *didn't* need to rewrite; go read the original some time). Fairy tales have queens, magic wands, trolls, talking bears, and, every once in a while, fairies. I've never heard of one with a magic condom tree, so these characters had to do without. (How would you ever know they were ripe?) Natural latex is just tree sap, though, so we do have them here. Use a condom when you make your magic happen. To read more of my writing, well, first read this story, then the rest on www.pridesites.com/pfantazm/index.html . You can also write me at email@example.com . Oh, and one other thing: *Don't* stick a lit candle under your bed. I just couldn't think of a way that would allow Shea to do what the character in the original story did, quickly enough. ~~~ The knock was strange, as though someone were knocking with the points of a rake. The knock had to be loud, to be heard over the raging storm outside. `Probably some traveller, trapped out away from the road,' the housewife thought to herself. She braced herself and tugged at the rough door, which stuck when it was wet out. It was a brown bear. The housewife grabbed her broom leaning near the door and screamed. The farmer and several children rushed over to see what was wrong. The housewife moved to strike. The bear growled something that sounded like "Please." The woman froze. She looked closely at the bear for the first time. It was wearing a thin brown cloak, holey and patched from where branches and brambles had torn it. The bear stood on his hind legs, but only waited, not even with a paw up to block a vicious broom handle. "May I come in?" it - he, growled. The woman looked to her husband. Well, he *had* knocked. She stood back, and the bear lumbered in out of the rain. The tiny house filled with the smell of wet fur. "Would you like to sit down?" the housewife offered warily. The bear looked at the rickety wooden chair by the fire. It would never support his weight. Instead the bear sat, as any would, upright on his backside, his lower paws splayed under him. "Would you like something to drink?" the housewife asked. By now the rain barrel should be more than full.... "No, thank you," came the rumbling reply. "I have come to make you a proposal. Where is your eldest son, Shea?" The farmwife glanced to her husband. "Fixin' a fence," he said. "In such a storm as this?" "Needs doin'." "He should be here. My proposal involves him." The housewife patted one of her younger sons' shoulders. "Richie, go and fetch your brother. Quickly, now." The young boy ran, barefoot and without a coat, out onto the rough track to the fields. "What do you want with Shea?" the farmer asked. "I have seen him, and I think he may be able to help me," the bear replied. He felt something touch his leg. The bear looked down and saw a little girl, no older than five, with one hand's fingers in her mouth and the other stroking his sodden fur. The mother rushed over and scooped up her daughter. "Anna, no! You leave that - leave the nice bear be." Anna grinned, still staring at the animal. "It's quite alright," the bear growled amiably. It was hard to tell, what with the bear's dark features and the poorly lit room, but the farmer would bet the bear was smiling. Moments later, more children ran into the small shack, including the boy sent out a few minutes ago, and the young man the bear knew as Shea. He'd seen him - "watched him" would be more accurate - on those days when he risked coming here. He would look out upon the potato field where he usually worked, crouched in hiding in the bush. It had been a run of luck that he hadn't been chased off, or actively hunted, for venturing out in this form. At night Shea slept here, inside this hovel, when he dared not come spying, despite the advantages of travelling after dark.... The youth stared at him, as though his brother had told him there was a *bear* in their house, but Shea hadn't believed him. He was beautiful. The beast sat forward, setting his forepaws on the floorboards so that none could see his excitement. As he did so, the humans instinctively stepped backward. All except for Shea. Perhaps there was hope. "Hello, Shea," the bear said, in a voice as human as he was capable of. "Hello," said the stunned young man. "The proposal I have for you, good folk, is this. I have the magical means to make you as rich as you are now poor. Over the course of one week, your lives will be changed for the better. You will have a larger house, more land, and gold enough to hire hands to help you tend it, or to tend it for you if you so choose. You will never want for anything again. "All I ask in return is that Shea comes to stay with me. He may even come and visit for a day, but the nights he must spend in my home." Shea's mother looked frightened. His father shifted his gaze between his son and the bear. "I assure you that he will never come to any harm so long as he is in my care, and he will live and eat well. There is no need to worry about his safety. As you can hear, I am no common forest creature." Shea spoke for his family. "Must we decide now?" "No," rumbled the bear. "This is a difficult decision, and it should not be made in haste. One week from now, at midday, I will come again to your cottage for an answer. If you do not return with me, Shea, I will not come back." "One week," he repeated. "I will think about it." The housewife started at this. "Until then," the bear said, and he got to his paws, still awkwardly trying to cover himself. The farmer opened the door for his guest. The bear exited. Shea saw the bear run soon after he left the shack, but the forest around his home was so thick, an animal so big as that couldn't run through the trees. Even so, when Shea looked out the door, the bear was nowhere to be seen. * * * That week was full of arguments, and of chores refused to be done. His mother would not give in. She believed that Shea should not go. Shea argued that he was old enough to decide for himself, and that the family needed the money. There would be no reason to suffer any longer. His mother countered that they would suffer if anything happened to him. Shea's father kept himself distant from the argument. He agreed with Shea; it really should be his decision, he thought. The boy - young man, was old enough. On the other hand, he was not fool enough to directly contradict his wife. Not when it came to the safety of her children. She could be quite stubborn, and the only way to survive times like this was simply to let her talk herself out. By the time the day finally came she still had not done so. Shea had packed his things, and his mother had unpacked them. She spent nights crying. She was crying again when the bear returned for Shea, and she knew he was going with it. Shea kissed his mother and father goodbye and went out into the glade surrounding his home. He carried with him a sack containing his few belongings, and he wore his best clothes, though even they were ragged and patched. The bear stood on all fours and eyed him. "Are you afraid?" he growled. "I'm not," Shea replied, his voice steady enough. The bear made some deep grunting noises. Was he laughing? "We shall see. Climb onto my back. We have far to travel this day." Shea walked up to the bear and awkwardly sat himself astride the bear's wide body. "Keep tight hold of my cape. We can't have you falling off." The young man held onto the old cape loosely with one hand. "Ready? Here we go," said the bear and he walked forward. He was headed into the trees again. The bear sped up. He was running faster than an animal that size should have been able to go. Shea wondered how it could be, but wisely gripped the cape with both hands until his knuckles were white. The ride got shakier as the bear prepared to leap... ...and the forest was gone. * * * The air above the clouds was very chill. His rags were not enough to keep him warm. He wished his winter coat wasn't packed in his sack. Shea rode with his knees tight against the beast's body and his chest against his back. He dared not try to pull the coat out - his hands were holding onto the cape, and he might drop the sack tucked under his own stomach, or he might fall off altogether. The bear continued to run. He could feel the beast's limbs moving as they flew high in the sky. `How can he run when the ground is so far below?' he wondered. If the bear were running across the tops of the clouds, that would make sense. Shea found he didn't understand any of it and just held on. It felt like they rode for hours. They arrived at a mountain peak that jutted up through the clouds. The sun was setting, turning everything orange and red. Shea thought the clouds, usually puffy, white and calm, looked angry, and more like the pitching seas the mummers would tell tales about. The mountaintop had been carved into a fortress, and the look of it in sunset colours frightened Shea. He wondered if they would be attacked. They landed safely and quietly, though, and no soldiers came to capture them. Shea slid down off the bear's back and looked around. The stronghold was enormous, with its towers and walkways and buildings. It was bigger than anyplace Shea had dreamed of. "Welcome to my home," said the bear. * * * The bear led the way to a dining room in a regal hall. Everything seemed covered in silver and gold. The ceilings were high enough that Shea and the bear could go flying again, and intricate tapestries hung down along the walls. The dining table could seat hundreds, it seemed to Shea, and there was more food than he could eat in a day. `This is just like a castle in a story,' Shea thought in awe, `but where are all the people?' "Sit down and eat, Shea," said the bear. "Have as much as you like." Shea looked over the table and pulled out one of the chairs. "When you are done, you will find a silver bell over on the mantle. Ring it, and anything you wish will be yours." The bear turned to leave the room. "Won't you stay and eat?" asked Shea. "I can't. There is something I must do." The bear did not look back. "Wait!" Shea cried as the bear hurried to the door. The young man chased after him. He heard the bear mutter, "It's later than I thought...." The beast ran, not as he ran into the forest by Shea's house, but at a lope, the way a bear would normally run. "Wait! I don't even know your name!" "I am Magnus," the bear called as he turned the corner. When Shea got there, the bear had disappeared again. * * * Shea ate from the table: meats and bread, cheese and fruit and cakes. He wanted to try everything, but soon he was full. 'Perhaps,' Shea thought, 'Magnus will come back to eat later.' The farmer's son waited, but Magnus did not return. Shea began to get sleepy. He wondered how he was going to find a place to sleep when he remembered the bell. He picked up the little round bell and shook it. The bell had barely begun to ring when everything went dark. When Shea could see again, he was in another room. This room, an apartment, was just as lavishly furnished as the dining hall was. There was an intricately crafted rug in front of the fireplace, which was not lit. The couches nearby were upholstered with fabric much like the rug, and they were wide and soft. There was a wardrobe against the opposite wall that was full of fine clothing, and it all seemed to be his size. The moon was up, and Shea could see the clouds that surrounded the mountaintop out the balcony door, white and fluffy. The sky was full of stars. There was one door, which led into a hallway, and another, simpler, one in the corner. Shea didn't want to venture out into the fortress. He could get lost and not find his way back to this room. He could use the bell again, but it was obviously very powerful, and Shea did not want to waste it. The other door led to a bathroom, with a large stone tub. He'd heard that kings and queens took baths with hot water rather than washing in the river. He wondered what it would be like. He fingered the bell handle. 'It wouldn't be *such* a waste,' Shea reasoned. 'After all, I haven't bathed, and I'll not find a river here in the clouds.' Shea rang the bell. The stone tub began to fill up by itself, the water coming in through the cracks between the stones. The water looked steamy, and Shea worried that he might be cooked like soup. He tested it with his fingertips. The water was only warm, not boiling, and Shea began to undress. He shrugged out of his rags, leaving them in a pile on the floor. Shea sat on the edge, and dipped a toe, then a foot, then slowly sank his thin, but strong body into the bathwater. 'Ohhh, this feels good. Relaxing,' Shea thought, 'not chill and sharp like the river.' He lay back and let himself soak. He noticed a cake of soap on the side of the tub. Shea was sure it had not been there when he made his wish. How long had it been there? 'No matter,' he said to himself, and he set to work scrubbing himself clean. There were two problems with a bath that Shea had not had to deal with in the creek back home. First, the water, being still, didn't wash the soap away, so he had to rinse with dirty, soapy water. Secondly, he had no idea how he was going to empty the bath now that he was done. He hoped his wish would take care of it. He stepped out of the tub - and his clothes were gone. *That* wasn't what he'd wanted when he'd rung the bell. A towel had appeared but he couldn't very well walk around the fortress with just that. Then Shea remembered the wardrobe. If those clothes fit, then he'd have something to wear. This was a lesson though. He'd have to be more careful about using the bell. The bell! It had been in his pocket. Shea dried off, then boldly strode into the bedchamber, with the towel in his hand. His clothes weren't there, but the silver bell sat on the table beside the bed. Shea sighed relief, and he left it there. He would not use the bell again that night. He looked more closely into the wardrobe, and saw that those clothes were still there. The bell was not scheming to keep him nude. Among the various garments was a nightshirt. Shea left it there. He slept in the raw. Shea thought it was about that time, too. He'd had a long journey and it was late. He turned down the bed. Once the lamp was blown out and the room was dark, Shea climbed into bed. It was wonnnnnderful. The mattress was so comfortable, and the pillow was so soft, it was like sleeping on one of the clouds outside the window. Just as he was drifting off, Shea felt movement behind him. Someone was climbing into the bed. "Shea?" asked a deep voice. It sounded familiar, but different somehow. "Magnus?" "I hope you don't mind...." That was it. It was the bear's voice, but without the growl. What he heard was a resonant bass. Shea rolled over to face Magnus. He could feel a nightshirt, and from the way he was moving around, the bear was much lighter. Shea laid a hand on him. He wasn't a bear! He was shaped like a man. Shea was too tired to think about it. "I don't mind," he said, and he rolled back over. Magnus moved closer and laid an arm over the farmboy, and Shea snuggled against Magnus' chest. * * * The next morning Shea found the kitchen before he found Magnus. When he awoke, he was alone. He washed his face - whether Magnus had left a washbowl of warm water for him, or whether his wish from last night was *still* trying to please him, he couldn't know - and looked around for him. Shea called his name many times. His clothes hadn't come back, so he looked into the wardrobe and found a shirt and trousers that fit. There were other, more fancy, clothes, but Shea didn't feel right about borrowing those. The farmboy ventured out into the fortress. The little silver bell was in his pocket. 'I'm not using it unless I get hopelessly lost,' he thought. 'It's too dangerous.' In wandering around, Shea discovered several things. First, the fortress was huge. There were rooms enough that it would take Shea an eternity to search them all. And that was before he left the building where he was staying. Second, there were no people anywhere. Shea had thought that in a castle such as this - that was how Shea thought of it - there would be noblemen and their wives, servants, soldiers (Wouldn't a fortress have even more soldiers than a castle?), and so on, but Shea never encountered a soul. He also learned, third, that there had likely been lots of people once. Shea wandered outside and found some houses, for people related to the castle, he guessed. They had all the usual things: furniture, cupboards full of dishes, wardrobes full of clothes, children's toys. They reminded Shea of home. The houses seemed to be abandoned, as though the people had just dropped everything and left. Soon he returned to the castle, before he lost track of where it was, and found the kitchen. He made himself breakfast as best he could. There was no lack of supplies, from wood for the stove to fresh milk and cream. Shea stopped asking himself where you could chop trees or leave a cow to graze on a mountaintop. There *was* no sensible answer, so why ask the question? After exploring the empty building for most of the day, he found a large room, filled floor to ceiling with books. Shea had no idea there were so many books in all the world! The bindings were wood and leather dyed many colours, and the shelves on which they sat were all different sizes to accommodate tall books, and not waste space for short ones. Shea couldn't read, so he could only imagine what stories might be inside. The room was deep enough that it turned a corner. Around the bend in the library there was a stand for a book to be left open and read. Standing at it was Magnus, but he had returned to being a bear. Magnus began to mutter and Shea's hair stood on end all along his arms and legs. A bright golden light made Shea turn away and shield his eyes. There was a high-pitched keening that Shea couldn't quite hear, but he felt in his ears. When it was over, Shea heard Magnus curse. Shea looked back, but nothing seemed different. The bear turned to him. "Shea. I didn't realize you were there." Magnus smiled and stepped down from the lectern. "How are you doing?" "I'm well. I've been spending the day looking around. Where is everyone?" Magnus' smile weakened a little. "Everyone?" "The people who live here. This place is so large and grand, I find it hard to believe it's all yours." "It's not...." Magnus chose his next words carefully. "The people left. I hope that they will soon be able to come back." "Is that what you were doing? Trying to help them with your magic?" Magnus grinned again. "I suppose that's true. If I succeed, the people will come back. Now no more questions about them. I'm afraid I've told you all I can." Shea's eyes sparkled. "You must be a very powerful wizard, indeed!" Magnus laughed. "Wizard? No, I'm only learning. I can't even claim to be an apprentice." He looked to the lectern, then back again. "I've had my fill of it for the day. What would you like to do?" "Would you read me a story from one of these books?" "You like stories, Shea?" "Yes! It's my favourite time of year when the troubadour visits the village near the farm. We've never missed it." "Then let's go into the study and I'll tell you tales." * * * They spent the afternoon in front of the window, looking out over the clouds, and Shea listened to every fairy story Magnus knew. When the sun started to set, though, Magnus excused himself and disappeared just as he had the day before. Shea found the dining room himself, where another sumptuous dinner was waiting. When his meal was done, Shea was forced to ring the bell again to get to the bedroom. By the time he had bathed, the moon had risen and the room was dark. Shea climbed into bed nude as was his way. And he waited. Soon enough, he felt Magnus join him in the bed. Shea rolled over to face and laid a hand on his arm. It was hairy, not furry. He was human once more. "I was hoping you'd come again," Shea said. "I'm glad," said Magnus. Shea's fingers found a sleeve. "Why do you wear a shirt to bed?" "Why do you wear nothing? It's what I am accustomed to." "Doesn't it get tangled up in the night when you roll over?" "Sometimes." "Then why not take it off?" "I don't think--" Shea pulled up the tail of the shirt, and something solid and warm hit his thigh. The farmboy touched it. Slowly, the older man touched Shea in the same place, and he hardened in Magnus' hand. Shea ran his other hand under the nightshirt across Magnus' thickly hairy chest. Magnus pulled him close and they kissed. Shea discovered his host had a moustache and beard. Their bodies twisted together as one as their lust rose. Magnus wrestled his way out of the nightshirt and tossed it onto the floor. The two men clutched at each other, Magnus' hairy body scratching against Shea's smooth skin. The man-bear rolled over Shea and hovered just above him. He kissed down the farmboy's neck to his chest and his hair brushed lightly against Shea's flesh, making his body sing with sensation. Shea gasped in air as Magnus' bristly mouth and chin nuzzled his sensitive stomach and abdomen. Magnus' fingers caressed his guest's sides. The young man's body was healthy and strong from the demands of arm life, and his body nearly fully developed. Shea's chest rose and fell sharply because of his excitement. And when Magnus slipped the farmboy's cock into his mouth and licked him, he lost all control. He sat up and yelped, "Oh, oh, oh!" as he came into Magnus' mouth. When he was done, Shea collapsed onto the pillows and Magnus crawled up beside him. Magnus tenderly stroked Shea's face as his breathing returned to normal. The younger man felt along Magnus' arm and shoulder to find his face in the darkness. He cradled it in his palm before approaching for a kiss. Their bodies drew close once more, and they rolled back and forth, grinding into each other. They came to rest with Shea on top, and he began to kiss and nuzzle his way down Magnus' body. The older man settled back and enjoyed it. When Shea found his nipple and amid all the hair, the bear-man rumbled his approval. His big hands came to rest on Shea's slender waist and hips while he devoured Magnus' chest. Soon enough, Shea's hands roamed down Magnus' body, seeking his manhood. In the total dark, it was the only way to find it. Shea felt the tightness of Magnus' stomach, the soft skin of his hips, the strength of his legs and the wiry curls of the hair around his crotch. The side of his hand bumped into Magnus' cock, straight and hard. Shea kneeled over it and took it in both hands. Its length and girth were impressive, daunting. The young man thought that his own must surely be smaller. Magnus felt in Shea's grip that his hands were shaking. He sat up carefully, and took Shea into his arms. "This is your first time, in matters of the bedroom?" Shea nodded timidly, then remembered Magnus could not see him, and whispered a hoarse yes. "It's quite alright. You need not do a thing." "I - I want to." Magnus' fingers read the contours of Shea's face. He kissed the young man on the cheek, tenderly. He helped him to his knees and he could feel Shea's breath on his face. Magnus' fingertips tripped, bouncing, down Shea's smooth skin until it reached his crotch. He waited. Shea's hand found Magnus' shoulder, then travelled across his furry chest and down to Magnus' crotch. The bear-man's hand held Shea's cock, which was hard again. Shea's hand slipped beneath his host's member, and cradled it. Slowly, and with a feather touch, Magnus began to stroke the organ in his hand. Shea groaned, his cock aching with fullness and desire. The younger man remembered himself and mimicked the action on Magnus. In time Magnus sped up, as did Shea, and gradually the farmboy gained his confidence. They manhandled each other, using their leaking juices to speed their way. Magnus stopped and rolled to his side before Shea, his head in the younger man's lap. He continued stroking him while he waited for him to follow. There was no thought to whether he would; Magnus simply knew it would happen. Sure enough, Shea's cock turned in his hand as he got in position. The youth's breathing quickened. Magnus ceased his manual pleasures and wrapped his lips about the head of Shea's penis, just letting it rest inside. After a moment's pause, Magnus felt a wet heat on his own manhood. The bear-man licked, and so did Shea. He took more into his mouth, and Shea copied. Magnus kissed and nuzzled the balls before him, and got the same in return. And now Shea was sucking him without coaching, taking to it as naturally as a bird to the air, and needing to be cautioned just twice, "No teeth." What Shea's technique lacked for experience was made up for with the spirit of youth and Magnus was groaning appreciation around a throatful of farmboy. Shea, on the other hand, was silent through their lovemaking. The only noise was when, after an agonizingly long time, Magnus' talents finally brought him to release. As he burst forth, Magnus lapped the young man's essence down. Magnus almost expected him to stop after he came, but Shea eagerly sucked on Magnus' cock even then. The bear-man grinned in the dark. "Don't tire yourself out," he warned. "I'm not as young as you. I'll take longer." Shea nursed on Magnus' member, drinking the sticky, bittersweet syrup he leaked out, until, at last, Magnus cried out for Shea to make ready, and he tasted semen for the first time. It came out in a gush, filling his mouth again and again. Shea swallowed almost all of it, missing only a few drops out of the corner of his mouth. The young man let go of Magnus and licked his lips. Magnus gathered him into his arms and kissed his forehead. "Thank you. That was wonderful." Shea smiled broadly. "Thank you." He yawned. "Let's get some sleep now, my sweet one." They settled in, Shea spooned inside Magnus' arms and they slept. When Shea awoke, though, he was alone again. * * * Shea found Magnus in the library again. He was back at the lectern and back to being a bear again. He was reading one of the many books. "Magnus?" The beast raised a claw at Shea while he continued to read. The farmboy chewed his lip and waited. After a minute or two the bear turned his way. "Good morrow, Shea," he said warmly. "That was... you... last night, wasn't it?" The bear paused for a moment, then nodded once, as though granting a fact reluctantly. "How is it that you're an animal again when--" "Shea," Magnus interrupted, "please don't ask me that. They are answers I cannot give you." It was like that for every day that week. It seemed that any time Shea asked about Magnus, or the fortress, or why he was there, the bear said the same things. "Please don't ask me. I cannot tell you the answer." Sometimes Magnus would spend the afternoon with Shea, but more often he would spend all day long in the library, reading and practicing magic. He never seemed to eat, at least not in the dining room and he never came to the kitchen Shea had found. Perhaps there was another, but in exploring the fortress, Shea had not stumbled upon it. In the evenings Shea would dine alone, then prepare for bed. This was only thing Shea had to look forward to. Before they went to sleep, the human Magnus would show Shea the pleasures of lovemaking. Shea never saw Magnus as a man, though. When Shea asked why he appeared after the lights were put out, Magnus only said, "I cannot say. Please do not ask me." Shea was very lonely. Finally, one day, Shea interrupted Magnus in his studies. "Magnus, when I came here, you told me that I could visit my family for the day. I think I would like to." This got Magnus' attention. Shea continued, "Because, well, I've already explored everywhere in this fortress I can find to go, and you're always busy, and, and, there is no one else..." Under Magnus' gaze, he began to feel like he'd made a dangerous mistake. "If that is what you wish, then so it shall be," said the bear sadly. "I will take the rest of the day to prepare, and I will take you to your family tomorrow. Now, if you would, I need solitude to make ready." Shea muttered a thank-you, and left Magnus to work his magic. Disconsolate, Shea returned to the bedroom where he and Magnus slept. He knew his way around the place well enough by now that he could walk there, rather than rely on the bell. In fact, he went to the bedroom to fetch the bell that he left on the nightstand. Something was wrong. He held the little silver bell in his hand, wondering what to do. It had caused trouble before, by giving him more than he wished for. On the other hand, there had been enough of a change in Magnus' behaviour that it frightened him. He wanted to know what was going on. He rang the bell. Everything went black again, though his eyes stayed open, and when Shea could see again, he was in the sitting room where Magnus had kept him entertained with stories. He looked around. The bell's magic was subtle, he noticed. You could never see it happen. Things happened only when you weren't looking. The soap had appeared in the bathroom so that Shea hadn't been sure it hadn't been there all along. Similarly, his clothes had disappeared some time after he'd stopped keeping an eye on them. If the answer he wanted was here, he'd have to find out what had now changed in the room. It didn't take long. Where the fireplace had been, there was now an image of Magnus in his library. Shea could watch what his bear friend was doing. He sat at a table before a crystal ball. Shea saw his lips moving, though he could hear nothing. The crystal glowed. Magnus gazed into its depths, as intently as Shea stared at him. What Shea saw next broke his heart. He did not know that bears could weep. The image faded. * * * The ritual of the night changed only at bedtime. When Shea was joined by Magnus after the lights were out, he only spoke. "Your mother will want to get you alone. Take nothing from her, or you will bring a great misery down on both of us." "Magnus, what--?" "Please do not ask anything more. I have told you all that I can." Magnus rolled away from Shea and remained silent. Breakfast was waiting for him when he awoke. He sat on one of the couches to eat, then dressed. He wore some of the finer clothes from the wardrobe, but still not anything too fancy. Magnus was waiting in the hallway for him when he emerged. The bear wore what Shea had thought of as his travelling cloak. "Are you ready, Shea?" The young man nodded, and followed the bear out to the parapets where they had originally landed. She climbed onto Magnus' back and gripped the cloak. Magnus ran, and they took off. Shea saw a white house in the middle of a large farm from the air. As they descended, Shea saw two of his sisters run inside. Was this where his family was living now? Magnus hit the ground at the same moment his mother ran out of the door. Shea dismounted and jumped into her arms. "I will go in search of supplies," the bear said. "We must be home before the setting of the sun. When I return for you at midday, you must be ready to leave." "Midday?" cried Shea's mother. "So soon? That hardly seems fair." "It is out of my control, good woman. Enjoy the time you have." The bear ambled off into the woods. "Come inside, Shea, and see the house. Richard, call your brothers and sisters and your papa. Shea won't be here long." The young boy ran off. Shea's mother rushed him through a tour of the house which ended in her bedroom. His family's new home was the sort he'd always dreamed about, spacious enough for all his siblings, no drafts in the wind or freezing- cold corners, and the roof didn't leak. Every room was furnished handsomely, and his mother was wearing a dress he'd never seen before. Magnus had certainly kept his promise. The farmwife sat her son on the bed and closed the door. "Now," she said, "tell me all about where you've been." Shea described the fortress and its lack of people, and the silver bell and what it could do. "It sounds to me like he's taken you to The Kingdom in the Clouds. I've been sending some of the farm hands out to find some clue to where you might have gone. That was one name that we heard again and again. Now, what about this bear? What do you know about him?" "His name is Magnus and he does magic. He's told me stories and he's been my friend. He always disappears around sunset and comes back when I've gone to bed. When he does, he's not a bear anymore. He turns back into a man! He's trying to--" "Wait, Shea, what do you mean he turns into a man? Have you seen him?" "Well, no, mama," Shea said, "but even in the dark, I can tell the difference between a bear and a man. They're not the same shape, and he's hairy, but it's not like fur." "He's hairy?" she asked. "One of the things I've heard is that the trolls are moving south toward us, and that they've already passed The Kingdom in the Clouds. I think this Magnus is a troll, Shea! That's why he doesn't let you see him." Shea was struck dumb. His mother took his hands in hers. "Shea, you can't go back with him." "You're wrong. He's only trying to help the people who live in the fortress. I trust him." "Shea," his mother argued, "you don't know what he could do to you! The things I've heard--" "Magnus isn't a troll. You just don't want me to leave again." They heard Shea's family come into the house. "I don't want to spend the time you're here arguing," said Shea's mother. She reached behind her and took a candle end. She pressed it into Shea's palm. "Please promise me you'll find out." Magnus' words from last night echoed in his ears. He shouldn't take anything from her now. "Mama," came a small voice from beyond the door, "are you and Shea in there?" "Shea, please," she insisted. "I will, Mama." Relieved, Shea's mother gave him a hug and a kiss and they greeted the whole family. * * * Shea spent the morning playing with his family. Colin had lost another tooth. Dru was making doe-eyes at one of the new farm hands. Tiercel admired his older brother for striking out on his own and wanted to do the same. When Magnus arrived at noon, he was ready to go. He said goodbye, climbed onto Magnus' back and they departed. On the trip back to the fortress, Shea thought about the situation he was in. Magnus was unnaturally reluctant to talk about where the people of the fortress had gone, why he was a bear during the daylight, and why he, Shea, was there at all. Perhaps it was all to hide the fact that he was a troll. On the other hand, if Magnus was going to do something horrible to him, wouldn't he have done so by now? What could he be waiting for? Magnus had been perfectly pleasant so far. When they landed nigh sundown and Magnus ran off into the shadows, Shea still had not decided who to believe. * * * That night, Shea lit the candle and hid it under the large bed. He stuffed his towel from that evening and some of the clothes from the wardrobe around the bed so that the light wouldn't show. When it grew dark, Shea waited. Magnus climbed into the bed as usual but did not touch Shea. "Did you have a good time with your family?" "Yes. It was good to see them again." "I'm glad to hear it," Magnus said, with a sadness that belied his words. "Excuse me," said Shea, and he trotted into the bathroom. He sat on the edge of the bath. `Should I go through with this?' he asked himself. `Is he lying to hide the fact that he's a troll? Is that why he won't answer my questions?' Shea needed to know. What harm could it do? He crept toward the bed, crouched down to get the tiny candle, and whipped it out. "No!!" Magnus cried. He pulled the covers up over his head, but it was too late. Shea had seen his face. Magnus was human. "I knew you wouldn't listen! You needed only to wait one year and my people would have been free!" Shea heard Magnus scramble to get free of the covers and off the bed. Magnus was groaning and screaming as if in pain. The farmboy had blown out the candle when Magnus panicked, and he could not find the flint to light it again. When the noise from Magnus stopped, Shea circled the bed and felt his way toward him, speaking his name. His hand touched something furry and he jumped back tripping onto the bed. Shea felt very vulnerable, realizing he was naked in the dark with what could be an angry bear. "I can tell you the whole story now," Magnus said, the growl in his voice once more. "If you could have lived like this, without seeing my true form for a year, the spell on me would have been broken. Now my people will be consigned to slavery forever, and I will be wedded to the Troll Queen." The trolls. His mother had said they'd come as far south as The Kingdom in the Clouds, but Magnus was a victim, not a villain. "You were my one hope, Shea, and now I've let my people down." The room became quiet. Shea fumbled for the light. When he could see again, Magnus was gone. * * * Shea cried himself to sleep that night, and when he awoke, he was no longer in the fortress. He was lying nude in a meadow at the foot of a tall mountain. The candle end his mother had given him was still clutched in his hand, and his original clothes lay nearby. "Magnus?" Shea yelled, but there was no answer. The young man sat there for many hours, weeping at the loss of him, and at the thought that he was responsible for the destruction of an entire kingdom. Hunger got the better of him soon, though. He got dressed in his old rags. In the pocket of the trousers was the bell he'd lost the first night he was in the fortress. He rang it loudly, wishing to be home, wishing for food, wishing hardest of all to have Magnus back. Nothing happened. Shea put the bell away, and set out to try to find his way home. Would his family's new home be gone as well, now that Magnus' spells were broken? Shea hoped not. The young man walked all day until he came to a cottage near the forest. `Perhaps I can get something to eat here, or at least get directions,' Shea thought. He knocked on the door. "Help!" yelled an old woman. "Hello?" said Shea. "Oh, please help me! I'm behind the house!" Shea went through the gate and behind the house, where he found the old woman, her legs trapped under a load of firewood. "The woodpile collapsed on me! Please get me out!" Shea worked to free her, stacking the wood properly, and helped the old woman up. "Oh, bless you, young man! How can I ever thank you?" Shea said that he could use something to eat, and help finding his way home. "Well, now," she said, "if you can help me in the kitchen, I can do the first for you at least." * * * Gertrude was still limping from being trapped, but between the two of them, they put dinner together. "Now, young man," she said after they'd sat down to eat, "what brings you here without you knowing where you are?" Shea told her about Magnus and what he'd done. When he was finished, she said, "Oh, my. And all you want to do is go home?" "I don't know what else to do," said Shea. "I can't climb the mountain, and I don't know where Magnus is." "Well, you're right on one part. No one can climb the mountain to The Kingdom in the Clouds. It's protected. You do know where Magnus is now, though. He told you." "Where?" "In the castle of the Land of the Trolls. That's where the queen would be." "I don't know where that is. I don't even know where I am now." "The Troll Kingdom is east of the sun and west of the moon, very far away. No one could walk to such a place, but I think I know a way you can get there." "How?" "Wait until the morning. It's dangerous to travel around here at night. Trolls." Shea spent the night, and the next day Gertrude instructed Shea to journey to the cave of the North Wind. "If anyone can get you there, the North Wind can. No horse could ever get you to the trolls, but Betsy knows the way to the cave." "But I've never ridden a horse before," said Shea. "Don't worry, dear," Gertrude told him. "Betsy's very gentle. Now, give the North Wind this ring and tell him Gertie sent you. That'll take care of everything. Just give Betsy a slap on the rump and she'll run right home again." Shea gave his thanks, took the food that Gertrude gave him, and set off. Betsy the horse did seem to know just where she was going, and by the afternoon, he came to a cave that angled underground and was covered in frost and ice. "This must be the cave of the North Wind," Shea said to himself, "but how do I get down without slipping and breaking my neck?" Shea sent the horse on her way back to Gertrude's cottage and approached the cave. "Is there anybody here?" he yelled. A chilling gust of wind blew forth from the cave, and a loud voice boomed, "Who dares to disturb the North Wind?" Shea was blown backwards and fell to the ground. He started to get up. "M-my n-name is Shea. Gertrude said you might be able to help me." "If that is true," bellowed the North Wind, sending Shea sprawled on the stony ground once more, "then she would have given you a token as proof." Shea stayed on the ground. "She gave me a ring." "Throw it into the mouth of the cave," When the latest blast of icy wind passed, Shea stood up and threw the ring as hard as he could into the mouth of the cave. He listened to it bounce against the glistening crystalline walls until it was too far to hear. A snow-filled whirlwind came out of the cave, and Shea crouched down to keep from falling over. When he looked up, an elderly man stood before him. "You speak the truth, young man. What can I do for you?" "Gertrude said that you might be able to help me get to the Land of the Trolls, east of the sun and west of the moon. I need to find the castle." A small dustdevil sprang up, spinning a leaf above the North Wind's outstretched hand. "I did manage to blow a single leaf that far into the Land of the Trolls, but it took all my strength to do it," he said as the leaf blew away. "Why would you want to go to such a place?" Shea told the North Wind what he'd done, and that he wanted to free Magnus and his people. "For such a cause, I will do what I can, but I must rest for a day before trying it. Even then I cannot guarantee that I will be able to take you all the way there. You are much heavier than a leaf." Shea spent the night bundled up warmly near the cave. It was far too cold in the cave for Shea to stay long, even with the blankets the North Wind provided. Early the next morning, the North Wind woke Shea. After he dressed and ate, the North Wind picked him up and carried him high into the sky. The ride across the lands between the cave and the trolls' castle was rough, as Shea's body was pushed up by gusts of wind. Sometimes the windstorm would forget Shea wasn't a leaf and he would spin through the air, out of control. The closer they get to their destination, the lower Shea got. The North Wind was tiring, as he knew he would, and Shea was afraid he would fall. Soon, the North Wind had to give up, as he could not take Shea any further. He brought the young man down near a deadwood forest. The trees were grey and barren, even though it was spring. He heard a whispering at his ear. "I'm sorry, Shea. I cannot go any further. The castle is on the other side of these woods. I can stay with you and lead you, but I cannot carry you there." Shea was very frightened. Gertrude had said that where she lived was dangerous at night because of the trolls. Here he was in the troll kingdom! The sun was setting. "The cover of the forest will be safer than out in the open," the North Wind whistled. "Fewer creatures live there." Nervously, Shea picked up a fallen branch to use as a walking stick, and maybe a weapon, and ventured into the woods. Shea had walked half a mile at the most when he heard a screeching sound. It could have been some kind of hawk, but Shea had never heard such a call in his life. It sent a shiver right through his bones. As Shea trudged carefully through the dying trees, the bird would shriek again occasionally. It was getting closer. He stopped to pull his blanket further up onto his shoulders, and the North Wind howled, "Look out!" Shea heard wingbeats behind him and he ducked just in time. The creature swooped over his head, and he felt one of its talons scratch him. Shea ran. The bird beast screamed louder than ever and circled a copse of trees. The woods here were rather sparse and the creature could move fairly freely. Shea was trying to find cover. The wind picked up, blowing at his back and to the side. The blanket was falling off so he pulled it from his back and balled it up under his arm as he ran. The cold wind cut through his tattered clothing, now blowing right at his side, pushing him. `It's the North Wind!' Shea realized. `It's leading me to safety.' The farmboy turned so that the wind was at his back. The bird couldn't turn so easily among the trees, and the Wind was making it harder to fly. It was quickly chasing Shea again, though, and it moved faster through the air than Shea could on foot. Shea looked back in the amber light of dusk and saw the black shape of his adversary, claws splayed beneath it. "Let go of the blanket," the wind said. Shea let it fall behind him and continued running toward the denser forest ahead. He heard a muffled cry from behind him and a crash. He turned to look. The North Wind had caught the blanket and sent it at Shea's attacker. It got tangled up, and flew into a tree. Shea saw the thing tumble to the ground out of the blanket, which had caught in the tree. "It's stunned, young man. It won't bother you again," whispered the North Wind. Shea shivered as he crept over to the downed creature. It lay on its back on the forest floor, claws up, wings out, just as he'd seen it over his shoulder. Now that it was still, it seemed smaller. It looked like a hawk, but its feathers were as black as a raven's. Shea had never heard of a bird its size hunting a human. Attacking one, yes, if he was foolish enough to disturb it. It had to have been quite hungry to try something so desperate. "Hurry," the North Wind whispered. "It will be dark soon. You must make shelter for yourself. Take the blanket." Shea pulled it down from the tree, and the wind led him into the dense part of the forest. He covered himself in the blanket, and the North Wind blew leaves onto him so that he could not easily be seen. Shea stayed covered there, trying not to move, for some time before he eventually fell into an uneasy slumber. * * * Shea awoke the next morning feeling very hungry, but there was very little he could do about it. He was just thankful he'd made it through the night unmolested. Shea cleaned the leaves off himself and set out again for the trolls' castle. As he left the woods, Shea heard the North Wind say, "I must leave you now. I'm afraid I won't be of any help to you against the trolls, and I need to begin my journey home." Shea thanked the North Wind for the help he had given him. The air became much calmer. Shea walked across the barren land toward the castle. As he got closer, he saw some trolls on the battlements. He dove behind a dried-out bush. They didn't make a move. Maybe they hadn't seen him. Shea peeked up at the guards a few times to see whether they looked his way. The sentries simply looked bored. He stepped out from behind the bush and ran as quietly as he could to the castle's outer wall. There had to be some way to get inside. In the stories the troubadours told, castles had all sorts of doors. The wall he was pressed up against was nothing but blank stonework from corner to corner. If he stayed close to the wall, he reasoned, the guards above shouldn't be able to see him. He hoped. He inched slowly toward the nearer corner. Here he saw the large front entrance. There was an archway that stuck out from the rest of the castle, like the mudroom his pa had built onto the house. There were four, no, *five* trolls laying about with nothing much to do. There was no way he could sneak by them. Shea turned around and crept back the whole length of the building. He stuck his head around the corner. Two troll guards were headed his way - and looking straight at him! They couldn't have been more than thirty paces away. The pair looked as stunned as Shea felt, and everyone was frozen with surprise until one guard shouted, "Get him!" Shea started and looked around. The only thing he could think to do was to run back to the dying forest, so run he did. He kicked up clouds of dusty soil as he sprinted. Shea thought he could feel the ground shake as the two hefty trolls chased him. Shea's head start wasn't long enough. The two soldiers soon had him. He felt himself be grabbed about the middle and lifted off the ground. The farmboy kicked and squirmed but he was held fast in the grip of the bigger guard. The trolls were covered in thick, black hair all over their bodies. The feel of it reminded Shea of the goats from his family's farm, but the trolls smelled *far* worse. They each wore only an old, battered metal breastplate and a leather helmet. As they dragged Shea back to the castle, they talked about what they should do with him. The shorter troll, obviously the swifter of the two, said, "Just throw him back down to the kitchens. No point in throwin' him in the dungeon. Won't do no work there. And if ya do escape," the troll said to Shea, grabbing his head and turning it to face him, "ya won't live long. Ain't no place to escape to." This got a belly laugh from the troll who was carrying Shea. They were taking him inside the castle! Shea stopped struggling. It was tiring him out and it was ridiculous to try. They lugged him into the dark corridors of the castle. He was carried down a couple of short flights of stairs, and Shea wondered whether he *was* being taken to the dungeons, but then he smelled food cooking. "Dump him in there," the shorter troll said, pointing a thumb through a doorway. Suddenly, Shea was flying through the air. He landed on the cold stone floor shoulder first, the same shoulder the bird had torn into the night before. He heard the two sentries laugh and chat as they made their way back to the stairs to continue their patrol outside. Shea sat up. He was in some sort of storeroom, by the look of it. "Who - who are you?" asked a timid voice. The farmboy looked behind him and saw a girl - human - who looked like she was ready to run. "My name is Shea." He winced as his neck complained of recent rough treatment. "Oh, here. Let me help you up. I don't recognize you." She looked him over, tousled hair to worn boots. "You're not Nebulan, are you?" "Nebulan?" "From the Kingdom in the clouds, and obviously you're not." The girl cocked her ear to the hallway Shea entered by. "Come. They'll beat us for not working." She pressed some jars and a sack of flour into his hands, took a few more supplies and led the way to the kitchens. "My name is Celita. Now what are you doing here if the trolls didn't capture you with the rest of us?" Shea told his story once more. "Darragh will want to hear this. He was the king's chef before-- well, before. He knows more about what's happened than any of us." Shea was led past gaping ovens and huge blackened carcasses turning on spits. The air blew past them like a breeze out of hell. Celita asked where Darragh was of a couple of fellow servants before finding him near the dairy. Celita introduced them. "You were the one, weren't you?" asked Darragh. "Which one is that, sir?" Shea asked. "You were the one the King sought." "The Troll King?!" "No, no," said Darragh, "there's no Troll King, yet, and may there never be. I was referring to King Magnus." "King... Mag...?" Shea's knees started to buckle and Celita pulled a milkmaid's stool over for him to collapse onto. "Perhaps it's time you heard the whole story. "The Kingdom in the Clouds had always been safe from war and conquest. The mountain our home rests on protects us from invaders. That was until the trolls came. "The Troll Queen is a powerful sorceress, and she was able to weaken the defenses of the mountain enough for it to be climbed. Attacks from the air have been tried before, though never successfully. We didn't expect anyone to come from below. "The trolls swept through so quickly, we barely stood a chance. Our king, Lord Magnus, was captured. The only thing that saved him was that the Queen took a fancy to him. Instead of simply executing him, she would marry him. "The King refused. He told her that he could not marry her, because he could never be with a woman that way. Oh, he would take a consort to perform his duty as monarch to produce an heir, but wedlock has magic of its own, especially among kings and queens. "The Queen did not believe him. She didn't think such a thing was possible, but the King insisted that it was. "The Queen decided to ensorcel the King. Lord Magnus had one year to find another man to love. The stipulations were that he could not know about the spell, could not know the King's station and could not ever see his human face. He was transformed into a bear and sent back to his kingdom. "If he could find a man to share his bed each night under these conditions for a year, then the Queen would let Lord Magnus and his people go. If not, then Lord Magnus would wed the Queen, and we would be her slaves forever. "You were our chance at freedom, Shea. What happened?" "I - I needed to see--" Darragh laid a hand on Shea's shoulder as he began to weep. Celita left the room quickly. The head cook yelled, "Tell no one of this, Celita!" There may still be hope!" "How can there still be hope?" asked Shea. "If we can prove that the King was right about love between men, the Queen may honour her agreement. If so, we'll need you to be kept secret. Lord Magnus is not the sort to sit back and wait. He was trying to break his ensorcellment himself, was he not?" "I think he was." "It may yet be possible. Either way, I think we'd best get you and Lord Magnus together again." "How do you know all of this if you are only the cook?" Darragh turned a cold eye to Shea. "I saw everything. They attacked during dinner, the evil beasts." * * * Shea was sent in with a small tray of food. He walked carefully down the dark hallway. He wasn't sure where in the dungeon Maguns was. Should he call him Magnus or Your Highness? Should he even let him know that he knew he was a king? "Hello?" "Over here." Shea followed the voice to one of the cells. "Magnus, are you in there?" "Yes! There's a slot in the door, about face height. Slide it open." Shea reached up and did so. "Shea!" Magnus gasped. "What are you doing here? Were you captured?" "No, I came to see you. I brought you your food." "Slide the tray under the door." As he did so, Magnus asked, "Do you still have that candle from our last night together?" "Yes! Yes, I do," Shea said, straightening up. "Right here." Shea put his hand in his pocket to show Magnus. The bell tinkled. "Don't take it out!" Magnus growled. Shea stopped. "You'd best go quickly, my love. The guards will be calling you back for tarrying too long." The farmboy left the dungeon hiding a smile. Magnus still loved him. * * * "What exactly did he want to know?" Darragh asked. "He asked me if I still had my candle." "What candle?" Shea went for his pocket, then hesitated. "Can I take it out?" "I don't see why not," said the chef. The young man showed Darragh the candle end he'd had in his pocket since leaving the Kingdom in the Clouds. There wasn't very much of it left. It was difficult to guess whether it would light again. "I used it to see his face." "Why did you ask whether to take it out?" "Mag- The King didn't want me to." Darragh scratched his head, creating a cloud of flour. "Was there anything else?" "He heard this." Shea produced the bell. "One of the castle bells. How did you leave with one of those?" "It was in my pants pocket when I awoke at the bottom of the mountain." Darragh nodded. "Lord Magnus is thinking of something. I'll ask around. We have ways of speaking to the other Nebulan slaves. We'll find out what's going on." A couple of days later, Darragh arranged for Shea to deliver another of the King's meal. The cook heard things that made him believe that Lord Magnus was planning some magic. When the troll guards opened the door to the bank of cells where Magnus was being kept, Shea wasted no time. He went straight to his door. The window slid open. "They sent you back. Listen quite carefully, please. I think I have a way to break the spell and free us all. I need you, Shea, you personally, to get the Troll Queen's spellbook and bring it to me. The wishing bell works in any castle, even here, but it is yours. You alone can use it. When you have it, bring the bell, the book, and the candle to me. Hurry on now, love, or they'll suspect." Shea handed the king his food and returned to the kitchens. * * * Darragh was quite busy over the next few days. The whole castle was connected to the kitchens in some way. After all, everyone eats. Messages were passed in and out of Darragh's hands many time a day. Shea was kept in seclusion for the most part. He was considered too valuable to risk the trolls finding him, and possibly telling the Queen he was in the castle. No one wanted to risk even a passing guard on patrol beating him. The young man became restless. Growing up on a farm, he was not used to other people doing his chores for him. He wanted to help. Finally, the day came that Darragh told him that everything was ready, or as ready as it could be. The wedding ceremony was to be on the following day. "All Nebulans were prepared to fight. Much of the uprising will be a distraction. Our real purpose will be to get you to the library, where the Queen's Book of Spells is kept." Darragh laid a piece of paper on the table. "The kitchens are here on this map," the cook said, pointing. "A number of fighting men will be gathered here, in the dining room to escort you as far as possible. After the dining room, follow this corridor to the stairs. At the top, turn right. The second door will be the solar, and in that room is the door to the library. Have you got that?" "I think so," said Shea. "Tell me where you're going." They went over the route until Darragh was assured that Shea knew how to find the library. "There will probably be fighting all along your path. We know where you're going, and we will try to draw the trolls away from that area. "When you get the book, come back the same way and find me. We'll get you to the dungeons. After that, it is in the hands of the King. "Do you still have the bell?" Shea nodded. "Allow me to explain how it works. It fulfills your wishes, but it has limitations. It cannot simply make things appear and disappear, and it cannot create things. It can only take from nearby. We can't, for example, simply wish the King were here, because he is locked in his cell. Similarly, we can't wish for the book - the bell doesn't work on magical items. There is much that can be done with it, but you must be clever about it." "I don't know if I can do this, Darragh." The cook laid a hand on Shea's shoulder. "The men who will be waiting in the dining room will be able to go with you part of the way, until they encounter trolls. They will give you as much protection as they can. Some were guards in the Kingdom in the Clouds, and they will be the best men we can get there safely. "Shea, we need you. You are the only one who can use that bell, and the King asked you specifically. He must have his reasons. For all of us here, please help us." Shea thought of the many humans he'd seen here in slavery and misery. Now that he had gotten himself here, he was a captive as well. It was the reason he'd come here in the first place. "I'll do my best," Shea said. * * * On the day of the attack, there was far more activity going on through the kitchens than normal. Even before he was told that today would be the day, there was a tension in the air that Shea couldn't help but notice. The farmboy would have worried himself sick, but for the one thought he kept in his mind: If he succeeded, he would be with Magnus again. That's all he really wanted. Darragh arrived with half a dozen men armed with knives and told him, "It's time." On the way to the dining room, Shea gripped the bell in his hand. Darragh saw this and told him, "Don't ring the bell until you need it, lad. It'll call attention to you. Keep it in your pocket. And you may need this." A flintstone was pressed into his hand. "To light the candle." They waited in the dining room for their signal. The revolt would begin in another part of the castle. They would move after the alarm had drawn most of the trolls away from the library. While they sat, crouched by the door, a lone troll soldier wandered in. He looked surprised to see the humans inside, and even more surprised when they swarmed in on him. Within a minute, the troll was laying on the flagstone floor unconscious. Or worse. Shea couldn't stop staring at the body. It could have been one of the same two guards who'd carried him into the castle. After a few minutes a distance horn blasted. It was soon joined by others, harmonizing throughout the castle. 'The alarm,' Shea thought. Heavy footfalls shook the the hallway outside the dining room. Shea panicked and wondered what would happen if a lot of them came into this room. He would never be able to pass through the door with everyone in the way. No more trolls investigated their hiding place, and the hallway became silent again. After a minute or two, one of the humans (the leader of the six, Shea thought) said, "We move." They rushed into the hallway, and Shea ran to keep up. He stayed behind them, as he was told. The long corridor bent to the left, and the men in front of him made it to the corner without seeing any guards. They paused at the edge of the wall and listened before carrying on. Shea looked through the men running ahead and saw the spiral staircase. Halfway to the end of the corridor the leader of the human band stopped and held out his arms. The others came to a halt and listened. Shea heard the rumbling of trolls on the move. The leader signalled, and the other men moved swiftly, but silently to the next turn off ahead. They waited until the rumbling was at its loudest before turning the corner and attacking. Shea hesitated, wanting to watch the fight, but one of the human fighters gestured Shea to get going. The young man dashed for the staircase and hoped that no more trolls came. Up ahead though, he heard more trolls coming. Shea looked around. It was too far to run back to the mêlée behind him. He ran forward and dove under the bottommost stairs. He curled himself up into the small space. Just before the guards descended, Shea saw two of the men break off (maybe to follow Shea and keep him safe?), so the others wouldn't be surprised by the new troops coming in. They'd be outnumbered, but not surprised. Once the guards had passed, Shea scrambled up the stairs. The corridor was deserted on the next floor up. Shea was to turn right, then take the second door. He crept ahead, looking out for any signs of trolls. The hallway here was decorated with tapestries, which depicted battle scenes: trolls fighting a dragon there, fighting elves here, fighting humans over there. The doors on this floor looked to be somewhat more ornate. The ones below were as simply constructed as they could be. Here, they fit their frames exactly, had brass handles, and had flowing patterns carved into the wood. Shea's hands shook as he pushed open the second door. The room inside, which Darragh had called the solar, was brightly lit, thanks to the very large window that replaced the wall opposite the door. Looking away from the window and its many panes, Shea saw three trolls coming his way. They weren't dressed like guards, more the way Magnus dressed, but he didn't think they wouldn't cause him trouble. One drew a dagger. Shea backed into the corridor. He looked up and down the hall, hoping a human was nearby. "What are you doing here?" asked the troll with the knife. "When the horn sounds, you are to return to your quarters." Shea grabbed the bell and wished someone nearby would fight the trolls for him. The look on the troll's face went from one of annoyance as he stared past Shea. The farmboy looked up. He'd backed into the wall, right where a tapestry was hung. She watched in horror as the dragon climbed out of the picture, becoming a scales-and- ichor creature, rather than a pattern of coloured thread. The first troll ducked back into the solar and tried to close the door, but the dragon had already stuck its snout through the entryway. Shea cursed and hid behind the cloth until the dragon had completely materialized. Out of sight, the room was filles with crashing noises and screams. Shea peeked into the solar, and almost got his head taken off by the dragon's tail as it whipped past. On hands and knees, Shea bravely slipped into the fray. Most of the window had been shattered, leaving only the thick metal framework, and even that had been heavily dented in places. Furniture was overturned. From behind a couch, the young man saw one of the trolls go through another door on the far side of the solar. 'That has to be the library,' Shea thought. He cursed under his breath. Shea crawled toward the library door along the far wall, mindful of glass shards. One troll was lying still in a corner across the room. The last troll had to be hiding somewhere, but the dragon was looking for him. Luckily, the dragon seemed to be ignoring Shea. Perhaps it was because he'd specified help against the trolls. At last, Shea was at the door. He stood up and tried to open it. The handle wouldn't turn. He took a quick look over his shoulder to see what the dragon was doing. The creature let forth a burst of flame that set a table on fire. Shea turned and tried desperately to wrestle the door open, but it wouldn't budge. He slammed himself into the door a couple of times, but there was something heavy just on the other side. He had to get into the library. He *really* didn't want to have to use the bell again, but he didn't see what else he could do. He took out the little silver bell and wished he could get into the library. Out of the corner of his eye, Shea caught a glimpse of something coming his way. He dove out of the way just in time as the dragon's tail smashed through the wooden door. The troll who's hidden so well was making his way out of the solar and the dragon was turning around to follow. Inside the library, the body of the troll who had taken refuge there lay under the pieces of the door. He was groaning. Shea jumped over him. He didn't want to waste any time. How was Shea supposed to know which book was the Queen's spellbook? He couldn't read anything. Just as in Magnus' library, shelves covered the walls, and books covered the shelves. He couldn't possibly take them all to someone else to sort out, and Shea didn't think anyone else was near, else the dragon would not have appeared. A large red stained-glass window across from the door illuminated the chamber. Below it, bathed in bloody light, stood a lectern much like the one Magnus used to read from. Back when he was practicing magic! Shea darted over to the stand. The book atop it was large and flat. He closed it. It vibrated in his hands. Yes, this had to be the magical book. He held it away from himself like a tray and ran from the room, leaping over the body of the fallen troll, who was coming to. Out in the hall, the dragon was on a rampage. It was shooting fire from its mouth and its tail was flailing. The stonework shook like ten thousand trolls charging through. It was a wonder he hadn't felt anything in the library. A small band of guards, either brave or foolish, tried to block the dragon's progress. They were down the side passage immiediately ahead of the stairs. The trolls were too busy to notice Shea rushing down the spiralling steps. The corridor on the main floor was deserted. Stones from what was left of the ceiling littered the walkway, and more fell here and there. Any rebelling humans or soldiers who may have been fighting here had retreated to safer ground. Shea hoisted the book over his head and ran for it. He wasn't sure what protection it would afford, but it *was* magic, and it would at least keep away and sharp rocks from splitting his head open from above. Of course, if the dragon broke through the floor.... Shea only paused when he rounded the corner to make sure he wouldn't run into a battle. He was dismayed to see troll and human bodies in this hallway. Had the trolls beaten them back to the dining room? Or had it happened when they'd all run from the falling debris? He did not wait to figure it out. He listened at the door to the dining room before going in. The farmboy circled the table and tried to get into the kitchens. The way was blocked. He knocked, and a woman he didn't know let him in. "I have the book. What's happened?" "We don't know! We think the Queen might have unleashed a spell to quell the rebellion." "No, I did that. There's a dragon above us, fighting the trolls--" "But how did you--" She looked at the book Shea now held under his arm. "Ohh," said the woman with sudden insight. "Where's Darragh? He was supposed to meet me here." "This way," said the woman. She led Shea through the castle's cast kitchens. "Darragh is clearing the way ahead. That dragon you conjured up put that dragon into quite a tizzy. Some of them were trying to hide in here. Can you imagine?" "But I didn't *conjure* the dragon. Well, not exactly--" Shea's guide grabbed his hand and yanked him around a corner. She held a finger to her lips, then pointed back where they'd been and mouthed the word _trolls_. Sure enough, Shea soon felt the thunderous footsteps of one of the castle denizens. He was moving fast, and coming this way. If he caught Shea with the book.... "We need to hide," Shea whispered. He cast about the room he was in. It was another pantry. The young woman went to pick up a sack. It was too much for her. "Help me get this to the doorway." "We can't hide behind that. It's too small." "We need to hide our scents. That's how the trolls find us!" Shea dragged the sack to the entrance. "Open that and throw it around, quick!" Shea tried to tear the sack open. When it gave it fell over, leaving Shea with a strip of cloth in his hand. The sack, which held flour, flopped to the floor in a dusty, white cloud. Shea went into a coughing fit. The woman clamped her hand over his mouth. Shea's throat ached from not coughing. The troll was coming. Shea reached into his pocket and shook the bell so it could just be heard. I wish it were dark in here,' he thought. A breeze picked up - indoors - and blew out the torches. More flour got picked up and the woman had to cover her own mouth to keep from breathing it in. All the pair could see now was the view outside the door. The air inside the pantry was choking. They both watched as the troll trudged past, pausing to investigate the smell in the pantry. About a minute later, they emerged, Shea with the spell book in his hand, and they continued on toward the dungeon entrance. They arrived at the portal to the stairs leading down without further incident. The woman wished him luck, then returned to the relative safety of the kitchens. Shea opened the door as quietly as he could, slipped inside and shut it again. The ring handle on the outside swung into the door with a loud clack, but no one seemed to be around to hear it. Down the stairs, Shea could hear more fighting. Seeing no need to be quiet any longer, he rushed down into the castle gaol. The main door, usually locked tight, was smashed to pieces. Shea stepped through the wreckage and saw what had to be the main site of the human uprising. Bodies were everywhere, lying in wait to trip a troll swordsman or Nebulan fighter as he sparred. Shea remembered the route he'd taken to get to Magnus' cell. He dove into the mêlée, keeping his head low to make himself as unnoticeable as possible. Swords crashed and clanged all around him. In places, bodies lay as obstacles atop piles of blood-soaked hay. These Shea had to crawl around, all thw while not getting stepped on by the swordfighters. That was the problem. He was not getting attacked because no one could see him, but not being seen meant that he could not move very far. And there was still the spellbook, so he was only crawling on one hand, the other pressing the tome to his chest. He needed to stand to move. Shea tried his best to get his bearing from where he was, so he'd know which way to run when he was on his legs again. He then sprung up and sprinted in that direction. As he reached the corner to the bank of cells where Shea thought the King was being kept, a troll stepped out in front of him. Both of them were surprised, but the troll recovered first. He raised his axe over his head, ready to bring it down on Shea. A bolt appeared in the troll's side. The axe fell behind the troll as he clutched it and crumpled to the floor. Shea looked around. A human with a crossbow stared at him. A troll was sneaking up on him. Shea pointed and the man turned in time to block the beast's sword with the heavy crossbow. Shea turned down the hallway, knowing he'd been very lucky. The door to the cells was kept locked, but Shea had seen where the keys were kept. The small guardroom was empty, the guards presumably now out fighting the humans. He grabbed the key ring and started trying them in sequence. Soon Shea was inside. "Magnus! Magnus, I'm here!" he cried. Shea could see Magnus' bear paw stick out through the window in one cell door. "Shea," Magnus growled. "Pass me the book, the bell, and the candle." The boy dug in his pockets and gave the candle stub and the magic bell to Magnus. The oversized book wouldn't fit through the window. He slid it undeer the door, as he had the King's food trays. "Please tell me that's the right book," said Shea. "It is, my love, now give me your hand." Shea reached into the window up to the elbow. With his other hand, he tried to open Magnus' door. The knig began flipping pages. When Magnus started his spell, there was a loud noise and screams in the battle outside the dungeon proper. Shea wasn't sure if it was Magnus' doing or not. Then Shea saw a human body go flying past the doorway. Shea wished he'd locked the dungeon door behind him. The bell was pressed into his hand. Magnus held him by the wrist. "Where is my book?" screeched a voice outside. "Magnus,..." Shea said, but the monarch didn't stop. A shadow of a figure appeared in the doorway. The Troll Queen. "You! Who are you?" She walked towards him. Shea desperately jammed another key into the lock. "Oh, no you don't!" the Queen said. Shea yelped and let go of the keyring. It was glowing red hot. "Where is my book?" Shea tried to run, but Magnus had an iron grip on his wrist. The Troll Queen muttered something under her breath, and a ball of green light was conjured over her head. Shea saw the Queen's face for the first time in the eerie light. She was ugly, even for a troll, with misshapen features, lumpy nose, and her mouth in a sneer as she prepared to strike. "Graubna!" cried Magnus. The keyring flew from the lock. Magnus had let go of Shea and he started up the passageway away from the Troll Queen. The cell door fell to the floor and out stepped King Magnus, holding the spellbook. He was human once more, and wore nothing but his ratty travelling cloak. "Graubna, Queen of the Trolls, I have your spellbook! I refute your power over me and my people!" "It's not possible! How could you have broken my enchantment?" "I could break it because the man I love came to your land, came to your castle, and he set me free." Shea stepped forward, and stood at Magnus' side. "This boy? But how?" "True love, Queen Graubna. It is more powerful than your magic. And now I will take my people, and we shall return to our home." King Magnus took Shea's hand, and spoke some words which Shea did not comprehend. In but a moment, the King and Shea were gone. The spellbook thudded on the broken door. No humans were in the halls of the palace to hear the Queen's outraged scream. * * * The captain of the guard raced through the halls of the castle, the home which he had been long denied so many months. Several of his men had been nearby his office when he rematerialized there. After a few moments' celebration of finding themselves in the Kingdom in the Clouds once more, they began to see to their duty. First and foremost: find the King. So they ran through the corridors of their castle, hearing cheers and sobs of joy as more citizens found themselves in familiar surroundings. Occasionally they would see a man who was wounded and a guard would help him to the surgery. They looked in the banquet hall, where the King had been when the attack had happened, but the room was empty. They checked the throne room, but there they only found more guards, dancing. They, too, joined the search. Finally, they found King Magnus in his chambers, holding Shea tight and listening to him tell the story of how he was rescued. The door had been standing open and the guards had seen it all. As they realized they'd found their king, they kneeled. "My liege," said the captain, "it is good to see you well." "Rise, men," said Magnus. "Today is a day for celebration. Formality can be recognized later. What is the state of the castle?" The captain made certain not to stare at his nude leader. "Most everyone seems to be back, sire. We did see some wounded fighters, those who were part of the rebellion..." "Shea was telling me all about it. Search the castle and the town. Find them all, and see that they are tended to. Unfortunately the spell would not bring home our dead as well, but many may be dying." The captain gave a hand signal and the guards dispersed. "Do you have need of the surgery, sire?" "No, but there is one thing you can do. One of your rebels saved Shea's life, firing a crossbow in the dungeon at an opportune moment. Find him if he is here. He shall be rewarded." "Yes, sire. Is that all?" "Check the state of the castle. When we know all is well, we'll see about a celebration for the whole kingdom." "Yes, sire!" The captain bowed, smiling, and strode away closing the door behind him. "Who was that?" asked Shea. "That was my head guard, Captain Darragh." "I thought he was your cook." Magnus blinked at Shea, then burst out laughing. "Yes, I imagine using the kitchen was very convenient for him. He only said he was the cook so that the trolls would leave him alone to help me." Shea giggled. Magnus stroked Shea's cheek. "It is so wonderful to see you by the light of day, my precious young man." "Magnus-- Your Highness, I'm so sorry for the trouble I've caused you and your kingdom...." The king put a finger to Shea's lips and quieted him. "You caused trouble, but you more than corrected it by coming to my aid. I don't know that the Troll Queen would have let my people go when faced with the proof of our love. Now there is no doubt, and we are free! You have nothing to apologize for. And I hope that this will become your kingdom as well." Shea hugged his lover tightly. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for choosing me." Magnus gazed at his love with passion in his eyes. His hands delved under the farmboy's shirt and eased it up over his head. When the simple linen uncovered his face once more, Shea was grinning lustily back at him. The younger man rose and dropped his pants and underthings, all the while studying the body that he knew so well, but until that day, had never seen. Short, jet black hair covered his jaw and chin, and a fine weave of hairs swirled across his chest and stomach. He sat with a regal bearing that exuded confidence. Facing his enemy in the raw had not cowed him. His face was the definition of handsomeness, and his shining green eyes seemed to glow from within. Lastly, his manhood stood proud and straight between his thick thighs, and a glittering drop of masculine dew was trickling slowly from its tip. "Come to me, my love," said the King. Shea sat in his lap, facing him, and leaned in close for a kiss. They tasted each other hungrily after weeks of isolation. Their crotches crushed together, grinding against each other in lust. Hands gripped and stroked in a mad frenzy as the lovers' bodies tried desperately to become one. Through his hair, along his thigh, down his back, grabbing his ass. Magnus and Shea were lost in their passion. "Oh, Shea," moaned the king, "there is something I've been longing for." "Anything for you, Magnus," Shea breathed, The ruler smiled. "Get up on the bed on your hands and knees." Shea did so, scampering like a playful dog, and Magnus lay below him, his head between his lover's legs. He took the tip of Shea's quivering length into his mouth and sucked gently. The farmboy sighed and his head drooped. He felt the mage-king's tongue tease his cock and moaned. The king held onto Shea's legs and drew his tongue across the young man's length. Magnus mouthed along, drifting eveer southwards until he popped one of Shea's balls into his mouth. Shea gasped. As his testicle was sucked on and licked, he groaned and whimpered loudly. "Oh, Magnus, that feels so wonderful!" The king put his finger in his mouth briefly and got it wet. As he continued to minister Shea's balls, he pressed the finger to Shea's asshole. Shea's hips bucked from this new sensation. Sensing that it all might be too much for Shea, he angled the lad's cock straight down and took it in his mouth. The farmboy pumped his hips, sending his rock-hard member deep into Magnus' throat and all the while that finger swirled slowly around his pucker. When Magnus felt that Shea was receptive, he pressed against the opening and the finger poked inside. It wormed its way in, reaching for that lump of flesh that would set Shea off. Shea let out a strangled cry and emptied his essence into Magnus' mouth. He thrust jerkily six,... seven,... eight times, and Magnus swallowed every drop. When it was done, Shea sagged, but stayed on his arms and legs. He was breathing heavily, as though he'd just run a mile. Magnus went back to licking at Shea's balls and continued fingering his hole. He wiggled it vigorously, and Shea still squirmed, though not so much as before he'd cum. The king slid further under the boy and sampled his chest. "Oh, Magnus, don't stop." Shea still rocked over his love, humping the air slowly. His cock was still stiff and straight, pressed against his stomach, the way only a man of eighteen summer can be. Magnus had no intention of stopping. He had but begun to act upon his desires for his young lover. The knig brought the hand he was using to finger the younger man, and brought it to his lips again. When the finger left Shea's pucker, the youth sagged and sighed, as if he'd just lost something dear. Magnus wetted a second finger and worked the pair of them into Shea. The youth groaned Magnus' name. Shea was squirming and writhing over Magnus as he touched places in Shea no other had even considered. The boy's manhood was hard and strong. "It appears this pleases you greatly, my love," said the king. "Ohhhh, Magnus, yes...." "I want to take you, Shea. Fully and completely." "I am yours to take, sire." Magnus smiled at this and asked Shea to roll onto his back. He was somewhat unsure how to do this with Magnus' fingers in him, but together they managed it. The king spit on his cock, regal in more senses than one, and prepared it for entrance into his love. Shea, his legs on Magnus' shoulders, was quaking from a mixture of desire, anticipation and feat. Magnus leaned over him and gave him sweet kisses while he replaced his fingers with his member. The farmboy broke their kiss and gasped in pain. "Relax, my darling. Open yourself and push back against me." This Shea did, as though voiding himself, and Magnus slid an inch into him. Magnus and Shea worked the royal cock into the common ass. When the king had finally reached his end, they kissed anew, Shea's tongue invading Magnus' mouth as fully as he himself was being invaded. The feeling was like nothing Shea had known. It was as though some piece of him he hadn't known he'd lost was back with him. The feeling intensified as magnus stirred his dick up within him. Magnus' cock sank deeply into Shea's hole, then rose out and bored into him again. And again. And again. The king had yearned for this sensation of knowing his love completely this way. He thought this was among the most intimate experiences two men could share. The youth rolled over his spine in time to his love's rhythm. Shea wanted it deeper inside him. He gripped the king's back and rammed himself harder onto his spike. All the while they were making love, the two kept their eyes fixed on each other. Their gaze never wavered. A connection was being made. They knew that they could be together forever, even though distance may separate them. They would always be one. Magnus' hips swung faster. She abit his lip. They both knew what was about to come to pass. A fire rose within Magnus' groin and burned through Shea's body. Shea felt Magnus' essence flow into him. His own juice shot out of him, soaking the hair on Magnus' body. Both men were grunting as the moment took them. They saw the lights of the fairies and the music of the elves. Shea pressed Magnus' body off of him after they were done, so that he might unfold his legs. They settled into the bed together, exhausted. They held each other while they caught their breath. Shea's head rested against Magnus' chest and he rubbed his cheek against it. The king soon fell asleep, secure in his love's embrace, knowing at last that his kingdom was safe.