Aliaanor kept her back pressed to the stone wall of the throne room in Oberon's castle. She hardly dared breath. Shift the left foot two inches, then the right. And again, and again, and again. The crowd of fae in front of her served well to hide her from her Lord's gaze. ~Don't look at me,~ she thought silently at Oberon. ~I don't want anything to do with your party.~
The door was only four feet more to her right. Her nerves screamed at her to make a break for it, but she steeled her will and traversed the distance slowly, so as not to bring attention. Anyone who looked at her saw merely an unimportant fae lass leaning against the wall. One would have to look several times to realize that she was actually moving towards the door, and no one did.
~At last,~ she thought to herself as she reached the door. Carefully, she slipped around the edge into the corridor, turned, and nearly had a heart attack when she saw Queen Titania standing in front of her.
"Greetings, Your Majesty," Aliaanor said, sweeping into a curtsy. All the practice of a thousand years of playing it by ear went into making the greeting sound nonchalant. What was it her mortal friends at the Renaissance Festival said? Oh, yeah. Roll with it. Somebody gives you a line, you roll with it. Don't correct them, and never contradict them. Improv as lifestyle! Funny how actors could summarize in a few sentences what most humans never understood about the fae perspective.
"Hello Aliaanor," Titania said. "Just off to collect a guest for the party, I take it?"
~Roll with it, Ali~ she thought to herself. "Why, yes, Your Majesty. I was just leaving, actually . . ."
"Excellent, Aliaanor. I will be interested to see whom you bring. I'm told you kept some . . . unusual company during the Interregnum. And of course the party is mainly so that we can all tell each other what we did during the exile. Show and tell, if you will. I look forward to this evening."
"Of course, Your Majesty. Until this evening!" Aliaanor favored her mistress with a spritely grin. Titania merely nodded sociably and continued on her way.
As soon as Titania was out of sight, Aliaanor sagged back against the wall and sighed. "Iron and steel," she swore under her breath. "With the Queen expecting a guest, there's no way I'm going to be able to get out of it! But who can I invite? Not a total stranger. But if I bring a friend, who can guarantee they'll still be a friend after the party?" She sighed, and left the hall thinking.
David Vinlan was reading Shakespeare when the phone rang. "Blast," he muttered, unwilling to tear his eyes from the page. He ran his hand through his blond hair and turned a page.
It rang again. "Double blast," he said.
It rang yet again.
"All right, all right!" He picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"David!" said a voice on the other end. Female, vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite identify it.
"Ah, yes, may I ask who's calling, please?"
"It's Allie . . . don't you remember me?"
He turned his mental drawers inside out. "I'm afraid not . . ." his voice trailed off.
The voice on the other end giggled. "Would you remember me better if I said my name was 'Cobweb?'"
Now he remembered her. Allie Rotag, who had played Cobweb the Elf at the local Renaissance Festival for several years. He had worked there, too, first as an outlaw minstrel, then as the Crown Prince, and lastly as her partner in elven crime. Good grief, how had he forgotten her? "Cobweb! Hey, wow, long time no hear! How goes it with you?"
Her voice fell. "Well . . . actually, I have a problem."
Concerned, he said, "What is it? Can I help? You know I'm there for you, wench."
"Maybe. Look, why don't we do lunch, and we can talk about it. Meet you at the Village Idiot in half an hour?"
He had planned on finishing the rest of Henry V, but if Cobweb, er, Allie needed help, it could wait. "Gotcha, half an hour. Till then," he said. She said goodbye, and hung up. David picked up his sweatshirt and headed out the door.
Soon they were safely ensconced in a booth at the Village Inn (or Village Idiot as devoted Rennies like to call it). Over frosty milkshakes, they chatted of old times, reminiscing fondly about giving small rocks to people for no very good reason, playing pranks on the people wandering the streets in quasi-Elizabethan garb, and generally confusing the living daylights out of everyone they encountered.
"Oh, and remember that Klingon? The one who wanted to know where the 'good' liquor was sold? I almost felt sorry for him when he walked up to the bar and ordered a pint of 'dragon sweat.'" David was barely able to stammer out the sentence, he was laughing so hard already.
"He deserved it," Allie replied. "Anyone who goes to the blinkin' Renaissance Festival dressed as a KLINGON is just asking for it!" She broke down into a fit of giggles, remembering the look on the pixie-led alien's face when the bar-wench had handed him a cup of lemonade with a liberal pinch of salt. "Besides," she said when she had recovered somewhat, "He needed the electrolytes!"
They smirked at each other in mutual understanding, tricksters both. "So Allie," David said, marshalling up something resembling self-discipline. "What is this problem of yours?"
The look on her face went from wild-eyed hilarity to sober calculation so fast that he was sure she was in some kind of trouble. "Come on," he cajoled. "Spill the beans."
"Walk with me," she said in a strange voice. Puzzled, he agreed. Their bill was soon paid, and they left the Village Idiot for a nearby park. Overhead, storm clouds embraced the sky, turning afternoon into a shadowy presentiment of dusk. They walked in silence until they reached the edge of a small pond and sat down on the grassy bank.
"David," Allie asked suddenly, "What do you remember about my points?" She meant her prosthetic elf-ears, from the festival.
"I remember they were the best ones I've ever seen on anyone. They blended perfectly with your normal ears, not even a hint of a line where the prosthetic met the flesh. I swear, sometimes it seemed as if the points were real and your ears were the disguise."
"You are a perceptive mortal," Allie said, smiling wistfully.
"Oh come on, Allie, this is serious. If you're in some kind of trouble, I want to help."
"All right. My dad is throwing this huge party tonight. It's sort of a family reunion. Relatives of mine have come from literally all over the world. There are hundreds of us, and every single one of us is supposed to bring a guest."
David was perplexed. "Why is that a problem? Sounds like a great party, especially if there are more like you at home." He flashed her a grin.
To his surprise, she sighed. "I'd like to invite you to this party as my guest," she continued. "But I want you to know beforehand exactly what you're getting into."
"Allie, you're scaring me now." He half-joked.
"First off, my name isn't really Allie Rotag. Spell "Rotag" backwards and you get "Allie Gator." My true name is Aliaanor." The name rolled of her lips fluidly, the double "a" in the middle not even slowing her down. "And secondly, you were right: the points really were my real ears, and the blunt human ones were the disguise. I really am an elf, David. My relatives and I are all called Oberon's Children, even though he's not really my father, and the party's on Avalon. Most of these relatives I've never met, since I was born shortly before the Interregnum began. I have to bring a mortal guest, and you were the only one I could think of who might be able to handle the truth. You're so weird to begin with, you see . . ." It all came out in a rush. She looked up from the ground where she had been staring.
David looked back at her. For several long moments he searched her eyes for some hint of levity, but found none.
"S'truth?" he asked hesitantly.
"S'truth," she said.
"You're serious? Not playing?"
"Absolutely serious. See?" She shifted back to her fae form, which was also the form she had worn as Cobweb the Elf. He stared in astonishment as her ears lengthened. Then, he sat back on his heels and laughed like a mad man.
"So all that time at the Renaissance Faire you were an elf pretending to be a human pretending to be an elf?" he laughed. "It's like something straight out of Shakespeare!"
She grinned back at him, cautiously pleased by his reaction. "So . . . you're not afraid to go to the party?" she asked.
"Afraid? I wouldn't miss this for the world on a silver platter! With parsley!"
"It could be dangerous - you know enough about the fae to realize that we are not to be dealt with lightly."
"Do you want me to sign a contract releasing you from liability? I'll sign one. Just poof us on over to some unsuspecting lawyer. Oooo, hey wait, can I wear my points? They say imitation is the highest form of flattery . . ."
Aliaanor had to smile at his exuberance. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. "Umm . . . go for it, but if someone gets offended and asks you to take them off, do it. I'll help you put 'em on."
David was ecstatic. "You always did have a magic touch with the makeup. Hey, wait a minute! Did you? Use magic on the makeup?"
"No, that's a skill I picked up over a thousand years spent entirely working in human theatres and, more recently, Renaissance Festivals. Come on, the party starts soon, and you'll want to arrive ready. . ."
An hour or so later, they popped into existence outside the castle on Avalon. The party was already in full swing. David wore his best Renaissance Faire outfit, a dark green tunic edged in brown over a puffy white cotton shirt, with a black belt, a pouch and mug, brown trousers, and green-and-brown leather boots. The ensemble had been made a little more splendid by the application of fae magic to deepen the somewhat faded colors, eliminate wrinkles, and add gold stitching around the edges. His hair was a bit wild, and his ears were as pointy as any elf's, thanks to the makeup artistry of Aliaanor.
Aliaanor was attired in a sheer-cut gown of the deepest green, bordering on black. Opals flashed from her mahogany hair, and from the hollow of her throat a ruby gleamed. She still felt nervous about bringing a friend to Avalon for an evening, but she was beginning to think maybe it wouldn't be such a disaster after all.
David gazed around him, drinking in the sight of a richly-lit fairy castle with pennants streaming from the ramparts. The sun was just setting. Fae and their mortal guests could be seen strolling about. As the sun vanished, he heard a series of fierce screams echoing from the top of the castle, and a little piece of shale bonked him on the head.
"OW! Hey, what was that?" he asked, then remembered. "Oh, right, the gargoyles." Aliaanor had briefed him on the various species to expect. "I'll want to meet some of them."
"You'll have your opportunity in all likelihood," she responded. "Come, we must go in."
He presented her his arm, and they strolled into the fortress. Merriment could be heard from all sides. In the courtyard, a young Native American lady was standing on a table and singing off-key. She had a nametag saying "Hi! My name is Beth Maza!" Someone had written in smaller letters beneath it, "And I've had way too much to drink!"
They walked on. David played it cool enough to flummox a polar bear. He gave no sign of astonishment when a pegasus landed nearby and four giggling girls dismounted and ran into the crowd. His face wore a pleasant smile.
"David," Aliaanor whispered to him, "You're not getting weirded out, are you? You don't show much reaction . . ."
"Relax," he whispered back. "It's actually pretty much like the Renaissance Festival. Only normal."
She giggled, and relaxed. "All right. Look, I see a friend of mine, I should go talk to her. But she's not sociable with mortals, so you'll have to stay behind. Wander around, enjoy the party. I'll be back. Couple of warnings, though: don't eat any food which is not clearly marked as mortal-chow. And secondly," She placed images of Oberon, Titania, and several of the more important fae folk into his mind. "If you meet any of these people, be very polite, especially to the King and Queen."
"Gotcha," he said. She departed. Looking around him, David wondered what to do. A table heaped high with food caught his eye, and he started towards it.
"Hold," a trio of voices said. He turned around, to discover three women looking at him. Or was it one woman with three different bodies and hair colors? It was hard to tell. The information Aliaanor had given him suggested that these were the Wyrd Sisters, Luna, Phoebe, and Selene, and not to be trifled with.
"Good evening, ladies," he said, sweeping into a courtly bow.
"We do not recognize you," Luna said.
"We thought we knew all the fae," Phoebe continued.
"Who are you?" Selene concluded.
For a frozen moment, David had no idea what to say. Evidently they thought he was fae, like them. Curse himself for being fool enough to wear his elf-ears! If he corrected them in public, the embarrassment at mistaking a mere mortal for one of Oberon's Children might make them dangerous. This was bad. In a split second decision, he fell back on the persona he had developed at the Renaissance Festival.
"I am Willowwisp," he said, "And it is a pleasure to meet you three. Your reputation precedes you."
"Willowwisp," Phoebe said.
"We had not heard the name," Selene continued.
"Why?" Luna asked.
Without a thought, David confidently spat out, "I was born only shortly before the Interregnum. I didn't get to meet most of my relatives before we disbanded. Especially since those were busy days for us all," he added. He silently thanked Aliaanor for mentioning why she did not know most of her relatives. He also hoped that the days before the Exile really had been busy, because otherwise he was out on a limb.
"We see," Selene said.
"Those were busy times." Luna continued.
"Come, we wish to introduce you." Phoebe finished.
They turned as one, and he followed. What else could he do? He took a deep breath, and reminded himself to just roll with it. The crowd parted before the three Sisters, looking for all the world like waves splitting on the prow of a ship. A battlecruiser.
They led him to a small table in the corner where a male fae sat with a young human woman. The Sisters ignored the human completely and addressed the man.
"Raven, we would like you to meet Willowwisp." Luna said.
"He is flamboyant." Phoebe continued.
"Like yourself." Selene ended.
Raven stood up and stuck out his hand. David shook it firmly, without a trace of hesitation. "A pleasure to meet you," he said, drawing on the knowledge Aliaanor had given him. "I hear you spent quite a bit of time in North America recently."
"Yes, I did." Raven said. "I don't recall meeting you before, though; did I miss you?"
"I hung out mainly in Wales during the Exile," David lied blithely through his teeth. "Playing with the mortals there."
"Ah, yes, I seem to remember the name now. Willowwisp - you were the one with a penchant for luring mortals into bogs and such with little balls of light. Didn't it get tiring, doing the same thing over and over?"
"Not really; it was a constant source of amazement to me that the mortals would keep falling for it. Besides, that was only my most well-known trick. There were others as well. For example one time Puck and I teamed up to bedevil Queen Elizabeth. By the time we were finished with her, her crown was spinning on her head!" Of course David was making most of this up as he went along, but Raven seemed to be buying it so far.
"We must go, Oberon calls." The Wyrd Sisters broke in. They vanished.
"I'm sure it's terribly interesting, Willowwisp, but somehow I never get the same thrill out of listening to other people's pranks than I do out of actually pulling pranks of my own. If you'll excuse me?" Raven said. David smiled and nodded, and Raven went back to chatting with his mortal guest.
David hightailed it for a dark corner.
"Oh, and Willowwisp?" Raven called after him.
His heart skipped a beat, but he made himself turn and gaze questioningly at Raven.
"Next time you see Queen Titania, would you send her over here? She might be interested to meet my guest, but it's not important enough to call her directly."
David sketched a short bow. "Certainly, Raven." He turned again and resumed hightailing it, just as quickly as he could without seeming fearful. To conceal his haste somewhat, he strove to make his steps jaunty.
Soon, he ended up in a comparatively quiet corner between the end of a table laden with food and the wall. From this vantage point, the ballroom was a swirling mass of colorful clothing, displays of magic, and oddly shaped limbs protruding from various hosts and guests. He looked for Aliaanor, but she was not to be seen. ~Drat,~ he thought. ~I need advice.~ He had a bad feeling that he was going to be in trouble over playing at being a fae, and Aliaanor could give him needed counsel. Standing in another corner, he noticed a large, blue gargoyle with horns fit to make a longhorn blush.
Giving in to his desire to meet a real live gargoyle, David abandoned the relative safety of his watching spot and made his way quietly and quickly through the crowd. The gargoyle was massaging his forehead between the horns, his brow furrowed. "Evening, friend," David said brightly.
The gargoyle winced. "Please," he muttered. "Don't talk loudly. About half an hour ago I got knocked unconscious by an angry gargoyle assassin. Shortly after that my rookery sister was shouting at Anubis. The party is loud, I'm confused, and in case you hadn't guessed, I have a headache."
"Oh, sorry," David whispered. "Would you like some painkiller? I never go anywhere without it." He fumbled around in his belt-pouch and came up with a small case. He popped it open. "I've got the white ones, the red ones, and the orange-ish ones. As far as I can tell, they all work as well. Take your pick."
The gargoyle eyed him suspiciously. "Who are you?"
David heard himself say, "Call me Willowwisp," He cursed his RenFaire-developed reflexes. He had meant to give the gargoyle his real name! Fiddlesticks! Oh, well. In for a nickel, in for a dime . . .
"And I am Gabriel, leader of Avalon's clan," the gargoyle replied. He eyed the proffered medicine. "Will those really alleviate my headache?"
"It works on humans," David said. "I don't see that much difference."
"Are there any . . . side-effects?" Gabriel queried.
"Nothing major. If you have ulcers the white ones might irritate them, or so I've heard."
"Hmm. Very well. How many should I take?"
David eyed his massive bulk. "For a full grown human, two is recommended. For you, three."
"Is there an accompanying incantation?"
David laughed. "No, friend Gabriel, these pills have no magic in them. They are more along the lines of herbal medicine. You swallow them, and after about half an hour they soothe your aches and pains."
"Herbal medicine?" asked Gabriel. "Like a cup of willow tea?"
"In that case, begging your pardon, I shall go make myself a cup of willow tea. I prefer remedies I am familiar with. No offense," he said.
"None taken." David replied. "Enjoy your tea."
"I shall," rumbled Gabriel, and moved off with a nod.
Putting his pill case back into his pouch, David surveyed the room, desperately looking for Aliaanor. He was worried; this place was too much like the Renaissance Festival. It triggered his improv-instincts, and while imitation is the highest form of flattery, impersonation is liable to get you in trouble.
Unfortunately, his hostess was nowhere to be found. Unable to think of what else to do, he decided to make himself scarce.
He turned, and surreptitiously made his way out of the main feasting hall. He stepped into a corridor and headed down it. The walls were bedecked with long garlands of flowers, their heady aroma filling the air like sweet memories of childhood. He reached out and plucked one, smelled it, and happily tucked it into his belt.
He continued walking, past numerous small rooms filled with party-goers. A large spider-thing suddenly erupted out of one room, closely followed by an irate human woman shouting something like "GIT BACK HERE, YOU VARMINT, AND TAKE YER LICKS LIKE A . . . A . . . WHATEVER YOU ARE!" In order to keep from being run over, he leaped into a nearby stairwell and stared in a befuddled manner as the two barreled past. Fascinating place, Avalon.
"Might as well keep going," he muttered to himself, and continued up the stairs. Seven flights up, he reached the bridge joining the two main sections of the castle. He leaned against the edge of the bridge, staring down at the brightly-lit courtyard below. From this distance none of the guests were distinguishable from each other, but the sound of laughter rose like dandelion fuzz on a spring wind. Gaily colored clothing caught the light, turning the dance floor into a swirling collage of rainbow hues, rimmed by patches of darkness where the torches cast shadows. While he had been below, the shadows had balanced the light, so that both were less noticeable. "I can see the reasons for returning to Avalon," David said to himself. "From a distance, it is easier to see both the beautiful and the disagreeable."
"You are wiser than many of our kin," a female voice said behind him. "Most of them find our return foolish."
He turned around, to discover Queen Titania standing beside and slightly behind him. "Your Majesty," he greeted her, and swept into a bow. "I am honored." Under the cover of his bow, he pulled the flower out of his belt. As he rose, he did a small sleight-of-hand, making the blossom seem to appear in his hand. He presented it to her.
"Well done," she said, taking the bloom. "I did not sense the magic. Brute force spells are the rule among our kind. Subtlety such as this bespeaks fine control over your power."
He laughed ironically and replied, "Or perhaps it bespeaks a lack of power in the first place." Evidently he had even fooled Titania into thinking him a fae. ~Great Scot,~ he thought. ~I didn't think my costume was that good.~ Still, he had a rule: Never lie to royalty, it's bad for your health.
He opened his mouth to tell Titania that he was terribly flattered that she had mistaken him for a fae, but was interrupted by a swoosh of wings. Gabriel set down on the bridge beside them, with a steaming mug in his hand. "Your Majesty," he greeted Titania, bowing with his wings flared behind him. "Hello again, Willowwisp," he added as he arose. "Good evening," David found himself responding to the blue gargoyle.
~Drat!~ he thought. ~Trapped. How can I come clean to Titania without angering Gabriel? I must have gotten out of bed on the wrong side this morning . . .~
"Your Majesty!" he heard someone call from the other end of the balcony. Peering over Titania's shoulder, he perked up. The cavalry! It was Aliaanor!
Titania turned herself. "Good evening Aliaanor," she said. "Have you brought your guest? I am eager to be introduced."
"He's around here someplace, I just left him for a second. As soon as I find him, I'll bring him to see you," Aliaanor said, walking to Titania.
"Have you met Willowwisp?" Titania asked, stepping aside.
Aliaanor's eyes flew open, then narrowed. David grinned weakly and waved at her.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Aliaanor said. "We met during the Interregnum."
~She remembered to roll with it,~ he thought. ~Good.~ Then he saw the look in her eyes, and knew he was in for a long evening.
He cleared his throat. "Ah, Your Majesty," he said. Titania turned to him. "Raven asked me to mention that you might like to meet his guest. If you have a spare moment, that is."
"Of course I've a spare moment. It's a party." Titania said. "I'll go see him. Aliaanor, I still want to meet this guest you've brought. Come find me once he turns up. I'll be in the throne room." She nodded pleasantly to both of them and vanished.
Gabriel stood sipping his willow tea. Aliaanor spoke to him without taking her eyes off David. "Gabriel, would you excuse us, please?"
The clan leader shot a glance at Aliaanor, then at David, and back. "Uh, yes, of course. Besides, I think I . . . um, left the kettle boiling." He spread his wings and launched himself hurriedly into the night.
The instant the Gabriel was out of sight, Aliaanor practically wrenched his arm out of its socket dragging him into a deserted room in the nearest tower.
"WHAT in the name of little green gargoyles were you THINKING?" she hissed at him. "You've done some pretty stupid stuff in your time, mister, but this . . . .!!!"
"All right, all right, take it easy, Ali," he tried to placate her. "I didn't mean to, really! But first the Wyrd Sisters mistook me for a fae, and I couldn't very well correct them in front of everyone, they'd have flambéed me. So I used the Willowwisp personality and improvised . . ."
"What about Titania? 'Never lie to royalty,' you always told me. It's a good rule! Why'd you break it? Argh!"
He pleaded with her, "I didn't! Everything I told Titania was completely true! I really was going to tell her that I'm David Vinlan, and a mortal, but before I could, Gabriel flew up and called me 'Willowwisp!' I really like him, and I didn't want to make him mad, so I just rolled with it."
"Gabriel?!?!" Aliaanor seemed on the verge of exploding. "How did he get the idea that you were fae???"
"I was introducing myself to him, and the name 'Willowwisp' just sort of jumped out of my mouth when I went to say 'David.' I'd already been introduced to Raven as Willowwisp, you see, and that had sort of jolted me into Renaissance Festival mode. . ."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on! You were introduced to Raven as Willowwisp? Who? How?"
He contorted his face. "The Wyrd Sisters insisted on introducing me to him. I couldn't say 'no' to them! They give me the creeps!"
"Iron and steel," Aliaanor muttered. She sat down abruptly on a nearby bench, and held her head in her hands for a couple of minutes. David joined her on the seat. "Painkiller?" he offered cautiously, extending his supply.
Aliaanor looked up long enough to shoot him a withering glance, then closed her eyes and covered them with her right hand. She sighed. "Look," she said, "Is there anyone else around here who thinks you're a fae?"
"Not that I know of," he said.
"All right. Here's what we're going to do." He leaned forward, paying close attention. "In half an hour, once I've got my wits back, we're going to walk into the throne room together. I am going to announce to Titania that the time has come to meet my guest. Then I am going to point to you, and step aside."
"I'm not sure I like this plan . . ." David said nervously.
Aliaanor flared. "Well tough beans! You got yourself into this mess, and you can darn well get yourself out of it! I'm not about to pull your bacon out of the fire!" She leaned heavily against the wall, staring at nothing. "I was afraid something would happen. I knew it was a bad idea to bring one of my friends here. Now you're probably going to end up as a blind albino newt, or something, I'll be banished from Avalon, and I'll have lost a friend. . ." She began crying.
"Hey, now, never think that!" David protested. He put his arm around her. She leaned against him, sobbing. He continued, "Never think that! I will always be your friend. Even if I am a newt!"
She looked up at him, incredulous, then gave out a short burst of staccato laughter. "Only you," she said, smiling through her tears, "Could make jokes at a time like this. Thank you. But joking with me doesn't get you off the hook. What are we going to do?"
"Not to worry," he said, "You've just given me an idea. We'll get through this yet; just do me one favor."
"What?" she asked.
"Use some of your magic to loosen the spirit gum on my points without making them fall off, so that I can yank them off without tearing the skin off too."
"What will that accomplish?"
"I'll tell you. Listen to this . . ." He explained his plan. Her eyes grew round, and then she clapped her hands over her mouth to contain her laughter.
Aliaanor approached Gabriel. Her face showed no signs of her recent bout of crying. "Gabriel, would you do me a favor?"
"What is it?" he rumbled.
"Bring Raven to the Throne room in five minutes. I've got a surprise for Queen Titania, and he might enjoy it. You would, too."
"Very well," Gabriel agreed. "I will meet you there in five minutes." He bowed, and departed to find Raven.
"Ladies?" David called to the Wyrd Sisters. They turned as one to face him.
"What is it?" they asked in unison.
"I would like to thank you for introducing me to Raven." He said.
They merely nodded.
"There is someone I would like to introduce you to. Would you be so kind as to follow me?"
"Very well," Phoebe said.
"We will come." Selene continued.
"But we cannot stay long." Luna added.
"That's quite all right, it shouldn't take long," David assured them. He turned and led them towards the throne room.
Aliaanor entered the throne room from the west with Gabriel and Raven at exactly the moment Willowwisp entered from the east with the Wyrd sisters. Titania and Oberon sat in their thrones, between and slightly north of the two doors. Seeing David, Aliaanor turned to Raven and Gabriel, saying, "Wait here."
"Wait here," David instructed the Wyrd Sisters. "I'll fetch the person directly."
Aliaanor and David met each other in the middle of the hall, in front of a large gathering of Oberon's Children.
He winked at her.
She winked at him.
And as one, the turned and marched toward the thrones.
Coming close enough, they bowed. The murmuring of the crowd ceased as the monarchs recognized them.
"My Queen," Aliaanor said, "I bring before you my mortal guest, as requested."
"Excellent, Aliaanor," Titania said. "Well? Where is this guest?"
"My Queen, he stands before you." So saying, she stepped slightly to one side and pointed at David. Grinning, he reached up and yanked off his points, laid them in his hand, and bowed again, offering the latex elf-ears to Titania.
Titania's brow furrowed. The crowd murmured. Gabriel, Raven, and the Sisters Three were heard to say simultaneously from opposite sides of the room, "What? But I thought . . . !!!"
"Ahem," put in Oberon in his most kingly, sonorous voice. "Would someone like to explain to me what's going on?"
"Gladly, Your Majesty," David said. "Aliaanor and I have been entertaining ourselves at your wonderful party, the like of which has not been seen in hundreds of years. Or rather, I have been, since Aliaanor was only let in on the joke a short while ago." He told the story, being very careful to give the impression that he had meant to fool some fairies. He gave out that he had impersonated an elf as a prank, a sort of tribute to Oberon and his folk. As he told his story, Oberon's face showed first puzzlement, then astonishment, and lastly, amusement. When the story was over, Oberon threw his head back and laughed, full and deep.
"That," Oberon said, "Is the most excellent jest I have heard in an extremely long time! Imagine, the Wyrd Sisters taken in by two lumps of latex! Raven, the trickster, fooled by the same!" He turned to his queen. "And the part I like best, dear Titania, is that you were taken in as well. It does me good to see that despite your scheming, you are not invulnerable to schemes yourself!" He laughed again, and those assembled in the hall joined him. Gabriel's sour expression reluctantly twisted itself into a smile. Raven cracked a grin. The Wyrd Sisters seemed above it all at first, but eventually even they smirked. Titania struggled to hold a grudge, then broke down and laughed as merrily as anybody there.
Aliaanor and David stood surrounded by laughter, looked at each other, and winked.
When the riotous mirth had settled down somewhat, Oberon again turned his eye on David. "Truly, this jest is worthy of one of Our children. Many mortals have attempted to impress me with their wit, but none have succeeded so greatly as you. And so, as fitting reward, We hereby bestow upon you the power and lifespan of a Child of Oberon. You are now one of us!" As he spoke, his hands flared green. A bolt of sizzling energy lifted David off the ground. Strands of pure magic twined into a cocoon around him, and began spinning slowly. Oberon kept his hands extended. His eyes were closed in concentration, and the set of his jaw revealed the enormous effort it took to change this mortal into a fae.
The cocoon began to spin faster. Blue-white energy flowed out of Oberon's fingertips, into the madly twirling ovoid. Aliaanor stared, wide-eyed, at this massive display of power. Only Oberon or Titania had enough resources to do this, and she had a feeling that Oberon's motive here was not to just to reward David, but also to remind all the fae of just who was their rightful King, and why. The transformation was intended as an ostentatious display of raw power.
The energy transfer from Oberon gave one last surge, then ceased. The cocoon began to slow. Oberon sat heavily in his throne, and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. Few acts of magic were draining enough to tire Oberon; what must it take to make him sweat? Aliaanor was awed in spite of herself.
The cocoon was fading now, revealing a changed David Vinlan inside. When it released him, he did not fall, but remained hovering uncertainly in place. His blond hair had darkened to jet black in the cocoon. His face was slightly narrower, and his eyes had become green, but the most noticeable changes were his long, pointed ears. He felt them gingerly.
Before anyone could say anything, Oberon drew himself up straighter and addressed David. "In view of your mortal heritage, I shall allow you to return to the World for sixty years, that being roughly the amount of time you would have lived before I transformed you." He turned and pointed at Aliaanor. "You shall go with him, to train him in the use of his new powers. You are both exempt from the ban on meddling in mortal affairs until the sixty years are up, at which time I expect you to return to Avalon. In the meantime, I want regular reports. And now, go and enjoy yourselves the rest of the evening! The party is not over yet!"
The hall burst into cheers, and returned to partying with renewed enthusiasm. David and Aliaanor bowed, made appropriate thanks, and withdrew from the throne room.
"David?" Ali asked when they had reached a haven of silence atop the furthest tower. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I guess so. Just roll with it . . ." His tone belied his words.
She hugged him close, resting her chin on his shoulder. "Don't worry, immortality isn't that bad."
"Easy for you to say; you were born that way. You know how to deal with it. I never wanted this!"
"I know," she whispered in his ear. "I know."
"Is he always that heavy-handed?" David queried plaintively.
"Yes. 'Subtlety' is not a word in Lord Oberon's vocabulary. And I've never heard him ask for input before making a decision."
He sighed against her. "Well, I suppose I'll get used to it," he said, fingering his ears. He pulled back suddenly. "And you know what?"
"What?" she asked.
"I can hardly wait until next season at the Renaissance Festival! Just think of all the pranks we'll be able to pull! Water balloons mysteriously appearing in the helmets the jousters wear! We can make small birds think the Queen's crown is laden with birdseed! Think of the Klingons! Think how wonderful it will be to pull flowers out of children's ears for real! Whee! Just think . . ."
"Hush your mouth, rogue!" Aliaanor said affectionately, and kissed him.
The obligatory disclaimer:
Gargoyles and all of its associated characters are copyrighted by the Walt Disney corporation, and are used here without permission, but with all due respect and veneration.