Ah, there you are! I’m so glad you’re back again, because now I get to finish the story Kit told me about the Handfasting of the King and Queen of the Faeries.
Where was I? Oh, right — Kit and I were sitting on our log and having a bit of a snack from that miraculous hamper of his, and he said, ‘Anyhow, she was Queen in her own right, Lady of the Blessed Ones who live here in the Wood, though they stay pretty much to themselves. Beautiful they were, all of them, as the Fay are, but she was the most beautiful: all moonlight and night skies, with great lovely eyes that spoke riddles and answered with mysteries, a tall and regal Lady indeed. He was a vagabond prince, a lord of the fianna, as much as they would have such a thing, all golden, a dashing figure shining in the twilight, and his eyes were full of sorrow and joy, but there was ever laughter in his voice. Some said he was a son of the Lord of Beasts — he had that sort of wild look to him — and some said he was the Lord himself, or one of his brothers. And some said she was more than she seemed, and that her mother was the Moon herself. And that night was the night they were wed.
‘The guests came from all over. There were the retainers, of course, and a delegation from the Unseelie Court, and a party of dwarves and kobolds, led by a brawny man who walked with a limp, and a group of the water-folk who stuck close to that brook there,’ and he leaned close and pointed it out to me, ‘and others who you could see were very important, although I didn’t catch their names. One woman — African, she looked — arrived in a great wind, with sheets of lightning across the sky. She was an ample woman, but ‘lovely, as a ripe yam is lovely,’ as they say, and with her was a tall skinny man who had a twinkle in his eye and a big smile. And there was a beautiful Chinese lady, dressed all in silks, who arrived with a large rabbit. (I noticed a number of rabbits in the woods around, and foxes, and the Cats all seem to have trooped down from the House. That might explain the way the evening went.) And a quiet young man with a white dove on his shoulder; everyone treated him with great respect, as they did the wild-looking, dark-haired man wearing a leopard skin, who greeted the quiet man as ‘Brother.’ And there was another couple I remember, quite striking they were: he was blue, but a fine looking man nevertheless, with large, lustrous dark eyes, and she was dusky and curvy, and very beautiful. They had with them a boy, a lovely little thing with long lashes and a mop of curly black hair. I remember when they arrived they presented the boy to Herself, to be her servant. I don’t think they noticed the look on the King’s face at all. There were more, but I can’t remember them all — it was quite the turnout. Almost the last to arrive, though, was a very young man, with a bow — a great hunter’s bow it was — and a quiver of wicked looking shafts. That caused a stir at first, but one look into those eyes of his and no one argued. Old, they were, as old as anything, and no pity in them at all.’ He shivered. ‘He was treated with great deference — I heard someone call him ‘Eldest,’ so I suppose that was it, although he seemed the youngest. With this bunch, though, there’s no telling. He drew aside with the Quiet Man and the Leopard-Skin Man, and the three of them stood there talking quietly.
‘The ceremony was brief, as such things tend to be among the Old Believers, and then the couple stripped off and swam the brook, then ran straight to their bower.’ He leaned closer and pointed to where the bower had been. He smelled musky and fresh at the same time. ‘Well, then everyone relaxed and started eating and drinking and visiting — most of them seemed to know each other, and it was quite the happy crowd. The musicians struck up a tune, and the Blue Man and his lady led the dancing — such dancing it was! I’ve never seen anyone dance like he did, graceful and forceful, and . . . well . . .’ he gave me a sidelong look — and he was blushing again. ‘And a little, uh, suggestive, if you know what I mean. I saw the Chinese lady’s rabbit over by the drinks table talking to the Leopard-Skin Man, and the tall skinny African man joined them. The faeries danced, and then the kobolds and dwarves did a dance — a noisy, stomping dance — and things were just getting a little loose and friendly when there was this shriek like all the bean-sidhe ever were proclaiming the death of everything, and the King came splashing across the brook without a stitch on, looking more than ready to do his husbandly duty, snatched that pretty boy up and ran off into the woods with the boy clutched to him, and his bride racing along behind him swinging a claymore — I’ve no idea where she got it — and screaming curses and oaths like a whole crew of sailors.
‘Well, no one knew what to do. The retinues lined up on opposite sides of the glen eyeing each other, and the dwarves and kobolds drew off to the third side, although the lame man was laughing and cheering the King on (which earned him no few dirty looks). Everyone else just looked confused, except the Leopard-Skin Man, who was standing off to one side smiling to himself. Suddenly he gave a great shout and waved his hand, casual like, you know? There came heady scent in the air, like a fine strong wine, and everyone just started throwing things and tackling each other and yelling. The Quiet Man walked up to him and spoke with him, quite urgently, but I think it was too late — with all the shouting and fighting, it was a sorry mess.
The Eldest was standing off to the side and started shooting people with his arrows, but no one seemed to get hurt. I noticed when he hit those who were going hand-to-hand, the fighting — well, they didn’t really seem to be fighting any more, you know? And the ones who weren’t going hand-to-hand soon were, although they all seemed to be enjoying it a great deal.’ I noticed he was really blushing. ‘It wasn’t much of a party at that point, so I left before I got hit with something. But I wonder if I should have stayed.’
It had gotten cool, and he reached into that hamper again and drew out a blanket, which we shared. ‘And that’s just the way it happened. Probably.’ That twinkle was back in his eyes, but it was different, somehow. And his hands were very warm.
Oh, sorry — got distracted for a moment. At any rate, that’s Kit’s story of the Handfasting of the King and Queen of Faerie, just the way he told it to me, and he should know, having been there. What’s that? My eyes? Well, they’ve always been green, but. . . . Really? Well, I suppose things happen when you spend a night in the Wood.