“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.” Lloyd Alexander

SKØNLITTERATUR

A STRAIGHT FAIRYTALE-SERIES

 

The first novel in this series is called: Journey of the Peasant King.

The poor baron, Gavin, competes in a quest tournament. He wants to win the princess' hand in marriage - or at the very least improve his bad reputation and prevent his arch nemisis count Eric from snatching up his barony. 

The conservative religious country is at the brink of war with the elves, which complicates things for Gavin. Because the only squire he can get is the elf Robin, who has a mysterious past, and whom Gavin has only met once... at an inn after a getting drunk... in a bed... naked.

SCHEDULE

I hope to send the manuscript to a publisher mid 2017. Until then you can read the first chapter here for free.

If you have comments you can email me here:

christinaebbesen@gmail.com

I published a couple of prequel short stories, but only in Danish.

Art by taralen.deviantart.com

Art by taralen.deviantart.com

Art by veroro.deviantart.com

Art by spectr00m.tumblr.com

CHAPTER 1 - AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER

Ruby laid back his ears as he braided his dark hair. He had to cut off his honour. His fingers fumbled for the dagger at his belt.

     A few rays of sun penetrated the foliage and reflected in the blade. He tightened his grip on the honourable braid but hesitated.

     He stumbled to the bank of the forest lake and let the dagger fall while he knelt to splash some water in his face.

     Ruby sank to the ground and leant back against a weeping willow. With both hands he clung to his hair. He had to remove this symbol of his honour, or his freedom would be forfeit.      ‘How ironic that I have to pretend to be a slave in order to be able to travel freely,’ he thought.

     A brand wouldn’t be necessary; a long-sleeved shirt would complete the illusion. The carnivores would think that he was trying to hide his shame beneath his clothing. He’d hide the missing slave ring around his neck with a shawl when he reached the capital. But his hair had to go before he’d be able to move about among humans in Karbon.

     To Ruby it was almost worse than cutting off his hand. He’d never imagined that his voluminous honour, which reached his chest, would be a source of frustration, until he realized that he couldn’t hide it under a hat or scarf, no matter how tightly he braided it.

     One’s honour was exceptionally private, almost sacred. Ruby knew of no one who hadn’t been able to wash, comb and arrange their own honour by the time they could walk. He vividly remembered the first time he himself had sensed how wrong it was to let mum, dad,     Travitorian or anyone else touch his hair. It’d been around the same time he’d gained control of his language and learned to control his rhyming.

     In his long-term relationships, Ruby had hesitated to allow his partners anything as intimate as touching his hair. And now he had to cut it off.

     He looked over the treetops in the glade, up at the peak of the last mountain he needed to cross to get from Montanistan to Karbon. He’d found no one who would sail him directly to the infamous land. Everyone warned him about getting near so southerly parts of Manus Orop.     Ruby had hurried on when the curious sailors asked why on Aretz it was so important to travel to this elf-hostile land.

     Finally he’d chosen the risky smugglers’ route to a small fishing village in Karbon’s neighbouring country to the north. From there he’d walked with his smuggler’s goods along the eastern coast toward Karbon.

     Once he’d delivered the goods, all traces of his contact with the smugglers would be destroyed.

     He could only hope that Damian never found the curious sailors.

     He banged his head against the trunk of the tree, picked up his knife and took a deep breath. The dishonourable disguise would actually set him free again. ’Temporarily lost honour is better than a life as a slave here in Karbon – or the horrors of the past years,’ he thought.

     The air got stuck in his throat. Instead of grabbing his braid, he ripped off his boot and cut the engagement cord off of his ankle and threw it away. He pulled tinder fungus and dried birchbark from his bag. He scratched some wooden fibres off of an old, dead oak, placed it all on his flint and took out his steel.

     He struck the flint with it, powered by four years’ frustration, until the tinder caught fire, and soon the flames devoured the detested engagement band in the dry leaves.

     He stared into the air in front of him without seeing the flames or the smoke when the small fire went out. It would take more than 50 years for his hair to re-grow into an acceptable length again, but no matter what, he would have to stay hidden until Damian was dead, which could be several hundred years.

     ’After I’ve delivered the goods, no one will see the shabby locks. I’ll find a place to hide. A forest so deep, no human will ever come there.‘

     Ruby lifted the knife but then thought better of it and freed a few front locks from the braid. A little would remain; just a few tresses at the front. Then his fingers once again grabbed the hilt, the other hand grabbing the braid at the back of his neck. ‘Quickly, before my courage deserts me.’

     The blade cut through his hair too easily while birds warbled in their sad, foreign way.

He cried himself to sleep under the willow’s drooping branches in the empty forest, and even in sleep, his fingers didn’t relinquish their grip on the cut-off braid.

*****

Gavin tasted the salty sea air. The cries of the seagulls were refreshingly different from the hen harriers’ from the bog at home.

     He and Edgar followed the dusty cart track into Grinde Rivertown. Gavin passed his waterskin to Edgar and let him have the last bit of water, as the squire had emptied his own two villages ago.

     The hens cackled at the horses’ hooves when they passed the small inn. Gavin halted and jumped off his horse.

     Edgar rubbed his face while he considered the young man. “How about we just get supplies and ride on?”

     Gavin could hear the edge of anxiety in Edgar’s voice but said: ”My bum is sore from all that riding”. He followed the inn maid with his eyes as she hauled water inside, “The inn looks nice. And I need to sleep in a real bed.”

     “You’ll have to get used to a sore ass and nights under the open sky. As far as money is concerned, it’d also be best if we…”

     “… I’ve decided that we will stay here for the night,” Gavin said with a nod.

     “As you wish, my lord,” Edger sighed.

     “I’ll behave.” The young baron stroked his horse’s muzzle and looked for the well.

Edger raised a bushy eyebrow, his lips tight in a strained smile. “I’ve heard that before.” He nudged his horse forward. ”I’ll buy more sausage and bread so we have enough for a few days.”

     Gavin patted his large workhorse on its neck. “That’s fine; I’ll give Gringolet some water and barter with the innkeeper in the meantime.”

     Gavin looked after his friend with a pang of guilt. Of course it would be more sensible to continue, but now they were finally out of their own sloppy fief and had reached some of the more interesting towns.

     He pulled his horse around the corner from where the inn maid with the braids had come. Even though the inn was at the edge of the dockside town, he could hear voices from the market: Men and women in stalls, yelling in competition. The wind carried the sound of applause and the smell of smoked herring.

     ‘Maybe I should’ve gone with Edgar after all,” Gavin thought, “There’s probably a play on at the square.”

     The few people on the road were all headed toward the square by the small dock. Gavin hesitated but then noticed a slender woman filling a waterskin by the well, her back to him. ‘     There are plenty of street performers. There’ll be more than enough entertainment on the way,’ he thought and smoothed down his wrinkled shirt.

     The woman wore a bluish woollen cape and a scarf around her hair. She appeared to be considering the well’s lifting device, stroking her thin fingers over it. Her skin was dark, so she wasn’t a local. ‘Maybe a travelling merchant from the north,’ Gavin thought. She seemed absorbed and didn’t react to the footsteps of him and his horse, but when Gavin cleared his throat, she turned around with a start.

     ”Greetings,” Gavin said and tucked his semi-long black hair back behind his ears, ”could I perhaps have some water for my horse, before you…” Gavin stared at the elf, and his hand stopped mid-air when he realised that he wasn’t facing a woman.

     A few tresses of hair hung in front of the elf’s narrow face, all the way down to his chest. His long ears were hidden under the scarf, and he looked tired and scrawny – even for an elf. His eyes flitted from Gavin to the horse. He put down his waterskin and made room for Gringolet to drink from the bucket.

     Gavin squinted a bit and looked around for the owner. ‘Why doesn’t he lower his gaze?’

The elf reached up and let his fingers run through Gringolet’s mane, and Gavin cleared his throat.

     “Is something matter?” the elf asked.

     “You’re touching my horse!”

     The elf pulled his hand away as if burned. “I am begging for your pardon”. He immediately looked to the ground.

     He didn’t mean to have the owner punish the elf, but he still pointed his thumb toward the inn and said: “Your master, where is he? Inside with others of your kind?”

     “Where could he be?

     He will be hard to find!

     I have no master for you to see

     Who wishes me to bind,” the elf sneered. He quickly put his hand over his mouth and looked bashfully down again.

     “Speak properly to me!”

     “I am apologetic.”

     “It’s ‘I am sorry’.” He placed his hands at his waist. “A you a travelling merchant?”

     “No, I am travelling in paper…”

     “… Did you just arrive?” He asked, and the elf nodded. “Have you spoken with anyone else?”

     “No, I walked in the woods along the coast, but the creek was dried out…”

     “… Then you are extremely lucky that I am the first one you’ve talked to.” Gavin frowned and let his arms fall to his sides. He noticed the little elf’s frantic breathing and fully dilated pupils. The herbivore seemed to know he was in trouble. ‘Surely someone would have warned him’ Gavin thought, just as he heard laughter from the road. He nudged Gringolet’s hindquarters so he came to obstruct the view.

     “Where do you need to deliver your papers?”

     “In the capital.”

     Gavin stared at the young elf and shook his head. “Are you obsessed?”

     “It is not an obsession, merely a job, my interest threads are entangled in quite different…”

     "You should find something else to spend your time on. You can be sure it won’t get any easier in Beltinge.” Gavin scratched his black stubble. “You’ve probably chosen the worst possible country to play at being a postman. Further north, perhaps…”

     The elf had already forgotten about looking down.

     Gavin let it pass. “… But hopefully you aren’t travelling by horse?”

     “Oh no.”

     “Good! That would border on severing your life threads to Él.”

     The elf lowered his gaze again, but this time it didn’t seem to be out of deference.

     “You simply cannot travel like that. Any lord or freeman could, no has a right to take you as their slave.”

     The elf nodded while he studied his boots.

     “Do you even know the laws?”

     The elf looked up. ”I know we cannot walk about freely, but I will keep to the forests, and I will only have to face you in few places.”

     Gavin couldn’t help but smile. ‘He seems to forget quickly,’ he thought and crossed his arms. “And one more thing, Longears, your kind don’t look us in the eyes around here. You’d have to go far, far north for that kind of behaviour to be acceptable. Here it’ll be enough for ordinary peasants to tie you to a post and flog you. And they’ll probably not let you go before their lord comes and collects his new slave.” Gavin looked seriously at the elf. “Here in Karbon, your race is most certainly not welcome, except as… free labour.”

     Gavin followed the elf’s gaze to the flap of his red nobleman’s cloak, which could be glimpsed in the saddlebag. The elf’s every muscle was tense, as if he was ready to escape across the field toward the forest.

     “Don’t worry, I won’t take you prisoner.” Gavin’s smile grew more forced, and he stuffed his cloak all the way into the bag. “But it’s not the attitude you should expect around here.” He padded Gringolet, who’d emptied the bucket. “Drop the papers and go home. If you forget your station in Beltinge, you’ll stand out, and your race is in high demand, so you risk being claimed by someone.”

     Thank you for your advice, Sir. …” The elf was inching away.

     ”Gavin Sapore, and you’re welcome, Longears, but if you have to go into the cities, stick to river and coastal towns like this one, where the trading ships dock. After all, it’s bad business to take potentially returning customers as slaves. So you might be lucky that people there will overlook that you break the rules.”

     “Thank you once more. I am much obliging, Sir Sapore.” The elf backed away, bowed and began running across the small field between the forest and the outmost row of houses.

Gavin shook his head and pulled Gringolet toward the stables next to the inn. He made sure his nobleman’s cloak was hidden before he approached the stable hand to ask about prices.

*****

Ruby caught a glimpse of what he was looking for in the glow from Muna, the big moon. She was waxing, soon in the first quarter, and was glowing dimly, while small Tiga had set hours ago as a narrow, waxing sickle of light.

     ‘Ah, there it is.’ Ruby reached for the waterskin.

His ears turned. Something was stirring behind the chestnut tree by the corner of the inn. He ducked behind the well and looked over the edge. It was the young nobleman from earlier, staggering toward the tree. He was fumbling with his codpiece and then started peeing.

     Ruby carefully got up and backed away but then remembered what he’d come for. He slowly reached for the waterskin and inched closer to the well.

     With a crunch, a branch broke under his foot. ‘Pech!’

     “Who’s there?” Gavin said blurrily and looked toward the well.

     Ruby froze in place, but then Gavin’s face lit up.

     ”You again?” The young human grinned and staggered toward the well. “Allow me….” He bent and grabbed the waterskin right before Ruby, but overbalanced.

     Ruby grabbed his shirt and pulled him upright again, away from the edge of the well. “Careful, you were very nearly falling in.” He reached for the waterskin. ’Just take it and get away,’ he thought.

     ”You saved my life!” Gavin threw his arms around Ruby, who immediately tried to free himself. “You’re my best friend!” He squeezed, and Ruby lost his breath. Then Gavin released      Ruby and quickly pulled away his hands, as if bitten. “My apologies.”

     “You are apologising in relation to what?”

     The nobleman’s drifting eyes settled on the well behind Ruby, and he smiled widely. “No, I thank you. I’d like to buy you some ale.” He grabbed Ruby’s wrist and pulled him toward the corner.

     “Oh, no, that will not be a necessity. Just give me my skin.” Ruby tried in vain to free himself from the big human. ‘Take it and run!’ He looked down. The human had forgotten to fasten his codpiece properly. ‘He wouldn’t be able to keep up, even if he was sober.’

     But the young man was strong, and he pulled Ruby around the corner end inside the inn.

     The heavy air and the smell of sweat and ale hit Ruby. He turned his ears back at the noise from the guests who were singing both loudly and out of tune. He was sure that had it been earlier in the evening and had the guests had more presence of mind, they would have fallen on him, but very few of them looked at him now, and none seemed to notice the two pointy ears that the scarf didn’t quite hide.

     He immediately stopped fighting and instead tried to attract as little attention as possible, while Gavin pushed him onto a chair by a table in one corner of the room.

     Ruby’s heart was beating wildly, and he looked around for a window, a backdoor, any kind of escape, in case the mood in the inn shifted.

     The two dozen or so guests it the small inn were too many and too close for Ruby’s taste. He looked at the chandelier, which spread warmth and smoke throughout the room. It was made of an old wagon wheel, which no one seemed to have taken the effort to clean before they put it up in the middle of the room. Fortunately, the glow from its eight great tallow candles, which smelled like sheep fat, was meant for the ale casks and the hams hung from the ceiling. The light barely reached the corners, and Ruby sank into his chair and hid in the shadows. The only other source of lightening in the room was the open fireplace at the other end with its crackling flames and smoke rising to the ceiling.

     Gavin called for an inn maid. Ruby felt a pang of envy when he saw her braids, and his hand tightened around the backpack with the remains of his honour.

     The gray-haired innkeeper waved his daughter away and wove his way to their table among the tables with all the loud guests.

     “Baldor, two more ales.”

     ”What’s that?” the innkeeper asked, frowning.

     Ruby hurriedly looked down and toward the door. ‘If they’re all as drunk as Gavin, I might make it out before they find their feet.’

     “He saved my life, so I owe him a mug of ale. Please get us two.”

     “I don’t serve their kind. Get it out of my inn.”

     “He’s my best friend, and he’ll have a mug of ale!” Gavin repeated.

     “You have been calling everyone here your ‘best friend’ for the past two hours. Get it out, right now, before I fetch the cane!”

     Ruby got up, relieved for the chance to escape. “I am begging for your pardon, I am going now.” But he didn’t make it two steps before Gavin’s hand closed around his wrist again.

     The young nobleman pulled himself up to his full height, wobbling slightly and regaining his balance without letting go of Ruby. He struck what he himself obviously thought was as an impressive figure, though still with his codpiece only halfway fastened. “You’ll get those mugs of ale now, before I get my cloak and sword and give you a beating by the flogging post .”

     Ruby risked a glance at the stunned innkeeper. He was quite clearly shocked that the young lad might have permission to carry arms. Ruby knew that the laws were strict in Karbon, and anyone who pretended to be a nobleman risked the gallows. The young man’s common linen clothing without adornments didn’t exactly indicate nobility.

     Ruby could see from Baldor’s furrowed brow that he doubted the truthfulness of Gavin’s threat. ‘I don’t have to help him!’ he thought. ‘It’s his problem if he messes with nobility.’ Nonetheless he discretely waved his free hand behind Gavin’s back.

     When they made eye contact, the innkeeper opened his mouth as if to yell, but all colour left the old man’s cheeks when he saw Ruby’s sign: A nod toward the black-haired lad and a fist to the chest – the universal hand sign for nobility. Baldor frowned. Ruby pointed to himself, made the sign for seeing, two fingers next to his eyes, and mimed that he pulled a cloak across his shoulders. Quickly he lowered his gaze.

     “I beg your pardon, Your Grace, I meant no offence.”

     “None taken, there was no way for you to know, just get our ale.”

     Baldor hurried away, and Gavin sighed as he lowered his shoulders. Ruby realised that there was no longer any drunken singing, and that all the guests at the inn were looking at them. His hairs stood on end.

     Gavin held his head high and looked out over the crowd, and as one, everyone was suddenly very busy with their own drinks and card games. He pushed Ruby back down on his chair. Baldor had already returned with two mugs of ale and two wineglasses and a half-filled bottle of wine.

     “Here’s the rest of the bottle you started on. It’s on the house with my deepest regrets.”

     “You’re my best friend, Baldor!” Gavin exclaimed excitedly, as the extra drinks were slammed onto the greasy tabletop. The innkeeper quickly retreated, while Gavin slid the first mug of ale to Ruby.

     “Cheers… ehm, what was your name?”

     Ruby hesitated for a moment. But the risk of giving his real name to the drunken human was minimal.  ‘His great-grandchildren will be long dead before Damian starts looking and asking after me here,’ he thought. “I am Rúahbenythod.” He could not help smiling at Gavin’s confused expression.

     “Roabiny…” The young human scratched his upper lip with his teeth. “Can I call you Robin?”

     “Sure, it is closely enough,” he said.

     “Cheers, Robin, for… why were we toasting?”

     Ruby looked from Gavin to the door. “It will be best if I leave.”

     “I’m sure there was a reason.”

     “You were falling…”

     “By Él! That is right, cheers to not falling!” Gavin lifted his mug and downed half of it in one go. Ruby did not move. His eyes were on the waterskin on the floor by Gavin’s feet.

     “To not fall in war and from grace,” Gavin took another large gulp, “and falling head over heels in love with wonderful women!” He laughed loudly and looked at the inn maid, a little froth from the beer in his stubbles. Baldor brews good ale, go ahead and drink.”

     “It will be best if I leave,” Ruby repeated. He balled his hands into fists, nails biting into his palms.

     Gavin, however, didn’t seem to take note of his anxiety. He poured the rest of his wine. “It’s free, drink. You cannot just leave it and go, that would be impolite.”

     Ruby reached for the wineglass and downed the spiced drink. Gavin chuckled and emptied his wineglass while the froth from the beer slid to his chin.

     “I am thanking you for your kindness, but I must go.” Ruby got up and reached for the waterskin, already heading for the door.

     “Hey.” Gavin took the skin and put it in his lap, out of reach. “There’s still one left, and the night is young still, Muna’s dance across the sky will last a few more hours.”

     Ruby sat down heavily and looked toward the door. He could feel people watching him. “You can have it, I am not thirsting.” He pushed the mug back to Gavin.

     “Of course!” Gavin slapped his forehead. ”You’ll want tree sap! Isn’t that what you drink? Baldor!”

     “No no, Your Grace, thanking you much, but I need freshness tomorrow. So I…”

     “It’s: thank you very much,” Gavin corrected him before his face lit up in a big smile as the inn maid returned. “Do you have any maple syrup?”

     The girl sent Ruby a piercing stare before he remembered his place and lowered his gaze. She took the empty mug. “I’ll see what we have in the kitchen.”

     “And another mug of ale!” Gavin yelled after her and reached for the last mug.

     Ruby noticed that Gavin was looking at her swaying hips until she disappeared through the door behind the bar.

     The young human looked back at Ruby. “You’re my best friend!”

     He smiled behind the long tresses of hair and lowered his gaze. “You are too kind.”

     “That’s what Edgar said before he left. I think he’s upset.”

     ”Who is Etger?”

     “Edgar is my best friend! And my squire,” Gavin added. “He’s been a bit like an older brother to me, when I grew up, as I only have sisters. He is actually my brother-in-law as well.” Gavin took a long swig of ale. ”He went to the barn to sleep some time ago.” He looked at Ruby and started giggling. “You look like a girl.”

     “And you do not look like a nobleman.” Ruby said, daring a cautious smile.

     Gavin leaned across the table and whispered loudly: “It’s because we have no money.”

     “But you have a big heart,” Ruby said, only halfway paying attention to the conversation as he kept an eye on the door. ‘I could make a new waterskin.’ The thought of having to kill an animal just to make a water container sent a shiver down his spine.

     “Good hearts don’t count for much in the upper layers of society,” Gavin said with a grunt and leaned back. He took another swig of ale. “Sometimes it even detracts.” Gavin fell silent.

     At that moment the inn maid returned and placed a mug in front of Gavin and a wineglass halfway filled with thick, brown syrup. “It’s on the house,” she said when Gavin started rummaging around for money.

     Gavin pushed the wood sap over to Ruby who stared at the glass in disbelief.

     ”Cheers.” Gavin prepared to empty his mug. ”Drink with me, Robin!”

     Ruby looked despairingly at the thick, golden liquid and hesitated. ”I do not know how much you have been drinking this night, but if I am drinking all that at once, I will lose consciousness.” Ruby cast a sidelong glance at the waterskin in Gavin’s lap. “Maybe over time, if it was watered down…”

     Gavin waved the skin around vigorously. “I have water right here!”

     Ruby reached for it, but Gavin pulled it back and mumbled: “Oh right, well water.”

     “We can drink it without getting sick, Your Grace.” Finally Ruby got the skin back. He poured a little water into the glass, stirred it with his finger, while the other hand discretely placed the skin in his lap. He moved forward in his chair. ‘Just one sip and then away from here.’

     “Cheers!” Gavin exclaimed again.

     “Avidri!” Ruby said, sucked the syrup off of his finger and carefully sipped the mixture. Heat immediately flooded through him, and his fingertips started tingling. He slid to the edge of his seat, ready to get up, when his ears caught the sound of singing in the street before the door banged open, pushed by a huge sailor with enough hair on his arms for a wig.

     Ruby leaned back into the shadows. ‘Pass the time, say something funny,’ he thought.

     Gavin was lost in his own thoughts.

     Ruby cleared his throat. “An elf, an orc and a human are sitting in an inn at the docks by Pax, talking of their homes;

     “At the inns back home on the Oxámor islands,” the orc brags, “I get every fourth schnapps free.”

     “At the inns in Gwendylanis,” the elf says, “for every two wood saps I am ordering, I get a third one for free.”

     “That is nothing,” the human says, “at the inns in Kandahim, you go to the bar, and they give you the first ale for free, and the second ale for free, and the third ale for free – and then you are taken upstairs where you get sex entirely for free!”

     “Really?” the orc asks. “Has that happened to you?”

     “Well, no,” the human says, “but it happens to my sister all the time!”

     Gavin laughed and grabbed the table. “I hadn’t heard that one before.”

     “I made it up just now,” Ruby said with a smile and licked a bit of syrup from his lip.

     “I imagined this trip would broaden my horizon - that I’d meet loads of interesting people with exciting tales. I just didn’t expect the first storyteller to be a longear, but I guess you’ll do.”

     “Do what?”

     “No, I mean, I liked your story.”

     “Oh, thank you.” Ruby cast a sidelong glance at the door, but the path was still not clear.

     Gavin took another sloppy swig of ale and belched loudly.

     Ruby had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes. “Where are your sisters, then?”

     “They are taking care of the farm at home, the five of them still living here.”

     Ruby looked quizzically at Gavin. “I do not understand. Is it normal here for nobility to be doing the physical…”

     “No no. My family isn’t quite normal, “ Gavin laughed. “It’s because we don’t have enough people.” Gavin halted when the inn maid with the lovely hair walked by and wiped the tables with a wet cloth. “As in; not enough at all. If there is a war, we cannot muster the numbers the baronet is committed to.” His head turned to follow the girl while Ruby cast a glance at the greasy stone floor and saw his chance to pour a little of the sugary water onto it.

     “You think she is a lovely woman.” He looked at her again. At closer inspection, her face was very harmonic, but Ruby had a sense that it was her curves more than anything that caught Gavin’s eye. She went to the table where the hairy sailor sat with a couple of bearded mates who were bawling along to his song about scantily clad harpies.

     Gavin nodded and followed her with his eyes while Ruby saw his chance to discretely pour the rest of the sugary concoction onto the floor.

     “Cheers to lovely women!” Gavin cried out. He was taking smaller gulps now. ”And to sinful women”! He added loudly enough for a couple of card-playing drunkards to yell along with him.

     “I need to be going.” Ruby sipped at the remains of his watered down syrup.

     “Will you not stay and drink till Tiga rises, or at the least until Muna sets?”

     “We should plant trees, not drink from them,” Ruby said and got up. He had kept an eye on the door since the hairy sailor entered, and the path should be clear. “I thank you for ordering syrup in steed of ale.”

     “A steed is a horse,” Gavin laughed and leaned back to empty his mug. He lost his balance and fell over onto the hard floor. Laughter spread, and people stared.

     Ruby suddenly felt exposed as people looked at him. No matter if he ran off or walked out now, it would look strange. Somebody would follow him and hold him accountable for the man on the floor.

     Baldor came over and kneeled by the semi-conscious lad who had knocked the back of his head against the stone floor. “You should go to bed, Your Grace.”

     “I just need to lie here a bit,” Gavin mumbled.

     “You cannot stay here.” He looked at Ruby who was rooted to the spot.

     He fixed his eyes on the floor. “He simply fell over, I am unblameable.”

     Baldor shook Gavin. “You’ve had too much. You have to go upstairs for some sleep.”

     Suddenly a loud smack could be heard from the other end of the room, when an inn maid slapped a guest who’d groped her. The man got up and grabbed her while his friends laughed.

     “Anton!” Baldor yelled, startling Ruby. ”How often do I have to tell you?”

     The inn maid with the braids tried to help her sister but was grabbed by a drunkard herself and was struggling to get free. “Anton! Bertil! That’s enough! Behave, or you’ll be thrown out again!” Baldor got up. ”Get him to bed! It’s the chamber at the end of the hallway,” he said without looking at Ruby and stomped toward the rowdy guests.

     Ruby looked at the door, ‘There’s no way I’ll make it out without being noticed.’ So he bent down resolutely, got Gavin’s arm around his neck and with great effort managed to drag the heavy human to his feet and steer him to the stairs.

     “I just need to sleep a little”, Gavin mumbled, apparently having a hard time finding his footing. It helped when he could hold onto the railing and Ruby didn’t have to drag Gavin, only make sure he didn’t lose his balance and fall down the stairs.

 

It was a small chamber with a bed, a worm-eaten table with a washing basin, a clay cup and a pitcher with clear spring water. Ruby let go of Gavin, who toppled onto the hard bed.

     “Just sleep a little.” Gavin fumbled with his clothing. ”I don’t feel too good.”

     Ruby was already by the door when Gavin suddenly stumbled to the window. A long, wet smack could be heard from the yard. Ruby hesitated but took pity on the poor human. When Gavin was done throwing up, Ruby passed him the mug with some water in it.

     “You are my best friend,” Gavin said and spilt most of the water down his chest.

*****

Gavin squinted against the merciless sunrays of morning. His clothes were spread across the chamber floor. It looked damp. ‘At least I got into the bed’ he thought as he felt someone turning over behind him on the hay mattress. A smug smile spread across his face despite the hangover. ‘I hope it’s the maid with the braids’.

     He turned carefully, and his heart skipped a beat. He jumped out of bed at the sight of the elf from the well, and as he did, he discovered that he was naked. He pulled the blanket in front of him and realised with horror: “You’re not dressed!”

     The elf sat up with a start and looked around with wide eyes. “Where is the fire?”

     “What are you doing in my bed?”

     The elf rubbed the sleep from his eyes, looked at him with confusion and pointed at the bed: “I am in sleep.”

     “Sleeping! And why are you sleeping in my bed?” Gavin hissed through his teeth. ‘Why doesn’t that elf lower his gaze, hasn’t he been listening?’

     “Did you forget that you were inviting me?” With furrowed brow and a smile Gavin couldn’t determine, the elf reached behind him for his clothes, which hung neatly across the back of the chair and the edge of the bed. The longear continued looking at Gavin as if nothing was wrong. “You were inebriated.”

     “I’ve never been that drunk!” Gavin said. ’Damn alcohol!’ He clutched his sore head. He didn’t understand why the elf took so long putting on his trousers. Gavin blushed. ‘Don’t look at him!’ his inner voice screamed, and a thought struck him. “Did anyone see you come up here with me?” he asked, mouth dry.

     “Do you really not remember?” The elf pulled on a shirt which clung damply to his chest. He pulled the acorn which hung on a cord around his neck from the back to his chest. “The innkeeper told me to get you to bed; you could not sleep in the middle of the floor.”

     Gavin glanced out the window toward the backyard. There were no angry men with rope and pitchforks, shouting for the justice of the prophet Kalifánar and demanding punishment. ‘Maybe they are waiting by the entrance?’

     The elf managed to put his scarf over his rumpled hair, grabbed his backpack and cloak and made for the door.

     “Hey, stop, Longears! You’ll have to jump out the window when the path is clear. No one can see you leave this chamber!”

     The elf shrugged, opened the window, and looked down at the empty yard where, to Gavin’s relief, the only witnesses were a couple of hens. They were pecking at a pool of vomit below the window.

     The elf swung gracefully out the window.

     “What happened last night?” Gavin asked and massaged his forehead with his knuckles. He vaguely remembered Edgar leaving the inn, and then nothing. How he got into bed with the elf, without any clothes on no less, he didn’t know.

     “Nothing you did not have wants for.” The elf smiled and let go of the sill.

     “Didn’t want!” Gavin corrected the empty air, while the elf darted across the yard, through the cabbage patch, and disappeared over the field toward the forest. ‘What did that mean?’

     Gavin quickly got dressed. ‘Why is my shirt wet?’ He smelled it. It didn’t smell of beer – perhaps a bit of vomit. He went through all his bags. Nothing was missing. ’Where is Edgar?’ His head was pounding heavily. ’Thirsty.’ He collected the mug and pitcher from the floor. Gavin drank the little water that was left. He checked the window once more. ‘What if someone noticed that he came up with me? Maybe it will be best to put on the cloak.’

     Gavin wasn’t sure the mark of nobility would matter to an angry and outraged crowd, yet he put on the red silk, gathered his belongings, puffed up his chest and raised his chin before he entered the stairway.

          Baldor was wiping tables. “Good morning, Your Grace,” he said, threw the cloth onto the table and rubbed at the greasy wooden surface. “Will you be having breakfast?”

     It didn’t seem as if Baldor was surprised to see him with his nobleman’s cloak on, but he seemed surly, and Gavin feared the worst. His stomach and throat felt as if he hadn’t had neither drink nor food for a week. But the elf had said that Baldor saw them go up together. ‘Maybe he’s just stalling while someone is stirring up the townsfolk.’ Gavin shook his head.

     “No thank you, Edgar and I must be going.”

     “Safe travels, Your Grace, and may luck be with you in the tournament.”

     Gavin thanked the innkeeper absentmindedly while he glanced out the window before he edged the door halfway open and glanced out. There was no angry crowd in front of the inn. He hurried to the stables where Edgar had both horses saddled for departure.

     “Why the cloak?” he asked and pulled his hat onto his curly hair.

     Gavin hurriedly packed his belongings into the saddlebags. “Doesn’t matter.” Then he led Gringolet out of the stables and mounted while looking around. ‘Still no one.’

     “What’s the matter? Are you altogether alright?”

     ”I’m fine!”

     “No more drinking from now on?”

     “Most certainly not!” Gavin said and put his heels to Gringolet’s flanks. The market square was crowded, and there was a cacophony of shouting tradesmen and fishmongers who were trying to drown out and undercut each other. Sweat ran down Gavin’s neck. He looked nervously over his shoulder at the smelly fishnets that young boys were untangling along the road.

     “Are you sure you’re alright?” Edgar’s voice pulled Gavin from his chaotic thoughts. “Do you need another couple of hours’ sleep before we continue?”

     “No, we need to move on,” Gavin croaked too quickly, while he directed Gringolet through the crowd. He felt Edgar’s gaze on him and looked down as they turned onto the large trader’s road out of town.

     “You’re all pale. Do you need to throw up?” Edgar laughed, but Gavin could sense he was a little concerned.

    “I seem to have already done that,” Gavin mumbled as they rode past the smithy on the edge of town where a horse dealer and his two companions were negotiating shooing prices. Gavin jumped when the small group of men laughed. He kicked Gringolet into a trot. “I just need to ride it off!” Gavin assured Edgar through a suffocating nausea.

     ”I see.” Edgar said, obviously not convinced, as he too urged his horse to increase its pace.

 

                                                                   *****

That was the first chapter. What will happen next? Here are some commissions and inspirational pictures. Not all of them are actually going to happen, at least not in the first novel. Who knows what I will decide for the next installments in the A Straight Fairytales series?

Art by psyclopathe.deviantart.com

Art by fishnbacon.tumblr.com

Art by spectr00m.tumblr.com

Art by dominoka.tumblr.com

Art by quackghost.deviantart.com

Art by peevishpants.tumblr.com

Art by sandynaxart.tumblr.com

Art by maxkennedy24.tumblr.com

Art by corinnesteinportfolio.tumblr.com

Art by midgaardian.deviantart.com