Jack was only a cook’s boy, but Rowland, Lord Robert’s own son, had been his friend since both were little children. They ran wild together through all the mischief and scrapes that a clever boy and a boy no one dared punish could manage, all before either one thought of degree or station.

When he and Rowland had nine summers each, and Lord Robert thought to have tutors for his son and see him learn knighthood, he had Jack and Rowland brought to him, and he looked at the way they stood so close together, and he bent to look Jack straight in the eye and said: “I think it will be easier to teach you manners, Boy, that to keep my son from your side.”

So Jack got an education, that he might serve as a secretary or a groom of the chamber for Rowland, and some practice at riding and arms, though he never grew as strong and bold as Rowland did. He also listened to his mother’s stories and the tales told by her friend Agnes, who people called a witch, and in them got learning that Rowland never did.

The two stayed fast friends, closer with one another than either was with any of the other boys that lived and played in the castle yards. Nothing kept them apart for a free moment, not until their fourteenth year, when Rowland was married to a pretty dark-haired woman, Mary-Anne, who rode up from the borders on grey-spotted horse and wore a fine blue gown at the wedding.

Mary-Anne was all of twenty-four, and she made no secret that she didn’t like being married to a child. She would shame Rowland into spending more time at study or on the practice grounds, to do what a grown man would and not play with Jack and the other boys.

Today, with the weather so fine, she had relented and even brought her needlework onto the green outside the castle walls to watch them as they sported with a ball and sticks on the lawn around the grey stone chapel. Rowland was the leader, and he was bright and strong and fairer than all the rest together as they tumbled and ran behind him.

As they ran, Rowland hit the ball with his stick, so high it flew over the chapel and out of sight. He turned to chase it, and Jack could not help give the warning his mother had given him before.

“Wait, Rowland, not that way! It’s terrible bad luck to go widdershins around a church.”

Rowland nodded. He was used to Jack’s little spells and omens. He said he didn’t believe them, but he would always humor Jack and do as he asked. He would have turned back, but Mary-Anne laughed then. She had a way of laughing loud so that Jack and Rowland knew she was laughing just at them.

“Are you still a child, Husband. Do you leave a candle burning against goblins and boggarts under the bed, too?”

Rowland shook his and clenched his mouth in a crimson face. Jack knew what Rowland would do, with Mary-Anne goading him. It was her fault really, but Rowland was still a fool to do it for her.

He ran once widdershins around the chapel, and Jack could only watch. Mary-Anne nodded him on, and Rowland ran again. A third time he went round the grey stone walls, to show he was a man.

They watched and waited, all of them, but Rowland never came back to the lawn beside the church. The whistling wind the village people called the Elf-King’s Horn blew in the trees outside the castle wall. All the boys, and Jack, and Mary-Anne were silent for a moment, waiting for Rowland to appear.

Jack was the first to move, and Mary-Anne came after. They ran rightwise around the chapel and back to the place where they had started from, and they saw no sign nor heard no sound of Rowland or his footfalls on the grass. The boys who had been playing scattered, calling after Rowland, for his joke had gone too far and frightened them. Jack stayed and looked at Mary-Anne.

“He’s gone now,” Jack told her, “taken by the king of the elves or some other dark thing, because you shamed him into foolishness.”

He watched her chew over his words like a tough cut of beef. She looked to the castle, where Lord Robert was, and away south to her father’s country.

“Will he come back?” she asked.

“Not likely,” said Jack. “You have to win your lost ones back from fairies in the tales, not wait for them.”

She swallowed and looked him full in the face and nodded, and then she ran widdershins round the stone chapel with never a look behind. No horn blew for her, but she was gone on the third turn as well, and Jack walked round it once again and saw that she was gone too, wherever Rowland was, or to some stranger place that bad luck and cold wind off the hills had opened a door to.

Jack wanted to run after, to bring back Rowland from wherever he was gone, but Jack was cleverer than he was brave, and he knew many stories of the other country, where fairies chased white deer with packs of red-eared dogs. Jack would make sure he was ready before he went to fairyland, and maybe he would come home with Rowland at his side.

First Jack went to his mother in the kitchens, and he told her what had passed and what he must do, and she would have told him not to go, but she knew that he loved Rowland close as kin and had no others in the world but her and Rowland. She gave Jack salt and bread and a good iron knife, sharp and heavy at his side.

“Eat and drink nothing in the other country, Jack,” she said, “and wear your good boots with iron hobnails when you go.”

Jack heard, and he kissed her on each cheek, and he did not cry until he left the kitchen.

Then Jack went out of the castle, down the winding lane of the village to the last house before the hills, where the old witch Agnes lived. She was his mother’s friend and the heal-all for all the village and the servants in the castle, and it was her tales of the other country that Jack would use for his guide.

Jack asked her to write three tales of fairyland onto his heart, so he would remember them though all the snares and tricks and magic of the other country and know how he could win his Rowland back.

The witch did not try to dissuade Jack, but she was grim. “You’ll die more likely than save him, Boy, or be caught there, which is much the same.”

“I know, but I won’t leave him.”

The witch had Jack take off his shirt and bare his chest. She bound Jack’s arms to the spindly chair so that he wouldn’t flinch. She took a knife with a bone handle and a copper blade, and she muttered stories to herself as the knife slid through his skin. It hurt like itching under a scab, sweat in a fresh cut, a sad ending when he expected a happy one.

When she was finished, there was no blood, and his skin was whole, but there were shadows that almost looked like letters, bleeding through from somewhere deeper in his flesh.

The old witch said that he had been a clever boy to ask for such a thing to guide him in the other country. She had not heard of such a trick in any of her tales. She gave him a leather bottle of sweet water from well behind her cottage, safe to drink in any land he traveled to.

Jack ran back to the castle. No one was in the yard, no one looking yet for Rowland, or if they were they had abandoned superstitions repetition of the path around the chapel. Likely Lord Robert had heard of his son’s vanishing and put it down to some excess of play among the boys. He did not listen to fireside stories or bow his head when the Elf-King’s Horn blew on the heath above his castle.

Jack started round the grey stone chapel, walking widdershins as slow and tentative as tightrope walker in a carnival. He found a rhythm he could make himself maintain, and he felt for something: a winding up of tension, a prickle on his neck, a holy trembling in the bright air of the summer afternoon.

There was no sign but a dryness in his throat and a shimmer that made him dart his eyes after each mote in the sunshine. In fear and dullness he walked around the chapel, once, twice, three times widdershins, and felt no breath of wonder to transport him.

He stumbled as he rounded the last turn. He caught himself and found he had crossed over. The castle walls and towers were all gone, and the stone chapel was a lonely boulder with a great cleft leading into darkness. The forest all around was twisted, tall and thick as the curled hair of a sleeping giant, full of shadows deeper than should have been under the summer sun. The grass was bright as emeralds, richer hued than fine Holland cloth. It was trampled by the hooves of many horses, and their trail led away into the west.

Jack followed the trampled road across the lawn and under the twisted trees, and he walked in dream. He seemed to move by fits and starts, so that he went long minutes without moving and then leapt forward a furlong at a stride. His feet pulled left and right as currents in the ground urged him to turn from the straight way and search the shadows for his Rowland. He stamped each step down heavy and felt his hobnails pin him to the path as to a lodestone. He blessed his mother’s gifts for the first time, and not the last.

After an uncountable time of dream-walking under the trees, Jack came out onto a green lawn of grass so firm and thick it showed no dint of hooves, and he could not reckon his path forward. A choice of three roads lay before him, one broad and smooth running over the turf, and one winding beneath willow ash and alder through a country of green hills, and one narrow as a blade, beset on all sides by thorns and briars.

And in a shiver of light, a lady stood there at the parting of the ways, and she was beautiful. Jack found he could not tell more than that. Whether her hair was dark or fair, her skin pale or black, her figure broad or thin, her eyes bright or darkly lidded, he knew not; only that she was beautiful, and she laughed a smiling laugh at him, so that he felt awkward, a child grubby from play and long walking, at the feet of a great and noble lady.

“Will you kiss me in friendship at our merry meeting, Jack?” she asked him in a voice like sparkling wine and honey.

Almost Jack bent forward and kissed her as she asked, for friendship and the wonder of her beauty, but the shadows on his breast ached, and he remembered the tale written on his heart and gave a clever answer.

“I will not, Lady. I have to find my friend who was taken by the blower of the Elf-King’s horn, and if I stayed to serve you seven years, I would never bring him home safe to our own country.”

The lady laughed again and smiled and said: “You are a clever boy to reckon the cost of my kiss so well, but do you know the road to elf-king’s hall? I will tell you the right path for a kiss, and there is other payment to be had for your service in my kingdom once you win free.”

The tale carved on his heart was like a bed of coals, and the warmth that rippled out from it made Jack’s tongue loose and clever.

“No, my lady, no matter the reward, I have not seven years to spare, and I may need a lying tongue to come safe through all that waits for me.”

He knew the way well enough now, for he sought neither hell nor heaven, by the broad road or the thorny one, but it was hard to set his feet on the path. The dream of the other country filled his head like the fragrance of too many flowers or the scent of grass in a field the scythemen had just crossed. He should bend forward and kiss the fair lady who waited on him, and tarry with her on the green grass soft as down.

The tale in his heart tugged him away. He would not be True Thomas, stolen seven years. He had no need for prophecy; only for Rowland.

He took the winding path beneath the fairy trees, to follow Rowland to fair elf-land, and when the lady called after him to offer a kiss for good luck on his road, he did not turn again.

Under the trees, the sound of water grew louder, and a little stream sprang from the turf and ran beside the path, twisting in and out of shadow and chuckling as it ran over little falls on its path through the green hills.

After a little walking, at a place where the stream was farther from the road, lost in the shadows of the willow trees, Jack heard a voice over the noise of water, and it was Mary-Anne, speaking gently to someone.

Jack balked a moment at the thought of leaving the road. Paths were hard to find in fairyland once they were lost. He had heard more than enough tales to know. He thought of leaving Mary-Anne behind and going on to save his friend and come home a hero, even with the spectre of Rowland’s noble wife gone into wind and shadow, but that would be a poor tale for a winter night, and Jack knew more than Mary-Anne about the other country. He did not think she would come home without him.

Jack stepped from the path, and he let a trail of salt fall behind him, and he blessed his mother’s gifts for a second time, and not the last.

Under the shadow of the trees he saw Mary-Anne, and she was gentling a white horse, tall and proud and beautiful. Mary-Anne was a fine rider, better even than Rowland, and if she could mount the white horse, she would think to master it and ride as swift as it could go to follow Rowland, and perhaps she had heard enough stories to guess that a fairy horse would know the way to whatever she desired. It was a fine plan, but Mary-Anne did not know the tales of this country as Jack did.

Mary-Anne had not noticed the stagnant bow in the stream only a few paces back, where the horse still dipped a trailing hoof. She had not seen its hungry look or marked the stain of red around its lips. She had not felt the fairy vines already twining round her ankles where the ground beneath was soft, or seen how fast and deep the water ran just a few paces farther down the stream. Lost in the white horse’s eyes, she did not notice Jack come near.

Jack saw Mary-Anne bend her knees and test the firmness of the ground under her feet. She meant to mount. He dashed the last few paces and drew the iron knife from his belt and knelt on the soft ground to cut the vines that twined round Mary-Anne’s ankles.

The vines slithered at him like blind worms chasing food, but all withdrew when his blade parted the first cord. The iron cut the fairy vines easy as cutting a taught thread. Jack blessed his mother’s gifts a third time, and not the last.

Still Mary-Anne was caught in her trance, and she lifted a leg to mount. Jack caught her round the waist and pulled her back before she could climb to the water horse’s, the kelpie’s back and be taken down to drown.

The white horse reared up and neighed like screaming, and spittle and blood flew from its lips. Mary-Anne screamed half a scream before it choked off, and Jack held his iron knife out, shaking.

The horse leapt forward, and the water followed it, carving a new bank to keep the kelpie’s hooves wet. Jack stumbled back and dropped his knife, but Mary-Anne caught it up and struck the white horse across the nose. It reared up again and screamed, but it did not come farther after them. It stayed on the bankside, with one hoof in the stagnant water, and watched them go.

The woods twisted thick and blind between the river and the road, and Mary-Anne looked wild, searching for the way to go, but Jack could see the trail of salt he had let fall before and he followed it, leading Mary-Anne by the left hand.

“What was that, that horse?” she asked, when the color of her cheeks calmed and her eyes no longer darted quick as dragonflies in her face.

“The old witch called it ‘kelpie’ in her tales. It would have drowned you if you sat on its back, and eaten you down to the bones and entrails.”

She looked along the road and into the woods around. “Do you know where Rowland is gone in this strange country?”

“I know the road to find him.”

“Lead on, then. Doesn’t time move wrong from here to home? I don’t want to wake a hundred years after we came here.”

Jack led her back to the winding road and on toward the elf king’s hall.

It was harder, traveling with Mary-Anne. She could only half-see the path that Jack thought a clear road. Without stories on her heart, she was more mazed by fairy dreams, and there were no nails in her soft slippers; her feet were always straying from the path.

They moved by fits and starts for a while, with Jack always having to correct her, until she thought of tying them together and bound their wrists with the cloth she had been sewing while she watched the boys play in the morning. Bound by his left hand to her right, Jack could lead her on without a stop.

Being tied to Mary-Anne pulled Jack out of himself and his armor of stories and more firmly into the other country. He heard voices call from the woods: sweet, uncanny voices like the sparkling-wine lady from the meadow. The birds that sang in the trees were strange; too tuneful and too much in harmony with one another, like minstrels and not wild things. Silver bells rang in the distance, like the fall of frozen rain. Jack felt Mary-Anne’s fear in the trembling of her arm through the linen that tied them together, and she must have felt his, but they also held each other steady. They trembled, but they did not fall or stop.

“What are the bells?” asked Mary-Anne

“Fairies hang them on their harnesses when they ride out hunting.”

“Why do they make you shiver?”

“They would hunt us if they found us in their country without leave.”

The road wound on under the twisted trees and out over rolling hills, and later they came to a river running with blood up to Jack’s knee.

Mary-Anne, in her fine linen, shrank back from the bank. “What’s this, Jack?”

“Stories say that all the blood shed on earth runs through the streams of fairyland.”

“So this is the blood from Lord Robert’s wars, and my father’s, away south of the borders?”

“Maybe, or from some other battles far away.”

She looked at the river and sucked her teeth. “Jack, why did you come here after Rowland, when you knew how terrible this country is?”

What answer did he have for that, except the foolish truth? “To save him. I love him. What else could I do?”

“You could have stayed and lived your life, grown to a man instead of dying in this uncanny place.”

“Why did you come then, if you think we’ll die? I know you don’t love Rowland like I do, don’t pretend.”

Mary-Anne laughed without smiling. “How long do you think Lord Robert would have kept me, with my husband gone and you to blame me for his going? How warm do you think my welcome would be in my father’s castle, with two husbands dead and mourned and never a child to show?”

Jack had no answer for that. He took her hand and held it, instead of only the cloth that bound them together. They walked on, until they had forded bloody rivers three and stained themselves red up to the knee.

Beyond the rivers, the hills grew to tall moorland and mountain, and dark pines covered the slopes. It almost looked like the prospect of home, but where the castle would be there was a great grey hill, rearing bare and tall out from the rest, and as they came closer, Jack saw that the mountain was carved, and he saw the square indentations of battlements and walls at the edges of the empty space, and he knew them. The carven mountain could have been a mold to cast Lord Robert’s castle.

The yard in front of the castle was there too, under a roof of grey stone, and fairies on horseback rode about it and trampled the dust into a cloud. They came close, and Jack saw that the stone roof was hung with silver lamps like stars, and the dust kicked up by the horses caught the light and glittered like diamonds and pearls in the air. Against the emptiness that would have been the castle’s wall, there were tiered seats, and fairies sat and watched the melee.

At the center of the highest tier sat one under a canopy who could only be the king of the elves. His skin was dark as the grey stone of the hills, and his hair was bright silver, long and loose down to his shoulders. His crown was twisted antlers, and his raiment was green and hung all over with the flowers of purple heather.

“Who is the lord?” asked Mary-Anne.

Jack felt for the shape of stories in his memory to answer. It was difficult. This place did not want him to remember that anything but here and now was real and true, but the stories written on his heart kept him tied to home and made all he knew of the place more than mist and fancy.

“The grey king. He must be the one who took Rowland. He rules a great country here, and he takes mortal champions, and maybe he is a lord of the dead and people come to his country when they die.”

“How do you know so much about this place? Are you really a changeling or a brownie Lord Robert caught to be Rowland’s servant?”

“I listen to the stories, and I remember them.”

Jack heard a shout he knew, and there was Rowland in the melee among the fairy knights. Rowland wore armor of bright silver, and his sword was silver, and a heather bloom was purple on his shield. He turned and twisted and matched blows with riders bearing strange devices and stranger faces. One rider had an owl’s head helm, and great owl’s wings spread from its back. Another struck at Rowland with a living branch that burst with flowers wherever Rowland cut it. Some had ram’s horns, or spreading antlers, or hair like weed and sea-wrack, and every one was beautiful with a beauty as sharp and cold as a blade of fine steel.

Rowland overmatched them all. Among the jewels of dust, he was the jewel of all the knights, and none could stand against him. It was joy to watch and a lightness and a tightening in Jack’s heart to see his Rowland triumph, but Jack was troubled, even while he looked at Rowland. Elves in tales were strong and cunning and full of spells and tricks. Why would they let a boy, even so strong and beautiful, overthrow them with a few blows of the sword?

He got no answers from the fighting and saw no sign of magic or inhuman strength, only listened to the music of blunted swords on silver mail and oaken shields until Rowland had unhorsed the last elf-knight. All the watching fairies rose and cheered, and the grey king clapped his hands with a sound like great stones falling from a height. He smiled, and flecks of gold sparked in his grey eyes. Mary-Anne stared at him, and Jack could feel the force of her attention in the limpness of her limbs while she looked.

“The victory to Rowland,” the grey king cried, “the newest ornament of my court. Now all who can enter my hall are welcome at the feast.”

The king clapped his hands again, and all the fairies were gone with a blast of wind and distant horn-call, and doors of shadow barred the main gate of the hollow hill.

Jack plumbed his heart for stories to know what trick or riddle might open the doors, but Mary-Anne tugged him from thought. “Don’t get too caught in stories, Clever Boy.”

She took him by the way he should have thought of, to the butcher’s door that went to the larder and the kitchens and was never shut.

The hall was lit by red torches, brighter than the star-lights in the ceiling high above. A fairy no taller than a little child, with hare’s feet and fingers like twisted twigs, met them in the doorway and led them to a place far down one of the three long tables.

They could see Rowland easily, sitting at the king’s right hand on the dais. Jack watched the way that Rowland hung on the king’s words and kept his eyes on the king’s face and not the plate before him, and he thought that Rowland was bewitched. Jack had never known Rowland to look at anyone that way, be it his father or Mary-Anne, or Jack himself.

Mary-Anne kept her eyes on the dais as well, but Jack could not tell if she was watching Rowland or the king.

The grey king rang a silver bell, and a host of servants like the one who had led them to the table poured into the hall, bearing platters and loading the tables until they groaned. There was game and fowl, beef dripping fat, swine roasted whole with mouths stuffed with apples and garlanded with rosemary. There were fish long as Jack’s arm and longer, and every scale was gilded. There were summer berries and autumn apples, oranges and lemons all out of place and season, and stranger fruits Jack could not name. There was white bread and barley cakes and sweet loaves dripping honey. There were subtleties of sugar spun like jewels and spider’s webs; pale wine and wine as dark as blood.

Jack’s mouth watered, and he thought that he had not eaten since the morning before Rowland was taken, and he could not count the hours he had traveled the other country. Mary-Anne reached for a platter, but Jack remembered his mother’s warning, and he pulled Mary-Anne’s hand away. “We can’t eat fairy food, or drink their wine, or we’ll be bound here forever.”

Jack took the bread his mother had given him, and the witch’s bottle, and they shared bread and water between them, and he blessed his mother’s gifts, for the last time, and the old witch too, since he had only the tales she had written on his heart and his own wits left to win his Rowland back.

With mortal food in their bellies, the scent of the fairy feast faded to nothing, and Jack felt no hunger looking at the laden tables. They watched the fairies eating and the king talking with Rowland and the others at the high table: gossamer-gowned, flower-haired ladies, lords of stone like to the king, and clever-eyed courtiers with fox tails slipping from under their doublets.

The fairies ate, but the tables never grew empty, and there was never a shortage of bones for the red-eared dogs lying by the hearth to fight over. Time passed, in the unmeasurable way of the other country, and then the feast was ending, and the grey king stood and spoke.

“Now our feast is passed, and we must ride once more to the war east of the world, and my new champion shall go first of all on the white horse and bring us victory against the bright sun that rises ever again.”

Jack felt the warmth of knowing in his breast. The mortal who would fight for the grey king under the hills against the sun was one of the tales written there, but Rowland should have had a choice and walked open-eyed into the contest, not gone bewitched and stolen, and the white horse was for a sacrifice, not for a champion in war. The grey king was sending Rowland to die against a foe that would rise up whole each time it was struck down.

It was as if two of the tales Agnes had written for him were braided together here, but the second tale, of the stolen knight riding with the fairy host on white horse, had a way to win Rowland free, and that was what they needed.

Jack turned to Mary-Anne. She must be the one to save Rowland. The true love was meant to pull the rider from the white horse, not the bosom friend.

“We have a chance to save Rowland, and win him free, but you will have to do it.”

“Tell me what to do.”

She looked grim, still resigned to death in the other country, maybe, or maybe she did not think of going home with Rowland at her side as a cause for joy.

“When the company rides out, you must pull him from the white horse and hold him tight. The king will change Rowland’s shape in your arms, but you must not let him go.”

Mary-Anne set her face sternly and looked resolved, but Jack marked how her eyes lingered on the grey king as they went out, and he did not know what to think of it, but they looked the way his own eyes felt watching Rowland on the practice grounds when he trained for his knighthood.

The high table and the hall were emptying. Jack and Mary-Anne ran through the crowd, through the hollow castle and out to where the stable yawned as a dark tunnel in the grey hill. Jack clasped Mary-Anne’s hand, and she held it tight.

A rumble rolled out of the dark, and there was Rowland first of all on the white horse, and all the fairy host behind. Jack let Mary-Anne’s hand go, and she ran to Rowland’s stirrup, and she pulled him down. The fairy riders wheeled and turned their steeds with a sound like thunder and stones breaking, and they drew round Mary-Anne and Rowland in a ring, and Jack was hemmed in with them.

Rowland changed in Mary-Anne’s arms into lion, muscles rippling under a golden coat, his roar resounding from the hills, and still she held him tight. Rowland changed in Mary-Anne’s arms to great serpent, hissing like a boiling kettle, and the spittle that dripped from its fangs hissed on the ground, and still she held him tight. Rowland changed in Mary-Anne’s arms to a crying babe, and Jack could see, by its black hair and the line of its mouth so like to Rowland’s, it was the child the two of them would have one day. Mary-Anne let go and sprang away.

Jack leapt for Rowland and barely caught the babe as it struck the ground. He gathered it up and wrapped it in his arms before it cried, before the fairies moved. Maybe the story would still finish right if he kept hold. Maybe the spell was not yet broken. Damn Mary-Anne for letting go. If all was lost and Rowland bound, then Jack would make them take him. He would not let go of Rowland until he was slain or changed to some unfeeling thing by fairy magic.

Rowland changed in Jack’s arms to a boiling cauldron, and Jack felt his hands burn and blister, and he held on. Rowland changed in Jack’s arms to a sword, bright steel stained with blood and the hilt in Jack’s hands, and he kept hold, and tried to keep from retching or from weeping all unmanly. Rowland changed in Jack’s arms to a fairy maid, pulling him close for kiss of her red, red lips, and Jack felt his flesh crawl and fear make him tremble away, but still he kept hold.

Then Rowland was there, naked, flushed red and soaked in sweat as if he had lain long with fever, but he was himself again, and Jack knew he had won. He unlaced his shirt with clumsy fingers to give Rowland a covering.

The grey king stood down from his horse and looked over them with his hands on his hips, just like Lord Robert when he had caught them at some mischief.

“Well this is a pretty puzzle, young man with stories in your heart and iron in your boots. By the old rules you’ve won your love and should be free to take him home with you.”

Jack looked at Rowland, and Rowland looked back. His love? Rowland smiled a little back at him.

“But,” said the grey king, “the challenge was also failed, and so I am still due one mortal to stay and ornament my court. That must be the ruling then. Two of you may go back safe to your own country, but one must stay here under hill with me.”

Jack nodded slowly. That was right, and who could it be to stay but him? What tale was there of a bold young man coming back from fairyland with his common friend and not his lady love?

He was just rising to bid Rowland a last goodbye when Mary-Anne stood between him and the king.

“Take me, of course,” she said.

Was she run mad, thought Jack, or caught by some fairy spell that he had shaken off?

“You can’t find the way back alone,” said Jack. “You know that, don’t you? I don’t know a tale to tell you what it will be like to stay with him.”

“I know what I’ll get going back with Rowland, and so do you. I’ll take a chance on this instead.”

She looked at the king again, with hungry dreaming eyes, and Jack could see how she would think him fair, lordly and ageless, nothing like Rowland’s bright laughter and his land nothing like the trap of her marriage to boy too young for her.

The grey king said “this will do,” and he set Mary-Anne before him on his tall grey horse and put Jack and Rowland on the road back to their own country.

The road was short returning, and they came back to the lawn beside the grey stone chapel before the sun set on the day Rowland had been taken. They had not spoken, not beyond hesitation and a little fear, on their road home, but their hands never parted, and they stopped often to hug tightly.

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R.K. Duncan is a queer polyamorous wizard and author of fantasy, horror, and occasional sci-fi. He writes from a a few rooms of a venerable West Philadelphia row home, where he dreams of travel and the demise of capitalism. In the shocking absence of any cats, he lavishes spare attention on cast iron cookware and his long-suffering and supportive partner. Before settling on writing, he studied linguistics and philosophy at Haverford college. He attended Viable Paradise 23 in 2019. His occasional musings and links to other work can be found at rkduncan-author.com.

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