Chapter 3

“So, all ready to go then?” I asked Ælley eagerly.  It had been a rough couple of days, and we had been planning on spending some good quality time poking around some of the more scenic parts of the Fey.  I’d been really looking forward to our little excursion for the better part of a while, and this morning was finally ‘the day’.  “Aww, Nick honey, I’m really sorry but something’s come up that I have to take care of before we can go.”  “Oh.  It’s okay.” I sighed “Maybe this afternoon when you’re finished up then…”  I must have looked pretty crestfallen because I could practically see Ælley cringe at my expression.

“What I did do was talk to Queen Mab, and she said that she would be quite happy to babysit until I get things finished up!”  “I…see…” I wondered dubiously.  All in all it sounded like a fantastically bad plan as far as I was concerned.  “She’ll behave.” Ælley sighed “You really need to get over that whole her trying to kill you issue…”  “I trust you and you trust her…but I don’t trust her…” I explained “It’s all very muddled up.”  “You’ll work it out eventually, after all not everyone gets to spend quality time with royalty of the Fae courts.”

“No, they do not.” Mab agreed, having appeared out of nowhere behind me in the extremely disconcerting way that I was beginning to associate with the Fae.  “Jeeze, don’t do that!” I yelped, snapping around in alarm “I just about wet myself!”  “Wouldn’t that be…what’s the human expression…par for the course?” she smiled sweetly.  Lacking a better response I crossed my eyes and stuck out my tongue at the single most powerful being I was ever likely to make the acquaintance of.  “Petulant little guy, isn’t he?” Ælley grinned at Mab.  “Quite right.” She grinned back.  Mab had, I noticed, an oddly silver-blue tint to her teeth that gave her smile a peculiar sort of radiance.  “I’ve got to get going if I’m going to make it on time.” Ælley sighed “You be a good boy for Auntie Mab, and I’ll be back around lunchtime, okay, Nick?”  “If I must.” I sighed back, determined that if this was the way it had to be then I was going to make the best of it.  “That’s my little guy!” she beamed, then, in a little sparkle of light, she was gone.

“We should go too, shortly.” Mab nodded “Time and tides wait for no one.”  “So where are we going?” I wondered.  What exactly would the Fae consider a morning’s light entertainment anyway?  That really has the potential to be one of those things that should be clarified ahead of time…  “I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” Mab admitted, for a second almost looking flustered.  “The realms of Winter have some excellent skiing and sleigh rides, and there are some ice caves that are quite scenic.  I don’t think that Ælley would approve of me taking you to the taverns…”  “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.” I suggested hopefully, visions from any stereotypical fantasy novel dancing in my mind.  “I’m older than you can even begin to comprehend.” Mab laughed, genuinely amused “I learned that particular gambit back when your race still lived in caves…”  “You don’t look a day over a thousand.” I grinned back.  Maybe it would turn out to be a good morning after all…


After some consideration we ended up deciding to go tour around the Fae for a while.  I was debating taking Mab down to the local arcade, but recalling Ælley’s incident with auto-flush plumbing decided that I really didn’t want to deal with the potential collateral damage.  Mab overreacting in a crowded building that makes a back alley seem spacious and well lit…actually, it cold be entertaining to turn her loose on some of the people we get at work.  Though our cleaning guy probably wouldn’t be happy about the greasy stains on the carpet that would result.

Mab zapped us directly into a smallish sitting room in her keep, grumbling the whole time about Ælley having not yet taught me to do it for myself.  “It’s just not becoming!” she finished up at last “Kind of like an illiterate twenty year old in your world: people will think you’re dim-witted!”  “Ælley was working up to it.” I sighed “It’s just been a busy few days.”  “Even the Fae have days like that…” Mab nodded, seeming mollified by the fact it was situational and not a matter of deliberate negligence.

“So, what are we going to do?” I wondered cheerfully, trying to change the subject to something a bit more upbeat.  “Well, there are a few places in the Great Woods just north of here that I’ve not visited in some time, if you’re up for a walk in the woods.” Mab suggested as I followed her into the castle proper.  “Though I don’t know how long it will take you to weary of lugging that around with you...” Mab didn’t share Ælley’s opinions on being conspicuously armed, so I’d grabbed one of my old standbys, just to have something with a little more punch to it available.  The No. 4 Enfield had decisively more power than my little Inland, but added a good bit of weight in the process.  “Don’t worry about it.” I laughed “Worse than me have carried them further than that…”  “Okay, but I’m not carrying it back for you if it gets heavy.” she warned, sounding more than a little bit like Ælley.

We had almost made it to the front doors when one of Mab’s guards hurried up to meet us, whispering something urgently to her in a language I don’t speak.  “Again?” she sighed in exasperation before turning to me “Court politics, yet again.  I’ve negotiated this same argument off and on for the last two hundred years, and yet they can’t seem to leave it settled.”  “Sounds like fun.” I agreed.  “I have to go deal with this.” Mab apologized “But I’ll get you a tour guide for until I get back.”  Talking briefly to the guard, she told me that “He’s getting one of my scouts, you will be well taken care of with them.”


Shortly after Mab had stormed off to points unknown I was joined in the entryway by a huge white and grey wolf.  His shoulders stood well up to my chest, and judging by the disproportionately large size of  his feet I would be willing to bet that he had quite a bit more growing left to do.  He informed me straight off that his name was Wurf, he was only here because he drew the short straw amongst the newly initiated, and furthermore he didn’t expect that babysitting a pup was going to be the least bit entertaining, so if we could please move things along so he could get back to the rest of his pack…  That was about the point when I glomped the “big fuzzy puppy” and rubbed on him mercilessly.  After which he revised his opinion of me a bit…skritchies have a way of doing that…

Wurf didn’t have any real idea of what would entertain a human, so we mostly ended up wandering aimlessly around in the Great Woods, which actually was pretty entertaining as far as I was concerned, so mission accomplished I guess.  Wurf was actually pretty talkative once he got started, aside for a tendency to stop mid-sentence and take off running into the bushes whenever we happened to flush a rabbit or squirrel.  Wurf never managed to catch one, but not for lack of trying, so I was willing to bet he was having fun in spite of himself.

It was on one of Wurf’s longer excursions (after a particularly fat pheasant which seemed to not be able to gain altitude for any meaningful amount of time) that I ran into an extremely agitated (not to mention absolutely stereotypically dwarfy, from his pointy brown hat to his curly toed shoes) little creature.  Apparently noticing me for the first time in the urgency of his flight, he turned and began yelling.  “Good sir!  We begs your help, we does!  A mine cart went off its rail and trapped our friend!  We can’t shifts it, not even a little bit!  If we’s don’t get helps soon poor Farnak may dies!”  Getting up from my seat under an old oak where I had settled down to wait for Wurf, I gave the area a once over, hoping he would be at hand to figure out what to do about things.

“My friend will be back in just a while.” I explained “As soon as he gets back we’ll see what can be done.”  “No, no!  Poor Farnak, trapped all alone, must help now, Now!  Poor Farnak…”  As he began to grow even more agitated his grasp of English began to slip rapidly, only insisting we go now or it would be too late.  Reasoning that Wurf would almost certainly be able to track me anyway, I eventually conceded to going now and was soon following the deceptively fast little dwarf on a wandering route through the woods.

In a very short amount of time we had entered a different part of the forest, the terrain becoming steeply hilly and the birch and oaks giving way to fir and pine.  “How much further?” I wondered.  I was beginning to grow a little concerned about Wurf catching up with us.  “Not far, not far.” I was reassured.  Wurf chose that moment to make his appearance.

He arrived in a flat-out run, skidding to a halt between, the dwarf and I, pushing me several steps backwards with his flank.  “What are you doing?” Wurf growled, the tone of real fear in his voice.  “His friend is trapped…” I began before Wurf cut me off in exasperation.  “He was trying to lure you into his caves, then he was going to eat you.  The Captain should have warned me that I was keeping up with a puppy!”  “Really.”  I spat, eyeballing the dwarf like a poisonous little thing that had poked it’s head out from under a rock.  “Really.” Wurf agreed “And then I’d be unhappy since for some odd reason I’m starting to enjoy your company…”  “Aww, I like you too, fuzzy-butt.” I nodded.  “I’ll split his corpse with you.” The dwarf offered Wurf, beginning to nervously shift back and forth from one foot to another.

“So, would there be any repercussions if this-'un just kind of disappeared?” I asked Wurf, casually sliding the Enfield off my shoulder and into hand.  “I’m having enough trouble figuring things out around here without accidentally committing any more faux pas.”  “None whatsoever.” Wurf grinned happily.  “That’s good to know.” I nodded.  Then promptly shot the dwarf in the forehead.  “That was effective…” Wurf nodded appreciatively as I dug through my coat pockets for a couple of loose rounds.  One of those little life lessons everyone should learn is to always top up if you have a free moment.  The alternatives are potentially no fun.  And the entire point of life, by very simplistic definition, is to avoid as much ‘no fun’ as possible.

Wurf, I noticed, was waiting quite impatiently as I finished up with the Enfield. As he was fidgeting around I just sighed.  “What is it, Wurf?”  “Nothing really.” He assured me completely unconvincingly.  Getting the feeling I was missing some point of etiquette, I just gave it up as a bad job.  “Wurf…I don’t understand, so out with it, okay?”  “Well…err…it’s just that… Are you going to eat that?” he finally blurted out.  (Ah, pack behavior.)  “Not all of it…”


After Wurf had finished his impromptu lunch (despite earlier comments I had no intention of eating anything with the looks, odor, and personal grooming habits of the dearly departed) we found a pleasant little clearing not too far away to sit down for a bit.  Wurf’s cast-iron tummy needed some quiet time to go about its business.

“That was good.” The big wolf yawned contentedly “Filling, and yet flavorful…”  “I can’t believe you ate his boots.” I groaned, trying not to imagine what they must have tasted like.  “I can’t believe you didn’t!” Wurf shot back, obviously amused “I’m not complaining though, it just left more for me!  The rest of the pack is going to be sorry that they missed this assignment.”  “You could have brought them some boot…”  Wurf only giggled at that, rolling onto his back and kicking his paws in the air happily.  “Oh, you are a fun one, puppy!  I should introduce you around the pack juniors, I suspect it would be a lively evening.”

Wurf settled down to digest for a while after that, while I amused myself knocking snow off tree branches with pinecones.  It really shouldn’t have been as fun as it was, but then I’ve always been pretty easy to amuse.  Wurf didn’t seem to mind, at least until I dropped a big load  of snow on him.  “Mildly annoying.” He accused, shaking off and moving over a couple of feet before lying back down.

“Oh boo hoo, doggie had to move…” I laughed, tossing another pinecone and proving that me hitting just about anything was strictly luck.  “You’re supposed to be entertaining me, don’t you even play fetch or anything?”  “Not while I’m on duty.” Wurf teased “Besides, I don’t have anything to throw for you.”  “You know…” I laughed, suddenly getting a really good idea “It could be a whole lot of fun taking you to a dog park back home just to see the expressions we would get.  There’s such an opportunity there for some really fun chaos!”  “That might sound good if I knew what a dog park was.”  “Pretty much what it sounds like, a big fenced in place people go to exercise their dogs.”  “How odd…” Wurf commented, really not seeming to quite grasp the purpose of it.  “Just chalk it up as ‘cultural differences’ I suppose.” I shrugged.  Depending on how widely traveled Wurf was I could see that being a pretty foreign concept to him.

“So, what now?” I wondered, reaching over and skritching Wurf behind the ears.  “Well, I’m not hungry any more.” He informed me, as if that defined the whole gamut of possibilities.  “Yes, but aside from that…” I mused “Any other thoughts on the matter?”  “Well, you didn’t have any chewy short creature, did you want to go eat something?”  “Not especially…” I shrugged “Not yet, anyway.”  “And you already have a mate, so we probably shouldn’t go looking for females…” Wurf decided wisely.

“No, I’m pretty sure that Ælley wouldn’t look kindly on that…” I agreed “I guess we could go back to Mab’s castle…” I sighed.  Wurf looked less than enthusiastic about that option, and it wasn’t exactly my first choice either…It just seemed slightly less interesting than it could be.  “Maybe we’ll run into something fun on the way back…” Wurf mused dubiously as we begrudgingly started back.

“We could go into town and buy shiny things.” I mused, picking up a stick and valiantly swishing it at the local undergrowth.  “If you want shiny things the small chewy creature probably has some in it’s cave…” Wurf informed me excitedly.  “There may even be more small, chewy creatures!”  “Shiny is good.” I agreed, following Wurf as he turned around and padded back the way we came.

After ten or fifteen minutes of poking around where we had encountered Wurf’s dinner we found the entrance to a cave, fitted with a heavy, iron-bound door, a couple dozen yards up a steep hillside.  “This might be a doomed proposition.” I observed, eyeballing the very solid looking lock on the door critically.  Pulling the ring set into the door in place of a doorknob I found it to be unlocked.  “Guess he didn’t care if he wasn’t home…” Wurf said with what must have been the lupine equivalent of a shrug.

As the door swung open we quickly had a pretty good idea as to why: there were few, if any forms of even slightly intelligent life that would want to meet whatever called a stink like that home in the dark.  As soon as the door was open a rank and disturbing reek hit us like an almost physical thing.  I found myself very, very grateful not to have Wurf’s sense of smell at that moment.  “Man, it smells like something died in here.” I complained poking around just inside the entrance with my little pen flashlight.  (Best four bucks I ever spent…)

There was an oil lamp, quite oversized for pretty much any use I could think of, hanging in the middle of the room.  (Almost literally, due to its size…)  Once I’d gotten it fired up it threw some light on the situation.  Light didn’t make the surroundings any less disgusting, but it greatly reduced the chances of stepping in various piles of ‘I don’t want to know’-class goo.  The cave was actually a set of three alcove-like rooms, furnished in a junkyard parody of a home; everything, like the oil lamp chandelier, scavenged or looted from who knows where.  The rough stone floor was scattered, in some places almost hip deep, with the oddest collection of random detritus one could imagine: rotting clothing shared space with mismatched crockery, bones of various unidentifiable species, broken weapons, rusty scraps of metal, and some stuff which could really only be described as ‘rubble’.

“I don’t know if there’s anything here worth finding…” I said dubiously as I poked through the debris with a long piece of broken wood that my best guess was at one time been part of some sort of polearm.  Wurf didn’t seem as bothered by the small as I thought he would be, which I guess shouldn’t have come as any great shock to me considering that he had eaten the cave’s prior owner.

After satisfying myself that the first two rooms had been a waste of time I tackled the last remaining room, which turned out to be a sort of storage closet.  Picking through its contents, I discovered several bottles of wine, more unidentifiable dried meat than I wanted to think about, a thoroughly broken mantle clock, and a large bag of nails that looked like they had been pulled out of things and straightened back out with a large rock.  As I was about to give up in disgust I noticed an old leather satchel bag tucked away in the back of things.  It even looked like it might be in relatively good condition.

As I pulled it out of its hole I also discovered that it was surprisingly heavy.  Opening up the waxed leather flap, I learned why: I had discovered where the unhygienic little backstabber kept the good stuff.  “Right.  We’re done here.” I decided, leading Wurf out the entrance.  “No complaints.” He agreed “But what are we going to do with the rest of this cesspit?”  “Burn it out.” I decided, locating a hefty-sized rock “It just seems like the thing to do.”  Tossing the rock underhand back into the cave, I knocked the lantern off its hook, and the spreading puddle of oil soon had the entire place alight.  Sniffing the air with a troubled expression on his muzzle, Wurf informed me that “I think I figured out what he was using in that lamp.”  “I know.” I cut him off “Now let’s get the hell out of here…”


Neither of us were in a good mood the entire way back to Mab’s.  Things cleared up substantially after we settled down in the library to look through our bag of loot.  After pushing a few chairs out of the way so we had a good sized piece of rug cleared off I unceremoniously dumped out the contents of the bag.

There was a lot of it.  Quite a bit more than should have fit in a bag of that size and weight.  Physics’ crass betrayal must have been pretty obvious in my expression because Wurf stepped in to explain that it was a useful but quite expensive trick that merchants often specialized in at the markets.  “I’ve never seen one quite this good before though…” he informed me.  “Neat stuff.” I nodded, looking the brown leather bag itself over quite a bit more carefully.  It didn’t look like anything special, basically like what people used to call a ‘possibles bag’: sort of a smaller but much more hardcore version of a messenger bag.  It had one big compartment with a flap that could be held closed by two brass buckles, and a two inch wide shoulder strap.  Oh, and the inside was much bigger than the outside.  All in all a pretty useful, no nonsense kind of storage.  “Once you dump out all the treasure it’s really almost a useful little thing!” I joked.

With a somewhat anticlimactic feeling I turned my attentions to the sparkling pile on the floor.  I guess it kind of says something about me that I found physics-resistant storage cooler than a pile of treasure.  Just something about the thought of disproving my high school science teacher…  “You’ve an ominous look about you…” Wurf pointed out hopefully.  “Nothing so good as you hope…” I shrugged, feeling a little bad about disappointing my fuzzy little friend.  “Not yet, anyway.”

Turning my attentions back to the pile, I returned to the task at hand.  The first step in dividing and sorting pillage, for those of you who were never in the scouts, is to separate out all the coinage.  Actual money is readily divisible and not really tremendously interesting in and of itself.  The money in the bag was made up of various sized gold and silver coins, which showed several distinct patterns of workmanship.  “Short-n-ugly had quite the varied diet, it would seem…” I observed, spreading the pile of coins out for inspection.  “I wouldn’t know.” Wurf shrugged “My kind tends not to buy a lot of things.”

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t…” I nodded.  Next I picked all the stones of varying natures out of the main pile and set them aside with the coins.  Beyond that the remainder of the loot was made up of jewelry and various personal items.  Rings, necklaces, cufflinks, and sundry each got their own piles, but aside from the ‘shiny factor’ I was starting to lose interest until I ran a cross a fob watch on a heavy gold chain.  The watch case had a jewel-turned design, aside from which it looked much more plain than one would expect from something attached to a chain of that magnitude.  Then I opened it.

The watch face was the most mechanically complex thing I had ever laid eyes on.  The main part of it was your usual three hand mechanical movement, but it also had two outside bands, one showing the position of the sun and moon, the other set with the seasons of the year, both painted in exquisitely detailed enamel.  Then, set within the main watch face were several identical but miniature independently running watch faces.

“Gnomish.” Wurf decided “Automatons are their specialty…”  “So it keeps separate time zones then…”  “It keeps up with time on different planes of existence.” Wurf corrected “That’s why it covers seasons and hours of daylight.”  “You lost me at ‘planes of existence’.” I yelped, not sure I liked the direction the conversation was going.  “None of that stuff moves at the same speed, or even direction.” Wurf yawned, obviously not the least bit concerned about the potential ramifications of it.  “It’s handy if you travel a lot…”  “I’m not sure if that’s fascinating or disturbing.” I opined, setting the watch from the one over the library’s fireplace, then making an attempt at getting the watch chain hooked to my belt properly.  Or at least securely.

“There’s really not a whole lot else of interest in this mess.” I decided, scooping the pile back into my nifty magic bag.  “It passed some time.” Wurf agreed.  “Just ‘passing time’ doesn’t sound particularly entertaining to me…”  Mab said ominously, having come in just as we were getting ready to leave.  “I made it quite clear to the captain of the guards that Nick was to be kept entertained until I returned.”  Had you told me before today that wolves could go pale I’d not have believed it.  “Yes Majesty!  I mean no Majesty!  I mean…” Wurf stuttered, tailed tucked under himself and ears rolled back submissively.  Only then did it occur to me that as a very junior member of his pack Wurf had probably never dealt with the ‘big boss’ before…and Mab scared the hell out of him.

“Wurf has been an excellent host.” I interjected, reaching up to skritch his head appreciatively.  “We’ve been out to see the sights, we met some interesting residents of the area, (he ate them, but you really can’t fairly pass judgment on him for that…) and I even got to pick up some souvenirs!  Truth be told I’m growing quite fond of the big furball…”  “Well, that sounds good.” Mab nodded, far less potential horror in her tone.  “Did you get your problem negotiated out?” I asked, moving the conversation away from topics which could potentially get Wurf yelled at or turned into a frog or whatever it is that ancient and powerful rulers of the Fae do when they get pissed off about house guests nearly getting eaten on their watch.

“For the time being.” Mab groaned, rolling her eyes at the ceiling “It’s never really over with those two, it’s more a matter of staving off the bloodshed for another few hundred years.”  Seeing my look of concern she amended that “It’s typically not literal bloodshed… I really have to watch my colloquialisms around you, don’t I?”  “I’m having to adjust to a lot of things recently.” I nodded “It’s becoming increasingly hard to know what I should take literally lately.  And after that critter tried to eat me earlier…” clapping my hand over my mouth I realized I’d just messed things up.  Rolling her eyes again, Mab just sighed.  “I thought it might have been something like that…you did say my scout…(Wurf, you said?)...ate someone.  But you’re both back fine, so unless there’s something I should know…”  “His stick makes big holes in things.” Wurf informed Mab “I tried to get him to make holes in other things after I finished eating the first one, but he didn’t want to.”  “You’re truly a very put-upon wolfy.” Mab joked, patting him on the head “Surely you must have not eaten in days prior…”  “Nope.  They starve us out there in the barracks.” Wurf agreed, ever so slowly growing more comfortable around Queen Mab.  And the head skritching certainly wasn’t counterproductive.

As it turned out that we weren’t in trouble, I took a moment to show Mab my bag of loot.  She was politely interested in the collection, in much the same way a grownup would humor a youngster who had picked up a handful of quartz crystals from the local playground gravel, or found a quarter on the sidewalk.  “You’re humoring me.” I observed dourly.  “A little bit.” She conceded.  “After the first few thousand years one tends to grow a bit jaded about material objects…frequency can make the most amazing things mundane.  But what does interest me, so very much in the world, is your curiosity, your sense of wonder.  That has never ceased to bring me happiness.”  Thinking seriously for a bit, I think I understood.  Rooting through the pile of jewelry, I selected a silver bracelet set with blue and white stones.  “Here you goes!” I declared, fastening it around her wrist. “Something new and not mundane!”  “Is it now?” Mab asked, clearly still humoring me.  “It’s something you’ve never seen before: a gift I chose for you.”  Queen Mab, the stuff of myths and legends, ruler of all Winter’s domain, couldn’t think of an answer to that one.  But she looked touched and pleased and happy, all mixed together, which I guess was answer enough.


Several hours had passed, and Mab, Wurf and I had ended up back at my house.  We were just sitting down for lunch at Mab’s castle when one of her guards interrupted to tell her than the argument she had been mediating all morning had flared back up over some obscure point of order.  Lesser beings would have flown into a rage or at least developed a fierce facial tic.  Instead she calmly stood up and told us that we would be going on a short trip to ‘anywhere that is not here’ before she ‘did something which would cause a fiend of the Underdark nightmares’.  ‘Not here’ ended up being my house.  Of the various possible options it was agreed to be the least likely for whiney courtiers to show up at looking for Mab.  The thought of Mab, hiding out in my living room as if dodging creditors or an aggressively amorous suitor, had been giving me sporadic fits of giggles since we arrived.

Mir, meanwhile, was less than happy with the invasion of its sovereign territory and had quickly taken up residence in one of the mirrors on the mantelpiece, reducing its presence to a pair of attentively glowing eyes in the shadowy reflection of a corner.  Mab and Wurf I doubt even noticed it.  Well, if Mir didn’t feel like being social I wasn’t going to force the issue.  I have days like that sometimes too…

Wurf immediately occupied himself with sniffing everything he could get to.  For safety’s sake it was probably a good thing that the door to the garage was closed: in the summer I was in the habit of leaving it open most of the time to keep my workshop air conditioned.  If one took a survey of where to locate some of the least sniffable things in a hundred square miles, my garage would be guaranteed to be well placed on the list.  I had not considered, however, that I never bother to close the bedroom door…

I was giving Mab a tour of the house (that’s what people do when they have guests, isn’t it?) when Wurf came bounding up, pretty much covered in baby powder.  “I knocked over a jar and it attacked me!” He growled, sneezing, then without missing a beat “And why do you have diapers and baby stuff, do you and your mate have puppies?  Human puppies must be pretty big if they need diapers that large!”  Mab was laughing so hard that she had to lean on the doorframe for support.  Wurf was wagging his tail and looking at me expectantly.  And I was blushing epically while trying to quickly think of how to explain infantilism to a sentient and talkative wolf…

“Umm…no…no puppies…that stuff is mine actually.  It’s something that my mate Ælley and I do together.  It’s something special and intimate that makes me feel safe and loved…”  I just kind of trailed off lamely.  I couldn’t easily explain this to people, let alone someone without any real sort of sociological points of similarity…  “Oh, okay.” Wurf nodded, apparently quite satisfied with my answer at face value.  Then again, since he didn’t have human hang-ups or cultural expectations, maybe it would be a lot easier than it would be with… “Can I watch?”  “What?  No!”  “Aww…”  Mab’s eyes were watering at this point, and I vaguely wondered if she would pass out from lack of air…

“Well, I guess I’ll go outside and shake off…” Wurf decided, sounding mildly disappointed.  I let him outside, leaving the patio door open so he could get back in when he was ready.  The powder was made of corn starch, not talc, so there wouldn’t be any harm in it if he ate some as a consequence of grooming himself.  I doubt it would taste like much, but then Wurf did eat a pair of old boots earlier, so who knows?

“You really enjoyed that, didn’t you?” I accused Mab as she sat down on the couch to catch her breath.  “Oh yes, immensely.” She agreed “Quite entertaining, watching your ethnocentricity bounce off of situations!  Give it a few hundred years and you’ll get over it…”  “Explain.” I grumbled, crossing my arms and tapping my foot.  “Which part, the bit where aside from violence or disease you’ve become effectively immortal or the amusing nature of your having to adapt?” Mab asked, feigning ignorance.  “Ethnocentricity—wait what?” My mind can admittedly take a minute to change gears when I latch onto a topic, and I wasn’t entirely sure Mab wasn’t making fun of me.

“Humans don’t even make up a majority of the sentients out there.” Mab explained patiently “Likewise, your thoughts and opinions on things don’t represent everyone else’s, or even those of most sentients…Wolves mate publically, it’s entertainment for the entire pack, most canines do.  So taking into consideration that it’s the norm in their society, and that he sees nothing wrong or unusual about the request, maybe you were just a wee bit harsh with poor Wurf, hmm?”  “I didn’t intend to sound mean about it.” I explained contritely “Just exasperated.” Reaching over to where Wurf had settled down to try to clean the last remnants of baby powder from his fur, I gave him a good skritching behind the ears.  “Forgive me for snapping?”  “Of course.” Wurf nodded “Young ones are expected to sometimes be impulsive without meaning anything by it…”  Great.  Now I was being ripped on by someone who could use a flea collar…but at least I hadn’t hurt his feelings.

“Well, that’s a start anyway…” Mab sighed, sounding a bit disappointed.  “I admitted fault and asked for reconciliation.” I grumbled, trying to sound as pompous as possible about it “What else do you want?”  “You could let him watch.” Mab responded in dead seriousness “It would be educational.” She managed to hold a serious expression for much longer than I had expected to be possible before breaking out into a grin.  “No, I’m just…what’s the expression…’messing with you’.”  “Only slightly funny.” I grumbled, looking for a pillow or something to fling at the Queen of Winter’s Domain.  A snowball might be more appropriate, if far less available.  Why is there never a good, flingable object around when one desires it?  By the time I found something appropriate to the task, the urge had passed.

Wurf had quite happily settled down for a break from the excitement, and it struck me as being a pretty good idea.  Flopping down on the end of the sofa opposite Mab I asked her “So, how long do you think we’ll be hiding out?”  If we were going to be here for a while I ought to find something to keep everyone entertained.  “It may be a while before they get bored and move on to other things.” Mab growled in annoyance.  “If there’s one thing you’ll learn about courtiers it’s that they love to preen their sense of self-importance…”  “I see…” I sighed, visions of an interesting afternoon taking flight out the window.  “So, umm…any idea what you want to do for the next little while?”  “Not really.  What do you normally do all day?” Mab wondered.  “Mostly go in to work or mess around in the shop.” I explained.  “Where do you work?”  “A bookstore.” I sighed “It’s nowhere near as fun as you would expect the job to be.  That whole ‘customer’ thing…”

“Why don’t we drop by for a while?” Mab suggested “I don’t recall ever going to a human bookshop.”  “Because that has the potential of ending in a great deal of bloodshed.” I responded truthfully.  “Yes, but do you honestly care?” was her immediate response, raising an eyebrow quizzically.  “You know, I really don’t.” I decided.  “As long as I don’t have to clean up the aftermath…”  “I like aftermath!” Wurf piped up “It’s tasty and nutritious!”  “You can make him invisible like Ælley does, right?  Work is somewhat less than pet friendly.”  “It can be done, yes.” Mab agreed.


Wurf thought that the car ride was ‘the greatest thing ever, anywhere!’.  We had taken my old four door tank, irritably known as ‘The Panzer’, which was actually grossly optimistic about its handling characteristics and gas mileage.  But it would comfortably seat about 90, and it’s A/C worked better than most refrigerators.  So we loaded up and were on our way.  I put the back windows down, and as soon as we were moving Wurf had a grand old time hanging out one or the other of them.  Oddly he didn’t seem to be particularly drawing attention to himself: nobody looks too carefully at a wolf hanging out a car window.  People just figure that there’s a dog in the car, but no screaming and panic amongst the occupants, so it must be okay.

“He’s really enjoying himself back there.” Mab observed, looking in the rearview mirror.  “Yep.  It’s almost a shame that we’re there.” I agreed as we pulled into the lot.  I had forgotten that it was a holiday weekend, but all the extra cars did a good job of blocking people’s line of sight while Mab invisibled Wurf.  (Or so she assured me…I could still see him just fine.)

Inside, the store was swarming with more than our typical loathsome puddle of genetic waste, and I was all for leaving immediately.  Hell, I even offered to go buy a video game console to occupy everyone for the rest of the afternoon if it would get us out of there.  Sadly, no dice.  Mab went to look around, and Wurf was quickly having a great time invisibly bumping into people.  I really kind of wanted to join him, but it would have lost me the moral high ground on the ‘everyone behave’ demand.

Apathy and the need fore a coffee fix soon found me at the little café in the back topping up on the old hyperactivity juice.  Wedged into a chair between a disturbingly fat guy with a laptop and an otaku that smelled as if soap was a foreign concept, it was exactly where I wanted to be on my day off…  If it weren’t for the screaming of small, improperly supervised children and occasional crash one could almost close their eyes and imagine themselves elsewhere.  Almost.  The mocha-frappa-latte-chino or whatever the hell it was they gave me when I asked for a ‘large cold thing’ wasn’t helping much.

Some time later Wurf found his way over and stretched out on the floor next to me.  He had apparently tripped someone who had spilled a hot drink on him, at which point he decided that the game wasn’t fun any more.  He also bit them, which was giving the guy fits trying to figure out.  Wurf liked that part…

With the fuzzy little troublemaker momentarily off duty, a comparative calm washed over things.  (Still screaming, but much less crashing.)  Happily, it lasted long enough to almost finish my coffee.  I’d so very almost finished when Mab made her way through the coffee crowd, two large shopping bags in hand, and helped herself to the now empty seat beside me.  “Well, I do believe that was a successful trip!” she nodded, pleased with herself.  “You found a few things of interest, I see...” I observed over the top of my coffee cup.  Probably a few too many...” Mab agreed, tapping the two large bags with her foot.  “But I can always save them for a cold winter’s night!”  “Oh!  I sense an attempt at humor!” I grinned.  My cheerfulness clouded a bit when I noticed something.

“Umm...Mab?  You have a little bloodstain on your sleeve...”  “So I do.” she nodded, snapping her fingers, then casually brushing the stain out of existence with a flick.  “Thank you dear child.  It wouldn’t do to walk around mussed.”  “That’s quite a neat trick,” I nodded “but it still leaves the question of where it came from in the first place...”  “He was making unwanted suggestive comments.” Mab frowned “Then made the mistake of not taking ‘go away’ for an answer.”  “Short guy, frizzy hair?” I questioned, pretty sure I knew the ‘he’ of which she spoke.  “That’s the one!” Mab spat.  “Do I have to clean anything up?” I frowned, giving the now contrite looking Queen of the Realms of Winter the hairy eyeball.  “Nothing whatsoever.” I was smugly informed.  “Well you probably did the world a favor then.” I decided “As long as there isn’t a mess they’ll just tow his car in a week or two, maybe, maybe pull the security tape (which will probably have cycled over by then), and it will merely be one less rapist-in-training...I mean frat boy.”

“You have a very positive outlook on life.” Mab nodded appreciatively.  “Did you happen to dump the leftovers somewhere convenient?” Wurf yawned.  “I fed him to the lake monsters.  You’ve already eaten one person today, you don’t want to get pudgy now do you?” Mab lectured mildly.  “No, Majesty...” Wurf sighed, ceding the point.  With respect if not grace.  “We may be able to pick up some barbecue for dinner later...I’ll bet it would meet with your approval.” I suggested, perking Wurf up immensely.  One track minds are usually pretty easy to please...

“Would you be interested in staying for dinner? Ælley should be back soon and we could make an event of it...” I suggested to Mab.  “I could be convinced.” she agreed as we stood up to go.  Wurf, as might be expected, required no convincing to hop into the car, the rest of us joining him at a less frantically enthusiastic pace.  Starting the engine and rolling down the windows I slowly made my way into the queue of cars waiting to get out of the complex.  As it was pushing closer to dinnertime people were heading out more than coming in, so regardless of the lack of an actual ‘rush hour’ escaping was proving a bit tricky.

Finally we segued from driveway to road, then quickly back to driveway as I hit the barbecue place a few blocks west.  I’d called it in while we were in traffic, so I just had to grab the box, throw it in the trunk (away from Wurf), and get going again.  From there home was a quick trip, and we were soon back in the living room.  The food went in the oven: I wouldn’t blame Wurf if he gave in to the temptation to go counter surfing, and thought it best to eliminate the option.  Mab meanwhile had conquered the living room coffee table and was going through her recent acquisitions.  She seemed quite content to just putter around with that, so I went about setting the table for dinner, and putting out a bowl of water for Wurf.

Ælley showed up more or less right as I was finishing up.  “I’m back!” she yelled from the direction of the bedrooms.  “Mab’s retainers said the two of you stormed off somewhere in a huff, so I was pretty sure I knew where to find you...”  Popping into the living room she clapped cheerfully.  “Yep! I thought as much!”  “Mommy Ælley is back!” I yelled, glomping her before she made it all the way to the couch.  “Good to see you too.” she laughed, picking me up and depositing us both on the couch next to Mab.  “I didn’t think I was gone that long...”  “And I didn’t think we were that boring.” Mab added, looking up from her pile of books.  “You were, and you are!” I informed all concerned parties with mock severity.  “Except you.” I decided, poking Wurf with my foot “You’re okay...”  “I win!” Wurf laughed “Food now?”  “Food in a bit.” I corrected.

“This is Wurf, but he way.” I introduced “Wurf, my mate Ælley.”  “You’re furrier than I expected.” Wurf decided.  “Nice to meet you too.” Ælley grinned.  “It’s good to have someone else with fur Nick won’t be able to prove whose fault the shedding is!”  “Yeah, you blaming it on Mir always seems a little bit less than credible...” I agreed, adding that “Maybe I’ll just chase you both around with the vacuum cleaner.  That seems like less trouble than apportioning the blame...”  “I don’t recall meeting a Mir.” Mab chided “You’re not neglecting your manners, are you?”  “Mir is hiding over the mantle.” I sighed “It isn’t the most sociable of critters.”  “Nick managed to make friends with an elemental.” Ælley explained “It doesn’t apparently talk, so he ended up naming it.  It lives in the other side of reflections, so he named it Mir.”

“I see...” Mab nodded “That would explain what you meant by ‘on the mantle’.” Extracting herself from the couch, Mab approached the mirror on the ledge.  “Greetings, freeholder.” Mab said seriously, locating the purple eyes in the mirror “Don’t worry, I won’t bite!”  “I can’t guarantee that Mir won’t.” I warned her “I’m told it was quite the little finger-nipper before we met…”  “Oh, I doubt it would” Mab began, only to be cut off by a jagged, hissing growl.  “Then again…” She shrugged, trying to make out the creature eyeballing her from the reflection’s shadows.  “Mir!  Behave yourself, she’s a guest!” I corrected firmly, snapping my fingers at it.  I wasn’t about to have that nonsense in my house.  Especially when the participants could easily level the place…  Mir snorted contritely, then walked out of his shadow, turned around in a circle, stretched, yawned, and curled up like it couldn’t care less about the whole thing.  “Cat.” Wurf laughed.  “Haven’t quite sorted that part out either.” I shrugged.

“Elementals come in a wide variety of sizes.” Mab informed us, not the least bit put off by the narrowly avoided attempted mauling “And that one is a giant…”  “It’s like two, maybe three inches tall, tops.” I argued, for the sheer sake of brattiness.  “Magically speaking, and you know that’s what I meant.” Mab sighed, rolling her eyes at me.  “See, that’s why I don’t have children.”  “He can be quite endearing when he wants to be.” Ælley shrugged, feigning mild distaste “He just usually doesn’t!”  “Fine.  No dinner for either of you!” I sulked “Wurf! Do you think you can finish off ten pounds of brisket and a roast chicken?”  “I’ll try.” He shrugged “But only as a personal favor, mind you…”

“So somebody said something about roast chicken for dinner?” Ælley questioned hopefully.  “There’s a .410 leaning up by the back door.” I told her seriously “You’re welcome to have a go at the tree rats if you’re hungry.”  “I’ll take a tree rat.” Wurf hinted discreetly.  “I’ve had field rats, and our pups hunt those big black ones in the basements for fun, but I’ve never seen a tree rat…”  “Tree rats are squirrels, dear.” Mab explained gently to the now slightly disappointed looking wolf.  New things to eat were apparently one of the high points of the canine lifestyle.  “Oh.” He sighed, before quickly perking up “Well, can I have a squirrel then?”  “And ‘yall say I’m incorrigible.” I laughed.  By this point I was rapidly developing the opinion that there was little, if anything Wurf wouldn’t eat.

“So…moving away from the neighborhood vermin problems…” I announced “Were we going to have dinner then, or did ‘yall insist on going on safari out back first?”  “I could go either way.” Ælley shrugged “It’s really up to you two.”  “Food now.” Wurf decided resolutely “The squirrels won’t get cold while we eat.  Food will get cold while we hunt.”  “He makes sense.” Mab agreed “And anyway, if you want to get rid of squirrels I have several truly disturbing winged beings on payroll I could loan you.”  “I may actually take you up on that.” I mused “I had to patch holes in the attic facers probably ten times last summer.”  “Do I sense a little hostility?” Ælley grinned.  “No, just pained acceptance.” I shrugged “You weren’t around for the hostility.  It was epic.  Saved me the trouble of trimming the trees too…”  “My little guy: king of the overreaction.” Ælley agreed proudly.  “You’ve never met the bolräg then…” Mab pointed out “Which is probably for the best, all in all…”


Besides keeping folks from grazing until dinner, the oven did a good job of keeping everything well insulated so when everyone finally settled down to eat we didn’t need to warm anything up.  I probably don’t need to tell you I’ve never exactly been set up for dinner parties: my ‘good china’ consists of whatever happens to be clean at the moment.  Which earned me a bemused look from Mab, but tactfully no comments.

Everyone dug in as was their personal preference, Ælley quickly spearing the chicken with her ‘righteous fork of claiming’ and a lustful look of the sort I usually reserve for the hot rod magazines and gun shows.  Grinning to myself, I was happy to have been correct in assuming the rotisserie goodness would be to her liking.  Everyone else seemed happy with the brisket, ribs, and sausage, so I declared my educated guesses to have been correct.  It’s nice to be right.  “It’s nice to be fed.” Wurf declared, barbecue sauce dripping copiously from his muzzle back onto the serving platter I had wisely found for him.  And I really couldn’t argue with his sentiment either.

Glancing up from my plate, I noticed the enthusiasm which Ælley was directing towards her chicken, and had a thought.  “We are so watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox after dinner.” I decided “There are some real culinary similarities…”  “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?” Ælley grumbled over her food.  “Only a little bit, dearest.” I defended.  “I wonder what sort of wine goes with this…I’ve never been much good with regional fare.” Mab mused, changing the subject.  “Well, right now you’ve got your choice of beer or paint stripper tequila.” I offered.  “We’re going to have to get you a wine cellar.” Mab sighed “ ‘Paint stripper tequila’ doesn’t strike me as a very good idea.”  ‘It’s actually even worse than that.” I grinned malevolently “Technically it’s mescal, with a big ‘ol night crawler in the bottle.  I got a couple of ‘em down south from a guy I helped with a tire.”  “Was he trying to kill you?” Ælley asked innocently.

Shrugging, I stood up from the table.  “Couldn’t really say for sure...  But in other news, who wants some ice cream?”  The answer to which of course was everyone but Wurf, who seemed dead set on polishing off the barbecue or dying in the attempt.  “Well, as long as he doesn’t get sick on the floor.” I sighed to myself as I dipped up the ice cream.  I could only assume he had some idea of how much of what he was okay eating.

Ice cream disappears quicker than barbecue, and in short order we were loading up the dishwasher, feeding for the evening quite thoroughly taken care of.  “Movie time then?” I asked as everyone kind of started the after-meal milling around that always seems to occur, regardless of group or location.  “Almost…” Ælley grinned mischievously “Mab and Wurf can go ahead and get settled down in the living room, but you and I have a matter to attend to first.”  “But we’ve got company!” I objected quickly.  This was a change of direction which I hadn’t anticipated…which I got the impression was probably intentional on Ælley’s part.  “I know.” Ælley nodded cheerfully as she took my hand and steered me towards the bedroom “So I would hope you are going to be on your best behavior…you wouldn’t want to end up in time out, would you?”

I chose to assume that was a rhetorical question.  Gently pushing me down by the shoulders Ælley sat me down on the bed, then stepped out of the room to round up a few necessaries.  Meanwhile I just sat there brooding.  Why in the world did Ælley have to go and fixate on that particular idea.  Did she find the idea of embarrassing me to death particularly appealing then?  Still, it might not be so bad.  It’s not like Mab and Wurf were exactly people…  “Hell with it.” I decided, whatever will happen will happen.  I trusted Ælley, she wouldn’t put me in a bad situation.  And that really was the end of it.

“Well you look cheerful all of a sudden…” Ælley grinned as she ducked back into the room.  We both knew she had a pretty good idea why, so I just kind of smiled and shrugged.  Sitting down next to me on the edge of the bed, she began untying my shoelaces and slipped off my boots and then my socks.  “We’ll have to make sure that the big bad wolf doesn’t try to eat any of the little piggies.” Ælley told me, before grabbing my big toe and pretending to eat it.  “Nom nom nom…piggies!”

“Wurf looked about ready to explode, I’m pretty sure they’re safe.” I explained, wiggling my toes at her playfully.  “Shirt next.” She instructed.  Holding up my arms, I let her pull the t-shirt over my head before unfastening my belt and stepping out of my pants.  Hopping back up on the bed, I allowed Ælley to whisk off my boxers.  Casually waving her paw, Ælley mumbled something unintelligible, and I quickly found myself floating about a foot off the bed.  Slipping a diaper under me, she waved her paw again and lowered me back down.

“I’m sorry that’s all the flying we got to do today honey.” Ælley sighed “But I promise we’ll make it up soon, okay?”  “That’s just how it goes sometimes.” I shrugged as she dug out the baby powder “It’s okay, really.”  “You’re a very understanding little guy.” She smiled as she sprinkled on the powder and folded up the front of the diaper.  Then, after fastening the tapes she patted me on the tummy.  “There we are!  All ready to go!”  “Wait.  Pants?” I asked, growing worried.  “Nope, you’re fine.  It’s not cold or anything…” she informed me.  “Well okay, but I’m not so sure of this plan…”

I was blushing pretty thoroughly when we went back to the living room, but Wurf didn’t so much as bat an eyelash and Mab did a great job of hiding all but the faintest traces of a grin, so I settled down quite a bit pretty quickly.  Ælley and Mab took spots on the sofa while I settled down on the carpet with Wurf.  Whom, it turned out, made a somewhat hairy but otherwise entirely adequate pillow.  As long as I “avoid poking anything that’s busy digesting if you value your rugs.”  I dare you to explain away wolf puke to the steam cleaning guys.

I popped The Fantastic Mr. Fox in the DVD player and got everything fired up.  After going through all the unskippable random stuff the movie started and everyone was soon cheerfully occupied with it.  I’d been a little concerned it might be a bit juvenile for everyone, but I didn’t want to start with an action flick in case the surround sound accidentally caused a reaction like the auto-flusher at work had.  Nobody enjoys settling down for the evening only to have to get dressed again to patch a hole in the wall.  I know this from experience.

Oddly enough, of everyone in the room Wurf seemed to have become the most involved in the film.  Using him as a pillow grew significantly more difficult as he started unconsciously wagging his tail.  Sporadically into my face.  With a great deal more force than one would expect.  I scooted over out of the line of fire, which seemed to be a valid precaution at the time.  We had gotten to the scene where they were explaining the rules of flaming pinecone ball when Wurf chimed in.  “Did anyone understand a word he just said?  I almost want to try that…”  “I did too.” I nodded sadly “But they left out enough stuff I never could make heads nor tails of the rules.”  “Because it involves fire and a club.” Ælley accused.

“Hey, that’s one thing I learned playing ‘Dungeons and Dragons’: when in doubt, burn the bodies.  Hell, even if you’re not in doubt, burn the bodies…”  “That policy will serve you well.” Mab nodded in approval “It’s good to see that Ælley is not being remiss in the practicalities of your education.”  “She’s a good teacher.” I agreed, patting her leg affectionately.  The conversation trailed off again at that point as the movie continued.  It was getting harder to concentrate after a while…I guess maybe I had a bit too much ice cream or something, but I really couldn’t seem to keep from fidgeting with things.  It started out with playing with the fringe on the edge of the carpet, but quickly degenerated into drawing in Wurf’s fur with Ælley’s big toe.

Frowning slightly Ælley tapped me on the head.  “Hey there…I think someone shouldn’t have had that second bowl of ice cream.”  Mumbling something, she quite literally pulled one of my ubiquitous bags of Legos out of thin air.  “There, that should keep little hands busy for a while!”  I can in fact play with things while providing undivided attention to something else entirely, and by the time the movie was reaching it’s fiery conclusion I had a pretty impressive structure going.  “No moat?” Mab grinned “What will they do when the barbarian hordes come knocking at the gates?”  “I’ve some cannons from a pirate ship set,” I decided seriously “I could mount them up on the ramparts if need be.”

“I think I’ll make some popcorn and put on another movie…” I decided, having somewhat lost interest in the Legos.  “I could go for that.” Ælley agreed as everyone got up and followed me into the kitchen.  While I dug out a pan and the remedial ingredients for popcorn Wurf trolled for food and Mab and Ælley apparently went to troll for anything else.  Tossing a couple of kernels in the oil I left them to it so I could concentrate on the task at hand.  The test kernels eventually did their thing, being rapidly snagged by Wurf (the later ones before even hitting the floor), so in went the rest of the popcorn and on went the lid.

Soon the room was filled by the cheerful little popcorn explosions, and in short order I was dumping the pan into bowls and fishing around for the salt.  “It’s ready!” I announced, everyone but Wurf seeming to have wandered off.  “Way ahead of you!” Ælley yelled from back in the living room.  “Good of them to help with the bowls!” I laughed to Wurf, precariously balancing them on my way to the living room.  “Oh!  Sorry…” Ælley exclaimed, grabbing one of the bowls and helping make room on the coffee table.

While I was preoccupied with the stove someone had produced a bottle of wine, two glasses, and a baby bottle of what appeared to be apple juice.  “You could have gotten some nice stemware as long as you were zapping things in…” I giggled in amusement.  The best they had managed from my kitchen was one of the mismatched iced tea glasses and a pint glass advertising some restaurant that could no longer be deciphered from the scratched up logo.  “I’m guessing buying dishes is not a high priority then?” Mab observed.  “I almost looted some from Wurf’s ‘friend’…” I joked “but then I asked myself if I really wanted to eat off that stuff.”  “Good call.” Mab agreed.

“So what else did we want to watch then?” I mused, looking over my decidedly large DVD collection. “I’ve got more cartoons…zombies…aliens…things blowing up…umm, an art film about the Winter Palace—the one in Russia, not Mab’s…more zombies…and some car chase things.”  “Something creepy.” Wurf decided, tail wagging excitedly.  “Oh, you want something creepy, do you?” I grinned playfully “I’ve got something creepy for you!”  Thumbing through the ‘D’ section, I quickly found what I was looking for and popped it in the player.  Then I pushed the recliner up against the sofa, waving Wurf up onto it before settling down on Ælley’s lap.  Mab balanced out the other end of the couch, looking on in amusement as I scootched around, burrowing up with Ælley’s tummy.

As the previews and idle copyright threats segued into the beginning of the movie the light in the room dimmed ominously as the TV darkened and adapted to the stark shades of blue and grey.  “Well, this is quite a bit different from the last one.” Ælley observed as the Tommies went over the top into the fog.  “Blame Wurf.” I grinned “He wanted creepy!”  “Yeah, but so far this is mostly just mud.  Mud isn’t creepy, it’s just…well…muddy.”   “Yeah but the mud has eyes and dead people and…oops!  Almost gave it away!” I laughed.  Real life doesn’t have a ‘spoiler alert’ tag box.  Thought I couldn’t be sure anyone else would know what barbed wire was in the first place…

I had reached up to steal some of Ælley’s drink and had my hand gently slapped away with a firm look, so Ælley was feeding me my bottle of juice with one hand and eating popcorn with the other when the wire made it’s appearance, causing Ælley to flinch in surprise and me to nearly choke on the now moving juice bottle.  “Grrble!” I coughed, giving her a mildly reproachful look which I’m pretty sure went completely unnoticed.  She did however pay more attention to not drowning me after that.

By the time the first night in the movie had ended I was quite amused to find that everyone seemed to have scootched quite a bit closer together.  Even Mir had taken up residence in the reflective surface of a lamp on the end table by Mab.  Wurf had sprawled ¾ of the way across the armrest and into my lap.  Hopefully nobody would need anything, because it was going to take a while for me to get untangled enough to stand up…  Which was a lot less of a problem when I didn’t have to pee.

This wasn’t the sort of thing which etiquette books cover: is it impolite to wet one’s diaper while cuddling up with your anthropomorphic partner whose boss’ talking wolf was sprawled out on your lap, looking too comfortable to move.  Miss Manners really kind of missed the boat on that one.  It did made for an intellectual conundrum to ponder while urgency tried to run down and surpass tact.  Urgency of course won out, it usually  tends to, and my prevailing logic was that they all knew it was a possibility and didn’t argue or comment, so they waived their right to complain later.  Plus, it’s my damn couch.

In less time than it took to make the decision there was a sizable warm wet spot beginning to bulge at my diaper’s front.  The only one who seemed to notice the new development was Wurf, who sniffed a couple of times, gave a sort of doggie shrug, and turned his attentions back to the movie.  I guess he tended to chalk pretty much anything up as just being ‘crazy human behavior’ then go carry on with whatever it was he was doing at the time.  Though I didn’t exactly notice and comment on his wolven eccentricies either, so maybe that’s just kind of the way things are…

The movie was finally starting to wind down, mildly ironic since they always wind up to the ending, plot-wise, and we had finally run out of snacks.  With an oral fixation and nothing particular to chew on, I had been contentedly sucking my thumb since shortly after the rat invasion, really only partially paying attention to the events unfolding on the screen.  Ælley’s tail had found its way to a place where it was just begging to be used as a snuggly, despite being puffed up to several times its normal size and sporadically twitching in surprise, so having that to play with really kind of beat out the movie for my attention.

“I don’t know how you can be that calm…” Ælley grumbled when she finally noticed I had attached myself to the end of her tail.  “Seen this one before.” I mumbled around my thumb “Already know how it ends…”  “Don’t you dare tell us!” Mab warned “That would be very bad form.”  “Wasn’t going to.” I nodded “ ‘Sides, it’s almost over anyway.”  “That’s probably for the best, it’s getting kind of late.” Ælley nodded.  “And it’s going to take you hours to brush your tail back down.”  “That too.” She agreed, blushing a little.


After the last thing standing disappeared back into the fog and the end credits began to roll, everyone reluctantly began untangling themselves from the couch and getting back up, Wurf announced “That was fun!  We should do it again next week!”  “I’m up for it.” I agreed cheerfully, waving at the shelves and shelves of movies “But I don’t know if I’ll be able to find anything else to watch...”  “I’m sure you’ll manage somehow.” Mab played along “Though I fear it may be too much of an imposition.”  “It is.  I’m harshly put upon by all those around me...”

“Come, Scout.” Mab nodded to Wurf, taking her leave “Ælley has to be getting her little one ready for bed, and its’ time we were returning to the castle.  I fear I can’t postpone dealing with other, far less pleasant, childish adults much longer.”  “Put them in the time-out corner!” I suggested a bit too gleefully.  “The thought had crossed my mind...” Mab admitted before she and Wurf disappeared from the room.

“Well, that was fun.” Ælley smiled a bit tiredly.  “My day did have a lower body count than I had anticipated.” I agreed.  “At least one of ours did.” Ælley sighed “My storage room had a pixie infestation.  Those little so-and-sos bite!”  “I should have gone with you.” I sighed wistfully “I bet that would have been a lot like dove hunting...  I wonder what kind of bird dog Wurf would make...”

That struck Ælley as a truly hilarious image, and she couldn’t help giggling the whole time we were shutting the house down for the night.  “We  really should try that.” she finally decided as we were sitting on the bed combing her fur back to a semblance of its normal state.  “I can’t think of a way it could go which wouldn’t be fun to watch!”  “If there’s something there to eat I’m sure he’d want to come along.”

“Right then.” Ælley announced, taking my brush and setting it with hers on the nightstand “It’s your turn now!”  “Taking turns is good.” I nodded seriously “Like sharing, or smiting your enemies...”  “Yes it is.” she agreed, letting my attempt at a joke pass without comment.  Laying out a towel, Ælley had me scoot over and lie down while she dug out the supplies.  They had, I noticed, migrated to one of the nightstand drawers, which I guess was a better place for them overall.  Unfastening the tapes, Ælley slid the wet diaper out from under me.  “Went a little heavy on the tea at dinner, did you, dearest?”  “Maybe a little.” I admitted as she tossed out the old diaper and grabbed the packet of wipes from the nightstand “I hadn’t planned on hiking all over the place with Wurf, and I didn’t bring any water.”  “Well, you can’t be expected to carry around everything...”  Ælley shrugged mildly, before returning her attentions to the task at paw.

“Mab got me a few things I was going to look through this evening, so if you weren’t quite ready for bed we could dig out some of your toys, or...are you listening to me?”  I wasn’t, but rather staring at the ceiling thinking about nothing in particular.  I didn’t even catch Ælley’s question, so the proper response, any response, was not forthcoming.  With a playful look Ælley began to teasingly clean my diaper area with the wipes, quickly getting my undivided attention in more ways than one.  “Oh, so now you’re paying attention!” she chuckled, tapping me gently on the nose.  “Sometimes males can be pretty predictable...”  “You were the one who...” I began before she shushed me with a finger on my lips.  “I know.” she grinned “You’ve really got to lighten up a little!”  “I tried lightning up once...” I grinned back “I quit putting butter on my bacon for two whole weeks.  Didn’t seem to do anything.”

“It amazes me that you’ve survived as long as you have without close adult supervision.” Ælley marveled “You’re quite rare in that pretty much everything develops at least a little common sense if they live long enough...”  “Don’t want to, can’t make me!” I grinned, sticking out my tongue. “ ‘Sides, after some of the evils I’ve brewed up in the garage I’m pretty sure the automotive gods have exempted me from the laws of physics...”  “Do your plans ever work though?” Ælley teased, raising an eyebrow questioningly.  “It can be hit or miss.” I admitted “You havn’t noticed the sizing die permanently embedded in the beam over my workbench?”   “I take it that if I knew what you were talking about I would be more concerned about the matter.”  “Concerned.  Amused.  Horrified.  They’re all really kind of interchangeable in the grand scheme of things.” I shrugged airily, earning myself a disapproving look.

“Well, you’ll be happy to note that my plan went quite well.” Ælley informed me cheerfully “You will notice, through my skillfully applied distractions that which had previously risen to the occasion now no longer blocks the forward momentum of the evening’s preparations!”  “That’s an...elegantly euphemistic way of putting it.”  I decided, looking at my now much less interested diaper region “Though I don’t suggest a lack of accuracy in the statement...”  “Listen to us!” Ælley burst out laughing “Mab must be contagious!  Even you are kind of starting to sound like her!”  “It could always be worse.” I joked “All that could happen this way is me being mistaken for someone smart and well-read.”  “You aren’t allowed to be self-depreciatory.” Ælley informed me with genuine sternness “We’re going to work on that self-esteem until you see what I see.”

As she slid the fresh diaper under me and began to sprinkle on the powder, I realized that I had really hit a nerve with Ælley.  Her muzzle carried an expression I couldn’t quite place: frustration and sadness, and even a little anger.  “Hey, are you okay, love?” I asked as she folded up the front of the diaper and fastened the tapes.  “I didn’t mean to say something to make you mad at me...forgive me?”  “I’m not mad at you little one.  I’m frustrated by the way you see yourself, and I’m mad at the people who convinced you of their hurtfulness.  And I’m sad because it’s so hard to put it behind you and show the world the beautiful person inside.”  “You sound like you could use some cuddling.” I decided, reaching up and giving her a hug.  “No books tonight, just some quiet time.”  “That sounds pretty definite.”  “I think it’s best that it is right now.”

“I could do a little reading.” Ælley negotiated, already noticeably more cheerful after the change of subject.  “Well, I suppose I wouldn’t be too insulted by just a little bit of reading...I mean if you really want to avoid talking to me that much I guess I could find something quiet to do for a while...”  “Brat.” Ælley grinned, tapping me on the nose “I’m not convinced you’re capable of being quiet for any length of time...”  “Well, go about your reading then...” I grinned, shooing her out of the room to get the stack of books Mab had left on the coffee table.

I really didn’t have anything quiet that I was awake enough to be doing, so I just kind of shrugged it off and settled down to just have some quiet time.  Quiet time can be nice too now and then.  Ælley returned with her books pretty quickly and had shortly settled in, propped up against a pillow, to read.  I hadn’t paid any attention to it before but most of the books Mab had gotten for Ælley were those parenting books that people always seemed to leave lying around the store but rarely bought.  Ælley seemed to be quite absorbed with them.  She had requisitioned a pen, hi-lighter, and packet of page flags from my desk and was well on her way to putting more ink into the books than the publisher had.

Mir had meanwhile completely given up on us doing anything else interesting this evening and had curled up and settled in to his corner for the night.  So pretty much everyone had something to do but me.  “These have some great ideas in them.” Ælley mused, turning a page.  “M’hmm.” I grunted noncommittally.  Agreeing with things you’re not awake enough to understand has the potential to turn around and bite you if one isn’t careful.  But waking up wasn’t appealing either.

Deciding that cuddly naptimes were the best idea, I snuggled up to Ælley’s side, kidnapping her tail in the process, and buried my head under a pile of plushies.  Take that, light!  It really had gotten later than I realized, and closing my eyes for a bit really did strike me as a spectacular winner of an idea.  Bedtime always seems to have the right-of-way in life, and the next time Ælley turned to ask me something I was sound asleep, buried happily under my collection of fuzzy toys.  Sighing happily, Ælley nodded.  “Yeah, I had a long day too...”  Then, giving me a pat on the shoulder, she went back to her book.

To Be Continued...