Married life had been kind to Sir Iame, but as he ascended the seventh side-tower staircase of the day he found himself grateful that he’d bothered to keep up his training routine. It wasn’t that he was worried about whether he could still use the sword on his belt—of course he still could, he was a hero for heaven’s sake, no matter how many princes he agreed to wed—but the thought of some miscreant catching him out of breath at the top of yet another climb filled him with what he felt was a reasonable amount of dread. The landing felt like a blessing once it finally arrived.
Upon scanning the area for lurking troublemakers Sir Iame permitted himself a better look at the top of the tower. It was decorated in a much more menacing style than the rest of the place, all heavy velvet curtains and paintings of in-laws he still didn’t know the names of, so the big metal-bound door carved with runes and set with a gargoyle-shaped silver knocker on its front was no great surprise when he spied it. The seeing crystal he’d brought with him didn’t identify any dangerous spells on the door, so Sir Iame shrugged to himself and rapped the knocker.
The door opened with an ominous creak, though to its credit it didn’t slam closed as soon as he stepped across the threshold. The tapestried chamber on the other side was lit moodily: the same heavy curtains as before fell across most of the room’s many windows, blocking out so much of the daytime sun that he wasn’t surprised to see that someone had already bothered to light the dozens of candles placed around the room. A bed sat underneath one of the windows, a chair next to it; seated in the chair and staring out over the afternoon landscape was a figure wearing a familiar crown and humming an even more familiar tune.
Prince Borealis, heir to the throne of all Fairyland, was the sort of man who looked like he was posing for a painting no matter what he did, and so even though he was clearly despondent Sir Iame couldn’t help but admire the graceful curve of his throat and the way the muted sunlight fell across Prince Borealis’s sand-colored skin. He couldn’t so much as step in a mud puddle without oozing aesthetics. That he’d bothered with a garden-variety human like Sir Iame was no less of a wonder now than it had been when they’d first announced their engagement.
“I’ve already had my meal for the day,” the prince sighed. His voice was pained, though not so much that it lost the lilting accent Sir Iame had grown to adore over the past year and change. “Please leave me.”
The prince whirled about, both rising to his feet and knocking his chair over in a move that shouldn’t have looked as elegant as it did. “Iame! You can’t be here!”
Sir Iame pulled up a spare stepstool and gratefully took a seat. There had been a lot of stairs in his recent past. “It’s been over a year since this started and you still won’t tell me where you go once a month. I was getting worried.”
“It’s royal business—”
“I asked Da about it and he said there wasn’t any diplomatic stuff scheduled for any of the times you’ve up and vanished.”
“Maybe I didn’t tell him about it!” sputtered the prince.
“Rally, pet, none of the seneschals had any idea, either. Even the gossipy ones that know everything going on in court.” He leaned forward with his elbows against his knees. No matter how hard he tried ignoring the problem he knew he’d start to get an itch in the back of his brain that longed to stick its nose into other people’s business as only an adventuring man could. Why bother fighting it? It had worked for him so far. “Tell me the truth, now: it’s curse stuff, isn’t it?” he asked.
Prince Borealis twisted a lock of cobalt-blue hair around his fingers. “Promise you won’t get mad?”
“I won’t get mad at you. I promise.”
“It’s curse stuff.”
Sir Iame groaned. Curse stuff was why he’d come to Fairyland in the first place, and that had worked out surprisingly well for him, but his unexpected marriage to the Elf-Prince of Fairyland was one bright spot in a vast expanse of annoyance when this sort of thing was involved. He hadn’t expected a typical happily-ever-after situation after settling down, though, since when you got into the heroism profession you accepted that your life would be very interesting up to (and sometimes long after) whenever you actually died, so after he hissed out a long sigh he straightened up to look back into the prince’s face.
“Okay. I handled this the first time, I’ll keep handling it this time. You know I love you, Rally.” He did his best to smile encouragingly. “Can you talk about what all happens to you, or is that part of the curse as well?”
Prince Borealis sat himself down on the side of the bed across from Sir Iame before saying, “I can try.”
The situation went like this: Once a month, during the nights of the new moon, Crown Elf-Prince Borealis “Rally” Candleflower would become a monster whenever the sun went down and the light of the absent moon fell upon the land. This was not the first time he’d been transformed into something inconvenient, though on said first occasion he’d been split up into a bunch of sprites that had then been hidden across the land for… some reason (Sir Iame still wasn’t clear on what had gone on there, even though he’d ended up with a very useful marriage as a result of getting things sorted out), but last time he’d at least looked halfway cute in his ensorcelled state. Fairyland’s monarchy ruled partially by being some of the most adorable people in the kingdom, so having a previously fetching heir end up looking fiendish was a matter of political concern. Fey-folk had some unique priorities. Until a solution could be found, Rally would continue shutting himself up in part of the castle and brooding on the regular once every lunar cycle. In retrospect it felt like one out of ten rooms in the castle was set aside for things like this; curses and their ilk clung to the royal family like flies on meat.
“But why didn’t you tell me about it?” asked Sir Iame once they’d hashed out all the details.
Rally tugged at his hair again. At the rate he was going he risked starting to pull some out, but then again he had enough of it that he could afford to lose a few strands. “I thought it’d make you sad,” he said.
“Well, it does, a little,” said Sir Iame, “but that’s because I don’t like it when you’re upset. That the only reason?”
While the prince didn’t say anything, the answer was written all over his face. Sir Iame reached forward to put a hand on Rally’s knee. “Now, I’m just a simple man, so I can’t say how I’ll take it when I get a look at you once the sun sets, but I’ll tell you this much: no matter what happens, I’ll still love you, yeah?” He wiped away a tear that threatened to mar Rally’s immaculate cheek. “I’ll stay here with you all night, give you somebody to talk to about it all. Just promise you won’t try to eat me up.”
Rally leaned against Sir Iame’s hand. “I promise.”
Tromping all the way back down the tower was not very fun, but Sir Iame kept himself focused by reminding himself that Prince Borealis and a small, loyal contingent of servants had to do this sort of thing all the time. One extra trip for some spare clothes, an extra pillow, and some books was nothing compared to all the years he’d spent slogging through wizards’ swamps and sleeping on the ground; prince-consort he might be, but he hadn’t forgotten a lifetime of questing experience just because he’d started sleeping on clean sheets every night.
Almost every night, that was, as that afternoon saw him making up a little pallet of spare quilts next to Rally’s bed. Sleeping together the way he wanted to would have to wait until he learned whether or not his husband was going to start secreting acid from every pore come nightfall. Sir Iame would have been happy getting up to something during the remaining daylight, but the prince was clearly too upset to even consider so much as getting a hand down his embroidered hosen. Hopefully they could make up for lost personal time later.
What Rally wanted to do was talk, and so talk they did once they’d gotten the tower chamber set up for a second occupant.
“So how much did you know?” he asked Sir Iame. Both of them were seated in one of the tower’s bay windows, physically close but with the much-needed out of being able to look at the scenery instead of each other.
“Suppose that depends on what you’re asking,” said Sir Iame. “I figured it probably wasn’t anything that would threaten our marriage, too, but I also figured you’d weasel out of it if I tried asking you what was going on. Again. I didn’t know if you’d need some heroing done or not, though I figured it probably couldn’t hurt once you didn’t have to worry about asking me for help. But if you mean did I know you change into a nasty ghastly every so often, no, I didn’t.”
The prince laced their fingers together, though his eyes kept focused on the afternoon clouds. “I thought about asking, sometimes. I really did! But it felt…wrong, somehow.” He chewed his lip. “Like I’d be asking too much, maybe. Or that you’d be mad at me. Something like that.”
Sir Iame rubbed his thumb against Rally’s encouragingly. “Used to asking for people to do things for you but not to help you, huh?”
Prince Borealis didn’t respond, but the glum little pout he affected was an answer all its own.
“Last time I checked I’m your champion,” said Sir Iame with a smile, “and us folks in the hero business never back down from helping people in need. So don’t worry yourself about that.” He adjusted the way he’d tucked his legs up; a big, bulky man with knightly training had a bit more trouble fitting into some of the castle’s furnishings than its usual inhabitants, even the ones that were more human-sized. “How about we talk about what it’s like for you when you change? That way I’ll know what to expect.”
You never got anywhere in the hero business without knowing how to grill people for information, be they a landed noble or a random ragamuffin off the street. Sir Iame organized some questions in his head as he slid comfortably back into his element. “So, it’s curse stuff again,” he said. “Is it the kind of curse stuff where you’re aware of what’s happening to you, or do you just black out and wake up a little while later with hazy memories?”
The prince shrugged, though he only used one shoulder to do it. “That first one, mostly. I can think and talk and such. It’s a little harder for me to concentrate on things and I have these awful needy aches I’m scared of thinking about too much, and when the sun comes up again my memories are a little swimmy.”
“Like…hazy.” Prince Borealis twirled his free hand by the side of his head. “You know how you can have really clear dreams, but when you’re awake it’s tricky to remember some of the smaller details? It’s like that. Usually I try to sleep it off.”
The thought of the prince as some manner of abomination curled up in one of the bobbled sleeping caps he liked was alarmingly cute to Sir Iame. He tried not to linger on it; he didn’t know how things were going to play out, and setting up unreasonable expectations wasn’t going to end well. Instead he focused on another thread of information that had bubbled up during the conversation.
“So what do you mean by an ‘awful needy aches,’ Rally?” Sir Iame asked. He raised his hand defensively as Prince Borealis moved to complain. “I know you said you don’t want to think about it too closely, but this is important. It could be a clue about how to break the curse.”
The prince huffed, obviously flustered. “It’s dreadful. Or I think it’s dreadful. That’s part of what gets lost when I change back.”
“What’s so dreadful about it?”
“I don’t know! It’s just this feeling, like something is missing and if I don’t get it I’m going to do something terrible.” He slumped in his seat so that his hair fell across his face. “I’m so scared I’m going to hurt somebody, or worse than hurt them. That’s why I lock myself away up here.”
There hadn’t been a lock on the door and Sir Iame’s pocket seeing-crystal hadn’t detected any magic in that part of the castle, but he didn’t feel like pressing the issue. Maybe the prince was talking about more metaphorical locks? There was maybe an hour left until sundown so he’d see for himself soon enough. He calmly checked his sword and ran a whetstone along its edge before returning it to its scabbard; raising his blade against his husband was not on the list of things Sir Iame ever wanted to do, but he’d only ended up with a husband in the first place by being ready for anything. With luck he wouldn’t have to draw it at all.
With a little coaxing Prince Borealis found enough of an appetite to split a meal of bread and boiled eggs with Sir Iame. It was much plainer than their typical fare, as there wasn’t even any wine, much less fresh greens or any dessert whatsoever, but Sir Iame tried to frame it in terms of much worse meals he’d had while hunting monsters. Relativity was important: simple food did not make for bad food, just as a spouse that was going to look like something very peculiar in a few minutes did not make for a bad spouse. If he could forgive Rally’s love of that one brief song he insisted on singing, humming, or whistling all the time, he could forgive this, no question.
The sky started to turn orange and pink sooner than Sir Iame had expected, which was Prince Borealis’s cue to bar the door from the inside, pull curtains over all the windows, and strip down to nothing but his crown. Sir Iame sighed to himself. It was such a pity that instead of joining the prince he had to keep on his toes for…well, for whatever was about to happen.
What happened went like this: As the sun went down Prince Borealis knelt on the floor and panted like he’d been the one running up and down stairs all day, then he started to tremble. The color of his hair started to flow down across his skin like it was staining him, but the longer it happened the darker he turned until he was a deep midnight blue all over. His slight frame filled out and stretched until he was easily twice his previous height and breadth. There were claws involved. There was a tail. Once he stood again a pair of leathery wings stretched out from his back, the bony points at the tip of each wing-digit nudging at the tapestries. Everything small and dainty fizzed away from him like a chemist’s tablet dunked in water. When all was said and done the only parts of him that still looked the same were the long blue hair framing his glowing eyes and the now comically small crown balanced between his horns. It was easy to see why Prince Borealis had expected others to be fearful.
Sir Iame wasn’t afraid because had seen this before.
“Oh. Well, that explains some things,” he said. “Seems you’re looking like the Dark Lord at the moment, Rally.”
The prince collapsed onto his haunches and slunk backwards with his wings tucked around his body. “This is what I’ve been living with for over a year now,” he said, his deep and menacing voice still carrying traces of his usual accent. He was also trying not to cry. “I’m so awful. Nobody’s going to look at me the same way if they find out, not Da, not you, not anyone…!” The sound of his snuffling was as loud as it was woeful.
Sir Iame gently laid a hand on his husband’s toothy snout. “I’m definitely not going to stop loving you for something as petty as a little temporary transmogrification, pet,” he said. “We’ll figure this out.”
The last time he’d been around anything shaped like Rally’s current situation was back when he’d been trying to break the original curse. Back then the prince had merely been split up into three little sprites which had then been hidden across the land, and that had honestly been a little weird, but after Sir Iame’s original experience with going to sleep in what he thought was a nice old woman’s cottage and waking up in a land of horse-sized riding frogs and fiddle-playing cats in short pants it hadn’t been that much weirder than anything else in Fairyland. A good deal of derring-do later and he’d collected the proper number of sprites and legendary treasures to do a real number on the Dark Lord. In retrospect Sir Iame suspected he should have thought a little bit longer about why the Dark Lord disappeared in a flash of light once he landed the final blow. Then again, he’d still been new to the kingdom back then, so taking everything at face value had been the only way he’d been able to get anything done.
“So let’s see,” said Sir Iame. “It seems you can still think and feel more or less the same way as usual, you’re just…bigger.” He stood up and circled the prince a bit to get a better look at him. “So my guess is that the first time you were actually split up into four parts, not three: a trio of sprites and something that looks like what we’ve got here. Now you’re all in one piece again. That’s why you aren’t busy trying to summon monsters or set crops on fire.”
“I don’t remember doing any of that,” said the prince, quietly. “I feel really bad when you say it, though. Like I’m guilty over something I forgot about.”
Sir Iame made a noncommittal noise. “Traditionally people don’t have to suffer for things they did while cursed, so long as the curse gets broken and they work to fix whatever it was they got up to. We call those werewolf laws back where I come from.”
Huge crimson claws were harder to tap together shyly than fingertips were, but Prince Borealis tried anyway. “So the sprites were all the nice parts of me, but the Dark Lord was the wicked part?”
“No idea, Rally. Right now we just need to focus on what’s going on with you currently. How about we play some chess and see if that reveals anything?”
What it revealed was that Sir Iame was still pretty bad at chess.
“So, anything unusual going on between your ears yet?” he asked as he tallied up the woeful number of pawns he’d captured.
Prince Borealis shrugged, which made his wings brush dangerously close to some candles. They were going to have to do something about those if they didn’t want the whole place to catch fire. “Kind of fuzzy-headed, like I’ve got a cold. And that weird ache is coming back. It’s like I’m hungry, but I know it’s not for food, and I know I’m going to forget all the details again once sunrise comes around.” He lowered his voice to a booming whisper. “What if I really do want to eat people?”
“Well, do you want to eat me? Enough things have tried to in the past that I’m sure just about any monster would think I look delicious.”
“Um.” The prince lifted his hand to his mouth daintily and studied Sir Iame for just a bit longer than he was comfortable being studied. “No? I don’t think so? Like whatever it is it’s definitely focused on you, but I just can’t figure it out.”
“You aren’t horny, are you?”
Prince Borealis harrumphed, which impressively didn’t produce little plumes of fire or anything else. “I know what that feels like, thank you very much,” he said, sulkily. It was hard to argue with that. The prince had insisted on them waiting until they were formally wed before sleeping together, which Sir Iame had mildly dreaded at the time, but given how they had scarcely left their quarters for a week after the ceremony any inexperience on Rally’s part had been cheerfully papered over with unquenchable enthusiasm. Sir Iame had requested a cushion to sit on for days afterwards. Yes, the prince definitely knew what it felt like when he was in the mood to get into some friendly mischief.
There had to be something they weren’t considering. He didn’t seem violent, he wasn’t hungry for people meat, he sounded disgusted when Sir Iame brought up blood, he didn’t want sex…what else did cursed people need to take care of themselves? It definitely wasn’t true love’s kiss, since Sir Iame had risked life and lips to plant a few well-aimed smooches on the prince, and Rally didn’t seem any more interested in women than he had before, so that likely wasn’t it, either. Maybe in the morning they could head down to the Fairyland archives and go through one of the big gold-edged books that cataloged this sort of thing.
Or at least that was the plan. When Sir Iame awoke the next day he wasn’t thinking about books or curses at all, as upon feeling the first fingers of sunlight brush against his face he found himself he was both fiercely alert and also painfully aware of the morning wood tenting the fabric of his sleeping tunic. A pile of folded blankets on the floor was hardly the place to take care of that sort of thing. The question was, would he actually have a proper opportunity to do so?
He sat up to peer over the edge of the bed. The prince was curled up in the middle of the quilt, once more small and pale, and Sir Iame felt his mouth water a little bit. There was something about fey-folk that never failed to grab his attention, and Prince Borealis was easily the most fetching of their lot. Maybe it was the blue hair—proof that he came from the blood of heroes, some said—or the pointy ears—which were just sensitive enough to be fun diversions, Sir Iame had found—or something completely different, but it had been a pretty easy decision to accept the title of prince-consort if it meant he could bed down with someone so delectable. He knee-walked next to the side of the mattress closest to the prince’s serene face.
“Rally,” he whispered.
The prince, ever the epitome of graceful perfection, rolled over and scratched himself.
“Rally,” Sir Iame whispered again.
“Good morning, Your Highness,” said Sir Iame, now grinning. “Can I join you up there? It sucks being on the floor.”
“Hokay,” said Prince Borealis, who promptly closed his eyes again and didn’t move.
Sir Iame put some of his weight on the edge of the mattress. He wasn’t about to hop up top just yet, as this version of the wake-up game was still new and interesting. A slight push was enough to push the bedding down and make the prince roll towards him a little.
“No,” whined Rally drowsily. He scooted back up onto the quilt and waved at Sir Iame like he was trying to shoo away a bug. “I’m sleeping.”
The prince rolled over again and squinted at him. “Go away, I’m a Dark Lord,” he said.
“Not right now you aren’t.”
Prince Borealis sat up. He peered at his hands and wiggled his toes before looking back down at Sir Iame, who had yet to lose his cheery expression. “Huh. I guess you’re right,” said the prince. He stretched. The morning sun fell across him so prettily it was a shame he didn’t sparkle. Waking up was never the sort of thing he did quickly, but it still wasn’t long before he was awake enough to string words together in proper sentences. “I remember bits and pieces from last night. I didn’t do anything awful, did I?”
“You trounced me mercilessly at chess.”
“I do that all the time,” said Prince Borealis with a smile. “But nothing else?”
“Nope. You were pretty much the same as always, aside from being very big.”
The prince’s smile curled into a smirk. “It must have been strange for you,” he said as he rose to a sitting position with his legs tucked to the side. He was swan-slender even before comparing him to Sir Iame’s bulk, his frame as neat and compact as most inhabitants of Fairyland’s, and they often made jokes about how tall Sir Iame was compared to everyone else. It had been a bit of a feat getting used to how often important members of court only reached up to an average person’s knees.
“Yes and no,” Sir Iame said. “Remember, I quested for years before I came here. I’m used to things being bigger than me. You’re not a real hero until you’ve bested something the size of a house.” He pushed further on the mattress, causing the prince to scoot backwards again with a cry of mock dismay. “So are you awake yet?”
Prince Borealis stretched again, this time swinging his legs over the side of the bed so Sir Iame was centered between them. “What does it look like to you?”
“Like you want your cock sucked, Your Highness,” said Sir Iame. He wet his lips eagerly.
“And this is why you’re my champion.”
During the more normal parts of the lunar cycle Sir Iame was still usually the first of the pair to awaken; one of his responsibilities as prince-consort (not an official one, but important just the same) was cuddling Prince Borealis out of slumber’s grasp, then servicing him before they bothered preparing for the rest of the day. Sometimes this meant kneeling, sometimes lying on his stomach, sometimes using his hands, sometimes something else: The only constant was that he was at Prince Borealis’s disposal. A knight’s duty to his liege usually didn’t involve sexual favors, but it usually didn’t involve marriage, either. Sir Iame was more than happy with the extra elements of the arrangement.
He mouthed at the prince’s shaft between puffing gently against his skin, then dragged his tongue along the underside. In Sir Iame’s experience, fey-folk tasted different from humans, similar to how venison tasted different from beef, there being a sort of wilder, stranger flavor to a man of Fairyland that was really quite nice once you got used to it. Prince Borealis had provided a great deal of chances to get used to it. Sir Iame savored things a little while more before actually taking the prince properly into his mouth.
He kept his tongue moving quickly even as his head and neck kept to slower, more purposeful motions. Sometimes the prince wanted something soft and sometimes Sir Iame ended up with a hand fisted in his hair and another holding his jaw in place, and yet other sometimes things went from one to the other and maybe even back again; whatever the scenario, that wasn’t Sir Iame’s call to make, and he liked it that way. Making decisions was something he handled gladly when there were curses to break or foes to vanquish, but mornings were a special time when he could simply be mindlessly useful.
“Don’t forget to take care of yourself, now,” said Prince Borealis. His cheeks were flushed and his breaths came quickly, but his voice was as steady as ever. “You look so nice down there, it’d be a shame if you didn’t enjoy it.”
He didn’t have to say it twice. Sir Iame adjusted his shoulders and tucked the quilts around his knees up underneath the mattress, then took to tugging himself with a dry, fast hand. Even a year of pampered life in a castle full of wonders hadn’t quite spoiled his appreciation of the callus-roughened touch he’d relied on since he’d first figured out what all a dick could do.
Sir Iame came first, which meant he was happy and foggy as Prince Borealis thrust into his mouth until spent. He swallowed obediently; back in his homeland they’d had stories about what happened if you ate fairy food, and that probably applied to fairy come, but Sir Iame had long since decided he was happy spending the rest of his days among the fey-folk. Besides, it tasted nice while still actually tasting like he’d been sucking someone off, and that alone was all he needed at the end of the day. The prince gave him a little pat on the head before pulling out again.
“You know, I never realize how much I miss that until I have to lock myself away up here,” said Prince Borealis. He wiped a few strands of hair away from his sweat-slick forehead.
“I wouldn’t mind coming along from the start next time. If there’s a next time.”
“That might be nice.” The prince cleaned himself off with a rag and began to wriggle into some of the fresh clothes Sir Iame had brought up with him the previous day. “You may want to get some trousers on soon. They’ll be bringing my meal up in a bit.”
Said meal was porridge with a little honey and cinnamon, and while it was simple Sir Iame could see how someone could live off of nothing but for a few days. They chatted a bit and read some of the books he’d thought to take—mostly adventure tales with the odd history text thrown in, as Sir Iame suspected they’d not find anything relating to the prince’s situation without completely upending the archives—and all throughout the morning nothing seemed to be going overly wrong with the prince. He was even whistling that damned song again. It would probably haunt the back of Sir Iame’s head until he finally shuffled off the mortal coil, but at least it meant Rally was doing more or less okay.
By midday they were both restless. Another round of sex helped a bit, but Sir Iame knew he wasn’t able to concentrate as much as usual, and going by the way Prince Borealis wasn’t being as fierce as they both liked the feeling was mutual. That wouldn’t do. He waited until the afterglow had expired before bringing anything up.
“So I’ve been thinking.”
The prince looked up from the page he’d been staring at for the past half hour. “Hm?”
“We know you aren’t likely to cause me harm while you’re transformed, right?” asked Sir Iame.
“And you said you didn’t feel aggressive or anything while I was around, just achy, right?”
Prince Borealis nodded.
“So-o, I’m thinking we could experiment with more cursebreaking methods this evening. Probably not what you’re thinking,” Sir Iame added, hurriedly. “It’d end badly. When I say you’re very large when you’re transfigured, I mean it.”
“How large are we talking, here?”
Sir Iame held his hands apart a little wider than his shoulders and grimaced. “I know I’m a skilled and seasoned warrior, Rally, but I don’t think that’s happening.” He paused. “Not without a lot of practice, anyway.”
Prince Borealis winced as well. “We should try something else, yes.”
“I have a few ideas….”
There were better words to describe Sir Iame’s number of ideas than few. Fingers on a hand were few. Spots on a ladybug were few. What Sir Iame had was enough plans to fill multiple sheets of the iridescent paper Fairyland used for everything from shopping lists to treaties; he had to go out for more ink twice. They had to switch off who was writing simply because keeping up with the torrent of concepts germinating in Sir Iame’s head. Just because there were smarter men than he didn’t mean he couldn’t rub two thoughts together, and he was definitely not going to slack off when it came to his husband’s well-being.
A few entries on the lists could be tended to before the sun set. Sir Iame ransacked the royal kitchens for salt, garlic, and any other useful ingredients he could think of, which he proceeded to leave in a circle all around the bed (since having been pushed into the center of the room) that would either help keep fell spirits away or make a truly interesting smell, and either way it seemed more productive than not trying at all. He burned sage, he burned incense, he burned a lock of Rally’s hair, and he burned an awful lot of daylight trying to think up every possible anti-hexing maneuver he’d ever learned. He could worry about narrowing things down to a single successful result once they found anything that actually worked.
If nothing worked, well, there was always the next lunar cycle, and until then they could go about their days as normal. Sir Iame already suspected his riding frog would need a great deal of love and attention before it felt like forgiving him enough to let him ride in a tourney again.
Night fell and once more Prince Borealis expanded into something he usually wasn’t. The ring of garlic and otherwise didn’t so much as slow things down, nor could it do anything when his tail swished through it, which Sir Iame allowed himself to be disappointed by. It couldn’t have been that easy, of course. Nothing was ever easy when you let yourself get tied up in questing. Then again, at least the prince hadn’t exploded into pixies again; until they entirely ruled out that he wouldn’t, however, Sir Iame made a note to invest in an enchanted butterfly net.
Once they both had their bearings again they went down the many lists they’d written up earlier. Walking widdershins around a candle did about as much as chanting verses at the still-blackened moon, which was to say not much; Sir Iame still insisted they perform each and every option. It took them hours until he crossed off the last idea on the list, crumpled up the scroll, and tossed it over his shoulder with a defeated groan. It would have been more satisfying to hurl it out of one of the many windows, but even if he’d pulled the curtains aside they couldn’t be sure who’d find it, and he wasn’t sure how politically distressing it would be for Fairyland to learn its beloved crown prince wasn’t quite feeling himself lately.
“Guess that’s it,” he said, keeping his forehead pressed against the wall. “I can’t think of anything else.”
“I can,” said the prince. His fanged snout nosed affectionately at Sir Iame’s cheek, the little puffs of breath that leaked between his teeth somehow hot and cold at the same time. The nip he left on Sir Iame’s ear was playful.
Playful or not, Sir Iame still pushed the prince’s muzzle away. “No, Rally. We’ve been over this. I’m not prepared to handle that siege weapon you’re packing down there.”
“That’s not what I’m thinking of.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” said Sir Iame as he eyed Rally, who was clearly raring to go for something.
Prince Borealis laughed, making another cloud of icy-hot vapor. The vibrations went straight to the base of Sir Iame’s spine in a way he found he liked a little. “I still want to play,” said the prince. “But I was thinking we’d try something different.”
Instead of answering directly, he rested his elbows on the bed, which creaked but didn’t break, then tucked his wings against each other and lifted his tail. He wiggled his hips awkwardly. “This time I could be the scabbard, you know.”
That was not what Sir Iame had expected to hear at all. It wasn’t that he minded the thought of not being on the bottom for a change, more that the fierce little fey-fellow he’d gotten to know over the past several months knew what he liked, and what the prince liked was being in charge. So far it had worked out for them: Sir Iame had unlimited access to the finest cock in the land, he liked doing a good job tending to said cock, and he really, really liked the way Prince Borealis would use him like it was the only reason Sir Iame had for drawing breath, which itself was always followed by cuddles and the occasional tea party to make sure his head was back on straight again. If there were any glamours involved he honestly didn’t care. There were worse ways for a hero to go than being a pampered toy for the rest of their days.
Being bent over antique furniture and rogered until he saw stars had been the status quo for so long that Sir Iame had forgotten that there were other options. “Are you sure about this?” he asked, tilting his head to figure out where exactly that massive tail ended and the prince’s posterior began.
“Sure I’m sure,” rumbled the prince. “Been thinking about it a little. Wondering how it’d work, you know? A little while ago I thought it might be a good idea to ask.”
“Now it’s a great idea.” He craned his neck backwards. The angle of his tail was doing strange things to the not-so-little ebon pucker nestled among his scales. “Now I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“I don’t know if this is going to help you with the curse thing, Rally.”
“Polliwogs to my curse! Pumpkins and parasols to it! Right now I want you to fuck my butt.”
There was no sense in arguing, in part because Sir Iame was back in familiar territory when his dearest husband was ordering him to perform, so he checked the lock on the door, checked the ties on all the curtains, and then stripped down to nothing in record time. He’d remembered to bring lubricant with him on one of his many supply runs from the tower. How much did a Dark Lord need for this? How much did an out-of-practice knight, for that matter? He opted to dump a liberal amount on his shaft, slick himself up with his hand, then use the remainder on said hand to prepare Dark Lord Borealis for entry.
“Whoa. I could probably get my whole hand in here without any trouble,” he said to nobody in particular.
“I don’t want your hand, Iame,” whined the prince as his claws scrabbled for purchase on the floor. “Come on, I’m ready! More than ready! As your liege I demand you put your cock inside me this instant!”
“As you wish, Your Highness,” said Sir Iame, and he pushed himself inside.
It wasn’t a tight fit by any stretch of the imagination, and if it had been he would have been quite worried, but there was a pleasant, easy snugness that allowed for plenty of friction while inviting whoever might be back there—which would almost certainly exclusively be Sir Iame, unless the prince had heretofore unspoken plans involving creative placement of his tail—to really go to town with whatever it was they were doing. Sir Iame kept enough of his wits about him to start slow, anyway; the occasional probing finger was a far cry from an entire phallus, and he’d be damned if he ended up injuring his favorite person by making assumptions.
Finding a good rhythm wasn’t difficult. What was difficult was not getting smacked in the face by Rally’s tail, or tangled up in his wings, or otherwise ending up on the wrong side of the wrong end of a Dark Lord. Hadn’t one of the prince’s heroic ancestors bested one of her own? Sir Iame couldn’t help wondering if “bested” had a few extra meanings that didn’t come up in polite conversation. Maybe the king knew more, and was simply waiting for someone to ask. It wasn’t like whether or not someone’s granny had thwarted a threat to all Fairyland by pegging it into submission was the sort of talk that came up at breakfast. He could look into that later, though; he was getting close, and that meant he had a job to do.
“M-may I, Your Highness?”
He would never admit it to anyone but himself and maybe the prince, but he felt most at ease when he was following very personal royal commands. With Rally there was never any guesswork, not a single iota of intrigue, so long as Sir Iame did what he was told, and right now that meant clinging to Rally’s tail for dear life and thrusting until he spent himself. The underside of said tail felt smooth and warm against his stomach. It was almost a shame they’d have to find a cure for this little problem; Sir Iame suspected he could get used to this.
It was very important that he keep his grip on the tail as that was the prince’s cue to take himself in one red-clawed fist and promptly make an absolute mess of the bedding. They both paused expectantly once he did so, but when the prince failed to change back to normal there was a quiet and unspoken sense of disappointment between the two. It would have made so much sense if that needy ache of his had been the key to breaking the curse. Good sex was never a waste, but Sir Iame couldn’t help but feel like they could have used their time more wisely.
“Do you think we have to, you know? At the same time?” asked Prince Borealis. His wings twitched. “Like it expects some kind of, of, union of pure hearts or something to break it?”
Sir Iame shrugged, causing the prince’s tail to flop down over his shoulder again. “Dunno. Worth a shot. Give me a few minutes and some water and I’ll do what I can.”
After multiple tries, one of which managed to be immaculately timed, they had to sadly agree that no, it probably wasn’t going to work. Sir Iame felt like he’d just come back from a campaign. Whatever pep had gotten into the prince’s step had been sated, at least, so after figuring out which linens were still acceptable to sleep on Prince Borealis was willing to spend the rest of the evening cuddling with his champion. It wasn’t long before the prince’s blazing eyes drifted closed.
An idea from before kept Sir Iame awake. It might not do anything, and it might mean a lot, and either way he could feel his hero’s urge to go a-snooping bubbling up inside him once again. He waited until he was sure the prince was well and fully dozing before cleaning up, dressing in what was hopefully modest enough clothing for so late at night, and sneaking downstairs.
Slipping back into the tower the next morning almost went off without a hitch, but at the exact wrong moment Sir Iame bumped into the chess table, sending some of its pieces clattering to the floor. He winced as he saw movement from the bed. So much for trying to break the news gradually; now it was probably for the best if he just ripped off the bandage in one go. He made sure the door was firmly closed behind him before turning back to the room.
Prince Borealis stretched dreamily, and Sir Iame would have suspected him of practicing it if he hadn’t been around the prince for as long and as intimately as he had. “Where did you get off to? I was surprised to wake up alone this morning. Figured I’d just go back to sleep if I didn’t have a reason to get up early.” He patted the mattress next to him. “Still time for us to catch up, though.”
“I talked to Da about your problem,” said Sir Iame.
The prince sat up abruptly. “You what!?” he sputtered, his skin draining of what modest color it had.
Sir Iame found a chair and settled himself down in it. No matter how fit he kept himself he still would never be fond of stairs. “He says it’s a bit of a thing with the royal family.”
“Okay, so, you know how you’re partially descended from the blood of heroes and so forth?”
Prince Borealis twirled a lock of tell-tale cerulean hair around his fingers. “Uh-huh.”
“Well, that’s because your great-great…great….” Sir Iame counted off on his fingers with a frown. “…something-many-greats grandmother was one of the first champions of Fairyland. That much we both know. What doesn’t come up so much is who her husband was.”
The prince frowned and asked, “He wasn’t the son of the last queen?”
“He was, but he also had a period where he was the Dark Lord Asterion.”
This made the prince’s jaw drop. “Oh no.”
“Oh yes. Something weird went on with him when he tried creating some sacred treasures to protect the kingdom and he ended up being very large and scaly for a while. Don’t create sacred treasures, by the way, they always get stolen no matter how securely you think you’ve stored them.” Sir Iame wasn’t going to bring up how many spare artifacts he still had rattling around in his personal effects. If people ever needed those again, well, nothing was stopping them from taking a jaunt into another world, same way he had back in the day. “Anyway, they got him fixed, but occasionally he’d slip back into being, ah, bigger. It didn’t cause further trouble and he apparently used it as an excuse to go on longer hunting trips. His descendents tended to get the whole not-lycanthropy thing but more or less dealt with it.”
Prince Borealis let his brow furrow further. “So why doesn’t Da have the same problem?”
“I was getting to that. See, the past three generations, it hasn’t been an issue. They thought it’d finally tapered off. I think it was the curse thing they called me in for that jiggled something loose and invited, ah, this back in.” He waved his hands at the prince’s mass. “It’s fine, though. Entirely normal. You might be more willing to push limits or seek out experiences you don’t usually go for when you’re…smaller” –and neither of them needed to clarify what all those might be– “and that’s what that achiness you feel is, but I can keep an eye on you. It won’t be a problem at all. It’s like having a friend making sure you don’t eat too much at a banquet, right?”
“Being ten feet tall isn’t the same thing as wanting another piece of cake.”
“Well, no, it isn’t, but you’ve still got me around. It won’t be that much a problem, pet, not now or in the future. I promise.”
The prince mooshed his hands against his face. “I can’t stop running the kingdom three nights a month, Iame,” he said. “If I keep disappearing once I’m crowned king, people are going to ask questions. And if I’m open about it? Fairyland does not take well to a monarch who isn’t cute. I’m glad you like the results, but my subjects sure as sugar won’t.”
“No, see, that’s the thing,” said Sir Iame, waving his hands excitedly. “We frame you as a dragon. You look sort of like one, right? Your people love dragons even when they look scary since it’s a national pride sort of thing, so if you, the next in line to rule, establish that you sometimes become a dragon for mystical reasons but use your powers to defend the kingdom, they’re going to eat it up. You’ve got this, Rally.” He stilled his hands long enough to take the prince’s in his own. “I’ll even wear the stupid armor when we introduce you to everyone. It’ll show my loyalty.”
“You mean the ceremonial Aelfenplate?”
Sir Iame grimaced. “Is that what that godawful gold-trimmed periwinkle ensemble is called? Yes. I will wear that thing.” He still wasn’t sure the Aelfenplate wasn’t someone’s elaborate joke, pranking heroes across the eons by making them wear what was best described as a bundle of leaves plated with mother of pearl. The material felt flimsy no matter how many times it turned away monstrous claws or spellfire. It looked dreadful, especially compared to his usual azure and crimson livery, but such were sacrifices made for love.
Prince Borealis surged forward, hugging Sir Iame around the neck with surprising force. “And I can sing the national anthem for everyone to prove it’s me!” he piped, beaming. Was that what that song that followed him around actually was? Sir Iame still had a lot to learn about his new homeland. “I should probably talk to Da more about this, huh?”
“He is the king. Where I come from that doesn’t mean much, but around here it’s likely he’ll be wise and kind or something. Maybe he remembers things about his grandfather.”
“What I remember is that I still missed you this morning,” said Prince Borealis. “You want to get over here and show me some of that loyalty you were talking about?”
Sir Iame cocked an eyebrow. “And who’s asking, Rally? An Elf-Prince or a Dark Lord?”
“Whichever one gets your mouth on him sooner.”
“Can’t argue with that,” said Sir Iame with a smile, and he let himself be pulled back down onto the quilts. A champion’s work was never done.