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Take Me To The Faere

The Industrial Era Faere was packed with people, some of whom even looked human. Nereid was immediately overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, and baffled by the smell of... french fries?

Nereid's first impression was that Maid Marian had somehow transported them into the middle of a flea market. They were standing on asphalt which smelled of fresh tar in the hot sun and gave a little under their feet. On either side of the newly-laid roadway were rows and rows of stalls, most with brightly-striped nylon awnings over them, although Nereid could see one that looked like a bouncy house from a child's fun fair and another that was a gorgeously detailed bow-front ice cream parlor, complete with glass door and outside tables.

A woman in a long magenta dress with a significant bustle brushed past Nereid on the arm of a hairy man in a Hawaiian print shirt, jams, and sandals, muttering, "I cannot believe all these people attending without garb. It's positively lazy." A pair of men, arm in arm, wore striped barbershop-quartet-style jackets and straw boaters over bare chests and tight leather chaps, passed by on the other side, one of whom was loudly proclaiming, "The food is not authentically suburban, you know, even though they import it straight from McDonald's. Apparently, McDonald's has changed its formulae in recent years. To be really authentic, we're going to have to research the original recipes and make our own."

Robin, arm-in-arm with two of his Merry Men, strolled ahead of them, talking and laughing. He turned in at an eatery marked off with orange traffic cones. A quartet of smiling men, all identically dressed with fedoras, buttondown shirts, and khakis, with pipes stuck in at the corners of their implacable grins, tended turquoise barbecue grills, each of which was adorned with chrome and fins. An orange-haired sylph in a uniform that exactly matched the grills -- even down to the chrome and fins -- roller-skated up to them, flourishing a waitress's pad in one hand.

Nereid couldn't help it. Her jaw hung open at this atrocity of a diner. Tam reached over and gently shut her mouth. "Just smile and nod," he whispered. "And don't pick up any of the newspapers."

The sylph blew a gigantic bubble with her gum. Instead of popping, the bubble separated off and floated away on the breeze, shaping itself into a red balloon as it went. "What can I getcha boys?" she snarled.

"Burgers all 'round!" declared Robin expansively.

"Cheese on those?" she said, not even bothering to write on her pad.

"Of course, my good lass. And we'll have some of those fried potatoes, and ale for everybody!" Robin said.

She rolled her eyes. "No ale here. You can get a milkshake, a Coke, or a beer."

Robin kept grinning proudly back over his shoulder at Nereid, and didn't even wilt a little at the waitress's news. "Beer then!"

The food, when it arrived, came in little cardboard boxes that were exceedingly familiar to Nereid. She eyed the elaborate grills, wondering what they were for. "So, um, these are from Earth?" she said to the waitress.

"Of COURSE!" the waitress nearly exploded with indignation. "Went to a lot of trouble to get enough. They're ENORMOUSLY popular." She slammed down a six-pack of Bud Light and rolled off to the latest group arriving at the cone-marked door.

Robin was examining the beer cans bemusedly, then extended one to Nereid. "Show us how these are properly opened on Earth, my lady! We like to be authentic here."

Nereid, bemused herself, took the can, hooked up the ring, and popped the can open. It gave out a little hiss and spray, which delighted her hosts. The expression on Marian's face after tasting her first sip of Earth beer nearly made Nereid choke with laughter on the food she was trying hard not to inhale too quickly.

"Truly," said Robin, staring at the can, "do Earth folk subsist entirely upon horse piss?"

Nereid did choke then, and only the vigorous thumping Tam gave her allowed her to finish swallowing and reply, "They, um, should try to get some microbrewery beer. It's generally better, so I hear."

"I shall speak to the organizers," Robin said, grimacing at another sip of beer. "Most earnestly."

The burger and fries in front of Nereid evaporated without her really realizing it. She wanted more food, honestly, but was afraid of Consequences of the Digestive Sort. And when would she get a chance to get more Earth food? "Tam," she said quietly, "can we get enough to carry along with us?"

"Not of this, I hope," Tam said, peering at the tiny burger under the limp lettuce leaf. "There must be more substantial fare at other stalls."

"Well, now the lady is fortified," one of the Merry Men said, "I think we can continue to explore without her staring longingly in at every door."

Marian slapped him upside his head. "Yes, we can go looking for something better," she said. "Come on, gentlefolk."

Nereid discovered that the Faere wasn't any less confusing now that she was less hungry. A trio of foot-high motorcycle toughs zoomed by on marvelously detailed miniature bikes, weaving expertly between people's feet. Their helmets were of the spiked German World War I variety, and one of them had, for some reason, stuck a cherry on top. In one area that was darkened for effect, several of the stalls were outlined with neon in a wide variety of colors. Nereid stopped to stare at a neon can-can line of ladies who were apparently advertising footwear. People -- Nereid just decided to mentally call them "people" -- in a bewildering variety of clothing hustled by on the asphalt walkway. One young man, in a very short skirt and go-go boots, made a megaphone of his hands and bellowed for some unseen companions to join him on the boardwalk. Nereid then noticed what appeared to be a carnival midway, with a Ferris wheel looming above the other rides and the noises of a rather off-key calliope playing in the distance.

Robin and Marian appeared to have got into an argument over whether they should have put on "garb" for the event. "But, Robin," said Marian, "you don't have but the one shirt."

"We ought to have made an effort!" Robin declared. "We look like rustics to our guests!"

"Robin, we are rustics," Marian said. "We live in the woods. That's practically the definition of rustic."

"But we don't have to look like it!" He reached over to one of the Merry Men and yanked a small branch out of the fellow's tangled locks. "See? This is what I'm talking about!"

Marian pressed her lips together, took a deep breath, and took Nereid by the arm. "Let's go see if they have any portable kinds of food, shall we?"

So Marian and Tam, on either side of her, propelled Nereid away from the Merry Men and into another branch of the Faere. Behind them, Nereid heard one of the Merry Men propose to Robin that they find a better alehouse. She suspected that he agreed, but his voice was lost in the crowd.

They were passed by a marathon's worth of joggers, some decked out in gold and silver lame sweatsuits. Marian paused to peer through a set of double doors that oozed smoke as though the interior was full of dry ice. Random flashes of colored light and a pounding bass line emerged as well. Nereid thought she heard the Bee Gees' distinctive voices. "Would an establishment like this have food?" Marian asked, dubious.

Nereid stared as a half dozen young women in white Edwardian dresses and the most enormous cartwheel hats she'd ever seen passed into the disco. "No," she said. "Most definitely not."

"Getcher news here!" an urchin in an overlarge floppy hat bellowed, waving a handful of newsprint.

Tam shooed the newsboy away, but Nereid glimpsed the headlines, which read, "AMAZING RESCUE OF TITANIC! WALL STREET STRIKES OUT! LINDBERGH BABY ON OPRAH!"

Nereid was briefly distracted by someone who, for just a moment, looked like Sophie. But on second glance she realized that the tall, rawboned woman couldn't possibly be her, although Sophie probably owned a similar tan jumpsuit covered in useful pockets. The woman topped off the jumpsuit with a long brown trenchcoat and a white silk aviator scarf, and was towing a very pretty young blond man in her wake. The young man gesticulated, apparently complaining about something, and the tall woman turned. Nereid could hear her drawl in an incongruous upper-class British accent, "Well, it's not all that bad, I wouldn't complain, and you're the one who pestered me to make a stop here." She had a mop of black curls, smooth brown skin, and a long, patrician nose. For some reason, although Nereid couldn't place her face at all, she felt as though she'd met her before.

"There must be another food stall around here somewhere," said Marian, peering down an adjoining alleyway which was marked "BOURBON STREET" on a neon banner overhead.

"Not there," Nereid opined. "How about this way?"

"Awh," Tam said, looking longingly down the alley. "I always liked New Orleans."

Nereid had, however, spotted a sign in bold dark green letters. "COMPLETE COMESTIBLES sounds like food to me," she said, dragging on Tam's elbow.

As they passed beneath the dark green awning, the woman in the jumpsuit strode by, her sulky companion trailing after her. "I was joking!" he said. "Always dangerous," she replied, examining some small object in the palm of her hand. It glowed blue. "This way." Then they were lost in the crowds.

This stall was completely enclosed and lit with tasteful indirect lighting. All the food was locked away in glass display cases, and one had to locate a smiling green-aproned employee with keys to obtain any of the contents. They were, however, having a wine and cheese tasting in the back of the stall, to which Nereid was drawn as a moth to a flame. The neat little chunks of cheese were each immersed in small glasses of wine. Customers were using little plastic swords to spear them out -- except when the cheese was a brie, in which case the swords were used in a more spoonlike fashion.

Nereid tried each cheese and each wine. It afforded a number of combinations, all of which she barely tasted. Tam and Marian followed her example. They merely seemed puzzled by the experience, while Nereid was made definitely tipsy.

"Bread and cheese is good traveling food," Marian said, and deposited several small wedges of cheese and a large loaf of "artisanal" bread in her green plastic shopping basket.

"So is wine!" Tam said, and directed one of the employees to provide them two bottles, a red and a white, from the case.

Nereid, not knowing who was going to pay for all this, didn't make any suggestions, though she did look longingly at a display of wrapped chocolate bars.

Marian dickered with the employee at the register, and then the three of them were back in the Faere.

"Where to now?" Marian said.

"We could find a musical performance or a play or a ballgame," Tam said, adding solicitously to Nereid, "so you could sit down in the shade for a bit, my dear. You're looking pale."

"It's so noisy," Nereid said, wobbling a little. "And there's such a crowd."

A set of attractive, nearly nude young people were acting as barkers in front of a tattoo parlor, showing off their ever-changing body decorations and announcing that even better designs could be had for a song inside the establishment. "You too can be a girl with a dragon tattoo!" shouted one of them, turning around and bending over to show off a sinuous dragon which twined over her buttocks, crawled up her back, and then launched off her shoulders with a triumphant little puff of flame. Nereid blinked and ducked a little too late as it zoomed over their heads. She felt it ruffle her hair.

"That settles it," Marian said. "We are going home."

Tam looked disappointed. "Surely we should attempt to find Robin Hood first. My lady," he added, as Marian turned to look at him.

"Robin will find his own way home," she said, and sighed. "He always does."

---

From the Author:
Through May, I'm running the commenting incentive again, because reading your comments improves the heck out of my day. So if I get 50 total comments in May, I will post twice weekly through June. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through July too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through August.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction.







Date: 2011-05-03 04:09 pm (UTC)
finch: (Default)
From: [personal profile] finch
"I cannot believe all these people attending without garb. It's positively lazy."

This chapter was amazing. Win win and win.

he always does

Date: 2011-05-04 02:32 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Marian doesnt sound too pleased that Robin always finds his way home... Could the faerie tale romance be more marketing campaign than reality?

Date: 2011-05-04 02:54 am (UTC)
contrarywise: Captain Jack Harkness, smiling (Smile!)
From: [personal profile] contrarywise
Well done you! You had me giggling within 4 words this time.

Date: 2011-05-04 03:59 am (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
"Truly," said Robin, staring at the can, "do Earth folk subsist entirely upon horse piss?"

*cackle*

Date: 2011-05-04 06:51 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
I...do not get it. It's not even good for making beer bread.

Date: 2011-05-13 06:02 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
*cackle* DWARF BEER BREAD *dies*

...sorry, my brain, it goes to these places, and then somehow I find myself bringing everyone else along for the ride.

Date: 2012-01-28 07:27 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Dwarf beer bread sounds like an experience worth forgoing. And I almost wrote "Dwarf bear bread", which can't possibly be worse.

That said, I know they *say* the food's from earth, but I have a tendency never to trust people in Faerie. I am exceedingly worried about Nereid.

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