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And Ask No Leave of Thee

The road away from Sherwood led higher and higher up over misty hills that were dotted with enormous grey stones and covered with spiny plants Nereid didn't recognize. Some of the stones were roughly shaped and balanced to make enormous doorways or irregular circles. The path, which curved along the hills in tedious switchbacks, was covered with small grey stones that rolled treacherously underfoot.

Nereid found the landscape enormously depressing. At least they were traveling sunward... she thought. It was hard to tell, since the sun was generally hidden behind high clouds.

Tam seemed to leave the shelter of the trees reluctantly, looking back at them several times. As they climbed higher, Nereid found the smallness of Sherwood surprising. It seemed to have taken them days to leave it, although after that first night there had been no further nightfall. But did that really signify, here?

While they had been under the leaves, Tam had been... sweet, she supposed. He sang songs and quoted poetry to her -- some of it in a language she didn't understand -- and, once, tucked roses behind her ears. The thorns scratched, but it was so romantic she didn't feel she could protest. He was from Victorian times, she reminded herself. He probably had different ideas about... consent... and that sort of thing. Letting him take her clothes off was probably a very clear invitation back then. Heck, it had been in her parents' day. And in that movie Grease, and stuff like that.

She had smiled tentatively, reaching up to touch the roses, and he had taken it as an invitation to kiss her and draw her down on a mossy bank under a hedge of may-bloom.

"Tam," she'd said, when she realized he was fumbling with her pants, "I don't think this is a good idea."

"Why on earth not, love?" he said, leaning back and looking hurt.

Nereid bit her lip. She felt a little blank, and there was a long pause before she was able to grope her way towards a tangible reason. "I don't want to get pregnant, Tam. And I don't think they have condoms in Faerie."

Tam frowned. "They don't have what?"

Nereid stared at him and repressed the urge to giggle. Right. Victorian. "You know. Um. Rubbers? The, um, thing you put on your..."

Tam threw back his head and laughed. "Prophylactics. No, I have never seen such a thing in Faerie. But they are not needed here."

Nereid frowned. "Not needed?"

Tam gathered her closer and slid his hands under her clothes. "No, love," he said. "'Tis a static and unchanging land. Childbirth does not happen here."

Nereid felt a sick, falling sensation inside, but sighed and tried to smile. "Oh," she said. She was too exhausted to try to think of another reason he might accept.

Tam drew her shirt over her head. "So don't worry about needing a Fromm, my little Janet," he said into her breastbone. "I'll take care of you."

Afterward, she started up, sick and panicked with the thought that she might have been asleep. (She was fairly certain that she had fallen asleep the first time, and didn't want to think about what the Equestrian would say to her about that.) Tam, who might have been asleep, got up at her insistence and led them further into the wood. After that, they stopped... two more times? Three? And each time he had... persuaded her to "dally," as he put it. Nereid gave in because she couldn't think of a good reason not to. He seemed to enjoy it.

But now they had left the wood and were climbing the hills, faded path winding higher and higher. Nereid kept glancing towards the silver plate of the sky, worried about the direction of the sun. Neither of them spoke much. Nereid was exhausted but was afraid to stop to rest.

Each time they crested the top of a hill, she thought, This is it, this is the last one, only to see another blunt, stony hill just beyond. Finally, she sat down on a rock by the side of the path and pulled out the bottle of wine. It had only a single swallow left and she drank it, staring down at her dusty, bruised feet.

"You might have left me some," said Tam, glaring at her with surprising ferocity.

Nereid thought of all the lovely clear pools in Sherwood. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Try not to be so selfish next time," said Tam.

Nereid put the bottle carefully on the ground next to the rock and looked up at the sky, blinking back tears.

"Don't be like that," coaxed Tam after a moment, reaching for her. "Come and be the light of my eyes again. I know you're not ungrateful."

Nereid hauled herself upright and started up the next slope. She could barely think as she stumbled along, her feet aching from all the small sharp stones. But finally when she looked up, there was no hill beyond. They stood on the rounded crest of all the hills.

Beyond the hills, the landscape was odd and vague. Nereid thought she saw cities, and mountains so steep they looked like a sideways landscape, and rivers and fields and forests and weirder things, like floating castles and rivers that fell into the sky.

"Which way?" she asked hopelessly, feeling more lost than ever.

Tam pointed in a direction that looked no different to her from any of the other directions. "I think that is the quickest way out."

Nereid blinked at him. "Out? Tam, I'm not leaving without Sophie. I have to find my friends."

"And how I feel doesn't matter?" he said, anger bleeding over into his tone. "I've been trapped here so long! Can't your friends find her?"

Nereid squared her jaw and gritted her teeth. "I started this. It's my responsibility. And a little longer won't hurt you."

His lip curled. "I thought I meant more to you than that."

Just then, the sun broke through the cloud cover, setting in a sea of gold and purple in the west, complete with what looked like an actual three-masted ship sailing among the clouds. Nereid pointed along the sunbeam which seemed to be cutting a path directly to her feet. She bit her lip and tried not to let her voice wobble with tears as she said, "That way."

There was a path down on that side of the hill. As her luck would have it, it was even steeper and more covered in treacherous small stones than the path up.


From ye olde Author:
You get two episodes this week because I didn't actually post an episode last week, just the interlude!

Last day for the comment incentive in June: if I get 50 total comments from readers in June, I will post twice weekly through July. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through August too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through September.

Date: 2011-07-01 10:57 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore

Date: 2011-07-03 05:53 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Poor ol' Nereid. Just one thing after another.

Date: 2012-01-28 08:18 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Murdering Tamlin seems like a better and better idea every day.


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