One a' Them Mettyfors
"Come to the wedding!" sang the little birds in the branches overhead. "Everyone
must come to the wedding!"
The Equestrian leaned forward and slapped Maelstrom's ears. "'I know these woods,' you said," she said. "'Just some bimorphs. No trouble at all,' you said. Bollocks
Maelstrom laid his ears flat against his head. "It is
a shortcut," he said sulkily.
Nereid looked up at the Equestrian and thought, not for the first time, how strange it was to see an expression that old on a face that young. "What's wrong? It sounds kind of nice."
"Weddings," the Equestrian said in the tone of voice people generally reserved for discussing gangrene.
Wire reached out and broke a delicate icicle off a tree branch. "Weird season for a wedding."
The woods glittered and gleamed with ice and frost and tiny sparks of snow that occasionally blew off upper tree branches like powdered sugar. The evergreens were coated with snow in the lumps generally only seen on Christmas cards. A perfect one-inch layer of snow muffled their footsteps as they made their way deeper into the woods.
"Now we have to attend," the Equestrian said, venting her ire on Maelstrom's ears again.
"We can't just give our regrets and, er, best wishes or something?" Nereid said.
"That would be rude
," Wire said, possibly to demonstrate that she'd learned something
from the Equestrian's frequent lectures on the necessity of politeness in this land.
"Exactly," the Equestrian said. "Let's go
. The sooner we're there, the sooner it's over."
Maelstrom heaved a sigh. "They love having human guests." His ears perked up and his tone brightened. "But they should have some decent booze. And dancing. You haven't let me go dancing
"That's because you have four left feet," said the Equestrian. "I'm just acting for the public good."
"So, um, is there anything we should know about, you know, what to do?" Nereid said.
"Don't eat or
here," the Equestrian said. "Even if it means being rude. Because, frankly, I don't want to have to explain to your parents why I'm bringing them a ferret instead of a daughter."
"Oh," Nereid said.
The clearing was vast, and the ground was coated with snow that was hardened so that it felt like marble underfoot. Stark white birch trees stretched high overhead, coated in the remains of an ice storm, and the branches contained a peculiarly melodious chorus of birds. Down on the floor, there were long tables covered with frothy white tablecloths. The tables nearly groaned under the weight of hundreds of steaming silver platters and bowls of food. A throng of people filled the clearing, most of them appearing to be animals in human clothing, but everyone seemed to flow easily from animal to human and back again.
When Maelstrom strolled in with the Equestrian on his back and Wire and Nereid walking to either side, the crowd turned, exclaimed joyously, and closed around them. Nereid found herself pressed back against Maelstrom's shoulder by the earnest greetings of a pack of wolves in Victorian tailcoats and top hats. "Thank you," she said again and again in response to their enthusiastic compliments about her hair, her figure, her costume, her presence, her smile -- anything, in short, that they could find to compliment about her, even things they could have no knowledge of, like her kindness or grace. At least she could hear that Wire was having a similar experience on the other side of the horse. The Equestrian, however, was a silent monolith on the horse's back, glowering at everyone equally.
The wolves fell away as a large puma-woman with acres of cleavage in several square miles of heavily-corseted green satin dress advanced on the humans. A handsome young man with large, dark, sensitive eyes trailed behind her, his sculpted chest and shoulders clearly visible through his thin silk shirt. "Welcome!" she purred. "We're terribly flattered that you could attend our little... event." Nereid could swear she winked at Maelstrom, and glimpsed consternation on the face of the young man. "Why don't you come have a seat? Perhaps something to drink...?"
"Thank you, lady," the Equestrian said, "but we cannot, as you know, partake of hospitality of that sort. Though we're very glad to be able to see such a spectacular event."
"Ah, yes," the woman said, taking her young man's arm. "But surely your steed can."
The Equestrian sighed and slid off Maelstrom's back. Nereid staggered a bit as the object she was leaning against changed from solid horse to tall, slender man. He caught her, almost as an afterthought, and smiled down at the puma. "Of course I can, and I will, by your leave, lady."
The puma nodded graciously. "I hope you all will enjoy yourselves as best you can," she said before moving off with her escort. As Nereid eyed his well-built back, she noticed the large rack of antlers that crowned his head briefly.
"So who's getting married?" Wire said, looking around.
Maelstrom bowed to the Equestrian and moved off, making a beeline toward a table full of bottles that was being managed by a raven-boy. One of the wolves passed close by, paying outrageous compliments to a small, plump hen-woman on his arm.
The Equestrian ran a practiced gaze over the crowd, then pointed toward an archway of black thorny branches on which ice-carved roses bloomed. "I'd say that's her."
A slim young woman, skin pale as the snow, stood demurely under the arch. She was crowned with a sparkling tiara and wore what appeared to be a white tutu with a long, long train no actual ballerina could manage. Her bridal veil was adorned with feathers, and divided in two just below the nape of her neck, trailing behind her like wings.
"Why does she look so... human?" Nereid asked.
"She's a swan princess," the Equestrian said. "That's her thing."
Wire looked confused. "Looking human?"
"Yes," the Equestrian said. "And, if I'm not mistaken, she's got two potential husbands. That argument there." She pointed to a pair of young men who were clearly "having words" not too far from the bride-to-be.
"Wait," Wire said. "They don't know who's marrying her yet? But they've got the wedding set up?"
Nereid's attention was arrested by an enormous white construction nearby. "With a cake and everything," she breathed, admiring the seven-tiered edifice that stood alone on a round table, a wreath of ice-coated ivy around its base. It was decorated with sugar frosting delicate as chantilly lace, with swags of pale pastel fruit and marzipan on each tier. Fine sugar chains depended from the upper tiers, each adorned with a tiny confection of a golden ring. The cake was topped with a cage filigreed of spun sugar and holding a live turtledove, who preened and cooed, apparently enjoying being on display.
Wire turned to look and said, "How do they keep the bird from shitting on the cake?"
Nereid glowered and said, "This is like a fairy tale. Shit doesn't happen."
The Equestrian made a loud, harsh noise that Nereid thought might possibly have been a laugh, but it was hard to tell with her.
They made their way closer to the bridal arch. A small cat in very large cavalier boots and a blue-feathered Musketeer hat stomped past, making a beeline for the same table Maelstrom was inhabiting. He or she ordered an enormous glass of something and downed it immediately, ordering a refill as the glass hit the table. Maelstrom said something to the cat, and the cat rolled its green eyes expressively before slamming down another glassful.
Nereid heard Wire say, "Oh, excuse me," and saw that Wire and a lovely young woman in a figure-hugging black sequined sheath dress and a black feathered wrap had just collided.
"Not a problem," the young woman said huskily. "These affairs are always so crowded."
The Equestrian eyed her suspiciously and said, "Family of the bride?"
"My sister," the woman said, dabbing at her eyes with a black-edged handkerchief.
"Didn't I see you at a wedding not long ago?" the Equestrian said.
"Yes," the black swan princess said. "Oh, yes. My own wedding, no doubt. But as you can see, I am recently bereaved. It was a terrible, surprising event." She smiled brilliantly at Wire and undulated in the direction of Maelstrom.
"I expect the Carp Prince was most surprised of all by his own demise," the Equestrian muttered and turned toward the bride again, where the two suitors were remonstrating.
One was an auburn-haired fox man, sleek in a dark red tail coat, tight breeches, high polished black boots, and a high-necked, neatly-tied cravat a la Beau Brummel. The other was a taller, dark-haired wolf nattily attired in a grey Victorian morning suit, complete with high silk hat. They both leaned close to the bride, speaking low and urgently. She fluttered and blushed and looked to be thoroughly enjoying herself.
Finally, she turned and took the arm of the fox. A thin cheer went up around the clearing, and people began to drift closer to the arch expectantly. Nereid noticed several small knots of people were surreptitiously exchanging what looked like money or small jewels. The wolf stepped back, and seemed to be about to stalk away, when the fox said, "But stay, friend, and be my best man. After all, no hard feelings, what?"
The wolf snapped his jaws at the fox, but remained where he was. The fox smiled and clasped his bride-to-be close to his side. "Come, my dove, we'll have this wedding yet. Bring up the man to do the job!" he called.
There was a general kerfluffle among the attendees, and a squawk sounded from a goose woman that stood near Nereid. A smiling and rotund boar in a long brown robe, holding a brandy glass in one hand ambled from behind the goose and up toward the young couple. The goose huffed and hurried away from his self-satisfied smirk.
"Beerly deloved!" the boar bellowed. "No, wait, that's not quite right."
"It is for us!" a raven girl called from the drinks table, holding aloft a large beer stein.
ly beloved!" the boar corrected himself. "We are gathered here today to see the marriage of the swan princess to her chosen prince! And a lucky bastard he is too, if I may say so." A cheer went up around the clearing, and the bride blushed.
Nereid had trouble keeping her gaze on the couple. Every time she glanced at the cake, she noticed new details, and she kept looking back to it. It was so glittery, so sparkly. Were those tiny interlinked hearts in the frosting swags? Did the turtledove really have a swing in its sugar cage?
Wire elbowed her and whispered, "What's got you so hot about that cake?"
"It's just so pretty," Nereid said, looking again. One tier's piping was made up of little pomegranates, each split open and showing seeds that were tinted the faintest pink. "Do you suppose it tastes as good as it looks?"
"Who the hell cares?" Wire said. "We're not going to get to eat it. We'll just get another of those energy bars the Equestrian keeps feeding us. I'm so fucking hungry I can barely see straight."
"And I've got lemon-flavored bars for the pains in my ass who shut the hell up," the Equestrian said. Wire flushed angrily.
"Where's the ring?" roared the boar-priest. "Who's got it?"
There was a general sort of scrum around the clearing, and the beautiful vixen who was apparently standing as the maid of honor finally rolled her eyes and produced a golden ring from her cleavage. She handed it to the wolf, who sulkily handed it to the fox. The fox thanked him loudly, which made hackles stand up on the wolf's neck. The red-headed vixen inadequately concealed a yawn behind one slender hand.
"Excellent!" the boar said. "Well, don't just stand there, put the ring on her hand!"
The fox bent and took up the swan princess' tiny hand, sliding the ring onto the appropriate finger. He looked up into her eyes and smiled. She smiled back radiantly, then turned to face the audience to receive the applause with triumphantly raised, newly beringed hand.
"I now pronounce you man and wife!" the boar said into the tumult. "You may now kiss the bride."
The fox bent her back over his arm and kissed her. The ravens thumped the table and cheered raucously. A host of small animals, including stoats, ferrets, crows, and raccoons rushed forward to help carry the bride's train.
Nereid noticed that there was a small flock of chickadee women and several shy, twitchy-nosed young men who quietly faded into the woods around the clearing.
The puma who had greeted them reached out and seized the arm of her cervine companion warmly.
The fox swung his bride over his shoulder, despite her squeaked protests, and carried her through the arch, pursued by the train-carriers and wedding party.
The Equestrian grabbed Wire and Nereid's shoulders and dragged them backward. "What?" Wire said, staggering a little.
," the Equestrian said. "Believe me, you don't want a ringside seat at the feast."
Unseen beyond the press of people now, the bride screamed. Nereid's eyes went wide. "What's wrong? Shouldn't we help her?"
The bride screamed again, this time a high, shrill note of terror that ended in a wet ripping sound.
"Oh, my god," Wire said, green in the face.
The wolf best man stood up on a table. His face was covered in blood and he was laughing. "I got the biggest piece! I win after all!" he shouted. Ravens circled and called overhead, croaking encouragement.
The vixen maid of honor emerged from the feast, daintily wiping her mouth with a white floral napkin. She winked at the three humans and said, "You know what they say: always a bridesmaid and never a bride." She moved off to the champagne fountain.
The Equestrian halted near the cake table. "Wait here," she said. "I have to go fetch Maelstrom." And she headed for the drinks table.
Wire still looked sick. "Still wondering if the cake tastes as good as it looks?" she sneered. With a flick of her fingers, ribbons of her trademark molecule-thick "wire" spun out and sliced down through the edge of the lowest tier. "Have a slice!" She yanked on the ribbons to peel the slice open.
An empty icing shell fell away from the rest of the cake. They both stared at the hollow cake in consternation as, slowly, delicately, beautifully, it began to crumble down to its component sugar molecules. Presently, the whole cake had become a pile of sugar with a dead bird on top.
Nereid bit back a sob, knowing that Wire would only make fun of her if she let it out.
The Equestrian and Maelstrom trotted up. "Get on
," the Equestrian said, seizing Wire by the scruff of the neck and hauling her aboard. Nereid clambered up behind, and Maelstrom's enormous frame surged out of the clearing and into the woods, leaving the screams, howls, snarls, and snatches of drunken song behind.
Presently, Wire said, "What the fuck
was that all about?"
Maelstrom shook his mane. "Do you need it spelled out for you?" His voice rumbled through his ribcage and against their legs. "Don't fuck anyone who wants to eat you. Literally or metaphorically."
"They take their metaphors," the Equestrian said, "seriously
---From the Author:
Tip o' the Musketeer hat to my wife, who helped me concoct this bit of dreadful fairy drama.
I'm posting twice weekly during January. If you like this twice-weekly thing, I'm doing it again in January: if January's posts draw 50 comments total, I'll post twice weekly through February too. As before, if you provide a comment bonanza, I'll extend appropriately.
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