Author's Note: This story is set in the middle of season 4 of Doctor Who, and necessarily precludes the existence of "Journey's End"and related episodes. It is also a rather strange crossover with the graphic novel Fables. If you are a Fables fan, you should know that the majority of this fiction takes place during the story arc of "March of the Wooden Soldiers," although an obvious nod of acknowledgement must be given to 1,001 Nights of Snowfall, as well. If you are not a Fables aficionado, whatever are you waiting for? But in all seriousness, you need only know three things about the comic in order to understand the gist of this story: (1) the characters of fairy tale and myth exist and (2) quite a number of them live in New York City because (3) they were forced to flee their original Homelands by the evil Adversary. I hope you enjoy.
Musical Accompaniment- "Your Wildest Dreams"- The Moody Blues; "End of the Innocence"- Don Henley
Wherever is love and loyalty, great purposes and lofty souls, even though in a hovel or a mine, there is fairyland. ~ Charles Kingsley
She clearly does not belong.
Not in the elegant flowing silks that hang in demure, yet curiously captivating, curves about her body. Not in the climate which has caused her pert, ivory-skinned nose to redden and peel and her forehead to bead with sweat. Not in the attitude of deference and respect which she is obviously trying to adopt towards him. The outer lands have strange notions about women, about their place in the universe. Some go so far as to effect equality, but that is right foolishness. And she is clearly the fruit of such foolishness. Such things only serve to make a woman forget that she is intended to be an object of beauty and grace for the world to gaze upon with wonder; yes even so lovely a flower as this one may forget.
The veil is meant to hide her hair, but several golden strands escape their confinement as she makes her ungainly obeisance. Gold like wheat in the sun. Gold like the desert horizon after a sandstorm. So rare, this fairness of skin and hair, in this realm of dusky complexions and midnight dark tresses trending to blue in their purity.
She makes a halting attempt at a proper address, stumbling through the phrases as though they were knee deep sand banks. Her Arabic is atrocious, but her accent is lovely and exotic and clips the ends of her words off in a pleasant burr reminiscent of the voice his harem women adopt when they are trying to gain his attentions.
Of course, she is not meant for the harem.
No, she is too foreign. Too foreign by far, and he would be a fool ten times over to introduce that sort of influence into his ladies' quarters. These pale and fragile features, this lovely gilded carpet of hair, these hide an unseen danger beneath them. And though he yearns, wishes even now to take her, before the meal has been properly set, he knows that he will only have this chance once; only one night of this particular pleasure. And so, he composes himself and looks forward to drawing it out as long as he can.
She has not moved since she lowered herself before him, and he bids her rise. She glances up at him, her knees and palms still pressed to the rich embroidered carpet beneath her, a look of combined fear and confusion crossing her face. Realizing she does not understand, he addresses her in English.
"The inhabitants of the other lands, they often speak this language. You know it, yes?" She nods, clearly unsure if he desires a verbal response, and if so whether in English or Arabic. "Sit up, golden one," he says, "For a man does not stand on ceremony with his intended."
She raises herself from the floor and sits back on her heels. She composes her white hands against the blue cloth flowing over her knees, and regards him with what looks like great interest. He claps, and a phalanx of servants enter carrying a low table, several sitting cushions, cleaning implements, and bowl upon heaping bowl of various sweets and savories. They arrange all between himself and the girl, as he turns to the slave with the bowl and ewer and allows his hands to be salved and dried. She watches him all the while and when the slave kneels beside her, does as he has done. Not just a pretty face, this one. She pays attention. That is good.
After the meal is tabled, the attendants leave them in comparative privacy; although twenty will come running at his word or gesture. She waits for him to take his food first, as is proper, and after he has lifted the first of the sweetmeats to his lips, reaches a tentative hand over the table to take some for herself. For a while they eat like this. Hand to mouth, silent. His eyes never cease to range with open desire over her body. Her eyes, just as dark, but with calculation, observe the path of his own. Abruptly he stops, a delicate concoction of rice and grape leaves paused hovering above the bowl from which it has been removed.
"You know why you are here?" he asks.
"I am…to serve you…my…my Lord." Her voice is tentative, but not with fear. She does not like the idea of serving a man, even one so great as he. He smiles. Spirit such as this is lovely in the young. A flame so bright it hurts the eyes, so quick to burn to ashes.
"You are to be my wife," he says, popping the confection into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully for a moment before going on. "What think you of that."
"My…Lord…has many wives."
He laughs. "I have many mistresses, yes, only one wife." That brings a shadow of confusion to her features. He wonders what her eunuch jailers have told her. What the other women who wait their turn among the cushioned apartments set aside for their use have told her. Wonders what she has understood with her poor grasp of his language. He wonders, and desire burns anew between his loins. Patience, he admonishes himself, a dish so rare as this must be savored but slowly.
"I…I do not understand." No, you would not, he thinks, not unkindly. She is a stranger to his country, and his ways are counted strange even among his countrymen.
"Tonight," he explains, "You will be my wife. You will entertain me as such. Tomorrow, you will be no longer, it is as simple as that." She seems to grasp that, and her cheeks grow impossibly paler. She sets her hand against her leg, a bit of food still trapped between her fingers. He thinks to call her attention to it, it would be a shame to damage such a lovely dress as she is wearing, but she holds it carefully and not a drop of sauce drips onto her skirts.
"Then…" she swallows heavily, evidently steeling herself, "Then I am here for my Lord to take his pleasures with me."
He laughs again at her. He cannot help it, her innocence and confusion is endearing. How little they must teach the women of the other worlds of how to behave. As if such things should be discussed before the meal is finished, before dessert is even properly served. "Yes, my pale dove," he says, smiling kindly. "But there are many pleasures to be enjoyed in this world. Among them food and drink. See here," he waves at the table set before them, "The best my kitchens can prepare. A wedding feast for two. And tea to drink unless," and here he cannot help but wrinkle his nose in distaste, "You would prefer wine. It is against the teachings, but for foreign visitors, we may make an exception."
She shakes her head ponderously, as if in deep thought. "So…after dinner…"
"After," he cuts her off, and there is a new tone to his voice. A promise and a threat all in one. "But for now eat. Drink. And enjoy what pleasures we may find in the here and now." She does not stir for some time, then slowly, as if moving through a thick paste, she raises the near forgotten piece of food to her mouth. He smiles at her encouragingly and proceeds with his own dinner.
For a time there is silence in the great chamber, the only sound the great sweep of the palm fans as the slave boys make a futile attempt to waft cooler air about the room. When he has taken his fill of one dish, but is still half-heartedly picking at what remains, he turns the balance of his consideration upon her.
"Do you sing?" he asks hopefully.
"I…I can," she says, and he doubts anyone who stutters as much as she (and in her own language too!) could ever be expected to carry a tune.
"Dance? Play any instruments of note?" She shakes her head. "My dear river lily, you have not much to recommend you then." He sees her eyes widen in fear, and she is right to be concerned. If she can offer no other entertainment….well, he may be forced to move on to more carnal enjoyments earlier than he would like. "Is there anything you can do?"
She has to think about that for a moment. "I can talk."
He snorts. What good is a woman's talk? Baubles and perfumes and palace intrigues. He has no need for such things, nor any interest.
"I…" and here she seems to loose her nerve. He thinks that she will crumple, then, that she will fall back into silence, or perhaps sobs, but she surprises him. Finding strength from he knows not where, she continues, "May I tell you a story, my…my Lord."
"A story?" he asks, intrigued. "What kind of story?"
"A true one." She is meeting his eyes now. She knows better than to threaten a challenge to one such as him, but he gets the distinct impression she has no intention of backing down on her request.
"Are not all the stories true? The old ones, at least, and the great ones?"
That throws her off, and she glances down to where her hands are folded in her lap. "My Lord is right…or so I'm beginning to believe, anyway." There is a certain wryness to her tone, a dry amusement that intrigues him.
"What makes your story more true than others, little dove, more worthy of the telling?"
When she glances up at him her eyes are dark, and this time he almost feels the challenge in them. Spirit, yes, and beauty.
"Because it happened to me, my Lord. It is my story."
This time his laughter rings through the high arched ceilings of the antechamber. "Now that I would like to hear, little dove, the story of how you came to my lands. The guards say you appeared from nowhere like a djinn. They say you glow with the light of the sun at noon, that you can call the winds and command the storm. I wonder how they imagine one so precious and small as yourself capable of such destructive force; but no matter, the night is young and our meal is far from finished. Pray tell me your tale and we will indulge in its pleasures for a while."
She looks to him to see if he is being honest in his encouragement, and when he waves to her indicating that she should go on, takes a deep, steadying breath, and speaks.
"I must start at the beginning." He refrains from making some comment that it was certainly preferable to her starting at the end; but then he recalls that many of his visitors from Ionia told stories that began in the middle, then slipped back to the beginning before winding their way to the finale. Perhaps this is how she is used to telling tales and she is making an attempt to adjust to his own culture. He holds his admonishment in check, and she begins.
"Once there was a young girl who lived a very ordinary life. She lived in a very poor home, with many other poor people living close by. Her father had died, you see, when she was just a baby and her mother had raised her all alone. They could barely afford to live even as they did. So, the young girl thought that if she took a job in the town she might be able to make enough money that they could move out of their poor home to someplace nicer, and maybe things would be better." She squares her shoulders, relaxing into the rhythm of her tale. "Then one day, while she was at work, the girl was attacked by a mob of mannequins."
"A what?" he brakes in. "I am sorry, my dove, but I do not know that word."
Her brow creases in thought. ""S…it's like a statue, yeah? Only this one could move and there were…oh, I dunno…a whole bunch of them. Twenty at least." He tries to picture what she is describing. He has heard of the like before. There are neighboring tribes, ones who share the same god, but with different beliefs, who have stories of such creatures. Golem, they are called. They are supposed to be horrible.
"Anyway, all these…these walkin' statues started attacking the girl. She thought that she was dead for sure, but then…" she trails off, a dreamy look crossing her face. "Then she felt someone take her hand. It was this man…this strange man with bright blue eyes and ears that looked two sizes too large for his face. And he took her hand and he said one thing to her. 'Run,' he said, and she ran."
The last is said with a fervor that appears to bring warmth into her heart. It is hard to understand her, sometimes; he is not all that conversant in her language and her accent appears to get heavier as she delves deeper into her memories, but he is already entranced. The young girl, of course, must be her, if this is her story. But who is the mysterious man, the one who took her hand. There is such a taboo against that sort of interaction in his country, he wonders if it is the same where she is from. Certainly, the memory of the man taking her hand has caused her cheeks to darken in color and her breathing to hitch. Fascinated, he leans forward and places his entire attention upon her.
"They ran together," she continues, "And the moving statues came chasing after them. And the man, he set the building on fire and it destroyed the statues, and the two of them barely escaped with their lives." Her look turns subdued, then. "The girl thanked him for saving her and asked him who he was, but the man wouldn't tell her. He said that he was dangerous and she was better off not knowing him; that she should stay far, far away." She looks up, her eyes upon him, but he can tell she is not seeing anything before her in the room. She is seeing this man, the man from the story. "He told her that he could feel the turn of the earth, and when he touched her hand she felt it too."
"It terrified her," she whispers.
"Was he a djinn?"
She blinks at him with surprise, as if only then remembering she is not alone in the room. "A…you mean, like, a genie?" He wrinkles his nose at the bastardization, but nods. He has heard the term used before by those from lands afar. "No," she says, and bites at her lower lip in concentration. "No he wasn't a…a genie. Or…well…maybe he was. 'Cause genies live in little spaces, like lamps and stuff, right, that are bigger on the inside? And they fly and grant wishes and-"
"The djinni," he says, instructing her, "Are gods of old. They are great and terrible. But, they are not like the One God, for they walk among men. They are temperamental and inconstant and imperfect." Her eyes are wide with amazement and he again feels his desire throb through him at the thought of her naiveté. Here, he must teach her the things even the youngest girls of his kingdom grow up knowing. "They burn with the smokeless fires of the desert. It is bad luck to find a djinn, for as wonderful and powerful as they may be, they carry death with them everywhere."
His explanation sobers her, and she nods solemnly. "Yes, then," she says, "I guess he was a…a djinn." And he knows that this will be a sad tale in the end, because stories of the djinni never end well for those who find them. Not unless the finder can trick the djinn into doing its bidding, and bind the demigod to their will. But then, what woman could ever do that?
"He was a djinn, and he disappeared. But the girl…she didn't know…she thought he was just a man…a man who saved her like some white knight out of a fairy tale. She couldn't just forget about him. She went looking for him. And when she found him, she found the living statues as well."
"The Golem?" he asks, clarifying.
"Yeah," she shrugs, "I guess. The Golem weren't all dead. See, the djinn had destroyed a whole bunch of them with his fire, but he hadn't destroyed their source. The one who was controlling them."
She looks at him, as if seeking his approval for something. "I see," he says, feeling the need to prompt her, "Go on."
She does. Her story is certainly strange. More than once he requires that she pause in it and try to explain some word he does not know or couch some concept in terms that he can understand. The courses come and go, a seemingly endless procession of servants in an out, but neither she nor he pay them any heed, too bound up in the recounting to spare a thought to anything else. By the end, he is completely enraptured in the story of the blue eyed djinn and the golden haired girl. When she gets to the part where the djinn asks the girl to travel with him, he wants to shout to her not to do it. One should never go with a djinn inside of his domain, or else one would certainly never return. But at the same time, he finds himself saddened when she tells the djinn no and decides to stay with her poor mother and her hapless suitor.
Then, when the djinn appears again and repeats his request, he actually laughs aloud; approving of the girl's final choice. Of course, he thinks, a djinn is dangerous. Too dangerous to ever trust, but really, who ignores a chance to live in one of the great stories. No, there is only one choice to that. You may be in a djinn's story, and therefore the end is sure to be bad, but at least you are in the tale. You will live for as long as it is told, and that is far longer than any normal man or woman lives. He applauds the decision and her story. It had been well told.
"My dove," he says, "That truly was a tale worth hearing." She smiles, and he can tell she is truly pleased by his reaction. It is a perfectly lovely smile she has. The best feature in a face full of exotic planes and angles which, if not ascribing to his country's more traditional standards of beauty, are still undeniably exquisite. "However, I cannot help but notice, you have failed to tell the story of how you came to my lands."
She shakes her head at him, but continues to smile. "My Lord, I said this was my story. But as you know, one story often leads to the next, and then the next, and on until the end. I have come to these lands only recently and at the end of my various journeys."
"You have other such stories then? Other true adventures?"
Her smile is gigantic. Enigmatic. Breathtaking.
"My Lord, I have a thousand such tales."
He shakes his head at her, half in disbelief and half in disappointment. "Then why did you not tell the tale of your most recent voyage to this place? Is it not what I asked for?"
"My Lord, I said I had to start at the beginning. My coming here began with the story I told. Were it not for that story, for the appearance of the djinn and his magic box, I would never have come here to serve my Lord's pleasures."
He looks at her, then, with new appreciation. To think she has gone through so much, this beautiful flower; it is hard to fathom. That there can be more to her story is even more difficult to believe. She seems so fragile a bloom, he feels the strange desire to place her in a pot on a shaded verandah where she would be safe and lovingly tended all her days. But her smile, her smile is not weak or drooping. Her eyes are like polished mahogany, dark and strong. Her hair, that beautiful golden cloud peaking out from behind her veil, glows in the light streaming in through the curtains.
"It seems," he says in a surprised drawl, "That you have talked the night away. Look there, the morning sun peaks through the casement." She follows his gaze, and though he would not have believed it possible, her face lights up even more at the prospect of feeling the sunlight dance across it once again. After a moment, she turns back to him, her face composed and serious, remembering.
"My…my Lord did not take his pleasures."
He cannot tell if she is embarrassed or relieved or frightened. A little of all of them, he decides, and reaches a hand out towards her face. She flinches just slightly at his caress, his warm dry palm pressing against the smooth apple of her cheek. It is the first time they have touched in the long night. "There are many pleasures," he murmurs. "And time enough to explore them all."
He drops his hand. She remains frozen before him, trembling. "You will come again tomorrow evening and take dinner with me." She says not a word, merely nods in assent. That is fine, it is not a question anyway, and does not require response. He stands, and she waits on her knees. He glances again at her lovely features, so much brighter and healthier looking in the beams of early morning, before turning away and striding purposefully towards his bedchamber. Stopping halfway, he turns his head over his shoulder and says, "Perhaps then you may finish your tale."