Disclaimer: I do not own the miniseries, the fairytale or the movie I'm about to quote (I'll let you figure out which one).
Author's Note: While waiting for Quality Control to get back to me about the last chapter of 'The Courting of Officer Gulch' I thought it was about time to get started on this here story. Thanks to the rain I had to walk through on the way to the farm yesterday I was given the day off, thus I was able to get it done. Since QC decided to be sociable last night at work instead of reading my story (boo!) it did not get passed until this morning. Fortunate that, since I've hit a little speed bump with Courting and am currently deciding whether or not I'm going to stop and address it, so it's nice to have this on hand to distract the readers in the meantime. Or at least that's what I'm going to keep telling myself. Sigh.
DG loved these quiet moments away from the hustle and bustle of royal life. Sitting in the sun, watching Cain perform the most mundane of tasks – today it was chopping wood – was the most soothing activity she had found since her life had taken that exit at weird and wonderful and proceeded to hit the gas. It drove the royal court absolutely nuts that the Tin Man did this. After the Quest for the Emerald, the Battle of the Eclipse and the Restoration, Cain had been knighted for his services to kingdom and crown, now that he had joined the – albeit lowest – ranks of nobility it drove the rest of the lords and ladies right up the wall that one of their – sniff – peers should continue on with his commoner habits. Sir Wyatt Cain should not be hauling water or chopping wood or taking over a smithy for the day just because he felt like it. Such acts were beneath the refined and illustrious standing of the noble personages. Of course, anyone calling the Tin Man Sir Anything outside of the most strictly formal of occasions was likely to be at the receiving end of the axe or the hammer or whatever implement Cain happened to be wielding at the time, so most of the court's strictures had to be uttered from a safe distance and were therefore easily ignored.
The crown princess had no trouble understanding why the Tin Man liked to immerse himself in the honest physical exertions of manual labour. She had once believed herself to be a simple Kansas farm girl, a discontented and eager to escape farm girl, true, but a farm girl nonetheless. DG had seen Cain's old cabin, or what was left of it anyway. He, too, had lived an ordinary, simple existence – well as ordinary as one gets in the O.Z. – before his life decided to go even more berserk on him than hers had on her. Wyatt Cain had never wished to join the pomp and circumstance of a noble's life, and now that it had been thrust upon him, after all the pain and suffering and hardships he'd had to endure during the Sorceress' reign, he found returning to the familiar tasks of his lost life to be relaxing. DG wasn't about to stop him from taking what comfort he could after the rigmarole and aggravations that were his new realities, though she did occasionally wish he'd share the axe, doubtless she'd find taking a few swings to be extremely cathartic.
Deliberating a few moments, DG decided with a sigh that she really couldn't put it off anymore, she really hated to do this, though. "Sooo," she said slowly, testing the waters, "have you decided what you are going to wear?"
Cain grunted, the axe swinging down sharply to split a log with ease. Reaching down, he repositioned one half and swung again.
DG rolled her eyes. "To Grand Duke Linnaeus' masquerade ball next week," she answered his, well, she was going to call it a question.
The Tin Man snorted, stacked the cut firewood and grabbed another log.
"Oh don't be like that," the crown princess chided, again having no trouble understanding his almost comment. Cain was quite adept at the nonverbal communication, something DG suspected he did at times just to piss the other lords off. Nobles were supposed to enunciate. DG had no trouble understanding him, though: Gruntish was the first language of all farm kids dragged too early from bed for one reason or another. She was quite fluent in it herself.
Cain merely shot her a look under his fedora and returned to splitting wood.
"You can't make me go by myself," DG protested, "that's like throwing me to the wolves. You know what it's going to be like; I'm going to be surrounded by all sorts of people who are just looking to get a hold on some royal's ear. All those advisors, courtiers, suitors..."
The Tin Man missed his stroke and instead of splitting the log sent it flying across the yard.
"...none of them care about me; they just see the crown princess and all they think they could get from me. Come on, you've got to come, I need at least one person there I can trust. Raw is off visiting family, Azkadellia is playing the I-Was-An-Evil-Sorceress card to get out of it, and my parents have affairs of state to attend to so I'm stuck acting as the royal envoy."
"What about Glitch?" Cain asked as he retrieved the errant cord of wood.
"Got into an argument last week with Ambrose, they're still at it and its not looking like he's going to be functional anytime soon."
The Tin Man went back to splitting wood. He was stalling now, DG was sure of it. She hated to make him do this – he loathed these noble parties as much as she did – but she was desperate. The last thing she wanted to do was go alone to an unfamiliar noble's house and get mobbed by power hungry ladder climbers.
"If Her Highness is looking for an escort," a voice interrupted before Cain could come to the foregone decision, "I would be more than happy to provide one."
Turning in surprise, DG was all but blinded by the suns' reflection off the teeth of the biggest, whitest smile she'd ever seen. Frankly, it creeped her out a little.
"Lord Canis Lupus Linnaeus at your service," the intruder continued, sweeping a courtly bow, "and as I was saying," he said smarmily reaching forward to grab the crown princess' hand, "I would be more than willing to act as your humble escort to my father's masquerade," he finished, leaning forward with obvious intent to kiss the royal fingers.
DG was slightly awed by how big the young lord's eyes could go as he stared at the axe that had imbedded itself into the tree half an inch from his nose. That, she thought, glancing over to where the Tin Man stood glaring, is rather impressive.
"That will not be necessary," Cain didn't quite growl, "I will be escorting the princess."
"And who might you be, sir?" Lord Linnaeus asked insolently, recovering himself.
"Name's Cain," the Tin Man replied, meeting the lord's eyes steadily.
"Ah, Sir Wyatt Cain," the lord said, making the Tin Man twitch in annoyance, "that explains it. I'll have you know, sir, that if you are going to attend, firearms have been strictly prohibited. We heard about what happened at Lord Kell's ball."
"Man put his hands where they weren't wanted," Cain responded pointedly, crossing his arms.
"And it took the combined efforts of the most skilled Healers and Viewers several hours to reattach his fingers. I think you'll discover in that in the circles you now find yourself we expect one to solve these little situations in a more gentlemanly fashion."
Cain shrugged, DG almost giggled at his complete lack of concern.
"So I would so suggest leaving your gun at home," Lord Linnaeus continued, "or else I'm very much afraid the servants will have to confiscate it. Furthermore," his voice rose slightly in pitch as the Tin Man suddenly strode purposely forward, "have a care where you toss your...farming implements. What if you'd missed?"
"I did," Cain stated flatly, yanking the axe out of the tree with one hand.
DG gave into her laughter as the snooty lord decided to take discretion's course over valour and fled forthwith. "Y-you know C-cain," she managed around her mirth, "you d-don't really h-have to c-come if you r-really don't w-want to."
"Princess," the Tin Man replied grimly, contemplating the axe, "you couldn't keep me away."
A week later the crown princess entered the ducal mansion of Grand Duke Linnaeus in a spirit of high amusement. She'd been having a difficult time containing her merriment ever since Cain had met her at the bottom of the Grand Staircase before they set out for the ball. It was absolutely hilarious how they'd managed, without any intention of doing so, to wear matching costumes for the evening's masque. Not that anyone in the O.Z. besides of Ahamo would be able to appreciate this. DG, inspired by recent events, had decided to come dressed as one her favourite fairytale characters and Cain looked, well quite frankly, he looked like a lumberjack. The slipper princess wasn't entirely sure if the O.Z. had lumberjacks per say but she did know that she was having a whole new respect for plaid, leastwise when it was encasing a certain Tin Man's shoulders in a decidedly manly fashion. Cain, no doubt, had selected the costume only because it gave him an excuse to bring his axe to the ball.
"Princess," the smarmy voice of young Lord Linnaeus interrupted her thoughts. DG grimaced slightly, she hated it when anyone but Cain called her princess, she'd rather be Your Highnessed, as nauseating as that was. "May I extend my humble thanks and greetings to Your Highness for condescending to attend our paltry gathering?"
DG had a moment to lift an eyebrow at the wealth and splendour extravagantly displayed about the enormous ballroom containing the 'paltry' gathering before she turned sufficiently to catch sight of the lord's outfit. Both her eyebrows shot up in utter surprise.
"Impressive isn't?" Linnaeus gloated, obviously mistaking the crown princess' bemusement for awe, "And may I saw that your costume is entirely bewitching?"
DG twitched self-consciously at the edge of her red cloak and shifted her basket to interpose it between herself and their host. His smile disturbed her as much now as it had the first day they'd met, she was so glad Cain had insisted on coming.
"Now if you'll pray excuse me," the lord continued unheedingly, "I must greet the other guests. Perhaps I may hope later to be honoured with a dance?" he suggested as he moved off.
"Perhaps he might want to give his grandmother back her nightgown," the Tin Man muttered in her ear. DG choked back a giggle.
"These," exclaimed the Lord Linnaeus, turning suddenly back to face them, "are the traditional ducal robes of my noble house," he stated haughtily, "though, of course, I wouldn't expect someone of your...descent to know that." The affronted noble spun on his heel and strode angrily away.
"My, grandma," DG murmured, "what big ears you have." Cain, the princess noted, was once again examining his axe contemplatively. "Come on Tin Man," she said, "let's dance."
Cain looked at her in alarm.
"It's that or mingle," the princess pointed out.
The Tin Man took the lesser evil and they were soon moving awkwardly about the dance floor. Since Cain refused to relinquish the axe and DG was unwilling to leave her basket unattended, they presented something of a hazard to the other couples, who soon learned to give the princess and her Tin Man a wide berth. This actually suited both of their temperaments quite well.
"This is wonderful, you should bring an axe to all the royal parties," DG commented, enjoying the lack of unwanted crowding. "I'm just kidding," she added hastily as Cain seemed to seriously contemplate the idea.
The Tin Man snorted in amusement, but he still shot the axe a considering glance. The crown princess rolled her eyes.
"Her Royal Highness, Lords and Ladies, Gentlemen and Honoured Guests," a herald's voice suddenly rang out into the ballroom, "His Grace the Grand Duke of Linnaeus wishes to welcome you all to his first ball of the season and would further like to thank you for your kind attendance. As a token of his continuing fealty to the House of Gayle, his Grace would like to present Her Royal Highness, the Crown Princess DG, with an offering of his loyalty and begs that she will step forward now to receive his gift."
Out on the dance floor the crown princess and Tin Man froze in surprise, no one had mentioned anything about a gift. Cain eyed distance between them and the top of the grand stairway where the Duke and his family stood dubiously, the axe swinging loosely in his hand.
"Oh come on Tin Man," DG said playfully, "there are hundreds of people here, what on earth can he do to me in front of all these witnesses?"
Cain grumbled noncommittally but he let her go. The duke, the princess discovered as she reached the top of the stairs, was the complete opposite of his son. Whereas Lord Linnaeus still creeped her out from where he sat with a bunch of his cronies, or at least that's what she assumed they were from the way they'd all appeared to have raided their grandmothers' wardrobes, Grand Duke Linnaeus was a portly, friendly looking fellow who looked like he'd enjoy nothing more than to give out presents. She wondered if he was friends with Santa Claus.
"Thank you very much for honouring us with your presence, Your Highness," his Grace began in a jovially polite tone, "When I was informed that you had been so kind as to accept our invitation I knew I had just the thing..."
He got no further. In sudden flurry of movement, the duke's son and his cronies leapt forward to grab the crown princess, drawing rapiers their robes had effectively hidden as they went. Basket hanging akimbo, DG's hood was roughly pulled over her eyes and she was dragged backwards through the doors at the top of the stairs.
"Canis Lupus Linnaeus!" she heard his father bellow in shock, "what is the meaning of this...this outrage?"
"Progress Father," was the unctuous reply, "I have a different sort of gift in mind for the princess, now if you'll excuse me," Lord Linnaeus said, slamming the door closed and locking it. "Now Princess," he continued, turning towards the struggling DG, "I'm afraid we are going to have to truss you up a little, we have a long way to go and some business to discuss and I can't have you causing me difficulties."
"Don't count on it, Canis," the princess bit out, catching one of her captors in the gut with a sharp elbow.
The young lord's hand shot out a struck her solidly across the face. "Oh, think you'll find," he began menacingly, "that..."
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
"What the witch?" one of the conspirators shrieked.
"Move!" Linnaeus commanded and they dragged the princess away once more before she had the chance to recover.
Three ineffectively locked doors and far too many winding hallways later the kidnappers were decidedly winded and definitely losing faith in their leader's grand plan...whatever that was.
"We're trapped!" one of them gasped out, "There's nowhere else to run, he's coming and we're doomed!"
"Idiot," panted another, "we've got swords don't we?"
"You think that will help," the first shrieked, "Did you see him? He has an axe, who the hell brings an axe to a ball?"
"Sir Wyatt Freaking Cain, that's who," Linnaeus bit out, scrabbling against the wall, "why do you think I made sure he couldn't bring a gun to the ball, didn't want him armed..."
"He sure looks armed to me!"
"...Now where is that latch, I know there is a secret passage in here somewhere."
"Give it up, Canis," DG recommended sanguinely, "you're not going to escape."
"Don't call me Canis!" the young lord howled as the sounds of an axe against wood resumed, indicating that the Tin Man had caught up once more.
"Hurry!" a third accomplice screeched.
Thunk. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunkthunkthunk. Crack!
"Heeeere's Johnny!" DG yelled gleefully, catching sight of Cain through the splintering door.
"Got it!" Lord Linnaeus crowed, "Everyone run!"
"What about the princess?"
"Never mind the princess! Run, you fools, run!"
All but one obeyed him with alacrity. The exception, a brave or foolish soul as events would shortly decide, turned and drew his sword as the Tin Man burst through the shattered remains of the door. It was an elegant sword, a sleek and stylish rapier, likely very expensive and apparently very fragile when crossed with an axe. The young fellow's eyes bugged comically when Cain's well placed and powerful swing promptly snapped the blade in half. Right hand full, the Tin Man followed up with a crushing left hook, thereby removing one lordling from the equation.
"Hi Cain!" DG greeted him cheerfully, "Fancy meeting you here. You know, as much as I'm enjoying the evening, the whole axe thing is beginning to get a bit disturbing."
The Tin Man raised an eyebrow.
"Oh here, fine," the princess grumbled good-naturedly, reaching into her basket and pulling out his revolver, "You know, you are incredibly paranoid."
The other eyebrow rose.
"Yeah, yeah, justifiably so," she muttered as she retrieved his fedora and duster as well, "One of these days, though, it's just going to be a regular ball. No handsy suitors, no abductions..."
"The name's Wyatt," he interrupted, shrugging into the jacket.
"Eh?" DG stuttered in surprise.
"You called me Johnny, my name's Wyatt."
DG rolled her eyes, "That was..."
"Did one of them hit you?" Cain snarled as he caught sight of her face from a different angle. The revolver flashed upwards, the roaring sound of gunfire shattering the air. From somewhere down the dark passageway there came a yelp of pain. "Here, take this," the Tin Man rumbled as he turned to chase down the fleeing lords once more. Someone needed to teach them a lesson in gentlemanly behaviour.
"Oh excellent," the crown princess cheered, grabbing the axe, "Heeeeere's Wyatt," she called, hurrying after him.
Sitting in the carriage on the way back to the palace later that evening, DG found herself to be in even higher spirits than when she arrived. It had been exceedingly difficult to keep Cain from pummelling Lord Linnaeus into mince meat, but in the end even he had decided holding back was worth it. Turned out that His Grace the Grand Duke Canis Familiaris Linnaeus was even more furious with his son than the Tin Man. In fact, he'd asked to borrow the axe. They'd eventually managed to convince the duke that infanticide was not a viable option, but it was fairly certain that the shot and beaten Lord Canis Lupus Linnaeus and friends would be having a rather miserable time of it until the authorities came to collect them. Cain was going to tell the tin men to take their time.
"I must say," DG told the Tin Man giddily, "I think the duke was rather taken with you. I wouldn't be surprised if when he disinherits his son he names you as his heir instead."
Cain snorted, "The man is hardly ten years my senior and I have attained more than enough nobility already."
"Oh come on Cain," the crown princess wheedled, "just think about it, if you were a duke you, too, could wear those snazzy traditional dress robes."
The Tin Man groaned, "You're not going to be happy until I'm Consort of the Realm, are you, Princess." DG stopped breathing in shock, Cain's eyes widened suddenly in realization of what he'd just said. "I mean..." he continued hastily.
"Oh no you don't," DG cut him off, leaning forward and grinning wolfishly, "That, my friend, is what we on the Otherside call a Freudian slip. I really think we ought to explore where that comment came from, it sounded wonderful to me."
"Look Kid," Cain deflected desperately.
"Tut tut," the princess interrupted, "Now," she mused, tugging thoughtfully on her cloak, "the original story never said that Little Red Riding Hood and the Woodsman got together, which makes sense since in the fairytale she's a little girl."
"You're a little girl..."
"Young woman," DG growled, "I'll even take little woman, but I am not a little girl."
"Little woman," the Tin Man drawled in nervous agreement as the princess advanced on him. DG really liked the sound of that.
"I am also a princess who is often rescued by a certain knight, and all the stories agree on what happens next in that case, even in the O.Z."
"Ah," Cain attempted but his mental functions came crashing to a halt as said princess settled herself in his lap and wrapped her arms about his neck.
DG's grin widened. He was stalling now, she was sure of it. Staring into his eyes as his thoughts slowly started turning over again she waited for the inevitable decision, it really was a foregone conclusion after all.