Disclaimer: I don't own it. Credit and such goes to The Brothers Grimm, Jim Henson and Company, and that other thing...what's in name...oh yeah, WB.
A few quick nods; SakuBoss keep on rocking. Anzu Fan my fellow Grimm lover, my Muses who continue to keep me in line.
And Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and every other seasons well wishing to all.
Now that we got that said, I hope you all enjoy the story.
Feel free to drop a review or PM.
Sitting in his large, plush chair by the fireplace, penning away at yet another tale of whimsical fantasy, WilyKat's highly attuned ears picked up the near inaudible sounds of diminutive feet trying their best to silently move across the floor and the slight rustle of clothing. With a sniff of the air, he immediately caught two distinct and well recognized scents – his favorite duo, the royal heirs.
Or as he liked to call them: "Mischief" and "Trouble."
WilyKat, far more experienced than the two children he loved so dearly, waited until the twin pairs of footfalls were nearly upon him before springing up and out of his chair with an exaggerated cry of "Boogie-boogie-boogie-boogie" to snatch up both of the barely-to-his-knee cubs in a warm hug.
"Thought you could get me this time did you?" He questioned over their giggles and squeals of delight before peppering their cherubic faces with kisses.
"Uncle WilyKat, how come we can't never ever scare you?" "Are you like our mommy an daddy an afraid of nuffin?" asked his favorite troublemakers in between fits of laughter.
That got quite a rise out of the teenage Thundercat, as he set the two ThunderCubs down and settled back into his chair. "You just don't know what scares me. Same with your mommy and daddy, there are things that scare them, they just don't show it."
"Mommy and daddy get scared?" the twins questioned in disbelief.
"We all do."WilyKat nodded. "All of us are frightened of something. Bats, blood, buttons, snakes, slugs, shadows, cobwebs, mice, heights, caterpillars, cellars, fire, water, mummies, mutants, Mongors, lightning, rain, wind - any of these and more can bring about that cold prickly sweat, the heart stopping, the shivering, and the shuddering."
"I hate spiders." Mischief proclaimed with a shiver.
"I hate cabbages." Trouble added with a shudder.
"Well, you are in luck then, for I have a remedy sure to cure even the worst case of the shivers or the shudders and I'll share it with you." WilyKat announced, retrieving his famous storybook to the twin cubs delight.
"I'll tell you the tale of a boy who set forth to learn what fear was."
Now he was as rare a boy as rare could be. The second son of the second cousin of my second aunt's second niece, who'd died and left her husband-a banker-with two sons, one good, and the other, good for nothing. And this latter boy was known as FearNot – though that was not his name, and he played the fiddle and folk found him a fine fool of a fellow.
Picture him: A shock of red hair, a fixed grin, a light heart, and eye's so blue, they surely had to be the union of Sky and Ocean. He had no trade and no wish for one. Nothing suited him better than to sit with his fiddle and scrape out tunes, idling away the afternoons with a song and a smile.
Most of all, he liked to find a spot underneath the window of his sweetheart-a merchant's daughter, a beauty, a darling - and serenade her, coaxing a shy wave from her slender hand, a lovely laugh from her cupid lips.
Oh yes, this was best fun, until her father appeared, all flush-cheeked and furious, flinging down flowerpots at the fiddling FearNot.
"Be off!" he'd bellow. "Good-for-nothing!" And he'd be right on that count, for if FearNot wasn't valued for his forever smile or his dancing fiddle, then was he indeed of little worth to the wide world.
One day, soaked through from a rainy spell of sweet reels under his sweetheart's window, a smile as long as tomorrow, FearNot skipped home to find his father and his brother hard at work, their fingers flying across ledger pages.
The banker looked up, all ink and dye, his face dark with rage. "What time do you call this?" he demanded, scowling at his son.
FearNot was confused. "I don't know, father," he replied, smiling, "What time do you call it?"
His father sighed a sigh and rolled his eyes, "Jaga give me patience!" he exclaimed then thought better of his temper. "Did you at least fetch the notary stamps?"
"Notary stamps?" FearNot didn't know what his father was talking about.
"The notary stamps I sent you out to fetch this morning!" exploded the Tailor.
FearNot beamed in recollection. "Do you know, father," he said genially, "I completely forgot those stampsf while I stood and played under my sweetheart's window. She's a lovely one; a cheetah she is."
Exasperation forced his father's eyebrows up to his scalp. He turned to his other son and ordered him to get the stamps.
But the elder son, as normal as FearNot was odd, was frightened of the journey. The walk home would take him through the forest after dark, and he was fearful of shadows. There were trolls there, and ogres, and, if talk about town was correct, dragons.
"Surely it can wait till morning?" He whined.
At the mention of the word "dragon," FearNot piped up. "Let me go," he said. "I don't mind shadows and I've never seen a troll, or an ogre, or a dragon."
The banker nodded wearily, one son fearful, the other fearless. "Be off with you then."
FearNot grinned and gamboled for the door.
"What are you going for?" tested his father.
FearNot couldn't quite remember. "Don't tell me," he said, scratching his head, "To see dragons?"
His father's head went crimson as his son's hair.
FearNot tried again, "To find ogres?"
His father erupted, his voice a volcanic volcano. "NOTARY STAMPS!" he raged. "YOU GO TO GET NOTARY STAMPS!"
FearNot's smile stretched until it seemed it might meet at the back of his head. "Notary stamps, notary stamps, notary stamps," he repeated, setting off into the night, saying the word over and over in case he forgot again.
"Notary stamps," memorized FearNot as he skipped his way through the village and threaded his way through the forest; eyes skinned for a troll or ogre or dragon or other curiosity, but alas, he saw none.
As it were, FearNot made his way to the town, remembered the notary stamps, and set off on the journey home, a dozens upon dozens upon dozens of them stuffed tight and to the brim in a big leather purse. As he passed the square, he beamed his twice-round-the-head smile at a gaggle of youths who loafed and lingered on a lookout for mischief.
A mischief of youths, one might say.
They stared their violent stare, laconic eyes following FearNot as he headed for the forest. One greasy head bent to the next and muttered. The next head guffawed and bent to the third, passing the jape. Then, all three smirked and slipped from their posts and into the woods.
The evening was growing darker. Moans, howls and hoots, and the sudden creak of branches lent a sinister music to FearNot's journey. None of this affected him in the slightest - quite the reverse actually. He had his fingers crossed for a surprise. He kept to the shadows, hoping to stumble on a snoozing nasty of one sort or another. Oh yes, that would be a good story for his brother!
But he was out of luck, it seemed, as he neared the edge of the forest. Then, suddenly, a huge shaped reared in front of him.
"GGGGGRRRR!" it roared, looming monstrously above him.
"Hello!" greeted FearNot, excited. "What are you; a troll?"
The monster bellowed back, swaying ominously. "I am a Wurdle!" it bellowed, "Only twice as bad."
"Never mind," FearNot sympathized.
The Wurdle lurched forward. "I want your bag of stamps," it demanded in a new voice.
FearNot apologized and explained they were for his dad.
The Wurdle growled. "Give them to me or I'll reduce you!"
FearNot asked the monster to explain.
"I'll mutton you!" it threatened in yet another voice. "I'll give you a right flummox!"
FearNot was not familiar with any of these terms, but decided they didn't sound very nice. "That doesn't sound very nice," he said.
"Give me the bag!" the monster stormed, all voices sounding in a terrible chorus.
FearNot frowned and swung the bag of notes. "Very well," he said, and dealt the Wurdle a resounding blow across the chops, sending it flying.
As the monster fell, it seemed to come apart, like a troupe of collapsing acrobats, and before FearNot could say "Fol-de-rol," the mischief of youths from the square had run off bruised and battered into the woods, the butt of their own joke.
FearNot hardly noticed the revelation. He was too busy trying to rescue a stamp or two from the scattered bag. After an hour he'd managed to retrieve eleven.
Back went the boy to his dad's house, full of tales of a Wurdle, only twice as bad, and sorry about the stamps, and did you know a Wurdle has three voices, quite remarkable, eh?
And his father, reduced, muttoned, and flummoxed by this Wurdle of his own flesh, could stomach it no longer and set his son outside, handed him fifty shillings in a purse, and told him to go off, for pity's sake, and learn something!
FearNot considered this strange mission and nodded. He'd always wanted to learn how to shudder, he told his father. The knack of it had eluded him.
Yes, he declared, he would set forth to learn what fear was. Did Dad think that was a good idea?
"Anything!" cried the Tailor, his eyes rolling to the heavens, "Anything!"
FearNot grinned happily. "That's what I'll do," he announced, and straight off he went without a bag or bun or second thought.
FearNot's father stood and watched him leave, shaking his head as his son waltzed off, for he was a rare boy and no mistake. Off he went, rolling into the world without anything to guide him but a bag of shillings, a fiddle, and a fool's errand.
As many of us have done the same.
And so the boy set forth to learn was fear was, and he looked for it in many a dark place, under many an upturned stone and up a downturned tree; oh yes, he walked and walked until at length he came - as at length you must - to a crossroads. And there he met a Wolo.
Not an ordinary Wolo, mark you, but a ragtag-and-bobtail of a fellow - a Tinker, to be sure, with a leprechaun's face and an undertaker's coat and belt rattling with the oddest objects, pots, pans, potions, relics, and tools of the most mysterious trades.
Seeing FearNot approaching, this Mr. Jingle Jangle beamed a Wolo's beam, dusted down his breaches causing an explosion of dust, and sneezed his way toward him.
"Good day, young Cat!" he announced with a bucktoothed flourish. "Now here's a lucky meeting."
FearNot agreed and said so.
One eyebrow on the Tinker's face arched knowingly. "Ah, I can see by the gleam in your eye you have a sweetheart," he observed with a cackle.
"I do, sir," acknowledged our boy, intrigued.
"What's her name?" asked the Tinker.
FearNot didn't know, and he was sorry for that.
The Tinker shrugged. "Ah, what's a name, I always say. Mine's Tobin and I don't mind at all."
"Most call me FearNot," said FearNot, "Though that isn't really my name."
Mr. Tobin nodded a sage nod. "And there you are, as my poor mother would say. Do you have a mother?"
FearNot shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't."
"Ah well, we all had one at one time and that's the main thing," the Tinker told FearNot, and patted him on the back in consolation.
Then, he began to produce all manner of trinkets from his carpet bag. "Tell me," he bade his new young friend, "is your sweetheart dark or fair?"
"Fair," FearNot told him, picturing blonde hair. "Like a horizon of sunshine and moonbeams."
Mr. Tobin seemed delighted. "Like a horizon of sunshine and moonbeams!" he exclaimed, hopping from one foot to the other.
"Oh Happy Day, a Happy Day for you young fellow, for I have in my bag a scarf made of sunshine and moonbeams," and after a moment of rummaging, out it came – a marvelous rainbow of colors - to be dangled it in front of our boy. "Here," he said, waving the scarf under FearNot's nose. "Take it with my blessings, and may you learn a name with it."
FearNot felt its silky softness. "Thank you sir," he said, over and over. "Thank you!"
The Tinker adopted the tone of a generous soul. "Because I can see you're a good fellow," he began, "I'm only going to ask from you what I paid myself; a double perstial."
FearNot had no idea how much even a single perstial might amount to. "How much is that?" he inquired.
"How much do you have?" The Tinker questioned eagerly.
"Fifty shillings," FearNot told him, for that was how much he had.
Mr. Tobin had an attack of the coughing. When he recovered, he seemed quite unimpressed by the figure.
"Nothing like that much," he said, waving away his hand. "Oh no, barely half," he muttered, "Less than two-thirds." His eyebrow seemed to twist into a question mark.
FearNot, for his part, was thinking past this transaction. "I'd like the scarf," he told his new friend, "because I have set forth to learn things, and to learn a name is, I suppose, something. But I'll give you all I have if you could but teach me what fear is."
Now both the Tinker's eyebrows quizzed and quivered. One curled into the figure 5, and another to an O.
"You will give me fifty shillings if I can frighten you?" He asked FearNot.
FearNot nodded earnestly with a hearty reply of "Gladly!"
"Hmm, let me see says the blind man," chuckled Mr. Tobin seemingly deep in thought, chin tucked into his chest.
FearNot waited and waited until the Tinker laughed an uproarious laughter and snapped his fingers in the air.
"Close your eyes." He instructed FearNot who was more than happy to oblige.
Mr. Tobin grasped the youth's shoulders and gave him a good potato sack shake while screaming a giant's scream in FearNot's ear till he could scream no longer.
"Is something the matter?" asked FearNot in a concerned voice, eyes still tightly shut.
"No, no," Mr. Tobin shook his head and thought of another tactic, "Just give me a moment but keep those eyes of yours shut."
Again, FearNot waited.
This time, the Tinker pulled a spoon from his bag and set its cold metal against the boy's throat. "What do you think I have at your throat?" he asked in a menacing voice.
"I don't know sir," FearNot shrugged, "A knife perhaps?"
"That's right," hissed the Tinker. "And a sharp one at that; can split a hair clean in two."
FearNot, eyes closed, seemed impressed. "How marvelous!" he exclaimed with a thrice-wrapped smile.
"It can slice a throat without touching the sides," continued Mr. Tobin.
"That's a good knife, then," declared FearNot, patiently waiting for something to happen.
"It certainly is," agreed Mr. Tobin. "And will slice yours, young Car, unless you give me your bag of shillings," and with this he let the spoon press into FearNot's proffered flesh.
"I can't do that!" laughed FearNot opening his eyes of bluest blue, thumping Mr. Tobin heartily upon the back, and sending him flying to the ground, pots and pans and bits and bones scattering. "For I must learn what fear is and I'm not frightened of you, Mr. Tobin, you're a friend!"
The Tinker scrambled to his feet, gathering up his possessions. "No, no that's right," he said ruefully. "We're friends as sure as friends are. I'm sure we are." He rubbed his rump with a grimace. "Let me take you down the lane and then I think I can arrange a small case of the shudders for you."
And, hobbling and clanking, he hurried off, head buzzing, FearNot following.
"Where are we going?" inquired the young man.
The Tinker pointed to down the traveler's path. "To a pond by a hedge by a field by a mill by a town; and in that pond is a fearful sight. So fearful," he said gravely, "think what fearful is, and add ten."
FearNot was delighted. "And shall I shudder?" he wanted to know, his voice brimming with excitement.
"No question," replied the Tinker and hurried on, adding under his breath, "If you survive..."
So off they set, a most fanciful peregrination, until they came at last to a pond by a hedge by a field by a mill by a town. And as they arrived with day ending, they saw folk rushing from the mill, stilled dusted with flour, and these souls would not stop to swap words, shouting instead as they hurried off, "Be clear before dark falls!" "Beware the pond!" And other such unwelcomes.
FearNot was somewhat bewildered by these exhortations until Mr. Tobin pointed out that they were encouraging signs of the shuddering to come. It was the pond, he explained, with its terrible secret that would do the trick for FearNot, and that was why the squeamish had fled. Mr. Tobin himself seemed anxious not to loiter, looking fretful at the sky as the sun dropped, bringing with it the pink and gray cloths of evening.
"Plunge into the pond," he told the boy in a curiously contradictory gait, one foot moving toward the bank, the other restless to depart. "Fear will swim up to greet you."
"Splendid," declared his charge, busy removing his boots. "Will you be joining me?"
By now, Mr. Tobin was extremely nervous. "No thanks," he muttered uncomfortably. "I'll retire and find us beds for the night. You must sleep after a good fright. Good luck." With that, he slipped the purse of shillings from FearNot's possession then hurried off, sending puffs of encouragement over his shoulder as he scampered away.
All alone, FearNot paddled, his feet stirring the green waters, waiting for something frightful happen...
Now this pretty pond was not all welcome-cool and water lilies. Deep in its green deep was a Terrible Thing, and the Terrible Thing was disturbed by splashes. It peered up through the green and saw a pair of feet. And had FearNot been down in the depths, he would have heard the sound of stirrings and an indignant rumbling.
But he wasn't, so he didn't. Instead, he sat dangling his feet in the pond, waiting to shudder, wondering how, when all of a sudden and who would believe it, the water began to gather and froth and swirl-as if lifting up a lacy petticoat-and blow me if a ring of sad beauties didn't appear, set a-dancing, eyes closed and melancholy. These were the Sisters of the Deep and their dance was a welcome to drowning.
And FearNot looked on, enchanted by their loveliness as they swam in intricate patterns an inch below the surface, beguiling, entrancing, all grace and invitation.
But instead of joining them, he did what he always did when the mood took him. He pulled out his fiddle and began to play a reel that was sweet and sour and happy and sad, a tune that began at hello and ended in goodbye.
And, hearing his music, the beauties opened their liquid eyes and moved to its coaxing lilt.
So it went on, FearNot fiddling, dancers dancing, until suddenly the pool churned and agitated and from the gushing green the monster emerged, a thing of slime and seaweed, half-lizard, half-lobster, all tendrils and tentacles, eyes rolling on waving stalks.
Now why did the village folk avoid this pretty scene? Why did men tremble at nightfall as the moon gleamed its silver upon the pool?
Because my dearios, my darlings, these were the Sisters of the Deep, lost daughters in the service of the Terrible Thing, water in their eyes, water in their veins. They have but two tasks; to drown men and to drown women.
"Come in, come in," they seemed to say, "Come in and sip our bitter beer. Come in and meet our master."
And from the muck and dampness, their master reared up at FearNot, all dripping and dreadful. "Do you know who I am?" he demanded in a voice choked with tiny fish.
FearNot shrugged. "I don't think so," he said politely. "You're not a Wurdle." He thought a bit. "Some sort of Terrible Thing?"
The monster's eyes rotated on their stalks. "Exactly," he sputtered, "I am Slythe and these are my pretties. They tempt young ones like you and I drown them."
Before FearNot could ask why, the monster continued, hypnotized by the fiddle and its sweet song.
"Sell me your bird," he said dreamily. "Its song is so…beautiful."
"I can't do that," FearNot tried to explain. "It's not a bird, it's an instrument with strings, and I make the song with my bow."
But Slythe, the Terrible Thing, would not believe him. He splashed out of the water, a thing of stem and stalk and scale, huge and ugly.
Others would have fled for their lives; FearNot merely stared, eyes wide with curiosity, enjoying this adventure. Slythe, the Terrible Thing, approached him, flailing, but it was not the boy he wanted. No, the creature desired the magic bird.
His webbed hand scraped the fiddle, and the strings screeched and shrieked. "Horrible!" mourned the monster, disappointed.
"You must learn to play it," said FearNot sympathetically, and demonstrated the fiddle's true voice.
Tears leaked from the monster's eyes. "Your bird!" he cried. "Where does its song come from?"
"Faraway," FearNot told him, "The Crystal Kingdom."
The monster's eyes swiveled the possible directions. "Which way is this Kingdom of Crystal?" he asked.
FearNot looked to the north and east, to where the hills stretched out in a long procession. "That way I suppose," he said, pointing to the hills, "Many lefts and many rights."
The monster looked to the north and east with a look of yearning. "Make your bird sing some more and then I'll go there," he sputtered, "To this Crystal Kingdom."
And so FearNot played some more until, after many a note, Slythe, the Terrible Thing - tears raining from him - left his daughters and his green pool and his endless drowning; slithering away in search of the Crystal Kingdom and the bird that sings.
For all I know, he lives there still.
The next morning, the mischievous Tobin had a rude shock. There he was, fifty golden shillings in his pocket and doing a fine trade in relics and rosaries-for this was a village of many funerals-when along came FearNot in a fine rage, indignant to the theft of his shillings and if not disgruntled, certainly not gruntled. Oh no, not gruntled in any way at all.
He stormed through the eager crowd of customers, and set about the miserable Tinker, berating and bewailing him, and would have made tomato of his nose and cauliflower of his ear had he not revealed the sum of his exploits and the fate of the Terrible Thing.
Throughout his rant and rail, the crowd caught on, and the next thing our FearNot knew, they'd hoisted our boy up and carried away, aloft through the streets, circled ten times around the pond, then back for a carnival that did not stop for a week.
Later, after not one feast but twenty, seventy-eight gifts, four offers of marriage, and much playing of the fiddle, the whole village collapsed into bed and slept soundly, freed from the terror of the Terrible Thing.
By then, Mr. Tobin, self-appointed manager of heroes, and historian of FearNot's exploits, had noted details of trolls and ogres and dragons and terrors and untold, unsolved mysteries.
Thus commissioned, the two companions set off, cheers still ringing in their ears, and it wasn't until late the following day, heads still muddled with cider, that FearNot remembered to clap the Tinker's ears, retrieve his fifty shillings, and ask him where they were heading next.
Mr. Tobin, possessed of a map of many colors, turned it round and round in study. His lip, pendulous at the best of times, positively drooped after FearNot's thrashing.
"Well," he said sulkily, "I have heard the route to a fine terror, but I must have reward."
FearNot reminded him of the promise of the fifty shillings once he was properly frightened.
Mr. Tobin looked peevish. "You promise me so much, but give me only your fist, which I like not!" On he went, muttering and mumbling, bemoaning his lot. "I try, I try," he muttered, "And after one little misunderstanding, I am thrashed for my pains."
And proceeded they did, FearNot pulling their donkey loaded up with the seventy-eight gifts, Mr. Tobin ahead, nose in the map, cussing and cursing, his belt of pots, pans, and paraphernalia jingling and jangling with each step he took.
"Compare us," he continued. "You are blessed with a great courage. I am cursed with a little cunning. I cheat for trifles, you can move mountains! Is that fair, I ask you?"
Now FearNot felt pity for the Tinker and held out the bag of shillings. But the Tinker would not take it.
"No, no," he insisted moodily. "I'll struggle on for nothing, I'll guide you," and, pointing to the horizon, he picked out a spiky silhouette perched on a peak. "We go to yonder castle where none have survived a night inside. That sounds an impossible task and will therefore suit you."
FearNot put a hand to his brow and squinted at the castle. "So I will learn to shudder at last?" he asked hopefully.
The Tinker shrugged. "We can but hope," he said.
Now the castle they approached was a graveyard of hopes. There it stood on the horizon, a place brooding. Enchanted, the King driven out, the rooms abandoned, only fools sought shelter there for they had reached a troubled land where bad held sway.
But fools there were, as always, tempted by the fabled store of fabulous treasure.
Suddenly, the ground crunched underfoot and, looking down, Mr. Tobin let cry a fearful shriek, for at his boot was a skull, and next to it another, and next to that another, and so on, stretching out before them, a path of grim bones, all that were left of their predecessors.
Mr. Tobin was terrified. "Bones," he whispered.
FearNot pressed on and looked down into the wide mouth of the moat. Dark liquid filled it. FearNot investigated. "Blood," he announced.
Before the Tinker had time to suggest they might try a smaller shudder but a few miles distant, an ungodly moan issued from the castle, and the drawbridge swung open with a mighty crash.
FearNot was delighted. "Wait here," he told his partner, and rummaged through the gifts. "I should take something with me."
Mr. Tobin was paralyzed with fear. "Take a sword," he suggested. "Take two."
But FearNot ignored his advice, and decided, instead, on a small grinding wheel. "This will be enough," he declared, "Or not, as the case may be. And it leaves you seventy-seven of my gifts, should I never return."
The Tinker was down in the mouth. "Do not leave them here," he pleaded. "You know how it is with me. I will be forced to steal them and desert you."
FearNot smiled a nice smile, and took his friend's arm. "Have a little courage, Mr. Tobin," he said, and with that he turned and hurried into the dark bowels of the castle. A second hideous cry greeted his entranced.
Mr. Tobin was beside himself with dread. "A little courage Mr. Tobin," he reminded himself, and stood shivering by the drawbridge.
The hall of the castle was vast and dark. FearNot found gnarled candles whose wax had long since wept onto the floor, chairs lonely with dust, a long table heavy with secrets, and everywhere a silence with eyes that watched his every move, with ears that heard his every step.
The only sounds were tiny creaks, furtive scurries, and the wind keening through the shattered windows. Oh yes, in the cold hearth of the fireplace, fear sat, invisible, and waited...
Even brave men could not stay in this place, but FearNot wandered about with a hop and a skip, dipping into dust, eager-beaver for some action.
And it came. For suddenly, without warning, a gust billowed from the chimney and after it, with a bellow, appeared a monkian - or, more precisely, half a monkian, for there was nothing at all below his waist.
No one seemed more surprised at this than the monkian himself. "Here now," he said, astonished, "There's only half of me!"
And, ignoring FearNot, he levered himself on his hands to peer anxiously up from whence he had come. "Where's the rest of me?" he demanded in a voice booming with anger.
FearNot had never seen a more ugly sight than this half-monkian with his severed legs. His head seemed to have nothing to do with his neck, his arms less to do with his body. For the entire world, he looked as if he had been hastily thrown together from bits of other people. And indeed he had.
While FearNot looked on, astonished, the half-monkian dragged his miserable trunk around the floor, roaring with rage, until once more the chimney belched and this time it issued forth a pair of legs, jerking and twitching.
The half-monkian let out a satisfied growl, scraped his way back to the hearth, and in a second had hauled himself up onto these limbs. Thus attached and apparently satisfied, he took a few cautious steps, legs leading, body catching up in a quadrille of discord before shaking his head and muttering, thumping at his new legs in disgust.
"These aren't my legs!" he announced accusingly to the bewildered FearNot. "These are definitely not my legs!"
FearNot shrugged, feeling unable to comment on what belonged to this man and what didn't. Instead, he offered his best smile and introduced himself.
The half-monkian eyed him curiously. "How about a game?" he asked, licking his lips at the prospect.
"Why not?" replied FearNot. "I have all night."
This response brought such a guffaw from the monkian it threatened to detach his heaving belly from his bottom half.
"He has all night!" he roared, most amused. Then he stomped over to a chest and yanked it open to reveal a collection of bones.
"Can you play…Skittles?" he inquired gleefully, and set about arranging them in a clump at the end of the hall, thrusting the great table aside with a single flick of his wrist.
"I never have before but I can try." FearNot replied honestly.
"Never have but you'll try? Good!" he declared, eyes gleaming. "Now what size legs are those?" he demanded, pointing a ferocious finger at FearNot's lower half.
FearNot didn't know, and said so.
The half-monkian frowned and stumped closer for a thorough investigation. "No gout?" he queried. FearNot shook his head. "Corns? Blisters? Foot rot?" continued his interrogator.
"No," said FearNot, wondering where this line of questioning might lead.
"Good, good," mumbled the half-monkian. "I could do with those legs, these are too short by a half."
And with that he dipped back into the chest and produced a skull, then staggered to the opposite end of the hall where he took aim at the skittles.
"You'd better win, precious!" he cried, announcing the stakes. "Else you'll find yourself half the Cat you were!"
At this, he hurled the skull at the bones, sending eight of them flying into the air. "Eight!" he cried, triumphantly punching the air. "Eight! Not bad on borrowed legs."
Folding at the waist, he reset the skittles, delivering the skull with such force to FearNot that he was knocked sideways, collapsing into a heap.
"Careful," warned the half-monkian. "Don't want them pegs damaged!"
FearNot picked himself up and carried the skull over to the grinding wheel. "If you won't mind, sir," he said, "but your ball is not round enough for me," and so saying he brought bone to blade in an excruciating grind.
In a few seconds the skull was perfectly round, and FearNot, full of intent, aimed at the skittles. His throw was powerful and true, the ball hurtling toward the bones with a smooth and deadly flourish.
Up jumped the bones, every one of them, dancing in the air scattering across the hall and down came the half-monkian, the skull dislodging his upper portion from his lower.
"Aaargh!" he howled in a fit of rage. "You cheated!"
"No sir," replied FearNot. "I simply swapped a little courage for a little cunning!"
But the half-monkian was inconsolable, for even as FearNot spoke, the legs pulled away from the body and lurched off toward the fireplace. "Now look at me." He moaned, taking chase after his legs.
"All very well my friend, but it doesn't help me with the shuddering." FearNot expressed dejectedly.
Outside, Mr. Tobin, temptation nibbling at his resolve, picked through the lucky dip of presents. He found a beautiful goblet studded with jewels and held it up for the moon's approval. Then a silver plate and a diamond ring.
"Lovely," he murmured, greed goading, "All lovely."
The wind howled around him, blood gushed into the moat, screams curled from the castle. He shivered.
'Run,' said the little demon in his head, 'run, run, run.'
Inside, FearNot - for want of a fright - settled down for the night. He found a bed piled thick with velvet eiderdowns, and slipped underneath them. His legs nudged something cold. Pulling back the plump covers, he met with a dreadful sight.
Lying there, eyes closed, no pulse, no breath, was his friend and companion, Mr. Tobin.
"Oh mister," cried FearNot, sad in his heart, "is it all up with you?"
The Tinker did not move. Tenderly, FearNot touched his forehead.
"So cold," he sorrowed. "You were my first and only friend. My friend and now so cold."
Grief and dismay welled up in FearNot as he carried the Tinker into the dark hall and built up a fire in the grate. As the meager flames dipped and danced, he held the limp body over them, wrapped in the velvet cover, and tried to warm him back to life.
Just as sorrow was teasing a tear from the corners of his eyes, FearNot felt the slightest tremble from deep inside the velvet. He unraveled the covers, excitement mounting, and pulled back the cloth.
Staring at him with an evil leer was the face of the half-monkian!
With a mighty roar the creature was upon him, thick fingers squeezing at his throat, a foul breath choking him. They fought, rolling over and over on the damp stone of the hall, growl and grimace, might and marrow.
Now it was FearNot forcing back his opponent, now it was the Half-Man cruel and crushing, threatening to tear the boy limb from limb. So it went on for an hour, this fearful wrestle, until at last, exhausted, with a final fling, FearNot got the better of his adversary and dashed his head on the stone.
There was a terrible crack as the half-monkian fell back and broke into a thousand pieces, dust and fragments flying into the air. One moment he was there, huge and murderous, the next he had disappeared in a swirl of sulphurous gas, back to the depths from whence he had come.
FearNot lay on the flagstones, heart pounding, and strength spent. The fire had long died and the hall was pitched into blackness'.
"FearNot?" came a small voice from the dark, and again, "FearNot?"
The giddy, swaying light of a torch flickered into the hall, casting a long shadow over FearNot. Standing before him, trembling, was Mr. Tobin, his tiny, anxious voice echoing against the stone. "FearNot!" it pleaded, desperate.
FearNot sprang up, no longer deceived by this hall of horror and its mischief. "Come nearer, demon," he cried, "and I will cut off your head, and then there will be three parts to marry!"
"What?" came the timid reply.
FearNot was not fooled. "I know it is not you," he said, ready for the fray.
"It is me!" insisted the man before him, grey eyes blinking.
"Dead again, are you?" said FearNot, tensing.
Mr. Tobin looked very offended. "No!" he said, and took a step toward our boy.
FearNot pulled out his knife, gleaming in the torch's flare, and swung it threateningly across the Tinker's path.
The little man leapt back aghast. "Please!" he cried. "I'm terrified! I came with my little courage and it's quite used up."
FearNot faltered. "How many gifts did I leave with you?" he quizzed.
The Tinker frowned guiltily. "Well, I could only count seventy-seven to begin with and I ate two...well, two and half...but there's still plenty."
But FearNot was not convinced. "What's the name of my true love?" he asked, ready to lunge.
Now the man looked very vexed. "How can I know if you don't?" he complained.
And FearNot knew it really was the Tinker and was overjoyed. "Then it is you!"
"Of course it's me!" said Mr. Tobin, most aggrieved.
Delight danced on FearNot's face. "And you came in to find me?"
"And small thanks I get," the Tinker moaned. "It's my lot. I try to break the mold and be decent and I get a knife thrust at me."
His friend was undeterred. "Come here," said FearNot, "and hug me,"
"No," sulked the Tinker then hugged him just the same.
Oh yes, hug him he did, and there the two friends stayed until morning while FearNot told his tale and the Tinker told his, and pleased as punch they both were with themselves.
Then they searched the castle from top to toe, and behind the farthest door of the highest floor they found a room, and in that room was gold, such goldness they might have thrown it out the window for a week and still be swamped.
And they shared it half and half and a bit for luck, and never have two men danced more, nor merrier. And from a distance you would have seen the castle shake off its gray drab and sunbathe.
And the next day, the boon companions, weighed down with treasure, set off on their way and found themselves not far from FearNot's village.
A thousand thoughts haunted our hero as he walked. Why hadn't he learned to shudder? What could he tell his father? Where else could he look? He queried and questioned his friend Mr. Tobin all the way home.
"Are there not sufficient riches that you must be frightened as well?" posed the Tinker, pointing a thumb to their haul of gold.
For FearNot, the answer was simple, no.
Such conundrums consumed him as they rounded the ridge that led down to his long-left home, and how could it not be so, for is it not the point of adventures that you learn much but not the things you thought of?
At last they reached the gate, footsore and found. FearNot pulled back the latch and beckoned his friend, but Mr. Tobin shook his head.
"We must say good-bye, then," he said sadly.
"But you must meet my family," protested FearNot.
"No, no," the Tinker told him. "Families never like me."
"Of course they will, you are my friend, you must come in."
"As my dear old mother used to say, "leave them when they want you to stay." No, thank you lad."
And with that he reached inside his raggedy tunic and pulled out the leather purse of shillings.
"What's this for?" asked FearNot.
"You must return it to your dad," explained Mr. Tobin, "for you have not learned what fear is."
FearNot took the purse with a thank you and a good-bye, smiled, then pulled the little Wolo to him and gave him a huge hug.
And from one side you might have seen a tear in the eye of Sky and Ocean, and from the other side, a tear in the Tinker's.
Then he was off, Mr. Tobin, his donkey loaded with half the bounty of their exploits. FearNot watched him go, a jingle and a jangle, a jumble of mischief and twinkle, watched him struggle up the path and then turn on the horizon and wave, a wave that ran all the way back down the path to touch FearNot's heart.
"Goodbye, my friend," he whispered, and walked inside.
There he found things much as before, father and brother busy at the ledgers, ink flying back and forth. And you can imagine the look he got, for when last seen what an empty head he'd been, the boy could not remember notary stamps.
But how the sour turned sweet when he showed them both the gold, how the weary turned to wonder. And while brother scooped sovereign after sovereign from the bulging sack, while dad dug into the deeps of diamonds, FearNot told them of his journey.
"The way was long," he said, "And the paths were strange. And still I have not learned to shudder."
But they could not hear for glitter, they did not care for coins. No, FearNot was a hero and that was that. They took him up and whirled him round and delightedly danced with him.
It wasn't until sometime later, feasting finished and all forgiven, that FearNot remembered his sweetheart. He ran to her house, his scarf made from sunshine and moonbeams tucked into his shirt, his heart singing. Outside her window, he did as he had always done, and took out his fiddle. The sweet bird from the Crystal Kingdom flew up to the heavens and the shudders flew open.
But no darling true love came to the window. Instead, it was her father with a grim expression.
"Come quick!" he called down. "And hurry!"
So bidden, FearNot rushed up the stairs. The merchant waited for him.
"Where've you been?" he cried, his voice heavy with sorrow. "She swooned when she heard you'd gone, and nothing will revive her."
Even as he said these things, he ushered FearNot into his sweetheart's room. There she lay on a bed of lace, her gentle face pale, her breathing deep and distant.
FearNot's heart sank. He lay the silk scarf across her neck while love skipped one beat and then another. He spoke, but the words came out in a tiny whisper. "I don't know her name," he said in a voice of despair, stroking and stroking her lovely hair. "I have loved her as the flower loves the sun since the first moment I saw her, yet I do not know her name."
"Acinonia," said her father mournfully. "Her name is Acinonia."
FearNot mouthed the name over and over, "Acinonia, Acinonia," held her sweet hand in his. He trembled with the fear she might never open her eyes, might never smile that darling smile.
But even as the little shudder shook him, her eyelids fluttered, came open, closed, open, closed, and open.
And she looked at her sweetheart, home at last, and smiled, and FearNot forgot himself and her father and kissed her cupid lips and shivered all over.
"Oh! Will you look at that!" said Acinonia's father as she sat up in her bed.
But FearNot could look at nothing, for don't you see? Don't you follow? FearNot had shivered! FearNot had shuddered!
"Acinonia! Acinonia! You've done it!" he cried, and kissed her again and kissed her dad and kissed the walls and kissed the door and jumped and jumped for joy.
"Done what Leander?" asked his sweetheart dreamily.
"You've taught me!" he said, brimming over with happiness, not even pausing to ponder how and when his beloved had learned his name that none had spoken for years. "I've been so far, so long, and all it needed was the thought of losing you to teach me what fear was."
And, going to the window, he flung back the shutters, bathing the room in sunlight, and told the whole world of his triumph.
"I SHUDDERED!" he told the Sky. "I SHUDDERED!" he told the Ocean.
So the boy who set forth to learn what fear was learned it at home. And he married his sweetheart, with her name and his, and he never left again.
Though far off, Mr. Tobin heard FearNot's shouts and the wedding bells, for he told me all this, from start to finish, a long time ago when I was very young and didn't know the half of it.
Finishing his story to the cheers and compliments of an audience he'd never grow tired of, WilyKat shifted to pick up his magic bag he always kept close at hand. Oddly, it was not where he had left it.
Confused, the teen began to bend and twist himself in his search for his precious bag.
"Wassa matter Uncle WilyKat?" Trouble asked a bit too innocently.
"I can't seem to find my bag…" The Thundercat explained, not noticing the twin cubs tone or where their eyes were fixed.
"You look like you getting scared." Mischief played along.
"No, no, just confused." WilyKat clarified. "I know I set it here next to me..."
"WillllyyyyKkkaaatttt," a sudden, ghostly voice moaned as the Bard's bag floated by in midair.
"MEOW!" In the blink of an eye, WilyKat has vanished from his seat.
"WilyKay?" Called the invisible voice though now lacking the haunting moan. "Um, WilyKat, where'd you go?"
Tygra, the Thunderian Ambassador to Third Earth, and Steward of Thundera – the established city of the Thundercats upon said planet, materialized before the eyes of his Godcubs.
"WilyKat?" he called once again.
"Look up." Called the tigers wife, Pumyra, the pairs own newborn cub gently held in her arms. With her were the King and Queen, both trying, and failing to hold back their laughter.
Tygra and the Cubs all looked up to see the teen using all four sets of claws to clutch tightly to a ceiling rafter with a look of terror upon his face.
"NOT FUNNY TYGRA!" WilyKat shouted from on high.
Only WilyKat seemed to be of that opinion as the Hall exploded with jovial laughter and cheer.
For you see dear readers, listeners and spinners of tales, while there are always exceptions for special occasions…
'When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for... The Storyteller…'
A/N: As always thank you for reading and reviewing.
Big thanks to the Brothers Grimm and Jim Henson, this was all you guys; all I did was transcibe and bring it into a new medium. Credit goes to you...and WB.
Leander - Greek - Lion-Man
Acinonia - Acinonyx jubatus - Cheetah