So I know, two updates within the span of a week is pretty amazing for me, especially right now…HOWEVER! I will update when I can, and if they prove to be sporadic, or even few and far between, please understand that I'm working overseas and am doing my best to make time for you my most precious readers!
Pitch's eyes fluttered open as his face scrunched with confusion. Slowly sitting up, the man rubbed bleary eyes.
He had arrived back from work in his room at the Pole just a mere two hours previously, and had immediately fell into bed and sunk into the oblivion of peaceful snores; however enjoying his usual schedule of sleeping from four AM to until almost noon was quickly squelched when he heard the soft sounds of someone coughing next door. With a small groan, the Boogeyman stood up, and walked out of his bedchamber, and padded across the wooden floor of the hallway to where he heard the sounds coming from, namely, Jack Frost's room.
The door gave a small creak as the specter pushed it open, and he heaved a sigh when he looked on what he suspected he might see.
Jack lay in a huddled pile underneath the covers of his bed; the only thing visible was his white mop of hair, as his face was currently buried in the cushion of his pillow, which was serving as the winter sprite's attempt at keeping his coughs quiet. Pitch shook his head, one side of his mouth twitching with amusement as he strode over to the bedside, and with one finger, tilted the pillow away from the boy.
"You know," Pitch whispered with a small smile "if you're not careful, you might cough up a lung."
Jack pouted, and opened his mouth to spit back a retort but only managed a dull croak. The Boogeyman snickered, before rolling his eyes "I guess if I'm going to manage a coherent conversation with you, I'm going to have to fetch some tea."
The winter spirit jutted out his bottom lip, but his blue eyes showed exhausted gratitude at the offer.
"As the rabbit says, 'be back in a tick,'" Pitch smirked before walking back out of the door and shadow walking into the kitchens.
Once there, he gave a small salute to the yetis preparing breakfast before grabbing a tray and piling it with a pot of brewing tea, a couple of cups, some crackers, as well as a couple cheese Danishes. Stepping back into the shadows, the dark specter once again entered Jack's room, unsurprised to see the child still coughing violently into his pillow. Walking over to the bed, Pitch sat down, the mattress creaking as it bore his weight, and he placed the tray on top of the covers watching as Jack practically leapt for his cup of tea.
The winter child took a deep draft of the liquid before leaning his head back and releasing a sigh "That feels amazing," he croaked softly.
"So explain to me how a frost spirit catches a cold?" Pitch smirked gently.
"Don't know, don't care," Jack grumped as he took another sip "all I know is that I'm miserable,"
One gray hand reached forward and came to rest on the spirit's forehead, making Pitch shake his head and cluck his tongue unhappily "You have a fever, at least what would count as a fever for you."
"I'm not surprised," Jack sighed as he took a few crackers and began to nibble around the edges "but I don't even feel up to burying myself in a snow drift to get it down. I'm tired, and my body aches, and my chest feels like it's on fire."
"Well lay back down, maybe I can distract you long enough to help you get back to sleep."
The frost spirit cocked his head before giving a small shrug and snuggling down into the covers, his blue eyes staring expectantly at the man who had once been his enemy and now acted like some kind of eccentric uncle.
"Hm, let's see," Pitch drug over a chair, and sat down leaning against the back of the chair folding his arms across his chest "what would distract the great Jack Frost?"
Jack merely blinked in reply and the Boogeyman couldn't hold back a chuckle "How about I tell you a story?"
The frost child gave the nightmare spirit a lopsided grin and nodded, curling up under his blankets and punching his pillow a couple times before settling down.
Pitch cocked his head, and pursed his lips "How about I tell you the story of a kid who drove me crazy, the most annoying git that I've ever had the misfortune to meet."
Jack let out a croak of a cough, his eyes twinkling with excitement.
The dark specter nodded solemnly "This is the story of Fearnot,"
Once a very long time ago, ironically during the dark ages when spirits and humans were barely separated by only the thinnest of veils, there was a boy.
He was a good for nothing, airheaded, a dreamer who never took responsibility for anything, but he had a gift that was rare in that time, he had no comprehension of the meaning of fear. He wasn't afraid of anything! It was as irritating as the day is long, and many people despised this young man for his fearlessness.
His father, the local tailor, also held a poor opinion of his son, and considered the boy worthless "Boy!" he screamed one fateful night "Where are the buttons I sent you into town for?!"
"Buttons," Fearnot replied "do you know dad I completely forgot them buttons, to tell you the truth I was just out playing my violin under my sweetheart's window, she is a lovely."
"Did you hear that?" his father roared turning to Fearnot's brother "He forgot the buttons, I guess you'll have to go out and fetch them."
"Oh no father," the brother quavered "I would rather not, darkness falls early in the woods, and there are trolls and dragons in there. I can't go, at least not until morning!"
"Morning is useless," the tailor grumbled "you must go now!"
But the brother merely shook his head vehemently against the dark things found in the wood, but Fearnot smiled widely "Aw let me go dad, I'll remember this time and I'm not afraid of trolls and I've never seen a dragon!"
The tailor sighed and then finally murmured his acquiescence, watching as Fearnot gathered his things together for the journey through the wood "What is it that you're going for again?" he double checked.
"Uh…" Fearnot blanked "To see trolls? No! To…see...a dragon!"
Well off Fearnot went, making it through the wood and into town in record time, and was soon head back home with a bag of buttons for his father. But evil was afoot, and three local boys intent on robbing poor Fearnot were close on his heels. Oh yes, they planned to give him a wicked fright, but little did they now that Fearnot's name was rightfully given.
Fearnot walked through the darkness of the wood, the wind howling through the trees, when suddenly a figure clad in rags and the skull of a beast roared out from the branches "You! Give us your bag!"
Fearnot gawped at the creature, before a grin split his face "Hello," he chirped happily "are you a troll?"
"I am a wurdle," the creature sneered "only twice as bad, now give me your bag."
"Sorry," Fearnot shrugged "this is a bag of buttons for my dad,"
"Give me the bag!" the wurdle snarled "Or I'll mutton you, I'll give you a right flummox!"
"That doesn't sound very nice," Fearnot pouted.
"Give me the bag!" the creature bellowed with three separate voices, its arms flailing as it clawed with its hands and growled menacingly.
"Alright, I will," Fearnot swung the bag, hitting the creature square in the face and watching with a grin as it fell down.
However he noticed that the bag had broke, sending all the buttons scattering every which way into the bushes and brush, but the boy was undaunted as he ran home with tales of a wurdle that was only twice as bad as a troll, and had three separate voices, and oh yes, sorry about the buttons. By the end of the night, Fearnot found himself on the road with forty shillings, and a command from his father to go out and 'learn something'.
Well Fearnot considers what it was he would learn, and decides to learn how to shudder, for the ability has eluded him from the time of his birth. So off he goes to learn what fear is with nothing more to guide him than forty shillings, a violin, and a fool's errand.
"Good day young man," a beggar called out in the early morning mist "what a fine meeting this is, now I can tell by the twinkle in your eye that you've got a sweetheart."
Fearnot's jaw dropped and he said happily "Why, I do sir!"
"I knew it," the beggar nodded sagely "what's her name?"
Fearnot opened his mouth, but then paused "…I…" he gasped "I don't know,"
"Ah well," the beggar shrugged "what's in a name? Mine's McCoy and I don't mind it."
"Mine's Fearnot!" the boy burbled holding out his hand for the beggar to shake.
"Now you're sweetheart," McCoy asked with a sly twinkle in his eye "is she dark or fair?"
"Oh dark sir," the boy murmured wistfully "with hair like a raven."
"Hair like a raven," the beggar repeated with a shake of his head and click of his tongue before returning to his original work "I have here a scarf of fine silk, and I wish you to have it, so that you may learn a name with it."
Fearnot's eyes grew wide at the beautiful piece of cloth being presented to him "Why thank you sir!"
"And it's because you're such a fine fellow that I'll only ask ya to pay for it, what I did," the con man continued "a double Persian."
"And how much is that?" Fearnot asked.
"How much ya got?"
The boy presented his purse and said "Forty shillings,"
"Nothing like that," the beggar shook his head mournfully "that's not even half, less than two thirds."
Fearnot's face fell and he sighed "I would like the scarf," he said "for I have set out to learn things, and to learn a name would certainly be something, but I would give you all I have if you can learn me what fear is?"
"You'd give me forty shillings if I can scare ya?" The beggar laughed out loud.
"Shut your eyes," McCoy said before sneaking around the boy to his other side.
"RAAAGH!" He roared in the boy's ear, giving him a shake for good measure "RAAAGH!"
But it was no use, for the boy still stood with a whimsical smile, not even the slightest trace of fear on his face.
"Hmm…" the beggar dug in his bag and presented a spoon, pressing the edge to the throat of the young man who was still standing with his eyes closed "What do you think this be then?"
"I don't know sir, a knife?" the boy asked.
"A sharp knife too," McCoy replied "can slice a hair clean in two,"
"It can slit a throat without even touching the skin,"
Fearnot smiled "That's a good knife then!"
"And more it will do to you," the con man replied "if you don't part with your bag of shillings."
"You know I can't do that," the boy answered popping his eyes open "for I must learn what fear is, and I'm not afraid of you Mr. McCoy, you're a friend!"
The beggar growled in frustration, fighting the urge to stomp his foot, and merely winked at the lad "Aye boy, we're friends, but follow me and I think I can arrange a wee bit of the case of the shudders for ya."
"Splendid!" Fearnot said happily "Where are we going?"
"To a lake," McCoy replied with a sly grin "By a hedge, by a field, by a mill, by a town; and in that lake is a fearful sight, so fearful, think what fearful is and add ten."
"And shall I shudder?"
"No question," the man said "that is…if you survive."
So off they went, till they came to a hedge, by a field, by a mill, by a town, and what they saw was all the workers rushing out of the mill, still dusted with flower, and though the duo tried, none would stop to swap words. Not even the barest of whispers, for the town crier was bellowing from the hilltops.
"Be clear before darkfall! Beware the lake, and other such unwelcomes!"
Fearnot scrambled to the edge of the lake "Here, is this where I learn to shudder Mr. McCoy?"
"Aye," the beggar returned "they say that you plunge into the lake, and fear will swim up to greet ya."
"Marvelous!" the boy said slipping his feet into the water "Ah! It's a treat, will you join me?"
"No thanks," McCoy shook his head quickly "I must retire and get us beds for the night, it is best to sleep after a good fright."
"Then I will see you afterwards!"
But this lake is not all cool waters, and lovely water lilies, no there was a darkness that dwelled in its depths. Deep in its green deep lived a terrible thing, and it peered up from the plants and moss, and sees a pair of feet, a man. So there he is, our boy Fearnot dangling his feet into the water waiting to shudder, and wondering how; when suddenly the water begins to gather and froth and swirl.
Suddenly beauties appear under the water, their eyes closed and melancholy. These are the sisters of the deep, and their dance is a welcome to drowning. 'Come in, come in', they seem to say, and enchanted, Fearnot looks upon their loveliness. And Fearnot does what he always does when this mood takes him, he takes out his violin and serenades the beauty he sees dancing at his feet.
So why do people avoid this pretty sight? Why do men tremble, and mothers gather their children to their breast when the night falls and the moons gleams its silver upon the waters of the lake? Because these are the daughters of the terrible thing that lives at the bottom of the lake, water in their veins, water in their eyes. They have but two tasks, to drown men, and to drown women.
Fearnot sunk to the bottom of the lake, the haunting melody still singing from his violin, until he was face to face with the monster of the lake "Do you know who I am?" it asked Fearnot.
"No," the boy replied "are you a Wurdle, or some terrible thing?"
"Exactly, I am the master of the lake," the creature replied "and these are my pretties, they capture people like you, and I drown them."
"Because, I enjoy it," the monster shrugged "but first, give me your bird, it's song is so beautiful."
"I can't," Fearnot said shaking his head "I have to make it, see?"
The lake monster looked on as Fearnot once again began to play, and returned him to the surface so that he could address the boy without him drowning.
"I want your bird," the creature replied "where does the singing come from?"
"From these holes," the boy replied.
"Let me try,"
The lake monster reached up, drawing its webbed claws across the strings, but yowled as a harsh screeching came from the instrument "Horrid!"
"First you must learn to play," Fearnot scolded.
"But your bird," the creature asked "where does it's song come from?"
"Where does the song come from?" Fearnot repeated "it comes from far away, Ireland."
"That way," the youth replied pointing "many lefts and many rights,"
"Ireland, I'll go there," the creature said nodding "That way, you say?"
"Yes," the boy nodded.
"Play some more, and then I will leave."
And so Fearnot played, until the dreadful thing left his daughters, and his green pool, and his endless drowning in search of Ireland and the wooden bird that sings, and he lives there still for all I know.
What a victory, what a hero! Not one feast, but twenty. Seventy-eight gifts, and four offers of marriage, and of course much playing of the fiddle. The next morning, Mr. McCoy the newly self proclaimed manager of heroes and historian of Fearnot's exploits, had gathered for himself details of the whereabouts of trolls, and terrors, and dragons, and demons, plus many untold, unsolved mysteries.
Thus commissioned, the two set off, and Fearnot only thought until late the next afternoon to ask the beggar where they were going.
"We go to yonder castle where none survive a night,"
"So I shall learn to shudder at last," Fearnot murmured even as the silhouette of a castle came into view.
Now this castle they approach is a graveyard of hopes, the king driven out, the rooms abandoned, only fools seek shelter there. For this is a troubled land, and evil holds court. There it sat on the horizon, brooding, and dark. The very air it exuded as cold as it was shadowed.
"Here take a sword," Mr. McCoy said "take two, that place is haunted with ghoulies beyond your comprehension that can turn your head and cast dark illusions on ya!"
"These three things shall be enough, or not as the case may be," Fearnot said gripping three items "and I leave all seventy-five of my gifts to you should I not return."
"Then please boy, leave me a little bit of courage so that I may have the strength to wait for ya till the morning breaks." The beggar asked.
Fearnot smiled and clasped his friend's hand "Only if you'll swap me a little of your cunning so that I may be able to get out of any danger?"
With that, the boy left and entered into the castle.
Screams echoed into the dark, and Fearnot looked around eagerly, a smile on his face as he peeked through the gloom of the castle's main hall. Suddenly a dreadful yell shrieked in the pitch black, and a frightening man who was missing his legs walked in on his hands.
"Where are my legs," he moaned "I'm missing my legs,"
But with a heavy clomping, a phantom pair of legs walked into the room, and the man monster groaned as he climbed up the legs and set himself upon them "Ah, that's more like it," he sighed "Hey you stranger, how about a game?"
"Sure!" Fearnot chirped "I have all night,"
"You have all night," The monster chuckled "he says he has all night!"
The monster walked across the main hall and picked up a skull "Have you ever played skittles?"
"HA!" The man barked "You'd better have, and you'd better win precious, or you'll find yourself only half the man you were."
Fearnot merely shrugged "Won't know till I try,"
"What size legs are those, anyway?" the monster asked licking his lips as he set up nine shin bones in a triangle.
Fearnot gave another shrug "I don't know,"
"No gout?" the monster asked "corn, blisters, foot rot?"
"Good!" the monster cackled gleefully "I could do with those."
Taking up the skull, the monster rolled it across the floor; knocking the shin bones to the floor in a macabre version of bowling "Eight!" he screamed "Not bad on borrowed legs! I suggest that you bowl well, precious."
After the monster threw the skull to Fearnot, the boy looked at the object in his hands, and took it to a grinder "Sorry sir," he smiled "but your ball's not smooth enough for me."
After a moments grinding, he smoothed it to his satisfaction, and gave the ball in a mighty throw "NINE!" he bellowed triumphantly when the ball knocked all the shin bones to the floor.
"No, sir!" Fearnot yelled happily "I swapped a little courage for a little cunning that is all."
"Oh look at me," the man moaned as he fell to the floor in pieces and crawled out of the room.
"That's all very well sir," Fearnot smirked "but it doesn't quite help with teaching me to shudder."
So for lack of a fright, Fearnot laid himself down for the night, but what is this? He sees the seemingly unconscious body of Mr. McCoy.
"Mr. McCoy, why are you so cold?" the boy lamented "you were my first and only friend, my friend and now so cold."
Lighting a healthy fire in the hearth, the boy laid the body of his friend near it "Here, let me warm you a little, does that not feel better?"
But just as the boy turned back to his friend to check on his health, the face was no longer that of Mr. McCoy, but the ghoul who had wanted to steal his legs. It reached forward, and grabbed Fearnot by the neck, attempting to strangle him. But the boy thrashed and kicked until he knocked the creature into the flames, and with a scream, it burst into dust.
Fearnot stood panting, holding his sword but the small sound of a voice drew his attention "Fearnot," it called "Fearnot?"
The boy turned to find Mr. McCoy standing in the doorway of the main hall, and the youth immediately pointed his sword at him "Take one more step demon, and I'll cut off your head, and then you'll three parts to worry about."
"What are ya talking about boy?" Mr. McCoy replied.
Fearnot sent a disdainful pout "Well, I know it's not you."
"Of course it's me!" the beggar cried.
"It can't be, you're just trying to trick me and steal my legs!"
"Please," Mr. McCoy "I'm terrified, I came with my little bit of courage to find you, and I'm afraid it's quite used up."
Fearnot pursed his lips "How many gifts did I leave?"
"Well I only counted seventy-five to begin with," the beggar sighed "but I ate two…well, two and a half, but there's still plenty!"
"What's the name of my true love?" Fearnot persisted.
"How can I know if you don't?"
"Mr. McCoy, it is you!" Fearnot exclaimed happily.
The beggar stomped his foot petulantly "But of course it's me!"
"And you came in to find me?"
"It's my lot, I tried to break the mold and be a decent person, and what do I get, a sword in my face!" Mr. McCoy huffed.
"Oh shut up, and come here to hug me!" Fearnot yelled through his grin.
"No," Mr. McCoy pouted but he couldn't deny that grin, and soon the friends were hugging each other grinning like fools.
Afterwards, the two were exploring the castle, and behind the farthest door in the tallest tower was a room full of gold. So much gold was there that they could have thrown it out of the window for a week, and still be swamped. They split it half and half, plus a bit for luck, and never had two men ever danced more or merrier. And if you had stood at a distance, you would have seen the castle cast off its gray drab, and sunbathe for the first time in a hundred years.
However as they returned to Fearnot's home, the boy muttered to the beggar complaining that he had not learned to shudder, and the con man had turned to his friend and said "Are there not sufficient enough riches that you must be frightened as well?"
And so they continued that way all the way home, Fearnot complaining of fearing not, and the beggar muttering about Fearnot's odd sensibilities, until they had arrived at last at the gate of Fearnot's house.
"Now we must say goodbye," Mr. McCoy said to the youth.
Fearnot cast a look of hurt on the man "But surely you must meet my family!"
"No, families don't like me" the beggar countered " and as my dear mam used to say, leave them while they be still wanting ya, no thank you"
The beggar handed the purse of forty shillings to Fearnot, and the youth looked on with a quizzical brow "What's this for?"
"Ya must give this to your father," the beggar replied.
"Of course," Fearnot sighed "I have not learned to shudder, good bye Mr. McCoy."
"Good bye, my friend."
The youth walked into his home town, but the welcome he was hoping for was not present for as he walked up to his sweetheart's house, her father rushed out crying "Come in, come in, hurry!"
Fearnot rushed into the girl's home, and her father dragged him up the stairs to her room gibbering "She's fallen into a deep sleep since you left, and nothing has revived her!"
Fearnot drew near to her sleeping form, and a strange feeling welled up in his chest as he laid the scarf of silk across her prone form and he realized that he could not even call upon her to waken "I…I don't even know her name," he gasped.
The father answered in a choked sob "Lydia,"
"Lydia," Fearnot sobbed "Oh my dearest Lydia, please wake up!"
But the girl would not stir, and for the first time in his life, Fearnot felt a shudder of fear crawl up his spine making his frame tremble "Lydia," he whispered as he kissed her brow "please come back to me."
But as they wept for the girl sleeping on the bed, Lydia's eyes fluttered open, and Fearnot wept all the harder as he saw her garnet eyes looking into his "My sweetheart!" he exclaimed as he leaned in to kiss her tenderly "My dearest, my darling, you've done it!"
"Done what?" she asked softly.
"You taught me!" he said "I've been so far for so long, and all I ever needed was the thought of losing you to teach me what fear was! I shuddered! I SHUDDERED!"
And so the boy who had set out to find out what fear was learned it at home and he married his sweetheart, name and all, and never left again.
Pitch pursed his lips "That boy was so irritating, I used every trick in the book to scare him, and what did it take, his girlfriend falling into a coma. That was annoyingly anticlimactic."
However if the dark specter expected or wanted a response, he was disappointed, because Jack Frost had fallen asleep and he stayed that way for the rest of the night. Pitch merely smiled fondly, and noticed that dawn was beginning to break over the mountains, so with a soft groan, he stood up from the chair and made his way back to his own room and what he hoped would be a decent day's sleep.
Ironically someone asked if I was continuing Bedtime stories as I was writing this, and even though I had never meant to turn this chapter into a continuation of that arc, it decided to take on a life of its own and it became so.