Dr. Greg Danton relaxed on the patio lounger, savoring the moment. He was a devout believer in not working on Sundays.
His letter for JKTR, an amusing trifle, was ready a week before deadline; he'd give it to UPS when they made their stop in the morning.
One of the subjects of his letter, which he'd modeled in flax, with its central opening suitably enlarged, now surrounded his garden gate. He couldn't see it from his chair, but its presence almost glowed in his mind. He swore the garden itself looked better through it. The giant knot was an instantiation of a lovely idea inspired by two related figures in an antique collection of Celtic art. That artist seemed to have missed others in what turned out to be a set generated by the same group operations. It pleased him to fill the gaps, but even more to have found that the set was cyclic, that repeating the same operations over and over eventually returned you to the unknotted starting point.
He wondered if anyone would get the gate's little joke. He'd reluctantly used the original drawing in the paper; in print, the gate's arrangement was just too obvious.
He sipped the wine he'd laid down a year ago. He'd uncorked the first bottle to celebrate yesterday's completion of the paper and the gate.
A comic book, an erotic high fantasy epic from one of his favorite artists, lay loosely in his off hand, cover bent back. Hell with the collectors, he just wanted to read the damn thing.
And maybe jack off. His thin cotton robe was open, his cock half erect in his other hand.
He waved away an enormous moth with the comic. It danced clear, then fluttered right back in front of him. He focused.
It was no moth; it was a girl, no more than six inches tall, with green wings and bobbed red hair.
A fairy, in fact. He smothered his warning skepticism.
There is a fairy in my garden! She likes me! Don't scare her off!
Smiling in admiration, he dropped comic and cock. Her body was slender, with a smooth crease between her legs. Her wings weren't attached merely at her shoulders, but instead ran from the sides of her neck down to her thighs. They were neither birdlike or insectoid, but might have been grown from some iridescent jellyfish.
He held out his hand and she perched on it, standing in the crook of thumb and forefinger.
On impulse, he picked up his wineglass and tipped it for her. She hovered, gripping the rim to steady herself as she sipped through a long, tubular tongue.
When she finished, he set the glass down and held his hand out again. She began humping his thumb in obvious delight. He petted her hair, her wings, her back, her bottom.
She slipped down and swung away from him, hanging off his finger like a swimmer at the edge of a pool. He crooked his ring finger to give her a place to stand. Her tiny, adorable cunny beckoned. Bracing her with his thumb against the back of her calves, he lifted her to his mouth and pressed his tongue into her sweetness.
Not enough. He plucked her up by her wings, tilted his head back, and let her straddle his tongue. As she climaxed, there was a tiny burst of irresistible perfume, a barely perceptible spritz of insanely intoxicating salty wine.
She wriggled loose to flutter back up and nestle in his hair. She was singing, at the barest edge of his hearing range, like a musical mosquito.
Another fairy appeared, hovering over the wineglass on the table. He topped it off, almost to the rim. After sipping at it, she rewarded him with a kiss, her tongue tickling his lips most delightfully. His pleasure was all out of proportion to her size.
Then she fluttered down to his ramrod cock. She wrapped her arms and legs around it, rubbing herself against it, kissing and licking the tip.
Two more fairies took their sip at the wineglass and settled on his chest, each rubbing her cunny against his sharply erect nipples.
Fairies surrounded him, fluttering, touching, licking, rubbing, kissing. They played with his hair, tickled his ears, nestled in his navel, jostled his balls. He was laughing, deliciously defenseless. Fairies drank the tears from his cheeks and he licked their cunnies, their bellies, their boobies.
Six of them formed a rotating torus of fairy cunt that slid up and down his shaft. With their legs at his root, their tongues ran in the notch behind his cock head, then teased the very tip, delightfully stinging inside the opening for an instant before their cunts rose to meet his glans.
He was so enthralled, trying to see exactly how they wove arms and legs and wings together, he couldn't quite come. He giggled in happy agony.
He could hear them laughing in sympathy, their jollity too high pitched for human ears, but filling his mind nevertheless.
They unlinked for a final, upward surge, hugging his entire length until they peeled away at the top. The rest flowed along his body and swarmed in at the base, then rose up the shaft, a tornado of eldritch cooze. They fountained away to gather in a ranked cloud before him, to watch something come in through the gate.
She was one of their own, but twice their size. Her hair was a bright ginger nimbus tumbling in the wake of her rippling green wings. Her body was extravagantly concealed and revealed by wings and hair. Her hips and bottom begged his caress. Her breasts were full, with slightly upturned nipples, swaying just enough with her movements to promise milky soma to a suckling mortal.
He was in the presence of a Queen, he realized. Her court helped him slip off the lounger, tugging his robe from his shoulders. Naked, he knelt before Her, pressing his face to the flagstones. She touched the back of his head, and Her ladies tugged his hair, signaling him to rise. He held the wine glass out to Her, and She sipped at it, honest sips, he could hear it bubbling between Her lips.
When She was done, She allowed him to clasp Her about the waist, and bring Her to his lips for the kiss. Hers was not the barely perceptible brush strokes of Her ladies, but a true joining. She nibbled at him. When She pressed Her tongue into his mouth, it tasted of his wine, of honey, of sweet spice, and sex.
He lifted Her to kiss Her nipples, his tongue pressing each one. She shivered and arched in pleasure as Her milk flowed into his mouth, rich as sweet brandied cream.
The flock of ladies guided his hands down, to allow Her to nestle on his tip.
Her cunny was not smooth, but furred with delicate strawberry blonde velvet. He rubbed Her back and forth over his tip, spreading his juices and Hers there. The living maypole dance had gotten his shaft thoroughly slick, but now the flock refreshed it, kissing it, his hand, and his Queen.
Then they pulled back, in a wave like a curtain parting. He looked his Queen in the eye, and She nodded.
He pressed Her down over his cock. Waves of rapture flowed into his balls, his bladder, his anus, his belly, his heart and lungs, his brain. She should have split, his cock filling her to bursting, but instead She just expanded, keeping Her perfect proportions. Her breasts popped out a little more.
Her entire body embraced him, rippling up and down his shaft, milking him. He could hear, actually hear, the sweet song of Her pleasure, a solo violin in the silent symphony of lust and climax filling his mind from Her court.
His thumbs rubbed Her breasts, barely touching the nipples, then bearing down. She writhed around his shaft in blissfull gluttony.
The court attacked his nipples, his ears, his balls, his thighs, even his feet.
He opened his mouth for a fairy prying at his lips. She slipped halfway in, feet first, and he played his tongue against her scrumptious nethers. Two more fairies had their shoulders under his chin, urging him to eat. Their sister's flesh tasted like a minty lemonade gumdrop.
The milk of his Queen and the flesh of Her court were all the sustenance he would ever need.
A great firework of sex exploded in his soul. He felt as if gallons of fluid were jetting forth into his tiny Lover.
The last he remembered, he thought he could see the eye of his cock peeking out of Her open mouth with every stroke. As he'd withdraw, he could feel Her mouth close on it, squeezing it with a vise of lust. Her eyes were full of satisfaction and possession. He belonged to Her. He was content to die to please Her, and so pumped his Queen up and down on his cock as his life pumped into Her.
The Oberon knocked at the front door. A bronwyn opened it, shading her eyes against the setting sun. She was about four feet tall, her ivory skin clothed in only her cascade of champagne hair and a few teasing tatters of brown and lincoln green. A dagger hung from her waist in a scabbard of birch bark.
"Is the mortal still...mortal?"
She nodded her appreciation at the Oberon's immediate concern for something so far beneath him.
"Yes, Milord. However," she ventured, "will you not tend to the Welcome, first?"
He suppressed his eagerness; he'd barely been able to enter from the front, the Welcome called so strongly. It lessened to the ignorable salute of an over-enthused herald as he came into the dwelling.
"It can wait longer than the mortal, can it not?"
"Yes, Milord." She had chosen her Oberon wisely; many would have gone directly to what they would consider proper Fae business, mortal be blasted.
For a mortal's dead hovel, the house was astonishingly pleasant, filled with light. Potted plants luxuriated in their slavery. A piercing nag grew as he passed a scriptorium of some sort, judging by the clutter of tomes and parchments, and the glossy white wall filled with ugly if brightly colored runes and diagrams. He almost turned to investigate, but....
"Milord? I agree that's unpleasant, but I think not immediately dangerous. The real problem is at the back gate."
They stepped out to a courtyard through a door made of a single, enormous sheet of perfect glass that slid aside. How had that been done? No whisper of Work, much less Craft or Art, attached to it.
The bronwyn's mortal was lying naked in a couch strung on a skeleton of repellant gray metal, tears on his cheeks, drool on his chin.
A mab lay smoking on the stones. Her fairies were scattered about, a few still twitching.
"She was nothing but twat when I arrived, no fight left to her. All I had to do was not let the fairies bite."
That hadn't been hard; they weren't much more than the mab's hands. They had also feared the bronwyn's blade.
It was a shame, really. The mab looked to be of excellent breed. Mabcourts made fine pets, but were exceedingly dangerous when feral. Someone had been careless, at least.
"She must have been starving," said the bronwyn. "Only two or three dozen in her court. She seems to have rewarded him extravagantly."
The Oberon examined the mortal. He was limp, in sex, body, and soul, but not entirely unaware. He looked fatally sad. No wonder; there were shreds of three or four sets of wings scattered about his chest like dead leaves. It would be hard calling him back.
"Milord, might we gift him with a mabcourt? To fend off the craving madness? And I can manage the house, but all this --" she gestured at the garden, "could use a trained beeherd. He's got wasps." She near spat the word.
He nodded. "Perhaps, yes. My Lady Consort has a court ready to bud, and you know how she is about her gardens."
She smiled. "So gracious, Milord."
"She's not like to be pleased with it going to a mortal's garden, though."
"If you'll pardon my presumption, I think I know just the gift to persuade her."
The bronwyn gestured at the bottle and goblet.
"Honeysuckle and lilac. He's got at least half a dozen bottles racked."
Up close, the smell alone was intoxicating. Only the certainty that the fairies had tainted it stayed him from the goblet.
"Excellent! Yes, for a few bottles of that, she might could part with a budding court of twelve dozen. Small, but enough to serve."
Turning rot into bottled gaity was typical of what mortals did without Work or Craft. Fae could manage adequate bread and small beer, but wine of any quality required the human touch.
Still, he had to roll his eyes at the folly of such a quaff in a garden like this. Had the mortals remembered nothing of dealing with the Fae? Nothing at all? They'd only been gone for a breath, no more than three gross springs--well, four, perhaps--and everything had changed.
Everything had changed, yes. Mortals had done so much in the Fae's abscence, and so very, very quickly. The Oberon felt a twinge of fear. The bronwyn's mortal was perhaps not so much a fool, simply ignorant. His wine could bait a trap....
"Your opinion, bronwyn. Should we kill the Welcome before trying to bring him back?"
"Of a certainty, Milord. He must see things for what they are to have any chance of healing."
Again, she saw the Oberon's first concern was for her mortal. She was starting to actually like him.
They stepped out through the gate as if in the face of a rushing wind, and looked back.
"Deus servo nos."
The bronwyn flinched. In his mouth, for their kind, it was a foul curse, a self abnegation. It was part of what had driven them away. It had likely burned his tongue to say it.
The huge Welcome framed the gate, passing over the mantle and across the threshold. Crude as it was, even the Oberon could barely keep himself from stepping back through.
It was an actual flaxen Knot, properly laid and spliced to be smooth and continuous, with no ends or hidden tension.
It commanded, Welcome!
And no wonder it had called a mabcourt; it was arranged to portray the quim. He'd never seen the like; he had to chortle at the jape done with such verve. Welcome indeed!
The Welcome, the house, the garden, all demonstrated that this mortal was capable of more than Work; he possessed the true Craft, though he likely did not know it. If he could be saved, it was absolutely crucial he be properly trained. The Oberon considered for a moment; it would be easier to simply let him die....
But no. There were obligations, even to mundanes, as this man certainly was not. The Oberon drew his sword, and muttering a Protection, he sliced open certain crossings, first on one side, then the other, finally chopping out the lintel entirely to keep it from reknotting itself.
The garden became dull and gray. It wasn't, really, it was a perfectly lovely garden, touched by Craft, if untutored Craft; but with the Knot's glamour gone, it appeared in contrast to be nothing but a dim, weedy vacancy. Of course, as memory of the glamour faded, the disheartening illusion would fade with it.
The gate itself was now but a few rags dangling from murdered trees impaled with ironmongery, not a swirling vortex of invitation.
The Oberon rubbed his brow, wincing. The Welcome had nearly drowned out the nag, but now....
"What is in that room?"
Quick glances from behind a shielding arm showed him a drawing of a knot, a drawing that moved. It turned and writhed, smoothly flowing from one form to another. The forms were strange, badly proportioned, but then the Knots would snap into view. First a circle, which twisted and crossed, growing in complexity, then a welcome, one he had never seen before, then THE Welcome, the one on the gate, then a short, bewildering sequence of intermediates, then the Warning, then, almost instantly, the Curse. The Curse was followed by an unpleasant sequence, like the lingering stench after a battle, which collapsed again to the circle. Again and again, compelling and profoundly disturbing. Had it been true rope from the Queen's own flax, truly Knotting, nothing Fae within a gross league could have survived.
This, he finally understood, is what Knottings might look like to someone who lacked the realm sight, as if it were a shadow cast by the sun. Beyond that...
He drew a sharp breath.
"Air and Darkness. They're all the same Knot. No, not quite, but--related. Like a family." He pulled his lip, baffled. "How did we not know this?"
He drew his sword.
"Not necessary, Milord."
The bronwyn poked at a glowing blue circle-and-line quim rune in the frame and the drawing went black. There was, if one was attentive, a faint echo still, working out of sight in a glossy black slab lying on the desk. It was part of a faint, pulsing rush, like a vast net of tiny streams and cataracts, with tributaries stretching leagues away. It had an underlying regularity, an unfathomable tidal complexity. What was the thing? What was it doing? It was almost alive, in the same way the Knot at the gate had been, only much more so. And it absolutely sparked, not with Work, but some mortal skill the Oberon had no name for.
He shook his head. Saving the human was imperative. A mabcourt was a trifling fee.
"We have got to engage with these mortals. They are not the witless chattel they were when we left. Well done, Lady."
She bowed a fraction, no longer a mere servant in his eyes. For an Oberon, he was remarkably open minded.
She was, in the way of her kind, drawn to mortals and their works. She helped them however she could, and she had a knack for using their tools and methods. Her knife was cold iron; not even the Oberon could carry that. She was already of this one's house, after less than a day in it. She already had him in her special care, though he did not know it yet.
She already loved him.
And because of that love, she and her kind were despised by most Fae, almost by instinct, almost as much as the mortals themselves. Her Oberon's approval would be a powerful shield.
"Honored, Milord. If you please, the mortal, now?"
They went back out to the courtyard. The bronwyn settled into her mortal's lap to revive his body, and she and the Oberon began to chant his mind back from his despair.