Bitter Land; Bedroom Suite
The King of Swords stood at one of the windows in his palace and looked out over his domain. The snow was falling even heavier now. Would this Winter never end? He had put all the resources at his disposal to finding food for all his subjects from the lowest to the highest, but they were all slowly starving to death. There'd be nothing for Solstice celebrations this year, not that there was anything left to celebrate. He limped slowly back to his throne and began to brood over the past months, wondering if he could have prevented this darkness, this living death.
He counted off on his fingers. First there was his non-marriage. At the age of twenty-one he'd been expected - and expecting - to marry the Queen of Swords, but she'd run away rather than face an arranged match. He had heard it was the Knight who had arranged the whole subterfuge; stolen his bride away. The man couldn't be found, that was certain. The crops had started to fail even then. He'd ached inwardly, wanting to show love to his bride and hurt that she didn't even come to see him. He'd been fair to look at, then. Dark, but comely. After that, the woman had come from another reality. That delectable beauty he had learned was called Xena. She would have made a wonderful Queen of Swords - even if she were by nature The High Priestess. After she renounced him and left, the terrible weather had set in. Spurned twice. And now he doubted that anyone would ever have him.
For there was a curse on him, on the land. He'd heard rumours of his first Queen being murdered. The land itself would have reacted violently to such an abomination. Royal blood - any blood - spilled by murderous hands would cause the blight that had gradually beset them, getting worse every year. The rejection by two potential brides put the seal on his personal fate. The curse had spread quickly to his body, twisting it under his robes, making him impotent. The only parts unaffected by blight were his hands and face. The rest was misshapen, useless or covered with sores.
It was the same in court. Bodies twisted out of all recognition, some falling apart from leprosy and other diseases, but never dying. Here, now, even the gift of real death was denied. Death had lost his spear-head on top of everything else. The wise Hermit who might have cured them had also vanished. His Page - the one who came to be at his wedding - nearly fifteen years ago; by the Powers it was that long since....... Even he had been affected. So young to be put under the terrible spell. The King remembered the one sight that sustained him throughout everything, even beyond how fair this realm had been once. The beauty that was seared into his brain.
file://An eighteen year old youth, the Page, standing unseen and naked in a shaft of early morning light. The King had seen the long golden- brown hair, the blue eyes, the finely muscled torso sprinkled with curls and....he still boggled at the memory.....the most perfect erect phallus he had ever seen apart from his own. He knew in that moment what - or rather who - he wanted as his consort. Not the pale, beautiful Queen, but the young man.//
It had been a guilty secret, one he had never spoken of, not even with the Page. After all, he'd been told that he must marry, produce heirs to the throne. The Lands of the Tarot was supposed to have heirs so that it could continue forever. As much as he might want a union with his Page - and some nights the longing was more powerful than the pains in his twisted body. Those nights his dreams were sweet, but nothing else. He couldn't see any way out for either of them. Plus the blight had frozen the Page at eighteen, albeit a pale, wasted version of what he had been and the Emporer found himself further hampered by the apparent disparity in the in their physical ages. And now, now that they were closer than brothers and the Page knew all his secrets but one, and not a word, a kiss. The King knew he was incapable of making love, and only once had he seen the terrible metal abomination that grew incongruously from the flesh around the young man's groin, sealing him in an impenetrable cage. He couldn't even *offer* pleasure. He was too ashamed of how he looked now, under the robes. He longed to touch, but could not. The curse had taken even that away from them.
There were times in the night when the nightmares were bad, or the sweats came, or the pain in his tortured body was too great that the Page often crept into bed with him from his place on the floor and soothed him with gentle fingers the way that no-one else could. He slept then, either pillowed on the Page's thighs or with the Page curled up - for all that he was nearly as tall as the King, his golden-brown hair mingling with the sable on the King's chest. In those rare moments, the King felt loved. Then and when the Page bathed him. Not by a word or gesture did the Page ever show the least revulsion to his twisted, diseased body. If at all possible, as the years went on, the ministrations had become more tender, more loving. Once or twice he had laid a hand on top of the Page's and a look had passed between them, but they had both twisted away, psychologically incapable of more.
"Just once," he whispered, as he sat back on his throne, "You could have let us love each other once. At least then, I'd *know*.......know for certain.... Achhh!" He threw his sword on the floor with a resounding clang. Even the blade was tarnished and useless.
A minister came running. One of the members of his household.
The King barely looked up.
"Did you send out the proclamation?"
The man bowed, "Yes sire - I sent it out again."
"And no word?"
"No champion, sire. No cure. Just apologies and distress. The other three houses are just the same."
"Then help needs to come from outside - somewhere. A healer - a mighty warrior perhaps. Someone with an anointing to cure our malaise."
The man bowed lower, "The word should have reached all realms, sire. If there is anyone with the answer, they will be drawn by our magic to this place."
The tall, slender man took in a deep shock of breath. Hadn't he been dead a moment ago? He shook his head slowly. Vague memories of the Elysian fields trailed through his mind. He sat up.
"Good grief, what happened...... Oh no, don't say I ate the wrong mushrooms again! This place is *weird*.....I must be dreaming....." He banged his head with his hand, but the dark, twisted landscape remained. An old, rather battered helmet fell from his head onto the ground. The man picked it up.
He looked all around him, panicking, "Who spoke?"
The man looked down. Under where his helmet had been was a rock. A rock with one eye and a mouth.
The man scrabbled upright in shock, "What the..... You're a rock! I mean, I've met talking animals, even trees with dryads in - they were kinda friendly now and then - centaurs, of course and the odd water sprite...."
"Look, shut up, Klutz! This place is Illussia, one of the four lands of Tarot, but it's sick at the moment," the rock coughed and sneezed, "You have been brought here to help us."
"ME? I mean......I'm dead - I think. What can I do? I know some first aid......pretty good with a sword if I say so myself, but I don't know how to *really* heal stuff. If you wanted that, you should have called through a friend of mine.......what was her name now......?"
"It doesn't matter, silly. YOU are the one. And *here* you are alive. You'd better head north - no the other way! And go to the palace. The King needs you."
Twin brothers were fighting in the palace courtyard over a piece of bread. They were both so desperate that they had forgotten how to share. One knocked the other down. When he saw the blood, the victor ran for his life, spear in hand. Blindly he ran through the castle, stabbing at the first sign of resistance, then throwing himself off the battlements in a mixture of despair and grief when he realised what he had done. His body vanished into thin air. An hour later, the King found his Page bleeding from a terrible gash in his shoulder. He lifted him up himself and placed him in his own bed, treating the wound as best he could. But the blood kept flowing. The Page hovered between life and death. A single tear ran down the King's face.
"Oh, mighty Arcana..........don't die. I need you," despair brought the words out from his soul in a tortured whisper, "I love you."
"I love you too.....sire." The King looked down. Two pairs of eyes gazed deeply and openly for the first time in years. With trembling and gentle hands, the King drew closer and brushed a kiss on the other's mouth. Within seconds they were both drowning in the longest, deepest and sweetest kiss either of them had ever known.
Finally the King drew back, "If you survive......"
The Page managed a crooked smile, "No regrets. I've had fifteen years with you."
"But we never......."
"In my mind and my heart we did, sire. Often."
"I wish I could have shown you........"
"I know." The Page closed his eyes and drifted into semi-consciousness. The King kept watch for a long time, then decided that he could do no more and went to sit on his throne.
The man who had been called to the Tarot realm came at last into the Hall of the King. He bowed, taking off his helmet, then jumped and panicked when he saw the dark figure on the throne.
The King lifted an eyebrow, "No, just 'King' - of Swords. My true name is quite different. Who are you? You are not Tarot."
He fiddled with the helmet, "I'm Joxer. Joxer the Mighty!"
Lips curled in amusement, despite everything, "Not very mighty to me - but since you answered our summons..........." He led Joxer to the bed of the Page, "Heal him first - please. Then tell me what I must do to heal my land."
"You love him, don't you?" At the stunned expression, Joxer continued, "I was in love with someone.....once. Never quite managed to tell her how deeply. I always regretted that, although I think she knew....... Did you tell him?" The King nodded curtly.
Joxer removed his armour because he knew it would only get in the way. The King went to a chest nearby and fetched out an old robe.
"Here. A great healer-hermit once wore this......." Joxer put the robe on and `remembered'. Healing. Tarot. A small dog at his heels. Everything the Hermit knew came to him, the healing gifts first.
Joxer shook his head to clear it, "Um.....do you have the weapon that did this?" It took a few hours to find the spear, then Joxer held it, "Ah. Made from the metal that falls from the sky. Magic."
The King nodded, "You are right. This spear-head used to belong to Death, but was lost many years ago. Once we return it to him, that part of our curse should be healed." Joxer laid the tip gently on the wound in the Page's shoulder and it began to heal immediately.
"Now we must know what else was done with this weapon, so that the land can be healed."
The King and Joxer eventually found the wounded brother in the stables. He was weaker than the Page, but he told them everything, "We were trying to find a cure for this realm. We went on a long journey and saw this thrown by a mighty warrior on a great battlefield. We heard it called the ultimate healing stroke - but all it has done is wound and kill."
The King came closer, "I've travelled quite a bit; where was this battle?"
"On a vast plain, in the Land of Cups. Brother was fighting brother. The king.....I suppose it was the king, had this. We brought it here and someone used it to kill your intended Queen. We kept it as evidence, but it's never been used since until now. "
The King started, "So it's true. She died. *That's* what started the curse," His eyes narrowed as he looked at the wounded man, "You were the one, weren't you? *You* brought this spear *and* killed my intended bride."
The man nodded, "Yes - it was the two of us; I am the Knight you lost. The guilt of everything I did lies heavily on me. At least my twin has found release. And I will join him. When you heal this land, I will die and I hope that will be enough to bring recompense."
Joxer nodded, "I think we can heal the land now. This is not going to be nice....." He went down to the river that oozed near the castle, "Does this go everywhere in the land?" The King nodded. Joxer let seven drops of his own blood go into the water, "Now you, sire." The King added the same number of drops of his blood to the river.
Within seconds, the water ran clean and clear and grass began to grow near the bank. As the King watched, the land began to turn reen again and the clouds rolled away. The fruit trees were suddenly burdened with the best crop in years. The King felt his body thickening, straightening. It hurt terribly, but soon he breathed easily for the first time in years.
The King gave a short laugh, "Public holiday! A week at least. And *I* am not to be disturbed - just leave food outside the throne room."
He picked up his cloak and ran. He saw the old tower standing straight, intact and proud. The doves flew once again from the roof-tops. The air was sweet. He stripped off everything but his cloak and crown and sat on the throne. He covered himself with his cloak and called for the Page, trembling with anticipation. A tall well-built man of about his own age came into the room. He had very long brown hair with golden lights in it, deep blue eyes and was beautifully muscled.
"Who are you?" The King began to guess, but could hardly believe the vision of perfection that stood before him.
The man laughed softly, "I've grown up, sire."
"By all the Powers......you're well.......you're my Page!" The King smiled slowly, "Show me!"
The Page took off his shirt. The King couldn't stop himself moaning appreciatively. All that early promise come to gorgeous fruition. Heavier muscles, clouds of dark golden-brown body hair and the tiniest scar by one shoulder. The boots and trousers came next. Great legs, too. As the Page came closer he could see the generous bulge in his briefs and bit back another moan. The Page cradled himself teasingly, then quickly stipped off the last garment. The King gasped. A full, heavy scrotum and the biggest, hardest erection he'd seen apart from his own.
"C'm here," he rasped, almost beside himself with need. He flung back the cloak and watched the Page boggle and do some moaning of his own.
"Oh, my.......sire......is that all for me?"
"Yes," he managed, throbbing and aching now. He was so slick with desire that he knew he'd slide home without any difficulty.
"I still love you."
The King smiled wolfishly, "I know and I want to *celebrate*."
The Page climbed athletically onto the arms of the throne and leaned down for a deep, passionate kiss. As he did so, he lowered his hips and took in the tip of the King's upraised shaft. With a muffled yell of lust, pleasure and relief, the King thust upwards as the Page eased down and within seconds they were fully and deeply linked. The Page arranged himself on the King's lap more comfortably.
"Don't move......at least not for a moment," The King smiled, his groin on fire with need, "There's a little extra...."
"More?" The Page enquired in an awed voice, "I don't think I could take any more. You're huge!" His muscles clasped involuntarily and lovingly around the shaft inside him and the King whimpered with pleasure.
"Sweet Page. I meant this......" The King bared one arm. At the shoulder was a strange mark. The Page noticed that he now had a matching one on his arm. The King touched the marks together and the lovers were filled and encircled by a beautiful silver light, "That makes you my consort. Bugger tradition - you are mine and by all that's holy, I'm yours!"
The Page smiled back, "I can't keep calling you 'sire' all my life."
The King whispered a name in his ear and the Page whispered one back. Then two eager mouths met in another deep kiss and the two lovers raced each other to the finish, exploding together in an ecstatic mutual climax. They stopped for a while, then made love again......and again......and again. When they paused for breath, the King took his new consort into his bedroom and the mutual pleasuring continued all night long.
Joxer was duly called before the King a fortnight later. The throne room was filled with light and laughter.
"Anything you want. Name it." The King was smiling joyfully.
"Can I stay here - and maybe travel to and from my old home now and again?"
"Your hermit's cloak lets you travel between our two worlds. I was told once, a long time ago that it makes you invisible anywhere else." He picked up his restored sword, shiny and clean and knighted Joxer.
Joxer grinned, "thank-you, sire. Boy am *I* going to have fun with this cloak......! Mount Olympus for a start....."
"Anything else - a bride maybe?"
Joxer fidgeted, "If it's okay with you, I'd rather look around and pick someone myself. I wouldn't want whoever staying with me just because you'd told them to - no offence your majesty."
"Well, if there is ever anything you need and it is within my power to grant it........." Joxer nodded and departed. He found that the King's word about the magic cloak was true and spent many happy hours spying on the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus - especially Aphrodite and Ares. Later, the other monarchs of Tarot gave him gifts; A magic staff to protect him from the King of Rods, a magic flask of wine that never ran dry from the King of Cups and a coin bag that never emptied from the King of Coins. He found the old hermit's cave which was surprisingly luxurious and well-appointed and settled down to the job of wise-man for the Tarot. In due course a small dog came by and `adopted' Joxer, sticking closer than his own shadow. For the first time since the good years with Meg, Joxer knew true contentment.
Everything - and everyone - affected by the blight was fully restored. Even those who had been killed or died at the start of the blight came back, as the curse was fully healed. A few days later, the Queen of Swords turned up, restored to life - and heavily pregnant. She lowered her eyes before the man who would have been her husband.
"Forgive me. I should have had the courage to come to you. I was young and foolish and the Knight seduced me. These are his children I carry."
The King nodded, thinking quickly, "So. I cannot marry you now - I have already given my heart and hand to the consort of my dreams."
"I know; I can see the love between you. But these children carry some royal blood."
"You are offering me your children?"
"It is the least that I can do. Maybe one will be the new Knight, to complete our house."
"That is entirely likely. For the sake of the land, the future of the Tarot and Illussia, I accept."
The Queen bowed her head further, "I'll give birth to them and go away quietly."
The King stood up and walked towards her, "No," he said gently, "A mother should not be separated from her children. You may stay and raise them with me and my consort."
Her pale green eyes met his, "Thank-you," she said softly.
A slow smile spread across the King's face, "You have provided two heirs for me and the Kingdom. For that I thank you. You are welcome to stay here as long as you live."
"I will do my best to make up for my earlier desertion of duty."
"Deliver me at least one healthy baby and you will have a place of honour here always."
She smiled sadly, "Now I see the full worth of what I lost."
"You have gained me and my consort as friends."
Her smile widened, "It will be enough."
And it was, more than enough.