The next morning, the Fairy King Rulash woke to light on his face and a cat sleeping on his chest, whiskers tickling his neck. He had always liked cats, but he disliked sleeping with them. He shoved the orange cat onto the floor and gripped his head. “Oh, this is not the way things were supposed to go.”
He stretched out his aching legs, and the cat tried to rub against his feet.
“Leave me alone,” Rulash said. “I’m not in the mood.”
“Timber is always in the mood,” said someone dryly.
The fairy king jumped up from the cot. A young man—an oddly familiar—young man leaned in from the hallway, and Rulash tried to peer through the drunken haze of the night before and the headache of the present to make sense of the moment. His face bent in confusion.
The young man waited, watching the thoughts click and clack against each other through the man’s expression. He puffed his cheeks and slowly released the air. He held out his hand. “I’m Sam. We met last night.”
“But you are a man,” stated Rulash.
Sam pursed his lips and calculated his response. “I believe so.”
“Why did you look like a woman last night?”
“Because I enjoy it,” stated Sam. “Honestly, I was hoping to talk with you about you and figure out where you need to go.” Sam grimaced at Rulash’s clothes. “Or help you get back on your feet…”
“I had a terrible night,” admitted Rulash. “Your assistance, even though you are obviously… strange, is appreciated.”
“Thanks,” said Sam blandly. “I take it you’re not from around here?”
Rulash stared down at his ruined shoes and clothes, which were different from Sam’s, and realized this might be a little more difficult than he originally planned. The worry must have shown on his face because Sam crouched down and took his hand. “Hey, don’t worry, we’ll get you straightened out.” Sam paused, made a face at his own words. “I mean, we will figure out where you need to go.”
Rulash looked down at the hand over his own. “Why are you touching me?”
Sam yanked his hand away. “I was trying to comfort you.”
“I dislike being touched,” declared Rulash, “unless it is by my one love, Willow, who came to this city. I have left my throne behind and followed her to try and win her back.”
“That’s so romantic!”
Rulash appeared pleased with his enthusiasm, even if it came from a man who dressed like a woman. Perhaps he surrounded himself with animals for company? Rulash gave Sam a calculating glance. He also liked animals. This barn of a residence was a residence, and it was close to Willow, and even though it was run by a confused person, Rulash had not remained a fairy king by letting obvious opportunities pass.
Sam did not miss the throne comment. “Where are you from exactly?” He evaluated the man on the cot. “You look like a young David Bowie.” Are you a member of a European royal family?
“I don’t know who that is. I am from the fairy realm, but that is not important. What’s important is winning back Willow. Can you help me?”
Sam pressed his lips together, thinking. He’s crazy. Harmless, but crazy.
Hot, but crazy.
“We might be able to work something out,” said Sam. “I’ve been looking for an assistant. Do you have any experience working with animals?”
Rulash stared at him with disdain. He raised his chin and even though he was sitting, he looked down on Sam, who instantly turned angry because working with animals was to be respected, and Sam opened his mouth to give the arrogant lunatic a piece of his mind when Rulash responded.
“I am a fairy king, third in my family on the throne. Painstakingly studied, a lifetime of education—I am a master of all animals, save for man, which was given his own realm.”
Rulash stared at the room, clearly conveying what he thought of man’s realm from the rusted mirror and the pile of dog food bags. He stood up and stretched.
“Great,” said Sam, watching. “You can earn your room and board then.”
Rulash shrugged and left the room, already contemplating his next move.