Sir Edward’s pulse pounded in his ears, panic starting to set in. Sir Parker was duelling with a kind of righteous furor Edward had seen only once before; he knew he had only moments to strike before he was overcome. With a reckless thrust, Edward’s blade found its mark… too well. Sir Parker collapsed, staining the emerald grass of the clearing floor with red. Edward rushed to their side, but it seemed too late. He could do nothing but watch as two winged fairies swooped in and carried Parker off, dashing to whatever healers they had in Avalon.
Edward stood again, heart still racing. His eyes, as they always did when he lacked direction, darted around the crowd. Already Parker was a speck in the distance. Among the onlookers, tutting and murmuring, there was Iorweth, whose self-satisfied smirk faded as he saw the expression on Edward’s face. And just at the edge of the treeline, he caught sight of the flick of a tail - the Vulpine Regent, leaving almost unseen.
For a moment, Edward wished it was his heart that had been pierced, as it felt instead as though it were splitting into pieces - unsure of where to go or who to follow. Then he suddenly set off, not giving a second glance to a disappointed Iorweth.
Quixote had retreated to their quarters here in Avalon, an elegant tent woven from broad leaves, open to the forest floor (as much of the ground in Avalon was soft and clean) but lined with velvet cushions. They sat upon one, silently processing what had just happened, and perhaps, secretly, waiting to be sought after.
Their eyebrows rose imperceptibly as the flap of their tent opened. Sir Edward, looking haggard and distraught, took a single step inside and immediately fell to a knee in deference.
“Your Grace,” he said, attempting to level both his breathing and speech, “I must humbly request your permission to speak with you, and to surrender to your judgment.”
Quixote’s tail twitched, the brushing of fur against velvet the only sound in the tent beside Edward’s breathing and impossibly loud for such a small gesture. Or perhaps that was just how it seemed in that moment as they stared at Edward, their expression inscrutable. It was a curious thing; with Quixote sat as they were, legs folded beneath them with tail curled mostly around them, even kneeling as he was Edward was still taller but as the Regent looked up at him, he felt impossibly small beneath their gaze.
The silence stretched on a moment longer and then Quixote gave the barest nod of their head. “The humility of your request sits at odds with your entrance sir knight,” they replied. “As does the scope of it. What you ask is no small thing, especially when you come to me here rather than make your appeal at the court as things should be done.” Their tail unfurls completely for a moment, briefly lashing from side to side before settling again – an indication of something to be certain but with his lack of familiarity with the Regent, Edward had no way of knowing precisely what. Especially when their face gave so little away.
“But I will hear you. Speak plainly and truthfully. We have seen today how direct you can be when the occasion calls for it – I advise you do the same now.”
Edward looked up, locking eyes with the Regent. “The court, Your Grace? Where your tongue may be stayed by a hundred rules and formalities? No, I shall not be judged by Morgan Le Fay, but by Quixote. Forfeits and reprieves I shall accept from you, and you alone.”
If he had blinked a moment sooner he would have missed it but as it was – his eyes not leaving the dark brown flecked with gold of Quixote’s – he saw the way their eyes widened a fraction, their lips parting with a breath of surprise. Then he blinked and their face was as impassive as it had been before.
Perhaps that reaction should have been comforting, but if anything, Edward found it had become more difficult to breathe since he had entered Quixote’s tent. “Sir Parker challenged me on the grounds that I had besmirched your honour. I refused to yield, as I believe if he who managed to unhorse you were himself defeated, the indignity would not be remedied but doubled. But now I have injured, perhaps even slain, my friend, my comrade, my… captain. And my heart is shrouded in doubt and fear that only you may relieve… or confirm. I beg you tell me, Your Grace: Have I indeed wounded you?”
If his words had any impact on the Regent, it was impossible to judge – there had been no other reactions as he’d made his entreaty, nothing he could read into the slow sweeping motions of their tail accompanying his speech like a metronome for him to keep time to.
Then they stood up, the movement as graceful as ever and crossed over to him, taking his chin in their grasp (their hand small and delicate, their grip as unyielding as a gauntlet, their skin soft as a flower blossom against the beginnings of stubble on his jaw), and tilting his head up to look at them.
“Do I seem wounded to you Sir Edward. In body or in spirit?”
Edward shuddered at their touch - whether in fear or in delight, it was difficult to know. But he maintained his gaze on the Regent, his dark eyes burning like coals with emotion.
“You mock me,” he said quietly. “I have not known what you seem since I first saw you. I pride myself on my skill in reading faces, but yours is the most inscrutable I have ever seen. I know your heart can be stirred; the food in Avalon betrayed you at the first. But you refuse to show it.”
Edward lifted his hand and softly rested it on Quixote’s arm. Their eyes flicked sharply downwards for a moment, but they did not flinch. Edward’s eyes were softer now, not blazing fires but glowing cinders. “I know what it is like to have to hide your emotions; to show no fear, no pain, no joy. It can be easier that way - but it is desperately lonely. Please, Quixote. Tell me plainly. What do you feel?”
The Regent made no move to remove his hand from their arm, its presence seeming not to bother them, leaving the warmth of their skin to spread to Edward’s palm and fingers. “I cannot force you to believe me Sir Edward but I would have you know I am speaking honestly when I say this; it was never my intention to mock you,” they replied, voice as quiet as his own had been, if not more so.
“Nor was I trying to set you with an impossible task by asking my question. You are a knight, you know battle and the way a person moves, tells of the body and how someone may hold themselves. Emotions can be writ large in places other than the face sir knight.”
Then they smiled; a rueful little expression that pulled at one side of their mouth – small but unmistakable. “You pay a great compliment to my skills, in playing my part as the mistress of this court, but among my folk…there are those who consider me to be laughable easy to read unless I keep certain things under control.”
Their tail curved around their legs, brushing against the side of Edward’s own, and Quixote’s smile widened just a fraction.
“I feel many things Sir Edward. What is it you would care to know? I will give you…three. Your conviction and candour have inspired me to follow your example.”
Edward watched their tail curiously. The ghost of a smile played on his face, and he gave a single breath of defeated laughter. “Would that I had been a hunter; I have kept my dealings with mortal men, and have not learned the subtleties of your most elegant limb.”
His eyes returned to Quixote’s own, no longer searching for the meaning behind them but simply desiring their light. “Very well, you have given me three wishes, and I shall endeavour not to squander them. What did you feel during the duel, from the challenge to the conclusion?”
“I would not have you as a hunter Sir Edward, not for all the knowledge it may have granted you,” they replied, a sharpness to their tone he was not used to hearing from the Regent. The tip of their tail flicked twice in rapid succession and he remembered the talk of fear at the feast, how Quixote had devoured the sweet treat that accompanied the question. The ghost of honey played over Edward’s tongue and with it, the tiniest morsel of understanding blossomed in his mind.
The sharpness was quick to dissipate however as Quixote let go of Edward’s chin. Raising their hand to their own jaw with a languid motion, they began to stroke it thoughtfully, fingers absently tracing down the line of their throat as they stepped away from him to sit down on one of the cushions.
“Amused at first,” they conceded, that same dancer’s posture Edward had noted at the meal they had shared and numerous times since, holding them perfectly still. There was something new to the angle of their head however, and the way their hands now moved in accompaniment to their words as well as the now impossible to ignore shifting of their tail. “It has been…a long time since any one pertained to fight for my honor. Longer still since it was something I might wish for. I had not realised the young captain had become so enamoured he would perceive a slight against my person where none was to be had.”
“During the bout? Entertained to be certain. Two fine warriors engaged in their chosen skills and excelling, each fuelled by their own righteousness – how could I not be?” They smiled as they spoke, fingers tangling idly in the laces of their shirt and for a moment Edward could have sworn the beginnings of a flush rose to their cheeks. A moment later however, Quixote’s complexion was as even as ever and their expression grew serious.
“I would not have chosen the conclusion however. Avalon has its means and its magic to stay the most dire of consequences but to see such a blow left me…troubled. Such things may please others of this place but I lost my taste for bloodshed many moons ago, especially when I am at the heart of it.”
Edward winced and sighed in regret. “No, I have no taste for such things either. You may find me too bold for your court, but I am a defender, not an aggressor. Yet, despite what I did - despite everything I have done - what do you feel now, to find me here before you?”
Quixote blinked once. Twice. “You speak as if your boldness is something to be condemned for Sir Edward, I do not care to agree. Perhaps you lack the subtlety and flair for intrigue so fawned over by many of my kind but that is not to all tastes. Some prefer a forthrightness, relish in it even.”
They paused and then leant forward, palms to the grass floor of the tent just forward of where their legs sat crossed beneath them, looking both as if stretching but also like one leaning upon a wall to survey their property. Their eyes flickered over Edward’s face and form in a manner he knew was not dissimilar to his own and after a moment’s scrutiny that seemed to stretch on for minutes, their eyes finally met his again and that small smile, though a significantly less rueful one, pulled at their lips once more.
“But to answer your question; surprised,” they replied, body twisting with an ease to leave them lying on their stomach, weight now resting on their forearms as at their back, their tail moved almost in a lazy wave. “And it is not the first time you have done so. And, also not for the first time, I find myself pleased to feel that way.”
Edward was beginning to smile in earnest now, too. His face had softened - the creases of fear and guilt that had lined it before were easing. For the first time since entering Quixote’s tent, he moved from his kneeling position, placing a hand on the grass and shifting to seat himself comfortably at Quixote’s side, legs crossed underneath him.
“My last chance for an honest answer, then,” he said, for the first time letting a playful note creep into his voice. He leant forward, his head drawing level with Quixote’s, his hand resting on theirs. “What would you feel if I asked to remain here, with you? For this night, the next night, and the day between?”
Whether it was Edward’s smile or the tone in his voice, he couldn’t say, but Quixote was quick to return them with an easy grin of their own – an expression no less warm for the sharp teeth that it revealed and that seemed to make the gold flecks of their irises almost twinkle.
“Oh sir knight, I think you will always find me to be honest should you know how to ask the question,” they countered, voice low and humming with mischief. “But I promised answers and direct ones at that and let it never be said that the Vulpine Regent tries to wriggle their way out of a promise.” Their smile softened, though lost none of its breadth and ease and they leant forward a fraction more so their mouth was beside Edward’s ear, their lips brushing it’s soft curve as they spoke.
“Delighted, Sir Edward.”
Edward drew back, straightening up. He now had to look down at the Regent’s face, but could see their sparkling eyes again. His own eyes had fire behind them again, burning warmly with a new hunger beneath. “I am glad to hear it, Your Grace, because now I must ask a fourth question, and I would loathe to be denied an honest answer.”
His hand moved to their face, the back of his fingers gently caressing their cheek. “May I kiss you?”
The Regent’s smile turned gleeful and with the amount of their teeth on show, it held more than a hint of something predatory that was matched by a gleam in their eyes. Their voice was even lower when they spoke again, a faint rumble to their words, and a dark sweetness that reminded Edward of honey suffused their reply.
“Your boldness does you credit sir knight,” they said with a chuckle, twisting just enough to nip at his fingertips. Then in a blur of motion and colour the shade of the forest during autumn, they shifted briefly into their fox form and then back again to lie sprawled on their back with their head in Edward’s lap, grinning up at him.
“I am no keener to deny you your answer sir knight than I am to deny myself that which I want.” They brushed their thumb along their lower lip, eyes not leaving Edward’s.
“Kiss me Sir Edward. I wish to know the full extent of your boldness.”
He obliged, bending down to meet their lips with his, deeply breathing in the taste of them. One hand brushed its way through their long auburn hair, cradling the back of their head, while the other traced their jawline, down to their throat.
After a long moment, he pulled back just barely, cheeks flushed, breathing as rapidly as when he had first entered their tent. His fingers had found themselves idly twirling in the lace at the top of their shirt, flirting with the suggestion of loosening it.
Quixote's hands had not been idle either; one had found its way to the side of Edward's head, the fingers buried in his hair as their thumb rested against his cheek. The other held his collar, the tightness of their grip preventing him from moving further away if he had cared to do so.
Their breathing wasn't as fast as his but a similar flush was spread across their cheeks and as their eyes opened, he could see their pupils were blown wide with want.
Catching sight of where his fingers had found themselves, Quixote smiled again.
“Do you need assistance with that sir knight or are you just waiting on permission?”
Wordlessly, Edward tugged on the laces and they loosened considerably, their shirt slipping a bit on their shoulders. He gazed down with relish at the expression on Quixote’s face, but suddenly the mild taste of currants lingered on his tongue, and his own expression shifted slightly.
“Quixote,” he whispered hesitantly, “I… would prefer it if you would sit beside me, or else allow me to lay beside you. I wish to feel that I am loving you not as your servant, but as your equal.”
Quixote's brow furrowed a little and released their grip on Edward, slipping out of his grasp and off his lap as easily as a stream rushing over the stones of its bed. The movement caused their shirt to fall further open, sliding completely from one of their shoulders and leaving it bare, exposing a liberal dusting of freckles in the process.
They kneeled in front of him, sat back on their heels, tail curling around them neatly and their fingers buried in its fur.
“It was not my intention to make you feel that way Sir Edward,” they said, voice quiet but sure of itself. “I am out of practice in such matters since my elevated station. I...I would not and do not wish to wield that position unfairly and force a hand that is unwilling. That is precisely why you...” They trailed off and reached forward to touch Edward's cheek.
“One who bested me in battle, did not hesitate to come to me, spoke truly and from the heart...What more of an equal could I hope to find?”
He drew them close, one arm wrapping in assurance around their waist and the other brushing the hair from their face.
“My apologies, Your Grace,” he whispered. “Please, have no fears. I did not seek to accuse you of arrogance, or selfishness. But I suspect that you have been long denied the pleasures of a true match. And I would wish that all joys be yours.”
He kissed them again, tenderly and longingly, holding them tightly to himself. This time his embrace was not that of one cordially permitted his pleasure, but of a deep and mutual desire, a feeling he thought he had long left behind in the mortal realm.
Quixote sank into the embrace, Edward able to keep the two of them up with ease, their hands coming to rest either side of his face as they returned the kiss - more gentle than the first, less hurried but with a low heat that reminded him of a bed of banked coals. A soft wind outside the tent caused a whispering of the leaves of the surrounding trees and with it, an equally soft sound bubbled from the Regent’s throat. Or perhaps it was them who made the sound first and the wind outside was their chorus - it would not have been the strangest thing Edward had encountered in Avalon.
No kiss, no matter how sweet or how much wanted, could last forever, not even with the power of Morgan Le Fay behind it and so eventually the two of them broke apart, Quixote looking up at Edward through thick lashes only a shade or two darker than their hair and fur. “You say you wish me all joys sir knight, and the pleasure of a true match but please tell me.” They stroke his cheek a little before tracing their hand down to rest on his chest and over his heart. “What joy and pleasure would you have me visit upon you?”
Edward rested his forehead on theirs, still holding them close. “I could wish for no more than this, Your Grace. To remain here with you, to love you and to be loved in return. Should you continue to deem me worthy of you, Quixote, I shall find more joy than I dared to dream when first I came to Avalon.”
The two remained embracing for a time, relishing in the other’s touch. For the remainder of the night, the Regent’s tent remained undisturbed - although even masked by the rustling of the trees in the wind, not every sound from within could be hidden from those outside. Yet, while Sir Parker lay recovering in involuntary solitude, and while Iorweth bitterly sought a new diversion, the air in Avalon grew a little sweeter. As the moonlight fell upon their faces, they found themselves sinking into contented relief, as though a cruel spice burning in their throats had been soothed.