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Booby Prize, Part 2

by Mike Nelson
Inspired by Booby Prize by Bob Stein
Prize Winner - Category 5

Keith chewed his cud thoughtfully as he made his was through the back of the hotel towards the meeting rooms of the Con. He'd been stuck in the body of a cow for a year now, and wanted to find the Elf Queen who had been responsible. He hoped to somehow convince her to return him to human form.

It hadn't been easy living as a cow. After they had discovered him, well actually 'her' since he was a cow, they had led him to an open pasture where a bunch of other cows grazed the days away in lonely silence, only the occasional moo to pass the time.

He'd been lucky. The stock truck came by one day and loaded up the rest of the herd, but left him.

"Look Jim, this one doesn't have a brand, is it ours?" One man had said, after placing a hand on his backside.

"I dunno." The other man scratched his head thoughtfully. "The boss said to take just the circle Q's. Maybe she wandered in here from another field. The boss'd be pissed if we took the wrong one, better leave her here- someone will be looking for her shortly.

In some ways he was happy the herd had left, he didn't even want to think about what those bulls had done. But their absence left him insecure, alone. How would he pass the long Winter months? What would he eat? The bovine part of his mind didn't worry, and when the human part considered these insecurities, it was easy to retreat, ignore and chew his cud.

But he had made it through the winter, and calving- though again he didn't want to think about that, and now he was back where he had started, the Holiday Inn.

He remembered a year ago, tromping through these very halls, dressed in his Minotaur's costume when the Knight had requested his presence in front of the Elven Queen. He had eagerly followed, anxious to meet such a figure. The elven group swept the Masquerade competitions year after year, and now Keith knew why. They actually used magic to transform the costumed people into the creatures they seemed, and took them to a separate Universe where Elves, wood nymphs, knights in armor, and Minotaurs were not out of the ordinary. Keith had been transformed into a Minotaur, and when he wanted to back out- killing was not his style- the Queen had returned him to the conference in the body of a cow.

Like some demented Halloween party, Keith mused as he carefully crept his way passed other costumed people. He hoped no-one would catch him and take him back out to the fields. He moved his back and front legs awkwardly, hoping to give the impression of people in a cow suit.

"A cow?" One bewigged individual asked him. "Why on Earth would you two come as a cow?"

"Moo," Keith answered and continued on his way.

"Realistic though, did you see those eyes?" Another person said in response.

"Puleeze!" the wigged individual said, flipping a long nailed hand. "I wouldn't be caught dead as a cow!"

At least they thought of him in costume, and not a real cow. He made his way back to the rear of the conference rooms, and found a short line of individuals waiting access in front of the Queen's court. This time, a Barbarian led them in and out.

"I can't believe the Queen wants to meet with me!" A young woman exclaimed in front of him. Feathers covered her upper torso, except for her rather deep cleavage and she wore some type of leggings that gave her bird's feet. "They always win!"

Keith shook his head, knowing what would be in store for her. He hoped she would like life as a harpy in the Elven Land.

The door opened, and the massive barbarian beckoned to the group. Keith followed, and was surprised when the man allowed him to enter.

"My, My!" The queen exclaimed after they were presented. Her long flowing hair was adorned with tassels. "Such an extravagant lot!" Her gaze fell on Keith.

"I don't remember calling for a cow, Moki." She turned to the Barbarian, a puzzled expression on her lovely face.

The man hit his prominent forehead with an open palm. "Sorry."

The queen began her examination of the Harpy and others in attendance as Moki made his way towards Keith.

"Go!" Moki pointed towards the open door.

Keith would not turn he remained stolidly in place.

"Go!" Moki grunted and laid a hand sharply across his flank. Again, Keith remained in place silently. He wanted the queen to notice him again.

"What is the problem my dear Moki?" The queen said. "Won't your bovine friend cooperate?"

She approached him, looked into his eyes. Recognition flared in her delicate features.

"Oh, my!" She said, covering her mouth with a delicate hand. "What have we here?"

She looked into his face fully, and smiled tightly. "Well, you certainly have lived an interesting year, my dear. Are you here perhaps to apologize for your rudeness last year, by not accepting my gracious invitation?"

Keith nodded his head slowly in response.

"Take these people back to the tailors and make the necessary adjustments to their costumes," the Queen ordered. "I have a cow that needs some attention."

"Yes." Moki responded, and left to complete her directions.

When they were alone, the queen waved a hand in front of Keith's throat.

"You can speak now. What is it you'd like to say to me?"

Keith cleared his throat, unused to the sensation of speaking.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Please make me human again, I hate being a cow. I'll do anything you ask!"

"Such words of Promise!" The queen laughed. "Are you sure you would do anything I ask? I can think of quite a lot of things."

Keith nodded. "Anything, just make me human again. Please? I'll even go back to your land with you."

The Queen looked at him for a long time. Her face was curiously free of expression as if she had found something unique.

"You remember your previous life? You remember being human?"

"Yes, and I want to be human again. Being a cow isn't so bad, but I really don't like standing around all day doing nothing. I'm sorry if you think I was rude, but I also didn't want to be a monster that had to go kill people. I can't kill like that."

She nodded. somehow solemn. The mirth had left her face, and now her eyes seemed old somehow, as if she'd lived too long.

"Follow me," she said, the merriment out of her voice. She walked towards the back of the conference room. At least he would be human, he thought as he trudged after her, his enormous bulk bumping tables as he continued after his hostess.

The Queen stopped in front of the back wall. Keith wondered what she might be doing, when an entire section of the wall disappeared and a forest glade opened in front of him. The Queen walked into the glade, turned and beckoned for him to follow.

When he stood next to her in the glade, he turned his head to look behind him. No trace of the convention center remained. In the distance he spied an enormous castle of what appeared to be crystal. Spires soared into the sky, towers prismed the sun thousands of rainbows. Crenelations of the clearest ice guarded the most wondrous creation Keith had ever seen.

"My Castle," the Queen said in a soft voice. "You might be interested to know I have lived there for over a thousand of your years."

Keith turned his massive head. "A thousand? You don't look a day over eight hundred."

The Elf Queen laughed, though it seemed without humor. "I hope you continue to have the same humor after we're finished." She turned.

"You see, I have grown weary of life, ten centuries is a long time for anyone to last. Elves are usually long lived, but I have outlasted them all. I have had children, seen grandchildren, great grandchildren, great to the hundredth extreme. They all live their lives, and die while I continue on exactly as you see me."

Keith could see her eyes, blinking the knowledge of ages.

"I had a husband who joined me in life, and I even outlived him. Once you live as long as I you will see how weary you become, how the very act of morning, afternoon, twilight, and night becomes tedious. After awhile, creativity leaves the mind, replaced by years of drudgery and coldness. I am tired of that drudgery and seek to be reunited with my love from life in the world beyond."

Keith wondered where this was all leading. She walked away from him, beckoned for him to follow. They passed through the glade and into the forest. Darkness loomed; caused by the trees stretching higher, blocking out the golden sun.

A river echoed nearby, and Keith could smell the water. His body reacted and he pressed towards its source, following the Queen. They came to a small lagoon. A Strange dancing river rushed by behind it, foamy whitecaps sparkling in the gloom of the forest. In front of the lagoon a pedestal had been erected, made of the same crystal as the palace. It looked like a small stage, with crystal columns on either side. The queen mounted the pedestal and beckoned for him to follow.

His hooves had a hard time acquiring purchase on the glass stair, but after a few clumsy attempts, he made it and stood by her side.

"These are the sacred waters of Life. This river runs through all the dimensions, touching each and gathering magic from all. This River is revered and guarded by the elven, no one may control or dam its waters. It is why we are here."

She dipped a crystal goblet into the surface of the pool.

"No one from my land may drink its water and live. No on from your land can drink its waters and remained unchanged. I seek to pass my rule on to another." She paused, and placed a hand on his rather bulky shoulder. "I seek to pass my rule on to you."

Keith remarked to himself at what this must seem like to someone observing this scene. The beautiful Queen of the Elves touching a fat cow on the shoulder and talking to him about passing her rule on to him.

How could he rule this place, he wasn't an elf, he didn't know the rules, laws, methods of protection. He didn't know magic or what it meant to be magical. How cold she possibly want to pass it on to him? All he wanted was his old body back, and to go home.

"I couldn't possible be worthy of such a post," he said. "You should choose one of your court, another elf."

"I cannot." She smiled, it echoed the centuries. "They cannot drink the waters of Life and live, they are crafted from it."

"Well, then someone else from my time, the President, a CEO from a major corporation, anybody! They would be much better than me!"

She shook her head, silver flowing locks waving gently.

"They do not have your heart. I remember your reaction when I made you the monster. You cringed, wanted out. How many CEO's would turn down that opportunity? How many Presidents? I gave you the form of the bovine, to see how humble you could become. You passed that test as well, remaining human inside, remembering yet accepting. How many others placed in your position could do the same without going mad?"

Keith was struck. He'd never thought of it in those terms before.

"All whom I transform from your worlds, changed with the water of life have been a test. Moki, the little boy who became the Barbarian I had many hopes for, his young mind seemed the most open to the change. Yet now he is nothing more than you see. Marie, who dressed as a wood nymph and became one in life. She now worships the sun and wards the trees happily. All the rest I have changed through the years have either lost their sanity, or became exactly what I made them. Only you remembered, only you came back."

Keith blinked, amazed at what he was being told. "No one-?"

"None," the queen replied smiling. "You are the only have passed. Why do you think I attend those infernal Conferences? You think I need to win those trophies year after year? You think it gives me diversion, I whom have lived ten centuries?"

Keith was speechless.

"I searched out those unhappy with their lot, those unhappy with their true form. I wanted one who yearned for the gift of magic, of Life. I searched for someone to convey this on to, my Rule and Ward. You are the only one to pass." She paused, gazing into his eyes as she held the cup. "Will you accept?"

Keith considered her question. What did he really have to go home to? He'd been gone a year, most would have accepted his loss now, his parents, friends. And what kind of life anyway? He'd been a local student in the community college, studying economics. He had few friends, loved his parents, but it wasn't much of a life.

And the offer? To rule over this magical kingdom, guard the River of Life from those that would seek to use it for their own ends? He loved fantasy books in life, here was his dream come true. He would be King!

"Yes, I accept your offer to rule here as King." Bolstered by his decision he started forward.

The Queen hesitated, looking away. "I'm afraid your slightly mistaken. You see, Ward over the Water of Life is nurturing. You most succor the kingdom, understand your subject and your Sentinel. I'm afraid male attributes simple are unworkable in this position." She regarded him, arched brows over oceans. "There was a reason I made you a cow and not a bull."

Again, Keith was thunderstruck. "You mean, I'd have to be a girl?"

"Not just a girl, A Queen."

Keith almost stumbled off the pedestal and into the lagoon. How could he possibly accept this, possibly want the conditions she laid before him. Not only would he lose what was left of his previous life he would have to live as a girl for the next centuries! Never before had he considered such an idea.

"And if I were to refuse?"

The Queen sighed, lowering the goblet. "I would return you to your world, in your original form. I could even make your mind forget that this had all happened, and I will continue my quest for someone else."

Keith looked at her slumped shoulders, the beautiful fallen face. It seemed the weight of ages rested on her shoulders, and he could tell she was tired of the pressure. He looked around him, back in the direction he had come. That Castle! Oh, to explore its nooks and crannies, and find out about this River, and what Dark Forces sought its source. He envisioned the battles he would have, the glory, the magic.

Ah, what the hell. Life can't be too bad as a girl.

"I agree. I accept."

The Queen smiled, held the goblet to her lips and drank.

Moki the Barbarian dashed into the courtroom unannounced. His enormous chest heaved, as if he had been running for a long time.

"My Queen!" He gasped as he approached her throne. Those in attendance stopped their activity and looked on interested. "Lothar masses at Darkenweir! He has gnomes and trolls and a battalion of goblins! The harpies also come to him, he will ride for the River on the morn!

The Queen lifted a hand in response, Moki could be so excitable." How did you come by this information Moki?"

"My Queen, I saw it myself. I come form DarkenRidge."

Keithara smiled to herself. DarkenRidge was at least a four day journey by horseback, and Moki had run the entire distance. "Send for Sir Aeriel, tell him to ready our armies. Tell the CourserMaster to prepare my steed. I shall lead our forces myself. Secure the Castle and the River Bannordike, we leave within the hour.

"Lead yourself, m'lady?" Moki stared at her, astonished. "Leading the Army is the work of men."

Keithara lifted a long silver tress from her beaded gown. "Don't let this hair and clothes fool you Moki, I am not all that I seem." She laughed, tinkling notes echoing around the crystal courtroom as she rose to help secure the Palace.

Moki's brow furrowed in confusion, as the Queen passed.

"Oh, don't worry your little head about it Moki." She placed a hand on his broad chest. "Life is never as it seems, that is why we guard the River so fiercely, am I right?"

Understanding flooded across the man's face. He nodded.

Keithara smiled, as she exited the chamber.

Copyright 1997: Mike Nelson <mnelson@www.greyhills.cc.az.us> . If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first.       Thank you.

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