After what seemed like an eternity of steps, finally the seeker reached the final door. He paused a moment to catch his breath before grasping the handle, turning and pushing the door open. Immediately the harsh winds tore at his hair and long coat as he stepped out onto the deck. Before and below him spread the buildings of New York, tiny cars zipping back and forth, the rushing throng of humanity reduced to busting ants rushing hither and thither. Sitting on the other side of the safety barrier, suit jacket slung over one shoulder, legs dangling over the abyss and a flute of champagne in hand, sat the one he had been tasked with locating.
“You are not an easy person to track down. It has been a long time, Master Goodfellow,” the man spoke in a peculiar English accent; it was down-to-earth, but with a peculiar, almost archaic cadence.
“Not long enough,” the man replied, his English accent more upper-class, but with something of that same, olde-worlde edge as the other. And something else – an almost musical undercurrent, something that tickled the back of the ear and captured the attention of the listener. He leapt to his feet gracefully, not a drop spilling from his glass, and turned to face the other man. He looked him up and down.
“I see the Queen’s magics continue to preserve you well, for a mortal of your age – though the streak of grey in your hair is new. It suits you.”
The seeker bowed his head gracefully. When he lifted his gaze again moments later, the man stood a scant few feet in front of him on the same side of the safety barrier, suit jacket on, tapping a finger on the side of his glass.
“What do you want? It had better be good, unless you have some strange desire to wear a donkey’s head once more,” The man he had addressed as Goodfellow asked, and took a sip from his drink.
“The Queen… requests a favour.”
Goodfellow nearly choked on his champagne.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” the upper-class had vanished from his voice replaced with a coarse, common accent. He shook his head and let out a roaring laugh. “Stone me, Nick, she must be desperate!”
Chuckling, he smoothed his jacket front, and when he spoke again his voice had returned to its previous, cultured tone.
“What can possibly have brought her to this course of events, and why in the Court’s name would she offer me, of all people, a favour?”
The seeker shook his head ruefully. “She thought you might balk. She also thought that you might prefer her to answer in person.”
A look of alarm rushed across Goodfellow’s face, and his eyes darted about the rooftop, “You cannot mean she is here!”
Nick shook his head with a chuckle, “No, no, of course not.” He reached into his coat and withdrew an ornate, silver hand mirror. Finely carved silver ivy twined and twisted up the handle and around the frame, a far finer replication than any mortal hand might have wrought. He held the hand glass up; for a moment, Goodfellow could see his face reflected – and what a handsome face, he considered – then the image shimmered and was replaced by another. Her silver-white hair swayed gently as if caressed by a warm breeze; piercing summer-green eyes stared out of the glass at Goodfellow from a preternaturally beautiful face that had caused more than one mortal man to waste away, all thought of food and drink banished from their minds by the image of Titania, Queen of the Fae, burned into their minds.
“Your Majesty,” Goodfellow bowed with a flourish of the hand.
“Puck,” Titania’s commanding voice echoed unnaturally from the mirror, sounding like two voices talking at the same time, ever-so-slightly out of phase. “I have need of your services.”
Goodfellow raised an eyebrow comically high, “Really? And what calamity has befallen you that has caused you such consternation that you would ask aid of a lowly servant such as I – has another with the head of an ass caught your eye?”
Titania’s expression hardened like stone.
“Watch your tongue, Puck – lest I have it plucked from your mouth.”
Goodfellow laughed, “Ah, but that would be an option for you – Jester’s Privilege is a powerful tradition.”
Titania’s eyes sparked, and her mouth twitched with mirth.
“And would Jester’s Privilege cover the artefacts that disappeared from the vaults when you left us, Fool?” the Sidhe monarch asked with a chuckle, “I have separated many a man’s head from his shoulders for less.”
The Jester’s cheek gave a twitch, and he looked away. A dark expression was upon his face when he returned his gaze to the Queen.
“I understand that I am not the only one to have pulled a vanishing act though, am I? Now we have the Sidhe Council-”
Titania gave a dismissive puff and cut him off. “Power-hungry fools and cravens. They run around aimlessly or bury their heads in the ground. What do you care for their clucking and cawing in any case? It is not as if you would give a fig for their opinion or demands, you paid as little service to mine or my husband’s as it was!”
“True enough,” Puck inclined his head in acknowledgement. “What would you ask of me?”
“Your King requires your aid.”
Goodfellow blinked in surprise. “Oberon? Wh… Wait, If Oberon needs help, why am I speaking to you and not he?”
Now it was Titania’s turn to darken her expression. “My foolish husband has… has made some poor alliances. I believe that he is being held captive by… mortals.”
Goodfellow gave a choked laugh, “Mortals?!? That… that is mildly amusing, and mightily embarrassing! And what would said mortals want with our great and wonderful King?”
“… his key.”
“His key?” he laughed again, “And what good would that do them without-“
Goodfellow stopped dead as he saw the expression on Titania’s face.
“No- You- They have-“
“Yes,” Titania snapped, interrupting him, “And they must not get his. Stop them, Puck. And if you can, try and extricate our ‘great and wonderful King’ from whatever trouble he has landed himself in whilst you are there.”
Goodfellow raised his eyebrow once more. Titania rolled her eyes.
“And if you do, I will forget about the artefacts that you have ‘borrowed’.Goodfellow’s eyebrow inched up a little more. Titania sighed.
“Fine. And I will owe you… a favour.”
Goodfellow grinned, and bowed once more.
“Always happy to be of service, my Queen.”
Robin Goodfellow, or ‘Puck’ as Shakespeare more famously referred to him, served as jester to the Fae monarchs Oberon and Titania in times of yore, as made most famous in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, with sufficient time all things change; though the reasons are unknown, Puck left the court for the mortal world. He is typically evasive about his reasons, to those who dare to ask – the faeries who gossip about such matters imply an almost violent disagreement with some decision the Monarchs made. Whatever the reason, Puck practically disappeared from Sidhe circles, such that claims of having encountered the elusive Court Jester being dined out on for years by the claimant.
Goodfellow has built himself a very comfortable life indeed on the mortal plane – a broker of favours, he has accumulated not only physical wealth but also valuable favours owed from beings both mortal and fantastic. He is loath to call on them unless needed however – as those who owe him prefer to ‘keep him sweet’ with lesser boons and pleasantries, than to risk him calling in his marker.
As Titania and Oberon’s Jester, Puck has become used to ‘Jester’s Privilege’ – the ability to talk and mock those in power freely. When one has become used to speaking one’s mind to some of the most influential and powerful beings in the realm, it becomes something of a habit, and thus Puck tends to be quite direct and speak his mind, even to those in authority who may expect deference due to their position.
A handsome fellow and bristling with charm, Goodfellow projects an air of charm and sophistication – most of the time. In truth, as a Puck Goodfellow comes from humble beginnings, and when angered, surprised or otherwise emotional, his more common roots may come to the surface.
Another way this influences him is in his tendency to look down on people who have wealth and position without earning it (particularly if their conduct is not deserving of it). Conversely, Goodfellow has a soft spot for the underdog, the unfortunate and the downtrodden. Though you would not guess it from his conduct, many of the favours he has brokered have resulted in charitable endowments, the building of foster homes, or the support of programmes for the unfortunate. He finds such agreements particularly enjoyable when levying them at the feet of ‘silver spooners’ or those who have abused positions of power.
Puck has a number of powers inherent in most Fae; he is ageless, and his talent with glamours is quite pronounced, able to work small illusions effortlessly. Whilst Fae in general are swift and graceful, Goodfellow is a Puck; as well as being famed practical jokers and knaves, Pucks are known as ‘drudging fiends’, famed for being able to complete tasks in a flash to help those who favoured the faeries, as in fable The Elves and the Shoemaker. His dexterity, balance and grace are supernatural – he is able to complete manual tasks in a fraction of the normal time required and whilst he is no speedster, he is far swifter and more graceful than any normal mortal – it is with good reason that his dancing, capering and tumbling at the Fae court are a thing of legend. Combined with his talent for illusion, this allows him to move ‘in the space between eyeblinks’ as he calls it – vanishing when someone looks away, or suddenly appearing beside them as they check their watch. His dexterity and speed also play into his rogueish nature; he is a virtual Houdini, able to escape bindings and pick locks and pockets with ease, performing sleight of hand even without the assistance of glamours that would have members of the magic circle scratching their heads.
Aside from the gifts that are part of his nature, Goodfellow ‘liberated’ a few artefacts from the Royal Treasury when he departed. These include:
Autumn Armour and the Jester’s Flail
All members of the Sidhe court are expected to fight in defence of their monarchs, even the court jester. To protect him in the field of battle, Puck tailored a russet-coloured suit of leather armour, that was enchanted by Fae magicians to ward off arrows and other projectiles so that he could close with his opponents to use his favoured weapon. His chosen weapon is a long-handled threshing flail, long associated with the farmer and suiting his Puckish heritage. The Jester’s flail is engraved with corn ears and laughing jesters’ heads, and though it possesses no innate offensive qualities it is nigh indestructible, and in Puck’s practiced hands is capable of delivering skilled and painful blows. To ensure the bearer is ready to defend the court quickly, both items are also enchanted with transformation magic. The Autumn Armour transforms into a leather wristband (though the armour must be taken off or put on normally in armour form – though with his speed and dexterity this is something that takes Puck little time). As a threshing flail is quite a sizeable weapon, its enchantment also allows it to transform into a walking cane or a marotte (jester’s stick).
The Covenant of Thorns
Possibly Puck’s most treasured possession, in its true form the Covenant of Thorns is a black, leather-bound tome, its covers etched with twining rose vines and its pages infinite – though like many artefacts of the Fae it is capable of disguising its form, and Goodfellow most commonly carries it as an executive notebook. When sealed with a drop of fae blood, any bargain written and signed by the parties in the book forms a geas, where both parties are mystically bound to deliver on the bargain. The bargain can be a specific exchange, or as Puck often prefers, the owing of a favour that must be satisfied when called in (though the favour asked for must be roughly commensurate to that granted – the Covenant allows for a little extra on the granter’s side, should they wish). Puck has used the Covenant in his role as a broker of favours – either directly, to garner favours for himself, or to oversee exchanges between others (for which the Covenant enables the broker to include a small boon or favour for themselves as a “broker’s fee”).
As a broker, Puck only uses the book where he must – his reputation is sufficient for many of the favours he brokers, and he reserves the covenants for the most valuable of favours, or for those where trust is an issue. Failure to adhere to the bargain results in ‘poetic justice’. The poetic justice may come on gradually (in scale with the transgression from the agreed terms) and be reversed if the conditions of the bargain are met once more. For example, one bargainer who agreed to do a favour for Goodfellow in return for a wardrobe of clothes fit for a King found all of his clothing (that granted by Puck or otherwise) began to fall to ruin; when finally his wife mistook him for a beggar, he agreed to what had been asked of him and he could once more wear clothes without them rapidly turning into rags.
The Covenant will only bind bargains entered into in good faith – which is to say, willingly and of free will, and where the bargainers have the ability to deliver on their promises. Thus someone cannot be forced to sign the book on threat of violence or blackmail, nor could a pauper pledge to pay his weight in gold. Where an absolute value is not placed, the Covenant tends to weigh the return on favours and bargains in relative terms, based on the capabilities of the individual. Asking Lazarus, the nigh-invulnerable immortal, to defend you from a bicycle gang may be seen as the return of a small favour; asking the same of your accountant would not be so reasonable (though good luck getting Lazarus to sign the Covenant in the first place, he knows better). The parties involved may also agree to cancel the bargain, or hold it in abeyance; the presence of the Covenant is not required for this, though the same good faith terms apply.
Puck shares the common Fae weakness for cold iron; also, even for a member of the Fae court he has a reputation for being what is nowadays referred to as ‘a cocky son-of-a-bitch’. He tends to be overconfident in his abilities, particularly when it comes to mortals, and whilst he is extremely charming his attitude and his tendency to speak his mind with little regard for authority often causes problems.