In the land of Shin Makoku there once lived a young man by the name of Yozak. Yozak loved to dress up ladies’ clothing, so one day his best friend Conrad presented him with a red dress and hooded cloak he’d had his brother Gwendal make. The red clashed horribly with Yozak’s orange hair, but that was what wigs were for and, besides, it was the thought that counted.
Yozak took a liking to the fine garments (Gwendal’s superb dressmaking skills were Shin Makoku’s best-kept secret) and wore them so often that all who knew him took to calling him Yozak Red Riding Hood. None were sure exactly where the “riding” bit came from, but for some reason it made the title flow better off the tongue and so it stayed.
One bright spring morning, Conrad asked Yozak Red Riding Hood to go into the deep, dark woods to play baseball with the king at his woodland castle. “I’m unable to go this week,” he said sadly, “for I must embark on a quest to regain my missing arm from an ancient king of great power who likes to steal people’s body parts for fun.”
“I wondered what was going on with that.” Yozak flung his red cloak over his shoulders. “It’s just along the path, right? I’ll be back before it gets dark.”
Conrad gripped Yozak’s arm. “Be careful,” he warned, “The Big Bad Murata stalks those woods. He’ll… he’ll… just be careful, okay?”
“You’ve told me the story a million times, I know already.”
“I worry. You’re very… appealing to those types. So just be extra cautious, please?”
Yozak rolled his eyes and promised his friend that he wouldn’t let himself get violated by strange men in the woods. “Anyway,” he said, “I’ve wandered around more dangerous places than that before, in way more revealing clothing.”
“I remember,” Conrad replied. “It was quite the birthday.”
After a few more minutes of friendly, innuendo-laden banter, Yozak Red Riding Hood took Conrad’s spare baseball glove and the picnic lunch Gwendal held out and started his journey to the King’s woodland palace. The woods were dark, but the path was well worn and easy to travel. Yozak strolled along cheerfully, enjoying the cool breeze that ruffled his skirts.
About halfway to the palace, Yozak came upon a fork in the path. He frowned. Though Yozak seldom visited King Yuuri’s woodland palace, he was certain that the path did not diverge along the way. Had he gotten himself lost? Perhaps he ought to turn back.
Just then, there was a rustle from the stand of trees behind him. Yozak spun around, his skirt twirling about him in a fashion he would have taken much delight in under different circumstances. A dark-haired boy leaned against a nearby oak, smiling at him. Sunlight, somehow finding its way through the dense foliage, glinted off the boy’s glasses, hiding his eyes.
“You should turn left,” the boy offered after a moment, “if you’re looking for the king. Right leads to the river.”
“Oh,” Yozak said, surprised, “thanks.”
“No trouble at all,” the boy beamed, “happy to help. Shall I accompany you there? I’d hate to think of you getting lost in here.”
Yozak thought that would be a marvellous idea, seeing as how the boy was absolutely charming (and by charming we here mean ‘attractive’), but Conrad’s warning came back to him. “Your name… it’s not Murata, is it?”
“Oh? How did you know?”
“The Big Bad Murata?!” Yozak nearly dropped his picnic basket. Could this be the beast Conrad had spoken of?
The boy frowned. “I don’t think so,” he said, giving himself a cursory once-over, “I certainly don’t look big or bad, do I?”
“Well… no,” Yozak allowed, “and Conrad always did describe the Big Bad Murata as being seven feet tall with bulging muscles and a lecherous look on his face, and you don’t have any of those things.”
“Well, I guess there must be another Murata wandering around these woods. I assure you, it’s a very common name around here.”
“Yeah.” Yozak looked to Murata, and then down the path. He considered the situation for a moment. “If it’s all the same to you,” he said finally, “I’d rather not take any chances. If I get violated by strange men in the woods then Conrad’ll never let me go out in women’s clothing again, and I just can’t have that.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it!” Murata said, “I understand completely. Men as good-looking as you have to be careful, right? I’ll just let you be on your way, then. There aren’t any more forks in the path, so you should be fine from here on anyway.”
Yozak thanked the boy for his help and apologized again for being unable to accept his escort, then continued on his way. Murata watched him go, eyes once more hidden by the glare on his glasses. He soon took off running down the right-hand path.
“Yuuri!” Murata called as he burst into the king’s study, “Guess who I saw on my way here?”
“I know it wasn’t Conrad,” Yuuri said, a little sulkily, “he sent word yesterday that he wouldn’t be able to make it. I bet it was that weird friend of his that dresses up like a girl, right? Yozak Green Riding Boots or something?”
“I think it’s Yozak Red Riding Hood,” Murata corrected him, “and no, that wasn’t who I saw.”
“Your fiancé, of course!”
The tip of Yuuri’s pen snapped, sending black ink spattering over the letter he’d been labouring over for the past half hour.
“He had a lot of stuff with him,” Murata continued, “invitation designs, sample menus, china patterns, that kind of thing. The wedding must be coming up soon, huh?”
Yuuri went a sickly shade of green and stood up. “You know, it’s a really nice day out. I think I’d like to take a walk.”
“Really? You’d better be quick about it, Wolfram will be here any time.”
The king hastily grabbed the jacket he’d left hanging off the back of his chair and ran out with a “let Gunter know I’ve gone, okay?”
It took far longer than Yozak remembered to reach the castle, but after an hour of walking he was relieved to find it hiding around a bend in the path. “About damn time!” he cried, shifting the heavy picnic basket from one hand to the other for the hundredth time that morning. He found the small entrance door, a little to the side of the main gates, and knocked. Shortly, a man with long, lavender-colored hair peeked out.
“Yozak!” the man exclaimed, “It’s been such a long time! That outfit is quite adorable on you, I have to say.”
“Thanks, Gunter,” Yozak replied, perking up instantly, “Conrad got Gwendal to make it for me!”
“Really? If I had known he was so talented I would have had him make something for the king, he’d look so cute in an outfit like that!”
“Well, I don’t think it’s his majesty’s sort of thing. Speaking of which…” Yozak held out the baseball glove and the picnic basket.
“Oh, of course!” Gunter stepped aside. “Right this way, he’s just in his chambers right now. Though I must say,” and the man’s expression clouded over, “it seems that he took ill this morning. He won’t let anyone in to see him, not even a doctor. Do you think you could…?”
“No problem,” Yozak said, “Kid’s probably just worried about spreading his cold, he’s like that. I’ll have a talk with him. He’ll be under Gisela’s excellent care in no time.”
Gunter sighed in relief. “Thank goodness for that silver tongue of yours, Yozak. You know me, I’ve got such a soft spot for his Majesty, it’s really a problem, I can’t get him to do anything, it reminds me so much of when Gisela was at that age and I had to get Gwendal to make her listen to anything I said—he was just a boy himself, but you know how he is. I swear that man was born an adu—oh, here we are.” Gunter stopped abruptly before a large wooden door and knocked sharply. “Your Majesty?” he called, “Yozak Red Riding Hood is here to see you.”
“I told you I’m not having visitors today,” the king croaked out.
Gunter made as if to reply, but Yozak interjected. “Your Majesty,” he said, “I’ve come all this way through the woods to visit you, the least you could do is let me in for a minute. Conrad’ll never let me hear the end of it if I don’t at least try and cheer you up a bit, seeing as how you’re sick and all.”
“A little cold ain’t gonna stop me from doing anything, your majesty, so don’t worry about me catching it. Besides, Gisela’s here to take care of me if that happened, and there isn’t anyone in the whole kingdom I’d rather leave my health to.” Yozak cocked his head and smiled, “Come on, your Majesty, what do you say?”
There was a brief silence, and then: “Okay, you can come in. Just for a few minutes, though.”
Yozak gave Gunter a thumbs up and went in. Both refrained from mentioning how amazed they were that that had actually worked.
The king sat on his bed, a blanket wrapped tightly around him, facing away from the door. “Hello, Yozak. It’s been quite awhile, hasn’t it?”
“Sure has,” Yozak said, shrugging out of his cloak. “Gwendal packed a lunch, if you’re interested.”
Yuuri shook his head. “I’m far too sick.”
“Aw, too bad, he’s so good at all those homemaker things.” He sifted through the basket, “Geez, there’s even cake in here! Sure you don’t—” Yozak looked up and froze. He could have sworn…
“What is it?”
“Your Majesty,” Yozak began hesitantly, “when did you get glasses?”
The figure beneath the blanket stiffened, but the king’s voice stayed light. “I just got them recently. All that paperwork was starting to strain my eyes.”
“I see.” Yozak edged forward, trying to get a better look at his Majesty. “Ah, and what long hair you’ve got now! It really has been a long time since I saw you last.”
“Well, I thought I’d grow it out. It looks much better this way.”
“Oh, I agree,” Yozak sat down on the bed beside his Majesty, “I really like the little flippy thing you’ve got going on. And,” he reached out and turned the boy’s head to face him, “what lovely, full lips you have, Murata.”
Murata grinned and leaned forward. “The better to…”
King Yuuri shuffled along the riverbank. He really ought to head back; Wolfram would only get angrier the longer he was made to wait.
“I’m not ready to pick out china patterns and invitations and decide whether to have beef or chicken for the main course!” Yuuri cried to the forest, “I barely even know the guy! Give a kid some time to get acquainted to the person he’s supposed to spend the rest of his life with.”
Yuuri jumped a little and looked ahead. His face flooded with relief as he saw the man standing a little ways up the path. “Conrad! You’re back early! And you’ve got an arm and everything!”
“Yuuri,” Conrad corrected himself, “what are you doing out in the woods alone? Where’s Yozak?”
“Oh, I haven’t seen him, I left before he arrived because I heard your brother was—uh, I mean, I just felt like going for a walk. Anyway, Murata’s there to keep him occupied until I get back, so I’m sure… Conrad?” Yuuri stopped and started at his friend, worried; the man had gone white as a sheet.
“Murata?” Conrad asked.
“Yeah,” Yuuri replied, “he stopped by this morning.”
Conrad grabbed Yuuri’s hand and starting running towards the castle.
“Conrad! Tell me what’s going on, already!” pleaded Yuuri as they stormed into the castle, past a bewildered Gunter to the king’s chambers. “What’s the matter?”
“Your friend is a sexual predator who takes no greater pleasure than in seducing and then violating any handsome young men he comes across. Please wait here, your Majesty. Murata!” Conrad called, flinging open the door to Yuuri’s room in a most heroic and manly fashion, “If you lay a hand on Yozak I’ll—”
“Conrad,” Yozak interrupted, hooking one of Murata’s legs over his shoulder, “would you mind coming back in five minutes or so?”
“Ten,” Yozak amended. “Come back in ten minutes or so and we’ll continue this conversation.”
“Oh,” Conrad’s face went red, “Never mind then. I’m sorry I interrupted.”
Yuuri poked his head around the corner as he heard Conrad slam the door behind him. “Was everything okay?”
“The wolf was eaten up by the sheep,” Conrad mumbled cryptically.
“Not again,” the king cried, “I keep telling him not to do that in my room! Gunter! I need new sheets!”
“Please explain to poor Conrad what’s going on,” Yuuri commanded once Yozak and Murata had emerged from his room in a sweaty, dishevelled mess.
“I thought Yozak was very attractive, so I decided to get him alone so I could convince him to sleep with me,” Murata explained, “There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”
“So this really is the Big Bad Murata you were telling me stories about?” Yozak looked the boy over. “I think you exaggerated. He didn’t try to molest me once!”
“I didn’t exaggerate! He—”
“Oh, Conrad,” Murata said, exasperated, “I only ever did that with you.”
“I can see that.” Yozak studied his friend, “Your face pretty much screams ‘Touch me inappropriately.'”
“But you were wearing a dress.”
“Us ladies can handle ourselves, Conrad,” Yozak grinned, “Don’t you worry about that.”
“Can we just go play some baseball already?” Yuuri asked.
“Only if we can all eat Gwendal’s awesome picnic lunch after!”
And everyone decided that it would be best to put the whole incident behind them and just go play some good, old-fashioned team sports.
Except Yozak Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Murata, who started making out in the dugout and were sent back inside for “gaying stuff up.”
And they all lived Happily Ever After, more or less.